Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A Post to McPike

Seeing that I am under the weather today, which immunizes me against the accusatory - "Why aren't you looking for a job?!" and the "Why aren't you cleaning the house?!" - I will take the opportunity to offer a few comments on an article posted by sage philosopher, Dr. David McPike.

McPike in his study.
The article can be found at the First Things site, and is entitled, "Scientific Regress," and was written by a William A. Wilson. I am not only including McPike's name in this post because he was the one who brought it to my attention. I am also doing so because he - much more than me - grasps all the implications of the article.

In a nutshell the article is about all the errors that creep into scientific publications. There is a bias towards 'false positives,' for instance, and the author blames both the self-interest of researchers (i.e., their interest in grant money) and the cult of science for this regress. And the problem is significant: in a few recent investigations, roughly 2/3 of the accepted studies could not be repeated. The article is extremely good, and my crude summary does it ill justice.

Here I want expand on William's observations, especially with respect to humanity in general and to the Church in particular.

The first things I thought of were the "Global warming consensus" and the homosexuality issue (now also transgenderism). Let me put it plainly: if people at their best (i.e., trained researchers in their labs) are producing more error than truth, which is what 2/3 is) usually get things wrong (or at least accept as true what they have not actually established as true (or at least not false, since science is more about dis-confirmation rather than confirmation)), how reliable, then, is science at the popular level?

Of course, not reliable at all. In fact, it stands to reason that whatever "science says" at the popular level is more likely to be false than true.

We should always ask about our personal stake in the matter: Why do we need global warming to be true? Why do we need gender theory to be true?

Black Lives people need an innocent black guy shot by police. Gay people need Matthew Shepard. Liberals need people fleeing from injustice. Conservatives need Muslim rampagers and Mexican drug lords. Who is right? To get a reliable answer,  I would not ask too many people in the media. (As for the media consider this. It is nice to see that some people are noticing the new infringements in places like Germany.)

The fact is - as Williams makes abundantly obvious - finding statistical links is rather difficult and involves very subtle reasoning and analysis. A matter as complex as human sexuality cannot be adequately addressed with slogans and political pressure.

Over the past few months I have enjoyed listening to an old show called "Love Line," which starred Adam Carolla and Dr. Drew Pinsky. Carroll is the comedian and Pinsky the psychologist who specializes in addiction medicine. Both have since appeared on many shows, and, I believe, the Adam Carolla Show is still active, although I could be wrong. Anyway, as regards Pinsky, I have found much of his analysis good to the point of being politically incorrect at certain times. And yet he would always let homosexuals off the hook, so to speak. If a girl phoned in who was sexually promiscuous they would instantly nail her as having been abused in some capacity - and I cannot think of a single instance when they were proven wrong. But they never really inquired into the past of the gay person. Why?

There is a well-known case when the great (in my opinion) conservative, Ben Shapiro, appearing on the Dr. Drew Show, during which he was threatened with physical violence by a transvestite (is this the right term? I neither know nor care). Watch it here with Shapiro's commentary. Now, the only reason I bring this up is to point out Drew's handling of the issue of transgenderism. He never says it is 'normal,' 'good' or anything like that. But neither does he actually dispute many of Shapiro's assertions. Indeed, a psychologist does not primarily act as a 'truth-seeker,' as if he were in a laboratory; psychologists primarily act as 'life coaches.' Like a priest in a confessional, rather than like a priest in the pulpit - although this analogy is rather weak, admittedly. Dr. Drew is in a precarious position, unlike the majority of his lib-tard guests. He cannot actually say that a tranny has the sort of genetic structure they claim to have, because, after all, as a doctor, he is a man of science. But neither can he say that it is bad or unhealthy to be tranny. But as someone who has listened to Carolla and Drew for hundreds of hours, I know that Drew thinks it is a mental problem at its heart and that surgery is a bad course of action. Drew has changed his tune somewhat since the late 90s when the Love Line show premiered, and this is because of the new heat on the issue (witness the North Carolina bathroom crisis, which would have been unimaginable twenty years ago.) He changes his tune by never making any one feel bad. Of course, people interpret this as agreement with regnant gender theory.

BTW, Carolla has a little bit more integrity because he doesn't mind hurting people's feelings.

Okay, so we know the world is not that scientific or rational. That's hardly news.

In the Church

Yes, Catholics get confused about stuff too. If there is one type of Facebook friend I cannot bear it is the kind who gets all tripped-up over the gay stuff. De-friending - that's my favour to you. Unlike Dr. Drew Pinsky, I have a duty to cure you of your idiocy. And one way I can do that is to tell you that you are not fit for me to talk to.

But this is not how I want to apply "Scientific Regress" to the Church. I want to talk a bit about the errors the Church makes in evangelization/education.

Wait, wait! You will no doubt be saying at this point. What does one have to do with the other???

A few things. For one, results. Do we read the results such as they are or such as we would like them to be?

1. Let me give an example that has annoyed me a lot over the last few years: the idea that girls are more innocent than boys, are always the aggrieved party, whatever. This is pretty universal in Catholic educational circles. It is the white knight syndrome. It is based upon a few unsubstantiated premises, which can be summed up as the result of (a) feminism, (b) wish-fulfillment in Catholic men that there are "pure virgins" out there, whom I can save.

But how is this about evangelization? When you alienate boys in Catholic institutions because, in your mind, they are the enemy, you destroy the future of the Church.

What else?

That is but one example of how we superimpose our ideas onto our actual experience and end up warping our understanding of it.

2. Another bias to false positives. Careers. Like careers in science, careers in the Church are, first of all, sadly, self-serving, that is, about self-preservation. And, as in science, much of this is somewhere below the radar of the consciousness. But some of it is not. Whether you are talking about teaching in schools, working in parishes, in chanceries, universities, or charities, keeping the job is more important than following Christ (and one's conscience). Accordingly, you will analyze data according to the metric of what is accepted, political, and all that. You cannot imagine that Christ would actually require you to stick your neck out. And so you don't imagine it.

Church work is no place for thoughtful people. But again, neither is anywhere else.

All of human life is about conforming to the status quo so as to get your slice of the pie. Thoughtful people are too distracted by the clouds to bear that continually in mind.


  1. Amazingly, I actually read that article yesterday. I hope my sister comments as this issue is why she quit researching HIV.

  2. I watched a TED Talk a few years ago on the very issue that the First Things article partly addressed: . Both the original article and your post were very interesting and insightful. Much to consider here.

  3. The problem with doctors is that people think of them as special and infallible. A healthy dose of professional humility can go a long way in bringing a person closer to truth.

  4. True … Ben Goldacre can be an a** some times. And from re-watching the video I would only add that this whole deal with placebo is much more complicated than many would think (i.e. I don't think that there's a general or at least a truth-based consensus about what constitutes a placebo intervention and how certain forms of it could be implemented clinically for the benefit of patients through ethically appropriate means - i.e. without basically lying to patients about the efficacies of certain material interventions. For example, if a placebo intervention is broadly attributed to 'the power of mind', then such simple things as showing more empathy to patients, fostering good relationships with patients, doing your best to accommodate their emotional, mental, and spiritual needs, in addition to recommending any material interventions, or behaving and dressing professionally could arguably all qualify as ethically legitimate placebo interventions). Unfortunately, I sense that there exists a tendency among the medical community to paint all kinds of placebo interventions with the same 'moral brush', the result of which are a lack of proper appreciation of the kinds of 'good placebos' (the ones which I listed above, for example), besides a rightful condemnation of the kinds of 'bad placebos' associated with basically lying to patients. I realize that this however is a bit of a tangent to what you wrote about in your post. But humility can certainly be helpful in this context too! Thanks so much.

  5. I don't understand all the details of medical testing, but if I ever went in for meds, and they gave me sugar pills I'd be pretty mad. But I guess they sign a waiver or something.

    I have so many problems. Too much sugar is just the tip of the iceberg.

  6. It also reminds me of my doctoral thesis. I had a section where I talked about some possible themes in Augustine's commentary on Job and for a few I had to say that there was nothing notable in Augustine's treatment of these topics in the commentary. A reviewer asked me why I then talked about them in my thesis. I said I thought the non-discussion was worth mentioning, as it might be expected that these topics would appear there for various reasons.