Friday, September 03, 2004

Just because an argument can be made ...

... doesn't mean it's a good argument.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about this for a long time (as in years). I can see examples of it throughout my own education, and I'm pretty sure it's only gotten worse. But here goes:

In Liberal education, people are encouraged to make connections between things. This is not a bad thing, in itself. It's actually a good skill to have. It gets you thinking about "possible" explanations and can lead to finding a better solution faster.

However, what's sorely missing in American (and probably other countries') liberal education systems is training in scientific method -- which basically amounts to applied skepticism, for those of you who are scared of the word "scientific".

I think everyone should have, at least three times in their primary and secondary education, a class in basic scientific method -- without necessarily using it for science, mind you. It should be "Scientific Method for Poets". Very general, and appropriate to the different age groups you teach it in.

It should be like a Philosophy course. "Philosophy of Scientific Method 101". For certain, EVERY journalist should have to take it and pass it to get his/her Journalism degree.

Scientific method demands you be skeptical of your own ideas and other data you collect, and that you run it through some basic testing and ask "devil's advocate" questions about it until you are satisfied that what you have is probably really true.

When we're trying to figure something out, a theory on say, who should we villify for the deaths of a set of Russian school children, we brainstorm some theories.

But this is where far too many people stop. They stop when they get a theory that fits the dogma of the world view they have aligned themselves with, and hold that theory to be self-evidently true. People want to believe whatever will reassure them in their world view.

Well people can come up with some really wild theories, as I've seen on both the left and the right. This explains the popularity of conspiracy theories.

What you should do is pick a theory that you want to test, one you think for whatever reason is likely to be true, and start asking questions about it. The first question is "Is the explanation simple?" Usually (though admittedly not always) the most simple explanation is going to be pretty close to the truth. Are your facts verifiable? Theories based on "facts" that are really only other unproven theories leave you baseless.

For instance:

  • John Kerry voted against a bill to provide support equipment for soldiers that he voted to send to war.

These are verifiable facts. You can go to the senate record and look them up.

  • Bush Lied. Thousands Died.

"Bush Lied" is not a verifiable fact at this time. It is based on several theories that Bush would have invaded Iraq no matter what, for reasons ranging from revenge for the assasination attempt on his father to "helping his oil buddies out" -- which are themselves unproven theories. It is supported by the fact that one of the main justifications for the war was that Saddam Hussein probably had bio/chemical and possibly nuclear weapons and that have been found to date. At this point it is relatively conclusive evidence that Bush (and the CIA and MI5 and the KGB and most other world intelligence organizations) were likely wrong, but it most definitely not prove that anyone lied.

"Thousands Died" is certainly indisputable. It is used here both to provide some truth to the argument and to worsen the baseless charge that "Bush Lied." But it doesn't make it any more true.

"Bush Lied" fits in with the Leftist Dogma that the Republicans are out to exploit the environment and the underpriviledged of the world to benefit the rich. So the left accepts "Bush Lied", and keeps repeating it hoping that if they do it enough, it will simply become true.

No comments: