Tag Archives: science

Your evidence is wrong, because I disagree!

By, Adam K. Fetterman
After the Senate passed a bill to repeal the unpopular “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), it was up to President Obama to sign the bill. He did so on December 22, 2010. This was one of his many campaign promises that he has either completed or attempted to complete. For quite some time, it was uncertain whether this bill would be passed. While many found the DADT policy unjust and prevented dedicated individuals from serving their country, many others opposed repealing it for many reasons. For some it was just plain ignorance and prejudice. Others still thought that it would reduce morale in the military and would be dangerous for those LGBT individuals serving. Presidential candidate John McCain was one of those opposed to the repeal. However, he gave the impression that his mind could be changed by a study showing that a majority of those in the military approved of or saw little problems with the repeal. Indeed, a Pentagon study found just that. McCain rejected the study stating that it was flawed. This seems to happen quite often, but why?

According to research by Munro (2010), when presented with belief-disconfirming scientific evidence, individuals tend to disbelieve the efficacy of the research. That is, when presented with evidence to the contrary of one’s opinions or beliefs, many individuals will reject the evidence. This is what Munro refers to as the scientific impotence discounting hypothesis. Individuals want to believe that they are correct and therefore need to find a reason to discount disconfirming evidence. An easy way to do that is to reject the evidence. This is particularly easy to do when it comes to scientific evidence, as most people do not fully understand scientific methods. This appears to be what happened with the study conducted by the Pentagon. McCain had an opinion and many of his supporters agreed with his opinion. Therefore, it was probably pretty beneficial and easy for McCain to reject the evidence so that he could maintain his opinion. The question becomes, then, could anything change his or others’ opinions on this and other issues? How about in more controversial issues, such as reconciling science evidence with one’s religion?

Obama signs historic bill ending ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ – David Jackson and John Bacon, USA Today

John McCain: ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal study flawed. – Anne Flaherty, Huffington Post.

Munro, G. (2010). The scientific impotence excuse: Discounting belief-threatening scientific abstracts. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 40, 579-600.

Read all of Adam K. Fetterman’s posts here.

That is probably not a ghost, it’s probably just randomness.

By, Adam K. Fetterman

Poster design by Gravillis Inc.

A recent trend in cable television is paranormal investigation shows. For example, the SyFy channel has Ghost Hunters and A&E has Paranormal State. The point of these shows is to investigate claims of the paranormal and then confirm or debunk them. While certain shows do a fairly good job of at least “trying” to debunk the claims, others make no clear attempt. For instance, many, if not all, of these shows feature a time of “investigation” in which the main “characters” try to communicate with the spirit world. They do so by asking the “ghosts” to make a noise or make themselves appear. Usually they will come up with some sort of noise or evidence and conclude that, “indeed, there is a presence!” The first problem here is that, in order to properly debunk such events, one must not believe in them in the first place, or at least have some education in explaining psychological or natural experiences. However, the main issue is that a truly skeptical person will take the evidence of a random noise in response to a question as chance occurrence that is more likely to be explained statistical randomness. One the other hand, a paranormal believer would dismiss that event as chance and explain it paranormally.

This is what is known as the conjunction fallacy. According to Rogers, Davis, & Fisk (2008), indeed those who believe in the paranormal, are more susceptible to the conjunction fallacy than non-believers. Furthermore, they found that those less educated in math, statistics and psychology were more susceptible as well. Therefore, when two not-so-rare events occur (i.e. talking and a bump in the night), paranormal believers make the error in concluding that both events occurring simultaneously was too improbable to be coincidence. Based on previous findings, Rogers and colleagues suggest that this happens because those that believe in the paranormal have less understanding of chance and randomness. In closing, it is obvious that these shows are for purely entertainment value and most people would not tune in if they didn’t find “evidence” of the paranormal. However, it does seem troublesome to perpetuate a lack of rational and logical reasoning skills.

In a couple weeks: Why some are motivated to believe in the paranormal?

Researching the paranormal with Ryan Buell. By, Jennifer Vazquez – The Leader

A&E’s Paranormal State website.

SyFy’s Ghost Hunters website.

Rogers, P., Davis T., & Fisk, J. (2009). Paranormal belief and susceptibility of the conjunction fallacy. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23, 524-542

“Our love is dead, according to science!” What does science tell us about marriage?

Can science really predict divorce? Can science really tell you how to select the “right” partner? A recent post by Chris Matyszczyk brought a sarcastic and ironic view about the finding of a marriage study. Chris claimed, according to this study, the perfect wife is five years younger than her husband, is from the same cultural background, and is at least 27 percent smarter than her husband. 

Sounds ridiculous? Yes. If people try to over-generalize certain research findings to general population in any situation by ignoring its specific subjects and applicable context, or make prediction based on correlational studies, it’s possible that they will always obtain disappointing or ridiculous results.  Then, how should we think about the scientific findings on complicated human phenomena, such as marriage? What does science tell us about marriage? 

Gottman & Notarius (2002) reviewed the advances made in the 20th century in studying marriages. The first published research study on marriage dealt with one major research question, “What is fundamentally different about happily and unhappily married couples?”  Following that, with the development of more sophisticated measures and methods, some grim and interesting findings began emerging from research on marriage. For example, in the decades of the 1960s and 1970s, Burgess’ longitudinal study (Burgess & Wallin, 1953) found that, for most couples, marital satisfaction was high right after the wedding and then began a slow, steady, and nontrivial decline thereafter. Another example is Hicks and Platt’s (1970) decade-review article on marital happiness and stability which concluded that “perhaps the single most surprising finding to emerge from research is that children tend to detract from, rather than contribute to marital happiness”. Then, research in the decades of the 1980s and 1990s witnessed the realization of many secular changes in the American family, including the changing role of women, social science’s discovery of violence and incest in the family, and the beginning of the study of cultural variation in marriages et al.

In sum, marriage as an ultimate human condition has been intriguing to both scientists and common people for a long time. However, when we try to understand and interpret research findings on marriage, we need to be very careful about their applicable conditions and limitations. For example, as we know, psychological studies have relied on samples of convenience that have limited generalizability. Although based on the evidence we have so far, marital relations haven’t yet succumbed to delightfully efficient approaches, scientific findings keep shedding light on the mystery of human marriage.

Why your wife should be 27% smarter than you

John M. Gottman, Clifford I. Notarius. ( 2002), Marital Research in the 20th Century and a Research Agenda for the 21st Century. Family Process, 41, 159-197.

Virtual Conference Report: Day Five (23 Oct, 2009)

800px-L-Assemblee-Nationale-Gillrayby paulabowles

The first week of the conference has come to an end, and the final day has included two exciting papers, as well as a publishing workshop. The first paper entitled ‘Full Disclosure of the “Raw Data” of Research on Humans: Citizens’ Rights, Product Manufacturer’s Obligations and the Quality of the Scientific Database’ was presented by Dennis Mazur (Oregon Health and Sciences University). In his lecture, Mazur highlights the difficult and contentious issues involved in human testing, particularly the tensions between participants and drug manufacturers.

The second paper also takes an interdisciplinary approach to medical matters. Eileen Smith‐Cavros (Nova Southeastern University) lecture entitled ‘Fertility and Inequality Across Borders: Assisted Reproductive Technology and Globalization’ looks at the emotive issue of assisted reproduction. By surveying existing literature, Smith Cavros is able to look in detail at some of the many issues which impact upon reproduction.

Together with these two papers, Duane Wegener’s (Purdue University) publishing workshop: ‘Top 10 mistakes New Scholars Make When Trying to Get Published’ marked the end of the first week.

Enjoy the weekend and we look forward to seeing you next week.

Gender, spiders, and media

090908_spiderOf the literally thousands of scientific journal articles published every month, only a select few receive media attention. From among the new research, the BBC recently chose to report on an infant study claiming a disproportionate fear of spiders among women.

The study reportedly showed 20 babies—10 boy and 10 girl—pictures of spiders paired with happy versus fearful human faces. The girls “looked longer” at the picture of the spider/happy face, evidently showing “that the young girls were confused as to why someone would be happy” when paired with a spider.

The BBC follows the leap of the researcher to conclude that evolutionary biology determines that women (who were “natural child protectors”) are more likely to be afraid of animals.

Notwithstanding the alleged evolutionary implications (some research has linked phobias to nurture, rather than nature), research has shown links between gender stereotypes and media content. A study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology even revealed measurable effects on cognition from exposure to stereotyped commercials.

It’s frightening, to say the least, that behavior might be related to gender stereotypes. While doubtful that pre-arachniphobe females will read the BBC article, existing gender stereotypes are still reinforced, while all of those other scientific articles remain unnoticed.