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Silly thinking

Dear Reader,

I have had an interesting time recently; I have had encounters with people from two different opposite ends of a spectrum of opinions. Both persons seemed to react in a defensive manner suggesting that they think that I am a member of the opposite camp to them.

For legal reasons (and to spare them their embarrassment) I will not be naming either person who had such a vigorous reaction to me.* But I would like to say that this type of siege mentality does suggest that the person is insecure and rather weak minded, if a person’s reaction when dealing with a person that they do not know well is just

“You do not understand XYZ, so I am right”

Then I hold the view that the person is downright rude, and is behaving in a very stupid way. For example a person who works on the statistics of the measurement of drugs of abuse expresses a view which goes against the view expressed by a person writing about medical statistics then for the latter to use such an excuse is downright stupid.

How can the latter person know if the first one does or does not understand the subject. Frankly I think that this is an abusive argument the sort of thing which an arrogant and pathetic person who is scrapping the bottom of the barrel resorts to.

On the other hand if we take the example of two populations of cats, the black cats are on average 3.5 kilos with a standard deviation of 0.5 kilos. While the tabby cats are on average 3.8 kilos with a standard deviation of 0.1 kilos. Now if the first stats person was to claim that tabby cats are heavier because they are overfed, and the second stats person disagrees. Then it is reasonable for the second person to say

“You do not understand, you are claiming a difference which is far less than the sum of the standard deviations”

Then it is a reasonable statement to make, the statement of “you do not understand” is qualified by a statement explaining what is not understood.

Then we have the opposite problem, the problem where folklore and urban myth is taken as being more important than facts which have been proven by science.

Part of this problem is when people take the experiences of themselves and then claim that these are representative of the majority of people dismissing results collected using far larger cohorts. This rejection of the results obtained with the larger cohort normally occurs when the people rejecting the better work have some vested interest or wishful thinking.

For example a person might dismiss the work by Richard Doll on smoking by stating “I know Mr White at number 12, he is proof that smoking is harmless he has been doing it since he was 15 and now he is 85 years old”.

While Mr White might have beaten the odds and outlived many non smokers, the work of Richard Doll on the smoking habits of male medical doctors, their life spans and their causes of death do suggest that smoking will shorten your life and increase you chance of getting lung cancer. Richard Doll said that as a consequence of seeing the results of his study he underwent a “health education moment” and then gave up smoking.

Another great problem are the those who hold the view that unless a person has experienced something that they are unentitled to have a opinion. This is a particularly dangerous trap for the mind. I was told by an industrial psychologist that this argument is often used by drug abusers as a means of rejecting the advice that they should quit abusing drugs.

I think it is a very stupid reason for rejecting an opinion, I will give you an example. I have an office on the sixth floor. I have not experienced falling off the roof of my building, but I hold the opinion that falling off the roof onto the tarmac of the carpark would be very bad for my health. I think that only a very silly person would argue that because I have not tried casting myself down from the roof that the opinion is worthless or without basis.

If I was a betting person I would be willing to wager a lot on the probability that a person who plays this pathetic card is very selective in their acceptance of it. For example the typical person (even one who plays this card) would object to being excluded from a debate about the question of “should truck racing be allowed on the public road” solely because they lack a driving license for anything larger than a private car.

Another problem is people who choose to hold folklore above careful epidemiology. They also tend to get angry when folklore disagrees with an examination of the mechanism of something.

Yet another great problem these days is that the general public “know” things which they strongly believe in but have no evidence to back up their beliefs. Further more if you look at the information sources which the public are being advised by then you see no facts just opinion. I will get onto this later.

But before I go, I would like to point out a book which I keep meaning to read. It is called “Straight and crooked thinking” by Robert H. Thouless. Years ago my father (a philosophy graduate was given a copy by a priest he knew). I think that sometime I will get a copy and then have a go at reading it. It is a book all about good and bad thinking.

* If you think you are one of the people who has been so silly then please either leave a comment at the bottom or mail me.

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