Tuesday, May 10, 2011

No Truth-handler, You

At the First Thoughts blog, Joe Carter links to an article about Scholars Who Are Afraid to Say What’s True:

Social scientists are concealing the harm that divorce, single parenting and stepfamilies do to children. Not only that, they are also hiding the benefits which even unhappy marriages bestow, not just on children, but on the couples involved.
So claim the heads of several organizations devoted to defending traditional marriages.

“It’s a very sad occurrence when people, for reasons of political embarrassment, won’t say what they believe,” said David Blankenhorn, head of the Institute for American Values. Blankenhorn worries that government agencies and other institutions will frame policies based on misreported scientific findings that disfavor the traditional family.

It’s an interesting piece and shows that despite claims to being “reality based” and believing in the primacy of scientific study, many liberals will only acknowledge and accept the results of those studies that happen to back their particular political views (not there aren’t conservatives who do the same). Some of the comments to Joe’s post were also illustrative of how difficult it is for people to get past their biases (both political and often in these cases personal) when discussing the impacts of marriage, divorce, and parenting. This was the best example:

Divorce is only extremely bad for children when the parents do not focus on the needs of their children.

Living in a family where there is constant conflict between the mother and father can be extremely bad for the children.

I hate blanket statements.

After enjoying the irony of the how the commenter made two blanket statements before telling us how he hates them, you can see a couple of dynamics at play here. One if the aforementioned reluctance to accept data that contradict your political believes or even more common the reluctance to accept data that contradicts your personal experiences. Such stubbornness in the face of facts is understandable. If a study came out that said there was a strong correlation between drinking craft beer and intellectual decline, I’d be in full denial mode too (assuming I could even comprehend the study’s findings). We all usually tend to be sympathetic to studies that reinforce our existing experiences and reject those that might cast a negative light on them.

The other dynamic is the inability to get past anecdotal experiences when considering the broader findings being presented. Consider the following:

Smoking causes cancer

This is one of those notorious “blanket statements” which the commenter at Joe’s post claims to hate. He’s hardly alone as you often hear people talk about how they don’t like “generalizations” either. Yet that’s exactly what the findings from most studies are. While I doubt that hardly anyone would today dispute that smoking does indeed cause cancer, I could name ten people off the top of my head who smoked (or still smoke) and never were stricken by it. Do my anecdotal examples refute the broader conclusion that smoking causes cancer? Of course not.

But when it comes to studies of marriage, divorce, and raising children people often try to argue against the conclusions drawn by citing anecdotal counter-examples. I know a single mother and her kids turned out great. I know a gay couple who adopted a child and he’s perfectly happy and normal. I know a couple who got divorced and it didn’t affect their kids at all. These anecdotes are even more powerful when they involve not just someone you know, but you personally.

When you combine these two dynamic together you end up with a significant portion of the population that refuses to accept that in general it’s better for everyone—children, parents, and society—to have families comprised of a married mother and father who remain together. It’s amazing to consider that today people refuse to accept studies that reinforce this simple truth when only a few generations ago no one would even question its obvious validity.