Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Facts vs. Anecdotes

So, Sarah poses this question: “Do you think that all the studies they quoted in this article are inaccurate? I mean, these are people who are answering the questions about themselves. And if we assume that all human beings want to be seen in a good light, then all people are probably churching up their answers. But still the gulf between left and right exists.Is there a difference between our anecdotes and the data from the studies?”

I think there are two kinds of studies: studies where the researchers are trying to find out an answer….and studies where the researchers are trying to prove a point. And depending on their motive, the results of the study can come out skewed. For example, I know that there was a study many years ago that was funded by a dairy foods association that found out that milk was good against osteoporosis , however, I know of another study that tested the effects drinking milk had on women in menopause: they had a test group and then a group that drank no milk. At the end of the study, the group that drank more milk had a higher incidence of osteoporosis.
I think the first study might just refer to drinking milk as a child, whereas the second one warns against drinking milk during menopause. Nevertheless, we still have the Milk Does A Body Good campaign, whereas truly in this case, milk is not doing a body good. The dairy association funded studies that found out what they wanted to find out, and ignored the studies that don’t really support their product. And that is how I feel about studies.

It’s just like a newspaper article. A journalist writes an article about an incident. Unless I know where that journalist is coming from, it is difficult for me to believe everything happened as they claim, because whether they admit it or not, their personal opinions have influenced how they researched and wrote that article. It depends on which direction you are coming from. The journalist will ask the sources it wants to ask, and avoid sources that might present a differing tact from the one the journalist wants to take. If I know that the American Dairy Association has funded a study, I can judge it accordingly. If I know that someone from FOX, CNN or NBC is reporting on a story, I can perhaps weave the whole story together through those multiple viewpoints.

So, is there a difference between our anecdotes and the data from studies? I would say, sometimes. Because I know that quite often the data is just anecdotal, because the researchers have only asked the people they want to ask. I mean, how many times have you seen the media portray the typical Iraq War vet as a something completely different than what we know as being the typical Iraq War vet? Are we sheltered in our experiences of how returning veterans are? Or are the only vets who take part in media interviews about the Iraq war tending to fit the media’s “ideal” of a returning vet?

So to return to the conservatives vs. liberals discussion: I would like to comment on the last line in the blog post Sarah linked to: “Again, this is not to say that every conservative is honest or that every liberal is dishonest, but there is a very real difference between those ideologies and the effect that they have on people who ascribe to them.” I would like to build on that comment. I think the fundamental difference between conservatives and liberals is that liberals believe in the good of people, and conservatives believe that if someone is given too much rope, they will hang themselves. The Prussians had a great saying: “Trust is good, control is better.”

Now, this is just my opinion, not fact what follows. My perception is that a lot of liberal policies are built on the belief that if people are given a chance, they will perform to the best of their ability, whereas conservatives think that only if given a carrot or threatened with a stick, will people do so. For example, it’s more of a liberal idea that grades and tests aren’t needed in school, whereas conservatives believe that you need that threat of a bad grade to make you study to learn what is expected. (And I am sure there are liberals who think the no-grade system is hogwash, too.)

I believe that many liberals think that a good welfare system is necessary to help those in need, whereas conservatives see a welfare system as too much of a carrot to not perform to your utmost. Same with nationalized healthcare. I grew up without medical insurance, my parents could afford it, but chose not to have it. Guess what? We were super healthy kids. Also, my parents, both in their 60s now: because they don’t go to a doctor, they aren’t on any kind of medicine. You could scoff at that, but I am sure that it is saving their health. My father also says one of the unhealthiest things you can do for yourself is get really good and comprehensive medical insurance. Because then you can “afford” all these interventions.

Case in point: When I was younger, I had really bad ear infections, which were exacerbated by the fact that we lived in Hawaii and I was constantly swimming and water was getting in my ears all the time. So at one of my doctor’s visits for yet another ear infection (which after a while, my mother started to self treat at home after buying all the proper paraphernalia) the doctor mentioned an operation that would reduce my ear infections: inserting tubes in the ear canal that would make drainage easier: the caveat being, it would also make me MORE susceptible to ear infections if water ever entered my ears. So my mother asked if the doctor thought it would be good for me, and he replied: “Do you have insurance?” And she replied that we didn’t. And so he said: “Well, I wouldn’t recommend it, because she will grow out of it anyway by the time she is about 10 years old.”

I believe that if there is health insurance it makes people less vigilant about their health. If there is a back-up plan, people are less determined about making it work properly the first time around. I think that the liberal point of view is more worried about those people who forgo treatment, because they can’t afford it, whereas I am more worried about how much unhealthier the average American now is, despite (or in my opinion, because of) increased healthcare coverage. I really would like to help people in need, it’s not that I don’t care about someone suffering from a disease, who can’t afford treatment. However, I am annoyed that with nationalized healthcare we would have to carry the burden of people who get into car accidents because of their own negligence, people who have treated their bodies so poorly over the years that they can only get by with medical intervention. I don’t want that.

My father says (does anyone see a trend here? My father has been a huge influence on the formation of my outlook on life) that if you aren’t a liberal when you are younger, you are heartless, but if that you don’t become more conservative later in life, you lack brains. (And, please, any liberals reading this, don’t get into a flap here…). I really agree with that sentiment. We should believe in the good of people, but without controls in place, I just don’t trust them to do what is best.

Just like my host father in France: he was enabling someone to take advantage of the system, and taking advantage of the system himself at the same time. His rationalization was probably along these lines: “I am paying exorbitant taxes for this, I might as well get some of my money back.”

So to come full circle, I believe that if we want to see liberals as having a tendency to lie more than conservatives, we could certainly prove that point if we asked the right people the right questions. But I think overall liberals and conservatives just see different solutions to problems, but both of them have the greater good in mind, what is best for society as a whole. And my personal opinion is that liberal policies, although full of good intentions, don't hold people accountable and lead to further problems (this is how I interpreted the last line of the quoted blog post: the effects that those policies have on people). And then there are fringe elements on both sides who would like to take advantage of the system: there is the conservative who doesn’t believe in charity of any kind, and the liberal who believes he is entitled to steal. But most of us, whether liberal or conservative, share the same morals.

So I have a question, that I have been pondering lately: I feel like many "conservative" politicians no longer embody the conservative stance of self-responsibility and accountability. My question is for liberals reading this post: do you feel that many "liberal" politicians nowadays aren't keeping true to socialistic core values? I mean, for example, I look at McCain and think: "no ways is that guy a conservative!" Do you look at Hillary or Obama and think that they have strayed too much to be considered liberal...or are even "too" liberal?


Blogger Chris said...

Since when did you start writing worthwhile posts again ;)

You know I'm only kidding...

5:14 AM  
Blogger liberal army wife said...

wow. you can really WRITE! and I am in awe of what you wrote here. I agree, as a liberal I hope for the best, but as an older woman, I know that I am bound to be disappointed. I'll differ with you on healthcare, I think that NOT having it makes people wait until a condition is chronic or critical. If they had received treatment when the condition had first shown up - they could have received the appropriate care and not needed massive intervention - diabetes is a case in point. Now don't get me started on all the ridiculous tests that are run, the insane costs - which are tiered for whichever insurance you have and those without insurance pay the most...when did THAT become sensible? As for those who say national health will mean a bureaucrat decides what treatment will be allowed - have they heard about insurance companies? They have untrained people doing it NOW! I should know, my DH was one of those for a while. There was a formulary - a book that said "ok, we don't care what your dr wants, here's what we will pay for.. good luck". Yes - I think that there is so much unnecessary treatment, antibiotics given out like candy (so we get antibiotic resistant diseases)My dad is 87, and in really good shape, but thank heavens for insurance - he had an aortic aneurysm, without surgery he would be dead. Without the sonogram to check his kidneys, and a sonographer who wondered what that wierd shadow was... he'd be dead. His cholesterol - controlled with Red Rice Capsules, without the fancy drugs (he's got a doctor who likes naturopathic medicine) So insurance has its place.

Are Hillary or Obama too liberal? I don't know.. I have no idea what they really stand for anymore. As for McCain, I just see another Bush term when I look at him. His stand on the GI Bill angers me. It was good enough for his generation, so forget any changes... Are they accountable to US? nope, they are accountable to their contributors.

Labels are too easy. I can say I don't trust a conservative as far as I could throw them, but I trust at least 3 of them with my life and love them dearly. so... forget the labels. Look at the person.

Studies - you get out of it what you put into it. I can give you studies that say cigarettes are healthy - funded by Phillip Morris. I can give you studies that say butter is better - funded by the Dairy Association (but it's better than margarine IMHO)

Socialism was a great idea, but the problem was - people. People got in the way. We cannot and should not forget or ignore those who need assistance, for circumstances beyond their control. If you can work, work - but don't punish someone for showing the gumption to get a job, by taking away the insurance they need for their kids, or putting so many roadblocks in their way, that they give up and slide back.

As for no child left behind - a disaster. Teaching to the test, means that grades are more important than learning.


12:45 PM  
Blogger CaliValleyGirl said...

Chris, nice of you to pop over...it will be interesting to see your commentary at your blog over the next few months.

LAW, thanks for the compliment and explaining your point of view. I think I would like to write a post on nationalized healthcare now...it's very interesting to see your take on it, and it has given me food for thought.

5:15 PM  

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