Grey Thoughts
4.10.05
 
Science - Academic Authority and Bias
One of the biggest problems today is that scientists and academics have too much authority and not enough accountability. 'Expert' opinion is bandied around in support of any and all positions until both sides of an argument are so committed to their own opinions because those opinions are based on 'science' or 'experts'. This is why today, more than ever it is important to gain a broad understanding of many important fields.

I would suggest, at a minimum, gaining a good understanding of basic logic and philosophy, statistics, scientific method, critical analysis and rhetorical tactics are necessary in order to be able to make an informed opinion on current events and supposed 'scientific' findings.

The problem is, there are many, many more fields that have important information. At some point, we all have to depend on authority, as we cannot know everything. Which brings us back to needing a minimum standard of understanding. It seems prudent to be able to evaluate a person's character, ability and biases before accepting their comments as authorative on weighty topics. And you don't need to be an expert in their field to evaluate their opinions.

Case in point. A recent article appeared in the UK paper, Times Online, which claimed that Religious Beliefs Can Cause Damage To Society. This article refers to a recent paper published in the Journal of Religion and Society. The Journal, according to it's website is a refereed journal. (That's important for a later point). The article also refers to the paper's author, Gregory Paul, as a 'social scientist'. In fact, Gregory Paul is a Paleontologist, a secular humanist and a recommended debater in the evolution/creation controversy.

It gets better though. The article in The Times also claims more than Gregory Paul's paper did. The actual paper only mentions correlation. It is also important to note that no alternative opinion is givenSo, for a start, in terms of the Times author, it seems clear that she is either sloppy, biased or both sloppy and biased. Either way, it is clear that trusting this author's opinion is not a good idea.

Taking a look and see if any other papers reported on this new 'scientific study' and found that the ABC has a transcript from their 'The world today' program. In this transcript, the credentials of Mr Paul are accurately reported. They note he is 'an independent researcher' and also do not misrepresent the claims of his paper. They also get an alternative view point from a Professor of Sociology, identifying him also as an anglican priest. I have to wonder why they didn't identify Mr Paul as a secular humanist, but that is a minor gripe. In general, this article is much more balanced (I was suprised, as this is the ABC).

So does Mr Paul's paper actually show a correlation between religious belief and negative social indicators such as murder, abortion and such? I was skeptical at first, because of previous survey's showing that the US's christianity is one that no longer believes in moral absolutes. As such whilst people identify themselves as christian in the US however in reality only a small percent have not taken on board the secular humanist ideas of moral relativism. So at best, Mr Paul's paper could conclude that Religion that has been significantly tainted by secular humanist ideas correlates with harmful social indicators.

Stand to reason has a good summary of various logical problems in the paper and Statguy at Magic Statistics has 2 great posts showing just how sloppy Mr Paul's 'scientific' paper really is. Whilst I haven't done a detailed analysis like Statguy, I do know enough about statistics and research to agree that the points he highlights are serious problems and should not have been allowed in a refereed paper. That it is incredibly sloppy and poor scholarship weighs negatively against Mr Paul as someone that people should listen to. It seems clear that he has an axe to grind and his objectively is seriously in question.

That the paper was published at all tells heavily against the Journal of Religion and Society. Occasionally however, things can slip through the cracks, even in refereed journals, so I would not conclude that everything in the journal is hopelessly biased on this one instance. I would however check to see if other articles are sloppy research as well, and if so, relegate it to the bin of academically prestiged bias.
Comments:
"Religious Beliefs Can Cause Damage To Society."

By religious beliefs, do they include secular humanism and atheism? If so, I couldn't agree more. They did plenty of damage in the 20th century.
 
He wants to assume an objective morality without affirming the existance of God. Can't be done.
 
Whenever I see any survey involving moral absolutes, I have to dismiss it unless I see some careful attempt to define what that means, because what it really means isn't what you seem to be taking it as. Absolutism is not the same as believing in objective moral truths. Absolutism is a view that virtually no one holds and the Bible flat-out rejects. Absolutism holds that any action that is wrong in one setting is going to be wrong in every setting. Someone denying moral absolutes might just be saying that the moral status of an action depends on factors that might vary from situation to situation. This is even so with killing, since it's ok to kill in self-defense, in a just war, or in capital punishment.

I don't think most people believe in moral absolutes of that sort. Paul certainly didn't. He circumcized some of those who worked with him. Because of the situation, Paul thought it wrong to circumcize Titus, he tells us in Galatians. But he was happy to circumcize Timothy. So he wasn't an absolutist about circumcision. When someone says they don't believe in absolutes, it could be this very simple sort of thing.
 
Post a Comment

<< Home

Powered by Blogger Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com