A Study Case of Rejecting Inconvenient Reality

“It is morally as bad not to care whether a thing is true or not, so long as it makes you feel good, as it is not to care how you got your money as long as you have got it.” — Edmund Way Teale

I was recently in a discussion about spanking, and brought up this article about Harsh Corporal Punishment and a strong correlation with shrinkage in the brain. Among the responses were these nuggets (quotes have highlights for emphasis but are otherwise unaltered):

Well, and this is coming someone whose bachelor’s degree is in psychology.  I’m not going to pretend to be a psychologist, but rest assured, there is no credible research that supports these claims, just these biased non objective studies that are basically a load of opinions. Just being honest

I’ll give the person the benefit of the doubt that it was honest expression of opinion, but that shouldn’t be confused with an honest critique. Claiming that research published by the National Institutes of Health aren’t credible, well, that’s not really conducive to open, rational discussion. It’s also not discrediting the study.

Spanking can result in abuse if taken too far. I agree that these indicators would be apparent in someone with abusive parents. Again, none of those traits apply to me. I’m sure I was spanked more than once a month too lol

The “research” that was conducted only involved 1,455 young adults. That’s a VERY small group of people. I believe it would be more credible research if it was more broad. Just my opinion.

(The emphasized statement will be addressed later)
At least this one got that you should attack the methods, not the researcher. I personally disagree with their assessment of “VERY small.” Of those, 45 total qualified for the study (23 subjects and 22 controls). The worst correlation had a 3.7% of being random. If I tell you that of the 23 people who were shot in the head, all of them died, but 96.3% of them died within 30 seconds of being shot, that’s a pretty strong indication that being shot in the head is deadly. Are other things deadly? Sure. Could other things have killed them within those 30 seconds? Absolutely, probably near their typical mortality rates. People are hit by buses every day. Are 45 total people a good sample? Ask a statistician, or someone who work with statistics daily.

I turned out just fine getting switched it  whipped..

This comes out every time there’s a discussion about spanking. There are a few points here:

  1. The plural of anecdote is not data.
  2. The study differentiated between Corporal Punishment (open hand, only on the buttocks or extremities) and Harsh Corporal Punishment (at least 36 times within 3 years for at least 3 years, potentially with foreign objects). Additionally, the control group included those who received CP that didn’t qualify as “Harsh”.
  3. Claiming that your outcome wasn’t the worst says nothing about the conclusion that your outcome was worse than it could have been.
  4. It’s easy to give a pass here, but if you’re going to claim something is false because of your own condition, it’s helpful to actually have data about your own condition. The claim wasn’t that people who received HCP all became hardened criminals, it was that they had reduced brain mass where people in similar demographics who had little/no CP didn’t. I get that not everyone has access to a CT whenever they want, and I get that the most contentious topics WON’T have easy access to the supporting/discrediting data. It seems important to me, though, to address the statement itself, not just what you think it means.

The point here is not to say that spanking is always bad or that people who support it are wrong. The point is to give several examples of bad argument styles, and to note that they’re not limited to this topic.The point is that when you disagree with data, it’s on you to find better data. Anything less is intellectually dishonest and won’t get you closer to the truth.

Thanks for reading.

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