The Arrogance of Science

I caught a link that a study over five decades has demonstrated that spanking kids is bad. I didn’t click it. My reaction was that I thought we’d known that for around three decades. Then it clicked that just a few days ago I quietly ignored a conversation where two people were saying they got spanked, growing up, and turned out fine. I always wonder what people think of as fine when they say that. Don’t people consider that they might have turned out better or gone through less struggle to get to fine if this treatment science has demonstrated is counterproductive to development hadn’t happened to them? They might just be protecting their parents who were not abusive or even unfair, who were just raising their kids as best they could in an age when scientific study about the negative effects of spanking weren’t available. But that’s not who they’re defending with what they say, they’re defending the practice of spanking after science has demonstrated that practice as both ineffective and harmful.

People have trouble recognizing that their own experience is anecdotal. People also have trouble accepting that something they long believed to be true or a useful practice is false or a waste of time or counterproductive. So science is vilified. Science is viewed as this oppressive decider of things, who should mind its own business. Science is arrogant. Actually science is a way of learning about the world that is so eager to get to the truth that it will never insist it’s right. Science only comes up with theories that explain the world…maybe. Maybe some next thing will come along to explain it better. Science is constantly trying to learn. That seems the opposite of arrogant.

I read in Quiet, a nonfiction book about introverts, by Susan Cain, that people commonly believe by making some show of anger, yelling or punching something or stomping a foot, they’re “releasing” their anger and that it helps the anger “escape,” but science has good evidence this isn’t true. It feels true because during the time we’re yelling the anger dissipates but anger dissipates due to time passing. Our understandable releases of frustration have actually kept us feeling angry longer. People hear this and often get angry because most of us, at least sometimes, react this way to getting angry and don’t like science coming along and telling us our reactions are counterproductive, but science isn’t telling us that. Science is simply supplying us with good information we can choose to use to improve our lives. The author then added that these studies about anger have been repeated over and over because the results continue to be questioned. This means that the response of science to people who respond to science with “shut up, that can’t be true,” isn’t to say, “you shut up, you can’t be true.” Science just responds with, Okay, maybe that study was flawed, let’s run it again.

That is maybe why a five-decades long study about spanking children was undertaken. People still don’t believe it’s ineffective/harmful, so let’s collect more evidence to get a clear answer because this is important. I found the same thing when researching how harmful caricatures of Native Americans as team mascots are to everyone. The sight of Chief Wahoo makes people less sensitive to all minority groups. People adamantly oppose this finding, because it’s uncomfortable to people who want to keep wearing their hats and jerseys and jackets. So science ran it again and again and again. They keep finding the same result and people keep refusing to believe it. Who’s arrogant?

Arrogance isn’t why people refuse change in instances like these. Arrogance is the shield they put up so they can refuse the change. The resistance to change comes from wanting to hold onto something they value. I was slow to come on board with the Chief Wahoo caricature as harmful for an understandable reason. My dad drew Chief Wahoo on a poster and took me to a game. I held the poster up and cheered. That’s a great memory I have of my dad and it’s tied in with my love, as a kid, for that baseball team, but I wouldn’t be honoring the memory of my dad by using that memory to override scientific study demonstrating the harmful effects of that caricature. My dad would want me to openly speak out against that team name and mascot. I actually think of my dad every time I do.

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2 thoughts on “The Arrogance of Science

  1. Disciplining a child for inappropriate behaviors involves so much thought and love. I truly believe the punishment should not be greater than the crime. I also believe that a swat on the bottom is a last resort, and used to teach children about consequences.
    Yes, I’m for a swat on the bottom. I however don’t believe in physically assaulting children. Yes there is a difference. A child should never be struck by an angry parent. As previously stated in my first and opening sentence, disciplining a child for inappropriate behaviors involves so much thought and love. I also believe in age appropriate teaching when it comes to disciplining a child, the child should understand that all through life there will be consequences for inappropriate actions.
    Genetically, Chemically, Physically, Mentally and Intellectually we are all very different, that’s been scientifically proven. I also know for a fact that each parent and child are different from each and every other parent and child who would have been subjected to scientific tests. So let’s go back to the first sentence in paragraph three, the aforementioned would completely negate a baseline… Scientific Arrongance…. Indeed..
    And remember if a chic with a dick steps up to the urinal next to you in a Target bathroom, they probably had a scientist as a parent and were never swatted on the bottom for their inappropriate behaviors as a child.
    Happy Parenting…..

  2. I agree with a lot of what you said, and I certainly understand many dedicated and caring parents include spanking as a tool to raise their kids with the best intentions. I know from firsthand observation what a dedicated and caring parent you are.

    Really these studies aren’t telling anyone what they should do. They’re sharing observations. But they do figure out ways to establish baselines. I didn’t even read the spanking study I referenced but I’ll use instead the Chief Wahoo experiments, as an example. They randomly put a large number of people into two groups. They prime one group with a caricature of a minority group and the other with a neutral image. Then they ask questions about minority groups and measure the answers on a scale of sensitivity to the minority groups. The group primed with the caricature score considerably less sensitive. That’s how they demonstrate that the caricature does cause a reduction in sensitivity. Now would everyone? They couldn’t prove that in a study.

    So for the spanking example, however they’ve measured this, they’ve found, repeatedly, that it’s a counterproductive behavioral tool. They can’t show that a single instance of it is counterproductive because they wouldn’t be able to eliminate other variables. A lot of parents are very mindful about when and how often to use spanking as a disciplinary tool but still sometimes do. The study suggests that they would probably be better off eliminating it completely. If parents are incorporating these findings and recognizing in their specific dynamic with their child spanking will be effective, okay, that’s their choice. I would question what they’re using to override this consistent careful study. As I mentioned above, I mostly hear people say things like “I got spanked and turned out fine.” That sounds more like resistance to change than a reaction to a specific dynamic between parent and child. But I apologize if I come across in any way as judgmental of others’ parenting. I understand it’s difficult and stressful. I just think science can be another useful tool for parents open to utilizing it. I think your last comment in the last paragraph was a joke. I appreciate your sense of humor as well as your input. Thanks for commenting!

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