This week, I’ve been doing a special series of posts on math and morality. A large number of my disagreements with my Catholic boyfriend can be boiled down to the fact that he thinks absolute morality is untenable without God. I’ve been posting about my epistemology and experiential claims in an attempt to explain why he’s wrong. You can check out an index of the series here.
I wish there’d been a little more attention to math at First Things this week. Although I normally enjoy many of their posts, I was really disappointed to find web editor Joe Carter touting a scientifically bankrupt study on prayer. I’ve been arguing back and forth with him in the comments thread, and, at this point, I feel like a lot of the problem is general ignorance of proper study design (the study in question had no control group for a treatment that was likely to have a strong placebo effect, among other problems).
I maintain that statistics and study design should be part of civics education. It’s very difficult to make choices about what policies you support if you can’t distinguish between opposing studies.
Sometimes this feeling is uncomfortable, sometimes it is thrilling — but always it comes to me as something of a relief. Here’s why:
- If it doesn’t even occur to us that the claim we’re examining could just possibly be true, we’re not honest investigators;
- If we can’t feel the persuasiveness of a claim, we don’t really understand it.
Here’s a delightfully absurd story, courtesy of Wikipedia: Gregory Packer, 46, of Huntington, NY may be the most quoted man in news. He’s been quoted in over 100 articles and tv news programs as a typical man on the street. Apparently, he loves to show up to premiers and seek out reporters to share his opinions.
I did do some non-religion blogging this week. I’ve got an essay at The Huffington Post titled “All the News that’s Fit to Leak” on how the WikiLeaks story revealed as much about our media as about Afghanistan.
In our data-glutted media, news has become eclipsed by the story behind the story. For cable news, the WikiLeaks story wasn’t just another dog-bites-man snorefest about the unending and unchanging slog through Afghanistan; it was a heist story. The promise of smuggled documents and clandestine meetings gets our adrenaline up but is no promise of quality journalism. In fact, our hunger for an inside view can lead us to privilege the viewpoints of anonymous sources rather than focus on the facts, as Clark Hoyt, the former public editor at the NYT pointed out in several columns.
It’s been an exciting week on mathematical exploits here at Unequally Yoked (perhaps I should change the subtitle to “A really, really geeky atheist picks fights with her Catholic boyfriend”) and I’d like to close out the week with two cartoons that are delightful riffs on some of the topics I’ve been referencing. When you check out this comic by Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, make sure to hover your mouse over the big red dot at the bottom for a bonus panel. Finally, how could I hope to do better than ending on an xkcd cartoon. (The cartoon is riffing on the flawed explanation of Nash Equilibria that was given in A Beautiful Mind).
[Seven Quick Things is a blog carnival run by Jen of Conversion Diary]