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Why Science is Better than Emotion

We get pretty emotional about children.  Sometimes, it seems we get even more emotional about fetuses.  I remember back when crack was the new drug on the block and children of crack addicted mothers turned up with severe developmental problems.  A “crack mother” was seen as pretty much the worst kind of person on the planet.

But after the fervor died down and scientists got to work without so much political hoo-ha, they discovered that crack wasn’t really that much of a problem for babies.

Many recall that “crack babies,” or babies born to mothers who used crack cocaine while pregnant, were at one time written off by many as a lost generation. They were predicted to suffer from severe, irreversible damage, including reduced intelligence and social skills. It was later found that this was a gross exaggeration.

The real problem, it turns out, is poverty.  What a surprise, eh?  Ask any social worker and she’ll tell you that poverty is pretty much the ultimate problem in just about every situation where a child is being harmed.  Alcoholism, drug abuse, deadbeat dads, neglect, physical abuse… you name it.  Poverty is one of the best predictors of severe problems.

But we as a nation have been trained well.  Throw a picture of a sad child on the TV and tell us what the enemy is and we’ll start a war against it.  Damn the evidence, FULL SPEED AHEAD!  So when the government decided that crack was a good enemy, we rallied behind the flag.

But that’s kind of old news for a lot of folks.  Crack isn’t the boogeyman anymore.

What about something a little closer to home, like alcohol and pregnancy? That’s a big bugaboo for sure.  I’ve seen it firsthand.  A woman having a few sips of wine while pregnant is looked at like the second coming of Stalin.  But the science doesn’t back it up anymore.  It’s ok to drink in moderation while you’re pregnant.

The study, which found no evidence of harm from having a couple drinks a week during pregnancy, was so well done and its findings so conclusive that it ought to become the final word in the field, said Fred Bookstein, an applied statistician who studies fetal alcohol spectrum disorders at both the University of Washington, Seattle, and the University of Vienna.

“This is such a good study that it should shut down this line of research,” said Boostein, who plans to refer people to the paper when they ask him about drinking during pregnancy, and hopes that research dollars can now go towards finding the effects of other, more troublesome chemicals.

But that’s not all.  It’s also pretty likely that a little bit of happy water is good for the mother and the child.

Final results of the study, published today in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, agreed with previous work that children born to heavy binge drinkers do worst on developmental tests, because excessive exposure to alcohol in the womb kills nerve cells and causes brain damage.

The kids of teetotalers did almost as poorly (emphasis mine –HD), however, reflecting the complicated phenomenon that people who never drink have poor outcomes on many measures of health.

How about that!  We really don’t like women who drink while pregnant.  We really, really don’t like it.  But it’s probably better to have a little wine.  And we’d have never figured that out unless we did really good, rock solid science.  If emotions ruled the day, we’d continue to insist that teetotaling is the only way to be a good mother.

I’m sure a lot of people will continue to abstain completely.  And their children will continue to do poorly compared to those of the mothers who drink in moderation.  But there are a few folks here and there who actually trust science and will give themselves permission to be a little more relaxed during those terribly taxing nine months, and they and their children will be happier for it.

And maybe when the children grow up, they’ll trust science enough to start attacking poverty the way we’ve attacked drugs for the last 20 years.  And then more people will be happier and healthier.  And wouldn’t that be nice!

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Discussion

9 thoughts on “Why Science is Better than Emotion

  1. Don’t you just hate it when people just throw in supposed solutions to problems and avoid getting down to the core of the issue?

    Posted by cptpineapple | October 13, 2010, 2:28 pm
  2. I believe this extreme paranoia about women drinking during pregnancy is largely limited to the US.

    Posted by Chris | October 13, 2010, 3:09 pm
  3. The study was conducted in the UK precisely because they are not as uptight about it there, and it was easy to find a data pool of both moderate drinkers and teetotalers. So yeah, I agree with you.

    Posted by hambydammit | October 13, 2010, 3:26 pm
  4. Don’t you just hate it when people just throw in supposed solutions to problems and avoid getting down to the core of the issue?

    Almost as much as when armchair quarterbacks bitch constantly about things being done wrong, but don’t propose any way to do them right.

    Posted by hambydammit | October 13, 2010, 3:27 pm
  5. Almost as much as when armchair quarterbacks bitch constantly about things being done wrong, but don’t propose any way to do them right.

    Alright, I’ve said things along these lines before, but let me use this article as an example.

    I thought that any form of drinking while pregnant would be detrimental to the baby, and I used that in my arguments against the use of alcohol. However, I now know that it isn’t, so to avoid looking like somebody who disregards evidence in place of emotion I’ll stop using that argument, as the evidence that it does is shaky at best.

    Same with the atheist movement and religion. We atheists have two paths

    1] Solid evidence and sound logic that there is no good reason to believe in a magic sky daddy, and refutations of evidence in favour of a belief.

    2] Circumstancal at best, incomplete evidence and shaky logic that the world would be better without religion.

    So which one should we be arguing? The one that is founded on sound logic, or the one founded on emotion and anecdotes?

    I go for 1] because after all, science is better than emotion.

    Posted by cptpineapple | October 13, 2010, 4:19 pm
  6. 1] Solid evidence and sound logic that there is no good reason to believe in a magic sky daddy, and refutations of evidence in favour of a belief.

    2] Circumstancal at best, incomplete evidence and shaky logic that the world would be better without religion.

    What sort of sound logic led you to this “two choices.” There are dozens of other choices. How about 3] There’s very sound evidence that some parts of religious belief and practice are very harmful (condoms cause AIDS, don’t use birth control, don’t take your kids to the doctor when you can pray for them instead, teach your children that the earth is 6000 years old and science is wrong, etc…) 4] There’s strong evidence that the “benefits” from religious belief are enjoyed by people in non-believing countries through different mechanisms. 5] As a whole, non-believers in Western nations tend to be less homophobic, xenophobic, and resistant to progressive change…

    Etc… Etc…

    Why do you insist on lumping every single non-believer’s position into {All Atheists Believe and Act Upon The Idea That All Religion Must Be Eradicated Through Angry Denouncement.}

    Why is it so hard for you to recognize that people like me and quite a few other bloggers, speakers, etc, are perfectly willing to examine claims that religion can be beneficial? Why is it so hard for you to recognize that in the absence of empirical data demonstrating a quantifiable difference between the religious experience and non-religious experience (outside of admitted religious “badness”) that if the two experiences are equal except that religion facilitates some bad stuff, then on the whole, religion is more harm than good?

    And didn’t you just read my post on this very blog where I left open the possibility (with some skeptical reservation) that the act of prayer is beneficial, regardless of whether there’s an agent on the other side of it?

    Seriously.

    Posted by hambydammit | October 13, 2010, 4:33 pm
  7. Hamby, this is what I’m talking about.

    For example for 5] can you cite any studies?

    Remember that study I posted where non-religious people showed the same amount of intolerance as religious[the charts I showed you were from Canadian [i.e western nation] subjects]? Now you may say it didn’t take into account this or that, but do you have studies that DID take into account what that study is missing? Remember when I posted the study where sex education people used condoms as much as absitence only education?

    So I’m just suppose to throw those studies away? If I won’t accept arguments that religion is good based on religious people give to charity more because it doesn’t take into account other factors, than why should I accept yours when you refuse to take other factors into account?

    for 4], I can turn that around and say that the bad things from religion are also observed in secular ideologies through different mechanisms. So am I to just ignore the bad things that are done for non-religious reasons?

    Why do you insist on lumping every single non-believer’s position into {All Atheists Believe and Act Upon The Idea That All Religion Must Be Eradicated Through Angry Denouncement.}

    I don’t, I just argue with the ones that do. I don’t know exactly the percentage of atheists that do the “eradicate t3h religion” or how many do the “I’m skeptical that religion benifits society” or the “I think religion is harmful” or the “I don’t care about religion”. or any other one you can think of.

    To be fair Hamby, I know there are some atheists that don’t do that. One of my favorite atheist blogs is theatheistethicist, and I have read other atheist blogs that actually apply critical thinking to the claim religion is evil.

    I also apply the same thinking skills to the claim that religion is good [did you notice my comment on your prayer article? It’s just that I didn’t read how they did the study and assumed that they just reported prayer is correlated with loyalty]. But the reason you don’t see the “critisize relgious claims Alison” or the “Put the claim religion is good up to scientific light Alison” is because you don’t make religious claims. There’s hardly any Theists on RRS anymore.

    Didn’t you notice that I was a vocal opponent of creationism, and such even when I was a Deist on RRS?

    This is a form of conformation bias. If you blogged that you found Jesus Christ because he fixed your i-phone, than I would apply skepticism to that claim.

    You only see what from me what you blog about. I’m not going to argue with you about whether or not organic food is good or bad, or how to decrease drinking and driving because you don’t blog about those things.

    Why is it so hard for you to recognize that in the absence of empirical data demonstrating a quantifiable difference between the religious experience and non-religious experience (outside of admitted religious “badness”) that if the two experiences are equal except that religion facilitates some bad stuff, then on the whole, religion is more harm than good?

    My issue is the claim that religion in of itself is bad. I think the data shows that religion in of itself is neutral and some people have bad experiences, some have good, just like any other ideology you can name.

    And didn’t you just read my post on this very blog where I left open the possibility (with some skeptical reservation) that the act of prayer is beneficial, regardless of whether there’s an agent on the other side of it?

    Yeah, I did, and I think the fact you had to apologize for it is rather depressing.

    Posted by cptpineapple | October 13, 2010, 5:10 pm
  8. For example for 5] can you cite any studies?

    Yes, and I’ve done so repeatedly. But just pointing you to the work of Altemeyer ought to be enough.

    Remember that study I posted where non-religious people showed the same amount of intolerance as religious[the charts I showed you were from Canadian [i.e western nation] subjects]?

    Yes, I do. And I remember that it was very specific in measuring general ingroup/outgroup intolerance, which I’ve never disputed. That’s human nature. Religion amplifies the effect by labeling people who would be ingroup as outgroup based on an arbitrary belief system.

    for 4], I can turn that around and say that the bad things from religion are also observed in secular ideologies through different mechanisms. So am I to just ignore the bad things that are done for non-religious reasons?

    What’s the secular equivalent of the Inquisition?

    This is a form of conformation bias. If you blogged that you found Jesus Christ because he fixed your i-phone, than I would apply skepticism to that claim.

    Alison, I mean this sincerely. I hope you have to do so. I really, really hope my IPhone magically gets repaired before tomorrow. I would think that was the most exciting thing ever.

    My issue is the claim that religion in of itself is bad. I think the data shows that religion in of itself is neutral and some people have bad experiences, some have good, just like any other ideology you can name.

    I think you cherry pick the studies you like that show your conclusion. You think the same about me. We’re at a bit of an impasse.

    Yeah, I did, and I think the fact you had to apologize for it is rather depressing.

    I would hope that you can understand that apology as a bit of a sly critique.

    Posted by hambydammit | October 13, 2010, 7:22 pm
  9. Yes, and I’ve done so repeatedly. But just pointing you to the work of Altemeyer ought to be enough.

    You mean the one that says autoritianism is a personality trait and the beliefs can be about pretty much anything?

    I don’t see how them becoming non-believers will magically make them reduce in RWA [PETA anyone?]

    The “New” Atheist movement seems to be the type of people that speak out against conformity because all their friends do.

    Religion amplifies the effect by labeling people who would be ingroup as outgroup based on an arbitrary belief system

    I’ve never said religion doesn’t create an ingroup/outgroup mentality, however, people put in certain situations are more likely to harness ingroup/outgroup and if those aren’t dealt with, then they don’t magically go away.

    For example, the war in Iraq, sure I’m sure some of the brutality of the US troops is due to Christan vs Muslim, but that could easily be replaced by white guy vs Arab. Or Iraqi vs American

    If I have a choice of being killed for a religious reason, or a non-religious reason, I don’t think I’d have a preference.

    What’s the secular equivalent of the Inquisition?

    The expansion of the Soviet Union,the Kamher Rogue in Cambodia, the ethnic struggle in Sri Lanka, the drug trade in Mexico, political executions in China, rise of Communism in Albania, socialist struggle in Colombia, the Ba’ath expansion in the middle east etc…

    Alison, I mean this sincerely. I hope you have to do so. I really, really hope my IPhone magically gets repaired before tomorrow. I would think that was the most exciting thing ever.

    Just pay for the repairs you cheap skate.

    I think you cherry pick the studies you like that show your conclusion. You think the same about me. We’re at a bit of an impasse.

    We also both think we’re being rational and evidence based, and yet at least one of us is wrong.

    It’s all down to who has more cherries and whether or not I can do that thing when you tie the stem with your tongue.

    Posted by cptpineapple | October 13, 2010, 11:09 pm

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