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Apparently, We Do Not Know What We Think We Know…

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…so says an article in the New York Times and a similar piece from AP.  Both articles cover the efforts of a group of psychologists to study the reproduciblity of psychological studies.  Quoting the NYT piece:

Now, a painstaking yearslong effort to reproduce 100 studies published in three leading psychology journals has found that more than half of the findings did not hold up when retested.

That is a big OOPS!  Astute readers will recall my recollections, written in early July, of the debate that occurred during my collegiate days on the place of psychology amongst the sciences.  Well, this study certainly sides with those that do not think psychology is a science.  Reproducibility of results is pretty much definitional to science.  No certain conclusions can be drawn from irreproducible results.

Which has massive political and policy implications.

On the political side, many psychological studies are based on polling techniques.  Which means this study calls political polls into question as much as it does psychology studies.  Therefore, when a story says “Pollsters dumbfounded by Trump,” you can pretty well bet no one knows what the heck is going on with this thing.  Politics is an art form.  As decisions about who sits at what table and a thousand other decisions are being made based on polling data – commentators, consultants, and politicos would do well to remember that indications are not certainties.

But it is the policy implications where this gets seriously interesting.  Just a few short weeks ago, I wrote of foundation for the Obergefell decision being the “immutability” of homosexual desire based on evidence of the American Psychological Association.  Do I really need to point out that this most recent study makes that foundation look very, very shaky?

What is made plain by this study is that the five justices that voted to make same sex marriage a right in our nation, thus making it the law of the land, did so based not on reliable evidence, but personal conviction.  It was a decision as arbitrary in its nature as the opponents of religion accuse religion-based ethical standards of being.

The proposition that religion-based ethical standards are arbitrary is highly debatable.  History and efficacy are strong arguments in favor of such ethics not shared by the modern proposals.  But this is a blog post and time does not allow for the full development of those arguments.  Let us adopt the proposition of arbitrariness for the moment.

In light of what is now essentially an evidence free decision in front of SCOTUS would not the best action have been no action?

What is made clear by this new study and the Obergefell decision is that the court, acting far outside the boundaries of law and evidence, in grabbing authority has deeply damaged its claim to such authority.  Under these circumstances history is quite likely to judge the five justices not as heroes, but as scoundrels that deeply damaged the American experiment.

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