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EVIDENCE-BASED-HEALTH  October 2001

EVIDENCE-BASED-HEALTH October 2001

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Subject:

Re: theory or evidence? (fwd)

From:

Roy Poses <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Roy Poses <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 18 Oct 2001 09:39:55 EDT

Content-Type:

TEXT/PLAIN

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TEXT/PLAIN (57 lines)

---------------------------------------------------------
Roy M. Poses MD
Brown University Center for Primary Care and Prevention
Memorial Hospital of RI
111 Brewster St.
Pawtucket, RI   02860
USA
401 729-2383
fax: 401 729-2494
[log in to unmask]

----------------------------Original message----------------------------
"Simon, Steve, PhD" <[log in to unmask]> said
This is the problem of biased assimilation effect. This is the tendency to
look harder for flaws in papers that we disagree with and to overlook flaws
in papers that we agree with. This has been demonstrated empirically (see
MacCoun 1998 for several good examples). I see it most often when dealing
with research that is highly emotional and where opinions are very strongly
held. Gun control proponents are highly critical of John Lott's research
that claims that concealed carry laws reduce crime and at the same time will
cite much of the public health literature that claims that having a gun in
the home increases your risk of injury and death. Opponents of gun control
praise Lott's research and criticize the public health literature. Both sets
of research are based on weak observational designs and have similar flaws
and shortcomings. There is similar polarization about the relationship
between IQ and heredity. One side claims that half the research is bad and
cites the other half as proof. The opposite side will do the same, but will
reverse the two halves.

Is it possible that we are more critical of homeopathy research not because
it is bad research, but because it supports a viewpoint that we disagree
with? Are proponents of homeopathy too ready to overlook the gaps in the
research?
------------------------------------------------------------------------

Actually, I think this is a version of a cognitive bias that has been
observed in other situations, "the illusion of validity," discounting
information that goes against one's preferred conclusion.


----------------------------------------------------------------------
I don't want to sound like one of the post-modernist thinkers, but I do
believe that it is very hard to be truly objective in evaluating research.
I've noticed disagreement even on something as basic as whether a given
article provides supportive evidence of or refutes homeopathy (I don't have
the citation handy). And I've noticed all too often the following request:
"the conclusions of this paper are all wrong--help me find the flaw in their
reasoning."
-----------------------------------------------------------------------

I don't think this is post-modernist, or extreme relativism.  A post-modernist
would say any objectivity is impossible, so don't bother trying to be ojective,
in fact, do your best to push your personal point of view regardless of its
merits.  A non-naive realist would say true objectivity is very difficult, and
perfect objectivity may be unobtainable, but one should strive to be as
objective as possible.  Furthermore, knowing about cognitive biases may make
it more possible to consciously minimize their effects on one's own thinking.

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