Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Getting the Lead Out - of Poor Thinking

New research finds Pb is the hidden villain behind violent crime, lower IQs, and even the ADHD epidemic. And fixing the problem is a lot cheaper than doing nothing.
-"America's Real Criminal Element: Lead"
I'm inclined to believe the recent news (critique, rebuttal) about lead poisoning being the primary culprit in the cause of the crime wave from the 1960s through the 1990s will prove out.

But I'm a spectator here. Notwithstanding the commitment to my current convictions, I do think more study should be pursued to find disconfirming evidence to determine just how strong this hypothesis really is. See, I do not want to believe something is true because I've been convinced it's true. I want to believe because all other alternative explanations have been excluded either by logic or evidence. I hope we're all properly skeptical in this way because the value of removing hypotheses that don't explain the data well might, as is indicated in "America's Real Criminal Element: Lead," prove immensely valuable.

However, I think there is something else for us all to learn here, not just about the pernicious effect of lead in the environment, but also about the toxic effects of bias in our thinking, planning, and policy making and the long term effects of them.

As you read the three linked articles above, ask yourself:
  • How often do we insist that we know, know beyond a shadow of a doubt, the cause of some puzzling event because of our ideology, superstitions, or by confusing causation with correlation
  • Similarly, how often do we consider just how ignorant we really are, completely unaware of hidden variables at work beneath the fa├žade of preconceived notions
  • How often do we take credit or assign credit to our heroes for desired outcomes on the heels of decisive action when good luck is probably just as good an explanation? 
  • Or conversely, how often do we blame ourselves or others for undesirable outcomes when bad luck is also probably just as good an explanation?
...we all have a deep stake in affirming the power of deliberate human action.
There is power in knowing, but there is also power in being aware of just how little we know. And that might prove to be more valuable.

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