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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Common nonsense

So, over at the horribly prejudiced CNS News I recently noticed a story about research into the causes, and moderators, of bar violence. Well, that's not completely true- take a look at the headline and first few paragraphs and see if you can spot what the article is really about:

Or, to quote directly:

$918,856 Federal Study: Bar Fights Tend to Happen in Darker, Dirtier Bars Frequented by Heavy Drinking, Less Agreeable People

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism paid $918,856 in tax dollars to fund a five-year study of “Alcohol and Bar Violence” that determined, among other things, that bar fights tend to occur in venues that are relatively dark, dirty, noisy, hot, and crowded and that are frequented by a clientele of younger, less agreeable, less conscientious, more impulsive heavy drinkers.

The study also discovered that a woman who gets in a bar fight has consumed on average four times as many drinks as her usual intake.

The $918,856 went to researchers at the Research Institute on Addictions at the State University of New York at Buffalo for a project entitled “Alcohol and Bar Violence.” The project ran from Sept. 25, 1997 to Aug. 31, 2002. [emphasis original]

Right, so, in reality this story is less about the research that was done, and more about the size of the grant that was required to perform the research. Now, before we worry about the size of the grant, I'd instead just like to commend CNS News for being even more half-assed with covering stories that I am. I mean, I routinely cover "old news," but I don't think I've ever reported- as a headline- something that happened over eight years ago. Bravo, CNS! Bravo, indeed!

But moving right along, I'm certain the real story is about the amount of money paid, not just because that's what the first few paragraphs seem to be about, but because of the rather fascinating questions CNS asks later on in the story:

CNS News asked Lorraine Collins how she would explain to the average American mom and dad--who make $52,000 per year, according to the Census Bureau--that taxing them to pay for this grant was justified.

“I think that all research is justified to the extent that it provides us with information that can be used to address public health problems,” said Collins. “I would think that many parents of males and females who are young and using alcohol might want us to understand what’s going on with their behavior.”

“The way that we tend to see research is that to the extent that we understand problem behaviors that we might be able to intervene to change those behaviors.” also asked the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism how it would justify the $918,856 in tax dollars spent on this grant to the average family earning $52,000 per year.

“Problems related to the excessive consumption of alcohol cost U.S. society an estimated $235 billion annually,” said NIAAA Spokesman John Bowersox. “Alcohol use, the third leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. is responsible for approximately 80,000 deaths annually.

“Alcohol-related violence is an important social and public health problem, and a substantial proportion of alcohol-related violence and injury occurs in licensed premises,” said Bowersox. “Analyses of aggression in bars will allow us to better u nderstand the alcohol-aggression relationship and identify specific aspects of barroom aggression for targeting prevention programs.” [emphasis added]

Clearly, there's no agenda here,* although one wonders if this might qualify as an example of Sarah Palin's infamous "Gotcha Journalism."

Now, you might be wondering why I've bothered to mention a silly news story from a silly little news site? Well, aside from the fact that my site is even more silly and little, it's because of the comments that this story has produced, and damn all if they aren't interesting. I can't link to the comments directly, though they're at the bottom of the story page, but as you read you'll notice a rather interesting trend- everyone is claiming that they could have done the research better, and more cheaply, than the researchers. Okay, fine, that often happens when the results of research studies are announced, particularly since people tend to claim that social science results are just common sense. The interesting thing about that being, of course, that common sense is, by and large, horseshit. So, for example, common sense tells us that "Opposites attract," but it also tells us that "Birds of a feather flock together." These two statements, however, make opposite claims and thus, while both can't be right at the exact same time, as long as one is correct people will observe that it's just common sense. It's easy for common sense to always come out on top because it tries to have it both ways. And so, we have to do research in order to determine which of the many, mutually contradictory, aphorisms we regard as "common sense" are actually true, if indeed ANY of them are true. But, that said, some of the commenters achieve truly remarkable levels of weird:

Or, in plain text:

Our Hard Earned Tax Dollars spent so these three idiots can get drunk and write about bars! Sounds like it has Obambi's signature on it! End all Grants such as these. Hell, anyone with a little Common Sense could have came up with the same for the price of a beer! What Idiots Politicians are! [emphasis added]

And thus we have a commenter who seems to be implying that Barack Obama, who is currently in his first term as president, somehow authorized a research project that ran from 1997 to 2002. That's one fancy pen he's got there! And don't even get me started on this guy:

Or, again in plain text:

More wasted Stimulus money.

And again, let's consider the timeline: was there any stimulus money in 2002? I'm thinking no.

Look, yesterday I wrote that sometimes Conservatives may be accused of being racists because people on the left are being lazy. I stand by that, but the sword cuts both ways. Why should I take someone's political views seriously when they are evidently too lazy to read even the first three paragraphs of a news story? Apparently only because what they're saying is common sense.

Yeah. We know how that turns out, though, don't we?

* Though I'm wondering if their next question was, "So, are you still beating your spouse? A yes or no answer will suffice."

As a side note: Yes, I'm aware this post was stupid. Give me a break, okay? I'm busy and tired.

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Blogger Unknown said...

Love your explanation for why we need science to root through all the horseshit of common sense - I think I'll be using that example of contradictory aphorisms on my students next time it comes up.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010 2:56:00 PM  

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