Thursday, March 26, 2009


Sorry to once again go after the right wing here, but most often these posts are in reaction to what I hear around me in everyday life and I just happen to be living in a hotbed of conservatism right now. When I lived in southern California most of my frustration was pointed at the other side.

Back to the point at hand. I have heard many people recently use the argument that the absence of a terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11 is somehow proof that Bush's policies were effective. Let's look at this rationally. Set aside your politics and forget about what you feel is the right answer and let's simply look at this as a scientist would.

Smith is worried about A. To prevent A Smith does B. A does not happen. Therefore B prevented A.


There is simply too much missing here to make that conclusion. The key missing point being would A have happened in the abscence of B. In other words was there a control.

So back to the Bush example, do we know that if Bush would have acted differently there would have been an attack? No. We can't know that. We can't run a control in this real life situation. Now if the new administration changes policy significantly and the results are changed (e.g. we are attacked, the gods forbid) that would be strong evidence in support of Bush's policy but it still wouldn't definitively prove anything about that policy as there was no control case. As it stands now there is no conclusion you can draw.

I find that a situation like this is best examined through example (and the more ludicrous the better).

Let's say that I am afraid of dying due to heart attack. A buddy of mine told me that drinking 6 shiner bock beers each week totally prevents heart attack. For the past 4 years I've imbibed shiner at a rate equaling exactly 6 beers/week and lo and behold no heart attack. According to the logic used by many political pundits referenced above drinking 6 shiner bock beers every week has indeed prevented me from having a heart attack. But we all know that is completely wrong. Why? Because we can't prove, everything else being equal, that if I had not had 6 shiner bock beers each week I would have had a heart attack. There is no control in this experiment. One case proves nothing.

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