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Friday, 21 July 2006

Researching The Obvious
As I read the news Sunday morning, I ran across the following article headline: Desire Controls What We See, Study Finds. Well, with a headline like that, how can you avoid reading the article? So I jump into the article and I pretty much find what I expect. For example, this gem:

There is an age old hypothesis in psychology that a person’s wishes, hopes and desires can influence what they see, said David Dunning, Cornell University psychologist and co-author of the study. This theory had lay dormant for about 40 years, though, without any supporting evidence.
Now, I’m not the smartest guy on the face of the Earth, but this one just strikes me as so self evident I can’t believe (a) that anyone contests it, (b) there’s much (any) need to actually test it, (c) it provides any practical insight into human psychology beyond that given by accepting the anecdotal evidence, and (d) they could find anyone to fund this study in the first place.

I mean, come on. If you need to test this one, do you also need to test the hypothesis about people liking sex? Just how obvious does something need to be to just be accepted and not wasting money on it? I’m a firm believer in the Scientific Method, but human psychology isn’t terribly amenable to it’s ministrations, anyway.

Especially when you get into the meat of the article and examine the tests they used in the study. The tests all involve value judgements (“is X good”), rather than judgements of fact (“is X red”). Actual people, who live in a society rather than a psychology lab, have realized the truth of this effect for a long time. It seems pretty damned obvious when you’re talking about subjective judgements like is that a smile or a smirk.

Of course what you want to see will influence the way you interpret what you see. Just like the fact that a truly unbiased report can never be given by a human. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, your interpretation of events, facts, sensory data, will always be colored by your prior experiences, your knowledge, even your mood. So why on earth would it be any different with desire?

I have to wonder how much money they spent on this study. I also must wonder how much of it was extorted from taxpayers.

Ironically, the next story on Yahoo! News was UFOs: True Believers and Truth Seekers Conference Begins. And that story linked to Duped and Clueless: How Easily We Fool Ourselves. The connections among these articles are left as an exercise for the reader.

And, just to pour a little fuel on the fire, this morning I found on Yahoo! News another gem: "It's not what you said .." (see links below). This article discusses

… a paper in the Journal of Memory and Language that reported on a group of experiments said to provide the first evidence of “analog acoustic expression” – people unconsciously modulating their voices in ways that provide an additional channel of expression understood by others.
I guess these guys must live in complete isolation, never interacting with other human beings. Even two year olds understand this concept, and mothers sure as hell understand it, at least implicitly. Just listen to a toddler’s mother trying to get the child to stop doing something.

It seems like while we’re working on trying to get kids in school back “into” science and math, maybe we ought to pair them up with some of these bozos doing this stupid research. They sure need some additional interaction with actual people, not their hermit-like large craniumed colleagues, but real, actual people.


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