Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Knowledge isn't judgemental

Yesterday over at To Love, Honor and Vacuum, Sheila sparked a bit of heated debate. Was the topic politics, religion, or sex education? Nope. None of the above. Try "decorating". A baby's room.

You can pop over and read the article yourself -- my post isn't really about the pros and cons of making a child's room into a suite retreat from family living. What surprised me (but shouldn't have) was the defensiveness of some of the comments. Several readers seemed to feel that Sheila was judging their choices and declaring a "bad parent" verdict. When all she really did was draw attention to several studies suggesting detrimental effects of having televisions in a kid's bedroom; in fact, she included hyperlinked references to the studies for readers to easily access the information she discussed.

Taking the results of scientific studies as a personal attack happens almost as often as policy-makers ignoring the results of studies that aren't "PC". And it happens to be one of my biggest pet peeves, but that might be my Vulcan blood showing through. Knowledge is knowledge; even if it has emotional repercussions or rocks your boat, please expend the mental energy to figure out why it bothers you and don't ignore the new information (or shoot the messenger).

I'll give an extreme example, one that I learned from a virologist during an "advances in immunobiology" lecture series. She led a research team trying to isolate the cause of a disease that was making a lot of people with AIDS sick, even killing them. The team eventually realized there was a correlation between the disease and owning a cat. This led to the discovery that the cats were transmitting an opportunistic virus. When this news was published, the researcher received death threats. People (especially those affected by the disease) were so upset by their (mis)perception that the researcher was suggesting they get rid of their cats that they wanted the study retracted. And an apology, of course.

Do you really think the researcher set out to conspire against AIDS patients having cats in their homes?

Sounds silly when you say it out loud like that.


  1. Hi Megan! Thanks for this great post, and for sticking up for me! You are so right.

    I must admit, though, that I can be guilty about ignoring research, too. I'm pretty passionate about some things, for instance, like abstinence education, or marriage over common-law. And if I see research that doesn't seem to support what I think should be the case, my natural response is to accuse the study of bias.

    I really need to stop that, and just realize that life is probably not as straightforward as I think. And knowledge is always good, because it helps us figure out potential solutions, and potential problems, far more easily!

  2. It does sound silly. People can get crazy defensive sometimes... probably because most people, and especially women (myself included), can be led by emotions rather than logic.

  3. Who in the world lets their child have a TV in their room?!
    And a suite retreat from family living sounds like code for the parents want a break from the kid. Well now I'm curious and have to go read it.

  4. Sheila -- I want to be clear that the results of scientific studies shouldn't just be accepted without thought, especially if they conflict with a foundational belief in your life. One study is just one part of the whole picture. I merely wanted to emphasize that new information should be considered thoughtfully even if it bugs you. :)

  5. Jodi -- So true! It's always best to assume that people will act based on emotions far more often than reason. And I am not of the "emotions are bad and you should ignore them" camp. They just need to be tempered by reasoning.

  6. Molly -- it is not uncommon at ALL for children to have televisions and computers in their own rooms. It always bugs me when I see a bedroom design on HGTV that centers around where the tv will go.