This post ran originally on 28 February 2015. Given the quiet weekend, I postponed our Summa Contra Gentiles until next week.
It is a delight to change the subject from the dismal used-to-be science of global warming—it would be a blessing if I never had to write of it again—to something more useful.
Now many don’t know it, but the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen was a very learned man. He not only did these television broadcasts and a series of popular books, but he also have several scholarly works, including a volume on the philosophy of science which is highly recommended.
This short video (from 1955) is as good an introduction to statistics are you’re likely to find. Particularly in that it cautions, or rather hints over and again, that there are far better things to worship than research results. And don’t’cha just love that bit about the 12.3%? I know I do. And the good bis. even has things to say about conflicts of interest (reminder: the government, the scariest thing out there on these shores, funds most research).
At the 10:48 mark, if you don’t know. In 1936, the Literary Digest polled 10 million folks, of whom some 2.4 million replied, about who they’d vote for in the upcoming presidential election. The poll gave a guess of 370 electoral votes for Landon and 161 for Roosevelt. Oops. And don’t forget that all polls are scientific, and all are valid—for the types of people sampled (here and here).
Some juicy quotes to which we can all assent:
- “…never take graphs and statistics too seriously.”
- “That was the problem Kinsey had. Did everybody tell Kinsey the truth? Not on your life.”
- “Now here’s one statistic which you can take from me that is absolutely reliable, and it’s worth remembering: 50% of all of the married people in the United States are women.”
- “There are styles in thinking just as there are styles in clothes.”
- “If you marry the mood or the spirit of the age, you will be a widow in the next one.”
- “And to think well, remember that you cannot takes the methods and conclusions of one science and apply them indiscriminately to another science.”
- “To think well, one has to have principles that are independent of space and time, by which one can live.”
Regarding that 50% of married are women statistic, you might now think it untrue and not so reliable. But it is in fact still, and ever will be, true. A number different than 50% claim to be married, but that is nothing. Sanitariums are chock-full of folks who think they are Napoleon, but the real number is none. “It is the easiest thing in the world to tumble into some mood today.”
Besides the false belief that essence can be defined at will, we have scientism.