Monday, May 5, 2008

Are facts believable?

Today we decided not to use a statistic with a candidate survey because it was so overwhelming huge that concern it would never be believed. And part of trust is being believed.

Today there was an article about melanoma (skin cancer) in our local paper. The Melanoma Foundation of New England offered grant drawing to schools where 70% or more of students signed a pledge not to tan prior to going to the prom. And a Maine school was among the winners. The article says "People who use tanning beds before the age of 35 increase their melanoma risk by 75%, and teens in the US account for about 2 million tanning bed visits annually." But also notable was this, "A survey at New England schools that could not get the 70% of the class to make the no tan pledge uncovered one reason .... they just didn't believe the facts .... which tells us that we have a lot more work to do."

A favorite colleague is being treated for melanoma. A mole had changed colors, started bleeding and then diagnosed as malignant. A favorite blogger reports her experience with melanoma and works to create awareness. Everyone needs to review the pictures of what to look for, and take it seriously. Early detection can save your life.

Some facts need to be believed. And if we think they won't be, there is much more work to do.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My heart goes out to your friend who is fighting melanoma.

On the facts thing, I think one big problem is that we do not teach young people how to evaluate factual claims critically. Because they do not know how to recognize a useful fact when they see one, they distrust all factual assertions, relying on their intuitions. (There is all sorts of research about why intuitive reasoning could prove deadly for the modern world.)

I teach first-year law students how to make legal arguments. They are very intelligent, but largely ignorant of 1) the way statistics work; and 2) the structures of valid arguments.

I really would like to see an emphasis on educating young people to reason - let's call it 'reasoning across the curriculum' - analogous to the emphasis on writing. After all, there's no point teaching them to write if what they write does not hang together.