## P-values: Destroying the Barrier Between Scientific and Creative Writing

If you recall from your stats 101 class p-values represent the probability that a quantitative finding reflects actual reality, such as some sort of difference between groups.  Statisticians use arbitrary cutoffs to define “statistical significance.”  P < 0.05 is a very common cutoff, meaning that if your result achieves a p-value of 0.05 or less, then the finding is said to be “statistically” significant, or, there is a 95% chance that your groups are different (or your therapy made a difference, or there was a change in functioning, ect.).  There is great controversy between statisticians and researchers regarding statistical significance.  I read a paper recently titled, “The Difference Between Statistically Significant or Not Is Not, Itself, Statistically Significant.”  Best.  Title.  Ever.  Basically, if p = 0.05 is significant, then what to say about p = 0.08?  Is there a dichotomy, in reality, between a finding which is statistically significant versus one which is not?  What about p = .05000000000001?  And so the debate rages.

I have only a limited understanding of statistics and of probability theory in general and am not necessarily interested in commenting on the debate itself.  However, interested as I am in epistomology especially with regards to political philosophy, and philosophy of science, I found this article fascinating.

It lists multitudes of ways of describing findings which are p > 0.05.  Many of them express something along the lines of “pretty much significant, but not really.”  For example,

approached near significance (p=0.06)
approached our criterion of significance (p>0.08)
approached significant (p=0.11)
approached the borderline of significance (p=0.07)
approached the level of signiﬁcance (p=0.09)
approached trend levels of significance (p0.05)
approached, but did reach, significance (p=0.065)
approaches but fails to achieve a customary level of statistical significance (p=0.154)
approaches statistical significance (p>0.06)
approaching a level of significance (p=0.089)
approaching an acceptable significance level (p=0.056)
approaching borderline significance (p=0.08)

From the standpoint of argument, it is interesting that there are so many creative ways to nudge a reader toward believing your point of view.  This perspective informs my skepticism toward grandiose public policy based on “science.”  In practice within social and political spheres, “facts” proclaimed by “science” [especially neuroscience] reflect essential and unquestionable reality.  In theory, “science” can only suggest tentative hypotheses, not infrequently supported by evidence “approaching a level of statistical significance.”

Science sure has its place.  There are definitely ways to qualify and quantify statistical and scientific findings.  Science is a powerful tool to investigate the natural world.  Science and technology enrich our lives and can be forces for good.  But science has its limits.  Any competent scientist will readily admit that scientific findings are tentative and that science, in general, while very powerful for studying natural phenomena, is ultimately limited in its quest for truth.  A scientist who fails to acknowledge as much is either ignorant or a charlatan.  And no, that’s not a false dichotomy.

## Makes Me Weep

This is an utterly gorgeous guitar quartet performance of Bach’s Prelude No. 1 from the Well-Tempered Clavier.  That piece is awesome no matter what the instrument, but I’ve never heard it sing so much as when LAGQ played it.  The amazing part is that despite each player contributing only 2 notes to the arpeggios, the sound is so seamless.  Definitely listen on stereo to get the full effect.

## Born This Way: A Violent Farce Against All that Is Good and Beautiful

Born this way

Give me a break.

Just the way you are

Come on now.

Live on and be yourself

Are you for real?

Don’t buy it when someone wants you “Just the way you are.”  Don’t buy it when a group wants you “Just the way you are.”  Don’t buy it when a religion wants you “Just the way you are.”  I don’t get it.  What is there to like about an ethos that is so negative?  If all there is is this moment, then fine.  I’ll take that.  Anyone would take that.  In this particular moment, I accept and love you just as you are.  That is very sensible.  ”Just the way you are”: insensible.  Anyone outside of a philosophy department at a local university knows that there is more than this moment.

What I can’t stand about this “Just the Way You Are,” “Born this way,” “Live on and be yourself,” is not really the battle that these propaganda are used for.  I understand the battle.  I can’t understand the war.  It’s the war against virtue, against striving to be the best version of ourselves as possible.  The life-long strife of development.

If the human race is evolving, progressing, and overall, growing toward something positive, or good, then anyone who tells you to be “just the way you are,” is holding you back from greatness.  Living in the past.  Turning the clock back as it were.

I unequivocally decry the “Just the way you are” attitude.  What pitiful and limiting message, which essentially communicates, “You can do, be, or progress to nothing greater than you are now.  You’d be better off just stopping to strive, because it’s better to feel good about yourself and settle, rather than struggle now, and achieve.”

Ugh.  The time someone tells you to “Live on and be yourself,” or “You were born that way,” or “You’re okay just the way you are,” walk away swiftly, and say, “No thanks.”

## Psychology: What Conservatives and Liberals Need to Learn

It’s helpful, every now and then, to take a step back and take in the vista.  James Kalb described the outlook for conservatives and liberals in his recent post at Crisis.  Thoughtful and somewhat forlorn, he decries the current technocratic thrust which appears alive and functioning well, and outlines its eventual implosion.  What struck me from a psychological perspective was his quasi-definition of conservatism:

They should be conservative not in the sense of maintaining existing trends and arrangements, but in the sense of valuing what those trends and arrangements reject: history, human nature, and the patterns and attachments, like family, religion, and particular culture, that are necessary for normal social functioning. [emphasis added]

Coming from the psychoanalytic tradition, attachment equates to something like the quality of relational bonds experienced from an early age.  Psychologists and psychoanalysts hypothesize that the quality of bonds contributes to the development of a particular relational-attachment style.  In recent decades, theorists described a few commonly-observed styles, such as avoidant, anxious, and secure.  Perhaps, like most psychological concepts, people’s attachment styles are contextually-driven and more continuous than categorical.  That is, I am probably more securely attached in some instances but more anxious in others.  Also, attachment security probably isn’t an all-or-nothing experience.  However, it is theorized that optimal relational functioning and affect regulation hinges on successfully secure attachment.  Unsuccessful, or insecure attachment supposedly contributes to anxiety, ranging from neurotic, everyday-level nervousness, to a more problematic, debilitating anxiety.

Kalb’s emphasis on social attachments is really important to consider.  The concept seems so obvious–that optimal functioning requires a sense of social and institutional belonging.  Family, culture, and institutions such as religion are common ways to fill that need.  As our culture continues to devalue institutions, emphasizing instead individual fulfillment and autonomy will create a new way of relating, which will really be an old way.  Culture, religion, and family bring together.  Technocracy tears apart.  The irony of collective psychology (e.g. APA, etc.) is the emphasis on individual fulfillment, based on a misguided notion of humanism; namely, favoring autonomy over belonging.  We can learn a lot from the attachment folks, who share with us the importance of the balance of belonging.

This is no joke.

## Ugh: Can it get any worse?

English: Boling water in colour (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Open letter to clinical psychology internship applicants (and anyone else going through a tough time right now):

Life is really hard right now.  There is no room to breathe.  The demands are so stifling that we choke from the moment to moment clatter and sputter of our plans and ways of being.

None of us have experienced anything quite like this before.  But one benefit from being pushed to the brink is that the view is grand.
What I mean is that when we are stripped of all surety of the moment, our health, our lives, our dreams and hopes and worries.  When all of that is insignificant, we are blessed with seeing boiled down to its True Joys and True Pains.  The refining fire creates a luscious, sour, and rich reduction-sauce delineating the distinction between nothingness and Eternity.
As Catholics we have intimate access to Eternity.  But our vision of the daily hassles, plans, and passing moments of the day obscures our Vision of Light, the Vision of Eternity.

Boiling away those hassles, plans, and moments, boiling away our pride and our attachments–this is the supreme good of now.  Let’s be sure to take time to Praise God today for that.  For boiling away our attachment to our selves, our pride…even to our family.

## Meta-blogging: Are questions effective blog post titles?

I have been thinking about writing a blog post for a few days.  This particular post, though, was inspired by reading the title of a post by prolific blogger, Fr. Z.  Reading the title made me think about how questions seem to be a way to grab a reader.  Especially effective is using a syrupy-sweet-sticky question as a grabber.  I think academic journal titles work like this too.

Something like “Life: A longitudinal analysis of Really Awesome Data.”   And then the actual journal article is about the fermentation of extracted turnip juice and its effects on enhancing toddler’s silly faces.  Seriously?

Actually, I would probably read that article.  Back to the meta, this particular post really just serves the purpose of allowing my weary mind to wander a little bit in the midst of internship application.  Man, those are getting tiresome.

I used to be such a sap though, writing in online journals.  Something about projecting my angsty, hormone-infused thoughts and feelings on to a screen, shouting on the peaks of livejournal my pain, loneliness, and existential suffering.  Something about that, yes.  Something about longing for posterity; longing to be seen and heard.  Hard to outrun those dreadful demons, still.