We understand matters as a picture created by connected specifics. The picture collapses if we lose the connections, or the picture is vague if we don't see enough connections, or distorted if too many of the connections are false.
One example of an overly simple conclusion might be connecting Adam Lanza's murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School on his suffering from Asperger's syndrome. Some have complained that Asperger's syndrome shouldn't be blamed. They point out that other kids with Asperger's syndrome have not been going on shooting rampages.
Lanza has been described as a loner, and some have felt obliged to defend loners, saying that not all loners murder people. It became known that Lanza was an avid user of video games that celebrated violence, and someone asserted that not everyone who watches such games commits murder. Newt Gingrich blamed Lanza's rampage on people having abandoned religion. But none of these alone – Asperger's syndrome, being a loner, playing violent video games or not being religious – passes as a valid explanation as to why Lanza went on a murderous rampage. The only good answer would be a collection of interrelated specifics. This is what scientists do: collect specifics and examine their connections to an event. The more specifics the better.
An example of bad conclusions from insufficient specifics is the use of analogies. Conclusions as to how to handle a crisis should be constructed on a body of connected specifics in the here and now. Analogies don't do that. Analogies are abstractions. Military leaders have made the mistake of fighting the last war – a strategy by analogy – rather than correctly analyzing the specifics of their current war.
There are what social scientists call correlations – a tool used in examining social conditions. It's a study of groups of people rather than one event. It is not erroneous in that doesn't claim to be more than it is. It is not masquerading as describing a specific cause applicable to a specific person. It is about tendencies within a group.
We can expect a continuation of ludicrous conclusions drawn from too few specifics, from analogies and sloppy generalizations. These are the habits of many of us.
CONTINUE READING: Writing history
Copyright © 2017 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.