Archive for the ‘Science and Common Sense’ Category

Autism Spectrum Disorder and Gender Nonconformity

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

From National Geographic Magazine, January 2017 –

“Still, one finding in transgender research has been robust: a connection between gender nonconformity and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). According to John Strang, a pediatric neuropsychologist with the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders and the Gender and Sexuality Development Program at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., children and adolescents on the autism spectrum are seven times more likely than other young people to be gender nonconforming. And conversely, children and adolescents at gender clinics are six to 15 times more likely than other young people to have ASD.”

Robin Marantz Henig, Rethinking Gender, National Geographic Magazine, January 2017, Vol. 231, No. 1, pg. 59.

Comment: So we’re now operating on and pharmaceutically stopping the adolescence of autistic kids?

© Copyright 2017, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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The views posted at sanityandsocialjustice.net are those of Albert J. Schorsch, III, alone, and not those of any of his employers, past or present.

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Aphorism C

Friday, August 5th, 2016

Both Left and Right narratives are dangerous myths, driving accurate scientific and historic knowledge about what really hurts and benefits people and society into obscurity. Science and history have been subsumed by ideology, and has greatly lost its ability to check and balance ideology. Until we can strengthen science and history as independent sources of accurate information, and management as a liberal art, society will remain needlessly fragmented. Unless public policy is informed by science and history, terrible errors and mishaps can hurt the very people that both Left and Right claim to help.

© Copyright 2016, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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The views posted at sanityandsocialjustice.net are those of Albert J. Schorsch, III, alone, and not those of any of his employers, past or present.

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Medical Error: Third Leading Cause of Death in the US

Sunday, July 10th, 2016

According to a Johns Hopkins study by Martin A. Makary and Michael Daniel, medical error is the third leading cause of death in the US, with approximately 251,000 deaths annually due to this cause. Here’s the reference:

Makary, M. A. and M. Daniel (2016). “Medical error-the third leading cause of death in the US.” BMJ (Clinical research ed.) 353: i2139.

Deaths by medical error thus far exceed death by gun (34,000), by motor vehicles (34,000) – and therefore to a great extent by alcohol, by suicide (41,000), and by Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease COPD (149,000), and are second only to death by heart disease (611,000) and to cancer (585,000). It is also likely that medical error disproportionately harms the poor.

We should therefore have a walk / run for the cure, ribbons, etc. to reduce medical error!

If our government were aligned to truly better the human condition, we would systematically address medical error, and diseases like sickle cell, which itself confers a likely death sentence on 100,000 US citizens and on 5 million Nigerians! Yet activists by and large ignore sickle cell disease, perhaps because gun violence draws more media and political attention. Anti-gun activism reinforces media viewing and drives political action. But it potentially saves far fewer lives than an effective campaign against medical error, or against smoking.

US Hispanics, who face similar poverty among their ranks, tend to outlive African Americans by six years – probably due to lower smoking rates among Hispanics, according to a 2013 report from the Population Reference Bureau. Anti-smoking activists are still waiting for President Obama, a former(?) smoker, to speak out loudly on this critical public health issue.

Politics, not public health concerns, therefore drives our public health priorities. If our priority was human life, the medical error and other larger public health challenges would be addressed.

Addressing societal ineffectiveness and inefficiency is therefore indeed a social justice issue. This is one point almost universally missed by political and by religious leaders especially. Every time Pope Francis speaks out against modern society’s drive for efficiency, I cringe, thinking of the annual 251,000 US deaths due to medical error, and of the untold number of such unnecessary deaths worldwide.

Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won’t Tell You and How Transparency Can Revolutionize Health Care, 2012, Bloombury Press, by Marty Makary MD, ISBN 978-1-60819-838-2, has some good suggestions on reducing medical error.

© Copyright 2016, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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The views posted at sanityandsocialjustice.net are those of Albert J. Schorsch, III, alone, and not those of any of his employers, past or present.

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Aphorism XCIII

Sunday, December 20th, 2015

Marx tried, and failed, to establish a science of history.

Husserl tried, and failed, to philosophically ground the sciences.

Wanting to change the world for the better, the post-WWII generations weakened science by politicizing it in their own images. The world they did change, but not for the better, because they had weakened science by casting it within their own self-idolatry.

Over two centuries of failed efforts to philosophically ground the sciences indicate the difficulty of the task. But science will not progress to significantly improve the world until the sciences are philosophically grounded.

To invoke today’s weakened science as the hope of humanity would indeed be folly, since science now subsumes and is delimited by the political flavor of the week. The sciences must be rebuilt by philosophy in concert with enduring human and Divine values. But who is capable of this difficult challenge, which involves lifetimes of analysis and work, not the spewing of easy rhetoric?

Therefore, we are stuck with easy rhetoric, with clever narratives leading mostly nowhere, and with human knowledge subservient to partisan interests, rather than knowledge informing and strengthening human community and wisdom freeing the human spirit.

© Copyright 2015, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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The views posted at sanityandsocialjustice.net are those of Albert J. Schorsch, III, alone, and not those of any of his employers, past or present.

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Catholic Christian Answers to an Atheist

Sunday, May 17th, 2015

Why Do We Follow Jesus as Catholic Christians?

Jesus taught that the greatest love is to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13), and to love one another as he loved us (John 13:34). By His willing acceptance of human suffering and death, Jesus transformed and transcended the meaning of suffering and death.

Jesus’ “New Commandment” to love as he loved could not simply have evolved to radical altruism through a biological process, where altruism arises to a point, but could only have been revealed–introduced as something completely new–as a Divine Gift by Jesus.

This love-teaching of Jesus is an historic fact in human culture.

We Catholic Christians remember Jesus’ New Commandment of Love both in the way we live and in our celebration of the Eucharist. By consuming the Body and Blood of Christ in the appearance of consecrated bread and wine as a living, present, continuing act of Love, we declare our unity with this Love, Who is God. In so doing, we proclaim the Resurrection of Christ.

The Catholic Church is first of all the sacrament–both a sign and an instrument–of the unity of the human race in union with God (Lumen Gentium, Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 1). We believe that we are not the slaves of God, but his friends (John 15:15). This friendship and freedom are God’s gift to us.

In believing in Jesus and in sharing in his Church as Catholic Christians, we listen to the truth which makes us free (John 8:32). To reveal this truth and freedom Jesus suffered death and rose from the dead for our sake, and gave us the gift of His Church.

Hope requires trust in that which greater than ourselves–not in the state, which in the end can enslave–but in God, Who frees.

Without this Christ and His Church, there would be no transcendence of suffering and death, no hope of human unity, no hope of eternal life, no hope that the poor in spirit will be blessed, or that the meek will inherit the earth, or that the merciful will obtain mercy, or that those who hunger and thirst for justice will be satisfied (Matthew 5:5). Those who reject belief in God and His Church risk rejecting these good things. In the end, the atheist to be consistent must reject also the Beatitudes.

A world without the living Love of Jesus Christ is a world without hope of overcoming slavery, strife, despair, and violence.

Science is necessary to offer healing to a point, but cannot offer lasting hope, nor a sure path to human unity without another failed and destructive attempt at totalitarian government–since to enforce universal atheism will once again require totalitarianism.

Belief should not reject science. Far from it. Neither does science contradict belief. But science has yet to demonstrate that it can in and of itself overcome pseudo-science. The (1) persistence of quackery in medicine (witness daytime TV and late-night infomercials, and intellectual thralldom to the unproved theories of Freud for the better part of a century), the (2) politicization of the social sciences which have weakened science as a positive force, and (3) continuing breaches of scientific ethics at universities all speak to the reality of science as an imperfect work in progress, not as a finished product.

Today both Christian belief and science are weakened forces, but both still seek truth. It is possible, and desirable, to embrace Christian belief while respecting and practicing science.

Once one recognizes that there is an aspect of Love that is transcendent, beyond what science can explain, one has entered into the truth of belief in God.

© Copyright 2015, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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The views posted at sanityandsocialjustice.net are those of Albert J. Schorsch, III, alone, and not those of any of his employers, past or present.

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Aphorism LXXXIII

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

A gaggle of public intellectuals, who make the well-trod rounds of op-ed pages and of ho-hum college campuses, propose a solution for an efficient, peaceful society based upon science and rationalism alone.

But science in practice is but another imperfect human endeavor, subject both to arrogant hubris like the Tuskeegee and Guatemala experiments, and to rushed, sloppy ethics as documented regularly by government agencies. Science is extremely useful, but from science mostly comes: more science.

Rationalism in practice can either lead to a French Revolution and a Reign of Terror, or to an American Revolution with an unfulfilled promise of Liberty and Justice for All.

Catholicism recognizes the reality of sin, and the reality of forgiveness. One cannot understand human history without acknowledging sin, and one cannot change history for the better without practicing forgiveness. Science can cure disease, but it cannot cure the human heart.

The metaphor of the human heart is indeed irrational and unscientific. But the human heart nevertheless drives human history. Human history cannot be healed without the healing of the human heart.

A scientific rationalist could not say, as Lincoln did, “with malice toward none, with charity for all,” unless Jesus Christ spoke words of forgiveness almost two millennia before, embedding forgiveness into human history.

The young ISIS fanatic says from behind his mask to the Christian, “There is nothing between us but the sword.” But some day, an old ISIS fanatic will take off his mask, and put his heart where his sword used to be. This change will take place not because of science or rationalism, but because God speaks forgiveness.

© Copyright 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Aphorism LXXIV

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Inefficient and ineffective government cannot be compassionate government. Every resource wasted steals from another good purpose. Every unintended consequence or perverse incentive invites another injustice.

Therefore every act of government requires unremitting scrutiny through continuing public policy analysis, evaluation, and reform.

Consequently, to criticize the faults of a government program is not in an of itself lacking in compassion. Compassion and efficient, effective government belong together.

Every good steward must be a student of efficiency and effectiveness.

Poor stewardship and neglect of a public resource is every bit an evil as is narcissism and hardness of heart.

© Copyright 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Aphorism LXXII

Sunday, January 5th, 2014

Those who know religious people and religious society in their contradictory complexity and feel betrayed by religion sometimes naively turn to science or to politics, without knowing scientific or political society to a similar point of complexity and betrayal.

No significant human endeavor is completely free from betrayal by its adherents. When one sees no such betrayal, one lacks deep knowledge of that given human endeavor.

© Copyright 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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On Reading the “Treatise on Law” of St. Thomas Aquinas

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

It would be difficult to consider the question of social justice without considering the notion of the common good and its relationship to law.

The following terse statement written sometime from the 1260s to the 1270s irrevocably linked the notion of the common good to the definition of law:


Et sic ex quatuor praedictis potest colligi definitio legis, quae nihil est aliud quam quaedam rationis ordinatio ad bonum commune, ab eo qui curam communitatis habet, promulgata.

And so from the four traits that have been mentioned, we can put together a definition of law: Law is (a) an ordinance (ordinatio) of reason, (b) for the common good, (c) made by one who is in charge of the community, and (d) promulgated.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, First Part of the Second Part (I-II), Question 90, Article 4, Translated by Alfred J. Freddoso.

http://www.thomasinternational.org/projects/step/treatiseonlaw/delege090_4.htm, accessed 9/22/13.

Drawing in this case from St. Isidore of Seville, as well as from Classical, early Christian, Scriptural, and throughout his writings from a wide variety of his own contemporary sources, including Jewish and Islamic, St. Thomas Aquinas summarized, synthesized, and structured a moral, rational, practical, and communal basis for law that extends beyond what a mere summary of his presentation might reveal.

That is why I highly recommend that those interested in deepening their understanding simply “step into the water” and read into the thomasinternational.org presentation of the “Treatise on Law,” very nicely presented in several languages at that website.

What can be learned from a document on law that is hundreds of years old?

One is a deeper understanding of the relationship between human reason, both practical and what we would today call “theoretical” (and what translators of Aquinas call “speculative”), and the common good as a product of human action.

A second is the series of linkages that Aquinas establishes between human practical reason and the common good. These linkages involve natural law, which informs human-made law.

When the law appeals to “common sense” by any measure, despite popular modern rejection of any natural law, the law is appealing to natural law as Aquinas defined it.

Human-made law devoid of common sense toward the common good, and thus a linkage of practical reason with the common good–Aquinas’ natural law–is practically useless.

A third is the role of the Divine Law, both the Old Law (based, in St. Augustine’s memorable turn of phrase, upon “timor” or fear) and the New Law (based upon “amor” or love) in informing human action toward the common good.

The Divine Law and natural law inform human-made law. Both Divine Law and natural law lead us to direct human-made law toward the common good.

A law that is not made for the common good is unjust.

Few writers clarify and stimulate the mind as does Aquinas. I invite my readers to jump in!

I’ll have more on this topic after several more readings. But I will say this: those who try to merely boil down Aquinas to a catechism or a series of lists without wrestling with his dynamic and insightful mind miss being taught by him to live the Christian and intellectual life more fully and dynamically. Each time I turn to St. Thomas Aquinas, he wakes me up to something I never saw or never understood.

For more resources on reading and studying the works of St. Thomas Aquinas, try this link.

And just how does one measure whether a law or government action benefits the common good? A much longer answer is in the works. . .

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Family Inequality in Search of Better Science

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

One very perceptive critic of those social scientists who still dare to defend what has come to be called “traditional marriage” is Professor Philip N. Cohen, sociologist of the University of Maryland, College Park.

Prof. Cohen’s blog, familyinequality.wordpress.com, is entertaining, current, and thought-provoking. He does a good job of pointing out the scientific lapses of those with whom he disagrees. Having a nemesis like Prof. Cohen challenges the level of performance of those with a differing point of view. Unfortunately, a number of thinkers who disagree with Prof. Cohen do not possess the level of mastery necessary to do so effectively.

Then again, Prof. Cohen appears to be a better critic than he is himself a scientific master–not that that will matter in terms of his academic success or current reputation, since today’s academic success gravitates toward the politically correct.

Prof. Cohen has chosen a very safe niche within academia, serving as a critic of the traditional, and does not yet appear ready to challenge the fundamental assumptions of both the traditional and the progressive. Were he to do so, he might become a great scientist whose works would be read for centuries. He certainly appears to have the fundamental talent.

But Prof. Cohen also appears to currently have a number of deficiencies as a rigorous thinker. I’ve chanced upon what appear to be recurrent fallacies in this analysis, including the genetic, misplaced concreteness, petitio principii, just to name a few. These subtle parlor tricks are academic stock in trade, and may dazzle the students, and unfortunately, some peers, but they don’t get us closer to truth. Prof. Cohen’s knowledge of the philosophic pitfalls of the social sciences does not appear magisterial by any means. His arguments are sometimes one-sided, not taking both sides of the ledger of costs and benefits into account, but flipping from one to another depending on the argument. He also does not appear to have mastered systemic, supply chain, or input-output analysis. Prof. Cohen informs, but does not yet enlighten.

I’ve just read about a recently-deceased judge who made it a practice to have her clerks draft findings both for and against plaintiffs. It was only after reflection upon such a rigorous inquiry that the judge rendered the final decision (easier for the judge to delegate than the judge to do!). This approach is similar, of course, to that of St. Thomas Aquinas, who regularly made better arguments for the opposition than the opposition did in his own pursuit of the truth.

Were a scientist like Prof. Cohen to equally divide his or her time for say, a year, between rigorously (and publicly) criticizing scientific papers on the family that were funded by both traditional and progressive foundations, not only would I admire him for his bravery and integrity, but he might help raise the bar across the social sciences, which, no matter who is funding, is still set pretty low.

It is one thing to publicly criticize research funded by family-focused foundations, it is another to publicly–not simply in anonymous peer review–criticize research funded by the very foundations that might fund you yourself. A great scientist eventually achieves the independence to do both.

For a clever critic like Prof. Cohen, finding social scientific lapses is like shooting fish in a barrel, since scientific lapses abound. But he still appears to lack the philosophic mastery to advance the science of the family as science. And I’m not sure which social scientist would dare bite the hand that feeds him or her just for the sake of mere science or mere truth.

Our civilization, such as it is, does desperately need to have an independent scientific community disengaged from political factions. But it is easier these days to be an advocate. These academic cheering sections get funded all the time by different camps of the culture wars. I hope Prof. Cohen, and those of equal or greater talent, become great scientists instead.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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