Tuesday, September 17, 2013

That Really Explains A Lot

An Alternet article titled "The Most Depressing Discovery About the Brain, Ever", along with the related Grist article, "Science Confirms:  Politics Wrecks Your Ability to Do Math", sheds a great deal of light on why it is so hard to get people to accept the truth when it conflicts with their political views.  A recent study found that our political passions can easily (and unfortunately) undermine our most basic reasoning skills.  That is, no matter how good one is at math, one may get the answer to a math problem wrong if the right answer contradicts their political beliefs.  Worse, when people are misinformed, giving them facts to correct such errors only makes them cling to their erroneous beliefs even more.  And this is true no matter how smart someone is--in fact political passion appeared to trump reason even more so for those who were better at math!  A truly depressing discovery indeed.

All this explains why our movement in particular has had such a hard time convincing the opposition about the error of their ways.  For an issue as fraught and passionate as the drinking age, it seems that for many of our opponents, no amount of evidence is enough to convince them that their unscientific and pseudo-scientific positions really don't stand up to scrutiny.   A particular debate that our group's leader had with an otherwise intelligent and well-educated member of the pro-21 crowd (with a PhD no less!) comes to mind.  The opponent's "evidence" and faulty logic were refuted over and over again by citing the best studies on the matter, and yet he still refused to budge one bit, finding every conceivable reason to believe that our data were suspect.  This literally went on for weeks.  But eventually he just got tired of arguing and walked away with his proverbial tail between his legs, after which we proudly declared victory.

In other words, we really do have our work cut out for us, and more so than we ever thought.


  1. A big hurdle in our movement to lower the drinking age is that is common for people to blame alcoholic beverages for having made bad decisions.

    That attitudes create the impression that alcoholic cancel out good decisions. This is not the truth. Many people who are against lowering the drinking age have that attitude. Lowering the drinking age to 18 is a good goal and is one I will always support. For people who are against the drinking age, they only support statistics that are in their favor. Being tactical in debates is the right strategy for our movement since opponents put too much emphasis on statistics.

    The movement to lower the drinking age to 18 has all the answers to make a drinking age of 18 to be effective. We should not put too much priority on statistics so that there is more importance in defending our plan for a drinking age of 18.

    As we all know, lowering the drinking age to 18 will be long and hard so supporting laws which are stepping stones to our big goal is also important.

  2. Well, I appreciate the "otherwise intelligent and well-educated" complement. However, I did not walk away wht my "proverbial tail between my legs." I just got tired of your constant refusal to accept ANY data that indicated that MLDA-21 has been a remarkably effective prevention measure across a range of outcomes and consequences. Given that the vast majority of studies on this issue concur with that assessment and the even vaster (I made that word up) majority of scientists in the field endorse MLDA-21 there is little to argue about. There are a few studies that do not agree but this is the case in any research field. Look at climate change - something like 90% of climate scientists agree that the increase in greenhouse gasses is man made, but there is a very vocal and influential small minority who disagree (Sen. Inhofe for one). I'll exclude Jeffrey Miron from that group since he is an admitted paid shill for the alcohol industry. Just so you know - I have no agenda and am only interested in the science and the beauty of it is science does not care what you believe!

  3. Here is where you are wrong, John Searles:

    Is there any study which has assessed the effectiveness of a drinking age of 18 which?:

    Requires passing an alcohol education course.

    Bans the advertisement of alcoholic beverages on TV and radio.

    Restricts large or larger amounts of alcoholic beverages which can be purchased by a person who is 18-19 years old.

    Smarter penalties have been implemented for drunk driving.

    Punishes a person more strongly who has given alcoholic beverages to a person who is 17 or under, rather than the person who drank the alcoholic beverage.

    The answer to my question is no. Laws as described in this comment don't exist yet. The drinking age should be lowered to 18. The age of majority of 18 should be respected much more than it is respected today.

    If the laws as described in this comment were real, then a drinking age of 18 would be effective. Furthermore, a drinking age of 18 would not require some of the components which I said for a drinking age of 18 to be effective.

  4. John, you just proved my point yet again. Unlike in the case of climate change, nearly HALF of all studies done on the 21 drinking age fail to find any significant benefits of such a policy. Even Wagenaar and Toomey admitted this in their 2002 meta-analysis. And no, Jeffrey Miron is NOT a paid shill for the alcohol industry, as I have pointed out before. There is no hard evidence that Big Booze ever gave him a dime. Even if he somehow was, it doesn't change the fact that his peer-reviewed study was factually and methodologically sound, and the data speak for themselves. And while I believe that is the best study on the matter to date, I have cited many others by different authors as well. All of the pro-21 studies suffer from serious flaws, as I have noted ad nauseam, and thus are not exactly the best guide for public policy. And as the pro-21 crowd is so fond of saying, science does indeed speak for itself. It's just not always flattering.

  5. So let me great this straight. All of the studies that support MLDA-21 are flawed but the ones that don't are methodlogically sound? As a fair person, does this sound right to you? As for Miron, when I saw him speak on this topic at Dartmouth (with my debating partner John McCardell) he listed a paid consultancy with a law firm representing an alcohol industry client. That, my friend, is a conflict of interest. As for his data, both Wagenaar and Voas have indicated to me personally that his approach was methodologically inappropriate. I hope you of all people are not holding up peer review as the sine qua non of truth, since you seem to have no problem criticising the entire (and vast) literature that supports MLDA-21 as an effective prevention measure. Finally, you need to reread Wagenaar and Toomey.

  6. John, the fact that he was a consultant for a law firm that represented Altria (part owner of Miller Brewing) is really a stretch as far as conflicts of interest go. There is no evidence that Miron accepted any funding from the alcohol industry itself, period. And of course Wagenaar and MADD members Voas and Fell would criticize the methodology. It doesn't follow that the methodology is seriously flawed just because they say so. Even pro-21 folks Lovenheim and Slemrod believe that it is best to look at total fatalitoes rather than only "alcohol-related" ones due to the potential for bias. And what about all the other studies I have listed? Take a look at the new ones by Darren Grant as well, and try to refute those. And you may want to reread Wagenaar and Toomey as well while you're at it.

  7. Well if you have ever done any reviewing of Federal grant applications you would certainly recognize this as a clear conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest. Either/or - doesn't matter it's disqualifying. So given your apparent inability to examine ALL the data on this issue (Miron and Teitelbaum, Miles, and Grant [funded by CR!!!] aside) I'm going to declare victory and move on. Good luck with your crusade and without the overwhelming majority of data on your side luck is what you'll need! One final comment that I need to repeat. I have never had an agenda beyond presenting the science that clearly supports MLDA-21. Perhaps the clearest data that has been presented was published after McCardell gained headlines with his proposal. That is, several scientists examined the proposal to lower the drinking age since CR was founded and ALL found it was scientifically lacking and actually harmful. You can nitpick any study but when you look at the whole body of work, the evidence is seriously overwhelming to maintain MLDA-21. I'm a scientist - this is what I do. I am only interested in what the data say. See ya!

  8. John, just because you happen to declare victory doesn't make it so. I and the rest of the movement will NEVER give up seeking liberty and justice for all. That is the only agenda of Twenty-One Debunked and the True Spirit of America Party. By the way, I'm a scientist too, and I know junk when I see it. I have read essentially all the more recent studies you are referring to, and I found those studies to be rather lacking in depth and/or credibility. And with all due respect, I see no point arguing any further with you. I think Candy Lightner would actually be a more interesting opponent at this point, and I look forward to debating with her (and the rest of MADD members/alumni) one day in the not-too-distant future. But one more time, here is the full list of the most relevant studies that I have cited over and over:

    Naor and Nashold (1975)
    Colon and Cutter (1983)
    Colon (1984)
    Males (1986)
    Asch and Levy (1987)
    Asch and Levy (1990)
    Dee and Evans (2001)
    Males (2008)
    Miron and Tetelbaum (2009)
    Grant (2010) (zero-tolerance laws)
    Grant (2011) (drinking age)
    Dirscherl (2011)

    And most convincing of all, the Canadian and Australian experience (1982-present) dovetails nicely with the above studies.

    There are actually other studies that support our position as well, but these are the best and most credible of the bunch. So much for a "scientific consensus" on the pro-21 side. To paraphrase what you said, you can nitpick any study (or its authors) all you like, but at the end of the day you need to look at the big picture, not just the parts that agree with your own theories. And even if your theories were somehow proven correct at one time (i.e. the 1970s and 1980s), they may no longer hold true in 2013, as the world is a very different place now. To that effect, Edwin made some excellent points as well.

    And that's to say nothing of the philosophical and ethical arguments against the 21 drinking age, which I have repeatedly made clear in this blog and elsewhere. The 21 drinking age is nothing less than a hate crime against young people, plain and simple. And no amount of "scientific" research (even if true) can justify it, period. Just like no amount of phrenology or biological determinism can justify Jim Crow laws and similar injustices against people of color.

    I will leave you to read, study, and contemplate at your leisure the facts and arguments I have articulated in this conversation and throughout my blog. It's been fun debating with you this time as well as the first time in 2011. I gotta hand it to you, you have been my most tenacious opponent yet. But now I have much bigger fish to fry. Good luck to you too.

    Let America be America again, and lower the drinking age to 18. If you're old enough to go to war, you're old enough to go to the bar. 'Nuff said.

  9. Well, that settles it. Looks like Twenty-One Debunked wins again. Cue the Ewok celebration music.