Thursday, 5 December 2013

ARGUMENTUM AD IGNORANTIAM

Arguing from ignorance

Deriving truth from research

I have to thank Rony Schenker for steering me back into these deep waters. The question is one of logic.

To cut a long story short: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. In other words, just because academic research has consistently failed to find benefit from Conductive Education does not necessarily mean that there is no benefit there. A researcher (or interpreter of research) may conlude that the results of an experiment suggest evidence of absence of beneficial effect. Another might argue, from exactly the same research data, that the study or studies failed to detect a phenomenon for quite other reasons. In the case of empirical studies into the outcome of Conductive Education, possible reasons for this might be legion, from minor points of method to major questions of paradigm.

Interpreting null effects from research studies is ultimately a matter of human judgement, like Betrand Russell's teapot in space, or the elephant and the flea in the quad. If you conclude that there is something there or not will depend upon other factors than mere logic. To put this in psychological terms, interpretation of the results of empirical studies may have to be regarded as subjective. 'More research' will not in itself by-pass, overcome, bury or solve this problem.

More thinking is needed

There is deep, logical water out there, with big fish like Lord Russell in it! Conductive Education has barely dipped its toes in the shallow margins – and it shows. I cannot think that any logician would regard the interpretation of 'CE research' as anything but pathetic.

Nearly thirty years ago, I fantasied about a 'dream team' of disciplines for investigating CE, I left out the usual 'multidisciplinary ' suspects (most of whom anyway represent trades rather than 'disciplines' in a meaningful sense) but I did include philosophy, with logic, ethics, theory of science at the very least on the menu!

There was of course no chance of getting such a dream team funded – not even seriously discussed – and of course nothing like this ever came about. In retrospect, it could have saved everybody so much trouble – not to mention many millions of pounds, euros and dollars, and a lot of heartache and disappointment.

So it goes...

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