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Monday, February 27, 2006

Musings from Mazatlan Mexico

I just returned from a week of surf and sun -- a welcome respite from the coldest spell this winter in Minnesota. I went from -15 to 85 F from takeoff to touchdown over the four hour flight south -- a span of 100 degrees! Mazatlan is home to the family of a young lady named Clarissa who spent a year with us as an exchange student -- joining my three daughters in our residence in Stillwater. (You cannot imagine the pileup in the bathroom each morning before school!) Clarissa frequented the local health food store where, if I had not forbidden it, she would have purchased a scary collection of unregulated medicines for losing weight. It's bad enough that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides no protection against the snake oils and such that are peddled to naive consumers, but south of the border in Mexico it is far worse. There, for example, many desperately ill Americans find "alternative" medicines and treatment, although as a colleague at Stat-Ease pointed out, either it is medicine or the alternative. I see in Mexico an unabashed belief in the supernatural, which I suppose is just as prevalent here in the USA, but relegated to tabloid and cable television features about haunted houses. Coincidentally I brought along for beach-reading the latest issue of American Scientist which included an article titled "The Cognitive Psychology of Belief in the Supernatural" that explains why humans harbor an innate faith in the unreal. I found this quote enlightening:

"...our brains have evolved so that science eludes us but religion comes naturally."

PS. This issue of American Scientist also features an article telling why "Three statistical strategies —- replicating, blocking and modeling —- can help scientists improve accuracy and accelerate progress." I agree! See Volume 94, Number 2, March-April 2006 .


  • At 9:19 AM, Anonymous Stan said…

    Right on! I am a fan of Michael Shermer who wrote "How we believe" which
    gives a statistical view on how beliefs get established. It is mostly due
    to type 2 errors, if I have that right, and wishful thinking where an effect
    is falsely attributed to a cause. The only difference noted about
    intelligence in the matter is that the intelligent have constructed more
    elaborate rationales.

    What is more distressing is that such behavior is getting more popular and
    codified in our governing bodies at all levels. History has been fighting
    this battle since about the time of fire, it appears to be in our genes more
    or less.


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