Thursday, September 24, 2015


When some people are opposed to a book or movie, if they overreact and make a big deal of it, they just serve to promote the book or movie they opposed.  I am worried that the same thing is happening with Kim Davis.  Think of how it must feel to be her.  She is expressing a view that, twenty years ago, was held by a majority of Americans.  Suddenly she is accused of hate crimes for holding that view.  She feels persecuted, and what's more, she feels persecuted for doing what she feels is right.  It provides fuel to those who quote Matthew 5:10, "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

When people exaggerate the seriousness of her crime, it tends to add fuel to the fire rather than mend things.  It would not have been hard to accommodate her, and allow an assistant to issue the licenses.  But now things are out of hand.  Those vitriolic posts and comments that accuse her of obscene bigotry are adding fuel to the fires of hate and intolerance themselves.  The "I'm going to make your life miserable until you change your mind" plan is not a very effective one.  A much better plan would have been to accommodate her, and let people feel she was being insensitive and immature, rather than belabor the point and make her a martyr, a rallying point for those with whom you disagree.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Born That Way

I know people who have a genetic variation that makes them different.  They are color blind.  They were born that way.  Have you seen the viral video of the guy who gets special glasses and can discern colors he never could before?  It's fascinating and wonderful.

Now, what about sexual orientation?  Suppose it could be fixed by some special hardware like the glasses.  What does that say about orientation?  Would it be right to round up all the gay oriented people and give them the hardware so they could be normal?

I think that the "born that way" premise is not a very good argument to make.  It's fraught with unintended consequences.  Another such consequence is that this kind of argument is often used to justify behavior rather than take responsibility for behavior.

Maybe the whole dialog needs to change.  I know I didn't choose my own orientation, and I don't think it's going to change any time soon, but that doesn't mean my orientation controls me.  I can take ownership of my own traits and make my own decisions.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Volunteer Response Bias

I've said it before and I'll say it again.  Statistics can be no better than your source of data.  Go to any statistics teacher at any school and ask about volunteer response surveys.  They are among the most common surveys yet have among the worst bias of all surveys.  Bias, in statistics, means that the sample does not accurately represent the population that is being studied.  A volunteer response survey asks people to volunteer to be a part of the survey.  However, only people who feel strongly are likely to respond, and they will encourage friends to respond, many of whom share similar views, making their opinions vastly over-representative.

For example, if CNN ran a survey on their website on whether or not GMO food was good for you, natural-food-nuts would quickly pounce on it and get their friends to do so as well, while most of the population would not bother.  The results would be very skewed and not at all representative of the population's view, even if it got huge numbers of respondents.

With that in mind, the results of the gay Mormon survey are out.  It was a classic case of a volunteer response survey.  I saw it circulating among a certain circle of friends, and I warned those who asked me about it that it was going to produce skewed results because of the way it was being run.

Imagine that you are a former member of the LDS church who was in a so-called mixed orientation marriage, but you got divorced and then excommunicated, or possibly had your name removed from the records of the church.  You are already public about it, and relish the opportunity to make yourself heard.  Not only that, but you have friends in similar situations so when you get the survey, you forward it to all these friends and you end up with huge participation from this portion of the population.

Now imagine that you are a faithful member of the church in one of these mixed orientation marriages.  You aren't public about it because you are unsure how people in your ward would respond.  You don't have lots of friends within the gay community.  Firstly, you are much less likely to come across the survey; and secondly, even if you do, you are less likely to fill it out.  You definitely won't be forwarding it to all your friends in mixed orientation marriages, because you don't know who they are.  You are in the closet.  You aren't making noise.  This segment of the population gets vastly underrepresented due to the nature of volunteer response surveys.

To me it was inevitable that the survey results would show that the participants predominantly left the church and failed at these mixed orientation marriages.  The bias was clearly pointed that way, regardless of the size of the survey or the actual divorce rates (or excommunication rates) of the whole population in question.  The sample does not accurately represent the population being studied.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

It's Not Fair!

I think we, as human beings, are wired to value fairness and equity.  When my kids notice anything that strikes them as unequal, the complaints start up again.  "It's not fair!"  "He got more than me!"  We, as adults, are often still doing it.  The 99% movement motivated it's masses with a similar war-cry.  It's a normal human bias.

It shows up again when I hear, "If there was a God, he wouldn't let so many people suffer more than others."  It's an insistence that any perfect being would be fair and equitable.  But all this assumes that the purpose for life is being content.  I rather think life is a crucible, a test, an opportunity to grow.  In order to learn math, we have to do homework and take tests.  We have to be challenged to grow.  It has nothing to do with equity and fairness.  Math tests aren't fair, they are challenging.  They are frustrating.  And sometimes we fail.

What kind of a teacher would allow a class where people can fail?  What kind of a teacher would cause so much discomfort and frustration among their students?  Well, a good one.  If we think of life, of God this way, I think it becomes clearer.

"Why does my orientation have to be gay?  It's not fair!"  Well, it can be challenging, but that just means the teacher feels this is the challenge I need in order to progress, in order to grow and develop.  The teacher trusts me to work on this particular subject.