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The Therapy Sessions
Tuesday, November 22, 2005

More nonsense about spanking

I'm always amazed at how really bad science gets press (and funding):

Children who are spanked when they misbehave are more likely to be anxious and aggressive than children who are disciplined in nonphysical ways, research shows. This is true even if spanking is the "cultural norm...."

... researchers from questioned 336 mothers and their children in China, India, Italy, Kenya, the Philippines, and Thailand about cultural norms surrounding use of physical discipline and how it affected their children's behavior.

Jennifer Lansford, a research scientist from the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University spearheaded the survey. She told Reuters Health that "across the six countries studied, children who were physically disciplined more frequently were more aggressive and anxious than were children who were physically disciplined less frequently."

OK. Let's walk through this.

Social science long ago ventured away from empiricism. Now it wanders around in a jungle of confused and muddled science, tainted everywhere by advocacy: "scientists" are looking for data that supports their ideas, not the other way around.

Social scientists have been doing this for so long that they can't even be objective anymore. In fact, sometimes they can't even penetrate their own cloudy reasoning.

Lansford has written extensively about spanking in the context of physical abuse. This taints her survey (but it does not discredit it). If an avowed creationist conducted a study claiming to disprove natural selection, scepticism would be justified - for the same reason.

Lansford has an agenda, and she can't help but reveal it:

...Not surprisingly, in Thailand, a country where peace-promoting Buddhist teachings predominant, moms were least likely to spank their children or use other forms of physical discipline.

And they were less aggressive. Presumably, she hooked Thai children up to her Agress-o-meterTM and took a reading. She found that these children were not aggressive (maybe they registered only about 0.01 Gheghis Khan Units...)

What about the children of next door Cambodia? They have the same "peace-promoting Buddhist teachings," don't they? Thirty years ago, they had a holocaust in which they slaughtered three million of their fellow citizens in an insane orgy of violence. An episode like that might indicate a small problem with aggression, wouldn't it?

Lansford did not take her Agress-o-meterTM to Buddhist Cambodia. Maybe it was too dangerous there.

No, she went to Kenya - to find a violent society. (And it has great safaris, too -just the thing for the weary social scientist.)

Somehow, Lansford manages to control for all the different variables present in these completely dissimiliar cultures: different family structures, religions, food, education, opportunities, economies, threats, lifespans, health care, maternal roles, music, art, politics, ethnicities....

You could prove anything comparing two vastly different societies. And that is just what Lansford does! She finds kids who were spanked that she describes as "violent." The Agress-o-meterTM needle flew into the red (0.8 - 0.9 GKU's!).

But this is all meaningless. Hey, I can do it too: Hey, the Kenyan kids were spanked and they were malnourished, while the unspanked Thai kids were well fed!

Bingo, spanking causes malnutrition! I'm a social scientist!

Calling this stuff "science" is a major embarrassment - just as embarrasing to me as the whole "intelligent design" debate is.

I understand that social scientists crave the certainity of hard science, but everyone must admit that there is a real difference:

A typical hard science experiment: a scientist mixes together some reagents, adds a catalyst and new product is observed and identified. The reaction doesn't work without the catalyst, so the scientist tries to figure out how the catalyst causes the reaction to progress.

It's not easy, and there is uncertainity, but everyone can agree on the basics: the catalyst causes an interesting reaction to happen. The tests by which things are identified are beyond dispute: nuclear magnetic resonance, mass spectroscopy, purity standards as judged by HPLC.

In Lansford's study, she measures such things as aggression and anxiety by her judgment, with limited observation. (alas, there is no universally understood Agress-o-meterTM).

She knows it when she sees it! She just KNOWS. And you should trust her observations and conclusions.

Why? Because she is an expert.

Don't wonder if your definition of "anxiety" might be different than hers. You are wrong. You hear that, all you unwashed masses, lacking PhD's in Childhood Psychology?

She's an EXPERT.

Why does she KNOW? Because she is trying to prove something. Listen:
"Another question is whether physical discipline is appropriate in this day and age, regardless of how accepted it may be," (Lansford) added.

Lefties think science is magic: cures for horrible diseases will magically appear when you want them hard enough (or spend enough money on them), magically we will conjure up the equivalent of 8 million barrels of oil with cow flatulence and gerbils running on treadmills - and if we study peace enough, the idea of human aggression will disappear.

(By contrast, Bible-banging righties think magic is science - uh, intelligent design. But that's another story).

And yes - if you are sloppily enough... you can do a study that will prove spanking cause aggression across cultures.

Social scientists are - by nature - working in the fluid medium of the human interactions. People are not cogs; they are far too complex. When they know they are being studied, they act differently.

Human biologies are similar enough that we can conduct clinical trails for drug efficacy, but even then, small variations in physiology can reek havoc with the trials. When it comes to something like proving spanking causes human aggression...hold up: there are too many variables, and the metrics for judging them are far too blurred.

This is the kind of research that has been used by the no-spanking crowd in the US for years, and many parents - particularly affluent, intelligent parents - have been swayed by it.

The silly "studies" work like this - they lump together all kids who were spanked: kids from good homes are included, but they get lumped with kids from bad homes and abusive homes. Not every parent who spanks is abusive, but nearly every abusive parent uses physical punishment. This odd group is compared to homes that only use time outsTM - typically homes with caring, educated parents. You can control for income and education if you want, but the result has been predetermined by your inability to measure a loving - but disciplined - home.

The result is pre-ordained: low and behold, the false grouping of spanked kids does worse! Millions of parents have trusted the "experts." As a result, we have an epidemic of bratty, innattentive children.

Many of these children get diagnosed with fictional disorders and are drugged into socially acceptable behavior with potent stimulants.

ADHD diagnoses have exploded.

Not coicindently, the number of parents who think of a time outTM as a serious punishment - the idea of which induces laughter among habitually bad children - has grown.

There may be real disorder called ADHD, but the vast majority of diagnosed ADHD is bullshit. I'm of the mind that most ADHD is far too convenient for parents who don't want to be bothered with the messy work of disciplining their own kids. Once your child knows he can walk all over you and get nothing more than a silly pause, discipline is an uphill battle anyway. It is just easier to assume there is something wrong with your kids and drug 'em up.

After all, you were a good parent! You listened to the experts!

I think spanking can be appropriate in the context of a loving home. I have covered this before.

You show me a kid from a loving, discplined home whose parents teach him the meaning of the word "no" with an infrequent spanking, and I'll show you a good kid.

No, I'm not going to try to quantify a "loving home" or an "infrequent spanking," because I know that such things are futile. Like Lansford, I know them when I see them. But I am not trying to pass of my personal opinions as hard science.

Hey, spanking works for me. It's my secret - which I give out here, free of charge.

My kids can sit still and be polite, more or less - at least for the "under five" weight class. I have spanked them to get the point across, but I rarely have to do it anymore. An inflection in my voice can get the point across quite well.

The kids screaming and throwing food in your restaurant are the offspring of a hapless Lansford disciple.

And those poor children are going get a "time out" really soon.

They don't look all that scared, do they?

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