Jul 27 2008

Aiming for Consistency and Family Values

Published by at 6:31 pm under science,skepticism

As an aspiring rational thinker I try to be an equal-opportunity skeptic. If I hear something about religion, I question it; if I watch a news item about psychic powers, I question it; if I read a new science finding-you guessed it-I question it.

An article posted yesterday over at ScienceDaily is a good example. Upon reading the title, “Frequent Family Meals Might Reduce Teen Substance Use,” I initially experienced a small glow of satisfaction. Not because I have “strong family values,” but because I thought the word might  reflected a strongly scientific attitude. Initial finding . . . psychological study with a variables that would rate low on the Moh’s scale of hardness for gemstones . . . etc.

Upon reading the piece my suspicion about the hardness of the data was confirmed: surveys. Nothing solid you can conclude from them. And then I came across this:

However, boys showed no significant difference in substance use between those who had regular family meals and those who did not.

Hmm. Revise that title, please. “Frequent Family Meals Might Reduce Substance Use in Female Teens.”

But here’s the real thing that caused me to question the finding. The article says nothing about how the researcher controlled for other variables, any one of a number which could be the cause of both a family eating together and lower teen female substance use. Nonetheless, this is the concluding thought we are left with:

Eisenberg said that despite the “many challenges of bringing a family together every day, we would encourage parents to make family meals part of their routine as often as they can.”

Sure, we can value families and family activities all we want. But that isn’t science. And if results are clouded or predetermined by what we want, that isn’t good. Does eating meals together as a family exert a positive influence on whether or not children go on to use drugs? It might. But then again; it might not. The answer is yet to be determined. And that’s okay. If science is about one thing, it’s not about finding easy answers, but rather about asking the tough questions.

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