Evidence for what?

Stanley Fish:

While secular discourse, in the form of statistical analyses, controlled experiments and rational decision-trees, can yield banks of data that can then be subdivided and refined in more ways than we can count, it cannot tell us what that data means or what to do with it. No matter how much information you pile up and how sophisticated are the analytical operations you perform, you will never get one millimeter closer to the moment when you can move from the piled-up information to some lesson or imperative it points to; for it doesn’t point anywhere; it just sits there, inert and empty.

He is arguing that discussions about weighty matters fall apart in a secular context. I couldn’t disagree more. Though I do think he’s onto something. Evidence, by itself, leads nowhere. It needs context and something else to give it meaning. I believe that “something else” that animates these discussions are our values. Further, I believe that this is the case whether our values are recognized or not and that it’s important for all parties to put their values on the table for examination and discussion.

2 thoughts on “Evidence for what?

  1. This is an interesting idea; that data and research need context and meaning and that the meaning comes from our values. Giving meaning to research data through placing our values on the table will be hard for many pure scientists to get their heads around, but I think it is finding the meaning that gives power to the research.The attempt to separate out things like values, purpose, spirituality and human-ness from science is likely to be harmful, though trying to work out how to incorporate them is likely to be contentious.


  2. Thanks PeaPod. I agree that this is difficult for scientist to swallow, but the problem is that any time they start talking about the meaning of the data or policy implications, they already are operating from a set of values and assumptions. They just frequently fail to identify them. I'm troubled any time I hear a researcher or practitioner present something as value neutral or accuse someone of bringing their values into the discussion. The problem isn't that values and assumptions are brought in, they are ALWAYS brought in. Once they are identified, we can begin to challenge each others values and assumptions openly. Peter Senge's Ladder of Inference offers a good model for unpacking some of this. http://www.masterfacilitatorjournal.com/inference.html


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