Revising Beliefs

We know from the immediately preceding post, “Understanding Beliefs,” as well as from earlier healthymemory blog posts, that beliefs are difficult to change.  Yet we inhabit an environment in which there is ongoing dynamic change.  Moreover, modern technology accelerates the amount of information that is being processed and the amount of change that occurs.

Nils J. Nilsson, a true genius who is one of the founders of artificial intelligence, recommends the scientific method, as the scientific method is the primary reason underlying the progress humans have made in the past several centuries.

I would like to see a survey of what people believe about beliefs.  I fear that most would fall short of what Nilsson describes in Understanding Beliefs.  I fear that the idea that we do not have direct knowledge of the external world, but rather develop models of the external world based on experience would be alien to most.  I fear that even among scientists, engineers, and educators there are those to whom this concept is alien.  Moreover, probabilities are likely absent regarding many beliefs being replaced by absolute belief and absolute doubt.  People still refuse to believe even given scientific consensus regarding such topics as evolution and global warming.  Moreover an understanding of statistics and experimental design by the general public would be necessary.  So this lack of sophistication or primitive modes of thinking constitute a considerable obstacle to employing the scientific method.

Nevertheless, just for fun, let’s consider how a country might work were it governed according to the scientific method.  Let’s take the United States for example.  Americans would need to accept scientific results even if they conflicted with their personal beliefs.  Sometimes scientific results  are counterintuitive.  For example, research in the arena of public housing has found that it is less expensive to provide public housing initially, rather than having the homeless work their way up in terms of eligibility by freeing themselves from abuse, finding employment, and so forth.  The savings that accrue are due to the decrease in emergency room visits, ambulance and related costs that are spent on the homeless.  In addition there is also the pride of having a residence that fosters personal development.  Of course, there is the option of completely ignoring the homeless and not providing medical services, but instead just sweeping up the bodies and incinerating them.  In lieu of this radical option, using data to pursue policies that control costs is the preferred option

A similar option exists with respect to medical costs.  The United States has had the highest medical costs in the world that result in third world medical statistics for a long time.  The uninsured have gone to emergency rooms for costly care that is passed on to hospital bills.  The Affordable Care Act is a first attempt to remedy this problem.  Yet it still is receiving stiff resistance from those who think it is wrong to consider medical costs as being a citizen’s right.  Government involvement is a way of providing better medical services while controlling these costs.  Another problem is that the most common means of payment is a fee for service.  It is much more rational to compensate physicians for results, normalized by the condition of the patient, as is done in England.

As the United States is divided into states, it would be possible to design experiments in which different policies were followed in different groups of states and then analyze the results in terms of results and costs.  Although questionnaires would be one component of the evaluation, the primary measure would be the success of the different programs in terms of objective medical results.  Now, in the case of studies regarding health, these results would be normalized with respect to the initial health of the patient.  It should be realized  that the survey data might conflict with the medical results.  That is, people might think that care had deteriorated even thought their health had improved.  These people might have been disappointed and felt annoyed because they did not receive treatments that they wanted, even though they would have been ineffective (given an antibiotic for a virus, for example), or had not been given unnecessary medical tests.

This same paradigm could be followed for other issues.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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