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Intellectual chastity and analogies, ctd.

January 17, 2015


I’ve gotten in trouble with analogies before. At other times I believe they’ve worked well. My intellectual chastity post had four excellent comments that helped me see the limits of the sexuality/chastity analogy. Commenter Tim asks the key question here:

Would the analogy aid in understanding if you teased it out more fully. I’m not sure.

Analogies are often useful to “aid in understanding.” I can’t count how many science communication and teaching seminars I attended that emphasized the importance of good analogies. There’s even research (have to find the references) to suggest that people learn by mapping new information to what they already know. Which implies that you might need analogies and metaphors to effectively communicate.

For creationism I’m trying to show that scientists/liberal opposition is at least partly visceral. It’s at least partly motivated by aesthetics and values. Scientists experience (as Tim put it) the “ick factor” around creationism–like many social conservatives do around homosexuality. Scientists also employ a certain tone when they issue warnings–a tone that’s similar to what social conservatives use. I tease out these similarities and make this analogy to help me make my point. If it’s not helping me I should stop using it.

I suspect that some people will oppose any analogy I use on this topic. Others already agree with me and so it almost doesn’t matter what analogy I use. The empirical question is what effect this particular analogy has on the margins. Ideally I’d be able to refine and test it on a statistically valid sample, and then continue iterating and testing. But since I don’t have the resources to do that, I have to muddle through and count on my readers to correct me.

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