Some, but Not All

While listening to a podcast recently, I heard Neil deGrasse Tyson utter: “Some, but not all…”. This was in direct response to neuroscientist and author, Sam Harris. To paraphrase, Sam was harping on how despite the evidence or research, people’s anecdotes will nearly always win out when discussing claims that are either unsettling or antithetical to current trends/beliefs: especially those which may not bolster one’s confirmation bias. For instance, if someone posited that all research suggests the majority of water bottles are made from plastic, there would most certainly be naysayers replying: “Well what about mine? It’s made of glass!” And more of the same.

This is the main issue at stake:

The masses that believe their personal anecdotes outweigh logic.

Despite the fact that the original statement was “the majority of water bottles”, not, “all water bottles”, people will still rebuke the statement claiming there are water bottles in existence that are not plastic. This is where the redundancy of “some, but not all” might be put into practice: to assuage those that skim over the qualifiers such as “nearly all”, “most”, “quite a few”, “over half”, etc.

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If we took the very same water bottle statement and said instead: “Current research suggests that some (or most), but not all, water bottles are made of plastic,” there is a very good chance that people who have seen anything other than a plastic water bottle will be less inclined to claim the statement as incorrect due to a single anecdotal point. Obviously words such as some or most already determine the not all portion of the statement, but perhaps this redundancy is necessary in delivering peer-reviewed, research-based information that may rub listeners the wrong way.

Why I believe this to be important and necessary to implement in my arsenal of phrases comes with the amount of disdain people tend to share on social media regarding peer-reviewed, research-based information regarding progressive methods of education. For example:

Initial Idea: “While acquiring language at a young age is of utmost importance, research is suggesting that forced and assessed reading at a young age may hamper most children's love of reading as they grow older.”
Common Rebuttal: “Can’t be right. My child is a prolific reader and has been reading since she was 5.”

Here we see this exact trend occurring. In fact, below is a very current example directly from Twitter regarding the above feigned scenario.

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This is a dialogue between the two debaters regarding the initial claim that for some learning critical methods of reading while being assessed at a young age is not healthy. Clearly, we can see the anecdotal issue: “My early reader…” and we can also see the rebuttal attempting to again suggest “research suggests…failure for many” (not all).

I see this day in and day out on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and the like. People are incredibly quick to provide these types of anecdotal stories without really realizing it merely proves the initial statement true by asserting most childrenmay be affected, not all children. Obviously this is a frustrating counterargument to the person presenting the information as it is unfalsifiable and anecdotal. What more, many see this form of rebuttal and agree, “Yeah! How do you prove that!?” Which, in turn, leaves the initial proponent of the argument in a state of perplexity. Will more logic work? More evidence? Odds are, no. The initial proponent, now frustrated, usually responds with anecdotes of her/his own. In fact, if we come back to the screen shot from the aforementioned Twitter argument we will see the proponent of the research replying with anecdotes:

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The source of the initial argument is now proposing anecdotes of her/his own.

The peer-reviewed research that was brought up is now either diluted with pseudo-fictional tales, or completely forgotten amidst a new argument looking to see who is the louder or more defamatory commenter.

That said, perhaps some redundancy is in order. If a statement as simple as, “Some, but not all…” can gravitate more freely and unharmed throughout the ether of logical thought, I’m okay with being redundant. If it brings research to the ears of those who may normally push back with anecdotes, I’m okay with it. It seems this may be a very manageable way to discuss progressive ideas in a society that tends to reject either the idea or the time and energy it may take to push the idea forward.