Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Under The Influence

A few days ago I watched a powerful video from Neil deGrasse Tyson. In the video, Tyson argues that, “in the 21st century, when it comes time to make decisions about science, it seems that people have lost the ability to judge what is true and what is not." That shift, he says, is a "recipe for the complete dismantling of our informed democracy.”

I know this is a controversial topic, and I’m not here to tell you which side of the debate you should be on. I will say, however, that I came away from that video with eerie sense of the parallels between Tyson’s discussion about how we use (or more accurately, don’t use) scientific data in determining much of our public policy to the ways that use (or more accurately, don’t use) hard data when it comes to determining how best to deliver services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).

Are we good at demanding that those in the position of making decisions about the future of services provide solid data as to why their policy decision is the correct one? I would argue we aren’t. Perhaps because we are in the human services field, we place far too much emphasis and trust in opinions about services and make far too little effort to determine if those opinions are backed by hard data. Influence without accountability is the result, and it has been disastrous for the folks we serve.

I’m reminded of an old episode of “The Simpsons,” when Homer’s long lost brother recruits Homer to design a new care for his company.

Can't see the video? Click here.

Homer knows nothing about cars, and forces a design based on his tunnel vision about what a car should be. He didn’t know what the public wants in a car, he doesn’t know anything about the cost of making a car, and he doesn’t have any data to back up his ideas.

Instead, he just throws ideas out there. His brother’s employees, too scared to disagree with the boss, create Homer’s dream car. In the end, Homer’s dream car wasn’t what anybody else wanted or needed.

I’m not asking if we want a bunch of Homers out there trying to design our services. I am saying that, just like in Homer’s case, there isn’t enough pushback and questioning of why we’re doing things the way we are, and almost no emphasis at all is being placed on whether or not we can defend why certain decisions are being made.

Opinions are like noses – everyone has one. Defensible opinions are data driven. Having knowledge of one small aspect of an incredibly large and complex system does not an expert make. We have to make better calls when it comes to whose influence we fall under, because too often we’re following influence without accountability.

Then again, what do I know?

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