Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Annals of bad analogies

From here:
Think about it this way. Say your elderly mother had to be hospitalized for life-threatening cancer. The best doctor in the region is at Sacred Heart, a Catholic, private hospital. Could you ever imagine saying this? “Well, I don’t think our taxpayer dollars should subsidize this private institution that has religious roots, so we’re going to take her to County General, where she’ll get inferior care. ’Cause that’s just the right thing to do!”
No. You’d want to make sure that your tax dollars got your mom the best care. Period. Our approach should be no different for our children. Their lives are at stake when we’re talking about the quality of education they are receiving. The quality of care standard should certainly be no lower.
An analogy is the weakest form of argument, because it presumes similarities between cases.  In this case we are equating a one time event (cancer treatment) with a long term process (educating people).  There is also a difference in that cancer outcomes are much easier to measure (due to the fast time between diagnosis and resolution) than an educational process.  So "better" is much easier to evaluate.  Finally, it ignores magnitudes.  What is "better" and by how much.  Is it a matter of preference (Starbucks coffee is better than McDonald's coffee) or an objective metric? 

But this whole thing dodges the main question-- why is the County General hospital not competitive with the Sacred Heart hospital?  Is that not the more interesting question?  Is it because the County General can't turn patients away and so gets the sickest of the sick? 

These points matter.   

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