bad science 1

While still on the subject of science, it occurred to me that there is bad and good science. Both exist because of the logic we use to explain cause and effect. The point was brought home to me in a rather interesting way. We had gone out with a few ‘rafikis’ to visit the family of our late comrade when the conversation veered in the direction fatalism and our cultural understanding of death. In African culture, a person cannot simply die, there must be someone responsible for this fateful outcome.

 

And that is how we started talking about the umbrella tree, known scientifically as schefflera actinophylla. The umbrella tree became quite ubiquitous in the 1980’s. According to some locals, the umbrella tree was also a ‘bad luck’ tree. Whoever planted one , usually died within a short period. It was therefore common for visitors to admonition you about this tree being in your compound and its ‘killing’ ability. “You must cut down that tree! It caused so and so’s death. It is a very dangerous tree.” However like all new plants, the cost of buying an umbrella tree for planting was prohibitive, and it was mostly the affluent who first planted these trees. What was not clear was how this tree was guilty of ‘killing’ the head of the household who had planted it.

 

But the advent of umbrella trees, also coincides with the advent of the AIDS pandemic. What is therefore a more likely explanation, was that those who were more affluent, were also more likely to have more than one sexual partner and not use protection during intercourse. But the locals did not make this connection, Rather, if you (were affluent) bought an umbrella tree as was fashionable and a few years later, you were dead – it had to be the umbrella tree.!That was the cause and effect relationship explained in simple terms! And the empirical evidence was legion – dead people who had planted umbrella trees. Not the other way round, that if you were affluent, not only were you likely to have many sexual partners (and therefore be at risk of being infected with HIV AIDS) but you were also more likely to have purchased an umbrella tree!

 

Fast forward to the reign of a notorious army general at Uganda Police. His reign also coincided with an increase in road traffic accidents, especially by taxi (matatu) drivers. Seeing as there  were many accidents, the police instructed all taxi owners to install seat belts for travelers. The thinking was that safety belts would reduce in the number of accidents. But does the absence or presence seat belts cause or prevent accidents? The answer is obviously no! Road accidents are caused mainly by reckless driving. All that safety belts do is minimize the extent of injury to the occupants. But there you are. It was deemed by the ‘honchos’ at the Police headquarters that safety belts would solve the problem of accidents. We are still waiting for the results of their edict.

 

And then this week, the wise men and women responsible for regulation of the teaching profession announced that they had developed a new teachers’ policy. According to them, it is alleged, every teacher would henceforth be required to have a university ‘digiri’ or degree. It doesn’t matter at what level these hapless teachers would be operating, they are required to have a university degree! While I know that a university degree may make one more knowledgeable, I am not certain as to how it makes one a better teacher! I also know that there are many degree holders who are really ‘dotards’. You will find them in all walks of life. Despite having many degree holders in this country, we remain yoked to the hoe. But that is me and my limited understanding of these things. The bigger point is that bad logic, will always lead to faulty outcomes.

 

Samuel Sejjaaka is Country Team Leader at Mat Abacus Business School. Twitter @samuelsejjaaka