As I encounter articles on the web, I noticed that almost all of them are biased. Recently, I read an opinion piece in the New York Times about treatment of depression between red and blue states written by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. Although it is an opinion piece, the author’s use of research data makes it seem like a research paper. It certainly lacks the rigor of a peer reviewed paper; however, I am more interested in how his opinion is presented with loose facts. I follow Seth because, like him, I am interested in using big data to learn about human behavior.
His first opinion is “Blue states are far more likely to use therapy to treat mental illness”. He makes two claims to backup his opinion. The first is “In blue states, there are 54 percent more Google searches for psychotherapists” and the second is “there are also 76 percent more psychologists or psychiatrists per capita in blue states”.
His first claim was based on google searches. My understanding is that if there are 100 searches for psychotherapists in red states, there will be 154 searches in the blue states. One reasoning might be that there are more depressed people in blue states. Seth immediately squashes that thought by claiming that “Whatever stereotypes you might have, it is not true that people in blue states are more neurotic or depressed”. This statement was not backed by any evidence. And, he starts the sentence with “Whatever stereotypes you might have”, leading readers to replace their preconceived notions with his. Interestingly, only one commenter mentions that “liberals have a higher chance of being neurotic”. Indeed, simple google searches led to research that supports that claim.
Seth tries to rationalize that it cannot be due to cost because both red and blue states searches for expensive procedures. Next, he thinks that it is due to negative stigma. He claims that “men in red states make up a smaller portion of visits to therapy sites”. But, what does that mean? I think he is saying that men visit therapy sites less than women. However, that has no bearing on seeking therapy between red vs blue states. He then looks at twitter data and estimates that “Americans in blue states are about 100 percent more likely to tweet about their therapist”. OK, that is interesting. So, the theory is that negative stigma leads to less tweets. I can believe that.
I skim the rest of the article because it goes into anecdotal experiences of celebrities. His main point is that there is negative stigma to receive therapy in red states which leads to less treatment. My first thought is, won’t people just do it in secret? Are there other negative stigmas in red states that people secretly do? A simple google search of “premarital sex in red vs blue states” reveal, ironically, another NY times opinion piece titled: “Blue States Practice the Family Values Red States Preach”. In the article, ” those with the highest percentage of high school students who say they have had sex are Mississippi, Delaware, West Virginia, Alabama and Arkansas”. You know, red states. The article even mentions that red states preaches against sex which probably means that there are negative stigmas associated with it, right? I do realize that the survey is for high school students so it is not representative.
I do not believe that red states reject therapy due to negative stigmas. They may not openly talk about it but if it beneficial, people will still do it. In secret if they have to. It may be that red states do not believe in therapy. It may be that red states are less neurotic than blue states. It may be a million other reasons. My point is that most people are biased and they find data to fit their narrative. In this article, it is “More people with mental illness need better insurance coverage”. Noble and definitely true. However, I hate being manipulated with biased research and anecdotal feel bad stories.
I do not blame them. It is impossible to be unbiased. I just consume anything, and I mean anything with a crate of salt. This is bad because it leads me to justify my own biases by dismissing their viewpoints as biased, therefore, untrue. I am sure there are people who are unbiased and I would love to meet them. For now, I need to do my own research and analysis and make my own conclusions. This is the cost of distrusts of the system. If anyone knows good tools and techniques to study human behavior using big data, please let me know.