michael janson 001Michael Janssen

FOUR FLAWS IN THE “I know someone who’s adopted and they turned out fine” argument

“They turned out just fine” is a popular argument defending many beliefs, including in adoption. It relies on the personal experience of just one adoptee who the supporter of adoption claims is ‘fine’.

It’s an argument with fatal flaws.

ONE: It’s what’s known as an ‘anecdotal error’

This error, in simple terms, states that “one adoptee was not negatively affected (as far as I can tell), so it must be O.K. for everyone.” As an example: “I wasn’t vaccinated, and I turned out fine. Therefore, vaccination is unnecessary.” We are relying on a sample size of one. Ourselves, or someone we know. And we are applying that result to everyone. This argument also immediately dismisses any and all adoptees critical of adoption as not being ‘fine.’

TWO: It takes a shortcut relying on  ‘availability reasoning’

Related to the anecdotal error, it’s where we reason using information that is immediately available to us when we are in the middle of the argument. In this case, information about a ‘friend who’s adopted’ is handy — it’s already available. My brother was smacked as a kid and he turned out fine, so smacking doesn’t hurt anyone. But studies show that availability reasoning is a cognitive bias that can cloud us from making accurate decisions that rely on ALL the information available. It blinds us to our own prejudices.

THREE: It dismisses well-substantiated, scientific evidence.

To say “I know an adoptee who turned out fine” is an arrogant dismissal of an alternative evidence-based view. The statement closes off discussion and promotes a single perspective that is oblivious to alternatives that may be more informed. Anecdotal evidence often undermines scientific results, to our detriment.

FOUR: It leads to entrenched attitudes

When confronted with alternative views, adoption supporters make an assumption that whoever holds those views is not fine, refusing to engage, explore or grow. Ironically, the inability to engage with views that run counter to their own suggests that it may be them who did not turn out quite so “fine.” For where is the line for deciding if an adoptee turned out fine? If it means the adoptee avoided prison, they are setting the bar conveniently low. Gainfully employed and have a family? Still a pretty basic standard. It is as reasonable to say “I turned out fine in spite of adoption” as it is to say “I turned out fine because of adoption.”

Adapted from Justin Coulson, author of the Australian best seller “10 Things Every Parent Needs to Know.”

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