Presuming perfection from an imperfect tool

Zosimo T. Literatus, R.M.T

THE unforgivable fault of those who rely on “scientific tests” is their assumption that these tests are perfect and diagnose a condition perfectly. That is true with psychological tests, and even “expert” psychologists fall for it, unsuspectingly.

The reason for the imperfection of a psychological test is the fact that it is not designed to be perfect. It can help “guess” even the strongest probability, such as 99 percent chance of being correct. However, even that probability of 99 percent may still be incorrect. At best, it is still a guess.

Here are two major reasons for potentials for error.

First, most psychological tests have a margin of error of five percent; a few even have it at 10 percent. It is a rare test that will have a margin of error of one percent. And, even if we talk of a one percent chance of error, the fact still holds that it is an imperfect tool that can still make a mistake. In the case of the psychological test of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, how can psychologists be certain that her findings did not fall within the five percent margin of error? The problem comes when those who read these results assume that the test can give 100 percent certainty.

Second, most psychological tests are created using non-Filipino samples. I am not sure if there is a single robust psychological test today based on entirely Filipino samples. Oftentimes, the samples are based on foreigners, even Caucasian in race and cultural background. It is not clear if the statement of “religious preoccupation in almost all significant aspects of her life” was interpreted as a marker of psychological problem. However, if it was taken that way, then the cultural basis of such a theoretical foundation was not a Filipino Catholic culture but a pluralistic culture that has nothing to do with strong religious beliefs and commitments. The Filipino Catholics’ religious culture is unique with all our “Pit Senyors” and all, which non-Filipinos and non-Catholics will find detestable. Imagine if these are the samples being used in the psychological test on CJ Sereno to validate its predictive power. This variable alone can make any Catholic Filipino a psychiatric case in a Caucasian, non-Catholic sample as the population base. Only those who think like non-Filipinos and non-Catholics will get high scores.

There are several other factors that can cause variations from the psychological test results and the facts of any specific case. The key actually is wisdom and the ability to foresee potential biases in the test outcome itself.

Lawyer Maria Milagros Cayosa of the Judicial and Bar Council may have been wiser in subjecting to discretion the score of 4 as a highly uncertain basis for reading a diagnosable psychological disorder outside the score of 5. The numerical scale alone represents a range of interpretations per level.