All my life I have been plagued by mental illness, delusion, superstition. I have come to see the value of science and rationality and skepticism but don't really know how to think in a more scientific or rational way - I don't have the tools/methodology.

I was wondering what areas of study (in terms of a major for a bachelors degree) can help one develop the most scientific and rational mind they can.
I see a link between probability and belief - belief is holding a proposition as true - but probability is the different shades of grey of that belief. Seeing as statistics deals with probability, and therefore with belief.

What type of college major do you think builds the most rigorous rationality in a individual? I suspect the hard sciences would on average produce the most rational thinkers, followed by majors in statistics and mathematics.

I also posted a question on another forum that was ignored - perhaps someone can answer it for me.

I am interested in knowing how statistics ties into the scientific method. Do most scientific experiments need the expertise of a statistician? Or is the use of statisticians limited in science? When are statisticians needed? What do statisticians contribute to scientific experiments? (at what stages of the scientific method are they involved?) Do statistic majors learn the logic needed to draw inferences from a scientific experiment? or is this part left to the scientists?

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    $\begingroup$ There are some undoubtedly some gross correlations between majors and the kind of people they attract, but these are dwarfed - dwarfed - by the variation of the people within each major. You are falling into the trap of judging a distribution by its mean. $\endgroup$ – Andy Jones Dec 14 '14 at 13:03
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    $\begingroup$ While statistics may have some useful skills, it turns out statisticians - even ones well aware of the reasoning errors an average person is prone to - still make exactly the same kind of mistakes. $\endgroup$ – Glen_b Dec 14 '14 at 14:01
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    $\begingroup$ To add to @AndyJones' comment: the Wikipedia article on the Ecological Fallacy may be enlightening. $\endgroup$ – Stephan Kolassa Dec 14 '14 at 15:25

The scientific method, to me, operates at several levels:

Level 1: curiosity about the natural world, a willingness to be surprised by where the evidence leads, diligence in study, attention to relevant detail, and many other qualities. Rationality as such is not the only component, or the most important one. Conspiracy theorists are very rational; they're just not sensible.

Level 2: techniques specific to one's own discipline. This is where statistics enters in. For example, logistic regression is part of the method of case-control studies, which are specific to many areas of medical research. The hard sciences use less statistics than the soft ones because their observations are sufficiently precise not to need statistical reasoning (probabilistic thinking in quantum mechanics is a whole other matter that regular statisticians don't learn).

The statistician should be involved at the beginning of the study to help with planning and determining the sample size. The statistician also analyses the results at the end. Statisticians don't learn logical reasoning. They use the same logic as everyone else. Statistics offers a precise mathematical approach to determine how much evidence your study can bring to the research question, under certain model assumptions that the statistician will spell out for you.

To a large extent, scientific progress involves the development of level 2 techniques, in order to achieve level 1 goals. Studying statistics doesn't increase level 1 thinking. But it does refine level 2 thinking so that you can contribute usefully to those sciences that use statistical models. John Snow was already a rational man with a scientific outlook before he thought to use demographic reasoning to under the 1854 Cholera outbreak. He developed the method to advance the science.

But on the subject of the Broad Street pump, Snow's partner in this was the Reverend Henry Whitehead, an Anglican clergyman with an interest in diseases. The founders of epidemiology were a doctor and a clergyman - two very different programs of study. In fact, careful reasoning, attention to detail, weighing evidence, are all qualities that you find in good historians, archaeologists, the law, and the humanities generally.

As to your opening statement -- you already have all the rationality you need by virtue of being human. Believe in yourself and study what you love.

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