By Chris Mooney
Everybody knows that our political views can sometimes get in the way of thinking clearly. But perhaps we don’t realize how bad the problem actually is. According to a new psychology paper, our political passions can even undermine our very basic reasoning skills. More specifically, the study finds that people who are otherwise very good at math may totally flunk a problem that they would otherwise probably be able to solve, simply because giving the right answer goes against their political beliefs.
The study, by Yale law professor Dan Kahan and his colleagues, has an ingenious design. At the outset, 1,111 study participants were asked about their political views and also asked a series of questions designed to gauge their “numeracy,” that is, their mathematical reasoning ability. Participants were then asked to solve a fairly difficult problem that involved interpreting the results of a (fake) scientific study. But here was the trick: While the fake study data that they were supposed to assess remained the same, sometimes the study was described as measuring the effectiveness of a “new cream for treating skin rashes.” But in other cases, the study was described as involving the effectiveness of “a law banning private citizens from carrying concealed handguns in public.”
The result? Survey respondents performed wildly differently on what was in essence the same basic problem, simply depending upon whether they had been told that it involved guns or whether they had been told that it involved a new skin cream. What’s more, it turns out that highly numerate liberals and conservatives were even more – not less — susceptible to letting politics skew their reasoning than were those with less mathematical ability.
But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves — to fully grasp the Enlightenment-destroying nature of these results, we first need to explore the tricky problem that the study presented in a little bit more detail.
continue..: http://grist.org/politics/science-confi ... o-do-math/
In other words, say goodnight to the dream that education, journalism, scientific evidence, media literacy or reason can provide the tools and information that people need in order to make good decisions. It turns out that in the public realm, a lack of information isn’t the real problem. The hurdle is how our minds work, no matter how smart we think we are. We want to believe we’re rational, but reason turns out to be the ex post facto way we rationalize what our emotions already want to believe.
For years my go-to source for downer studies of how our hard-wiring makes democracy hopeless has been Brendan Nyhan, an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth.
Nyan and his collaborators have been running experiments trying to answer this terrifying question about American voters: Do facts matter?
The answer, basically, is no. When people are misinformed, giving them facts to correct those errors only makes them cling to their beliefs more tenaciously.
Here’s some of what Nyhan found:
People who thought WMDs were found in Iraq believed that misinformation even more strongly when they were shown a news story correcting it.
People who thought George W. Bush banned all stem cell research kept thinking he did that even after they were shown an article saying that only some federally funded stem cell work was stopped.
People who said the economy was the most important issue to them, and who disapproved of Obama’s economic record, were shown a graph of nonfarm employment over the prior year – a rising line, adding about a million jobs. They were asked whether the number of people with jobs had gone up, down or stayed about the same. Many, looking straight at the graph, said down.
But if, before they were shown the graph, they were asked to write a few sentences about an experience that made them feel good about themselves, a significant number of them changed their minds about the economy. If you spend a few minutes affirming your self-worth, you’re more likely to say that the number of jobs increased.
continue: http://www.alternet.org/media/most-depr ... 1#bookmark
Cant agree with the title, my maths seems spot on.
The second-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the minority.
The first-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking."
A. A. Milne
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