Either way, Ezra Klein re-enters our atmosphere with a new website and an article on willful stupidity. Stupidity is old and well known. The article is led by a photo of the Capitol during either what appears to be a terrible great grey storm or, possibly, after a bioterrorism attack on the Congress we would most like to annihilate. The subject is, again, stupidity.
We choose to be stupid. It ain’t just lack of education, a paucity of facts. Surprise! We craft our conclusions according to our deepest beliefs. And Klein, in the company of Yale Law’s Dan Kahan, goes on to demonstrate just that.
In April and May of 2013, Yale Law professor Dan Kahan — working with coauthors Ellen Peters, Erica Cantrell Dawson, and Paul Slovic — set out to test a question that continuously puzzles scientists: why isn’t good evidence more effective in resolving political debates? For instance, why doesn’t the mounting proof that climate change is a real threat persuade more skeptics?
The leading theory, Kahan and his coauthors wrote, is the Science Comprehension Thesis, which says the problem is that the public doesn’t know enough about science to judge the debate. It’s a version of the More Information Hypothesis: a smarter, better educated citizenry wouldn’t have all these problems reading the science and accepting its clear conclusion on climate change.
But Kahan and his team had an alternative hypothesis. Perhaps people aren’t held back by a lack of knowledge. After all, they don’t typically doubt the findings of oceanographers or the existence of other galaxies. Perhaps there are some kinds of debates where people don’t want to find the right answer so much as they want to win the argument. Perhaps humans reason for purposes other than finding the truth — purposes like increasing their standing in their community, or ensuring they don’t piss off the leaders of their tribe. If this hypothesis proved true, then a smarter, better-educated citizenry wouldn’t put an end to these disagreements. It would just mean the participants are better equipped to argue for their own side.
Kahan and his team came up with a clever way to test which theory was right. They took 1,000 Americans, surveyed their political views, and then gave them a standard test used for assessing math skills. Then they presented them with a brainteaser…Klein,vox.com
Can’t you guess how this turns out?
Maybe we need that horrible grey storm or those lethal bugs to knock some sense into us as individuals. We need to do something that pulls us away from our pathetic tribalism. Why can’t Americans stand on their own two feet anymore? Why must they cling to the crowd? Why do we leave our futures to the mercy of a tidal wave of goons?