Politics Wrecks Your Ability to Do Math

Posted by $ MikeMarotta 1 year ago to Science
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From our comrades at Mother Jones:

"If 200 out of 300 people in one group get better by taking a pill and 100 out of 125 people in a different group get better by doing nothing, which is better? Taking a pill or doing nothing?

"Kahan ran the exact same test with the exact same data, except this time the question was about gun bans and crime levels. Half of the time, he presented data suggesting that a gun ban increased crime, while the other half of the time the data suggested that a gun ban decreased crime. And guess what? Among the subset of test subjects who were very good at math, they suddenly got really stupid if they didn’t like the answer they got."


"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."


Those essays are based on these research publications.
"This outcome supported ICT [Identity Cognition Thesis], which predicted that more Numerate subjects would use their quantitative-reasoning capacity selectively to conform their interpretation of the data to the result most consistent with their political outlooks. We discuss the theoretical and practical significance of these findings."
Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government
Behavioural Public Policy, 1, 54-86
Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 307
Downloadable here:

"Why do members of the public disagree - sharply and persistently - about facts on which expert scientists largely agree? We designed a study to test a distinctive explanation: the cultural cognition of scientific consensus. The "cultural cognition of risk" refers to the tendency of individuals to form risk perceptions that are congenial to their values. The study presents both correlational and experimental evidence confirming that cultural cognition shapes individuals' beliefs about the existence of scientific consensus, and the process by which they form such beliefs, relating to climate change, the disposal of nuclear wastes, and the effect of permitting concealed possession of handguns. The implications of this dynamic for science communication and public policy-making are discussed."
Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus
Journal of Risk Research, Vol. 14, pp. 147-74, 2011
Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 205

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  • Posted by freedomforall 1 year ago
    Interesting studies.
    I think the desired conclusion is:
    It takes the smartest people to make decisions for others, who get confused with moderately complex problems.
    Don't worry, the smart people are in government and are here to help.
    They can't be distracted by personal incentives, e.g., cancelled grant funding or getting laid off from work, as most lesser people are.
    Ignore any suggested hypocrisy, and lack of ethics and integrity; those are traits of lesser beings only.

    Oops, maybe I had already decided the studies were politically motivated, that the results reported were the results that were desired, and that undesirable results were "adjusted."

    I suspect your title is pretty close to the truth, Mike.
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  • Posted by Lucky 1 year ago
    It is good to see formal studies confirming every day observations.
    About those who rise in politics, to political and government power, call them the governing class, the chattering classes, deep state, described as Intellectual Yet Idiot.

    The skill is in their ability to distort, select and ignore logic (numerical or language) to make and justify decisions favorable to that class.
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  • Posted by starguy 2 months, 1 week ago
    Ronald Reagan famously said that the scariest words, in the English language, were: "We're from the government, and we're here to help."
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  • Posted by mccannon01 1 year ago
    I say show me the data, but also be prepared to show me how you got the data and that it is correct. For example, if the study using "fake" data is being applied to a subject I know something about and the data seems bogus I would be irritated. Yeah, I will very likely get the "arithmetic" correct, but I'd also know the study is worthy of the circular file.
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