Finding The Agreeable Answer

Chris Mooney passes along a study:

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.

Drum chimes in:

How big a deal is this? In one sense, it’s even worse than it looks.

Aside from being able to tell that one number is bigger than another, this is literally about the easiest possible data analysis problem you can pose. If ideologues actively turn off their minds even for something this simple, there’s really no chance of changing their minds with anything even modestly more sophisticated. This is something that most of us pretty much knew already, but it’s a little chilling to see it so glaringly confirmed.

But in another sense, it really doesn’t matter at all. These days, even relatively simple public policy issues can only be properly analyzed using statistical techniques that are beyond the understanding of virtually all of us. So the fact that ideology destroys our personal ability to do math hardly matters. In practice, nearly all of us have to rely on the word of experts when it comes to this kind of stuff, and there’s never any shortage of experts to crunch the numbers and produce whatever results our respective tribes demand.