Best columns: The U.S.

How politics distorts our perceptions


“Politics makes morons of us all,” said Kevin Drum. That’s the conclusion of a new study carried out by Yale law professor Dan Kahan. He tested the math skills of 1,100 participants, asked for their political orientation, and then asked them to analyze the results of a bogus study on a divisive political issue—whether a gun ban decreased or increased crime. Kahan gave half the participants data indicating the ban cut crime, and the other half data indicating the opposite. A strange thing then happened. Participants who had proven they could do basic mathematical analysis “suddenly got really stupid if they didn’t like the answer they got.” When given data indicating that gun bans don’t work, liberals with good math skills nonetheless said the statistics proved they do work. When given data indicating that gun bans do work, conservatives likewise lost the ability to do math, and wrongly insisted that the data proved otherwise. The depressing conclusion? No matter how intelligent we are, when it comes to politics, “we believe what we want to believe, and neither facts nor evidence ever changes that much.”

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