In a piece at Quillette Alana Redstone says she’s darned tired of people saying “just follow the science”:
About a year and a half ago, I sat with a friend at the Open Future conference in Chicago put on by the Economist. We were watching a panel debate on gun control (the video is available here, with the panel in question beginning shortly after the four-hour mark). Unsurprisingly, the conversation grew heated, and soon the participants stopped even pretending to give a fair hearing to views that conflicted with their own:
Person A (opposing gun restrictions): Seventy percent of the homicides in Illinois [are in] Chicago. [Yet] most of the gun restrictions are [applicable] in Chicago. It is a contradiction. [Gun control] does not solve [the problem] at all… We have the data to prove it. Over 90 percent of mass shootings… are in gun-free zones. [What we need instead is] more education, less legislation, [safer], and more responsible firearm ownership.
Person B (advocating gun restrictions): Forty-nine percent of Texans [now] support an [assault-rifle] ban and buyback… So I think that we’re really seeing a shift [in opinion].
Person A: That’s the silliest thing in the world… We’ve just proven that the data shows, for over 30 years, that more legislation and taking Americans’ private property [doesn’t work]. So what if I don’t want to sell [my gun] back [to the state]? You’re going to send somebody with a gun to come and take it from me?
Person C (advocating gun restrictions): I don’t want to hear NRA talking points recited back to me… And to be very clear about what the research does show… You are wrong on the facts… The research is very, very clear.
And so on, and so forth. Everyone was sure that the available “data” and “facts” showed that they were unambiguously right, full stop. Yet based on this summary from the RAND Corporation, both sides were partly right and partly wrong that day.
She elaborates by making the following points:
- statistics don’t interpret themselves
- motivated reasoning and confirmation bias are powerful psychological forces, and they are difficult to overcome
- efforts to address complex social problems will always come with tradeoffs
- People frequently reason in reverse.
When a topic has moral or ideological implications, people typically have an a priori point of view that they then use as an end point, at least on a subconscious level.
They figure out they want to happen and look around for statistics that support their preferred outcome rather than evaluating the situation with an open mind. Google as lowered the opportunity cost of finding statistics that support your preference to practically nothing. And people confuse what shows up in Google searches with the truth.
To those I would add (at least) one more observation. People have different preferences. They hold different relative values. Don’t dismiss that as a factor. What’s crucial to you may not be as crucial to me or vice versa.
I also feel bound to observe that I’m darned tired of Paul Krugman’s proclaiming that reality has a liberal bias. How would he know? He’s not a liberal. He’s a progressive and they’re not the same thing.