The More You Know

It’s obvious: The more you know,
The better chance you’re right, although
Psychologists at Yale have shown
That what you really should have known–
And do, on neutral topics–skews
Dramatically based on your views
About the politics involved.
The subjects in their study solved
Math problems showing stats in tables
Where they switched around the labels
So the same results might show
One person Yes, another No.
Participants were tested, too,
For numeracy–how well you
Intuit math concepts and such–
To get a baseline of how much
Each person should have understood
About each chart. Still with me? Good.
Since Yale’s a big northeastern school,
Americans made up the pool
Of subjects, who were interviewed
To find the folks who clearly hewed
Most strongly to the left or right
Politically. They found, despite
Predictably correct (and in-)
Conclusions from the data when
The labels mentioned neutral stuff
(Are skin rash creams benign enough?)
And whether what was bad got worse
With use or non-use (they’d reverse
The labels on the stats as well),
The subjects’ math skills went to hell
When told the data represented
Something that their foes resented.
E.g., if it first appeared
The stats supported what they’d feared
Had always been the case, they’d say,
“I knew it! There’s the proof! Hooray!”
The numbers, though, were chosen so
What looked like Yes meant, really, No,
But only those who really studied
Closely saw the maths were muddied
By irrelevancies, and
Dug deep enough to understand
That no, that No was really Yes.
But here’s the thing: We pay much less
Attention to a stat that seems
To validate our hopes and dreams,
So when the study subjects saw
A stat that didn’t rub them raw
Politically, like Gun control
Makes crime go up (or down)
, the role
Their numeracy used to play
In parsing data went away!
Most fascinating, those who’d scored
The highest on the math-chops board
Did really, really well as long
As their first glance said they were wrong
About a deeply-held belief,
In which case proof was sweet relief,
But if that glance had ratified
A core belief, then, satisfied,
They’d stop before they’d really looked
And never knew that they’d been rooked.
The more you know, the more it’s hard
For math to show you should discard
As folly all your faith-based “facts.”
Unless you knew that. Then, relax.


One thought on “The More You Know

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s