Monday, April 07, 2014

Speed-Blogging, April 7 2014. On Bodies, Sexual Harassment And How Politics Makes Us Stupid

These pictures about the bodies of elite athletes are fascinating.  They show the variety of what it might mean to be fit, or perhaps fit for something.

It's hard to study the prevalence of unpopular opinions, for obvious reasons (people cover them up because of social stigma).  One recent study on male college students argues that those students which blame women for becoming the objects of sexual harassment are more likely to identify with sexual harassers themselves.  I haven't looked at the study itself so I cannot comment on how well it was done.

The new site, by Ezra Klein, Matthew Yglesias and Melissa Bell has an interesting piece by Ezra Klein:  How Politics Makes Us Stupid It's about the way humans might interpret information which conflicts with their prior world view. 

I say "might," rather than "do," because the real-world way of acquiring that information is somewhat different from the research Klein describes.  For one thing, people debate data with other people, and they might also read different interpretations of the same data, and these consecutive rounds might change any initial interpretations.

But the basic argument in Klein's piece does apply:  Politics is no more based on the kind of "believe-the-best-evidence" thinking than any other field of human endeavor where our fears, our relative societal rankings and our whole world view can be threatened.

On the other hand, the comparison the article makes, in the words of the researcher Dan Kahan makes ignores something important:

Kahan is quick to note that, most of the time, people are perfectly capable of being convinced by the best evidence. There’s a lot of disagreement about climate change and gun control, for instance, but almost none over whether antibiotics work, or whether the H1N1 flu is a problem, or whether heavy drinking impairs people’s ability to drive. Rather, our reasoning becomes rationalizing when we’re dealing with questions where the answers could threaten our tribe — or at least our social standing in our tribe. And in those cases, Kahan says, we’re being perfectly sensible when we fool ourselves.

What is that important point the comparison ignores?  The fact that politics is full of propaganda, studies twisted out of shape, studies carefully hand-picked to present one side of the aisle as correct and the other side of the aisle as deluded, sound bites which are intended to be taken as deep wisdom, surveys with loaded questions and so on.  Not all political information is propaganda and not all political studies are biased.  But a sufficient number are, and knowing this might play some minor role in explaining the findings of Kahan et al..