Yale law professor Dan Kahan’s research paper “Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government” is worthy of our consideration. It is an ambitious attempt to scientifically explain why reason and facts rarely prevail in political debate. His paper has been expressed by one science writer in laymen’s terms as “Science confirms politics wrecks your abiltiy to do math.”
The issue posed by Professor Kahan is why do societal conflicts persist in the face of compelling scientific evidence which seemingly should resolve such conflicts? Based on his experiments, the impact of political dogma dramatically affects the ability to think clearly, undermining basic reasoning skills (I would suggest that this also applies to any dogmatic or strongly held belief; e.g those of a religious nature). The professor’s experiments indicate that people who are normally very good at math totally fail to correctly answer a problem that they would otherwise be able to solve easily if giving the correct answer goes against their political (religious?) beliefs.
Do facts matter? Apparently not. The results of this study indicate that when someone is misinformed, giving them more facts only ensures that they will cling to their preconceived beliefs even more tenaciously.
This suggests why political (and religious) debates are generally pointless and why some will deny global warming (climate change) and evolution no matter what facts are presented for their consideration. This study explains why they continue to do so no matter what evidence is presented to them. They would rather drown as the oceans rise and be perceived as superstitious shaamans rather than adjust their belief system to accommodate overwhelming evidence.
Based on this study and perceptive observation, humans may be more accurately described as beings who rationalize preconceived beliefs rather than beings who truely reason. The miracle? That our species has advanced as far as it has despite widespread irrationality.