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Most depressing brain finding ever

Yale law school professor Dan Kahan’s new research paper is called “Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government,” but for me a better title is the headline on science writer Chris Mooney’s piece about it in Grist: “Science Confirms: Politics Wrecks Your Ability to Do Math.”

Marty Kaplan holds the Norman Lear Chair at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. His Jewish Journal columns have won First Place in the Southern California Journalism Awards six times in the past six years. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com

September 16, 2013

Yale law school professor Dan Kahan’s new research “>piece about it in Grist:  “Science Confirms: Politics Wrecks Your Ability to Do Math.” 

Kahan conducted some ingenious experiments about the impact of political passion on people’s ability to think clearly.  His conclusion, in Mooney’s words: partisanship “can even undermine our very basic reasoning skills…. [People] who are otherwise very good at math may totally flunk a problem that they would otherwise probably be able to solve, simply because giving the right answer goes against their political beliefs.” 

In other words, say goodnight to the dream that education, journalism, scientific evidence, media literacy or reason can provide the tools and information that people need in order to make good decisions.  It turns out that in the public realm, a lack of information isn’t the real problem.  The hurdle is how our minds work, no matter how smart we think we are.  We want to believe we’re rational, but reason turns out to be the ex post facto way we rationalize what our emotions already want to believe.   

For years my go-to source for downer studies of how our hard-wiring makes democracy hopeless has been “>The answer, basically, “>Here’s “>Best Columnist award, is the “>USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

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