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Is this how motivated innumeracy happens?...

So what if the reasoning is fallacious? It's the motivation that counts, right?

Imagine a group of adults slapping their thighs & laughing as they look at this & the poor 13-yr old who says "but wait--wouldn't we have to be given information about the homicide rate in other countries in the developed world that have varying gun laws to figure out if the reason the U.S. has the highest gun-related homicide rates in the developed world is that it has the loosest gun control laws in the developed world? To know whether the facts being asserted really aren't just coincidentally related?"*


"Don't be an idiot," one of the adults sourly replies. "We all know that loose gun control laws cause homicide rates to go up -- we don't need to see evidence of that!"

With a political culture like ours, is it any surprise that citizens learn to turn off critical reasoning and turn on their group-identity radar when evaluating empirical claims about policy?

Wait-- don't nod your head! That last sentence embodies the same fallacious reasoning as the poster.

I'm really not sure how we become people who stop reasoning and start tribe-identifying when we consider empirical claims about policy.

Maybe the problem is in our society's "political culture" etc.

But if so, why does this sort of dynamic happen so infrequently across the range of issues where we make evidence-based collective decisions? 

And what about other cultures or other societies? Maybe we in fact have less of this form of motivated reasoning than others, particularly ones that lack or historically lacked science-- or lack/lacked the understanding of how to think that science comprises?

I detest the unreflective display of unreason involved in this style of political "reasoning" -- and so of course I blame those who engage in it for all manner of bad consequences.... 

How does this happen?


*The problem here, the 13-yr old recognizes, is not "correlation doesn't imply causation"-- a tiresome and usually unhelpful observation (if you think anything other than correlation implies causation, you need to sit down & have a long conversation w/ D. Hume).  It's that the information in the poster isn't even sufficient to support an inference of correlation--whatever it might "imply" to those inclined to believe one thing or another about gun control laws & homicide rates. The poster reflects a classic reasoning fallacy...

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Reader Comments (2)

"So what if the reasoning is fallacious? It's the motivation that counts, right?"

If I recall correctly, these exact words recently won a fill-in-the-caption competition.

(The image depicted John Cook counting consensuseses.)

November 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Keyes

Seriously though, I applaud (as usual) your abhorrence of tricking people into believing the truth, Dan. Would that all academics were so principled.

November 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Keyes

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