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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Cognitive bias

Often enough, individuals with strong beliefs find others who share similar beliefs to latch on to and socialize with. Such social behavior might begin as a search for comfort, because people are lazy and fearful and it takes effort to appreciate other points of view (take, for example, the popularity of political cable channels like Fox News and MSNBC). What starts as comfort can progress to reinforcement. The internet has made it easier than ever to reach out to fellow believers, accelerating this tendency in modern times.

A good example of this social phenomenon are religious cults. A more dangerous example are some political movements.

There are two recent examples that come to mind.

Nate Silver is a statistician who earned a reputation over many years for his accurate political projections, based on sound mathematics and logic. He predicted Obama's recent presidential win with almost patronizing confidence. Nate Silver's rational, objective analysis infuriated many pundits on the right. These same pundits latched instead onto predictions that were clearly biased to anyone with any statistical training whatsoever. Why did these right-wing pundits refuse to listen to the facts? I simply do not understand. It's like they live in an alternate universe were mathematics doesn't work.

My second example is the NRA's initial response to the Newtown shooting. When I read about their response, already days late (and presumably, then, fully discussed among the NRA's leadership), I was stunned how politically deaf it was. This was the golden opportunity for the NRA to become part of the solution, and they blew it. How was this possible? It's like the NRA leadership lives in an alternate universe where are all of America is still a gun-toting frontier.

Posted at: 1:33 PM
Categories: Diary