The Smart Idiot Effect

Salon on the “smart idiot” effect – why more education amongst conservatives leads to more firmly believing the opposite of the facts. Interestingly, the “smart idiot” effect does not seem to hold amongst liberals, for whom learning more may actually get them to change their views.

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The ugly delusions of the educated conservative
Better-educated Republicans are more likely to doubt global warming and believe Obama’s a Muslim. Here’s why

12 Replies to “The Smart Idiot Effect”

  1. So education ≠ intelligence ? ;-> (esp. if the "education" comes from indoctrination mills like Fox News, Bob Jones Univ., etc…) After a thorough read, I'm pretty impressed with this article. Don't like the author's use of the word "idiot" (as emotionally satisfying as it might be), but he shines a light on a very interesting and relevant psycho-social phenomena.

  2. It's insanely frustrating. If we can't convince people with facts/truth, communication seems hopeless. If there is no regard for truth, how can you convince anyone of anything? I nearly went crazy in a debate with a friend of my dad's who was insisting that Obama is a Muslim. He just kept saying "I'm entitled to my opinion" no matter what facts I presented. You walk away feeling like it's hopeless.

  3. Disheartening indeed… Lakoff has been saying this for a while; nice to see some data backing it up. Maybe science can help us figure out how to get people to stop rejecting science. Any other ideas?

  4. He just kept saying "I'm entitled to my opinion" no matter what facts I presented.

    People are entitled to their own opinions, not to their own facts.

  5. Scot, I hear you! I think this article really hit home for me after having a "discussion" with my mom which was prompted by her claim [ie regurgitation of rightwing media] that nuclear power is safe. it was especially chilling that even the guy who wrote this article couldn't see through the anti-science of such a claim. hm

  6. David, yeah – that's exactly the line I was using with him, to no avail. He just didn't seem to get the distinction, or it didn't matter to him.

    John, nuclear power is a tricky one, since so much of the green movement has switched positions on nuclear as being the only viable green solution). Or at least they had prior to Fukushima. I wonder how many of them have backed away from that post-Japan.

  7. My stance on nuclear power has certainly changed since Fukushima, for sure. Having to make shopping decisions based upon the reports from the Ministry of Education's food radiation monitoring is even less fun than it sounds. We also got a pretty decent fallout dusting here on March 15-16; background radiation is normal now but there are hotspots around town.

    95% of the reactors in the country are offline now, the public is pretty upset with TEPCO; we'll see what happens come summer when it gets up to the usual 102+ degrees outside, though.

  8. It was a wakeup call against complacency that's for sure. The reality though is that technology does change, does get better. It is entirely plausible that the current generation of pebble bed or other "cool" reactors are in a whole different category in terms of risk. Still Fukushima showed us that the payback for our failed gambles is so huge. On the other other hand, compare the number of deaths annual from carbon-based fuel (pollutants, mining, etc.) compared to number of nuclear reactor deaths in all of history.

  9. Yeah – there is no rational defense of coal power, for example.

    That said, a pretty large swath of Northeastern Japan has been rendered potentially gimped for agriculture for several half-lives. How do you put a dollar or human cost on that? It's kind of predictable but even potentially safe areas geographically close are getting hit. For example, in Japan the food standards are pretty strict and all meat must be labelled by origin. This has resulted in a boon for Kyushu and Kansai farmers but basically all the folks between Ibaraki and Aomori are just labeling the meat "kokusan" – generic domestic (roughly) – which no one now buys by choice.

    On the plus side you can now get some very inexpensive excellent meat if willing to buy the kokusan labelled meat.

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