This morning I was listening to the radio where proponents and antagonists of alternative medical practices were beating their arguments to death. They were just repeating the same arguments you must have heard a million times yourself, again and again.

[pullquote align=”right” textalign=”center” width=”40%”]Read also: “Illusion of understanding” has caught me in a recursive loop.Philip Fernbach:

We are inclined to seek and process information in a way that supports our own opinion, we mainly frequent with peers and generally think that others just hold the same such extreme views.

[/pullquote] How come these people are not able to convince the opponent? How come clear arguments and evidence do not land on the other side? It is the same type of confrontation you have with the climate change debate for instance.

Well, there is much to say about these type of discussions: everybody is entitled to an opinion and every opinion is weighted equal regardless of substantiation or the background i.e. credibility of the speaker. Most of the time you hear amazingly bad reasoning, cherry picking of evidence and incongruous „proof” to support the stance taken.

From earlier post:

In this time when every opinion is worth as much as an other, in times of fact-free politics also, in which science is distrusted and populism reigns supreme, anyone can claim what he wants and then push in the defense the one who has struggled with the matter and has knowledge – like my father always used to say – with experience and knowledge.

This time I came better prepared to listen to this farce. Just earlier this week I read (via Daring Fireball) a very read worthy article by VOX’s Ezra Klein about Yale Law professor Dan Kahan c.s. doing research to answer “Why isn’t good evidence more effective in resolving political debates?”

Kahan calls his theory Identity-Protective Cognition:

“As a way of avoiding dissonance and estrangement from valued groups, individuals subconsciously resist factual information that threatens their defining values.” Elsewhere, he puts it even more pithily: “What we believe about the facts,”; he writes, “tells us who we are.” And the most important psychological imperative most of us have in a given day is protecting our idea of who we are, and our relationships with the people we trust and love.

Full text via How politics makes us stupid – Vox.

This article is highly recommended for all in public policy making, journalism and everybody else wanting to understand better how we humans function.

This type of human irrationality in particular and our limited ability for reasoning in general needs to be factored in when we try to understand societal mechanisms and hence how (technological) change will be embraced or not.