The most infuriating paragraph you will read this week

In  a reflection on why Donald Trump’s proclivity for making stuff up doesn’t seem to bother his supporters Anna Pluta of FiveThirtyEight highlights some research that is as depressing as it is annoying:

In 2000, James Kuklinski and other political scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign established an important distinction: American citizens with incorrect information can be divided into two groups, the misinformed and the uniformed. The difference between the two is stark. Uninformed citizens don’t have any information at all, while those who are misinformed have information that conflicts with the best evidence and expert opinion. As Kuklinski and his colleagues established, in the U.S., the most misinformed citizens tend to be the most confident in their views and are also the strongest partisans [Emphasis added].These folks fill the gaps in their knowledge base by using their existing belief systems. Once these inferences are stored into memory, they become “indistinguishable from hard data,” Kuklinski and his colleagues found.

This is not a new idea. Back in the 1930s Bertrand Russel wrote that:

“The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt”.

This unfortunately tallies with research outside the political arena. For example, some studies indicate that parents who believe that vaccines are dangerous become more resistant to vaccinating their children when presented with scientific evidence that they are safe.

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