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Political Bias Can Mess with Math Ability

A new study indicates that when giving the correct answer would run counter to their political beliefs, people with high numeracy will flub a math problem they would otherwise likely get right.

Cleverly designed and conducted by Yale University law professor Dan Kahan and colleagues, the study presented 1,111 participants with a problem that involved interpreting the results of a scientific study. The study data was the same in all cases, but sometimes the study was described as measuring the effectiveness of a "new cream for treating skin rashes," sometimes as involving the effectiveness of "a law banning private citizens from carrying concealed handguns in public."

The result?

According to Mother Jones:

Survey respondents performed wildly differently on what was in essence the same basic problem, simply depending upon whether they had been told that it involved guns or whether they had been told that it involved a new skin cream. What's more, it turns out that highly numerate liberals and conservatives were even more—not less—susceptible to letting politics skew their reasoning than were those with less mathematical ability.

Read the article.

Start Date: 
Friday, September 20, 2013