Here’s a simple arithmetic question: “A bat and ball cost $1.10. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”
The vast majority of people respond quickly and confidently, insisting the ball costs 10 cents. This answer is both incredibly obvious and utterly wrong. (The correct answer is five cents for the ball and $1.05 for the bat.) What’s most impressive is that education doesn’t really help; more than 50% of students at Harvard, Princeton and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology routinely give the incorrect answer.
In her latest piece at The Atlantic, Megan McArdle writes a long article on bias in academia mentioning the many angry comments to her previous post. (This relates to my post of February 9th which referred to her original article.) The article follows in its entirety, but the link provides numerous new and revealing comments on this hot topic:
This article found at Wheat From Chaff is from September 14th, 2009, but it still seems pertinent:
It seems to me that lately, the prescriptions for the future of news issued frequently by Internet celebrity (and not so celebrated) journalists and pundits have been including items on “truth.” Most recently, Dan Gillmor, in “Eleven Things I’d Do If I Ran a News Organization,” said,
6. We would refuse to do stenography and call it journalism. If one faction or party to a dispute is lying, we would say so, with the accompanying evidence. If we learned that a significant number of people in our community believed a lie about an important person or issue, we would make it part of an ongoing mission to help them understand the truth.
As if most people with common sense didn’t already know that there is bias in the social sciences…. Nonetheless, John Tierney wrote an interesting article on tribal-moral communities in academia significantly prone to it—in the New York Times.
Frank Wilson commented on it. Also, Ann Althouse picked it up, quoting University of Virginia social psychologist Jonathan Haidt: “They’ll embrace science whenever it supports their sacred values, but they’ll ditch it or distort it as soon as it threatens a sacred value.”
Update: Megan McArdle also had something to say: “Trying to be more conscious of one’s own bias, and even to attempt to work against it, should not be such a hard task for people as brilliant, open-minded, and committed to equality and social justice as I keep hearing that liberal academics are. So it doesn’t really seem like so much to ask.”