Patt Morrison for January 17, 2012

New studies prove that when it comes to civics and statistics, it’s all about your state of mind.

Occupy Portland Holds Rally And March On 2-Month Anniversary Of Movement

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A demonstrator argues with a passer-by by on the street in downtown Portland, November 2011. Recent studies suggest that when it comes to using statistical facts to change each other's minds, we're programmed to fail.

The results are in: either we don’t do math, or numbers really don’t matter. Recent polls show that Americans overestimate federal spending on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting by a factor of 100, the percentage of illegal U.S. residents by a factor of six or seven, and the number of residents receiving welfare by about two.

We also underestimate the amount of spending on Social Security and Medicare. If you find this concerning, consider this: recent studies also show that even when provided with the correct information, most people won’t change their opinion. And the most misinformed tend to be the most confident.


How can people be helped to make more informed decisions if they refuse to base their decision on factual information?


Carl Bialik, "The Numbers Guy" for the Wall Street Journal

Jack Pitney, professor of government, Claremont McKenna College

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