Kling on Truth

by F.

Arnold Kling has a pretty good essay here, though it’s not very skillfully put together (Note to Kling: read more Gladwell before sitting down at the computer). Here’s the money quote:

in all of our intellectual pursuits we tend to follow strategies for avoiding truth. The more knowledgable we are, the more we follow a high-investment strategy of selectively accepting evidence that favors our outlook while discounting contrary information. In science, this process ultimately is checked by the methods of experimentation, prediction, and falsification. In markets, it is checked by the process of profit and loss. In politics, the checks are less powerful. Our political beliefs are likely to be especially unreliable, regardless of which strategy we use to avoid truth.

Specifically,

democratic politics is a very poor information-processing mechanism. The great mass of people form their political beliefs with little regard for facts or logic. However, the elites also have a strategy for avoiding truth. Elites form their political beliefs dogmatically, using their cleverness to organize facts to fit preconceived prejudices. The masses’ strategy for avoiding truth is to make a low investment in understanding; the elites’ strategy is to make a large investment in selectively choosing which facts and arguments to emphasize or ignore.

Kling cites Paul Krugman (on the left) and Rush Limbaugh (on the right) as examples of elites. I completely agree: neither is worth listening to. Same for magazines like The New Republic, The Atlantic, Harpers, National Review, Commentary and so on. They merely confirm entrenched biases, whether of a leftish or rightish flavor. I don’t need to spend time and money reading to entrench my biases further (I can do that just sitting on the couch picking my toes).

Just because you’re smart and educated doesn’t make you’re right; actually, these facts may make it harder to discover you are wrong, because you are better at hiding your biases. In science, these sorts of clever-but-wrong folks are called cranks. In politics, they’re called experts.

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