Suppose math tells you something that goes against your preconceived beliefs. What do you do?

Yale Law School’s Dan Kahan and three other researchers make the case that those more skilled at math are less likely to come to the correct conclusion on controversial matters—even when the numbers to support that conclusion are clear, empirical, and staring them in the face.

That’s surprising, isn’t it? Well, if you read the complete Boston Globe article, you’ll see that this one-sentence description is a tad misleading, even though it comes from that very article. The question is what the phrase “less likely” means. Are they saying that those who are skilled at math are less likely to be correct than those unskilled at math? That’s how I interpreted it — and I was astonished to think that it might be true.

Or are they saying that those who are skilled at math are less likely to be correct on controversial matters than on non-controversial ones? That would still be unfortunate, but it would not be the least surprising.

So…go read the article, even if you aren’t reading the actual study. It’s a lot more nuanced than one might expect. We all know politicians who misuse data, and we all know voters who refuse to believe facts, numerical or otherwise. But apparently the situation is not so simple.



Categories: Linguistics, Math, Teaching & Learning