Why clever people say silly things

More knowledge is touted as the vaccine against ‘alternative facts’, half truths and misconceptions. But what if our brains are the problem, not the solution?

These answers are no longer about the truth, Kahan argued. They demonstrate concern for protecting your identity or belonging to your “tribe”. And those people who were skilled at maths, Kahan also found, were all the better at this. Often completely subconsciously, by the way. In reaching their answers, it was their psyche that played tricks on them.

Time and again, when people know more facts or have more skills, they have more resources from which to draw when deluding themselves. Our brain works like a lawyer; it will find the arguments to defend our convictions, whatever the cost or the facts.

This habit is maintained even if your convictions change or seem too contradictory. You can believe one thing at one point, then another thing later on. There are conservative farmers in the US, who deny the existence of climate change but take all kinds of measures to protect their business from the effects of a changing climate.