The rationality of ignorance

Jonathan Bernstein’s analysis on the rationality of ignorance should be heeded by those who rail on poor science literacy:

Anyway, it’s worth noting that in all of these cases, I don’t mean to draw any negative conclusions about American voters. I don’t think they’re stupid. I just think that people have a lot of other interests besides the minutia of politics and public policy. There’s nothing wrong with that; indeed, it’s in most cases very smart to use shortcuts such as political party and other opinion leaders to substitute for detailed study of public policy…

Think of it this way: when you need to buy a home appliance, you probably wind up spending a bit of time and effort researching it  — although that might come down to “ask a friend who has proved reliable on these things in the past” rather than a careful start-from-scratch approach. But if you get a marketing survey about washer/dryers today and you’ve never thought about them before or haven’t for a decade, you might well give some awfully foolish answers if you do decide to answer their questions. That doesn’t make you stupid, and doesn’t make you ignorant in that pejorative sense. It’s just that you don’t travel around the world with ready-made, carefully-researched, intelligent things to say about home appliances. [Emphasis added–PK]

Hopefully someday we’ll see that people ignore science not because they are anti-science or ignorant, but because they have more interesting things to care about.

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