Day 23: Facts? Who Needs Facts?

The truth is in short supply.

We live in a post-fact society. Author xxxxxxxx Manjoo makes this point in his 2004 book xxxxxxxxxx. In many ways, our tendency is to select facts that fit our point of view, rather than allowing our POV to be shaped by facts.

To illustrate this point, Manjoo described a fascinating study of bias conducted by researchers in the 1950s in the aftermath of a hotly contested college football game between Princeton and Dartmouth. In 1956, both universities boasted highly-ranked teams. When the schools met on the field, the game turned into an unusually brutal contest, with numerous severe hits and injuries and penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct. Reactions to the Dartmouth victory were loud, with many Princeton supporters insisting their team had been treated unfairly.

A savvy researcher at one of the schools noticed these divergent responses and thought the game and its aftermath would provide an interesting study of bias. He showed a specific play (a Princeton player being tackled roughly) to fans of both teams. The Princeton fans most often described the play as “dirty” or “excessive”, while Dartmouth fans’ perception of the same play were that it was “hard but fair.”

When the researcher showed another play, this time with Princeton players throwing a Dartmouth player to the ground, the reactions were reversed. The Dartmouth fans commented that Princeton players were known for playing outside the rules throughout the game, while Princeton fans felt their team’s actions on the play were completely fine.

The takeaway? We tend to go into situations with pre-conceived ideas and then we view evidence through that lens.

[need a wrap-up]

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