Anecdotes Aren’t Data: Psychologist Steven Pinker Calls for a Stronger Delineation Between Facts and Feelings
What is the one thing wrong with the world that you would change, and why? It’s a question posed by Harvard University to its faculty, in a new ongoing series. In it, professor Steven Pinker shares his desire to temper our cognitive biases with hard facts.
A president riling up citizens over the supposed lawlessness of the country, even as crime rates are down; a self-driving car crash inciting mass hysteria, despite the fact that human-driven cars have a much higher chance of getting into an accident; a fear of nuclear power based on horrific images—from an accident that had no fatalities.
“Too many leaders and influencers, including politicians, journalists, intellectuals, and academics, surrender to the cognitive bias of assessing the world through anecdotes and images rather than data and facts,” says Harvard professor Steven Pinker. It is a “destructive statistical illiteracy” that we need to remedy in order to get an accurate picture of the world.
Pinker advocates for a staunch sense of ‘factfulness’ to be incorporated in our culture, education, journalism, and politics: “Guiding policy or activism by conspicuous events, without reference to data, should come to be seen as risible as guiding them by omens, dreams, or whether Jupiter is rising in Sagittarius.”
Read his full interview here.
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