Choosing the facts you want to hear

Michael Shermer wrote a piece for Scientific American about the broad statistics on gun violence, and how they shaped his decision to give up his personal firearm. The top comment by Jim Pennington is indicative of an awful pattern in modern American political life: people opt out of news sources that report information that they disagree with.

In any case, since Scientific American (I’ve been a subscriber for over 10 years) has decided to get political, then I choose to do the same. Therefore I will NOT be renewing my subscription when it comes due nor will I waste my time reading the issues I still have coming. I also will mention to my acquaintenances that your magazine has become left wing publication just as U.S News and World Report did. You know what happened to them.

The way I see it, this is a pernicious attitude that is independent of whether you agree with Shermer’s opinion or even whether you think the statistics he cited tell the whole story. This isn’t a legitimate complaint about scientific accuracy. Pennington says “Why does this idiot Shermer think that anyone who hasn’t had formal training in firearms is any less competent to use one than someone who has?”, rhetorically suggesting that it is obvious that firearms training is worthless. I strongly doubt he actually believes that. Rather, this is an emotional response against Shermer’s opinion that has led Pennington to reject not only the data from the piece but anything that comes from it in the future.

I don’t think the desire to pick one’s information sources or facts is new, but the ability to pull it off is a fairly novel development. That means we’re seeing more polarization not just of attitudes and political tenets but actual beliefs about objective reality. This process undermines not only sound policy but science itself, which is bad news no matter what you think about gun control.

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