Over at the Frontal Cortex blog on Wired.com, professional pontificator Jonah Lehrer explains recent research that shows that political talking heads — people like Jon Stewart, or Anderson Cooper, or their evil twin, Glenn Beck — are actually less likely to predict with accuracy the outcome of a given political situation than random choice, like, say, drawing a prediction out of a hat.
The reason for the experts’ dearth of skills? Cockiness:
The main reason for the inaccuracy has to do with overconfidence. Because the experts were convinced that they were right, they tended to ignore all the evidence suggesting they were wrong. This is known as confirmation bias, and it leads people to hold all sorts of erroneous opinions.
Lehrer goes on to explain that this kind of selective listening to facts, and knee-jerk dismissal of information that doesn’t support pundit’s point of view, can be likened to the behavior of a hedgehog:
A hedgehog is a small mammal covered with spines that, when attacked, rolls itself into a ball, so that its spines point outwards.
Haha, Jon Stewart, you’re a hedgehog! Just kidding, I love you.
But seriously. It’s not that surprising to hear that people who make their living spouting opinions would be protective of those opinions, but I think it actually speaks to the point Stewart himself made at his recent Rally for Sanity, where he made the excellent — and oft-repeated — point that, “if we amplify everything, we hear nothing.” It’s also that much easier to “hear nothing” when any slip-up, or, in fact, any thoughtful reversal of an opinion — is met with a shitstorm of judgment and accusations of “flip-flopping,” a term that should have left the common vernacular along with George W.
Because really, we should want experts and people who provide us with information to be able to consider information as it comes in, and not so blinded by their own egos that when facts slap them across the face, they insist on denying them only to protect their pride.