‘It’s not cool to not know what you’re talking about’

President Obama slammed Donald Trump during his Rutgers commencement speech. Taking aim at the billionaires “anti-intellectualism.” source: Business insider. Click on the picture to see the video. Here Obama wonders where the strain of anti-intellectualism comes from? In politics as in life, ignorance is not a virtue. It is not cool to not know what you ar talking about! It is a great short video to show your students before having them research on certain topics. It is not cool not to be able to understand a discussion, or to unknowing be the one who spreads false news. How do you know what you are talking about? And do you have the ability to change your mind when learning about new information? We tend to read articles that support our beliefs. How do we know that it is the truth? To me it seems like false news travels fast, not only because there are political motives for doing so. They spread because of people’s ignorance. And it is our responsibility as teachers, to make sure we equip our students with the tools to figure out the difference and to encourage the intellect we need in this complex world.

I recently read this article “How America Lost Faith in Expertise“, but I think you can say that there is a trend here, not only in American, to trust sources you do not know, and to participate in debates without the proper understanding of the topic.

In 2014, following the Russian invasion of Crimea, The Washington Post published the results of a poll that asked Americans about whether the United States should intervene militarily in Ukraine. Only one in six could identify Ukraine on a map; the median response was off by about 1,800 miles. But this lack of knowledge did not stop people from expressing pointed views. In fact, the respondents favored intervention in direct proportion to their ignorance. Put another way, the people who thought Ukraine was located in Latin America or Australia were the most enthusiastic about using military force there. 

The following year, Public Policy Polling asked a broad sample of Democratic and Republican primary voters whether they would support bombing Agrabah. Nearly a third of Republican respondents said they would, versus 13 percent who opposed the idea. Democratic preferences were roughly reversed; 36 percent were opposed, and 19 percent were in favor. Agrabah doesn’t exist. It’s the fictional country in the 1992 Disney film Aladdin. Liberals crowed that the poll showed Republicans’ aggressive tendencies. Conservatives countered that it showed Democrats’ reflexive pacifism. Experts in national security couldn’t fail to notice that 43 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of Democrats polled had an actual, defined view on bombing a place in a cartoon. 

Increasingly, incidents like this are the norm rather than the exception. It’s not just that people don’t know a lot about science or politics or geography. They don’t, but that’s an old problem. The bigger concern today is that Americans have reached a point where ignorance—at least regarding what is generally considered established knowledge in public policy—is seen as an actual virtue. Quote from Foreign Affairs.

There have been many studies on “WHY FACTS DON’T CHANGE OUR MINDS”; New discoveries about the human mind show the limitations of reason. The New Yorker feb 27 2017.  Consider what’s become known as “confirmation bias,” the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them. Of the many forms of faulty thinking that have been identified, confirmation bias is among the best catalogued; it’s the subject of entire textbooks’ worth of experiments.

“As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding,” Sloman and Fernbach write. And here our dependence on other minds reinforces the problem. If your position on, say, the Affordable Care Act is baseless and I rely on it, then my opinion is also baseless. When I talk to Tom and he decides he agrees with me, his opinion is also baseless, but now that the three of us concur we feel that much more smug about our views. If we all now dismiss as unconvincing any information that contradicts our opinion, you get, well, the Trump Administration.

In “Denying to the Grave: Why We Ignore the Facts That Will Save Us” (Oxford), Jack Gorman, a psychiatrist, and his daughter, Sara Gorman, a public-health specialist, probe the gap between what science tells us and what we tell ourselves.The Gormans don’t just want to catalogue the ways we go wrong; they want to correct for them. There must be some way, they maintain, to convince people that vaccines are good for kids, and handguns are dangerous. (Another widespread but statistically insupportable belief they’d like to discredit is that owning a gun makes you safer.) But here they encounter the very problems they have enumerated. Providing people with accurate information doesn’t seem to help; they simply discount it. Appealing to their emotions may work better, but doing so is obviously antithetical to the goal of promoting sound science. “The challenge that remains,” they write toward the end of their book, “is to figure out how to address the tendencies that lead to false scientific belief.”

“The Enigma of Reason,” “The Knowledge Illusion,” and “Denying to the Grave” were all written before the November election. And yet they anticipate Kellyanne Conway and the rise of “alternative facts.” These days, it can feel as if the entire country has been given over to a vast psychological experiment being run either by no one or by Steve Bannon. Rational agents would be able to think their way to a solution. But, on this matter, the literature is not reassuring. Read the whole article here, The New Yorker. 



  1. This is so important!!! There are so many people nowadays who report things based on what they hear and then don’t know where the information they are saying is coming from. It’s so important to back up what you say, in case someone challenges you. It’s so important.

  2. I believe that is VERY important to not hold a conversation when you do not completely or fully understand the topic. Most times when someone asks my opinion and I do not have the full knowledge, i will simply state that I do not know enough about the topic to comment on it. Many people however, will still make comments without knowing everything and instead of it being a scholarly conversation, it turns into a half sided debate because once the person realizes they do not know what they are talking about, they still will not back down out of embarrassment.

I would love to hear from you