Chart Demonstrating Self-Identified Smart People Can’t Read Charts
Posted by Joseph Moore on November 13, 2012
Here’s another interesting graphic from people I’ve never heard of, that found its way to me via some social media, posted by one of the more intelligent people I know:
The claim is “Apparently this election was not only divided along racial and financial lines, but on intelligence lines as well.” Question for us sports fans – does this graphic actually show that smart people voted for Obama, while dumb people voted for Romney? Let’s assume all the number are accurate. Here’s a few issues.
1. Judging from the popularity of this and similar graphics, the major issue, of course, is that many people who think they are intelligent look at stuff like this and pat themselves on the back and forward it to their friends, all the while sure that they’ve been shown to be part of the cool kids club. No thought is wasted on whether this graphic says what it pretends to say. “Critical thinking” is a particularly Orwellian euphemism, since it seems to mean nothing more than ‘get in line for a 2 minute hate’;
2. States don’t vote – the people in them do. Looking at the numbers, in each state a huge majority of people over 25 do not have college degrees. So it is possible, based solely on the evidence presented, that *all* the college educated people voted for Romney, yet the state still went to Obama. Based on the evidence presented, there’s no reason to suppose college educated people supported Obama at all;
3. Similarly, based on the numbers, at the very least, many ‘stupid’ people had to have voted for Obama (assuming college educated people vote in something remotely like the same percentage as everybody else – but we’re not told that piece of information);
4. It is assumed “college educated” = “smart”, a mistake only someone from, say, the education or sociology department could make (OK, that was just catty, but couldn’t resist). Seriously, my trade-school educated car mechanic is ‘smarter’ by just about any practical measure than most of the people I went to college with, including the professors – he runs his own successful business, which entails math & finance, marketing, a bit of psychology in addition to knowing how to fix hundreds of different makes and models of cars. Why assume he’s somehow dumber than some yahoo with an education degree?
5. Which brings me to the next point: why assume ‘college education’ is some sort of homogenous whole, rather than, as any college student or employer of college grads knows, a totally mixed bag. The typical kid with a degree in physics, biology, math, engineering, computer science and the like at least had to go through some level of rigorous thinking to get that degree. Plus, there are real-world answers and consequences to many of the questions these disciplines raise: does the experiment work? Does the animal die? Does the building fall down? Does the company stay in business? The student of these disciplines is aware that what he’s learning about has to work in the real world. The kid with the degree in education, sociology, psychology, women studies, and so on – not so much. They get their degrees by regurgitation. There are no objective criteria by which it is evident that you’ve done it right. Is Freud or modern pedagogy or the feminine mystique ‘right’? How would you know? And, if you were honest, and figured they were wrong, would you still get the particular degree? Of course, there are brilliant sociologists and stupid engineers, but that seems to be the exception.
And so on. Bottom line is that graphics such as these should only appear as cautionary tales for education of the young. No adult, especially someone with pretensions at intelligence and educational achievement, should take them seriously for more than a couple seconds.
But people do take them seriously, pat themselves on the back about how smart they are – and vote.
Minor Update: From the site linked to above, “Our favorite thing about this graphic is that the data Kenny used came from Fox Business, so if you’re a Romney voter, this is basically Neil Cavuto accidentally calling you an idiot.” My favorite thing about this quote is that the author accidentally called the majority of Obama voters idiots by the same exact logic. But the point here is Obama voters feeling good about themselves because they are smart and Romney voters are dumb, and it would be mean-spirited to complicate those good feelings with logic or math, especially when they lead people to vote correctly. Let’s not bicker about who killed who. This is a happy occasion!