Chart Demonstrating Self-Identified Smart People Can’t Read Charts

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!


Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

4 thoughts on “Chart Demonstrating Self-Identified Smart People Can’t Read Charts”

  1. That’s all fine and dandy and absolutely true (that is, the data says exactly what you say), however to deny the real possibility of this correlation having something to do with an actual “causation” is silly.

    It seems damned obvious to me that a college educated person has a better chance of voting democrat just going by these charts alone, and I am sure that any Bayesian analysis would agree with me.

    Now even if this “theory” could be proven true, it would not mean that the “smartest” people vote democrat. It could merely mean that the people who stay out of the workforce longer have the tendency to vote democrat, for instance. Conversely, the people who make their way into the workforce younger (when all the other 18s are still at school) probably vote more for Republican.

  2. Thanks for your comment. Two points: if the correlation is true – that getting a college degree correlates positively with voting Democrat – and one feels compelled to make a chart out of it, such a chart would be a graph showing how college educated people actually voted. Not presenting that data, but rather presenting data that does not in any way support the the assertion, yet making the claim anyway – that is questionable to beyond the point of dishonesty. The nicest thing one could say is that the person putting together the chart is an ignoramus.

    Second, turns out, historically, that college educated men are more likely to vote Republican than Democrat, and college educated women have recently (like, in the last decade or so) flipped to voting Democrat. This election? Unclear. But think of one thing, to muddy the water for you a bit – rich people? How do they tend to vote? Guys with college degrees – do they tend to be well-off? So, does the good shoulder angel win that battle or not? Or is the party of the working class actually the party of well-off professionals? If so, who’s left to be in the half of the country that voted Republican?

    Your ‘damned obvious’ claim is frankly risible: nothing from the actual information presented implies this in any way – what you’re seeing is the effects of assumptions you’ve brought to the data. In the past – where good data on how college educated people voted in particular elections was available, I would post the actual results to my Democratic friends, who promptly came down with a very precise visual impairment that did not allow them to see the numbers right in front of them. But, enough – I’ll dig around and post some stuff when I get a minute. Thanks again for dropping by.

  3. 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).

    Deservedly catty; but you left out English, History, Biology . . . about everything except the exact sciences & engineering (and ever since the Great Global Warming Hysteria, I’m having doubts about the exact sciences).

    Menken’s definition of an intellectual: Someone who has been educated beyond his intelligence.

    And even truly smart people don’t necessarily have a firm grasp on reality. I believe this is what W.F. Buckley had in mind when he wrote that he’d rather be governed by a few hundred names taken randomly from the phone book than the dons of Harvard. I think that is a little too broad, but I would rather be governed by several hundred people taken randomly from the skilled trades or engineering sections of the yellow pages (mechanics, contractors, electricians, etc) than the faculty of any college or university. It has to do with daily wrestling with reality. No wonder these people tend to vote conservative or libertarian.

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