Internet rage caused by inability to understand probability

Some people don’t get probability, and this leads to Internet rage.

Here’s Scott Alexander, on IQ:

If you really understand the idea of a statistical predictor – if you have that gear in your brain at a fundamental level – then social science isn’t scary. You can read about IQ, or heredity, or stereotypes, or gender differences, or whatever, and you can say – ah, there’s a slight tendency for one thing to correlate with another thing. Then you can go have dinner.

If you don’t get that, then the world is terrifying. Someone’s said that IQ “correlates with” life outcomes? What the heck is “correlate with”? Did they say that only high-IQ people can be successful? That you’re doomed if you don’t get the right score on a test?

And then you can either resist that with every breath you have – deny all the data, picket the labs where it’s studied, make up silly theories about “emotional intelligence” and “grit” and what have you. Or you can surrender to the darkness, at least have the comfort of knowing that you accept the grim reality as it is.

Imagine an American who somehow gets it into his head that the Communists are about to invade with overwhelming force. He might buy a bunch of guns, turn his house into a bunker, start agitating that Communist sympathizers be imprisoned to prevent them from betraying the country when the time came. Or he might hang a red flag from his house, wear a WELCOME COMMUNIST OVERLORDS tshirt, and start learning Russian. These seem like opposite responses, but they both come from the same fundamental misconception. A lot of the culture war – on both sides – seems like this.

More pithily, here’s Piotr Migdał:

gaussian_outrage

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