Why Do People Believe Bogus Arguments?

Earlier this week FiveThirtyEight.com's Andrew Gelman looked at three different political analyses that are demonstrably incorrect, but get echoed in the media and repeated by otherwise apparently reasonable people.

One such argument, recently addressed more-or-less simultaneously by two Washington Post columnists describes the tea partiers as successors to Ross Perot's third party movement from the 90s.

Gelman's colleague, Tom Schaller, examined this bit of bogus analysis with the help of Perot scholar Ron Rapoport of William & Mary college. Perot's movement, of course, coalesced around a candidate during a presidential campaign — a fundamental difference with the tea party. Moreover, Perot's followers rejected both political parties, while the tea partiers, despite occasional attempts by organizers to spin it otherwise, really only reject Democrats.

Schaller summarizes:

One of the ironies of the tea "party" is that it is less of a party than the Perot movement was, and yet is more traditionally partisan--i.e., Republican--in its attitudes and preferences. If it is a danger or threat to the Republican Party it is thus a danger from within, not without. And if it is a threat to the Democratic Party it is because it readily mobilizes voters who ultimately are going to vote for Republicans (or more accurately, against Democrats), not third-party candidates.

So why are people confused about this? Gelman suggests that false parallel with the Perot movement

... has just the right level of complexity to seem as if it could be right. Both the Tea Party and the Perot supporters have talked about deficits, they both seem like movements of outsiders, so people draw the easy connection without thinking further.

We hope a cognitive scientist takes Gelman's suggestion and chimes in on this discussion.

Read the rest of Gelman's piece.