The more we know, the less we agree

President Barack Obama delivers his 2013 State of the Union address before Congress. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption In some policy debates, each side brings its own set of facts

A review of the best commentary on and around the world...

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If the public were more informed on a controversial subject - if they just had better access to the facts and an understanding of what they mean - would pressing policy questions be easier to solve?

Vox's Ezra Klein talks to Yale Law Prof Dan Kahan and concludes that the answer is no.

Mr Kahan conducted a study on what he calls the "science comprehension thesis". First, he asked subjects to analyse - based purely on the evidence provided - whether a study indicated that a skin cream cures a rash or makes its worse. Respondents who were better at math tended to come up with the correct answer.

Mr Kahan then offered a similar test using a study on gun control. Once again, subjects were instructed to only assess what the numbers indicated. This time math competence failed to predict whether respondents analysed the data correctly. Ideology - whether one was liberal or conservative - was the determining factor in how one answered.

The conclusion, Klein says, is that people tend to filter out information that forces them to disagree with members of their "tribe". That means that liberals will generally seek out evidence that supports liberal conclusions, while conservatives will embrace conservative numbers.

He writes:

Each party has its allied think tanks, its go-to experts, its favoured magazines, its friendly blogs, its sympathetic pundits, its determined activists, its ideological moneymen. Both the professionals and the committed volunteers who make up the party machinery are members of social circles, Twitter worlds, Facebook groups, workplaces and many other ecosystems that would make life very unpleasant for them if they strayed too far from the faith. And so these institutions end up employing a lot of very smart, very sincere people whose formidable intelligence makes certain that they typically stay in line. To do anything else would be upend their day-to-day lives.

The hope, he concludes, is that voters will eventually hold politicians accountable if their allegiance to their own ideology leads to bad public policy decision. He's not optimistic, however:

It's not true when American politics becomes so warped by gerrymandering, big money and congressional dysfunction that voters can't figure out who to blame for the state of the country. If American politics is going to improve, it will be better structures, not better arguments, that win the day.


Philippine violence is crossing borders - "If you want to be rich, you go into the kidnapping business," writes the Malaysia Star's Philip Golingai about why crime has become a severe problem on the Philippine island of Jolo. Although the violence is usually restricted to Philippine territory, he writes, sometimes it spills over into Malaysia, as it did when a Chinese national was kidnapped recently in a luxury hotel in Sabah.

For some Philippine criminals, he says, "Sabah's diving resorts are like a tempting candy store".


Is a military coup coming? - "Growing food shortages, the world's highest inflation levels, record homicide rates and President Nicolas Maduro's bloody repression" are bringing the situation in Venezuela to a breaking point, writes the Miami Herald's Andres Oppenheimer.

He cites a report by Argentine political scientist Andres Serbin that predicts Venezuela is heading toward anarchy, followed by military intervention and possibly civil war.

"History has proven that there is no such thing as a 'good' coup," Oppenheimer writes, so regional powers need to force Mr Maduro to negotiate with protestors and "re-establish the rule of law".


Remorse inspires a better response - On the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the Rwandan genocide, many international actors regret the lack of action to stop the brutal killings, writes John Prendergast for the Daily Beast.

Still, there is hope that nations will be more effective in response to future human rights violations because "no response to genocide will arise without a constituency of conscience demanding one".


Avoiding the gallows - Although capital punishment is usually reserved for crimes like murder, three of the four men who raped a 23-year-old photojournalist at Shakti Mills in India were sentenced to death because they were repeat offenders. The Times of India editorialises that making rape equivalent to murder can lead to "further brutalisation and dehumanisation of society".

The editors suggest that "the ends of justice as well as deterrence would be far better served by increased conviction rates along with differential punishments depending on the degree or grade of the crime".

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the week

Sunday's presidential election in Afghanistan was the main focus of both Afghanistan's media and that of neighbouring Pakistan. The Afghan press welcomed the high turnout, with some calling on the Electoral Complaints Commission [IEC] to deal seriously with fraud and irregularities in the elections. Some Pakistani papers urge Kabul to reach out to Pakistan, while others call on the Taleban to give up attacks.

"The 5 April elections were a national epic created by the people of Afghanistan, women and men, old and young, all strata and social categories... In the first phase, the people said 'no' to those who wanted to prevent the people by force from participating in the elections... The people have successfully passed the great test, election 2014, and demonstrated their resolve well and said 'no' to violence and terrorism." - Afghanistan's the Daily Afghanistan.

"The people of Afghanistan like other free nations of the world showed that they want and can build their destiny. From now on, no-one shall dare say that democracy does not work in Afghanistan." - Afghanistan's Hasht-e Sobh.

"Efforts are seriously under way to destroy the election process and to strike a blow to the presidential candidates... The number of ballot papers in some stations was less than the number of participants. The point creates speculation among the people that the election commission might have interfered to decrease votes to be cast for prominent candidates." - Afghanistan's Mandegar.

"Pakistan's interest lies not in once again trying to 'conquer' Afghanistan through jihadi proxies, but supporting our neighbour in its quest for peace and development, not the least because enlightened self-interest suggests both peace and war in Afghanistan inevitably impact Pakistan too." - Pakistan's Daily Times.

"We believe the new Afghan president will try to maintain better ties with Pakistan. He will honour the sacrifices made by Pakistan for the Afghan people in different ages and will maintain strong contacts with it." - Pakistan's Jang.

"The Afghan Taleban should end their resistance movement and get elected with the support of the people. This is what the people of Afghanistan want." - Pakistan's Nawa-i-Waqt.

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