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Tuesday, July 27, 2004
Quote of the Day

"Yes, every snowflake is unique, and no category will do justice to every one of its members. But intelligence depends on lumping things together that share properties, so that we are not flabbergasted by every new thing we encounter.

... The idea that stereotypes are inherently irrational owes more to a condescension towards ordinary people than it does to good psychological research. Many researchers, having shown that stereotypes existed in the minds of their subjects, assumed that the stereotypes had to be irrational, because they were uncomfortable with the possibility that some trait might be statistically true of some group. They never actually checked. That began to change in the 1980s, and now a fair amount is known about the accuracy of stereotypes.

With some important exceptions, stereotypes are in fact not inaccurate when assessed against objective benchmarks such as census figures or the reports of the stereotyped people themselves. People who believe that African-Americans are more likely to be on welfare than whites, that Jews have higher average incomes than WASPs, that business students are more conservative than students in the arts, that woman are more likely than men to want to lose weight, and that men are more likely than women to swat a fly with their bare hands, are not being irrational or bigoted. Those beliefs are correct. People's stereotypes are generally consistent with the statistics, and in many case their bias is to underestimate the real differences between sexes or ethnic groups." - Steven Pinker

It shouldn't need saying, but it apparently does, that just because a claim matches a stereotype does not make it wrong. The mere fact that a great many people have made a similar observation in the past is not by itself proof that a statement is true, especially when applied to individual cases. But nor is it proof that this observation is false. The intellectual quality of a great many debates would be improved if more people were exposed to the quotation above.

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