Our Lizard Brains Still Reign Supreme

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From Alex Tabarrok, responding to a study of what patients value in a hospital:¹

I do wish that patients paid more attention to the outputs of sophisticated statistical models when choosing doctors and hospitals, as I think this would improve quality, but mostly they don’t.

Me too, Alex, me too. However, even among my pretty smart friends, I can’t get them to prioritize even a simple time-series chart over their gut feeling of what “must be true.” And even when I do make a tiny bit of headway on some subject or another, if I bring it up again a month later it turns out they’ve completely forgotten everything I said. They’re back to whatever barstool opinion they had before.

We are overclocked primates. It takes intense training to get humans to overcome the constant mutterings of their lizard brains and pay attention instead to quantitative evidence—i.e., to produce scientists—and even among scientists this training works only in a pinch. This is why elections are won by appealing to people’s emotions, not trying to change their view of the facts. We may be proud of our massive prefrontal cortexes, but they’re merely a thin veneer over the billion years of evolution that produced the rest of our brain.

¹Quiet rooms and nice nurses, it turns out.

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We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

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