Skip to main content

What's Your Bias? - Lee De-Wit ***

We have seen plenty of books on the psychology of decision making and how psychology can give us insights into the way that we misinterpret information or get things wrong, such as Richard Nisbett's Mindware, but this is the first that I have come across that explicitly addresses the psychology of the way we vote.

This is, perhaps, the ideal time to come out with such a book, as there have been so many surprise results in the last few years from the last two British general elections to Brexit and Trump. And there is some interesting material in this slim volume (I got through it on a longish train journey). It's very pleasing also, that Lee De-Wit gives us a good balance between UK and US examples.

Perhaps the most surprising result covered is the discover that the biggest predictor of how we will vote is how open we are to new experiences rather than, say, class or wealth. We also see how traditional party support has changed over time. Other aspects will be more familiar if you've read any popular psychology, such as the impact of confirmation bias. And there's also good coverage of the way social media and targeted internet advertising are changing the playing field.

Although this is an approachable, easy-to-read book, I went away from it a little disappointed, as it seemed just too lightweight - I felt like I was left wanting a lot more. More of the science, more insights and implications. It was a bit like reading a study (with lots of provisos) that gave you the basic facts, but didn't provide much in the way of discussion and conclusions. Even when dealing with social media, for example, we heard a lot about its existence and what was done with out, but little about its measurable impact on voters.

I would still very much recommend reading this book if you are at all interested in politics or what has been happening recently, particularly in light of the changes in social media. But I wish there had been a bit more to it.


Hardback:  

Kindle:  


Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Rockets and Rayguns - Andrew May ****

The Cold War period saw dramatic developments in science and technology, coinciding with the flourishing of the science fiction genre. In Rockets and Rayguns, Andrew May draws on the parallels between reality and fiction, each influencing the other.

Inevitably a major Cold War theme was the threat of nuclear war, and May opens with the bomb. It's fascinating that fiction got there first - nuclear weapons were featured in science fiction when many physicists were still doubting the practicality of using nuclear energy. Of course, it's a lot easier to simply take a concept and dream up a weapon than it is to make it for real - for example, H. G. Wells' prophetic nuclear bombs from his 1914 The World Set Free were nothing like the real thing. And some science fiction devices concepts - notably ray guns and force fields - came to very little in reality. However this doesn't prevent the parallels being of interest.

May gives us a mix of the science - describing how nuclear we…

Galileo Galilei, the Tuscan Artist – Pietro Greco ****

Near the beginning of John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, he refers to a ‘Tuscan artist’ viewing the Moon through an optic glass. He’s talking about Galileo – one of history’s greatest scientists, but not the most obvious person to slap an ‘artist’ label on. Yet Galileo lived at a time – the Renaissance – when it was fashionable to dabble impartially in both the arts and sciences. Look up ‘Renaissance man’ on Wikipedia and you’ll see Galileo’s picture right there underneath Leonardo da Vinci’s. It’s a less well-known side to his life, but it crops up again and again – interspersed among his many scientific achievements – in this excellent new biography by Pietro Greco.

If you’re looking for interesting trivia, you’ll find plenty in this book. Galileo’s father was a musician with scientific leanings, who carried out some of the first experiments on musical acoustics – which Galileo may have assisted with. As a young professor of mathematics, Galileo delivered a couple of lectures on …

The Ultimate Interplanetary Travel Guide - Jim Bell **

Not too long ago, NASA brought out a series of spoof ‘space tourism’ posters for various destinations in the Solar System. For people like me, who have watched NASA depressingly fail to send humans to the other planets for decade after decade, it was just another painful twist of the knife. On the other hand, the posters probably have more appeal for younger and less cynical minds, by presenting familiar astronomical objects in a new and engaging way. There may even be scope for a whole book along these lines – and that’s what Jim Bell has attempted here.

The main thing I learned from it is that my brain is programmed to read either fiction or non-fiction, and can’t handle a 50:50 mix of the two – which is what this book is. It drove me mad –  not least because I could see that the same material, presented as straight non-fiction, could have made a really excellent book. Using the NASA posters as a starting point, he could have enumerated the potential ‘tourist sights’ at each location…