Ignorer les ignorants

STANFORD – Les gens ont le droit d'être ignorants. Tout comme nous pouvons choisir de nuire à notre santé en mangeant trop, en fumant ou en négligeant de prendre les médications qui nous sont prescrites, nous pouvons aussi choisir de rester mal informés sur les problèmes politiques.

Peut-être que l'ignorance a parfois du sens. Ce que les économistes appellent « l'ignorance rationnelle » entre en jeu lorsque le coût pour acquérir une compréhension suffisante d'un problème afin de prendre une décision éclairée à son propos, l'emporte sur l'intérêt auquel on pouvait raisonnablement s'attendre. Par exemple, beaucoup de ceux qui sont préoccupés par la famille, l'école, le travail ou par les prêts immobiliers pourraient ne pas juger rentable de passer au crible une masse de données souvent contradictoires pour comprendre par exemple les risques et les avantages de l'énergie nucléaire, des plastifiants dans les jouets pour enfants ou le régime méditerranéen.

Le déluge de données contradictoires concernant les coûts et les avantages de différents aliments illustre le défi inhérent à toute décision éclairée. Dans une étude récente, Jonathan Schoenfeld et John Ioannidis ont constaté que malgré le battage médiatique, les revendications « scientifiques » d'après lesquelles divers aliments provoquent ou à préviennent le cancer ne sont souvent pas relayées par la méta-analyse (l'analyse des résultats regroupés dans plusieurs études). D'après Ioannidis : « les gens ont peur ou pensent qu'ils doivent changer leur mode de vie et prendre de grandes décisions, mais très vite, les faits sont réfutés. »

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