I've taken to arguing with people on Twitter. Both at the time and in retrospect this seemed like a dumb idea. In doing so, however, I realise that most people are seemingly incapable of reconciling even slightly conflicting ideas with one another, and tend towards absolutes wherever possible. This cognitive bias, particularly in complex models, clouds an ability to think critically.

There are few absolutes, and rarely is anything 100% something else

In arguing that I am mistaken to draw parallels between the Brexit vote and an increasing prospect of a Trump presidency, one individual (on Twitter, of course) argued that "as countries have their own personalities, traditions, history, electoral systems" and so on, we might not draw lessons from one and apply them to another.

That nations have unique cultures and path dependencies is indisputable. Yet this does not logically lead to the conclusion that we cannot learn from the experiences of others just because they differ in some respects. It does not mean there are no parallels, and it does not eliminate the possibility of correlation.

An inability to appreciate this much is common, but flawed. As it happens, there may be all manner of intelligent reasons to believe my comparison of Brexit to Trump may be flawed, but none of them articulated by the person making the point that because some things are local, lessons from one country cannot be applied to another.

When scientists ask whether something is "genetic or environmental" they rarely expect it to be 100% one or 100% the other. It is almost always a combination of both. Even Brexit, or Donald Trump, is not 100% bad, or 100% evil... and smart people are rarely 100% sure of anything. Of this I am certain.