Mark E. Whiting’s and Duncan J. Watts’s latest research reveals that common sense is in fact rare, demonstrated by a quantitative method they designed to measure common sense at the individual and collective level. Their research has been extensively featured in several news outlets, including Knowledge at Wharton, The Economist, Newsweek, Breaking News Network, and In addition to the written press release, first author Mark E. Whiting was featured on Quirks and Quarks, a science and technology podcast on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) radio. The host, Bob McDonald, is a renowned Canadian science journalist who interviewed Whiting on his recent milestone. Their conversation, “Common sense is not that common, but it is widely distributed,” was aired on January 19, 2024. 

Whiting and McDonald discussed common knowledge and how different types of knowledge (facts, opinions, philosophy) have different levels of commonsensicality, a measure of how well something aligns with common sense. Whiting also shared the significance of his research, noting that “common sense plays a role in so many things that we do in life,” but the findings from this study indicate that, surprisingly, there is no set of knowledge that everyone universally agrees with.

Quirks and Quarks has received over 80 awards since it first aired in 1975 and continues to release new episodes every week. For the past 40 years, Quirks and Quarks has brought its audiences insights into the latest scientific breakthroughs and their impact on society and politics. The show’s diverse array of topics include “the quirks of the expanding universe to the quarks within a single atom, … and everything in between.”

Common sense is not that common, but it is widely distributed

Sociologists at the University of Pennsylvania have helped answer the age-old question, do most of us have common sense? Researchers including Mark Whiting explored this by asking 2000 people if they agreed with thousands of terms that had been deemed as “common sense.” In a paper published in PNAS, the team found that the larger the group, the less likely there was commonly shared knowledge, and no one age, educational or political group stood out as having more common sense than others.