About a month ago I asked if denialism is truly more frequent on the right or is it that the issues of the day are ones that are more likely to be targets of right wing denialism? After all, one can think of slightly more left wing sources of denialism like GMO paranoia, 9/11 conspiracies, altie-meds, and toxin fear-mongering. The mental heuristics that cause people to believe, and then entrench themselves, in nonsense seem generalizable to humanity rather than just those attracted to conservative politics. Why should those who identify as liberal be any different? Wouldn’t they just believe in nonsense with a liberal bias?

Lately, Chris Mooney has been taking a different tact on explaining the apparent discrepancy between liberal vs conservative rejection of science with the suggestion the conservative brain is fundamentally different.

First of all, it’s not a matter of education. Whenever people complain that disbelief in evolution or climate change or whatever is a matter of education, they’re simply wrong. We can not educate our way out of this mess, and the problem isn’t that the Republicans arguing this nonsense are any less educated. Chris agrees and cites evidence:

Buried in the Pew report was a little chart showing the relationship between one’s political party affiliation, one’s acceptance that humans are causing global warming, and one’s level of education. And here’s the mind-blowing surprise: For Republicans, having a college degree didn’t appear to make one any more open to what scientists have to say. On the contrary, better-educated Republicans were more skeptical of modern climate science than their less educated brethren. Only 19 percent of college-educated Republicans agreed that the planet is warming due to human actions, versus 31 percent of non-college-educated Republicans.

For Democrats and Independents, the opposite was the case. More education correlated with being more accepting of climate science–among Democrats, dramatically so. The difference in acceptance between more and less educated Democrats was 23 percentage points.

And it’s not specifically education on or awareness of the specific topic, as self-reported knowledge of the topic resulted in opinions among conservatives more likely to be aligned against the scientific mainstream. Orac points out this is not an old phenomenon and maybe the Dunning-Kruger effect which we incorporated into our unified theory of the crank. This is the “incompetent but unaware of it” phenomenon, that the more incompetent people are, the more likely they are to be falsely confident of their own abilities and unable to recognize competence in others..

i-f0026d2c4414eeb4960eae9202eeb8dd-krugeranddunningfig2.jpg

But the most fascinating part of this article is when Mooney mentions a study to see if liberals were comparatively incompetent in judging the science in an area of high liberal bias – Nuclear power. This would seem to provide an answer to the question from my earlier post, that is, are we missing an equivalent liberal tendency towards denialism because we’re not asking the right questions?

It looks like my hypothesis of possible equivalence might have to be rejected …

Mooney writes:

But there are also reason to think that, with liberals, there is something else going on. Liberals, to quote George Lakoff, subscribe to a view that might be dubbed “Old Enlightenment reason.” They really do seem to like facts; it seems to be part of who they are. And fascinatingly, in Kahan’s study liberals did not act like smart idiots when the question posed was about the safety of nuclear power.

Nuclear power is a classic test case for liberal biases–kind of the flipside of the global warming issue–for the following reason. It’s well known that liberals tend to start out distrustful of nuclear energy: There’s a long history of this on the left. But this impulse puts them at odds with the views of the scientific community on the matter (scientists tend to think nuclear power risks are overblown, especially in light of the dangers of other energy sources, like coal).

So are liberals “smart idiots” on nukes? Not in Kahan’s study. As members of the “egalitarian communitarian” group in the study–people with more liberal values–knew more science and math, they did not become more worried, overall, about the risks of nuclear power. Rather, they moved in the opposite direction from where these initial impulses would have taken them. They become less worried–and, I might add, closer to the opinion of the scientific community on the matter.

Liberals therefore might start with an unscientific bias consistent with their political orientation, but the difference is education works on them. As they are more informed, they reject their rapid-response liberal heuristic conclusions and generate a more balanced view.

Upon reading the study I’m willing to accept my hypothesis of liberal/conservative denialist equivalence has taken a hit. But this is still just one question – Nuclear power. Also if you examine figure 4 which demonstrates this effect, the liberal perception of risk does not, with education, even approach the conservative impression of nuclear power. This suggests liberals are still excessively concerned with risk or conservatives are too dismissive. It’s hard given these figures to determine if liberals acquire and appropriate amount of caution with education or they just have a trend towards being less alarmed by nuclear power with education.

I’m also still curious to see more of a survey on areas of clear-cut denialism and see the relative rates of denialism between the two groups. Nuclear power is a complicated issue and concern for safety given last year’s tsunami in Japan seems to be warranted. Further, is it possible that liberals and conservatives both have a tendency to believe anti-science based on their biases, it’s just that liberals have a higher capacity to recover and be educated to reject the false conclusions their biases lead them to? So, is it possible a baseline of denialism might exist between the two groups with a seemingly lower prevalence among liberals because with time and information they tend to reject denialism? There are still many questions to be answered here and I hope Kahan continues probing this issue so we have more answers.

After all the data so far suggests the conservative brain, as Mooney puts it, is irredeemably incompetent at accepting scientific information that conflicts with their bias. If true, a this represents a staggering problem. How does one fight anti-science when the brains of one’s opponents are hard-wired to reject evidence?

It seems this view of conservative brains is now Mooney’s belief, and that he’s changed his mind to come around to denialism blog’s strategy for dealing with denialism. After all, a few years ago there was some argument between Mooney and his colleagues that the anti-antiscience folks like myself and Orac were hurting the cause by insulting denialists with labels like “crank” or “denier”. Now Mooney says:

On global warming, Santorum definitely has an argument, and he has “facts” to cite. And he is obviously intelligent and capable–but not, apparently, able to see past his ideological biases. Santorum’s argument ultimately comes down to a dismissal of climate science and climate scientists, and even the embrace of a conspiracy theory, one in which the scientists of the world are conspiring to subvert economic growth (yeah, right).

Viewing all this as an ideologically defensive maneuver not only explains a lot, it helps us realize that refuting Santorum probably serves little purpose. He’d just come up with another argument and response, probably even cleverer than the last, and certainly just as appealing to his audience. We’d be much better concentrating our energies elsewhere, where people are more persuadable.

There is no point arguing with cranks. I agree. And now Chris Mooney does too. I feel at redeemed that at least one of my hypotheses seems to be holding up. The only effective strategy when one faces cranks and denialist ideas is to create awareness of the problem of denialist arguments themselves and to teach people, from an early age, not to respond to these forms of defective reasoning. If there is a broader rejection of these types of arguments, and promoters of denialist arguments are marginalized and excluded from reasoned debate for the cranks they are, then maybe we will have some chance of bringing public debates on science back into some semblance of sanity.

Study Cited:
Kahan, Dan M., Wittlin, Maggie, Peters, Ellen, Slovic, Paul, Ouellette, Lisa Larrimore, Braman, Donald and Mandel, Gregory N., The Tragedy of the Risk-Perception Commons: Culture Conflict, Rationality Conflict, and Climate Change (2011). Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2011-26; Cultural Cognition Project Working Paper No. 89; Yale Law & Economics Research Paper No. 435; Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 230. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1871503 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1871503

Comments

  1. #1 hiero5ant
    March 1, 2012

    I’m not entirely sold on the idea that the study addresses liberal denialism per se, rather than some combination of 1) ignorance and 2) risk aversion. Isn’t liberalism generally supposed to be associated with low(er) risk tolerance?

    So It’s not clear to me that exaggerated estimations of the dangers of nuclear power connect up directly with anything that could be called an ideologically motivated thinking process, in a way that creationism or AGW-denial more obviously are. I think a comparable study on GMOs would be much more probative, since the anti-corporatist connections are a lot more visible.

  2. #2 blueshift
    March 1, 2012

    I think there are at least three meanings of Education and people aren’t clear in what definition they are using.

    1) Education as measured by the study-i.e. general scholastic achievement.

    2) Education from disseminating information about a specific topic. If climate scientists could educate the public better the average person would know that most heat goes into the oceans and that CO2 absorbs infrared but not ultraviolet radiation (as an example).

    This wouldn’t change the minds of those already committed to their crankery but would inoculate against new denialists.

    3) Education targeted at learning how to recognize bad arguments. “create awareness of the problem of denialist arguments themselves and to teach people, from an early age, not to respond to these forms of defective reasoning”

  3. #3 Marcel Kincaid
    March 1, 2012

    scientists tend to think nuclear power risks are overblown

    That is irrelevant; what is relevant is what the science shows, and it’s not entirely consistent with the prevailing attitude among scientists. For one thing, scientists are often more familiar with the safest theoretical nuclear technologies than the average citizen, but those scientists are often naive about real-world implementations and the demonstrated corruption and corner cutting in the industry. Scientists will say that Fukushima isn’t relevant because it’s old technology, but it’s a lot more relevant in the real world than they credit.

    especially in light of the dangers of other energy sources, like coal

    False dichotomy and strawman. No one doubts the dangers of coal, but that’s not what they are comparing nuclear to. There are important economic and engineering questions related to alternatives that those scientists discussing the relative safety of nuclear are not particularly expert in.

    The Sierra Club takes a hard-line stance against nuclear. That’s not because they are head-in-the-sand Luddites … their level of knowledge and sophistication and openness to valid arguments is in fact quite high.

  4. #4 Marcel Kincaid
    March 1, 2012

    @blueshift

    Quite so … most AGW deniers are grossly ignorant of the relevant facts; talking about whether they have a college degree is just dense. It also ignores what they studied in college … majoring in economics or business is liable to leave one knowing less about climate change than not going to college at all, due to the social networks that one joins … that’s where most people get their information and their determination of what sources to trust. This stuff about “conservative brains” being “irredeemably incompetent” is foolish and intellectually dishonest, as it ignores lots of real world data, such as numerous “deconversion” stories.

  5. #5 Mickie
    March 1, 2012

    I think the study you site is greatly flawed in its conclusion that the minds of conservatives are somehow hardwired differently than liberals.

    It’s not that conservatives have a different capacity to think through information, it’s that they fundementally don’t trust science…so of course just giving them more science isn’t going to change their opinion. In their mind you are just presenting them with more information that comes from the sources they don’t trust. Now if that info was presented by a pastor (or some other figure that they actually trusted)…you’d be in business.

  6. #6 Gerard Harbison
    March 1, 2012

    As a conservative scientist, I have to say there’s some really stupid generalization going on in the comment section here. But to get to the actual blog post…

    We saw some remarkable liberal denialism in action during the Keystone XL debate here in Nebraska. We had a large number of people claiming a leak in the pipeline would contaminate the aquifer and contaminate drinking water for millions of people, despite the fact that for a multitude of reasons groundwater experts concluded that was impossible. Worse, we had one engineer with scientific training do a ‘study’ that ostensibly claimed the risks of the pipeline were being underestimated, but in fact contradicted most of the claims made by most of the pipeline opponents. And this is where I think leftist denialism is most at fault. Highly educated liberals who know their own side’s arguments are fallacious may not use them, but they will refrain from contradicting them. This post claims that leftists will change their views in repines to contrary evidence, but who is going to provide them with that evidence?

    Another area of leftist denialism is w.r.t. genetic modification, where (more in Europe than here) the left has greatly exaggerated the risks. And one sees it in the US in the embrace of wildly unlikely and/or exaggerated theories about the effects of pollutants – for example, BPA. Most leftist scientists know how to do rational risk assessment, and can spot tendentious data analysis, but they’re strangely silent on the subject. Another area is the tendency, even when against the preponderance of the evidence, to take the nurture side in virtually any nature/nurture debate.

    However, the one area where leftists have conservatives beaten is smugness. It never fails to amuse me that a BS in English has no problem calling a Harvard Ph.D. in the hard sciences a ‘smart idiot’. I’m inclined to reciprocate, but omitting the adjective.

  7. #7 Composer99
    March 1, 2012

    Well I for one am glad to see a that name-dropping (Harvard) and comparative degree-dropping (Ph.D. vs B.S.) are apparently adequate substitutes for evidence.

  8. #8 hibob
    March 1, 2012

    “First of all, it’s not a matter of education. Whenever people complain that disbelief in evolution or climate change or whatever is a matter of education, they’re simply wrong. We can not educate our way out of this mess, and the problem isn’t that the Republicans arguing this nonsense are any less educated.”

    Well, college education is not a generic commodity. E.E. and business majors can generally avoid any exposure to biology if they want to.

    How about a look at the split among people who have at least taken a 200 level life science course that could be expected to cover evolution?

  9. #9 Kagehi
    March 1, 2012

    Think two factors might be involved. On the liberal side the “tendency” is to look at risk factors are plausible, whether they are or not. The conservative side on the other hand has a combination of a) risk factors they ****absolutely**** believe in, and b) a total and complete denial of the actual level of risk in everything else.

    This means that while there are *real* risks for something like nuclear power, the left will exaggerate it, while the right might flat out deny it even exists, but if you are talking about say.. sex education, then the “risks” of people doing it anyway outways the risks of teaching it, for the liberal, while the conservative will tend to exaggerate the risks of educating anyone, since, for them, the risk of sex *period* automatically outways all other possibilities.

    In short, its a bit more complicated than simple denial. Its also about dogmas. And, yeah, the liberal side does have certain dogmas that crop up, whether it be, “natural is healthy, though we can’t really define the term sensibly”, or a literal, “it feels good, so there can’t be anything wrong with it”. It might be a “slightly” saner position than what is jokingly presented as, “It feels good, so God would be real unhappy if someone, someplace, was doing it.”, that you sometimes get from the conservative side of things, but its still… not always true.

    And, we also have to remember, “educated”, can also mean, “Degree from some place that we, sadly, accept as accredited, even though it also emphasizes total nonsense, like faith healing, or scriptural interpretation of reality.”

  10. #10 CherryBombSim
    March 1, 2012

    The Kahan paper is a bit squishy, coming from the viewpoint of lawyers and psychologists, but it was worth reading. I agree with hiero5ant in #1 that researching any one particular issue can’t be generalized very well to the whole spectrum of liberal vs. conservative viewpoints. A lot of what comes to be the standard “party line” is contingent, I think. One influential person makes up his mind on an issue at some point, and the whole group adopts that view.

    When I was studying atmospheric physics way back in the 1970’s, if you had asked anybody in the field whether increased atmospheric carbon dioxide leading to higher temperatures was a liberal/conservative issue, they would have been dumbfounded.

  11. #11 rj
    March 2, 2012

    The best advice when asked a question by a climate change denier in a public forum: Don’t get angry. You will not change their mind. Attacking or arguing with them will make you look mean and other people won’t listen to you. Instead take it as an opportunity to teach the science to the rest of the audience in a cheerful, upbeat voice.

  12. #12 Wow
    March 2, 2012

    “After all, one can think of slightly more left wing sources of denialism like GMO paranoia, 9/11 conspiracies, altie-meds, and toxin fear-mongering”

    Those, however, are all fair game to be called idiotic freakish conspiracy theories.

    The right wing ones instead get lauded on TV, radio AND IN YOUR PARLIAMENT!

    This is quite a huge difference.

    PS It’s pretty lazy to call all those whacky conspiracy theories. GMOs are very evidently used for purposes other than the altruistic ones used to fluff the ideas for passing in the houses. RoundupReady crops sell far far more than any other GMO crop, and its only use is to lock you in to another product.

    It isn’t that GMOs have opportunities, but those opportunities are squandered. In much the same way as drug research has led to Viagra, a treatment for an old rich guy to maintain the illusion of youthful vigour in bed.

    How much more health could be had if they put the effort in refining and selling Viagra into, say, HIV cures.

    The mechanism is even one that everyone who loves GMOs or hates them agree: the company is *perceived* to have a *legally mandated requirement* to maximis profits. Pro-corporationists use it to excuse the vile excesses of corporations, anti-corporationists use it to point out their inherent sociopathy.

  13. #13 Wow
    March 2, 2012

    “But this impulse puts them at odds with the views of the scientific community on the matter”

    Being part of the scientific community, this is bullshit. The problem is there aren’t really enough facts available to find out the problems. They’re all national security.

    “(scientists tend to think nuclear power risks are overblown, especially in light of the dangers of other energy sources, like coal)”

    Non sequitor.

    Eating Radium is less destructive than drinking neat bleach, but we don’t bother discussing them in relative risks.

  14. #14 Wow
    March 2, 2012

    “Attacking or arguing with them will make you look mean and other people won’t listen to you”

    Why doesn’t it apply to the denialists who get angry ALL THE PIGGING TIME?

  15. #15 Markus Fitzhenry
    March 2, 2012

    You are playing with yourself. It’s making you blind.

    Intelligence isn’t a quota of wisdom, wisdom is being true to yourself.

  16. #16 MarkH
    March 2, 2012

    Wow, I agree, there are problems with GMOs, but they are economic ones. GMOs allow companies like ADM and Monsanto to consolidate market share by creating dependence on their seeds, their chemicals etc. Questions of toxicities of bt toxin to other animals in the environment etc, might be relevant areas of concern. But the GMO conspiracy fear mongering that they are outright poison and are being used for population control and will turn your kids into zombies stuff is what I’m generally referring to.

    I hope you’re not defending 9/11 conspiracy theories at all.

  17. #17 Wow
    March 2, 2012

    Not really (IMO) economic, but ones pressed on as the only way markets are allowed to work.

    Look at Jerry Yang. Refused to sell out to Microsoft because, although this would mean a spike in the personal profit of the CEO, it would lead within a few years at most to the death of the company, therefore the integrated cost over time outweighed the benefit in the short term.

    Vilified, and ousted for DARING to think of the company rather than the sharebagging shareholders who don’t give a flying fig for a company, only its share price.

    As to 11/9 (please, get the dates in the right order :-) ) I have a rather different view, neither the one normally referred to as the crank, nor the one usually referred to as the ignorant (to the ones on “the other side”):

    11/9 was two things, unrelated

    1) Terrorists flying into a building sold under a design proposal that will survive such a collision

    2) A building built to a design that wouldn’t

    There IS a cover-up, as evidenced by the actual facts (as opposed to the conclusions, as this one is, mind) proposed by the 11/9 cranks. Too many odd and unexplained breeches of SOP happened for this to be anything other than a cover-up of *something*.

    What was covered up is someone(s) well connected gypped the taxpayer when building the towers by cutting corners and pocketing the cost difference. Safe in the knowledge that the buildings will survive anything ever thrown at a skyscraper before.

    Nobody has EVER flown a jumbo jet into a skyscraper. Why waste good money on a scare that will never happen.

    Uh oh.

    IMO if the security forces had considered the scenario likely as opposed to just “playing the last war”, they would have stomped on the attack well hard. They just didn’t consider (like the building contractor didn’t) it even REMOTELY feasible that someone would, as opposed to using the people as hostages, to use the plane as a bomb.

    A conspiracy? Oh, I think there’s enough evidence of avoiding SOP for no damn good reason.

    A conspiracy to allow a terrorist attack? Nah. That’s a seriously sick person who would do that.

  18. #18 Wow
    March 2, 2012

    “But the GMO conspiracy fear mongering that they are outright poison”

    You know, that’s the very first time I’ve heard that.

    Now in a species that believe that “Jesus loves you, go to Hell”, I can quite believe that there ARE people who believe that.

    However, the ones labelled in the same pen as those people are far far more numerous than those, as evidenced by the fact I have never once seen that style of GMO paranoia. I don’t doubt I could find someone saying it if I looked, but the point is you don’t have to look to find people against GMOs who don’t believe anything of the sort.

    But they’re still getting lumped in with them.

  19. #19 Wow
    March 2, 2012

    I ought to clarify. In post 17, point 2 is a conclusion. The actual fact should be:

    2) A building sold on a design that would survive the impact that didn’t.

    That’s a fact. Evidence is in the nonexistence of the twin towers and the marketing bumpf that is public knowledge when they were proposed to be built.

    If this was a genuine oversight, then the wreckage would have been analysed like nothing ever before to find out WHY, on god’s green earth, a design that engineers KNEW could manage the incident failed to manage it.

    That the evidence of what happened was buried (literally!) is also a fact and inconsistent with an honest error in engineering design. It points very strongly toward the error being in foreknowledge, therefore of embarrassment.

    These are conclusions, but ones that are both very believable and parsimonious.

  20. #20 Gerard Harbison
    March 2, 2012

    Well I for one am glad to see a that name-dropping (Harvard) and comparative degree-dropping (Ph.D. vs B.S.) are apparently adequate substitutes for evidence.

    They’re not meant to be. They’re meant to be a counter for snark.

    Let’s face it, when Mooney starts by calling his opponents ‘smart idiots’, there’s no prospect for an intelligent discussion.

  21. #21 Mikeb
    March 2, 2012

    I’m just a lay skeptic, a gay atheist farmer and writing teacher. This topic fascinates me.

    Most of my friends are “liberal” and I just can’t stand to talk politics with them.

    Yes, they all accept evolution, AGW, gay equality, etc.

    But the liberal mindset, if there is such a thing, such generalizations are difficult to support, is a farrago of belief, superstition, ignorance and fear.

    For starters: I was once part of the “organic” set, but the more I looked at it (particularly when investigating certification for my own farm), the more crazy it looked. It’s full of liberal assumptions, bad ones:

    –Natural, good; “synthetic,” bad.

    –Teh Toxins! Teh Toxins!

    –No “routine allopathic medications” for animals; give ‘em homeopathy and herbs.

    –Icky chemicals, no good. Use poop instead.

    –Micrograms of “pesticides,” DANGEROUS! Our food is safer, better-tasting, more nutritious.

    I’ve also realized it’s absolutely pointless to try to argue about the issue. I just farm and don’t talk about it.

    There’s a whole cult out there involving many of my friends. It starts with “Nature,” involves “alternative, complementary” entities, digs “therapy” of all sorts, and ends with anti-corporate conspiracy-mongering and environmental apocalypticism.

  22. #22 KQuark
    March 2, 2012

    I think there is a big difference with the way the conservative reactionary mind and liberal mind view sciences. On well established theories like evolution and climate change liberal minded people accept the much easier because the concepts are simple to understand for a college graduate and even HS graduates. But the reactionary conservative who can even understand these concepts refuses to accept them based on their right wing bias.

    The point is liberals have to understand the theory to accept it as fact. But let’s face complex pharmacologies is terribly difficult to understand even if you are a college grad and the science behind who drugs work is not easily available like it is with things like climate change. Not to mention that every category of drug is a science unto itself and even drug experts are not sure how many drugs work. So it’s a more black box science to liberals that they have to take more on faith than understanding the science. Add the fact that drugs come from institutions that liberals don’t trust and this creates the fertile ground around accepting non-traditional treatments.

    Don’t get me wrong I don’t defend people on the left that put their faith in crackpot cures because they are hypocritical for accepting a non-scientific belief over the prevailing science. I’m just saying that you cannot really compare the way liberals react to clear cut and more simply scientific theories and more complex issues like pharmacology.

    In many ways the perfect progressive for understanding and accepting science is the mainstream progressive attitudes of the French because they have a high esteem for science and scientists compared with the US. That’s why they accept things like nuclear energy more even though that’s even eroding a bit.

  23. #23 Kagehi
    March 2, 2012

    We saw some remarkable liberal denialism in action during the Keystone XL debate here in Nebraska.

    The problems I have with the pipeline have “nothing” to do with pollution, other than the bloody stupid idea that we should use more oil on that, instead of reserving it for shit that we will need it for ever *after* we no longer use it in vehicles, like making the dash panel in the vehicle. My problem with it is the absurd claims of how many “permanent”, never mind temporary, jobs it would create. Mind, I could be wrong, but I would *bet* that its a ten fold exaggeration, and that something between 60-80% of those jobs would disappear after it was completed. I mean, how the hell many people do you need to inspect every 100 miles of pipe, or run maybe a dozen pumping stations (never mind how many they will bother to keep, even if they should have more, like certain oil rigs…)? The second is the idea that a) the state isn’t already in a state where they have more jobs in the industry than they bloody have people to fill them (one of the few industries this is even true about right now) and b) it would really have that big of an impact, given that we are already drilling more, and are buying “less” than 60% of our oil from outside sources, where we used to be.

    In short, I think its an over hyped scam, used for politics, when most of the oil companies are otherwise sitting on dozens, if not hundreds, of existing permits, which they are not using (because it admitting that wouldn’t present useful politics).

    Most of my friends are “liberal” and I just can’t stand to talk politics with them.

    Yes, they all accept evolution, AGW, gay equality, etc.

    But the liberal mindset, if there is such a thing, such generalizations are difficult to support, is a farrago of belief, superstition, ignorance and fear.

    For starters: I was once part of the “organic” set, but the more I looked at it (particularly when investigating certification for my own farm), the more crazy it looked. It’s full of liberal assumptions, bad ones: …

    Two things with this. First- There is an overlap. Its not all the “left” that falls for this total nonsense, though it is more common. I would say that, the key difference in “dogmas” that lead to such absurdity on both sides, and which overlaps into those who are more in the middle, is that the right sees things in terms of purity of the metaphysical, which somehow translates into purity of the physical, where the left sees things in terms of purity of the physical, which somehow translates into purity of the metaphysical. The problem with “both” sets in that they insist on including the nonsense called “metaphysics” at all.

    Thus you get clowns on the right arguing that disease is a direct cause of failing to be sufficiently spiritually pure to avoid committing a “sin”, such as sex. Thus, the disease is not a result of the physical behavior, it is a result of the “spiritual” one. The left.. will argue than ones physical purity is key, and that, perhaps, some diseases are a result of this impurity in the physical world translating across into the spiritual. The solutions are, as a result, opposite too. To “purify” oneself on the right means avoiding impure ‘actions’, thus impure ‘thought’, and thus disease. The left is about avoiding impure ‘things’, thus avoiding impure ‘energies’, thereby preventing diseases that arise from those physical impurities.

    Both arguments are completely insane, irrational, and dead wrong, save by the shear accident that, indeed, taking poison will kill you, regardless of how “pure” your thinking, or what you where doing at the time, was. Which doesn’t make the left’s version any more rational, just marginally less dangerous, most of the time.

    But, lets be clear here, we are talking about right and left in this context in terms of the delusions found most commonly on one side, versus the other. Being delusions, its not impossible for some of them to be found on the wrong side of the line, just less common. There is often a test given, to gauge ones political positions, I tend to test center-left. But, it needs another dimension, one where “center” is “skeptical”, and the opposite ends are, “metaphysical purity”, and, “physical purity”, as described above. I suspect that you would find the “majority” of people falling every place other then “skeptic” on that axis.

    Its not whether or not conservatives are more prone to certain crazy ideas. Its *what the root principles behind those ideas* are that differs. And, its why you are far more likely to find a Vegan, anti-GMO, organic, Yoga nut on the left, and an anti-public school, anti-stem cell, anti-contraception, NRA member on the right. Its not that some of those things don’t exist on the other side, but they don’t push the same buttons, in the same list of, “Stuff I believe because everyone else around me seems to, and that makes me feel good.” For the rational ones among both sides (as much as I hate to admit such might exist in the right) they are all varying degrees of crazy, its just not.. politically expedient (right), or “PC” (left) to say so.

  24. #24 becca
    March 3, 2012

    I kind of think that the tendency to revise one’s opinion in the face of new evidence is a much greater explanation of people’s views (and personalities!) than the liberal/conservative thing.

    Is anyone studying actual people who have changed their minds on nuclear power or climate change, and figuring out what does change people’s minds in a general way?

  25. #25 SLC
    March 3, 2012

    Since the question of the Keystone pipeline has been brought up, here’s a link to a thread on Ed Brayton’s blog which provides information about the risks of leakage from the pipeline and the environmental effects of extracting oil from the tar sands. It would appear, that there are some legitimate concerns relative to this enterprise. Here’s a paragraph from the post and a link to it below.

    TransCanada’s promise that modern pipeline technology makes spills far less likely is simply absurd. They said the same thing when they opened Keystone I, the first phase of the project. That pipeline has leaked more than 30 times since it went online almost two years ago.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/dispatches/2012/02/29/tar-sands-oil-is-really-bad-stuff/

    With regards to the problem with the Japanese nuclear power plants, it should be noted that the plants themselves came through the earthquake in pretty good shape. It was the 30 foot tsunami that did them in as they had only provided protection for a 15 foot tsunami. Had 30 foot protection been provided, the plants might well be back in production by this time.

    On the other hand, the 5.8 earthquake in Central Virginia caused the shutdown of the nuclear power plant at North Anna for some 6 weeks. According to an analysis by the NRC, this is double the the force that the plant was designed for.

    Just for the information of folks out west, a 5.8 earthquake in the Eastern US is far more dangerous then a 5.8 earthquake in California because of the stiffer substrate in the east. I was in my basement in Falls Church, more then 100 miles away, and was almost knocked to the floor as the whole house, which is on a cement slab, shook.

  26. #26 SLC
    March 3, 2012

    It should also be pointed out that the Washington Monument, which was substantially damaged by the earthquake in Virginia has still not reopened and will require some 15 million in repairs. By the way demonstrating the difference between the East and West coasts of the US, the earthquake was felt as far away as New England, more then 500 miles distant. This would be equivalent to a 5.8 earthquake in the San Francisco bay area being felt in San Diego.

  27. #27 David Patterson
    March 3, 2012

    Mark,
    Do doubt both parties have “many” issues but I have something else to discuss with you.

    I have a medical supply retailer that is interested in supporting your blog. We can offer regular guest posts on current events that relate to your website or support you financially in exchange for a simple text link. We would even be interested in you possibly writing a post with a link to us in it. Could you send pricing also on what would it take to get listed under a new category like “Online Supporters” in your sidebar or a footer link?

    My client, DME Supply Group, is not just a retailer, they are also involved in reaching out to those less fortunate… from the victims of Haiti’s earthquake to those in need through the Samaritan’s Purse program.

    I look forward to hearing back from you and working together.

    Sincerely,
    David Patterson
    Social Media Coordinator for DME Supply Group

  28. #28 MikeS
    March 4, 2012

    In general, I hypothesize that a conservative trusts government funded research that advocates for greater government control (global warming) to the same extent that a liberal trusts private funded research that advocates for a private product (Monsanto).

    In regards to the study discussed in the blog, I suggest that nuclear power is not the best test case in part due to the extensive government regulation of nuclear. That extensive regulation confounds other aspects of liberals compared to conservatives. Better areas would have been genetic modifications of food crops, organic, vaccines, etc.

  29. #29 Wow
    March 5, 2012

    Accurate enough, MikeS.

    But in this specific case, for example, the USA under Bush and Saudi Arabia are both dead set against any government control. Yet still the scientists were showing evidence to the same conclusion.

    Even for liberals who DON’T trust government, this is enough to make it evidence this is NOT government-funded research in the way privately-funded research is used.

  30. #30 harold
    March 5, 2012

    The problem here is that you are working from the current, weird, definition of “conservative” in US society.

    There is a right wing ideology in this country that controls one political party. It is not conservative in the traditional sense. This ideology demands relative purity, we all know that. This ideology is strongly associated with denial of AGW, evolution, cigarettes/health, HIV/AIDS, is rapidly adopting vaccine denial, and is the ideology of choice for almost all faith healers. Furthermore, as I will note again below, non-specific anti-science stuff like astrology, psychics, and so on are common in this group, they just aren’t defining. This ideology has also moved into denial of, if not economic reality, at least accounting reality, with constant claims that we can reduce tax revenue and fund constant wars of aggression, by cutting low cost social programs.

    If this is the definition of “conservative” that you start with, you are going to find that “conservative” associates with a lot of irrational beliefs.

    GMO paranoia, 9/11 conspiracies, altie-meds, and toxin fear-mongering

    First of all, no political party I am aware of, not the Democratic Party, nor even the Green Party, nor even to the best of my knowledge, the Revolutionary Worker’s Communist Party, endorses all of these, or requires any of these in its candidates. Meanwhile AGW denial, creationism, aNd even old fashioned obstruction/denialism of public health warnings about cigarettes, are sources of proposed legislation for the Republican Party. And HIV/AIDS denial has always come from the right. Vaccine denial does not associate with left or right, and some right wingers have taken it up prominently.

    Of thes examples you give, only 9/11 conspiracies can even be strongly associated with political liberalism (but only a tiny, tiny proportion of liberals accept it); if you don’t think that some right wingers use alt meds and obsess over “toxins”, I assure you that they do.

    We saw some remarkable liberal denialism in action during the Keystone XL debate here in Nebraska.

    You may be right, but it sounds as if what you saw was disagreement about ground water contamination potential, which is just one aspect of a complex public policy decision.

    Most of my friends are “liberal” and I just can’t stand to talk politics with them.
    Yes, they all accept evolution, AGW, gay equality, etc.

    But the liberal mindset, if there is such a thing, such generalizations are difficult to support, is a farrago of belief, superstition, ignorance and fear.

    For starters: I was once part of the “organic” set, but the more I looked at it (particularly when investigating certification for my own farm), the more crazy it looked. It’s full of liberal assumptions, bad ones: …

    This was one of the more obnoxious comments I have seen in a long time. I can only imagine what you say about your enemies.

    Bottom line – your friends use organic methods, and you choose not to, so therefore the mindset of all liberals is a “farrago of belief, superstition, ignorance and fear”.

    In summary – if by “conservative” one means the weird Fox News/Right Wing Talk Radio/Tea Party/Religious right ideology that has taken ahold of the Republican party, then, yes, THAT mindset likely correlates with rigid denial of inconvenient reality. Whether the word “conservative” is appropriate is another question.

    I would also note that extreme anti-medicine types tend to show authoritarian and manipulative traits; I would not expect them to necessarily adhere to a coherent, humane progressive political stance.

  31. #31 DuaneBidoux
    March 6, 2012

    I’m a progressive who has problems with nuclear energy not because it is inherently unsafe but because of two factors that go against my personal and yes, emotional, values.

    First, anything humans can do that has the potential of making waste that my distant ancestors will have to hire people to track bothers me–if this problem is solved my objections go away. I’m not a “sustainability” true believer, but I don’t want my ancestors to be saying “what we’re they thinking? We have to watch this crap forever because they wanted cheap air-conditioning?”

    And then there is the issue of losing hundreds and possibly thousands of square miles of earth for use for tens of thousands of years. What is the cost then? Do we have that moral right? To take the land forever that has been taken in Japan and Russia? Really these are my issues.

    There are a lot of generalizations on this website. For what it is worth here is mine: My anecdotally drawn opinions are that facing any life threatening or critical issue and thinking about all of the liberals and conservatives I’ve known across my life and if forced to choose only one group to face reality with (although I don’t like that thought either) it is without a doubt and in a heartbeat going to be the liberals I place my bets with. I just see much less denial of basic reality in the people I’ve known who call themselves liberal than in the ones I’ve known who call themselves conservatives.

    PS: we do need to be careful here however–we’ve never seen a left wing even as remotely far left in this country as are the conservatives of today. I’m not sure what we are even thinking about as “conservatives” today have an equivalent IN THIS COUNTRY on the left–I suspect if they were equally far left they would start sounding pretty crazy too.

  32. #32 Wow
    March 7, 2012

    “First, anything humans can do that has the potential of making waste that my distant ancestors will have to hire people to track bothers me”

    It OUGHT to bother conservatives, too. You know, those people who whine about female healthcare such as the pill or abortion because this, to them, is refusal to take responsibility for their actions.

    Well, what about your actions that lead to a 10,000 year legacy to clean up?

  33. #33 TTT
    March 7, 2012

    Do you have ANY data showing that 9/11Trutherism is a “liberal” form of denialism?

    In my experience it is thoroughly bipartisan. It is commonly found among the Alex Jones / Rense / PrisonPlanet militia-paleocon far right. It is in fact so well-entrenched there that the topic came up several times during the 2008 GOP primary as an attack against Ron Paul, who is no one’s liberal.

  34. #34 Janus
    March 10, 2012

    Mark,I’d like to complement you on this posting,its the best piece of satirical writing I’ve read for some years.
    Thank you.

  35. #35 MarkH
    March 10, 2012

    TTT, my statement doesn’t need to assume conservatives aren’t part or even a majority of 9/11 conspiracists. But it is an example where you find liberals believing in nonsense. Now if people want to say reality has a liberal bias, or that liberals aren’t susceptible to conspiracy theories and denialism then I think it’s a legitimate example where many liberals have wacky ideas about Bush causing 9/11 or letting it happen. There are degrees between the relative proportion of liberal and conservative contribution to any given form of denialism. For instance, birthers, virtually zero liberals buy into it. Global warming, the minority of adherents are liberals, like Cockburn, but mostly conservatives buy into the conspiracy theory. 9/11 and anti-vax it’s probably equivocal, they come to it from different directions. From extreme libertarianism and paranoia from the right, to anti-semitism and anti-Bush paranoia coming from the left. The spectrum I think will trend towards even more liberals being cranky when it comes to GMO conspiracism, altie-meds, naturopathy, and etc. But we don’t have good hard data, that’s my impression from personal experience and from tracking different sources of denialism for the last 5 years or so. I’d like to see some hard data on this and I don’t think it’s been vigorously tested. That’s why I keep reiterating this is a hypothesis.

  36. #36 satanfornoreason
    March 13, 2012

    This is relatively simple. Some portion of society has always been really interested in the questions of why are we here, where did we come from, what’s the purpose of life, etc. That portion – in most of the history of man – has had the same options as those who do not naturally think of those questions, or who give them little thought: Religion as an explanation, non-scientific guesses, tradition, old-wives tales, superstition, etc.

    We live in a time where most of the fundamental questions about life have answers. Real, solid answers.

    Those who are interested in those questions are able to now know the answers to those questions, thanks to the advances of science. When you know these answers, you don’t have to turn to religion to answer them.

    Religious people – for the most part, and ironically – do not really have these questions. They are not motivated to find the answers because they aren’t really concerned with the questions. So they don’t look. They aren’t curious. They don’t seek out or come to understand the answers science has given us.

    They make up the majority of conservatives. Liberals are the ones who are interested in these questions, and more so, really interested in the well-being of other people, unlike the religious people and conservatives who say they do but don’t.

  37. #37 Wow
    March 14, 2012

    “Now if people want to say reality has a liberal bias, or that liberals aren’t susceptible to conspiracy theories and denialism”

    And if nobody wants to say that, your post is now redundant…

    Look at the title you gave to this thread:

    “Are liberals really *more likely* …”

    Note that the entire thread is talking about a situation that doesn’t specifically preclude “all liberals”, but out of the indefinite buy large number of liberals “all liberals” is a very very small possibility.

  38. #38 Wow
    March 14, 2012

    “and anti-Bush paranoia coming from the left.”

    If you were an environmentalist working for the Bush government, it wasn’t paranoia, he WAS out to get you.

    Myself I suspect I wouldn’t mind the guy if it weren’t for his family. Without them, he’d be flipping burgers and no danger to anyone. However, he’s as thick as a yard of lard and has lived with entitlement all his life. And he was in charge of the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world.

    This is not a healthy situation.

    “when it comes to GMO conspiracism”

    When Monsato get laws passed that help them lock in even unwilling “customers” (whose land gets infected by their patented DNA, again: where is “conspiracy theory” wrong?

    Sometimes the answer ISN’T “somewhere in the middle”. Sometimes a compromise IS THE WRONG ANSWER. Sometimes there’s right, then wrong and no shade of grey. And sometimes you need to think of whether you’re ladling on a crank theory just because you want to pretend to be “moderate”. Look up False Balance, kid.

  39. #39 MarkH
    March 16, 2012

    Wow, I accept Monsanto’s business practices are despicable, and that is the best argument against GMO. However, I think the arguments that GMOs are unsafe is specious. Unjust, maybe, in fact, almost certainly. But that’s a law problem, not a science problem.

  40. #40 Stephanie Erev
    March 21, 2012

    As a wise man once said, beware conflicts of interest: http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_ariely_beware_conflicts_of_interest.html

    Stephanie Erev

  41. #41 Jose
    March 29, 2012

    I’ve got a minor quibble with associating 9/11 conspiracy theories with the left. Take a look at whom the top 9/11 conspiracy gurus are endorsing for president: Ron Paul the most radicaly right wing candidate in view. Just because these people think Bush was an evil pawn doesn’t make them left wing.

    And a hearty me too on disagreeing with concerns about nuclear with AGW denialism. There’s a whole basket of issues involved here which can’t just be brushed away as irrational. There are native people who have been hard done by Uranium mining on their lands, the issue of subsidies and concerns about long term storage of nuclear waste (Chernobyl for instance hasn’t been dealt with, just deferred for a few more generations at great expense). However I would agree that the reactors themselves are safe and I’ve always been a big fan of nuclear power. I’d get my Dad to drive me out to the Pickering Nuclear Power plant when I was a kid so I could marvel at it all. Nowadays however I favour renewables over nuclear.

    One good litmus tests would be the GMO toxicity fear (seperate this out from disgust at suicide genes) or the antivax conspiracy theories. These are comparably irrational to AGW denialism but aren’t as feverently held as you might think. I live in one of the most liberal towns in the UK and I rarely hear about them.

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