Respectful Insolence

Politics versus science

I’ve always been reluctant to attribute antiscientific attitudes to one political persuasion or another–and justly so, or so I thought. While it’s true that antiscience on the right is definitely more prominent these days, with the Republican candidates conducting virtual seminars on how to deny established science. Evolution? They don’t believe in it because, apparently, Jesus told them not to. Anthropogenic global warming? they don’t buy that, either, because to admit that human activity is resulting in significant climate change would be to be forced to concede that industry isn’t an unalloyed benefit and that maybe, just maybe, something needs to be done to decrease carbon dioxide emissions, which would require putting some checks on industry. Be that as it may, the ability of highly educated ideologues to hold viewpoints that are at odds with reality and to defend their beliefs against evidence and science is sometimes known as the “smart idiots” effect, and, these days, there appear to be a lot of smart idiots.

Traditionally, or so I used to assume, the left had blind spots of similar intensity, just in different areas. The most commonly cited example is the antivaccine movement, which gives the appearance of being made up largely of affluent, educated liberals. Of course, this is a simplification, as I’ve discussed time and time again. Antivaccine beliefs are bipartisan and span the political spectrum from left to right and everything in between. On the left, there are antivaccinationists who fall prey to the naturalistic fallacy, believing vaccines to be an affront to nature, plus a heapin’ helpin’ of distrust of big pharma, while on the right there are antivaccinationists whose antivaccine beliefs derive from “health freedom” beliefs that are often a combination of the naturalistic fallacy with good, old-fashioned libertarian contrariness that leads to an intense belief that the government shouldn’t be able to tell them what to do. Other examples of antiscientific beliefs thought to be more prevalent on the left include genetically modified organisms (GMOs), although once again it’s not just liberals who are highly suspicious of GMOs. I suppose there is always nuclear power, which is frequently thrown back as an alleged example of serious antiscience on the left.

All of this is why, although I thought it was a good book that made strong arguments, Chris Mooney’s The Republican War on Science didn’t fully convince me that there was something about Republicans that made them more antiscience than anyone else. Of course, the book came out nearly seven years ago, and in the interim I’ve managed to observe a number of occurrences that have made me wonder whether Mooney wasn’t on to something after all. Yes, I realize that Mooney has caught a lot of flak over the last few years for what is perceived, rightly or wrongly, as his being too willing to defend or make excuses for religion as a source of a lot of antiscientific beliefs. I’ve also on occasion had my problems with him when he has taken a “blame the scientists” attitude in discussing why so much antiscience belief exists and, in particular, his breathtakingly naïve admonition that we should try to “build bridges” with leaders of the antivaccine movement.

Still, occasionally Mooney makes some observations that ring true, such as his latching on to motivated reasoning as a reason why science often loses when it bumps up against ideology. I’m not yet convinced that this is one of these times, but the other day Mooney built on those observations and the phenomenon of the “smart idiot” in his article The Republican Brain: Why Even Educated Conservatives Deny Science – and Reality. First, he starts out with the frustration that so many scientists experience when they discover that evidence doesn’t always persuade:

I can still remember when I first realized how naïve I was in thinking–hoping–that laying out the “facts” would suffice to change politicized minds, and especially Republican ones. It was a typically wonkish, liberal revelation: One based on statistics and data. Only this time, the data were showing, rather awkwardly, that people ignore data and evidence–and often, knowledge and education only make the problem worse.

I can’t recall how many times I’ve pointed out this problem, albeit without the political angle. This is nothing more than a variation of the Dunning-Kruger effect, in which highly educated people have a hard time realizing their own limitations. It’s what I’ve referred to as the “arrogance of ignorance,” in which a person is just educated enough to think he knows what he’s talking about with regard to an issue (or, more accurately, to think he can educate himself about an issue) even though he’s spectacularly wrong. This education leads to an illusion of deep knowledge when in fact what this person is good at is selectively discovering and internalizing evidence that supports his preexisting world view and finding ways to reject evidence that doesn’t go along with that world view. We see this, again, in antivaccine activists. From what I’ve been able to gather looking at the evidence and from my years of involvement combatting antivaccine misinformation, it’s seldom the uneducated who are antivaccine. The uneducated, who are frequently in lower socioeconomic classes, might not get their children vaccinated, but it’s far more often because they lack access to adequate health care, particularly preventive care. Educated, affluent parents, on the other hand, tend to reject vaccines more based on their education leading them to the University of Google, where they find all sorts of fear mongering that seems to be based on science. Unfortunately, their education leads them astray, providing compelling evidence of how a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Not surprisingly, the same thing is going on with anthropogenic global warming (AGW):

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.

So far, this is nothing surprising, although the difference strikes me as less compelling than I had expected, given the buildup. It’s not as though 90% of educated Republicans are AGW denialists while only 30% of non-college-educated Republicans are. So let’s see what else Mooney has to say:

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.

OK, so the education-based differential in rejection of AGW science is 12% in Republicans, compared to 23% more educated than uneducated Democrats accepting AGW science. That appears significant, but there appears to be more going on here. An absolute difference in rejecting AGW associated with higher education appears significant, but is it such a dominant factor? Here’s some more evidence presented by Mooney. He cites a study that compared the attitudes of conservatives towards AGW with the attitude of liberals towards nuclear power, which is often thrown back by conservatives as an example of liberal “antiscience.” Here’s what another study found:

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.

You may or may not support nuclear power personally, but let’s face it: This is not the “smart idiot” effect. It looks a lot more like open-mindedness.

So is Mooney on to something here? From my perspective, yes and no. To the extent that he points out how educated people are better at motivated reasoning (i.e., cherry picking evidence to support their biases and constructing more reasonable–or at least reasonable-seeming–arguments), it’s hard to argue with him. However, I’m worried that he might be making too much of these data. I harped on the 12% difference between educated and uneducated Republicans in whether or not they reject AGW science. Look at it this way. It’s the difference between 81% of educated Republicans and 69% of less educated Republicans rejecting AGW science. That boils down to education making a Republican only 17% more likely to reject AGW science. Compared to the observation that over 2/3 of less educated and 4/5 of educated Republicans rejecting AGW science, that strikes me as a relatively small contribution to the ideologically-based rejection of AGW science on the right.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s probably not insignificant and it is an interesting observation that education in liberals was more correlated with the acceptance of science than in Republicans. I do, however, question how generalizable to many broad areas of science and knowledge this observation is. I don’t know if such studies exist, but based on my experience, I’d be willing to bet that if this study were repeated with liberals regarding vaccines education would not correlate with being more accepting of science. It also wouldn’t surprise me if this correlation would not hold regarding GMOs. Until I see more evidence that these observations are generalizable to more areas of science, I remain somewhat skeptical, even though I realize that, when it comes to evolution, climate change, and certain other areas of science there is no doubt that Republicans are, hands down, more antiscience than any liberal. I’m just not convinced that this is true of everything, and too much of Mooney’s arguments come off sounding to me very much like, “Republicans are smart idiots, and liberals are so much better.” Even if that were true, it wouldn’t be a winning message to win over the antiscience crowd, such as a commenter who wrote:

I happen to have a lot of formal education — PhD and MD — and I really care about figuring out what’s true. I don’t happen to doubt human-caused global warming or the urgency of changing our planet-ruining ways. But I do question various other party lines. I believe that vaccines have sometimes been the triggering event for the onset of autism in some vulnerable children, which is contrary to the “educated” perspective. I believe GMO food is a travesty that adds to our collective burden of illness, again contrary to the holy pronouncements of the “scientific consensus.” And as I’ve looked into it, I cannot accept the official version of why three buildings imploded into rubble on 9/11/01 despite relentless pressure by “experts” to label me as wacko because facts lead me to that reluctant conclusion.

No, he’s a whacko because he buys into all sorts of dubious antiscience nonsense. At least he’s proof positive (as if we needed any after Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski) that an MD/PhD does not inoculate one against pseudoscience. Nor does any political or religious orientation. That’s not to say that there might not be fruitful observations in the research cited by Mooney, but I fear its significance might well be overstated. It is, after all, very tempting if you’re a liberal to latch onto research that makes you feel a lot smarter than your ideological opponents.

Comments

  1. #1 kcauqasiiksrogdivad
    March 1, 2012

    “Be that as it may, the ability of highly educated ideologues to hold viewpoints that are at odds with reality and to defend their beliefs against evidence and science is sometimes known as the “smart idiots” effect, and, these days, there appear to be a lot of smart idiots.”

    Case in point; Orac and the plethora of drooling sycophants who worship him.

  2. #2 novalox
    March 1, 2012

    @kcauqasiiksrogdivad

    Yawn, please come up with a better insult. I’ve heard better.

  3. #3 Steven Novella
    March 1, 2012

    David,

    I had the exact same reaction as you to Chris’s argument. I agree there is an asymmetry in the data between Republicans and Democrats. I am not convinced the asymmetry is due to “the Republican brain” as Chris argues. Rather I think the asymmetry is in the issues that were chosen.

    AGW is a hot topic, and the Fox News-type conservative media are harping on it with a campaign of misinformation and propaganda. Nuclear power is last generation’s liberal issue, not exactly as hot a topic as AGW. And, it has become more complicated for liberals because nuclear power is good for reducing AGW, which is an issue liberals care about.

    Until I see data with issues that today’s liberal really care about, like GMO, organic food, etc. I just don’t buy the argument that liberals and conservatives are fundamentally different when it comes to these psychological effects, which previous studies suggest are universal human traits.

  4. #4 rork
    March 1, 2012

    So is Dr. Burzynski a true believer in his methods as a means of treating cancer? I thought his beliefs might only extend to its efficacy at obtaining money, the rest being unimportant details.

  5. #5 Shay
    March 1, 2012

    It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it. ~ (Upton Sinclair)

  6. #6 Denice Walter
    March 1, 2012

    Looking at woo-meistery, I’ve found that there is an appeal to the *entire* political spectrum ( increasing the customer base) but underlying all diversity is unabashed Nature Worship: natural is wonderful, man-made is toxic. End of story. So, both AGW- created by industry- and nuclear power are awful as are pharma, non-organic food, factory farms, GMOs, chemical additives, synthetics, fluoride, vaccines, EMR, processed foods ad infinitum. *Interference* with Nature is wrong: vaccines interfere with natural immunity, pharma interferes with healing… even, wait for it…* Keynesian economics falsely stimulates the economy just like vaccines falsely stimulate immunity* ( Lisa Goes @ AoA). I didn’t just make that up.

    Mike Adams mixes a crunchy-granola back-to-the-land mentality with libertarian anti-government rants while Gary Null invites ‘progressives, libertarians, constitutionalists, greens, conservatives, liberals, anti-corporatists’ because he’s “beyond political parties”( and reason). These guys instruct us about how corrupt the government, industry, science, education and the media truly are- all is corrupt and perverse- except for them: and they will lead the lost children back to the Promised Land. AoA has a taste of both as well- they seek less interference with vaccination *choice* but want protection from toxic polluters who destroy the environment while creating autism and chronic illness ( see the Canary Party).

    Why not have it both ways? Everything’s possible in imagination!

  7. #7 Composer99
    March 1, 2012

    Insofar as there is any actual Republican/Democrat difference in the acceptance of scientific findings (as compared to an artifact of which scientific fields are under discussion), I wonder if it has to do with a larger prevalence of authoritarian-follower personalities within the support base of the Republican party?

  8. #8 Beamup
    March 1, 2012

    An interesting confounder is that some people reach the right answer for the wrong reasons. Taking AGW as the example, how can we distinguish Democrats who accept AGW because they’ve accurately evaluated the evidence, from those who accept AGW because they trust the scientific consensus, from those who accept AGW due to motivated reasoning?

    We can’t really take the fact that Democrats are more accepting of AGW than Republics as good evidence that Democrats are more science-based on that issue. It could well be that the Democrats’ motivated reasoning just happens to end up with the right answer despite not being based on science.

    The comparison of Republican AGW attitudes to Democratic nuclear attitudes is a bit more convincing, but not much. Can we really attribute that to a difference between mindsets, or is it just particular to those issues? As Orac noted, there’s a real problem of generalizability there.

    I have to wonder whether Mooney himself is engaging in motivated reasoning to reach his conclusions.

  9. #9 Moopheus
    March 1, 2012

    There are of course, nonscience reasons to be skeptical on issues like nuclear power and GMOs. It may be that GMO food is safe to eat, but that doesn’t have to mean I have to accept Monsanto using patent laws to prevent farmers from saving seeds of the crops they plant. As TEPCO’s handling of the meltdown in Japan shows, all the science knowledge in the world doesn’t really help you if corporate managers are ignoring or covering up problems. But then, corporate evil and regulatory weakness are issues in many industries, and some issues are easier to exploit for political purposes because of ignorance.

  10. #10 Composer99
    March 1, 2012

    Beamup:

    That is a very key thing to note.

    Bill Maher comes to mind, for example…

  11. #11 Pareidolius
    March 1, 2012

    It really doesn’t matter whether you go to the extreme right or left, but to do so, you must leave critical thinking behind. Should you go far enough, you end up in the same batshit crazy place where far right and far left are one in the same. Here, Hitler and Mao might be seen skipping through fields of skulls holding hands, and doing “their” evil bidding. There’s usually a hidden “them.” Who “they” are does depend on which direction you came from, but might include Lord Draconis, The Rothschilds, The Illuminati, The Rosicruscians, Satan, Opus Dei, Reticulans, Grays, Nordics, Fairies, Elves, Kukulkan, Quetzacoatl, Raelians, Xenu or Elvis.

  12. #12 ConspicuousCarl
    March 1, 2012

    I was once a Republican, before discovering the absurdity of religion and drug wars.

    I am not surprised by their resistance to global warming. One of the common attitudes among Republicans was that the crazy liberals were always freaking out about the next big thing which was going to kill us, and wanting to pass laws to “regulate” it without good evidence. Global warming sounds like one of those things the first time you hear about it. The representativeness fallacy, in which someone reverses logic and draws a conclusion based on whether or not something resembles the end result of something, without considering the actual probability of the conclusion being true (e.g. the old lady with glasses is probably a librarian because that’s what a librarian would look like), has typically been the default Republican position on environmental and health problems.

    I don’t think the problem is mainly that they are unconvinced by science (though they probably aren’t), I think they don’t bother looking into it that deeply because they are satisfied with having their intuition confirmed by some amateur-level arguments like “it’s probably just volcanoes” presented by half-rumped think tanks.

    But another issue is that the reality of global warming relies on the specifics of some fine details. It isn’t like evolution where the only alternative, creationism, had nothing going for it but the assumption that there were no possible non-creationist explanations. An average person only needs to know enough to understand that evolution is a reasonable possibility, not necessarily the entirety of all evolutionary knowledge, to then decide that all of that magical ancient story-telling is not a necessary or even reasonable assumption. But with global warming, the universe would still be a rational place if it were not true. For normal people without expert-level knowledge of a lot of stuff, we are stuck with having to trust that the real experts know what they are doing. That sort of conclusion is easily interrupted by a little bad intuition.

    It should also be noted that just because more Democrats reach the right conclusion, it does not follow that they must have used good reasoning. Good conclusions from bad logic are possible in general and especially on issues which require indirect inferences. It is unlikely that most Democrats actually studied the relevant subjects in college, so we have to wonder how many laypersons believe global warming is real because they actually looked at how many scientists who would know have confirmed it, vs. how many believe it because they just knew that humans were going to destroy the planet somehow.

  13. #13 qetzal
    March 1, 2012

    Pareidolius:

    Who “they” are does depend on which direction you came from, but might include Lord Draconis, The Rothschilds, The Illuminati, The Rosicruscians, Satan, Opus Dei, Reticulans, Grays, Nordics, Fairies, Elves, Kukulkan, Quetzalcoatl, Raelians, Xenu or Elvis.

    Please don’t lump me in with those losers!

  14. #14 dandover
    March 1, 2012

    I’m impressed with the way Orac and most of the other commentators here have dissected Mr. Mooney’s article so as to clearly exhibit the weaknesses in his arguments (cherry picking issues that help make his point, etc). The only thing I’d add is that there are an awful lot of variables to try to control for in this type of analysis, and I think Mr. Mooney fails (spectacularly) to take that into account. For instance, isn’t it possible that “Republican” and “Democrat” is the wrong way to group people for this analysis? Maybe a better delineation would be “fervent religious believer” and “non-believer”. Maybe being staunchly religious is the strongest factor that leads to being a “smart idiot” and staunchly religious people just happen to be more likely to be Republican. Or maybe tall people are more likely to be “smart idiots” than short people, and Republicans are, on average, taller than Democrats.

    Arbitrarily creating categories based on political affiliation is no more likely to be illuminating than creating categories based on height, IMHO.

    And now I know not to bother reading Mr. Mooney’s forthcoming book :)

  15. #15 ildi
    March 1, 2012

    I also wonder if it’s not just a matter of education, but if there’s a correlation with the type of education; e.g., are conservatives more prevalent in business and engineering, and progressives in liberal arts and research sciences?

  16. #16 Roadstergal
    March 1, 2012

    @Dr. Novella: I had the same thought as you when reading this. Although some of the kneejerk anti-nuke sentiment swelled up again after the tsunami, in general, anti-nuclear sentiment on the left has had time to settle and think things over a bit since the ’80s (not to mention that nuclear reactors have come a long way since then).

    From my little circle of leftie anecdotes, I find that the most knee-jerk opposition these days is to GMO and to any challenge of ‘alternative’ medicine.

    (Just to be clear, I don’t think nuclear power and GMOs are automatically good things, but the former is an excellent alternative to coal-fired plants when properly engineered and regulated, and the latter needs to be evaluated at on a case-by-case basis.)

  17. #17 Beamup
    March 1, 2012

    @ dandover:

    That’s an excellent point. There are some reasonable rationales for dividing the subjects by party – for example, the fact that it’s readily understandable and decently unambiguous. But there are also some unreasonable ones – like having as an underlying goal (consciously or not) proving that Democrats are smart and Republicans are dumb.

  18. #18 Edith Prickly
    March 1, 2012

    @Dr. Novella – I think you and Orac are correct to question his data. I’m not American but I used to read a lot of American political blogs (I got bored with them after I started spending a lot of time here – the discussions are far more thought-provoking!) and the notion that conservatism/being a Republican is some kind of cognitive disorder was popular with certain folks. I thought they were just flattering themselves.

    @Roadstergal – your anecdotes match up with mine. I have plenty of otherwise intelligent “progressive” friends who think mercola.com and Natural News are reliable sources of information and will unthinkingly parrot the “Western medicine can’t fix everything” line when I question any of the more egregiously silly claims of the alt-medders. There was a time when I believed it too – now I know better.

  19. #19 demandabanana
    March 1, 2012

    @dandover. I think you almost got it right. Rather than “fervent religious believer” and “non-believer,” try “fervent believer” and “non-believer.” It’s all about blind faith, religious or otherwise, and incorporates far left and far right. Or maybe the more interesting study is what happens in the middle, where most of us fall.

  20. #20 Pinkamena, Panic Pony
    March 1, 2012

    I’m just going to say this: not all progressives are whackos, and the implications that we are is every bit as wrong as what you’re decrying, thanks.

  21. #21 Not House
    March 1, 2012

    In a way, it’s Dunning-Kreuger all over again, no? Hell, I’m dealing with one right now on my blog – a pediatrician who is decrying everything and anything psychiatry.

  22. #22 Edith Prickly
    March 1, 2012

    @Pinkamena – I don’t see anyone arguing that, just questioning whether political conservatives are really more anti-science than liberals.

  23. #23 dandover
    March 1, 2012

    @demandabanana: Sure, sure. But that wasn’t the point I was trying to make. Essentially, Mr. Mooney has this hypothesis that there is some characteristic that some people have that makes them prone to being “smart idiots”. He further hypothesizes (arbitrarily) that the characteristic in question is “being Republican”. What are the chances that, of all the countless different characteristics he could have chosen, that this particular arbitrarily chosen one would be the correct one? Seems highly unlikely to me. He doesn’t control for any other possible variables that might affect “smart idiotness” and then cherry picks issues that make his arbitrary choice appear to be correct. I’m not impressed.

    Now, having a propensity to continue to cling to preconceived notions even in the face of mountains of damning evidence to the contrary… that seems like a more likely characteristic of “smart idiots”. Seems less arbitrary, as well. So you may be onto something. But then I wonder, isn’t that just what the very definition of “smart idiot” is?

  24. #24 Sid Offit
    March 1, 2012

    I’m sorry, is it global warming or climate change this week?

  25. #25 Lawrence
    March 1, 2012

    Boy Sid / Robert, please try to keep up with current science….

  26. #26 Composer99
    March 1, 2012

    Schechter is an example of denialism in action: minor semantics (what terminology to use to describe the enormous energy imabalance that human greenhouse gas emissions have caused, leading to rapid build-up of heat energy within the entire Earth climate system) are apparently of greater import than the evidentiary basis of scientific claims.

  27. #27 viggen
    March 1, 2012

    Related to this, at the APS meeting the day before yesterday, I met a PhD-ed physicist who is on the faculty at a major university, doing work associated with biophysics research, who admitted to me to being a germ theory denialist. I was stunned when he said flat out to me “It has not been established that germs cause disease.” I think my jaw must’ve dropped. I was like, “Excuse me???” Related, perhaps, it came out elsewhere in the conversation that he is an extremely avid runner and that he seems to pay attention to healthy-living literature that is sprinkled with alternative medicine… which I think drew him in.

    I am amazed by the capacity of otherwise intelligent people to have these kinds of blind spots.

  28. #28 demandabanana
    March 1, 2012

    I come from a long line of very smart, educated, Texas republicans and I’m married to an Alabama doctor’s son. We’ve developed into a liberal East Coast “academics,” at least in their eyes. (I’m quite conservative-appearing here.) I think the next time someone says something about AGW (and this warm winter has them hilariously quiet, despite the fact that I would never argue one warm winter means anything), I think rather than trying to defend it, I’ll turn into a toddler and ask “Why?” over and over. I just don’t get it. These are people who believe in vaccination, who don’t believe the buildings falling at ground zero was an inside job. Why is this one issue such a sticking point? It drives me bonkers. And I know where it will end. “Well, I just don’t believe it.” It’s completely irrational behavior by ordinarily rational people. It makes me wonder if they think the same of me?

  29. #29 Pareidolius
    March 1, 2012

    Quetzal,

    Sorry your scaly, featheryness. Your inclusion was due to you amazing popularity with the Wooville crowd here in NorCal.

    Pareidolius

  30. #30 Chris
    March 1, 2012

    I wonder how many of the Wooville crowd it would take to feed a Quetzalcoatlus northropi?

  31. #31 plutosdad
    March 1, 2012

    Interestingly I just read a report (here http://ncse.com/news/2012/02/polling-public-opinion-climate-change-007231 ) that asked why people believe in climate change, and the leading two answers were “personal observation of warmer temperatures and personal observation of extreme weather at 24% each” while only 8% believed due to scientific research

    I just want to hit my head on the desk.

  32. #32 Mal Adapted
    March 1, 2012

    “Sid Offit”:

    I’m sorry, is it global warming or climate change this week?

    Thanks for the elegant demonstration of crank magnetism!

  33. #33 lilady
    March 1, 2012

    Look what arrived in today’s email:

    http://pewresearch.org/

    “Colleges Viewed Positively By Most, But Conservatives Express Doubts”

    “…Among Republicans and Republican leaners who agree with the Tea Party, fully 78% said churches have a positive effect on the way things are going in the country, about double the percentage saying that colleges and universities have a positive impact (38%). Among liberal Democrats and Democratic leaners, the gap was about as wide in the other direction: 74% said colleges have a positive impact compared with 38% who viewed the effect of churches and religious institutions positively”.

  34. #34 Jose
    March 2, 2012

    I don’t think it’s fair to cite opposition to nuclear power as “anti science”. People who are opposed to nuclear power don’t subscribe to illogical views on physics or biology.

  35. #35 Chris
    March 2, 2012

    Jose:

    People who are opposed to nuclear power don’t subscribe to illogical views on physics or biology.

    Except the guy we knew in college who thought microwave ovens emitted the same radioactive rays as uranium, and that the wee bit of Americium in smoke alarms also made them dangerous. Whenever someone operated the microwave oven in the dorm cafeteria he would cover his groin and tell people to stop using it!

    Fortunately he did not manage to last the full school year. His ignorance ended up being reflected in his grade point average.

  36. #36 Omri
    March 2, 2012

    Part of the reason for the asymmetry is the millions of dollars spent on waging a propaganda war against climate science, courtesy of the Koch brothers and their hireling doubtmongers.

  37. #37 herr doktor bimler
    March 2, 2012

    People who are opposed to nuclear power don’t subscribe to illogical views on physics or biology.

    Some do. Jeremy Rifkin is one career activist who comes to mind; he manages to subscribe to illogical views on *everything*.

  38. #38 JamesBahk
    March 2, 2012

    “It’s what I’ve referred to as the “arrogance of ignorance,” in which a person is just educated enough to think he knows what he’s talking about with regard to an issue (or, more accurately, to think he can educate himself about an issue) even though he’s spectacularly wrong.”

    You mean like when oncologists go on and on about vaccinations?

  39. #39 Chris
    March 2, 2012

    No, James. It is in the interest of his patients to keep up herd immunity. Because cancer patients often have immune issues, and are a vulnerable population.

  40. #40 Beamup
    March 2, 2012

    @ JamesBahk:

    If you can demonstrate that Orac is “spectacularly wrong” about vaccines, feel free. Until then, you have no case for claiming he’s demonstrating the arrogance of ignorance.

  41. #41 demandabanana
    March 2, 2012

    Not to mention, if Orac shouldn’t go on an on about vaccines since it isn’t primary area of training, almost NO ONE should go on and on. If it was restricted to immunologists and vaccine biologists, there would be no anti-vaccine campaign.

  42. #42 Beamup
    March 2, 2012

    Good point, demandabanana.

    So JamesBahk, should we then assume that you similarly complain about the statements of McCarthy or Kirby or Wakefield? Only one has relevant qualifications even close to Orac’s, and none have better.

  43. #43 DLC
    March 3, 2012

    I’ve seen many attempts at what amounts to “scholarly work” which only serves as cover for “nyaa! Liberals are smarter than conservatives!” (and no doubt some of the opposite.)
    Is the conservative mindset more closed to new ideas?
    Perhaps so. but So far the evidence seems rather thin. I think every mind has it’s weak points — things they don’t want to believe in, or don’t know enough about and so jump to a conclusion not warranted by the facts.

  44. #44 Scottynuke
    March 3, 2012

    @Jose #32:

    People who are opposed to nuclear power don’t subscribe to illogical views on physics or biology.

    BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA!!!

    *frantically trying to catch my breath*

    Thank you for the Htrae version of opposition to nuclear power. Peruse the public comment sections of most any U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission environmental review and you’ll see boatloads of completely illogical, irrational views on physics, biology in voicing opposition to nuclear power.

  45. #45 Antaeus Feldspar
    March 3, 2012

    I’ve seen many attempts at what amounts to “scholarly work” which only serves as cover for “nyaa! Liberals are smarter than conservatives!” (and no doubt some of the opposite.)
    Is the conservative mindset more closed to new ideas?

    I think the issue becomes clearer if we look at it from the other side: if a person is so constructed that they gladly jettison contact with the real world in favor of unrealistic political or societal fantasies* – which fantasies do they gravitate to? Yes, we all of course see the world as we want to see it to some extent, but we’re talking about the people who take it to a real extreme.

    I would say that most people who choose an easy fantasy over difficult reality do so because they feel overwhelmed; they don’t know how to figure out the hard answers, so they pick something they feel they can do and pretend that the answer consists of doing that. What comes most naturally to people as something they feel they can do? Why, what they’re already doing or what their parents before them did. Status quo, hip hip hooray! For someone who’s desperate for a path they can follow, the path of least resistance holds strong appeal.

    Of course, I’d say that a significant number of people who are tempted down that road actually reject it for just about the same reason others accept it. They can see that something isn’t working with the current status quo, and accept that there must be something that needs to be changed. Instead of a realistic analysis of what needs change, however, they go with a simplistic analysis, frequently along the lines of “Things were better in The Old Days; therefore we have to abandon whatever we did different between then and now.” I suspect that this is the impulse behind much libertarianism: “Government regulation has increased over the years therefore the obvious answer is to decrease it.” It can of course go in totally weird new directions: “If people just chewed each bite 30 times before swallowing, there wouldn’t be so much war in the world!!” But I think most people will default to fantasized Easy Answers that align more with political and social conservatism.

    Of course, I freely admit, I’m neither a psychologist nor political scientist; all the above is just my own private hypothesis, and we all know how prone those are to error.

  46. #46 Denice Walter
    March 3, 2012

    @ Antaeus Feldspar:

    I think that you’re on to something: fantasy can be a useful coping mechanism to delay working on problems- giving us time to rest, re-group, think about other options, perhaps even allowing time to pass so that the problem may resolve on its own. Executive function involves *not* behaving instinctively, but *waiting* and planning: higher mental processes all fundamentally derive from this state of affairs. So fantasy might seep in while we wait. I often wonder if the tendency to *delay* has evolutionary significance itself.

    The problem lies in maintaining the fantasy despite incoming evidence that it’s *not* working ( or in the case of woo, not seeking out other sources of information– thus, shutting the doors on realistic appraisal) but becoming attached to your fantasy, identifying yourself with it and attempting to navigate the wide world with it as your compass ( I think I just described alt med). People have variable abilities to ‘change course’and it’s important whether they follow internal or external cues.

  47. #47 adelady
    March 3, 2012

    I rather suspect that Chris Mooney is only a few steps along a voyage of discovery.

    He set out with shining eyes believing that giving people with mistaken views more and better information would ‘show’ them where they were wrong. This would naturally lead to these people accepting correct information and abandoning their previous error.

    He’s now discovering that more or better information can actually entrench incorrect understanding. And that in the arena of climate change, the people most likely to react that way have a particular political leaning. They also are more likely to have other misunderstandings to which they cling with equal fervour – ‘birthers’ being the outstanding example.

    It may take him a while longer, and many disappointing steps, but he’s eventually going to find himself in an unexpected place. Most people are quite capable of making complete fools of themselves when they step outside whatever their own sphere of knowledge might be. A lot of people are also inclined to be both defensive and aggressive when they’re on uncertain ground. Combine that with a significant portion of any population being authoritarian (in Bob Altemeyer’s categorisation http://members.shaw.ca/jeanaltemeyer/drbob/TheAuthoritarians.pdf) and you’re left with a perpetual problem.

    It’s part of being human. Some of the common pitfalls of being human can cause serious problems for the human society people claim to support.

  48. #48 Hey Skipper
    March 4, 2012

    I harped on the 12% difference between educated and uneducated Republicans in whether or not they reject AGW science.

    There is something completely missing with this analysis: the implicit concomitants of CAGW.

    Take CAGW as read. The concomitant is world government, and extensive government control over the choices of individuals in order to make and maintain the kind of changes required to avoid the onrushing activity.

    This enhanced role for government at all levels fits in completely with the pre-existing Democrat/Progressive mindset. So of course they will be more persuaded, which leads to them being more pro-science.

    Presume a hypothetical that turns AGW on its head, and say we are faced with externally induced global cooling, and that the only way to minimize it is to let private enterprise loose to produce and use as much energy and CO2 as possible.

    Lets further stipulate that the scientific basis is identical for the actual state of CAGW knowledge wrt its hypothetical mirror image.

    I’d bet that because the anti-CAGW required actions antagonistic to Democratics/Progressives, their approval would plummet accordingly, and would mirror the approval of Republicans, faced with a problem whose solution is aligned with their ideological predelictions.

    —-

    I see the word “science” used a lot in association with CAGW.

    IF the CAGW hypothesis is to qualify as a theory, it must have deductive consequences.

    To take an example from Darwinism: if naturalistic evolution is true, the earth must be very, very old. (Note, having a very old earth doesn’t prove Darwinism, but a not old earth holes it below the water line.) As it happens, Darwinism has something like thirty deductive consequences across a wide spectrum of phenomena that all must hold if Darwinism is to be a correct explanation of evolution.

    Unfortunately, so far as I know, there is nothing that must happen in order for CAGW to be true, because CAGW has no deductive consequences.

    That doesn’t make CAGW wrong, but it does rather take shine off its claims to be a science.

    The scientific basis is the same in both cases.

  49. #49 Scottynuke
    March 4, 2012

    Let us stipulate that Hey Skipper has stipulated a particularly narrow strawman (and its Bizarro twin) of the debate.

    This stipulation renders it difficult to conclude whether Hey Skipper is a Poe or a pseudo-intellectual CAGW denier.

    The stipulation does, however, allow for a reasoned conclusion that Hey Skipper is not interested in an actual discussion of the issues.

  50. #50 Antaeus Feldspar
    March 4, 2012

    This enhanced role for government at all levels fits in completely with the pre-existing Democrat/Progressive mindset.

    Ah, yes, the Democratic/Progressive mindset, clearly as explained by someone who doesn’t understand the mindset at all. “I want less government interference across the board, therefore Democrats must want more government interference across the board!”

    Sorry, but starting from such a false premise can’t take you anywhere meaningful. Democrats don’t view government interference as an end to be pursued for its own sake; they view it as a necessary evil for accomplishing the ends we do desire for their own sakes.

    If your “external global cooling” scenario were to actually occur, Democrats would not say “there’s nothing here for government to regulate; therefore this can’t be happening!” They would say “Okay, our best scientific knowledge says that we need to put X amount of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere to avert catastrophic climate change; obviously, the free market is already inclined to put suitable gasses into the atmosphere, but will the amount they produce be enough? If not, how are we going to make up the shortfall?”

    Your idea that they would instead reject an idea that the evidence supported, just because it didn’t call for governmental regulation, is as realistic as the five-year-old’s perception that Mommy and Daddy aren’t letting him jump off the porch with his Superman cape purely because that would be fun, and Preventing Billy From Having Fun is the number one concern of all adults.

  51. #51 mikel
    March 4, 2012

    Take CAGW as read.

    CAGW is a completely dishonest term, used exclusively by dishonest people for entirely dishonest purposes.

    The concomitant is world government, and extensive government control over the choices of individuals in order to make and maintain the kind of changes required to avoid the onrushing activity.

    False. Typical alarmist rhetoric we expect from denialists.

    This enhanced role for government at all levels fits in completely with the pre-existing Democrat/Progressive mindset.

    A strawman version of the “Democrat/Progressive mindset”.

    So of course they will be more persuaded, which leads to them being more pro-science.

    Funny thing, all the liberal people I know regard AGW as an exasperating and frustrating complication to achieving liberal goals and NOT as a means of achieving them.

    Presume a hypothetical that turns AGW on its head, and say we are faced with externally induced global cooling, and that the only way to minimize it is to let private enterprise loose to produce and use as much energy and CO2 as possible.

    OK, I’m comfortable with hypotheticals.

    Lets further stipulate that the scientific basis is identical for the actual state of CAGW knowledge wrt its hypothetical mirror image.

    In other words pretty damn conclusive. Go on.

    I’d bet that because the anti-CAGW required actions antagonistic to Democratics/Progressives, their approval would plummet accordingly, and would mirror the approval of Republicans, faced with a problem whose solution is aligned with their ideological predelictions.

    You would lose that bet, at least with regards to liberals.

    —-

    I see the word “science” used a lot in association with CAGW.

    No you don’t. Science says nothing about CAGW. It is a term used exclusively by denialists arguing in bad faith. There is some scientific discussion of some fairly low probability worst case scenarios that could be described as “catastrophic” if that term were defined precisely enough to be useful. But most of concern is for what you might call Pretty Bad Anthropogenic Global Warming or PBAGW, or Bad Enough To Be Worth Addressing Anthropogenic Global Warming or BETBWAAGW.

    IF the CAGW hypothesis is to qualify as a theory, it must have deductive consequences.

    OK

    To take an example from Darwinism:

    Darwinism? Seriously?

    …if naturalistic evolution is true, the earth must be very, very old. (Note, having a very old earth doesn’t prove Darwinism, but a not old earth holes it below the water line.) As it happens, Darwinism has something like thirty deductive consequences across a wide spectrum of phenomena that all must hold if Darwinism is to be a correct explanation of evolution.

    Unfortunately, so far as I know, there is nothing that must happen in order for CAGW to be true, because CAGW has no deductive consequences.

    Wrong. There are a number of predictions that AGW makes. One of which of course is a long term warming signal that can be picked out of the noisy natural variation. Another is that the stratosphere cools while the lower atmosphere warms. Another is that polar region will warm faster than the tropics, and yet another is that night time lows will rise faster than day time highs. All of these are predictions made in the 70′s and all have been observed. Furthermore, except for the first, they can only be explained by a greenhouse effect.

    That doesn’t make CAGW wrong, but it does rather take shine off its claims to be a science.

    AGW is about as solid a science as a scientific notion can be.

    The scientific basis is the same in both cases.

    Not even close.

  52. #52 Interrobang
    March 5, 2012

    Excellent rebuttal by mikel, although there are a couple more things I’d like to address.

    First of all, I still don’t understand how people like Hey Skipper get to “world government” from AGW. (Climate change, therefore somehow magically consensus — democratic or diktat — for the whole world? And right-wingers think we have unrealistic notions of governance.)

    Secondly, why would anyone think that liberals, progressives, or even common, garden-variety leftists like myself would want “world government,” whatever that means? (Talk about being out of touch with current radical thought; we’re all about thinking globally and acting locally these days.) What passes for supranational government these days (like the EU) is inefficient and doesn’t work well locally for a number of its member states. Why would we want to scale those problems up to the whole world? Baffling.

    Further, more regulation != more government. As I understand it, these days China has a massive government and regulates next to nothing. (Although, admittedly, when they do, it tends to be effective. I admit to finding something slightly appealing in the thought of remediating egregious corporate misbehaviour with two shots to the back of the relevant executives’ heads, but only in my darker moments.)

    the only way to minimize it is to let private enterprise loose to produce and use as much energy and CO2 as possible.

    Frankly, I wouldn’t trust them to do it, not without guidelines in place. Businesses, as we’ve learned over and over and over again, thanks to Enron, International Coal Group, Wal-Mart, and various other corporate malefactors, exist primarily and fundamentally to maximise shareholder profits. If using energy and creating CO2 didn’t make them a buck or drive up their stock price, they wouldn’t do it unless someone made them.

    As businesspeople are so fond of reminding us, they’re not charities, so by implication, they can’t be trusted to do anything purely out of altruism, and (especially given their usual “privatize the benefits, socialize the costs” mentality), if something they do benefits the general public rather than the stockholders, that’s incidental at best.

  53. #53 Mephistopheles O'Brien
    March 5, 2012

    Interrobang,

    As I understand it, these days China has a massive government and regulates next to nothing.

    China regulates any of a number of things such as the movements of its citizens, the types of things people can view on the internet, who can own a business, how many children a family may have, its currency, and so on. I presume you are limiting your comment to certain business standards like environmental regulation, treatment of workers, purity of products, and so on.

  54. #54 Wow
    March 7, 2012

    Mind you, the USA is doing the same.

    TSA, DHS, Maryland court making a .com address point to the DHS “This site is guilty of hosting kiddie porn”, arresting foreign businessmen passing by the USA to somewhere else for internet gambling in a foreign country and free speech zones.

    And on regulation of clean-up, how is the clean up costs from Exxon in Alaska going? How about Deepwater Horizon? Or the fracking.

    See also the increasing deaths of miners (not minors, different thing).

    Before whining about China’s authoritarianism, sort out your own, hmm?

  55. #55 Wow
    March 7, 2012

    “People who are opposed to nuclear power don’t subscribe to illogical views on physics or biology.”

    Would all you complaining be mollified with this instead:

    “People who are opposed to nuclear power aren’t necessarily subscribing to illogical views on physics or biology to do so.”

    ?

    Now I would propose that those who promote nuclear power PRETEND as if every single disputer of the capability of nuclear power in every case is subscribing to an illogical view of physics or biology to justify doing so.

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