Are liberals really more likely to accept science than conservatives?

Today's NYT has Thomas Edsall's What the Left Get's Right, the follow up piece to last week's What the Right Get's Right, and what's fascinating is how even conservative commentators think liberals get science right more often than conservatives. Or at least they are less likely to view it ideologically:

A few conservative concessions to liberalism's strengths were made without qualification; others were begrudging. Nonetheless, in the conservative assessment, common themes emerge:

Liberals recognize the real problems facing the poor, the hardships resulting from economic globalization and the socially destructive force of increasing inequality.

Liberals do not dismiss or treat as ideologically motivated scientific findings, especially the sharpening scientific consensus that human beings contribute significantly to climate change.

Liberals stand with those most in need, and believe in the inclusion of such previously marginalized groups as blacks, Hispanics, women and gays.

As I sifted through the responses, it became clear that a widely shared view among contemporary conservatives is that liberals are all heart and no head, that their policies are misguided -- thrown off track by an excessively emotional compassion that fails to recognize the likelihood of unintended consequences.

But is this really the case? I disagree, liberals are just as likely to to disbelieve science that challenges their ideology, only the issues where liberals tend to deny aren't quite as earth-shattering (although anti-vax is a serious public health problem) and not as much in the media spotlight. And recent cognitive studies on why people believe what they believe support the likelihood that all of us, liberal, conservative, or moderate, are poor rational actors in the evaluation of science.

Here's why...

Chris Mooney points out this morning yet another article showing that people are more inclined to judge science based on cognitive biases rather than a rational evaluation of the facts. The study, trying to demonstrate a correlation between knowledge of evolution and accepting of the theory, failed. Instead, people are led by their irrational brains into believing what "feels" right:

"The whole idea behind acceptance of evolution has been the assumption that if people understood it -- if they really knew it -- they would see the logic and accept it," said David Haury, co-author of the new study and associate professor of education at Ohio State University.

"But among all the scientific studies on the matter, the most consistent finding was inconsistency. One study would find a strong relationship between knowledge level and acceptance, and others would find no relationship. Some would find a strong relationship between religious identity and acceptance, and others would find less of a relationship."

"So our notion was, there is clearly some factor that we're not looking at," he continued. "We're assuming that people accept something or don't accept it on a completely rational basis. Or, they're part of a belief community that as a group accept or don't accept. But the findings just made those simple answers untenable."

Haury and his colleagues tapped into cognitive science research showing that our brains don't just process ideas logically -- we also rely on how true something feels when judging an idea. "Research in neuroscience has shown that when there's a conflict between facts and feeling in the brain, feeling wins," he says.

This is just one of many, and similar to Michael Shermer's skepticism theory we discussed last week. The sad fact is, humans are irrational, and their evaluation of scientific claims is just as subject to their irrationality as anything. And why should we think liberals aren't just as subject to this universal human failing as conservatives? Clearly they are not. You just need to ask them the right questions.

For instance, I've found liberals are far more likely to be interested in "greening our vaccines" (note the liberal pull of the label "green"). There are conservative anti-vaxxers but they come to it ideologically as well from the "the guv'mint can't tell me to vaccinate" standpoint. Liberals are far more likely to buy into altie-med, to believe "toxins" cause all illness, to engage in "big pharma" conspiracy-mongering, to express paranoid delusions about GMO foods or irradiation, to espouse insane theories about food in general, or to believe Bush was behind 9/11.

What's very interesting is when ideologues meet on denialism, and how for each group their ideology leads to an extreme view and rejection of science. For instance, with HIV/AIDS denial, liberal ideology can be a factor as many of these denialists reject modern medicine, and believe in the big pharma conspiracies that HIV/AIDS is invented to sell expensive medications. The conservatives, as we discussed last week, like HIV/AIDS denial because it allows them to blame the homosexual lifestyle and drug use for the disease rather than transmission of a virus. Even holocaust denial is an example. There are right-wing ideologues who admire fascism or are anti-Semitic who will deny or diminish the deaths of Jews in concentration camps, but also there are those on the extreme left, for example many truthers and others that have allowed their opposition to Israel devolve into frank anti-Semitism, that will deny the holocaust. Interestingly the first prominent holocaust denier, Paul Rassinier, was a French Socialist who was trying to defend socialism in general from the stigma the totalitarian Nationalist Socialist Party did to his cause.

The ideological lines can be generalized thus, liberals are obsessive about preserving the environment, physical purity, and paranoid about corporate malfeasance and anything President Bush has ever done. Conservatives are obsessed with preserving social institutions, sexual purity, and are paranoid about government malfeasance and anything Obama has ever done. As with all generalizations, there will be exceptions, so I don't need an anecdotal recounting of every variation on this theme, but I think these generalizations are a starting point for a potential test of this hypothesis.

I would like to see a paper comparing liberals versus conservatives, but rather than singling out a single scientific issue, testing their belief on multiple areas where denialism emerges. I think you'll find that the liberal group will trend to believe science that is perceived to reinforce their biases towards increased environmental regulation, will not object to science showing homosexual parents are just as good as heterosexual parents, and will be more likely to object to research demonstrating equivalency between bioengineered GMOs and standard strains (frankly all food is GMO, the sticking point is whether more advanced technology is used), reject vaccine research, or be generally suspicious of biomedical research. I believe the conservatives will tend to believe science that reinforces efficacy of corporate products such as drugs or GMOs, will totally dismiss science showing that homosexuals are anything but destructive to society, and lose their minds when global warming is demonstrated to be real, again, and again. I did some google scholar searching for such a paper, and while many papers on bias exist, I would like to see one try and test if there really is a difference between liberals and conservatives in terms of their bias overall. Many of these papers purporting to show less bias in liberals I think are just asking the wrong questions.

I suspect the answer such a paper would find would be that disbelief of established scientific facts would be more or less equal between groups, but that the topics disbelieved will depend on individual ideology. It's ideology that's the problem. If you identify with a particular ideology, frankly, you're announcing you're bound by heuristics, or intellectual shortcuts, in making decisions or evaluating facts. To some degree, this type of thinking can not be avoided, it's built into us, very deeply in the way our brains function. This is likely for a very good reason, as it speeds up decision making dramatically. But clearly it can be overcome, and biology is not destiny. Some of us can overcome the need to belong to one group or the other, reject what our guts tell us for what the data shows, and shelve ideology altogether in favor for what can be proven to work.

Sadly, my belief must remain a hypothesis until someone actually tests this, but in the absence of such a test, I don't think it can be claimed that liberals believe science more than conservatives either.


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"Sadly, my belief must remain a hypothesis until someone actually tests this..."

Well, as you repeatedly indicated, the believe feels right to you. So that's probably good enough, right? At least for your individually ideologically-driven purposes...

Over the years I've found that my liberal friends and co-workers take ideologically motivated anti-science positions as readily as my conservative and libertarian friends and co-workers.

Of course this is only an anecdote based on too small of a sample so, I too would like to see a good test of the hypothesis.

The difference isn't one of capacity>/i> to deny science. The two groups differ in motivation to deny science. Reality has a liberal bias.

Here's a question: How many (relatively) liberal, serious presidential primary contenders (say, getting >10% of the primary votes in multiple states) for the past decades have been anti-vaccine? How many have been anti-GMO? How many have been HIV denialists? The primaries are generally considered to be significantly biased toward the liberal activists. The liberals among liberals. On the other side, how many serious conservative primary contenders have been anti-evolution? How many have been deniers of, or at least minimizers of global warming? How many have been anti-vaccine, for chrissakes? How many have outright declared, or at least intimated that the UN is considering taking over the world?

And why is it that otherwise rational, liberal people have this reflexive need to declare their independence from the fuzzy category they are pretty well smack in the middle of? Maybe that's the real difference between liberal and conservative brains. Liberals are insanely obsessed with their own outliers.

It is unlikely that being liberal, per se, results in being more accepting of science, but it's quite possible that there are things that incline one towards particular attitudes towards both science and politics. For example, scientists trend liberal, and one would at least expect them to be more accepting of science than others. Education and religion are also probably linked to attitudes about science and politics.

Rev. Enki, as far as the political parties in this country I don't think that's a good example of liberal vs. conservative ideology. As is mentioned in Edsall's article many of the conservatives he interviewed didn't believe the Republican party represents conservatism and I agree. Instead they're an insurgent party of power-hungry morons. There is no more intellectualism in Republican politics and the most intellectual of them is Newt Gingrich of all people, who denies global warming and pursued Bill Clinton for an inappropriate affair while engaged in one. He's the worst kind of power-hungry demagogue. One interviewee actually suggested a good job for liberals is to remind conservatives that they're not living up to their ideals. And they don't. They aren't protecting our resources, they persistently have increased government spending while increasing debt and cutting taxes, and engaged in insane foreign interventions for lofty democratic ideals while keeping the war bills off the books and not demanding sacrifice from the citizenry. The modern Republican party isn't reading Burke any more, or Buckley, or Friedman. Wait, maybe Friedman is still in there. If anything it's trying to enact the worst kind of Randian fantasies, reactionary hate mongering, borderline racism and failed trickle-down economics.

So I'm not sure I'd point to the Republican presidential debates and say that's conservatism. I have and may one day again vote for someone who is "conservative", but not much more than Connie Morella was. But such conservatives actually believe in a limited government, both in the boardroom and in the bedroom.

Anthony, one of the points of the article linked above was that increased knowledge of the facts did not necessarily correlate with accepting the theory of evolution. While not an exact metric of being "educated" in the liberal sense, it does challenge the notion that the problem of denialism is one of education of the scientific facts. The problem of denialism is that from an early age we are taught to think incorrectly, and as we age our unscientific beliefs are reinforced over and over again by the natural tendency of humans towards using heuristics to evaluate most problems. I think the solution is that we have to reteach people how to think about such problems, and discourage people from using improper argument and emotional rhetoric by making it socially unacceptable to blame problems on bizarre conspiracies of scientists. In my ideal world when people heard such arguments, from right or left, they would reject them for the nonsense they are.

I frequent a little group called âDrinking Liberallyâ and I have absolutely no question that among the folks I drink with there is a much greater acceptance of science than any of the conservatives I have been around all my life. There is not a single person in our group (avg. 20 drinking any one night) who does not believe evolution is a fact.

There is not a single person who does not believe that climate change is happening. We also discuss the increasing findings that biology can be a heavy influence on personal behavior creating behaviors that are not sometimes under the thoughtful control of the individual (in fact, we have discussed the possibilities that this is the problem conservatives have!).

I think it depends on how you come to your liberalism. Were you a person who came to liberalism through a modernist empirical route (as I believe I did) or did you get there by being born into the ideology or accepting it as a religion (in other words, do you arrive at liberalism the way I believe virtually all conservatives reach conservatismâas a religionâand liberalism can be embraced that way too).

But here is the biggest difference I see between my liberal drinking buddies and many conservatives I know: we disagree and discuss it. We are more open to accepting that we may be wrong. We donât start in a defensive position by trying to shoot down the other guyâs argument but by supporting our own.

And here is where I actually do have anecdotal experience with the discussion of vaccines. I am going to guess that I have only heard two or three of my other drinking buddies say they firmly believe vaccine causes problems. Iâve heard several say they are certain they donât.

BUT HERE IS WHAT IS MOST TELLING: Most say, Iâm not sure, Iâm not qualified to judge, and so I am going to withhold judgment until I am better informedâand I will tend to accept what science finds by those qualified to judge.

And that is the big difference I see between non-scientist conservatives and non-scientist liberals.

Oh, by the way: Just because the leaders of the anti-vaccine movement are generally liberal does not mean most liberals are anti-vaccine.

By DuaneBidoux (not verified) on 23 Jan 2012 #permalink

Apparently you believe that humanity is neatly divided up between "Liberal" and "Conservative." I guess I must not be human then, as I easily reject the "denialism" you mention as common in each camp.

By Theo Dzielak (not verified) on 23 Jan 2012 #permalink


Mark: I think you're missing Rev Enki's point. What the candidates say about science in these debates may or may not reflect their own views; that's a side issue. The important issue is that, as the opportunistic intellectual prostitutes you describe, the candidates are expressing publicly the views held by the conservative base.

I don't think it's sensible to try to maintain that the members of the conservative base aren't conservative.

For what it's worth, all of the liberals and leftists I discuss such matters with are strongly accepting of science; a couple have their doubts about GMOs, but that's about it (and anyway rooted primarily in a distrust of Monsanto).

Get's? Get is? Or does Get own right?

Sorry, but apostrophe abuse is a pet peeve of mine.

Do you have a general definition of liberal? I haven't seen anything to suggest denial of HIV, vaccines or even GMOs is particularly prevalent among liberals

By G.Shelley (not verified) on 24 Jan 2012 #permalink

I have to wonder if being "irrational" and trusting what "feels true" is such a terrible thing. For centuries, as medical science developed, people turned their backs on homeopathic remedies because there was no science to support it, and relied instead upon all measure of quack medicine to heal them. It has taken immeasurable time for science to come around to prove that chicken soup does help a cold, aspirin (derived from the bark of willow trees) to be accepted as a wonder drug, coffee and chocolate can actually be good for you, etc.

While science told us there was no basis to our beliefs that these things were true, people still could "feel" that yes, they had value. Are our feelings always correct? Of course not. Science has value, and shouldn't be discounted, but I see no harm in trying to find harmony between science and what our minds tell us must be true.

By Tami Carter (not verified) on 24 Jan 2012 #permalink

"liberals are obsessive about preserving the environment, physical purity, and paranoid about corporate malfeasance and anything President Bush has ever done and everything Obama has done"

Finished it off correctly for you.

Obama is turning out (mostly because of spinelessness and bad actors informing him) of being "Bush lite". He certainly holds liberals in the USA in nearly as much contempt as Bush Jr did.

To political heads, the overton window is static.

To most of humanity, it's been changed massively in the USA and somewhat really worldwide.

"frankly all food is GMO"

Only in a particularly daft way of defining "genetically modified". After all, your life is entirely due to gravity (without which no nuclear synthesis, no stars, no complex matter, no sun, no planet to live on and now power from that sun to drive the living processes).

But maybe in the USA all food is GMO in the "we genetically modified it by shoehorning the changes in" method of sensible definition. I can't tell.

But if GMOs are for the betterment of mankind, why have they patented it? And why is the biggest seller for Monsato Roundup Ready crops?

Since you know from published findings in cog sci that emotions lead and reason follows, put that fact to good use: develop emotional narratives that communicate feelings of awe, wonder, curiosity, excitement, and so on, in relation to science.

How many times have we heard someone who is identified as a scientist uses language such as "the cold hard facts are..."...? "Cold and hard" is an emotional message, and a highly aversive one. Would you like to sleep on something cold and hard? Sounds to me like a metaphor for prison.

Conversely, look at the Apollo program, and listen to Carl Sagan. In both cases: awe, wonder, curiosity, achievement, optimism, and the desire to expand the frontiers of knowledge and human capability. Both were able to generate an enormous amount of excitement about science and eagerness to embrace a scientific worldview. To this add popular fiction in which science solves problems rather than creating them.

At very least, be aware of the emotional connotations of the language and nonverbal communications (tone of voice, gestures, etc.). Use attractive language, not aversive language. Draw people in, get them excited. Emotions are contagious.

It's unfortunate you don't have any data to back up your assertion that disbelief "would be more or less equal between groups." Until you present such data, I simply cannot believe there are, for example, as many anti-vaxers among liberals as there are anti-climate-change-sience folks among conservatives.

I'd be delighted to be proved wrong, of course. As a liberal, I insist that claims must be accompanied with evidence (extraordinary claims with extraordinary evidence), and my own beliefs are subject to re-evaluation upon presentation of new data. I'm never happier than when I find out I'm wrong about something: for in that moment, I am learning.

Also - studies of race vs. IQ: tell me your political persuasion, and I bet I can predict your stand on the validity of such studies.

BTW, The study that you are looking for has been done with respect to beliefs concerning economics (if you can bring yourself to consider economics a science!):…

By Patrick M. Dennis (not verified) on 24 Jan 2012 #permalink

it was impossible not to notice that conservatives were more strategic in their replies, conceding compassion to the left but not political legitimacy. Liberals, in contrast, were less calculating and perhaps more intellectually honest, ceding substantial ground to their adversaries.

This really ought to be the chief takeaway point from both articles. Liberals are the ones who will admit when they are wrong and the other side is right. The very concept of fairness is more of a liberal value, as compared to the conservative thrust to win at any cost. Among liberals you don't get that sense of permanent entitlement and self-validation regardless of circumstances: the idea that any time they seem to have lost it simply can't have been fair and the other guy must have cheated, as shown by the hysteria with which the right greeted Bill Clinton winning and governing as a Democrat in his early term.

The idea that there is no one who knows anything better than you do, and that all discussions of any issues become ties as soon as you show up, is just one of many irritating tics that conservatism took, lock stock and barrel, from Marxism.

Obama is "Bush lite". He certainly holds liberals in the USA in nearly as much contempt as Bush Jr did.

Funny way of showing it: abolishing DADT, ending the Iraq War, arguing to cut payroll taxes and end Bush's tax cuts, refocusing the country on economic inequality, stopping the XL pipeline, and passing the best healthcare reform package there were Congressional votes for (no more corporate death panels for pre-existing conditions, and also, as Forbes recently pointed out, the law has a 'time bomb' inside it to force a public option in the near future because it forces insurance companies to use 85%+ of their fees for actual medical care and not profit or commissions, essentially making them no longer profitable at all).

Improving conditions for Americans in America is more important than drone strikes in Yemen or being a "corporatist." Obama's been pretty good for liberals. That's why most of his critics aren't liberals, any more than the PUMAs were Democrats. The best example of this is Glenn Greenwald, purportedly a "liberal" because he talks a lot about privacy, even though he was an Iraq-Warmonger and his favorite politician is starve-the-poor, no-Civil-Rights racist Ron Paul.

Liberals are far more likely to believe Bush was behind 9/11

Citation please? 9/11Trutherism is very common on the Alex Jones / Ron Paul / militia paleocon right wing, and in fact came up about 5 times in the 2008 GOP primary debates.

And it's interesting that you quote Chris Mooney, since facts recently compelled him to change his mind and recognize that anti-vaxism is equally common on the right as it is on the left:…

I love your blog, but you should recognize that false balance is a form of denialism.

I believe the true question is: What is science?

Evolution is not science. If it were, there would be trillions of pieces of proof for its existance. I havent; even seen one piece of evidence for it.

Global warming is not science. Actually it is. The science behind Sun cycles and the earth's climate is real. The "science" about elite politicians making money and obtaining totalitarian control from scaremongering about Al Gore's private fantasies is not.

The belief in 'fossil fuels" is also comical. For more than four decades we have known that oil is naturally produced within the earth. There is probably oil in mars, the moon and other places. I guess "millions of years" of dead animals cause oil on other planets too?

"Millions of years" is comical. Especially since we have a recorded geneology of hyman history all the way back to Adam, the first man. About 6500 years ago. Give a or take a few years. Estimated age of the earth is 6500 to 10,000 years based on actual recorded human history, not putting a rock in a lab to be tested.

Age tests of minerals and rocks are not accuracte. Example. You could give me the approxiamte age of any rock on earth, then hand i to me. I stick it in the microwave for a minute then set it on fire and let it burn all night, wash it off, hand it back to you, and it automatically looks "million of years" older than your first estimate. Why? becuase fire and radiation rendering scientific dating method useless. Actual rcorded history is far more accurate than a nerd with a calculator taking a guess and assuming certain things happened which he did not even witness.

By Conservative S… (not verified) on 24 Jan 2012 #permalink

"liberals are just as likely to to disbelieve science that challenges their ideology"

I wouldn't say so. Personally I'm usually like "wow, really?" and then reconcile my beliefs/worldview with this new information. I'm usually skeptical if something sounds like BS, but I'll look it up before writing it off.

I can't help but shake the feeling that your entire argument of equal denialism is just the availability heuristic in action. Just because you can cite multiple examples on either side doesn't say anything at all about the relative frequencies of those denialist beliefs within their respective political camps.

Also, given that cognitive work on the difference between political conservatives and liberals also consistently finds attributes beneficial to social in-group cohesion as greater/more common in conservatives, I would in fact argue that cognitive literature would almost suggest the opposite - denialist ideas can take hold and spread within the conservative in-group more readily than in liberal circles.

Is Mr. Conservative Scientists satire?

Seriously, is it really satire? It is too perfectly ignorant to be real.

Okay, who are you really!?

By DuaneBidoux (not verified) on 24 Jan 2012 #permalink

Has to be satire - he even spells his name as 'conservative scentist'. The art of 'Poe' is a skill in itself I realise but, while mildly amusing, hardly worth the effort involved I would have thought.

"9/11Trutherism is very common on the Alex Jones / Ron Paul / militia paleocon right wing"

Though only really took off there when Bush was removed and a Democrat (a two-tone one at that) got in.

IMO 11/9 was a cover up of corruption in the building of the twin towers. Some well connected company skimped out on the build-out and where the tower should have survived the impacts, this one could not because of shoddy workmanship and materials.

Being well connected, with all the hysteria (exploited for gain) with the attacks going on, a US company found complicit in the 3000 deaths would have been pilloried and many powerful people in power at that time (or friends of same) would be burnt with them.

So the evidence of the shoddy materials and profiteering skimming is removed in secrecy.

And it's the fact that the towers fell when they'd been designed to withstand that event AND the unique hiding of the wreckage before engineers could see it that have led others to see that 11/9 itself was engineered.

IMO it wasn't engineered, it was inconvenient and covered up for that.

"Funny way of showing it: abolishing DADT,"

Which means what?

"ending the Iraq War"

Nope, it's still going on. Years after Bush said "Job Done".

"arguing to cut payroll taxes and end Bush's tax cuts"

Yeah. How many years has be been arguing? Mind you, when it came to a medicare bill some Dem senators were pushing through, you bet he found the gumption to lay down the law to his side. He seems unable to do that in the case of tax cuts, though...

"refocusing the country on economic inequality"

HAH! Yeah, words.

"stopping the XL pipeline"

But agreeing with the Deepwater one... Until it blew up. Then saying "that won't happen any more, they promised".

"and passing the best healthcare reform package"

You mean a watered down version of the Romney Care package? (you do know who he is, don't you?)

Tim says:

It's unfortunate you don't have any data to back up your assertion that disbelief "would be more or less equal between groups." Until you present such data, I simply cannot believe there are, for example, as many anti-vaxers among liberals as there are anti-climate-change-sience folks among conservatives.

I'd be delighted to be proved wrong, of course. As a liberal, I insist that claims must be accompanied with evidence (extraordinary claims with extraordinary evidence), and my own beliefs are subject to re-evaluation upon presentation of new data. I'm never happier than when I find out I'm wrong about something: for in that moment, I am learning.

This was my argument too. The assertion is made routinely that conservatives are less likely to believe science. Certainly with regards to global warming or evolution this appears true. However, is it generally true? I don't think this has been tested. I have to rely on my lowly personal experience.

I'm not trying to claim equivalence between the denialism of left and right. I'm making the argument that the susceptibility is present in all humans, that data as was cited suggested being informed wasn't protective, and there are types of denialism more common from the left than from the right. In the absence of a stringent attempt to measure multiple expressions of denialism between the two groups, I'm not sure we can claim reality has a liberal bias. It's just that the current hot topics are ones that make the conservatives look particularly anti-science since global warming is the most prominently discussed political topic this season.

TTT, that article cited is interesting, but if anything it reinforces the idea of equivalence. While I did say the anti-vax movement seems to be more liberal (those Hollywood types), I also described how conservatives come around to it too. Then, the survey cited you described showed that liberals and conservatives were equally likely to question anti-vaccine nonsense if exposed to the anti-vaxxer propaganda. That seems to fit, if anything, with the parity hypothesis.

"What's DADT?" Really?! You're sitting at a computer, aren't you?

Deepwater was a year and a half ago; Obama stopped XL last week. Taken in the RIGHT ORDER, he obviously made the right decision and one that thrilled American liberals. If you were either an American or a liberal you'd realize that.

Similarly, I reiterate that he got the best healthcare reform package THAT THERE WERE VOTES IN CONGRESS FOR. I put that key clause back in because its absence would only further confuse someone who was hopelessly foreign to and ignorant of how American politics works, or would recklessly encourage someone whose whole online persona was devoted to posting snotty and frivolous quibbles for their own sake.

This is just more of the old shtick about how of course we must disregard any American political outcome until they elect someone who would be a far-left-liberal even by British standards. And that, in turn, is the same mentality behind the stance that instead of liberals settling for Obama's occasional compromises, it would be better to sit back and allow the Republicans to seize total control and collapse the system with a "malign and unstable government", since their evil would be so obvious in the wreckage of what used to be America that it would compel those who weren't now dead or bankrupt to, uh, to... to do something!…

Thanks but no thanks. You still don't know anything about our politics and have yet to show even an inkling of concern for our well-being or our lives.

liberals are obsessive about preserving the environment, physical purity

Conservative obsession over physical purity shows up differently to liberal obsession but it is still there. Conservatives are more concerned with the government doing doing something that violates that purity while liberals worry about corporations that are doing something unnatural. The best example of this would probably be the fluoridation controversies (although these have spread to the left as well).

The antivaxers might be successfully running two messages, one about corporate greed and the other about government forcing parents to vaccinate their children, and this allows them to appeal across the political spectrum.

By antidenialism (not verified) on 25 Jan 2012 #permalink

I think your analysis lacks in so much, that you use the US "liberal" catch-all category. Most of the liberals you describe here are in my view "greens" and not liberal in the classic sense of the word. I think the term "conservatives" lacks much differentiation too, as there are differences e.g. between a evangelical "conservative" and a free-market "conservative" (or would the later be a liberal?).

But I share the sentiment that everybody has an bias and a matching confirmation bias when dealing with science.

By Tony Mach (not verified) on 29 Jan 2012 #permalink

These lines from the movie "Russia House" with Sean Connery come to my mind:

US embassy employee:
Your background is fairly liberal, isn't it, Mr Blair?

Bartholomew "Barley" Scott Blair (Sean Connery):

Your father.

No. My father hated liberals. He took the communist line mainly.

By Tony Mach (not verified) on 29 Jan 2012 #permalink

Actually, the "wrong question" is whether its liberals or conservatives that are the problem. As one of the former, I am well aware of a lot of serious idiots on my side. However, a fair amount of the stuff they are idiots about "overlap" the conservative side, to an extent. The one thing that seems common among the lot is a "gut" feeling that they know the truth, and a resulting refusal to understand why they are wrong. This may be IQ related, and by IQ I don't mean something you are born with, but a long standing, from birth, expression of the idea, to them, that they shouldn't question their own feelings, that they are usually right, that their "gut" is all that is needed to recognize who out there in the world is lying to them, and other similar behaviors, including adherence to belief systems which reject evidence, in favor of just-so stories, which don't just make it harder to make logical judgements, but actively sabotage a persons ability to learn *how to* do so. And, that includes problem solving, where the solution isn't immediately obvious (which is what good IQ tests tend to test for).

Someone with any of the above institutional/family handicaps, and where no one has presented them with a way out, or has done so too late, are likely to have major gaps in their ability to derive such solutions. Or, as I put it a while back, if you rely on intuition, its only going to work if there is enough data, and the right connections, already in your head, to make such intuitive connections. Otherwise, garbage in = garbage out. But, to the person making a gut/intuitive reaction to something, unless they recognize that they haven't found the correct answer, and the solution they are attempting won't work, also can't tell the difference, themselves, between bad intuitions, and good ones.

But, there are definitely distinct differences (though, given the article was in the NYT, its going to be biased on favor of stereotypes about how liberals and conservatives think, and even what the definitions are for them, just in how they presented their questions, never mind how they then interpreted the results. They wouldn't, after all, want to completely derail their own, long standing, biases on the subject...). For example, its unfair to claim that liberal are pro-government, like is always claimed. In reality, both sides, when it comes down to it, want the government bigger, to some extent, they just have different ideas of what that big government should be doing (which is the huge joke with the current whine about making it smaller). The way I described it is sort of like this:

1. A liberal creates something to help poor people.
2. A conservative notices some people being helped that should be.
3. Both sides start a long, convoluted, and invariably disastrous, to the program in question, trying to correct each other's perceived errors.

What are those errors? Neither seems to be willing to try to figure out *why* people are able to cheat the system, and spend the resources to really fix it (that would cost money that is either 'liberal'-needed to help people, or 'conservative' - wasteful). Instead, you get a crazy mess of red tape, designed to prevent people from getting help, in hopes that the cheaters get caught, from one side, and more red tape, from the other side, trying to get the people that do need it back in the program. And the costs keep climbing. Most of the systems would be a lot damn leaner, and more effective, if people where interested in actually understanding what is wrong, instead of just breaking them because they don't think they work, but see a way to reduce spending, or think they will somehow fix themselves, given time, so just need more money to do it.

Virtually every case where money might help the problem, one side is trying to spend it in the most inefficient way possible, to catch the most number of needed people, while the other side is arguing that we shouldn't be spending any at all (we get the same thing in education, with neither side really spending proper time understanding the failures, and both sides simply *guessing* as to the solution. That one sides 'guess' is often, "just go back to the way we did it 100 years ago, while the other sides is too often prone to try things like someone following fashion trends, without looking for 'practical' results, doesn't help things)

There is a reason I test as, and think of myself, more as a centrist than a liberal. Sadly, by the definitions given in the US for what liberal, centrist, and conservative are, I would be labelled a liberal anyway, the perception of reality has been that badly distorted here.

What is needed is a balanced perspective. Most people never learn one. And, the farther you are right, or left, the higher the odds that the people around you derailed much of any chance that you ever would have one, or understand that your own "gut" is not to be trusted, when making serious decisions.

Which isn't to say there are not things about which I may be illogical as well, but I like to think its even less critical stuff that the NYT article suggests most "liberals" are prone to.

Welcome back denialism Blog! There actually is a substantial scientific literature on this, some of it quite good, including this new APS article.
Its a fascinating long-term study using child development data going back to the 50s, correlating low cognitive ability with socially conservative attitudes in adults. Turns out stupid people hate the gays! This new data total supports what I've always thought.
How about the studies showing that right wingers are more likely to use fear-based reasoning and have low cognitive flexibility (Van Hiel 2004 and Jost 2003).
They don't test denialism per se, but it may be that these combination of traits makes some people more susceptible to denialist arguments and in the end I think we're talking about matters of degree.

Still disagree. The study cited being informed didn't lead to acceptance of facts. Higher IQ might just make you more susceptible to different kinds of BS.

Maybe you're less likely to be bigoted or prejudiced, but you may buy into Deepak Chopra's quantum woo. I think there's BS for every group. Until it's rigorously tested we'll never know.