Are Liberals really more likely to accept science than conservatives Part II?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

It looks like my hypothesis of possible equivalence might have to be rejected …
Continue reading “Are Liberals really more likely to accept science than conservatives Part II?”

The Heartland Documents, Doubt is their Product

Everyone is writing about desmogblog’s leak of internal documents from the Heartland Institute. But to me I think leaked documents are nothing compared to their fully public, out-in-the-open history of being openly contemptuous of science, funding cranks with advanced degrees (though not in climate) to disparage the field, and their hosting of denialpalooza.

James rightly points out that much hay is being made of a single sentence that, could “easily be the result of sloppy editing, or at perhaps a Freudian slip.” This is of course is a sentence describing a curriculum developed by the HI that “shows the topic of climate chance is controversial and uncertain – two key points that are effective in dissuading teachers from teaching science.”

But other aspects of the document instead suggest to me that these people are true believers. Even in context this quote sounds horrible, but I don’t think it reflects a conscious desire to deceive. After all, they think their beliefs are true. They are so blinded by ideology they are literally incapable of acknowledging facts that run counter to these core beliefs. I think, if anything, this sentence is interesting because it shows that they are picking up tactics from previous denialist campaigns by those that were intentionally deceptive, such as the DI anti-evolution campaign and tobacco company denial of health effects of smokng. They are not interested in actual science but rather are interested in methods of sowing doubt. Similar to the cigarette company strategy of denying the harm of tobacco smoke, “doubt is their product”. We already knew these guys were merchants of doubt, some of them are the very same people that deny tobacco smoke is harmful.

I don’t think these documents are going to be a game changer. They’ve largely told us what we already know. HI is funded by oil interests. They pay cranks with degrees good money (11k a month to Idso – sweet!) to lend legitimacy to denialist pseudoscience. Their overriding goal is to undermine any science that conflicts with free market fundamentalism. They are trying to undermine climate science through sowing doubt and confusion in the public rather than pursuing actual scientific inquiry. To those that think HI is great, they think methods like this are just fine. To those of us who have seen how denialists operate, from the tobacco companies to the Discovery Institute, this is just another confirmation of their overarching strategy – to create doubt where there should be none.