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..

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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 …
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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.

A global warming conspiracy theorist has won 4 states, should we be worried?

The states in Green have gone for Rick Santorum, who besides having a a Google problem also believes in one of the wackiest conspiracy theories there is – the climate change hoax. That is, the belief that there is a shady group of Illuminati that have power over thousands of climate scientists from all over the world, and in their greed for sweet sweet grant money scientists uniformly falsify all their data to serve this power-hungry cabal. Is that an exaggeration? Nope, that’s what people who believe in the “hoax” ascribe to (see skeptical science’s thorough debunking of Evans here). This is a more severe form of the denial by Newt or Romney, who claim “insufficient evidence”, the more basic goalpost moving of half-hearted global warming denialism.

But now we have a full-blown global warming hoax-promoting conspiracy theorist picking up momentum to become a candidate for president. Should we be worried?

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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…
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In case you missed it, some denialism mentions of note

Being inactive for the last couple of years I still read about denialism being mentioned in some interesting places. Two in particular I thought I share.

Peter Gleick in Forbes write on “The Rise and Fall of Climate Change Denial is interesting largely because it’s in Forbes. And predictably, for publishing in a right-wing magazine, the comments are basically 100% against Gleick, a national academy member, accusing him of everything from incompetence to dishonesty. It’s actually pretty remarkable. But at least the scientific viewpoint is starting to infiltrate the literature of the right wing. Now only if we can get the WSJ to place a scientifically accurate article on global warming on their editorial pages. It would likely snow in hell first.

The other is an interesting look at Denial from United Academics called Why We Deny including an article evaluating Michael Shermer’s latest work on the pscyhology of denial.

In it I think a very good point is raised by Shermer (who I’ve been known to disagree with for his own cranky outlook on global warming), we actually shouldn’t expect people to be rational and accept science easily. Too much of the way we think is irrational, and too much of our psychology is based upon making the world conform to the way we view it, rather than conforming our belief to the way the world is. He points out that we tend to come to have beliefs first, often inculcated by family, religion, culture, or tradition, then spend a great deal of effort to rationalize those beliefs and selectively believe evidence that confirms it. After all, when beliefs are tied to such powerful emotive forces to change belief or confront evidence contrary to such belief can be emotionally devastating. The notion that humans are rational and believe things based on evidence or will even act in their own best interest based on logic and evidence is simply not supported by the evidence of how we behave. I find it still amazing that he can have such an insight about the fundamental irrationality of humans and still have a libertarian worldview, which I feel is critically dependent on treating humans as rational actors in an economy, either as individuals or groups. Clearly this is not the case.
Continue reading “In case you missed it, some denialism mentions of note”

The New Yorker Ranks the Republicans vs. Science

And get’s it wrong

What’s amazing is they rank Newt first at the same time acknowledging he destroyed the Office of Technology Assessment.

Jon Huntsman may have the most rational scientific and technological policies of anyone in the field, but Gingrich, sometimes called Newt Skywalker, has far more passion. As Kelefa Sanneh argues in the current issue, the philosophy of Gingrichism is nothing but a combination of the idiosyncratic views of the man himself–which include his beliefs in the virtues of space exploration and his opposition to regulating the Internet, even when it comes to porn. He was an early adopter of Twitter, and he once made the cover of Wired. He is ranked atop Scientific American’s recent “Geek Guide” to the 2012 candidates. As Sanneh notes, one of Gingrich’s manifestos about information policy includes a preface by the science-fiction writer Jerry Pournelle, declaring, “It’s raining soup, and Newt Gingrich has the blueprints for soup bowls.”

His record is scarcely perfect. As Speaker, Gingrich abolished the Office of Technology Assessment–a move reminiscent of Nixon abolishing the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. But, for the most part, Gingrich has moved policy in the right directions. And he gets extra credit for sitting on the couch with Nancy Pelosi to talk about global warming.

So, he destroyed the office in congress that used science to evaluate legislation, as well as the efficacy of that legislation once enacted. He removed scientific guidance from the legislative branch, but because he’s passionate about the internets that doesn’t make him the worst thing to happen to science in the last 30 years?

I realize we’re looking for the shiny turd in a cowpie here, but Gingrich? No way. Huntsman should be ranked first because he at least acknowledges global warming is real, a brave stand to take amongst a bunch of deniers. Whereas Gingrich dumped that chapter from his book after Rush Limbaugh suggested he might actually be on the side of reality. What’s going to matter more in the next 4 years? A president that took a brave stance on regulating internet porn? Or one that took a stance on global warming?

None of these guys has any scientific chops but that seems too much to ask in politicians on either side these days. But this analysis by the New Yorker is embarrassingly superficial.

Happy Blogiversary To Us!

It’s been two years now since we said hello to scienceblogs, and had our introductory posts on Conspiracy, Unified theory of the Crank, and the denialist deck of cards.

Lately reading a recent profile of a crank, Marc Morano in the NYT, which was sent to me by the crank himself. I can’t help but be amazed how our initial description has held up.

For one, throughout the article, it’s wonderful how wihtout realizing it, Morano exposes the the fact he’s living in a bizarre fantasy world. Starting with the questionable reality of his confrontation with Al Gore:

For example, Mr. Morano said he once spotted former Vice President Al Gore on an airplane returning from a climate conference in Bali. Mr. Gore was posing for photos with well-wishers, and Mr. Morano said he had asked if he, too, could have his picture taken with Mr. Gore.

He refused, Mr. Morano said.

“You attack me all the time,” Mr. Gore said, according to Mr. Morano.

“Yes, we do,” Mr. Morano said he had replied.

Mr. Gore’s office said Mr. Gore had no memory of the encounter. Mr. Morano does not care. He tells the story anyway.

Then his pride over being a swift-boater:

He then jumped to Cybercast News Service, where he was the first to publish accusations from Vietnam Swift-boat veterans that Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, then the Democratic presidential nominee, had glorified his war record. Many of the accusations later proved unfounded.

Mr. Morano is proud of his work, which he says is not advocacy but truth seeking.

Or the bizarre way he justifies including scientists who completely disagree with his position on his BS AGW dissenter list:

Kevin Grandia, who manages Desmogblog.com, which describes itself as dedicated to combating misinformation on climate change, says the report is filled with so-called experts who are really weather broadcasters and others without advanced degrees.

Chris Allen, for example, the weather director for WBKO-TV in Kentucky, is listed as a meteorologist on the report, even though he has no degree in meteorology. On his Web site, Mr. Allen has written that his major objection to the idea of human-influenced climate change is that “it completely takes God out of the picture.” Mr. Allen did not respond to phone calls.

Mr. Grandia also said Mr. Morano’s report misrepresented the work of legitimate scientists. Mr. Grandia pointed to Steve Rayner, a professor at Oxford, who was mentioned for articles criticizing the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 international treaty on curbing carbon dioxide emissions.

Dr. Rayner, however, in no way disputes the existence of global warming or that human activity contributes to it, as the report implies. In e-mail messages, he said that he had asked to be removed from the Morano report and that a staff member in Mr. Inhofe’s office had promised that he would be. He called his inclusion on the list “quite outrageous.”

Asked about Dr. Rayner, Mr. Morano was unmoved. He said that he had no record of Dr. Rayner’s asking to be removed from the list and that the doctor must be “not to be remembering this clearly.”

Yes, clearly, Dr. Rayner must not be remembering how he never said anything in support of the denialist position on warming. Only Marc Morano is ever correct.

It’s amazing to me how people who are so clearly cranks can remain so influential, especially on a topic as important as global warming. We clearly have more work to do.

George Will Controversy Now Over – Mooney Cleans His Clock

Congrats to Chris Mooney for getting his rebuttal to George Will published in the Washington Post. And kudos to the post for allowing his serious factual answer to an article composed entirely of crank arguments and lies (they also published a rebuttal from WMO Secretary General Michel Jarraud dealing with the lies in Will’s article)

Mooney does an excellent job, and points out the frank dishonesty not just regarding the sea ice data (the only point the obtuse Ombudsman would even talk about), but also how every other argument in the entire article represents flawed rhetoric. In particular I enjoyed how Mooney made an issue of the denialist tactics that were used, the cherry-picking of data, the use of inappropriate sources, etc. His final point I agree with very strongly:

In this context, finding common ground will be very difficult. Perhaps the only hope involves taking a stand for a breed of journalism and commentary that is not permitted to simply say anything; that is constrained by standards of evidence, rigor and reproducibility that are similar to the canons of modern science itself.

Readers and commentators must learn to share some practices with scientists — following up on sources, taking scientific knowledge seriously rather than cherry-picking misleading bits of information, and applying critical thinking to the weighing of evidence. That, in the end, is all that good science really is. It’s also what good journalism and commentary alike must strive to be — now more than ever.

We can’t just hope people will recognize good scientific information when they hear it. It is important that those who present the information in the media have good standards by which they evaluate scientific information, and standards for the presentation of scientific results. The Washington Post initially failed to do so in this instance, hopefully they will evaluate Will’s factual claims more rigorously in the future, and subject his sources to a greater deal of scrutiny.

WaPo’s ombudsman just doesn’t get it

Is he being purposefully obtuse? Once again the ombudsman decides to defend George Will, but only on a single point.

A key paragraph, aimed at those who believe in man-made global warming, asserted: “According to the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979.”

Bizarrely, he acknowledges Will was wrong:

It said that while global sea ice areas are “near or slightly lower than those observed in late 1979,” sea ice area in the Northern Hemisphere is “almost one million sq. km below” the levels of late 1979. That’s roughly the size of Texas and California combined. In my mind, it should have triggered a call for clarification to the center.

But according to Bill Chapman, a climate scientist with the center, there was no call from Will or Post editors before the column appeared. He added that it wasn’t until last Tuesday — nine days after The Post began receiving demands for a correction — that he heard from an editor at the newspaper. It was Brewington who finally e-mailed, offering Chapman the opportunity to write something that might help clear the air.

Will’s column is grossly dishonest, as we and others pointed out it wasn’t just sea ice, but the repeated misquote of a scientific paper and a whole host of dishonest statements. He’s apparently been misquoting one paper to push this “global cooling” nonsense since 1992 and basically recycling this same BS article for almost two decades!

Alexander may be correct there is fact checking “on multiple levels”, but that does not change that it was incompetent, missed willful errors, and that there has not been a correction of Will’s mistakes or a repudiation of his incessant repetition of falsehoods like the myth of global cooling.

For yet another week the Washington Post has failed to demonstrate accountability for its errors.