Monday, March 16, 2015
Conservatives Are No More Biased About Science Than Liberals Are
The article below by psychological researchers Erik C. Nisbet and R. Kelly Garrett is a curious one. I have no great argument with either their conclusions or their methodology but it is a sad day when scientific claims are examined in this way. Disputes about scientific claims should be examined by presentations and discussions of the evidence only. The article below does not do that. It treats the facts as irrelevant. It claims that ideology dictates scientific conclusions, not the facts underlying the conclusions.
The sad thing is that they are obviously right in lots of cases, but it seems a great pity that they could not survey the evidence pro- and con- for the scientific conclusions that they study.
I like to think that I am persuaded solely by reason and the facts. I can well imagine that in saying that I provoke laughter. But I think I can substantiate it.
Christians sometimes say that I am their favorite atheist. And they have good grounds for that. I am basically a very religious person and was a very fundamentalist Christian in my teens. I am perfectly at home even with a demanding and puritanical religion. But I also have studied philosophy from an early age and I cannot fault Carnap's argument that all metaphysical statements are meaningless. So I have been an extreme atheist for the whole of my adult life. I don't even believe that the statement "God exists" is meaningful. Can you get more thoroughgoing atheism than that?
But due to my religious instincts and religious past, I still have warm feelings towards Christians and regularly defend them. So some people CAN come to conclusions about the world that are ideologically inconvenient -- VERY inconvenient in my case.
And the undoubted fact that Northeast Asians (in China, Japan, Korea) have markedly higher IQs than people of European origin might well be bothersome to a person of European origin like myself and I could be inclined to deny it -- as Leftists do. But I actually accept the reality with perfect equanimity. I publicize it in fact.
I suspect that many atheists find something or somebody in the world about them to worship. The way many obviously intelligent academics pore over the works of Karl Marx seems to me to be pretty religious. "What Marx was really saying" is a phrase that I have heard from them "ad nauseam". They treat Das Kapital in the same way that fundamentalist Christians treat the Bible. Their examination of it is very reminiscent of the theological disputes among Christians. It is certainly their holy book.
And I know why they do that. Marx was a great hater. He hated just about everyone -- even the working class from which he hoped so much. And Leftism is a religion of hate. Leftists hate the world about them. They hate "the system", in their words. That is why they yearn to "fundamentally transform" it, to use Obama's phrase. So haters like a great hater. Marx FEELS right to Leftists, even if no application of Marxism has worked even passably well.
So have I too found a new object of worship to replace my early Christianity? I don't think so. I am not only an extreme atheist, I am also a complete one. I don't believe in Karl Marx, Jesus Christ or global warming. And I also don't believe in the unhealthiness of salt, sugar and fat. How skeptical can you get? But I could be said to worship reason, I think.
Getting back to the article below: The authors reveal themselves to be very unscientific. Though maybe they had to be in order to get their stuff published. Take for instance this paragraph:
"We note in particular that our findings neither exempt nor validate the well-organized and heavily funded “climate denialist movement.” This movement engages in extensive public communication campaigns and lobbying efforts intended to misrepresent the science and scientific consensus about the issue"
Where is the evidence that climate skeptics are "well-organized and heavily funded"? They quote no evidence because there is none. The overwhelming majority of climate skeptics are just isolated individuals calling foul over what they see as bad science. And very few of us have received a cent in connection with our writings on climate. I have received nil and other skeptics I know say the same.
The statement is however a rather good example of psychological projection. Warmists receive vast financial support not only from government but even from energy companies such as Exxon. Leftists understand people so poorly that they judge other people by themselves. They HAVE to believe that we are like them.
Despite my criticism of the article below, I hope it is clear that I do agree with their fundamental premise that there is such a thing as "motivated social cognition". That people see what they want to see or expect to see is proverbial and has often been demonstrated in psychological experiments. Even the classical Asch conformity experiment is as good a demonstration of motivated social cognition as any.
And motivated social cognition provides an excellent explanation for the fact that there is a large degree of consensus among academics about the dangers of global warming. Solomon Asch would not be surprised by it. Let me elaborate:
At law, one routinely asks "Cui Bono" (who benefits?) in deciding guilt or innocence of some crime. It's often the decisive factor in arriving at a conviction. And looking at who benefits from a belief in dangerous global warming makes it crystal clear why academics support that belief. The global warming scare has produced a huge shower of research money to fall on climatologists and anyone else who can get into the act. All academics hunger for research grants and the global warming scare provides those lavishly. Say that your research supports global warming and you are in clover. If we go by the legal precedents, the consensus among academics is a consensus about the desirability of research grants more than anything else.
And the same thing goes for journalists and newspaper proprietors. Scares sell newspapers and global warming is a scare that can be milked in all sorts of ways. John Brignell has a long list of the ways.
So where is the impact of the article below likely to be? I am confident that it will have very little impact. It goes against the kneejerk way the Green/Left respond to skeptics. Rather than challenge the facts that skeptics put forward, the Green/Left simply resort to abuse. They say anything derogatory about skeptics that they can think of. They fallaciously think that abusing the arguer answers the argument.
And one of the commonest types of abuse that they resort to is to say that skeptics are psychologically defective in some way. One such way is that skeptics and conservatives generally are supposed to be especially closed-minded and ideologically biased. The article below sinks that accusation rather well. But the Green/Left cannot afford to lose an arrow out of their slender quiver of them so the study below will simply be ignored. Ignoring facts is a standard Leftist defence mechanism so will be trotted out on this occasion with the greatest of ease
I could say more but I have already said much so I will end with an anecdote. Sometimes in company when some adverse weather event is being discussed, I say: "It must be due to global warming". Every time I say that people laugh. Skepticism about global warming is very widespread. As far as I can see, it is only a few Leftist barrow-pushers who believe in it and I wonder how sincere their belief is.
I excerpt below just the "guts" of the article I have been discussing:
Testing our partisan brains
Our own study focused on the second explanation for ideological divides and tested whether conservative and liberal trust in science varies by topic.
Recruiting a diverse group of 1,500 adults from a national online panel of volunteers, participants were randomly assigned to read scientifically accurate statements about different science topics.
Some participants read about issues exhibiting a significant partisan divide, including climate change, evolution, nuclear power, and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of natural gas, while others read about issues that tend to be viewed as ideologically neutral, namely geology and astronomy.
Nuclear power and fracking are often seen by liberals as threatening their environmental values. Evolution and climate change are more often contested by conservatives because they challenge the social and economic beliefs associated with their ideology.
We went into our experiment expecting that liberals and conservatives would experience negative emotional reactions when reading statements challenging their views, which would increase their skepticism to the claim.
We also anticipated that participants would be motivated to resist the science, experiencing feelings of threat and arguing against the presented information.
Each of these factors would lead individuals to feel more distrustful of the source of the unwelcome information, the scientific community.
Unsurprisingly, we found that conservatives who read statements about climate or evolution had a stronger negative emotional experience and reported greater motivated resistance to the information as compared to liberals who read the same statements and other conservatives who read statements about geology or astronomy.
This in turn lead these conservatives to report significantly lower trust in the scientific community as compared to liberals who read the same statement or conservatives who read statements about ideologically neutral science.
Significantly, we found a similar pattern amongst liberals who read statements about nuclear power or fracking. And like conservatives who read statements about climate change or evolution, they expressed significantly lower levels of trust in the scientific community as compared to liberals who read the ideologically-neutral statements.
Biased attitudes toward scientific information and trust in the scientific community were evident among liberals and conservatives alike, and these biases varied depending on the science topic being considered.
An additional distressing finding was that though liberals who read statements about climate change and evolution reported greater trust in science than conservatives who did the same, they also reported significantly less trust in the scientific community than liberals who read ideologically neutral statements about geology or astronomy.
This suggests that highly partisan, high profile science can result in an overall loss of public confidence in the scientific community, even amongst those likely to trust the evidence.
We wish to stress that demonstrating that both conservatives and liberals are prone to responding to ideologically unpalatable scientific information in a biased manner is not an excuse for either side to do so.
We note in particular that our findings neither exempt nor validate the well-organized and heavily funded “climate denialist movement.” This movement engages in extensive public communication campaigns and lobbying efforts intended to misrepresent the science and scientific consensus about the issue; it funds and targets political candidates; and it attempts to intimidate climate scientists.
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).