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Some data on education, religiosity, ideology, and science comprehension

No, this blog post is not a federally funded study. It's neither "federally funded" nor a "study"! Doesn't it bug you that our hard-earned tax dollars pay the salary of a federal bureaucrat too lazy to figure out simple facts like this?

Because the "asymmetry thesis" just won't leave me alone, I decided it would be sort of interesting to see what the relationship was between a "science comprehension" scale I've been developing and political outlooks.

The "science comprehension" measure is a composite of 11 items from the National Science Foundation's "Science Indicators" battery, the standard measure of "science literacy" used in public opinion studies (including comparative ones), plus 10 items from an extended version of the Cognitive Reflection Test, which is normally considered the best measure of the disposition to engage in conscious, effortful information processing ("System 2") as opposed to intuitive, heuristic processing ("System 1").  

The items scale well together (α= 0.81) and can be understood to measure a disposition that combines substantive science knowledge with a disposition to use critical reasoning skills of the sort necessary to make valid inferences from observation. We used a version of a scale like this--one combining the NSF science literacy battery with numeracy--in our study of how science comprehension magnifies cultural polarization over climate change and nuclear power.

Although the scale is designed to (and does) measure a science-comprehension aptitude that doesn't reduce simply to level of education, one would expect it to correlate reasonably strongly with education and it does (r = 0.36, p < .01). The practical significance of the impact education makes to science comprehension so measured can be grasped pretty readily, I think, when the performance of those who have and who haven't graduated from college is graphically displayed in a pair of overlaid histograms:

The respondents, btw, consisted of a large, nationally representative sample of U.S. adults recruited to participate in a study of vaccine risk perceptions that was administered this summer (the data from that are coming soon!).

Both science literacy and CRT have been shown to correlate negatively with religiosity. And there is, in turns out, a modest negative correlation (r = -0.26, p < 0.01) between the composite science comprehension measure and a religiosity scale formed by aggregating church attendance, frequency of prayer, and self-reported "importance of God" in the respondents' lives.

I frankly don't think that that's a very big deal. There are plenty of highly religious folks who have a high science comprehension score, and plenty of secular ones who don't.  When it comes to conflict over decision-relevant science, it is likely to be more instructive to consider how religiosity and science comprehension interact, something I've explored previously.

Now, what about politics?

Proponents of the "asymmetry thesis" tend to emphasize the existence of a negative correlation between conservative political outlooks and various self-report measures of cognitive style--ones that feature items such as  "thinking is not my idea of fun" & "the notion of thinking abstractly is appealing to me." 

These sorts of self-report measures predict vulnerability to one or another reasoning bias less powerfully than CRT and numeracy, and my sense is that they are falling out of favor in cognitive psychology. 

In my paper, Ideology, Motivated Reasoning, and Cognitive Reflection, I found that the Cogntive Reflection Test did not meaningfully correlate with left-right political outlooks.

In this dataset, I found that there is a small correlation (r = -0.05, p = 0.03) between the science comprehension measure and a left-right political outlook measure, Conservrepub, which aggregates liberal-conservative ideology and party self-identification. The sign of the correlation indicates that science comprehension decreases as political outlooks move in the rightward direction--i.e., the more "liberal" and "Democrat," the more science comprehending.

Do you think this helps explain conflicts over climate change or other forms of decision-relevant science? I don't.

But if you do, then maybe you'll find this interesting.  The dataset happened to have an item in it that asked respondents if they considered themselves "part of the Tea Party movement." Nineteen percent said yes.

It turns out that there is about as strong a correlation between scores on the science comprehension scale and identifying with the Tea Party as there is between scores on the science comprehension scale and Conservrepub.  

Except that it has the opposite sign: that is, identifying with the Tea Party correlates positively (r = 0.05, p = 0.05) with scores on the science comprehension measure:

Again, the relationship is trivially small, and can't possibly be contributing in any way to the ferocious conflicts over decision-relevant science that we are experiencing.

I've got to confess, though, I found this result surprising. As I pushed the button to run the analysis on my computer, I fully expected I'd be shown a modest negative correlation between identifying with the Tea Party and science comprehension.

But then again, I don't know a single person who identifies with the Tea Party.  All my impressions come from watching cable tv -- & I don't watch Fox News very often -- and reading the "paper" (New York Times daily, plus a variety of politics-focused internet sites like Huffington Post & Politico).  

I'm a little embarrassed, but mainly I'm just glad that I no longer hold this particular mistaken view.

Of course, I still subscribe to my various political and moral assessments--all very negative-- of what I understand the "Tea Party movement" to stand for. I just no longer assume that the people who happen to hold those values are less likely than people who share my political outlooks to have acquired the sorts of knowledge and dispositions that a decent science comprehension scale measures.

I'll now be much less surprised, too, if it turns out that someone I meet at, say, the Museum of Science in Boston, or the Chabot Space and Science Museum in Oakland, or the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago is part of the 20% (geez-- I must know some of them) who would answer "yes" when asked if he or she identifies with the Tea Party.  If the person is there, then it will almost certainly be the case that that he or she & I will agree on how cool the stuff is at the museum, even if we don't agree about many other matters of consequence.

Next time I collect data, too, I won't be surprised at all if the correlations between science comprehension and political ideology or identification with the Tea Party movement disappear or flip their signs.  These effects are trivially small, & if I sample 2000+ people it's pretty likely any discrepancy I see will be "statistically significant"--which has precious little to do with "practically significant."

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  • Response
    Will he now do a study to document the cognitive biases of the left, their tendency to demean as nearly subhuman all those who disagree with them?

Reader Comments (284)

It seems very telling that the one comment I've seen so far that addresses possible weakness in the interpretation of the study on a statistical level -after all, the interpretation that lead to the headline was procured statistically- wasn't from a Tea Party scientist pointing it out in the name of sound science and intellectual honesty.

It also seems very telling that all criticism leveled at the person who raised questions in the methodology (NOT the ideology) of the study was directed at the commenter himself rather than his critique.

Obviously these observations can't be taken to represent the whole of the Tea Party, but they do nothing to bolster the argument that they're well versed in science.

How about a little self control.

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEriq Johnson

I was about to discuss this work on another post and would still like to know how this data set was collected, how identification as "Tea Party" was determined and whether or not land line telephones were involved. Thanks.

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

It would be interesting to see a correlation between one's political ideology and one's understanding of concepts related to fiscal sustainability.

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDCL


I have a few questions regarding the statistics. First, what is the margin of error? The r=.05 is so low and the n is low enough that the correlation here could actually be negative, no? Second, the Pearson r is for linear relationships only. Could you please show how us how the data is linear? Third, we can see from the frequency distributions that the two means of the samples are very, very similar. Why not run a two sample t-test to see if they are significantly different? Fourth, I cannot find the 11 items used to measure science literacy. I'm really curious if this could skew the answer.

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJason

It's always entertaining when a Liberal gets exposed to the world outside the bubble.

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDave

@DCL: It would be more interesting to see a correlation between political stances and general cognition.

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNate Fries

If you literally get your "news" from the NY Times, HuffPost, and Politico, then you are terrifyingly ignorant. The Tea Party movement and its adherents are, in reality, quite different than what your preferred sources of "news" present. Being surprised that Tea Party sympathizers aren't scientifically ignorant should clue you in to what is going on here. You read biased (and grossly self-serving) nonsense dressed as news. You probably believe the following: Obama doesn't have an ideology, and Libertarians are selfish anarchists incapable of empathy (the Koch brothers fit in somewhere as well).

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterIdealogue

I am a 56 year old woman, studying a biotech post-bac at Columbia University. My undergraduate degree is in civil engineering. I love science and have worked with it all my life. I totally understand the tea-party, which is primarily focussed on the US deficit and debt. The same critical reasoning skills required to understand science are the critical reasoning skills that are required to understand that our current budget situation is unsustainable, and that Obamacare makes it much worse. I think the tea-party actually has better independent thinking skills and critical reasoning ability than anyone else involved in political debate today.

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPheppel

It seems very telling that the one comment I've seen so far that addresses possible weakness in the interpretation of the study on a statistical level -after all, the interpretation that lead to the headline was procured statistically- wasn't from a Tea Party scientist pointing it out in the name of sound science and intellectual honesty.

Again, "sound science" and "intellectual honesty" would require something other than "a hypothesis that is the scientific equivalent of 'So, when did you stop beating your wife?'" Belaboring the math beyond that is just so much more wasted effort. We might as well ask the similarly unscientific, but intellectually more honest question, "Why are progressives and 'conservatives' both so profoundly out of touch with reality?" At least this hypothesis has some evidence provided in the form of the author's surprise.

What I *truly* hope is that the brief spark of cognitive dissonance that the author has experienced does not get extinguished by extensive statistical "correction" of the data and analysis until the "obvious" conclusion arrives. What the author should be asking himself is "Gee, *maybe* the reality that has been presented to me as fact -- isn't." Many people have commented that getting so-called "news" from the NYT, Huffington Post, MSNBC, Daily Kos, etc. provides a seriously skewed view of reality. I would similarly say that getting "news" from Fox, The WSJ, RCN, etc. provides an equally skewed view of reality. The *only* valid reason to use any of these "news" sources is NOT to find out what's going on in the world, or how the world works -- it is to find out what you are being told to think.

The *presumption* which is unfounded is that "truth" somehow lies somewhere intermediate to these two outliers. (pun!) If the aphorism "History is Written by the Victors" is true, then guess what -- it follows logically that everything you know from "consensus" history is wrong. One of the purposes of delineating the laundry list of serial grand thefts that has been perpetrated on the American people to pay for both left-socialism (Communism) and right-socialism (Fascism) is to demonstrate that the recursive application of "garbage in -> garbage out" over decades leads to mass-brainwashing, even (and perhaps especially) among highly-educated people, and just because you have two streams of garbage doesn't make one better or more "true" than the other.

I would *truly* hope that the author would begin to realize that he has been lied to. This is, perhaps, the crucial step toward true intellectual honesty.

It also seems very telling that all criticism leveled at the person who raised questions in the methodology (NOT the ideology) of the study was directed at the commenter himself rather than his critique.

Obviously these observations can't be taken to represent the whole of the Tea Party, but they do nothing to bolster the argument that they're well versed in science.

How about a little self control.

Hmm, do you mean I attacked the person, using a blanket generalization of a class of people as subhuman?

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDB


1. As I'm sure you realize, you can calculate the "margin of error" by using the p-value. B/c the p-value = 0.05, the 0.95 CI for the esteimated regression coefficient is necessarily 0 to 0.10.

2. The t-test for the means of the two groups will yield a "p-value" identical to one run for a pierson r. Necessarily; the significance of a pearson's correlation coeffcient is calculated with a t-test. I'm sure you realized that.

3. For a 21-point item that is normally distributed, it is perfectly reasonable to fit a linear model to the data. But I get the same result -- a correlation w/ same sign & "statiscal significance" -- when I fit an ordered logit or calcaulate a spearman's rho.

4. I'm sure this doesn't apply to you , but anyone who thinks that the answers to the questions you are asking could possibly affect the interpretation of the data doesn't understand what's being measured and what the measurement signifies. Obviously, you know that probability the "p-value" would be significant if I re-ran this same survey on a different sample is 50%, but It's obvious that the vast majority of those who are commenting on this result don't. Again, I'm sure I'm only stating the obvious for someone who knows as much as you, but the result here is so trivially small that the only conclusion one can draw is that the two groups don't meaningfully differ.

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

Mr. Kahan,

Thank you for publishing this - it's a very interesting (but not unsurprising) finding.

Thank you also for being willing to challenge some of your preconceived notions about Tea Partiers. You say that you don't know any, but I would imagine that after this you will find that you actually DO know quite a few - most of them don't want to endure the mocking and ostracizing that all too often accompanies such a declaration in certain circles.

I would be honored to be known as a Tea Partier that has made your acquaintance, even if it is just on the internet....

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTeresa in Fort Worth, TX

1) Using a one-axis view of the political spectrum is a problem.
2) Central control is NP-Hard. And it should be pretty easy to formally prove that.

American Right-to-Left doesn't line up well with with European Right-to-Left.
And the Tea Party doesn't seem to be 'off the right end' of even the American political spectrum - but instead firmly planted on a along a different political axis. "Statist vs anti-statist". (Where anti-statist doesn't mean a true anarchist, just the viewpoint that you only make it a -government- program with all alternatives have been honestly exhausted, and you refuse to grant -any- excess powers for the task at hand.) It doesn't appear to have nearly the ties with big business the the Republicans do, for instance.

An example of the different approaches is the difference between NIST and the EPA. NIST is tiny, their regulatory spread is tiny "This is a kilogram, this is a pound, this is a foot...". They charge fees for certified laboratory-grade gear, but mostly tell people "Hey, use those to make more" as opposed to requiring every single ruler manufactured in the country come through their testing labs. And yet, their work is used in more (far more) transactions than the EPA's work.

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlan B

I wonder what would be the result if you could isolate the "progressives" or left of the left the way the "tea party" handle gives you the ability to isolate the right of the right? Perhaps this result is a function of those who are most partisan being more intelligent and intellectually curious than those who don't care what the government is doing and just want to watch TV? But I bet the progressives have the TP beat! (my bias :))

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDee

Just so we're clear, most Tea Partiers I've met in person and online are not like DB (although the federal reserve is indeed not authorized in the Constitution, not that this fact stopped Hamiltonian central banks from being chartered in the first half-century after the Constitution was passed).

In fact, the First and Second Banks of the U.S., while ill-conceived and antithetical to American interests, were actually Constitutional, unlike the Federal Reserve System. Before it had been completely bought and paid for, Congress had the sense to get rid of both of them.

I apologize if my anger shows. I just get exercised at the profound level of ignorance about the history and law of money and banking, which is THE fundamental issue which provides a coherent synthesis that actually explains why we are where we are now. I get angry that the kleptocrats have fooled *almost everyone*. And professionally brainwashed historians, lawyers, economists, and sociologists are more profoundly ignorant than most, because their training has been carefully skewed away from such issues.

Why? Because whoever has a blank check makes the rules.

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDB


Thanks a lot for the answers. I'm starting an MPA with a focus on science policy, so naturally your study is of great interest to me. If I can trouble you a bit more, I'm still curious about the results and methodology. I understand that the error can be derived from the p value by way of the critical value of 1.96. Any time I've gone this route I've also used the SD and the n. I don't see the SD reported, so I'm unsure as to how I would find the error in the .05 result. Of course, as you've mentioned, the results are trivial so even if the results were, say, -.05 it would still be of trivial difference. Perhaps a moot question. As for the t-test, I was attempting to ask why you didn't go this route first. I usually take my data and work my way up to a regression. If I'd taken a poll where I'd compared people that identify as Tea Partiers and those that did not I would have performed the t-test, found no difference in the means, and had left it at that.I was enquiring as to why you didn't go with a two sided t-test, not if it would give a different result.

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJason

lots of physicians identify with the Tea Party. And, we know far more about Obamacare than you do, which is why we oppose it. The only surprising aspect of this study, was your willingness to admit that you have been deceived! I wonder if that will translate into action?

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLawrence Bailey MD

It will be tough to cut through anti T-Party bigotry. But we need to start.

Q, Why did the Tea Partyite cross the road?
A. Science.

Q. How many Tea Partyites does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A. Unknown - insufficient data.

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermnjam,20__Orightresult__X4

Pieces of eight : the monetary powers and disabilities of the United States Constitution / by Edwin Vieira, Jr
Vieira, Edwin.
Fredericksburg, Va. : Sheridan Books, c2002.
2nd rev. ed.

Library Level 4 KF6205 .V53 2002 v.1 NOT CHK'D OUT
Library Level 4 KF6205 .V53 2002 v.2 NOT CHK'D OUT

More Details
Description 2 v. (xxxiii, 1722 p.) ; 27 cm.
Notes Includes bibliographical references.
Subjects Money -- Law and legislation -- United States.
Constitutional law -- United States.
Monetary policy -- United States.
Authorized form of title Monetary powers and disabilities of the United States Constitution
ISBN 0967175917

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDB

<20 = you watched lots of magic schoolbus

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterzs

I'm a Tea Partier - it seems that most of you have never had the opportunity to speak to someone of my "ilk." Feel free to ask me questions; perhaps we can figure out how I came to leave my liberal misconceptions behind as I expanded my intellectual horizons.

Here's a little background - Ivy League grad, female, age 58, consider myself Christian but unaffiliated with any church. I'll check back later in case anyone would like to probe the depths of my alien nature. Put KAREN in the first line so I can skim for posts, as I am not providing my personal email. Thanks!

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Dave says:
"It's always entertaining when a Liberal gets exposed to the world outside the bubble."

I've always thought of "outside the bubble" as outside the Corporate Media sphere of the United States, which to me, means a lot of the news we might be able to get here is "grayed out" by corporate interests. This affects all of us.

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJim Spriggs


The post is action.

Are you doing anything to address the problem that reactions to this post reflect?

October 19, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan


Do you ever perceive that others who identify with the tea party search for and construe information in a manner that is more geared to gratifying their ideological predispositions than to figuring out what the truth of the matter is on questions of fact that are relevant to policy?

I perceive that in people who share my values.

I am also aware that I am less likely to perceive it in them than to perceive it in people who don't share my values -- although it is hard for me to know in particular instances who is displaying that sort of reasoning style and who isn't.

For all these reasons, I recognize that I don't actually have as firm a ground for my beliefs about policy-relevant facts as I think I should. This bothers me.

And it occurs to me -- maybe those who have political values different from mine have the same anxiety and worry...

If that's so, then we would at least agree that we have a common interest in figuring out why we all are vulnerable to this dynamic, and in figuring out if there is something that can be done to make all of us less vulnerable.

If we got to the point where we were confident we weren't disagreeing out of the sort of confusion that this dynamic reflects, I'm sure we'd still disagree about a lot!

But at that point we would be having the sort of disagreement that democracy is designed for: one that reflects the inevitable multiplicity of ends and goals that free people, using their reason, will identify as worthy of being pursued through collective action.

October 19, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan


p-value, standard deviation, the t-test critical value etc etc are all essentially the same information. He doesn't need to report more than the p-value. The n for the test was 1750 iirc [the paper is linked in the original post so you can see more details of the specifications he was running(but not the exact specification because his post doesn't refer exactly to what he was doing which is generally ok)]

The shortest answer to give you really is that the very simple statistics you probably we exposed to during your undergrad aren't really sufficient to properly examine what is going on here. The questions you're asking are essentially already answered. Your earlier education was mainly there there to give you an idea of how stats work and to prepare you for looking at more difficult and complex concepts.

If you're looking to do an MPA and think that you will be reading a decent amount of academic papers i would suggest that you spend a good amount of your free credits in theoretical/mathematical statistics courses. This should give you the foundation you need in order to read those kinds of papers and understand what is going on.

A decent introductory practical book that I've used was Woodridge's Introductory Econometrics [I.E. Stats with a focus on the types of data you're likely to see in economics and social studies]. The 4th Ed can be had relatively cheap. Though if you are really considering getting into this topic [which is, imo the most important topic for scientists to learn since it deals primarily with how we know the things we know and won't be picked up in the course of general reading] then it will probably not be sufficient and you should definitely peruse the statistics courses at your university

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDale

'mnjam' produced
"Q, Why did the Tea Partyite cross the road?
Q. How many Tea Partyites does it take to screw in a light bulb?"

Two of the lamest jokes I've ever heard.

Here's my revised version:

Q, Why did the Tea Partyite cross the road?
A: The taxes were too high on this side.

Q. How many Tea Partyites does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: One.

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRich Grise

Educated / Intellectual = Democrat

Above is the basic formulation that academics use to orient their political thinking. If educated, if intellectual, then Dem. From here, the social sciences labor to explain conservatives, libertarians, and tea parties. Shockingly, academia "discovers" said groups are the mirror opposite of themselves: anti-science, racist, backward, religious, etc... Generally speaking, academia explains this phenomena of American culture as a product of group-think and variations thereof. Without the slightest sense of self (or irony), academia identifies and condemns the herd mentality as disastrous to critical thinking and independent thought. Oblivious to their active participation (and encouragement) of group-think, academics claim the ability to rise above the herd, to never participate in "anti-intellectual" formulations. Academics: admit you are human, admit you are fallible, admit you feel the tug of the herd, and stop being so narcissistic.

In other words, the scientist who is never wrong because science is always right, doesn't understand science. If science is never wrong, then it ceases to be science. No decent scientist cites "consensus" as proof of validity. Of course, that doesn't stop the herd.

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterIdealogue


1. Here is the information you are interested in.

2. Calculating student's t-test for means is a technique assocaited with the clunky ANOVA precursor to regression analysis. For sure, you should use regression & not ANOVA plus t-test of means when as here, the "cell sizes" (or n's) are very discrepant (almost always true for observational study!). There are lots of convoluted alternative approaches to calcualting p-values for means of groups w/ widely discrepant n's, but the whole issue is moot -- just use regression, not the 1950s & 1980s precursors to it. See generally Judd, C.M. in Handbook of Research Methods in Social and Personality Psychology. (eds. H.T. Reis & C.M. Judd) 370-392 (Cambridge University Press, New York: 2000) & Cohen, J., Cohen, P., West, S.G. & Aiken, L.S. Applied Multiple Regression/Correlation Analysis for the Behavioral Sciences, Edn. 3rd. (L. Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, N.J.; 2003).

Hope this helps!

October 19, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Dan, yes. But our actions are primarily taken at the grassroots level, a place with which you are likely unfamiliar. The ivory towers are surrounded by an almost impenetrable barrier of ignorance and prejudice, as one poster (a lawyer, I believe) mentioned.

Academia, where you reside, has been late to the party (no pun intended), but we in the Tea Party have expected even that armor to crack eventually, because the dishonesty of the media is, and has been, so blatant. One can only choose to deny it for so long, and maintain your intellectual honesty.

I actually congratulate you on what must surely seem to be an epiphany. YOU have the opportunity now, to TRULY accomplish something.....spread the word to those with influence who are all around you. But, please don't expect to be praised.

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLawrence Bailey MD

@DB: "I apologize if my anger shows."
You came off as a bit of a nutter. Not to be insulting, especially as you didn't post anything explicitly incorrect, but your phrasing has that "nutter" feel to it.

@Dee: "But I bet the progressives have the TP beat! (my bias :))"
It's quite possible. Some of the most brilliant scientists currently alive carry a definite leftward bias when responding to questions regarding politics. Which is not to say that these genius would even noticably slant the data, based on my own observation a majority in academia and the science community as a whole carry leftward biases. But in studying the great philosophers and the political opinions of some of the greatest scientists before the rise of the "new left", I see an overwhelming bias towards ideas now considered to be "right-wing" or "libertarian", and ideas with which the Tea Party closely associates. This logically suggests that science literacy and advanced cognitive function do not in themselves lead individuals to associate with left-wing ideas. I think it is more likely a combination of religious fundamentalists taking control of Republican primaries, inarticulate candidates (on both sides, they speak like blundering idiots), and a media full of partisan hacks that love making the opposition look inept, when making them look evil requires too much thought or effort.
There's also the factor that modern science has become so specialized that great scientific minds simply do not have the time to think or research much about politics or economics, which are themselves fairly specialized fields requiring a great amount of research. They, like Dr(?) Kahan, probably just go with whatever news programs they watch, which is probably a left-wing source, because I'm sure you've seen how stupid the anchors on FOX News tend to be.
Of course, this is all my own postulation, so it may be something else. All I know is that I've checked my premises, and insofar as they can be proven, they are correct.

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNate Fries

@Dan Kahan

It's human nature to seek confirmation of one's own notions. The brain is intrinsically biased (we've all experienced the phenomenon of learning a new word, to suddenly see and hear it "everywhere.") I'd suggest that a mutual respect for the truth goes a long way in closing the gap between ideological opponents.

I find that liberals figuratively clap their hands over their ears and say "lalalalala!" when some inconvenient fact swims near their awareness. Unless you value truth more than tribal ritual, there is no motivation to seek it out. Quite the opposite, since the ego takes quite a battering when you begin to question all of the assumptions that you'd made about the world and you realize that you were largely wrong about so much! And your friends post ugly things about you on the internet and then defriend you. Dan, you would never last in your world if you came to see things the way Tea Partiers do. So I don't expect you to open that door.

My father was a pretty diehard conservative. He was debating against socialized medicine in college in the 60's. I thought it would be a wonderful idea. Then I had the opportunity to live in Sweden for almost a decade. The real "value" of universal healthcare is in the imagination; one is wrapped in a blanket of imagined security. Reality intrudes when you begin to do battle with the system to get what you need.

A fun note about Sweden - fully one third of the working man's pay goes to the local government, which administers the health care and social services. Obamacare is going to come right for your paycheck in the form of much higher taxes. As Robert Heinlein wrote in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, "there is no such thing as a free lunch." And I think it's a damned shame that the American people have been suckered by a big bait-and-switch on healthcare.

Dad also made it clear to me in the mid-70s that I shouldn't expect to see much in the way of Social Security, since the system would be largely bankrupted by then. I'll be eligible in 2020, and it wouldn't surprise me if it taps out right about then. So the old man was right about that as well.

Sometimes I wish that he were still around - he would so enjoy my evolution to conservatism. On the other hand, it could just be karma.

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKaren


No way, Jose. I'm outta here.

October 19, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan


Thank you for the encouragement and the friendly spirit of your note.

I hope you will recognize I'm trying to reciprocate when I suggest that that you should be testing your assumptions, as I am trying to do mine. Also exhorting those whom you share fundamental political commitements to do the same -- as I am. B/c I can tell: you don't have a clue who I am.

I'm very confident we don't agree about many fundamental political issues.

But I'm wondering if it is possible we agree that we have a common interest in attacking and destroying whatever it is that is making our perceptions so unreliable? Do we not both see that? See it in a maddening, frustrating, disorienting way in the people we both really do know the most about?

October 19, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

I have to commend the Professor for admiting to his prejudice and also recognizing the source of his bias (his environment and his information sources). Glad you didn't suppress your "findings". That is the first step.

You say this won't change your negative opinion of Tea party supporters, and it shouldn't just by itself. Think why you have that negative opinion and explore if some of the reasons might be due to mis-information.

You don't seem to want to recognize that fiscal conservatives (TP supporters) are a different tribe than religious cons, mostly because they may have some overlap in values. If so, how would you explain the overlap you (highly credentialed PhD types living in academia) have with uneducated, urban poor? Both of you support all of the left positions for the most part.

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSagar


Thanks for these thoughts.

I'm not sure why particular groups of people share particular values. I'm sure only that it is an inevitable outgrowth of reason and freedom--not anyone's ignorance-- that they will end up forming competing understandings of the best way to live.

My negative opinions have to do with the differences in what we value. Neither of us could genuinely care as much as we do about our competing understandings of the best life and of justice without feeling resentment toward the other.

That has nothing to do with either my or your comprehension of science! I know you get that, and that heartens me.

I am very much convinced, in fact, that commitment to science's way of knowing is among the small but important set of fundamental commitments we share.

That plus a commitment to individual liberty.

And to Liberal democracy as the form of government that alone embodies the appropriate form of respect that we agree reasoning, free individuals are due.

I'm not misinformed on any of those things, right?

So tell me whether you are also worried about the status of these things; and if so, what you think we should do.

October 19, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

One is reminded of the 2000 election. All the Democrats just knew that Al Gore was so much smarter than George Bush, but it turned out that Bush had a higher IQ than Gore, and Gore had flunked out of Divinity School! Then in 2004 Kerry was supposed to be smarter than Bush, but that was also false.

October 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterReuben James

You admit that your preconceptions (prejudices) about a group are wrong and then turn around and declare that you will stubbornly continue to stick to them. You must have a different dictionary than I do as mine defines that as bigotry.

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHTuttle

This isn't even science. You have to many radicals. Please define for us "science comprehension"? Also, please explain to us why this is pertinent in this study. You didn't outline your thesis clearly.

And this kids, is why you should not go to college. Your professors are fucking invalids. You will receive a higher education from your local library.

Guess you should've gone to Harvard, professor. Nah, wait, that wouldn't've done you any good.

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterST


Thank you for your response. I don't agree with the premise that everyone who holds a policy view does so for a valid reason (not due to ignorance) - "inevitable growth of reason and freedom" as you eloquently put it. People look at the same data and come to different conclusions, without admitting to having different values and/or goals. Global warming is a classic example: in this case one side is:
1) ignorant - i.e. doesn't have the right info, OR
2) stupid - i.e. unable to logically process the information to come to the rational conclusion, OR
3) lying - have the info, processed it, but still not telling the truth (perhaps for the 'greater good')

I agree with you on commitment to science and individual liberty, and on liberal democracy (without a capital L) or certainly on a Constitutional Republic such as ours. I also agree with you that we should be worried about the status of these things. Now, to the question of what should we do:

In my environment, there are diverse views on almost any topic and people can debate them without a groupthink problem. I am not sure that is the case with the academia. We should do something to break this monopoly and introduce diversity of ideas into our universities, especially some basic science and logical reasoning concepts to the Humanities faculty. That would be a good start. Breaking up the other monopoly of Teacher unions in K-12 would be a great step forward for all the students. These are against the principles we both agreed are fundamentally important.

Hopefully, within a generation, things will improve when the kids actually learn the basics well. Cheers!

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSagar

The Left operate in an echo chamber. Tea partiers especially tend to be more independent minded. The echo chamber on the left helps them to be united, and to walk in lock step on every issue. Mainly that their opponents are evil, and need to be destroyed. On the right, opinions and views are more diverse. This is why there is always so much disagreement. With Democrats I'd say that about 70% of them tend to be on the left, the other 30% are just convinced and intimidated by their media that their opponents are so evil, that if they take their side or if they turn on democrats like Obama they will become evil (racists) too.

The narrative is like this. Obama is a transformational figure. His goals are fundamental transformation of America to be a "good America" where the evils against birth control, gay marriage, and other races will be ended, and the wrongs righted. So if you stand against his agenda, you must be a racist, you must be a bigot, a hater. No one wants to be thought of as that, so the left keeps up the pressure on these issues. They intimidate people into continuing to support the leftist policies no matter what.

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSteve White

As a matter of full disclosure, my politics align fairly closely with the Tea Party but I listen to NPR more than I watch Fox News and I've never attended a Tea Party event nor donated to their cause.

I found it interesting that you would admit to relying on biased sources (e.g. NY Times, Huffington Post)for your knowledge about the Tea Party until this study. Now you continue to cling to those biases, fighting the cognitive dissonance brought by your own work. Would you be surprised to learn there are more black people involved in the Tea Party than the Occupy movement?

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDon

One thought that comes to mind regarding the TP vs. non-TP data....

When someone answers "Yes" to the question "Are you affiliated with the Tea Party," it implies that this person is politically engaged. That is, they are likely to follow current events to the extent necessary to formulate an opinion on many political issues.

On the other hand, when someone answers "No" to the same question, this catches up not only the politically-engaged, informed people who do not support the Tea Party, but also a host of apathetic, disengaged folks. People who don't pay attention to current events and have little concern for anything that doesn't directly affect their daily life.

And my guess is that people in that latter group score abysmally on scientific literacy.

If there were a way to subdivide that "No" group, in order to separate out Tea Party opponents with a similar level of awareness and engagement as Tea Party supporters, from the apathetic types, I would expect that you'd see similar results to the data on conservative Republicans.

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJPC

As usual, definitions mean everything in a statistical analysis.

If you define Tea Party member as a person who yearns for the return of the Confederacy, reinstitutionalized slavery, while males who freely carry guns, are dogmatic Christian fundamentalists, and who shoot abortionists on sight, you get one subset. If you define them as a person who believes in personal responsibility, that our government has taken too much power, and is profligate in spending, you get another.

Millions have been spent on both definitions. Like "Clean Coal" or the Farm Bill (more accurately termed the Free Food Give-Away bill), or "Climate Change", it all depends on a political definition, full of sound and fury signifying only what I want you to believe.

A recent global survey shows that Americans rank almost dead last in math and literacy. We are defenseless against such demagoguery.

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterR. L. Hails Sr. P. E.


That conjecture seems very plausible.

Consider, too, how you might try to connect it to two other data:

1. The negative correlation between science comprehension (SC) & right-leaning political outlooks (Conservrepub). Presumably "identify with tea party" (TP) correlates positively w/ Conservrepub. So how to explain the opposite sign for correlation between TP & SC?

2. The positive correlation (discussed in this post) between TP & religiosity. Religiosity also negatively correlates -- and to much more meaningful degree -- w/ SC. So what is going on w/ religious TP & SC?...

You hypothesize that intensity of political interest (PI) correlates w/ SC & that TPers are more interested in politics than non-TP. Do you think difference in PI could answer 1 & 2? TP members get disproportionate shares of high PI conservative & religious rspts?

Of course, high PI's relationship to SC presumably reflects some 3d variable that predicts both. Maybe education. Some commentators have referred to an NYT poll that found TP identifiers are more educated. Education does correlate w/ SC (as indicated in post). Maybe education is the variable to explore here to get at 1 & 2?

I have a "political knowledge" (PK) battery in this data set. As perhaps you know, PK amplfies partisanship-- that is, increases the stregenth of the correlation between party id & lib-conserv ideology, on one hand, and policy positions, on other. I think PK is a good measure of PI if we were to test your hypothesis.

I also have a measure of level of education, of course.

So the question is, What's the question? They we could figure out a statistical model suited to answering it. I can think of a number of cool questions & related models.

Obviously, I could just regress SC on TP, Conservrepub, education, and religiosity-- and possibly some cross-product interactions. But overspecified regression models are one of my pet peeves. what question exactly would that model be answering & how? In fact, the answers to some of the interesting questions I can think of would be obscured by a model like that.

Maybe it is fine, but I would like to know more specfically what someone is trying toi figure out and what he or she would expect to see in the model that relates to that before just running it.

BTW, one of the "regular" features of this site is WSMD? JA! "Wanna see more data?! Just ask!".

Your query is perfect for an episode of WSMD? JA!

But I have to admit I'm a little leery of doing more w/ SC & TP. It's a close call whether, on balance, this has been a useful exchange, in my view. On the 1 hand, it is really great for people to have their pictures of others tested and challenged and to generate reflection on how we end up forming the views we have once we learn they are wrong.

On other, it is really really really really not great to precipitate "whose is bigger?" contests between cultural factions -- reinforcing the huge error that people, of all outlooks make, that the reason people disagree with them is that members of other groups are stupid. The whole point of the post was to punch that view in the face-- and it ended up biting off thumb & index finger...

Am thinking enough is enough...

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

'Idealogue' added
"...No decent scientist cites "consensus" as proof of validity. Of course, that doesn't stop the herd."

Speaking of the herd, How many times have you heard (pun unintended), "I want my vote to count, so I'm voting for the guy who's going to win anyway" or some such. In other words, "I have no principles, I simply want to be in the bigger herd."

Safety in numbers, I guess. That could partly account for the massive breeding among the hoi polloi - the prey produce more young so that hopefully the predators will get full before they finish the whole family.

When Obamacare collapses, I hope some Tea Partier has the cohonies to stand up and say, "We've been trying to warn you for FIVE YEARS!!!! 'But NoOOOOOoooo!,' you'd say. ' Don't listen to those crazy anarchists! Hahaha, we know what's best for everyone!' you kept repeating, like a mantra. <pause for dramatic effect> So, how's that workin' out for ya?"

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRich Grise

Have quite enjoyed Professop Dan's article and reading the above comments. The author states that he doesn't know (with his italicized emphasis) 'a single" Tea Party member. I would bet that he actually does but that the incognito members, if within the sacred Groves of Academe, would/do not find any acceptance of or support of their point of view . In his off-campus life I would imagine the professor, like most of us, deals primarily with cohort mates of his own, or more extreme, political vision. The incongenial climate within Academe leads to what I see as a stultifying atmosphere for intellectual growth and challenges (as in hetreogenious politics) to Left-liberal orthodoxy = diversity in everything except thought. Hmmm. His comment on personal liberal associates reminds me of Pauline Kael's great thought from years past when she said she didn't "know anyone " who voted for Nixon. Her proud insularity is fine for celebs - of - the - moment but not so for serious academics.

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAMBRO

Dear Professor Kahan,

I was able to find the CRT (but only the 3-question version); it would be interesting to see what the NSF Battery questions were, as well. Just because I'm an information nerd :-) (And now I'm going to have to look into the Wonderlic test - darn you!)

The accompanying research study for the CRT test was quite an eye-opener in terms of conclusions reached - especially the "surprises" they found.

It seems from the CRT study that a lot of politically-correct assumptions in terms of cognitive ability (ESPECIALLY in regards to gender) are just plain wrong, no matter how much some people would like for them to be.....

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTeresa in Fort Worth, TX


1. I've uploaded the NSF science literacy items. Now that the Govt has re-opened, you can also access the NSF site that I linked to in the post. There you'll find discussion of the items & various results the NSF has collected over time & in different places etc. In constructing the science comprehension scale I used here, I did not included the "BIGBANG" and "EVOLUTION" items. As the NSF itself has recognized, the responses to those items don't cohere well w/ responses to the others--that is, how high people score on the rest of the test doesn't accurately predict whether they'll give the "correct" responses to these items. In effect, these items are measuring something else -- viz., religious idenity. For discussion, see this post.

2. On the 7 additional CRT items, you should contact my colleague Shane Frederick. Shane consdtructed the CRT test, which as you've learned is pretty cool. But its value is defiitely limited by its being only 3 questions and by its being so "hard"-- it's not unusual for 50% of a general population sample to get 0 answers correct. The point of adding more items is to try to be able to mesure difference in "cognitive reflection" more accurately among that half of the population, and to be able to get at more of the variance among those who get 2 or 3 correct as well. But Shane hasn't published results using the 10-item scale yet, and until he does, it's his call what to do w/ them. He told me he might well "post them" on line in the near future, so maybe if you tell him you are interested, it'll nudge him in that direction!

3. Which study did you look at for CRT? If you find this stuff interesting, you might also want to check out our papers on science comprehension & cultural polariztion over climate change & on how "Numeracy" (an apptitude related to cognitive reflection but more focused on quantiative reasoning) relates to polarization. It will lprobably make you kind of sad, actually (does me).

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

@Dan Kahan
"That plus a commitment to individual liberty."
And this is precisely why I am not a Democrat, and associate with the Tea Party. Individual liberty is so rare in all of history, and so hard-won, that any reversal on it should be resisted by any who possesses any sort of wisdom. Unfortunately, the mainstream of both political parties would see a great deal of the individual liberty we today are fortunate enough to possess undone. As the great Jeremy Bentham once wrote, "every law is an evil, because every law is an infraction of liberty."
If you are truly committed to individual liberty, you should take a good hard look at the laws which the so-called Liberals in congress write and vote in favor of. They are, using the strictest definition of the term, illiberal in more cases than not.

"people look at the same data and come to different conclusions, without admitting to having different values and/or goals. Global warming is a classic example"
And still yet two people may disagree on the course of action even when they do arrive at the same conclusion. The left, in general, loathes nuclear power; leftist politicians and activists go well out of their way to protest it and fight its expansion; and yet this is the only source of electrical power that has proven itself to be commercially viable that is not linked to global warming, has already slowed man-made global warming, and since many biofuels are actually worse in staving off global warming than just using regular gas and the same goes for electric cars when electricity is supplied from coal, nuclear power seems the most practical option on the table for reducing the carbon footprint of short-distance travel.

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNate Fries


1. The item on tea party membership was: " Do you think of yourself as a part of the Tea Party movement?"

2. The study was administered to online sample recruited by The best discussion of their recruitment and stratification procedures is Peer-reviewed social science journals treat their "nationally representative" samples as valid, but I'd say the best evidence of their validity is their accuracy in predicting election results. Indeed, at this point, there is pretty good reason to worry about the validity of random-digit-dial surveys (Gallup did horribly in last national election)

October 20, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@Dan (dmk83)

Thanks so much for the information!

1) Thanks for the link to the NSF Literacy Test - really wish they would word those in terms of "The current theory is....." on some of those questions; it would make it easier for people (like me) to answer them the way they want them answered ;-) And thanks, too, for the link to that article - it's fantastic!

2) I read Mr. Frederick's study ("Cognitive Reflection and Decision Making", Journal of Economic Perspectives—Volume 19, Number 4—Fall 2005—Pages 25–42), and found it quite enlightening. I think that his 3 questions are probably a very accurate metric for what he was looking for; I'd be more than happy to contact him about finding out his other 7 questions (like I said, I am a nerd!) - what's the best way to get in touch with him?

3) I do have some (personal) issues with the way the study authors approached these subjects; it has been my experience that most people who "disagree" with the prevailing "scientific" theory du jour have very logical (not political) reasons for doing so. Then again, I hang out with a bunch of engineers, who tend to be on the far right spectrum of the analytical/logical end of the scale (pencils and paper/napkins/any available writing surface tend to be employed when defending their explanations.....), regardless of their political leanings.

Just because something is "accepted scientific knowledge" in the public sphere DOES NOT mean that a majority of scientists agree with it (as can be proven quite amply in the case of Anthropogenic Global Warming/Climate Change) - it just means that the scientists with the loudest megaphones are the ones whose theories are currently in vogue. Remember, at one point in time, "germ theory" was poo-pooed and the Earth was believed to be the center of our Universe.

I have a feeling - and I say this as someone who has looked at the entire body of research that is currently out there - that the "accepted" knowledge in the areas of both Global Warming and Diet/Cholesterol/etc. will be significantly altered over the next couple of decades. And I say that because there is a big difference between what is accepted and what is ignored because it flies in the face of what is declared to be "settled science".

Galileo never wavered from his assertions about the Sun, because he KNEW that he was right; it took quite a while, but eventually he was proven correct. If only people in this day and age were willing to quit vilifying modern-day "Galileos".....

On a lighter note, I have to know - is your "bad kitty" really one of the ones who shut down the subway? :-)

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTeresa in Fort Worth, TX

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