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« Are "moderates" less affected by politically motivated reasoning? Either "yes by definition," or "maybe, depending on what you mean exactly" | Main | Cognitive Illiberalism Lecture at Penn State Dickinson School of Law (slides) »

Congratulations, tea party members: You are just as vulnerable to politically biased misinterpretation of science as everyone else! Is fixing this threat to our Republic part of your program?

A recurring irony in the empirical study of politically biased misunderstandings of science is how often people misconstrue empirical evidence of this very phenomenon as a result of politically biased reasoning.

It’s funny.

It’s painful.

And it’s depressing—indeed, the 50th time you see it, it is mainly just depressing

So I wasn’t “surprised”—much less “stunned”—when I observed descriptions of the data I presented on the correlation between science comprehension and identification with the tea party being warped by this same dynamic.

The 14 billion regular readers of this blog (exactly 2,503,232 of whom identity with the tea party) know that I believe that there is no convincing empirical evidence that the science communication problem—the failure of compelling, widely accessible scientific evidence to dispel culturally fractious disputes over societal risks and other policy-relevant facts—can be attributed to any supposed correlation between a “conservative” political outlook & a deficit in science literacy, critical reasoning skills, or commitment to science’s signature methods for discovery of truth.

On the contrary, I believe that the popularity of this claim reflects the vulnerability of those who harbor a “nonconservative” (“liberal,” “egalitarian,” or
whatever one chooses to style it) outlook to accept invalid or ill-supported empirical assertions that affirm their cultural outlooks. 

That vulnerability, I believe, is perfectly “symmetrical” with respect to the right-left political spectrum (and the two-dimensional space defined by the cultural continua of “hierarchy-egalitarianism” and “individualism-communitarianism”).

I believe that, in part, because of a study I conducted in which I found evidence that there was an ideologically uniform tendency—one equal in strength, among both “conservatives” and “liberals”—to credit or dismiss empirical evidence supporting the validity of an “open-mindedness” test depending on whether study subjects were told that the test showed that those who share their ideology were more or less open-minded than those subscribing to the opposing one.

Not only do I think the “asymmetry thesis” (AT)—the view that this pernicious deficiency in reasoning is disproportionately associated with conservativism—is wrong.

I think the contempt typically evinced (typically but not invariably; it's possible to investigate such hypotheses without ridiculing people) toward "conservatives" by AT proponents strengthens the dynamics that account for this reason-effacing, deliberation-distorting form of motivated cognition.

I want reasoning people to understand this.  I want them to understand it so that they won’t be lulled into behaving in a way that undermines the prospects for enlightened democracy.  I want them to understand it so that they can, instead, apply their reason to the project of ridding the science communication environment of the toxic partisan entanglement of facts with cultural meanings that is the source of this pathology.

The “tea party science comprehension” post was written in that spirit.  It presented evidence that a particular science comprehension measure I am working on (in an effort to help social scientists, educators, and others improve  existing measures, all of which are very crude) has no meaningful correlation with political outlooks.

Actually, the measure did correlate negatively—“r = - 0.05, p < 0.05”—with a scale assessing one’s disposition to identify one’s ideology as “conservative” and one’s party affiliation as “Republican.”

I noted that, and pointed out that this association was far too trivial to be afforded any practical significance whatsoever, much less to be regarded as the source of the fierce conflicts in our society over climate change and other issues turning on decision-relevant science.

But anticipating that politically motivated reasoning would likely induce some readers who identify as “liberal” and “Democratic” to seize on this pitifully small correlation as evidence that of course politically biased reasoning explains why those who identify as "conservative" & "Republican"  disagree with them, I advised any such readers to consider the correlation between science comprehension and identifying with the tea-party: r = 0.05, p = 0.05.

Anyone who might be tempted to beat his or her chest in a triumphal tribal howl over the practically meaningless correlation between right-left political outlooks & science comprehension could thus expect to find him- or herself fatally impaled the very next instant on the sharp spear tip of simple, unassailable logic.

I figured this warning would be clear enough even for "liberals” (it's sad that our contemporary political discourse has so compacted the meaning of this word) at the higher end of the “science comprehension” scale (ones lower in science comprehension would be even less likely to draw politically biased inferences from the data), and thus deter them from engaging in such an embarrassing display of partisan unreason.

I also owned that I myself had expected that likely I’d find a modest negative correlation between tea-party membership and science comprehension.

I did that for a couple reasons.  The first was that I really did expect that's what I'd see. I surmised, for one thing, that there was likely a correlation between religiosity and tea-party membership (there is: r = 0.16, p < 0.01), and I know religion correlates negatively with “cognitive reflection” and “science literacy” measures—in ways that empirical evidence shows make no meaningful contribution to disputes over climate change etc.

Second, I thought it would be instructive and constructive for me to show how goddam virulent the politically motivated reasoning bias is. Knowing about it is certainly no defense.  The only protection is regular infusions of valid empirical evidence administered under conditions that reveal the terrifying prospect that one will in fact display symptoms of true idiocy if one succombs to it.

But despite all this, many many many tea-party partisans succumbed to politically biased reasoning in their assessment of the evidence in my post.

Characterizing a blog post on exploratory probing of a new science comprehension measure as a “study” (indeed, a “Yale study”; I guess I was “misled” again by the “liberal media” about whether the tea party treats Ivy League universities as credible sources of information) , scores of commentators (in blogs, political opinion columns, in comments on my blog, etc) gleefully crowed that the data showed tea party members were "more science literate,” "better at understanding science" etc. than non-members.

My observation that the size of the effect was “trivial,” and my statement that the “statistical” significance level was practically meaningless and as likely to disappear as reappear in any future survey (where one observes a “p-value” very close to 0.05, then one should expect half of the attempted replications to have a p-value above 0.05 and half below that) was conveniently ignored (indeed, writers tried to add force to the reported result by using  meaningless terms like “solid” etc. to the describe it).

Also ignored, of course, was that liberals scored higher than conservatives on the same measure and in the same dataset. 

Did these zealots feel the sting of 50,000 logic arrows burrowing into their chests moments after they got done beating on them?  Doubt it.

So, what to say? I dunno, but here are four observations.

1.  Tea party members are like everyone else, as far as I can tell, when it comes to science comprehension. 

Is this something to be proud of?  I don’t think so. It means that if we were to select a tea-party member at random, there would be a 50% chance he or she would say that “antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria” and less than a 40% chance that he or she would be able to correctly interpret data from a simple experiment involving a new skin-rash treatment.

2.  Because tea-party members are “just like everyone else,” they too have among their number some individuals who combine a high degree of scientific knowledge with an impressively developed capacity for engaging in critical reasoning. 

But because they are like everyone else, these high "science comprehending" tea-party members will be more likely to display politically biased misinterpretations of empirical data than people who display a lower "science comprehension" apptitude. The greater their capacity to engage in analytical thinking, the more systematically they will use that capacity to ferret out evidence congenial to their predispositions and block out and rationalize away everything else.

Moreover, because others who share their values very sensibly rely on them when trying to keep up with what’s known to science, these high science-comprehending tea-party members -- just like high science-comprehending "Democrats" and "Republicans'" and "libertarians" and "socialists" et al.-- will play a principal role in transmitting the reason-effacing pathogens that pervade our polluted science communication environment.

3. Also like everyone else, tea-party members can be expected, as a result of living in a contaminated science communication environment, to behave in a manner that evinces not only an embarrassing deficiency in self-awareness but also an exceedingly ugly form of contempt for others , thereby amplifying the dynamics that are depriving them along with all the other culturally diverse citizens in the Liberal Republic of Science of the full benefit that this magnificent political regime uniquely confers on reasoning, free individuals.

4. Finally, because they are like everyone else, some of the individuals who have used their reason and freedom to join with others in a project they call the “tea-party” movement realize that they have exactly the same stake in repulsing this repulsive pathology as those individuals who’ve used their reason and their freedom to form associations like the “Democratic Party,” the “Republic Party,” the “Libertarian Party,” the “Socialist Party” etc.

They know the only remedy for this insult to our common capacity to reason is to use our common capacity to reason to fashion a new political science, one cognizant of the distinctive challenge that pluralistic democracies face in enabling their citizens to recognize the significance of the unprecedented volume of scientific knowledge that their free institutions have made it possible for them to acquire.

They are resolved to try to make all of this clear to those who share their values—and to reach out to those who don’t to make common cause with them in protecting the science communication environment that enlightened self-government depends on.

The best available evidence doesn’t tell anyone what policy is best. That depends on judgments of value, which will vary—inevitably and appropriately—among free and reasoning people.

Mine differ profoundly from those held by individuals who identify as tea party members.  We will have plenty to disagree about in the democratic process even when we agree about the facts. 

But without a reliable apprehension of the best available evidence, neither I nor they nor anyone else will be able to confidently identify which policies can be expected to advance our respective values.   

In the polluted science communication environment we inhabit,  none of us can be as confident as we have a right to be that we truly know what has come to be collectively known through science.

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Reader Comments (32)

I thoroughly enjoyed your extremely interesting and well presented article, and wanted to say thank you. While I suspect that there is little we would agree on politically, I do believe that we could have a lively discussion on the issues that shape our world, something that is increasingly rare in today's hyper-partisan society.

For the record, yes "tea party" people are just like everyone else... we don't all share one monolithic thought, and we certainly aren't all BFF's. I have met many people prone to eleemosynary impulses, to quote Dickens, along with a helping of more rancorous folks. Yes, some tea parties are very religious, while others of us are not, though personally do believe in God but don't partake in any form of organized religion. I have encountered people whose intellect intimidates the crap out of me, and I've met people who I can only assume huffed canned air for the first two decades of their lives based on the sheer volume of nonsense that flows from their mouths. I must say though, that I have never encountered anyone who would be considered violent or racist by a reasonable person, though there are more than enough "birthers" to go around (groan).

The tea party is really just a group of ordinary Americans from all walks of life who believe in the founding of the nation and the power of the United States Constitution, as each individual understands them. Some have it wrong, in my opinion, but that's OK.

In the end, as you said, it doesn't really matter what political ideology one most closely identifies with, we are all just people doing what we believe is best. That's what makes the world interesting.... I mean how boring would it be if we all thought alike?

Anyway, thanks again for your article.


October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

Angela (above, commenter #1) is correct in that Tea party types are not monolithic, and have 1 main shared interest - too much govt (regulation, spending, etc.) which needs to be controlled since this can't go on for ever. Beyond that, i am sure i don't agree with everything Tea partiers say (if there is such a thing).

What galls me is the portrayal (in the media and Dem party, but i repeat myself) of TP supporters as some redneck knuckledraggers who shouldn't be taken seriously. I know why Dems/media does it - they don't have a reasonable response to the TP demand - (control govt spending and regulations). So, it is easy to delegitimize the messenger than to respond to the message.

There is no need to be a racist, anti-science, hater, etc. to say: slow down with the tax/borrow & spend policies.

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSagar

"But despite all this, many many many tea-party partisans succumbed to politically biased reasoning in their assessment of the evidence in my post."

Sure, for regular readers, but was all of that clear in the actual post? Try to look at it from the point of view of someone new to your blog, and your work. They see a link on a political site, mentioning it. They go check it out, to see if it's real, to see if there are things the referrer missed. Your caveats about things swinging both ways could look like comments made in passing, to offer potential excuses for the results, rather than the main point of your blog post, as those of us familiar with your work would recognise. They're reading it quickly, the story is not that big a deal, after all. And the main thing they notice, and feel inspired to comment on, was your embarrassing expectation that Tea Party types would score lower, that you didn't know any personally, and you held on to your negative moral and political assessment of their position. (Why moral, by the way?) Their reaction was in the main in response to this - to introduce themselves, to tell you about how they did understand science, and to try to explain their position so that you could see that it was moral/sensible. (A form of information deficit model, I think. They assume, as most do, that the only reason you could think their politics immoral was that you didn't know enough about it. Whereas you and I know that with motivated reasoning, you'd find it immoral whatever they said.)

I saw a few query the statistics - I think it was recognised that the effect was small, but I don't think they recognised just how small. (The only time I can remember smaller correlations being held up as significant was Michael Mann's hockeystick graph!) There were a handful of hostile comments, but not as many as I would have expected. (Bear in mind I'm perhaps more used to genuinely hostile receptions - our scales are calibrated differently.) I think they must have liked you!

"Characterizing a blog post on exploratory probing of a new science comprehension measure as a “study” (indeed, a “Yale study”; I guess I was “misled” again by the “liberal media” about whether the tea party treats Ivy League universities as credible sources of information)"

By the standards of most people, it would look like a study. They wouldn't recognise the difference.

And whether or not they think Ivy League universities as credible (I think they do - up to a point), I think they would think their liberal opponents did, and that's who they're going to be using it as a rhetorical weapon against.

"My observation that the size of the effect was “trivial,” and my statement that the “statistical” significance level was practically meaningless and as likely to disappear as reappear in any future survey [...] was conveniently ignored (indeed, writers tried to add force to the reported result by using meaningless terms like “solid” etc. to the describe it)."

Not ignored. I saw it noted that the effect was small, but the significance of the p = 0.05 level is widely known, and commonly used by scientists to claim a hypothesis ought to be accepted (witness the IPCC's 95% confidence statements) so I don't find it surprising that lay readers would see a p = 0.05 and read that as an indication of solid science.

"Also ignored, of course, was that liberals scored higher than conservatives on the same measure and in the same dataset. "

But the Tea Party don't like conservatives. It's an alliance of mere convenience, and there's currently a major civil war within the GOP between them about what direction to follow. One of the reasons the GOP are in such a mess.

"Is this something to be proud of? I don’t think so."

It might be if you've spent the last few years being told by everyone that you're a crank, a nut-case, and an idiot. Not to mention all the rest of the names. As you say, there is "an exceedingly ugly form of contempt for others" that has built up between the sides to monumental proportions now. It's a problem, I agree.

It's what these people have come to expect from the liberal media and liberal academia - and that contempt is returned in full. That's what I meant about them being remarkably gentle with you - you have accidentally stepped into a fight that is routinely fought with very sharply barbed weapons. You got off lightly!
(And I'll say it's a good job they didn't see your mild endorsement of Lewandowsky with his theory that climate sceptics are all moon landing hoax conspiracists, which is more typical of the way they see lefty academics behave.)

I think on the whole you did a good job, there. You defused a little of the contemptuous rhetoric, and you showed that liberals can be fair-minded, too. If that sort of thing happens often enough, it ought to reduce the polarisation somewhat. And maybe then we can really start to talk with one another.

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

I read all the comments on your original post, which are still coming in. I was going to reply again to that, but it became clear that most commenters were not reading previous comments (or your original post). They were repeating things that had been said many times. Many seemed to be trying to make the point that some Tea Party members are not especially stupid, as if you had said they were, which you didn't and (as you point out here) repeatedly haven't. They wrote as if enough of them told the world about their advanced degrees and accomplishments, then we would have to be convinced that Tea Party members were smart and well educated.

Yet I came away convinced that, while this may be true, it is also true that being accomplished and well educated does not imply that you are completely sane. (Think about John Nash, for example.) What I saw, repeatedly, were symptoms of paranoia: seizing on shreds of evidence or bits of history to draw sweeping conclusions (while ignoring massive evidence on the other side); them labeling anyone who disagreed as brainwashed and biased, thus building a wall against any counter-argument or discussion, so that delusions (including characteristic delusions of persecution) could be maintained. These symptoms become exaggerated when they have some social support. This sort of group delusion has several predecessors in history.

I am not saying that such delusions characterize the American right wing, although right now the extreme left seems dormant and without the sort of public social support that the Tea Party has. In the 1960s, though, when I was a student and opponent of the Vietnam War, I was constantly arguing with some of my deluded friends who saw a left-wing revolution around the corner and thought that violence would bring it about more quickly. They exhibited all the same symptoms of paranoia that I see now in some Tea Party members. Anyone who didn't see what they saw was a dupe of the corporate-military complex and its right-wing media like the New York Times.

Although being smart and well educated probably makes you more likely to be correct in your beliefs, it is not a guarantee. Within academia itself, many smart and well-educated people disagree so strongly that they cannot all be right. Thus, it is possible to be smart, well educated, and even open-minded, and still wrong. This applies to me too.

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJon Baron

"What I saw, repeatedly, were symptoms of paranoia: seizing on shreds of evidence or bits of history to draw sweeping conclusions (while ignoring massive evidence on the other side)"

Everybody always sees their own side as having "massive evidence" while the opposition has only "shreds of evidence or bits of history". That's why we disagree.

The Tea Party is based on the simple premise that you can't spend more than you earn indefinitely, the growing debts always become unsustainable eventually and have to be repaid, usually with disastrous consequences, and that the US government is doing exactly that, with no serious effort to stop it. In fact, they're trying to spend even more. What are you going to do about that?

What "massive evidence" is there against that? Do you mean you think there is massive evidence you can continue to borrow-and-spend indefinitely? Or massive evidence that you think you can end the debt-spiral and repay it all without pain? Or perhaps massive evidence that, yes, society, media, and government are taking the question seriously?

In politics, people make simplified, over-dramatic statements. So long as they're not claiming it to be backed by science, like they do with global warming, I don't care.

"them labeling anyone who disagreed as brainwashed and biased, thus building a wall against any counter-argument or discussion"

Mmm. Have you read what you just wrote? You've just labelled the people you disagree with as not completely sane, paranoid, and deluded. What's your excuse?

Doesn't that illustrate how this behaviour is symmetric? We all do it, but we have a blindspot about our own cognitive biases, while we see the motes in the eyes of other people clearly. We naturally assume, therefore, that only those other people have them. They do the same thing too, there is no doubt. But is perpetuating this sort of labelling and prejudice the way to solve it?

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Thank you for the flowery, over-intellectualized childishness that I expect from liberals.
As a scientist you should know that if all you read and study ar biased by The Ministry of Truth you can dress up your contempt and your arrogance anyway you want, but it's still a pig.
After all, if you just apply "reasoning" you will always be right and anyone disagrees with you musty therefore be a misinformed moron.
You're A great study in Orwell.
Thank you.

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSabalom Glitz

I am a professor of neuroscience (PhD '75 Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine) and recent founder of my own biotech company. A quick perusal of PUBMED and asking around your neuroscientists at Yale (e.g. Robert LaMotte, Stephen Waxman) should establish that I have earned the right to be regarded as one of the world's foremost experts on cutaneous innervation, tactile sensation and chronic pain. Nothing against Yale, but most of my collaborations are with Harvard and Johns Hopkins. I also happen to be an increasingly more conservative Christian and increasingly more supportive of the "Tea Party" concerns. Your study doesn't surprise me at all. I woke up about 20 years ago after being an ardent liberal and critic of Ronald Reagan.

As you have now realized about yourself, the academic (and progressive) world is a bubble which is pretty much out of touch with the general population. Like yourself, Arthur Brookes, who was at the renown Maxwell School of Government at Syracuse University, did a study several years ago of political and religious attitudes and of generosity, starting with the same biases that you had. He was shocked at what he found and wrote a book called "Who Really Cares". You should read it. Likewise, there was a recent book by two of the original founders (admittedly very liberal) of the licensed discipline of clinical psychology and gold medal winners in psychology called "Destructive Trends in Mental Health, The Well Intentioned Path to Harm." You should read the introduction if you dare.

There is not only a negative bias by academics towards conservatives, but overt and covert oppression. I have found it repeatedly amusing and disgusting to attend scientific meetings where others do not know I am a conservative Christian, and conservative Christian meetings where others do not know I am a scientist. The contrast is breathtaking. The former is dripping with condescension and dismissiveness, where the later expresses curiosity and concern. After letting the conversations go on a while, it is even more amusing to note the reactions after revealing who I am. The former quickly change the conversation, where as the latter's interest level increases and I am bombarded with questions. What is also interesting, is how some of those at the scientific meeting will track me down (of course afterwards and in private) and admit that they too are Christians but were afraid to say anything in front of others. I have also had the opportunity to hear renown bioethicists present in panels at scientific meetings (where they obviously assume that everyone is politically liberal) and at panels involving clergy where they are clealry restraining their condescension. The hypocracy is truly breathtaking.

The bottom line, is that I am astounded at how many scientists pride themselves on critical thinking in their science (which is true) and then become conformist, like lemmings, in checking that critical thinking at the door when it comes to social and political issues. It is heresy to dare break ranks. My own experience is that I can pick out a liberal and a conservative in a few minutes by engaging them in conversation about a book involving controversial social issues such as abortion or homosexuality. It doesn't take long to find out that the liberal will parrot what they heard their friends say, but are unlikely to actually have read the book. The conservative is likely to have actually read the book even if they don't agree with it.

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFrank L. Rice, PhD

You sound like you're passing through a normal mourning cycle. Keep working through it.

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDon

"What "massive evidence" is there against that? Do you mean you think there is massive evidence you can continue to borrow-and-spend indefinitely? Or massive evidence that you think you can end the debt-spiral and repay it all without pain? Or perhaps massive evidence that, yes, society, media, and government are taking the question seriously?"

Massive evidence that:

1. The problem is long-term, not immediate. Immediate austerity has long-term costs (as well as possible benefits), in terms of stifling both public and private investment. The IMF and many others reached this conclusion after watching what happened in Europe. But that isn't the only evidence.

2. It is largely the result of increasing health-care costs. If the government reduces its contribution to Medicare, Medicaid, and the VA, then the costs will have to be borne by individuals (hopefully through insurance premiums), so merely cutting government spending will not free up any resources for other purposes. Of course, increased efficiency in health care would help, but that would be true no matter who pays for health care.

3. Refusing to consider tax increases while continuing to fund Medicare, etc., even at lower levels, will require large cuts elsewhere in the budget. Small cuts are easy, but "painless" large cuts are hard to find. Even those who advocate smaller government are often at a loss about what exactly should be cut and why the cuts would be both large and painless. Put simply, massive evidence that most of the functions of government are beneficial, and some could be more so if they received more funding rather than less.

4. Indeed, almost all politicians are taking the problem seriously. Not seriously enough for you, perhaps. But this is only one of many problems they must deal with. (At the state and local level, the problems are largely about pensions. Democratic and Republican mayors, governors, and legislators are all trying to wrestle with this problem.)

I'm not going to reply again here. If you want to discuss this "off line", you can find my email address if you actually read some of my other comments in this blog.

"Mmm. Have you read what you just wrote? You've just labelled the people you disagree with as not completely sane, paranoid, and deluded. What's your excuse?"

You might try reading what I wrote. You are quoting selectively. I did not say that everyone was paranoid. And I did not say that the fact that some of them were gave me the right to ignore what the others were saying. This problem of the deficit is not new. I too have been listening and thinking about it for some time, so telling me to read Hayek is not going to make much of a dent, not because I am resistant to new ideas, but rather because I have already thought so much about this that anything new is a drop in the bucket. So many of the commenters were writing as if their opponents were blank slates who knew nothing and just needed to read X to be be convinced.

See this tweet from a few years ago for example.

I should have added that some paranoid fanatasies turn out to be right. In the 1960s I dismissed assertions that every anti-war protestor had a file in the FBI. Later it turned out to be approximately true. I'm sure I have one, although I never for a minute advocated violence. Thus, even paranoia is not a sufficient reason to reject something.

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJon Baron


There's so much self-selection in responses -- in comments, in blog posts, etc. -- that I think it is just impossible to draw any confident inferences from them.

I learned this when, after composing my blog post --which was inspired by the astonishing career of my finding in the blogosphere -- I read the 25+ emails I received from tea party members in the last few days (I've been traveling and unable to keep up).

They were very very very very different in tone from the comments you are referring to. They were -- or at least many were -- open & friendly & curious. They got the point of the original post. They expressed appreciation and gratitude for reasons that NiV captures, but they were reflective about the difficuoties and hazards of forming accurate perceptions of the attitudes & beliefs of those whose values are different from one's own.

The emails made me realize that one source of misimpressions we form of cultural groups (let's call them) we are not a part of is that those who make thsmelves known to us are likely to misrepresent the group. They are louder, obviously. But they are also frequently getting our attention b/c they are angry and assaultive. Many of them in fact are trying to exhort and rile up members of their own group through deliberate excaggerations and misreprsentations-- which we can spot, since they are talking about us. We then assume those zealots are talking *for* those they are talking *to*.

Rush Limbaugh, e.g,., told his millions of listeners I had described the tea party members as "racistt, sexist, bigot, homophobe, lunatic, extremists, dangerous, out of control, probably spittle dripping, missing the two front teeth, gun rack in the pickup on the way to church Saturday night for a good parking space as they pray to the Lord for anti-abortion belief." In making his listeners hate me for holding and expressing sentiments I do not have and never uttered, he lulls me into hating his listeners, whom I assume he is speaking for.

But he is not "representative" -- for sampling purposes, or for moral/civic purposes of those people whose cultural styles are different from mine, & whose views I'd like to understand accurately. Many thanks to my email correspondents for helping me to see this.

I want them to know that I have been misrepresented too -- by zealots, parasites of cognitive illiberalism, really. I am thining of Keith Olberman, Michael Moore, et al. -- people I know have spoken *for* me in ways that not only make those they are ridciuling hate me but make *me* cringe with embarrassment and ultimately seethe with anger. They are so appallingly unreflective, so disturbingly illiberal, and so shamelessly and opportunisitically self-promoting.

I denounce & rencounce them! I'm sure many who hold my "worldview" do too.

But do members of the "tea party" ever see that? Of course not! They don't know me. And even if I say publicly that I feel this way, who is paying attention?

Now, though, I'm pretty sure there are tea party equivalents -- who cringe, and seethe when they observe how their "side's" zealots are purporting to speak for them-- b/c they wrote to me!

Sadly, their emails, our exchanges, are too small a part of the total mix of influences to have any impact on the impressions that people like me form of people like them or the ones that peoople like them form of people like me.

I'm glad to get to "know" them all the same.

Glad too that they got to "know" me in a way I didn't think they possibly ever would if they were learning of what I wrote through the characterizations of my views and mischaracterizations of my "findings" contained in the blog posts of their Michael Moores, Olbemeran's etc

I *do* know that my email correspondents & I have different *values* -- and it would trivialize us & them to downplay the significance of that.

But they know that I recognize they have arrived at their views by applying their reason freely and in engagement with others doing the same & that I am committed to respecting them, even as I disagree with them.

I now know they recognize the same about me, and have the same Liberal commitement to respecting me.

I'm grateful that they corrected the misimpression I had of them. And grateful that their correspondence made me realize the unreliability of the words of those who blast off vitriolic,hate filled blog posts & comments as a measure of their character!

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

I'm afraid I need to say one more thing. In my last reply, I was replying to the comment by NiV, who asked about what massive evidence was on the other side. I should have said that the particular issue s/he raised, the long-term deficit, is real. My response just now was not intended to say that there was massive evidence against the existence of the problem. Here I guess I agree with the Tea Party. Where I disagree, and what I wrote about, was what the solution is. I was assuming that NiV agreed with the behavior and proposals of the "Tea Party" representatives in Congress. I may be wrong about that. I hope so.

In my original comment about paranoia, the existence of the long-term deficit is a very poor example of what I was talking about. It was not the only, or even the main, assertion in that very long string of comments.

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJon Baron


Very good comment! I'm impressed!


It's a very difficult thing to do, communicating with people of a different worldview. I respect anyone for trying.

Yes, I would agree that the solution is not so clear cut, and there are arguments on both sides. My point wasn't to say that the Tea Party solution is the only one anyone could reasonably hold, but to argue that it is at least an understandable point of view, and an option that ought to be on the table along with all the others. We each of us can hold our own opinion, and argue for it. I'm not saying anyone shouldn't. We just need to understand that the other side has their opinion, and their arguments, too.

I am somewhat distant from the details of American politics, but from what I understand, the behaviour of the Tea Party representatives in Congress is largely the result of them being in the minority, and having to fight for every inch. It tends to make them combative and uncompromising. If other parties and groups were to offer actual practical options for addressing the problem - ones that have some hope of working - they might be less so.

But the realities of pork barrel American politics get in the way - you cannot cut spending and survive politically. We have found the same problem here in Europe - governments have been elected making the promise of austerity, but when anyone proposes any actual concrete measure, all the special interests object. The end result is that the spending carries on increasing until it cannot increase any more, and it is finally taken out of the politicians' hands - as with Greece. But by then the mess is so deep that it is very hard to fix. There's no money or economy left to fix it with.

Greece is a picture of where we are all headed. The politicians won't stop until we get there, because they can't stop, for all the reasons that the Tea Party types in Congress are presently illustrating. The electorate and the vested interests won't let them. It's only when there's no longer any choice in the matter that anything will be done.

The only worrying thing is, because Greece went first, they got (mostly) bailed out. As bad as things are in Greece today, it would have been far worse without that. When the day comes, who do you think is going to be left to bail out the USA?

I gave up arguing about it some time ago, though. I came to the conclusion that the political system is not yet ready to listen. The Tea Party in Congress are making the mistake of pushing for desperate measures before it really gets bad enough to justify it. Understandable, but they'll need to wait for a bit.

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

I am not a man of letters. I have no Ivy League (or any other for that matter) sheepskin hanging on my wall. While I am unlettered, I am not unlearned. I read extensively, correspond with and engage peoples of a spectrum of political views and affiliations. I have been a soldier, a laborer, a manager, and an entrepreneur. It is true I never finished college. What I have done, however, is balance a checkbook. I have made payroll. I have even had to sell equipment, on occasion, to make payroll.

You Harvard and Yale types, as undoubtedly smart as you all are, seem incapable of grasping the one central issue of the TEA Party, for which there is no membership, but I gladly support. The government takes more than it needs and is a bad steward of what it takes. It has established bureaucracy as the new aristocracy with elected officials as the new royalty. The average government employee makes far more and has much better benefits than their civilian counterparts, and have demonstrably weaker performance and less accountability, with more fraud, waste and abuse to show for it. In short, they are the entitled class. They do not have to perform, they need only avoid exposure on the nightly news.

I was a charter member of my local TEA party group. On its outset, as the movement was in its infancy, we struggled with our group identity. There were many who wanted to make it something other than it was. They wanted it to be about a variety of social issues, both libertarian and conservative. I spoke to the group and advocated for concentration on government overreach, out of control spending and burdensome taxation. I made a passionate plea, with considerable resistance from some quarters, to appeal to the issues with the broadest crossover appeal and a fairly undeniable, universal truth. My voice was heard and it was written into our charter. We don't do social issues, nor do most TEA party groups I have interacted with.

Those who advocated for abortion control, drug legalization and a variety of other issues all wanted a voice. I explained that they should all have voices...just not in this TEA party group. I explained that they were free to pursue those issues elsewhere, but holding true to the original Tea Party patriots, I felt that our group should remain focussed on a public and vocal battle against taxation without representation. We keep voting for people who say they will act responsibly and fix the problem, and they keep changing their tune as soon as they are elected, so we continue to be unrepresented. I have looked my representative, Eric Cantor R-VA, in the eye and told him that he is part of the problem.

People may disregard my opinion as that of the unwashed from a hillbilly state, but I grew up in the shadows of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe and revere those gentlemen for the profound contributions they made. I wish Wilson had been born ...well...anywhere else, but I feel that Virginians have a long tradition of public service and political advocacy, having fathered 8 presidents as an example. It is in that tradition that I stand forward as an average citizen, with an admittedly greater appreciation for science fiction than science (not the man-made global warming brand of science fiction...the Verne and Wells type) and shout at the top of my lungs, "Desist, repent, repair and recover!" Stop the ludicrous spending and burdensome taxation. Admit the folly of our current course and return to Constitutional compliance. If you think the Constitution is "broken" amend it accordingly, or learn to live with it being broken, in YOUR opinion. Lastly, after ending the immoral binge spending spree of other people's money,...privately seek ways to fix things that are not covered in the Constitution, and that you can't get passed through the amendment process while the rest of us work at repairing our nation's fiscal health domestically and reputation abroad.

I am really curious as to which "moral assessment" you find so easily to disagree with us on, as we really have made none. Tell you what...I will not hold you responsible, as an enlightened liberal, for the criminal activities and animalistic behavior of the intellectually superior and progressive Occupy Wall Street crowd, including but not limited to: Murder, Rape, conspiracy to blow up bridges, theft, assault, vandalism, indecent exposure, unlawful assembly, lewd and lascivious behavior to minors, defecating on police cars, trespassing, rampant anti-semitism, and illicit drug distribution and use, etc., and you should promise to not hold me accountable for the occasional idiot, who is just as likely to be a liberal plant, that shows up at TEA party gatherings with a Confederate flag or some other stupid, wholly unrepresentative of the group sign. Do we have a deal...or does your finely tuned "moral assessment" preclude such an agreement?

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrisco


The tea party has goals & platforms & positions, though, right? E.g., isn't it for reapealing Obamacare? I'm for keeping it -- indeed, I'd reaplace it w/ single-payer regime.

I'd also give universal free college tuition to all highschool grads in U.S. Tea party would be against that, no?

Those policies reflect my values; I understand them to be contrary to yours -- or to a view the tea party has about the inapproriateness of taxing individuals to pay for goods of these sorts.

Democratic politics is about working these matters out -- either through some sort of compromoise or a majority decision to go one way or the other, at least for the time being. Subject too, orf course, to constitutional rights; there too we likely havd differing views -- ones to be worked out by arguments of the right sort. Good!

None of these disagreements between us have anything to do w/ how well either of us does in interpreting scientific data or anything like that. Maybe we will have disagreements that make certain facts relevant, and I'm guessing at that point we'll have similar views at least about how to figure out what the facts are. But the facts are unlikely to settle very many of our disputes -- that's okay!

As for membership: We just ask people if they consider themselves part of the tea party or tea party "movement." It is a mystery to me what exactly it means to say "yes" to this question!

You would say "yes," though, right?

Why, given that there is no "membership"? How do people know they are part of the tea party? Do you think everyone who says "yes" agrees about what it means to say "yes"? I honestly have no idea -- and indeed wonder if the survey question has any real meaning whatsoever!

(For what it is worth, I am confident you "know" just as much as I do & are just as "smart" as I am; I'm sure we know different things -- things that matter for the lives we lead. It's absurd to think there is some single body of information that one should use to "measure" how much they know! People fill their minds up w/ vast quantities of information of the sort that it suits their aims to have.)


October 20, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

I'm for keeping it -- indeed, I'd replace it w/ single-payer regime.

I'd also give universal free college tuition to all high school grads in U.S. Tea party would be against that, no?

It would be interesting to see how people from BOTH political persuasions who scored higher on the CRT test feel about both of those issues.

After all, the CRT - which you used as one indicator in your previous column - is apparently a quite accurate measure of a person's willingness to look beyond the obvious, intuitive solution to a more considered, analytical solution.

Both of the "solutions" which you mention - while they would be a nice thing in a perfect world - require MUCH more than a "Wouldn't this be a nice thing to have?" proclamation, as well as an understanding that people who are "against" them are not bad and/or evil people.

My guess is that most Tea Partiers would love it if both of those wishes were somehow possible, but I would also guess that if you were to sit down with them and let them discuss it with you (and most of them would do it with a lot of scribbling numbers on paper), you would find that they aren't bad/evil, but that they have given these situations a LOT of thought, and have come to their conclusions from a very reasoned analysis of ALL of the data available to them.

I think you would also find that one of the reasons that they are so hostile to Obamacare is because they followed quite closely the legislative process that led to its passage, and they feel that the tactics used to pass it were not representative of the principles upon which this country was founded.

When NOBODY on "our" side of the aisle voted for this bill in either legislative house - in fact, were actively locked out of the drafting of the original legislation to the point of someone sitting guard in front of the door to make sure they weren't allowed in the room - I am sure that you can understand why we feel like we have not been represented in this matter.

But, that's just me venting my frustration.

I do appreciate the fact that you were willing to publish your findings and that you were willing to admit that your perceptions were challenged. For me, that was a refreshing change from what I am used to hearing. I agree that we may never agree on our political leanings, and that's fine.

I do wish there were some way for folks on both sides to get together and talk with one another - I suspect we would all find that the talking heads on both sides aren't representative of the majority of people In this country.

Thanks for letting us see things from your perspective!

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


Here is the fundamental problem, Dan. You believe we live in a democracy. We do not. We live in a representative republic. Democracy is 5 wolves and four sheep voting on the dinner menu. Our system of government was not ever intended to be subject to the tyranny of half plus one. It was intentionally designed to be difficult so that it would not sway with the trend of the day, so that it would instead offer shelter in the storm of public sentiment. Even this difficult barrier was overcome by passion in the passage of the 18th amendment prohibiting the sale or manufacture of alcohol for consumption. It later had to be repealed using the same process with the 21st.

The TEA party is for repealing Obamacare, and is against "free" college tuition (there is no such thing as free, only money taken by force from one to be given to another), because there is NO Constitutional justification for it. The federal government has no jurisdiction in these matters, and Obamacare's passage was illegal. Here you will say that the SCOTUS declared it legal...Scotus has a long history of declaring clearly unconstitutional laws to be constitutional. A 6th grader can read the Constitution and get this from can't pass a bill for which there is no legal jurisdiction (you may as well ban burritos in Mexico while you are at it) and you are in dire dereliction of your public office if you vote for a law you have never read and the details of said law have never been offered publicly. ""We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what's in it." - Nancy Pelosi

If you want universal healthcare and college for all, amend the Constitution IAW Art. V by proposing an amendment, getting 2/3 of each house to vote in favor of your amendment, then getting 2/3 of the states to call for a Constitutional Convention, then you must convince 3/4 of the state legislatures to agree with your agenda by ratifying the amendment or by conducting ratifying conventions on the state level and getting 3/4 of the vote that way. If you manage to get all that done, then it will be Constitutional and I will defend it with the same fervor as I would any of the first 10 amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights. Until then, it is an abomination and a usurpation of state and individual rights in direct violation of the Constitution.

Honestly Dan, I could not care less what your agenda is and it does not matter one single bit if I agree with you or not. I live in VA and you, presumably, live in CT. What I care about is the rule of law. If you don't have that then you have chaos. You expect me to agree with your agenda, because it sounds reasonable and compassionate, but then you would oppress the rest of the country to submit to your New England sensibilities regardless of our inclinations. History is replete with anecdotes of ofttimes well-meaning men subverting others to their will because they felt it was the right thing to do for the majority.

Whether you agree with what you perceive my platform or agenda to be, you should be in complete agreement with me that tyranny by a slim majority is not good for anyone. I encourage you to read the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers. It reveals the excruciating thought the Founders gave to even the most minute details. It took months for them to frame the actual document and it is only a few pages long. By contrast, the ACA (Obamacare) is THOUSANDS of pages long and dramatically impacts every single citizen, yet it was not published until the eve of the vote, and was passed along party lines by a slim majority, many of whom were ACTUALLY BRIBED to change their vote and vote for it. If it is so great, then why did they have to result to skullduggery to achieve passage? Why aren't 2/3 gladly lining up to pass an amendment? If you really believe that majority rules, why don't you vote, along with the whole body of Yale, students, faculty, and staff on who gets what grade and what compensation should be received by whom? How does democracy sound now? We are in the state we are in because we have utterly turned our backs on the Constitution and the ruling class knows that no obstacles remain.

"Does the government fear us? Or do we fear the government? When the people fear the government, tyranny has found victory. The federal government is our servant, not our master!"
- Thomas Jefferson

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrisco

I feel like I can only echo what a lot of my fellow TEA Partiers have already said- to see someone on the opposite side of the political spectrum be honest enough to admit that his misconceptions were incorrect, and to change his opinions when confronted with empirical data to the contrary, is truly something worth commenting on, and in that sense I'm another voice to thank you for that. What you point out as a problem, that of politically biased reasoning and the resulting animosity, is almost so common as to leave one numb, and indeed... I'll admit that I waited for a follow-up post, because I was almost certain that there would be a sharp over-correction to re-establish your liberal bona fides, as you correctly point out is a temptation among the more intellectual members of any cultural group. Now that I see you truly do stand by what you say, my respect for you has only increased, so thanks again for being a welcome relief to the usual, depressing script.

On a more personal note, my own major (bachelor's, alas, though I'm planning on continuing my education,) is industrial/organizational psychology, so I'm glad that your post got so much play in the circles I frequent. While our politics are strongly opposed, I feel like I can learn a lot from you, so I hope you don't mind my following this blog for that reason.

...and in case no one else has offered, let me just say that if you're ever in my neck of the woods, or if I ever happen to be in yours, I'd be deeply honored to go to a museum with you. Who knows, it might be a more enjoyable experience when the same things are seen from different perspectives, mm?

October 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBen S


Well, I style myself as one of those rational scientific types with non-dogmatic libertarian tendencies, so I find myself agreeing with many of the Tea Party ideas (not the cheers of the cheerleaders). With regard to the climate problem, yes, certain aspects loom larger in my mind than others, and, what do you know, they support my politics! I'm not a climate change denier, if I had to push a button as to whether its worth worrying about, I would push the "worry" button. But worry how much? I am presented with "97% of climate scientists agree" that its a big worry. Two points:

1. I have worked with climate scientists, and I see a dynamic that worries me. They are ambitious people, and they need grant money. The one who can raise the loudest alarm with their data gets the grant, others not as much. Its not so much political, its like getting a second or third opinion when your doctor tells you that you need attention, and if he tells you that you are healthy as a horse, you go home and have a beer. The climategate emails were not a staggering surprise to me.

2. Consider the tragedy of the commons - a bunch of shepherds grazing their sheep on common ground have no incentive to conserve, only to consume. The authoritarian left answer is to gather detailed data on every shepherd and promulgate a set of rules to prevent the abuse. The libertarian right answer is to establish property rights, eliminate the common, and have each shepherd own a plot which they will be incentivized not to abuse. When you have a situation in which property rights are difficult to define, you have "market failure" and the "triumphant howls" of the left as they dive into their agenda-promoting need to blow it all out of proportion.

It is very difficult to define and enforce property rights on our common atmosphere.
Ok, these are the cherry-picked facts of a libertarian-ish rational scientifically educated person somewhat sympathetic to the Tea Party, who is not an expert climatologist, nor is inclined to spend years to become one. Your concern is how do you communicate to me the need to worry lots about climate change? You have a tough row to hoe, not to convince me, but to convince yourself that I am worth convincing. If you acknowledged the above facts, and gave me a sense that you understood the mechanisms I am talking about, and were able to carefully demonstrate to me that although they exist, they are of insufficient weight to negate your conclusions, I would make a concerted effort to jump out of my libertarian-ish intellectual prison and likely be convinced to worry lots instead of worrying some. But then you would have to deal with the "triumphant howls" of the blindered climate deniers whose misconstruance of your statements would go viral, setting back the cause of climate control.
Its a conundrum. Let me know if you find the answer. I am thinking about it.

October 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFrankL

Dan -

Anyone who might be tempted to beat his or her chest in a triumphal tribal howl over the practically meaningless correlation between right-left political outlooks & science comprehension could thus expect to find him- or herself fatally impaled the very next instant on the sharp spear tip of simple, unassailable logic.

If someone is not interested in exploring logic, but instead is driven by an emotional reaction to a sense of victimization at the hands of the "other," (as we can see largely drives the rhetoric of the Tea Party and the reaction in the blog comments from Tea Party supporters here at your blog, elsewhere in the blogosphere, from Rush Limbaugh, etc.), then they are immune to the effects of simple and unassailable logic.

October 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

If that sort of thing happens often enough, it ought to reduce the polarisation somewhat.

Perhaps calling a spade a spade, acknowledging fallacious reasoning, calling out a need to justify a sense of victimization by demonizing the "other," criticizing sloppiness, and identifying the pernicious effect of demagogues like Limbuagh (who don't create the problems but help to reinforce tribal boundaries), instead of making excuses for those phenomena among those we agree with politically, would help also.

Just sayin'

October 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua


"The tea party has goals & platforms & positions, though, right? E.g., isn't it for reapealing Obamacare? I'm for keeping it -- indeed, I'd reaplace it w/ single-payer regime.

I'd also give universal free college tuition to all highschool grads in U.S. Tea party would be against that, no?"

Thanks. I was curious.

There are, I think, a range of opinions within the Tea Party. Hard-line libertarians and the free-marketeers would probably be against those. But there are probably a heck of a lot on the other end of the spectrum who would say: "Sure, if you can afford it."

In the past, the Republicans have been every bit as keen to increase government spending as the Democrats. It's a bit of a sore point actually. And Obamacare I am told is based on an idea of Mitt Romney's. But it indicates that a lot of right-wingers are not against social spending per se. What changed people's minds and got them worked up was the realisation that you were spending money that you do not have.

So sure, if a majority want to spend a certain portion of their money on free education, it's a nice thing to have. You're paying for it via taxes and prices in the shops, so it's your money. You'd be richer if you didn't. But it's your choice. If you think it's worth the price, then go ahead.

But what got the Tea Party moving was the fact that you don't have the money to be able to do it. You're already spending something like 8% more than you're earning, and 17 trillion in debt. And it's not a temporary thing until you get the money to pay it back, nor an investment that will increase you're earning power enough to pay for it, it's what you're living on from day to day.

A trillion dollars is to a million dollars as a million dollars is to a dollar. (If you've never seen that graphic before, do. It's worth it.)

So I have a proposal. You say you want free education for all high school grads. I therefore propose that all high school teachers work for free from now on, teaching high school students. That is, after all, what "free education" really means. And if anyone asks "But what will we live on?" I recommend that high school teachers borrow the money they need to live.

Does that plan sound insane? If so, you might have some inkling of how Tea Partiers feel about the current policy.

Now don't get me wrong. If any high school teachers want to offer free education, I have got no objection. I think it would show a most generous and public-spirited nature, far superior to those profit-minded teachers who don't believe in free education and who expect to be paid more than it costs them to do the job. But I don't think it would be right to make them do so, and I don't think it would be wise for them to try to fund their generosity by borrowing heavily, with no plan for ever being able to pay it back.

I think if you want to be able to afford more luxuries like this, you need to earn more, which means growing the economy, which means leaving wealth invested in the productive sector of the economy, rather than diverting more and more to the unproductive/redistributive sector. And sure, we disagree on what the right division is. We have to compromise on that democratically. But can we at least agree that we have to earn it first?

Or if not, that it's not totally unreasonable/immoral that some people should think we should?

October 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV



You are definitely on for the museum. Maybe we should organize a group outing for readers of this blog? (Have to be a huge museum, obviously, to hold all 14 billion, but likely they wouldn't all show up)

October 21, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

I appreciate your willingness to humbly admit bias as a scientist and as a consumer of political speech. I have a BS, MS and ED. D from public universities so many of us right wingers have a lot of experience with Liberal teachers who are propagandists for left wing causes and closed to open dialogues. In fact, had I not been on a few Doctoral Committees in Psychology and Counseling, several conservatives would have been secretly washed out because of liberal professor bias. Almost every Tea Party member I know is a college graduate in a hard science. Engineering, medicine, computer science, etc. They are innovators, entrepreneurs and inventors and own small businesses so they have an independent lifestyle and hate bureaucracy.

I led a group of 50 community leaders, Black and White, mostly liberals, through the Underground Freedom Railroad Center. Afterward,at the discussion no one knew before that tour, that Whites had led the Emancipation Movement and Underground Railroad Movement. It is not science but it is ignorance of education and history and a much greater indicator of left wing ideals.

I suggest that you intentionally get to know some educated conservatives. As a scientist in the fields of social issues you certainly know of the ways the biases of the researcher shows up in the results. Had you not been so biased I wonder what the data would show. Can your replicate it with a conservative as lead researcher?

October 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGary Sweeten


Which research did you have in mind when you asked whether it would be possible to "replicate it with a conservative as lead researcher"?

I don't think it's really a problem for empirical researchers to have priors or expectations etc that reflect the insularity of the information sources they are exposed to (although of course they should try to avoid insularity). So long as they are willing to revise their views when shown valid evidence that contravenes their expectations -- that's all that being fair-minded, unbiased, and the like require.

That's all; but obviously, that's not something that one can just assume will happen. My research is all about the risk that people's ideological or cultural expectations will influence their perception of the *validity* of studies when the results disappoint their expectations.

I'm more worried about that happening to reflective citizens trying to make sense of decision-relevant science than I am about it happening to scientists (natural or social).

But I am not unworried about it in the case of the latter. I certainly have no trouble recognizing that something like that could happen to me; and the problem would be that I wouldn't recognize when.

I can try to work w/ researchers who have different outlooks, I guess. But I can also just show everyone what I've done and ask them to please tell me if they see me doing this, b/c it would really disappoint me to have my work poisoned by this sort of self-deception.

As a citizen, too, I hope that people will point out my falling into this trap, b/c I don't want to make the mistake in that setting either. But it's even harder to come up w/ ways to check or constrain this risk in that setting b/c if the people telling me this is happening are people who don't share my values, I'm likely to think they are the ones who are biased!

Actually, I think in political life, the best way to check one's own vulnerability to credit evidence more readily when it fits one's cultural or ideological predispotions is to find someone who shares your basic political values but who has a position that is contrary to the one that is predominant in one's cultural group. B/c you know that person shares your values, you will already trust the person & won't have any reason to think his or her judgment is being biased by the ideological congeniality of the position he or she is advancing.

So I try to do that when I can

October 22, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Professor Kahan:

I came across a link to this blog while reading an article on Mother Jones. The article was terribly condescending towards Tea Party supporters. I, being a rather condescending type of person, got a bit of sick enjoyment out of reading said article. After reading this blog post, I can say that I'm not proud of the fact that I enjoyed the article at all.

I feel that the responsibility of academia is to promote self-awareness and to contribute towards improving society. So, it makes me genuinely happy to see that there are people out there, like yourself, trying to do these things in spite of all that which make the endeavors seem futile. Hopefully, seeing that you've kept in check people like myself will make things seem less futile.

Too few researchers comment on what non-academics are saying about their research. Thank you for taking the time to interact with, and explain your work to, the general public. Please keep doing this. It's really important for people like myself, and deeply appreciated. My only lament is that I don't attend Yale, and thus can't take one of your classes!

With Gratitude,

Thabo Mokgadi

October 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThabo Mokgadi


>>>>Rush Limbaugh, e.g,., told his millions of listeners I had described the tea party members as "racist, sexist, bigot, homophobe, lunatic, extremists, dangerous, out of control, probably spittle dripping, missing the two front teeth, gun rack in the pickup on the way to church Saturday night for a good parking space as they pray to the Lord for anti-abortion belief." In making his listeners hate me for holding and expressing sentiments I do not have and never uttered, he lulls me into hating his listeners, whom I assume he is speaking for.<<<<

You're taking this way to literal. Rush was trying to characterize what the normal, average person who watches mainstream news networks or reads mainstream news sources (the professor admitted to being one) must think of Tea Party members. I'm sure if you asked him point blank if every viewer or even every liberal felt this way he would say, "No, but the percentage is probably pretty high."

So, I wasn't really bothered by his generalization because it was obvious to me it was aimed at the majority of liberals and apolitical viewers who are in fact guilty of believing what these networks dish out. If you are in the minority, he wasn't referring to you.

October 22, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterrobineggblue82


Thanks. Have had the same experience--glad to find out that others feel too it & feel similarly disoriented by it.

Also if anything I said helped you to detect a lapse in your own commitment to engaging others--including those w/ whom you have strong & legitimate disagreements -- as respectfully as you believe they should be treated, then all I did was reciprocate a benefit that others have conferred on me in the past & that I am sure you'll be uniquely situated in the future to confer on another who shares your general outlooks.

October 23, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

Hi Dan - come to think of it, you are the only liberal I have ever communicated with who is willing to step back, look at the psychological basis of people's political point of view, and then turn that analysis on yourself. I try to do that too, but, as you say, its very difficult to detect one's own bias. The best way is to engage the "opposition" in a dialog and, if it's a rant, try to get behind the rant and get at what's driving them. If its a rant with some substance, rather than a stream of ad-hominem invective, then maybe I can get behind it, and I can't believe whats driving them is totally bad. The problem is that there are no liberals that I have ever spoken to who do not lapse into mindless invective or refuse to engage in such a discussion. No only do you seem willing to rationally discuss things, but to question your own bias, and somewhat forgive mine.

So help me with my blinders. What is the objection to a free market? To the best of my ability to discern, it is the idea that the losers will be dying like flies, starving in the streets. Also, there is the unexamined liberal axiom that we should all be economically equal. That cannot be argued if its axiomatic. Also, the lack of central control, which is presumed to be more intelligent (if its liberals controlling things) than distributed control. And finally, that the free market glorifies selfishness and greed, emotions that should not be encouraged in a "good" society.

Do I get it, or do I miss something?


October 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFrankL


"The government takes more than it needs and is a bad steward of what it takes. It has established bureaucracy as the new aristocracy with elected officials as the new royalty. The average government employee makes far more and has much better benefits than their civilian counterparts, and have demonstrably weaker performance and less accountability, with more fraud, waste and abuse to show for it. In short, they are the entitled class. They do not have to perform, they need only avoid exposure on the nightly news."

What Dan's analysis DID cover, was Science literacy.

What it did NOT cover, was the ability to think independently of the group you identify with.

And after years of reading Conservative blogs, and hearing Libertarians, Republicans, and Tea Partiers reciting the SAME talking points...

I have come to the conclusion that these groups reason emotionally rather than logically.

Every individual case is anecdotal and difficult to apply generally; but let's examine your comment specifically.

You say that government takes more than it needs.

But in a Democracy, the elected Representatives determine what the government needs.

There's no superior way of making that determination, unless you reject Democracy entirely.

And I've seen quite a few that take that tack; the "America is not a Democracy" screed you referred to in another post.

As if simply denying that America is a Democracy justifies suppressing the vote of people who disagree with you... that's antithetical to what the Founders wanted.

True, in 1789 only men could vote, but differences of religion and ethnicity were deliberately ignored when it came to the Right to Vote.

If we go down that road; deciding that SOME aren't qualified to vote for some reason, America is finished.

The ONLY equitable route is to continue with one man, one vote.

So, I reject your primary statement.

I point out, in rebuttal, that America had a Balanced Budget in 1998 and 1999.

We had Prosperity, and the CBO had a projected surplus that would have allowed us to pay DOWN the National Debt to $1 trillion by 2009.

We also had a Balanced Budget under President Eisenhower, and paid down the World War II Debt quite rapidly.

This proves that Government can be responsible, and balance the books.

Ronald Reagan's Administration Tripled the National Debt, H.W. Bush Doubled that Total, and G.W. Bush destroyed Clinton's Balanced Budget.

I conclude that your statement is not "logical", but emotional.

But let's look for corroboration:

"It has established bureaucracy as the new aristocracy with elected officials as the new royalty"


No, the bureaucrats that work in the Federal government are merely civil servants.

They aren't riding around in Cadillacs and living in 40 room mansions. Those are the Defense Contractors.

At the highest levels bureaucrats make not much more than $110K a year, and that's for the managerial level.

Conflating, as you did, that elected officials are "royalty", is ridiculous.

That's an emotional argument. We ELECT our leaders. They aren't "royalty", and their positions are not inherited.

"The average government employee makes far more and has much better benefits than their civilian counterparts"

This is a persistent Conservative myth.

Let's clear it up.

The difference is +2%.

Not much. Better educated civil servants get paid LESS than their private sector counterparts.

The major difference is : Pensions. The private sector has been destroying Union jobs for 32 years now, and the Pensions people counted on are vanishing.

But the civil servants still get pensions.

The problem, then, is not that civil servants are overpaid, it's that private sector employees are being ripped off. They USED to get pensions, but now Wage Theft is cutting into their income.

You said civil servants "have demonstrably weaker performance and less accountability, with more fraud, waste and abuse to show for it".

You'd have to prove that.

Because it sounds like an OPINION.

The Private sector has it's own share of fraud, waste, and abuse. It's just far less transparent.

Remember right after the Bush Bank Bailout, one of the major banks got caught going on a "company retreat", and spending a million dollars to reserve a fancy hotel for a week?

Now, most Americans had no idea this stuff went on. And it wasn't OUR business until the Bailout, either.

True, every dollar spent on Executive bennies and company retreats is a dollar not distributed in Dividends.

But ideally, that's up to the Board of Directors and the Shareholders to police.

However... the Bailout threw those practices into sharp relief, and personally, I thought that the Banks should have avoided unnecessary luxuries until their debt was repaid.

In summary; the beliefs you have espoused sound like genuine Tea Party Doctrine.

Otherwise known as "groupthink".

I find them... lacking in common sense, logic, and demonstrative of a tendency toward Revisionist History.

Now, as Will Rogers said, "I'm not a member of any organized Political Party, I'm a Democrat".

Whereas you belong to a tight organization that has an approved Dogma, we don't.

We argue all the time.

So I'm not quoting lyrics from the Hymnal here; these are just my own reasoned conclusions after years of studying your tribe.

And I've come to conclude that "tribe" is quite correct.

You seem to base your beliefs on Tribal values... like a Cult.

I don't know how we're going to get past this.

As time goes on, the Republican Base shrinks; the GOP is about to breathe it's last.

There will have to be a new Party that represents Conservatives. And I hope to GOD it's more in the mold of Eisenhower than it is Ted Cruz, for your sake.

November 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam Carr

@William Carr - You accuse Libertarians, Republicans, Tea Party of reciting the same talking points and conclude that they reason emotionally rather than logically. You then repeat Liberal talking points in rebuttal.

What particularly bothers me is the usual flawed argument about the national debt. The proper way to view the national debt is as the ratio of debt to GDP. First of all, a person making $50K per year with a debt of $50K is in more trouble than a person making $500K per year with a debt of $50K. So the "tripling of the debt" under Reagan-Bush I is an exaggeration. The debt/GDP ratio doubled.

Secondly, you conveniently omit the increase under Obama. Usually this is discounted as an "inheritance" effect from the Bush II administration, and there certainly is an inheritance effect, but you cannot have it both ways. The levelling of the Debt/GDP in the early Clinton years must have been an inheritance from the Bush I years.

Finally, the budget is not determined by the president. A budget is submitted by the president, but the final budget is determined by both houses of congress. A more accurate way to judge responsibility is by looking at who controls congress as a function of time, especially if both houses are controlled by the same party. Looking at it this way give a muddier picture. For example, the fully Democrat congress in the first term of Clinton gets credit for presiding over a levelling of the debt/GDP ratio, but the large drop in debt/GDP in the second term occurred under a fully Republican congress, which saw fit to continue the policies of the preceeding congresses. Also, the doubling of the debt in the Reagan-Bush I era was presided over by either a mixed congress or a fully Democrat congress.

Now, my gut instinct is semi-Libertarian, I am in the individualist/hierachist "white male" quadrant and I am a "high numeracy" type of person. As Dan Kahan says, the odds are that I will be particularly able and prone to use data to protect my "identity" rather than seek out the truth, just as you will be prone to use data to protect your evidently liberal "identity". The whole point of this blog is to trancend this identity-protective cognition. The above discussion of the national debt was given in my "identity protection" mode. Please note that this does not make it incorrect, only in need of especial scrutiny, since I (and you) are prone to have blinders on which protect our "identity". I think it is a potential advance in understanding beyond the over-simplified "it's the president's fault" idea, and I wonder if you have any insights that I missed due to my identity-protective cognition. My suspicion is that the bottom line is a lot more complicated and muddier than either one of us thinks.

November 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFrankL

Personally I can't help but wonder if the good professor is more than a bit disappointed in the results...

What are the odds that story will run on MSNBC?

I'm guessing somewhere slim and none...

December 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjuandos

14 billion regular viewers.

Why would I ever question your mathematics?

Who's viewing outside the 7 billion inhabitants of Earth?

January 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBlake

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