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Thursday
Aug082013

Partisan Media Are Not Destroying America

At the risk of creating an expectation for edification that we'll never again approach satisfying, CCP Blog again brings you an exclusive guest post by a foremost scholarly expert on an issue that everyone everywhere is astonishingly confused about! The expert is political scientist Kevin Arceneaux of Temple University. The issue is whether partisan cable news and related media outlets are driving conflict over climate change and other divisive issues by misinforming credulous members of the public and otherwise fanning the flames of political polarization. I've questioned this widely held view myself (see, e.g., here & here.)  But no one listens to me, of course.  Well now Arceneaux--employing the novel strategy of actually bringing evidence derived from valid empirical methods to bear--will straighten everything out once and for all. His post furnishes a preview--again, exclusively for the 14 billion readers of the CCP Blog!--of his soon-to-be-published book, Changing Minds, Changing Channels (Univ. Chicago Press 2013), co-authored with Martin Johnson. (Psssst ... you can actually download a couple of chapters in draft right now for free! Don't tell anybody!)

Kevin Arceneaux:

There is little doubt that the American legislative process has become more partisan and polarized. But is the same true for the mass public? For the most part, it seems that most Americans remain middle of the road. Rather than becoming more polarized, people mostly seem to have brought their policy positions in line with their partisan identification.

Despite the empirical evidence, many—especially pundits—cannot shake the notion that Americans are becoming more politically extreme and divided. Not only do many in the chattering class take mass polarization as a self-evident fact, the culprit is equally self-evident: the partisan news media.

On some level, I understand why this is such a popular conclusion. If political elites are so polarized, and clearly they are, it only seems intuitive that the same must be true for the mass citizenry. What’s more, people tend to overestimate the effects of media content on others, and what is the mass public if not masses of other people.

Nonetheless, in our soon-to-be published book Changing Minds or Changing Channels, Martin Johnson and I challenge the conventional wisdom that Fox News and MSNBC are responsible for polarizing the country.

We must keep in mind that in spite of their visibility to people like us who are politically engaged, relatively few people tune into shows like The O’Reilly Factor or The Rachel Maddow Show. For instance, voter turnout in the 2012 presidential election was roughly 12 times the size of the top-rated partisan talk show audiences on Fox News and MSNBC.

More important, people choose to watch partisan news audiences. The type of person who gravitates to partisan news shows is more politically and ideologically motivated than those who choose to watch mainstream news or tune out the news altogether, partisan or otherwise. People are not passive or particularly open-minded when it comes to political controversies. Not only do they choose what to watch on television, but they also choose whether to accept or reject the messages they receive from the televisions shows they watch.

In short, two forces simultaneously limit and blunt the effects of partisan news media. First, partisan news shows cannot polarize—in a direct sense—the multitude of Americans who do not tune into these shows. Second, the sort of people who actively choose to watch partisan news are precisely the sort of people who already possess strong opinions on politics and precisely the sort of people who should be less swayed by the content they view on these shows.

Wait—you may be thinking—don’t studies conclusively show that Fox News viewers know less about foreign events and express more conservative opinions on important policy issues like climate change?

The fact that people select into partisan news audiences also makes it difficult to study the effects of these shows. If people tune into Fox News because they care more about domestic political debates than foreign events or because they have conservative views, we would expect them to know less about foreign policy and distrust climate scientists even if Fox News did not exist.

What these studies do not and cannot tell us is the “counterfactual”:  What would Fox News viewers know and believe about politics if we lived in a world without Fox News?

The counterfactual is, of course, unknowable, and the central goal of causal inference is finding a way to estimate it. It turns out that observational designs do a terrible job at this.

Consequently, Martin and I turned to randomized experiments to investigate the effects of partisan media. By randomly assigning subjects to treatment and control groups, we are able to simulate the counterfactual by creating equivalent groups that experience different states of the world (e.g., one in which they watch Fox News and one in which they do not).

Using randomized experiments to study media effects has a long and successful history.

However, without modifications, the standard experimental design that assigns one group to a control group (e.g., no partisan news) and another group to a treatment group (e.g., partisan news) would not help us understand how selectivity—these choices we know viewers are making—influences the effects of partisan news shows. Forced exposure experiments (as we call them) allow one to estimate the effects of media content under the assumption that everyone is exposed to it. The current media environment, rife with abundant choice, makes it impossible for anyone to assume even a majority of viewers are exposed to a type of program, let alone everyone .

So, we modified the forced exposure experiment in two ways, which I'll describe in turn.

The first modification involved creating of a research design we call the Selective Exposure Experiment to compare a world where people had to watch partisan news to one that more closely approximates the one in which we live, where people can choose to watch entertainment programming instead. This experimental design starts with the forced exposure experimental design as its foundation. We randomly assigned some people to watch partisan news and some people to a control group where they could only watch an entertainment show.

These conditions allow us to estimate the effects of partisan news if people had no choice but to watch it. To get at the effects of selectivity, we randomly assigned a final group of subjects to a condition where they could watch any of the programs in the forced exposure conditions at will. We gave these subjects a remote control and allowed them to explore the partisan news programs and entertainment shows just as they would at home. They were free to watch all of a show, none of it, or flip back and forth among shows if that’s what they wanted to do.

The Selective Exposure Experiments taught us that the presence of choice blunted the effects of partisan news shows. To take one example from the book, we conducted an experiment in which some people watched a likeminded, or proattitudinal, news program (e.g., a conservative watching Fox) about the health care debate back in 2010; others watched an oppositional, or counterattitudinal, news program (e.g., a liberal watching Fox) on the same topic; others watched basic cable entertainment fare, devoid of politics; and finally, a group of subjects were allowed to choose among these shows freely.

The figure below summarizes the results from this Selective Exposure Experiment. The bars represent how polarized liberals and conservatives are after completing the viewing condition.

Across a number of aspects in the health care debate—how people rate the major political parties to deal with the issue, the personal impact of the policy, and the wisdom of the public opinion, individual mandate, and plan to raise taxes on the wealthy—forced exposure to both pro- and counterattitudinal shows increased polarization. So, it is clear that partisan shows can polarize.

However, subjects in the choice condition were much less polarized. Keep in mind that subjects in the choice condition only had four options from which to choose. Had we given subjects over 100 channels to choose from, as is commonplace in most households today, we can only imagine that these effects would have been even smaller.

Figure 4.2 in Arceneaux and Johnson (2013)

Next, we wished to sort out why we observed smaller effects in the choice condition. Undoubtedly, part of the explanation has to be that with fewer people watching, one should observe smaller overall effects. Recall, though, that we also anticipate that those who seek out partisan news—news-seekers as Markus Prior calls them—should be less susceptible to partisan news effects.

It was to investigate this hypothesis that we devised our second modification of  the standard forced-exposure experiment. 

In a design we call the Participant Preference Experiment, we measured people’s viewing preferences before randomly assigning them to view a proattitudinal, counterattitudinal, or entertainment show. Measuring viewing preferences before exposure to the stimuli allows us to gauge whether news-seekers react differently to partisan news than entertainment-seekers.

The figure below shows the results from one of these experiments. The news programs in these experiments focused on the controversy around raising taxes on the top income earners. Across a number of issue questions on the topic, we find that partisan news shows do more to polarize entertainment-seekers forced to watch the partisan news program than it does among news-seekers who often watch these shows.

Figure 4.4 in Arceneaux and Johnson (2013)

Note that the proattitudinal program had almost no effect on news-seekers, while the counterattitudinal show did. If people tend to gravitate toward likeminded news programming and entertainment seekers tend to tune out news, then these findings suggest that the direct effects of partisan news should be minimal.

As an aside, notice that the counterattitudinal news programming across all of these studies, if anything, polarizes those who are forced to watch it. Not only is this finding consistent with our thesis that people are not passive, blank slates (they can reject messages with which they disagree!), but it also undermines the Pollyanna notion that if people would just listen to the other side, the country would be a more tolerant and moderate place.

Finally, let me be clear that Martin and I are not arguing that partisan news shows have no effects. For one, they seem to lead many people to perceive that the country is more polarized, even if it isn’t. For another, they may have indirect effects on politics by energizing viewers (if not changing their minds) to contact their elected officials and vocalize their extreme opinions. Fox and MSNBC may indeed be a polarizing force in politics, but it is unlikely that it is causing masses of people to be more and more extreme.

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Reader Comments (26)

So he would not be a fan of the much-hyped Hmielowski et al study, right?

I was looking at that today and it seemed to go off the rails fairly early on by stating, without any justification or consideration, that news channel watched was an 'independent variable' and climate change opinion was a 'dependent variable'.

I look at climate sceptic blogs because I am a climate sceptic. Not the other way round. I don't think I am unusual in this regard. I wonder if Hmielowski, Maibach & co have ever chatted to any climate sceptics.

August 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Matthews

Very interesting.

It seems to me that the media often get blamed for polarizing the public but what is lost is that to the extent that the media is</> polarized - that is because if reflects the existing polarization of the audience.

I also think it is fascinating that both "sides" in many debates, and notably the climate wars , are absolutely convinced that the support for the opposing views is attributable to what the "MSM" do or don't do. Why is that fascinating? Because each side is absolutely convinced of the existence of an exact opposite effect; i.e., "skeptics" are convinced that MSM shills are the reason why so much of the public is concerned about climate change and "realists" are convinced that MSM shills are the reason why so much of the public is not concerned about climate change. Of course, the exact same dynamic takes place with so many issues that are politically polarized.

The "MSM Is to blame" narrative fits, precisely, the need for being the "victim" - which in turn, IMO, fits precisely the basic mechanism of cultural cognition; being a victim of the other side is just about the best way for me to feel vindicated in my identification.

August 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

This post also seems to me to be consistent with another observation I have about the climate wars. Maybe I'm reading too much into it? (Dealing with motivated reasoning is like wrestling a bear).

I often read "skeptics" saying that "skepticism" is due to overly-confident proclamations from "realists" that stimulate the public to believe that they are being sold a bill of goods. Similarly, "skeptics" also, often, say that Climategate has caused a "crises" (Judith Curry's term) for climate science.

I don't think so. Those who might be disillusioned by inaccurate claims by climate scientists are, for the most part, those who are already inclined to not believe what climate scientists have to say. Those who see Climategate as being a significant even are already those who are inclined to distrust climate scientists who thing that GW is largely attributable to A causes.

This post indicates that counterattitudinal stimuli are more likely to polarize. Nothing surprising there, IMO. It only stands to reason that certainly, those who are most negatively affected by an inaccurate prediction from a climate scientist, or an email where a climate scientist displays a tribalistic attitude, will be those who are already have a counter attitude - not those who are relatively indifferent (the folks that "skeptics" often claim are affected by such phenomena). In fact,such claims by "skeptics" - which are ubiquitous despite a notable lack of supporting evidence - is one of the main reasons that I put "skeptics" in quotes.

The same goes, IMO, to the widely held belief that "realists" arguing about a "consensus" will be countereffective (as opposed to just mostly ineffective), or that climate scientists being "activist" will undermine confidence in science (as opposed to just play out with the same ol' same ol' dynamics we've seen for years). Just like watching partisan news, hearing about "activist" scientists will, in the end only deepen those already deeplyconvicted (if anything) and have minimal impact on everyone else - which is a very large majority.

August 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

It is good to provide error bars on all bar graphs.

August 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarkie Parkie

@Joshua:

Just as a sort of thought experiment, what if turned out that there was a ton of really convincing evidnece that motivated reasoning effects of the sort you are describing aren't really occurring after all -- but you just never saw or believed it b/c you only frequented blogs & other information sites that feature evidence of motivated reasoning...

Would that refute your point? Or prove it?!

Good thing you are one of the 14 billion (and growing) number of readers of this site, which alone among all major sources of news on motivated reasoning uses the Hal 9000.2-series MRN ("motivated reasoning neutralization") algorithm to screen all posts.

August 9, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Interesting thought experiment...

Actually, I don't doubt that my confidence w/r/t the pervasiveness of MR is influenced by my habit of frequenting places where it is turned high on the volume dial.

I think that your thought experiment wouldn't refute or prove, but perhaps cause me to adjust my concept of its ubiquity.

That said, I see a similar phenomenon in day-to-day interactions. Say when I talk to a friend about his arguments with his wife, or with a colleague about conflict with a supervisor, or I talk to someone explaining to me why I should buy this product he's selling or that product someone else is selling.

I think of motivated reasoning as being closely linked to the principles of conflict resolution and "Getting to Yes," and just basic practice in good communication that instructs us to make "I statements" with an understanding that when people feel defensive it biases their reasoning and activates confirmation bias. Certainly, MR is very pronounced in these kinds of politically polarized debates, but it is rooted in fundamental attributes in our cognitive processes and psychology.

August 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Say, Dan - I suspect you won't have the time...but any thoughts on comparing the study presented in this post and the Hmielowski et al study? I'd be curious to hear your thoughts, or those of Kevin Arceneaux if he has the time/inclination.

August 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua:

I think you could probably guess w/ super high degree of accuracy what Kevin would say & I'd agree w/ him 100%.

I was thinking of doing a post that would be more general on observational & experimental studies of risk perception & like -- title: "Correlation does imply causation (nothing else can; just ask Hume) but only when it really does ...."

August 10, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@Joshua:

Believe it or not, I don't think the Hmielowski, et al. study is terrible. As an observational study, it is far superior to cross-sectional designs that merely report a correlation between exposure and attitudes. The within-respondent panel study design at least allows the researchers to use time to help isolate the cause effect of media exposure. Although I'd take an observational panel study over an observational cross-sectional study, both designs do not do a very good job addressing selection bias. The people who seek out Fox News are likely different from those who do not. The panel study design assumes that any changes in attitudes over time are solely attributable to the intervention (e.g., starting to watch Fox). But, if selection bias is present changes in attitudes across time could be attributable unobserved variables. For instance, say someone takes a job working for an oil company and starts to think, "maybe this climate change stuff is wrong." On the basis of that motivation, they begin to watch Fox News while they become increasingly anti-climate change. Perhaps Fox News is playing a role here, but we can't be sure how much and to what extent.

Randomized experiments get around this problem, but they also have limitations. There are three major limitations to the studies that Martin and I conducted: 1) our subjects knew they were being studied and may have altered their behavior, 2) our studies were conducted with convenience samples and not random samples from the population, and 3) we measured attitudes directly after the stimulus, so we don't know if these effects decay slowly or quickly. These issues limit the generalizability of our studies. But, I'll almost always take internal validity over external validity. Mostly because a good way to address external validity is to conduct a series of internally valid studies -- different samples, measures, stimuli, etc. -- rather than one poorly conducted study with a representative sample.

August 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKevin Arceneaux

I believe that the societal effects of a partisan media can't be evaluated independently of the partisan workings of our political and economic processes.

In the US we have two entrenched political parties. As new issues come to the fore, we don't reformulate or recreate our political parties around new constituencies to address these new issues. The existing parties, to remain powerful, then need to package these issues in ways that re-enforce and motivate their base and extend outwards enough to win elections. Furthermore, those parties work, via primaries to knock out middle of the road candidates in favor of more partisan ones. And once in power, legislative districts are redrawn in a gerrymandered manner that works to eliminate swing districts and strengthen districts of the party in power. Then, even if the media were a perfectly evenhanded mirror reflecting the existing political situation, their presentation would be highly partisan.

Within each of us as individuals lies the ability to get really stoked and angry, or more open, evenhanded and tolerant. The variety of messaging we receive enhances or diminishes these differing emotions. Control of information matters. Rudolf Murdock knows this and now so does Jeff Bezos. The NSA knows this and so do a myriad of private intelligence firms: http://mobile.nytimes.com/blogs/opinionator/2013/06/14/the-real-war-on-reality/?_r=1&. Not to mention mainstream advertisers and marketers.

Humans can't be subject to testing like lab rats. So the following is, of course, merely a thought experiment.

Take two groups of people. Give one a training class on how children might need protection from strange adults while walking home from the grocery store. Give the other a vivid documentary on horrific crimes committed by young teens and adults. Plop the test subjects on an urban street at night with a gun in their hand. Present them with a hooded young person. How many react with concern and empathy and work to see if the young person needs an escort home or look around the street to see if other danger is present from which said young person ought to be sheltered? How many react in fear and blast the hooded young person? I think that our actions are shaped by our underlying belief system, but also by the context in which we put, or allow others to put for us, given situations within that belief system. Marketers know this, politicians know this, demagogues know this.

I go with the last paragraph here. Partisan news shows lead many people to perceive that the country is more polarized, even if it isn’t. I'd add partisan political campaigns and targeted demographic marketing to this. This creates a fractured world view of "people like us' and "people like them" when in fact no such clear split may exist. In addition to indirect effects, this partisan messaging may have on politics by energizing viewers, readers and listeners to contact their elected officials and vocalize their extreme opinions, it also may affect their actions in their everyday lives. Those actions may impact others in ways that amplify the partisanship. And on the part of the majority who may not feel they are part of these extreme groups, the perception of partisanship may block the realization that there are sensible middle paths and create apathy.

All of which is bad for democracy.

August 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

@Joshua:

I agree w/ @KevinArceneaux 100%!

August 10, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Kevin - Thanks.

A common problem that I see is that people use cross-sectional studies and draw conclusions that could only be supported by longitudinal studies. It isn't so much that I see those conclusions in the studies themselves, but that others take cross-sectional data and draw longitudinal conclusions.

I can't figure out why people would do that thou....

Oh. Wait?

Could it be motivated reasoning?

Nah. There's probably "a ton of real convincing evidence" that the sort of MR I think I'm observing doesn't really exist.

August 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"For instance, say someone takes a job working for an oil company and starts to think, "maybe this climate change stuff is wrong." On the basis of that motivation, they begin to watch Fox News while they become increasingly anti-climate change. Perhaps Fox News is playing a role here, but we can't be sure how much and to what extent."

Yes, that's a possible scenario, although I've not heard of any cases. Another I've seen played out several times is that someone with some training in science or statistics but no real knowledge of or position on the climate debate finds out in conversation with a sceptic how some climate science is done. They investigate, become sceptical, and then start investigating other parts of the consensus, finding more and more problems. As a result of knowing many of the complexities and counter-arguments surrounding many of these issues, they find the conventional climate coverage on left-wing channels extremely irritating. They spend half their time shouting at the TV about all the stuff they get wrong. Watching Fox is restful by comparison, as they spend a lot less of their time talking climate change nonsense (as defined from a sceptical point of view, of course). As a result of watching it, they might pick up even more evidence and arguments that help to confirm their views, that viewers of other channels would not see.

There are, I'm sure, people who come to it from other directions. They may for example have strong feelings on the right to bear arms, or abortion, and watch Fox in order to avoid shouting at the TV on those other topics, and then as a result see a more sceptical presentation of the climate debate, which they then pick up as their default. Although I doubt they could avoid exposure to any other points of view, so I wouldn't like to say it's the only factor.

I think people would watch Fox because they are conservative and/or climate sceptics. I don't think it works the other way round. If a liberal watched Fox they wouldn't become more conservative, they'd just get annoyed.

That's an introspective/anecdotal impression, though - not based on quantitative evidence. Personally I've never watched Fox, so I wouldn't know. Most sceptics I know get their information from the blogs, not the TV or newspapers.

August 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Yes, that's a possible scenario, although I've not heard of any cases. Another I've seen played out several times is that someone with some training in science or statistics but no real knowledge of or position on the climate debate finds out in conversation with a sceptic how some climate science is done. They investigate, become sceptical, and then start investigating other parts of the consensus, finding more and more problems. As a result of knowing many of the complexities and counter-arguments surrounding many of these issues, they find the conventional climate coverage on left-wing channels extremely irritating. They spend half their time shouting at the TV about all the stuff they get wrong. Watching Fox is restful by comparison, as they spend a lot less of their time talking climate change nonsense (as defined from a sceptical point of view, of course). As a result of watching it, they might pick up even more evidence and arguments that help to confirm their views, that viewers of other channels would not see.

And, of course, the vast majority of folks who even remotely fit NiV's description happen to be righwingers.

Just coincidence, of course. ;-)

August 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Most sceptics I know get their information from the blogs, not the TV or newspapers.

NiV - put your thinking cap on.

If you had to choose, would you say that more people who identify as "skeptics" get their information about climate change from blogs, or from TV, talk radio, or newspapers?

I'd say the difference is by orders of magnitude. In which direction do you guess I hypothesize the disparity lies?

August 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Joshua,

"If you had to choose, would you say..."

I'd say the majority got it from conversations with friends who happen to be interested in that sort of thing, and that if you trace the chain back it comes from blogs. Most people are not very interested.

In the UK, open scepticism has been virtually non-existent in the broadcast media, and basically isolated to a handful of columnists in the print media, most of which have relatively low circulation (compared to the population as a whole). And yet scepticism is alive and well, here.

"And, of course, the vast majority of folks who even remotely fit NiV's description happen to be righwingers. Just coincidence, of course. ;-)"

Yes, an odd 'coincidence'.

Some people, on being told about a problem with climate science, try to find out if it's true. Others try to find out what the official rebuttal to that argument is. The latter are generally already convinced, and immovable. Quite why there should be a left-right split is unclear.

August 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Cynthia - your post reminds me of a set of my own life experiences.

I grew up in Philly in a remarkably mixed neighborhood, racially (and also economically) - fairly unique I'd say, in the country at least in the racial aspect. (The history of how it got that way is quite interesting, as many surrounding neighborhoods are historically notable for a "white flight" phenomenon in contrast - and that neighborhood was racially mixed only because the residents of that area grouped together with an explicit goal of creating an ethnically mixed community). When I graduated high school I apprenticed as a carpenter in a training program where there were very few whites, and I worked a fair amount in neighborhoods where you didn't usually see many white people. Spending time in racially mixed communities was my norm.

In my mid-late 20's I moved to Boston, and began living in far less racially integrated areas (the Boston area on the whole is far less integrated than Philly - especially in middle class areas). I happened to be teaching at that time in a public school that was located in very white suburb. I happened to get involved in a program that sponsored urban youth to get bused to the school where I was teaching, and one night I attended a fund raiser for that program in the community where those kids lived.

I'll never forget the feeling that I had when I found myself uncomfortable that night as I drove into in a non-white neighborhood, in a way that I had never felt before. I realized that my lack of much experience in a racially diverse community during the 10 years or so since I had left Philly had changed me and altered my instinctive attitudes about race.

I'm sure that my exposure to media had some influence on that change, as quite certainly, much of the "interracial" experiences I had in those intervening years was actually media exposure to crime in black communities. But the single biggest factor was my life experiences outside of interaction with the media. I'd say that my life experiences helped shaped how I reacted to specific media exposure more so than my exposure to media shaping my life experiences.

So I think of your example and I think that perhaps more influential than media exposure, would be the life experiences of your experimental subjects - and how those experiences influenced their perceptions of hooded youth on an urban street. I think that there is no doubt that media exposure is an influence (after all, the media are an aspect of life experiences), but that many of us tend to overestimate the direction of influence and that quite often it is more a matter of life experiences shaping how we are affected by the media than the other way around.

August 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

I'd say the majority got it from conversations with friends who happen to be interested in that sort of thing, and that if you trace the chain back it comes from blogs. Most people are not very interested.

If they mostly got information from their friends, then it is fairly unlikely that they would have gone from one sort of belief to another as you described. Could happen, of course, but it would seem to me to not likely be a very common event - since as we know, belief about climate change within social groupings is strikingly uniform.

Can't say about the UK, but it is certainly my impression that exponentially more people. whether they be "skeptics" or "realists," get their information about climate change from TV, talk radio, and newspapers than from other sources, including conversations with friends and certainly blogs. I'd be curious to see some data, but I would be absolutely shocked if it were any different. The readership of blogs is, no doubt, infinitesimal compared to number of people who get their news from other media. Methinks you're projecting.

August 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Before climate change arrived on the scene, there were back nature hippie communes, and on the opposing side, development and corporate progress advocates. The acceptance or denial of climate change slid neatly into that divide. And on top of that, from both sides, partisan advocates tried to recruit a following, and generate financial and political support using climate change as a wedge issue. One that could motivate voters to support corporate causes or to back environmental regulations.

This doesn't necessarily segue neatly with the underlying present constituencies of the existing political parties. For example, building Northwest US shipping terminals for the export of coal to China. Terminal support can be seen as a pro-union, jobs now position. There are ways that this could be and sometimes is, exploited as an opportunity to divide out key factions of the labor constituencies of one party (Democrats) and get them to vote with the other party (Republican).

So, can a union person be motivated to see what is essentially a pro-development (pro King Coal) position as being a vote in favor of the workers rather than one in favor of the CEOs? I believe that the answer to that is, of course. Especially in an information environment in which long term complexity is de-emphasized and thus employment futures not really analyzed. Back in time, Ronald Reagan's successful Presidential campaign was based on "Reagan Democrats", successfully splitting off working class whites from the Democratic party using wedge social issues.

I think that those promoting a cause, media outlets looking for a supporting viewership, politicians running for office, marketers trying to sell a product, all have reasons to hitch themselves to existing tribal affilliations as a way of promoting their efforts and gaining support.

A healthy democracy needs a robust debate of the issues one that takes complexities and competing alliances into account and can carefully consider the nuances of things.

A partisan media may be more of an effect of a highly partisan environment than the cause of one, but it certainly is in the way when searching for a solution.

August 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

Actually, I'm going to have to re-think my argument there. I forgot to count the 14 billion people that read Dan's blog.

August 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"If they mostly got information from their friends, then it is fairly unlikely that they would have gone from one sort of belief to another as you described."

Why? The scenario I mentioned started with a conversation between friends.

But the scenario I mentioned wasn't meant as the general case. It was just one specific alternative example to demonstrate that there are a multitude of alternatives. For a start, I posited that the person knew a bit about science and statistics, which is obviously not typical.

There is also a difference between a person's reasons for being sceptical, and where they get their information. Being sceptical or a believer may be the result of a single incident. Subsequent information is an ongoing process.

And in my experience, "social groupings" are not particularly uniform. I'm a member of several groups with many left-wing, climate-believer members. We often used to argue, in a friendly way. Although there are a number of social groups I'm part of where my views are in the minority and would likely be disapproved of, and where I have to be careful about what I say. Dan and a few others are very tolerant, but there are plenty of other people who are not.

August 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Kevin -

But, I'll almost always take internal validity over external validity. Mostly because a good way to address external validity is to conduct a series of internally valid studies -- different samples, measures, stimuli, etc. -- rather than one poorly conducted study with a representative sample.

Just to check what you're saying there - I think I understand but just wanted to double check - let me see if I can paraphrase it correctly:

You would prefer to try to establish external validity (or generalizability of a cause-effect phenomenon) by cross-referencing multiple internal validity analyses with a variety of sample, in contrast to trying to design one study to analyze external validity (using a representative sample) - the reason being that trying to use one study to measure a generalizable cause-and-effect is often just an unrealistic goal?

August 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

I seems to me that the time to evaluate the influence of the partisan press would be when one of these new issues or new areas of discovery gets onto the public scene. What kinds of labels do scientists and various factions of the public use to describe it? With which pre-existing science areas, technologies and/or issues are connections made? For newly introduced areas, does the partisan press help to define how a new issue should be categorized by their constituencies in among older alliances?

Climate change appears to have slid neatly into a framework of support for "back to nature" oriented environmentalism on the one hand, which makes for a staked out position for a gung ho expansionist, high fossil fuel usage oriented climate denialist in opposition. But what if a pro climate change position were actually linked to the politics of a new "manifest destiny" to exploit and control arctic resources? In fact, isn't Big Oil engaged in such a process right now?

(Well, attempting such a strategy anyway: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2013/03/15/2514143/interior-department-shell-screwed.html)

August 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

@Gaythia:

For sure: the $10^6 question is how does this happen? The this being an issue becoming one on which a self-reinfo0rcing cycle of demand on the part of a motivated public & supply by an oblging partisan media creates a persistent state of polarization on an issue that admits of scientific investigation.

to do that, we have to consider the class of issues -- ones, if you like involving facts that turn one scidentific evidence -- where this coudl happen & examine the differences between cases where it does & ones where it doesn't.

Can you explain, e.g., why climate change polarized &, say, oh, the regulation of formaldehyde has not?

August 14, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

We've discussed the formaldehyde situation before, on the thread you link to above. IMHO, the chemical industry and related forces that wanted to extend the use of formaldehyde and delay regulation have found it much more expedient to bury the actual topic under a more general one of "excessive governmental regulation inhibits growth", and delays and obstructions of EPA funding, replacement of key people, and Congressional action on regulations. It's worked well for them.

"As we've previously reported, the Environmental Protection Agency has been trying to update its chemical risk assessment for formaldehyde since 1998, but has been stalled repeatedly by the chemical manufacturing industry."
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=stricter-regulation-of-formaldehyde-remains-uncertain

Heated and even polarizing discussion can be a good thing at times! Apathy, and lobbyist induced amnesia is worse.

August 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

My e-mail today contains a link to the electronic version of the current issue of the American Chemical Association's news journal, Chemistry and Engineering News. This contains (behind a paywall) the latest information in the formaldehyde in particle board saga. In which the industry promises lower emission, safer formulations. This is good news, especially for the industries involved. In a slowly unfolding sort of way, they've managed to draw out these improvements over decades. Not a way that met the needs of those who have been exposed to formaldehyde. The fact that these people are often poorly paid, lower level, workers of the above companies (or companies using the formaldehyde materials purchased from the chemical companies) is significant. The same is generally true of the end customers. There are those whose homes are made of cheap particle board. A notable group was those in FEMA trailers. And then, those with no worries, whose kitchens and other building areas are solid woods (or higher end composites).

By and large, the press has gone along with this story line. Which means it is not an activist, investagatory form of journalism, but rather more publication by press release.

August 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

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