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« Vaccine risk perceptions and risk communication: study conclusions & recommendations | Main | Finally: decisive, knock-down, irrefutable proof of the ideological symmetry of motivated reasoning »

More on "Krugman's symmetry proof": it's not whether one gets the answer right or wrong but how one reasons that counts 

Okay, I've finally caught my breath after laughing myself into state of hyperventilation as a result of reading Krugman's latest proof (a replication of an earlier empirical study on his part) that ideologically motivated reasoning is in fact perfectly symmetric with respect to right-left ideology.

Rather than just guffawing appreciatively, it's worth taking a moment to call attention to just how exquisitely self-refuting his "reasoning" is!

There's the great line, of course, about how his "lived experience" (see? I told you, he's doing empirical work!) confirms that motivated cognition "is not, in fact, symmetric between liberals and conservatives."

But what comes next is an even more subtle -- and thus an even more spectacular! -- illustration of what it looks like when one's reason is deformed by tribalism: 

Yes, liberals are sometimes subject to bouts of wishful thinking. But can anyone point to a liberal equivalent of conservative denial of climate change, or the “unskewing” mania late in the 2012 campaign, or the frantic efforts to deny that Obamacare is in fact covering a lot of previously uninsured Americans?

Uh, no, PK. I mean seriously, no.

The test for motivated cognition is not whether someone gets the "right" answer but how someone assesses evidence.

A person displays ideologically motivated cognition when, instead of weighing evidence based on criteria related to its connection to the truth, he or she credits or dismisses it based on its conformity to his or her ideological predispositions.

Thus, if we want to use public opinion on some issue -- say, climate change -- to assess the symmetry of ideologically motivated reasoning, we can't just say, "hey, liberals are right, so they must be better reasoners."

Rather we must determine whether "liberals" who "believe" in climate change differ from "conservatives" who "don't" in how impartially they weigh evidence supportive of & contrary to their respective positions. 

How might we do that?  

Well, one way would be to conduct an experiment in which we manipulate the ideological motivation people with "liberal" & "conservative" values have to credit or dismiss one and the same piece of valid evidence on climate change.  

If "liberals" (it makes me shudder to participate in the flattening of this term in contemporary political discourse) adjust the weight they give this evidence depending on its ideological congeniality, that would support the inference that they are assessing evidence in a politically motivated fashion.  

If in aggregate, in the real world, they happen to "get the right" answer, then they aren't to be commended for the high quality of their reasoning.  

Rather, they are to be congratulated for being lucky that a position they unreasoningly subscribe to happens to be true.

And vice versa if the "truth" happens (on this issue or any other) to align with the position that "conservatives" unreasoningly affirm regardless of the quality of the evidence they are shown.

That Krugman is too thick to see that one can't infer anything about the quality of partisans' reasoning from the truth or falsity of their beliefs is ... another element of Krugman's proof that ideological reasoning is symmetric across right and left!

For in fact, "the 'other side' is closed-minded" is one of the positions that partisans are unreasoningly committed to. 

One of the beliefs that they don't revise in light of valid evidence but rather use in lieu of truth-related criteria to assess the validity of whatever evidence they see.

This proposition is supported by real, honest-to-god empirical evidence -- of the sort collected precisely because no one's personal "lived experience" is a reliable guide to truth.

That PK is innocent of this evidence is-- another element of his proof that ideological reasoning is symmetric across right and left!

As is his unfamiliarity with studies that use the design I just suggested to test whether "liberals" are forming their positions on climate change and other issues in a manner that is free of the influence of politically motivated reasoning.  Not surprisingly, these studies suggest the answer is no.

But does that mean that all liberals who believe in climate change believe what they do because of ideologically motivated cognition? Or that only someone who is engaged in that particular form of defective reasoning would form that belief?

If you think so, then, despite your likely ideological differences, you & Paul Krugman have something in common: you are both very poor reasoners.

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Reader Comments (66)

Like you say, it's not just a question of whether you get the answer right or wrong - but of *why* you think so, and whether your method was rational/scientific. As I've been saying of all these surveys and studies of scientific knowledge and the effect of various factors on it - they all ask what you believe, they none of them ask the subjects *Why?*.

But there is another obvious flaw he misses. Given that the theory predicts that both sides think they're right and the other side is wrong, how does thinking you're right and the other side is wrong disprove this theory? Maybe - for example - liberals are *wrong* about global warming, and global warming is in fact the example he asks for of a bit of scientific knowledge that liberals generally get wrong?

Both sides symmetrically are predicted to believe there is asymmetry, so either side seeing asymmetry confirms the prediction. I can confirm that, seeing the symmetrically reflected asymmetry from this side, Krugman's comments are even funnier!


I'm very impressed that you part persuaded Chris Mooney. I tried for years, and only got the point through to him a couple of times. Maybe there *is* hope.

April 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

A strong form of democratic theory argues that factual knowledge itself is an important component to citizens being able to form opinions and hold political leaders accountable (See Delli Carpini & Keeter 1992). I agree that people may get to facts through suspect reasoning, through simply accepting information from a trusted elite, or through a more thorough process of understanding an issue and accepting true facts, and these processes matter. However, as an empirical matter, I think that when you're testing motivated reasoning, it's useful to have some "true facts" as a benchmark to measure whether the reasoning that people use is biased. It is true whether or not you like it that the current unemployment rate is 6.7% and that it's fallen steadily over the last 4 years, and people should be able to reflect that fact back on a survey even as they disagree about what to do about unemployment. I don't necessarily agree with Krugman that motivated reasoning is asymmetrical, but one way of testing that would require presenting facts or asking people to evaluate a situation that has a "right answer" that would be uncomfortable to people with strong ideology or partisan loyalties on both sides and seeing their reactions. The Bartels piece here looks at whether partisans can accurately reflect the state of the economy both after the Reagan and Clinton presidencies and sees no asymmetries in bias (

April 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterShana Gadarian


I agree w/ everything you say. There is value, all else equal, in citizens having an apprehension of the facts -- or beliefs consistent with the best evidence. Of course, they are more likely to converge on the best evidence if they reason well.

I agree too that a powerful way to test symmetry of motivated reasoning would be to design an experiment in which one manipulates the ideological significance of a problem that has a "right" answer & see ir partisans "get the right" answer conditional on it being ideologically congenial.

We do exactly that in Motivated Numeracy & Enlightened Self-Government.

That was the paper that was featured in the Ezra Klein article & that Krugman dismisses because it is contrary to his "lived experience." Krugman's dismissal of evidence that those who agree with him are as subject to bias as those who don't is also a form of motivated reasoning that has been demosntrated experimentally.

I hope someday everyone will recognize the poisonous effect of Krugman's style of discourse on the quality of our political culture.

April 10, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

"Krugman's dismissal of evidence that those who agree with him are as subject to bias as those who don't is also a form of motivated reasoning that has been demosntrated experimentally."

I don't know. I thought his reasoning on that part was actually reasonable, given the incorrect premises he was using resulting from earlier motivated reasoning. What he's asking is, if conservatives and liberals are equally inclined to bias, why are liberals right and conservatives wrong about everything? Where are the scientific topics that liberals are wrong about?

He's taken the hypothesis, predicted consequences, and then attempted to examine reality to see if the predictions are true. He's got a puzzle, because he was expecting to be able to list several liberal equivalents of evolution and climate change and he couldn't. So far as the hypothesis itself goes, he's done exactly the right thing. He hasn't rejected it out of hand because "liberals can't be biased". He hasn't tried to pick holes in the method, or call the authors cranks. He calls it "a genuine intellectual puzzle", that he is "troubled" by.

The problem is that he hasn't followed through all the consequences of the hypothesis - possibly because it's a consequence that you have been a little reticent about promoting. (And for understandable reasons.) It implies it's very likely that on some of the battleground issues where liberals and conservatives disagree, the conservatives are right and the liberals are wrong and the liberals can't see it.

It's true people can reach the right conclusion for the wrong reasons - as you say they can just get lucky - but is it credible that they got lucky on every single one of the battleground issues? His argument is not simply that liberals are factually right and conservatives factually wrong on climate change, but that there is no major scientific topic he knows of like climate change in which things are vice versa.

(Of course, since I think climate change is such a topic, you can just imagine how amusing I think that reasoning is.)

The problem is that in testing the claim that liberals are equally subject to biased reasoning, he's taking his liberal standpoint as the baseline "truth" to compare its predictions against. That some of this must be wrong as well is an additional consequence of the theory that hasn't been heavily emphasised so far.

In reasoning through consequences to come to a conclusion on something, we normally assume that our own reasoning is correct. It's a much harder problem to work out how to achieve valid reasoning using an invalid reasoner, like trying to use a broken calculator that sometimes gives wrong answers to do sums. If it's your only means of calculating, what are you supposed to check your calculations against to test them?

April 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Definitely agree on the points you make here. But isn't Krugman actually putting forward a separate idea, that hasn't been tested by your research?

This is the idea that, while liberals and conservatives as individuals might have equal tendencies for motivated reasoning, something in the cultural/discourse norms of conservatives makes it possible for more extreme beliefs to become widespread and "normal".

So if you put an individual liberal or conservative in the experimental situation - as your studies did - they perform equally badly. But if you try and popularize a crazy idea (i.e. disprovable via relatively obvious facts) widely, among the broader population, something about conservative discourse culture/norms makes it more likely to take root and be seen as tolerable, whereas something about liberal culture makes it more likely to be shut down and denounced as ridiculous.

I'm not sure I agree with this idea, but just thought I would point out it's a different idea than the individual-level cognitive processes your studies looked at.

April 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNeil Stenhouse

"... something about conservative discourse culture/norms makes it more likely to take root and be seen as tolerable, whereas something about liberal culture makes it more likely to be shut down and denounced as ridiculous."

Hmm. Conservatives are more liberal and liberals are more intolerant?

For the sake of argument, it's worth considering. But I'm dubious, because not only are people's tendencies towards motivated reasoning symmetrical, their perceptions of the outcome are symmetrical, too. Conservatives believe that liberals are more inclined to believe crazy, easily disprovable things: that they have an unscientific tendency to trust socially approved authorities, that they're more intolerant of dissenting views and so more inclined to lock themselves into groupthink, that they prefer simplistic explanations with authoritarian solutions, and that they're wildly inconsistent, able to take opposing positions on fundamental principles simultaneously, depending on what is being attacked/defended. And that one of their crazier notions is the strength of their belief in their own infallibility, that they are right and conservatives are wrong about everything, which conservatives find ironic given the long list of things the left have been tragically wrong about.

But of course all this is to be expected, given that the prediction of the symmetry hypothesis is that *both* sides will see the situation as asymmetric.

The test of this idea - that conservatives are culturally more inclined to accept crazy notions - is to test it on scientific statements that are *not* political battlegrounds. Dan's done that on numerous topics, and found that they're not. Left and Right are equally intelligent, equally sensible, equally scientifically literate, cognitively reflective, numerate, etc. And we appear to be equally fallible - a lot of those results record the often shockingly poor understanding the general public on all sides have of science. We only notice it, and care about it, on certain topics where politics gets involved, but its a very widespread phenomenon.

It is for example shocking how many of the people who pride themselves on their scientific belief in the impending global warming catastrophe have no idea even how the greenhouse effect actually works. Start asking them technical questions about adiabatic lapse rates and the differential equations for two-box models, and they stare at you blankly. (Before anyone says anything, most sceptics are not much better.) So they're not believing as the result of any personal scientific or technical knowledge, having looked at the arguments and evidence and coming to their own judgement. They believe because they've heard that's what "science" says, and people who believe what science says are intellectually superior to people who don't. They follow the herd.

Sometimes that works, and sometimes the whole herd is "following the herd". It is in any case a perfectly symmetrical mechanism that doesn't give any a priori reason to think either side is any better than the other. Each side sees the other in very similar terms. We know our perceptions are biased by being on one side or the other, so we can't tell just by looking. Why should we believe in a hypothetical difference by an unknown mechanism we can't explain and that we have no evidence of, merely to maintain a comfortable (and unconvincingly convenient) hypothesis that all the evidence we do have stands against? It sounds very much like motivated reasoning, yes? Which is of course further evidence that we're really all the same.

April 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

I do not believe Krugman is a poor reasoner. That is a dangerous claim since it discounts the intentions side of the argument. Krugman is in fact a very smart and educated reasoner who is simply willing and talented enough to lie and cheat convincingly enough when he thinks the ends do justify the means.

The argument I have against Krugman is not on scientific or reasoning grounds but on moral ones. The man is not stupid, silly or funny. He's evil.

I am aware that making claims about intentions is dangerous grounds. But in the case of Krugman his life and work do demonstrate knowledge and intellect. He is not one to be able to claim ignorance credibly.

April 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterZK

With an eye to the larger picture, do you not concede that there is both journalistic and academic incentive in the context of domestic politics to adopt a 'pox on both houses' stance (roughly on par with incentive to arrive at 'counter-intuitive' results)? Presumably one should be interested both in how (likely to be) accurate and in how (subjectively) well-grounded various held beliefs turn out to be. But, unless one takes care to clearly distinguish the two, there is a legitimate concern that, by focusing on the apparent symmetry as to the latter, one might imply to one's audience that symmetry exists as to the former? In fairness, I think it's Krugman's failure to separate these two that leads to his response. However, his response is one that has, in my assessment, been conditioned by bad tendencies in journalism and scholarship -- whether in terms of accuracy of analysis or skewing of research priorities -- that are quite real and quite dangerous. And the existence of those bad tendencies might place a burden on advocates of symmetry of cognitive bias to make clear that they are not suggesting symmetry as to (apparent) accuracy of held beliefs (which, it seems, does not exist).

April 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRDD

The herd following the herd leads to a stampede. Or maybe the proverbially lemmings off a cliff.

That sort of "thinking" doesn't work well for anyone or any group.

Unfortunately, the educational system in the country seems to be doing it's best to turn out more and more graduates who "think" like that than not.

Krugman's just a pointer to the symptom like a canary in a coal mine.

April 17, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjakee308

Some of these comments are fantastic!

but is it credible that they got lucky on every single one of the battleground issues?


April 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJ. Locke

You're wrong about unemployment. What you fail to grasp is that part of the reason it has fallen is because some people have given up looking for employment (some have done so because they retired and some have simply given up on finding a job. This is to say nothing of how you don't comprehend certain economic pronciples such as how there are often peaks and valleys. There is a more than substantial possibility that this is just a peak in economic activity.

Also Global Warming is busted. It's climate change now. Nothing like complete vagueness to make a theory both plausible and unfalsifiable while still calling it a theory.

April 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBen

What we can do in order to make ourselves always right on an issue is to assign an indefensible position to the other side. Call it "conservative denial of climate change" rather than the belief that man contributes little to any factors that might cause change. Say that conservatives don't believe Obamacare is helping people when virtually nobody thinks that.

There are many liberals who believe the 2000 election was stolen--I don't need to assign any false beliefs to them to believe myself that they are incorrect.

Anyway, Krugman assumes any academic writing on this subject is just too polite to say what everybody knows--conservatives are dumb--so he'll come out and say it. Doing so, he demonstrates exactly what Kahan was really proving.

April 17, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterspongeworthy

NiV, liberals are certainly as ideologically blinded about nuclear power and genetically modified organisms (GMO) in food as conservatives are about climate change.

April 17, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrian

One element of advocacy regarding 'Global Warming' is frequently overlooked is that we do not have two 'symmetric' sets of consequences to the results of the debate. In this case the advocates for action, the 'Liberals' are demanding we 'do something' that imposes great costs. The 'Conservatives' are not advocating for action, many are not even advocating inaction, but are in fact being demonized for simply requiring the Liberal advocates prove their case. Certainly the burden is upon those that advocate such costly change to prove the benefits and illustrate those benefits out weigh the enormous costs... costs that always seem to provide such great rewards to the advocates for those expenses.

April 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDANEgerus

"Climate change" is an interesting case because it is precisely how you evaluate evidence that is most important, due to the low signal-to-noise ratio in everything from the paleo climate record to future climate projections to impact studies -- even the instrumental temperature record has so much error that adjustments since 2000 have turned the U.S. twentieth-century cooling trend into a warming trend. In such situations it is exceptionally easy to find the data to support one's preconceived or partisan notions.

Even the basic terms are fraught with conflations and confusions. When someone says "97% of scientists believe in manmade climate change" are they referring to post-LIA warming trend, CO2 levels, the effects of aerosols, the accuracy of IPCC projections, strong CO2 feedbacks, the need for emissions control policies? Some of these even virtually all skeptics agree with, some of them are controversial even among believers.

"Where are the scientific topics that liberals are wrong about?" GMOs, nuclear power, resource depletion, economic incentive effects, racial crime statistics, heck scientific epistemology itself is viewed as an arbitrary social construct by much of the left.

April 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTallDave

This is fascinating stuff.

I'm a libertarian who hates both parties. What does that make me?

My sense is that climate change itself is a political movement first and a scientific issue...sometime later. Left/Rights don't put much stock into plate tectonics, astrophysics or thermal dynamics. It is only the climate studies that seem to get people so riled up.

Again, fascinating stuff.

April 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMichael

Reasoning is mainly exercised in the early moments of a new situation. Most of the herd takes in the facts of the moment, triages the crises as it pertains to their own lives, then tries to make out the pathway to their side of the argument (right or left). The signposts pointing out the pathway are the following: known personas providing analysis on a topic, certain loaded terms that galvanize people, and leaders speaking about their positions (if your "enemy is zigging" you're zagging, if he's your idol, you're zigging right along with him). Not all, but most do this. Why? Because it takes off the cognitive load. People are busy, after all, with their own hectic lives.

Read any comment forum and you'll see how desperate people are to simultaneously express their frustrations, usually in parroted speech. What's most amusing is the friendly fire -- people who are simpatico, but because they haven't mastered the talking points of their side are mistaken for the enemy. Peruse any hotbutton topic (from parenting to Snowden interviewing Putin) and you'll see what I mean.

April 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJCL

While it's hardly news to conservatives that Krugman is a dishonest blowhard and a remarkably poor reasoner (there is an entire cottage industry among conservative media devoted to demolishing his more ridiculous statements) it is particularly delicious to see him flayed in this manner, directly from the original source he was quoting.

And FWIW, while I am very conservative, I acknowledge that of course many conservatives engage in this sort of tribal thinking and poor reasoning as well. I think Conservatives would generally acknowledge that this tendency to slip into error is a human tendency, not just a liberal one. But we don't have the mainstream media on our side telling us that our tribal-thinking and poor reasoning is somehow evidence of our superior intelligence and morality.

April 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy

In the earlier post, I mentioned signposts, some being the loaded terms the public uses. We've all heard the importance of political sides staking out the right labels - prochoice (proabortion) v prolife (antichoice) and the consensus (climate change hysteria) v climate deniers (climate realists).

I also believe that once people decide in those early moments of a new crisis or situation, that their viewpoint is largely fossilized. I've had some success in breaking through those blinders with people - I try to start with common ground - but in the end they just take me to be a nice version of what they hate (an outlier). That's about all the progress I've been able to make. Sigh.

April 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJCL

I want to thank the author for allowing me to post my viewpoints. I've enjoyed the comment section very much!

April 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJCL

If I were a completely unbiased observer of facts (which I'm not), then when posed with the question of Global Warming, I would simply evaluate the fact that the globe hasn't "warmed" in the past 15 years, notwithstanding the fact that "emissions" have increased over the same time span. No tribal religious precepts would be required.

April 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterExtraneus


April 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterYes

Great stuff -- and sorry if someone's covered this already -- but aren't we dealing with a slew of people, across the ideological spectrum, who will form their opinions however they'll form their opinions? In other words, why do we even worry about whether they form their opinions by employing sound reasoning or not? Hear me out....

I get it -- the facts are the facts, and our ideological propensities may or may not persuade us to ignore the facts. And, even when they don't persuade us in this way, our conclusions do not necessarily stem from sound logic, even if they're correct -- that term being subjective, it seems, despite the existence of facts from a functional standpoint. Or, conclusions may indeed be logical. But, unbeknownst to us, we've reached the conclusions by way of ideological affirmations masquerading in our heads as logic. So we're illogically logical.

And that brings me to my main point: To be glib, what difference does it make?

Ideology itself may in fact be correct *and* reasonable even if adhered to unreasonably (and/or, possibly, in the absence of supporting facts). Part, but not all, of the converse seems true, too. Furthermore, in the interest of advancing ideology that advocates for and advances reason in public policy and results in public policy that is sound, shouldn't we take a pragmatic approach and formulate arguments that, by whatever means necessary, persuade those without the mental capacity to challenge their own ideologically-driven thought processes to support sound public policy?

And don't they have and cling to these thought processes of theirs as a result of "lived experience" (subtle, possible dig at Paul Krugman intended)? And isn't live experience all we have, in the end -- reason be damned as an also-ran, "me too" variable (however important it is)?

I'm quite aware that I've just argued in favor of that old saying, "The ends justify the means." But nobody on the political spectrum, apparently, has the ability to know if he or she is right -- regardless of whether he or she employed sound reason to arrive at his or her conclusions.

In the end, the cynic in me says this is precisely why scandals and seeming trivialities are the political class' tactics du jour to reach the masses. Currently, they're the only thing that works. The masses, after all, are asses.

April 17, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrentspolemics

As a scientist, I find the debate between right and left on climate change to be quite facinating, because almost all of the people participating have no idea what they are talking about. Yet everyone has an strong opinion.

Think about it - what do you actually KNOW about the topic of climate change? Think hard. Did you notice that the things you "know" are just vague predictions or assurances by someone (maybe noted scientist Al Gore), or perhaps appeals to authority (lots of smart people think something is true), and generalized ideas about the need to do something (solar cells and windmills?). Does anyone reading this know the actual causes of natural climate change, the percentage of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the relative ability to warm the earth of various greenhouse gases, or the costs to reducing greenhouse gas production? How about that there is enormous differences between the direct impacts of greenhouse gases (which are known and measurable) and the indirect forcings (which are basically pie in the sky guesses)? Also which of these two numbers is most commonly reported and discussed (tip - the most drammatic, and unlikely, predictions get the most press). So, in the face of this complete lack of knowledge, rather than admit we are essentially unfit to judge, we default to our core beliefs. Liberals default to climate change belief simply because it requires a big, all powerful goverment to protect us from it. It is their go-to solution. And conservatives default to skepticism because they fear a big all-powerful goverment. Neither is using actual logic or data to make these decisions.

April 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGeoman

" But can anyone point to a liberal equivalent of conservative denial of climate change, or the “unskewing” mania late in the 2012 campaign..."

I'll take that up.

Of course there is the WTC 4 controlled demolition nonsense.

But the bigger issue is the "Black Bock Voting"/Diebold stole the election" magical thinking that votes are constantly being manipulated even though there has never been evidence of this in an election (ha! that proves how deep it goes!). There was an another outbreak of it in 2012 in liberal blogs when it came out that Tagg Romney works for a venture company that has an investment in a company that among other things makes voting machines. And Terese Kerry grumbled after the 2004 elections that "“Two brothers own 80 percent of the machines used in the United States" and " it is very easy to hack into the mother machines.”.

RFK Jr published a lengthy article in Rolling Stone arguing that Bush stole the Ohio election and Kerry should be President. One of the basis for these claims being that the raw exit poll data showed Kerry ahead and therefor there must have been subsequent tampering. MIT professor went into increasingly elaborate, and desperate, calculations about how the election must have been stolen, which were hung on breathlessly by liberal blogs. Freedman confidentially predicted that the odds the election *wasnt* stolen at one in 660,000. This culminated in his book "Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen?: Exit Polls, Election Fraud, and the Official Count".

Krugman himself waded into these swamps, claiming "There was at least as much electoral malfeasance in 2004 as there was in 2000, even if it didn't change the outcome. And the next election may be worse." and " he documents the simple truth: "Al Gore won the 2000 presidential election.". Kruman's inability to recognize the "simple truth" caused the Times public editor to issue a correction "It All Goes on the Permanent Record " to his misinterpretation of the results of the consortium recount efforts.

Whether they enjoy believing it, they are convinced by their echo chamber or whatever, there is plenty of evidence liberal in general are inclined to accept things without a rational basis.

April 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTurambar

Shana Gadarian: "It is true whether or not you like it that the current unemployment rate is 6.7% and that it's fallen steadily over the last 4 years, and people should be able to reflect that fact back on a survey even as they disagree about what to do about unemployment."

Hopefully you were writing tongue in cheek, because that sentence is even more hilarious that reading about Paul Krugman making a fool of himself again. To accept that unemployment is 6.7% and has fallen steadily for 4 years you would have to first accept that tens of millions of Americans suddenly decided to retire early from the workforce.

April 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJ.P. Travis

I would submit that motivated reasoning and cognitive reflection are precisely the conditions which require that we be a society of laws and not men and women.

Just today George Will, in providing an summary of Timothy Sandefur’s The Conscience of the Constitution: The Declaration of Independence and the Right to Liberty explained it this way:

"The argument is between conservatives who say American politics is basically about a condition, liberty, and progressives who say it is about a process, democracy. Progressives, who consider democracy the source of liberty, reverse the Founders’ premise, which was: Liberty pre-exists governments, which, the Declaration says, are legitimate when “instituted” to “secure” natural rights."

April 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterT. Davis

JP Travis, Shana Guardian and Ben are each correct about the unemployment figures... but there are caveats to it.

Shana is correct, the most commonly used unemployment figures have slowly been dropping for years. JP is correct in that the number used does not count people who stop looking for work. The part that is being left out of the conversation is that people who have stopped looking for work haven't been included in the common unemployment figure since I can remember.

So you have two choices: You can keep using the number that everyone cites, because that gives you a common number to compare with previous administrations (or even the beginning of this administration), or you can use the number (the significantly higher number) that takes into account people who have given up looking for employment. Our workforce is undergoing significant changes. Do you use the comparison number or the descriptive number?

Additionally, if you want to see a liberal be on the wrong side of science, try discussing gun control with them.

April 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSemper Why

I would like to see Krugman defend public housing projects and their failures. Welfare and specifically the reform during Clinton's time. Failed conservation ideology that has lead to more fires and destruction. The left has had plenty of failures they just still refuse to admit any of them failed or where proven false.

April 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNate

The question raised in this post is why do liberals tend to accept Global Warming as a scientific fact and conservatives (or right-wingers, as I would prefer to call them since the modern right-wing belief system has little resemblance with actual conservatism), tend to reject that fact. If I am getting this correctly, Kahan suggests that both liberals and right-wingers come to their beliefs according to "ideological congeniality". Unfortunately he doesn't offer any argument for why Global Warming should be "ideologically congenial" to liberalism. What does climate change have to do with liberal politics? The fact is that nobody likes the idea of Climate Change. We all would rather we could continue business as usual. Most liberals I know prefer cheap energy just as conservatives do. Do I like to pay more for gas? Heck no. But I have studied the scientific and economic facts and have come to the conclusion that taxing energy more is a good policy because it will promote energy conservation. If the facts supported the conclusion that lower energy taxes are preferable, do you really think that I would opt for higher taxes because of ideology? If the facts supported the conclusion that coal energy is clean and environmentally friendly, do you really think that I would nevertheless for ideological reasons oppose coal? Why on earth would I?

I could go on. If the facts of geology supported the conclusion that the earth is only a few thousand years old, why would liberals be ideologically driven to reject that evidence and opt for a much older world? If there were no biological evidence for evolution, would liberals still have come up with a theory of evolution just because that is ideologically congenial to liberalism? What about Copernicanism?

Mr. Kahan's argument is grotesquely confused. Let's consider the last example. The argument has been made, and I believe is valid, that Galileo, after he had come to the conclusion that Heliocentrism was correct, picked his evidence to make his case as strong as possible. Galileo wasn't above that, not even him. But it doesn't follow that Galileo and his opponents were all equally ideologically driven, and that Galileo just happened to be right. That is absurd.

Mr. Kahan is doing his own work no favor by attacking Krugman for pointing out what is obviously true. Of course, Kahan is himself invested in a certain narrative and seems to have a hard time acknowledging facts that don't fit so easily in that narrative.

April 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTM

Just a question, I guess. I reckon Krugman might be saying something like this: "While it is human to introduce ideological bias in reasoning, it seems biased liberals have not yet succeeded in making a mistake on the scale of climate change denial. This suggests that the magnitude of the ideological bias is greater in conservatives (or right-wingers or whatever) than in liberals."

Well, we do have 30-odd solid years of research (and a Nobel prize to Dan Kahneman) that confirm cognitive biases of all kinds, including – you guessed it – confirmation bias. I guess there is not much debate there, and I would be very surprised by anyone claiming any large group of humans is unaffected by such bias.

That said, I really like TM's comment above: there probably was a time when knowing you were a political conservative did not, in itself, tell you what you should think about global warming, because there is, in fact, no per se congeniality between conservative politics and climate change denial. At that point, while confirmation bias was still a factor, it did not yet bite differently across different sides of the political divide. Then this changed. Why? My impression is that some business interests that do not like the implications of global warming found it the path of least resistance to mobilize conservative "troops" against it, but I have no hard evidence for it. Food for thought, huh?

April 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAlberto

When you ride a bicycle you are not aware of a tail wind; it feels like there is no wind at all.

Liberals are unaware of any bias in the mainstream news media because it is blowing in the same direction they are headed; the views expressed in the mainstream news media reinforce the tribal views of a liberal and feel like no bias at all. However to a liberal, Fox News and talk radio appear to be horribly biased and untrue because they represent a countering 'head wind'. The opposite is true for conservatives - Fox News appears "Fair and Balanced", talk radio tells it like it is - while the rest of the media is clearly rabidly liberal in orientation.

The two cases appear symmetrical but there is an important difference; nobody on the right talks about shutting down Liberal media - while those on the left are obsessed with a need to silence opposing view points. That need to silence the opposition seems to extend to everything the left touches: Gun Control, Climate Change ("The Science is Settled"), Obamacare ("Too big to repeal"), The Koch Brothers, IRS stifling of the Tea Party etc. The question arises "Why does the liberal tribal view seem to require silence of their opposition?" Are liberal ideas are so good that they have to be made mandatory, and the intellectual basis of liberalism so solid that it can stand no dissent?

There is one more item of asymmetry between the left and right. During the 20th century left wing politics directly resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000,000 people (30,000,000 million in the Soviet Union, 60,000,000 in China, 2,000,000 in Cambodia, and about 50,000,000 abortions in the United States). One struggles to find an equivalency on the right: even the very doubtful process of assigning the Nazis to the right (they were the National Socialist party and clearly a big government proponent after all) scarcely balances those books.

April 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAn Observation

TM, you answered your own question. Why would you support higher energy prices (like a carbon tax?) when you have to pay them also? Because you "have come to the conclusion that taxing energy more is a good policy because it will promote energy conservation. "

Now, energy conservation and climate change are two different things, but you support a policy claiming one motive while actually serving another. This is why the Right is not just going to take the word of Al Gore or any other plainly ideological authority on this extremely expensive and freedom-limiting policy.

Finally, if the Earth had continued to warm as we wore told it would by settled science, I suspect a great many more on the Right would buy it. But we know how that turned out.

April 18, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterspongeworthy

To address TM's point (and Krugman's), the left has done a great rhetorical job of simplifying climate science into a binary political condition where either you believe in science or you're a conservative. If only the left had adopted such conditions in the 70s they'd be calling the right "global cooling deniers"

It's preposterous. Skepticism, in fact, is a required component to scientific discovery and the scientific method. The science isn't really the issue. A scientific fact is indisputable. The problem is that in such a politically charged issue there is little scrutiny in the media about what is a fact and what is an "estimation" by an "expert". They constantly confuse the two.

What it all comes down to is the left insisting that this issue is far too important to wait for true scientific understanding, and the right believes it's fine to wait.

April 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMichael

"Now, energy conservation and climate change are two different things, but you support a policy claiming one motive while actually serving another."

Huh? Fossil fuel use causes climate change and energy conservation is a way of reducing fossil fuel use. Do you find that difficult to follow?

"The science isn't really the issue. A scientific fact is indisputable. The problem is that in such a politically charged issue"

Which issue is politically charged? The laws of thermodynamics? The absorption spectra of greenhouse gases? The measurement of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, of surface temperatures, of ocean acidity? These are all settled scientific facts. The scientific consensus on each of these is overwhelming. You guys are just proving my point - you are trying to dismiss scientific facts that you find inconvenient.

Nobody has addressed the substance of my comment: why would one's attitude to the burning of fossil fuels - let alone the age of the earth - be prejudiced on one's political outlook? It doesn't make any sense until you recognize that the fossil fuel industry has been pouring immense resources into a propaganda campaign to protect its profit interests, and that, and that alone, has turned a scientifically settled fact into a "politically charged issue".

I thought this forum was about cultural cognition. My comment was addressed to readers who are actually interested in the question of whether or not there is political asymmetry. Instead this forum is attracting the usual professional climate change deniers, claiming that 'nobody understands the science anyway' (Geoman) and more such nonsense (any high-schooler can understand the science of climate change). You guys are just wasting your and everybody's time.

April 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTM

Neil Stenhouse up above nailed it. Dan's work proves that conservatives aren't neurologically more prone to ideological bias than liberals, and therefore Chris Mooney is full of crap. But if conservatives are institutionally more prone to ideological bias, at this moment in time, Krugman's post is vindicated.

One might disagree that conservatives are more prone institutional bias, but the study above does nothing to refute this claim. We cannot assume that because neurological bias is symmetric that ideological bias is. Clearly some institutions are more prone to self-affirming bias than others (nobody thinks either Fox News or MSNBC is as a bad as, say, the Soviet Union in the middle of a purge), and conservatives and liberals are connected to different kinds of institutions (e.g. conservatives closely allied with business and religion, liberals with academia and unions).

April 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterConsumatopia

You're right TM. Perhaps you and Krugman can win a Nobel prize by disproving motivated cognition and finding some settled science that proves conservatives are tribal and liberals are enlightened.

Ohhh I get it now, you already have; it's the IPCC's "Summary for Policymakers", a pristine and unbiased account of man's destruction of the climate.

April 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMichael

TM, We've heard for years how we need to conserve energy--long before this climate debate heated up. How we're raping the Earth and cars are destroying cities. All of this from the Left, and but now we're supposed to blindly accept that climate change is truly the real reason we need to conserve?

Don't kid yourself--plenty of people would love to see other people pay more in taxes. You may not be one of them, but don't assume that means liberals would never sell a bill of goods just to raise somebody else's taxes. Remember when Obama himself promised to raise capital gains taxes even if he know it would bring in less revenue? It was about "fairness", he said.

<I>Which issue is politically charged? The laws of thermodynamics? The absorption spectra of greenhouse gases? The measurement of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, of surface temperatures, of ocean acidity? These are all settled scientific facts.</I>

Okay, I accept the data on all of these. Yet these are the factors that we were told proved the Earth would continue to warm. It didn't. Could it be that we don't have enough data? This is a hurdle you guys have to clear before you can point to others as anti-science.

April 18, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterspongeworthy

I think - but I am not sure - Krugman tries to wiggle out of his previous apprasail of the topic (and the implicit message that he lacks SAT-level reading skills when it comes to diminish political opponents):

On the liberal bias of facts I have nothing to say (it might well be possible that facts about most salient current topics are somewhat more comfortable for liberals).

Anyway, he writes "What I tried to suggest, but maybe didn’t say clearly, is that the most likely answer lies not so much in the character of individual liberals versus that of individual conservatives, as in the difference between the two sides’ goals and institutions."

I don't think this is true, at all. He had just written about why liberals and conservatives alike reject facts, when he stated, "But here’s the thing: the lived experience is that this effect is not, in fact, symmetric between liberals and conservatives." "This effect" being motivated cognition as he clearly pointed out in the preceding paragraph - or else Krugman comletely changed the topic midway in his comment without telling anybody.

On another note, Krugman could perhaps point to a specific criticism of "torrent of angry responses and claims that liberals do too reject facts" - none of which has measured up, very surprisingly! If he's that used to answering just silly claims, he should probably change his stragegy. How else is it possible that he did not notice that the very researcher whose research he blithely rejects has written a comment about his cluelessness?

April 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMartin

Note the following text in Krugman's original post, emphasis added:

One possible answer would be that liberals and conservatives are very different kinds of people — that liberalism goes along with a skeptical, doubting — even self-doubting — frame of mind; “a liberal is someone who won’t take his own side in an argument.”

Another possible answer is that it’s institutional, that liberals don’t have the same kind of monolithic, oligarch-financed network of media organizations and think tanks as the right.

I think that shows that what Krugman was talking about in the original post ("This effect") wasn't limited to the kind individual cognition that Dan's study proves is symmetric.

Having read some of Dan's other posts on cultural cognition, there's a lot that I agree with. I would put more emphasis on institutions than culture, though.

When Dan says "Cultural cognition implies that political conflicts over policy-relevant science occur when the questions of fact to which that evidence speaks become infused with antagonistic cultural meanings.", I don't think it's at all a coincidence that these antagonistic meanings exist, nor does it only happen rarely. Anytime there is a powerful institutional actor within some group that doesn't like a policy, they have the power to force antagonistic meanings on any science in support of that policy.

If you can convince people that cap-and-trade is a free market alternative to the EPA closing down coal power plants by fiat, then, sure, individualists can be convinced to back climate change. But if there are powerful people who make money from burning coal, and those people would prefer to have no regulation or cap-and-trade at all, those people have a lot more access to the kinds of media institutions that individualists are connected to than climate scientists do.

The problem here is not how climate scientists present themselves, because climate scientists don't get direct access to the public, and don't get to decide how they are presented to the public. Institutions closely connected to those cultural groups do.

April 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterConsumatopia

@ Consumatopia

I don't think that these paragraphs can count as characterisation of what he means with "this effect". There is a paragraph at the beginning which states "What Ezra does is cite research showing (...)" (followed by what Klein points out about Kahan's research). The immediately following paragraph refers obviously to, well, this - with "this effect." I don't believe that he qualifies "this effect" with something that is to follow several paragraphs later.

And if it was, he's again wiggling out of it, in that he now states that is "not so much in the character of individual liberals versus that of individual conservatives, as in the difference between the two sides’ goals and institutions."

April 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMartin

@Martin, here is the previous paragraph, the paragraph that "this effect" must refer to:

What Ezra does is cite research showing that people understand the world in ways that suit their tribal identities: in controlled experiments both conservatives and liberals systematically misread facts in a way that confirms their biases. And more information doesn’t help: people screen out or discount facts that don’t fit their worldview. Politics, as he says, makes us stupid.

I think a fair reading of "this effect", would point to "systematically misread facts in a way that confirms their biases", "screen out or discount facts that don’t fit their worldview" and "Politics ... makes us stupid".

All of those things--"This effect"--could happen at an institutional rather than individual cognitive level. It could be that while liberals and conservatives have equal propensity to do those things in a controlled environment, that those things happen more often (or less often) in conservative environments than liberal environments, or that some institutions have an interest in doing those things.

Moreover, if he's talking about the individual cognitive level that Dan's study examines, then some passages don't make sense--what is the talk of "a genuine intellectual puzzle"? Or if he's just talking about the individual cognitive level, that second paragraph I cited makes no sense at all--how could it be "institutional"?

Really, as soon as I pointed you to "Another possible answer is that it’s institutional", that should have ended this argument. Krugman's post could have been clearer, and I don't blame Dan for interpretting it as he did, but given Krugman's clarification does make sense, and does seem to fit what Krugman originally wrote.

April 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterConsumatopia

@ Consumatopia

First, I don't think that Krugman anticipating your ideas about what Kahan should look into is somthing to consider as interpretation. Krugman pointed to Klein who talked about Kahan's research. The context is rather clear - though it is not so clear that Krugman "got it". That some of Krugman's post does not make sense in the light of the real Kahan is exactly the point. If Krugman has done his own research apart from "lived experience", or knows some other research, he can just point it out. There is no reason to point to others' research just to get out his pet beliefs about Republicans. There is also no reason to do a Derrida-style analysis of a Krugman post that is pretty straight-forward to read, just so that Krugman seems more thoughtful than he actually was in this case (as a meta point, I am especially reluctant to do so as Krugman himself refrains from such niceties before opening fire).

April 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMartin

"Don't kid yourself--plenty of people would love to see other people pay more in taxes."

When a liberal suggests to raise energy taxes, it is always tacitly assumed that liberals will be exempt from the tax. Every gas pump will be fitted with an ideology profiler and as soon as it registers a conservative, their gas bill will be raised. That's how mean we liberals are. We would never dream of suggesting that the taxes we advocate for will e p[aid by ourselves - whether it's energy taxes, or whether it's George Soros asking for higher capital gains taxes. It's all about OPM. You are a clever guy to have seen through all this. Congratulations to your penetrating mind.

Now I would like to come back to my challenge: is anybody here - including you Mr. Kahan - willing to take a shot at explaining why attitudes towards burning fossil fuels should be prejudiced on one's political outlook? What is it about liberal "ideology" that makes us liberals desperately look for confirmation of our deep-seated anti-fossil-fuel stance?

April 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTM

@Martin, I'm saying my interpretation of Krugman, and the interpretation of Krugman that Krugman himself offered in the latest post, is more consistent with Krugman's original post than your interpretation. Given Krugman's later clarification, my interpretation is the straightforward one--your interpretation doesn't fit the passages I pointed out. I didn't anticipate Krugman, Krugman clearly anticipated me, in the original post.

If Krugman has done his own research apart from "lived experience", or knows some other research, he can just point it out. There is no reason to point to others' research just to get out his pet beliefs about Republicans.

First of all, Dan's mockery of "lived experience", and actually even the title of this blog post, is wrong. If you already have good evidence that something true (for example, global warming), it is perfectly rational to ask "given that this is true, why don't people believe it?" There is nothing circular about that.

If what you're interested in is whether conservatives are collectively or institutionally more biased than liberals, then Dan's test--"not whether someone gets the "right" answer but how someone assesses evidence." is wrong. It could be that one side or the other, because of cultural or instituitonal reasons, is systematically presented with worse evidence than the other. And that's a possibility that Krugman, inarguably, mentions in the original post. I will quote it again:

Another possible answer is that it’s institutional, that liberals don’t have the same kind of monolithic, oligarch-financed network of media organizations and think tanks as the right.

There it is. That was in the original post, and Dan's study on motivated reasoning in controlled environments does nothing to refute it. Nor is it reasonable to insist that no one may make any claim in a blog post unless it is backed by a study.

April 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterConsumatopia

TM, I don't think anybody has tried to make the case that belief in global warming (nobody believes the climate doesn't change) is unreasonable.

If you live in a big city and you see the smog you have to think to yourself "That can't be good". You hear about the island of trash floating around the ocean, or rivers being contaminated by chemicals. It's VERY EASY to conclude that man is evil for disrespecting the earth that provides for us and that we need to alter our nature, or our actions at least, to repent for our evil ways. We need to clean up the ocean, we need to clean the air. We need to stop being so lavish and indulgent and learn to live with less.

That's all reasonable.

It's also reasonable to calculate the economic effects of a fossil fuel ban. It's reasonable to conclude that innovation and technology will save us and that the life-blood of those things, wealth creation and economic growth, are the key ingredients to those technological advancements.

You want confirmation for your ideals because, without them, liberalism is just another religion, another group of fanatics trying to impose their value system on everyone else. Without the science that supports climate change, your beliefs are no more valid than Christian or Muslim beliefs. Liberals see themselves as post-religious. Religion is for the weak, an outdated set of values derived by people who thought the world was flat, at the center of the universe and located between heaven and hell. A fairy tale. Liberals are hellbent on proving that THEIR religion is the TRUE Religion. To do that, they just have to make it scientific; to show that science itself proves that we are greedy (at least conservatives are), selfish (at least conservatives are), too populous and headed for total destruction.

April 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMichael

Without the science that supports climate change, your beliefs are no more valid than Christian or Muslim beliefs

That's not TM's question, the question is why liberals have that particular belief to begin with, not how they would act once they have it. Your cute little urban smog story could more plausibly be spun the other way--liberals live in cities and believe that positive transformation by the application of human reason to problems is possible so they shouldcomfortable with technology. The left has had long had a love affair with science and technology--any claim that leftism is inherently biased in favor of pollution regulation is not at all compatible with the industrial history of the Eastern Bloc.

The same is true of evolution. There should, if anything, be a bias against liberals and leftists believing in natural selection--it's a narrative of competition, one that should be pleasing to capitalists. Again, look at the Soviets--they sometimes had a problematic relationship with the theory of evolution.

It is, of course, reasonable to disagree on the best response to the reality of climate change--you might preach growth, adaptation, geoengineering, nuclear, whatever. What is not reasonable is to go one more step and deny that it's happening at all.

April 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterConsumatopia

This is an excellent comment section, even though the responses I do not agree with are plainly dogma!

Look, TM is avoiding the question. But tell me this: If we're told a given set of inputs should result in an outcome, and that outcome does not result, is it illogical to conclude we have not collected the proper inputs? Is it beyond reason to ask that models actually predict something remotely accurate before imposing drastic efforts on the basis of those models?

If this is shoddy reasoning, I'd like to be told exactly how. If one's beliefs are derived solely from a "Limbaugh/Faux News" bubble and one holds them in the face of pure logic, then show me some of this logic.

April 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterspongeworthy

And as far as the question of why one would advocate raising his own costs, I'd question the premise. After all, if one believes energy conservation is desirable, it's only sensible to arrange one's consumption the be as small as possible. The costs will not affect a Smart Car as they would an Escalade.

Taxes on alcohol and tobacco always find strong support among Baptists.

April 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterspongeworthy

If there's an ecological system that you've depended on for the entire history of your species, the less you understand that system the more hesitant you should be in making irreversible changes to it. Particularly when the best available model, though not perfect, suggests that there is a problem. For all I know, we might discover later that some climate process not yet described will slow down the Earth's warming much more than we realize. But if there isn't some underlying reality to the greenhouse effect, we won't just have to rewrite climate science, we'll have to rewrite a chunk of chemistry and physics as well. Venus would have some 'splainin to do.

On the flip side, there need not be immediate drastic effects imposed by efforts to reduce CO2 emissions. Any new legislation would take time to enact, and restrictions would be slowly phased in. If later climate science revealed that there was no problem, the pressure to repeal those regulations would be irresistable.

For what it's worth, I though McCain's "All of the Above" approach made the most sense, and it would not surprise me, as an Obama supporter, to find out that in counter-factual McCain-2008-victory world, climate policy would have ended up saner.

April 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterConsumatopia

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