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« "Krugman's 'magic motivated reasoning mirror' show"-- I've stopped watching but not trying to learn from reflective people who still are | Main | What's to explain? Kulkarni on "knowing disbelief" »
Thursday
Aug282014

"Is politically motivated reasoning rational?" A fragment ...

From something in the works ...

My goal in this paper is to survey existing evidence on the mechanisms of culturally motivated reasoning (CMR) and assess what that evidence implies about the relationship between CMR and rational decisionmaking.

CMR refers to the tendency of individuals to selectively credit diverse forms of information—from logical arguments to empirical data to credibility assessments to their own sensory impressions—in patterns that reflect their cultural predispositions. CMR is conventionally attributed to  over-reliance on heuristic or System 1 information processing. Like other manifestations of bounded rationality, CMR is understood to interfere with individuals’ capacity to identify and pursue courses of action suited to attainment of their personal well-being (e.g., Lodge & Taber 2013; Weber & Stern 2011; Lilienfeld, Ammirati, Landfield 2009; Sunstein 2007).

I will challenge this picture of CMR.  Numerous studies using a variety of observational and experimental designs suggest that the influence of CMR is not in fact limited to heuristic information processing.  On the contrary, these studies find that in disputes displaying pervasive CMR—for example, over the reality and consequences of global warming—individuals opportunistically employ conscious, effortful forms of information processing, reliably deciphering complicated information supportive of their predispositions and explaining away the rest.  As a result, individuals of the highest levels of science comprehension, numeracy, cognitive reflection, and other capacities identified with rational decisionmaking exhibit the greatest degree of cultural polarization on contested empirical issues (Kahan in press; Kahan, Peters, Dawson & Slovic 2013; Kahan 2013; Kahan, Peters, et al. 2012). 

Because CMR is in fact accentuated by use of the System 2 reasoning proficiencies most closely identified with rational decisionmaking, it is not plausible, as a descriptive matter, to view CMR as a product of bounded rationality.

For the same reason, it is unsatisfying to treat decisionmaking characterized by CMR as unsuited to attainment of individual ends. The compatibility of any form of information processing with instrumental rationality cannot be assessed without a defensible account of the goals an actor is seeking to achieve by engaging with information in a particular setting. To be sure, CMR is not a form of information processing conducive to maximizing accurate beliefs.  But the relationship between CMR and the forms of cognition most reliably calibrated to using information to rationally pursue one’s ends furnishes strong reason to doubt that maximizing accuracy of belief is the goal individuals should be understood to be pursuing in settings that bear the signature of pervasive CMR.

One way to make sense of the nexus between CMR and system 2 information processing, I will argue, is to see CMR as a form of reasoning suited to promoting the stake individuals have in protecting their connection to, and status within, important affinity groups.  Enjoyment of the sense of partisan identification that belonging to such groups supplies can be viewed as an end to which individuals attach value for its own sake.  But a person’s membership and good standing in such a group also confers numerous other valued benefits, including access to materially rewarding forms of social exchange (Akerlof & Kranton 2000). Thus, under conditions in which positions on societal risks and other disputed facts become commonly identified with membership in and loyalty to such groups, it will promote individuals’ ends to credibly convey (by accurately conveying (Frank 1988)) to others that they hold the beliefs associated with their identity-defining affinity groups. CMR is a form of information processing suited to attaining that purpose.

Individuals acquire this benefit at the expense of less accurate perceptions of societal risk. But holding less accurate beliefs on these issues does not diminish any individual's personal well-being. Nothing any ordinary member of the public does--as consumer, as voter, as public discussant--can have any material impact on climate change or a like societal risk.  Accordingly, no mistake he makes based on inaccurate perceptions of the facts can affect the level of risk faced by himself or anyone else he cares about. If there is a conflict between using his reasoning capacity to form truth-convergent beliefs and using it to form identity-convergent ones, it is perfectly rational for him to use it for the latter.

This account of the individual rationality of CMR, however, does not imply that this form of reasoning is socially desirable from an economic standpoint. It is reasonable to assume that accurate popular perceptions of risk and related facts will often display the features of a meta-collective good: particularly in a democratic form of government, reliable governmental action to secure myriad particular collective goods will depend on popular recognition of the best available evidence on the shared dangers and opportunities that a society confronts (Hardin 2009).  On an issue characterized by pervasive CMR, however, the members of diverse cultural groups will not converge on the best available evidence or not do as quickly as they should to secure their common interests (Kahan 2013).  Still, this threat to their well-being will not in itself alter the array of incentives that make it rational for individuals to cultivate and display a reasoning style that features CMR (Hillman 2010). Only some exogenous change in the association between positions on disputed facts and membership in identity-defining affinity groups can do that.

This conceptual framing of this tragedy of the science communications commons, the paper will suggest, is the principal benefit that economics can make to ongoing research on CMR.

 Refs

Akerlof, G. A., & Kranton, R. E. (2000). Economics and identity. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 115(3), 715-753.

Frank, R. H. (1988). Passions within reason : the strategic role of the emotions. New York: Norton.

Hardin, R. (2009). How do you know? : the economics of ordinary knowledge. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Hillman, A. L. (2010). Expressive behavior in economics and politics. European Journal of Political Economy, 26(4), 403-418.

Kahan, D. M., Peters, E., Wittlin, M., Slovic, P., Ouellette, L. L., Braman, D., & Mandel, G. (2012). The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks. Nature Climate Change, 2, 732-735.

Kahan, D.M.  (2013). Ideology, Motivated Reasoning, and Cognitive Reflection. Judgment and Decision Making 8, 407-424.

Kahan, D.M. (in press). Climate science communication and the Measurement Problem. Advances in Pol. Psych. 

Kahan, D.M., Peters, E., Dawson, E. & Slovic, P.  (2013). Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self Government. Cultural Cognition Project Working Paper No. 116.

Lilienfeld, S. O., Ammirati, R., & Landfield, K. (2009). Giving Debiasing Away: Can Psychological Research on Correcting Cognitive Errors Promote Human Welfare? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4(4), 390-398. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-6924.2009.01144.x

Lodge, M., & Taber, C. S. (2013). The rationalizing voter. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sunstein, C. R. (2007). On the Divergent American Reactions to Terrorism and Climate Change. Columbia Law Review, 107, 503-557.

Weber, E. U., & Stern, P. C. (2011). Public Understanding of Climate Change in the United States. Am. Psychologist, 66, 315-328. doi: 10.1037/a0023253

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August 29, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

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August 29, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

"Enjoyment of the sense of partisan identification that belonging to such groups supplies can be viewed as an end to which individuals attach value for its own stake [sake?]."

This seems odd. It suggests that people join political, religious, and ideological groups as a sort of social club. If that was the case, then why wouldn't they join the biggest and most powerful club in order to maximise their benefits? Why do people join socially persecuted groups?

I don't think so. I think for most people, the beliefs come first, then they find a group of like-minded people they feel comfortable with, then they converge further on group norms through social interaction. You'll only join the left-wing ideological group if your beliefs are already fairly well aligned. Any remaining mismatches with the group consensus will then get smoothed out. But you're not joining it simply to meet people, most of your opinions are your own, and you'll split from the group if the mismatch with your own views becomes too great.

And while there may be some element of go-along-to-get-along in accepting group opinions, I think a lot of the convergence is due rather to being selectively exposed to arguments in support of the group's opinions, which tend to convince people. People trust the opinions of people who they know to be generally right and well-informed on other topics they share opinions on. And if everyone they know thinks differently, they might think "Maybe I'm wrong."

I think it's entirely plausible that people will keep quiet about opinions that they know their friends disagree with, and maybe even lie about it, but I don't think people will actually change their opinion just to fit in. The only example I can think of is of a religious cult, where people will make a deliberate effort to change their own beliefs during a crisis of faith. But even in that case, the perceived stakes are rather higher than mere social acceptance - it needs to be salvation or something similar that you're playing for.

--

But maybe that's just me. When you express your own views as a member of the social group of 'scientists' or 'academics', do you conform your opinions to those of your peers in order to fit in? Do you think of the social benefits of being a member in good standing of the academic community? Do you fear social and professional penalties if you step out of line?

I'd find it a very interesting (and surprising) observation if you did.

August 29, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@NiV:

I think you are right.

I didn't actually mean to say people join groups for the s[]ake of experiencing partisan identification; I meant to say that enjoyment of that partisan connection or solidarity can be understood as something people enjoy -- taking membership as basically exogenous or given. Also, what they enjoy isn't necessarily "conforming" or "fitting in" as a type of solidarity or pride or loyalty.

But I think even that is probably an odd thing to say. That is, I don't think most people experience adopting partisan stances in connection with their cultural identities as akin to doing the same in connection with, say, their hometown sports team.

They are, I suspect, more likely to view doing this as a pain in the ass--something that is being visited on them by a noxious state of antagonism. They'd rather just get on with things, but given the conditions they are in, this is what they are constrained to do.

But maybe if we want to adopt the simple sort of picture that economists use -- one that just treats all all experiences to which people attached value conditional on the set of options available to them as commensurable in terms of some kind of welfare unit ("happines," "utility," "dollars") -- the simplification might be okay.

I'm not sure.

Thx.

but wait. Now that I think of it,this is related to our discussion of the non-generalizability of the self-understanding of climate-change debate junkies. Surely you can observe in the people who spend hrs on end on social media bashing "the other side" on climate -- clapping each other on the back as they do so in a way that seems to any normal person as completely deranged -- as evincing the sort of "enjoyment of partisan connection for its own s[]ake"? They are clearly getting off on the bonding involved in tribal conflict; it's giving them some sort of endorphine or seratonin or dopamine rush, and that's why they keep doing it & doing it & doing it, like addicted gamblers or meth users.

But for sure-- that's not the norm.

August 29, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

"Now that I think of it,this is related to our discussion of the non-generalizability of the self-understanding of climate-change debate junkies."

Mmm. Yes. I was going to come back to you on that earlier, but then got distracted by other things.

There are two separate points here - whether one is interested, and whether one enjoys the debate.

When I said earlier that we are all the same in being individuals, what I was talking about was that while we are not all interested in climate change, most of us do have some sort of interest. One of my relatives is deeply into classical church music. Another is interested in sailing. A third is interested in politics and is active in local parties. One of my friends is seriously interested in motorbikes - I recall wandering round a large tent with him filled with about a hundred vintage motorbikes, most of which he could tell me the details of. Somebody else I know is a big fan of the Dr Who TV show, while several others prefer Star Trek. Another friend is interested in cookery, off-road rallying, high energy physics, and inventing elaborate schemes to blow up the world. Another old friend is into films, and can tell you who Humphrey Bogarde starred with in what film when, whenever. Several are into computers and writing software. None of my friends is into TV soap operas, but it's obvious that a lot of people are. A lot of people devote their time to football, or other sports, either as a fan or participant. Some people are into politics, and some into religion. Some spend their time going round other people's gardens. Some like the clubs and bars. Some like reading books. Some like travelling the world. Some like mountain climbing. Some people collect things, like postage stamps or rare coins.

I could go on and on. While climate junkies may be unusual in being interested in climate, they're not unusual in being interested in something. Nor is it unusual to be a bit obsessive about it. A lot of people like talking and arguing about their own particular interests, and they'll quite often talk - in somewhat less detail, hopefully - with friends who don't share the same interest. So people will often know quite a bit about topics that don't particularly interest them, but which their friends like. And they'll likely have been exposed thereby to just one side of many lively debates.

The environmental debate is one of those that I think most people would not be particularly interested in, except that it tends to intrude into people's life more than most through regulations and taxes and legal restrictions and so on. We're bombarded by advertising on it, and political propaganda. People are pressured to recycle, and save energy. It's enough that even if they're not interested, they are at least aware of the debate enough to have an opinion.

But 'the public' is made up of many different overlapping groups and networks, of which the local 'experts' on the various topics are an integral part. They're not separate from 'the public', and they have an influence. Nor is it the case that people belong to only one such network, aligned along political lines. I have a lot of friends and a relatives who definitely don't share my politics - so I just don't talk about politics with them. There are lots of other things to discuss.

For example, I was distracted from our conversation earlier by taking part in an interesting debate about the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics with a bunch of Catholic theologians. I have, in turn, learned a lot from them in the past about Thomas Aquinas and the Arian heresy and Aristotle's position on the materiality of the soul and such topics. Politically, they're more conservative where I'm libertarian, and we don't agree, but we still talk. We have sometimes talked about climate change.

I would agree that when it comes to the climate change debate in particular, people like me are up at one end of the scale. I don't agree that we're not an integral part of 'the public', or that our positions can be considered separately, in isolation; that our social networks don't overlap with the rest of society, or that our methods and heuristics for forming opinions are particularly unusual, by human standards. People like me are the source of opinions about climate change for a lot of other more 'ordinary' people - understanding that they're only 'ordinary' in the same sense that I am on other topics. We are all 'ordinary' on most of the subjects we come into contact with.

We have freedom of association, so opinions come first and common-interest social groups follow from them. Yes, people enjoy the social interaction, and the occasional 'victory' over 'the other side', and it may indeed be why some people like debate, but I don't think it's why people hold the opinions they do.

But you're welcome to try to convince me otherwise.

August 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

I have stopped using System 1 and System 2 memes because at the cellular level they don't really exist as Kahneman describes them or, more accurately, they exist for only milliseconds and then change once again. A neuron that is part of System 2 three seconds ago can easily be part of System 1 right now.
People throw around 'rational.' At the cellular level again, 'rational' does not seem to exist. Neurons fire or don't. None of the firings understand 'rational.' So, 'rational' is a veneer on the biological workings of thought. I would like some extended definition of 'rational' for the post above. If I know the facts of climate change and do not act in accordance with these facts because I gain more for myself and my family by acting the way that I do, it seems that I am acting 'rationally' within my decision space.
For more studies on the behavior of humans in groups, see Ravven's "The Self Beyond Itself." The behaviors are very interesting and very disturbing.
http://forwardintothepast-eric.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-self-beyond-itself-heidi-ravven.html

August 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEric Fairfield

@Eric:

How could one tell whether "System 1" & "System 2" exist at the cellular level? I actually am skeptical about the Sys 1 & 2 framework as it ends up being deployed by most scholars. But that's b/c I don't think the conception that they have of that conception of dual process reasoning does a good job explaining, predicting, and prescribing. If it did, then I wouldn't know what to think about the claim that it "doesn't exist" at the cellular level.

Or tell me where I'm going wrong when I say that

[1] any mechanism of cognition that one can establish is genuine through exposing individuals to stimuli and seeing how they react to them necessarily exists at the "cellular level" (where else could it be?); and

[2] we can't tell solely from observations we make of processes at the cellular level what mechanisms of cognition actually exist, b/c the only way to match those cellular level processes to cognitive mechanisms is by correlating the cellular processes with behavioral indicators of those same mechanisms (i.e., the indicators we've identified by exposing people to stimuli & seeing how they react).

I'm very open to the idea we can learn things from looking at neural activity at the "cellular level" but don't understand (as a matter of simple logic even) how we can know what we are looking at unless we first have established valid indicators of cognitive processes by observations made at the "people level."

August 30, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@NiV:

Have you read Frank's Passions within Reason? I think you'd find it interesting & probably pretty convincing.

But in any event, for reasons having to do w/ what you said in your first comment in this thread (the 2d is interesting too but I'm still on the 1st), what I'm saying would be incoherent w/o some sort of *unconscious* selection mechanism that promotes habits of mind geared to forming beliefs that signal group membership. That's the sort of thing Frank is discussing w/ his account of emotions.

The selection mechanism might include the pleasure we experience when we find ourselves in agreement with others we respect, in particular about "our" superior virtue rleative to "them"; that pleasure might unconsciously guide us to do all the sorts of things that reliably produce identity-congruent beliefs.

Or there might be some other mechanism that works that way -- like the pain of being shunned or dissonance avoidance etc.

But whatever the processes are that result in people behaving "as if" they valued holding identity-congruent beliefs, it can't be the case that anyone consciously *chooses* to have beliefs in order to fit in or to get any benefit of any sort from fitting in. It's in the nature of beliefs -- as it is in the nature of emotions -- not to be "chosen."

This is a point Elster often makes.

August 30, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Dan,

I haven't read it, but it does look interesting. Thanks!

"what I'm saying would be incoherent w/o some sort of *unconscious* selection mechanism that promotes habits of mind geared to forming beliefs that signal group membership."

I agree that when you're a member of a group, you pick what you say carefully to fit in with the group's signature beliefs. Sometimes even consciously. As I said, I have many friends who disagree with me on politics, so I don't discuss politics with them.

I wasn't arguing that people are not motivated by signals of group membership in what they say, I'm dubious that they are so motivated in what they believe.

But I guess what your saying about Frank's theory is that this sort of 'dishonesty' is costly, it results in people not believing what we claim our opinions to be, if they know we will say anything to fit in. So there is an evolutionary benefit to being honest about our views, even if it causes a short-term loss through entering into conflict. Therefore we feel a moral compulsion to not lie about our true opinions, and therefore fitting in requires a genuine change of opinion to match the group's norms.

Yes, I can see how there are circumstances where that might happen. The most obvious one I can think of is where the membership is not purely voluntary and there are severe material penalties for not fitting in - for example, an employment relationship. People may feel they cannot simply quit their job, so if the their moral beliefs come into conflict with the requirements of the job, and it's not a conflict they can avoid by simply choosing not to participate, then the emotional conflict might drive cognitive dissonance which could cause a genuine change in opinion. The zeal of the convert is well-known. It might also happen to the extremely ambitious - the 'brown-noser' is a classic office stereotype where a person echoes their boss's opinions and habits with sycophantic devotion. While it exceeds the bounds of all probability that two people could agree so completely on everything, it might nevertheless be genuine - the desperate desire to fit in overriding prior opinions and remoulding them around the image of the admired role-model.

And if obvious, exaggerated versions of it exist, it seems likely that less-obvious, milder versions probably exist too. Possibly without our realising.

However, I'd say that such effects still require high stakes and external constraints to bend people's views like that, because the same moral honesty of opinion that causes it would more likely push someone to simply leave the group or avoid the topic unless held there by something stronger than the mere desire for social interaction. There needs to be an anvil as well as a hammer, to hold the iron in place.

I don't see that kind of constraint in the sort of internet debates and casual opinions I thought we were talking about. Climate scientists have their careers, but they still have a lot of freedom of choice. And sceptics are mostly a rabble of hobbyists and dilettantes. There's nothing holding them to it, or to their groups.

Nevertheless, you've made me think. Thank you.

August 30, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Dan -

==> "One way to make sense of the nexus between CMR and system 2 information processing, I will argue, is to see CMR as a form of reasoning suited to promoting the stake individuals have in protecting their connection to, and status within, important affinity groups."

From my observations of CMR as found so commonly in the climate wars - where people use very sophisticated information processing techniques to selectively filter information and confirm their biases - I think that you are underevaluating more personal "goals" involved. From what I have seen, most many people weigh into the debate to prove that they're right, or smarter than other (very smart) people, or can't be fooled by the experts, or duped by the supposedly learned, etc. I think that it has a lot to do with individual identity protective mechanisms.

I think that there is certainly an affinity group association. In some cases, it may be that an affinity group orientation leads someone engaged in CMR in a particular direction, but the more proximal, and operational goal is individual identity protection. In other cases, I think that the group affinity protection is more proximal and operational, but not all.

Often times I hear from "skeptics" in the blogosphere that they aren't affected by motivated reasoning because they "aren't monolithic" as a group. They say there is no group affinity - only an individual drive to uncover "pure" science and maintain scientific integrity. It isn't clear to me how they then explain the overwhelming political/world view associations seen in how views on climate change break down - but I do think that from what I've seen what they are discussing is actually referencing something of a mixture of goal orientation mechanisms. Yes, there is an initial condition that orients them in a direction that is consistent with political/group identity - but this is a group that in general is disdainful of academics, and very smart and learned and thus invested in proving that they're smarter than the academics who say that climate change is something to be concerned about (I'll also add that I think that this group tends to be higher than average on the range of narcissistic attributes).

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

NiV -

===> "I don't think so. I think for most people, the beliefs come first,..."

???

Most people align with affinity groups as a by-product of the social group into which they are born. They create affinities with that group well before they have had any beliefs formed. In fact, their membership in a group is what predominately shapes their beliefs.

Of course, at the larger group level and at the family level there are an infinite variety of variations on the theme - different families (from the same larger affinity group) stress different priorities for belief hierarchies, and of course, as individuals age people sometimes shift their own individual priorities, and of course, personality characteristics come into play as well... so there isn't a straight line between beliefs in an affinity group and all beliefs for all individuals - but the larger pattern of association between affinity group and individual personal beliefs is pretty overwhelming, in part for factors that you mention such as differentiated access to information or different affinity group orientations towards which experts to rely on.

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"From what I have seen, most many people weigh into the debate to prove that they're right, or smarter than other (very smart) people, or can't be fooled by the experts, or duped by the supposedly learned, etc."

:-)
Fortunately for us, certain climate scientists set a very low bar. :-)

"It isn't clear to me how they then explain the overwhelming political/world view associations seen in how views on climate change break down"

I think they mostly assume that people on the left suspend their scientific scepticism and take statements from authority on trust because the conclusions support their worldview and policy aspirations. They set different (much lower) thresholds for the burden of proof and for acceptable levels of quality and confidence. Confirmation bias, in other words.

I'm not saying they're necessarily right. I'm just saying they're using exactly the same explanation that everyone on the left uses when explaining why 'deniers' are mostly on the right. If you applied the principle symmetrically, as you keep saying you believe it ought to be, this would be obvious.

"but this is a group that in general is disdainful of academics, and very smart and learned and thus invested in proving that they're smarter than the academics who say that climate change is something to be concerned about"

Dunno. I don't really regard it as much of a challenge.

Or to put it another way, what's the point in proving you're better than someone you're disdainful of?

But are we talking about the 'ordinary' sceptics, now, or the ones like me?

"(I'll also add that I think that this group tends to be higher than average on the range of narcissistic attributes)."

:-)

Symmetry?

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

I should say... I do know how "skeptics" who say that they aren't affected by motivated reasoning because they aren't monolithic explain the association between "skepticism" and political/world view orientation... what I don't know is how they can believe those explanations - other than to chalk it up as yet another example of motivated reasoning.

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

==> "I think they mostly assume that people on the left suspend their scientific scepticism and take statements from authority on trust because the conclusions support their worldview and policy aspirations. They set different (much lower) thresholds for the burden of proof and for acceptable levels of quality and confidence. Confirmation bias, in other words."

I anticipated that you were going to go there - which is why I added the 2nd comment. But you're too quick.

Yes, the explanation is usually that people on the other side (they don't always identify that other side along political lines) is dispositionally or for other reasons asymmetrically likely to "let emotions overwhelm their reasoning" or be "motivated" in their analysis for other flimsy (and ironically, unexamined) reasons. Although often they don't even get that sophisticated, and simply explain that the explanation for their different view on the science is simply because they are interested in "pure" science and scientific integrity - without any consideration of the subjectivity embedded within that explanation.

==> "Symmetry?"

Of course. There are a number of pervasive attributes, IMO, associated with people who spend gobs of time online throwing Jell-O. There is something about the medium which attracts certain kinds of people, in general, IMO. I think that it would be unskeptical to think otherwise. Not all of those attributes are likely to be pretty ones. And I think there's a good case to make that a tendency towards narcissism is a pretty common one - particularly in the climate wars.

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"Although often they don't even get that sophisticated, and simply explain that the explanation for their different view on the science is simply because they are interested in "pure" science and scientific integrity - without any consideration of the subjectivity embedded within that explanation."

I think there is as well a lack of interest in the question of motivations.

The usual argument is that there is such a thing as pure scientific integrity, an absolute standard of what ought to be expected of science, and climate science doesn't apply it. The conclusions sceptics want to draw follow from that.

Motivations usually only come up when a believer tries to apply the ad populam 'consensus' argument - if it's so bad, why don't more scientists say so? Why do so many people disagree? They believe the only possible explanation for consensus in the absence of justification would be a conspiratorial one - so they challenge sceptics to come up with an alternative in the belief that this will be hard.

Sceptics can, of course, come up with plenty of alternative theories. But generally speaking, they're besides the point. In science, it's not acceptable to withhold adverse results, hide data, make up data, fail to report methods, or known problems, publish results you can't replicate, fail to show your working, lose data by having no backups, archives, or configuration control, rely on buggy and undocumented code, use statistical models that are known not to fit, use ad hoc statistical methods that are unvalidated for the sort of data you're using, or even known to be wrong, use unvalidated models for making policy decisions, and all the rest of it. It's not acceptable, on discovering this has been done, to do nothing about it.

Why people did it doesn't even come into it. The point is they did.

And they regard these scientific standards as absolute - they don't regard them as a matter of opinion. So it's not relevant that only people on the right hold to these standards and people on the left don't. If that's true, so much the worse for the left.

That's the attitude they have. Now Dan has shown some interesting data that suggests that the right is equally selective in its application of standards of evidence, but the details of Dan's work are not as well known as they deserve to be, and so more emotionally appealing hypotheses abound. The armchair-psychology pop-science 'Democrat-Brain'-type explanations are probably wrong, and they don't actually know why people do what they do.

Nor do they really care. OK, so maybe the right is just as prone to confirmation bias as the left - there's still no way to use that fact to parley withholding evidence that you falsified results into an acceptable scientific practice. And that's still the point.

Which I think may be the reason why sceptics don't pay as much attention to you as you'd like. They just regard it as a sort of moral relativism aimed at fogging the issue, to say it's all a matter of opinion and it's all defined by politics, and there's nothing to say absolutely who is right and who is wrong. The possibility of cognitive bias is a universal solvent for certainty, which you're careful to only apply to the climate sceptic side. It's just seen as a nakedly partisan tactic, and dismissed.

Which is a pity, because Dan's work is interesting and possibly relevant. But such is the polluted state of the debate.

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

On topic link (for a change).

http://www.partiallyexaminedlife.com/2014/08/29/stories-we-tell-a-review-of-michael-sandels-democracys-discontent/

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

==> "Which I think may be the reason why sceptics don't pay as much attention to you as you'd like."

(1) I have no expectation as to whether they pay attention to me. So you are assuming a desire on my part that doesn't exist. If I have a related desire, it would be that they pay attention to what the concept of cultural cognition indicates about their own "skepticism." But I have no illusions that anything that I might do or not do will alter their trajectory in that regard one iota. Motivated reasoning predicts that I won't have that influence.

(2) Actually, they pay a lot of attention to me. They call me names, insult me, attack me, pleaad with others not to engage with me, request that I be "banned," etc. Again, all to be expected.

(3) The fact that they pay so much attention to me is the point. The point is that because they are so unwilling, so unskeptical as it were, to pay attention to the symmetry of motivated reasoning, that they engage in identity-protective and identity-defensive behaviors that are manifestations of motivated reasoning. They personalize the argument - ironically, exactly as would be predicted by the theory.

==> " but the details of Dan's work are not as well known as they deserve to be, and so more emotionally appealing hypotheses abound. "

Funny. Do you think that the details of Dan's work will change the orientation of "skeptics?" Look at what happens here with "skeptic" who read Dan's material and engage with him. Look at that thread downstairs where Dan discusses the details of his evidence, and one "skeptic" after another (some notable ones at that) line up to explain how his evidence is wrong, and that actually there is a systematically different way that libz and "realists" approach analysis.

Again, the theory predicts such a reaction. What I find amusing is that you lend plausibility to the theory, but constantly come up with excuses for why "skeptics" are somehow immune to the implications.

The theory predicts that "skeptics" knowing more details about Dan's research will only push them deeper into their preexisting cognitive biases that got them here in the first place.

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

NiV -

==> "I think there is as well a lack of interest in the question of motivations."

That is particularly beautiful. I no longer think you put on rose-colored classes when you look at "skeptics," I now think that you've had rose colored lenses implanted.

On practically every "skept-o-sphere" thread you will find "skeptics" discussing in great detail their theories about the motivations of "realists" and climate scientists who think that ACO2 presents a risk of significantly altering the climate.

===> "Motivations usually only come up when a believer tries to apply the ad populam 'consensus' argument - if it's so bad, why don't more scientists say so?

The "They did it first so they made us do it" is a classic sign of motivated reasoning, IMO. It reflects the kind of victim mentality that is associated with identity-aggressive and identity-defensive behaviors.

==> " But generally speaking, they're besides the point. "

According to who? Have you been appointed as spokesperson for "skeptics?" If so, who appointed you? From where I sit, for many, many "skeptics" questioning motivations is very much part of "the point," and not "besides" it in the very least.

They just regard it as a sort of moral relativism aimed at fogging the issue, to say it's all a matter of opinion and it's all defined by politics, and there's nothing to say absolutely who is right and who is wrong.

Yes, I agree with this. That is often the interpretation. The reason being, IMO, because of a patterned argument about putative differences between the left and the right, and the notion that lefties are so morally relativistic. Often, it shifts into a discussion of "traditional Judeo-Christian" values and how anyone who lacks faith in a supernatural being is inherently amoral.

Niv, it might help our discussions to move along a bit more positively if you didn't put yourself in the position of explaining to me arguments that I see daily in online discussions. I find it simultaneously amusing, condescending, and reflective of your own biases. You might start by asking me what I know about the arguments that people present (and not telling me what their reasoning is behind their arguments - because you have in general no better standing to interpret their reasoning than I do) - as you sometimes do.

Yes - I set that up in this thread by saying that I didn't understand how "skeptics" explain the association between political/wold view orientation and views on climate change, but it's a larger pattern that I find to be counterproductive...for what it's worth....

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

One more - then I'll stop monopolizing the dance floor.

Upon re-reading, I noticed a contradiction. I said that "(1) I have no expectation as to whether they pay attention to me. " which is contradicted when I said that the behavior of paying attention to me is exactly what I expect.

So, to clarify - I do have an expectation. But I don't have a desire as to whether they pay attention to me in the manner that you suggested - as if I want them to pay attention to me because then they would become more open to examining their biases.

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"The reason being, IMO, because of a patterned argument about putative differences between the left and the right, and the notion that lefties are so morally relativistic."

Not that I'm aware of. I think it stems from dismissing everything sceptics say as being caused by motivated reasoning, and therefore not to be relied upon.

People apparently differ in their opinion whether it is acceptable scientific practice (for example) to publish and use a dataset that not even the institution that generated it can replicate, and which is known by its maintainers to be full of bugs and errors but which fact they have not disclosed in public. The difference of opinion is apparently correlated with political views. Are we supposed to take seriously the idea that we only think this is bad practice because we're politically motivated?!

How about an argument that addresses the actual content of the issue?

"Niv, it might help our discussions to move along a bit more positively if you didn't put yourself in the position of explaining to me arguments that I see daily in online discussions."

You said earlier: "It isn't clear to me how they then explain the overwhelming political/world view associations seen in how views on climate change break down". Now you're saying you see those arguments every day and I'm condescending for explaining it to you? Why, then, did you say it wasn't clear how they explained it?

So how do you explain it? How can the scientific acceptability of using a buggy, unreplicable database or hiding adverse validation test results break down along party lines? Why do so many on the left think that's OK?

Is it just a matter of opinion?

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@NiV: the affinity groups in question are ones in which political and cultural values (not to mention a host of other things--religiosity, religious affiliation, regions of residence etc.) might be indicators of membership, but they are not political parties or cultural advocacy groups etc. They are the everyday social networks into which individuals end up placed by a mixture of random happenstance, inertia, and choice. People who are largely uninterested in politics--most people-- value & get all manner of value out of these attachments. If it happens that positions on some contested policy-relevant fact or risk comes for some weird reason to be understood as a badge of membership in and loyalty to such a group -- as a signal of desired outlooks and characteristics -- then it is hardly surprising that people will form styles of reasoning that promote their belief in such positions. People won't "join" another group that has a position that they "like more"-- they could care less about these issues.

@Joshua: You are now starting to make the mistake you said NiV was making -- saying that we should try to generalize from the weird outliers who participate in social media debates about climate change to the general population. They are a tiny tiny tiny fraction of the population & whatever it is that makes them behave in the strange way that they do -- you say it is to "show how smart they are" -- is exactly what makes their psychology an unreliable basis for drawing inferences about mass opinion formation.

August 31, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Dan -

Yes. Fair point.

August 31, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

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