“Krugman’s ‘magic motivated reasoning mirror’ show”– I’ve stopped watching but not trying to learn from reflective people who still are

So here is an interesting thing to discuss.

A commenter on the What’s to explain? Kulkarni on “knowing disbelief” post made an interesting connection between “knowing disbelief” (KD) and the “asymmetry thesis.”  The occasion for his comment, it’s apparent, was not or not only the Kulkarni post but rather something he saw on the show “Paul Krugman & the Magic Motivated Reasoning Mirror,” in every episode of which Krugman looks in the mirror & sees the images of those who disagree with him & never himself.

There are lots of episodes—almost as many as in Breaking Bad or 24.  Consider:

But the “Krugman’s magic motivated reasoning mirror show” is way too boring, too monotonous, too predictable.

I’ve stopped watching – hence didn’t even bother to say anything about the most recent episode or the one before that.

But the commentator had a really interesting point that wasn’t monotonous and that far from being predictable is bound up with things that I’m feeling quite uncertain about recently. So I’ve “promoted” his comment & my response to “full post status” — & invite others to weigh in.


I think that this discussion skips over what is really interesting here – and which actually can be connected to what Krugman was talking about when he was so derided on this blog.

Let’s consider the yellow population on the right-hand side of this chart. As presented here, these are people who are of well-above-average scientific understanding. They are therefore presumably aware of the truly vast array of evidence that supports the proposition that the earth is not 10,000 years old and that today’s living creatures are descended from ancestors that were of different species.

Despite this, many in this group answer false to the first question posed (and presumably many also to the question, “True or false, the age of the earth is about 4.5 billion years”).

Now this raises the question “Is there any question on which the blue population displays a like disregard of the scientific evidence of which they’re aware?”

This question cannot be answered by the sorts of experiments I’ve seen on this blog. Having read at this point a good number of the posts, what I have seen demonstrated here is that people’s minds do work in the same way – and that nobody likes to hear evidence that contradicts their beliefs. However, the question being asked is different – how is this way-of-the-mind playing out in practice by yellow and blue groups on the right-hand side of the chart?

My belief (and evidenly Krugman’s as well) is that *at the present moment in the US* there in fact is no symmetry. These two groups believe quite differently – one generally aligning with the scientific consensus and the other not.

I think this is a pretty reasonable question, not worthy of derision.

September 1, 2014 | 



A. I agree the question — of asymmetry — is not worthy of derision. Derision, though, is worthy of derision, particularly when it assumes an answer to the question & evinces a stubborn refusal to engage with contrary evidence. There are many who subscribe to the the “asymmetry thesis” who are serious and open-minded people just trying to figure things out. Krugman isn’t in that category. He is an illiberal zealot & an embarrassment to critically reasoning people of all cultural & political outlooks.

B. The point you raise is for sure getting at what is “interesting here” more than most of the other other comments on this & related posts. Thanks for pointing out the KD/asymmetry connection…. (But note that it it would actually be a mistake to conflate NSF “human evolution disbelievers” w/ “young earth creationists”–the latter make up only a subset of former.)

C. I admit (as I have plainly stated) that I find the relationship between KD & cultural cognition & like mechanisms unclear & even disorienting & unsettling. But I think conflating the whole lot would be a huge error. There are many forms of cultural cognition that don’t reflect KD. It’s also not clear — to me at least — that KD necessarily aggravates the pernicious aspects of cultural cognition. As in the case of the Pakistani Dr — & the SE Floridians who don’t believe in climate change but who use evidence of it for collective decisionmaking — my hunch is that it is a resource that can be used to counteract illiberal forms of status competition that prevent diverse democratic citizens from converging on valid decision-relevant science.  Rather than extracting empty, ritualistic statements of “belief in” one or the other side’s tribal symbol, the point of collective exchange should be to enable acquisition and use of genuine knowledge. It works in the classroom for teaching evolution, so why not use the same sort of approach in the town hall meeting (start there; work your way up) to get something done on climate? Take a look at The Measurement Problem & you’ll see where I’m coming from. And if you see where it would make more sense for me to go instead, I’m all ears.

D. But while waiting for anything more you might say on this, let me try to put KD aside — as I have indicated, I am using the “compartmentalization” strategy for now –& come back to Kruggie’s “asymmetry thesis challenge” (made in the last episode of “PK’s Magic Motivated Reasoning Mirror” that I bothered watching).

Krugman asks “what is the liberal equivalent of climate change for conservatives?”

Well, what does he mean exactly? If he means an example of an issue in which critical engagement with evidence on a consequential issue is being distorted by cultural cognition, the answer is … climate change.

Just as there’s abundant evidence that most of those who say they “believe in” evolution don’t understand natural selection, random mutation & genetic variance (the elements of the modern synthesis in evolutionary science), the vast majority of those who say they “believe in” global warming don’t genuinely get the most basic mechanisms of cliamte change (same for “nonbelievers” in both cases– correlations between believing & understanding the evidence are zero).

It’s actually okay to accept what one can’t understand: in order to live well– or just live–people need to accept as known by science much  more than they have time or capacity to comprehend! To make use of science, people use a rational faculty exquisitely calibrated to discerning who actually knows what science knows & who is full of shit.

But here’s what’s not okay: there’s abundant evidence that those on both sides of the climate debate– “believer” as well as “nonbeliver”–are now using their “what does science know” recognition faculty in a biased way that fits all evidence to their cultural predispositions.

That means that we have a real problem in our science communication environment–one that everyone regardless of cultural outlook has a stake in fixing.

So maybe you can see why I think it is very noxious—a sign of lack of civic virtue as well as critical reasoning ability– to keep insisting that a conflict like climate change is a consequence of one side being “stupid” or “unreasoning” when it can be shown that both sides are processing information in the same way?  Why doing that is stupid & illiberal, and actually makes things worse by reinforcing the signals of cultural conflict that are themselves poisoning our “who knows what science knows” reasoning faculty?

Do you think I’m missing something here?

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