AlterNet.org: Chris Mooney http://www.alternet.org/authors/chris-mooney en Why Are College-Educated Conservatives More Likely to Deny Science? http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/why-are-college-educated-conservatives-more-likely-deny-science <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Republicans who consider themselves well-informed and educated are even deeper in denial about issues like global warming.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_57228751_0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>This essay is adapted from Chris Mooney’s book </em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Republican-Brain-Science-Scienceand-Reality/dp/1118094514/">The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality</a>.</p><p>I can still remember when I first realized how naïve I was in thinking—hoping—that laying out the “facts” would suffice to change politicized minds, and especially Republican ones. It was a typically wonkish, liberal revelation: One based on statistics and data. Only this time, the data were showing, rather awkwardly, that people ignore data and evidence—and often, knowledge and education only make the problem worse.</p><p>Someone had sent me a <a href="http://www.people-press.org/2008/05/08/a-deeper-partisan-divide-over-global-warming/">2008 Pew report</a> documenting the intense partisan divide in the U.S. over the reality of global warming.. It’s a divide that, maddeningly for scientists, has shown a paradoxical tendency to widen even as the basic facts about global warming have become more firmly established.</p><p>Those facts are these: Humans, since the industrial revolution, have been burning more and more fossil fuels to power their societies, and this has led to a steady accumulation of greenhouse gases, and especially carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere. At this point, very simple physics takes over, and you are pretty much doomed, by what scientists refer to as the “radiative” properties of carbon dioxide molecules (which trap infrared heat radiation that would otherwise escape to space), to have a warming planet. Since about 1995, scientists have not only confirmed that this warming is taking place, but have also grown confident that it has, like the gun in a murder mystery, our fingerprint on it. Natural fluctuations, although they exist, can’t explain what we’re seeing. The only reasonable verdict is that humans did it, in the atmosphere, with their cars and their smokestacks.</p><p>Such is what is known to science--what is true (no matter what Rick Santorum might say)<em>. </em>But the Pew data showed that humans aren’t as predictable as carbon dioxide molecules. Despite a growing scientific consensus about global warming, as of 2008 Democrats and Republicans had cleaved over the facts stated above, like a divorcing couple. One side bought into them, one side didn’t—and if anything, knowledge and intelligence seemed to be worsening matters.</p><p>Buried in the Pew report was a little chart showing the relationship between one’s political party affiliation, one’s acceptance that humans are causing global warming, and one’s level of education. And here’s the mind-blowing surprise: For Republicans, having a college degree didn’t appear to make one any more open to what scientists have to say. On the contrary, better-educated Republicans were <em>more skeptical</em> of modern climate science than their less educated brethren. Only 19 percent of college-educated Republicans agreed that the planet is warming due to human actions, versus 31 percent of non-college-educated Republicans.</p><p>For Democrats and Independents, the opposite was the case. More education correlated with being more accepting of climate science—among Democrats, dramatically so. The difference in acceptance between more and less educated Democrats was 23 percentage points.</p><p>This was my first encounter with what I now like to call the “smart idiots” effect: The fact that politically sophisticated or knowledgeable people are often <em>more </em>biased, and less persuadable, than the ignorant. It’s a reality that generates endless frustration for many scientists—and indeed, for many well-educated, reasonable people.</p><p>And most of all, for many liberals.</p><p>Let’s face it: We liberals and progressives are absolutely outraged by partisan misinformation. Lies about “death panels.” People seriously thinking that President Obama is a Muslim, not born in the United States. Climate-change denial. Debt ceiling denial. These things drive us crazy, in large part because we can’t comprehend how such intellectual abominations could possibly exist.</p><p>And not only are we enraged by lies and misinformation; we want to refute them—to argue, argue, argue about why we’re right and Republicans are wrong. Indeed, we often act as though right-wing misinformation’s defeat is nigh, if we could only make people wiser and more educated (just like us) and get them the medicine that is correct information.</p><p>No less than President Obama’s science adviser John Holdren (a man whom I greatly admire, but disagree with in this instance) has stated, when asked how to get Republicans in Congress to accept our mainstream scientific understanding of climate change, that it’s an “<a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/e2-wire/e2-wire/141143-white-house-official-cites-capitol-hill-education-problem-on-climate">education problem</a>.”</p><p>But the facts, the scientific data, say otherwise.</p><p>Indeed, the rapidly growing social scientific literature on the resistance to global warming (see for examples <a href="http://www.carseyinstitute.unh.edu/publications/IB-Hamilton-Climate-Change-2011.pdf">here</a> and <a href="http://comm.stanford.edu/faculty/krosnick/docs/2009/2009%20Global%20warming%20knowledge%20and%20concern%20PUBLISHED.pdf">here</a>) says so pretty unequivocally. Again and again, Republicans or conservatives who say they know more about the topic, or are more educated, are shown to be <em>more </em>in denial, and often more sure of themselves as well—and are confident they don’t need any more information on the issue.</p><p>Tea Party members appear to be the worst of all. In a <a href="http://environment.yale.edu/climate/files/PoliticsGlobalWarming2011.pdf">recent survey</a> by Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, they rejected the science of global warming even more strongly than average Republicans did. For instance, considerably more Tea Party members than Republicans incorrectly thought there was a lot of scientific disagreement about global warming (69 percent to 56 percent). Most strikingly, the Tea Party members were very sure of themselves—they considered themselves “very well-informed” about global warming and were more likely than other groups to say they “do not need any more information” to make up their minds on the issue.</p><p>But it’s not just global warming where the “smart idiot” effect occurs. It also emerges on nonscientific but factually contested issues, like the claim that President Obama is a Muslim. Belief in this falsehood actually increased <em>more </em>among better-educated Republicans from 2009 to 2010 than it did among less-educated Republicans, <a href="http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2010/08/why_do_more_people_think_obama.html.ul">according to</a> research by George Washington University political scientist John Sides.</p><p>The same effect has also been captured in relation to the myth that the healthcare reform bill empowered government “death panels.” According to <a href="http://www.soc.washington.edu/users/burstein/Nyhan%20death%20panel%20myth.pdf">research</a> by Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan, Republicans who thought they knew more about the Obama healthcare plan were “paradoxically more likely to endorse the misperception than those who did not.” Well-informed Democrats were the opposite—quite certain there were no “death panels” in the bill.</p><p>The Democrats also happened to be right, by the way.</p><p>The idealistic, liberal, Enlightenment notion that knowledge will save us, or unite us, was even put to a scientific test last year—and it failed badly.</p><p>Yale researcher Dan Kahan and his colleagues set out to study the relationship between political views, scientific knowledge or reasoning abilities, and opinions on contested scientific issues like global warming. In <a href="http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1871503&amp;http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1871503">their study,</a> more than 1,500 randomly selected Americans were asked about their political worldviews and their opinions about how dangerous global warming and nuclear power are. But that’s not all: They were also asked standard questions to determine their degree of scientific literacy (e.g, “Antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria—true or false?”) as well as their numeracy or capacity for mathematical reasoning (e.g., “If Person A’s chance of getting a disease is 1 in 100 in 10 years, and person B’s risk is double that of A, what is B’s risk?”).</p><p>The result was stunning and alarming. The standard view that knowing more science, or being better at mathematical reasoning, ought to make you more accepting of mainstream climate science simply crashed and burned.</p><p>Instead, here was the result. If you were already part of a cultural group predisposed to distrust climate science—e.g., a political conservative or “hierarchical-individualist”—then more science knowledge and more skill in mathematical reasoning tended to make you even more dismissive. Precisely the opposite happened with the other group—“egalitarian-communitarians” or liberals—who tended to worry <em>more </em>as they knew more science and math. The result was that, overall, more scientific literacy and mathematical ability led to greater political polarization over climate change—which, of course, is precisely what we see in the polls.</p><p>So much for education serving as an antidote to politically biased reasoning.</p><p>What accounts for the “smart idiot” effect?</p><p>For one thing, well-informed or well-educated conservatives probably consume more conservative news and opinion, such as by watching Fox News. Thus, they are more likely to know what they’re supposed to think about the issues—what people like them think—and to be familiar with the arguments or reasons for holding these views. If challenged, they can then recall and reiterate these arguments. They’ve made them a part of their identities, a part of their brains, and in doing so, they’ve drawn a strong emotional connection between certain “facts” or claims, and their deeply held political values. And they’re ready to <em>argue.</em></p><p>What this suggests, critically, is that sophisticated conservatives may be very different from unsophisticated or less-informed ones. Paradoxically, we would expect <em>less </em>informed conservatives to be <em>easier </em>to persuade, and <em>more </em>responsive to new and challenging information.</p><p>In fact, there is even research suggesting that the most rigid and inflexible breed of conservatives—so-called authoritarians—do not really become their ideological selves until they actually learn something about politics first. A kind of “<a href="http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1451327">authoritarian activation</a>” needs to occur, and it happens through the development of political “expertise.” Consuming a lot of political information seems to help authoritarians <em>feel </em>who they are—whereupon they become more accepting of inequality, more dogmatically traditionalist, and more resistant to change.</p><p>So now the big question: Are liberals also “smart idiots”?</p><p>There’s no doubt that more knowledge—or more political engagement—can produce more bias on either side of the aisle. That’s because it forges a stronger bond between our emotions and identities on the one hand, and a particular body of facts on the other.</p><p>But there are also reason to think that, with liberals, there is something else going on. Liberals, to quote George Lakoff, subscribe to a view that might be dubbed “<a href="#v=onepage&amp;q=old%20enlightenment%20reason&amp;f=false">Old Enlightenment reason</a>.” They really do seem to like facts; it seems to be part of who they are. And fascinatingly, in Kahan’s study liberals did <em>not </em>act like smart idiots when the question posed was about the safety of nuclear power.</p><p>Nuclear power is a classic test case for liberal biases—kind of the flipside of the global warming issue--for the following reason. It’s well known that liberals tend to start out distrustful of nuclear energy: There’s a long history of this on the left. But this impulse puts them at odds with the views of the scientific community on the matter (scientists tend to think nuclear power risks are overblown, especially in light of the dangers of other energy sources, like coal).</p><p>So are liberals “smart idiots” on nukes? Not in Kahan’s study. As members of the “egalitarian communitarian” group in the study—people with more liberal values--knew more science and math, they did not become <em>more </em>worried, overall, about the risks of nuclear power. Rather, they moved in the <em>opposite direction </em>from where these initial impulses would have taken them. They become less worried—and, I might add, closer to the opinion of the scientific community on the matter.</p><p>You may or may not support nuclear power personally, but let’s face it: This is not the “smart idiot” effect. It looks a lot more like open-mindedness.</p><p>What does all of this mean?</p><p>First, these findings are just one small slice an emerging body of science on liberal and conservative psychological differences, which I discuss in detail in my <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1118094514/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;tag=chriscmooneyc-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=217145&amp;creative=399373&amp;creativeASIN=1118094514">forthcoming book</a>. An overall result is definitely that liberals tend to be more flexible and open to new ideas—so that’s a possible factor lying behind these data. In fact, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-mooney/want-to-understand-republ_b_1262542.html">recent evidence</a> suggests that wanting to explore the world and try new things, as opposed to viewing the world as threatening, may subtly push people towards liberal ideologies (and vice versa).</p><p>Politically and strategically, meanwhile, the evidence presented here leaves liberals and progressives in a rather awkward situation. We like evidence—but evidence also suggests that politics doesn’t work in the way we want it to work, or think it should. We may be the children of the Enlightenment—convinced that you need good facts to make good policies—but that doesn’t mean this is equally true for all of humanity, or that it is as true of our political opponents as it is of us.</p><p>A more scientific understanding of persuasion, then, should not be seen as threatening. It’s actually an opportunity to do better—to be more effective and politically successful.</p><p>Indeed, if we believe in evidence then we should also welcome the evidence showing its limited power to persuade--especially in politicized areas where deep emotions are involved. Before you start off your next argument with a fact, then, first think about what the facts say about that strategy. If you’re a liberal who is emotionally wedded to the idea that rationality wins the day—well, then, it’s high time to listen to reason.</p> Mon, 19 Jan 2015 08:30:00 -0800 Chris Mooney, AlterNet 1030511 at http://www.alternet.org The Right Wing The Right Wing science the republican brain conservatives global warming denial How Our Brains Perceive Race http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/how-our-brains-perceive-race <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">You think of yourself as a person who strives to be unprejudiced, but you can’t control these split-second reactions.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_77334394.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><strong>This post first appeared at <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/11/science-of-racism-prejudice" target="_blank">Mother Jones</a>.</strong></p><p>“You’re not, like, a total racist bastard,” David Amodio tells me. He pauses. “Today.”</p><p>I’m sitting in the <a href="http://www.psych.nyu.edu/amodio/" target="_blank">soft-spoken cognitive neuroscientist’s</a> spotless office nestled within New York University’s psychology department, but it feels like I’m at the doctor’s, getting a dreaded diagnosis. On his giant monitor, Amodio shows me a big blob of data, a cluster of points depicting where people score on the <a href="https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html" target="_blank">Implicit Association Test</a>. The test measures racial prejudices that we cannot consciously control. I’ve taken it three times now. This time around my uncontrolled prejudice, while clearly present, has come in significantly below the average for white people like me.</p><p>That certainly beats the first time I took the IAT online, on the website <a href="http://www.understandingprejudice.org/" target="_blank">UnderstandingPrejudice.org</a>. That time, my results showed a “strong automatic preference” for European Americans over African-Americans. That was not a good thing to hear, but it’s extremely common — 51 percent of online test takers show moderate to strong bias.</p><p>Taking the IAT, one of the most popular tools among researchers trying to understand racism and prejudice, is both extremely simple and pretty traumatic. The test asks you to rapidly categorize images of faces as either “African-American” or “European American” while you also categorize words (like “evil,” “happy,” “awful” and “peace”) as either “good” or “bad.” Faces and words flash on the screen, and you tap a key, as fast as you can, to indicate which category is appropriate.</p><p>Sometimes you’re asked to sort African-American faces and “good” words to one side of the screen. Other times, black faces are to be sorted with “bad” words. As words and faces keep flashing by, you struggle not to make too many sorting mistakes.</p><p>And then suddenly, you have a horrible realization. When black faces and “bad” words are paired together, you feel yourself becoming faster in your categorizing — an indication that the two are more easily linked in your mind. “It’s like you’re on a bike going downhill,” Amodio says, “and you feel yourself going faster. So you can say, ‘I know this is not how I want to come off,’ but there’s no other response option.”</p><p>You think of yourself as a person who strives to be unprejudiced, but you can’t control these split-second reactions. As the milliseconds are being tallied up, you know the tale they’ll tell: When negative words and black faces are paired together, you’re a better, faster categorizer. Which suggests that racially biased messages from the culture around you have shaped the very wiring of your brain.</p><p>I went to NYU to learn what psychologists could tell me about racial prejudice in the wake of the <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2014/08/michael-brown-study-racial-bias-weapon" target="_blank">shooting of a black teenager, Michael Brown</a>, by a white police officer, Darren Wilson, in Ferguson, Missouri. We may never really know the exact sequence of events and assumptions that led to the moment when Brown, unarmed and, according to witnesses, with his hands in the air, was shot multiple times. But the incident is the latest embodiment of America’s racial paradox: On the one hand, overt expressions of prejudice have grown markedly less common than they were in the Archie Bunker era. We elected, and re-elected, a black president. In many parts of the country, hardly anyone bats an eye at interracial relationships. Most people do not consider racial hostility acceptable. That’s why it was so shocking when Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was caught telling his girlfriend not to bring black people to games — and why those comments led the <a href="http://www.nba.com/2014/news/04/29/nba-bans-donald-sterling.ap/" target="_blank">NBA to ban Sterling for life</a>. And yet, the killings of Michael Brown, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/22/michael-dunn_n_5860852.html" target="_blank">Jordan Davis</a>, <a href="http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-porch-killer-sentenced-20140903-story.html" target="_blank">Renisha McBride,</a> <a href="http://edition.cnn.com/2013/06/05/us/trayvon-martin-shooting-fast-facts/" target="_blank">Trayvon Martin</a>, and so many others remind us that we are far from a prejudice-free society.</p><p>Science offers an explanation for this paradox — albeit a very uncomfortable one. An impressive body of psychological research suggests that the men who killed Brown and Martin need not have been conscious, overt racists to do what they did (though they may have been). The same goes for the crowds that flock to support the shooter each time these tragedies become public, or the birthers whose racially tinged conspiracy theories paint President Obama as a usurper. These people who voice mind-boggling opinions while swearing they’re not racist at all — they make sense to science, because the paradigm for understanding prejudice has evolved. There “doesn’t need to be intent, doesn’t need to be desire; there could even be desire in the opposite direction,” explains <a href="http://projectimplicit.net/nosek/" target="_blank">University of Virginia psychologist Brian Nosek</a>, a prominent IAT researcher. “But biased results can still occur.”</p><p>The IAT is the most famous demonstration of this reality, but it’s just one of many similar tools. Through them, psychologists have chased prejudice back to its lair — the human brain.</p><p>We’re not born with racial prejudices. We may never even have been “taught” them. Rather, explains Nosek, prejudice draws on “many of the same tools that help our minds figure out what’s good and what’s bad.” In evolutionary terms, it’s efficient to quickly classify a grizzly bear as “dangerous.” The trouble comes when the brain uses similar processes to form negative views about groups of people.</p><p>But here’s the good news: Research suggests that once we understand the psychological pathways that lead to prejudice, we just might be able to train our brains to go in the opposite direction.</p><p>Dog, cat. Hot, cold. Black, white. Male, female. We constantly categorize. We have to. Sorting anything from furniture to animals to concepts into different filing folders inside our brains is something that happens automatically, and it helps us function. In fact, categorization has an evolutionary purpose: Assuming that all mushrooms are poisonous, that all lions want to eat you, is a very effective way of coping with your surroundings. Forget being nuanced about nonpoisonous mushrooms and occasionally nonhungry lions — certitude keeps you safe.</p><p>But a particular way of categorizing can be inaccurate, and those false categories can lead to prejudice and stereotyping. Much psychological research into bias has focused on how people “essentialize” certain categories, which boils down to assuming that these categories have an underlying nature that is tied to inherent and immutable qualities. Like the broader sorting mechanism of categorization, an essentialist cognitive “style” emerges very early in our development and may to some extent be hardwired. <a href="http://sites.lsa.umich.edu/gelman-lab/" target="_blank">Psychologist Susan Gelman of the University of Michigan</a> explains it this way: The category of “things that are white” is not essentialized. It simply contains anything that happens to share the attribute of “white”: cars, paint, paper and so on. There’s nothing deep that unites the members of this category.</p><p>But now consider white and black people. Like other human attributes (gender, age and sexual orientation, for example), race tends to be strongly — and inaccurately — essentialized. This means that when you think of people in that category, you rapidly or even automatically come up with assumptions about their characteristics — characteristics that your brain perceives as unchanging and often rooted in biology. Common stereotypes with the category “African-Americans,” for example, include “loud,” “good dancers,” and “good at sports.” (One recent study found that white people also tend to essentialize African-Americans as magical — test subjects associated black faces with words like “paranormal” and “spirit.”) Of course, these assumptions are false. Indeed, essentialism about any group of people is dubious — women are not innately gentle, old people are not inherently feebleminded — and when it comes to race, the idea of deep and fundamental differences has been roundly debunked by scientists.</p><p>Even people who know that essentializing race is wrong can’t help absorbing the stereotypes that are pervasive in our culture. But essentialist thinking varies greatly between individuals. It’s kind of like neurosis: We all have a little bit, but in some people, it’s much more pronounced. In national polls, for example, fewer and fewer Americans admit openly to holding racist views. But when told to rate various groups with questions like, “Do people in these groups tend to be unintelligent or tend to be intelligent?” more than half of those asked <a href="http://www.diversityweb.org/digest/w98/research2.html" target="_blank">exhibited strong bias against African-Americans</a>. Even the labels we use seem to affect our level of prejudice: Another study found that test subjects <a href="http://readingeagle.com/ap/article/whites-view-the-term-african-american-more-favorably-than-black&amp;template=mobileart" target="_blank">associated the term “black” with more negative attributes</a> — such as low socioeconomic status — than “African-American.”</p><p>One of the earliest and most insightful researchers on these varying rates of bias was <a href="http://jwa.org/people/frenkel-brunswik-else" target="_blank">Else Frenkel-Brunswik</a>, part of a pioneering generation of post-World War II psychologists who sought to understand why some people seem to find prejudiced and fascist ideas so appealing. Born in 1908 to a Jewish family in what is now Ukraine, Frenkel-Brunswik might never have managed to do her research at all had she not twice escaped the forces of prejudice herself. When she was young, a 1914 pogrom forced her family to flee to Vienna. When Germany annexed Austria in 1938, she sought refuge in the United States.</p><p>Frenkel-Brunswik’s work came long before the days of high-tech tools like eye trackers and computer games that measure bias based on millisecond differences between reactions. Instead she used something far simpler: cards.</p><p>She studied young children, some of whom she had previously documented to be highly prejudiced and ethnocentric. In one of many experiments, Frenkel-Brunswik showed the children a sequence of cards similar to the ones on this page. On the first card, the animal is clearly and distinctly a cat. On the last card, it is just as clearly and distinctly a dog. But in between, the cat slowly transforms into the dog.</p><p>At each of the stages, the children were asked to identify the animal on the card. Among the more prejudiced children, Frenkel-Brunswik noted something striking: As the image became increasingly ambiguous, “there was a greater reluctance to give up the original object about which one had felt relatively certain… a tendency not to see what did not harmonize with the first set as well as a shying away from transitional solutions.” In other words, for these children, it was much harder to let go of the idea that a cat was a cat.</p><p>What Frenkel-Brunswik realized back in 1949, modern research reaffirms. The Implicit Association Test, after all, boils down to how your mind automatically links certain categories. “It’s really how strongly you associate your category of ‘black people’ with the general category of ‘good things’ or ‘bad things,’” David Amodio told me. “The capacity to discern ‘us’ from ‘them’ is fundamental in the human brain,” he wrote in a <a href="http://amodiolab.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Amodio-2014-Nat-Rev-Neuro.pdf" target="_blank">2014 paper</a>. “Although this computation takes just a fraction of a second, it sets the stage for social categorization, stereotypes, prejudices, intergroup conflict and inequality and, at the extremes, war and genocide.” Call it the banality of prejudice.</p><p>The process of categorizing the world obviously includes identifying the group or groups to which you belong. And that’s where the next psychological factor underpinning prejudice emerges. Much research has found that humans are tribal creatures, showing strong bias against those we perceive as different from us and favoritism toward those we perceive as similar.</p><p>In fact, we humans will divide ourselves into in-groups and out-groups even when the perceived differences between the specific groups are completely arbitrary. In <a href="http://faculty.washington.edu/agg/pdf/Pinter&amp;Gwald.GPIR.2011.pdf" target="_blank">one classic study</a>, subjects are asked to rate how much they like a large series of paintings, some of which are described as belonging to the “Red” artistic school and others to the “Green” school. Then participants are sorted into two groups, red or green — not based on their favoring one school of painting, as they are made to think, but actually at random. In subsequent tasks, people consistently show favoritism toward the arbitrary color group to which they are assigned. When asked to allocate money to other participants, the majority of “reds” more generously fund other reds — despite the fact that they have never actually met them. The same goes for “greens.”</p><p></p><div alt="" class="media-image" height="480" width="284"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="480" width="284" typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/large/public/race_630_racist2.jpg.jpeg" /></div><p>The upshot of such “minimal group” experiments is that if you give people the slightest push toward behaving tribally, they happily comply. So if race is the basis on which tribes are identified, expect serious problems.</p><p>As these experiments suggest, it is not that we are either prejudiced or unprejudiced, period. Rather, we are more and less prejudiced, based on our upbringings and experiences but also on a variety of temporary or situational prompts (like being told we’re on the green team).</p><p>One simple, evolutionary explanation for our innate tendency toward tribalism is safety in numbers. You’re more likely to survive an attack from a marauding tribe if you join forces with your buddies. And primal fear of those not in the in-group also seems closely tied to racial bias. Amodio’s research suggests that one key area associated with prejudice is the amygdala, a small and evolutionarily ancient region in the middle of the brain that is responsible for triggering the notorious “fight or flight” response. In interracial situations, Amodio explains, amygdala firing can translate into anything from “less direct eye gaze and more social distance” to literal fear and vigilance toward those of other races.</p><p>We’ve seen how a variety of cognitive behaviors feed into prejudice. But you know what will really blow your mind? The way that prejudice (or rather, the cognitive styles that underlie it) can interfere with how our brains function — often for the worse.</p><p>Consider, for instance, research by Carmit Tadmor, a psychologist at the Recanati School of Business at Tel Aviv University. In one <a href="http://pss.sagepub.com/content/24/1/99.abstract" target="_blank">2013 paper</a>, Tadmor and her colleagues showed that racial prejudice can play a direct and causal role in making people less creative. We’re not talking about artistic creativity here, but more like seeing beyond the constraints of traditional categories — “thinking outside the box.”</p><p>Tadmor’s team first uncovered a simple positive correlation between one’s inclination to endorse an essentialist view of race (like associating racial differences with abilities and personality traits) and one’s creativity. To measure the latter, the researchers used a simple open-ended test in which individuals are asked to list as many possible uses of a brick as they can think of. People who can think outside of traditional categories — realizing that a brick can be used for many things other than buildings (it can make a good paperweight, for starters) — score better. This study showed that people who essentialized racial categories tended to have fewer innovative ideas about a brick.</p><p>But that was just the beginning. Next, a new set of research subjects read essays that described race either as a fundamental difference between people (an essentialist position) or as a construct, not reflecting anything more than skin-deep differences (a nonessentialist position). After reading the essays, the subjects moved on to a difficult creativity test that requires you to identify the one key word that unites three seemingly unassociated words. Thus, for instance, if you are given the words “call,” “pay” and “line,” the correct answer is “phone.”</p><p>Remarkably, subjects who’d read the nonessentialist essay about race fared considerably better on the creativity test. Their mean score was a full point — or 32 percent — higher than it was for those who read the essentialist essay.</p><p>It’s not like the people in this study were selected because of their preexisting racial prejudices. They weren’t. Instead, merely a temporary exposure to essentialist thinking seemed to hamper their cognitive flexibility. “Essentialism appears to exert its negative effects on creativity not through what people think but how they think,” conclude Tadmor and her colleagues. That’s because, they add, “stereotyping and creative stagnation are rooted in a similar tendency to over-rely on existing category attributes.” Those quick-judgment skills that allowed us to survive on the savanna? Not always helpful in modern life.</p><p>So, yes: Prejudice and essentialism are bad for your brain — if you value creative thinking, anyway. But they can also be downright dangerous.</p><p>At NYU, David Amodio sat me down to take another test called the <a href="http://scienceblogs.com/cognitivedaily/2006/12/13/im-not-a-racist-but-or-why-aut-1/" target="_blank">Weapons Identification Task</a>. I had no idea what I was in for.</p><p>In this test, like on the IAT, you have two buttons that you can push. Images flash rapidly on the screen, and your task is to push the left shift key if you see a tool (a wrench, or a power drill, say) and the right shift key if you see a gun. You have to go super fast — if you don’t respond within half a second, the screen blares at you, in giant red letters, “TOO SLOW.”</p><p>“It does that to keep you from thinking too much,” Amodio would later explain.</p><p>But it’s not just guns and tools flashing on the screen: Before each object you see a face, either white or black. The faces appear for a split second, the objects for a split second, and then you have to press a key. If you are faster and more accurate at identifying guns after you see a black face than after you see a white face, that would suggest your brain associates guns (and threat) more with the former. You might also be more inclined to wrongly think you see a gun, when it’s actually just a tool, right after seeing a black face. (The weapons task was created by psychologist Keith Payne of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in response to the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2000/02/26/nyregion/diallo-verdict-overview-4-officers-diallo-shooting-are-acquitted-all-charges.html" target="_blank">tragic 1999 death of Amadou Diallo</a>, a Guinean immigrant shot by New York City police after the officers mistook the wallet in his hand for a weapon.)</p><p>I’m sorry to ruin the suspense: I don’t know what my score was on the Weapons Identification Task. The test ruffled me so much that I messed up badly. It is stressful to have to answer quickly to avoid being rebuked by the game. And it’s even more upsetting to realize that you’ve just “seen” a gun that wasn’t actually there, right after a black face flashed.</p><p>This happened to me several times, and then I suddenly found myself getting “TOO SLOW” messages whenever the object to be identified was a gun. This went on for many minutes and numerous trials. For a while, I thought the test was broken. But it wasn’t: I finally realized that rather than pressing the right shift key, I had somehow started pressing the enter key whenever I thought I saw a gun. It’s almost like I’d subconsciously decided to stop making “gun” choices at all. (Psychoanalyze that.)</p><p>But don’t take that as a cop-out: Before I (arguably) tried to dodge responsibility by pressing the wrong key, I clearly showed implicit bias. And it was horrifying.</p><p>The upshot of all of this research is that in order to rid the world of prejudice, we can’t simply snuff out overt, conscious, full-throated racism. Nor can we fundamentally remake the human brain, with its rapid-fire associations and its categorizing, essentializing and groupish tendencies. Instead, the key lies in shifting people’s behavior, even as we also make them aware of how cultural assumptions merge with natural cognitive processes to create biases they may not know they have.</p><p>And that just might be possible. Take the Implicit Association Test: In a massive study, Brian Nosek of the University of Virginia and his colleagues <a href="http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2155175" target="_blank">tested 17 different proposed ways</a> of reducing people’s unconscious bias on the IAT. Many of these experimental interventions failed. But some succeeded, and there was an interesting pattern to those that did.</p><p>The single best intervention involved putting people into scenarios and mindsets in which a black person became their ally (or even saved their life) while white people were depicted as the bad guys. In this intervention, participants “read an evocative story told in second-person narrative in which a white man assaults the participant and a black man rescues the participant.” In other words, study subjects are induced to feel as if they have been personally helped or even saved by someone from a different race. Then they took the IAT — and showed 48 percent less bias than a control group. (Note: The groups in these various studies were roughly three-fourths white; no participants were black.)</p><p></p><div alt="" class="media-image" height="480" width="431"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="480" width="431" typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/large/public/racism_online_630_armed2.jpeg" /></div><p>Other variations on this idea were successful too: making nonblack people think about black role models, or imagine themselves playing on a dodgeball team with black teammates against a team of white people (who proceed to cheat). In other words, it appears that our tribal instincts can actually be co-opted to decrease prejudice, if we are made to see those of other races as part of our team.</p><p>When it comes to weakening racial essentialism, Carmit Tadmor and her colleagues undertook a variety of experiments to try to produce what they called “epistemic unfreezing.” Subjects were exposed to one of three 20-minute multimedia presentations: one exclusively about American culture, one exclusively about Chinese culture and one comparing American and Chinese cultures (with different aspects of each culture, such as architecture or food, presented back to back). Only in the last scenario were subjects pushed to compare and contrast the two cultures, presumably leading to a more nuanced perspective on their similarities and differences.</p><p>This experimental manipulation has been found to increase creativity. But surprisingly, it also had a big effect on reducing anti-black prejudice. In one study, Tadmor et al. found that white research subjects who had heard the multicultural presentation (but not the American-only or Chinese-only presentation) were less likely than members of the other study groups to endorse stereotypes about African-Americans. That was true even though the subjects had learned about Chinese and American cultures, not African-American culture.</p><p>In a variation, the same 20-minute lecture also produced fewer discriminatory hiring decisions. After hearing one of the three kinds of lectures, white study subjects were shown a series of résumés for the position of “Sales Manager” at a company. The résumés were varied so that some applicants had white-sounding names, and some had black-sounding names. It’s a research paradigm that has often been shown to produce discriminatory effects, which presumably occur through the manifestation of uncontrolled or implicit prejudices — but this time around, there was a glimmer of hope in the findings.</p><p>White subjects who had heard the lecture exclusively about American culture (with topics like Disney, Coca-Cola, and the White House) picked a white candidate over an equally qualified black candidate 81 percent of the time. Subjects who had heard a lecture exclusively about Chinese culture picked a white candidate a full 86 percent of the time. But subjects who had heard the culture-comparing lecture selected the white candidate only 56 percent of the time.</p><p>These studies clearly suggest that, at least for the relatively short time span of a psychology experiment, there are cognitive ways to make people less prejudiced. That’s not the same as — nor can it be a substitute for — broader cultural or institutional change. After all, there is ample evidence that culture feeds directly into the mind’s process of generating prejudices and adopting stereotypical beliefs.</p><p>Nonetheless, if prejudice has both a psychological side and a cultural side, we must address both of these aspects. A good start may simply be making people aware of just how unconsciously biased they can be. That’s particularly critical in law enforcement, where implicit biases can lead to tragic outcomes.</p><p>In fact, this phenomenon has been directly studied in the lab, particularly through first-person shooter tests, where subjects must rapidly decide whether to shoot individuals holding either guns or harmless objects like wallets and soda cans. Research suggests that police officers (those studied were mostly white) are much more accurate at the general task (not shooting unarmed people) than civilians, thanks to their training. But like civilians, <a href="https://www.blinn.edu/brazos/socialscience/Psyc/Correll%20et%20al.pdf" target="_blank">police are considerably slower to press the “don’t shoot” button</a> for an unarmed black man than they are for an unarmed white man — and faster to shoot an armed black man than an armed white man. (Women weren’t included — the extra variable of gender would have complicated the results.)</p><p>Such research has led to initiatives like the <a href="http://fairandimpartialpolicing.com/training/" target="_blank">Fair and Impartial Policing program</a>, which has trained officers across the United States on how implicit biases work and how to control them. Few officers look forward to these trainings, says program founder <a href="http://criminology.cbcs.usf.edu/facultyStaff/bio.cfm?ID=42" target="_blank">Lorie Fridell</a>, a criminologist; they don’t consider themselves to be racist. “Police are very defensive about this issue,” she says. “That’s because we have been dealing with this issue using outdated science. We treat them as if they have an explicit bias. They are offended by that.”</p><p>So instead, Fridell’s team focuses first on showing the officers the subtle ways in which implicit bias might influence their actions. For example: The trainers present a role-play where there are three people: a female victim of domestic violence, and a male and female comforting her. When the officers are asked to address the situation, says Fridell, most assume that the man is the perp. Then, the trainers reveal that it was actually the woman — and the officers learn that they do, in fact, act on bias. It’s not because they are bad people; in fact, in their work, they may have experiences that reinforce stereotypes. Which is why it’s important that police officers — who see the worst in people in their everyday duties — teach themselves not to assume the worst.</p><p>The program, which receives support from the US Department of Justice, has trained officers in more than 250 precincts and agencies, but it’s hard to measure its success — there is no baseline comparison, since prejudiced policing isn’t always rigorously documented. But the feedback is encouraging. “I have a new awareness of bias-based policing within my own agency,” one participant<a href="http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/www/groups/public/@civilrights/documents/webcontent/wcms1p-120624.pdf" target="_blank">wrote in an evaluation</a>. “The presentation of scientific data provided me with a more convincing argument that supported the existence of unintentional, but widespread racial bias, which I was typically quick to dismiss.”</p><p>Staff members at the University of California-Los Angeles-based <a href="http://cpe.psych.ucla.edu/" target="_blank">Center for Policing Equity</a> use implicit-bias research in a different way: They take unconscious prejudice as a given — and try to make changes within communities to ensure that it does as little damage as possible. A few years ago, Las Vegas was <a href="http://www.lvmpd.com/Portals/0/pdfs/LVMPDFinalReport_2013CPLE.pdf" target="_blank">seeking to address police officers’ use of force</a>, especially against people of color. Most of the incidents occurred after pursuits of suspects on foot, the majority of which happened in nonwhite neighborhoods. Center president <a href="https://www.psych.ucla.edu/faculty/page/goff" target="_blank">Phillip Atiba Goff</a> explains that he knew how difficult it would be to change the pursuing officers’ thinking. “You’re an officer, you’re pumping adrenaline, you don’t have time to evaluate whether your implicit bias is driving your behavior,” he says. So instead, the center worked with the department to make a small but meaningful tweak to the rules: In foot chases, the pursuing officer would no longer be allowed to touch the person being chased; if use of force was necessary, a partner who wasn’t involved in the pursuit would step in. “We recognized implicit bias, and we took it out of the equation,” Goff says. “We decoupled the prejudice from the behavior.” Sure enough, use of force in foot chases — and, as a result, overall use of force against people of color — declined significantly shortly after the policy went into effect.</p><p>Unsettling though it is, the latest research on our brains could actually have some very positive outcomes — if we use it in the right way. The link between essentialism and creativity doesn’t just tell us how we might reduce prejudice. It could also help us to become a more innovative country — by prioritizing diversity, and the cognitive complexity and boost in creativity it entails. The research on rapid-fire, implicit biases, meanwhile, should restart a debate over the role of media — the news segment that depicts immigrants as hostile job snatchers, the misogynistic lyrics in a song — in subtly imparting stereotypes that literally affect brain wiring. Indeed, you could argue that not only does the culture in which we live make us subtly prejudiced, but it does so against our will. That’s a disturbing thought.</p><p>Especially when you consider how biases affect government policy. Consider this: In October 2012, researchers from the University of Southern California <a href="http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2422596" target="_blank">sent emails asking legislators</a> in districts with large Latino populations what documentation was needed in order to vote. Half the emails came from people with Anglo-sounding names; the other half, Latino-sounding names. Republican politicians who had sponsored voter ID laws responded to 27 percent of emails from “Latino” constituents and 67 percent of emails from “white” constituents. For Republicans who’d voted against voter ID laws, the gap was far less dramatic — the response figures were 38 percent for Latino names and 54 percent for white names.</p><p>You can imagine how this kind of thing might create a vicious cycle: When biased legislators make it harder for certain communities to vote, they are also less likely to serve alongside lawmakers from those communities — thus making it less likely for a coalitional experience to change their biases.</p><p>So how do we break the cycle? We could require lawmakers to engage in exercises to recognize their own unconscious prejudice, like the Fair and Impartial Policing program does. Or we could even go a step further and anonymize emails they receive from constituents — thus taking implicit bias out of the equation.</p><p>Short of that, you can do something very simple to fight prejudice: Trick your brain. UNC-Chapel Hill’s Payne suggests that by deliberately thinking a thought that is directly counter to widespread stereotypes, you can break normal patterns of association. What counts as counterstereotypical? Well, Payne’s study found that when research subjects were <a href="http://www.unc.edu/~bkpayne/publications/StewartPayne08.pdf" target="_blank">instructed to think the word “safe”</a> whenever they saw a black face — undermining the stereotypical association between black people and danger — they were 10 percent less likely than those in a control group to misidentify a gun in the Weapons Identification Task.</p><p>To be sure, it will take more than thought exercises to erase the deep tracks of prejudice America has carved through the generations. But consciousness and awareness are a start — and the psychological research is nothing if not a consciousness-raiser. Taking the IAT made me realize that we can’t just draw some arbitrary line between prejudiced people and unprejudiced people, and declare ourselves to be on the side of the angels. Biases have slipped into all of our brains. And that means we all have a responsibility to recognize those biases — and work to change them.</p> Sun, 07 Dec 2014 11:12:00 -0800 Chris Mooney, Mother Jones 1028286 at http://www.alternet.org Civil Liberties Civil Liberties Culture racism science prejudice The Science of Fox News: Why Its Viewers Are the Most Misinformed http://www.alternet.org/media/science-fox-news-why-its-viewers-are-most-misinformed <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Authoritarian people have a stronger emotional need for an outlet like Fox, where they can find affirmation and escape factual challenges to their beliefs.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/fox_news_outrage.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>Editor's note: This is an excerpt from Chris Mooney’s book <a href="http://republicanbrain.com/">The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science and Reality</a>.</em></p><p>In June of 2011, Jon Stewart went on air with Fox News’ Chris Wallace and started a major media controversy over the channel’s misinforming of its viewers. “Who are the most consistently misinformed media viewers?” Stewart asked Wallace. “The most consistently misinformed? Fox, Fox viewers, consistently, every poll.”</p><p>Stewart’s statement was factually accurate, as we’ll see. The next day, however, the fact-checking site PolitiFact <a href="http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2011/jun/20/jon-stewart/jon-stewart-says-those-who-watch-fox-news-are-most/">weighed in</a> and rated it “false.”In claiming to check Stewart’s “facts,” PolitiFact ironically committed a serious error—and later, doubly ironically, failed to correct it. How’s that for the power of fact checking?</p><p>There probably is a small group of media consumers out there somewhere in the world who are more misinformed, overall, than Fox News viewers. But if you only consider mainstream U.S. television news outlets with major audiences (e.g., numbering in the millions), it really is true that Fox viewers are the most misled based on all the available evidence—especially in areas of political controversy. This will come as little surprise to liberals, perhaps, but the evidence for it—evidence in Stewart’s favor—is pretty overwhelming.</p><p>My goal here is to explore the underlying causes for this “Fox News effect”—explaining how this station has brought about a hurricane-like intensification of factual error, misinformation and unsupportable but ideologically charged beliefs on the conservative side of the aisle. First, though, let’s begin by surveying the evidence about how misinformed Fox viewers actually are.</p><p>Based upon my research, I have located seven separate studies that support Stewart’s claim about Fox, and none that undermine it. Six of these studies were available at the time that PolitFact took on Stewart; one of them is newer.</p><p>The studies all take a similar form: These are public opinion surveys that ask citizens about their beliefs on factual but contested issues, and also about their media habits. Inevitably, some significant percentage of citizens are found to be misinformed about the facts, and in a politicized way—but not only that. The surveys also find that those who watch Fox are more likely to be misinformed, their views of reality skewed in a right-wing direction. In some cases, the studies even show that watching more Fox makes the misinformation problem worse.</p><p>So with that, here are the studies.</p><p><strong>Iraq War</strong></p><p>In 2003, a <a href="http://www.pipa.org/OnlineReports/Iraq/IraqMedia_Oct03/IraqMedia_Oct03_rpt.pdf">survey</a>by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland found widespread public misperceptions about the Iraq war. For instance, many Americans believed the U.S. had evidence that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had been collaborating in some way with Al Qaeda, or was involved in the 9-11 attacks; many also believed that the much touted “weapons of mass destruction” had been found in the country after the U.S. invasion, when they hadn’t. But not everyone was equally misinformed: “The extent of Americans’ misperceptions vary significantly depending on their source of news,” PIPA reported. “Those who receive most of their news from Fox News are more likely than average to have misperceptions.” For instance, 80 percent of Fox viewers held at least one of three Iraq-related misperceptions, more than a variety of other types of news consumers, and especially NPR and PBS users. Most strikingly, Fox watchers who paid more attention to the channel were more likely to be misled.</p><p><strong>Global Warming</strong></p><p>At least two studies have documented that Fox News viewers are more misinformed about this subject.</p><p id="bookmark">In a <a href="http://woods.stanford.edu/docs/surveys/Global-Warming-Fox-News.pdf">late 2010 survey</a>, Stanford University political scientist Jon Krosnick and visiting scholar Bo MacInnis found that “more exposure to Fox News was associated with more rejection of many mainstream scientists’ claims about global warming, with less trust in scientists, and with more belief that ameliorating global warming would hurt the U.S. economy.” Frequent Fox viewers were less likely to say the Earth’s temperature has been rising and less likely to attribute this temperature increase to human activities. In fact, there was a 25 percentage point gap between the most frequent Fox News watchers (60%) and those who watch no Fox News (85%) in whether they think global warming is “caused mostly by things people do or about equally by things people do and natural causes.”</p><p>In a <a href="http://climateshiftproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/FeldmanStudy.pdf">much more comprehensive study</a> released in late 2011 (too late for Stewart or for PolitiFact), American University communications scholar Lauren Feldman and her colleagues reported on their analysis of a 2008 national survey, which found that “Fox News viewing manifests a significant, negative association with global warming acceptance.” Viewers of the station were less likely to agree that “most scientists think global warming is happening” and less likely to think global warming is mostly caused by human activities, among other measures.</p><p><strong>Health Care</strong></p><p>In 2009, an <a href="http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2009/08/19/4431138-first-thoughts-obamas-good-bad-news">NBC survey</a> found “rampant misinformation” about the healthcare reform bill before Congress — derided on the right as “Obamacare.”It also found that Fox News viewers were much more likely to believe this misinformation than average members of the general public. “72% of self-identified Fox News viewers believe the healthcare plan will give coverage to illegal immigrants, 79% of them say it will lead to a government takeover, 69% think that it will use taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions, and 75% believe that it will allow the government to make decisions about when to stop providing care for the elderly,” the survey found.</p><p>By contrast, among CNN and MSNBC viewers, only 41 percent believed the illegal immigrant falsehood, 39 percent believed in the threat of a “government takeover” of healthcare (40 percentage points less), 40 percent believed the falsehood about abortion, and 30 percent believed the falsehood about “death panels” (a 45 percent difference!).</p><p>In early 2011, the Kaiser Family Foundation released <a href="http://www.kff.org/healthreform/upload/8148.pdf">another survey</a> on public misperceptions about healthcare reform. The poll asked 10 questions about the newly passed healthcare law and compared the “high scorers”—those that answered 7 or more correct—based on their media habits. The result was that “higher shares of those who report CNN (35 percent) or MSNBC (39 percent) as their primary news source [got] 7 or more right, compared to those that report mainly watching Fox News (25 percent).”</p><p><strong>"Ground Zero Mosque” </strong></p><p>In late 2010, two scholars at the Ohio State University <a href="http://www.comm.ohio-state.edu/kgarrett/MediaMosqueRumors.pdf">studied public misperceptions</a> about the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”—and in particular, the prevalence of a series of rumors depicting those seeking to build this Islamic community center and mosque as terrorist sympathizers, anti-American, and so on. All of these rumors had, of course, been dutifully debunked by fact-checking organizations. The result? “People who use Fox News believe more of the rumors we asked about and they believe them more strongly than those who do not.”</p><p><strong>The 2010 Election</strong></p><p>In late 2010, the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) once again singled out Fox in a <a href="http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/pdf/dec10/Misinformation_Dec10_rpt.pdf">survey about misinformation during the 2010 election</a>. Out of 11 false claims studied in the survey, PIPA found that “almost daily” Fox News viewers were “significantly more likely than those who never watched it” to believe 9 of them, including the misperceptions that “most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring” (they do), that “it is not clear that President Obama was born in the United States” (he was), that “most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses” (it either saved or created several million), that “most economists have estimated the healthcare law will worsen the deficit” (they have not), and so on.</p><p>It is important to note that in this study—by far the most critiqued of the bunch—the examples of misinformation studied were all closely related to prominent issues in the 2010 midterm election, and indeed, were selected precisely because they involved issues that voters said were of greatest importance to them, like healthcare and the economy. That was the main criterion for inclusion, explains PIPA senior research scholar Clay Ramsay. “People said, here’s how I would rank that as an influence on my vote,” says Ramsay, “so everything tested is at least a 5 on a zero-to-10 scale.”</p><p><strong>Politifact Swings and Misses</strong></p><p>In attempting to fact-check Jon Stewart on the subject of Fox News and misinformation, PolitiFact simply appeared out of its depth. The author of the article in question, Louis Jacobson, only cited two of the studies above--“Iraq War” and “2010 Election”—though six out of seven were available at the time he was writing. And then he suggested that the “2010 Election” study should “carry less weight” due to various methodological objections.</p><p>Meanwhile, Jacobson dug up three separate studies that we can dismiss as irrelevant. That’s because these studies did not concern misinformation, but rather, how informed news viewers are about basic political facts like the following: “who the vice president is, who the president of Russia is, whether the Chief Justice is conservative, which party controls the U.S. House of Representatives and whether the U.S. has a trade deficit.”</p><p>A long list of public opinion studies have shown that too few Americans know the answers to such basic questions. That’s lamentable, but also off point at the moment. These are not politically contested issues, nor are they skewed by an active misinformation campaign. As a result, on such issues many Americans may be ill-informed but liberals and conservatives are nevertheless able to agree.</p><p>Jon Stewart was clearly talking about political misinformation. He used the word “misinformed.” And for good reason: Misinformation is by far the bigger torpedo to our national conversation, and to any hope of a functional politics. “It’s one thing to be not informed,” explains David Barker, a political scientist at the University of Pittsburgh who has studied conservative talk-radio listeners and Fox viewers. “It’s another thing to be misinformed, where you’re confident in your incorrectness. That’s the thing that’s really more problematic, democratically speaking—because if you’re confidently wrong, you’re influencing people.”</p><p>Thus PolitiFact’s approach was itself deeply uninformed, and underscores just how poorly our mainstream political discourse deals with the problem of systematic right wing misinformation.</p><p><strong>Fox and the Republican Brain</strong></p><p>The evidence is clear, then—the Politifact-Stewart flap notwithstanding, Fox viewers are the most misinformed. But then comes the truly interesting and important question: Why is that the case?</p><p>To answer it, we’ll first need to travel back to the 1950s, and the pioneering work of the Stanford psychologist and cult infiltrator, Leon Festinger.</p><p>In his 1957 book A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, Festinger built on his <a href="http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/03/denial-science-chris-mooney">famous study of a doomsday cult</a> called the Seekers, and other research, to lay out many ramifications of his core idea about why human beings contort the evidence to fit their beliefs, rather than conforming those beliefs to the evidence. That included a prediction about how those who are highly committed to a belief or view should go about seeking information that touches on that powerful conviction.</p><p>Festinger suggested that once we’ve settled on a core belief, this ought to shape how we gather information. More specifically, we are likely to try to avoid encountering claims and information that challenge that belief, because these will create cognitive dissonance. Instead, we should go looking for information that affirms the belief. The technical (and less than ideal) term for this phenomenon is “selective exposure”: what it means is that we selectively choose to be exposed to information that is congenial to our beliefs, and to avoid “inconvenient truths” that are uncongenial to them.</p><p>If Festinger’s ideas about “selective exposure” are correct, then the problem with Fox News may not solely be that it is actively causing its viewers to be misinformed. It’s very possible that Fox could be imparting misinformation even as politically conservative viewers are also seeking the station out—highly open to it and already convinced about many falsehoods that dovetail with their beliefs. Thus, they would come into the encounter with Fox not only misinformed and predisposed to become more so, but inclined to be very confident about their incorrect beliefs and to impart them to others. In this account, political misinformation on the right would be driven by a kind of feedback loop, with both Fox and its viewers making the problem worse.</p><p>Psychologists and political scientists have extensively studied selective exposure, and within the research literature, the findings are often described as mixed. But that’s not quite right. In truth, some early studies seeking to confirm Festinger’s speculation had problems with their designs and often failed—and as a result, explains University of Alabama psychologist William Hart, the field of selective exposure research “stagnated” for several decades. But it has since undergone a dramatic revival—driven, not surprisingly, by the modern explosion of media choices and growing political polarization in the U.S. And thanks to a new wave of better-designed and more rigorous studies, the concept has become well established.</p><p>“Selective exposure is the clearest way to look at how people create their own realities, based upon their views of the world,” says Hart. “Everybody knows this happens.”</p><p>Indeed, by 2009, Hart and a team of researchers were able to perform a <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19586162">meta-analysis</a>—a statistically rigorous overview of published studies on selective exposure—that pooled together 67 relevant studies, encompassing almost 8,000 individuals. As a result, he found that people overall were nearly twice as likely to consume ideologically congenial information as to consume ideologically inconvenient information—and in certain circumstances, they were even more likely than that.</p><p>When are people most likely to seek out self-affirming information? Hart found that they’re most vulnerable to selective exposure if they have defensive goals—for instance, being highly committed to a preexisting view, and especially a view that is tied to a person’s core values. Another defensive motivation identified in Hart’s study was closed-mindedness, which makes a great deal of sense. It is probably part of the definition of being closed-minded, or dogmatic, that you prefer to consume information that agrees with what you already believe.</p><p>So who’s closed-minded? Multiple studies have shown that political conservatives—e.g., Fox viewers--tend to have a higher <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Closure_%28psychology%29">need for closure</a>. Indeed, this includes a group called <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right-wing_authoritarianism">right-wing authoritarians</a>, who are increasingly prevalent in the Republican Party. This suggests they should also be more likely to select themselves into belief-affirming information streams, like Fox News or right-wing talk radio or the Drudge Report. Indeed, a number of research results support this idea.</p><p>In a study of selective exposure during the 2000 election, for instance, Stanford University’s Shanto Iyengar and his colleagues mailed a multimedia informational CD about the two candidates—Bush and Gore—to 600 registered voters and then tracked its use by a sample of 220 of them. As a result, they found that Bush partisans chose to consume more information about Bush than about Gore—but Democrats and liberals didn’t show the same bias toward their own candidate.</p><p>Selective exposure has also been directly tested several times in authoritarians. In one case, <a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9221.2005.00416.x/abstract">researchers at Stony Brook University</a> primed more and less authoritarian subjects with thoughts of their own mortality. Afterwards, the authoritarians showed a much stronger preference than non-authoritarians for reading an article that supported their existing view on the death penalty, rather than an article presenting the opposing view or a “balanced” take on the issue. As the authors concluded: “highly authoritarian individuals, when threatened, attempt to reduce anxiety by selectively exposing themselves to attitude-validating information, which leads to ‘stronger’ opinions that are more resistant to attitude change.”</p><p>The psychologist Robert Altemeyer of the University of Manitoba has also documented an above average amount of selective exposure in right wing authoritarians. In one case, he gave students a fake self-esteem test, in which they randomly received either above average or below average scores. Then, everyone—the receivers of both low and high scores—was given the opportunity to say whether he or she would like to read a summary of why the test was valid. The result was striking: Students who scored low on authoritarianism wanted to learn about the validity of the test regardless of how they did on it. There was virtually no difference between high and low scorers. But among the authoritarian students, there was a big gap: 73 percent of those who got high self-esteem scores wanted to read about the test’s validity, while only 47 percent of those who got low self-esteem scores did.</p><p>Authoritarians, Altemeyer concludes, “maintain their beliefs against challenges by limiting their experiences, and surrounding themselves with sources of information that will tell them they are right.”</p><p>The evidence on selective exposure, as well as the clear links between closed-mindedness and authoritarianism, gives good grounds for believing that this phenomenon should be more common and more powerful on the political right. Lest we leap to the conclusion that Fox News is actively misinforming its viewers most of the time—rather than enabling them through its very existence—that’s something to bear in mind.</p><p><strong>Disinformation Passing as “News”</strong></p><p>None of which is to suggest that Fox isn’t also guilty of actively misinforming viewers. It certainly is.</p><p>The litany of misleading Fox segments and snippets is quite extensive—especially on global warming, where it seems that every winter snowstorm is an excuse for more doubt-mongering. No less than Fox’s Washington managing editor Bill Sammon was found to have written, in a 2009 internal staff email <a href="http://mediamatters.org/blog/201012150004">exposed by MediaMatters</a>, that the network’s journalists should:</p><blockquote><p>. . . refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question. It is not our place as journalists to assert such notions as facts, especially as this debate intensifies.</p></blockquote><p>And global warming is hardly the only issue where Fox actively misinforms its viewers. The polling data here, from the Project on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) are very telling.</p><p>PIPA’s study of misinformation in the 2010 election didn’t just show that Fox News viewers were more misinformed than viewers of other channels. It also showed that watching more Fox made believing in nine separate political misperceptions more likely. And that was a unique effect, unlike any observed with the other news channels that were studied. “With all of the other media outlets, the more exposed you were, the less likely you were to have misinformation,” explains PIPA’s director, political psychologist Steven Kull. “While with Fox, the more exposure you had, in most cases, the more misinformation you had. And that is really, in a way, the most powerful factor, because it strongly suggests they were actually getting the information from Fox.”</p><p>Indeed, this effect was even present in non-Republicans--another indicator that Fox is probably its cause. As Kull explains, “even if you’re a liberal Democrat, you are affected by the station.” If you watched Fox, you were more likely to believe the nine falsehoods, regardless of your political party affiliation.</p><p>In summary, then, the “science” of Fox News clearly shows that its viewers are more misinformed than the viewers of other stations, and are indeed this way for ideological reasons. But these are not necessarily the reasons that liberals may assume. Instead, the Fox “effect” probably occurs both because the station churns out falsehoods that conservatives readily accept—falsehoods that may even seem convincing to some liberals on occasion—but also because conservatives are overwhelmingly inclined to choose to watch Fox to begin with.</p><p>At the same time, it’s important to note that they’re also disinclined to watch anything else. Fox keeps constantly in their minds the idea that the rest of the media are “biased” against them, and conservatives duly respond by saying other media aren’t worth watching—it’s just a pack of lies. According to Public Policy Polling’s annual TV News Trust Poll (the 2011 run), 72 percent of conservatives say they trust Fox News, but they also say they strongly distrust NBC, ABC, CBS and CNN. Liberals and moderates, in contrast, trust all of these outlets more than they distrust them (though they distrust Fox). This, too, suggests conservative selective exposure.</p><p>And there is an even more telling study of “Fox-only” behavior among conservatives, from Stanford’s Shanto Iyengar and Kyu Hahn of Yonsei University, in Seoul, South Korea. They conducted a <a href="http://metaether.org/words/articles/articles/red%20media,%20blue%20media.pdf">classic left-right selective exposure study</a>, giving members of different ideological groups the chance to choose stories from a news stream that provided them with a headline and a news source logo—Fox, CNN, NPR, and the BBC—but nothing else. The experiment was manipulated so that the same headline and story was randomly attributed to different news sources. The result was that Democrats and liberals were definitely less inclined to choose Fox than other sources, but spread their interest across the other outlets when it came to news. But Republicans and conservatives overwhelmingly chose Fox for hard news and even for soft news, and ignored other sources. “The probability that a Republican would select a CNN or NPR report was around 10%,” wrote the authors.</p><p>In other words Fox News is both deceiver and enabler simultaneously. First, its existence creates the opportunity for conservatives to exercise their biases, by selecting into the Fox information stream, and also by imbibing Fox-style arguments and claims that can then fuel biased reasoning about politics, science, and whatever else comes up.</p><p>But at the same time, it’s also likely that conservatives, tending to be more closed-minded and more authoritarian, have a stronger emotional need for an outlet like Fox, where they can find affirmation and escape from the belief challenges constantly presented by the “liberal media.” Their psychological need for something affirmative is probably stronger than what’s encountered on the opposite side of the aisle—as is their revulsion towards allegedly liberal (but really centrist) media outlets.</p><p>And thus we find, at the root of our political dysfunction, a classic nurture-nature mélange. The penchant for selective exposure is rooted in our psychology and our brains. Closed-mindedness and authoritarianism—running stronger in some of us than in others—likely are as well.</p><p>But nevertheless, it took the emergence of a station like Fox News before these tendencies could be fully activated—polarizing America not only over politics, but over reality itself.</p> Mon, 20 Oct 2014 14:40:00 -0700 Chris Mooney, AlterNet 1023923 at http://www.alternet.org Media Media News & Politics fox news the republican brain Chris mooney television information misinformation How the Right-Wing Brain Works and What That Means for Progressives http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/how-right-wing-brain-works-and-what-means-progressives <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">There really is a science of conservative morality, and it is vastly different from liberal morality. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_88193593-edited.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><i>Editor's</i> <em>Note</em>: <i>This essay draws upon Chris Mooney’s book, </i><a href="http://republicanbrain.com/">The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality</a>, <i>as well as his interviews with </i><a href="http://www.pointofinquiry.org/george_lakoff_enlightenments_old_and_new/"><i>George Lakoff,</i></a><i> </i><i><a href="http://www.pointofinquiry.org/jonathan_haidt_the_righteous_mind/">Jonathan Haidt</a> </i><i>and </i><a href="http://www.pointofinquiry.org/dan_kahan_the_american_culture_war_of_fact/"><i>Dan Kahan</i></a><i> on the Point of Inquiry podcast.</i></p><p>If you’re a liberal or a progressive these days, you could be forgiven for being baffled and frustrated by conservatives. Their views and actions seem completely alien to us—or worse. From <a href="http://www.rawstory.com/rawreplay/2011/09/gop-debate-audience-cheers-perrys-execution-record/">cheering at executions</a>, to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/28/santorum-throw-up-jfk-kennedy-speech_n_1307214.html">wanting to “throw up”</a> over church-state separation, to seeking to <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grover_Norquist#Views_on_government">“drown” government “in the bathtub”</a> (except when it is cracking down on porn, apparently) conservatives not only seem very different, but also very inconsistent.</p><p>Even the most well-read liberals and progressives can be forgiven for being confused, because the experts themselves—<a href="http://www.pointofinquiry.org/george_lakoff_enlightenments_old_and_new/">George Lakoff</a>, <a href="http://www.pointofinquiry.org/jonathan_haidt_the_righteous_mind/">Jonathan Haidt</a> and others--have different ways of explaining what they call conservatives’ “morality” or “moral systems.” Are we dealing with a bunch of die-hard anti-government types in their bunkers, or the strict father family? Are our intellectual adversaries free-market libertarians, or right-wing authoritarians—and do they even know the difference?</p><p>But to all you liberals I say, have hope: It’s not nearly so baffling as it may at first appear. Having interviewed many of these experts over the course of the last year, my sense is that despite coming from different fields and using different terminologies, they are saying many of the same things. Most important, their work suggests that there really <i>is </i>a science of conservative morality, and it really <i>is</i> very different from liberal morality. And there are key lessons to be drawn from this research about how to interact (and not interact) with our intellectual opponents.</p><p>That’s what I’m going to show—but first, let me first emphasize that morality isn’t the only way in which liberals and conservatives differ. They differ on a wide variety of traits--and it is not necessarily clear, as Jonathan Haidt recently <a href="http://www.pointofinquiry.org/jonathan_haidt_the_righteous_mind/">put it to me</a>, what’s the root of the flower, what’s the stem and what’s the leaves.</p><p>But set that aside for now. <i>Moral </i>differences between left and right tend to draw the greatest amount of attention, and for good reason: They seem most directly implicated in policy disputes and the culture wars alike.</p><p>Another thing that you need to know at the outset about conservative “morality” is that it’s not at all the sort of thing that moral philosophers debate endlessly about. We’re not talking about a highly developed intellectual system for determining the way one ought<i> </i>to act, like deontology or utilitarianism. We’re not paging Immanuel Kant or Jeremy Bentham.</p><p>Rather, we’re talking about the deep-seated impulses that push conservatives (or liberals) to act in a certain way. These needn’t be “moral” or “ethical” at all, in the sense of maximizing human happiness, ensuring the greatest good for the greatest number, adhering to a consistent set of rules and principles, and so on. Indeed, they may even be highly immoral by such standards—but there’s no denying that they are very real, and must be contended with.</p><p><b>The Science of Left-Right Morality</b></p><p>So how do conservatives think—and more important still, what do we know scientifically<i> </i>about how they think?</p><p>Perhaps the earliest and most influential thinker into this fray was the Berkeley cognitive linguist George Lakoff, with his classic book <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0226467716/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;tag=chriscmooneyc-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=0226467716"><i>Moral Politics</i></a><i> </i>and many subsequent works. Lakoff’s opening premise is that we all think in metaphors. These are not the kind of thing that English majors study, but rather real, physical circuits in the brain that structure our cognition, and that are strengthened the more they are used. For instance, we learn at a very early age how things go up and things go down, and then we talk about the stock market and individual fortunes “rising” and “falling”—a metaphor.</p><p>For Lakoff, one metaphor in particular is of overriding importance in our politics: The metaphor that uses the <i>family</i> as a model for broader groups in society—from athletic teams to companies to governments. The problem, Lakoff says, is that we have different conceptions of the family, with conservatives embracing a “strict father” model and liberals embracing a caring, empathetic and “nurturing” version of a parent.</p><p>The strict father family is like a free-market system, and yet also very hierarchical and authoritarian. It’s a harsh world out there and the father (the supreme and always male authority) is tough and will teach the kids to be tough, because there will be no one to protect them once the father is gone. The political implications are obvious. In contrast, the nurturing parent family emphasizes love, care and growth—and, so the argument goes, compassionate government control.</p><p>Lakoff has been extremely influential, but it’s important to also consider other scientific analyses of the moral systems of left and right. Enter the University of Virginia moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt, whose new book <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0307377903/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;tag=chriscmooneyc-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=0307377903"><i>The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion</i></a><i> </i>has just come out. In his own research, Haidt initially identified five (and more recently, six) separate moral <i>intuitions</i> that appear to make us feel strongly about situations before we’re even consciously aware of thinking about them; that powerfully guide our reasoning; and that differ strikingly from left and right.</p><p>Haidt’s first five intuitions, or “moral foundations,” are 1) the sense of needing to provide care and protect from harm; 2) the sense of what is just and fair; 3) the sense of loyalty and willingness to sacrifice for a group; 4) the sense of obedience or respect for authority; and 5) the sense of needing to preserve purity or sanctity. And politically, Haidt finds that liberals tend to strongly emphasize the first two moral intuitions (harm and fairness) in their responses to situations and events, but are much weaker on emphasizing the other three (group loyalty, respect for authority, and purity or sanctity). By contrast, Haidt finds that conservatives more than liberals respond to all five moral intuitions.</p><p>Indeed, multiple studies associate conservatism with a greater disgust reflex or sensitivity. In one <a href="http://peezer.squarespace.com/storage/publications/journal-articles/Helzer%20Pizarro%20in%20press.pdf">telling experiment</a>, subjects who were asked to use a hand wipe before answering questions, or to answer them near a hand sanitizer, gave more politically conservative answers. Haidt even told me <a href="http://www.pointofinquiry.org/jonathan_haidt_the_righteous_mind/">in our interview</a> that when someone like Rick Santorum talks about wanting to “throw up,” that may indeed signal a strong disgust sensitivity.</p><p>More recently, Haidt and his colleagues added a sixth moral foundation: “Liberty/oppression.” Liberals and conservatives alike care about being free from tyranny, from unjust exertions of power, but they seem to apply this impulse differently. Liberals use it (once again) to stand up for the poor, the weak; conservatives use it to support the “don’t tread on me” fulminating against big government (and global government) of the Tea Party. This, incidentally, creates a key emotional bond between libertarians on the one hand, and religious conservatives on the other.</p><p>Haidt strives to understand the conservative perspective, and to walk a middle path between left and right—but he fully admits in his book that conservative morality is more “parochial.” Conservatives, writes Haidt, are more “concerned about their groups, rather than all of humanity.” And Haidt further suggests that this is not his own view of what is ethical, writing that “when we talk about making laws and implementing public policies in Western democracies that contain some degree of ethnic and moral diversity, then I think there is no compelling alternative to utilitarianism.” It’s hard to see how thinking about the good of the in-group (rather than the good of everyone) could be considered very utilitarian.</p><p>But to my mind, here’s the really telling thing about all of this. When you get right down to it, Lakoff and Haidt seem to be singing harmony with each other. It’s not just that they could both be right—it’s that the large overlap between them strengthens both accounts, especially since the two researchers are coming from different fields and using very different methodologies and terminologies.</p><p>Lakoff’s system overlaps with Haidt’s in multiple places—most obviously when it comes to liberals showing broader empathy and wanting to care for those who are harmed (nurturing parent) and conservatives respecting authority (strict father). But the overlaps are larger still, for the strict father family is also an in-group and quite individualistic—in other words, prizing the conservative version of freedom or liberty.</p><p>What’s more, <i>both of these systems </i>are also consistent with a third approach that is growing in influence: The <a href="http://www.culturalcognition.net/">cultural cognition</a> theory being advanced by Yale’s Dan Kahan and his colleagues, which <a href="http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2011/12/20/cultural-vs-ideological-cognition-part-1.html">divides us morally</a> into “hierarchs” and “egalitarians” along one axis, and “individualists” and “communitarians” along another (<a href="http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2011/12/20/cultural-vs-ideological-cognition-part-1.html">helpful image here</a>). Conservatives, in this scheme, tend towards the hierarchical and the individualistic; liberals tend toward the egalitarian and the communitarian.</p><p>Throwing Kahan into the mix—and yes, he uses yet another methodology--we once again find great consistency with Lakoff and Haidt. Egalitarians worry about fairness; communitarians about protecting the innocent from harm; hierarchs about authority and the group (and probably sanctity or purity—hierarchs tend toward the religious). Individualists are, basically, exercisers of the conservative version of freedom and liberty.</p><p>Terminology aside, then, Lakoff, Haidt and Kahan seem to have considerably more grounds for agreement with each other than for disagreement, at least when it comes to describing what actually motivates political conservatives and political liberals.</p><p>And in fact, that’s just the beginning of the expert <i>agreement</i>. In all of these schemes, what’s being called “morality” is emotional and, in significant part, automatic. It’s not about the conscious decisions you make about situations or policies—or at least, not primarily. Rather, the focus is on the unconscious impulses that shape how you think about situations before you’re even aware you’re doing so, and then guide (and bias) your reasoning.</p><p>This leads Lakoff and Haidt to strongly reject what you might call the “Enlightenment model” for thinking about reasoning and persuasion, and leads Kahan <a href="http://www.pointofinquiry.org/dan_kahan_the_great_ideological_asymmetry_debate/">to talk about motivated reasoning</a>, rather than rational or objective reasoning. Once again, these thinkers are essentially agreeing that because morality biases us long before consciousness and reasoning set in, factual and logical argument are not at all a good way to get us to change our behavior and how we respond.</p><p>This is also a point I made recently, noting how Republicans become <a href="http://www.alternet.org/story/154252/the_republican_brain%3A_why_even_educated_conservatives_deny_science_--_and_reality/">more factually wrong with higher levels of education</a>. Facts clearly don’t change their minds—if anything, they make matters worse! Lakoff, too, emphasizes how refuting a false conservative claim can actually <i>reinforce it</i>. And he doesn’t merely show why the Enlightenment mode of thinking is outdated; he also stresses that liberals are more wedded to it than conservatives, and this irrational rationalism lies at the root of many political failures on the left.</p><p><b>Getting Through</b></p><p>On the one hand, the apparent consensus among these experts is surely something to rejoice about. Progress is finally being made at understanding the emotional and cognitive roots of the culture war and our political dysfunction alike. But if all of this is really true—if conservatives and liberals have deep seated and automatic moral and emotional differences—then what should we <i>do </i>about it?</p><p>Here, finally, we do find real disagreement among the pros. Lakoff would have liberals combat conservative morality by shouting their own values from the rooftops, and <i>never </i>falling for conservative words and frames. Haidt would increase political civility by remaking our institutions of government to literally make liberals and conservatives feel empathetic bonds and the power of teamwork. And Kahan has done <a href="http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1017189">experiments</a> showing that talking about the same issue in different value laden “frames” leads to different outcomes. For instance, if you discuss dealing with global warming in an individualistic frame—by emphasizing the importance of free market approaches like nuclear power—then you open conservative minds, at least to an extent. We’ve got data on that.</p><p>It shouldn’t be surprising that the experts become dissonant as they move from merely <i>describing </i>conservative morality to outlining strategy. After all, there’s a heck of a lot more uncertainty involved when you start to prescribe courses of action aimed at achieving particular outcomes. Understanding conservatives in controlled experiments is one thing; trying to outline a communications strategy with Fox News around, ready to pounce, is another matter.</p><p>Nevertheless, here’s what I’ve been able to extract.</p><p>Clearly, you shouldn’t try to persuade your ideological opponents by citing threatening facts. Rather, if your goal is an honest give-and-take, you should demonstrate the existence of common ground and shared values before broaching anything controversial, and you should interact calmly and interpersonally. To throw emotion into the mix is to stoke automatic, moralistic, indignant responses.</p><p>Such are some <i>scientific </i>tips about trying to communicate and persuade--but liberals should not get overoptimistic about the idea of convincing conservatives to change their beliefs, much less their moral responses. There are far too many factors arrayed against this possibility at present—not just the deeply rooted and instinctive nature of moral intuitions, but our current political polarization, by parties and also by information channels.</p><p>You can’t have a calm, unemotional conversation when everything is framed as a battle, as it currently is. Our warfare over reality, and for control of the country, is just too intense. And in a “wartime” situation, conservative have their in-group preferences to naturally fall back on.</p><p>But if we merge together Lakoff and Haidt, then I think we do end up with some good advice for liberals who want to advance their <i>own </i>view of what is moral. On the one hand, they should righteously advance their own values, <i>not </i>conservative ones. But they should remain fully aware that these values are somewhat limited since, as Haidt shows, conservatives seem to have a broader moral palette.</p><p>To reach the political middle, then, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to demonstrate much more <i>loyalty </i>than liberals are used to emphasizing, and to show <i>respect for authority</i> as well—which doesn’t come so naturally to us. What authority should we respect? I suggest either the authority of president, or perhaps better yet, the authority of the Founding Fathers. Let’s face it: Conservatives have <i>insulted,</i> <i>defiled</i>,<i> </i>and <i>disobeyed </i>the secular, rational, and Enlightenment legacy of the people who founded this country (if you want to get moralistic about it).</p><p>When it comes to loyalty and unity in particular, liberals could stand to look in the mirror and try to be more…conservative. Not in their substantive policy views, but in their ability to act as a team with one purpose and one goal that cannot be compromised or weakened. Diversity is great for our society—but not for our objectives. And that means we have something to learn from conservatives: They may not know how to make America better, but they certainly know how to take a strong, united and moralistic stand in order to get what they want.</p><p>That’s an example that liberals could do worse than to follow.</p> Mon, 29 Sep 2014 12:38:00 -0700 Chris Mooney, AlterNet 1021221 at http://www.alternet.org The Right Wing Books The Right Wing Visions gop conservatives lakoff morality Meet the CNN Anchor Who Called Fox News "Ignorant F#&ksticks" Over Climate Change http://www.alternet.org/environment/meet-cnn-anchor-who-called-fox-news-ignorant-fksticks-over-climate-change <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Bill Weir has been covering the topic throughout his career, which may explain why he went ballistic over another Fox News-connected attack</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/weir_cnn_screenshot.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p><em>The following story first appeared on Mother Jones. For more great Mother Jones content, click <a href="https://www.google.com/url?q=https%3A%2F%2Fsecure.motherjones.com%2Ffnp%2F%3Faction%3DSUBSCRIPTION%26a_first_name%3D%26a_last_name%3D%26a_address_1%3D%26a_city%3D%26a_state%3D%26a_country%3D%26a_zip%3D%26reloaded%3Dtrue%26list_source%3DSTOPNV%26new_print%3D1&amp;sa=D&amp;sntz=1&amp;usg=AFQjCNFmT9_MD1VMLKzQv_KOZxs07kagQw">here</a> to subscribe.</em></p><p>Last week, the internet went nuts about <a href="https://twitter.com/BillWeirCNN/status/494670062092296192" target="_blank">this tweet</a>. It is not hard to see why:</p><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en" xml:lang="en"><p>Weather is not climate, you willfully ignorant fucksticks. MT <a href="https://twitter.com/foxnation">@foxnation</a>: Climate Doesn’t Cooperate With Al Gore <a href="http://t.co/QKe0PkyYQK">http://t.co/QKe0PkyYQK</a></p>— Bill Weir (@BillWeirCNN) <a href="https://twitter.com/BillWeirCNN/statuses/494670062092296192">July 31, 2014</a></blockquote><p>Weir, a CNN anchor, was responding to <a href="http://nation.foxnews.com/2014/07/30/climate-doesn%E2%80%99t-cooperate-al-gore%E2%80%99s-group%E2%80%99s-visit-denver-epa-hearings" target="_blank">this <em>Washington Times</em> article</a>, which <em>Fox Nation</em> (a <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/story/2009/03/30/welcome-to-fox-nation/" target="_blank">Fox News website</a>) highlighted under the headline, "Climate Doesn't Cooperate With Al Gore's Group's Visit to Denver EPA Hearings." It was a short piece noting that when Gore's Climate Reality Project attended an EPA climate change hearing at 9 a.m., "the temperature was a chilly 58 degrees. Plus, it was raining." Har-har.</p><p>Weir was correct to point out in this context that weather isn't climate. The way he did so, however, was ill advised (even if internet-applauded), and he later sent out this apologizing tweet:</p><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en" xml:lang="en"><p>The glop of Midwestern guilt stuck in my chest prob won't go away until I apologize to <a href="https://twitter.com/foxnation">@foxnation</a> for name-calling. Dumb move. My bad.</p>— Bill Weir (@BillWeirCNN) <a href="https://twitter.com/BillWeirCNN/statuses/494924291826544640">July 31, 2014</a></blockquote><p>But why was Weir so upset? A look back at his past coverage, mainly at ABC (he only moved to CNN in <a href="http://www.mediabistro.com/tvnewser/bill-weir-joining-cnn_b199803" target="_blank">late 2013</a>), suggests that he's a journalist who covers climate change <em>well</em>, and really cares about science and technology. His official title upon moving to CNN was, after all, "Chief Innovation Correspondent." That might explain why he lost his cool over yet another Fox News-connected attack on the science of climate change. (CNN did not respond to a request for comment from Weir late last week.)</p><p>Weir appears to be a pretty big science aficionado. When he was cohost of ABC's <em>Good Morning America</em> weekend edition back in 2008, he fronted <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/video?id=4973238" target="_blank">this stunning love song segment on science</a> (titled "Science Rocks!"), which included Weir saying that "science is the new sexy" and describing how New York's World Science Festival is striving to turn "geek chic." Watch it:</p><p><br /><a href="http://abcnews.go.com/">ABC News</a> | <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/video">More ABC News Videos</a></p><p>You don't put together a segment like that unless you think science really matters. And if you think that, then in turn, you probably get annoyed when people attack and undermine it<em>.</em></p><p>Which brings us to Weir's coverage of climate change while at ABC (where, after his role at <em>Good Morning America</em>, he was an anchor of <em>Nightline</em>). Consider a <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/video/chasing-ice-time-lapse-cameras-capture-rapidly-melting-17744758" target="_blank">late 2012 segment</a> featuring James Balog, the photographer and daredevil behind the powerful climate documentary <em>Chasing Ice</em>. Weir started off the segment as follows:</p><blockquote><p>Well, only in America is it controversial for me to begin tonight's program by declaring that global warming is really happening. For doubters, 332 straight months of above average temperatures is not proof enough.</p></blockquote><p>Or, still more apropos of the current "fucksticks" controversy, consider Weir's <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/video/tornadoes-weather-floods-climate-storms-winter-13465338" target="_blank">April 2011 coverage</a> of a deadly tornado outbreak and other recent weather extremes. Weir featured NASA expert Gavin Schmidt, who explained that the climate truly is changing. But then Weir went on to point out (paraphrasing Schmidt) that climate change can't necessarily be detected in individual weather events:</p><blockquote><p>But blaming a tornado in St Louis on climate change? That is a leap too far, [Schmidt] says. Think of it this way. Weather is what happened lately. Climate is what has happened forever.</p></blockquote><p>You can watch it here:</p><p><br /><a href="http://abcnews.go.com/">ABC News</a> | <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/video">More ABC News Videos</a></p><p>Since moving to CNN, meanwhile, Weir has also made a mark covering climate change. Consider <a href="http://www.cnn.com/video/?/video/world/2014/05/07/cnn-tonight-intv-rubio-ukraine-and-climate-change.cnn&amp;video_referrer=http%3A%2F%2Fpoliticalticker.blogs.cnn.com%2F2014%2F05%2F12%2Frubio-says-humans-arent-behind-climate-change%2F" target="_blank">this May 2014 interview</a>, where he questioned Marco Rubio on climate science, prompting the senator to declare that President Obama is "not a meteorologist":</p><p></p><p>In other words, in reporting on climate, Weir seems to be one of the good guys. At ABC, he didn't hesitate to describe what we know about global warming—namely, it's real and human caused—but also carefully explained that that doesn't mean you can see it in every new weather event. At CNN, he has already pressed the issue.</p><p>So when <em>Fox Nation</em> tweeted out a lame attack on Al Gore…well, at least you can now see where Weir was coming from. That doesn't defend his lack of decorum. But it does explain his exasperation.</p> Thu, 07 Aug 2014 09:19:00 -0700 Chris Mooney, Mother Jones 1014582 at http://www.alternet.org Environment Environment Media Bill Weir climate change cnn abc news marco rubio fox news Scientists Discover the Fascinating Psychological Reason Why Conservatives Are…Conservative http://www.alternet.org/scientists-discover-fascinating-psychological-reason-why-conservatives-areconservative <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Right-wing ideology is tailored to a particular psychological profile. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/eyetracker630x354_0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><em>The following story first appeared on <a href="http://www.motherjones.com">Mother Jones</a>. Click <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/toc/2014/07">here</a> to subscribe for more great content. </em></p><p>You could be forgiven for not having browsed yet through the latest issue of the journal <a href="http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayJournal?jid=BBS" target="_blank"><em>Behavioral and Brain Sciences</em></a>. If you care about politics, though, you'll find a punchline therein that is pretty extraordinary.</p><p><em>Behavioral and Brain Sciences</em> employs a rather unique practice called "Open Peer Commentary": An article of major significance is published, a large number of fellow scholars comment on it, and then the original author responds to all of them. The approach has many virtues, one of which being that it lets you see where a community of scholars and thinkers stand with respect to a controversial or provocative scientific idea. And in the latest issue of the journal, this process reveals the following conclusion: A large body of political scientists and political psychologists now concur that <em>liberals and conservatives disagree about politics in part because they are different people at the level of personality, psychology, and even traits like physiology and genetics</em>.</p><p>That's a big deal. It challenges everything that we thought we knew about politics—upending the idea that we get our beliefs solely from our upbringing, from our friends and families, from our personal economic interests, and calling into question the notion that in politics, we can really <em>change</em> (most of us, anyway).</p><p>The occasion of this revelation is a <a href="http://journals.cambridge.org/download.php?file=%2FBBS%2FBBS37_03%2FS0140525X13001192a.pdf&amp;code=0dc53272b98187d10e528452fc6608c7" target="_blank">paper</a> by <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/04/inquiring-minds-john-hibbing-physiology-ideology" target="_blank">John Hibbing</a> of the University of Nebraska and his colleagues, arguing that political conservatives have a "negativity bias," meaning that they are physiologically more attuned to negative (threatening, disgusting) stimuli in their environments. (The paper can be read for free <a href="http://journals.cambridge.org/download.php?file=%2FBBS%2FBBS37_03%2FS0140525X13001192a.pdf&amp;code=0dc53272b98187d10e528452fc6608c7" target="_blank">here</a>.) In the process, Hibbing et al. marshal a large body of evidence, including <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/04/inquiring-minds-john-hibbing-physiology-ideology" target="_blank">their own experiments</a> using eye trackers and other devices to measure the involuntary responses of political partisans to different types of images. One finding? That conservatives respond much more rapidly to threatening and aversive stimuli (for instance, images of "a very large spider on the face of a frightened person, a dazed individual with a bloody face, and an open wound with maggots in it," as <a href="http://www.unl.edu/polphyslab/Oxley%20et%20al%202008.pdf" target="_blank">one of their papers</a> put it).</p><p>In other words, the conservative ideology, and especially one of its major facets—centered on a strong military, tough law enforcement, resistance to immigration, widespread availability of guns—would seem well tailored for an underlying, threat-oriented biology.</p><p>The authors go on to speculate that this ultimately reflects an evolutionary imperative. "One possibility," they write, "is that a strong negativity bias was extremely useful in the Pleistocene," when it would have been super-helpful in preventing you from getting killed. (The <a href="http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/quaternary/pleistocene.php" target="_blank">Pleistocene epoch</a> lasted from roughly 2.5 million years ago until 12,000 years ago.) We had John Hibbing on the <a href="http://bit.ly/15fno2h" target="_blank"><em>Inquiring Minds</em> podcast</a> earlier this year, and he discussed these ideas in depth; you can listen here:</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="450" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/142960723&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;visual=true" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Hibbing and his colleagues make an intriguing argument in their latest paper, but what's truly fascinating is what happened next. Twenty-six different scholars or groups of scholars then got an opportunity to tee off on the paper, firing off a variety of responses. But as Hibbing and colleagues note in their final reply, out of those responses, "22 or 23 accept the general idea" of a conservative negativity bias, and simply add commentary to aid in the process of "modifying it, expanding on it, specifying where it does and does not work," and so on. Only about three scholars or groups of scholars seem to reject the idea entirely.</p><p>That's pretty extraordinary, when you think about it. After all, one of the teams of commenters includes New York University social psychologist John Jost, who drew considerable political ire in 2003 when he and his colleagues published a <a href="http://faculty.virginia.edu/haidtlab/jost.glaser.political-conservatism-as-motivated-social-cog.pdf" target="_blank">synthesis of existing psychological studies on ideology</a>, suggesting that conservatives are characterized by traits such as a <a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/9781444344073.ch1/summary" target="_blank">need for certainty</a> and an <a href="http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF02686907" target="_blank">intolerance of ambiguity</a>. Now, writing in <em>Behavioral and Brain Sciences</em> in response to Hibbing roughly a decade later, Jost and fellow scholars note that</p><blockquote><p>There is by now evidence from a variety of laboratories around the world using a variety of methodological techniques leading to the <em>virtually inescapable conclusion</em> that the cognitive-motivational styles of leftists and rightists are quite different. This research consistently finds that conservatism is positively associated with heightened epistemic concerns for order, structure, closure, certainty, consistency, simplicity, and familiarity, as well as existential concerns such as perceptions of danger, sensitivity to threat, and death anxiety. [Italics added]</p></blockquote><p>Back in 2003, Jost and his team were blasted by <a href="http://townhall.com/columnists/anncoulter/2003/07/31/closure_on_nuance/page/full" target="_blank">Ann Coulter</a>, <a href="http://townhall.com/columnists/georgewill/2003/08/10/conservative_psychosis/page/full" target="_blank">George Will</a>, and <a href="http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/207712/conservatives-are-crazy-study/byron-york" target="_blank"><em>National Review</em></a> for saying this; congressional Republicans began <a href="http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/207712/conservatives-are-crazy-study/byron-york" target="_blank">probing</a> into their research grants; and they got lots of hate mail. But what's clear is that today, they've more or less triumphed. They won a field of converts to their view and sparked a wave of new research, including the work of Hibbing and his team.</p><p>Granted, there are still many issues yet to be worked out in the science of ideology. Most of the commentaries on the new Hibbing paper are focused on important but not-paradigm-shifting side issues, such as the question of how conservatives can have a higher negativity bias, and yet not have neurotic personalities. (Actually, if anything, the research <a href="http://sites.duke.edu/niou/files/2011/06/gerber-huber-etal.pdf" target="_blank">suggests</a> that liberals may be the more neurotic bunch.) Indeed, conservatives tend to have a high degree of happiness and life satisfaction. But Hibbing and colleagues find no contradiction here. Instead, they paraphrase two other scholarly commentators (Matt Motyl of the University of Virginia and Ravi Iyer of the University of Southern California), who note that "successfully monitoring and attending negative features of the environment, as conservatives tend to do, may be just the sort of tractable task…that is more likely to lead to a fulfilling and happy life than is a constant search for new experience after new experience."</p><p>All of this matters, of course, because we still operate in politics and in media as if minds can be changed by the best honed arguments, the most compelling facts. And yet if our political opponents are simply perceiving the world differently, that idea starts to crumble. Out of the rubble just might arise a better way of acting in politics that leads to less dysfunction and less gridlock…thanks to science.</p> Wed, 16 Jul 2014 08:47:00 -0700 Chris Mooney, Mother Jones 1011550 at http://www.alternet.org Environment News & Politics politics liberals conservatives science John Hibbing ideology The "Rich Idiot" Effect: Why Rich Republicans Are More Opposed to Climate Science Than Poor Ones http://www.alternet.org/environment/rich-idiot-effect-why-rich-republicans-are-more-opposed-climate-science-poor-ones <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Among GOPers, as levels of income increase, so does their likelihood of &quot;dismissing the dangers associated with climate change.&quot; </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_191679404-edited.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><em>The following story first appeared on <a href="http://www.motherjones.com">Mother Jones.</a>For more great Mother Jones content, <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/toc/2014/07">click here to subscribe. </a></em></p><p>We've known for some time that as Republicans become more highly educated, or better at general science comprehension, they become <em>stronger</em> in their global warming denial. It's a phenomenon I've called the <a href="http://www.salon.com/2012/02/24/the_ugly_delusions_of_the_educated_conservative/" target="_blank">"smart idiot" effect</a>: Apparently being highly informed or capable interacts with preexisting political biases to make those on the right <em>more likely to be wrong</em> than they would be if they had less education or knowledge.</p><p>Now, a <a href="http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-014-1198-9" target="_blank">new study</a> in the journal <em>Climatic Change</em> has identified a closely related phenomenon. Call it the "rich idiot" effect: The study finds that among Republicans, as levels of income increase, so does their likelihood of "dismissing the dangers associated with climate change." But among Democrats and independents, there is little or no change in climate views as levels of income increase or decrease.</p><p>The study, by Jeremiah Bohr of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, was based on an analysis of pre-existing data from the 2010 installment of the <a href="http://www3.norc.org/GSS+Website/" target="_blank">General Social Survey</a>—a leading source of survey information about the US public. In addition to questions about levels of education, income, and political party affiliation, the survey asked the following: "In general, do you think that a rise in the world's temperature caused by climate change is extremely dangerous for the environment, very dangerous, somewhat dangerous, not very dangerous, or not dangerous at all for the environment?"</p><p>Bohr looked specifically at those individuals who chose the "not very dangerous" or "not dangerous at all" options. And he found that at the lowest income level, the probability that a Republican would give one of these dismissive answers was only 17.7 percent. But at the highest income level, it was 51.2 percent. Here's a visualization of the chief finding, showing how the likelihood of a Republican giving one of these answers changes in relation to wealth:</p><p></p><div alt="" class="media-image" height="299" width="480"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="299" width="480" typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/large/public/screen_shot_2014-07-09_at_12.32.56_pm.png" /></div><div class="caption"><p> </p><p><em><strong>Probability of dismissing climate change risks in relation to political party affiliation and level of income</strong><a href="http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-014-1198-9" target="_blank">J. Bohr, Climatic Change, July 2014</a></em></p><p>This therefore leads to a surprising conclusion: "At the bottom quintile of income, Republicans are not significantly different from either Independents or Democrats" with respect to their denial of climate risks, the study reports. It's only as income increases that Republicans become so much more likely to be deniers.</p><p>So why does this occur? There are several possibilities discussed in the paper.</p><p>The first is that income is actually a proxy for something else: Namely, being politically aware. It's possible that being wealthy is related to paying more attention to politics and your political party, and people who do so would be more aware of what those who agree with them on other issues actually think about global warming. (The study controlled for another possible influencing factor, education.)</p><p>The other possibility, though, is that climate denial is a defense of economic interests. "Among individuals with conservative political orientations, there is a correlation between occupying advantageous positions within industrial economic systems and an unwillingness to acknowledge the risks associated with climate change," Bohr writes. "Perhaps to validate their economic interests, these individuals are more likely to process information on climate science through political filters that result in denying the risks produced by climate change."</p></div><p> </p> Thu, 10 Jul 2014 10:05:00 -0700 Chris Mooney, Mother Jones 1010720 at http://www.alternet.org Environment Environment republicans wealthy rich climate deniers climate change The Real Reason Many Americans Seem So Stupid (But Aren't) http://www.alternet.org/environment/real-reason-many-americans-seem-so-stupid-arent <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A provocative new study claims that conservative climate skeptics actually know plenty of science. But they&#039;re blinded by politics. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_118667590-edited.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><em>The following story first appeared on <a href="http://www.motherjones.com">Mother Jones.</a> Subscribe for more <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/toc/2014/07">great content. </a></em></p><p>For many years, the US National Science Foundation, more recently with the help of the General Social Survey, has asked the public the same true or false question about evolution:<em></em>"Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals." And for many years, the responses to this question have been dismal. In 2006, 2008, and 2010, for instance, <a href="http://www.unc.edu/%7Ejmroos/micah/start_files/roos%20PUS%202012.pdf" target="_blank">less than half</a> of the public correctly answered "true."</p><p>In 2012, however, the NSF and GSS conducted an experiment to try to better understand why people fare so badly on this evolution question. For half of survey respondents, the words "according to the theory of evolution" were added to the beginning of the statement above. And while only 48 percent gave the correct answer to the unaltered question, an <a href="http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind14/content/chapter-7/chapter-7.pdf" target="_blank">impressive 72 percent</a> correctly answered the new, prefaced version.</p><p>So why such a huge gap? Perhaps the original question wasn't tapping into scientific knowledge at all; rather, it was challenging the religious identity of creationists who think the earth is less than 10,000 years old. Presented with the new phrasing, however, even many creationists know what the theory of evolution states; they just deny that it is true. So are these people really "scientifically illiterate," as many in the science world might claim, or are they instead…something else? </p><p>This is a vital question in the field of science communication, because at its core is the issue of whether we are dealing with mass public scientific illiteracy on the one hand (which presumably could be fixed by education), or with something much deeper and more intractable. What's more, this problem isn't confined to evolution. The issue of climate change may be very similar in this respect. Ask a polling question about climate change in one way, and you may cause conservatives to reassert their ideological identities, and reject the most important finding of climate science (that humans are causing global warming). But ask it in another way and, well, it may turn out that they know what the science says after all (even if they don't personally believe it).</p><p>Such is the finding of a <a href="http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2459057" target="_blank">new paper</a> by Yale law professor and communication researcher Dan Kahan, recently <a href="http://www.vox.com/2014/4/6/5556462/brain-dead-how-politics-makes-us-stupid" target="_blank">profiled in depth</a> by Ezra Klein in a much read <em>Vox</em> article aptly titled "How politics makes us stupid." Kahan is becoming widely known for his research showing that political ideology interferes with our most basic reasoning abilities; <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/09/new-study-politics-makes-you-innumerate" target="_blank">even our math skills</a>, it seems, go right out the window when political passions come into play. In this new paper, though, Kahan isn't showing how dumb we are. Rather, he's doing the opposite: Showing that if you ask the questions the right way, Americans know a lot more about climate science than you might think. (Even conservatives.)</p><p>"Whether people 'believe in' climate change, like whether they 'believe in' evolution, <em>expresses who they are</em>," writes Kahan.</p><p>To understand Kahan's analysis, it helps to start where much of his prior research—extensively covered by Klein, myself, and others—left off. Kahan has defined a measure that he calls "<a href="http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2013/1/28/measuring-ordinary-science-intelligence-science-of-science-c.html" target="_blank">ordinary science intelligence</a>," which assesses how good people are at mathematical and scientific reasoning and at questioning their own beliefs. Using this survey tool, he is able to present evidence showing that (1) as people get better at science, they are more likely in general to affirm that global warming is mostly due to human activities; but (2) as soon as you split people up in to liberals and conservatives, that conclusion goes out the window. Actually, liberals get way better in their answers as their science ability increases, and conservatives get considerably worse:</p><p></p><div alt="" class="media-image" height="236" width="480"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="236" width="480" typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/large/public/story_images/probability_of_giving_the_correct_answer_on_a_question_about_climate_change_.jpg" /><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --><div class="field field-name-field-caption field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Probability of giving the correct answer on a question about climate change in relation to individuals' political ideology and science "intelligence." </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-image-source field-type-text field-label-inline clearfix"><div class="field-label">Photo Credit: </div><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Dan Kahan</div></div></div> </div><p> </p><p>This <a href="http://www.salon.com/2012/02/24/the_ugly_delusions_of_the_educated_conservative/" target="_blank">"smart idiot" effect</a> has prompted a ton of hand-wringing on the left; by now, Kahan has captured it in many studies. In the context of the current research, though, he's just getting started.</p><p>Mirroring the NSF's approach to evolution, Kahan created a new questionnaire that he hopes can more extensively measure people's knowledge about the science of climate change. But—crucially—in this questionnaire, most of the questions started out with the phrase "climate scientists believe that…" Such is Kahan's attempt (only an initial one, he stresses) to disentangle people's identities and political ideology from what they just plain <em>know</em>.</p><p>Here are some of the questionnaire items, and how members of the public tended to fare on them, plotted in relation to how climate science literate they were:</p><p></p><div alt="" class="media-image" height="457" width="480"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="457" width="480" typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/large/public/story_images/examples_of_ordinary_climate_science_intelligence_items_and_the_publics_probability_of_giving_the_right_answers.jpg" /><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --><div class="field field-name-field-caption field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Examples of "Ordinary Climate Science Intelligence" items and the public's probability of giving the right answers. Answers (from left to right, top to bottom) are "carbon dioxide," "true," "false," and "false.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-image-source field-type-text field-label-inline clearfix"><div class="field-label">Photo Credit: </div><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Dan Kahan</div></div></div> </div><p> </p><p>Next, Kahan examined the patterns of responses based on ideology. This time, though, he no longer saw a performance split between those on the left and those on the right. Nor did he see a uniform pattern in which liberals tended to be more correct with higher levels of intelligence or science literacy, even as conservatives were more incorrect. Rather, sometimes the two groups were nearly the same in their performance, and sometimes one group did a little better or a little worse than the other:</p><p> </p><p></p><div alt="" class="media-image" height="463" width="480"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="463" width="480" typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/large/public/story_images/left_right_differences_in_responses_to_climate_science_intelligence_questions.jpg" /><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --><div class="field field-name-field-caption field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Left right differences in responses to climate science "intelligence" questions. Correct answers (from left to right, top to bottom) are "carbon dioxide," "true," "false," and "false." </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-image-source field-type-text field-label-inline clearfix"><div class="field-label">Photo Credit: </div><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Dan Kahan</div></div></div> </div><p>Granted, there is an argument to be made that part of this depends on the nature of the questions. Kahan threw in a number of trick questions, including one that almost everybody got wrong: "Climate scientists believe that if the North Pole icecap melted as a result of human-caused global warming, global sea levels would rise." That's true of the South Pole, because the vast Antarctic Ice Sheet sits atop a landmass. It's also true of Greenland. But it's not true of the North Pole, where the ice cap is comprised of floating sea ice, whose melting won't raise sea levels any more than the melting of ice cubes on a summer day causes your glass of water to overflow.</p><p>There was another noteworthy pattern in question responses. Whenever Kahan posed a question about a risk of global warming that turned out not to be real—for instance, "Climate scientists believe that human-caused global warming will increase the risk of skin cancer in human beings"—he tended to trick liberals a bit more than conservatives. But that's simply because liberals were more inclined to believe bad things about climate change, and conservatives to dismiss them.</p><p>In any event, Kahan concludes, on the basis of these results, that the public basically <em>does</em> understand climate science, on both sides of the aisle. "<em>Everyone</em> has gotten the memo on what 'climate scientists believe,'" he writes. It's just that there are certain questions, and certain ways of phrasing them, that lead conservatives to trumpet their political identities, rather than express their knowledge, in response to survey questions. Or as Kahan writes:</p><blockquote><p><em>The problem is not that members of the public do not know enough</em>, either about climate science or the weight of scientific opinion, to contribute intelligently as citizens to the challenges posed by climate change. It's that the questions posed to them by those communicating information on global warming in the political realm have nothing to do with—<em>are not measuring</em>—what ordinary citizens know.</p></blockquote><p>Conservatives will probably be elated by these findings. But for others, Kahan's conclusions are likely to be quite controversial, especially since he packages them alongside a <a href="http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2014/6/18/what-is-the-message-of-real-world-scientific-consensus-messa.html" target="_blank">critique</a> of a leading strategy to communicate the reality of climate change, namely, by emphasizing that <a href="http://skepticalscience.com/97-percent-consensus-cook-et-al-2013.html" target="_blank">97 percent of scientists agree that humans are causing global warming</a>. Kahan thinks that's a way of pushing conservatives' political identity buttons, rather than tapping into their knowledge. (For a rebuttal to Kahan's criticisms from John Cook, one of the authors of the <a href="http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/8/2/024024/article" target="_blank">original study</a> demonstrating that 97 percent of published papers—that take a stance on the matter—accept the scientific consensus on climate change, see <a href="http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2014/6/20/response-an-externally-valid-approach-to-consensus-messaging-1.html" target="_blank">here</a>.)</p><p>Still, those who wish to communicate to the public about climate change will have to grapple with Kahan's assertion that conservatives really aren't ignorant about the issue—they're just highly prone to defend their worldviews when asked certain kinds of questions. If Kahan is right, the implication is that we need to talk about climate science in a way that is entirely devoid of cultural meanings that will antagonize the right.</p><p>Later in the paper, Kahan goes on to assert that precisely this strategy is working right now in Southeast Florida, where members of the <a href="http://southeastfloridaclimatecompact.org/" target="_blank">Regional Climate Change Compact</a> have brought on board politically diverse constituencies by studiously avoiding pushing anyone's buttons. Kahan even shows polling data suggesting that questions like "local and state officials should be involved in identifying steps that local communities can take to reduce the risk posed by rising sea levels" do not provoke a polarized response in this region. Rather, liberals and conservatives alike in Southeast Florida agree with such a statement, which references a major <em>consequence</em> of climate change while ignoring the gigantic elephant in the room…its <em>cause</em>.</p><p>Here's the problem, though. Maybe this approach will work up to a point, or in certain locales (in North Carolina, the response to sea level rise is <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/ncs-outer-banks-got-a-scary-forecast-about-climate-change-so/2014/06/24/0042cf96-f6f3-11e3-a3a5-42be35962a52_story.html" target="_blank">pretty different</a>). But at some point, we really do need to all agree that the globe is warming, so that we can then make very difficult choices on how to deal with that. To save our feverish planet, it is dubious that merely having conservatives know what scientists think—rather than accepting it themselves, taking the reality into their hearts and identities—will be enough.</p><p><em>On a previous episode of the</em>Inquiring Minds<em>podcast, Dan Kahan debated psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky about how to communicate the science of climate change:</em></p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/115950596&amp;color=ff5500" width="100%"></iframe></p> Thu, 26 Jun 2014 14:30:00 -0700 Chris Mooney, Mother Jones 1007269 at http://www.alternet.org Environment Environment News & Politics climate science Dan Kahan evolution conservatives Neil deGrasse Tyson Explains How Republicans Blew It on Climate Change http://www.alternet.org/environment/neil-degrasse-tyson-explains-how-republicans-blew-it-climate-change <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">According to the astrophysicist, denying science in the political sphere is just bad strategy.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_171967673-edited_0.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>If you care about the place of science in our culture, then <a href="http://www.hitfix.com/the-fien-print/tv-ratings-cosmos-and-bachelorette-lead-sunday-split-while-enlisted-return-fizzles" target="_blank">this</a> has to be the best news in a very long time. Last Sunday night, <em>Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey—</em>which airs on Fox and then the next day on the National Geographic Channel—actually <a href="http://www.hitfix.com/the-fien-print/tv-ratings-cosmos-and-bachelorette-lead-sunday-split-while-enlisted-return-fizzles" target="_blank">tied ABC's "The Bachelorette"</a> for the top ratings among young adult viewers, the "key demographic" coveted by advertisers. And it did so by—that's right—airing <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/05/cosmos-tyson-sagan-climate-change-episode" target="_blank">an episode about the reality of climate change</a>.</p><p>Tuesday evening, I had the privilege of sitting down with the show's host, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, to discuss this milestone, and how he feels generally as the 13-part series comes to a close. (The final episode, entitled "<a href="http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/channel/cosmos-a-spacetime-odyssey/episodes/unafraid-of-the-dark/" target="_blank">Unafraid of the Dark</a>," airs this Sunday night.) "The ratings are exceeding our expectations," said Tyson, fresh off the climate episode triumph. But Tyson emphasized that to him, that's not the most important fact: Rather, it's that a science show aired at all in primetime on Sunday night.</p><p>"You had entertainment writers putting <em>The Walking Dead</em> in the same sentence as <em>Cosmos</em>," said Tyson. "<em>Game of Thrones</em> in the same sentence of <em>Cosmos</em>. 'How's <em>Cosmos</em> doing against <em>Game of Thrones</em>?' That is an extraordinary fact, no matter what ratings it earned."</p><p>I spoke with Tyson in the National Geographic Society's Hubbard Hall in DC, below a <a href="http://press.nationalgeographic.com/about-national-geographic/milestones/" target="_blank">painting of the society's founders</a> signing its charter in 1888. Tyson, wearing a glittering space-themed tie, sipped white wine before moving upstairs to a reception where he was destined for an hour of handshakes and selfies. Later that evening—after a special advance airing of the final episode of <em>Cosmos</em>—he would electrify a packed room by explaining to a young girl how solar flares work, a display that involved him sprawling across the stage (and his fellow panelists) as he contorted his body to mimic the dynamics of the sun's plasma. The show concluded with Tyson explaining how "plasma pies" (as he dubbed them), ejected towards us by our star, ultimately become the aurora borealis and the aurora australis.</p><p>There were other <em>Cosmos</em> luminaries on the stage—including executive producers Brannon Braga and Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan's widow—but Tyson won the room that night. Easily.</p><p>Overall, Tyson notes, <em>Cosmos</em> premiered not only on Fox but on National Geographic Channel and, globally, in 181 countries and 46 languages. "It tells you that science is trending in our culture," Tyson averred to me. "And if science is trending, that can only be good for the health, the wealth, and the security of our species, of our civilization."</p><p>And yet, many members of our species still deny that the globe is warming thanks to human activities—a point that <em>Cosmos</em>has not only made a centerpiece but that, the program has frankly argued, <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/05/cosmos-tyson-drake-equation-climate-change" target="_blank">threatens civilization as we know it</a>. Tyson is know for being fairly non-confrontational; for <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/03/neil-degrasse-tyson-inquiring-minds-cosmos" target="_blank">not wanting to directly argue with or debate</a> those who deny science in various areas. He prefers to just tell it like it is, to educate. But when we talked he was, perhaps, a little more blunt than usual.</p><p>"At some point, I don't know how much energy they have to keep fighting it," he said of those who don't accept the science of climate change. "It's an emergent scientific truth." Tyson added that in the political sphere, denying the science is just a bad strategy. "The Republican Party, so many of its members are resistant to embracing the facts of climate change that the legislation that they should be eager to influence, they're left outside the door," said Tyson. "Because they think the debate is whether or not it's happening, rather than what policy and legislation can serve their interests going forward."</p><p>You can argue, in fact, that that is exactly what happened this week. One day after <em>Cosmos'</em>highly rated climate episode aired, the EPA announced its new regulations for power plant carbon dioxide emissions. The whole reason that the Obama administration went this route—regulating carbon via the Clean Air Act—was that climate legislation (the first option, and the more desirable option) was impossible. The legislative math didn't work. It would never pass.</p><p>Now, Republicans are extraordinarily upset by the EPA's rules, as the agency moves in to fill a legislative vacuum. But thanks to their denial, they may well have lost their chance to find a more ideologically desirable solution, like a <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/03/british-columbia-carbon-tax-sanity" target="_blank">carbon tax</a>. (In fairness, some coal state Democrats were <a href="http://science.time.com/2010/07/22/cap-and-trade-is-dead-really-truly-im-not-kidding-whos-to-blame/" target="_blank">also responsible</a> for the failure of cap-and-trade legislation in Congress. West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin famously <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIJORBRpOPM" target="_blank">shot the bill with a rifle</a> in an ad for his 2010 Senate campaign.)</p><p>That's bad for our politics, just as climate change is bad for our civilization—but it is surely some small saving grace to at least learn, thanks to Tyson and <em>Cosmos,</em>that science is not bad for the television business. The success of <em>Cosmos,</em>Tyson thinks, changes what can be on TV; how future network programmers will think, in the future, about what constitutes desirable content.</p><p>"It will open up their definition of what can be in primetime television," he said.</p> Thu, 05 Jun 2014 12:55:00 -0700 Chris Mooney, Mother Jones 999837 at http://www.alternet.org Environment Environment climate change Neil deGrasse Tyson climate change deniers Cosmos Watch: Neil deGrasse Tyson Destroys Climate Deniers http://www.alternet.org/video/watch-neil-degrasse-tyson-destroys-climate-deniers <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The next episode of &quot;Cosmos&quot; will make the anti-science crowd&#039;s heads explode. Here&#039;s a preview. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2014-05-29_at_2.57.22_pm.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><em>The following post first appeared on <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/05/cosmos-tyson-sagan-climate-change-episode">Mother Jones.com. </a> Click here to subscribe to <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/toc/2014/05">Mother Jones</a>. </em></p><p>For 11 episodes now, the groundbreaking Fox and National Geographic Channel series Cosmoshas been exploring the universe, <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2014/03/science-deniers-cosmos-neil-tyson" target="_blank">outraging creationists</a>, and giving science teachers across the nation something to show in class every Monday. In the process, the show has been drawing<a href="http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/2014/05/13/sunday-final-ratings-once-upon-a-time-american-dad-revenge-cosmos-dateline-adjusted-down/263313/" target="_blank">more than 3 million viewers</a> every Sunday night, a respectable number for a science-focused show that is, after all, a major departure from what prime-time audiences are used to.</p><p>Cosmos certainly hasn't shied from controversy; it has taken on <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2014/03/science-deniers-cosmos-neil-tyson" target="_blank">evolution</a> and <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/04/cosmos-neil-tyson-lead-industry-science-denial" target="_blank">industry-funded science denial</a>, and it has been devoting an i<a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/05/neil-tyson-cosmos-global-warming-earth-carbon" target="_blank">ncreasing amount of attention</a> to the subject of climate change. And apparently that was just the beginning. This coming Sunday, Cosmos will devote an entire episode to the topic. Here's the episode description <a href="http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/channel/cosmos-a-spacetime-odyssey/episodes/the-world-set-free/" target="_blank">from National Geographic</a>:</p><blockquote><p>Our journey begins with a trip to another world and time, an idyllic beach during the last perfect day on the planet Venus, right before a runaway greenhouse effect wreaks havoc on the planet, boiling the oceans and turning the skies a sickening yellow. We then trace the surprisingly lengthy history of our awareness of global warming and alternative energy sources, taking the Ship of the Imagination to intervene at some critical points in time.</p></blockquote><p>Courtesy of National Geographic, above is a <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBdxDFpDp_k" target="_blank">clip</a> from the new episode, which should have climate deniers fulminating. In it, host Neil deGrasse Tyson <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0vj-0imOLw" target="_blank">uses the analogy of walking a dog</a>on the beach to helpfully explain the difference between climate and weather (pay attention,<a href="http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2014/01/blizzards-dont-refute-global-warming" target="_blank">Donald Trump</a>) and to outline why, no matter how cold you were in January, that's no argument against global warming.</p><p>We've seen the rest of the episode already, and won't spill the beans. But suffice it to say that it contains some powerful refutations of a number of other global warming denier talking points, as well as some ingenious sequences that explain the planetary-scale significance of climate change. It also contains some in situ reporting on the impacts of climate change, straight from the imperiled Arctic.</p><p><a href="http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2013/11/carl-sagan-climate-seth-macfarlane" target="_blank">Back in November</a>, I observed that if Carl Sagan, the creator and host of the original Cosmosseries, were alive today, he would have been a leader in the charge to address global warming. After all, Sagan, who <a href="http://www.aip.org/history/climate/Venus.htm" target="_blank">made his scientific mark</a> studying the greenhouse effect of Venus, was deeply concerned about the megaforces that determine planetary fates.</p><p>In covering climate change so extensively then, the new Cosmos is living up to the legacy of its original creator.</p><p>Note: For those who miss it on Sunday, Cosmos also airs Monday, June 2 at 9 p.m. on National Geographic Channel with additional footage.</p><p> </p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/cBdxDFpDp_k" width="560"></iframe></p> Thu, 29 May 2014 11:55:00 -0700 Chris Mooney, Mother Jones 997449 at http://www.alternet.org Video Environment News & Politics Video Neil deGrasse Tyson Why Right-Wingers Think the Way They Do: The Fascinating Psychological Origins of Political Ideology http://www.alternet.org/why-right-wingers-think-way-they-do-fascinating-psychological-origins-political-ideology <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Are left and right a feature (or bug) of evolution? </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2014-04-28_at_12.14.01_pm.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><em>The following story first appeared in the <a href="http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/march_april_may_2014/on_political_books/the_origin_of_ideology049295.php?page=all">Washington Monthly. </a></em></p><p>If you want one experiment that perfectly captures what science is learning about the deep-seated differences between liberals and conservatives, you need go no further than BeanFest. It’s a simple learning video game in which the player is presented with a variety of cartoon beans in different shapes and sizes, with different numbers of dots on them. When each new type of bean is presented, the player must choose whether or not to accept it—without knowing, in advance, what will happen. You see, some beans give you points, while others take them away. But you can’t know until you try them.</p><p>In a recent experiment by psychologists Russell Fazio and Natalie Shook, a group of self-identified liberals and conservatives played BeanFest. And their strategies of play tended to be quite different. Liberals tried out all sorts of beans. They racked up big point gains as a result, but also big point losses—and they learned a lot about different kinds of beans and what they did. Conservatives, though, tended to play more defensively. They tested out fewer beans. They were risk averse, losing less but also gathering less information.</p><p>One reason this is a telling experiment is that it’s very hard to argue that playing BeanFest has anything directly to do with politics. It’s difficult to imagine, for example, that results like these are confounded or contaminated by subtle cues or extraneous factors that push liberals and conservatives to play the game differently. In the experiment, they simply sit down in front of a game—an incredibly simple game—and play. So the ensuing differences in strategy very likely reflect differences in who’s playing.</p><p>The BeanFest experiment is just one of dozens summarized in two new additions to the growing science-of-politics book genre: Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences, by political scientists John R. Hibbing, Kevin B. Smith, and John R. Alford, and Our Political Nature, by evolutionary anthropologist Avi Tuschman. The two books agree almost perfectly on what science is now finding about the psychological, biological, and even genetic differences between those who opt for the political left and those who tilt toward the right. However, what they’re willing to make of these differences, and how far they are willing to run with it, varies greatly.</p><p>Hibbing, Smith, and Alford, a team of researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Rice University who have published some of the most penetrating research on left-right differences in recent years, provide a lively and amusing tour of the landscape. But they mostly just walk up to and peer at the overriding question of why these apparently systematic left-right differences exist in the first place. Their explanation for the “origin of subspecies,” as they put it, is tentative at best. Tuschman, by contrast, has written a vast and often difficult book that attempts nothing less than a broad evolutionary explanation of the origins of left-right differences across countries and time—and does so by synthesizing such a huge body of anthropological and biological evidence that it’ll almost bury you. Whether the account deserves to be called merely thought-provoking or actually correct, though, will be up for other scholars to evaluate—scholars like Hibbing, Smith, and Alford.</p><p>Let’s begin with the large body of shared ground. Surveying the evidence with a fair mind, it is hard to deny that science is revealing a very inconvenient truth about left and right: long before they become members of different parties, liberals and conservatives appear to start out as different people. “Bedrock political orientations just naturally mesh with a broader set of orientations, tastes, and preferences because they are all part of the same biologically rooted inner self,” write Hibbing et al. The research demonstrating this is so diverse, comes from so many fields, and shows so many points of overlap and consistency that you either have to accept that there’s really something going on here or else start spinning a conspiracy theory to explain it all away.</p><p>The most rock-solid finding, simply because it has been shown so many times in so many different studies, is that liberals and conservatives have different personalities. Again and again, when they take the widely accepted Big Five personality traits test, liberals tend to score higher on one of the five major dimensions—openness: the desire to explore, to try new things, to meet new people—and conservatives score higher on conscientiousness: the desire for order, structure, and stability. Research samples in many countries, not just the U.S., show as much. And this finding is highly consequential, because as both Hibbing et al. and Tuschman note, people tend to mate and have offspring with those who are similar to them on the openness measure—and therefore, with those who share their deeply rooted political outlook. It’s a process called “assortative mating,” and it will almost certainly exacerbate our current political divide.</p><p>But that’s just the beginning of the research on left-right differences. An interlocking and supporting body of evidence can be found in moral psychology, genetics, cognitive neuroscience, and Hibbing’s and Smith’s preferred realm, physiology and cognition. At their Political Physiology Lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the researchers put liberals and conservatives in a variety of devices that measure responses like skin conductance (the moistening of the sweat glands) and eye gaze patterns when we’re exposed to different types of images. In doing so, Hibbing and his colleagues have been able to detect involuntary physiological response differences between the two groups of political protagonists when they encounter a variety of stimuli. Once again, it’s hard to see how results like these could mean anything other than what they mean: those on the left and right tend to be different people.</p><p>Indeed, here is where perhaps some of the most stunning science-of-politics results arise. Several research groups have shown that compared with liberals, conservatives have a greater focus on negative stimuli or a “negativity bias”: they pay more attention to the alarming, the threatening, and the disgusting in life. In one experiment that captured this, Hibbing and his colleagues showed liberals and conservatives a series of collages, each comprised of a mixture of positive images (cute bunnies, smiling children) and negative ones (wounds, a person eating worms). Test subjects were fitted with eye-tracker devices that measured where they looked, and for how long. The results were stark: conservatives fixed their eyes on the negative images much more rapidly, and dwelled on them much longer, than did the liberals.</p><p>Liberals and conservatives, conclude Hibbing et al., “experience and process different worlds.” No wonder, then, that they often cannot agree. These experiments suggest that conservatives actually do live in a world that is more scary and threatening, at least as they perceive it. Trying to argue them out of it is pointless and naive. It’s like trying to argue them out of their skin.</p><p>Perhaps the main reason that scientists don’t think these psychological and attentional differences simply reflect learned behaviors—or the influence of cultural assumptions—is the genetic research. As Hibbing et al. explain, the evidence suggests that around 40 percent of the variation in political beliefs is ultimately rooted in DNA. The studies that form the basis for this conclusion use a simple but powerful paradigm: they examine the differences between pairs of monozygotic (“identical”) twins and pairs of dizygotic (“fraternal”) twins when it comes to political views. Again and again, the identical twins, who share 100 percent of their DNA, also share much more of their politics.</p><p>In other words, politics runs in families and is passed on to offspring. Hibbing and his coauthors suspect that what is ultimately being inherited is a set of core dispositions about how societies should resolve recurring problems: how to distribute resources (should we be individualistic or collectivist?); how to deal with outsiders and out-groups (are they threatening or enticing?); how to structure power relationships (should we be hierarchical or egalitarian?); and so on. These are, of course, problems that all human societies have had to grapple with; they are ancient. And inheriting a core disposition on how to resolve them would naturally predispose one to a variety of specific issue stances in a given political context.</p><p>All of which brings us to the really big question. It is difficult to believe that systematic psychological and biological differences between those who opt for the left and the right in different countries—differences that are likely reflected in the genetic code—arose purely by chance. And yet, providing an evolutionary explanation for what we see is fraught with peril: to put it bluntly, we weren’t there. We didn’t see it happen.</p><p>Moreover, in evolution, some things happen for an explicitly Darwinian “reason”—traits become more prevalent or fixed in populations because they advanced organisms’ chances of survival and reproduction in a particular environment—while others happen more accidentally. Some complex social traits may emerge, for instance, because they are a fortuitous by-product of other, more fundamental traits laid down by Darwinian evolution.</p><p>A good example of such a trait may be religion. It’s pretty clear that evolution laid down a series of attributes that predispose us toward religiosity, such as “agency detection,” which refers to the human tendency to detect minds and intentions everywhere around us in the environment, even when they aren’t necessarily there. The evolutionary reason for such a trait seems obvious: after all, better to be safe than sorry when you’re out in the woods and hear a noise. But start thinking that there are intentions behind the wind blowing, or the hunt failing, and you are well on your way to constructing gods. And indeed, religion seems to be a cross-cultural human universal. But does that mean that evolution selected for religion itself, or just for simpler precursors like agency detection?</p><p>You see the difficulty. In this context, Hibbing and his colleagues consider a variety of potential explanations for the stubborn fact that there is large, politically relevant psychological and biological diversity among members of the human species, and ultimately settle on a tentative combination of two ideas. First, they assert, conservatism is probably more basic and fundamental, because it is more suited to a world in which life is “nasty, brutish, and short.” Being defensive, risk aversive, hierarchical, and tribal makes sense when the threats around you are very real and immediate. As many of these threats have relaxed in modern times, however, this may have unleashed more variability among the human species, simply because now we can afford it. Under this scenario, liberals are the Johnny-come-latelys to the politico-evolutionary pageant; the Enlightenment itself is less than 300 years old, less than an eyeblink in evolutionary time. “Liberalism may thus be viewed as an evolutionary luxury afforded by negative stimuli becoming less prevalent and deadly,” write Hibbing et al.</p><p>However, Hibbing and his colleagues also consider a more controversial “group selection” scenario, in which evolution built some measure of variability in our political typologies because sometimes, diversity is strength (for the group, anyway, if not for the individual). The trouble is, it is still fairly novel for evolutionary explanations to focus on the reproductive fitness of a group of individuals, rather than on the fitness of a single individual or even that individual’s DNA. Nonetheless, it’s easy to see why a group of early humans comprised of both conservative and liberal psychologies might have fared better than a more homogenous group. Such a society would have forces in it that want to hunker down and defend, but also forces that push it to explore and change. This would surely make for better adaptation to more diverse environments. It just might enhance the group’s chance of survival.</p><p>Yet it would be going much too far to suggest that Hibbing et al. have a strong or highly developed theory for why biopolitical diversity exists among humans. Avi Tuschman does, though. “Political orientations are natural dispositions that have been molded by evolutionary forces,” he asserts. If he’s right, a dramatic new window opens on who we are and why we behave as we do.</p><p>One of the most stunning revelations of recent genetic anthropology is the finding that Homo sapiens, our ancestors, occasionally bred with Homo neanderthalensis in Europe or the Middle East some 40,000 to 50,000 years ago. These encounters may have been quite rare: just one offspring produced every thirty years, according to one estimate. But it was enough to shape who humans are today. Recent genetic analyses suggest that some modern humans have a small but measurable percentage of Neanderthal DNA in our genomes—particularly those of us living in Europe and Asia.</p><p>The more you think about it, the more mind-boggling it is that this cross-species mating actually occurred. Imagine how strange it must have been, as a member ofHomo sapiens, to encounter another being so closely related to us (much more closely than chimpanzees), and yet still so different. J. R. R. Tolkien buffs can probably visualize it the best, because it would indeed have been something like humans encountering dwarves. Neanderthals were shorter and stronger, with outjutting brows. There is some evidence suggesting that they had high-pitched voices and red hair.</p><p>Knowing how prevalent racism and xenophobia are today among members of the same human species, we can assume that many of our ancestors would have behaved even worse toward Neanderthals. And yet some Homo sapiens bred with them, produced offspring with them, and (presumably) cared for those offspring. Which ones were the lovers, not the haters?</p><p>The answer, hints Tuschman in Our Political Nature, is that it may have been the liberals. For one core of the apparently universal left-right difference, he argues, is that the two groups pursue different reproductive strategies, different ways of ensuring offspring and fitness in the next generation.</p><p>And thus we enter the realm of full-blown, and inevitably highly controversial, evolutionary explanations. Tuschman doesn’t hold back. Conservatives, he suggests in one of three interrelated evolutionary accounts of the origins of politics, are a modern reflection of an evolutionary impulse that leads some of us to seek to control sexual reproduction and keep it within a relatively homogenous group. This naturally makes today’s conservatives more tribal and in-group oriented; if tribalism does anything, it makes it clear who you are and aren’t supposed to mate with.</p><p>Tuschman’s liberals, in contrast, are a modern reflection of an evolutionary impulse to take risks, and thereby pull in more genetic diversity through outbreeding. This naturally makes today’s liberals more exploratory and cosmopolitan, just as the personality tests always suggest. Ultimately, Tuschman bluntly writes, it all comes down to “different attitudes toward the transmission of DNA.” And if you want to set these two groups at absolute war with one another, all you need is something like the 1960s.</p><p>According to Tuschman, these competing reproductive strategies arise from the fact that there are advantages to keeping mating close within the group, but also advantages to mixing in more genetic diversity. Moreover, there is a continuum from extreme inbreeding to extreme outbreeding, featuring many different reproductive strategies along the way. Thus, we see in other species, such as birds like the great tit, a range in mating behavior, from a high level of breeding with more closely related birds to a high level of outbreeding.</p><p>Outbreeding brings in diversity, which is vital. For instance, diversity in the genes that create the proteins that ultimately come to comprise our immune systems has obvious benefits. But outbreeding also has risks—like encountering deadly new pathogens when you encounter new human groups—even as a moderate degree of inbreeding appears to have its own advantages: perpetuating genetically based survival strategies that are proven to work, increasing altruism that arises in kin relationships, and also, it appears, having more total offspring.</p><p>Extreme inbreeding, to be sure, is deleterious. But Tuschman presents evidence suggesting that there is an optimum—at around third-cousin or fourth-cousin mating—for producing the largest number of healthy offspring. He also shows related evidence in Danish women suggesting that a moderate degree of geographic dispersal to find a mate (measured by the distance between a woman’s birthplace and her husband’s) is related to having a high number of children, but too much dispersal and too little are both related to less overall fertility.</p><p>Returning to the present, Tuschman emphasizes that conservatives, and especially religious conservatives, always want to seem to control and restrict reproduction (and other sexual activities) more than liberals do. It’s understandably hard for an evolutionary biologist not to see behaviors that systematically affect patterns of reproduction in a Darwinian light.</p><p>And it’s not just reproductive patterns: Tuschman also suggests that other aspects of the liberal-conservative divide reflect other evolutionary challenges and differential strategies of responding to them. He traces different left-right views on hierarchy and equality to the structure of families (a move that cognitive linguist George Lakoff has in effect already made) and the effect of birth order on the personalities and political outlooks of siblings. And Tuschman traces more positive and negative (or, risk-aversive) views of human nature on the left and the right to different types of evolutionarily based altruism: altruism toward kin on the conservative side, and reciprocal altruism (which can be toward anyone) on the liberal side.</p><p>But is all of this really … true? Tuschman’s book is difficult to evaluate on this score. It says so much more about evolution than Hibbing, Smith, and Alford do, and yet manages to do so without leaving the same impression about the importance of caveats and nuances. Is Tuschman advancing a group selection theory, or not? It sometimes sounds like it, but it isn’t clear. And most importantly, is the variation among humans of politically relevant traits just part of the natural order of things, or does it itself reflect something about evolution? Again, it isn’t clear. This is not to suggest that Tuschman lacks a view on such questions; it’s just that he synthesizes so much scientific evidence that this kind of hand-holding seems less of a priority.</p><p>In the end, Tuschman’s book attempts a feat that those of us monitoring the emerging science of politics have long been waiting for—explaining the now well-documented psychological, biological, and genetic differences between liberals and conservatives with reference to human evolution and the differential strategies of mate choice and resource allocation that have been forced on us by the pressures of surviving and reproducing on a quite dangerous planet. It may or may not stand the test of time, but it certainly forces the issue.</p><p>In the end, what’s so stunning about all of this is the tremendous gap between what scholars are learning about politics and politics itself. We run around shutting down governments and occupying city centers—behaviors that can only be driven by a combination of intense belief and equally intense emotion—with almost zero perspective on why we can be so passionate one way, even as our opponents are passionate in the other.</p><p>To see politics as Hibbing, Smith, Alford, and Tuschman see it, by contrast, is inevitably to want to stop fighting so much and strive for some form of acceptance of political difference. That’s why, even though not all of the answers are in place yet, we need their line of thinking to catch on. Ideological diversity is clearly real, deeply rooted, and probably a core facet of human nature. Given this, we simply have no choice but to come up with a much better way to live with it.</p><p>Buy these books from Amazon and support Washington Monthly: <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0415535875/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=0415535875&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=washinmonthl-20">Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences</a><img alt="" border="0" src="http://ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=washinmonthl-20&amp;l=as2&amp;o=1&amp;a=0415535875" /></p><p><a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1616148233/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=1616148233&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=washinmonthl-20">Our Political Nature: The Evolutionary Origins of What Divides Us</a><img alt="" border="0" src="http://ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=washinmonthl-20&amp;l=as2&amp;o=1&amp;a=1616148233" /></p> Mon, 28 Apr 2014 08:08:00 -0700 Chris Mooney, The Washington Monthly 986450 at http://www.alternet.org evolution left right 3 Reasons Science Deniers Are Freaking Out About Neil deGrasse Tyson's "Cosmos" http://www.alternet.org/3-reasons-science-deniers-are-freaking-out-about-neil-degrasse-tysons-cosmos <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Not surprisingly, those who deny the theory of evolution were not happy with the new series. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2014-03-19_at_12.22.31_pm.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><em>The following post first appeared on Mother Jones. For more great content, subscribe to <a href="https://secure.motherjones.com/fnp/?action=SUBSCRIPTION&amp;list_source=SHOMEP&amp;a_edition_code=P">Mother Jones here. </a></em></p><p>If you think the first episode of the new Fox Cosmos series was <a href="http://arstechnica.com/science/2014/03/oklahoma-station-drops-evolution-from-showing-of-cosmos/" target="_blank">controversial</a> (with its relatively minor mentions of climate change, evolution, and the Big Bang), <a href="http://www.cosmosontv.com/watch/195050051992" target="_blank">Sunday night's show</a> threw down the gauntlet. Pretty much the entire episode was devoted to the topic of evolution, and the vast profusion of evidence (especially <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/01/bill-nye-creationism-evolution" target="_blank">genetic evidence</a>) showing that it is indeed the explanation behind all life on Earth. At one point, host Neil deGrasse Tyson stated it as plainly as you possibly can: "The theory of evolution, like the theory of gravity, is a scientific fact." (You can watch the full episode <a href="http://www.cosmosontv.com/watch/195050051992" target="_blank">here</a>.)</p><p>Not surprisingly, those who deny the theory of evolution were not happy with this. Indeed, the science denial crowd hasn't been happy with Cosmos in general. Here are some principal lines of attack:</p><p><strong>1. Denying the Big Bang: </strong>In the first episode of Cosmos, titled "Standing Up in the Milky Way," Tyson dons shades just before witnessing the Big Bang. You know, the start of everything. Some creationists, though, don't like the Big Bang; at Ken Ham's Answers in Genesis, a <a href="http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2014/03/11/review-cosmos-milky-way" target="_blank">critique of Cosmos</a> asserts that "the big bang model is unable to explain many scientific observations, but this is of course not mentioned."</p><div>Alas, this creationist critique seems very poorly timed: A <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/18/science/space/detection-of-waves-in-space-buttresses-landmark-theory-of-big-bang.html?hp&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">major new scientific discovery</a>, just described in detail in the New York Times, has now provided <a href="http://news.discovery.com/space/astronomy/big-bangs-smoking-gun-discovered-140317.htm" target="_blank">"smoking gun" evidence</a> for "<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inflation_(cosmology)" target="_blank">inflation</a>," a crucial component of our understanding of the stunning happenings just after the Big Bang. Using a special telescope to examine the cosmic microwave background radiation (which has been dubbed the "<a href="http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-is-the-cosmic-microw/" target="_blank">afterglow</a>" of the Big Bang), researchers at the South Pole detected "<a href="http://news.discovery.com/space/astronomy/big-bangs-smoking-gun-discovered-140317.htm" target="_blank">direct evidence</a>" of the previously theoretical <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/18/science/space/detection-of-waves-in-space-buttresses-landmark-theory-of-big-bang.html?hp&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">gravitational waves</a> that are believed to have originated in the Big Bang and caused an incredibly sudden and dramatic inflation of the universe. (For an easy to digest discussion, Phil Plait <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2014/03/17/evidence_of_inflation_astronomers_detect_gravitational_waves_from_the_early.html" target="_blank">has more</a>.)</div><p><strong>2. Denying evolution:</strong> Sunday's episode of Cosmos was all about evolution. It closely followed the rhetorical strategy of Charles Darwin's world-changing 1859 book, On the Origin of Species, beginning with an example of "artificial selection" by breeders (Darwin used pigeons, Cosmosused domestic dogs) to get us ready to appreciate the far vaster power of natural selection. It employed Darwin's favorite metaphor: the "tree of life," an analogy that helps us see how all organisms are living on different branches of the same hereditary tree. In the episode, Tyson also refuted one of the creationist's <a href="http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CB/CB301.html" target="_blank">favorite canards</a>: the idea that complex organs, like the eye, could not have been produced through evolution.</p><p><strong>3. Denying climate change:</strong> Thus far, Cosmos has referred to climate change in each of its two opening episodes, but has not gone into any depth on the matter. Perhaps that's for a later episode. But in the meantime, it seems some conservatives are already bashing Tyson as a global warming proponent. <a href="http://newsbusters.org/blogs/jeffrey-meyer/2014/03/16/seth-meyers-cosmos-presenter-neil-degrasse-tyson-those-don-t-care-sci" target="_blank">Writing at</a> the Media Research Center's Newsbusters blog, Jeffrey Meyer critiques a recent Tyson appearance on Late Night With Seth Myers. "Meyers and deGrasse Tyson chose to take a cheap shot at religious people and claim they don't believe in science i.e. liberal causes like global warming," writes Meyer.Over at the pro-"intelligent design" Discovery Institute, they're not happy. Senior fellow David Klinghoffer <a href="http://www.evolutionnews.org/2014/03/the_second_epis083321.html" target="_blank">writes</a> that the latest Cosmos episode "[extrapolated] shamelessly, promiscuously from artificial selection (dogs from wolves) to minor stuff like the color of a polar bear's fur to the development of the human eye." In a much more elaborate <a href="http://www.evolutionnews.org/2014/03/cosmos_episode_083331.html" target="_blank">attempted takedown</a>, meanwhile, the institute's Casey Luskin accuses Tyson and Cosmos of engaging in "attempts to persuade people of both evolutionary scientific views and larger materialistic evolutionary beliefs, not just by the force of the evidence, but by rhetoric and emotion, and especially by leaving out important contrary arguments and evidence." Luskin goes on to contend that there is something wrong with the idea of the "tree of life." Tell that to the scientists involved in the<a href="http://blog.opentreeoflife.org/project-summary/" target="_blank">Open Tree of Life</a> project, which plans to produce "the first online, comprehensive first-draft tree of all 1.8 million named species, accessible to both the public and scientific communities." Precisely how to reconstruct every last evolutionary relationship may still be an open scientific question, but the idea of common ancestry, the core of evolution (represented conceptually by a tree of life), is not.</p><p>Actually, as Tyson explained on our <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/03/neil-degrasse-tyson-inquiring-minds-cosmos" target="_blank">Inquiring Minds podcast</a>, Cosmos is certainly not anti-religion. As for characterizing global warming as simply a "liberal cause": In a <a href="https://www.skepticalscience.com/global-warming-scientific-consensus.htm" target="_blank">now famous study</a> finding that 97 percent of scientific studies (that bother to take a position on the matter) agree with the idea of human-caused global warming, researchers reviewed 12,000 scientific abstracts published between the years 1991 and 2011. In other words, this is a field in which a very large volume of science is being published. That hardly sounds like an advocacy endeavor.</p><p>On our most recent episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast, Tyson explains why he doesn't debate science deniers; you can listen here (interview starts around minute 13):</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F139461810" width="100%"></iframe></p> Wed, 19 Mar 2014 08:52:00 -0700 Chris Mooney, Mother Jones 972144 at http://www.alternet.org Cosmos 6 Surprising Scientific Findings About Good and Evil http://www.alternet.org/culture/6-surprising-scientific-findings-about-good-and-evil <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Harvard&#039;s Joshua Greene on the evolution of morality—and why humanity may, objectively, be getting better in the long run.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/good_evil.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><em style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0); font-family: Arial, Georgia, sans-serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 25px;">The following post first appeared on <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/" style="color: rgb(202, 133, 0); text-decoration: none;">MotherJones.com. </a> <a href="https://secure.motherjones.com/fnp/?action=SUBSCRIPTION&amp;list_source=STOPNV&amp;a_edition_code=P" style="color: rgb(202, 133, 0); text-decoration: none;">Click here to subscribe. </a></em></p><p>Maybe you already know the famous hypothetical dilemma: A train is barreling down a track, about to hit five people, who are certain to die if nothing happens. You are standing at a fork in the track and can throw a switch to divert the train to another track—but if you do so, one person, tied to that other track, will die. So what would you do? And moreover, what do you think your fellow citizens would do?</p><p>The first question is a purely ethical one; the second, however, can be investigated scientifically. And in the past decade, a group of researchers have been pursuing precisely that sort of investigation. They've put our sense of right and wrong in lab, and even in the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Functional_magnetic_resonance_imaging" target="_blank">fMRI machine</a>. And their findings have begun to dramatically illuminate how we make moral and political decisions and, perhaps, will even reshape our understanding of what morality is in the first place.</p><p>"The core of morality is a suite of psychological capacities that enable us to get along in groups," explains Harvard's Joshua Greene, a leader in this research and author of the new book <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1594202605/ref=s9_simh_gw_p14_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&amp;pf_rd_s=center-3&amp;pf_rd_r=1G5Z21KHZH34TK2PRMP8&amp;pf_rd_t=101&amp;pf_rd_p=470938811&amp;pf_rd_i=507846" target="_blank">Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them</a>, on the latest episode of the <a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/inquiring-minds/id711675943" target="_blank">Inquiring Minds podcast</a> (listen above). The word "group" here is essential: According to Greene, while we have innate dispositions to care for one another, they're ultimately limited and work best among smallish clans of people who trust and know each other.</p><p>The morality that the globalizing world of today requires, Greene argues, is thus quite different from the morality that comes naturally to us. To see how he reaches this conclusion, let's go through some surprising facts from Greene's research and from the science of morality generally:</p><p><strong>1. Evolution gave us morality—as a default setting.</strong> One central finding of modern morality research is that humans, like other social animals, naturally feel emotions, such as empathy and gratitude, that are crucial to group functioning. These feelings make it easy for us to be good; indeed, they're so basic that, according to Greene's research, cooperation seems to come naturally and automatically.</p><p>Greene and his colleagues have shown as much through experiments in which people play something called the "<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_goods_game" target="_blank">Public Goods Game</a>." A group of participants are each given equal amounts of tokens or money (say $5 each). They are then invited to place some of their money a shared pool, whose amount is increased each round (let's say doubled) and then redistributed evenly among players. So if there are four players and everybody is fully cooperative, $20 goes into the pool and $40 comes out, and everybody doubles their money, taking away $10. However, participants can also hold on to their money and act as a "free rider," taking earnings out of the group pot even though they put nothing in.</p><p>In one Public Goods Game experiment, Greene and his colleagues decided to speed the process up. They made people play the game faster, decide what to do quicker. And the result was more "moral" behavior and less free-riding, suggesting that cooperation is a default. "We have gut reactions that make us cooperative," Greene says. Indeed, he adds, "If you force people to stop and think, then they're less likely to be cooperative."</p><p><strong>2. Gossip is our moral scorecard. </strong>In the Public Goods Game, free riders don't just make more money than cooperators. They can tank the whole game, because everybody becomes less cooperative as they watch free riders profit at their expense. In some game versions, however, a technique called "pro-social punishment" is allowed. You can pay a small amount of your own money to make sure that a free rider loses money for not cooperating. When this happens, cooperation picks up again—because now it is being enforced.</p><p>Real life isn't a Public Goods Game, but it is in many ways analogous. We also keep tabs and enforce norms through punishment; in Moral Tribes, Greene suggests that a primary way that we do so is through gossip. He cites the anthropologist<a href="http://attach.matita.net/ziorufus/Dunbar%20gossip.pdf" target="_blank">Robin Dunbar,</a> who found that two-thirds of human conversations involve chattering about other people, including spreading word of who's behaving well and who's behaving badly. Thus do we impose serious costs on those who commit anti-social behavior.</p><p><strong>3. We're built to solve the problem of "me versus us."</strong>We don't know how to deal with "us versus them." Cooperation, enforcing beneficial social norms: These are some of the relatively positive aspects of our basic morality. But the research also shows something much less rosy. For just as we're naturally inclined to be cooperative within our own group, we're also inclined to distrust other groups (or worse). "In-group favoritism and ethnocentrism are human universals," writes Greene.</p><p>What that means is that once you leave the setting of a small group and start dealing with multiple groups, there's a reversal of field in morality. Suddenly, you can't trust your emotions or gut settings any longer. "When it comes to us versus them, with different groups that have different feelings about things like gay marriage, or Obamacare, or Israelies versus Palestinians, our gut reactions are the source of the problem," says Greene. From an evolutionary perspective, morality is built to make groups cohere, not to achieve world peace.</p><p><strong>4. Morality varies regionally and culturally.</strong>This is further exacerbated by the fact that in different cultures and in different groups, there is subtle (and sometimes, not-so-subtle) variation in moral norms, making outside groups seem tougher to understand and sympathize with.</p><p>Take, again, the Public Goods Game. People <a href="http://www.sciencemag.org/content/319/5868/1362.full.pdf" target="_blank">play it differently around the world</a>, Greene reports. The most cooperative people (that have been studied, at least) live in Boston and Copenhagen; they make high contributions in the game almost from the start, and stay that way. By contrast, in Athens and Riyadh, it's the opposite pattern: People contribute low and this doesn't change (in this version of the game, free riders are allowed to punish cooperators too, and this seems to account for the outcome). There are also a variety of cities in between, like Seoul and Melbourne, where contributions start out moderate or low and trend higher as free riders are punished and norms get enforced. "There are very different expectations in different places about what the terms of cooperation are," Greene says. "About what people, especially strangers, owe each other." (It is important to note that Greene does not attribute these regional differences to evolution or genetics; they're cultural.)</p><p><strong>5. Your brain is not in favor of the greatest good for the greatest number. </strong>In addition to the Public Goods Game, Greene and colleagues also experiment with a scenario called the "trolley dilemma," described above. So what do people do when asked whether it is moral to take one life in order to save five?</p><p>The answer is that for the most part, people placed in this hypothetical dilemma choose utilitarianism, or the greatest good for the greatest number. They say they want to divert the train, sacrificing one person to save five.</p><p>However, things become very different when instead of the standard trolley dilemma, researchers substitute a variant called the "footbridge dilemma," illustrated at right. Now, the trolley is barreling down the track again, but you're in a different position: Atop a bridge over the tracks, alongside a large man. The only way to stop the train is to push him off the bridge, onto the tracks in front of it. The man is big enough to stop the train, and so once again, you'll save five lives by sacrificing one. The math is exactly the same, but people respond very differently—mostly, they just won't push the man or say it is okay to do so. "So the question is," Greene says, "why do we say it's okay to trade one life to save five here, but not there?"</p><p>Greene and fellow researchers looked to neuroscience to find out. It turns out that the two dilemmas activate different parts of the brain, and "there's an emotional response that makes most people say no to pushing the guy off the footbridge, that competes with the utilitarian rationale," Greene says. However, this is not true in certain patients with damage to certain regions of the brain. People with damage to the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ventromedial_prefrontal_cortex" target="_blank">ventromedial prefrontal cortex</a>, a part of the brain that processes emotions, are more likely to treat the two dilemmas in the same way, and <a href="http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~jgreene/GreeneWJH/Greene-Util-VMPFC-TiCS07.pdf" target="_blank">make more utilitarian decisions</a>. Meanwhile, when people do make utilitarian judgments in the trolley dilemma, Greene's research suggests that their brains shift out of an emotional and automatic mode and into a more deliberative mode, activating different brain regions associated with conscious control.</p><p><strong>6. Humanity may, objectively, be becoming more moral. </strong>Based on many experiments with Public Goods Games, trolleys, and other scenarios, Greene has come to the conclusion that we can only trust gut-level morality to do so much. Uncomfortable scenarios like the footbridge dilemma notwithstanding, he believes that something like utilitarianism, which he defines as "maximize happiness impartially," is the only moral approach that can work with a vast, complex world comprised of many different groups of people.</p><p>But to get there, Greene says, requires the moral version of a gut override on the part of humanity—a shift to "manual mode," as he puts it.</p><p>The surprise, then, is that he's actually pretty optimistic. It is far easier now than it ever was, Greene says, to be aware that your moral obligations don't end where your small group ends. We all saw this very recently, with the global response to the devastation caused by Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. We're just more conscious, in general, of what is happening to people very distant from us. What's more, intergroup violence seems to be on the decline. Here Greene cites the <a href="http://www.amazon.com/The-Better-Angels-Our-Nature/dp/1455883115" target="_blank">recent work</a> of his Harvard colleague Steven Pinker, who has documented a long-term decline of violence across the world in modern times.</p><p>To be more moral, then, Greene believes that we must first grasp the limits of the moral instincts that come naturally to us. That's hard to do, but he thinks it gets collectively easier.</p><p>"There's a bigger us that's growing," Greene says. "Wherever you go, there are tribal forces that oppose that larger us. But, the larger us is growing."</p><p>To listen to the full episode of Inquiring Minds with Joshua Greene, you can stream below:</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/124574402&amp;color=ff6600" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><em>This episode of <a href="http://t.co/CQ9WZRPMFO" target="_blank">Inquiring Minds</a>, a podcast hosted by best-selling author Chris Mooney and neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas, also features a discussion of <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131205141900.htm" target="_blank">surprising new research </a>on the causes of autism, and on the <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/12/genetics-twins-politics-religion" target="_blank">genetic origins</a> of our political and religious beliefs.</em></p><p><em>To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to Inquiring Minds via <a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/inquiring-minds/id711675943">iTunes</a>or <a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/inquiring-minds">RSS</a>. You can also follow the show on Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/inquiringshow">@inquiringshow</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/inquiringmindspodcast">like us on Facebook</a>.</em></p> Sat, 14 Dec 2013 11:53:00 -0800 Chris Mooney, Mother Jones 936734 at http://www.alternet.org Culture Culture Personal Health Visions morality joshua green Conservatives Drink Bud, Liberals Drink Heineken? http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/conservatives-drink-bud-liberals-drink-heineken <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The new science of ideology now extends to consumer choices, demonstrating how unconscious our political viewpoints really are.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_82143097.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>It was probably inevitable, but it’s striking nonetheless. In a new study published in the journal <em>Psychological Science</em>, Vishal Singh of New York University’s Stern School of Business and his colleagues apply an ever-growing body of research on the psychological traits of liberals and conservatives to their consumer choices. The result? A stark left-right difference when it comes to favoring well established brands, like Coca-Cola or Tide, over the new and generic products that are trying to compete with them.</p><p>In their study (paywall version <a href="http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/02/04/0956797612457379.abstract">here</a>), Singh and his colleagues examined a vast set of sales data across 416 U.S. counties—from 135 different supermarket chains and 1,860 individual stores over a six-year period. Within this huge mass of consumerism, the researchers zoomed in on sales in the consumer packaged industry—products ranging from laundry detergents to frozen pizzas to toothpastes and razors. As they note in their study, this industry features the regular introduction of many new products and brands, and also many generics trying to compete with the established brands.</p><p>The study hypothesis was simple: In counties characterized by strong Republican voting or religiosity, generics and new products would fare considerably worse at the checkout counter than established brands. Just picture a liberal and a conservative at the laundry detergent aisle. The basic idea is that the conservative more often reaches for the pricier but more established Tide (a Procter &amp; Gamble product), rather than the cheaper in-store generic variant (more often favored, presumably, by the liberal).</p><p>Conservatives, after all, are known to be more uncomfortable with uncertainty, and less open to new experiences. There’s every reason to expect this to translate into consumer behavior—particularly with respect to one’s allegiance to brands. “A major function of branding,” write the study authors, “is to reduce uncertainty and simplify decision-making.” Their study design therefore sought to test whether “aspects of conservative values--such as preference for tradition and convention, and dislike of ambiguity and complexity,” would be “reflected in higher reliance on national brands as opposed to generics.”</p><p>So what did the study find? Across 26 different product categories—coffees, diapers, household cleaners, mayonnaise, and much else—the study found that in Republican or religious counties, generic and new brands captured considerably less market share. “More conservative counties did not have higher penetration of new products in any of the categories,” write the authors. As for generics: In 19 out of 26 product categories, they fared worse in more religious counties. (The study controlled for demographic factors, as well as store size and variations in the quality of generic products.)</p><p>The implications of the research are numerous. Perhaps most noteworthy is that it provides yet another validation of the increasingly powerful idea that political ideology is, in significant part, a reflection of more basic psychological or even biological traits that influence us in realms far beyond the explicitly political. Studies showing that liberals and conservatives vary in traits like <a href="http://www.psych.nyu.edu/jost/Carney,%20Jost,%20%26%20Gosling%20(2008)%20The%20secret%20lives%20of%20liberals%20.pdf">bedroom organization</a>, <a href="http://www.psychologytoday.com/files/u81/Wilson__Ausman___Mathews__1973_.pdf">preferences for art</a>, <a href="http://hij.sagepub.com/content/14/2/212.abstract">sense of humor</a>, <a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022103109000833">strategies for playing video games</a>, and now, consumer behavior, strengthen the idea that ideology springs from much more basic traits. So, score another validation for the <a href="http://republicanbrain.com">“Republican Brain” hypothesis</a>.</p><p>Second, it’s worth noting that while conservatives were more wedded to established brands in the consumer package industry, that doesn’t mean liberals lack brand preferences of their own in this or other industries—particularly when it comes to brands that resonate with liberal values. For instance, I have long nourished the suspicion that liberals are deeply wedded to the Apple brand, whose marketing (e.g., the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Think_Different">“Think Different” campaign</a>) strongly appeals to the liberal psychology. Something similar probably goes for choosing Pabst Blue Ribbon over, say, Budweiser. So it’s not that liberals aren’t susceptible to marketing appeals, but those appeals will surely fare better if they’re conscious of liberal psychology and its constant craving of the new, different and revolutionary.</p><p>Finally, major international corporations are presumably aware of how their product sales vary by U.S. counties—and whether these counties are “red” or “blue.” So we can probably assume that businesses themselves are at least dimly aware of this politicized aspect of consumer behavior. Indeed, many businesses likely use this to their advantage. After all, it is by establishing nationally recognized brands--brands that carry with them the implied promise that you know exactly what you’re going to get from this product, and won’t have to worry about it ever again—that you lock in “conservative” customers.</p><p>Investors must be subtly aware of this as well. The concept of an “<a href="http://www.investopedia.com/terms/e/economicmoat.asp">economic moat</a>,” so touted by (liberal) investor Warren Buffett, denotes the idea that a company has an unbreachable citadel in the marketplace because competitors just can’t make inroads against its brands or client base. Presumably, if there weren’t so many conservative consumers out there, economic moats would be more difficult to establish.</p><p>In an <a href="http://faculty.london.edu/kmisra/assets/documents/Conservatism_MainText.pdf">earlier version of their study</a> (why do journals always edit out the best stuff?), Singh and his colleagues concluded with a contrast of liberal and conservative beer choices, remarking that conservatives seem to like domestic beers—Budweiser, Miller—versus foreign imports, like Guinness or Heineken. They might also have mentioned Coors, for many years run by Joseph Coors, who generously funded conservative causes and helped found the Heritage Foundation and fund Ronald Reagan’s campaigns.</p><p>Admit it: We’ve kind of known all along that many successful brands in the marketplace are, in their overall cultural meaning, right-wing. What the new research does is ground this basic intuition in the growing science of ideology, whose results are quickly becoming inescapable—and vital to understanding who we really are as a species.</p> Mon, 25 Feb 2013 11:17:00 -0800 Chris Mooney, AlterNet 800185 at http://www.alternet.org The Right Wing Economy The Right Wing coca-cola coors heineken heritage foundation Joseph Coors new york university Person Career procter & gamble Republican voting ronald reagan Stern School of Business united states Vishal Singh warren buffett generic products the Heritage Is the Right-Wing Psyche Allergic to Reality? A New Study Shows Conservatives Ignore Facts More Than Liberals http://www.alternet.org/right-wing-psyche-allergic-reality-new-study-shows-conservatives-ignore-facts-more-liberals <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">More evidence that conservatives tilted their views of the facts to favor their moral convictions more than liberals did, on every single issue. </div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1336515520_brainsquare460x307.jpg" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><strong>This story was originally published at Salon.</strong></p><p>Last week, the country convulsed with outrage over Missouri Republican Rep. Todd Akin’s <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/21/us/politics/rep-todd-akin-legitimate-rape-statement-and-reaction.html">false suggestion</a> that women who are raped have a special bodily defense mechanism against getting pregnant. Akin’s claim stood out due to its highly offensive nature, but it’s reminiscent of any number of other parallel cases in which conservative Christians have cited dubious “facts” to help rationalize their moral convictions. Take the twin assertions that having an abortion causes breast cancer or mental disorders, for instance. Or the denial of human evolution. Or false claims that same-sex parenting hurts kids. Or that you can choose whether to be gay, and undergo therapy to reverse that choice. The ludicrous assertion that women who are raped have a physiological defense mechanism against pregnancy is just part of a long litany of other falsehoods in the Christian right’s moral and emotional war against science.</p><p>In fact, even as Akin reaped a whirlwind of disdain and disgust, a <a href="https://www.dropbox.com/s/iq3axjogkuagn8a/Liu%20Ditto%2012%20What%20Dilemma%20SPPS.pdf">new scientific paper</a> has appeared with uncanny timing in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, underscoring what is actually happening when people contort facts to justify their deep seated beliefs or moral systems. Perhaps most strikingly, one punch line of the new research is that political conservatives, like Akin, appear to do this significantly more than political liberals.</p><p>In recent years, the field of moral psychology has been strongly influenced by a theory known as “moral intuitionism,” which has been championed by the University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt. Dealing a blow to the notion of humans as primarily rational actors, Haidt instead postulates that our views of what is right and wrong are rooted in gut emotions, which fire rapidly when we encounter certain moral situations or dilemmas—responding far more quickly than our rational thoughts. Thus, we evaluate facts, arguments, and new information in a way that is subconsciously guided, ormotivated, by our prior moral emotions. What this means–<a href="http://www.motherjones.com/files/emotional_dog_and_rational_tail.pdf">in Haidt’s famed formulation</a>–is that when it comes to evaluating facts that are relevant to our deep seated morals or beliefs, we don’t act like scientists. Rather, we act like lawyers, contorting the evidence to support our moral argument.</p><div data-toggle-group="story-12993589"><p>But are we all equally lawyerly? The <a href="https://www.dropbox.com/s/iq3axjogkuagn8a/Liu%20Ditto%2012%20What%20Dilemma%20SPPS.pdf">new paper</a>, by psychologists Brittany Liu and Peter Ditto of the University of California-Irvine, suggests that may not actually be the case.</p><p>In their study, Liu and Ditto asked over 1,500 people about their moral and factual views on four highly divisive political issues. Two of them–the death penalty and the forceful interrogation of terrorists using techniques like water-boarding–are ones where liberals tend to think the act in question is morally unacceptableeven if it actually yields benefits (for instance, deterring crime, or providing intelligence that can help prevent further terrorist strikes). The other two–providing information about condoms in the context of sex education, and embryonic stem cell research–are ones where conservatives tend to think the act in question is unacceptable even if it yields benefits (helping to prevent unwanted pregnancies, leading to cures for devastating diseases).</p><p>In the experiment, the subjects were first asked about their absolute moral beliefs: For instance, is the death penalty wrongeven if it deters others from committing crimes? But they were also asked about various factual aspects of each topic: Does the death penalty deter crime? Do condoms work to prevent pregnancy? Does embryonic stem cell research hold medical promise? And so on.</p><p>If you believe some act is absolutely wrong, period, you shouldn’t actually care about its costs and benefits. Those should be irrelevant to your moral judgment. Yet in analyzing the data, Liu and Ditto found a strong correlation, across all of the issues, between believing something is morally wrong in all case–such as the death penalty–and also believing that it has low benefits (e.g., doesn’t deter crime) or high costs (lots of innocent people getting executed). In other words, liberals and conservatives alike shaded their assessment of the facts so as to align them with their moral convictions–establishing what Liu and Ditto call a “moral coherence” between their ethical and factual views. Neither side was innocent when it came to<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Is%E2%80%93ought_problem">confusing “is” and “ought”</a> (as moral philosophers might put it).</p><p>However, not everyone was equally susceptible to this behavior. Rather, the researchers found three risk factors, so to speak, that seem to worsen the standard human penchant for contorting the facts to one’s moral views. Two those were pretty unsurprising: Having a strong moral view about a topic makes one’s inclination towards “moral coherence” worse, as does knowing a lot about the subject (across studies, knowledge simply seems to make us better at maintaining and defending what we already believe). But the third risk factor is likely to prove quite controversial: political conservatism.</p><p>In the study, Liu and Ditto report, conservatives tilted their views of the facts to favor their moral convictions more than liberals did, on every single issue. And that was true whether it was a topic that liberals oppose (the death penalty) or that conservatives oppose (embryonic stem cell research). “Conservatives are doing this to a larger degree across four different issues,” Liu explained in an interview. “Including two that are leaning to the liberal side, not the conservative side.”</p><p>There is a longstanding (if controversial) body of research on liberal-conservative psychological differences that may provide an answer for why this occurs. Conservatives, Liu notes, score higher on a trait called the <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Closure_(psychology)">need for cognitive closure</a>, which describes a feeling of discomfort with uncertainty and the need to hold a firm belief, a firm conviction, unwaveringly. Insofar as a need for closure pushes one to want to hold coherent, consistent beliefs–and makes one intolerant of ambiguity–it makes sense that wanting to achieve “moral coherence” between one’s factual and moral views would also go along with it. Conservatives, in this interpretation, would naturally have more conviction that the facts of the world, and their moral systems, are perfectly aligned. Liberals, in contrast, might be more conflicted–supportive of embryonic stem cell research, for instance, but nourishing doubts about whether the scientific promise we heard so much about a decade ago is being realized.</p><p>In documenting an apparent left-right difference in emotional reasoning about what is factually true, the new paper wades into a growing debate over what the Yale researcher Dan Kahan has labeled “<a href="http://www.pointofinquiry.org/dan_kahan_the_great_ideological_asymmetry_debate/">ideological asymmetry</a>.” This is the idea that one side of the political spectrum, more than the other, shows a form of biased or motivated assessment of facts–a view that Kahan rejects. Indeed, he recently <a href="http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2012/7/30/some-experimental-data-on-crt-ideology-and-motivated-reasoni.html">ran a different study</a> and found that liberals and conservatives were more symmetrical in their biases, albeit not on a live political issue.</p><p>The question of why some researchers find results seeming to support the left-right asymmetry hypothesis, even as others do not, remains unresolved. But the new paper by Liu and Ditto will surely sharpen it. Indeed, Kahan has already <a href="http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2012/8/24/motivated-consequentialist-reasoning.html">weighed in</a> on the paper, acknowledging that it provides evidence in support of asymmetry, but observing that in his view, the evidence againstasymmetry from other research remains more weighty.</p><p>The upshot, for now, is that it’s hard to deny that all people engage in goal-directed reasoning, bending facts in favor of their moralities or belief systems. But–to butcher George Orwell–it may also be true that while all humans are biased by their prior beliefs and emotions, some humans are more biased than others.</p></div><p> </p> Mon, 27 Aug 2012 10:12:00 -0700 Chris Mooney, Salon 699911 at http://www.alternet.org News & Politics brain facts liberals conservatives Mooney: Are Conservatives Happier Than Liberals? http://www.alternet.org/story/156335/mooney%3A_are_conservatives_happier_than_liberals <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Conservatives tend to be just plain happier people than liberals are. That&#039;s seriously bad news for the left.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1342461851_happyrepublican.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p> In general, political conservatives haven’t been very pleased with a slew of scientific attempts — sometimes dating back <a href="http://www.sulloway.org/PoliticalConservatism%282003%29.pdf">well over a decade</a> — to psychoanalyze their beliefs and behavior. Indeed, some on the right <a href="http://www.alternet.org/news/155646/conservatives_attack_scientific_findings_about_why_they_hate_science_%28helping_to_confirm_the_science%29/?page=2">wrongly interpret</a> these analyses as implying that conservatives have “bad brains” or a “mental defect.” Yet if psychology-of-politics research is really a veiled attack on the right, then why does it contain so many findings that cast conservatives in a positive light?</p> <p> Chief among these, perhaps, is the discovery that conservatives, <a href="http://www.psych.nyu.edu/jost/Napier%20&amp;%20Jost%20%282008%29%20Why%20are%20conservatives%20happier%20than%20libe.pdf">across countries</a>, tend to be just plain happier people than liberals are. That’s not bad news for the right — it’s seriously bad news for the left.</p> <p> Indeed, the left-right “happiness gap” is no small matter. In a <a href="http://pewresearch.org/assets/social/pdf/AreWeHappyYet.pdf">2006 Pew Survey</a>, for instance, 47 percent of conservative Republicans said they were “very happy,” compared with just 28 percent of liberal Democrats. Furthermore, the Pew Survey found that this result could not simply be attributed to the seemingly obvious cause: differences in income levels between the left and the right. Rather, for every income group in the study, conservative Republicans were happier than Democrats.</p> <p> The fascinating question is why this is the case. The left-right happiness research was recently singled out in a<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/08/opinion/sunday/conservatives-are-happier-and-extremists-are-happiest-of-all.html?_r=2&amp;src=recg">New York Times op-ed</a> by Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, who suggested that conservatives’ subjectively greater sense of personal happiness may be attributable to factors like marriage and religious faith. In other words, married and religious people tend to be happier, and conservatives are more likely to be both. That seems to make a lot of sense … or does it?</p> <p> In truth, this analysis fails to peer very far beneath the surface. There is every reason to suspect that there may be something deeper, inherent to political conservatives, that makes them more likely to be married, religious, happy and a great deal of other things besides.</p> <div class="toggle-group target hideOnInit" data-toggle-group="story-12957873" style="height: 1576px; opacity: 1;"> <p> What might it be? Well, let’s start with the body of well-documented personality differences between people who opt for the political left, and people who opt for the political right. Using the well-established <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Five_personality_traits">“Big Five” personality scale</a>, conservatives and liberals differ on at least three out of five major personality traits that have implications for their personal happiness.</p> <p> First, <a href="http://sites.duke.edu/niou/files/2011/06/gerber-huber-etal.pdf">one striking finding</a> is that conservatives tend to be less neurotic — or, more emotionally stable — than liberals. It is part of the inherent definition of neuroticism that one is less happy — more fretful, more depressed.  Liberals, then, don’t just worry about the poor, and the rights of those different from themselves — it appears that they worry more, period, than conservatives do.</p> <p> Although it has a smaller effect, conservatives also tend toward more extraversion in some personality studies. That means they probably make more friends and feel more comfortable in groups and communities. They’re more sociable. Once again, this probably helps confer a subjective sense of greater happiness.</p> <p> But perhaps most significant, personality research shows that conservatives tend to be less open, exploratory people than liberals are. Indeed, based on a large body of research by University of Maryland social psychologist Arie Kruglanski, conservatives tend to have a higher “<a href="http://terpconnect.umd.edu/%7Ehannahk/NFC_Scale.html">need for cognitive closure</a>,” meaning that they are uncomfortable with ambiguity and prefer to seize on and hold fixed beliefs and views. And if you think being more closed-minded makes you less happy … well, think again. Instead, it appears that the relationship runs in the opposite direction.</p> <p> The need for closure is often interpreted very negatively — understandably so. But if it has an upside, it may well be the happiness and peace of mind that it confers. Conservatives tend to be more assured in their views and confident in them; thus, they have less need to agonizingly question them. They know their place in the world and aren’t troubled over it. “It’s kind of a peaceful bliss, cognitively speaking,” explains Kruglanski.</p> <p> Furthermore, the need for closure — for certainty, fixity — may underlie much else about the right. Kruglanski notes, for instance, that there’s a known relationship between closure and religiosity. “Religion or any comprehensive belief system is one that provides you answers to everything — and therefore belief and happiness,” he explains.</p> <p> Finally, there is the related argument that the conservative tendency to rationalize politically or economically unequal social systems — to overlook how the other half is forced to live, either through simple dismissiveness, or affirmation of the fairness of free markets and meritocracies — <a href="http://www.psych.nyu.edu/jost/Napier%20&amp;%20Jost%20%282008%29%20Why%20are%20conservatives%20happier%20than%20libe.pdf">also confers happiness</a>. In his New York Times op-ed, Brooks dismissed this argument, associated with New York University social psychologist John Jost, but that’s not so easy to do. In a 2008 study in the journal Psychological Science, Jost and Jaime Napier showed that conservatives were happier than liberals in nine countries beyond the United States (including Germany, Spain and Sweden) — and further demonstrated, through statistical analyses, that the rationalization of inequality was a key part of the explanation. “Meritocratic beliefs account for the association between political orientation and subjective well-being to a significant degree,” wrote Napier and Jost.</p> <p> The upshot of this research, to my mind, is that it provides a huge wake-up call to liberals who would dismiss conservatism, and their conservative brethren, without understanding this ideology’s appeal or what its adherents are getting out of it. Overall, the happiness research suggests that conservatism is giving something to people that liberalism is not — community, stability, certainty, and perhaps, in Jost’s words, an “emotional buffer” against all the unfairness in the world.</p> <p> Knowing this, one still may not want the type of somnambulant happiness that conservatism conveys (I certainly don’t). But it would be foolhardy to mistake its appeal. The world is hard and cruel and perhaps, as predominantly liberal atheists suspect, ultimately meaningless. In this context, it appears, political conservatism is doing much more than political liberalism to get people through the day.</p> </div> <p>  </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Chris Mooney is the author of four books, including "The Republican War on Science" (2005). His next book, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Republican-Brain-Science-Scienceand-Reality/dp/1118094514/">"The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality,"</a> is due out in April. </div></div></div> Mon, 16 Jul 2012 07:00:01 -0700 Chris Mooney, Salon 671764 at http://www.alternet.org Personal Health Personal Health News & Politics Culture The Right Wing Visions science happiness psychology conservatism Conservatives Attack Scientific Findings About Why They Hate Science (Helping to Confirm the Science) http://www.alternet.org/story/155646/conservatives_attack_scientific_findings_about_why_they_hate_science_%28helping_to_confirm_the_science%29 <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Some would like to dismiss the inconvenient findings about the political right, but the science won’t let them.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1338336169_shutterstock4791601.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Two months have passed since my new book, <a href="http://republicanbrain.com/">The Republican Brain</a>, was published, and so far it has gotten a lot <a href="http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/d690e4ba-8a13-11e1-a0c8-00144feab49a.html">of</a> <a href="http://youtu.be/binBSO5HZ6I">media</a> <a href="http://youtu.be/gre4XI-u9g8">attention</a>. However, the coverage has followed a noteworthy pattern: while progressives and liberals seem intrigued about what I’m saying, the so-called “mainstream” media—the CNNs of the world—have shied away from the subject.</p> <p>What’s up with this? Well, a book with conclusions closely related to mine—Norman Ornstein’s and Thomas Mann’s <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Even-Worse-Than-Looks-Constitutional/dp/0465031331/ref=pd_sim_b_1">It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism</a>—seems as though it is being <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2012/05/washington-dcs-missing-men">handled</a> <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2012/05/disappearing-man-followup">similarly</a> by some in the press. And perhaps there’s a reason: Centrist (aka “mainstream”) journalists might well prefer that the findings of these books <i>not</i> be true.</p> <p>You see, if I’m wrong, then the press can happily go on doing what it has always done: Splitting the difference between the political left and the political right, and employing “on the one hand, on the other hand” treatments that presume we’re all equally biased, all equally self-interested...just in different directions.</p> <p>The trouble is, I’ve presented a substantial body of scientific evidence suggesting that <i>this simply isn’t the case</i>. More specifically, the science I’ve presented suggests that the political right and left are quite different animals; that they perceive the world differently and handle evidence differently; and most importantly, that the polarization and the denial of science in modern American politics are fundamentally the fault of the authoritarian right. (Mann and Ornstein argue something very similar about today’s Republican Party.)</p> <p>In other words, if my book is right, we have to discard much that we thought we knew about politics. If the science of political ideology is right, then the ground shifts beneath us.</p> <p>It is very natural, then, that a lot of people—centrist journalists perhaps most of all--don’t want to accept what I’m saying. The problem is, where is the scientific counterargument to what I’m saying?</p> <p><b>Current State of the Science Supports </b><i><b>The Republican Brain</b></i> <b>Thesis</b></p> <p>The evidence for my thesis—that liberals and conservatives differ by personality, psychological needs, moral intuitions, and numerous other traits; and that this is what is lurking behind our political battles over what is true, on issues ranging from global warming to whether President Obama was born in the U.S.--was lying in plain sight in the scientific literature. I simply compiled it and reported on it. Notably, this evidence is not dependent on the work of any one scientist or group of scientists, on any one methodology, or on any one discipline. It is cross-disciplinary, and it is growing.</p> <p>No wonder that since the book came out, I’ve heard from a number of researchers whose work I’ve reported on, saying that I’ve done an accurate job. Indeed, there have been a number of public remarks from people of expertise, saying essentially the same thing.</p> <p>Most prominent among these is Jonathan Haidt, the University of Virginia moral psychologist and the author of the much discussed book <i>The Righteous Mind</i>. Notably, Haidt defines himself as a “centrist,” not a liberal. On MSNBC’s <i>Up With Chris Hayes</i>, Haidt <a href="http://scienceprogressaction.org/intersection/2012/05/my-up-with-chris-hayes-segment-with-jonathan-haidt/">had this to say</a> about my thesis:</p> <blockquote>Chris has done a great job of surveying the literature. I want to give him a stamp of approval. He is not cherry picking, he is representing the current state of thinking about politics and personality.</blockquote> <p>Haidt went further, adding that his own science casts additional light here:</p> <blockquote>I want to fully agree with Chris that the psychology does predispose liberals more to be receptive to science; my own research has found that conservatives are better at group-binding, at loyalty, and so if you put them in a group-versus-group conflict, yes the right is more prone, psychologically, to band around and sort of, circle the wagons.</blockquote> <p>Haidt isn’t the only one. <a href="http://psych.ku.edu/people/faculty/crandall_christian.shtml">Chris Crandall</a>, a social psychologist and a researcher on ideology at the University of Kansas, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/review/R1XW176OKSX2W7/ref=cm_cr_pr_perm?ie=UTF8&amp;ASIN=1118094514&amp;nodeID=&amp;tag=&amp;linkCode=">reviewed the book on Amazon.com</a>. Here’s what he had to say:</p> <blockquote>…Mooney is a partisan, and he's looking at the data with the thesis that members of the Republican Party are more close-minded, less scientific, and more willing to disregard experts. And, well, the science backs him up on this. The fact that the research supports his position doesn't sully him OR the science. He's not the one doing the research; Mooney's biases cannot affect studies that he's completely uninvolved in. Of course, he does like what he reads, but is [there] a shame in being right? There isn't.</blockquote> <p>Everett Young, my collaborator in Chapter 13 of the book, is a Ph.D. political psychologist. He <a href="http://www.amazon.com/review/RRWQUTQ3JHNVU/ref=cm_cr_pr_perm?ie=UTF8&amp;ASIN=1118094514&amp;nodeID=&amp;tag=&amp;linkCode=">writes</a>:</p> <blockquote>Chris simply collects in one place the wide research about the differences in cognitive style that give rise to different kinds of ideological thinking, and argues that these differences might help explain why conservatives in this day and age seem to reject empirical evidence on the major issues more readily than liberals do, and hold political beliefs in strong contravention of such evidence.</blockquote> <blockquote>Much evidence is in, as this book details. Seeing the world in more black-and-white terms IS associated with conservatism. Less curiosity is also. This needn't make conservatives inferior. In fact, such a cognitive style can have advantages, especially where decisiveness is required. But it's certainly plausible that a quickly decisive cognitive style is also less interested in updating its internal map of the outside world to comport with EVIDENCE.</blockquote> <p>I am not a scientist, and have never claimed to be. I am a science journalist. But it is precisely because I report on science and interview the scientists involved that I am able to stick closely to what they have to say, and what they have learned.</p> <p>Which is, in and of itself, inconvenient for the reality-denying right.</p> <p><b>The Right’s Arguments Against the Science Are Ill-Informed At Best</b></p> <p>So what do conservatives have to say in response to this science? Honestly, the objections are quite weak, and frankly provide a wealth of new evidence in support of the book’s argument—that conservatives tend to simply reject science and evidence when it threatens their beliefs. The main conservative counterargument relies on little more than misrepresenting the book and its arguments. <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/story/2012-05-01/republicans-brain-science-democrats/54647948/1">Jonah Goldberg claimed</a>, in <i>USA Today</i>, that I was saying there is something wrong with conservatives; that they have “bad brains.” Nonsense, and I refuted Goldberg <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/letters/story/2012-05-03/chirs-mooney-republican-brain/54733296/1">here</a>.</p> <p>Hank Campbell and Alex Berezow went even further, <a href="http://www.realclearbooks.com/articles/2012/04/26/are_republicans_genetically_inferior_12.html">claiming</a> the book espouses a new form of eugenics and calls Republicans “genetically inferior.” The book says nothing of the sort. (Andrea Kuszewski <a href="http://scienceprogressaction.org/intersection/2012/05/whos-afraid-of-the-neuroscience-of-politics/">skewered their various errors</a>.)</p> <p>Ernest Istook, the former member of Congress and now a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, <a href="http://www.talkradionews.com/opinion/2012/05/07/conservatives-accused-of-being-mentally-defective.html">hit the same note</a>:</p> <blockquote>Conservatives are simpletons with a mental defect.</blockquote> <blockquote>That claim is offensive, odious, obnoxious and downright deranged. But it’s the thesis of a book that liberals are buying up, written by Chris Mooney, called “The Republican Brain.”</blockquote> <p>Well, no, it isn’t the thesis. With all of these critics, one wonders whether they actually read the book.</p> <p>A slightly more serious conservative critique came from Andrew Ferguson of the <i>Weekly Standard</i> who, in a <a href="http://www.weeklystandard.com/articles/new-phrenology_644420.html?nopager=1">cover story</a>, dismissed both me and Jonathan Haidt, based upon various methodological critiques of psychology studies, especially those relying on subject pools of undergraduates. Ferguson is calling into question the sampling and methodological practices that are used regularly in papers published in the leading journals of the field. In other words, he’s <em>attacking science.</em></p> <p>But not only are these methods <a href="http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1498843">eminently defensible</a>; and not only have psychologists been <a href="http://www.owlnet.rice.edu/~antonvillado/courses/10c_psyc101001/Mook%20(1983)%20AP.pdf">weighing such concerns for decades</a>. The case I’m making <a href="http://scienceprogressaction.org/intersection/2012/05/the-weekly-standard-slam-the-republican-brain/">doesn’t rest solely on these <span lang="en-US" xml:lang="en-US">kinds of </span>studies</a>, or on the work of any one scholar or methodology. Indeed, most recently, the research on psychological differences between left and right has been backed up by physiological research, and even, tentatively, by some brain studies. Thus, Ferguson’s argument also collapses.</p> <p>So what’s left? Not much, other than the <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2012/mar/29/nation/la-na-conservatives-science-20120329">standard conservative distrust of what academic scientists are up to</a>—coupled with a pretty impressive amount of overconfidence. After all, conservatives seem to think that they are competent to critique--not in the scientific literature, but in the media and on blogs--an entire field. And then, to dismiss it based on those critiques.</p> <p>Everett Young, commenting on Facebook, had perhaps the best gloss on conservatives’ willingness to dismiss academia without even trying to play the game:</p> <blockquote>If conservatives want more conservatives in the academic research enterprise, then let them join us. Do not criticize those who are in the trenches working hard at it for YOUR absence from the trenches.</blockquote> <blockquote>The "too much liberalism in academia" criticism is exactly this ridiculous. It's like out-of-shape people criticizing a gym for the fact that everybody who works out there is in great shape.</blockquote> <p><b>What It All Means</b></p> <p>All of which creates a rather extraordinary situation.</p> <p>A lot of people are clearly threatened by what my book is saying. And no wonder, for the claims it makes are deeply inconvenient, both to conservatives but also to quite a lot of media centrists. (Liberals get a drubbing too in much of this research—for being indecisive and wishy-washy--but somehow they don’t seem particularly worried about that. Which itself is interesting, no?)</p> <p>However, the scientific argument <i>against </i>my basic claim—liberals and conservatives are just different people, psychologically--is not really making itself apparent. So could it be that I’m actually….er, right?</p> <p>Time will tell. At least at the present time, it certainly does look like the available evidence leads to a conclusion that many people don’t want to accept.</p> <p>But perhaps they shouldn’t be so threatened. One implication of my book, after all, is that liberalism and conservatism simply reflect different but enduring parts of human nature. And that means that liberals (and scientists) are simply the kind of people who like to stir the pot and shake things up—and always will be. It’s like the line about Jean Jacques Rousseau (an 18th century “liberal”) that I quote at the end of the book: “He could not be hindered from setting the world on fire.”</p> <p>Is it possible that, paradoxically, this is something conservatives could learn to accept or even respect? After all, it’s kind of a basic human tradition. Liberals push the envelope, and err on the side of too much open-mindedness; conservatives pull us back again, and err on the side of too much closure. It could be a productive relationship. It could be considered normal, and even necessary.</p> <p>But that won’t happen until conservatives, and journalists, are willing to accept what the science of politics is now telling us.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Chris Mooney is the author of four books, including "The Republican War on Science" (2005). His newest book is <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Republican-Brain-Science-Scienceand-Reality/dp/1118094514/">"The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality"</a>. </div></div></div> Tue, 29 May 2012 13:00:01 -0700 Chris Mooney, AlterNet 671039 at http://www.alternet.org Books News & Politics Media Books The Right Wing science haidt the republican brain mooney 5 Things the Science Doesn't Say About the Conservative Brain http://www.alternet.org/story/155337/5_things_the_science_doesn%27t_say_about_the_conservative_brain <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The science of cognition and ideology has been greeted with a number of common myths.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1336515520_brainsquare460x307.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Recently <a href="http://www.alternet.org/media/155210/why_is_the_conservative_brain_more_fearful_the_alternate_reality_right-wingers_inhabit_is_terrifying">here at AlterNet</a>, and around the web, there’s been a lot of discussion of the science of political ideology—basically, the differing psychological or even physiological traits that separate liberals from conservatives. (For a scientific overview of how strongly personality in particular predicts one’s political views, see <a href="http://sites.duke.edu/niou/files/2011/06/gerber-huber-etal.pdf">here</a>.) The debate tends to produce an odd effect: Liberals are intrigued, but many conservatives seem to take it all as an insult--based on a major misunderstanding of what the research actually means.</p> <p>It’s time to set the record straight. So herewith, we dismantle five major myths about the science of ideology, and what it has to say about conservatism.</p> <p><b>1) No, Scientists Aren’t Calling Conservatives Dumb</b>.</p> <p>Conservatives seem to wrongly interpret the new science of ideology as a slight to their intelligence. On the contrary, research on the differences between liberals and conservatives has centrally focused on <a href="http://sites.duke.edu/niou/files/2011/06/gerber-huber-etal.pdf">personalities and styles of thinking</a>, which is quite a different thing.</p> <p>The idea is that there seems to be something about liberalism, with its openness to new ideas and new things, that does make liberals more science friendly, and more willing to change their minds over time. However, this is not at all the same as saying that conservatives are stupid. The personality trait in question, <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Openness_to_experience">openness to experience</a>, does tend to produce a higher verbal SAT score, but not necessarily a higher math score. And that makes sense—openness is about exploring (including through curiosity and reading), and seeing the world in a nuanced way, but not about raw intelligence.</p> <p>In other words, to distinguish between liberals and conservatives on this personality dimension of openness is not at all to call conservatives “dumb”—rather, it’s to say they see less nuance in the world and are less tolerant of ambiguity, uncertainty and change. It’s about a style of thinking, not about differences in abilities.</p> <p>But of course, there’s an irony: Maybe it’s because conservatives see less nuance that they wrongly think their intelligence is being insulted, when it isn’t.</p> <p><b>2) No, Conservatives Do Not Have a Brain Disorder</b>.</p> <p>Just as insulting to conservatives—and just as baseless—is the claim made by some (like pundit <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/letters/story/2012-05-03/chirs-mooney-republican-brain/54733296/1">Jonah Goldberg</a>) that the research suggests there is something wrong with conservatives’ brains.</p> <p>On the contrary, this science falls within the boundaries of normal psychology, not abnormal psychology. It appears that human beings <a href="http://sites.duke.edu/niou/files/2011/06/gerber-huber-etal.pdf">fall along a spectrum</a> on any number of personality traits—ranging from neuroticism to agreeableness or politeness. The spectrum itself is normal. However, falling at different places on it has political implications—particularly scoring lower on openness to experience, or higher on <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conscientiousness">conscientiousness</a> (which tends to make one more conservative).</p> <p>Once again, there’s an irony here. Intellectual conservatives think we should have a healthy respect for human nature, and build our societies to reflect it. Well, this research seems to suggest that conservatism itself is part of human nature--as is liberalism. Both seem a core part of who we are. So if you want to respect tradition and our heritage, like a good conservative, you really ought to be pretty psyched about the science of ideology.</p> <p>Indeed, we can go all the way back to Thomas Jefferson on the matter, who <a href="http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-tribal-imagination/201205/the-republican-brain">stated of the political parties of his day</a>:</p> <blockquote>The same political parties which now agitate the U.S. have existed thro' all time. And in fact the terms of whig and tory belong to natural as well as to civil history. They denote the temper and constitution and mind of different individuals.</blockquote> <p>Modern science is suggesting that Jefferson was absolutely right.</p> <p><b>3) No, All Conservatives Are Not Closed-Minded</b>.</p> <p>It is certainly possible to see the lack of openness as equivalent to closed-mindedness. In particular, scoring very low on openness to experience is <a href="http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&amp;rct=j&amp;q=&amp;esrc=s&amp;source=web&amp;cd=3&amp;ved=0CGYQFjAC&amp;url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.subjectpool.com%2Fed_teach%2Fy5_ID%2Fjc%2FO%2FMcCrae_Sutin2009Openness.doc&amp;ei=daarT_GiEon66gGkj6yyBw&amp;usg=AFQjCNFEyz_Vlsfqpq3LpfoJ9yGIQGbyMQ">associated with</a> traits like <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authoritarianism">authoritarianism</a>, or seeing the world in a black-and-white way with little tolerance of difference.</p> <p>But even if that’s so, not all conservatives are being tarred with that brush. Once again, we’re talking about a spectrum here. What’s more, we’re talking about imperfect correlations, so it is not like every single liberal is more open than every single conservative. On the contrary, the statistics suggest that you will find many open conservatives and closed liberals—and even some outright authoritarians among Democrats.</p> <p>Think about it this way: If you were betting in Las Vegas, you’d win money betting that liberals are open, rather than betting they are closed. But you still wouldn’t win every time.</p> <p>What this means is that it is no refutation of the science to say, “But what about my Uncle Albert, who’s a conservative who loves traveling the world and reading long novels?” There will always be lots of counterexamples, but they don’t refute the overall picture.</p> <p><b>4) No, This Is Not Biological Determinism</b>.</p> <p>Another misconception is that because we’re talking about personalities—and personalities are at least partly genetic—we’re asserting a form of “biological determinism.” In other words, we’re saying that liberals and conservatives are “just born that way” and they can’t change their views.</p> <p>That doesn’t follow. Genes are the basic recipe for making us who we are—but if you’re baking a cake, you also have to consider the type of oven, the temperature it’s set at, how long the cake stays in, and so on. In other words, genes are just part of the equation, and the “environment” remains crucial. If there’s any determinism, it wouldn’t be solely genetic or biological—it would have to be both biological and also environmental.</p> <p>No wonder that genetic studies suggest that <a href="http://lightyears.blogs.cnn.com/2012/04/07/politics-may-be-partly-genetic-now-what/">only about 40 percent</a> of one’s political ideology can be traced to the influence of genes. Forty percent might sound like a lot—and it is—but that still leaves 60 percent up to “experience” and the “environment.”</p> <p>And that, in turn, leaves quite a lot of room for a lot of conservatives to turn into liberals, and a lot of liberals to turn into conservatives, whatever their basic personalities or their DNA.</p> <p><b>5) No, Conservatives Aren’t All Bad People.</b></p> <p>Most baseless of all is the assertion that conservatives are being morally judged based on this research. If anything, the science points out many conservative strengths.</p> <p>If you consider personality, for instance, the <a href="http://sites.duke.edu/niou/files/2011/06/gerber-huber-etal.pdf">research suggests</a> that conservatives have somewhat more extraversion than liberals—meaning, they are probably more outgoing—and more emotional stability—meaning, they’re less neurotic on average. Neither can be called bad news for conservatives. Quite the contrary. Having more conscientiousness than liberals, meanwhile, means that conservatives are more task-oriented, goal-directed and disciplined.</p> <p>In the moral realm, meanwhile, there are traits like loyalty to one’s group or team that powerfully reflect conservatism. This research suggests that, relative to conservatives, liberals are less loyal, worse team players. (The flip-side of this is that conservatives tend to be more tribal in nature.)</p> <p>All of these traits, by the way, also suggest that conservatives are likely to be more effective in mass politics—which, the evidence suggests, they indeed are.</p> <p>The conclusion, then, if you’re a conservative who’s concerned about the science of ideology is …well, you might want to look at it more closely. In reality, there’s plenty of bad news here for liberals as well.</p> <p> </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Chris Mooney is the author of four books, including his latest, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Republican-Brain-Science-Scienceand-Reality/dp/1118094514/">"The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality." </a></div></div></div> Tue, 08 May 2012 12:00:01 -0700 Chris Mooney, AlterNet 670811 at http://www.alternet.org News & Politics Visions News & Politics The Right Wing the republican brain Why Conservatives Believe in Anti-Gay Pseudo-Science http://www.alternet.org/story/155260/why_conservatives_believe_in_anti-gay_pseudo-science <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The anti-gay-rights movement&#039;s claims about homosexuality are based on the worst kind of junk &quot;science.&quot;</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1336064903_shutterstock96057524.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>On May 8, North Carolinians will vote on a constitutional amendment that defines a marriage between a man and a woman as the “only domestic legal union” the state will recognize -- thereby barring LGBT marriage equality. The amendment <a target="_blank" href="http://www.protectallncfamilies.org/the-truth">would also</a> ban civil unions, and end domestic partner benefits, like prescription drug and health care coverage, for the partners and children of public employees. At its deepest level, this issue is about fairness for everyone under the law. But less mentioned is that it is also about science, and what’s factually true.</p> <p>Many voters who go to the polls to support Amendment One will do so believing outright falsehoods about same-sex marriages and civil unions. In particular, they hold the belief that such partnerships are damaging to the health and well-being of the children raised in them. That is, after all, one of the chief justifications for the amendment.</p> <p><a target="_blank" href="http://www.voteformarriagenc.com/why/">According to</a> the pro-Amendment One Vote for Marriage NC, for instance, “the overwhelming body of social science evidence establishes that children do best when raised by their married mother and father.” If marriage is defined as anything other than the union between man and woman, <a target="_blank" href="http://www.voteformarriagenc.com/threat/">the group adds</a>, we will see “a higher incidence of all the documented social ills associated with children being raised in a home without their married biological parents.”</p> <p>“Overwhelming body of social science evidence”? “Documented social ills”? Is this really true? Are same sex marriages and civil unions bad for kids?</p> <p>Well, no. Indeed, as I report in my new book <a target="_blank" href="http://republicanbrain.com/"><em>The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science and Reality</em></a>, the claim that the kids won’t be all right in same sex marriages or partnerships now rates up there with a number of other hoary old falsehoods about homosexuality: the assertion that people can “choose” whether to be gay; the notion that homosexuality is a type of disorder; and the wrong idea that it can be cured through “reparative” therapy. All of these claims are <a target="_blank" href="http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/sexual-orientation.aspx">explicitly disavowed</a> by the American Psychological Association (APA).</p> <p>In a moment, I want to explore the underlying psychology behind how conservatives, especially religious ones, can believe such falsehoods. But first, let’s dismantle, on a substantive level, the idea that research shows that kids fare worse when raised by two parents who are of the same gender.</p> <p>According to the APA, the relevant science shows nothing of the kind. “Beliefs that lesbian and gay adults are not fit parents…have no empirical foundation,” concludes a <a target="_blank" href="http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/parenting.aspx">recent publication</a> from the organization. To the contrary, <a target="_blank" href="http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/parents-children.pdf">the association states</a>, the “development, adjustment, and well-being of children with lesbian and gay parents do not differ markedly from that of children with heterosexual parents.”</p> <p>So how can Christian conservatives possibly claim otherwise?</p> <p>Well, one favored approach is literally citing the wrong studies. There is, after all, a vast amount of research on kids in heterosexual two parent families, and mostly these kids do quite well—certainly better than kids in single-parent families (for obvious reasons). Christian conservatives then cite these studies to argue that heterosexual families are best for kids, but there’s just one glaring problem. In the studies of heterosexual two-parent families where children fare well, the comparison group is families with one mother or one father—not two mothers or two fathers. So to leap from these studies to conclusions about same sex parenting, explains University of Virginia social scientist Charlotte Patterson, is “what we call in the trade bad sampling techniques.”</p> <p>But wait: Don’t Christian conservatives want to be factually right, and to believe what’s true about the world? And shouldn’t a proper reading of this research actually come as a relief to them, and help to assuage their concerns about dangerous social consequences of same-sex marriage or civil unions? If only it were that simple. We all want to be right, and to believe that our views are based on the best available information. But in this case, Christian conservatives utterly fail to get past their emotions, which powerfully bias their reasoning. Indeed, science doesn’t just demonstrate that the kids are all right in same-sex unions. It also shows how and why some people reason poorly in highly politicized cases like this one -- and, in the case of the anti-gay views of Christian conservatives, rely on their gut emotions to come up with wrong beliefs. Here’s how it works.</p> <p>There are a small number of Christian right researchers and intellectuals who have tried to make a scientific case against same-sex marriages and unions, by citing alleged harms to children. This stuff isn’t mainstream or scientifically accepted -- witness the APA’s statements on the matter. But from the perspective of the Christian right, that doesn’t really matter. When people are looking for evidence to support their deeply held views, the science suggests that people engage in “motivated reasoning.” Their deep emotional convictions guide the retrieval of self-supporting information that they then use to argue with, to prop themselves up. It isn’t about truth, it’s about feeling that you’re right -- righteous, even.</p> <p>And where, in turn, do these emotions come from? Well, there’s the crux. A growing body of research shows that liberals and conservatives, on average, have different moral intuitions, impulses that bias us in different directions before we’re even consciously thinking about situations or issues. Indeed, this research suggests that liberals and conservatives even have different bodily responses to stimuli, of a sort that they cannot control. And one of the strongest areas of difference involves one’s sensitivity to the feeling of disgust.</p> <p>A <a target="_blank" href="http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0025552">recent study</a>, for instance, found that “individuals with marked involuntary physiological responses to disgusting images, such as of a man eating a large mouthful of writhing worms, are more likely to self-identify as conservative and, especially, to oppose gay marriage than are individuals with more muted physiological responses to the same images.” In other words, there’s now data to back up what we’ve always kind of known: The average conservative, much more than the average liberal, is having visceral feelings of disgust towards same-sex marriage. And then, when these conservatives try to consciously reason about the matter, they seize on any information to support or justify their deep-seated and uncontrolled response -- which pushes them in the direction of believing and embracing information that appears to justify and ratify the emotional impulse.</p> <p>And voila. Suddenly same-sex marriages and civil unions are bad for kids. How’s that for the power of human reason?</p> <p>All people engage in emotion-guided or motivated reasoning, to be sure. But mounting evidence suggests that left and right may do so differently. And they definitely do so for different reasons -- as the present case so strongly demonstrates.</p> <p>Does this mean we should be more tolerant of the intolerant, or less disgusted by those who may consider us disgusting? Maybe. After all, people may not have much control over these impulses. They may not even be aware of them. At the very least, such knowledge should increase our level of understanding of those who disagree with us.</p> <p>In the end, however, facts are facts -- and emotions and gut instincts are an utterly unreliable way of identifying them. We can try to be understanding of people different from us -- even when they’re manifestly failing at the same task. But the latest research makes it more untenable than ever to base public policy on gut-driven misinformation.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->This article originally appeared at <a href="http://www.towleroad.com/2012/05/mooney.html">Towleroad</a>, and is reprinted here with permission of the author. Chris Mooney is the author of four books. His new book is <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Republican-Brain-Science-Scienceand-Reality/dp/1118094514/">"The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality."</a> </div></div></div> Thu, 03 May 2012 06:00:01 -0700 Chris Mooney, AlterNet 670618 at http://www.alternet.org News & Politics Visions News & Politics Gender Civil Liberties The Right Wing equality glbt rights the republican brain The Science of Fox News: Why Its Viewers are the Most Misinformed http://www.alternet.org/story/154875/the_science_of_fox_news%3A_why_its_viewers_are_the_most_misinformed <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Authoritarian people have a stronger emotional need for an outlet like Fox, where they can find affirmation and escape factual challenges to their beliefs.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1333651312_shutterstock51023182.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><i>Editor's note: This is an excerpt from Chris Mooney’s new book <a href="http://republicanbrain.com/">The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science and Reality</a>.</i></p> <p>In June of last year, Jon Stewart went on air with Fox News’ Chris Wallace and started a major media controversy over the channel’s misinforming of its viewers. “Who are the most consistently misinformed media viewers?” Stewart asked Wallace. “The most consistently misinformed? Fox, Fox viewers, consistently, every poll.”</p> <p>Stewart’s statement was factually accurate, as we’ll see. The next day, however, the fact-checking site PolitiFact <a href="http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2011/jun/20/jon-stewart/jon-stewart-says-those-who-watch-fox-news-are-most/">weighed in</a> and rated it “false.”<sup></sup>In claiming to check Stewart’s “facts,” PolitiFact ironically committed a serious error—and later, doubly ironically, failed to correct it. How’s that<i> </i>for the power of fact checking?</p> <p>There probably is a small group of media consumers out there somewhere in the world who are more misinformed, overall, than Fox News viewers. But if you only consider mainstream U.S. television news outlets with major audiences (e.g., numbering in the millions), it really is true that Fox viewers are the most misled based on all the available evidence—especially in areas of political controversy. This will come as little surprise to liberals, perhaps, but the evidence for it—evidence in Stewart’s favor—is pretty overwhelming.</p> <p>My goal here is to explore the underlying causes for this “Fox News effect”—explaining how this station has brought about a hurricane-like intensification of factual error, misinformation and unsupportable but ideologically charged beliefs on the conservative side of the aisle. First, though, let’s begin by surveying the evidence about how misinformed Fox viewers actually are.</p> <p>Based upon my research, I have located seven separate studies that support Stewart’s claim about Fox, and none that undermine it. Six of these studies were available at the time that PolitFact took on Stewart; one of them is newer.</p> <p>The studies all take a similar form: These are public opinion surveys that ask citizens about their beliefs on factual but contested issues, and also about their media habits. Inevitably, some significant percentage of citizens are found to be misinformed about the facts, and in a politicized way—but not only that. The surveys also find that those who watch Fox are more likely to be misinformed, their views of reality skewed in a right-wing direction. In some cases, the studies even show that watching <i>more </i>Fox makes the misinformation problem <i>worse.</i></p> <p>So with that, here are the studies.</p> <p><b>Iraq War</b></p> <p>In 2003, a <a href="http://www.pipa.org/OnlineReports/Iraq/IraqMedia_Oct03/IraqMedia_Oct03_rpt.pdf">survey</a><sup></sup>by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland found widespread public misperceptions about the Iraq war. For instance, many Americans believed the U.S. had evidence that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had been collaborating in some way with Al Qaeda, or was involved in the 9-11 attacks; many also believed that the much touted “weapons of mass destruction” had been found in the country after the U.S. invasion, when they hadn’t. But not everyone was equally misinformed: “The extent of Americans’ misperceptions vary significantly depending on their source of news,” PIPA reported. “Those who receive most of their news from Fox News are more likely than average to have misperceptions.” For instance, 80 percent of Fox viewers held at least one of three Iraq-related misperceptions, more than a variety of other types of news consumers, and especially NPR and PBS users. Most strikingly, Fox watchers who paid more attention to the channel were <i>more </i>likely to be misled.</p> <p><b>Global Warming</b></p> <p>At least two studies have documented that Fox News viewers are more misinformed about this subject.</p> <p>In a <a href="http://woods.stanford.edu/docs/surveys/Global-Warming-Fox-News.pdf">late 2010 survey</a>, Stanford University political scientist Jon Krosnick and visiting scholar Bo MacInnis found that “more exposure to Fox News was associated with more rejection of many mainstream scientists’ claims about global warming, with less trust in scientists, and with more belief that ameliorating global warming would hurt the U.S. economy.” Frequent Fox viewers were less likely to say the Earth’s temperature has been rising and less likely to attribute this temperature increase to human activities. In fact, there was a 25 percentage point gap between the most frequent Fox News watchers (60%) and those who watch no Fox News (85%) in whether they think global warming is “caused mostly by things people do or about equally by things people do and natural causes.”</p> <p>In a <a href="http://climateshiftproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/FeldmanStudy.pdf">much more comprehensive study</a> released in late 2011 (too late for Stewart or for PolitiFact), American University communications scholar Lauren Feldman and her colleagues reported on their analysis of a 2008 national survey, which found that “Fox News viewing manifests a significant, negative association with global warming acceptance.” Viewers of the station were less likely to agree that “most scientists think global warming is happening” and less likely to think global warming is mostly caused by human activities, among other measures.</p> <p><b>Health Care</b></p> <p>In 2009, an <a href="http://firstread.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2009/08/19/4431138-first-thoughts-obamas-good-bad-news">NBC survey</a> found “rampant misinformation” about the healthcare reform bill before Congress — derided on the right as “Obamacare.”<b></b>It also found that Fox News viewers were much more likely to believe this misinformation than average members of the general public<b>. “</b>72% of self-identified Fox News viewers believe the healthcare plan will give coverage to illegal immigrants, 79% of them say it will lead to a government takeover, 69% think that it will use taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions, and 75% believe that it will allow the government to make decisions about when to stop providing care for the elderly,” the survey found.</p> <p>By contrast, among CNN and MSNBC viewers, only 41 percent believed the illegal immigrant falsehood, 39 percent believed in the threat of a “government takeover” of healthcare (40 percentage points less), 40 percent believed the falsehood about abortion, and 30 percent believed the falsehood about “death panels” (a 45 percent difference!).</p> <p>In early 2011, the Kaiser Family Foundation released <a href="http://www.kff.org/healthreform/upload/8148.pdf">another survey</a> on public misperceptions about healthcare reform. The poll asked 10 questions about the newly passed healthcare law and compared the “high scorers”—those that answered 7 or more correct—based on their media habits. The result was that “higher shares of those who report CNN (35 percent) or MSNBC (39 percent) as their primary news source [got] 7 or more right, compared to those that report mainly watching Fox News (25 percent).”</p> <p><b>"Ground Zero Mosque” </b></p> <p>In late 2010, two scholars at the Ohio State University <a href="http://www.comm.ohio-state.edu/kgarrett/MediaMosqueRumors.pdf">studied public misperceptions</a> about the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”—and in particular, the prevalence of a series of rumors depicting those seeking to build this Islamic community center and mosque as terrorist sympathizers, anti-American, and so on. All of these rumors had, of course, been dutifully debunked by fact-checking organizations. The result? “People who use Fox News believe more of the rumors we asked about and they believe them more strongly than those who do not.”</p> <p><b>The 2010 Election</b></p> <p>In late 2010, the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) once again singled out Fox in a <a href="http://www.worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/pdf/dec10/Misinformation_Dec10_rpt.pdf">survey about misinformation during the 2010 election</a>. Out of 11 false claims studied in the survey, PIPA found that “almost daily” Fox News viewers were “significantly more likely than those who never watched it” to believe <i>9 </i>of them, including the misperceptions that “most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring” (they do), that “it is not clear that President Obama was born in the United States” (he was), that “most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses” (it either saved or created several million), that “most economists have estimated the healthcare law will worsen the deficit” (they have not), and so on.</p> <p>It is important to note that in this study—by far the most critiqued of the bunch—the examples of misinformation studied were all closely related to prominent issues in the 2010 midterm election, and indeed, were selected <i>precisely </i>because they involved issues that voters said were of greatest importance to them, like healthcare and the economy. That was the main criterion for inclusion, explains PIPA senior research scholar Clay Ramsay. “People said, here’s how I would rank that as an influence on my vote,” says Ramsay, “so everything tested is at least a 5 on a zero-to-10 scale.”</p> <p><b>Politifact Swings and Misses</b></p> <p>In attempting to fact-check Jon Stewart on the subject of Fox News and misinformation, PolitiFact simply appeared out of its depth. The author of the article in question, Louis Jacobson, only cited two<i> </i>of the studies above--“Iraq War” and “2010 Election”—though six out of seven were available at the time he was writing. And then he suggested that the “2010 Election” study should “carry less weight” due to various methodological objections.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Jacobson dug up three separate studies that we can dismiss as irrelevant. That’s because these studies did not concern misinformation, but rather, how<i> informed </i>news viewers are about basic political facts like the following: “who the vice president is, who the president of Russia is, whether the Chief Justice is conservative, which party controls the U.S. House of Representatives and whether the U.S. has a trade deficit.”</p> <p>A long list of public opinion studies have shown that too few Americans know the answers to such basic questions.<i> </i>That’s lamentable, but also off point at the moment. These are not politically contested issues, nor are they skewed by an active misinformation campaign. As a result, on such issues many Americans may be ill-informed but liberals and conservatives are nevertheless able to agree.</p> <p>Jon Stewart was clearly talking about political misinformation. He used the word “misinformed.” And for good reason: Misinformation is by far the bigger torpedo to our national conversation, and to any hope of a functional politics. “It’s one thing to be not informed,” explains David Barker, a political scientist at the University of Pittsburgh who has studied conservative talk-radio listeners and Fox viewers. “It’s another thing to be misinformed, where you’re confident in your incorrectness. That’s the thing that’s really more problematic, democratically speaking—because if you’re confidently wrong, you’re influencing people.”</p> <p>Thus PolitiFact’s approach was itself deeply <i>un</i>informed, and underscores just how poorly our mainstream political discourse deals with the problem of systematic right wing misinformation.</p> <p><b>Fox and the Republican Brain</b></p> <p>The evidence is clear, then—the Politifact-Stewart flap notwithstanding, Fox viewers are the most misinformed. But then comes the truly interesting and important question: Why<i> </i>is that the case?</p> <p>To answer it, we’ll first need to travel back to the 1950s, and the pioneering work of the Stanford psychologist and cult infiltrator, Leon Festinger.</p> <p>In his 1957 book <i>A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance,</i> Festinger built on his <a href="http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/03/denial-science-chris-mooney">famous study of a doomsday cult</a> called the Seekers, and other research, to lay out many ramifications of his core idea about why human beings contort the evidence to fit their beliefs, rather than conforming those beliefs to the evidence. That included a prediction about how those who are highly committed to a belief or view should go about seeking information that touches on that powerful conviction.</p> <p>Festinger suggested that once we’ve settled on a core belief, this ought to shape how we gather information. More specifically, we are likely to try to avoid encountering claims and information that challenge that belief, because these will create cognitive dissonance. Instead, we should go looking for information that <i>affirms </i>the belief. The technical (and less than ideal) term for this phenomenon is “selective exposure”: what it means is that we <i>selectively </i>choose to be <i>exposed </i>to information that is congenial to our beliefs, and to avoid “inconvenient truths” that are uncongenial to them.</p> <p>If Festinger’s ideas about “selective exposure” are correct, then the problem with Fox News may not solely be that it is actively causing its viewers to be misinformed. It’s very possible that Fox could be imparting misinformation even as politically conservative viewers are also seeking the station out—highly open to it and already convinced about many falsehoods that dovetail with their beliefs. Thus, they would come into the encounter with Fox not only misinformed and predisposed to become more so, but inclined to be very confident about their incorrect beliefs and to impart them to others. In this account, political misinformation on the right would be driven by a kind of feedback loop, with both Fox and its viewers making the problem worse.</p> <p>Psychologists and political scientists have extensively studied selective exposure, and within the research literature, the findings are often described as mixed. But that’s not quite right. In truth, some early studies seeking to confirm Festinger’s speculation had problems with their designs and often failed—and as a result, explains University of Alabama psychologist William Hart, the field of selective exposure research “stagnated” for several decades. But it has since undergone a dramatic revival—driven, not surprisingly, by the modern explosion of media choices and growing political polarization in the U.S. And thanks to a new wave of better-designed and more rigorous studies, the concept has become well established.</p> <p>“Selective exposure is the clearest way to look at how people create their own realities, based upon their views of the world,” says Hart. “Everybody knows this happens.”<sup></sup></p> <p>Indeed, by 2009, Hart and a team of researchers were able to perform a <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19586162"><i>meta-analysis</i></a>—a statistically rigorous overview of published studies on selective exposure—that pooled together 67 relevant studies, encompassing almost 8,000 individuals. As a result, he found that people overall were nearly twice as likely to consume ideologically congenial information as to consume ideologically inconvenient information—and in certain circumstances, they were even more likely than that.</p> <p>When are people most likely to seek out self-affirming information? Hart found that they’re most vulnerable to selective exposure if they have <i>defensive</i> goals—for instance, being highly committed to a preexisting view, and especially a view that is tied to a person’s core values. Another defensive motivation identified in Hart’s study was closed-mindedness, which makes a great deal of sense. It is probably part of the definition of being closed-minded, or dogmatic, that you prefer to consume information that agrees with what you already believe.</p> <p>So who’s closed-minded? Multiple studies have shown that political conservatives—e.g., Fox viewers--tend to have a higher <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Closure_(psychology)">need for closure</a>. Indeed, this includes a group called <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right-wing_authoritarianism">right-wing authoritarians</a>, who are increasingly prevalent in the Republican Party. This suggests they should also be more likely to select themselves into belief-affirming information streams, like Fox News or right-wing talk radio or the Drudge Report. Indeed, a number of research results support this idea.</p> <p>In a study of selective exposure during the 2000 election, for instance, Stanford University’s Shanto Iyengar and his colleagues mailed a multimedia informational CD about the two candidates—Bush and Gore—to 600 registered voters and then tracked its use by a sample of 220 of them. As a result, they found that Bush partisans chose to consume more information about Bush than about Gore—but Democrats and liberals didn’t show the same bias toward their own candidate.</p> <p>Selective exposure has also been directly tested several times in authoritarians. In one case, <a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9221.2005.00416.x/abstract">researchers at Stony Brook University</a> primed more and less authoritarian subjects with thoughts of their own mortality. Afterwards, the authoritarians showed a much stronger preference than non-authoritarians for reading an article that supported their existing view on the death penalty, rather than an article presenting the opposing view or a “balanced” take on the issue. As the authors concluded: “highly authoritarian individuals, when threatened, attempt to reduce anxiety by selectively exposing themselves to attitude-validating information, which leads to ‘stronger’ opinions that are more resistant to attitude change.”</p> <p>The psychologist Robert Altemeyer of the University of Manitoba has also documented an above average amount of selective exposure in right wing authoritarians. In one case, he gave students a fake self-esteem test, in which they randomly received either above average or below average scores. Then, everyone—the receivers of both low and high scores—was given the opportunity to say whether he or she would like to read a summary of why the test was valid. The result was striking: Students who scored low on authoritarianism wanted to learn about the validity of the test regardless of how they did on it. There was virtually no difference between high and low scorers. But among the authoritarian students, there was a big gap: 73 percent of those who got high self-esteem scores wanted to read about the test’s validity, while only 47 percent of those who got low self-esteem scores did.</p> <p>Authoritarians, Altemeyer concludes, “maintain their beliefs against challenges by limiting their experiences, and surrounding themselves with sources of information that will tell them they are right.”</p> <p>The evidence on selective exposure, as well as the clear links between closed-mindedness and authoritarianism, gives good grounds for believing that this phenomenon should be more common and more powerful on the political right. Lest we leap to the conclusion that Fox News is actively misinforming its viewers most of the time—rather than enabling them through its very existence—that’s something to bear in mind.</p> <p><b>Disinformation Passing as “News”</b></p> <p>None of which is to suggest that Fox isn’t also guilty of <i>actively </i>misinforming viewers. It certainly is.</p> <p>The litany of misleading Fox segments and snippets is quite extensive—especially on global warming, where it seems that every winter snowstorm is an excuse for more doubt-mongering. No less than Fox’s Washington managing editor Bill Sammon was found to have written, in a 2009 internal staff email <a href="http://mediamatters.org/blog/201012150004">exposed by MediaMatters</a>, that the network’s journalists should:</p> <blockquote> <p>. . . refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question. It is not our place as journalists to assert such notions as facts, especially as this debate intensifies.</p></blockquote> <p>And global warming is hardly the only issue where Fox actively misinforms its viewers. The polling data here, from the Project on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) are very telling.</p> <p>PIPA’s study of misinformation in the 2010 election didn’t just show that Fox News viewers were more misinformed than viewers of other channels. It also showed that watching more Fox made believing in <i>nine separate political misperceptions </i>more<i> </i>likely. And that was a unique effect, unlike any observed with the other news channels that were studied. “With all of the other media outlets, the more exposed you were, the less likely you were to have misinformation,” explains PIPA’s director, political psychologist Steven Kull. “While with Fox, the more exposure you had, in most cases, the more misinformation you had. And that is really, in a way, the most powerful factor, because it strongly suggests they were actually getting the information from Fox.”</p> <p>Indeed, this effect was even present in non-Republicans--another indicator that Fox is probably its cause. As Kull explains, “even if you’re a liberal Democrat, you are affected by the station.” If you watched Fox, you were more likely to believe the nine falsehoods, regardless of your political party affiliation.</p> <p>In summary, then, the “science” of Fox News clearly shows that its viewers are more misinformed than the viewers of other stations, and are indeed this way for ideological reasons. But these are not necessarily the reasons that liberals may assume. Instead, the Fox “effect” probably occurs <i>both </i>because the station churns out falsehoods that conservatives readily accept—falsehoods that may even seem convincing to some liberals on occasion—but also because conservatives are overwhelmingly inclined to choose to watch Fox to begin with.</p> <p>At the same time, it’s important to note that they’re also <i>disinclined</i> to watch anything else. Fox keeps constantly in their minds the idea that the rest of the media are “biased” against them, and conservatives duly respond by saying other media aren’t worth watching—it’s just a pack of lies. According to Public Policy Polling’s annual TV News Trust Poll (the 2011 run), 72 percent of conservatives say they trust Fox News, but they also say they strongly distrust NBC, ABC, CBS and CNN. Liberals and moderates, in contrast, trust all of these outlets more than they distrust them (though they distrust Fox). This, too, suggests conservative selective exposure.</p> <p>And there is an even more telling study of “Fox-only” behavior among conservatives, from Stanford’s Shanto Iyengar and Kyu Hahn of Yonsei University, in Seoul, South Korea. They conducted a <a href="http://metaether.org/words/articles/articles/red%20media,%20blue%20media.pdf">classic left-right selective exposure study</a>, giving members of different ideological groups the chance to choose stories from a news stream that provided them with a headline and a news source logo—Fox, CNN, NPR, and the BBC—but nothing else. The experiment was manipulated so that the same headline and story was randomly attributed to different news sources. The result was that Democrats and liberals were definitely less inclined to choose Fox than other sources, but spread their interest across the other outlets when it came to news. But Republicans and conservatives overwhelmingly chose Fox for hard news and even for soft news, and ignored other sources. “The probability that a Republican would select a CNN or NPR report was around 10%,” wrote the authors.</p> <p>In other words Fox News is both deceiver and enabler simultaneously. First, its existence creates the <i>opportunity </i>for conservatives to exercise their biases, by selecting into the Fox information stream, and also by imbibing Fox-style arguments and claims that can then fuel biased reasoning about politics, science, and whatever else comes up.</p> <p>But at the same time, it’s also likely that conservatives, tending to be more closed-minded and more authoritarian, have a stronger emotional need for an outlet like Fox, where they can find affirmation and escape from the belief challenges constantly presented by the “liberal media.” Their psychological need for something affirmative is probably stronger than what’s encountered on the opposite side of the aisle—as is their revulsion towards allegedly liberal (but really centrist) media outlets.</p> <p>And thus we find, at the root of our political dysfunction, a classic nurture-nature mélange. The penchant for selective exposure is rooted in our psychology and our brains. Closed-mindedness and authoritarianism—running stronger in some of us than in others—likely are as well.</p> <p>But nevertheless, it took the emergence of a station like Fox News before these tendencies could be fully activated—polarizing America not only over politics, but over reality itself.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Chris Mooney is the author of four books, including "The Republican War on Science" (2005). His new book is <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Republican-Brain-Science-Scienceand-Reality/dp/1118094514/">"The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality"</a>. </div></div></div> Sun, 08 Apr 2012 20:00:01 -0700 Chris Mooney, AlterNet 670255 at http://www.alternet.org Media News & Politics Media Election 2016 Books fox the republican brain mooney The Strange Conservative Brain: 3 Reasons Republicans Refuse to Accept Reality About Global Warming http://www.alternet.org/story/154709/the_strange_conservative_brain%3A_3_reasons_republicans_refuse_to_accept_reality_about_global_warming <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Even many well-educated Republicans deny global warming. What&#039;s going on here?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><em style="font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; ">Note: These are notes for remarks that I gave recently at the <a target="_hplink" style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; color: rgb(78, 103, 123); outline-style: none; outline-width: initial; outline-color: initial; text-decoration: none; " href="http://tucsonfestivalofbooks.org/">Tucson Festival of Books</a>, where I was asked to talk about my new book <em style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; "><a target="_hplink" style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; color: rgb(78, 103, 123); outline-style: none; outline-width: initial; outline-color: initial; text-decoration: none; " href="http://republicanbrain.com/">The Republican Brain</a></em> on a panel entitled "Will the Planet Survive the Age of Humans?"</em></p> <p><em style="font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; ">So the question before us on this panel is, "Will the Planet Survive the Age of Humans?" And I want to focus on one particular aspect of humans that makes them very problematic in a planetary sense -- namely, their brains.</em></p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">What I've spent the last year or more trying to understand is what it is about our brains that <a target="_hplink" style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; color: rgb(78, 103, 123); outline-style: none; outline-width: initial; outline-color: initial; text-decoration: none; " href="http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/03/denial-science-chris-mooney">makes facts such odd and threatening things</a>; why we sometimes <a target="_hplink" style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; color: rgb(78, 103, 123); outline-style: none; outline-width: initial; outline-color: initial; text-decoration: none; " href="http://www.dartmouth.edu/~nyhan/nyhan-reifler.pdf">double down on false beliefs</a> when they're refuted; and maybe, even, why some of us do it more than others.</p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">And of course, the <a target="_hplink" style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; color: rgb(78, 103, 123); outline-style: none; outline-width: initial; outline-color: initial; text-decoration: none; " href="http://republicanbrain.com/">new book</a> homes in on the brains -- really, the psychologies -- of politically conservative homo sapiens in particular. You know, Stephen Colbert once said that "<a target="_hplink" style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; color: rgb(78, 103, 123); outline-style: none; outline-width: initial; outline-color: initial; text-decoration: none; " href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Colbert_at_the_2006_White_House_Correspondents'_Association_Dinner">reality has a well-known liberal bias</a>." And essentially what I'm arguing is that, not only is that a funny statement, it's factually true, and perhaps even part of the nature of things.</p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">Colbert also talked about the phenomenon of "truthiness," and as it turns out, we can actually give a scientific explanation of truthiness -- which is what I'm going to sketch in the next ten minutes, with respect to global warming in particular.</p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">I almost called the book <em style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; ">The Science of Truthiness</em> -- but <em style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; ">The Republican Brain</em> turns out to be a better title.</p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; "><strong style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; ">The Facts About Global Warming</strong></p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">So first off, let's start with the facts about climate change -- facts that you'd think (or you'd hope) any human being ought to accept.</p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">It turns out that the case for human-caused global warming is based on simple and fundamental physics. We've known about the greenhouse effect for over one hundred years. And we've known that carbon dioxide is a heat trapping gas, a greenhouse gas. Some of the key experiments on this, by the Irishman John Tyndall, actually occurred in the year 1859, which is the same year that Darwin published <em style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; ">On the Origin of Species</em>.</p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">We also know that if we do nothing, seriously bad stuff starts happening. If we melt Greenland and West Antarctica, we're looking at 40 feet of sea level rise. This is, like, bye bye to key parts of Florida.</p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; "><strong style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; ">Enter the Denial</strong></p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">So then, the question is, why do people deny this? And why, might I add, do Republicans in particular deny this so strongly?</p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">And if your answer to that question is, "oh, because they're stupid" -- well, you're wrong. That's what liberals <em style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; ">want</em> to think, but it doesn't seem be correct. In fact, it seems to be precisely the opposite -- smarter (or more educated) Republicans turn out to be worse science deniers on this topic.</p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">This is a phenomenon that I like to call the "smart idiot" effect, and I <a target="_hplink" style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; color: rgb(78, 103, 123); outline-style: none; outline-width: initial; outline-color: initial; text-decoration: none; " href="http://www.salon.com/2012/02/24/the_ugly_delusions_of_the_educated_conservative/singleton/">just wrote about it</a> for AlterNet and Salon.com.</p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">Let me tell you how I stumbled upon this effect -- which is really what set the book in motion. I think the key moment came in the year 2008 when I came upon <a target="_hplink" style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; color: rgb(78, 103, 123); outline-style: none; outline-width: initial; outline-color: initial; text-decoration: none; " href="http://www.people-press.org/2008/05/08/a-deeper-partisan-divide-over-global-warming/">Pew data</a> showing:</p> <ul style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; "><li class="first" style="list-style-type: disc; list-style-position: inside; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 4px; margin-left: 35px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 5px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; ">That if you're a Republican, then the higher your level of education, the less likely you are to accept scientific reality -- which is, that global warming is human caused.</li> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; "> </p> <li class="last" style="list-style-type: disc; list-style-position: inside; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 4px; margin-left: 35px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 5px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; ">If you're a Democrat or Independent, precisely the opposite is the case.</li> </ul><p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; "> </p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">This is actually a consistent finding now across the social science literature on the resistance to climate change. So, for that matter, is the finding that the denial is the worst among conservative white males -- so it has a gender aspect to it -- and among the Tea Party.</p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">So seriously: What's going on here? More education leading to worse denial, but only among Republicans? How can you explain that?</p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; "><strong style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; ">A Three-Level Explanation</strong></p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">Well, I think we need to understand three points in order to understand why conservatives act this way. And I will list them here, before going into them in more detail:</p> <ol style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 12px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 12px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; "><li style="list-style-type: decimal; list-style-position: inside; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 4px; margin-left: 35px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 5px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; ">Conservatism is a Defensive Ideology, and Appeals to People Who Want Certainty and Resist Change.</li> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; "> </p> <li style="list-style-type: decimal; list-style-position: inside; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 4px; margin-left: 35px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 5px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; ">Conservative "Morality" Impels Climate Denial -- and in particular, conservative Individualism.</li> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; "> </p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; "> </p> <li style="list-style-type: decimal; list-style-position: inside; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 4px; margin-left: 35px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 5px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; ">Fox News is the Key "Feedback Mechanism" -- whereby people already inclined to believe false things get all the license and affirmation they need.</li> </ol><p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; "> </p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">So let's go into more detail:</p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; "><u style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; ">1: Conservatism is a Defensive Ideology, and Appeals to People Who Want Certainty and Resist Change.</u></p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">There's now a staggering amount of research on the psychological and even the <a target="_hplink" style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; color: rgb(78, 103, 123); outline-style: none; outline-width: initial; outline-color: initial; text-decoration: none; " href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-mooney/want-to-understand-republ_b_1262542.html">physiological traits</a> of people who opt for conservative ideologies. And on average, you see people who are more wedded to certainty, and to having fixed beliefs. You also see people who are more sensitive to fear and threat -- in a way that can be measured in their bodily responses to certain types of stimuli.</p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">At the extreme of these traits, you see a group called <a target="_hplink" style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; color: rgb(78, 103, 123); outline-style: none; outline-width: initial; outline-color: initial; text-decoration: none; " href="http://www.pointofinquiry.org/jonathan_weiler_authoritarians_versus_reality/">authoritarians</a> -- those who are characterized by cognitive rigidity, seeing things in black and white ways -- "in group/out group," my way or the highway.</p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">So in this case, if someone high on such traits latches on to a particular belief -- in this case, "global warming is a hoax" -- then more knowledge about it is not necessarily going to open their minds. More knowledge is just going to be used to argue what they already think.</p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">And we see this in the Tea Party, where we have both the highest levels of global warming denial, but also this incredibly strong confidence that they know all they need to know about the issue, and they don't want any more information, thank you very much.</p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; "><u style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; ">2. Conservative "Morality" Impels Climate Denial -- in particular, Conservative Individualism.</u></p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">But, you might say, "well, Tea Party conservatives don't deny every aspect of reality." And it's true. Presumably, they still will accept a factual correction if they have, say, the date of Mother's Day wrong. Presumably they're still open minded about that... we hope.</p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">So why deny this particular thing? Why deny that global warming is caused by humans? And here, I think you've got to look at <a target="_hplink" style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; color: rgb(78, 103, 123); outline-style: none; outline-width: initial; outline-color: initial; text-decoration: none; " href="http://www.alternet.org/teaparty/154607/how_the_right-wing_brain_works_and_what_that_means_for_progressives/">deep seated moral intuitions that differs from left to right</a>. And it's important to note at the outset that whatever your moral intuitions are, they push you emotionally to reason in a particular direction long before you are actually consciously thinking about it.</p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">So, conservatives tend to be "individualists"-- meaning, essentially, that they prize a system in which government leaves you alone -- and "hierarchs," meaning, they are supportive of various types of inequality.</p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">The individualist is threatened by global warming, deeply threatened, because it means that markets have failed and governments -- including global governments -- have to step in to fix the problem. And some individualists are so threatened by this reality that they even spin out conspiracy theories, arguing that all the world's scientists are in a cabal with, like, the UN, to make up phony science so they can crash economies.</p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">So now let's look at what these individualist assumptions do to the denial of science. In <a target="_hplink" style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; color: rgb(78, 103, 123); outline-style: none; outline-width: initial; outline-color: initial; text-decoration: none; " href="http://www.culturalcognition.net/browse-papers/cultural-cognition-of-scientific-consensus.html">one study</a> by Yale's Dan Kahan and colleagues:</p> <ul style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; "><li class="first" style="list-style-type: disc; list-style-position: inside; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 4px; margin-left: 35px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 5px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; ">"Individualist-hierarchs" and "egalitarian-communitarians" are asked: Who's an expert on global warming?</li> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; "> </p> <li class="last" style="list-style-type: disc; list-style-position: inside; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 4px; margin-left: 35px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 5px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; ">Only 23 percent of H-I's agree that a scientist who thinks GW is human-caused is a "trustworthy and knowledgeable expert," vs. 88 percent of E-Cs.</li> </ul><p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; "> </p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">In another study, meanwhile, Kahan showed that if you frame the science of global warming as supporting nuclear power, then conservatives are more open to accepting it, presumably because it does not insult their values any longer.</p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; "><u style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; ">3. Fox News is the Key "Feedback Mechanism" -- whereby people who want to believe false things get all the license they need.</u></p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">So clearly, there are some deeply rooted attributes that predispose conservatives towards the denial of global warming.</p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">But there are also "environmental" factors -- things that have come to exist in our world that did not exist before, that interact with these things about conservatives, and make all this much worse.</p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">And here, Fox News is undeniably at the top of the list. There are now a <a target="_hplink" style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; color: rgb(78, 103, 123); outline-style: none; outline-width: initial; outline-color: initial; text-decoration: none; " href="http://www.desmogblog.com/fox-news-viewers-are-most-misinformed-seventh-study-arrives-prove-it-and-vindicate-jon-stewart">host of studies</a> (video <a target="_hplink" style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; color: rgb(78, 103, 123); outline-style: none; outline-width: initial; outline-color: initial; text-decoration: none; " href="http://youtu.be/4p47rvzJtRY">here</a>) showing that Fox News viewers are more misinformed about various aspects of reality, including two such studies about global warming.</p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">So if you've got Fox News, you've got a place to go to reaffirm your beliefs. And that serves this psychological need for certainty and security. So conservatives opt in, they get the misinformation, their beliefs are reaffirmed, and they're set to argue, argue, argue about why they're right and all the scientists of the world are wrong.</p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; "><strong style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; ">Conclusion</strong></p> <p style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 14px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; font-family: Georgia, Century, Times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: left; ">So in sum, we need a nature-nurture, or a combined psychological and environmental account of the conservative denial of global warming. And only then do we see why they are so doggedly espousing a set of beliefs that are so wildly dangerous to the planet.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Chris Mooney is the author of four books, including "The Republican War on Science" (2005). His next book, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Republican-Brain-Science-Scienceand-Reality/dp/1118094514/">"The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality,"</a> is due out in April. </div></div></div> Mon, 26 Mar 2012 11:00:01 -0700 Chris Mooney, AlterNet 670075 at http://www.alternet.org Environment Environment Visions global warming climate change How the Right-Wing Brain Works and What That Means for Progressives http://www.alternet.org/story/154607/how_the_right-wing_brain_works_and_what_that_means_for_progressives <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">There really is a science of conservative morality, and it really is vastly different from liberal morality. And there are key lessons to be drawn from this research.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1332199753_shutterstock78570940.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><i>Editor's</i> <em>Note</em>: <i>This essay draws upon Chris Mooney’s forthcoming book, </i><a href="http://republicanbrain.com/">The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality</a> (<i>due out in April from Wiley)</i>, <i>as well as his interviews with </i><a href="http://www.pointofinquiry.org/george_lakoff_enlightenments_old_and_new/"><i>George Lakoff,</i></a><i> </i><i><a href="http://www.pointofinquiry.org/jonathan_haidt_the_righteous_mind/">Jonathan Haidt</a> </i><i>and </i><a href="http://www.pointofinquiry.org/dan_kahan_the_american_culture_war_of_fact/"><i>Dan Kahan</i></a><i> on the Point of Inquiry podcast.</i></p> <p>If you’re a liberal or a progressive these days, you could be forgiven for being baffled and frustrated by conservatives. Their views and actions seem completely alien to us—or worse. From <a href="http://www.rawstory.com/rawreplay/2011/09/gop-debate-audience-cheers-perrys-execution-record/">cheering at executions</a>, to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/28/santorum-throw-up-jfk-kennedy-speech_n_1307214.html">wanting to “throw up”</a> over church-state separation, to seeking to <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grover_Norquist#Views_on_government">“drown” government “in the bathtub”</a> (except when it is cracking down on porn, apparently) conservatives not only seem very different, but also very inconsistent.</p> <p>Even the most well-read liberals and progressives can be forgiven for being confused, because the experts themselves—<a href="http://www.pointofinquiry.org/george_lakoff_enlightenments_old_and_new/">George Lakoff</a>, <a href="http://www.pointofinquiry.org/jonathan_haidt_the_righteous_mind/">Jonathan Haidt</a> and others--have different ways of explaining what they call conservatives’ “morality” or “moral systems.” Are we dealing with a bunch of die-hard anti-government types in their bunkers, or the strict father family? Are our intellectual adversaries free-market libertarians, or right-wing authoritarians—and do they even know the difference?</p> <p>But to all you liberals I say, have hope: It’s not nearly so baffling as it may at first appear. Having interviewed many of these experts over the course of the last year, my sense is that despite coming from different fields and using different terminologies, they are saying many of the same things. Most important, their work suggests that there really <i>is </i>a science of conservative morality, and it really <i>is</i> very different from liberal morality. And there are key lessons to be drawn from this research about how to interact (and not interact) with our intellectual opponents.</p> <p>That’s what I’m going to show—but first, let me first emphasize that morality isn’t the only way in which liberals and conservatives differ. They differ on a wide variety of traits--and it is not necessarily clear, as Jonathan Haidt recently <a href="http://www.pointofinquiry.org/jonathan_haidt_the_righteous_mind/">put it to me</a>, what’s the root of the flower, what’s the stem and what’s the leaves.</p> <p>But set that aside for now. <i>Moral </i>differences between left and right tend to draw the greatest amount of attention, and for good reason: They seem most directly implicated in policy disputes and the culture wars alike.</p> <p>Another thing that you need to know at the outset about conservative “morality” is that it’s not at all the sort of thing that moral philosophers debate endlessly about. We’re not talking about a highly developed intellectual system for determining the way one ought<i> </i>to act, like deontology or utilitarianism. We’re not paging Immanuel Kant or Jeremy Bentham.</p> <p>Rather, we’re talking about the deep-seated impulses that push conservatives (or liberals) to act in a certain way. These needn’t be “moral” or “ethical” at all, in the sense of maximizing human happiness, ensuring the greatest good for the greatest number, adhering to a consistent set of rules and principles, and so on. Indeed, they may even be highly immoral by such standards—but there’s no denying that they are very real, and must be contended with.</p> <p><b>The Science of Left-Right Morality</b></p> <p>So how do conservatives think—and more important still, what do we know scientifically<i> </i>about how they think?</p> <p>Perhaps the earliest and most influential thinker into this fray was the Berkeley cognitive linguist George Lakoff, with his classic book <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0226467716/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;tag=chriscmooneyc-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=0226467716"><i>Moral Politics</i></a><i> </i>and many subsequent works (most recently, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/george-lakoff/santorum-strategy_b_1338708.html">this item</a> at <i>Huffington Post</i>). Lakoff’s opening premise is that we all think in metaphors. These are not the kind of thing that English majors study, but rather real, physical circuits in the brain that structure our cognition, and that are strengthened the more they are used. For instance, we learn at a very early age how things go up and things go down, and then we talk about the stock market and individual fortunes “rising” and “falling”—a metaphor.</p> <p>For Lakoff, one metaphor in particular is of overriding importance in our politics: The metaphor that uses the <i>family</i> as a model for broader groups in society—from athletic teams to companies to governments. The problem, Lakoff says, is that we have different conceptions of the family, with conservatives embracing a “strict father” model and liberals embracing a caring, empathetic and “nurturing” version of a parent.</p> <p>The strict father family is like a free-market system, and yet also very hierarchical and authoritarian. It’s a harsh world out there and the father (the supreme and always male authority) is tough and will teach the kids to be tough, because there will be no one to protect them once the father is gone. The political implications are obvious. In contrast, the nurturing parent family emphasizes love, care and growth—and, so the argument goes, compassionate government control.</p> <p>Lakoff has been extremely influential, but it’s important to also consider other scientific analyses of the moral systems of left and right. Enter the University of Virginia moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt, whose new book <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0307377903/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;tag=chriscmooneyc-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=0307377903"><i>The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion</i></a><i> </i>has just come out. In his own research, Haidt initially identified five (and more recently, six) separate moral <i>intuitions</i> that appear to make us feel strongly about situations before we’re even consciously aware of thinking about them; that powerfully guide our reasoning; and that differ strikingly from left and right.</p> <p>Haidt’s first five intuitions, or “moral foundations,” are 1) the sense of needing to provide care and protect from harm; 2) the sense of what is just and fair; 3) the sense of loyalty and willingness to sacrifice for a group; 4) the sense of obedience or respect for authority; and 5) the sense of needing to preserve purity or sanctity. And politically, Haidt finds that liberals tend to strongly emphasize the first two moral intuitions (harm and fairness) in their responses to situations and events, but are much weaker on emphasizing the other three (group loyalty, respect for authority, and purity or sanctity). By contrast, Haidt finds that conservatives more than liberals respond to all five moral intuitions.</p> <p>Indeed, multiple studies associate conservatism with a greater disgust reflex or sensitivity. In one <a href="http://peezer.squarespace.com/storage/publications/journal-articles/Helzer%20Pizarro%20in%20press.pdf">telling experiment</a>, subjects who were asked to use a hand wipe before answering questions, or to answer them near a hand sanitizer, gave more politically conservative answers. Haidt even told me <a href="http://www.pointofinquiry.org/jonathan_haidt_the_righteous_mind/">in our interview</a> that when someone like Rick Santorum talks about wanting to “throw up,” that may indeed signal a strong disgust sensitivity.</p> <p>More recently, Haidt and his colleagues added a sixth moral foundation: “Liberty/oppression.” Liberals and conservatives alike care about being free from tyranny, from unjust exertions of power, but they seem to apply this impulse differently. Liberals use it (once again) to stand up for the poor, the weak; conservatives use it to support the “don’t tread on me” fulminating against big government (and global government) of the Tea Party. This, incidentally, creates a key emotional bond between libertarians on the one hand, and religious conservatives on the other.</p> <p>Haidt strives to understand the conservative perspective, and to walk a middle path between left and right—but he fully admits in his book that conservative morality is more “parochial.” Conservatives, writes Haidt, are more “concerned about their groups, rather than all of humanity.” And Haidt further suggests that this is not his own view of what is ethical, writing that “when we talk about making laws and implementing public policies in Western democracies that contain some degree of ethnic and moral diversity, then I think there is no compelling alternative to utilitarianism.” It’s hard to see how thinking about the good of the in-group (rather than the good of everyone) could be considered very utilitarian.</p> <p>But to my mind, here’s the really telling thing about all of this. When you get right down to it, Lakoff and Haidt seem to be singing harmony with each other. It’s not just that they could both be right—it’s that the large overlap between them strengthens both accounts, especially since the two researchers are coming from different fields and using very different methodologies and terminologies.</p> <p>Lakoff’s system overlaps with Haidt’s in multiple places—most obviously when it comes to liberals showing broader empathy and wanting to care for those who are harmed (nurturing parent) and conservatives respecting authority (strict father). But the overlaps are larger still, for the strict father family is also an in-group and quite individualistic—in other words, prizing the conservative version of freedom or liberty.</p> <p>What’s more, <i>both of these systems </i>are also consistent with a third approach that is growing in influence: The <a href="http://www.culturalcognition.net/">cultural cognition</a> theory being advanced by Yale’s Dan Kahan and his colleagues, which <a href="http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2011/12/20/cultural-vs-ideological-cognition-part-1.html">divides us morally</a> into “hierarchs” and “egalitarians” along one axis, and “individualists” and “communitarians” along another (<a href="http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2011/12/20/cultural-vs-ideological-cognition-part-1.html">helpful image here</a>). Conservatives, in this scheme, tend towards the hierarchical and the individualistic; liberals tend toward the egalitarian and the communitarian.</p> <p>Throwing Kahan into the mix—and yes, he uses yet another methodology--we once again find great consistency with Lakoff and Haidt. Egalitarians worry about fairness; communitarians about protecting the innocent from harm; hierarchs about authority and the group (and probably sanctity or purity—hierarchs tend toward the religious). Individualists are, basically, exercisers of the conservative version of freedom and liberty.</p> <p>Terminology aside, then, Lakoff, Haidt and Kahan seem to have considerably more grounds for agreement with each other than for disagreement, at least when it comes to describing what actually motivates political conservatives and political liberals.<b><br /></b></p> <p>And in fact, that’s just the beginning of the expert <i>agreement</i>. In all of these schemes, what’s being called “morality” is emotional and, in significant part, automatic. It’s not about the conscious decisions you make about situations or policies—or at least, not primarily. Rather, the focus is on the unconscious impulses that shape how you think about situations before you’re even aware you’re doing so, and then guide (and bias) your reasoning.</p> <p>This leads Lakoff and Haidt to strongly reject what you might call the “Enlightenment model” for thinking about reasoning and persuasion, and leads Kahan <a href="http://www.pointofinquiry.org/dan_kahan_the_great_ideological_asymmetry_debate/">to talk about motivated reasoning</a>, rather than rational or objective reasoning. Once again, these thinkers are essentially agreeing that because morality biases us long before consciousness and reasoning set in, factual and logical argument are not at all a good way to get us to change our behavior and how we respond.</p> <p>This is also a point I made recently, noting how Republicans become <a href="http://www.alternet.org/story/154252/the_republican_brain%3A_why_even_educated_conservatives_deny_science_--_and_reality/">more factually wrong with higher levels of education</a>. Facts clearly don’t change their minds—if anything, they make matters worse! Lakoff, too, emphasizes how refuting a false conservative claim can actually <i>reinforce it</i>. And he doesn’t merely show why the Enlightenment mode of thinking is outdated; he also stresses that liberals are more wedded to it than conservatives, and this irrational rationalism lies at the root of many political failures on the left.</p> <p><b>Getting Through</b></p> <p>On the one hand, the apparent consensus among these experts is surely something to rejoice about. Progress is finally being made at understanding the emotional and cognitive roots of the culture war and our political dysfunction alike. But if all of this is really true—if conservatives and liberals have deep seated and automatic moral and emotional differences—then what should we <i>do </i>about it?</p> <p>Here, finally, we do find real disagreement among the pros. Lakoff would have liberals combat conservative morality by shouting their own values from the rooftops, and <i>never </i>falling for conservative words and frames. Haidt would increase political civility by remaking our institutions of government to literally make liberals and conservatives feel empathetic bonds and the power of teamwork. And Kahan has done <a href="http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1017189">experiments</a> showing that talking about the same issue in different value laden “frames” leads to different outcomes. For instance, if you discuss dealing with global warming in an individualistic frame—by emphasizing the importance of free market approaches like nuclear power—then you open conservative minds, at least to an extent. We’ve got data on that.</p> <p>It shouldn’t be surprising that the experts become dissonant as they move from merely <i>describing </i>conservative morality to outlining strategy. After all, there’s a heck of a lot more uncertainty involved when you start to prescribe courses of action aimed at achieving particular outcomes. Understanding conservatives in controlled experiments is one thing; trying to outline a communications strategy with Fox News around, ready to pounce, is another matter.</p> <p>Nevertheless, here’s what I’ve been able to extract.</p> <p>Clearly, you shouldn’t try to persuade your ideological opponents by citing threatening facts. Rather, if your goal is an honest give-and-take, you should demonstrate the existence of common ground and shared values before broaching anything controversial, and you should interact calmly and interpersonally. To throw emotion into the mix is to stoke automatic, moralistic, indignant responses.</p> <p>Such are some <i>scientific </i>tips about trying to communicate and persuade--but liberals should not get overoptimistic about the idea of convincing conservatives to change their beliefs, much less their moral responses. There are far too many factors arrayed against this possibility at present—not just the deeply rooted and instinctive nature of moral intuitions, but our current political polarization, by parties and also by information channels.</p> <p>You can’t have a calm, unemotional conversation when everything is framed as a battle, as it currently is. Our warfare over reality, and for control of the country, is just too intense. And in a “wartime” situation, conservative have their in-group preferences to naturally fall back on.</p> <p>But if we merge together Lakoff and Haidt, then I think we do end up with some good advice for liberals who want to advance their <i>own </i>view of what is moral. On the one hand, they should righteously advance their own values, <i>not </i>conservative ones. But they should remain fully aware that these values are somewhat limited since, as Haidt shows, conservatives seem to have a broader moral palette.</p> <p>To reach the political middle, then, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to demonstrate much more <i>loyalty </i>than liberals are used to emphasizing, and to show <i>respect for authority</i> as well—which doesn’t come so naturally to us. What authority should we respect? I suggest either the authority of president, or perhaps better yet, the authority of the Founding Fathers. Let’s face it: Conservatives have <i>insulted,</i> <i>defiled</i>,<i> </i>and <i>disobeyed </i>the secular, rational, and Enlightenment legacy of the people who founded this country (if you want to get moralistic about it).</p> <p>When it comes to loyalty and unity in particular, liberals could stand to look in the mirror and try to be more…conservative. Not in their substantive policy views, but in their ability to act as a team with one purpose and one goal that cannot be compromised or weakened. Diversity is great for our society—but not for our objectives. And that means we have something to learn from conservatives: They may not know how to make America better, but they certainly know how to take a strong, united and moralistic stand in order to get what they want.</p> <p>That’s an example that liberals could do worse than to follow. </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Chris Mooney is the author of four books, including "The Republican War on Science" (2005). His next book, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Republican-Brain-Science-Scienceand-Reality/dp/1118094514/">"The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality,"</a> is due out in April. </div></div></div> Mon, 19 Mar 2012 21:00:01 -0700 Chris Mooney, AlterNet 670666 at http://www.alternet.org The Right Wing Visions News & Politics Books The Right Wing gop conservatives lakoff morality The Republican Brain: Why Even Educated Conservatives Deny Science -- and Reality http://www.alternet.org/story/154252/the_republican_brain%3A_why_even_educated_conservatives_deny_science_--_and_reality <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">New research shows that conservatives who consider themselves well-informed and educated are also deeper in denial about issues like global warming.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1325663132_santorum2.png" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><i>This essay is adapted from Chris Mooney’s forthcoming book, </i><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Republican-Brain-Science-Scienceand-Reality/dp/1118094514/">The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality</a>, <i>due out in April from Wiley</i>.</p><p>I can still remember when I first realized how naïve I was in thinking—hoping—that laying out the “facts” would suffice to change politicized minds, and especially Republican<i> </i>ones. It was a typically wonkish, liberal revelation: One based on statistics and data. Only this time, the data were showing, rather awkwardly, that people ignore data and evidence—and often, knowledge and education only make the problem worse.</p><p>Someone had sent me a <a href="http://www.people-press.org/2008/05/08/a-deeper-partisan-divide-over-global-warming/">2008 Pew report</a> documenting the intense partisan divide in the U.S. over the reality of global warming.<sup>. </sup>It’s a divide that, maddeningly for scientists, has shown a paradoxical tendency to widen even as the basic facts about global warming have become more firmly established.</p><p>Those facts are these: Humans, since the industrial revolution, have been burning more and more fossil fuels to power their societies, and this has led to a steady accumulation of greenhouse gases, and especially carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere. At this point, very simple physics takes over, and you are pretty much doomed, by what scientists refer to as the “radiative” properties of carbon dioxide molecules (which trap infrared heat radiation that would otherwise escape to space), to have a warming planet. Since about 1995, scientists have not only confirmed that this warming is taking place, but have also grown confident that it has, like the gun in a murder mystery, our fingerprint on it. Natural fluctuations, although they exist, can’t explain what we’re seeing. The only reasonable verdict is that humans did it, in the atmosphere, with their cars and their smokestacks.</p><p>Such is what is known to science--what is true<i> </i>(no matter what Rick Santorum might say)<i>. </i>But the Pew data showed that humans aren’t as predictable as carbon dioxide molecules. Despite a growing scientific consensus about global warming, as of 2008 Democrats and Republicans had cleaved over the facts stated above, like a divorcing couple. One side bought into them, one side didn’t—and if anything, knowledge and intelligence seemed to be worsening matters.</p><p>Buried in the Pew report was a little chart showing the relationship between one’s political party affiliation, one’s acceptance that humans are causing global warming, and one’s level of education. And here’s the mind-blowing surprise: For Republicans, having a college degree didn’t appear to make one any more open to what scientists have to say. On the contrary, better-educated Republicans were <i>more skeptical</i> of modern climate science than their less educated brethren. Only 19 percent of college-educated Republicans agreed that the planet is warming due to human actions, versus 31 percent of non-college-educated Republicans.</p><p>For Democrats and Independents, the opposite was the case. More education correlated with being more accepting of climate science—among Democrats, dramatically so. The difference in acceptance between more and less educated Democrats was 23 percentage points.</p><p>This was my first encounter with what I now like to call the “smart idiots” effect: The fact that politically sophisticated or knowledgeable people are often <i>more </i>biased, and less persuadable, than the ignorant. It’s a reality that generates endless frustration for many scientists—and indeed, for many well-educated, reasonable people.</p><p>And most of all, for many liberals.</p><p>Let’s face it: We liberals and progressives are absolutely outraged by partisan misinformation. Lies about “death panels.” People seriously thinking that President Obama is a Muslim, not born in the United States. Climate-change denial. Debt ceiling denial. These things drive us crazy, in large part because we can’t comprehend how such intellectual abominations could possibly exist.</p><p>And not only are we enraged by lies and misinformation; we want to refute them—to argue, argue, argue about why we’re right and Republicans are wrong. Indeed, we often act as though right-wing misinformation’s defeat is nigh, if we could only make people wiser and more educated (just like us) and get them the medicine that is correct information.</p><p>No less than President Obama’s science adviser John Holdren (a man whom I greatly admire, but disagree with in this instance) has stated, when asked how to get Republicans in Congress to accept our mainstream scientific understanding of climate change, that it’s an “<a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/e2-wire/e2-wire/141143-white-house-official-cites-capitol-hill-education-problem-on-climate">education problem</a>.”</p><p>But the facts, the scientific data, say otherwise.</p><p>Indeed, the rapidly growing social scientific literature on the resistance to global warming (see for examples <a href="http://www.carseyinstitute.unh.edu/publications/IB-Hamilton-Climate-Change-2011.pdf">here</a> and <a href="http://comm.stanford.edu/faculty/krosnick/docs/2009/2009%20Global%20warming%20knowledge%20and%20concern%20PUBLISHED.pdf">here</a>) says so pretty unequivocally. Again and again, Republicans or conservatives who say they know more about the topic, or are more educated, are shown to be <i>more </i>in denial, and often more sure of themselves as well—and are confident they don’t need any more information on the issue.</p><p>Tea Party members appear to be the worst of all. I<font color="#000000">n a </font><a href="http://environment.yale.edu/climate/files/PoliticsGlobalWarming2011.pdf">recent survey</a><font color="#000000">by Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, they rejected the science of global warming even more strongly than average Republicans did. For instance, considerably more Tea Party members than Republicans incorrectly thought there was a lot of scientific disagreement about global warming (69 percent to 56 percent). Most strikingly, the Tea Party members were very sure of themselves—they considered themselves “very well-informed” about global warming and were more likely than other groups to say they “do not need any more information” to make up their minds on the issue. </font></p><p><font color="#000000">But it’s not just global warming where the “smart idiot” effect occurs. It also emerges </font>on nonscientific but factually contested issues, like the claim that President Obama is a Muslim. Belief in this falsehood actually increased <i>more </i>among better-educated Republicans from 2009 to 2010 than it did among less-educated Republicans, <a href="http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2010/08/why_do_more_people_think_obama.html.ul">according to</a> research by George Washington University political scientist John Sides.</p><p>The same effect has also been captured in relation to the myth that the healthcare reform bill empowered government “death panels.” According to <a href="http://www.soc.washington.edu/users/burstein/Nyhan%20death%20panel%20myth.pdf">research</a> by Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan, Republicans who thought they knew more about the Obama healthcare plan were “paradoxically more likely to endorse the misperception than those who did not.” Well-informed Democrats were the opposite—quite certain there were no “death panels” in the bill.</p><p>The Democrats also happened to be right, by the way.</p><p>The idealistic, liberal, Enlightenment notion that knowledge will save us, or unite us, was even put to a scientific test last year—and it failed badly.</p><p>Yale researcher Dan Kahan and his colleagues set out to study the relationship between political views, scientific knowledge or reasoning abilities, and opinions on contested scientific issues like global warming. In <a href="http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1871503&amp;http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1871503">their study,</a> more than 1,500 randomly selected Americans were asked about their political worldviews and their opinions about how dangerous global warming and nuclear power are. But that’s not all: They were also asked standard questions to determine their degree of scientific literacy (e.g, “Antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria—true or false?”) as well as their numeracy or capacity for mathematical reasoning (e.g., “If Person A’s chance of getting a disease is 1 in 100 in 10 years, and person B’s risk is double that of A, what is B’s risk?”).</p><p>The result was stunning and alarming. The standard view that knowing more science, or being better at mathematical reasoning, ought to make you more accepting of mainstream climate science simply crashed and burned.</p><p>Instead, here was the result. If you were already part of a cultural group predisposed to distrust climate science—e.g., a political conservative or “hierarchical-individualist”—then more science knowledge and more skill in mathematical reasoning tended to make you even more dismissive. Precisely the opposite happened with the other group—“egalitarian-communitarians” or liberals—who tended to worry <i>more </i>as they knew more science and math. The result was that, overall, more scientific literacy and mathematical ability led to greater political polarization over climate change—which, of course, is precisely what we see in the polls.</p><p>So much for education serving as an antidote to politically biased reasoning.</p><p>What accounts for the “smart idiot” effect?</p><p>For one thing, well-informed or well-educated conservatives probably consume more conservative news and opinion, such as by watching Fox News. Thus, they are more likely to know what they’re supposed to think about the issues—what people like them think—and to be familiar with the arguments or reasons for holding these views. If challenged, they can then recall and reiterate these arguments. They’ve made them a part of their identities, a part of their brains, and in doing so, they’ve drawn a strong emotional connection between certain “facts” or claims, and their deeply held political values. And they’re ready to <i>argue.</i></p><p>What this suggests, critically, is that sophisticated conservatives may be very different from unsophisticated or less-informed ones. Paradoxically, we would expect <i>less </i>informed conservatives to be <i>easier </i>to persuade, and <i>more </i>responsive to new and challenging information.</p><p>In fact, there is even research suggesting that the most rigid and inflexible breed of conservatives—so-called authoritarians—do not really become their ideological selves until they actually learn something about politics first. A kind of “<a href="http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1451327">authoritarian activation</a>” needs to occur, and it happens through the development of political “expertise.” Consuming a lot of political information seems to help authoritarians <i>feel </i>who they are—whereupon they become more accepting of inequality, more dogmatically traditionalist, and more resistant to change.</p><p>So now the big question: Are liberals also “smart idiots”?</p><p>There’s no doubt that more knowledge—or more political engagement—can produce more bias on either side of the aisle. That’s because it forges a stronger bond between our emotions and identities on the one hand, and a particular body of facts on the other.</p><p>But there are also reason to think that, with liberals, there is something else going on. Liberals, to quote George Lakoff, subscribe to a view that might be dubbed “<a href="#v=onepage&amp;q=old%20enlightenment%20reason&amp;f=false">Old Enlightenment reason</a>.” They really do seem to like facts; it seems to be part of who they are. And fascinatingly, in Kahan’s study liberals did <i>not </i>act like smart idiots when the question posed was about the safety of nuclear power.</p><p>Nuclear power is a classic test case for liberal biases—kind of the flipside of the global warming issue--for the following reason. It’s well known that liberals tend to start out distrustful of nuclear energy: There’s a long history of this on the left. But this impulse puts them at odds with the views of the scientific community on the matter (scientists tend to think nuclear power risks are overblown, especially in light of the dangers of other energy sources, like coal).</p><p>So are liberals “smart idiots” on nukes? Not in Kahan’s study. As members of the “egalitarian communitarian” group in the study—people with more liberal values--knew more science and math, they did not become <i>more </i>worried, overall, about the risks of nuclear power. Rather, they moved in the <i>opposite direction </i>from where these initial impulses would have taken them. They become less worried—and, I might add, closer to the opinion of the scientific community on the matter.</p><p>You may or may not support nuclear power personally, but let’s face it: This is not the “smart idiot” effect. It looks a lot more like open-mindedness.</p><p>What does all of this mean?</p><p>First, these findings are just one small slice an emerging body of science on liberal and conservative psychological differences, which I discuss in detail in my <a href="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1118094514/ref=as_li_tf_tl?ie=UTF8&amp;tag=chriscmooneyc-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=217145&amp;creative=399373&amp;creativeASIN=1118094514">forthcoming book</a>. An overall result is definitely that liberals tend to be more flexible and open to new ideas—so that’s a possible factor lying behind these data. In fact, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-mooney/want-to-understand-republ_b_1262542.html">recent evidence</a> suggests that wanting to explore the world and try new things, as opposed to viewing the world as threatening, may subtly push people towards liberal ideologies (and vice versa).</p><p>Politically and strategically, meanwhile, the evidence presented here leaves liberals and progressives in a rather awkward situation. We like evidence—but evidence also suggests that politics doesn’t work in the way we want it to work, or think it should. We may be the children of the Enlightenment—convinced that you need good facts to make good policies—but that doesn’t mean this is equally true for all of humanity, or that it is as true of our political opponents as it is of us.</p><p>Nevertheless, this knowledge ought to be welcomed, for it offers a learning opportunity and, frankly, a better way of understanding politics and our opponents alike. For instance, it can help us see through the scientific-sounding arguments of someone like Rick Santorum, who has been talking a lot about climate science lately—if only in order to bash it.</p><p>On global warming, Santorum definitely has an argument, and he has “facts” to cite. And he is obviously intelligent and capable—but <i>not, </i>apparently, able to see past his ideological biases. Santorum’s argument ultimately comes down to a dismissal of climate science and climate scientists, and even the embrace of a conspiracy theory, one in which the scientists of the world are conspiring to subvert economic growth (yeah, right).</p><p>Viewing all this as an ideologically defensive maneuver not only explains a lot, it helps us realize that refuting Santorum probably serves little purpose. He’d just come up with another argument and response, probably even cleverer than the last, and certainly just as appealing to his audience. We’d be much better concentrating our energies elsewhere, where people are more persuadable.</p><p>A more scientific understanding of persuasion, then, should not be seen as threatening. It’s actually an opportunity to do better—to be more effective and politically successful.</p><p>Indeed, if we believe in evidence then we should also welcome the evidence showing its limited power to persuade--especially in politicized areas where deep emotions are involved. Before you start off your next argument with a fact, then, first think about what the facts say about that strategy. If you’re a liberal who is emotionally wedded to the idea that rationality wins the day—well, then, it’s high time to listen to reason.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Chris Mooney is the author of four books, including "The Republican War on Science" (2005). His next book, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Republican-Brain-Science-Scienceand-Reality/dp/1118094514/">"The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality,"</a> is due out in April.</p><p> </p> </div></div></div> Wed, 22 Feb 2012 08:00:00 -0800 Chris Mooney, AlterNet 669631 at http://www.alternet.org The Right Wing Environment News & Politics The Right Wing Visions science the republican brain mooney Is There a Scientific Reason Many Conservatives Hate Science? http://www.alternet.org/story/153736/is_there_a_scientific_reason_many_conservatives_hate_science <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Some conservative denial of science may well be cynical. But polls show that large numbers of conservatives really believe the global warming and evolution aren&#039;t real.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Last week, we went through a familiar ritual: Hand-wringing and alarm over Republican politicians denying scientific reality. This time around, the main focus was Rick Santorum, the anti-evolutionist and climate change denier who is <a target="_hplink" style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; color: rgb(78, 103, 123); outline-style: none; outline-width: initial; outline-color: initial; text-decoration: none; " href="http://www.desmogblog.com/rick-santorum-and-science-bad-combination">one of the worst of the worst</a> in this area (and who <a target="_hplink" style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; color: rgb(78, 103, 123); outline-style: none; outline-width: initial; outline-color: initial; text-decoration: none; " href="http://www.desmogblog.com/santorum-misrepresents-climate-science-again">promptly obliged</a> by making a new and fresh anti-science statement).</p> <p>But hey, it's always something.</p> <p>We've been repeating this pattern at least since the early George W. Bush years. A Republican makes a dubious scientific claim, a Republican officeholder or appointee suppresses a scientific report, a scientist in a Republican administration gets muzzled...the names change, but the story does not. I chronicled it all in a book that is now seven years old--<em style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; ">The Republican War on Science</em>--and I wasn't the first.</p> <p>Nor will I be the last. The very fact that Jon Huntsman (who just nabbed third place in New Hampshire) has been able to successfully frame himself as the "pro-science" Republican candidate itself speaks to the misalignment of his competitors with reality.</p> <p>Some of the conservative denial of science may well be cynical in nature. But there's no doubt from polls that large numbers of conservatives really believe this stuff--that global warming isn't real, nor is evolution. And indeed, the denial of reality extends well beyond science and into other fields like<a target="_hplink" style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; color: rgb(78, 103, 123); outline-style: none; outline-width: initial; outline-color: initial; text-decoration: none; " href="http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/07/30/the-corrosion-of-the-conservative-economic-mind/">economics</a> and <a target="_hplink" style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; color: rgb(78, 103, 123); outline-style: none; outline-width: initial; outline-color: initial; text-decoration: none; " href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/sarah-palins-midnight-ride-twice-over/2011/06/06/AGIsoJKH_blog.html">history</a>.</p> <p>When you have a phenomenon this recurrent, it seems to me that at some point, it is reasonable to stop and ponder deeper causes. And are there any?</p> <p>Recently, I posted a <a target="_hplink" style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; color: rgb(78, 103, 123); outline-style: none; outline-width: initial; outline-color: initial; text-decoration: none; " href="http://scienceprogressaction.org/intersection/2012/01/the-left-and-the-right-physiology-brain-structure-and-function-and-attentional-differences/">list</a> of seven recent scientific studies showing that liberals and conservatives differ in ways that go far beyond their philosophies or views on politics. We're talking about things like physiological responses when shown different kinds of words or images, and performance in neuroscience tests. Take just <a style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; color: rgb(78, 103, 123); outline-style: none; outline-width: initial; outline-color: initial; text-decoration: none; " href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3212508/">one recent example</a>: Conservatives show stronger responses to negative and threatening stimuli (words like "vomit" and "disgust"). Could this also prompt more knee jerk reactions to scientific information that is perceived as threatening (or words like "evolution")?</p> <p>The point is not necessarily that the answer is yes, but rather that it is reasonable to ask questions like these. The root causes of our political differences are now under intensive exploration by multiple different research groups, which are churning out quite a lot of published, peer reviewed science. And while this work is surely not complete (science never is), it is also unlikely to be just plain wrong. Indeed, after having spent the past year <a target="_hplink" style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; color: rgb(78, 103, 123); outline-style: none; outline-width: initial; outline-color: initial; text-decoration: none; " href="http://www.amazon.com/Republican-Brain-Science-Scienceand-Reality/dp/1118094514/">reading this research and interviewing the scientists producing it</a>, I can confidently say that those seven studies are just the tip of the iceberg.</p> <p>Here's the bottom line: An increasing body of science suggests that we disagree about politics not for intellectual or philosophical reasons, but because we have fundamentally different ways of responding to the basic information presented to us by the world. These are often ways of which we are not even aware--automatic, subconscious--but that color all of our perceptions, and that effectively drive us apart politically.</p> <p>What's more, what is true for how we come to our opinions about politics is also, assuredly, true for how we approach "facts" that are perceived to have some bearing on the validity of our political opinions--whether those facts are scientific, economic, historical or even theological in nature.</p> <p>Thus far--and not surprisingly--conservatives don't seem so fond of the emerging <em style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; ">science</em> of our politics. They seem to consider it demeaning--yet another slight aimed at them by "liberal" academia.</p> <p>And it's partly true: the research in question is--like all scholarly work--largely conducted by scientists and academic liberals who want to achieve a better understanding of the nature of our political dysfunction, and also of why we are divided over things like scientific reality. But ironically, when considered in all of its complexity and nuance, much of the research actually makes Republicans look very good (decisive, resolute, loyal) relative to liberals or Democrats--and certainly a lot more politically effective.</p> <p>Frankly, it seems to me that this approach ought to prompt more tolerance and understanding across our political divides, rather than less. After all, if we are reaching many of our political and even our factual opinions for reasons that we're not even conscious of--if we're effectively being <em style="list-style-type: none; list-style-position: initial; list-style-image: initial; margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; padding-top: 0px; padding-right: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; border-top-style: none; border-right-style: none; border-bottom-style: none; border-left-style: none; border-width: initial; border-color: initial; border-image: initial; ">pushed</em> to accept some views rather than others, because they resonate at a deep psychological level and just "feel right"--then the only appropriate response, it seems to me, is a deeply liberal one: Tolerance. Understanding. Acceptance. Empathy.</p> <p>In other words, the next time a Republican denies global warming, liberals ought to be better able to check the impulse to say "what an idiot!" and instead say something like, "I can understand why they have that kind of a response."</p> <p>But then again, the next time a liberal or Democrat does something typically and predictably liberal, Republicans ought to do the same. And now the paradox: What if liberals are more open to (and simply curious about) the science of liberals than conservatives are regarding the science of conservatives?</p> <p>If so, then we'll still probably have a factually polarized political arena--but at least we'll know a little bit more about why.</p> <p> </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Chris Mooney is the author of 'The Republican War on Science' and 'The Republican Brain.' </div></div></div> Wed, 11 Jan 2012 09:00:01 -0800 Chris Mooney, Huffington Post 669101 at http://www.alternet.org The Right Wing The Right Wing republicans science conservative Will Copenhagen Lead to Radical Climate Experiments? http://www.alternet.org/story/144575/will_copenhagen_lead_to_radical_climate_experiments <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">If the summit fails, controversial geo-engineering projects may get a boost.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>You won't find geoengineering on the official agenda at the climate summit in Copenhagen. But for anyone watching the trajectory of the climate change debate, the controversial notion of intentionally modifying the planet or its climate system to counteract the effects of global warming is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. Attracting almost no attention, Russia may have already conducted the first-ever geoengineering field trial. And if the climate talks at Copenhagen fail, it could give geoengineering advocates the lucky break they've been waiting for.</p> <p>While it hasn't been featured in the formal negotiations, geoengineering has been a significant sub-theme in Copenhagen -- the subject of numerous <a href="http://www.iiasa.ac.at/Admin/INF/research_updates/2009/COP15%20Geoengineering%20Side%20Event%20Series%20Announcement.pdf">side events</a>, protests, and a documentary film screening. Robert Greene's <a href="http://owningtheweather.com/"><em>Owning the Weather,</em></a> which aired here Sunday night in a venue off the spectacularly lit City Hall Square, paints the longstanding history of human attempts to control and modify the weather -- through anything ranging from rain dances to quack cloud seeding efforts and hail cannon fusillades. The film ends with the observation that we are moving ever closer to making this ancient dream (or nightmare, if you prefer) a reality.</p> <p>Indeed, scientists say there is little doubt that we could bring about an artificial planetary cooling by, say, seeding the Earth's stratosphere with reflective particles, called <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sulfate_aerosols">sulfate aerosols</a>, that would act as an artificial global parasol and cool us down. Such an act would amount to mimicking the climatic effects of a large volcanic eruption, such as the explosion of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 -- whose 22 mile high stream of ash, subsequently dispersed across the globe, resulted in half a degree Celsius of global cooling over the course of the following year.</p> <p>Granted, the unintended consequences of such an action (such as decreased global precipitation) might be significant. But, goes the thinking among some scientists, if we're facing a climate catastrophe -- if we're really going to bake; if Greenland is really going to go -- then wouldn't a few side effects be worth it to maintain our fundamental way of life? And the less that is achieved in Copenhagen -- the more agreements fall short of absolutely ruling out climate catastrophe by, say, returning global carbon dioxide concentrations to something like 350 parts per million -- the more attractive geoengineering sounds, at least as a last resort.</p> <p>Perhaps the most lamentable indication that geoengineering is going mainstream is the fact that political conservatives and contrarians have increasingly begun to embrace it as an alternative to the central project of COP 15 -- namely, halting and then decreasing global greenhouse gas emissions. Bjorn Lomborg, the Danish environmental contrarian and infamous author of <em>The Skeptical Environmentalist</em>, l<a href="http://greeninc.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/03/a-skeptic-finds-faith/">oves the idea</a>. So do Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, authors of the bestselling<em> SuperFreakonomics</em>, whose chapter on how we can address global warming through geoengineering (rather than emissions cuts) has been <a href="http://climateprogress.org/2009/10/12/superfreakonomics-errors-levitt-caldeira-myhrvold/">eviscerated</a> by environmentalists and some scientists due to its many inaccuracies and misrepresentations.</p> <p>Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, anti-geoengineering activists have begun raising hell in an attempt to stop this growing momentum in favor of climate tinkering, before it gets any stronger. They don't trust scientific hubris; they abhor messing with nature. This movement centers on the Canada-based <a href="http://www.etcgroup.org/">ETC. Group</a> ( it stands for "Etcetera"), whose head, Pat Mooney, opines in <em>Owning the Weather </em>that scientists are "warm, cuddly, and naive."</p> <p>However, the mainstream climate scientists who are willing to at least consider geoengineering as a possibility constantly emphasize that such measures should not be an alternative to greenhouse gas reductions -- rather, they could serve as an additional safety valve. To that end, these scientists -- like <a href="http://www.cigionline.org/person/jason-blackstock">Jason Blackstock</a>, a research scholar at the Vienna-based International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis who, along with the British Royal Society, helped to organize <a href="http://www.iiasa.ac.at/Admin/INF/research_updates/2009/COP15%20Geoengineering%20Side%20Event%20Series%20Announcement.pdf">three geoengineering events</a> here in Copenhagen -- support ongoing geoengineering <em>research</em>, so as to determine with more precision what various types of interventions might do to the planet.</p> <p>At a panel discussion after the screening of <em>Owning the Weather</em>, Blackstock described geoengineering as "terrifying." But as he quickly added, "scientists are not into this because of hubris, but because of fear." Blackstock went on to make the case that there must be international regulations firmly in place before any rogue nation, or individual, attempts a geoengineering intervention of any significant scale.</p> <p>Such regulations appear increasingly urgent, since government-funded geoengineering research is already underway, although not yet in the United States (so far as we know). The European Commission has launched a <a href="http://implicc.zmaw.de/">project</a> to study "implications and risks associated with engineering solar radiation to limit climate change." And the United Kingdom, through its Research Council's Energy Program, <a href="http://www.epsrc.ac.uk/Content/News/geoengineering.htm">will also be funding geoengineering studies</a>.</p> <p>And then, there's the Russian Federation. Geoengineering ideas have a long history in Russia -- and now, they appear to be moving to the next scientific level.</p> <p>Although so far it has received little or no attention, the journal <em>Russian Meteorology and Hydrology </em><a href="http://www.springerlink.com/index/L4N1047050013048.pdf">recently published a new kind of geoengineering study</a> whose lead author is the journal's editor, the prominent Russian scientist <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuri_Izrael">Yuri A. Izrael</a>. Known for his opposition to the Kyoto Protocol, his skepticism of human-caused global warming, and his enthusiasm for geoengineering, Izrael also happens to be a top scientific adviser to Vladimir Putin. And now, his paper reports on what is probably the very first geoengineering field trial. Izrael and his team of scientists mounted aerosol generators on a helicopter and a car chassis, and proceeded to blast out particles at ground level and at heights of up to 200 meters. Then they attempted to measure just how much sunlight reaching the earth was reduced due to the aerosol plume.</p> <p>This small-scale intervention was effective, the Russian scientists say. And in an <a href="http://www.springerlink.com/index/T0K83J3945835U44.pdf">accompanying article</a> on geoengineering alternatives, Izrael and colleagues note that "Already in the near future, the technological possibilities of a full scale use of [aerosol-based geoengineering] will be studied."</p> <p>Up until now, scientists have largely studied the possibilities of geoengineering in relatively unthreatening computer models -- not out in nature itself. They've just run a series of simulations to try to assess likely impacts. In this context, the apparent trajectory of Russian research sounds like something quite new. And it may prompt increasing calls for regulation of geoengineering interventions, even at the small scale research level where environmental consequences would be relatively minimal.</p> <p>Indeed, last night in Copenhagen after the <em>Owning the Weather</em> screening, the prominent climate scientist Stephen Schneider of Stanford University remarked that if any country engages in a geoengineering initiative that affects the people or environment of another country, it could be considered an "act of war."</p> <p>It is important to bear in mind that weather modification schemes have long been closely tied to the military. In the Vietnam War, the US military tried to seed clouds in an attempt to flood the Ho Chi Minh trail and impair the operations of the Viet Cong. And none other than nuclear scientist and Ronald Reagan adviser Edward Teller -- the model for "Dr. Strangelove" -- was one of the early US geoengineering proponents.</p> <p>If an international competition begins to advance farthest and fastest in geoengineering research for<em>military </em>reasons -- premised on the idea that one might used weather or climate modification as a strategic weapon -- that would likely render ongoing research classified, observes Blackstock. It would also surely lead to greater public backlash from organizations like the ETC. Group.</p> <p>That's the last thing scientists like Blackstock, who support ongoing public<em> </em>geoengineering research and dialogue, want to see. One thing is certain: Although a few years ago one might seriously make the argument that we shouldn't even discuss the possibility of geoengineering -- for doing so could weaken the case for quick and deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, and empower the Lomborgs, Levitts, and Dubners of the world -- that idea just sounds ludicrous now. The public conversation about geoengineering is steadily growing; the scientific research on the topic is steadily increasing. There is no putting this idea back in the box.</p> <p>Moreover, if it becomes increasingly clear that we can't control global warming in any more sober way, it seems very likely that the pressure will mount, and mount, and mount, to have a backup plan in place. Blackstock uses the analogy of a car driving in fog and heading towards a precipice: It's good to have ordinary brakes, but if those fail, you also want an emergency brake.</p> <p>It's an ingenious argument, but the degree to which it ultimately proves convincing may directly correlate with the degree to which COP15 or later efforts take the strongest measures possible to curb global warming. In particular, any further devastating climate impacts, particularly to vulnerable low-lying developing countries, may draw new calls for geoengineering research or interventions. And given the current state of deliberations in Copenhagen, that's the scariest thing of all. </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> </div></div></div> Mon, 14 Dec 2009 21:00:01 -0800 Chris Mooney, Mother Jones Online 659919 at http://www.alternet.org News & Politics russia copenhagen geoengineering Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future http://www.alternet.org/story/141679/unscientific_america%3A_how_scientific_illiteracy_threatens_our_future <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Science matters- to politics, the economy, and our future. But do Americans really understand and appreciate that?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><em>From Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum.  Excerpted by arrangement with</em><a href="http://www.basicbooks.com"><em>Basic Books</em></a><em>, a member of the Perseus Books Group.  Copyright © 2009.</em></p> <p>Rethinking the Problem of Scientific Illiteracy</p> <p>As Mark Twain put it, “The trouble with the world is not that people know too little, it’s that they know so many things that just aren’t so.” Take the army of aggrieved parents nationwide who swear vaccines are the reason their children developed autism and who seem impossible to convince otherwise. Scientific research has soundly refuted this contention, but every time a new study comes out on the subject, the parents and their supporters have a “scientific” answer that allows them to retain their beliefs. Where do they get their “science” from? From the Internet, celebrities, other parents, and a few non-mainstream researchers and doctors who continue to challenge the scientific consensus, all of which forms a self-reinforcing echo chamber of misinformation. </p> <p>The anti-vaccination advocates are scientifically incorrect; there’s little doubt of that at this point. But whether they could be called “ignorant” or “scientifically illiterate” is less clear. After all, they’ve probably done far more independent research about a scientific topic that interests and affects them than most Americans have.</p> <p>The same goes for other highly informed, and deeply wrong, groups—the global warming deniers, anti-evolutionists, UFO obsessives, and so on. Ignorance isn’t their problem, and neither is a lack of intellectual engagement or motivation. Anyone who has ever discussed global warming on national radio—as Chris has done countless times—can expect to be besieged by callers who don’t accept the prevailing scientific consensus and have obviously done a great deal of research to back up their prejudices. If anything, such individuals want to make a show of their erudition and proceed to rattle off a mind-boggling string of scientific-sounding claims: Global warming isn’t happening on other planets; urban heat islands (cities) thwart global thermometer readings; the atmosphere’s lowest layer, the troposphere, isn’t warming at the rate predicted by climate models; and the like.</p> <p>Or consider the late Michael Crichton. He was a brilliant science fiction novelist, screenwriter, and movie producer who backed up his best-selling narratives with considerable scientific research. Yet in his late-life novel State of Fear, he penned a wholly misleading and revisionist attack on the science of global warming. Faced with such people, intellectually driven and empowered as never before by the profusion of “science”—good, bad, and awful—on the Internet, one soon recognizes that the lack of scientific knowledge probably isn’t our real problem. </p> <p>Almost inevitably, improvements to our educational system are put forward as the primary solution to the problem of scientific illiteracy. It is a lofty goal, of course, and nobody is against improving K-12 science education. But to look to education alone as the silver bullet is to write off as unreachable anyone who has already graduated from the formal educational system. That includes vast stretches of the population, including most voters, our political and cultural leaders, and the gatekeepers of the media. </p> <p>The most troubling problem with the standard “scientific illiteracy” argument, however, is this: It has the effect, intended or otherwise, of exempting the smart people—the scientists—from any responsibility for ensuring that our society really does take their knowledge seriously and uses it wisely. It’s an educational problem, they can say, or a problem with the media (which doesn’t cover science accurately or pay it enough attention), and then go back to their labs. </p> <p>The Pluto saga, which captured vastly more attention than most science news stories ever do and deeply engaged many members of the public, utterly explodes this conceit. There isn’t any obvious “true” or “false” answer to the question of whether Pluto is a planet, and people certainly weren’t ignorant about it. Rather, they were outraged by the sudden, top-down, seemingly arbitrary change by the science world, and they weren’t necessarily wrong to have that reaction. </p> <p>For all these reasons, scholars working in the field of science and technology studies (STS) have largely discarded the idea that our problems at the science-society interface reduce to a simple matter of scientific illiteracy, traditionally defined. Instead, these thinkers have grown skeptical of what they sometimes call the “deficit model” that has come to dominate many scientists’ and intellectuals’ views of the public—the idea that there’s something lacking in people’s understanding or appreciation of science, and that this in turn explains our predicament. </p> <p>The “deficit” outlook usually takes a benign form, casting scientists in the role of benevolent tutors to a public starved for knowledge. But it can also turn nastier, morphing into what we might call the “you’re an idiot” model. All too often we find scientists saying things to their peers and colleagues, or even to the press, that sound something like this: “I can’t believe the public is so stupid that it believes X” or “I can’t believe people are so ignorant that they’ll accept Y.” At this point the scientist ceases to be a friendly instructor and becomes a condescending detractor and belittler. </p> <p>Either way, the “deficit” approach fails to offer effective ways of reaching people with accurate scientific information and making it stick. Members of the public aren’t empty vessels waiting to be filled with science; the refusal to tailor such information to their needs virtually assures it won’t be received or accepted. And pointing fingers at the public or its surrogates—politicians, journalists, celebrities, and so on—is not only insulting and alienating but discourages reflection about the role scientists might be playing in the equation. Perhaps most troubling, as science-communication scholars have noted, the finger pointing approach can trigger a vicious circle: </p> <blockquote> <p>A deficient public cannot be trusted. Mistrust on the part of scientific actors is returned in kind by the public. Negative public attitudes, revealed in large-scale surveys, confirm the assumptions of scientists: a deficient public is not to be trusted. </p></blockquote> <p>So although we share with scientists the concern that their work isn’t adequately appreciated or heeded in our culture, this book will not unfold as a litany of all the ways in which the public falls short in its scientific knowledge. Neither will we proceed by exposing all the nonsense that people are regularly fed in place of good science: quack alternative medicine claims, fringe attacks on mainstream environmental research, paranormal obsessions, and the like. We’re more interested in divides and how to bridge them.</p> <p><em>Click here to buy a copy of <a href="http://www.powells.com/partner/32513/biblio/9780465013050 ">Unscientific America</a></em></p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> </div></div></div> Thu, 20 Aug 2009 21:00:01 -0700 Chris Mooney, Sheril Kirshenbaum, Basic Books 657555 at http://www.alternet.org Environment Environment Investigations Books environment science scientific illiteracy Why We Need to Put Science Back in Government http://www.alternet.org/story/89985/why_we_need_to_put_science_back_in_government <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The Bush administration has been widely criticized for placing politics over science. The next president must act to reverse that trend.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Over the 71⁄2 years of the Bush administration, it's hard to name a major U.S. government regulatory agency that hasn't seen some type of scandal involving science. From the Environmental Protection Agency to the Bureau of Land Management to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we've heard repeated complaints from government scientists who say their work on environmental issues has been inappropriately edited by political appointees, that they themselves have been muzzled, and that their agencies have put out rank misinformation to the public.<br /><br />To get a sense of just how extensive such problems have been, consider the findings of a 2007 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, which sought to survey federally employed climate researchers across several agencies. Almost half of the 300-odd survey respondents felt pressured to eliminate words like "climate change" or "global warming" from documents or communications; a similar number perceived inappropriate changes to their work that altered its scientific meaning.<br /><br />And that's just climate scientists. Surveys of researchers at the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service -- whose work underlies implementation of the Endangered Species Act -- found similar complaints. And recently, when unionized Environmental Protection Agency scientists backed out of their cooperation agreement with the agency's political leadership, one cited reason was that lately the agency has ignored "its own Principles of Scientific Integrity whenever political direction from other federal entities or private sector interests so direct."<br /><br />It will fall to the next president to repair the relationship between government-employed scientists and the nation's political leadership. And since most of the assaults on science during the Bush administration have occurred at pressure points where scientific information feeds into the regulatory process, the next administration must strive more broadly to bolster the role of science in environmental and other types of agency decision-making, so that the best available information once again drives policy.<br /><br />Both major presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, appear to take this matter seriously. Obama, who has accused the Bush Administration of ignoring or distorting data to shape its decisions on science-related issues, has said his policies would be based on "evidence and facts." As for McCain, in his role as chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, he has eviscerated the Bush administration on matters of science. In one particularly sharp exchange in 2005, McCain upbraided an administration representative for failing to produce a required government report on global warming.<br /><br />So assuming the next president aims not only to restore scientific integrity to the federal government, but also to restore morale and functionality at places like the Environmental Protection Agency, here's a brief overview of some of the types of changes that need to be implemented.<br /><br />Let's begin where the Bush science scandals themselves did -- with scientific advisory committees to federal agencies. As early as 2002, complaints began to emerge suggesting these little known expert bodies, which have been dubbed the "Fifth Branch" of American government and which advise agencies on anything from the dangers of various environmental chemicals to the risks of particulate air pollution, were being tilted politically to favor the interests of the administration's supporters and allies. To name just one highly publicized example, in 2002 the Bush administration shook up the membership of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention panel that advises the agency on how to protect children from lead poisoning. The administration named to the panel several scientists with industry connections, who could be expected to oppose stronger protective standards.<br /><br />To address cases like this, the 1972 Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which governs such committees, must be revised and more strictly enforced. A 1970s "good government" statute designed to ensure openness, balance, and transparency, of late FACA has been repeatedly circumvented through the formation of committees not subject to it -- the now-infamous Bush-Cheney energy task force being a prime example. And as Rena Steinzor, a law professor at the University of Maryland and president of the Center for Progressive Regulation, notes, "The problem is not just that they put these panels together outside of FACA, outside of that statutory protection." Additional issues arise when it comes to ensuring that advisory committees formed under FACA aren't rife with conflicts of interest. The law allows the granting of "waivers" that let potentially conflicted scientists serve anyway, and this has been widely abused. "The disclosures are late, never publicized, and conflicts are waived all the time," notes Steinzor.<br /><br />While the next administration cannot itself reform FACA, it can ask Congress to do so. Meanwhile, a new administration could pledge that all of its advisory committees will be formed under FACA and that any conflict-of-interest waivers will be made public (or not made at all).<br /><br />To ensure the proper translation of science into environmental decision-making, the next president must reconsider the use of the Data Quality Act, a bite-sized piece of legislation slipped into a 2001 appropriations bill by Representative Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) and which, as interpreted by the Bush administration, has grown into a handy device for misusing science to upend regulation. The act allows interested parties to file complaints whenever the government "disseminates" scientific information they find objectionable. This makes it a key tool for gumming up the regulatory works by questioning the validity of government science -- an increasingly common industry tactic employed on issues ranging from climate change to the regulation of mercury pollution.<br /><br />And it's not just the Data Quality Act itself: In a legally dubious move, the administration has used the act as the foundation for an unprecedented government-wide system of peer review for information that feeds into regulatory decision-making. Peer review sounds like a good thing -- until you canvass the science world's objections to this particular form of it. In essence, the new peer review system turns out to be more about slowing down government action than ensuring scientific accuracy. And it has already impaired agency function, notes George Washington University epidemiologist David Michaels, author of the new book Doubt is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health (Oxford, 2008).<br /><br />For example, Michaels cites the National Toxicology Program's "Report on Carcinogens," which is supposed to be released every two years. But the last such report -- the 11th Report on Carcinogens -- appeared in January of 2005, meaning the next edition is already more than a year late. If you examine the review process for that report, it's clear the new peer review rules are to blame.<br /><br />The next administration, then, ought to re-evaluate the Data Quality Act and government-wide peer review system with the following principle in mind: When it comes to using science to support regulatory decision-making, the perfect can easily become the enemy of the good. Government agencies rarely have ideal data or studies at their disposal; much of the information they rely upon cannot, by its very nature, undergo rigorous academic peer review. But agencies can rarely wait for better information to take action -- because if they do, more people (or more endangered species) might be harmed. The Data Quality Act and peer review system push us in the direction of ever-more scrutiny of science that might be used to support government regulation, when what we actually need is the opposite: Federal agencies that are limber, less burdened, more free to act promptly in the public interest.<br /><br />At the same time, the next president and his cabinet officials must strive to ensure that scientists working at these federal agencies not only get treated fairly, but can feel confident their work gets taken seriously and plays the proper role in government decision-making. This is not merely a question of propriety, but one of morale. After all, what scientist would want to work for an agency where, to use a recent example from the Fish and Wildlife Service, a political appointee named Julie MacDonald was, according to the Interior Department's inspector general, "heavily involved with editing, commenting on, and reshaping the Endangered Species Program's scientific reports from the field"?<br /><br />To help prevent such abuse, the next administration should put in place a disclosure system whereby agency science is made public as soon as the scientists are finished with it -- not after the political appointees take a red pen to it. The administration should also pledge to address the many other cases we've seen in recent years in which political appointees and government scientists have clashed -- for instance, cases where scientists have been denied the ability to speak to the media, or have seen press releases about their research heavily edited, or not released at all. What our environmental regulatory system truly needs is more independence from political sectors of the executive branch, so scientists and other professionals can do their jobs without worrying about who might be offended or how their actions play politically.<br /><br />When it comes to the role of science in environmental policy, then, the next administration should seek to solve the problems of the past by embracing two broad principles for the future. First, agencies must remain free to use the best science available to do their jobs promptly and effectively, rather than having to endlessly defend that science and have it repeatedly vetted. And second: Political appointees need to back off and let federal agency scientists -- and agency professionals more generally -- do their jobs with integrity and independence.<br /><br />We need science in government more than ever before. Because the Bush administration represented such a big step backward in this arena, the next administration must take at least two steps forward just to catch up. <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Chris Mooney is author of <em>The Republican War on Science</em> and <em>Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming.</em> A contributing editor to <em>Science Progress</em> and senior correspondent for <em>American Prospect</em>, he blogs at <a linkindex="11" target="_blank" title="" href="http://scienceblogs.com/intersection/">The Intersection</a> with Sheril Kirshenbaum. </div></div></div> Mon, 30 Jun 2008 18:00:01 -0700 Chris Mooney, Yale Environment 360 647832 at http://www.alternet.org Environment Environment science government scientific integrity As Climate Changes Threatens U.S. Gulf States, Federal Agencies Twiddle Thumbs http://www.alternet.org/story/81122/as_climate_changes_threatens_u.s._gulf_states%2C_federal_agencies_twiddle_thumbs <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">We ought to be outraged at how poor a job our government is doing when it comes to processing information about global warming.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->In late 2006, as I was completing my second book, Storm World-which concerns the relationship between hurricanes and global warming-there was one pesky outstanding piece of information that never seemed to fall into place. Considering the strong grounds that we have for thinking that hurricanes will change in some way due to global warming (and probably worsen, and definitely coast atop higher seas), it seemed obvious to me that relevant government agencies should be taking that fact into account as they go about performing their taxpayer-funded duties.<br /><br />And so began my long and still unrequited quest to find out what the heck the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is doing with this information as it endeavors to re-defend the City of New Orleans.<br /><br />Right after Katrina, in October of 2005, the Corps quickly organized a research process to study, among other matters, "risks to New Orleans and the region posed by future tropical storms." And no wonder: The scientific analysis of how hurricanes will change-and, equally important, how much sea levels will rise-will obviously be of dramatic significance to any attempt to defend the city in the future. Indeed, without such analysis it's hard to see how residents, businesses, and government leaders can have sufficient confidence to move back to New Orleans, rebuild their lives, and reinvest there.<br /><br />So you would think this would be a priority and would be promptly executed...or at least, that's what you would think if you were from Mars and had never hear anything about the legendary Corps. Here we are, fully two years later, and all the agency has produced on the subject is an "interim draft report" that was recently eviscerated by a National Academy of Sciences panel charged with reviewing it. My favorite comment from the NAS critique? I quote: "Central pressure is measured in millibars, not megabytes (VIII-38)."<br /><br />Initially, the relevant Corps research was supposed to be completed by June 2006. Yet even today, the Corps still hasn't done enough cogent work for the NAS to even perform a "complete review or a full validation of the method that was used." Apparently the Corps is trying to take climate change into account in its planning, but it's unclear exactly how-one of the many matters on which the National Academies' experts fault the agency. "Given the potentially serious consequences that [climate change] may have for New Orleans and all coastal U.S. areas affected by hurricanes," writes the NAS panel, "it would be prudent and appropriate to provide detailed guidance for methods to account for climate change effects."<br /><br />Just what I've been thinking for well over a year now.<br /><br />Americans ought to be outraged at how poor a job their government is doing when it comes to processing information about global warming and using it to better prepare the Gulf Coast region for hurricane risks. And it's not just the bumbling Corps that's at fault-or just the fate of New Orleans that's at stake. No-what I'm describing is part of a far broader and much more nefarious pattern under the Bush administration of either ignoring mounting climate risks, refusing to seriously study them, or refusing to release information about them to the public in a timely and prominent way.<br /><br />The scientific community is of the strong opinion that we must start adapting our communities now to climatic changes that are already upon us. But the Bush administration seems to think that bumbling, or worse, is an adequate governmental response to this matter of mounting urgency.<br /><br />Consider another recent example. The U.S. government's Climate Change Science Program (CCSP), a severely hobbled interagency group that has been faulted in federal court for its failure to follow the law in studying global warming impacts to the U.S., has at least been researching the subject piecemeal, through a series of 21 reports, rather than a single comprehensive one. One of these came out two weeks ago-a study of how global warming will threaten the Gulf Coast region's considerable transportation infrastructure, which includes myriad ports, railways, highways, and airports.<br /><br />But as CCSP whistleblower Rick Piltz details on the invaluable Climate Science Watch, it appears there has been every effort to minimize the impact of this report:<blockquote>The DOT/CCSP report has been essentially completed since December 21, the date on a final review draft that appears to be nearly identical to what was finally issued yesterday. DOT appears to have been sitting on it for nearly three months...Note that they held it until the day AFTER the release of the Academy report [on a similar subject], which got some media coverage, then didn't put out a press release on it until 3 p.m. Clearly they're trying to limit attention to the report, rather than promote it.</blockquote>Indeed, the Department of Transportation press release on the new study, notes Piltz, is wholly inadequate and makes it sound like this is a report significantly devoted the dangers of land subsidence, rather than climate change. In its title, the press release cites "potential environmental impacts" as the matter under study, rather than global warming. Piltz adds:<blockquote>There appears to be no other rollout activity in connection with this major climate change risk assessment-preparedness study. The press release lists only one contact, a press official who is a former Republican congressional staffer. It does not list as contacts any of the lead authors of the report--the individuals with the real expertise to discuss its contents.</blockquote>And so off we go again -- more of the Bush administration screwing around, rather than doing its job to inform us about and prepare us for climate risks. It's such an old story-and still such an outrageous one.<br /><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Chris Mooney is a Contributing Editor for Science Progress and the author of two books, <a set="yes" linkindex="26" href="http://www.amazon.com/Republican-War-Science-Chris-Mooney/dp/B000NIJ4DI/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/103-7277156-0421418?ie=UTF8&amp;s=books&amp;qid=1191478226&amp;sr=8-1">The Republican War on Science</a> <em>and</em> <a set="yes" linkindex="27" href="http://www.amazon.com/Storm-World-Hurricanes-Politics-Warming/dp/0151012873/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/103-7277156-0421418?ie=UTF8&amp;s=books&amp;qid=1191478255&amp;sr=1-1">Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming</a>. He blogs on <a set="yes" linkindex="28" href="http://www.scienceblogs.com/intersection/"><em>The Intersection</em></a> with Sheril Kirshenbaum. </div></div></div> Sun, 13 Apr 2008 13:00:01 -0700 Chris Mooney, Science Progress 645985 at http://www.alternet.org News & Politics Environment global warming new orleans climate change hurricane katrina gulf coast army corps hurricanes Survival Of The Flimsiest http://www.alternet.org/story/28569/survival_of_the_flimsiest <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The so-called &#039;Intelligent Design&#039; debate is just the latest, most watered-down version of anti-evolutionists&#039; attempts to sneak God into the classroom.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><i>[This article is reprinted from <a href="http://prospect.org">The American Prospect</a>.]</i><br /><br />There's an anti-evolutionist brushfire sweeping the United States, and at its heart lies a paradox. These days, it seems, the less the creationists say about what they actually believe, the better they're likely to fare. In an attempt to avoid triggering the First Amendment's ban on commingling church and state, the more canny of today's fundamentalists have become clever minimalists.<br /><br />Rather than discussing anything immediately recognizable as the Christian God -- much less the Bible -- they invoke "science" itself to undermine one of the most robust scientific theories in history.<br /><br />This science-abusing strategy has reached a pinnacle in Kansas, where the state Board of Education, dominated by anti-evolutionists, has adopted standards that call for teaching about alleged "scientific criticisms" of evolutionary theory, and that redefine the nature of science itself to potentially include non-natural explanations. Call it the Ghostbusters approach: According to Kansas, scientists are now free to go hunting for ghosts, genies, and other supernatural entities. If they happen to discover God along the way so much the better, but let no one say the board has explicitly required it.<br /><br />This is a huge departure from the way the evolution debate played out at the time of the famous 1925 Scopes Trial, when Tennessee had banned the teaching of evolution outright, and William Jennings Bryan famously declared the incompatibility of evolution and the Bible. The U.S. has fostered a strong anti-evolutionist movement for nearly a century, but our homegrown creationists have changed greatly over time -- in response not so much to scientific developments as to legal ones. In creationism's evolution, the greatest selection pressure has always come from the U.S. Supreme Court.<br /><br />The first landmark decision came in 1968, when the Supreme Court declared that states could no longer ban the teaching of evolution. Creationists promptly changed strategies and cooked up something they called "creation science": In essence, a scientific veneer for the book of Genesis. The earth, they claimed, was just a few thousand years old, and there had been a catastrophic flood -- but these discoveries were labeled "scientific" rather than religious in nature. Moreover, according to creationists, their "science" should be taught alongside evolution and given equal time, in the interest of fairness.<br /><br />But in 1987, the Supreme Court unmasked "creation science" for the thinly-veiled religious apologetic that it was, and declared its teaching unconstitutional in public schools, a violation of the separation of church and state. Anti-evolutionists promptly evolved again, further refining their strategic attempt to pose as scientists. Now, they would promote something called "intelligent design" (ID). Gone was any mention of a young Earth or Flood -- the most direct parallels to the Genesis account. Instead, ID advanced a vague philosophical argument: Biological complexity requires a designer for its existence, and could not have resulted from a mindless and directionless process such as evolution.<br /><br />Once again, today's creationists claim ID is science. But as with "creation science" in the 1980s, we're now witnessing the unmasking of ID.<br /><br />The designer is obviously God, the scientific bona fides of ID are scarce to nonexistent, and its proponents can't seem to check their religion at the door when it counts. When the Dover, Pennsylvania school board introduced ID into its biology curriculum, statements about religion abounded; they're now Exhibit A in a just concluded First Amendment lawsuit over the board's actions.<br /><br />The court hasn't yet ruled, but in the meantime, Dover's anti-evolutionist school board members have been swept out of office -- a development that led Pat Robertson to assert that Dover has abandoned God and shouldn't expect His protection. So much for disguising ID as science.<br /><br />Evolution's defenders are increasingly confident that Dover could mark the beginning of the end for ID as a creationist strategy. But if so, Kansas suggests what's likely to come next. Anti-evolutionists will once again evolve and will minimize what they're advocating even further. Thus in Kansas the attack on evolution is purely negative and definitional, but there is no explicit requirement to teach what everyone knows to be the desired alternative -- some form of creationism.<br /><br />The stripped-down Kansas approach still has its vulnerabilities; the Board of Education's negative attacks on evolution have a clear creationist lineage. But if this tactic also fails, we can only expect creationists to pare down their message still further. Eventually, perhaps, they will come up with something that does indeed withstand legal scrutiny. But it will be a shallow victory indeed, for over the long course of our national battle over Darwin, creationists have become the anti-evolutionary equivalent of Kafka's hunger artist: They have so shrunken the substance of their positive position that it has all but disappeared. <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Chris Mooney is Washington correspondent for Seed magazine and author of The Republican War on Science. This article is available on <a href="http://prospect.org">The American Prospect</a>'s website. </div></div></div> Fri, 25 Nov 2005 21:00:01 -0800 Chris Mooney, The American Prospect 631792 at http://www.alternet.org News & Politics Did Bush Really Warm to Climate Change? http://www.alternet.org/story/23525/did_bush_really_warm_to_climate_change <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Whatever Bush might have said about global warming in Scotland, the truth is that he didn&#039;t budge. The good news is that the issue is firmly on the agenda in the U.S.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Following the G8 summit last week in Gleneagles, Scotland, some have tried to spin a clear failure on the issue of climate change into a partial triumph because President George W. Bush was at least forced to acknowledge that the phenomenon is actually happening.<br /><br />The sad truth, unfortunately, is that not even this slim level of optimism is justified. Bush has already acknowledged as much about global warming in the past as he did at the G8 -- but such admissions have hardly moved him any closer to endorsing the kind of mandatory steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions that have been embraced by other nations. In fact, at this point, there's little reason to expect such action on global warming before 2008, when a new president is elected in the United States.<br /><br />If you don't believe me, just take a look at the 32-page "<a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/g8_gleneagles_communique.pdf">Gleneagles Communiqué</a>," then compare it to Bush's major policy address on global warming: a <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/06/20010611-2.html">Rose Garden speech</a> from June 11, 2001. In many ways, the two documents turn out to be mirror images of one another, suggesting that Bush has barely moved an inch over the course of his presidency. For instance, the Gleneagles Communiqué says the following about the science of climate at its very opening:<blockquote>Climate change is a serious and long-term challenge that has the potential to affect every part of the globe. We know that increased need and use of energy from fossil fuels, and other human activities, contribute in large part to increases in greenhouse gases associated with the warming of our Earth's surface. While uncertainties remain in our understanding of climate science, we know enough to act now to put ourselves on a path to slow and, as the science justifies, stop and then reverse the growth of greenhouse gases.</blockquote>But if you break this statement down into its three core statements -- of concern, of the relevant science, and of a commitment to action -- you will find little that wasn't already stated by Bush fully four years ago in a speech that carefully shrank from fully acknowledging the state of scientific knowledge at the time and the urgency of the problem (just as the Gleneagles document unfortunately does).<br /><br />First, in his 2001 speech, Bush called global warming "an issue that must be addressed by the world." Second, Bush observed that "concentration of greenhouse gases, especially CO2, have increased substantially since the beginning of the industrial revolution" and that "the increase is due in large part to human activity." (Notably, Bush didn't explicitly acknowledge that the warming caused by these gases is also a direct result of human activity -- that humans are driving warming now.) Third, our president commented, "While scientific uncertainties remain, we can begin now to address the factors that contribute to climate change."<br /><br />These are, in essence, the same statements contained in the opening passage of the Gleneagles Communiqué. Such admissions didn't push Bush into supporting a mandatory emissions caps approach akin to the Kyoto Protocol in 2001, and they're not having any stronger an effect in 2005 -- despite the fact that the science has only become more concrete in demonstrating that we have a serious global problem on our hands. Rather, the main policy developments to result from the G8 include an emphasis on new technologies to curb greenhouse gas emissions and a meeting in November to keep talking about the issue (what British prime minister Tony Blair has termed the launching of a "new dialogue"). But beyond this window dressing, there are no specific targets or timetables in the Gleneagles Communiqué for reducing emissions and only a single mention of the Kyoto Protocol.<br /><br />In fact, it gets even worse. Because they have allowed the Gleneagles Communiqué to reflect the Bush administration's talking points on global warming, the other world leaders who are parties to the G8 have necessarily shied away from fully stating the scientific reality. In effect, America's addiction to spinning information has now left its stain on other leading nations of the world.<br /><br />There's one aspect of the G8 communiqué that is more scientifically explicit than Bush's June 2001 speech: the mild statement that greenhouse gases are "associated with the warming of our Earth's surface."<br /><br />Yet even this comes nowhere near acknowledging the content of a <a href="http://nationalacademies.org/onpi/06072005.pdf">recent statement</a> from 11 National Academies of Science. These leading scientific bodies didn't just say greenhouse gases are associated with warming; they declared, "It is likely that most of the warming in recent decades can be attributed to human activities."<br /><br />There's a big difference there, and one that the Bush administration has been carefully eliding lately. Now, other leading nations are also on record ignoring what the academies have had to say.<br /><br />And if all of that doesn't leave you feeling pessimistic enough, it's worth also following the lead of Myles Allen and comparing the weak 2005 Gleneagles Communiqué not just with Bush's 2001 Rose Garden speech, but also with the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change, an international agreement that already had stated more than a decade ago that global warming is a problem and must be acted upon. Policy-wise, the United States really hasn't moved all that far since 1992, when our current president's father endorsed the Framework Convention. Numerous other nations have since built upon the Framework Convention by implementing the Kyoto Protocol to reduce emissions, but we have not done so.<br /><br />Finally, then, from an American perspective, there's really only one major consequence of the G8 for the climate-change issue, and it's something rather intangible: Over the past month or more, the American press and public have seemingly awakened to the significance of this subject, which has been repeatedly in the news. The coverage has put the Bush administration on the defensive about an issue that it would obviously prefer to simply ignore and not discuss.<br /><br />There can be little doubt that the G8, and the events and journalistic revelations surrounding it, have helped put global warming on the agenda in the United States. Now the real fight begins. <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Chris Mooney is the Washington correspondent for Seed Magazine and a columnist for The American Prospect Online. Copyright © 2005 by The American Prospect, Inc. This article may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author. </div></div></div> Thu, 14 Jul 2005 21:00:01 -0700 Chris Mooney, The American Prospect 629368 at http://www.alternet.org Environment Environment Misleading.gov http://www.alternet.org/story/21749/misleading.gov <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A new government website misinforms parents about how to protect their kids from sexually transmitted diseases.</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><i>This article is reprinted from <a href="http://www.prospect.org">The American Prospect</a></i><br /><br />Last year, when a profound schism erupted between the American scientific community and the Bush administration, a key point of contention concerned the alteration of sexual health information on several government Web sites. A National Cancer Institute fact sheet temporarily suggested the possibility of a link between abortion and breast cancer (scientists say with near unanimity that there isn't one). A statement explaining why educating teens about how to use condoms does not increase sexual activity was deleted from a Centers for Disease Control fact sheet. And so forth.<br /><br />If science defenders were angry about these actions, they ought to be on an absolute rampage over a new Web site, <a href="http://www.4parents.gov/">www.4parents.gov</a>, sponsored by three separate branches of the Department of Health and Human Services: the Office of Public Health and Science, the Office of Population Affairs, and the Public Health Service. The site is described as "part of a new national public education campaign" to help parents help their teenagers make "the healthiest choices." "Part of a new misinformation campaign" would be more accurate. A massive list of sexual health research and advocacy groups and other organizations have <a href="http://www.siecus.org/policy/Advocates/advo0002.html">slammed</a> the site, arguing that it amounts to a thinly veiled brief for pro-life moral values and abstinence education. An analysis of the site's content shows that their complaints are more than justified.<br /><br />As the sexual health organizations complain, 4parents.gov delivers a stealth dose of pro-life advocacy. The site defines pregnancy, for instance, as a process "that begins when an egg cell and a sperm cell unite." Actually, not every fertilized egg implants in the wall of the uterus, meaning that a better definition of pregnancy would probably emphasize implantation, not fertilization. The site also refers to a fertilized egg shortly after implantation as an "unborn child," a phrase that appears repeatedly on 4parents.gov.<br /><br />In order to make its pro-abstinence case, 4parents.gov also presents selective or distorted information about the effectiveness of condoms, a common tick on the religious right. The site takes every opportunity to downplay condom efficacy, with passages such as the following:<blockquote>Studies suggest that condoms, when used consistently and correctly, offer significant risk reduction (80-87%) for HIV/AIDS. Condoms provide less risk reduction for other sexually transmitted diseases. Research indicates significant risk reduction for HIV to almost none for others (e.g., HPV).</blockquote>Here, 4parents.gov appears to be relying exclusively on published studies that positively prove condom effectiveness for certain diseases, while conveniently ignoring basic common sense. What the site neglects to tell American parents is the following: According to the National Institutes of Health, condoms "provide a highly effective barrier to transmission of particles of similar size to those of the smallest STD viruses." Because of this characteristic, <a href="http://www.niaid.nih.gov/dmid/stds/condomreport.pdf">continues the NIH</a>, there is "a strong probability of condom effectiveness when used correctly" both for diseases spread by discharges (including gonorrhea and chlamydia), and for diseases spread by skin-to-skin contact (including herpes, syphilis, and HPV), so long as the condom covers the infected area.<br /><br />In short, even though the effectiveness of condoms may not have been proven in rigorous studies for all conditions, we nevertheless know that condoms provide a strong barrier against STD transmission.<br /><br />And even as 4parents.gov demands rigorous proof of condom effectiveness for every individual sexually transmitted disease, it simultaneously celebrates abstinence on completely idealized grounds. Cynthia Dailard of The Alan Guttmacher Institute has observed that abstinence advocates frequently contrast theoretically perfect use of abstinence with actual <i>real life</i> condom failure rates, thus comparing "apples and oranges." 4parents.gov is no exception. The site refers to abstinence as "without question, the healthiest choice for adolescents." But as a method of disease prevention, abstinence -- just like condoms -- only works if you actually use it properly. And there's abundant evidence that despite the best of intentions, "abstinence" fails because many teens just don't stick to it.<br /><br />For instance, 4parents.gov lists a "pledge of virginity" as a "protective factor" against risky sexual behaviors. It does not bother to cite actual <i>research</i> on how virginity pledgers behave. In a recent study published in the <i>Journal of Adolescent Health</i>, Yale sociologist Hannah Bruckner and Columbia sociologist Peter Bearman found that teenagers who took these pledges -- promising to abstain from sex until marriage -- delayed having sex for longer but did not have correspondingly diminished STD infection rates. That's because most pledgers didn't actually keep their oaths all the way to marriage, and those breaking them were less likely to use condoms the first time they had sex. Moreover, the minority of pledgers who actually managed to abstain from vaginal sex until marriage were more likely to get it on in other ways -- such as trying out oral or anal sex -- in the meantime.<br /><br />With more space, we could catalogue more distortions on 4parents.gov. But a more interesting question is: Where are they coming from? Part of the explanation may arise from the fact that in the site's creation, the government partnered with a nonprofit group called the National Physicians Center for Family Resources. This organization has previously teamed up with the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists to oppose the so-called abortion pill RU-486, and has <a href="http://www.physicianscenter.org/positions_abortion.asp">promoted</a> the dubious notion, popular on the religious right, of a link between abortion and breast cancer.<br /><br />It is a sad day, but we can no longer doubt that it has arrived. At least in the area of sexual health, Americans can no longer rely on their own government for balanced, objective information. <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Chris Mooney is a Prospect senior correspondent whose TAP Online column appears each week. His book on the politicization of science will be published later this year by Basic Books. His daily blog and other writings can be found at <a href="http://www.chriscmooney.com">www.chriscmooney.com</a>. This article is available on <a href="http://www.prospect.org">The American Prospect</a> website. Copyright © 2005 by The American Prospect, Inc. Preferred Citation: Chris Mooney, "Misleading.gov", The American Prospect Online, Apr 11, 2005. This article may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author. Direct questions about permissions to <a href="mailto:permissions@prospect.org">permissions@prospect.org</a>. </div></div></div> Wed, 13 Apr 2005 21:00:01 -0700 Chris Mooney, The American Prospect 614205 at http://www.alternet.org Civil Liberties Civil Liberties The Fraud of 'Sound Science' http://www.alternet.org/story/18696/the_fraud_of_%27sound_science%27 <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Conservative Republicans, and even some liberal commentators, have adopted the phrase &quot;sound science.&quot; If it isn&#039;t &quot;good science&quot; then what exactly is it?</div></div></div> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg" alt="" /></div></div></div> <!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Over recent months, an unprecedented rupture has occurred between the U.S. scientific community and the White House. Denunciations of President Bush's science policies by a slew of Nobel Laureates organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists, followed by a sweeping rejection of the scientists' charges by the administration, have made for great political theater. But the controversy has also shown that on issues ranging from mercury pollution to global warming, today's political conservatives have an extremely peculiar -- and decidedly non-mainstream -- concept of what science says and how to reach scientific conclusions. Conservatives and the Bush administration claim to be staunch defenders of science, of course; but close attention to the very language they use suggests otherwise.<br /><br />Much of the modern conservative agenda on science is embodied in the enigmatic phrase "sound science," a term used with increasing frequency these days despite its apparent lack of a clear, agreed-upon definition. In one sense, "sound science" simply means "good science." Indeed, when unwitting liberals and journalists have been caught using the phrase -- which happens quite frequently -- it appears to have been with this meaning in mind.<br /><br />Conservatives, too, want people to <i>hear</i> "good science" when they say "sound science." But there are reasons for thinking they actually mean something more by the term. The Bush administration has invoked "sound science" on issues ranging from climate change to arsenic in drinking water, virtually always in defense of a looser government regulatory standard than might otherwise have been adopted. In this sense, "sound science" seems to mean requiring a high burden of proof before taking government action to protect public health and the environment (not really a scientific position at all). Indeed, in an <a href="http://chriscannon.house.gov/wc/meetings/Conference/soundscience.htm">online discussion</a> of "Sound Science and Public Policy," the Western Caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives, chaired by Utah Republican Chris Cannon, notes that "environmental laws should be made with great caution and demand a high degree of scientific certainty" -- once again, a policy statement rather than one having to do strictly with science.<br /><br />A short history of the phrase "sound science," and its development into a mantra of the political right, clearly demonstrates its anti-regulatory, pro-industry slant. Strategic uses by the business community trace back at least to Dow Chemical Company president Paul F. Oreffice's 1983 claim that a $3 million program to allay fears of dioxin pollution in Michigan would use "sound science" to "reassure" the public -- i.e., downplay risks. To rebut Dow's claims, a young South Dakota representative named Tom Daschle promptly released results from a confidential study suggesting that dioxin damages the immune system. In this incident, it's possible to see the first sprouting of a political debate over "sound science" that would bloom into a full schism a decade later.<br /><br />A key development came in 1993, when an Environmental Protection Agency report estimated that secondhand smoke causes some 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year. EPA classified secondhand smoke as a Group A human carcinogen. The tobacco lobby quickly sprang into action, and it's not hard to see why. If smokers were hurting other people, and not merely themselves, the issue wasn't just about "personal responsibility" any more. Society could find itself compelled to take steps to ban smoking in a variety of public venues.<br /><br />The Tobacco Institute, an industry group, quickly labeled EPA's conclusions "another step in a long process characterized by a preference for political correctness over sound science." And as we now know from tobacco documents made available as a consequence of litigation, the industry decided to do something about it.<br /><br />In early 1993, Philip Morris and its public relations firm, APCO Associates, created a nonprofit front group called The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC) to help fight against the regulation of secondhand smoke. To mask its true purpose, TASSC assembled a range of anti-regulatory interests under one umbrella, and rarely, if ever, explicitly challenged the notion that secondhand smoke poses health risks. Instead, the group, headed by former New Mexico governor Garrey Carruthers, described itself as a "not-for-profit coalition advocating the use of sound science in public policy decision making." Still, at the very least TASSC <i>implied</i> that the science of secondhand smoke was bogus. For example, in 1994 the group released a poll of scientists suggesting that politicians were abusing science on issues such as "asbestos, pesticides, dioxin, environmental tobacco smoke or water quality."<br /><br />At roughly the same time, fortuitously or otherwise, the incoming Republican Congress of 1994 adopted "sound science" as a mantra. Just a week after the November 1994 elections, Newt Gingrich and company had set the tone. "Property rights" and "sound science" had become "the environmental buzzwords of the new Republican Congress," a Knight-Ridder news report noted. The perceptive report also included a definition of "sound science," which suggested it meant much more than simply "good science." Instead, the point was deregulation: "'Sound science' is shorthand for the notion that anti-pollution laws have gone to extremes, spending huge amounts of money to protect people from miniscule risks."<br /><br />Calls for "sound science" closely accompanied the push to enact a key tenet of the Republican Party's "Contract With America" -- regulatory "reform," an industry-backed gambit to provide steep hurdles to future environmental, health, and safety regulations. Reform bills sponsored in 1995 by Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole would have imposed stringent new rules on the process by which the Environmental Protection Agency and other government bodies conducted science-based risk assessments to determine whether a particular danger should be regulated. The proposals demonstrated that the new Republican majority wanted nothing less than to become government's science cops -- and to start fixing the tickets of industry.<br /><br />The leading regulatory reform proposals would have legislated the very nature of science itself. They prescribed a one-size-fits-all standard for risk assessment across very different government agencies, potentially stifling scientific adaptability. The bills also would have erected a "peer review" process to scrutinize risk assessments with large potential regulatory impacts -- one that would have not only bogged down the regulatory process, but also allowed industry scientists to participate in or even dominate reviews. In addition, regulatory reform would have created new opportunities for federal court challenges over agency risk assessments -- an ideal opportunity for business interests to engage in scientific warfare over analyses they didn't like. The whole process, Public Citizen lawyer David Vladeck wrote at the time, smacked of an attempt to achieve "paralysis by analysis."<br /><br />Reformers didn't describe it that way, of course. As Dole argued in a Washington Post commentary, the goal was to make sure that agencies were using "the best information and sound science available." Yet the notion that Republican reformers were merely calling for better science in the abstract -- instead of issuing unrealistic demands for minimized uncertainty before regulation could be undertaken -- is hard to swallow. At the same time that they pushed for regulatory reform, the Gingrich Republicans dismantled Congress's Office of Technology Assessment, a widely respected scientific advisory body, and sought to slash funding for government scientific research.<br /><br />Throughout the whole saga, the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition cheered the regulatory reformers along, sometimes explicitly. In an October 13, 1994 speech, TASSC chairman Garrey Carruthers specifically endorsed a regulatory reform proposal by Louisiana Democratic Senator J. Bennett Johnston (co-sponsor of the Dole bill). Then in 1995, the group released a study protesting negative media coverage of regulatory reform, which Dole, in turn, cited in a statement. Carruthers heralded the survey -- without, of course, mentioning tobacco in any way. "We want to offer information on how scientific issues are communicated to the public as another means of ensuring that only sound science is used in making public policy decisions," he stated.<br /><br />Ultimately, the regulatory reformers went too far and their proposal died in the Senate -but not before it had helped crystallize a new conservative lexicon. In a 1996 <a href="http://www.house.gov/science_democrats/archive/envrpt96.htm">report</a>, the late Rep. George Brown, ranking Democratic member of the House Science Committee, issued a long and anguished reflection on the Republican Party's adoption of "sound science" principles entitled "Environmental Science Under Siege: Fringe Science and the 104th Congress." Brown's report provides a powerful riposte to the "sound science" movement, whose proponents he accused of having "little or no experience of what science does and how it progresses."<br /><br />Brown's ire had been raised by a series of hearings by the Republican-controlled Energy and Environment Subcommittee entitled "Scientific Integrity and the Public Trust," which were a closely related offshoot of the regulatory reform movement. Presided over by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California -- who notoriously derided climate change as "liberal claptrap" -- the hearings levied charges of science abuse across three environmental issues: ozone depletion, global warming, and dioxin risks. After an analysis of the hearings, Brown found "no credible evidence" of scientific distortion in the interest of environmental scare-mongering. But he did come away with a definition of "sound science" as used repeatedly by the Republican majority. "The Majority seems to equate sound science with absolute certainty regarding a particular problem," wrote Brown. "By this standard, a substance can only be regulated after we know with absolute certainty that the substance is harmful. This is an unrealistic and inappropriate standard."<br /><br />Nevertheless, invocations of "sound science" to prevent regulation remain a core component of the conservative science agenda today. In 2002, Republican pollster and strategist Frank Luntz -- who did polling work for the GOP's 1994 Contract with America -- wrote in a <a href="http://www.ewg.org/briefings/luntzmemo/pdf/LuntzResearch_environment.pdf">memorandum (PDF)</a> for GOP congressional candidates that "The most important principle in any discussion of global warming is your commitment to sound science." But what was most intriguing was what "sound science" actually meant to Luntz on climate change. "The scientific debate is closing [against us] but not yet closed," he added cynically. "There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science." It's hard to read Luntz's words as anything but yet another call for "paralysis by analysis."<br /><br />Conservatives and liberals both agree that science is crucially important for making public policy. But the answers provided by scientific research are rarely certain and always open to disputation or challenge. When conservatives today call for "sound science," the evidence suggests that what they really want is to hold a scientific filibuster -- and thereby delay political action.<br /><br /><i>Chris Mooney is a senior correspondent for The American Prospect. Read more of his articles at: <a href="http://www.chriscmooney.com">chriscmooney.com</a>.</i> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> </div></div></div> Wed, 12 May 2004 21:00:00 -0700 Chris Mooney, Gadflyer 605539 at http://www.alternet.org Environment Environment