Confirmation bias

Both Liberals and Conservatives Can Have Science Bias, Says New Study

Another shocking result from social science!

|

Confirmation Bias
wordstream

ScienceDaily is reporting the results of a new study by researchers at the Ohio State University which finds that politics colors the perceptions of scientific results of both liberals and conservatives. From ScienceDaily:

New research suggests that liberals, as well as conservatives, can be biased against science that doesn't align with their political views.

The phraseology of that introductory sentence is amusing. Who knew before this study that liberals could be less than objective when assessing scientific results? GMOs? Cancer and trace exposures to synthetic chemicals? The minimum wage? The article continues:

The study found that people from both the left and right expressed less trust in science when they were presented with facts that challenged specific politicized issues.

For conservatives, climate change and evolution were the issues that led them to lose some trust in science. For liberals, it was hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and nuclear power.

The results challenge recent books and articles that claim conservatives alone have difficulty dealing with scientific fact.

"Liberals are also capable of processing scientific information in a biased manner," said Erik Nisbet, co-author of the study and associate professor of communication and political science at The Ohio State University.

"They aren't inherently superior to conservatives." …

Both liberals and conservatives felt more negative emotions when they read the scientific pages that challenged their views compared to those who read about the scientifically neutral topics (geology and astronomy).

However, the negative reaction of conservatives when they read about climate change and evolution was four times greater than that of liberals who read about nuclear power and fracking.

Both liberals and conservatives showed evidence of motivated resistance against the facts related to the science topics that challenged their political beliefs.

But again, conservatives reacted more strongly than liberals.

The researchers can't say for sure why conservatives reacted more strongly than liberals when they disagreed with the science, but it may go beyond ideology.

"Climate change and evolution are much bigger issues in the media and political discourse than are fracking and nuclear power," Nisbet said.

"The fact that the issues that challenge conservatives are currently more polarizing in society today may intensify feelings."

It's worthwhile to read the whole article to see how the researchers came up with their results.

I have been on this beat for a while. For more background on the operation of ideology and confirmation bias, see my article, "Everyone Who Knows What They Are Talking About Agrees with Me."

NEXT: Some details of the Obama administration's proposed authorization for use of military force against ISIS [Updated with link to actual wording of the proposal]

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. For conservatives, climate change and evolution were the issues that led them to lose some trust in science.

    Because it couldn’t possibly be that conservatives might have good reason to doubt one of those claims. Sorry, but if you start with the assumption that climate change has the same level of scientific certainty as evolution, I really don’t see why anyone should listen to what else you have to say, because you clearly don’t have a very good grasp of science yourself.

    1. the article is consistent in this regard, beginning with the first line as Ron points out. It’s as if this result was a total shocker to the authors.

      1. It’s remarkable how so many common-sense conclusions are counterintuitive to lefty social “scientists.” Perhaps this could add credibility to their studies since they’re making declarations against interest.

        1. Social scientists aren’t. Period.

          1. I resemble that!

            (An Austrian Economist)

            (Also, an old Stooges joke)

      2. The problem with the article is that it assumes that no one could have legitimate doubts about what men in lab coats tell them and if they do it must just be their politics talking. And that is just bunk.

        Even if the science is “valid”, there still can be degrees of doubt. For example, you can believe that evolution makes claims that go beyond the realm of science and into the metaphysical without believing the earth is 7,000 years old. A person having such doubts would likely be put into the same “science denier” category as the young earther.

        Even liberals who object to Nuclear power or fracking are not necessarily as anti-science as the study claims. There is nothing to say that those technologies are not more risky than claimed. It wouldn’t be the first time something was sold as known to be safe that turned out not to be. While I disagree with liberals about this subject, I don’t think all of them are necessarily anti-science.

        1. Look, John, we have a nice narrative going here. Let’s not mess it up.

        2. Oh horseshit.

          1. Doubting some claims made by science is not the same as denying science. You can believe that we don’t know everything there is about the risks of fracking or nuclear power without denying science.

            It is really that simple. It only seems hard because the truth is not everyone who disagrees with you does so in bad faith or because they refuse to see the truth. That is a hard truth for some to face.

            1. Doubt is essential to good science. Nullius in verba is the motto of of the Royal Society, for crying out loud. If not for doubt, Aristotle would still be the authority in physics and Ptolemy in astronomy.

              There are many reasons to doubt the gloom and doom predictions of CAGW. For one thing, climate theorists have a pretty poor record of making accurate predictions. Quite a few also have demonstrated dubious scientific integrity by making up or “adjusting” data to suit their purposes.

              1. Suggesting we would all be better off if more people ascribed to “never believe a theory until it has been proven by someone I don’t like.”

  2. ScienceDaily is reporting the results of a new study by researchers at the Ohio State University which finds that politics colors the perceptions of scientific results of both liberals and conservatives.

    Like I’m going to believe any report coming out of Ohio State.

    1. C’mon, it’s not like it came from the AD’s compliance department.

  3. One thing I think also needs to be considered is that the left is more fractured regarding what anti-scientific beliefs they have. For example, environmentalists are HARDCORE anti-fracking and anti-nuclear, but a leftist who’s less of an environmentalist will have more mild feelings about those subjects. That could also impact the difference in passion between leftists being exposed to pro-fracking science and conservatives being exposed to pro-evolution evidence.

    Another example would be that feminists often engage in enormous amounts of pseudo-scientific nonsense, so if you proved to a feminist she’s wrong, she’d probably react very negatively (and accuse you of mansplaining). On the other hand, if a less feminist liberal was exposed to the same information, they wouldn’t really care.

    The passion gap may therefore be the result of greater diversity in anti-science views of the left.

    1. the left is more fractured

      ISWYDT

  4. “They aren’t inherently superior to conservatives.”

    Good to see them admit their bias before doing this study…

  5. The Institute of Well, Duh! produces another study proving what those who aren’t lefty loonies already know, in hopes that they’ll *finally* believe the unwelcome news when it’s brought by people with letters after their names.

  6. The results of this study are so obvious, that it’s amazing the left has corrupted discourse on the subject to enough of a degree that this is even news.

    This reminds me of how it used to be common knowledge in social sciences that conservatives were more likely to obey authority. One day, an intrepid social scientist realized ‘hey, we’ve only really done this study when the ‘authority’ is a police officer. If we made the authority figure someone that the left inherently respects, would we find that liberals are just as authoritarian as conservatives?’

    Shockingly, it turned out that if the authority figure is a Democratic politician or an EPA employee, suddenly the completely believes whatever they have to say! They’re just as authoritarian as conservatives! Who could have seen that coming?

    Science has been done.

    1. interesting how those pesky variables can gum up a hypothesis, isn’t it.

  7. “I have been on this beat for a while. For more background on the operation of ideology and confirmation bias, see my article, “Everyone Who Knows What They Are Talking About Agrees with Me.”

    The song that summed it up perfectly:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55xQu9eIPIA

  8. Ok, here is one thing I don’t get.

    Yes all of the Jesus Freaks (that does not mean all Christians, just the nutjobs who question evolution) are conservative but they are a relatively small portion of the “conservative” population.

    I mean Biblical litteralist young earth creationist Christians are pretty much the ONLY group who gets worked up about evolution and they can’t be more than about 25% of all conservatives. The rest of the conservatives should have no reason whatsoever to get worked up about evolution even if they have some ideological qualms about forcing it on their more stridently religious brethren.

    1. What is likely going on is people doubt the metaphysical claims of evolution and are being tagged as “anti-science” in the same way as someone who denies the entire theory is.

      It is why the entire thing is useless.

      1. metaphysical claims of evolution

        Example please.

    2. As John alludes to, some believe that evolution is a process designed and manifested via a supreme being’s will, which does not comply with the theory of evolution. Those people would be grouped as anti-science based on a philosophical disagreement.

      1. As John alludes to, some believe that evolution is a process designed and manifested via a supreme being’s will, which does not comply with the theory of evolution.

        It’s by definition not a scientific claim. It is neither consistent nor inconsistent with the theory of evolution via natural selection, it is irrelevant to the science. The problem with scientific ignorance begins with a non-understanding of what science is.

      2. Well, no.

        What John is saying is that there are some people who believe that God is the being who did the Big Bang, that this is not part of the theory of evolution and does not add or detract from one’s belief in the scientific process.

        People who ‘believe in science’ are a part of the problem. Science is, there is no place in it for ‘belief’.

    3. From the polling I’ve seen, the % of Americans (not just conservatives) who are young earth creationists is significantly higher than 25%.

      1. Wiki wiki wiki

        A 2009 poll by Harris Interactive found that 39% of Americans agreed with the statement that “God created the universe, the earth, the sun, moon, stars, plants, animals, and the first two people within the past 10 000 years”, yet only 18% of the Americans polled agreed with the statement “The earth is less than 10 000 years old”.

        So we are left with the most likely explanation that fits the data: People are stupid and/or inattentive.

        1. You’re assuming that people care, and read questions in random polls thoroughly. Most people probably read the first question as “God created the universe, the earth, blah blah…”

          Not so much a matter of stupid, or inattentive, when it can easily be explained by lack of interest.

          1. Not so much a matter of stupid, or inattentive, when it can easily be explained by lack of interest.

            A distinction without a difference, really.

        2. “Inattentive” presupposes that my attention is expected or warranted. People only have so much attention to spread around. Just because you think you should have some doesn’t mean you get it.

          Which is why getting upset with people for preferring creationism over evolution is a stupid waste of time. Most people have no good reason to care. That’s not a failing on their part – it’s a rational decision based on the fact that it really has nothing to do with their daily lives.

      2. Can you provide a link, because from what’s crossed my desk, the value is much lower than 25%.

        1. Poor timing of page refreshes strikes again.

      3. Really? I’m going to have to look that up…growing up in protestant church, going to protestant HS and college, and having very strict Christian family on both sides, I don’t know anyone that thinks the earth is only 7k years old. Maybe a couple that think it might be 10-15k, but not with any real conviction.

  9. Liberals and conservatives are equally ignorant about science. More accurate headline, I think.

    1. “Everyone has biases!” – what I got from the article.

      Only your libertarian baises limited it to ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’. Although the ‘study’ had methodological flaws because it assumed a binary viewpoint.

      1. I didn’t limit my statement, I just pointed out the equality. Greens know even less about science. Libertarians are so rare that it’s difficult to get a statistically significant sampling.

        People are fucking stupid, there’s no sugar-coating it. 80% of people want warning labels for food containing DNA.

          1. I need a better sarcasm detector. Sorry, homie.

    2. And here I thought “Gotta find something else to distract from those altered datasets–they didn’t buy the last piece” was a better one.

  10. The author’s bias just oozes out. Note the changes necessary to make this evenhanded:

    New research suggests that both liberals, as well as and conservatives, can be biased against science that doesn’t align with their political views.

    They assume conservatives are biased, everyone knows it, goes without saying. Surprise, surprise, surpise, liberals can be biased, too! Who knew?

  11. I was recently talking about science with some progs – and one conservative – in the context of public policy. I laid out my view that not everyone who says “science, science” will enter the kingdom of evidence-based policymaking, but only those who apply the scientific method.*

    In other words, government officials and activists will use the s-word a lot, but that doesn’t mean they’re scientific. They could be applying “cargo-cult science” (Feynman’s term) – I instanced eugenics and other abuses.

    *cf, Matthew 7:21

  12. I hope this study was taxpayer funded, or else it probably isn’t *real* science anyway.

  13. I’ll bet they’d get liberals to react just as strongly if they brought up their real hot-button/taboo issues, such as anything related to race or gender. Base some questions on The Bell Curve and watch them hit the ceiling.

  14. That’s impossible. All right thinking people know that only conservatives are anti-science. Saying otherwise is racist. And sexist. And homophobic.

    1. Typical heteronormative cis-gendered non-other-kin response.

      1. Damn, you caught me.

  15. The problem with this debate is the lack of understanding of the term science. If I test a hypothesis using the scientific method, publish my findings, and allow for peer review, I assume THAT is what we’re talking about when we collectively say science.

    Whether you choose to agree that I properly tested is the gist of any reasonable debate. The unreasonable debate is the problem. These debates are propogated by those who hold preconceived notions that conflict with my results, and don’t respect the scientific method. These people exist on both sides of the aisle, and utilize the useful idiots in the bully pulpit to propogate their beliefs.

  16. New research suggests that liberals, as well as conservatives, can be biased against science that doesn’t align with their political views.

    Why should this finding be a surprise? Is it a given that little red Marxians are not as susceptible to confirmation bias and just plain bias? The fact that they call Marxianism “scientific” doesn’t provide a good clue about their position regarding science?

    “Climate change and evolution are much bigger issues in the media and political discourse than are fracking and nuclear power,” Nisbet said.

    Ok. Now that we’re in the business of applying value-judgments to scientific theories, I just want to know how is a natural process like evolution be a BIGGER issue than nuclear power? There is NOTHING one can do about evolution, but there is certainly a LOT of passion regarding nuclear power. I just don’t buy this idea that evolution is a bigger issue in the media? Why would that be?

    1. It could be that nuclear power production has the potential to wreak massive havoc should an accident occur…see Chernobyl and Fukushima. And there is a reasonable debate to be had on the pros/cons of accepting risks vs rewards of such technology.
      Denying the results garnered from the study of evolution, in favor of the pixies and fairydust offered by creationism, wreaks of nuclear level dumbfuckery/cognitive dissonance. We have a large segment of the population that eagerly embrace a level of stupid only found in the most backward shitholes in the world. I understand why Republican leaning libertarians would like to pretend that their retarded SoCon teammates didn’t exist…but I also understand why the talking heads in Team Blue cherish the fact that they can find you all in the same tent.

  17. I really don’t find these results useful or interesting. The elephant-in-the-room truth is that humans are really not very rational. We can use reason and be rational when we put our minds to it, but more often people use reason to rationalize what they already believe to be true. Whether politically left or right oriented, people are people and they are also non-rational and even irrational. Political persuasion has nothing to do with it–it’s just human nature.

  18. New Study Shows: Old Studies Suck
    And That New Studies Will Never Be Refuted, Because Science

  19. Climate Change and Evolution cause more anxiety because we’ve been culturally programmed that by accepting them you are also accepting non-substantiated world views. The proposition isn’t that you accept climate change is happening, it’s that you accept it is fully caused by human activity and only by renouncing all industrialization and reverting to a hunter-gatherer existence can we prevent the extinction of mankind.

    Frakking and Nuclear power simply don’t have underlying assumptions to that scale. Unless someone comes up with a genetic-based cure for homosexuality I don’t know of a current scientific controversy that would produce the same levels of anxiety in them.

  20. What science skeptics will point out is that there is a big difference between trusting the scientific method to eventually discover accurate theories and predictions, and trusting scientific theories and predictions based on disputed and/or partial set of facts and statistics. Furthermore, skeptics can honestly question the accuracy and severity of many scientific predictions without denying all of the underlying premises of the scientific theory that led to the prediction. Climate science is good example where skeptics may question some of the catastrophic predictions of climate change without denying that some climate change may exist.

    1. What? You don’t remember Algore’s prediction that the Arctic would be ice-free in 2013 coming true!?

      What the hell kind of unbeliever are you??

      1. My point is skepticism can include a wide range of doubt. A climate change (CC) skeptic can doubt that most, some or any CC is caused by human activity. Or, a CC skeptic could doubt the accuracy of all, most or some CC modeling. Or, a CC skeptic could accept that humans cause some CC but doubt all, most or some of the catastrophic CC predictions. It is too simplistic to suggest that all CC skeptics are deniers who all agree why they doubt a wide range of CC claims, and to suggest so fails to recognize the diversity of doubt among CC skeptics.

  21. All this really demonstrates is that the average American is science-stupid.

  22. Liberalism requires the denial of science in economics, fracking, nuclear power, abortion and climate science to support their positions, yet they will call conservatives ‘science deniers.’ Liberalism can’t even accept social science that proves gun ownership decreases crime and social welfare programs increase poverty.

    The big difference I see is that when a conservative denies science, they do it despite the science. Some conservative will actually deny the science.

    Liberals attack the scientists, their motives, their financing, their academic standing and the reputation of the scientist in an effort to stop their ability to do science in the future. Liberalism is much more aggressive in an effort to silence any science that doesn’t align to their ideology. Liberalism denies the science AND does everything to SILENCE the science.

  23. Libertarian ideology is the natural enemy of science

    Whether the issue is climate change, healthcare or gun control, libertarians are on a permanent collision course with evidence…

    http://www.theguardian.com/sci…..my-science

  24. Only religious fundamentalists have any issue with evolution. I know conservatives who don’t have any problem accepting that science. The article also didn’t mention GMO hysteria, anti-vaccine, and contrail idiocy. It’s mostly liberals who fall for that crap.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.