Confirmation bias

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

Another shocking result from social science!


Confirmation Bias

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."