A new study shows that even generous unemployment benefits have zero impact on people’s drive to go out and find a job. The multinational study, conducted by Jan Eichhorn, a sociologist at the University of Edinburgh, and published in the October…
Jan Eichhorn, Moyers & Company, multinational study, the University of Edinburgh, Unemployment Benefits
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Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast called the public school system a “socialist regime.” Michelle Rhee cautions us against commending students for their ‘participation’ in sports and other activities.
Privatizers believe that any form of working together as a community is anti-American. To them, individual achievement is all that matters. They’re now applying their winner-take-all profit motive to our children.
We’re Sliding Backwards, Towards “Separate and Unequal”
In 1954, the Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. the Board of Education seemed to place our country on the right track. Chief Justice Earl Warren said that education “is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.” Thurgood Marshall insisted on “the right of every American to an equal start in life.”
But then we got derailed. We’ve become a nation of inequality, worse than ever before, worse than during the racist “separate but equal” policy of Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1896. The Civil Rights Project at UCLA shows that “segregated schools are systematically linked to unequal educational opportunities.” The Economic Policy Institute tells us that “African American students are more isolated than they were 40 years ago.”
The privatizers clamor for vouchers and charters to improve education, but such methods generally don’t serve those who need it most. According to a Center on Education Policy report, private schools serve 12 percent of the nation’s elementary and secondary students, but only one percent of disabled students. Forty-three percent of public school students are from minority families, compared to 24% of private school students.
Meanwhile, as teachers continue to get blamed, the Census Bureau tells us that an incredible 38 percent of black children live in poverty.
The Underprivileged Have Been Cheated Out Of Taxes
A Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) report revealed that total K-12 education cuts for fiscal 2012 were about $12.7 billion.
Almost 90 percent of K-12 funding comes from state and local taxes. But in 2011 and 2012, 155 of the largest U.S. corporations paid only about half of their required state taxes. That comes to $14 billion per year in unpaid taxes, more than the K-12 cuts.
Untaxed and Unqualified Foundations Want To “Save Our Schools”
The “starve the beast” mentality allows the privatizers to claim that our “Soviet-style” schools don’t work, and that a business approach must be used instead. Philanthropists like Bill Gates and Eli Broad and Michael Bloomberg and Rupert Murdoch and the Walton family, who have little educational experience among them, and who have little accountability to the public, are promoting “education reform” with lots of standardized testing.
But according to the National Research Council, “The tests that are typically used to measure performance in education fall short of providing a complete measure of desired educational outcomes in many ways.” Diane Ravitch notes that the test-based Common Core standards were developed by a Gates-funded organization with almost no public input. Desperate states had to adopt the standards to get funding.
Bill Gates may be well-intentioned, but he’s a tech guy, and his programming of children into educational objects is disturbing. One of his ideas is to videotape teachers and then analyze their performances. The means of choosing ‘analysts’ is unclear. Another Gates idea is the Galvanic Skin Response bracelet, which would be attached to a child to measure classroom engagement, and ultimately gauge teacher performance. It all sounds like a drug company’s test lab.
As noted by Ravitch and others, philanthropic organizations tend to contribute to “like-minded entities,” which are likely to exclude representatives of the neediest community organizations. They are also tax-exempt. And when educational experiments go wrong, they can just leave their mess behind and move on to their next project.
Getting Past Our “Exceptionalism”
If we’re willing to look beyond our borders for help, we will see the short-sightedness of our educational “reforms.” Finland’s schools were considered mediocre 30 years ago, but they’ve achieved a remarkable turnaround by essentially challenging their teachers before they’re entrusted with the welfare of the children. Most Finnish teachers are unionized, and they undergo rigorousmasters-level training to ensure proficiency in the teaching profession, which is held in the same high esteem as law and medicine. In keeping with this respect for learning, government funding is applied equally to all schools, classes in the arts are available to all students, and tuition is free.
It’s not just Finland with such impressive results. Research at the National Center on Education and the Economy has confirmed that educational systems in Japan, Shanghai, and Ontario, Canada have prospered with an emphasis on the preparation of teachers for the essential task of instructing their young people.
A Strong Community Leads To Individual Success
George Lakoff summarizes: “The Public provides freedom…Individualism begins after the roads are built, after individualists have had an education, after medical research has cured their diseases…”
Public education is vital to the promise of equal opportunity for all. But it will only succeed if we work together as a community, and stop listening to the voices of profit and inexperience.
By MARK R. RANK
Few topics in American society have more myths and stereotypes surrounding them than poverty, misconceptions that distort both our politics and our domestic policy making.
They include the notion that poverty affects a relatively small number of Americans, that the poor are impoverished for years at a time, that most of those in poverty live in inner cities, that too much welfare assistance is provided and that poverty is ultimately a result of not working hard enough. Although pervasive, each assumption is flat-out wrong.
Contrary to popular belief, the percentage of the population that directly encounters poverty is exceedingly high. My research indicates that nearly 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 60 will experience at least one year below the official poverty line during that period ($23,492 for a family of four), and 54 percent will spend a year in poverty or near poverty (below 150 percent of the poverty line).
Even more astounding, if we add in related conditions like welfare use, near-poverty and unemployment, four out of five Americans will encounter one or more of these events.
In addition, half of all American children will at some point during their childhood reside in a household that uses food stamps for a period of time.
Put simply, poverty is a mainstream event experienced by a majority of Americans. For most of us, the question is not whether we will experience poverty, but when.
But while poverty strikes a majority of the population, the average time most people spend in poverty is relatively short. The standard image of the poor has been that of an entrenched underclass, impoverished for years at a time. While this captures a small and important slice of poverty, it is also a highly misleading picture of its more widespread and dynamic nature.
The typical pattern is for an individual to experience poverty for a year or two, get above the poverty line for an extended period of time, and then perhaps encounter another spell at some later point. Events like losing a job, having work hours cut back, experiencing a family split or developing a serious medical problem all have the potential to throw households into poverty.
Just as poverty is widely dispersed with respect to time, it is also widely dispersed with respect to place. Only approximately 10 percent of those in poverty live in extremely poor urban neighborhoods. Households in poverty can be found throughout a variety of urban and suburban landscapes, as well as in small towns and communities across rural America. This dispersion of poverty has been increasing over the past 20 years, particularly within suburban areas.
Along with the image of inner-city poverty, there is also a widespread perception that most individuals in poverty are nonwhite. This is another myth: According to the latest Census Bureau numbers, two-thirds of those below the poverty line identified themselves as white — a number that has held rather steady over the past several decades.
What about the generous assistance we provide to the poor? Contrary to political rhetoric, the American social safety net is extremely weak and filled with gaping holes. Furthermore, it has become even weaker over the past 40 years because of various welfare reform and budget cutting measures.
We currently expend among the fewest resources within the industrialized countries in terms of pulling families out of poverty and protecting them from falling into it. And the United States is one of the few developed nations that does not provide universal health care, affordable child care, or reasonably priced low-income housing. As a result, our poverty rate is approximately twice the European average.
Whether we examine childhood poverty, poverty among working-age adults, poverty within single-parent families or overall rates of poverty, the story is much the same — the United States has exceedingly high levels of impoverishment. The many who find themselves in poverty are often shocked at how little assistance the government actually provides to help them through tough times.
Finally, the common explanation for poverty has emphasized a lack of motivation, the failure to work hard enough and poor decision making in life.
Yet my research and that of others has consistently found that the behaviors and attitudes of those in poverty basically mirror those of mainstream America. Likewise, a vast majority of the poor have worked extensively and will do so again. Poverty is ultimately a result of failings at economic and political levels rather than individual shortcomings.
The solutions to poverty are to be found in what is important for the health of any family — having a job that pays a decent wage, having the support of good health and child care and having access to a first-rate education. Yet these policies will become a reality only when we begin to truly understand that poverty is an issue of us, rather than an issue of them.
Mark R. Rank is a professor of social welfare at Washington University and a co-author of the forthcoming book “Chasing the American Dream: Understanding What Shapes our Fortunes.”
Ocean scientists fear that climate change is dramatically shifting the chemical balance of the ocean in ways that will kill fish, molluscs and coral, harming 540 million people who depend on fisheries for their livelihoods—and anyone who likes a cheap oyster.
Oceanographers gathered for a summit in Monterey, California, last month,producing a new report warning policymakers of the need to act.
The world’s oceans are basically a giant carbon sink, absorbing about a quarter of carbon dioxide emissions. Since the industrial revolution, the ocean has become increasingly acidic due to increased carbon emissions—and at a faster pace than ever before—but that saturation is making the ocean less effective at taking carbon out of the air. By 2100, they expect the ocean will be 170% more acidic than it was before the industrial revolution. That change, scientists expect, will increase the speed of climate change going forward.
In the meantime, it will harm ocean life, particularly organisms that rely on hard shells or exo-skeletons like coral, molluscs, and crabs. The scientists are confident that the impact will lead to significant economic losses within the century, but the magnitude is less clear. One estimate of the cost to mollusc fisheries alone is $130 billion. Reductions in coral reefs, the heart of complex ocean ecosystems, are also strongly indicated, and while the economic impact is hard to specify, it could cost as much as $1 trillion within the century.
As the explosion incostly and terrifying jellyfish blooms reminds us, it’s both hard to predict how the ocean ecosystem will react to changes brought about by human activity, and hard to turn back those changes once they are in place. Some species may be able to adapt to a more acidic future; others may face local extinction in especially acidic waters. But it might be better not to find out.carbon dioxide emissions, carbon emissions, Climate change, coral reefs, industrial revolution, ocean ecosystem, ocean ecosystems, Tim Fernholz
Network to air one-sided advocacy for nuclear power
October 25, 2013
On November 7, CNN will air the pro-nuclear power documentary Pandora’s Promise.
The film tells one side of the nuclear debate, profiling a few people who were once critical of the nuclear industry and are now boosters.
Pandora’s Promise argues that environmentalists should embrace nuclear power. The film is unbalanced by design–making it a curious pick for a news organization that markets itself as a more neutral alternative to its cable news competitors.
Pandora’s Promise ”is as stacked as advocate movies get,” the New York Times (6/11/13) explained in its review. The film “leaves no room for dissent, much less a drop of doubt,” the Timesadds, calling it a “parade of like-minded nuclear-power advocates who assure us that everything will be all right.”
The review also noted that one of the financial backers of the film, Paul Allen, is invested in nuclear power–the kind of conflict of interest that journalistic outlets try to avoid.
Even a very sympathetic reviewer in Time magazine (6/21/13) admitted that he “would have liked to have seen a more meaningful debate on screen–the only opponents of nuclear power that appear come off as bonkers.”
Does the film at least get the facts right? Critics of nuclear power say absolutely not. As The Nation‘s Mark Hertsgaard (6/16/13) shows, the film misleads viewers about the health effects of the Chernobyl disaster.
It also has very little to say about the costs associated with building nuclear power plants in the first place–a critical question as humanity considers the best way to transition away from climate-wrecking fossil fuels.
So why is CNN giving viewers a one-sided brief in favor of nuclear power? Tell them you think nuclear power doesn’t need uncritical cheerleading–it needs a debate where all sides are heard.
By Chris Mooney | Mon Apr. 18, 2011 3:00 AM PDT
“A MAN WITH A CONVICTION is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.” So wrote the celebrated Stanford University psychologist Leon Festinger  (PDF), in a passage that might have been referring to climate change denial—the persistent rejection, on the part of so many Americans today, of what we know about global warming and its human causes. But it was too early for that—this was the 1950s—and Festinger was actually describing a famous case study  in psychology.
Festinger and several of his colleagues had infiltrated the Seekers, a small Chicago-area cult whose members thought they were communicating with aliens—including one, “Sananda,” who they believed was the astral incarnation of Jesus Christ. The group was led by Dorothy Martin, a Dianetics devotee who transcribed the interstellar messages through automatic writing.
Through her, the aliens had given the precise date of an Earth-rending cataclysm: December 21, 1954. Some of Martin’s followers quit their jobs and sold their property, expecting to be rescued by a flying saucer when the continent split asunder and a new sea swallowed much of the United States. The disciples even went so far as to remove brassieres and rip zippers out of their trousers—the metal, they believed, would pose a danger on the spacecraft.
Festinger and his team were with the cult when the prophecy failed. First, the “boys upstairs” (as the aliens were sometimes called) did not show up and rescue the Seekers. Then December 21 arrived without incident. It was the moment Festinger had been waiting for: How would people so emotionally invested in a belief system react, now that it had been soundly refuted?
At first, the group struggled for an explanation. But then rationalization set in. A new message arrived, announcing that they’d all been spared at the last minute. Festinger summarized the extraterrestrials’ new pronouncement: “The little group, sitting all night long, had spread so much light that God had saved the world from destruction.” Their willingness to believe in the prophecy had saved Earth from the prophecy!
From that day forward, the Seekers, previously shy of the press and indifferent toward evangelizing, began to proselytize. “Their sense of urgency was enormous,” wrote Festinger. The devastation of all they had believed had made them even more certain of their beliefs.
In the annals of denial, it doesn’t get much more extreme than the Seekers. They lost their jobs, the press mocked them, and there were efforts to keep them away from impressionable young minds. But while Martin’s space cult might lie at on the far end of the spectrum of human self-delusion, there’s plenty to go around. And since Festinger’s day, an array of new discoveries in psychology and neuroscience has further demonstrated how our preexisting beliefs, far more than any new facts, can skew our thoughts and even color what we consider our most dispassionate and logical conclusions. This tendency toward so-called “motivated reasoning ” helps explain why we find groups so polarized over matters where the evidence is so unequivocal: climate change, vaccines, “death panels,” the birthplace and religion of the president  (PDF), and much else. It would seem that expecting people to be convinced by the facts flies in the face of, you know, the facts.
The theory of motivated reasoning builds on a key insight of modern neuroscience  (PDF): Reasoning is actually suffused with emotion (or what researchers often call “affect”). Not only are the two inseparable, but our positive or negative feelings about people, things, and ideas arise much more rapidly than our conscious thoughts, in a matter of milliseconds—fast enough to detect with an EEG device, but long before we’re aware of it. That shouldn’t be surprising: Evolution required us to react very quickly to stimuli in our environment. It’s a “basic human survival skill,” explains political scientist Arthur Lupia  of the University of Michigan. We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close. We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself.
We’re not driven only by emotions, of course—we also reason, deliberate. But reasoning comes later, works slower—and even then, it doesn’t take place in an emotional vacuum. Rather, our quick-fire emotions can set us on a course of thinking that’s highly biased, especially on topics we care a great deal about.
Consider a person who has heard about a scientific discovery that deeply challenges her belief in divine creation—a new hominid, say, that confirms our evolutionary origins. What happens next, explains political scientist Charles Taber  of Stony Brook University, is a subconscious negative response to the new information—and that response, in turn, guides the type of memories and associations formed in the conscious mind. “They retrieve thoughts that are consistent with their previous beliefs,” says Taber, “and that will lead them to build an argument and challenge what they’re hearing.”
In other words, when we think we’re reasoning, we may instead be rationalizing. Or to use an analogy offered by University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt : We may think we’re being scientists, but we’re actually being lawyers  (PDF). Our “reasoning” is a means to a predetermined end—winning our “case”—and is shot through with biases. They include “confirmation bias,” in which we give greater heed to evidence and arguments that bolster our beliefs, and “disconfirmation bias,” in which we expend disproportionate energy trying to debunk or refute views and arguments that we find uncongenial.
That’s a lot of jargon, but we all understand these mechanisms when it comes to interpersonal relationships. If I don’t want to believe that my spouse is being unfaithful, or that my child is a bully, I can go to great lengths to explain away behavior that seems obvious to everybody else—everybody who isn’t too emotionally invested to accept it, anyway. That’s not to suggest that we aren’t also motivated to perceive the world accurately—we are. Or that we never change our minds—we do. It’s just that we have other important goals besides accuracy—including identity affirmation and protecting one’s sense of self—and often those make us highly resistant to changing our beliefs when the facts say we should.
Modern science originated from an attempt to weed out such subjective lapses—what that great 17th century theorist of the scientific method, Francis Bacon, dubbed the “idols of the mind.” Even if individual researchers are prone to falling in love with their own theories, the broader processes of peer review and institutionalized skepticism are designed to ensure that, eventually, the best ideas prevail.
Our individual responses to the conclusions that science reaches, however, are quite another matter. Ironically, in part because researchers employ so much nuance and strive to disclose all remaining sources of uncertainty, scientific evidence is highly susceptible to selective reading and misinterpretation. Giving ideologues or partisans scientific data that’s relevant to their beliefs is like unleashing them in the motivated-reasoning equivalent of a candy store.
Sure enough, a large number of psychological studies have shown that people respond to scientific or technical evidence in ways that justify their preexisting beliefs. In a classic 1979 experiment  (PDF), pro- and anti-death penalty advocates were exposed to descriptions of two fake scientific studies: one supporting and one undermining the notion that capital punishment deters violent crime and, in particular, murder. They were also shown detailed methodological critiques of the fake studies—and in a scientific sense, neither study was stronger than the other. Yet in each case, advocates more heavily criticized the study whose conclusions disagreed with their own, while describing the study that was more ideologically congenial as more “convincing.”
Since then, similar results have been found for how people respond to “evidence” about affirmative action, gun control, the accuracy of gay stereotypes , and much else. Even when study subjects are explicitly instructed to be unbiased and even-handed about the evidence, they often fail.
And it’s not just that people twist or selectively read scientific evidence to support their preexisting views. According to research by Yale Law School professor Dan Kahan  and his colleagues, people’s deep-seated views about morality, and about the way society should be ordered, strongly predict whom they consider to be a legitimate scientific expert in the first place—and thus where they consider “scientific consensus” to lie on contested issues.
In Kahan’s research  (PDF), individuals are classified, based on their cultural values, as either “individualists” or “communitarians,” and as either “hierarchical” or “egalitarian” in outlook. (Somewhat oversimplifying, you can think of hierarchical individualists as akin to conservative Republicans, and egalitarian communitarians as liberal Democrats.) In one study, subjects in the different groups were asked to help a close friend determine the risks associated with climate change, sequestering nuclear waste, or concealed carry laws: “The friend tells you that he or she is planning to read a book about the issue but would like to get your opinion on whether the author seems like a knowledgeable and trustworthy expert.” A subject was then presented with the résumé of a fake expert “depicted as a member of the National Academy of Sciences who had earned a Ph.D. in a pertinent field from one elite university and who was now on the faculty of another.” The subject was then shown a book excerpt by that “expert,” in which the risk of the issue at hand was portrayed as high or low, well-founded or speculative. The results were stark: When the scientist’s position stated that global warming is real and human-caused, for instance, only 23 percent of hierarchical individualists agreed the person was a “trustworthy and knowledgeable expert.” Yet 88 percent of egalitarian communitarians accepted the same scientist’s expertise. Similar divides were observed on whether nuclear waste can be safely stored underground and whether letting people carry guns deters crime. (The alliances did not always hold. In another study  (PDF), hierarchs and communitarians were in favor of laws that would compel the mentally ill to accept treatment, whereas individualists and egalitarians were opposed.)
In other words, people rejected the validity of a scientific source because its conclusion contradicted their deeply held views—and thus the relative risks inherent in each scenario. A hierarchal individualist finds it difficult to believe that the things he prizes (commerce, industry, a man’s freedom to possess a gun to defend his family ) (PDF) could lead to outcomes deleterious to society. Whereas egalitarian communitarians tend to think that the free market causes harm, that patriarchal families mess up kids, and that people can’t handle their guns. The study subjects weren’t “anti-science”—not in their own minds, anyway. It’s just that “science” was whatever they wanted it to be. “We’ve come to a misadventure, a bad situation where diverse citizens, who rely on diverse systems of cultural certification, are in conflict,” says Kahan .
And that undercuts the standard notion that the way to persuade people is via evidence and argument. In fact, head-on attempts to persuade can sometimes trigger a backfire effect, where people not only fail to change their minds when confronted with the facts—they may hold their wrong views more tenaciously than ever.
Take, for instance, the question of whether Saddam Hussein possessed hidden weapons of mass destruction just before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. When political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler showed subjects fake newspaper articles  (PDF) in which this was first suggested (in a 2004 quote from President Bush) and then refuted (with the findings of the Bush-commissioned Iraq Survey Group report, which found no evidence of active WMD programs in pre-invasion Iraq), they found that conservatives were more likely than before to believe the claim. (The researchers also tested how liberals responded when shown that Bush did not actually “ban” embryonic stem-cell research. Liberals weren’t particularly amenable to persuasion, either, but no backfire effect was observed.)
Another study gives some inkling of what may be going through people’s minds when they resist persuasion. Northwestern University sociologist Monica Prasad and her colleagues wanted to test whether they could dislodge the notion that Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda were secretly collaborating among those most likely to believe it—Republican partisans from highly GOP-friendly counties. So the researchers set up a study  (PDF) in which they discussed the topic with some of these Republicans in person. They would cite the findings of the 9/11 Commission, as well as a statement in which George W. Bush himself denied his administration had “said the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and Al Qaeda.”
As it turned out, not even Bush’s own words could change the minds of these Bush voters—just 1 of the 49 partisans who originally believed the Iraq-Al Qaeda claim changed his or her mind. Far more common was resisting the correction in a variety of ways, either by coming up with counterarguments or by simply being unmovable:
Interviewer: [T]he September 11 Commission found no link between Saddam and 9/11, and this is what President Bush said. Do you have any comments on either of those?
Respondent: Well, I bet they say that the Commission didn’t have any proof of it but I guess we still can have our opinions and feel that way even though they say that.
The same types of responses are already being documented on divisive topics facing the current administration. Take the “Ground Zero mosque.” Using information from the political myth-busting site FactCheck.org , a team at Ohio State presented subjects  (PDF) with a detailed rebuttal to the claim that “Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Imam backing the proposed Islamic cultural center and mosque, is a terrorist-sympathizer.” Yet among those who were aware of the rumor and believed it, fewer than a third changed their minds.
A key question—and one that’s difficult to answer—is how “irrational” all this is. On the one hand, it doesn’t make sense to discard an entire belief system, built up over a lifetime, because of some new snippet of information. “It is quite possible to say, ‘I reached this pro-capital-punishment decision based on real information that I arrived at over my life,’” explains Stanford social psychologist Jon Krosnick . Indeed, there’s a sense in which science denial could be considered keenly “rational.” In certain conservative communities, explains Yale’s Kahan, “People who say, ‘I think there’s something to climate change,’ that’s going to mark them out as a certain kind of person, and their life is going to go less well.”
This may help explain a curious pattern Nyhan and his colleagues found when they tried to test the fallacy  (PDF) that President Obama is a Muslim. When a nonwhite researcher was administering their study, research subjects were amenable to changing their minds about the president’s religion and updating incorrect views. But when only white researchers were present, GOP survey subjects in particular were more likely to believe the Obama Muslim myth than before. The subjects were using “social desirabililty” to tailor their beliefs (or stated beliefs, anyway) to whoever was listening.
Which leads us to the media. When people grow polarized over a body of evidence, or a resolvable matter of fact, the cause may be some form of biased reasoning, but they could also be receiving skewed information to begin with—or a complicated combination of both. In the Ground Zero mosque case, for instance, a follow-up study  (PDF) showed that survey respondents who watched Fox News were more likely to believe the Rauf rumor and three related ones—and they believed them more strongly than non-Fox watchers.
Okay, so people gravitate toward information that confirms what they believe, and they select sources that deliver it. Same as it ever was, right? Maybe, but the problem is arguably growing more acute, given the way we now consume information—through the Facebook links of friends, or tweets that lack nuance or context, or “narrowcast ” and often highly ideological media that have relatively small, like-minded audiences. Those basic human survival skills of ours, says Michigan’s Arthur Lupia, are “not well-adapted to our information age.”
If you wanted to show how and why fact is ditched in favor of motivated reasoning, you could find no better test case than climate change. After all, it’s an issue where you have highly technical information on one hand and very strong beliefs on the other. And sure enough, one key predictor of whether you accept the science of global warming is whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat. The two groups have been growing more divided in their views about the topic, even as the science becomes more unequivocal.
So perhaps it should come as no surprise that more education doesn’t budge Republican views. On the contrary: In a 2008 Pew survey , for instance, 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. In other words, a higher education correlated with an increased likelihood of denying the science on the issue. Meanwhile, among Democrats and independents, more education correlated with greater acceptance of the science.
Other studies have shown a similar effect: Republicans who think they understand the global warming issue best are least concerned about it; and among Republicans and those with higher levels of distrust of science in general, learning more about the issue doesn’t increase one’s concern about it. What’s going on here? Well, according to Charles Taber and Milton Lodge of Stony Brook, one insidious aspect of motivated reasoning is that political sophisticates are prone to be more biased than those who know less about the issues. “People who have a dislike of some policy—for example, abortion—if they’re unsophisticated they can just reject it out of hand,” says Lodge. “But if they’re sophisticated, they can go one step further and start coming up with counterarguments.” These individuals are just as emotionally driven and biased as the rest of us, but they’re able to generate more and better reasons to explain why they’re right—and so their minds become harder to change.
That may be why the selectively quoted emails of Climategate were so quickly and easily seized upon by partisans as evidence of scandal. Cherry-picking is precisely the sort of behavior you would expect motivated reasoners to engage in to bolster their views—and whatever you may think about Climategate, the emails were a rich trove of new information upon which to impose one’s ideology.
Climategate had a substantial impact on public opinion, according to Anthony Leiserowitz , director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication . It contributed to an overall drop in public concern about climate change and a significant loss of trust in scientists. But—as we should expect by now—these declines were concentrated among particular groups of Americans: Republicans, conservatives, and those with “individualistic” values. Liberals and those with “egalitarian” values didn’t lose much trust in climate science or scientists at all. “In some ways, Climategate was like a Rorschach test,” Leiserowitz says, “with different groups interpreting ambiguous facts in very different ways.”
So is there a case study of science denial that largely occupies the political left? Yes: the claim that childhood vaccines are causing an epidemic of autism. Its most famous proponents are an environmentalist (Robert F. Kennedy Jr. ) and numerous Hollywood celebrities (most notably Jenny McCarthy  and Jim Carrey). The Huffington Post gives a very large megaphone to denialists. And Seth Mnookin , author of the new book The Panic Virus , notes that if you want to find vaccine deniers, all you need to do is go hang out at Whole Foods.
Vaccine denial has all the hallmarks of a belief system that’s not amenable to refutation. Over the past decade, the assertion that childhood vaccines are driving autism rates has been undermined  by multiple epidemiological studies—as well as the simple fact that autism rates continue to rise, even though the alleged offending agent in vaccines (a mercury-based preservative called thimerosal) has long since been removed.
Yet the true believers persist—critiquing each new study that challenges their views, and even rallying to the defense of vaccine-autism researcher Andrew Wakefield, after his 1998 Lancet paper —which originated the current vaccine scare—was retracted and he subsequently lost his license  (PDF) to practice medicine. But then, why should we be surprised? Vaccine deniers created their own partisan media, such as the website Age of Autism, that instantly blast out critiques and counterarguments whenever any new development casts further doubt on anti-vaccine views.
It all raises the question: Do left and right differ in any meaningful way when it comes to biases in processing information, or are we all equally susceptible?
There are some clear differences. Science denial today is considerably more prominent on the political right—once you survey climate and related environmental issues, anti-evolutionism, attacks on reproductive health science by the Christian right, and stem-cell and biomedical matters. More tellingly, anti-vaccine positions are virtually nonexistent among Democratic officeholders today—whereas anti-climate-science views are becoming monolithic among Republican elected officials.
Some researchers have suggested that there are psychological differences between the left and the right that might impact responses to new information—that conservatives are more rigid and authoritarian, and liberals more tolerant of ambiguity. Psychologist John Jost of New York University has further argued that conservatives are “system justifiers”: They engage in motivated reasoning to defend the status quo.
This is a contested area, however, because as soon as one tries to psychoanalyze inherent political differences, a battery of counterarguments emerges: What about dogmatic and militant communists? What about how the parties have differed through history? After all, the most canonical case of ideologically driven science denial is probably the rejection of genetics in the Soviet Union, where researchers disagreeing with the anti-Mendelian scientist (and Stalin stooge) Trofim Lysenko were executed, and genetics itself was denounced as a “bourgeois” science and officially banned.
The upshot: All we can currently bank on is the fact that we all have blinders in some situations. The question then becomes: What can be done to counteract human nature itself?
Given the power of our prior beliefs to skew how we respond to new information, one thing is becoming clear: If you want someone to accept new evidence, make sure to present it to them in a context that doesn’t trigger a defensive, emotional reaction.
This theory is gaining traction in part because of Kahan’s work at Yale. In one study , he and his colleagues packaged the basic science of climate change into fake newspaper articles bearing two very different headlines—”Scientific Panel Recommends Anti-Pollution Solution to Global Warming” and “Scientific Panel Recommends Nuclear Solution to Global Warming”—and then tested how citizens with different values responded. Sure enough, the latter framing made hierarchical individualists much more open to accepting the fact that humans are causing global warming. Kahan infers that the effect occurred because the science had been written into an alternative narrative that appealed to their pro-industry worldview.
You can follow the logic to its conclusion: Conservatives are more likely to embrace climate science if it comes to them via a business or religious leader, who can set the issue in the context of different values than those from which environmentalists or scientists often argue. Doing so is, effectively, to signal a détente in what Kahan has called a “culture war of fact.” In other words, paradoxically, you don’t lead with the facts in order to convince. You lead with the values—so as to give the facts a fighting chance.
New standardized test scores are out today in New York, and here’s a post that tells you what to make of the results. This was written by award-winning Principal Carol Burris of South Side High School in New York, who has for more than a year chronicled on the test-driven reform in her state (here, and here and here andhere, for example). Burris was named New York’s 2013 High School Principal of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and in 2010, tapped as the 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State. She is the co-author of the New York Principals letter of concern regarding the evaluation of teachers by student test scores. It has been signed by more than 1,535 New York principals and more than 6,500 teachers, parents, professors, administrators and citizens. You can read the letter by clicking here.