Study: Higher levels of education affect minds of liberals and conservatives differently

One would think that conservatives and liberals with high levels of education would find common ground on scientific issues that involve empirical evidence — climate change, for example.

But one would be wrong for the most part, as we see in THIS ESSAY by author Chris Mooney:

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 their study, 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?”).

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.

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 more 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.

So much for education serving as an antidote to politically biased reasoning.




  1. Speaking of interesting studies, here is one that might cast doubt on the Obama teams re election strategy.


    If you ask people, ‘Should families with more than $250,000 pay a higher tax rate?’ you would get a lot of yeses on that,” said Clint Stretch, managing principal of tax policy at Deloitte Tax LLP. “And yet … you’ve got 75 percent of the answers are suggesting high-income people should have a lower tax rate, and that’s an astonishing result.”

    One possible explanation is voters may not know how much the nation’s top earners are already being taxed. The poll did not ask voters to identify current tax rates before saying what rate they favored.

    “It might be that people are underestimating how much the rich pay now,” said Bruce Bartlett, a former Reagan adviser and Treasury official under President George H.W. Bush.

    The data could indicate a challenge to Obama’s push to increase taxes on the wealthy. The White House’s fiscal 2013 budget request included a number of tax hikes targeting the nation’s wealthiest. In addition to the “Buffett Rule,” it calls for raising taxes on family income above $250,000 in 2013, and returning the top individual rate to 39.6 percent.

  2. I also strongly advise all good liberals to print this study out and put it under their pillow at night. It is beautiful because it takes that long held liberal meme (if you don’t agree with me you must be stupid) and escalates it to a whole new level (even if you are smarter than me you’re stupid).

    What I don’t get is this, if liberals are so smart (even if they are stupid) then why would they continue to push a left wing economic agenda? Socialism and even European socialism are failed economic models. We have witnessed this failure historically and can watch it real time on the evening news.

    Because liberals are so much smarter than me (even if they are stupid) this leads me to believe that they only pursue such left wing economic policies in order to cynicallly gain and maintain power. That almost seems evil in it’s intent.

    I’m just glad I’m too stupid to understand all of this, no matter how hard I try.

  3. Doc, I’m pretty sure that most liberals just use the reptilian brain stem. But, I’m just a geologist, so I’m not 100% sure of that.

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