Reality, Bias, And The Asymmetry of Motivated Reasoning

Reality has a well known liberal bias.

So how did "data driven" journalist Ezra Klein launch Vox.com? With a piece arguing that liberals and conservatives are both equally biased against reality. First, he reviews some research from Dan Kahan:

Kahan doesn’t find it strange that we react to threatening information by mobilizing our intellectual artillery to destroy it. He thinks it’s strange that we would expect rational people to do anything else. "Nothing any ordinary member of the public personally believes about the existence, causes, or likely consequences of global warming will affect the risk that climate changes poses to her, or to anyone or anything she cares about," Kahan writes. "However, if she forms the wrong position on climate change relative to the one that people with whom she has a close affinity — and on whose high regard and support she depends on in myriad ways in her daily life — she could suffer extremely unpleasant consequences, from shunning to the loss of employment."

Kahan calls this theory Identity-Protective Cognition: "As a way of avoiding dissonance and estrangement from valued groups, individuals subconsciously resist factual information that threatens their defining values." Elsewhere, he puts it even more pithily: "What we believe about the facts," he writes, "tells us who we are." And the most important psychological imperative most of us have in a given day is protecting our idea of who we are, and our relationships with the people we trust and love.

Klein's conclusion is that we're all equally stupid:

The threat is real. Washington is a bitter war between two well-funded, sharply-defined tribes that have their own machines for generating evidence and their own enforcers of orthodoxy. It’s a perfect storm for making smart people very stupid.

When Paul Krugman said, "But reality has a well known liberal bias" and gave a long list of asymmetrical wrongness between the tribes, Kahan responded that his theory is self-sealing and immune to criticism, although he put it differently:

It's fair to say that Krugman's post utterly delighted Kahan. "Sometimes something so amazingly funny happens you have to pinch yourself to make sure you aren't really just a celluar automaton in a computer-simulated comedy world," he wrote. To Kahan, Krugman's response showed a liberal twisting the facts to believe exactly what he wanted to believe even as he accused conservatives of being the ones who twist facts to believe exactly what they want to believe. He called it "exquisitely self-refuting."

That's supposed to be me kicking a rock ala Dr Johnson. 

That's supposed to be me kicking a rock ala Dr Johnson. 

I refute it thusly: 

Another Criminologist Takes On the Lead-Crime Hypothesis

Kevin Drum discusses a critique of his lead causes crime article, which liberals like Drum (and me) are very motivated to believe. This is not what happens on the other side:

Mark Kleiman points me today to a critique from criminologist Phil Cook of [my] lead-crime hypothesis. Unlike some others, however, this is a sensible one...

...I'm an amateur, and it needs attention from experts who can evaluate his argument more rigorously. However, a few days ago I was complaining about the low quality of critics of the lead hypothesis, and now I have a high-quality critic. So I wanted to pass it along.