Epistemic closure – climate change edition

by Henry Farrell on March 9, 2011 · 10 comments

in Blogs

Via via Serendipity and Ethan Zuckerman, an article suggesting that partisanship and level of education have the same kind of interaction effect on beliefs about climate change that Bartels finds for economic inequality. Drawing on surveys of New Hampshire and Michigan Upper Peninsula residents, Lawrence Hamilton finds that:

The probability of perceiving global warming as a threat increases with education among Democrats, but decreases with education among Republicans. Only two respondents out of a thousand described themselves as “strong Democrats” or “strong Republicans” with less than an 8th grade education, so the crossover at far left in Fig. 3 should not be over-interpreted. Setting aside this extreme, threat perceptions are roughly similar among Republicans and Democrats with lower education. They are most divergent among those with higher educations. … Earlier researchers found education (along with age) to be the most consistent predictor of citizen concern about the environment, and about climate in particular. … The inconsistency marks a social shift away from patterns seen in older research. It reflects the efficacy of media campaigns that provide scientific-sounding arguments against taking climate change seriously, which disproportionately reach educated but ideologically receptive audiences. Among many educated, conservative citizens, it appears that that such arguments have overshadowed the scientific consensus presented by the IPCC reports and other core science sources.

Global Warming

The relationship is, to put it mildly, stark – the predicted probability that a strong Republican with postgraduate education will think that climate change is a threat is rather less than 10%. The article argues that this is a result of selective media consumption via the Internet.

The Internet and cable television news make it easier for us not only to process information selectively ourselves, but to selectively acquire information that has been processed already, when we only tune in to ideologically compatible Web sites, cable news shows and so forth …. The bias or selectivity of our sources can be higher than the newspapers, magazines or broadcast news that formerly supplied most current- events information. Narrowcast media, including many Web sites devoted to dis- crediting climate-change concerns, provide ideal conduits for channeling politically inspired but scientific sounding arguments to an audience predisposed to retain and repeat them. The power to repeat favored arguments has been vastly expanded as well, through forwarding emails or posting links and content online, in a process that can become “viral” as it motivates new readers to do the same.

This seems a plausible surmise, but it is unlikely to be the only mechanism involved. If Gentzkow and Shapiro are right, then there is less ideological segregation in consumption of Internet information sources than one might imagine e.g. from looking at blogs alone. It is possible, for example, that highly educated strong Republicans may be exposed to both contrarian and conventional sources of information on climate change, but trust the former much more than the latter because of partisan cues.

{ 8 comments }

Emily March 10, 2011 at 8:38 am

I’m curious about relative levels of the use of the term “liar” or “lying” in the last decade relative to previous. One of the premises of democratic deliberation theory is that people need to be able to agree on a common ground of factual information in order to have a shared political conversation (and hopefully, generate generally acceptable solutions.) That would be impossible if it is now a more prominent belief that information with which you don’t agree is probably false.

Joel March 10, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Global warming seems to me different than your typical partisan issue. It may make sense for more education to lead to polarization on what are essentially moral disagreements, where there is no right answer, and more schooling simply trains people to feel more secure in their own reasoning.

But given that the schools in which the more educated people of both parties are being educated are all presumably on board with this “science” thing, this divergence on a question related to human effects on the climate says a lot more about the failure of schools to teach highly educated people to differentiate a scientific finding from a political talking point.

After all, according to “science,” the human role in global warming is roughly as unsettled as the place of the sun at the center of the solar system. There’s no partisan divide on that one, is there?

Tom March 10, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Come on, this is a joke. They don’t even interpret their logit results correctly. Go read the interactions article from PA a few years back (Brambor & Clark?).

Also, confidence intervals, please.

Manoel Galdino March 10, 2011 at 7:23 pm

I take a quick look at the paper and it seems that Tom is right. They got the interaction terms wrong.

I just ploted a graphic using invlogit (from package ARM, in R) and they got the results wrong.

Also, looking to the coefficients, it seems that they got it wrong.

So, there is no need to explain epistemic closure here, because there is none.

Jen March 11, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Another explanation is that educated Republicans are deliberately misleading pollsters due to their higher priority concerns (regulation, energy policy, dislike of favored liberal ideas, etc.).

Menth March 11, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Another important thing to remember is that Republicans are susceptible to bias while Democrats are not. While it is possible for a Republican to be irrationally skeptical of global warming it is NOT possible that Democrats could be irrationally credulous.

After all, when in the history of civilization has there ever been an example of a people with a tendency to connect inclement weather or impending apocalypse to sinful behaviour?

Moses March 14, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Considering that most “news” is edited with a strong liberal bias—ergo, favoring the idea of anthropogenic global warming—the results could just as easily suggest the ability of conservatives and libertarians to question authority and identify hypocrisy, and Democrats to fall like dupes under the spell of evangelism.

After all: when Al Gore his acolytes start actually living like AGW is real, I’ll start considering the veracity of their claims.

Moses March 14, 2011 at 3:31 pm

Considering that most “news” is edited with a strong liberal bias—ergo, favoring the idea of anthropogenic global warming—the results could just as easily suggest the ability of conservatives and libertarians to question authority and identify hypocrisy, and Democrats to fall like dupes under the spell of evangelism.

After all: when Al Gore his acolytes start actually living like AGW is real, I’ll start considering the veracity of their claims.

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: