You Want More Epistemic Closure? Global Warming (again) and Evolution

Some commenters are criticizing the study in Henry’s original post. Perhaps the study’s analysis is flawed, but I think the finding stands based on other evidence. First, see the graphs in Andy’s follow-up post. Second, here are some graphs that were sent to me by Michael Tesler.

The graph below makes clear that better-educated liberals and conservatives are more polarized on global warming than their less well-educated kindred. The epistemic closure finding, again, is that well-educated (and therefore politically attentive) conservatives are less likely to believe in the scientific consensus regarding global warming than are less well-educated conservatives.

Tesler finds a somewhat similar pattern in attitudes toward evolution:

I say “somewhat similar” because here, better-educated conservatives are not necessarily less likely than less well-educated conservatives to deny facts about evolution. More striking is just how little formal education is associated with correct beliefs among conservatives.

Furthermore, the pattern of findings regarding global warming appears unique to the United States. In a host of countries where elites are not as divided on global warming, the pattern of polarization does not exist.

One explanation for this is familiar to any reader of John Zaller’s The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion: when political elites take contrasting positions on issues, those positions will be reflected in their fellow partisans in the public, at least among those who are paying enough attention to politics to receive these elite messages.

12 Responses to You Want More Epistemic Closure? Global Warming (again) and Evolution

  1. Andrew Gelman March 10, 2011 at 8:38 pm #

    Excellent use of many small graphs. I wonder how the countries are ordered, though?

  2. Michael Tesler March 11, 2011 at 12:50 am #

    ^I regressed global warming beliefs on ideological self-placement and then ordered the countries based upon their ideology coefficient’s magnitude.

  3. Brendan Moore March 11, 2011 at 8:57 am #

    Are these graphs available as part of a journal paper?

  4. joe March 11, 2011 at 9:40 am #

    Very interesting. Thanks for posting. On the set of smaller graphs, what is on the x-axis? Is “Interest in Politics” the same as education?

  5. Eric McGhee March 11, 2011 at 12:20 pm #

    What’s interesting about the Zaller reference is that Zaller himself is very optimistic (as I recall) about the prospects of correct information trickling down from elites to everyone else. He downplays the potential for manipulation of wide swaths of the public, because the elites will all agree on clear facts. At least that’s what I remember from the last time I read the book (a couple years ago).

  6. tweez March 11, 2011 at 12:22 pm #

    Those graphs are so small they’re illegible. Any chance of posting a full-size copy?

  7. Michael Tesler March 11, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

    ^^Zaller is indeed optimistic, writing, “The key to bridging ideological differences appears to be the existence of a body of conventional scientific knowledge…This knowledge is apparently sufficiently well developed and routinzied that it can lead its users to accept conclusions they are predisposed against” (321). The problem here is that unlike previous issues in which partisan elites accepted the scientific consensus (e.g. biological equality between the races) conservative elites are probably too concerned about the regulations needed to curb manmade global warming to accept the scientific consensus that it’s taking place.

  8. Casey Klofstad March 12, 2011 at 9:24 am #

    Kanazawa, Satoshi (2010) “Why liberals and atheists are more intelligent.” Social psychology quarterly, 73 (1). pp. 33-57.

  9. Henry March 12, 2011 at 2:47 pm #

    I wouldn’t be jumping on the Satoshi Kanazawa train “in a hurry”: meself.

  10. Matt Jarvis March 12, 2011 at 4:41 pm #

    I’m really curious as to what those US lines look like over time.

  11. Andrew Gelman March 13, 2011 at 1:02 pm #


    I have a horrible feeling that, when I’m long gone, that letter and the zombies article is all I’ll be remembered for.


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