Re: [asa] Confirmation bias among GW dissenters

From: Rich Blinne <rich.blinne@gmail.com>
Date: Sun May 03 2009 - 19:49:50 EDT

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Where the money is coming from is not the only potential source of
bias (petroleum geologists being potentially biased against AGW and
climatologists potentially biased for). Much of the art of science is
coming up with innovative ways of correcting for our inherent biases.
Another source of bias which is more difficult to correct for is
political. Over the last decade there has been an increasing gap of
opinion concerning AGW between c onservative partisans and both l
iberal partisans and everybody else. http://www.gallup.com/poll/107569/ClimateChange-Views-R
  epublicanD emocratic-Gaps-Expand.aspx

There is now increasing evidence that this kind of bias is biological. http://psychsystems.net/lab/06_Westen_fmri.pdf
  is an interesting study.

The study picked partisans from both sides of the political spectrum
and made false but plausible accusations against both political
candidates. As was expected the partisans believed the exculpatory
story for "their guy" and the accusatory story for the "other guy".
But that's not the only thing the study did. They put the subject in a
fMRI machine and looked at what parts of the brains lit up.

> This is, we believe, the first study to describe the neural
> correlates of motivated reasoning (and the closely related
> constructs of implicit affect regulation, psychological defense,
> confirmatory biases, and forms of cognitive dissonance involving
> cognitive–evaluative discrepancies; see Westen, 1985, 1994). It is
> also, we believe, the first
> study describing the neural correlates of political judgment and
> decision-making.
>
> Consistent with prior studies of partisan biases and motivated
> reasoning, when confronted with information about their candidate
> that would logically lead them to an emotionally aversive
> conclusion, partisans arrived at an alternative conclusion. This
> process was not associated with differential activation of the
> DLPFC, as in studies of ‘‘ cold’’ reasoning and explicit emotion
> regulation (suppression). Rather, it was associated with activations
> in the lateral and medial orbital PFC, ACC, insula, and the
> posterior cingulate and contiguous precuneus and parietal cortex.
> Neural information processing related to motivated reasoning appears
> to be qualitatively different from reasoning in the absence of a
> strong emotional stake in the conclusions reached.

To put it in layman's terms political partisans are not thinking
rationally. Gender was not a factor here because all the subjects were
men. It also didn't matter what kind of ideology was invoked but
rather what was important that the ideology was strong. This was not
the only recent study that looked at political bias. There was another
clever study this week.

http://hij.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/14/2/212

Steven Colbert is a l iberal satirist for the Comedy Channel. He is on
the record as to his political persuasion. This study looked at
whether one's ideology affected people's perception of what Colbert's
real ideology is. One of the factors not mentioned in the abstract
below which had no effect on the perceptions is amount of exposure to
the Colbert Report.

> This study investigated biased message processing of political
> satire in The Colbert Report and the influence of political ideology
> on perceptions of Stephen Colbert. Results indicate that political
> ideology influences biased processing of ambiguous political
> messages and source in late-night comedy. Using data from an
> experiment (N = 332), we found that individual-level political
> ideology significantly predicted perceptions of Colbert's political
> ideology. Additionally, there was no significant difference between
> the groups in thinking Colbert was funny, but c onservatives were
> more likely to report that Colbert only pretends to be joking and
> genuinely meant what he said while l iberals were more likely to
> report that Colbert used satire and was not serious when offering
> political statements. C onservatism also significantly predicted
> perceptions that Colbert disliked l iberalism. Finally, a post hoc
> analysis revealed that perceptions of Colbert's political opinions
> fully mediated the relationship between political ideology and
> individual-level opinion.

The implications of this extends beyond the debate concerning AGW or
even political bias. It's the importance of having a disinterested
party and the avoidance of conflict of interest in studies. Again, the
beauty of peer review comes back. Any researcher is biased that his
study is valuable and correct and may not see the biases. He needs a
reviewer who does not have a dog in the hunt. With respect to the
geologist poll and the Gallup poll I referred to previously the
"middle" needs to be given greater weight. So, the geologists who are
neither petroleum geologists nor climatologists can be used as a "tie
breaker" (they sided with the climatologists). The same goes for
independents in political polls. When evaluating non-peer-reviewed
material it's important to know the political "angle" because their
ideology may skew their reasoning. This was why I commented on the
ideology on some climate web sites earlier with Bergy.

Rich Blinne
Member ASA

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Received on Sun May 3 19:50:27 2009

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