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Are we warped in our worldviews?

A recent research paper in “Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science” claims that “Both Liberals, Conservatives Can Have Science Bias”. The paper says, when exposed to dissonant evidence — information that challenges one’s ideological worldview or set of cultural values – both liberals and conservatives can be biased against science. The following excerpt from the paper succinctly explains the idea

People do not approach evidence and arguments about controversial issues in a purely rational, even-handed manner (Lodge and Taber 2000). Instead, an individual’s prior beliefs and political ideology strongly bias how he or she responds to these arguments through selective exposure, attention, comprehension, and recall (Kunda 1990; Lodge and Taber 2000; Lord, Ross, and Lepper 1979; Taber and Lodge 2006; Taber, Cann, and Kucsova 2009). For example, those with greater issue involvement or with strongly held opinions are less likely to modify their beliefs when confronted with new information and so will frequently ignore and misinterpret ideologically incongruent arguments (Johnson and Eagly 1989). Others may respond to counterattitudinal or ideologically dissonant messages with source derogation, counterarguing, reactance, or negative affect (Byrne and Hart 2009; Jacks and Cameron 2003; Lewandowsky et al. 2012).

Therefore, equally informed citizens may employ scientific evidence in very different ways depending on their ideological orientation.

The paper goes on to say that

 (…) use of science for political ends by both Democrats and Republicans has contributed to political polarization about science issues as part of a larger, ongoing competition between American political actors attempting to differentiate themselves and mobilize base constituencies within an increasingly polarized political environment (Dunlap and McCright 2008, 2011; Leeper and Slothuus 2014; Sarewitz 2013; M. Nisbet 2011).

Although the terms “liberal, “conservative”, “Democrat”, “Republican” mean very little in the Indian context, we do face science biases everyday.  In this context, it is a good exercise to remember the Indian constitution which states “to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”, a fundamental duty. It is also time that we take this  fundamental duty seriously for therein lies the solution to overcome our biases.


Thanks to Tejas Canchi for sharing this paper.

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