Are Independents More Immune to Bias Than Liberals or Conservatives?

Dan Kahan's research at the Cultural Cognition Project has found that even very smart people fit their knowledge to their ideology. (He has appeared on this blog a few times, and in our podcast “The Truth Is Out There…Isn’t It?”) Kahan has a new working paper (abstractPDF) on political affiliations and bias, which argues that independents seem to show immunity to the bias that afflicts both conservatives and liberals:

Social psychologists have identified various plausible sources of ideological polarization over climate change, gun violence, national security, and like societal risks. This paper reports a study of three of them: the predominance of heuristic-driven information processing by members of the public; ideologically motivated cognition; and personality-trait correlates of political conservativism. The results of the study suggest reason to doubt two common surmises about how these dynamics interact. First, the study presents both observational and experimental data inconsistent with the hypothesis that political conservatism is distinctively associated with closed-mindedness: conservatives did no better or worse than liberals on an objective measure of cognitive reflection; and more importantly, both demonstrated the same unconscious tendency to fit assessments of empirical evidence to their ideological predispositions.

Are Economists as Biased as Everyone Else?

All nine nominees for office in the American Economic Association are from private universities, all from states on an ocean. (All but one member of the Nominating Committee was also on a coast.) Two are friends of mine, and all are good people, but: isn’t this evidence of reverse discrimination? Surely there are scholars from public universities, or from the several top-ten non-coastal private schools, who are at least as qualified.

Like others, we economists favor those like us. That’s the bad news—and it’s been shown in conferring other honorifics (Hamermesh and Schmidt, 2003). The good news is that, where it really matters—in judging scholarly papers for publication—economists are remarkably fair (Blank, 1991; Abrevaya and Hamermesh, 2012), ignoring an author’s affiliation, gender or prior reputation.

Given human nature of helping one’s friends, perhaps we should be congratulated for indulging ourselves only where it’s not important.

How We Perceive the Weather

A new study looks at how ideological and political beliefs affect people's perceptions of the weather. The authors surveyed 8,000 people across the U.S. between 2008 and 2011 and found that while floods and droughts were remembered correctly, temperature changes were a different story. From Ars Technica:

In fact, the actual trends in temperatures had nothing to do with how people perceived them. If you graphed the predictive power of people's perceptions against the actual temperatures, the resulting line was flat—it showed no trend at all. In the statistical model, the actual weather had little impact on people's perception of recent temperatures. Education continued to have a positive impact on whether they got it right, but its magnitude was dwarfed by the influences of political affiliation and cultural beliefs.

And those cultural affiliations had about the effect you'd expect. Individualists, who often object to environmental regulations as an infringement on their freedoms, tended to think the temperatures hadn't gone up in their area, regardless of whether they had. Strong egalitarians, in contrast, tended to believe the temperatures had gone up.

What Surgeons Get Paid, and What Patients Think Surgeons Get Paid

Jared Foran, an orthopedic surgeon in Denver, is a co-author of a new study called "Patient Perception of Physician Reimbursement in Elective Total Hip and Knee Arthroplasty" (PDF here). The authors surveyed 1,200 patients to see how much they thought orthopedic surgeons should make and what Medicare actually pays for a hip or knee replacement.

In an e-mail, Foran describes their results:

On average, patients thought that surgeons should receive $18,501 for total hip replacements,  and $16,822 for total knee replacements. Patients estimated actual Medicare reimbursement to be $11,151 for total hip replacements and $8,902 for total knee replacements.  Seventy per cent of patients stated that Medicare reimbursement was “much lower” than what it should be, and only 1% felt that it was higher than it should be.

Jonathan Haidt Answers Your Questions About Morality, Politics, and Religion

We recently solicited your questions for social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

Below are his responses about confirmation bias in religion, the "score" of our morals, the power of branding, how his research has made him a centrist, and how the search for truth is hampered by our own biases. Big thanks to him and all our readers for another great Q&A.  

A Great Example of Bias Within Academia

It is amazing how good we are -- even the smartest, most rational people among us -- at not recognizing our own biases. (Danny Kahneman memorably calls this being "blind to our blindness.")

We recently put out a podcast called "The Truth Is Out There ... Isn't It?" about how people decide what to believe about everything from global warming and nuclear risk to UFO's. It was inspired by the research of Dan Kahan and his colleagues at the Cultural Cognition Project; they have found that we systematically filter our beliefs through our personal and political filters. In other words, we allow our biases to influence what we think about theoretically non-ideological issues, but we aren't aware of that influence.

Swallowing the Whistle: A Guest Post by Tobias Moskowitz

With the upcoming Super Bowl this Sunday pitting the Giants against the Patriots again (they last faced off in 2008), who could forget the most infamous play in Super Bowl history?  And in case you did forget, the image of David Tyree reaching back until he was nearly parallel to the field and snatching the ball with one hand and pinning it to his helmet has been either shown or referred to at least 150 times on ESPN and the NFL Network in the last week — and we're still a week away from the game!

The play was extraordinary, no doubt about it, but perhaps the most interesting aspect of that play was something rather ordinary that happened well before Tyree made his remarkable grab (it was the last catch of his career by the way—one hell of curtain call!), something that is much more likely to be a factor in the upcoming game. 

We Are Shocked — Shocked! — to Learn that College Football Coaches Exhibit a Conflict of Interest When Rating Teams

File under "Not Surprising But Still Interesting." A new working paper by Matthew Kotchen and Matthew Potoski makes these claims:

Using individual coach ballots between 2005 and 2010, we find that coaches distort their rankings to reflect their own team's reputation and financial interests. On average, coaches rank teams from their own athletic conference nearly a full position more favorably and boost their own team's ranking more than two full positions. Coaches also rank teams they defeated more favorably, thereby making their own team look better. When it comes to ranking teams contending for one of the high-profile Bowl Championship Series (BCS) games, coaches favor those teams that generate higher financial payoffs for their own team. Reflecting the structure of payoff disbursements, coaches from non-BCS conferences band together, while those from BCS conferences more narrowly favor teams in their own conference. Among all coaches an additional payoff between $3.3 and $5 million induces a more favorable ranking of one position. Moreover, for each increase in a contending team's payoff equal to 10 percent of a coach's football budget, coaches respond with more favorable rankings of half a position, and this effect is more than twice as large when coaches rank teams outside the top 10.


Bring Your Questions for Skeptic-in-Chief Michael Shermer

Michael Shermer is perhaps the world's only professional skeptic. As the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and executive director of the Skeptics Society, Shermer has turned his innate skepticism into a full-time job. In our recent podcast "The Truth Is Out There...Isn't It?" Stephen Dubner talks to Shermer about the evolutionary basis for our tendency toward "magical thinking" and why humans are conditioned to see threats often where none exist. Here's an excerpt:

Why We Desire But Reject Creative Ideas

According to a new paper by researchers at Cornell, University of Pennsylvania, and the University of North Carolina, creative ideas make people uncomfortable. The paper, which is based on two studies from U. Penn. involving more than 200 people, is set to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science. Here's an earlier ungated version.

From the abstract:

People often reject creative ideas even when espousing creativity as a desired goal. To explain this paradox, we propose that people can hold a bias against creativity that is not necessarily overt, and which is activated when people experience a motivation to reduce uncertainty. In two studies, we measure and manipulate uncertainty using different methods including: discrete uncertainty feelings, and an uncertainty reduction prime. The results of both studies demonstrated a negative bias toward creativity (relative to practicality) when participants experienced uncertainty. Furthermore, the bias against creativity interfered with participants’ ability to recognize a creative idea. These results reveal a concealed barrier that creative actors may face as they attempt to gain acceptance for their novel ideas.