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.

More on Saying "I Don't Know"

In our latest podcast, "Why Is 'I Don't Know' So Hard to Say?," Levitt talked about how it is practically forbidden in the business world to say that you don't know the answer to a question, lest you be deemed incompetent or irrelevant.

That idea has generated some reader feedback that I thought was interesting enough to share. First, from Mike Wrubel, an office manager for a medical practice in Elkhart, Indiana:

I would generally agree with the notion that people in business are very much inclined to not say "I don't know." I have worked in the same hospital for 20 years, and while I am very comfortable saying it, not everyone else is. I think people fear being perceived by others as they are not paying attention to their work, or being seen as incompetent, or that it's their job to "know."

A Common Joke About Common Knowledge

If you enjoy this joke (which is discussed here, and comes from the folks at Spiked Math Comics) as much as I do, you might be a gearhead.

It illustrates one of the many surprising and subtle impacts of common knowledge. Yale's John Geanakoplos provides an even more perverse version of the bar cartoon, in this incredibly helpful chapter :

Imagine three girls sitting in a circle, each wearing either a red hat or a white hat. Suppose that all the hats are red. When the teacher asks if any student can identify the color of her own hat, the answer is always negative, since nobody can see her own hat. But if the teacher happens to remark that there is at least one red hat in the room, a fact which is well-known to every child (who can see two red hats in the room) then the answers change. The first student who is asked cannot tell, nor can the second. But the third will be able to answer with confidence that she is indeed wearing a red hat.