As the long-running debate continues over whether childhood vaccines cause autism, Yale professor Dan M. Kahan (who has appeared on Freakonomics Radio) takes a look at people’s attitudes toward vaccination. He dispels the myth that liberals are more likely to be anti-vaccine. From the abstract of his new paper:
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This Report presents empirical evidence relevant to assessing the claim — reported widely in the media and other sources — that the public is growing increasingly anxious about the safety of childhood vaccinations. Based on survey and experimental methods (N = 2,316), the Report presents two principal findings: first, that vaccine risks are neither a matter of concern for the vast majority of the public nor an issue of contention among recognizable demographic, political, or cultural subgroups; and second, that ad hoc forms of risk communication that assert there is mounting resistance to childhood immunizations themselves pose a risk of creating misimpressions and arousing sensibilities that could culturally polarize the public and diminish motivation to cooperate with universal vaccination programs. Based on these findings the Report recommends that government agencies, public health professionals, and other constituents of the public health establishment (1) promote the use of valid and appropriately focused empirical methods for investigating vaccine-risk perceptions and formulating responsive risk communication strategies; (2) discourage ad hoc risk communication based on impressionistic or psychometrically invalid alternatives to these methods; (3) publicize the persistently high rates of childhood vaccination and high levels of public support for universal immunization in the U.S.; and (4) correct ad hoc communicators who misrepresent U.S. vaccination coverage and its relationship to the incidence of childhood diseases.
There’s a new political party in town: it’s primarily focused on creating more political parties. Jared Hardy recently wrote to us about Startup Party USA, the “first 3+ political party in the United States. From the website:
Tired of only voting for a party duopoly? Join the Startup Party USA to change our elections away from duopolist rule. Startups aren’t just for monetary profit.
The Startup Party USA intends to be the first 3+ political party in the United States. A 3+ political party is one with the primary mission of reforming voting rules so that even more parties have an equal and fair chance at winning elections. To accomplish this, we must first eliminate winner-take-all or “first past the post” voting everywhere in the USA.
Our podcast “The Truth Is Out There…Isn’t It?” showed that even very smart people can fool themselves into confirming their own beliefs, especially when surrounded by peers with the same beliefs. PSMag.com reports on new research that shows young Americans self-identify as more conservative than they actually are:
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“Commentators have presumed that America is a ‘center-right’ nation,” write psychologists Ethan Zell of the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and Michael Bernstein of Pennsylvania State University-Abington. “The present findings challenge this assumption.”
Their three surveys featured, respectively, 199 students at a Southeastern university, 360 adults recruited on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (with a mean age of 28), and 154 students from two universities. The final group was weighted so that there were an equal number of people in each of seven political categories, ranging from very liberal to very conservative.
In each case, participants revealed how they define themselves politically on that seven-point scale. They then completed a quiz developed by the Pew Research Center for the PBS Newshour, in which they indicated their views on 12 major issues, including welfare and gay marriage.
Results were consistent across the board: Participants rated themselves as more conservative than their positions on the issues would indicate.
For more than eight decades, some of the smartest people in the economics business have worked on index-number theory. The basic issue is how to measure price inflation. A few years ago the government (Bureau of Labor Statistics) started publishing measures (chain-weighted price indexes) that no longer fail to account for consumers constantly shifting the bundle of goods they buy toward those whose prices are rising less rapidly, as the standard CPI does. Consumers do substitute when relative prices change, and the new measures recognize this.
This issue is technical, but it has become crucial in the “fiscal cliff” discussion. Republicans wish to use the new measure to index (link to inflation) benefits of transfer programs, particularly Social Security (OASDI). Liberals don’t like this — it will slow growth of incomes among Social Security recipients (me included). I hate to say it, but the Republicans have it right on this one: using a chain-weighted price index better reflects the true rise in the cost of living. If we are indexing benefits, as we have now for many years, it should be done properly. And here’s a case where economic theory, coupled with careful applied research by a government agency, has produced the right answer. It’s time to use it.
Nick Kristof, writing in the N.Y. Times:
This is what poverty sometimes looks like in America: parents here in Appalachian hill country pulling their children out of literacy classes. Moms and dads fear that if kids learn to read, they are less likely to qualify for a monthly check for having an intellectual disability.
Many people in hillside mobile homes here are poor and desperate, and a $698 monthly check per child from the Supplemental Security Income program goes a long way — and those checks continue until the child turns 18.
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This is painful for a liberal to admit, but conservatives have a point when they suggest that America’s safety net can sometimes entangle people in a soul-crushing dependency. Our poverty programs do rescue many people, but other times they backfire.
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 (abstract; PDF) on political affiliations and bias, which argues that independents seem to show immunity to the bias that afflicts both conservatives and liberals:
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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.
My friend Jack Hitt has a funny piece in The New Yorker listing misstatements about American history by conservative politicians, beginning with these doozies:
1500s: The American Revolutionary War begins: “The reason we fought the revolution in the sixteenth century was to get away from that kind of onerous crown.”—Rick Perry
1607: First welfare state collapses: “Jamestown colony, when it was first founded as a socialist venture, dang near failed with everybody dead and dying in the snow.”—Dick Armey
1619-1808: Africans set sail for America in search of freedom: “Other than Native Americans, who were here, all of us have the same story.”—Michele Bachmann
1775: Paul Revere “warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms, by ringing those bells and making sure as he was riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.”—Sarah Palin
1775: New Hampshire starts the American Revolution: “What I love about New Hampshire… You’re the state where the shot was heard around the world.”—Michele Bachmann
[Ed. note: One of these claims seems much closer to being true: see page 1336-38 of Property in Land].
Freakonomics Nation: can we produce an analogous list of historical misstatements by liberal pols? We’ll give out some Freakonomics swag to a clear winner or two.
It includes an interview with University of Chicago economist Matthew Gentzkow, who discusses a study he coauthored with Jesse Shapiro about newspaper bias. They used a sample of 433 newspapers and sorted the phrases favored by Congressional Democrats and Republicans. Read More »