Monday, April 22, 2013

HuffPo: Free-Market Economics Supporters Less Like To Believe In Science

Talk about distortions. The above headline comes from the Huffington Post.

Here's the first two paragraphs of the story that follows that headline:
Those who believe in a popular conservative economic theory are also more likely to not believe in science, according to a recent study.

People who endorse free-market economics -- an economic theory, which argues the markets regulate themselves and work better without too much government intervention -- are more likely to deny climate change, according to a study published last month in Psychological Science.
Got that? If you are a climate change skeptic, this now means you do not believe in science! Here's the actual off-the-wall title of the research paper referenced (I am not making this up)
 NASA Faked the Moon Landing—Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax
An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science
Here's the abstract:
 Although nearly all domain experts agree that carbon dioxide emissions are altering the world’s climate, segments of the public remain unconvinced by the scientific evidence. Internet blogs have become a platform for denial of climate change, and bloggers have taken a prominent role in questioning climate science. We report a survey of climate-blog visitors to identify the variables underlying acceptance and rejection of climate science. Our findings parallel those of previous work and show that endorsement of free-market economics predicted rejection of climate science. Endorsement of free markets also predicted the rejection of other established scientific findings, such as the facts that HIV causes AIDS and that smoking causes lung cancer. We additionally show that, above and beyond endorsement of free markets, endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories (e.g., that the Federal Bureau of Investigation killed Martin Luther King, Jr.) predicted rejection of climate science as well as other scientific findings. Our results provide empirical support for previous suggestions that conspiratorial thinking contributes to the rejection of science. Acceptance of science, by contrast, was strongly associated with the perception of a consensus among scientists.

Here's the "methodology" used to reach these results:

Visitors to climate blogs voluntarily completed an online questionnaire between August and October 2010 (N = 1377). Links were posted on 8 blogs (with a pro-science science stance but with a diverse audience); a further 5 \skeptic" (or \skeptic"-leaning)
blogs were approached but none posted the link.
In other words, there is no indication as to who these people are that were coming to these blogs. Were these economists, other types of scientists, the general public or a specific sector of the public? Given some of the off-the-wall questions, I would have personally stopped answering the questionnaire when this question came up:

The Apollo moon landings never happened and were staged in a Hollywood  studio.
What these researchers likely captured in their survey were people highly skeptical of government. This in no way translates into the slippery charge that free market supporters are  less likely to "believe in science."  They likely caught a subset of "free market supporters" and a group that likely has little understanding of what free markets really are, other than that is is better than central planning,.

Nor should the allegation be made, that the research paper makes, that a distrust of the methodology used by some climate scientists is the same thing as a lack of belief in science.

 Indeed, the great Austrian economists, Carl Menger, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek all spent considerable time discussing the proper methodology of the social sciences. This was far from a rejection of science. It was a sophisticated understanding of science and methodology that has clearly escaped the authors of the above referenced paper, Stephan Lewandowsky, Klaus Oberauer and Gilles E. Gignac.

The full paper is here.


  1. One should go and see the analysis done on these people by Anthony Watts and others at which shows the methods as shall we say questionable.

  2. This finding largely agrees with my own observations that American libertarians tend to distrust vaccines, psychiatry, the role of human activity in global warming, etc.

    I'm sure the democrats and the republicans have their own shares of anti-science attitudes.

    This study is worthless to me for the following reasons:

    1. Just because a vast majority of some political group tends to be anti-science in one way or another, how is this a reflection on that political ideology itself? For all we know, the leading thinkers in the field (Menger, Mises, Hayek, Block, even Ron Paul) did not share the public's attitude towards science.

    2. Even if the leading thinkers of the field turned out to have anti-science attitudes, how is this a reflection on me? I believe in the right to my own life, as long as I don't infringe on the rights of others. And yet, my own knowledge of science is good enough to be comparable with the best scientists. I don't mean that I know as much about nuclear physics as the best nuclear physicist. I mean that my knowledge of (and attitude towards) any of these fields is about as good as can be expected of a scientists who happens to specialize in some other field.

  3. 1. If one is in favor of “laissez faire”, that would seem to include the notion that the problem of meth can be solved by the free market and not by the government’s insane war on drugs. I’ll be they didn’t account for that attitude. Or lack thereof.

    2. I don’t care if someone is religious or an atheist so long as they understand and respect the non-aggression principle. However, it seems to me that most libertarians are atheists who hate religious people. This prevents them from explaining to possible allies in the religious community that under a Rothbardian system, they could live in a private voluntary community with their own religious schools where their children would not encounter the unsavory types and influences they seem to so fear and dislike. The current approach at “reaching out” seems “unscientific”.

    3. The scariest, irrational and most horrifying religious types are “progressives” and Keynesians who seem to believe that government agents backed up by SWAT teams have the magical powers of Mary Poppins.

  4. The referenced study is worthless. Some of the issues in it are discussed at:

  5. My wife is a mental health professional. Stuff like this really ticks me off, as demeans the whole profession.

    I just emailed the dean of the university.

    This should be interesting...

  6. And, all of the home schoolers, six-day Creationists, God fearing people said... "Welcome to our world."

  7. The ironic thing is that anyone who takes that study seriously indicates they don't value real science, given its many obvious flaws. It falls into the realm of what nobel laureate physicist Richard Feynman termed "cargo cult science" which mimics science superficially but only fools the clueless.

  8. I bet another study could easily show that most scientists and NASA employees know nothing about economics, free market or interventionist.