Do left and right differ in any meaningful way when it comes to biases in processing information, or are we all equally susceptible?
As a Politics Denier, I have to say that this is a meaningless question. Everyone is equally guilty of bias, insofar as everyone has bias; but each person expresses it in his own interesting way. The exception is the Party Stooge, who expresses it in a boring, predictable way because he is too distracted to bother with discovering his own opinions.
Science denial today is considerably more prominent on the political right—once you survey climate and related environmental issues, anti-evolutionism, attacks on reproductive health science by the Christian right, and stem-cell and biomedical matters. More tellingly, anti-vaccine positions are virtually nonexistent among Democratic officeholders today—whereas anti-climate-science views are becoming monolithic among Republican elected officials.
Gee, isn’t it interesting how their conclusion confirmed their bias?
Some researchers have suggested that there are psychological differences between the left and the right that might impact responses to new information—that conservatives are more rigid and authoritarian, and liberals more tolerant of ambiguity. Psychologist John Jost of New York University has further argued that conservatives are “system justifiers”: They engage in motivated reasoning to defend the status quo.
Apparently, this writer has never spoken with a right-wing anarchist or an academic Marxist. He doesn’t know the difference between a fundamentalist and a traditionalist, or a radical and a progressive. Never, in his entire life, has he had a thought that was not dictated to him by the political press.
This is a contested area, however, because as soon as one tries to psychoanalyze inherent political differences, a battery of counterarguments emerges: What about dogmatic and militant communists? What about how the parties have differed through history? After all, the most canonical case of ideologically driven science denial is probably the rejection of genetics in the Soviet Union, where researchers disagreeing with the anti-Mendelian scientist (and Stalin stooge) Trofim Lysenko were executed, and genetics itself was denounced as a “bourgeois” science and officially banned.
Ouch! Another liberal turns Mr. Ed’s argument on its head. (Ed Darrell, a “history teacher”, once tried to convince me that Lysenko and Stalin, and by extension the entire Soviet Communist state and all ideological Marxists, were anti-evolution and anti-Darwin!)
Given the power of our prior beliefs to skew how we respond to new information, one thing is becoming clear: If you want someone to accept new evidence, make sure to present it to them in a context that doesn’t trigger a defensive, emotional reaction.
Ah, the triumph of Gorgias! Maybe rhetoric will be studied seriously again someday.