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A Ray of Hope For Americans and Scientific Literacy? 668

An anonymous reader with a snippet from Politico: "A finding in a study on the relationship between science literacy and political ideology surprised the Yale professor behind it: Tea party members know more science than non-tea partiers. Yale law professor Dan Kahan posted on his blog this week that he analyzed the responses of more than 2,000 American adults recruited for another study and found that, on average, people who leaned liberal were more science literate than those who leaned conservative. However, those who identified as part of the tea party movement were actually better versed in science than those who didn't, Kahan found. The findings met the conventional threshold of statistical significance, the professor said. Kahan wrote that not only did the findings surprise him, they embarrassed him. 'I've got to confess, though, I found this result surprising. As I pushed the button to run the analysis on my computer, I fully expected I'd be shown a modest negative correlation between identifying with the Tea Party and science comprehension,' Kahan wrote. 'But then again, I don't know a single person who identifies with the tea party,' he continued.'" More at the Independent Journal Review.
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A Ray of Hope For Americans and Scientific Literacy?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 18, 2013 @08:44PM (#45171277)

    A lot of private practice Drs and Dentists back the tea party, as they vote single issue - lowering the taxes on their $300k+ incomes. Medical degrees and certifications are of course lumped in the science bucket so probably make up a large part of the total. They tend to dislike welfare programs such as medicaid and medicare too, as they cut into their profit margins.

    • by demonlapin ( 527802 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @08:56PM (#45171345) Homepage Journal
      This is only surprising if your idea of who supports the Tea Party segment of the Republican Party comes from MSNBC. Hint: most aren't social conservatives.
      • by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @09:14PM (#45171443)

        "This is only surprising if your idea of who supports the Tea Party segment of the Republican Party comes from MSNBC. Hint: most aren't social conservatives."

        Perhaps even less surprising when you realize that the Tea Party itself did not identify with Republicans. It is true that they leaned somewhat conservative but there was a significant portion of liberals in their ranks, too.

        The (modern) group that originally called itself the Tea Party was as fed up with the Republican Party as it was with the Democratic Party. It wasn't until later that the Republicans usurped their banner.

        • by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @09:54PM (#45171671) Journal

          You are almost right. The association with republicans leans from the fact that most of the tea party objections to the parties line up with the facade the republicans would put forward to get elected but forget about once in office. This was highlighted enormously with the bank bailouts, the GM bailouts, and the slush fund created under the guise of the stimulus in which the tea party movement more or less was created.

          In short, it was easier to hijack the republican party then to create a new party and complain that they don't get any respect like the libertarians and the greens party do. (note, that isn't a jolt on the libertarians or the greens, it is just an explanation of what was happening). This is what Obama is so pissed at, it is what McCain the maverick who lost against Obama was pissed at, and what the talking heads in the MMS echoed but failed to grasp. A group of people outside the system are successfully using the system to demand change and they call themselves the tea party.

      • What is hear on the news (CNN, the Daily Show) or from my family is the Tea Party is mostly about bringing back racism. Which is strange because it's not in their platform and I haven't heard any Tea-Partiers mention it. But it comes back down to what the person who ran this analysis said, many "don't know a single person who identifies with the tea party."

        • by Obfuscant ( 592200 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @09:39PM (#45171593)

          What is hear on the news (CNN, the Daily Show) or from my family is the Tea Party is mostly about bringing back racism.

          Well, there you go. CNN has a political bias that is showing, and "The Daily Show" IS A COMEDY PROGRAM. It is Jon Stewart's cash cow. It isn't intended to be news, it is intended to keep his paycheck coming writ large. If you rely on either or both for your news, well, you're not getting the whole, or necessarily true, story. It's like taking a Jay Leno monologue at face value.

          Perhaps the fact that CNN International carries "The Daily Show" might point you to the idea that CNN isn't trying to be a news channel anymore, if it ever was. It was Ted Turner's brainchild. The same Ted Turner who married Jane Fonda. The same Jane Fonda who visited the Viet Cong and made pals with them by denouncing the US, while the Viet Nam war was still going on. There can't be any biases in anything they do, can there?

        • What is hear on the news (CNN, the Daily Show) or from my family is the Tea Party is mostly about bringing back racism.

          That is a calculated political attack, it isn't true. You may recall that Herman Cain [] was strongly supported by the Tea Party in the presidential race.

  • That's unpossible! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @08:47PM (#45171291) Homepage Journal

    That can't be!

    Everyone knows that the Tea party is a bunch of comic, laughable clowns with no grounding in reality. I mean, why else would they be so thoroughly lampooned using derogatory terms and snarky, dismissive comments.

    Even Obama [] himself (praise be his name) mocks them.

    It can't be true... can it?

    • Obama ... (praise be his name)

      And you complain about stereotypes and bias against the Tea Party?

      • by Richy_T ( 111409 )

        What stereotype would this be, exactly?

    • Everyone knows that the Tea party is a bunch of comic, laughable clowns with no grounding in reality.

      Not at all. From outside the US, particularly from places like Europe where we have suffered when countries like extreme right wing political parties get out of control they look dangerous. The finding that they actually know science and reality but choose to reject it makes them scarier. I'd be far happier if I thought that all they lacked was education instead of medication.

  • Not surprising (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 18, 2013 @09:07PM (#45171399)

    The stereotypical Tea Partier is, for me, somebody who is professional, a high achiever who believes that most, if not all of that is due to their own merit. They might be really good at science and math; but they're short on compassion and unwilling to admit that they benefited in their youth from programs that are socialist. It doesn't surprise me one bit that they'd be more scientifically literate than average. Scientific knowledge isn't everything when it comes to leadership, management, politics, etc.. In fact, I'd me inclined to say it isn't worth much at all in those positions. Face it. The squishy "human factors" matter.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Richy_T ( 111409 )

      Perhaps their idea of compassion just doesn't involve using the threat of force to take money from others for their own ends.

  • What other variables were controlled for or tested?

  • Breaking News: Researcher assumes those he disagrees with and doesn't like are ignoramuses. Is shocked when he finds out they aren't.

    People who think about politics and issues enough to join up with a nonmainstream group are often brighter and better informed than average. (Regardless of the wisdom of the positions they adopt.) The average types tend to stay in the parties they grew up with.

    This would probably also hold with members of the IWW, for example.

    I'm guessing it's almost all a selection effect.

  • by PapayaSF ( 721268 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @09:11PM (#45171421) Journal

    I figured out in college that there were smart and dumb people (and informed and ignorant and good and evil ones) on all sides of pretty much any political question. That left emotions as the key issue, and it has never ceased to amaze and depress me how many people think of politics in the the most primitive, emotional ways: name-calling, tribalization, and tons of logical fallacies, all in the service of flinging feces at the Evil Others Who Don't Vote The Right Way.

    The Tea Party is an interesting case in point. Their views, boiled down, amount to 1) the federal government should stick to its Constitutional powers, and 2) not spend more money than it has. Those are hardly extreme notions, but you'd never know it from the vicious attacks on them. This is not to say that every Tea Partier is correct on everything, or that their aren't nuts and unsavory types among them, but any political division that encompasses roughly 25-30% of the population will have some nuts and unsavory types.

    So I don't find this result terribly surprising, but the people who think Tea Partiers are all ignorant racist/sexist/fascist/homophobes will certainly be surprised.

    Final note: anyone interested in the psychology of political belief should check out the work of Jonathan Haidt [], particularly his work on moral foundations theory. No matter what you believe politically, it will help you understand why the people who disagree with you think the way they do.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Arguing that the federal government should not spend more money than it has in the depths of a recession is remarkably ignorant.

  • by Richy_T ( 111409 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @09:18PM (#45171461) Homepage


    That is all.

    Grr filter.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 18, 2013 @09:19PM (#45171465)

    Ron Paul types are idealists, not your "normal" Republicans. We don't think of Ron Paul as a TPer, but that's only because he's so extreme. He's also a bit weird (i.e. mystical) which is why he stayed in that party.

    The anti-science people are merely Republicans. There's actually very little conservative about them, and when you ask them about certain aspects of government relationship with people, they'll go left of Stalin and insist upon an extremely authoritarian police state that tells people what to do.

    Then there are the non-mystics. They know about science, because science is the only way anyone has ever come up with, for understanding Anything; it turned out that everyone else (the non-scientists) were always lying about everything they said. So of course, they're informed. Not extremely informed, just better than average (remember: average is a pretty low bar). And a lot of them are idealists too. And .. get this .. some of them go with non-planned economies, really thinking that a free market algorithm will tend to find some fairly good optima (and by "fairly good" they mean something superior to everything you've ever seen in real life). So they become Tea Partiers.

    That isn't to say all non-mystics become TPers; some believe in Philosopher Kings instead. If only we put unbelievable amounts of power into the hands of the best planners, they'll do Good. And also do better than anything you've ever seen in real life.

    And then there's the other 90% of the population, who believe in mysticism. They split between Republican and Democrat however their parents did. And then they (incorrectly) label themselves as conservatives or liberals, or sometimes even become their self-assigned right/left labels through the power of cognitive dissonance. But without the idealism or any intellectual component at all. So they'll project anti-mysticism by knowing about evolution or global warming, but they're really doing it as dogma, not science. They just happen to be correct, as a matter of luck. Had they been told to believe in Body Thetans, they would.

    • I literally have no idea what you are talking about. Ron Paul is mystical and mere Republicans want an extremely authoritarian police state? Non-mystic republicans want a Philosopher King??
      • progressives (Score:4, Interesting)

        by nten ( 709128 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @10:51PM (#45172015)

        I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure he is suggesting that progressives (educated scientifically literate liberals) want a philosopher king. Woodrow Wilson could be considered the prototype of such a king. An authoritarian schoolmaster if there ever was one. Willing to trample the rights of the individual to make the correct decision *for* that individual. The fact he was very well educated and probably right quite a large portion of the time doesn't alleviate the effects of removing individual responsibility and freedom upon creative thought.

        And the notion that a greedy optimization algorithm like a anarcho-capitalist pure free market is so incredibly elegant that it must work, neglects the nasty inelegant humans that are part of that market and screw everything up. If it doesn't work, it doesn't matter how elegant it is. I think that is the mysticism the gp was talking about. The faith Ron Paul has placed in elegant ideas often involves handwaving and appeals to common sense, rather than empircal tests. I think that is somewhat unfair as he does cite historical incidents, he just has different interpretations from his detractors. Also doing correctly scaled economic tests that control for all the variables is impossible. Still, he's kinda handwavy even compared to economists.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by aztektum ( 170569 )

          Ron Paul isn't mystical at all. He's very easy to understand if you look at his policies, effectively to sell everything tax payers have built to the highest bidder, including national parks, other lands, infrastructure... He's a corporation friendly capitalist. He talks big when it comes to free markets and non-coercion, but if you really consider what would unfold should his policies be put into place, sell everything to the rich, he's a just a crazy white old Texan that doesn't give a toss about people t

    • by dryeo ( 100693 ) on Saturday October 19, 2013 @01:26AM (#45172753)

      The anti-science people are merely Republicans. There's actually very little conservative about them, and when you ask them about certain aspects of government relationship with people, they'll go left of Stalin and insist upon an extremely authoritarian police state that tells people what to do.

      What is it about Americans that they don't recognize that right wing conservatives can be just as authoritarian as left wing socialists. They both come in extremes including the extreme authoritarian types who push their workd view on you whether you want it or not. General Pinochet is a good example of a right wing free trader who was definitely a tyrant. Nelson Mandela is an example of a left winger who was not a tyrant.
      Personally I've always been more scared of Conservatives as they like to use government to control peoples behaviour in all aspects including money whereas socialists usually just want to control peoples money witrh the left wanting to spread it around and the right wanting to hog it all.
      There's a reason that conservatives (called Tories) were tarred and feathered during the American Revolution and then driven out of the country. I'd like to drive the Tories out of my government as well.

    • You don't get to redefine political terms on the fly to mean something utterly different than what the rest of the world understands them to mean. If you do that then you might as well start calling the sky yellow and grass grey, because it amounts to the same thing, which is Orwellian doublespeak a la "Freedom is Slavery" and "War is Peace."

      Here is the standard understanding of the political spectrum [], since you don't seem to know what that is, or because you're being cute, "According to the simplest left-

  • by ugen ( 93902 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @09:23PM (#45171487)

    I think that means "they know just enough to be dangerous". Perhaps on occasion little knowledge is worse than none at all.
    That said, I do not find Tea Party supporters laughable at all. On the contrary - I think they are dead serious, and quite scary.

    Tea party members - feel free to mod this "troll".

  • by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @09:43PM (#45171619)
    News anchors and columnists still think anyone that isn't in the Democratic Party is a bible thumping, gun clinging, racist hillbilly. And their view is what gets spread to people in big cities who never experienced a tea party member for themselves. No surprise then that the researcher was surprised that tea party members have a large nerd contingent. We weren't surprised because we've seen them here on /. quite a bit.
  • Dreamers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @10:04PM (#45171737) Journal

    Our best hope for scientific literacy for Americans is immigration reform.

    Get enough people from places where they don't think the world was made in 6 days and it might raise the average some.

    Either that or hope the South secedes.

  • Doesn't trust (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Saturday October 19, 2013 @12:18AM (#45172435) Journal

    My co-worker is a Tea Party advocate, and I generally consider him bright, although a tad stubborn.

    His issue with "science" is that he believes people in general are motivated by their wallet; and climate science, for example, is allegedly heavily biased toward "alarmist" results in order to justify yet more studies of a (allegedly fake) growing threat. If there are no fires, then nobody hires fire-fighters.

    And evolutionists are allegedly biased to "deny a creator" so that they can sin without penalty. He knows all the usually down-side talking points, like the Piltdown fraud, the relatively suddenness of the Cambrian Explosion, few if any new phyla since then, etc.

    Complex topics are difficult to verify on one's own and one has often has to rely on expert interpretation of fossils, weather patterns, etc.

    Perhaps if he really dug into the topics, he'd see the stronger evidence, but it's not his interest to do such. He likes military history the most and reads only cursory articles on science-related topics, usually from biased sources. You are not going to "get to the bottom" of the topic that way.

    As a semi-side note, I once wanted to "get to the bottom" of the UFO mystery and purchased many books on the topic from both sides. Unfortunately I still can't come to a conclusion. The skeptics don't make a good enough case to stop exploring UFO's. I consider it an "open mystery" still. Not everything has an available answer. I would note that the top skeptics surprisingly don't claim witnesses to the top cases are lying, but rather propose psychological explanations. But those explanations are odd, full of a few contradictions, and untested.

  • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Saturday October 19, 2013 @12:26AM (#45172479)

    The tea-partiers may or may not understand science, but, fortunately for the future of our democratic republic, they are manifestly ignorant of the legislative process, which is why they just got their heads handed to them on a platter in the U.S. Congress.

  • by cold fjord ( 826450 ) on Saturday October 19, 2013 @01:11AM (#45172711)

    The Actual Pauline Kael Quote—Not As Bad, and Worse []

    The clearest example of the bizarrely naive quality of hermetic liberal provincialism was attributed to the New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael almost 40 years ago, and has been discussed in right-wing circles ever since. It went something like this: “I can’t believe Nixon won. I don’t know anyone who voted for him.” ... more []

    • To cold_fjord: Your quoted article doesn't touch on any of the background, but it touches on an example of how history -- if not actually repeating itself -- often rhymes [].

      A key component of Nixon's victory had to do with the schism in the Democratic party that formed in the late 1940's to 50's between the Northern Democrats (your "hermetic liberal provincialism", which sought to embrace the burgeoning Civil Right movement), and the Southern Dixiecrats [] (who portrayed themselves as primarily opposed to the e

Order and simplification are the first steps toward mastery of a subject -- the actual enemy is the unknown. -- Thomas Mann