Arnold Kling  

Ignorant Masses, Dogmatic Elites

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Concerning polling results on the issue of global warmaing, Andrew Gelman writes,


Among college grads, there is a big partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans. Among non-graduates, the differences are smaller. This is completely consistent with research that shows that people with more education are on average more politically polarized...Basically, higher educated Democrats are more partisan Democrats, and higher educated Republicans are more partisan Republicans. On average, educated people are more tuned in to politics and more likely to align their views with their political attitudes.

This is consistent with Critical Review editor Jeffrey Friedman's model of "two forms of ignorance." The masses lack interest/information, so their minds are not made up. The elites are informed, but they have dogmatic views reinforced by confirmation bias.

The question to ask someone on either side of the global warming debate is this:

***What new information might cause you to change your mind?***

Pointer (without additional commentary) from Tyler Cowen.


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COMMENTS (9 to date)
Matt writes:

Why do universities and colleges teach us to be stupid?

liberty writes:

"This is consistent with Critical Review editor Jeffrey Friedman's model of "two forms of ignorance." The masses lack interest/information, so their minds are not made up. The elites are informed, but they have dogmatic views reinforced by confirmation bias."

On particular topics, this may true for many esoteric policy areas; but I think Caplan is right that most of the public is biased on many policy issues, even though they lack information. They are more rationally biased than rationally ignorant. For example, people who know nothing about economics have strong opinions on it anyway.

Less educated people also vote more on the candidate than the party, because they are voting for different reasons: often emotion drives the vote. Very few people don't have their minds made up already though - people tend not to be that open minded and rational.

Kevin Dick writes:

Well, I'm a post-college educated libertarian (who votes Democratic more than Republican in elections where it matters) and I _have_changed my mind.

Up until about 9 months ago, I was in the "do something about AGW" camp. Then, to engage in a discussion with a skeptical friend, I began doing a lot of reading up.

What changed my mind was digging into precisely where the estimates of catastrophic warming came from--model feedback as opposed to the fundamental science of thermodynamics. Then I began looking for potential falsifications of these model feedbacks and found enough to be wary of the models. The uncertainty out to 2100 seems to include an incredible range on both the warm and cold sides of current temperatures.

This convinced me that it's probably a better investment to save up to deal with adverse events--no matter the source--than spend a lot on avoiding a very uncertain class of particular adverse event. Though I think instituting Ross McKitrick's T3 tax is a useful hedge:

http://ross.mckitrick.googlepages.com/#t3tax

Dain writes:

It's interesting to note that ideologue's ideologue, what Friedman refers to as "creative synthesizers" (though I don't believe he coined the term), there is a level of malleability in beliefs otherwise only found in the massess. Though in the latter case it's due to a lack of framework (ideology) with which to approach the world at all, rather than a level of education sufficient to mix and match disparate ideas.

I think Caplan's research has illuminated how restricted this open-mindedness on the part of the public is in at least one area, economics, where the default setting is at odds with the "business republican" ideologue's potential influence.

TGGP writes:

I think the distinction between ignorance and irrationality is being forgotten.

Carl the Sailorman writes:

GW is one of those issues that cannot be settled by science and data because it's about fundamental mythology, i.e., GW is just a political foil for deep underlying beliefs that form our psyches. At the current state of knowledge, GW proponents have not demonstrated that global warming (which is a fact) is caused, to any significant degree, but manmade and politically controllable factors. That latter part of it remains a belief, and cannot be made into a fact by saying that "most scientists believe" because scientists who believe are no longer scientists and have no greater credibility on any issue than tax drivers, especially on issues where the scientists have vested interests.

So, say those of us who believe GW to be political hokum dreamed up to expand government, let's wait until we get some real data so we can reach a public agreement on what to do. Sounds reasonable, right?

No, say those who religiously believe in GW, because by then it will be too late, the world will be dead, and you will have killed it.

In other words, the GW debate juxtapposes empirically non-falsifiable deep beliefs. On one side, that the costs would outweigh the benefits because there would only be costs and no benefits, except an expansion of useless government controls and less individual freedom. On the other, a deep conviction that even small benefits are worth almost any cost, because only the government can fix this social problem, and we therefore need to act immediately, without waiting for data, as the risks of inaction are too great.

In other words, there are no data that can resolve this fundamental difference of mythology. I, not believing in the GW data and models, can only be convinced by proper data; others, who are already convinced by existing hysterical claims, refuse to wait for more certain data.

I insist on waiting because I don't trust government; others refuse to wait because they trust government. Neither of us would be convinced by data about government effectiveness, because we all know that govt may be good sometimes, but ineffective and even evil other times. Which is it going to be next time? I know whay I believe about that, and I know what others believe, but it's all about beliefs, in the end.

It is because the real underlying issue, trust in government, is not falsifiable with empirical data that positions on issues such as GW harden. And it is not surprising that they would harden more among educated people who may have studied and thought more about that trust issue and come to firm beliefs on government in general. Ordinary people with more time for real pursuits might be willing to flip a coin, which isn't a bad decision model for some things, especially since it vests little emotion in the outcome, and therefore might make a person more tolerant to those with different opinions.

Lord writes:

I agree conservatives are dogmatic, but I disagree liberals are. Liberals simply put more trust in the evidence and are more tolerant of dealing with the uncertainties involved. It is not that liberals have more faith in government or want a larger government. No, they have more faith in science and realize this is a scientific issue first. Climate may be uncontrollable, but to assert that it is without trying is dogmatic. To assert that it would be horribly expensive is dogmatic. To argue it is people wanting a more powerful government is dogmatic. To make it battle of extremists is dogmatic. The liberal approach is to experiment and see what can done. Rather than wasting a lot of money, it may just provide us more efficiency even if unneeded.

Carl the Sailorman writes:

I think Lord missed the point. The only reason for being skeptical of GW as a political agenda is that it is based on bad science making unproven claims. Educated people, who should know better, should not accept claims of the sky falling without looking at the serious debate among climotologists -- which is not reported in our daily press, so it takes a bit of effort to find the critics of GW as a manmade phenonmenon.

But if you do your research you'll find a lot of interesting stuff. Such as these tidbits. GW has been going on for centuries, and while there seems to have been some upticks lately, we can't be sure of them because of the very poor quality of the data (the famous hockey stick used by Gore is thoroughly shredded, by the way). Also, there is absolutely no correlation between CO2 levels and global temperatures over long periods of time, meaning that the central point of GW as a manmade phenomenon is unproven. The self-adjusting mechanisms on earth that may be triggered by greenhouse gases are poorly understood, primarily because the role of water vapor in the atmosphere is unexplained and not incorporated in simulation models. The best correlation between changes in earth's climate and an exogenous variable is between solar cycles and temperatures on earth, and there appears to be some data that Venus and Mars are also warming right now. The earth has lived through higher temperatures than current models forecast, with no ill effects, including polar bears surviving fine when ice has melted much more than now forecast. The simulation models that have been used by the UN team are full of biased assumptions, and yield uncertainty ranges that render them statistically meaningless. And there are many other basic scientific issues that you can research for yourselves that should cause you to be very critical of GW as caused by man or as a phenomenon controllable by man.

So, those of us who are interested in getting the scientific facts right before we hop on the Gore bandwagon are now being called dogmatic by Lord. I find that risible.

Also, what we know, factually and empirically, about all govt intervention is that it never attains all it wants, and never without often serious side effects. Government actions always emit externalities, i.e., effects not accounted for in the crude cost/benefit calculations that lie behind political action. So, it's perfectly reasonable to be skeptical of government controls of economic activities on that score alone.

And I find it very dogmatic indeed to suggest that it's ok to experiment with people's lives, wealth, and personal liberties just on a political whim about GW as manmade when it is not a seriously proven scientific fact.

I think Lord proved the point very well. Lord is clearly not willing to wait for scientific facts, but is willing to subject people to possibly wide ranging social experiments on a whim. Now, who's dogmatic?

No wonder we can't have an intelligent political discussion on GW. Facts don't seem to matter at all to some people. Which was my exactly my original point, right?

Lord writes:

Dogma at its most dogmatic!

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