In October, Yale Law professor Dan M. Kahan was doing a study on what the relationship might be between someone’s political outlook and their science comprehension skills. The answer: Identifying with the tea party correlates positively with scores on a test that measures science comprehension.

tea party science

Interesting, right? Well, sort of, because the story behind the story is even better. The professor’s reaction to his own findings are priceless:

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.

But then again, I don’t know a single person who identifies with the Tea Party. All my impressions come from watching cable tv — & I don’t watch Fox News very often — and reading the “paper” (New York Times daily, plus a variety of politics-focused internet sites like Huffington Post & Politico).

I’m a little embarrassed, but mainly I’m just glad that I no longer hold this particular mistaken view.

Of course, I still subscribe to my various political and moral assessments—all very negative—of what I understand the “Tea Party movement” to stand for. I just no longer assume that the people who happen to hold those values are less likely than people who share my political outlooks to have acquired the sorts of knowledge and dispositions that a decent science comprehension scale measures.

He doesn’t know a single member of the tea party. His worldview was shaped in large part from reading Huffington Post and Politco — and yet he was surprised at his findings. After having been shown that the “news” that molds his mind is so biased that it led him to come to false assumptions about the tea party, he still doesn’t question how those very same news sources could have warped his understanding of what the tea party movement actually stands for or — more importantly — the “moral assessments” he makes on a daily basis.

When you self-identify as a member of the tea party, you have to work twice as hard to prove you have the intellectual chops to be taken seriously by academics. Guys like professor Kahan just assume guys like me don’t read up on liquid fluoride thorium reactors. They assume that we would never find blogging material from sites like “I F**king Love Science,” and write on octopus camouflage in our spare time. Or that we have pretty cool friends who make engineering marvels for NASA, wives who are doctors, dads who took nuclear physics, etc.

I give the professor credit for being honest with his findings because many people would have buried them. It is often hard to admit when we are wrong, so in that sense Professor Kahan’s integrity deserves to be acknowledged. However, it should also be pointed out that the assumptions he held are sadly held by the majority of academics.

The Washington Post reported in 2005:

College faculties, long assumed to be a liberal bastion, lean further to the left than even the most conspiratorial conservatives might have imagined, a new study says.

By their own description, 72 percent of those teaching at American universities and colleges are liberal and 15 percent are conservative, says the study being published this week. The imbalance is almost as striking in partisan terms, with 50 percent of the faculty members surveyed identifying themselves as Democrats and 11 percent as Republicans.

Quick story: When I was in graduate school at American University, I had a professor who liked to brag about his contacts on the Hill. There were three conservatives in my entire program, and one day we met with him to see if there was any way he could help us obtain internships in the city. My friend said he was interested in working at a number of places, including the American Enterprise Institute. My professor’s response: “Oh. You’re one of them.”

“One of them.” It’s as if we were aliens from another planet that were sent to destroy the world. Of course he didn’t have any contacts in his magical Rolodex for us. Two of us went on to eventually work at The Heritage Foundation, and my other friend now works for the Department of Homeland Security. Not too shabby for a few kids who moved to Washington, D.C. with zero connections and a bunch of professors who probably held the kind of negative moral assessments of us that Professor Kahan has for tea partiers.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll ponder the singularity of a black hole and the existence of God.

Editors note: Hat tip to douglasernstblog.com reader Denver Patrick for the story. I’m not sure how that one escaped my radar.

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

26 comments

  1. What was he looking for in the first place? Empirical evidence to support an ad hominem against the Tea Party? Ideas about the role and scope of government are philosophical, not scientific; hence, any supposed scientific deficiency on the part of the Tea Party would be irrelevant. indeed, he says as much when he says: “Of course, I still subscribe to my various political and moral assessments—all very negative—of what I understand the ‘Tea Party movement’ to stand for.” In the end, what matters are his philosophical differences with the Tea Party.

    1. Actually, considering that his philosophy has been proven wrong time and time again in history…we can without a doubt say that the role and scope of government IS scientific and there IS imperical evidence supporting one or the other…the problem is that the evidence points AGAINST his philosophy…

    2. When I worked at a local high school while saving money for graduate schools, one of the History professors I subbed for was a 9/11 truther. Nice guy if you talked to him outside of class, but I had to undo a lot of damage every time I talked with his students.

    3. Do I think that I’m in the dark and ignorant while the people obsessing over Miley Cyrus twerking are the ones who escaped the cave? No. I think that in an insane world, the sane are considered insane. Enslaved people are “free” from the responsibility of crafting and caring for their own lives — but I don’t want that. When someone else decides where the ceiling to your success is it absolves you from feeling guilty about not living up to your full potential. Some people like that. I don’t.

      Do I always feel as though there is more to learn? Yes. The difference between myself and liberals is that the more I know, the more I realize how much I don’t know. I’m a tiny speck in a vast universe. In some sense we’re all living in caves within caves within caves… Unlike statists, I refuse to use what I do know as an excuse to play god with the lives of those around me.

    4. The reason I ask, Doug, is because I’m afraid of debating with people about where morality comes from. Not because I don’t have an opinion that I’m unsure of…at least, I hope not…but because debating with the godless frightens me.

      What do you think on the subject?

    5. When you’re debating with someone who doesn’t believe in God, you first have to use logic and reason to open them up to the possibility of God’s existence. Most of these individuals have the door of possibility sealed tight. The good news is that once you crack it, it becomes much easier to have constructive conversations.

      There’s a very specific reason why I mentioned the singularity of a black hole in this post… 😉

      Plant enough of the right seeds, and some of them will grow. There is nothing to fear. If someone rejects your ideas, there is nothing to get upset about. Oh well. It’s on them. They’ll eventually meet their Creator…

    6. If we don’t derive our rights from the Creator (something our founding fathers knew quite well), then where do they come from? They come from the whims and caprices of man. They come from whomever has their hands on the levers of power. No thanks. I’ll stick with God.

    7. I suppose his favorite news sites would have been pretty keen to talk to him if he had some sort of data that “proved” tea party only like watching Duck Dynasty and ESPN. Like I said, I do give him credit for coming forth with numbers that suggest otherwise. The people who claim to be the most open-minded…usually aren’t. Want to see Group Think in action? Head to a college campus.

  2. Excellent article and analysis. In my conversations with liberals, I am usually lovingly referred to as “you people”. Gotta love the tolerance.

    1. Hube wrote about this a while back. I confess to having overlooked that post when I originally saw it. http://colossus.mu.nu/archives/344252.php

      Anyway, I know the feeling, of course. As you know, I had various teachers and professors who docked me for having conservative views. My sixth grade science teacher was a Moon landing truther. My tenth grade science teacher liked to scare us all about the bird flu and global warming. A teacher I had in twelfth grade showed us an anti-Fox News documentary and claimed that MSNBC (!) was a ‘model network…” yeah, I would say she was off her proverbial rocker.

      Diana’s comment reminded me of how I once knew a progressive in high school who constantly would tell me that “you people were a dying breed” and that if I don’t embrace Obama and hope-and-change, “you would be crushed under the wheels of change, change that you cannot stop.” This same clown also claimed that my “Jewish masters” (yes, he was a rabid anti-Semite and believed in those sorts of conspiracy theories) were the reason why I had conservative views. Yeesh! There was more along the lines of that.

      The whole “dying breed” part really made me shake my head. It’s like you said, they view anyone with opposing views as being alien… it’s the whole demonization thing, dehumanizing those with whom they disagree.

    2. There’s also the teacher in eleventh grade that docked me points for giving a negative review of “An Inconvenient Truth.” That’s another one that stands out.

    3. “The whole “dying breed” part really made me shake my head.”

      I know the feeling Carl. Back when I was on comicvine (before I got banned because it was in my early days of being a conservative convert and my anger was even worse, if you could believe it), I got into a conversation with some older Danish chick in college in Sweden who was a self-professed social democrat who said the same thing.

      She also hinted at me being a racist.

      I was so angry that I created a youtube video response for her in which I stated I was 19 and Puerto-Rican.

      I like to think that, when she saw that, that a few fuses in her head blew.

    4. You were banned from Comic Vine for expressing contrary views? Yeesh. No wonder why I’ve made a conscious decision to avoid forums like that in recent years.. they’re big proponents of speech control and Group-think. As long as you parrot the party line, so to speak, you’re fine, but if you dissent… they’ll ban you.

      Maybe you did get in her head. Progressives, with very few exceptions, tend to explode with anger and revulsion at the thought of people disagreeing with them.

      And she called you “racist?” Wow. That shows you that she didn’t have an argument, so she resorted to the tired and true tactic of using the race card.

  3. “You were banned from Comic Vine for expressing contrary views?”

    Ummm…didn’t you hear the part where I said I was even angrier than I am now? I mean, yeah, expressing a contrary view was A VERY big part of it, but it wasn’t the only thing. My use of language was bit…liberal…

    Funny thing is, considering how leftist that joint is, you’d think they’d like it. Go figure. 😛

    “Progressives, with very few exceptions, tend to explode with anger and revulsion at the thought of people disagreeing with them.”

    Not me though. No. I only explode with anger and revulsion at the thought of people disagreeing with me when it comes to superhero cinema. 😛

    Also, I’m willing to call a truce on that subject. You quit calling me a DC fan with sour grapes (a false statement if ever there was one as I don’t see you having written three fics involving Marvel characters in positive lights like I have), and I’ll quit saying “Maybe it’ll be a great, ‘Pop corn flick.’ ” and giving you crap about your choice in movie. After all, any one who detests Adam Sandler is okay in my book…even if they like Bayformers. Lesser of two evils (and they’re both EVIL with a capital yes we can) and all that.

    “That shows you that she didn’t have an argument, so she resorted to the tired and true tactic of using the race card.”

    You’d think a supposed etymologist major who is older than me would know SOMETHING about constructing an argument.

    1. Sounds good. I can handle that. Agree to disagree 🙂

      “You’d think a supposed etymologist major who is older than me would know SOMETHING about constructing an argument.”

      Ha. remember, just because someone has a college degree, it doesn’t mean they’re smart or possess common sense.

    2. Trust me, I know- or have known- plenty of people with degrees. A lot (but not all) of them lack common sense and a basic sense of understanding of how the world works.

    3. “Agree to disagree”

      Ummm…I haven’t agreed to disagree on nuthin brah. Make no mistake, I do not think your opinion is valid in anyway even in the most charitable of circumstances just as if I was to debate with a lefty. If I could rate your opinion from the dirt to the edges of the atmosphere, I’d say it was worth the worms in the dirt (and Popo’s stool, but I doubt you’d get the DBZ abridged references). The only thing I said in my post is that I’ll stop arguing with you as I have on Doug’s blog and even on your own blog and that I won’t be a Barrack Obama about it. I’ll still hold a grudge and find someway of turning you to my side, I just won’t hold AS BIG a grudge and do something different.

      “Ha. remember, just because someone has a college degree, it doesn’t mean they’re smart or possess common sense.”

      You’re really not instilling confidence in my sense that my Creative Writing Bachelor’s degree will be worth something here Carl…

    4. Oh, i didn’t mean to imply that your degree was worthless. Far from it, dude. I think (and I only know you online) that you’re a decent person and wasn’t specifically referring to you. I was just making observations based on my own dealings with people. I meant to say that a lot of people I’ve met who have degrees have this superiority complex that makes them think they’re smarter than everyone else. But I did say that not everyone was like that. I hope I didn’t offend.

      I’m not a big fan anime fan, but I am somewhat familiar with DBZ. Used to watch it from time to time, although I was never as into it as some of my friends were.

    5. Nah man, I was kidding. I forgot to put in the 😛

      Also, quit trying to make me feel guilty with your kindness you master manipulator! 😛

  4. Yale prof amazed to learn the truth. Why am I not surprised?

    “Fat, ignorant and liberal is no way to go through life, son” .

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