Sunday, December 12, 2010

Confirmation Bias: Elusive Republican Scientists

The mystery of the missing Republican scientists is a nice study in confirmation bias. The anti-science Republican meme has become so pervasive that a 2009 study which appears to show that only 6% of scientists are Republican is accepted uncritically by media and bloggers alike. A more likely explanation is simply that the study design failed to survey a representative sample of the scientific community. Just because Republican scientists don't subscribe to Science magazine doesn't mean they don't exist.

Daniel Sarewitz pens a long column at Slate about how the dearth of Republican scientists is a threat to the fabric of Democracy. Really? And why the column now, 17 months after the survey was published?

Matt Steinglass at The Economist speculates that perhaps "Republicans are hostile towards science", or "scientists are hostile towards Republicans", or "people who go into the sciences tend to end up becoming Democrats".

Kevin Drum suggests that young Republicans may be more attracted to business than to science.

Of the top ranked blogs discussing this topic, only Alana Goodman at Commentary notes that the liberal bias is not inherent to science, but to the construction of the survey itself, which was orchestrated by the AAAS.
This is important, because the AAAS is (as its name suggests) a political advocacy group. And, according to its website, the top issues it advocates for are climate change legislation, increased funding for the National Science Foundation, stem cell research, and green energy initiatives. Obviously, these aren’t the types of efforts that Republicans tend to support. It’s not hard to see why GOPers wouldn’t want to shell out the $146 membership fee to join an organization whose main mission is to advocate for issues they personally oppose.
The real question we all should be asking is about PEW. How can an "independent, non-partisan public opinion research organization" explain supporting a survey with such a strong partisan bias.

If bloggers are going to be credible watchdogs of the media, they must question the media, even when the reporting confirms their own biases.

No comments:

Post a Comment