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« Teaching how to teach Bayes's Theorem (& covariance recognition) -- in less than 2 blog posts! | Main | "Krugman's 'magic motivated reasoning mirror' show"-- I've stopped watching but not trying to learn from reflective people who still are »

Political psychology according to Krugman: A degenerative research programme if ever I saw one ... 

As I said, I no longer watch the show "Paul Krugman's Magic Motivated Reasoning Mirror" but do pay attention when a reflective person who still does tells me that I've missed something important.  Stats legend Andrew Gelman is definitely in that category.  He thinks the latest episode of KMMRM can't readily be "dismissed."  

So I've taken a close look.  And I just disagree.

My reasons can be efficiently conveyed by this simple reconstruction of the tortured path of illogic down which the show has led its viewers:

Krugman:  A ha! Social scientists have just discovered something I knew all along: on empirical policy issues, people fit the evidence to their political predispositions.  It’s blindingly obvious that this is why conservatives disagree with me!  And by the way, I’ve made another important related discovery about mass public opinion: the tribalist disposition of conservatives explains why they are less likely to believe in evolution.

Klein: Actually, empirical evidence shows that the tendency to fit the evidence to one's political predispositions is ubiquitous—symmetric, even: people with left-leaning proclivities do it just as readily as people with right-leaning ones.  Indeed, the more proficient people are at the sort of reasoning required to make sense of empirical evidence, the more pronounced this awful tendency is.  Therefore, people who agree with you are as likely to be displaying this pernicious tendency--motivated reasoning--as those who disagree.  This is very dispiriting, I have to say.

EmpiricistHe’s right.  And by the way, your claims about political outlooks and “belief in” evolution are also inconsistent with actual data.

Krugman: Well, that’s all very interesting, but your empirical evidence doesn’t ring true to my lived experience; therefore it is not true. Republicans are obviously more spectacularly wrong.  Just look around you, for crying out loud.

Klein:  Hey, I see it, too, now that you point it out! Republicans are more spectacularly wrong than Democrats!  We’ve been told by empiricists that individual Republicans and individual Democrats reason in the same way.  Therefore, it must be that the collective entity “Republican Party” is more prone to defective reasoning than the collective entity “Democrat.”

Methodological individualist: Look: If you believe Republicans/conservatives don’t reason as well as Democrat/liberals, then there’s only one way to test that claim: to examine how the individuals who say “I’m a ‘liberal’ ” and the ones who say “I’m a ‘conservative’ ” actually reason.  If the evidence says “the same,” then invoking collective entities who exist independently of the individuals they comprise and who have their own “reasoning capacity” is to jump out of the empirical frying pan and into the pseudoscience fire.  I’m not going with you.

Krugman: What I said—and have clearly been saying all along—is that the incidence of delusional reasoning is higher among conservative elites than among liberal elites. I never said anything about mass political opinion!  Your misunderstanding of what I clearly said multiple times is proof of what I said at the outset: the reason non-liberals (conservatives, centrists, et al.) all disagree with me is that they are suffering from motivated reasoning.

Bored observer: What is the point of talking with you?  If you make a claim that is shown to be empirically false, you just advance a new claim for which you have no evidence.  It’s obvious that no matter what the evidence says, you will continue to say that the reason anyone disagrees with you is that they are stupid and biased.  I’m turning the channel.

Gelman: Hold on!  He’s now advanced an empirical claim for which "data are not directly available."  Because it therefore cannot be evaluated, his claim can't simply be dismissed!

Two people Gelman knows know their shit:  Yes it can.  When people react to contrary empirical evidence by resorting to the metaphysics of supra-individual entities or by invoking new, auxiliary hypotheses that themselves defy empirical testing, they are doing pseudoscience, not genuine empiricism.  The path they are on is a dead end.





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Reader Comments (2)


It's really pretty simple. Krugman made the following claim: "Unlike the crazy conspiracy theories of the left — which do exist, but are supported only by a tiny fringe — the crazy conspiracy theories of the right are supported by important people: powerful politicians, television personalities with large audiences." Krugman also wrote that this represented a change since the Reagan era.

Parent and Uscinski made two errors in response. First, they mischaracterized what Krugman wrote, first by writing that Krugman had claimed that there is something conspiratorial about conservative elites that is unique and lasting. Second, they responded to Krugman's claim about modern-day politicians and television personalities by pointing to a study involving a hundred years of letters to newspaper editors. Using available data is fine, but I can't see how their study has much of any bearing on Krugman's claims.

If Parent and Uscinski--or you!--want to say you disagree with Krugman because in your lived experience you don't see a difference between liberal and conservative politicians and television personalities regarding attitudes toward conspiracy theories, or if they want to say that Krugman's track record is so bad that they don't believe anything Krugman says, or if they simply want to throw the question back into Krugman's lap by pointing out that Krugman has no proof of his claims, that's all fine with me. Saying Krugman has no proof is not the same thing as saying he's wrong.

September 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Gelman


That's all perfectly fine.

But you, Klein & others have suggested that I might be "missing" Krugman's "point."

Mine is that he doesn't genuinely have one.

He has a goal: to excite and feed on the cultural status competition that is annihilating liberal public reason in our society.

I just think it's better for genuinely reflective people not to engage in intellectual commerce with people who are playing that game.

Hey-- how did you get the Washington Post to run such a cool ad with your column?

September 5, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

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