How Do Scientists’ Beliefs Differ from Those of Laypeople?

Do you think it is safe to eat genetically modified foods? I do, because I believe that most foods we eat have been genetically modified. Cows wouldn’t be cows if humans hadn’t changed them genetically, through breeding practices. That also might be because I’m a scientist, and one of the beliefs that separates scientists from laypeople’s belief is whether genetically modified foods are harmful. Here is a list of other beliefs, from a Pew Center pole:
How Do Scientists’ Beliefs Differ from Those of Laypeople

Do People on the Right Feel Superior to Those on the Left?

grumpy old manMost of us have at least one cranky old relative who not only has stronger opinions than the rest of us, but is also convinced that those opinions are superior to ours.  Not just content to believe that, say, voter ID laws are a good idea, this relative is also derisive of anyone with a different view.
Are those cranky old relatives more likely to be Republican than Democrat?  Put another way—are opinionated conservatives more certain of the superiority of their views than opinionated liberals? …(Read more and view comments at Forbes)

Broken Democracy

Until recently, the state of North Carolina, where I live, was a bastion of political moderation, especially compared to our neighbors in the southeast. Our politics were moderate in part because the Democratic Party remained relatively strong in the state, and to survive in this region of the country had embraced center left, rather than the far left. Our politics were also moderate because of the influx of Northerners, arriving to places like the Raleigh Durham area where I live. As a result of this moderation, we developed high-tech industry corridors, provided excellent funding to our educational system, and became a pretty darn nice place to live.
This past year, Republicans took control of state government, and did not exactly pursue an agenda of political moderation. Moreover, this swing to the right was not justified by the political beliefs of the North Carolina population. Instead, a decent amount of the Republican’s political power resulted from gerrymandering, after the 2010 census. To get a sense of that, take a look at this figure from Mother Jones.

 GOP gerrymandering

I am not a fan of gerrymandering, no matter what political party this practice benefits. Our elected officials ought to mirror the political allegiance of our population. And as a flaming moderate, politically speaking, I’m especially worried that gerrymandering is contributing to the increasing polarization of our population.
We really ought to give the job of political redistricting to nonpartisan commissions. Our democracy deserves better than this!
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Cass Sunstein Takes on the Death Panel Myth

I wrote a while back about some research I conducted with Jason Reifler and Brendan Nyhan on how fact checking influences people’s belief in whether Obamacare created death panels, to decide which old or disabled peoples to kill.  Yesterday, Cass Sunstein wrote about our study, and mused on several really interesting related issues.  Check out his thoughts here.

Abraham Lincoln on Perspective Taking

I write frequently about the importance of perspective taking in clinician/patient interaction. Seeing the world through other people’s eyes is also a crucial moral and political skill. No surprise then that Abe Lincoln showed great perspective taking abilities. Consider these words, from an 1854 speech on slavery:

I think I have no prejudice against the Southern people. They are just what we would be in their situation.

Would love it if feuding politicians could embrace this wisdom more often today.
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Partisan Drift Over the Environment: Are Republicans Wandering Away from their Voters?

There’s a fascinating new analysis available, looking at parallels between the politics of health care and the environment. It is led by Theda Skocpol, a social scientist at Harvard (whose writing about health policy and the Tea Party are wonderful).
I am reproducing one figure from that report.  It shows, in lines, where Congress has voted on environmental issues over the years, showing increasing polarization.  No huge surprise there. We live in politically polarized times!
In triangles and diamonds it reveals a more surprising finding: that GOP voters and Democratic voters are not nearly as polarized as their legislators.  Indeed, it looks like the Republican Party has left its voters behind, and adopted much more extreme positions than most Republicans hold.


How Screwed Up Does Health Care Need to Get Before We'll Fix It?

Screw “We need to be screwed!” Not altogether surprising words to spill out of a college student’s mouth.  But this particular student was not talking about sex.  She was discussing the U.S. health-care system–more specifically what she thought it would take for our two political parties to come together to find a … (Read the rest and view comments at Forbes)