How much more open to reason are liberals?

Despite the hype, liberals don't ask: "Man [sic] is the rational animal!" Unless we're discussing contemporary men of the intellectual caste.

Alas! Introducing a Bloggingheads chat with Chris Mooney, Robert Wright says this:
WRIGHT (5/12/12): In his book The Republican Brain, Chris Mooney argues that (on average) liberals are more open to evidence and reason than conservatives. But conservatives have their own strengths, he says, so maybe there should be a division of labor between them.
We note the fact that Wright inserts a qualifier into his statement. Are liberals "more open to evidence and reason" than conservatives? On average, yes, they are, he says, attributing the claim to Mooney.

That's better than simply saying that liberals reason better than conservatives—but it isn't better by much. Wright's presentations begs a gigantic question: How much more open to reason are liberals?

This makes a massive difference, as the dullest of children could see:

On average, are liberals "more open to reason" than conservatives by two percent? Or are they more open to reason by perhaps as much as fifty percent?

To most people, this would make a huge difference, but Wright completely ignores this question. How much more open to reason are libs? He makes no attempt to say.

(Does Mooney attempt to quantify the liberal advantage? You'll have to watch the tape!)

Alas! Journalists routinely make such presentations when they discuss research studies. In these presentations, they say that Group A surpasses Group B in some way, without making any attempt to tell us how large the difference is. With great regularity, we gnash our teeth when journalists cite the findings of studies this way.

Wright is pimped as being quite smart—but he makes a remarkably fuzzy claim about a very important and touchy subject. Sorry, crackers! Even at this very late date, this is pretty much the best the "rational animal" does.

How much more open to reason are liberals? Few liberals bother to ask!


  1. I am 3.75 percent more open to the idea that this post is a waste of time.

  2. I have become convinced that there were a Pulitzer for obtuseness, the Howler would win every year. It has become a mind-numbing experience to read these posts.

  3. How would one go about quantifying the degree to which one is more open to reason and evidence?

  4. Yeah, the important tuning is that we're better than them. Who gives a shit about numbers?

  5. I'm pretty sure the answer is "If, then just barely."

    And that answer would determine how they compare to conservatives as to just how far they are willing to go to find a different reason when it's convenient, or to what degree they are in lesser/greater denial about it.

    1. Yeah. Certainly a topic worth delving into. Exactly to what degree does one side think they are better than the other.

      And once we determine that precise number, what do we do with it?

  6. my my my... I've been away but I've clearly been missing the insights..the chorus of brilliant highly informed too clever for all of us making the case that it's all so obvious and trivial to everyone but Bob that integrity and precision re meaning and giving a shit about the quality of democracy's relationships and civilization kind of, is so like last century.

    But gosh golly gee, apparently Bob is far too thick to see how irrelevant he's become so it's just so darned important to get this rube some learnin' and then our lives can return to being above it all because we've like actually got an entourage that is actually certain we're a big deal.
    Oops, big fail, now I've shown that I'm too earnest and childlike for most in this I've gone and done it.

    Can I expect comments now that are going to I'm too simple and ignorant to have been accepted to what must be a commenting school somewhere specializing in masturbatory fatuous cynicism? If you must, please share the url. I so need to get with the program.

    1. Welcome back Sam. Read 'em and weep (the comments that is).

    2. OOO The sarcasm. It burns!

  7. It's obvious why there are no numbers.

    As conservative science fiction writer and engineer Robert A. Heinlein phrased it:

    "If it can't be expressed in figures, it is not science; it is opinion."

  8. I found this in an old textbook and thought it might be helpful. It is an end-of-chapter problem.

    Suppose Rachel is 70% more open to reason than Bob is amd Chris is 80% less open to reason than Rachel is and Rachel is on a train traveling northeast at 50mph and Chris is on a train traveling southeast on the same track at 50mpg and Bob is standing on the track midway between the trains. Answer the following questions:

    (a) Will Bob be smart enough to get off the track?
    (b) If not, which train will strike Bob first. (Hint:your first guess may not be correct.)
    (c) Based on your answer to a and b above, describe the best outcome for this admittedly tragic situation from the point of view of progressive politics.

    1. Looks like Chris's train should be going southwest, or maybe not...

  9. Really Bob...Just go back to the basics. "Liberal" is fundamentally an adjective describing (just like its shared root base term "liberty"), freedom. And, in the context of thinking, it defines freedom from the dogmas and obstructions that distort one's thoughts and reasoning. "Liberal thinking" in any matter describes the thinking of those who can think and reason completely independently. Many so-called liberals, but even more conservatives can not do this.

    So the question is much like "How much better is clear thinking over dogmatic thinking?" And the answer is somewhere between much better and infinitely better.

    1. The word "liberal" switched meaning somewhere around the 19th or early 20th century. An "economic liberal" used to be someone who favored freedom from government regulations. Today, the same term describes a supporter of government regulations.

      Since genetice changes don't occur that fast, I think the switch in the meaning tells us that no genetic conclusion can be drawn from the word "liberal."

    2. Wrong. A liberal today is not "a supporter of government regulations." A liberal today is willing to support government regulating certain activities that almost everyone agrees is destructive to society -- like insurance companies refusing to insure people with what the insurance company in its complete discretion defines as pre-existing conditions, or saying whoops, you have used up all of your lifetime sum of insurance and are on your own from now on; or banks selling derivatives based on a series of debts whether other debts will be paid off or not, or fraudulently pushing home buyers into mortgages that the bank knows they do not understand and will not be able to pay; or companies dumping toxic waste into rivers -- things like that. Most liberals will also apply a libertarian process to the regulation: the regulation should accomplish its purpose in the least intrusive way possible. But the liberal also recognizes that the Constitution forms a government, and it is supposed to be "our" government, doing things for all the people that we want it to do, not just the wealthiest few.

      The modern conservative, unlike historic conservatives who respect the core theory of John Burke, simply have a visceral hatred of government unless it is either (a) kicking ass by making war, (b) harassing people who look like Mexicans, or (c) telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies. Some modern conservatives also hate the idea that a black man could be President, and virtually all other modern conservatives refuse to renounce the haters.

      Modern liberals are a lot closer to John Burke and even a true concept of libertarianism than modern conservatives. Modern liberal recognize that the so-called conservatives' hero, James Madison, was the Father of the Commerce Clause. Modern conservatives have no clue whatsoever what their hero actually believed.

    3. urban legend -- How can you claim that liberals support only certain types of regulations, when liberals have only the foggiest idea of what the regulations say? (Nor do conservatives know what they say.)

      In 2011 alone, 78,464 pages of regulations were added to the Federal Register. How many of those 78,464 pages have any of us read? IIRC there are over 1 million pages pages of federal regs. How many of those pages have we read?

  10. IMHO neither liberals nor conservatives are good at using evidence and reason in our political decisions, because the subjects are just too esoteric and uncertain. E.g., consider five of the biggest challenges the country is facing right now:
    -- Low level of job creation
    -- Trillion dollar deficits and huge national debt
    -- Nuclear developments in Iran
    -- Health reform
    -- Global warming

    Although we may have positions on these issues, few of us have the expertise to defend our positions. Is it possible to create millions of new jobs without harm to the economy? How can we balance the budget and pay down our debt? If the deficits continue, what will the consequences be? What will Iran do if and when develops nuclear weapons? Will Health Reform actually provide good health care? How much money will it save or cost? If we adopt programs costing trillions of dollars for a CO2 reduction, will the amount of CO2 reduction be sufficient to save us? What will the economic and political consequences of such an approach be?

    Most voters simply choose to follow some particular experts or spokesperson on these issues. (To the degree that we use evidence, we mostly focus on whatever evidence supports our side.) There's no other choice. We can't make up our minds through proper reasoning, because we don't have the expertise to analyze these areas on our own.

  11. I hope Bob covers this one

    Today's New York Times reports yet another lie:

    Well, consider the following. A recent study found that 10 percent of people who work on Wall Street are “clinical psychopaths,” exhibiting a lack of interest in and empathy for others and an “unparalleled capacity for lying, fabrication, and manipulation.” (The proportion at large is 1 percent.)

    "But uh oh" the researcher who conducted the study says the reports AND conclusions by the Times and others are dead wrong in all their facts.

    1. Old French saying, "Maybe so, maybe not'.

      Try these:

      In her book, “The Sociopath Next Door,” psychologist and author Martha Stout describes in the course of more than two hundred pages the characteristics and dangers of sociopaths. She writes on page 9:
      “About one in twenty-five individuals are sociopathic, meaning, essentially, that they do not have a conscience. It is not that this group fails to grasp the difference between good and bad; it is that the distinction fails to limit their behavior. The intellectual difference between right and wrong does not bring on the emotional sirens and flashing blue lights, or the fear of God, that it does for the rest of us. Without the slightest blip of guilt or remorse, one in twenty-five people can do anything at all.”
      Ms. Stout is concerned about how to classify sociopaths. On page page 13 she writes:
      “Singular in its ability to unnerve even seasoned professionals, the concept of sociopathy comes perilously close to our notions of the soul, of evil versus good, and this association makes the topic difficult to think about clearly. And the unavoidable them-versus-us nature of the problem raises scientific, moral, and political issues that boggle the mind. How does one scientifically study a phenomenon that appears to be, in part, a moral one? Who should receive our professional help and support, the “patients” or the people who must endure them? Since psychological research is generating ways to “diagnose” sociopathy, whom should we test? Should anyone be tested for such a thing in a free society? And if someone has been clearly identified as a sociopath, what, if anything, can society do with that information? No other diagnosis raises such politically and professionally incorrect questions, and sociopathy, with its known relationship to behaviors ranging from spouse battering and rape to serial murder and warmongering, is in some sense the last and most frightening psychological frontier.”
      If Ms. Stout is correct about the nature of 4% of our population, then Texas, where I live and which has a population of about 23.5 millions people, is home to 940,000 sociopaths, many of them armed. Do these citizens represent a variety of homo sapiens?
      Refer to:

      And then there’s:
      CEOs of community-based businesses are typically responsive to their communities and decent people. But the CEOs of the world largest corporations daily make decisions that destroy the lives of many other human beings. Only about 1 to 3 percent of us are sociopaths-- people who don't have normal human feelings and can easily go to sleep at night after having done horrific things. And of that 1 to 3 percent of sociopaths, there's probably only a fraction of a percent with a college education. And of that tiny fraction there's any even tinier fraction that understands how business works, particularly within any specific industry.

      — This there is a shortage of people who can run modern monopolistic, destructive corporations that stockholders have to pay millions to get them to work. And being sociopaths, they gladly take the money without any thought to its social consequences.

    2. 90% of people who work on Wall Street could be clinical psychopaths for all we know, but the Times reported "A recent study found that 10 percent of people who work on Wall Street are "clinical psychopaths" when that study suggested nothing of the kind.

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