Pew Research released its recent polling on acceptance of evolution and the results are depressing. The most talked about demographic result has to be the finding that since 2009 there has been an 11 point plunge in Republicans willing to acknowledge humans evolved over time.
Most of the commentary I’ve read suggests this is a consequence of “motivated reasoning.” In other words, respondents are using belief in evolution as a proxy for “are you a good Republican?” Using poll questions as tribal markers isn’t unique to Republicans. Both parties, for example, are likely to think the economy is doing worse than it actually is when the president is from the other party.
It’s also possible that people that accept science have been leaving the GOP. Or I suppose Republicans might just be getting dumber. Commentators focused on the cause of the decline and if tribalism is truly the reason for it seem to be asking the wrong anthropological question. The mystery is why being a good Republican means you have to be anti-science. Just reflect on that particular tribal characteristic of the GOP. When pollsters ask questions, self-identified Republicans are subconsciously motivated to be more ignorant.
There is no more important question when evaluating our personal beliefs, public policy, or science than, “What evidence would cause me to change my opinion?” If you can’t answer that question you are being, by definition, unreasonable.
Will Wilkinson on the Democracy in America blog at The Economist plays the game with some hot-button political issues in response to Charles Murray’s argument that says,
Data can bear on policy issues, but many of our opinions about policy are grounded on premises about the nature of human life and human society that are beyond the reach of data. Try to think of any new data that would change your position on abortion, the death penalty, legalization of marijuana, same-sex marriage or the inheritance tax. If you cannot, you are not necessarily being unreasonable.
That’s as clear-cut of an admission of irrationality as I’ve seen.
I largely agree with Wilkinson so I won’t cover the topics above, but I think it’d be entertaining to go through some others: