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The Daily Need

The science of truth

Donkeys are stubborn and elephants never forget. So maybe zoology explains the seemingly intractable divide between Democrats and Republicans. But author Chris Mooney would have us instead turn to psychology and neuroscience for answers.

Climate Desk partner Mother Jones has posted a must-read article by Mooney titled “The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science,” which examines the rationalization of self-delusion, or “how our preexisting beliefs, far more than any new facts, can skew our thoughts and even color what we consider our most dispassionate and logical conclusions.”

It’s a fascinating look at how our interpretation of data plays out within an ideological context:

In a classic 1979 experiment, pro- and anti-death penalty advocates were exposed to descriptions of two fake scientific studies: one supporting and one undermining the notion that capital punishment deters violent crime and, in particular, murder. They were also shown detailed methodological critiques of the fake studies — and in a scientific sense, neither study was stronger than the other. Yet in each case, advocates more heavily criticized the study whose conclusions disagreed with their own, while describing the study that was more ideologically congenial as more “convincing.”

You might walk away with some questions: Has science denial really become more pervasive in recent years? Where does this “motivated reasoning” come from in the first place? What can we do to mitigate the effects of our emotional blinders? Do we need to?

Need to Know will be interviewing Chris Mooney for an upcoming broadcast segment and we’ll see if he has any answers. Stay tuned to our website for a first look at the interview footage.

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