The Sciences

NewsBusters on Biased Reasoning and Conspiracies

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyApr 30, 2011 2:36 PM

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NewsBusters, the conservative media watchdog website ("Exposing & Combating Liberal Media Bias"), has slammed the recent MSNBC segment about birthers, conspiracy theories, and biases. Or as they put it:

MSNBC Panel Equates 'Pathological' Global Warming Skeptics to Birthers

Good grief. The other guest on the show, Jonathan Kay, did use the word "pathological"--to refer to conspiracy theory thinking, or conspiracism, not global warming skeptics. I did not use that word, and disagree with him about this. Here's what I said on the air:

MOONEY: I would say that it is just an extreme version of something to which we are all susceptible. When people read my piece, they said this is kind of like arguing with my spouse. This is kind of like arguing with a member of my family who has different politics. They will never change their mind. They will never change their mind.

But here is Newsbusters again:

Throughout the segment, Hayes probed Kay and Mooney about how the minds of conspiracy theorists operate, not-so-subtly suggesting global warming skeptics have some sort of neurological disorder.

"Neurological disorder"? Come on. Just to show how badly this is being misinterpreted, let me note that in my Mother Jones piece I even question whether motivated reasoning can be called "irrational":

A key question—and one that's difficult to answer—is how "irrational" all this is. On the one hand, it doesn't make sense to discard an entire belief system, built up over a lifetime, because of some new snippet of information. "It is quite possible to say, 'I reached this pro-capital-punishment decision based on real information that I arrived at over my life,'" explains Stanford social psychologist Jon Krosnick. Indeed, there's a sense in which science denial could be considered keenly "rational." In certain conservative communities, explains Yale's Kahan, "People who say, 'I think there's something to climate change,' that's going to mark them out as a certain kind of person, and their life is going to go less well."

As you can see, Newsbusters is...missing some of the subtleties on this whole issue of biased reasoning.

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