Banner
    Partisanship, Simplicity-Seeking, And Maladaptation
    By Fred Phillips | December 24th 2011 08:37 PM | 22 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Fred

    After a dozen years as a market research executive, Fred Phillips was professor, dean, and vice provost at a variety of universities in the US, Europe...

    View Fred's Profile
    “Malicious,” “diatribe,” and “preposterous” are words recently thrown at me. (How remarkable that I lived nearly 60 years before drawing this kind of vitriol. Maybe I haven’t been assertive enough!) When a scientific question has political implications, people have trouble separating the science from the politics. Anyway, it started like this…

    Daniel Sarewitz of Arizona State University wrote an astonishingly obtuse article in Slate (December, 2010) titled “Most scientists in this country are Democrats. That's a problem.” Sarewitz cited a 2009 Pew Research Center finding that 6 percent of U.S. scientists are Republicans and 55 percent are Democrats. He took off from there. The rest of this posting will make more sense to you after you scan Sarewitz’ 2-page article here.

    Max Bronstein, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Science Policy&Governance, posted Sarewitz’ article to the SciSIP listserv.

    I don’t lob (adverbially turbocharged) adjectives like “obtuse” without being ready to support them. If necessary, I’ll parse the Slate article line by line in later comments. For now, though, here’s what I posted to the listserv:

    Sarewitz's statement that “a more politically diverse scientific community... could foster greater confidence among Republican politicians about the legitimacy of mainstream science” is one that scientists will ridicule. If cold, hard facts don't sway the Republicans, a squishy meme like diversity – which Republicans already dislike – will hardly do the trick.

    Sarewitz also misses an important big-picture point: The same mentality that makes [modern] conservatives mean (in the word's original sense of 'small') causes them to prefer simple answers - even obviously wrong simple answers like Iraqi culpability for 9/11 - over the hugely complex and system-oriented answers that today's science demands. They may have loved e=mc2, but they'll never love complex climate dynamics.

    Worried about our country’s current political polarization, I had already been reading and thinking about the psychology of 21st-century liberalism and conservatism. I sent to the listserv cuttings from my Conscious Manager blogs of Aug and Sept 2008:

    This month, the former president of University of Wisconsin at Madison, John D. Wiley [wrote an] important editorial in Madison Magazine. Wiley attacks the staff of his state’s biggest industry association for insisting that the answer to every question is “cut taxes,” even as the association (and everyone else) watches Wisconsin’s education system deteriorate. Wiley compares Wisconsin to other states, including neighboring Minnesota, and shows clearly that the most prosperous states do not have the lowest per-capita tax burden.

    Building on Wiley’s argument, I advanced the notion that insisting on simple answers in the face of overwhelming evidence of a problem’s complexity can only be viewed as a mental illness. (This modern conservative malady is counterpoint to the liberal academic’s tendency to declare complexity and then hide within it, without ever reaching a decision.)

    My September ’08 blog went on:

    Last week I ventured that voters who cling to simple answers to hugely complex questions are mentally ill.  It would be more proper to say mentally maladapted, according to former American Psychological Association executive director Bryant Welch. Welch’s new book State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind notes that the world was once simpler, and we are still adapted to that world – not to this one. Moreover (and this is the main point of his book), we are ready, nay eager, to allow self-interested parties to manufacture false but simple explanations that we can buy into.  Of course he really means only one Party, and its name starts with R.

    The book is reviewed in Miller-McCune Magazine. The reviewer punches a bunch of holes in Welch’s thesis – and to be sure, a psychotherapist can’t make a living curing mental pathologies unless there are plenty of pathologies out there, and some therapists are not above inventing new ones from thin air. But Welch’s main argument survives the review, holes and all.

    Anyway, now here comes John E. Schwarz, Professor Emeritus of political science at University of Arizona, whose Washington Post op-ed reasonably asks “Why is tax-and-spend worse than borrow-and-spend?”  His reasonable answer: It’s not worse, it's better. It’s not only more moral (because it doesn’t take food out of  children’s mouths) but it’s also better economically. Schwarz shows that job creation has been far greater under Democratic administrations for the past 50 years. No,they were not all government jobs! They happened because government invested in expensive and risky new technologies, entailing R&D costs that no single company would pay for. The results were commercialized, creating high-paying private-sector jobs. Without increasing the National Debt.

    One David Wojick then posted to the listserv:

    This political diatribe by Phillips does not contribute to a meaningful discussion of the implications of these one-sided political demographics on science policy. A good case can be made that ideology may be leading federally funded science in several politically sensitive areas. The issue is worth serious consideration, given the striking numbers claimed by Pew.
    Diatribe! My posts were mild compared with Sarewitz’ smarmy, snarky Slate column. Moreover, mine related the thoughts of three people with serious credentials, with nary an opinion of my own added. I couldn’t let it go; I posted again…
    My last post in response to Daniel Sarewitz’ essay noted that a former executive director of the APA, a U. of Arizona Prof Emeritus, and an ex-U. of Wisconsin president have suggested that an aversion to complexity is maladaptive. When three people of such caliber speak, their proposition must be taken seriously. It needs to be investigated before any ill-advised rush to balance the ranks of science on ideological lines.

    This is especially important as the scientific areas generating political controversy today are those involving extreme complexity – climate, genetics, stem cell research, human development, etc.

    Members of this listserv understand the dangers of staffing a laboratory or a university department on the basis of ideology rather than merit. Bad enough when it happens spontaneously; so much worse if it happens as a matter of policy. These dangers, which in other nations have led to the total loss of scientific objectivity, easily outweigh the simple danger of antipathetic politicians spiking a funding bill.

    The discussion begs the question of who should be in Congress pulling the purse strings. It is fine that there are conservatives in Congress, and fine that there are liberals. Regardless of stripe, a good legislator needs to be able to reach across party lines, engage in sincere dialog, and make judicious compromises. The fact that these skills are absent in a large fraction of the incumbents is the problem that causes the problem that Daniel Sarewitz describes.

    The former, not the latter, is the problem that should be solved. We have a mechanism for doing so – elections. We have no mechanism for seeding the scientific ranks with Republicans. Solve the first one, and a solution to the second will not be needed.

    Sarewitz’ hand-waving phrase “partisan politics aside” leads us away from the fact that partisan politics – not a shortage of Republican scientists – is indeed the central issue.  His view that “a more politically diverse scientific community…. would cultivate more informed, creative, and challenging debates about the policy implications of scientific knowledge” is a pipe dream in the current climate of polarized politics.

    Mr. Wojick, I am simply agreeing with Sarewitz’ statement that “As a first step, leaders of the scientific community should be willing to investigate and discuss the issue.”

    Because climate studies are only part of the broad scientific enterprise, though, I do not think Sarewitz makes a salient point when he says that climate science results “delivered by scientists who are overwhelmingly Democratic, are used… to advance a political agenda that happens to align precisely with the ideological preferences of Democrats.” Republicans, for example, are strong advocates of national defense. And it was, after all, scientists – not shade-tree mechanics or tea-party high school dropouts – who brought us atomic weapons, satellite battlefield imaging, and the stealth bomber. Likewise Republicans emphasize law enforcement, and it was scientists who developed DNA evidence techniques.

    Wojick brings his impressive Pitt and CMU degrees to Expert (their term) service for the Heartland Institute. Heartland’s mission “is to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems.” Don’t you love it when, instead of solving problems, people spend their time piling prior constraints on what kinds of solutions will be okay? I mean, it would be fine to say I want solutions that don’t kill or maim anyone. But constraints based on political dogma, come on now. “Partisan think-tank” is an oxymoron, if you ask me.

    Wojick riposted:

    I personally have no problem with most scientists being Democrats, as long as policy makers recognize the implications, when it comes to scientifically intensive policy issues. What is important is to distinguish doing science from applying science to a policy issue. Scientists are likely to interpret the science as favoring the Democratic side of such issues.

    But as a cognitive scientist I think it is preposterous to argue that this lopsided demographic is because Republicans are averse to complexity. My conjecture is that Republicans interested in how the world works become engineers. Engineering is arguably more complex than science, because it deals with real situations, not abstractions. (I happen to be both.) The law is arguably more complex than either….

    Overall I find your characterization of Republicans to be malicious, not scientific.

    OK, first of all, Wojick’s bio says “Ph.D. in the philosophy of science and mathematical logic from the University of Pittsburgh and a B.S. in civil engineering from Carnegie Tech.” Do you see cognitive science in there? I don’t.

    Second, hey, I’m posing a hypothesis. Science allows hypotheses of any origin – from any consideration whatsoever, apples falling on your head, or, yes, a malicious conviction that the theory of Professor Jerk down the hall just can’t be right. Science requires objectivity in testing hypotheses, and in deriving conclusions from the results.

    Third, again, those conclusions (as distinct from recommendations based on the results) are objective, unless they are presented selectively. Thus, scientific conclusions may be freely applied to policy issues. Supposing, I guess, that they come with high p-values.

    Fourth, I leave it to you to comment on Wojick’s conjecture about Republican engineers. Which I find preposterous.

    And fifth, calling me malicious for questioning the equilibrium of the folks the press for months had been calling “the party of mean”? This is, at the very best, the pot calling the kettle black.

    Other listserv members joined in to condemn the topic as inappropriate for the forum. Not surprising, as the forum often seems less oriented to debating science policy than to extracting maximum grants from the government. So, it’s no place to talk politics – as if science policy could be separate from politics.

    Another member then challenged Sarewitz’ statistics:

    The Pew sample is drawn from AAAS members. Is the AAAS membership representative of American scientists in general? It seems plausible that Republican scientists may be less likely than Democratic scientists to join AAAS. Details at http://people-press.org/report/?pageid=1554 

    Still another reminded us that support for science had been bipartisan through the senior Bush’s presidency and into the Clinton years. This provided good context for the issue at hand, and I don’t disagree with it. The point I was arguing with Sarewitz and Wojick was about how “conservatism” had so drastically mutated since the Clinton administration.

    By excerpting her listserv post, let’s let Elizabeth Graffy of the US Geological Service have the last word:

    The right question is not what political party scientists… belong to; past research has already shown that there tend to be associations between different scientific disciplines and political worldviews.

    It is somewhat misleading -- though undeniably provocative and interesting -- to focus on the appearance of a correlation between scientists' political affiliations and the policy options on the table for any issue. Political scientists and policy scholars, not to mention natural scientists, have never assumed, nor would they likely endorse, such a direct connection. Or, perhaps to put it another way, if there is any question about whether such a correlation really exists, then the right focus would be on the institutions for deliberation, not on the political parties of scientists.


    As still another election approaches, and as it appears so far again to be characterized by extreme polarization and name-calling, I believe putting partisan psychology (and, as Graffy suggests, institutional design) on the scientific table “is worth serious consideration.” Even if I’ve done some of the name-calling myself!

    Yes, I let my own bias show, but in the service of raising a real scientific question. My interlocutor let his bias show, in the service of suppressing the question. What do you think?

    Would forcing a “balance” of Dems and Reps in science lead to an unacceptable politicization of science? Or would not doing so perpetuate an existing politicization?

    Does answering every policy question, regardless of its nature, with “cut taxes” indicate an aversion to complexity? (There was a time when “answer every question with ‘cut taxes’” might have been an unfair caricature. Today it is no caricature, but a well-deserved characterization.) Is it maladaptive? (Mr. Welch of the APA argues on the basis of evolutionary psychology, and all evolutionary psychology is speculative. I should also mention that Prof. Schwartz is a Fellow of Demos, an organization advocating a “strong public sector.” So I’m happy to entertain arguments against my appeals to authority.)

    Simplicity-seeking is admirable, in moderation. All scientists prefer simple laws and elegant solutions – when possible. Sometimes simple laws and elegant solutions are not possible. Are there people who are immanently immoderate simplicity-seekers? And others who are not? Do the two types gravitate to different political philosophies? Are (i) yes, (ii) no, (iii) let’s test it, and (iv) it’s wrong even to raise the question, the full possible range of answers? Which of the four do you subscribe to?

    Comments

    Hank
    The obvious question is; does it matter if only 6% in any field advancing science is one political party?  Would it matter if only 6% were women?  Would we be okay if only 6% were Democrats?  It isn't that the results will be politically motivated, it is more a concern that a government-funded field has become intolerant and biased.  This supposed 55% of Democrats in academia is only that low because there is a pretense of faux 'independent' registration - how many academics have actually voted for a Republican? They're not independent, it is just a cool term. Academia is in the bag for Democrats and has been for a generation.

    In the last decade we have seen a subset of scientists become loudly and rabidly partisan; they managed to imply that it was because it was a reaction to Bush but the partisanship came despite increases in funding by a Republican administration and the same level of interference that has been evident in every administration, including the Obama one. It just gets less vitriol because he is a Democrat.

    You can't enforce a quota, of course, but the exact same people who decry a lack of representation in some areas of science rationalize political one-sidedness as 'choice'; worse, they prove my point about stereotypes and bias by claiming Republicans are too stupid or too greedy to be academics.

    We do still see one demographic of scientists who are more balanced politically; older ones. But the future is a concern. Balanced social and political ideas, along with diverse races and genders and cultures, breeds creativity - that includes having Republicans.  Otherwise, it is just a cult and that leads to lousy science.
    Fred Phillips
    With her permission, I'm posting a comment Sally Wengrover sent in a side email round-robin:

    "Thanks for the article!  It deals with some issues that I've been dealing with, particularly in the chapter I wrote about regulations.

    "I've pasted a [link to] an article by Peter Huber, of the Manhattan Institute, below.  Huber is famous for once having written: "Cut down the last redwood for chopsticks, harpoon the last blue whale for sushi, and the additional mouths fed will nourish additional human brains, which will soon invent ways to replace blubber with olestra and pine with plastic. Humanity can survive just fine in a planet-covering crypt of concrete and computers."  In this article, he argues that environmental science ends up as a pursuit of politics by other means."

    http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/_commentary-saving_the_environ.htm

    Old-style conservationists maintained reasonably clean lines between private and public space. They may have debated how many Winnebagos to accommodate in Yellowstone, how much logging, hunting, fishing, or drilling for oil to tolerate on federal reserves, but the debates were confined by well-demarcated boundaries. Everyone knew where public authority began and ended. Yellowstone required management of a place, not a populace. Municipal sewer pipes and factory smokestacks may have required more management, but still of a conventional kind. The new models are completely different, so different that they are tended by a new oligarchy, a priesthood of scientists, regulators, and lawyers.

    With detectors and computers that claim to count everything everywhere, micro-environmentalism never has to stop. With the right models in hand, it is easy to conclude that your light bulb, flush toilet, and hair spray, your washing machine and refrigerator and compost heap, are all of legitimate interest to the authorities. Nothing is too small, too personal, too close to home to drop beneath the new environmental radar. It is not Yellowstone that has to be fenced, but humanity itself. That requires a missionary spirit...

    I replied to Sally:

    "Thanks for forwarding the link to Huber's article. Huber makes some good points, but I'd argue with two of his easy generalizations.

    "First, he's tarring questionable pollutants with the same brush as unarguable health hazards like cigarette smoke. Poor logic, or a rhetorical trick?

    "Second, he attributes the intrusive consequences of model building to a power-hungry government. My view is that people who want us to reduce our carbon footprints are often people whose religious tradition (or inclinations) tilt them toward self-denial and toward proselytizing. It's more a matter of theocracy than of big-government/small-government."

    Sally's comeback:

    "Here's a bit of Huber's bio from Wikipedia:
    Huber earned a law degree from Harvard University in 1982, and a doctorate in mechanical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Huber graduated number one in his class at Harvard while also working as a professor at MIT. He then clerked on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and on the U.S. Supreme Court for Sandra Day O'Connor.
    "The guy is obviously brilliant, but, in my view, he's so blinded by ideology that he is sometimes illogical, if not just plain wrong. I agree with much of what Fred said in his e-mail, except for the part about people who want us to reduce our carbon footprints. (Coincidentally, one of my professors wrote a book expounding the view that environmentalism is a form or religion.  He likens it to Calvinism, I think.) Perhaps, some environmentalists fit Fred's (and my professor's) description.  For others -- particularly people who have studied the science -- reducing our carbon footprints is a matter of prudence, not religious self-denial.

    "
    If you want to post anything of mine, feel free. I want to finish my book this century, so I'd rather not post anything myself.  I'm trying to keep my focus tight."

    Me again:
    "Regarding 'prudence': I certainly detest waste and try to minimize it. However, no matter what you and I do in our personal lives, today 100,000 Chinese are going to buy their first car. Tomorrow 100k more are going to. And the same the next day and the next, until you run out of calendar pages. Our own personal life habits make not a whit of difference. (Any effective pressure we, and the many Chinese who are so inclined, exert on massively polluting corporations, is a different story, of course.) Therefore, people focused on minimizing personal footprints (unless they're scientists, e.g. experimenting with arcologies or space craft) are doing so out of personal moral or religious convictions, not because of practical effects on the Earth. I respect those motivations, but just wanted to clarify where carbon footprint peer pressure is coming from."

    Sally noted that she'd heard that argument before. So I guess others have put it forward, but I have not heard the counter-arguments if there are any. Yes, Calvinism was exactly what I had in mind, and many people reflect their early religious upbringing unconsciously even if they no longer call themselves pious.
    Fred Phillips
    Hank, I’m glad to see we both disagree with Sarewitz’ arguments and his statistics.

    My question remains: Does playing nothing but the one-note samba lead to dysfunction and Republicanism? Is it maladaptive?

    At the other end of the psychological and political spectra, can we use the same words – dysfunctional and maladaptive – to describe the Democratic inability to focus?

    I thought Huber’s point about managing places vs. managing people was fairly sharp, although any history student knows about the millennia of strife between those who want to master things (e.g., scientists and engineers) and those who want to master other people (kings and politicians). However, it shows that Huber too is thinking simplistically: We know some environmental effects are non-local and some are global.

    I can’t buy the diversity argument, either Sarewitz’ or yours, Hank. The scientific community now probably enjoys more ethnic, gender, color, national, and other diversity now than it ever has in history. It’s doubtful that even more of it would budge the science-Congress face-off in a positive direction.

    As for religious impulses, interesting that Huber uses the word “missionary.”
    Hank
    I can’t buy the diversity argument, either Sarewitz’ or yours, Hank. The scientific community now probably enjoys more ethnic, gender, color, national, and other diversity now than it ever has in history. It’s doubtful that even more of it would budge the science-Congress face-off in a positive direction.
    I'm not totally convinced of it myself, I just have to note that the majority - well, the overwhelming majority - makes the claim that science is not diverse enough and it is a problem.  There are even fewer handicapped people in academia than Republicans so if we are going to spend billions on outreach and making the environment less 'hostile' to anyone, we have to do it for everyone.  Yet it won't happen because political diversity is not only unfashionable, it is downright resisted.

    Can science be the only segment of the workforce where we think less diversity is okay, as long as it has the 'right' diversity and not the kind that will bug Democrats?  Sure, if you say so.



    MikeCrow
    Medical condition?

    I suppose only right(proper) thinking individuals will be allowed to administer such tests too.
    Never is a long time.
    Fred Phillips
    OK, that's a good point, but it's not THE point. The point (part 1) is, how to engage with people who are at either end of the spectrum? It's like deciding whether to engage with an alcoholic by assuming he's an irresponsible monster, or by assuming he's got a metabolic illness.

    Part 2: My memory of childhood may be faulty, but I think I recall an age when ordinary people did cherish simplicity in their lives, and for that very reason elected officials who seemed trustworthy, willing, and able to deal with complex world issues. Now, ordinary people seem to want to elect officials who have the same limitations they do.
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    My memory of childhood may be faulty, but I think I recall an age when ordinary people did cherish simplicity in their lives, and for that very reason elected officials who seemed trustworthy, willing, and able to deal with complex world issues. Now, ordinary people seem to want to elect officials who have the same limitations they do. 
    'Seemed' being the operative word unfortunately.
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    MikeCrow
    Well I wouldn't start by telling them you think they're mentally ill :)

    The second thing you need to do is decide if they have reasons for their position or not. If they don't I suspect all the reasons in the world won't change their mind. You know, maybe I have that backwards, maybe you want to find those without reasons. When I think of my reasons, I think it would be hard to change them. I've looked at the evidence (climate for instance) and find it lacking in a number of ways.

    As for part 2, I think politicians are politicians, and doubt ones in the past were any better than current ones, we just know more about the modern ones.
    Never is a long time.
    Steve Davis
     "...we just know more about the modern ones."
    I've no doubt that's true, but it seems to me we had more interesting politicians years ago. You only have to look at any of the established democracies, US, UK, Australia, Canada, NZ, to see a blandness in all sides of politics that is worrying.
    Same for professional sport; all the characters have disappeared, made uniform by contractual arrangements I think.  
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Except for Rooney.
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Fred Phillips
    Here's an important contribution to the topic:
    http://www.miller-mccune.com/politics/fear-motivates-conservatives-more-than-liberals-39283/
    The psychology of partisanship is worthy of study.
    Gerhard Adam
    I'm not sure I agree with the assessment being presented.  It seems that both sides are motivated by fear, but of a different type.  Conservatives seem to be oriented around the idea of "rules" being the defining idea that will make things right, while liberals seem to be oriented around the idea that "altruism" will do the same.  I realize I'm somewhat too casual in using "altruism" in that description, but it kind of captures the idea.

    Liberals fear corporations, "big money", and political power, while conservatives feel that those same entities are the solution to their "fears".

    Whether anyone likes it or not, it is class warfare, and deservedly so.  The deck has been stacked against the middle and lower classes for too long to not be noticed.  The illusion that one can achieve anything through hard work is being shown to be a myth and that one achieves success [into the upper class] largely by luck and not effort.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Beautifully worded Gerhard, I couldn't agree more.
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    MikeCrow
    that one achieves success [into the upper class] largely by luck and not effort

    I would strongly disagree.
    Never is a long time.
    Steve Davis
    Liberals fear corporations, "big money", and political power, while conservatives feel that those same entities are the solution to their "fears".
    But Gerhard, the fears of liberals are real and the fears of conservatives are irrational! :)
    Fred Phillips
    The study cited in Miller-McCune, and others noted this year in Science2.0, have started to elucidate the psychology of partisanship. Another element of partisanship must be just old-fashioned team spirit, the desire for 'our side' to 'win.'

    'Win' is in quotation marks there because while political parties are like sports teams in some ways, in the most important way they are not. They want their ideas to prevail, but they (should) understand they must compromise, logroll, and give&take with the opposition in order to govern the nation fairly and efficiently. Where did that understanding run away to? (And, case in point, how long has it been since you've heard the term 'logrolling'?)

    We need to investigate/understand where the spirit of compromise went, and how to get it back.

    Meanwhile, the
    psychological studies help us, as Steve just implied with elegant irony. Quoting from the Miller-McCune article:
    “You will often hear [partisans] make arguments that they feel are quite logical, and they don’t understand why this person they’re talking to also can’t take this logical argument and incorporate it into their belief system,” Dodd said.
    My own knee-jerk answer is "Because they're idiots." My better self knows it's more complicated than that, so I'm glad to see studies that help me understand the biology, the psychology, and the nuances.
    Gerhard Adam
    Unfortunately most of the arguments have little to do with logic and everything to do with values and "facts" that tend to be quite malleable.  As a result, one of the problems I see is that people can't agree on the premises they are using to advance their arguments.

    As a simple example; consider drilling for oil within the U.S. ....  One argument says that this is desirable and necessary for energy independence from the Middle East and that it is simply government intervention and "tree huggers" that are preventing this from occurring.  However, a counter-argument is that there isn't enough oil available to make it worthwhile.  In addition, the argument is slanted, because the dependence isn't actually on the Middle East [since people conveniently forget that our biggest imports come from Canada, Mexico, and S. America]. 

    So, my point is that until we can get the "facts" straight, how can there be any meaningful dialogue. 

    This is where I squarely blame the media for getting involved in "fanning the flames" and being totally irresponsible in fact-checking and providing the necessary data for reasonable dialogue.  They would rather capitalize on ratings for irrelevancies, then to convey important information that could settle many of these issues.  In my view, this is the only reason why we have such a division, is because the media has created the illusion that there are no longer any facts, but simply belief systems and individual opinions.
    Mundus vult decipi
    MikeCrow
    In addition, the argument is slanted, because the dependence isn't actually on the Middle East [since people conveniently forget that our biggest imports come from Canada, Mexico, and S. America].

    The argument to this is that, effectively it all goes into one pool of supply, and extracted based on demand. If we didn't get our oil from Canada, we'd get it from somewhere else, and Canada would sell it somewhere else.

    As for it being worth it or not, even a little(though I hear oil sands are quite large) wouldn't hurt. On the other hand maybe we'd be better off burning everyone else's oil, and then selling ours at a premium.
    Never is a long time.
    Fred Phillips
    A controversial but interesting take on partisan psychology from the Chronicle of Higher Education,
    Jonathan Haidt Decodes the Tribal Psychology of Politics
    Hank
     he rakes his own social-psychology colleagues over the coals for being "a tribal moral community that actively discourages conservatives from entering" and for making the field's nonliberal members feel like closeted homosexuals.
    It's a common refrain in the social sciences, though likely not as much in the humanities.  As the science edges toward the physical, the partisanship is less, so life sciences are only left of center - I can't shake the notion that it can't be good to be so overtly partisan when a great deal of funding relies on bipartisan committees. His critiques of both sides seem pretty accurate.
    Fred Phillips
    Chronicle of Higher Education

    June 3, 2012

    Scientists Look to Genetics of Behavior for Answers to Country's Partisan Divide

    http://chronicle.com/article/Scientists-Look-to-Genetics-of/132079/?sid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en
    Hank
    Epigenetics potential has unleashed a wave of pop psychology nonsense on the world.  What you won't find in that article, or any credible one, is a biologist endorsing this.  It is all psychologists armed with surveys of undergrads who seek to match their results to genetics. Reductionism gone awry.