A recent study (abstract) from Duke University found that people tend to “evaluate scientific evidence based on whether they view its policy implications as politically desirable.” Experiments showed that test subjects were more likely to deny the existence of a problem if they deemed the solution undesirable.
Although the announcement described the study as shedding light “on why conservatives [and] liberals disagree so vehemently” it is unclear whether political interests are the only perceived interest affecting the judgments we make about the world’s problems.
“Logically, the proposed solution to a problem, such as an increase in government regulation or an extension of the free market, should not influence one’s belief in the problem. However, we find it does,” said co-author Troy Campbell, a Ph.D. candidate at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. “The cure can be more immediately threatening than the problem.”
Researchers conducted three experiments on different issues, including climate change, air pollution, and crime. Participants identified themselves as “Republican” or “Democrat.”
In the climate-change experiment, researchers told participants that global temperatures would rise then asked the subjects to evaluate a proposed policy solution to address the warming. Only 22 percent of self-identified Republicans said they believed the temperature would rise as much as indicated in the preliminary statement when the proposal involved government regulation. But the number jumped to 55$ when the proposed solution emphasized the free market. The proposed solution did not make a difference in their belief.
But Democrats fared no better when they viewed the solution as politically undesirable. When the preliminary statement concerned “violent home break-ins” and the proposed solution called for looser gun control laws, “liberals” were more likely to downplay the frequency of violent home break-ins.
“Recognizing this effect is helpful because it allows researchers to predict not just what problems people will deny, but who will likely deny each problem,” said co-author Aaron Kay, an associate professor at Fuqua. “The more threatening a solution is to a person, the more likely that person is to deny the problem.” (Emphasis added.)
Government officials seem to be in denial about the unaffordable costs of the failed war on drugs, especially those drugs which turn out to be no more harmful than alcohol.
Solution aversion might explain why law enforcement policymakers continue to oppose marijuana legalization efforts on spurious safety grounds since it will undoubtedly reduce the public money spent on law enforcement, imprisoning non-violent offenders, and shrink the availability of plunder cops can seize. Then again, maybe they’re all just Puritans suffering from the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy?