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Like it or not, science is politics. And despite one party’s attempt to brand itself as the voice for all science, the reality is fans from either side of the ideological spectrum kneel before the altar of data. Or rather, their respective altars. Because Liberals and Conservatives tend to prefer to read about different types of science.
The proof is in the perusing. A new study published today in Nature Human Behavior looked at which science books and which political books people shopping at Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com typically bought together.
The huge consumer dataset revealed some pretty clear trends: Red-tinged readers prefer applied science, like criminology or medicine, while lefties alight upon books that explore science for science’s sake, like zoology, or abstract physics.
And while it’s great that the reasoned examination of facts appeals to everyone, the study seems to suggest that—unsurprisingly, but depressing nonetheless—people seek out the stuff that supports their worldview.
If you’ve been to Amazon, you’re probably familiar with one of their most successful sales tactics: Recommending books other customers have bought alongside the one you are currently browsing. The data underlying these suggestions is right there in the open, in Amazon’s API.
The authors started with a two “seed” books: Barack Obama’s Dreams of My Father, and Mitt Romney’s No Apology. For each, they scraped the top 100 results from the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also” section.
Then they repeated this process with every book on those lists—looking for other books customers bought alongside—and again with the results from those books. They repeated this cycle again and again until they had a complete library of nearly 1.5 million books.
Then they began winnowing out all the political and science-based books, based on Amazon.com’s classification system—many political books are labeled for conservative or liberal readers. In order to delineate subcategories of science, they used the Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress systems of categorization.
From that thicket of data, they parsed. “There are two important general differences between the two ideologies,” says Macy. “Liberals tend to be more interested in basic science that is motivated by intellectual puzzles, empirical exercises, philosophical musings, and conservatives are looking for solutions, problem solving, and applied research.” A liberal might be more likely to buy a bundle of books featuring Al Franken and Carl Sagan; while conservative shopping carts would be full of Star Parker and Mary Roach.
The second broad trend is a little more nuanced. Liberals tend to purchase science books that are interesting to anyone who is interested in science, regardless of whether they read political books. And conservatives are more cloistered, preferring science books that are only of interest to people who buy conservative political books.
For instance, a liberal reader of books on environmental science is more likely to read something with broad popular appeal, like Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humbolt’s New World, whereas a conservative reader would go for something more niche, and mostly of interest to other conservative readers, such as Lukewarming: The New Climate Science that Changes Everything.
So where’s the common ground? Dinosaurs, mostly. “And perhaps that not too surprising, given that it’s not an area of research that’s particularly politically-charged,” says Macy. Which seems counterintuitive, given the whole creationism thing, but that’s not what the data says.
Physical science topics more generally were the least partisan, followed by life sciences—biology, environmental science, zoology—and finally the social sciences, like psychology, which might as well have trenches.
“The biggest is that we don’t have individual-level purchase data,” says Macy. They had to draw their conclusions from broad aggregate trends, which could mean they are missing nuances in Amazon’s algorithm that could be skewing the data one way or anther.
To account for this, they repeated the entire experiment on Barnes & Noble’s online store. Interestingly, the two websites did not share a high number of people making the exact same co-purchases of this political book to that science book. However, the high level correlation between political ideology and scientific discipline held.
They maintain a website called www.lifestyle-politics.com where they rate things like sports teams, professional wrestlers, and TV shows based on users’ Twitter feeds.
“What we’ve found is there’s a strong correlation between ideology and cultural preferences that have seemingly nothing to do with ideology.” For instance, if enough people who follow ideologically conservative accounts like @realDonaldTrump and @FoxNews also follow @ChickfilA and @BigBangTheory, that fast food restaurant and that TV show also get grouped as conservative cultural touchstones.
To Macy, these cultural trends seem to match what’s happening in science. “We don’t know for sure, but we speculate that lots of interest in science is politically-motivated, and people are interested in reading about science that supports their political views,” he says.
If scientists want to do a better job of making their research more accessible—which they probably should if they don’t want their line of work targeted by the same kind of ideological philocide currently being perpetuated against climate science—they should try to preach beyond their own choir.
originally posted by: eisegesis
Political theater is lame. The corporate media sucks. Both like to play make-believe. People are naive and gullible. Nobody is doing you any favors. You have been fooled to believe otherwise.
Myopic Political Bubbles Apply to Science Books, Too
There is no doubt, what what I can see, that we have intelligent people that like to peruse the political forums. Wouldn’t you just love to see them take a break and put their energy towards stimulating the less motivated here to get involved in other, currently less popular forums? Some did at one point and the loss of product, resulting from their loss of interested, has left a void.
When Donald Trump swept to victory in the Electoral College on Nov. 8, perhaps no group was more surprised than journalists, who had largely bought into the polls showing Hillary Clinton was consistently several percentage points ahead in key swing states.
But there may be another reason they didn’t see it coming: Journalists spend a lot of time on Twitter, and their information bubble rarely includes Trump supporters. That’s according to a new analysis from the Electome project at the MIT Media Lab provided exclusively to VICE News.
MIT’s analysis — which used the social media company’s complete data set — shows that on Twitter, Trump supporters formed a particularly insular group when talking about politics during the general election. They had few connections to Clinton supporters or the mainstream media. By contrast, Clinton supporters were more splintered and verified journalists often overlapped within their mutual follower networks.
The data cannot draw any definitive conclusions about why Twitter users became so polarized during the 2016 campaign, but it does provide a striking look at how they did. Perhaps journalists’ more Clinton-oriented Twitter networks expose a subtle form of political bias, or perhaps Trump supporters separated themselves from these users to avoid inconvenient facts.
“All of this paints a bleak picture of online political discourse,” said John West, a data journalist at the MIT Media Lab who worked on the study. “It is one balkanized by ideology and issue-interest, with little potential for information flow between the online cocoons — or between the loud and important cluster of exclusive Trump followers and the institutionalized media users that are supposed to be political discourse’s immune system.”
As far as the study, unless someone's vote is digitally sent to each Amazon's account upon purchase, I find it extremely difficult to accurately assess that the kind of books one buys in comparison to their political views is any bit accurate.