Book purchases of liberals and conservatives reveal partisan division

April 3, 2017
Credit: Wikipedia/CC

Reader preferences for liberal or conservative political books also attract them to different types of science books, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Chicago and Yale and Cornell universities. The result supports observations that the divisiveness of politics in the United States has spread to scientific communication as well, endangering the role of science as politically neutral ground.

While readers on the political left and right exhibited shared level of interest in , an analysis led by UChicago's Knowledge Lab and the Social Dynamics Lab at Cornell determined that these groups are largely drawn to different subjects. Liberals prefer basic sciences, such as physics, astronomy and zoology, while conservatives prefer books on applied and commercial science, such as medicine, criminology and geophysics.

Even in disciplines that attract both conservative and liberal readers, such as social science and climatology, they typically cluster around different individual books—a reflection of political polarization within the sciences most relevant to public policy.

"Interest and respect for science remains high across political boundaries in the United States, suggesting that it could be a crucial bridge for crossing partisan divides in America," said James Evans, professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, senior fellow of the Computation Institute, and director of Knowledge Lab. "However our study finds that within science, there are clear differences in readership of specific topics and books, suggesting that science is not immune to partisanship and the 'echochambers' of modern political discourse."

Researchers built a network from more than 25 million "copurchases" and nearly 1.5 million books from the Amazon and Barnes & Noble online stores. After collecting data from"Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought"recommendations, the researchers could analyze the scientific experiences of readers who purchase liberal or conservative books.

Initial analysis found that readers of liberal and conservative books were more likely to purchase books on science than other non-fiction topics, such as arts and sports—a difference largely driven by interest in books on . However, co-purchases revealed that readers on opposite ends of the political spectrum were far more polarized for science than in arts and sports, less likely to buy and read the same science books.

"Our study found that 'blue' readers prefer fields driven by curiosity and basic scientific concerns, such as zoology or anthropology, while 'red' readers prefer applied disciplines such as law and medicine, and with disciplines that patent more intensively," said first author Feng Shi, a former postdoctoral scholar with Knowledge Lab, currently at the University of North Carolina. "One potential interpretation is that liberal readers prefer scientific puzzles, while conservative readers prefer problem-solving."

Even when left- and right-leaning readers converged upon a scientific discipline, such as paleontology, environmental science or political science, they rarely shared preferences for the same books within the subject area. Conservative choices tended to cluster on the periphery of a discipline,relatively isolated books that are often bought with each other, but not with other books in the subject area. Books preferred by liberals are less clustered, more diverse, and lie closer to the center of a given discipline.

The authors acknowledge that the recommendation algorithms employed by online bookstores, and used by this study to create the co-purchase network, could augment polarization by reinforcing previously established connections, proposing science book sales to new politically active customers. These technologies could contribute to the"echo chamber" effect observed in today's political culture,where Americans are increasingly drawn to voices and products that confirm their own prior beliefs.

These observations also reflect growing politicization of scientific topics such as climate change, evolution and genetically modified organisms, throwing doubt upon areas of scientific consensus and weakening science as a neutral,evidence-based driver of public policy decisions. Theauthors suggest that improvements in are needed to push back against this polarization.

"Our work adds urgency to the search for approaches to the communication of scientific information that counter selective exposures to 'convenient truth' and increase potential for science to inform political debate," said Michael Macy, the Goldwin Smith Professor of Arts and Sciences and director of the Social Dynamics Laboratory at Cornell University. "Our findings point to the need to communicate scientific consensus when it occurs, helping scientists find common cause with their audiences and adding public debate alongside scientific analysis to clarify the distinction between facts and values."

Explore further: Antidote for partisanship? In science, curiosity seems to work

More information: Nature Human Behaviour, nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/s41562-017-0079

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julianpenrod
1.4 / 5 (11) Apr 03, 2017
In fact, "science" is very politicized.
Consider that it is demanded that people believe blacks are necessarily the same as whites intellectually, emotionally, without proof. No funding is provided for those kinds of studies.
In the early days of the feminist movement, it was insisted that women are all necessarily exactly the same as men in approaches to things. Any experimental results in that area were "interpreted" or edited to say women are necessarily all exactly the same as men.
And, face it, Christopher Hitchens depraved tenet that only the first person to make a claim is obliged to provide evidence or proof and, if they fail to provide evidence or proof to the satisfaction of someone with an opposing theory, that automatically makes the first statement false and the counter statement true and the second individual does not have to provide proof is a sociologically and politically engineered lie to try to promote God hatred.
gkam
2.8 / 5 (9) Apr 03, 2017
Why bring superstition into this?

This is a science site, not for religion.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (8) Apr 03, 2017
a sociologically and politically engineered lie to try to promote God hatred
Hitchens didnt hate your god, he accepted the conclusions of archeologists and exegists that the creature doesnt exist.

He hated religions for all the evils that they do.
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (6) Apr 03, 2017
Among other things, Hitchens concocted his depraved tenet specifically so the God haters who declared they had proof God is not present, when pressed for the "proof" could slither away and insist that those who declared God was present made their assertion first and so were the only ones required to provide a proof. And TheGhostofOtto1923 says Hitches did not hate God and bowed to the "conclusions" of "archeologists and exegists". He specifically devised the tenet to serve the God haters. And what "proof" led to the "conclusion" that God is not present?
gkam
1.7 / 5 (6) Apr 03, 2017
I can invent anything like you invent god.

Prove I did not do it.
Steve 200mph Cruiz
Apr 03, 2017
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
howhot3
1 / 5 (2) Apr 04, 2017
Oh ,,, Oh ... let me guess; the Conservative's favorite choice of reading material was MAD Magazine! Typically a climate denier too. And the liberal was "Godel, Escher and Bach" among others?
lupus
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 04, 2017
The terms liberal and conservative are themselves pretty vague. For example, if you went back 30 years, what were then called liberal views we would now call libertarian and what we now refer to as liberal views, they would see as fascist. Conservative views have behaved conservatively, that is, they have stayed much the same.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.3 / 5 (6) Apr 04, 2017
what "proof" led to the "conclusion" that God is not present?
-Thank you as always for your inquiry. But weve been through this before yes? First its not 'god' that science has disproved, its YOUR god.

"Tel Aviv University archaeologist Ze'ev Herzog wrote in the Haaretz newspaper:
This is what archaeologists have learned from their excavations in the Land of Israel: the Israelites were never in Egypt, did not wander in the desert, did not conquer the land in a military campaign and did not pass it on to the 12 tribes of Israel. Perhaps even harder to swallow is that the united monarchy of David and Solomon, which is described by the Bible as a regional power, was at most a small tribal kingdom. And it will come as an unpleasant shock to many that the God of Israel, YHWH, had a female consort..."

-Etc. Your god describes himself as perfect in the book he wrote. But evidence says he either didnt know history or chose to lie about it to you.
Cont>
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.3 / 5 (6) Apr 04, 2017
The 3rd alternative is even worse. Perhaps your god is powerful and malicious enough to have not only obliterated all evidence for biblical events, but to have replaced it with totally convincing contrary evidence, that other things were going on back then which would have made those events impossible.

So perhaps there is a beast that wrote a book promising to grant all your wishes and let you live forever. But he is certainly not the perfect god he describes himself to be. THAT god doesnt exist.

Youve got to face the fact that youre worshipping a god who lies to you in order to find out how much you trust him. So why would you trust anything he has to say?

A beast on many levels.

We both know this argument has no effect on your faith but the hope is that it will dissuade others from succumbing to the thrill of the epiphany.

This is what hitchens was trying to do.
Captain Stumpy
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 04, 2017
First its not 'god' that science has disproved, its YOUR god.
@otto
actually, it was their myths and source book proven false

as such, this means the foundation of all Abrahamic religion is proven false - christian, muslim, judaism

it also demonstrates their book was written as a codification of mythos and rule for personal reason, and thus not guided by a "perfect being"

so considering that, we can demonstrate that there is no omniscient, omnipotent influence as there is no factual references from said being produced in the historical record (like relativity, biology, etc)

the only thing the book gets semi-correct is the "begats" of the OT, and even those have no secondary validation

just a clarification of point
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (1) Apr 04, 2017
We have a book which describes itself as written by a perfect god.

We find that the book is imperfect.

And so we can conclude that a perfect god could not have written it.

Julians gods very existence is based on its perfection. If it is imperfect then its not the god described in its book ie it cannot and does not exist.

Etcetc round and round. Perfection is a unique qualifier. A perfect thing cannot exist if it is proven to be imperfect.

Julian wanted proof (again) that his god doesnt exist. So I gave him the most conclusive one I know of.

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