Centrists Have Great Bullshit Radar (in Sweden, Anyway)

Via Tyler Cowen, here are the results of “The Complex Relation Between Receptivity to Pseudo-Profound Bullshit and Political Ideology,” a recently published paper:

Among Swedish adults (N = 985), bullshit receptivity was (a) robustly positively associated with socially conservative (vs. liberal) self-placement, resistance to change, and particularly binding moral intuitions (loyalty, authority, purity); (b) associated with centrism on preference for equality and even leftism (when controlling for other aspects of ideology) on economic ideology self-placement; and (c) lowest among right-of-center social liberal voters and highest among left-wing green voters.

I don’t have access to the finished paper, but here are the main findings from a preprint version:

For some reason, “bullshit receptivity” is reversed in the chart, so lower numbers mean a higher affinity for bullshit. In Sweden, at least, the lowest tolerance for bullshit is clearly in the center: the two most centrist partisan categories have high reasoning abilities, excellent sensitivity to bullshit, and very low tolerance for it.

The highest tolerance for bullshit is among Greens and two of the right-wing parties. The far left and social democrats are about average.

What I was most curious about, however, was how the authors identified bullshit. It turns out there’s considerable prior research on this, but the paper provides one example:

We measured bullshit receptivity and profoundness receptivity by asking participants to rate the meaningfulness and profundity of seven bullshit statements (e.g., “Your movement transforms universal observations”) and seven genuine aphorisms (e.g., “Your teacher can open the door, but you have to step in”) respectively on a Likert response bar ranging from 1 (not at all meaningful) to 6 (very meaningful).

I guess that sounds reasonable, although seven statements seems a little thin. Still, I’d count this as a big win for centrists. Maybe they have more going for them than we partisan types care to admit?

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest