I have commented in earlier posts on Dan Kahan's research about why we believe what we do. The basic conclusion is that, in the case of beliefs linked to group identity, individuals choose what to believe not on the basis of the evidence but on the basis of what beliefs fit their group identity. For most of us, as Dan points out, that is rational behavior. My beliefs about evolution or global warming have little effect on the world at large but could have a large effect on how well I get along with the people who matter to me.
There is no reason to assume that the pattern I have just described only applies to other people. One possible conclusion is that I ought to look for beliefs that it is very much in my interest to hold and think about how good my reasons are for holding them.
One of the first candidates that occurs to me is my belief that minimum wage laws have bad effects, that they make it harder for unskilled workers to get jobs. That is a belief widely held among economists, especially economists generally in favor of free markets. Academic economists are part of an academic world where most people are
politically liberal, hence inclined to support minimum wage laws. That
makes the fact that economists are inclined to oppose them an important
marker for group identity. And I have evidence of the cost to an economist of rejecting it from an interview
with David Card, coauthor of a widely cited study that failed to find the expected effect. By his account, getting what was, from the standpoint of his professional peers, the wrong answer cost him a lot of friends.
That is a reason to think that my view on the subject might be mistaken but I cannot think of any good arguments against it, so I will rapidly pass on from my possible false beliefs to other people's. Dan Kahan's, for example.
Dan is a professor at Yale law school. My guess is that if he pointed out that there is no good reason
to expect the distribution of intellectual abilities to be the same for men as for women, hence no good reason to interpret unequal outcomes as evidence of discrimination, he would suffer significant social costs. If he made the same point in the context of racial differences, the costs would be more than merely significant. Perhaps he should think about those questions, examine the arguments and evidence, and revise his beliefs accordingly.
Or perhaps not. His explanation for what he observed, after all, was that it was the result of rational behavior. Believing things merely because the evidence supports them may sound like an admirable policy, but it could prove to be a very expensive one.