PerspectivePartisanship Is the Strongest Predictor of Coronavirus Response

Published 1 April 2020

The U.S. is a land divided. Americans have sorted themselves into opposing factions, with different values, sources of authority, and shared understandings. David Roberts writes that in some ways, there is no longer any meaningful U.S.“public,” but rather two publics that want and believe different things. America is facing what Roberts calls an “epistemic crisis.” Epistemology is the branch of philosophy having to do with knowledge and how we come to know things. In the face of the coronavirus crisis — and future epidemics – “the epistemic gap could have devastating public health consequences,” he writes.

The U.S. is a land divided. Americans have sorted themselves into opposing factions, with different values, sources of authority, and shared understandings. David Roberts writes in Vox that in some ways, there is no longer any meaningful U.S.“public,” but rather two publics that want and believe different things.

He adds:

The current state of deep polarization in the U.S. is the subject of a great deal of discussion and research right now, including in an excellent new book by my colleague Ezra Klein. One aspect of it that I have highlighted in a number of posts (start here) is what I call America’s epistemic crisis. Epistemology is the branch of philosophy having to do with knowledge and how we come to know things; the crisis is that, as a polity, we have become incapable of learning or knowing the same things, and thus, incapable of acting together in a coherent fashion.

I have been wondering when that epistemic crisis might spiral out into a full-fledged political crisis. I wondered if it might happen around the Mueller investigation, or when Trump sent 5,000 troops to the southern border to stop a phantom migrant invasion, or when Trump was impeached.

Now the Covid-19 crisis has me wondering again. A new bit of research from three leading political scientists shows pretty convincingly that, in the face of the pandemic, Republicans and Democrats are once again hearing different things, forming different understandings, and reacting in different ways.

But this time, the epistemic gap could have devastating public health consequences.

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