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« Science literacy vs. "climate science literacy" | Main | WSMD? JA!, episode 3: It turns out that Independents are as just partisan in cognition as Democrats & Republicans after all! »

Cultural cognition is not a bias -- and the corruption of it is no laughing matter!

Well, I feel sort of bad for coming across as gleeful in reporting that further analysis of data confirmed Indepdendents, just like politial partisans, display ideologically motivated reasoning.  A commentator (Metamorph, aka "Metamorph") called me out on that.

My punishment is to write 500 times ...

1. Cultural cognition is not a bias (parts one and two).

2. It's the science communication environment, stupid -- not stupid people!

3. Cultural cognition is not a bummer (parts one and two).


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Reader Comments (4)

Again, thanks for the response, and the links -- obviously I should have read more before jumping into your blog comments. And I didn't mean to accuse you of taking pleasure simply in finding evidence of distortions in people's thinking. If there was any touch of "glee" in your post, I thought it had to do just with the ordinary enjoyment of finding confirmation of one's own thinking -- but that's part of what I was trying to say. I don't doubt you're onto something important in talking about "cultural cognition" as cognition derived from the socio-cultural groups with which people identify. But I wanted to point to another source of what I can find no other word for than bias, and this is the internal coherence of a worldview, or, to use a Kuhnian word, paradigm. This can certainly have a distorting effect too on one's views of the world, but it can also be a corrective to naive or superficial or even otherwise biased views of what constitutes facts or reason. As Kuhn pointed out, such paradigms affect science too, for all its empirical focus, and saying that should in no way impugn one's respect for science as an endeavor of great benefit to us all. But if the allegiance to the coherence of a worldview of paradigm can have an effect even on issues remote from immediate human concern, such as plate tectonics say, then it's all the more a factor in issues that have a more direct moral, social, or political impact -- and since scientists themselves are not aliens or robots but human beings, those kinds of possible distortions operate on them (and their employers, reviewers, publishers, and granting agencies) as well. Seeing this can often be difficult from one point of view when you use disputes like climate change as the example (though I thought your attempt to mitigate the politics of it by suggesting alternative responses was interesting) -- but try using a dispute like racial IQs as an example and it's maybe easier to see the difficulties.

December 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMetamorf

@Metamorph: No -- not obvious that you should read more before jumping in! Please just jump!

Scholarly conversation is always recursive--always doubling back & then returning to the point at hand, etc. It has to be that way in order to count as a *scholarly* conversation, which by defition has to be an open one that anyone who is curious and thoughtful can join in. It also has to be that way b/c of constraints on exposition; every point anyone makes is always elliptical, always dependent on its meaning and signifcance of an understanding of things not said but already known -- and often what those things are will *not* be clear to others in the discussion, not b/c of any fault of theirs or any fault of the person making the point, but just because of a kind of conversational entropy that makes it impossible for everyone to keep track of everything all at once. Finally, "doubling back" will often be necessary b/c sometimes the unstated, already known thing that one's claim depends on will in fact turn out to be something that isn't right; when one doubles back, one finds that one never really covered the ground that one's claim depends on -- or that what one observed there was a mirage! ...

I'm going on & on, aren't I? The point is, *thank you* for your comment & please please never think "oh, I sholdn't say something, b/c likely I don't know all the background"; if you do that, you'll inevitably deprive people of the chance to be smarter.

Now, thank you, too, for telling me not to feel so bad. In fact, I don't feel that bad! That was a trope,really; one that gave me a way to "double back" -- or to remind myself & others that any particular engagement with evidence of how our intelligence is failing is embedded in a framework that sees that, as a descriptive matter, sees our intelligence as including an astonishing capacity on the part of individuals to recognize what is known colllectively, & that, as a normative one, is committed to removing impedments to the operation of this speciaql capacity. If I didn't make that point regularly, I would be certain to be misunderstood -- and in fact would end up contributing to a project I genuinely despise, which consists in trying to show that human beings are in fact idiots who lack the capacity to govern themselves-- individually or collectively.

Which brings me to the last point: I'm motivated. By many things -- the pleasure of thinking I have figured out somethign that was mysterious; the pride of making contributions to conversation that reciprocate the value I've received from ones made by others; the emotional & moral commitmetnts I just alluded to; also, in Kuhn's sense, some sense of how my status depends on the authority of an existing paradigm; and likely too by my "cultural worldview" in the sense that figures in our work. etc. etc.

Any of those things could bias me! I am aware of that, and try of course to constrain these influences (by being aware of them, e.g.). But I know that is an imperfect strategy for avoiding the state of ignorance that these motivations might, unconsciously, consign me to.

The *best* strategy for dealing with these myriad threats to enlarging my understanding of how things work is for me to *tell you* what I care about as well as what I think, & then invite you, even implore you, to tell me if you think my motivations have crept in and made me accept too readily some piece of evidence that's congenial to them (or reject too quickly some piece that is uncongenial). That strategy would be completely defeated if I adopted a conversational style that had the effect of deterring any thoughtful person from entering into it on the ground what that person suspects is error on my part likely reflects his or her unfamiliarity with ground previously covered in conversation....

Lastly, it is okay to laugh, I'm convinced, even when addressing things that are very serious. We can be judged for *what* we think is funny or laughable, of course, since finding something amusing depends on evaluative judgments that might be wrong. But I don't think it is wrong for people who value the right things to avail themselves of all the conversational benefits of being able to see, in their common apprehension of the absurd (in their situation; in themselves!), that they in fact share a way of seeing the world.

December 9, 2012 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

I'm trying to understand why you are saying that CC is not a bias because ideologically motivated reasoning can also be found in Independents. Do Independents never hold biased beliefs? Could they not have a bias to the right on one issue, but to the left on another? Can nobody be biased to be centrist, meaning they believe being moderate and centrist to be best so will pick the position that seems most moderate or a compromise?

December 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Gordon

@Sarah Gordon: What I meant is that to the extent that Independents have group commitments that could be threatened by acceptance of particular beliefs, they, like political partisans, are likely to process information about those matters in a way that reflects their motivation to form and persist in group-congruent beliefs. In fact, most "Indepedents" tend to "lean" toward one party or the other. Many political scientists think "leaning Independents" as are politically partisan as anyone else. But even if one confines one's attention to true, unleaning "Independents," it turns out, not surprisingly, they have cultural values. Those values predict their perceptions of risk and their policy preferences -- just as they do for everyone else. And then it turns out -- or so it seems from these data -- that INdependents will engage infomration that bears on those risk perceptios or policy prefernces in a way that protects their connection to the groups who share those values.

Is that clearer?

December 18, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

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