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« Culture, rationality, and science communication (video) | Main | Are "moderates" less affected by politically motivated reasoning? Either "yes by definition," or "maybe, depending on what you mean exactly" »
Thursday
Oct242013

Communicating the normality/banality of climate science (lecture slides)

Gave talk yesterday at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Slides here.

The talk was part of a science-communication session held in connection NOAA's 38th Climate Diagnostics and Prediction Workshop.

The other speaker at the event was Rick Borchelt, Director for Communications and Public Affairs at the Department of Energy's Office of Science, who is an outstanding (a)  natural scientist, (b) scientist of science communication, and (c) science communicator rolled into one. Not a very common thing. I got the benefit of his expertise as he translated some of my own answers into questions into terms that made a lot more sense to everyone, including me.

Our session was organized by David Herring, Director of Communication and Education in NOAA's Climate Program Office, who also possesses the rare and invaluable skill of being able to construct bridging frameworks that enable the insights a particular community of empirical researchers discerns through their professionalized faculty of perception to be viewed clearly and vividly by those from outside that community.  Magic!

My talk was aimed at helping the climate scientists in the audience appreciate that the "information" that ordinary citizens are missing, by and large, has little to do with the content of climate science.

There is persistent confusion in the public not because people "don't get" climate science. They quite understandably don't really "get" myriad bodies of decision-relevant science --from medicine to economics, from telecommunications to aeronautics -- that they intelligently make use of in their lives, personal, professional, and civic.

Moreover, the ordinary citizens best situated to "get" any kind of science -- the ones who have the highest degree of science knowledge and most acutely developed critical reasoning skills -- are the ones most culturally divided on climate change risks.

The most important kind of "science comprehension" -- the foundation of rational thought -- is the capacity to reliably recognize what has been made known by valid science, and to reliably separate it from the myriad claims being made by those who are posing or who are peddling forms of insight not genuinely ground in science's way of knowing.

People exercise that capacity by exploiting the ample stock of cues and signs that their diverse cultural communities supply them and that effectively certify which claims, supported by which evidence, warrant being credited.

The public confusion over climate change, I suggested, consists in the disordered, chaotic, conflictual state of those cues and signs across the diverse communities that members of our pluralistic society inhabit.

The information they are missing, then, consists in vivid, concrete, intelligible examples of people they identify with using valid climate science to inform their practical decisionmaking -- not just as government policymakers but as business people and property owners, and as local citizens engaged in working with one another to assure the continuing viability of the ways of life that they all value and on which their common well-being depends.

This is one of the animating themes of field-based science communication research that the Cultural Cognition Project is undertaking in Florida in advising the Southeast Regional Climate Compact, a coalition of four counties (Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Monroe) that are engaged in updating their comprehensive landuse plans to protect one or another element of the local infrastructure from the persistent weather and climate challenges that it faces, and has faced, actually, for hundreds of years.

One critical element of the Compact's science communication strategy, I believe, consists in furnishing citizens with a simple, unvarnished but unobstructed view of the myriad ways in which all sorts of actors in their community are, in a "business as usual' manner, making use of and demanding that public officials make use of valid climate science to promote the continuing vitality of their way of life.

It's normal, banal. Maybe it's even boring to many of these citizens, who have their own practical affairs to attend to and who busily apply their reason to acquiring and making sense of the information that that involves.

But as citizens they rightfully, sensibly look for the sorts of information that would reliably assure them that the agents they are relying on in government to attend to vital public goods are carrying out their tasks in a manner that reflects an informed understanding of the scientific data on which it depends.  

So give them that--and then leave it to them, applying their own reliable ability to make sense of what they see, to decide for themselves if they are satisfied and to say what more information they'd like if not.

And then give as clear and usable an account of the content of of what science knows about climate to the myriad practical decisionmakers--in government and out--whose decisions must be guided by it.

Doing that is easier said than done too; and it doing it effectively is something that requires evidence-based practice.

But the point is, communicating the substance of valid science for those who will make direct use of it in their practical decisionmaking is an entirely different thing from supplying ordinary citizens with the information that they legitimately are entitled to have to assure them that those engaged in such decisionmaking are relying on the best available scientific evidence.

It's the latter sort of information that there is a deficit of in our public discourse, and that deficit can be remedied only with evidence of that sort -- not evidence relating to the details of the mechanisms that valid climate science is concerning itself with.

This is a theme that I've emphasized before (I'm always saying the same thing; why? Someone must be studying this...).

I'll say more about it, too, I'm sure, in future posts, including ones that relate more of the details of the field-based research we are doing in Florida.

But the most important thing is just how many resourceful, energetic, intelligent, dedicated people are doing the same thing--investigating the same problem by the same means of forming conjectures, gathering evidence to test them, and then sharing what they learn with others so that they can extend and refine the knowledge such activity produces.

David Herring and Rick Borchelt and their colleagues are among those people.

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Reader Comments (18)

Dan,

you make all the laudable noises about "science's way of knowing" and then acquiesce to recorded discussions with Trofim Lewandowsky of the demagogic f/utility of the "consensus" argument—which is as flagrant a denial of science's way of persuasion as one can possibly imagine. Scientific Reasoning 101 forbids, without weasel-room, the passing-off of opinion, majority or otherwise, as evidence. Yet your only public condemnation of this scientifically abhorrent practice to date—unless I've missed something, in which case I'm now embarrassing myself and not you—seems to be on the grounds of effectiveness.

Daniel M Kahan, listen to me carefully. It's not (just) ineffective, it's immoral. It's fucking wrong to even try to persuade the scientifically-innocent by consensus. To even perform human experiments with such an immoral technology is immoral. The fact that it only works 50% of the time is hardly likely to save the guilty when we finally have that Climate Nuremberg everybody dreams of.

Climate science will always be abnormal—and, not coincidentally, incapable of discovering anything worth mentioning—until it undergoes the intensive therapy needed to cure its obsession with consensus once and for all.

You call this pathological, oncological offshoot of science "banal." I'm sure Hannah Arendt would have agreed.

We can both be grateful for our friendship, because otherwise I would have to go further.

October 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Keyes

I think you're missing a simple plan to avoid needing to use the stock of cultural cues to proxy validity:

- Understand scientific reasoning, especially what makes it reliable
- Understand the reasoning behind a claim
- Judge the claim based on the reliability of its reasoning

Obviously life is far to short to do that for every claim, but it's more than long enough to do that for the important claims.

October 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

@Brad:

1. I would say that it is perfectly reasonable for someone trying to make sense of an empirical question to consider whether there is a "consensus' among those who have undertaken valid empirical study aimed at answering it. I'd also say that the only thing that makes that reasonable is that science itself doesn't treat such "consensus" as having any bearing on whether such an answer is true -- & on the contrary views the permanent amenability to challenge & refutation of any current understanding as the only basis for accepting that understanding as true at a particular moment.

2. Based on 1, helping others to form a reliable apprehension of what the state of expert opinion is in any scientific field at any given moment is not itself the least bit immoral.

3. I've commented many many times on why I think asserting emphatically and repeatedly that there is "scientific consensus" on climate change is not responsive to -- and can indeed, in the contemptuous way that it is often presented in public discourse, aggravate -- the conditions that are impairing the normally reliable reasoning faculties that individuals use to discern what is known by science, including what the prevailing view of scientists with the relevant expertise is.

4. I've listened carefully to you, as I'm sure you have to me, despite our differing opinions. We wouldn't learn very much, would we?, if we confined ourselves to engaging in discussion only those w/ whom we agree?

October 24, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@Ryan: Life would be shorter still if we made assent even to "important" insights from science depend on our understanding the scientific validity of them. Nothing in that implies, either, that it is not valuable-- instrumentally and intrinsically -- for people to learn to engage in "scientific reasoning," which is to say, to learn simply to think.

October 24, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

"I would say that it is perfectly reasonable for someone trying to make sense of an empirical question to consider whether there is a "consensus' among those who have undertaken valid empirical study aimed at answering it."

How do you determine if a scientist has "undertaken valid empirical study" except by looking at the arguments and evidence? Do you think you can tell by looking at the person, or the social networks they are a member of?

October 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

"It's not (just) ineffective, it's immoral."

Really? It is "immoral" to try to persuade people about a complex issue by noting the existence of a high prevalence of opinion among experts?

"Immoral?"

There is a high prevalence of experts who believe that HIV causes AIDS. There is a minority of experts who think that HIV does not cause AIDS.

The vast majority of people in the world, and in particular many of those who are high risk for HIV infection, do not have the technical background to understand the related science, let alone have access to that information.

Are you actually saying that it is "immoral" to try to persuade those people that they should avoid high risk behaviors on the basis of the scientific consensus?

October 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

" Do you think you can tell by looking at the person, or the social networks they are a member of?"

I would say to some extent, yes. But I imagine you would disagree. So, then I'll turn the next question back to you.

"How do you determine if a scientist has "undertaken valid empirical study" except by looking at the arguments and evidence? "

If we eliminate looking at a person and their social networks, what is left. Is the only way to determine whether a scientist has undertaken valid empirical study by looking at their arguments and (all the) related evidence?

Do you have no opinions about study conducted by any scientists unl

Let's take HIV and AIDS. Do you have an opinion on whether HIV causes AIDS? Would you doubt that any scientist who reaches that conclusion has undertaken valid empirical study if you hadn't looked at their arguments, specifically, and the evidence they presented, specifically, to support their views?

October 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Joshua,

"Immoral?"

Yes. Was I unclear on that? Oops, sometimes I am too subtle and diplomatic for my own good. I might write up my comment as a blog post, and be a bit more dogmatic / less anodyne this time. (Thanks for the gentle hint.) But yes, immoral.

"many of those who are high risk for HIV infection, do not have the technical background to understand the related science, let alone have access to that information"

Bosh, Joshua. The mutual stipulation is that these benighted souls do have access to "communicators" who are able to apprise them of the "majority opinion" that AIDS is caused by HIV, yet you fail to see that those exact same communicators could, instead, use that exact same opportunity to tell them about the evidence that AIDS is caused by HIV. Or that, in doing so, they would be exhibiting a Kantian respect for their benighted clients' rational autonomy as intrinsically-worthwhile human beings. As required by, you know, morality.

(By the way, I used a passive construction because HIV is almost certainly not a sufficient cause of AIDS, but let's not complicate the conversation. Anyway, who knows?—perhaps you were trying to express that HIV is necessary for AIDS.)

"Is the only way to determine whether a scientist has undertaken valid empirical study by looking at their arguments and (all the) related evidence?"

Basically.

Long answer: stop going on about "scientists" and "a scientist." Science doesn't depend in the slightest on what scientists think, or conclude, or their "views." That probably sounds absurd to you, but only because you've been immersed in the climate-science debate rather longer than is healthy for the human brain. Try to remember what your genre of argument would have sounded like 30 years ago, before public science was dragged back to the Age of Experts, commonly known as the Middle Ages. (Hint: it was about physical evidence.)

Anyway, thanks again for the feedback—I get it. I need to start letting people know what I really think.

October 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Keyes

I appreciate your characteristically thoughtful comment, Dan! For some reason I wasn't made aware of it by the "Notify by email" function—which only seems to tell me about the thoughts of fellow readers.

Here is the sticking-point, it seems:

You know that "science itself doesn't treat such "consensus" as having any bearing on whether such an answer is true." Yet you think the public should.

The reason science doesn't treat such "consensus" as meaning anything is that it doesn't mean anything. Why waste public bandwidth on meaningless non-evidence, unless one's intent is to trick people into believing *cough* the truth? I'm still waiting to hear an honorable explanation for the practice. It certainly has no connection at all to "science's way of knowing"—you just explained this yourself!

Worse, in "communicating" consensus, one not only tricks the public on the particulars of the issue. The laws of conversational implicature mean that one is also deceiving people on a more profound level. After all, when one conveys a message, one simultaneously conveys the message that this is worth conveying. But it isn't. It's meaningless. Yet the public no longer understands this. Quite the opposite. The public has "learnt" that consensus matters in science.

As obvious as it is to you and me that that's nonsense, a whole generation of climate kiddies has no idea. They're all online now, so if you don't believe me, here's an excellent chance to test what I'm saying. Drop in on any sub-Yale-level climatefight and explain that consensus is by definition a form of opinion, and is therefore beneath the notice of all proper scientists. Obvious stuff, right? Epistemology 101, right?

They won't believe ye.

Please tell me who to blame for this generational stultification, if not the climate industry.

October 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Keyes

And in funrelated news, I'll never know what point obese scientific illiterate Al Gore thinks he was making, but he's perfectly summed up the current Climate War of scientists vs. activists:

"The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity"

October 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Keyes

Joshua,

"If we eliminate looking at a person and their social networks, what is left. Is the only way to determine whether a scientist has undertaken valid empirical study by looking at their arguments and (all the) related evidence?"

I'm open to suggestions. But I don't know of any way.

The problem is, for the same reason people don't have time to study the science, they also don't have time to check out the the expertise of the experts, so having a technical problem they can't do themselves, they consult an expert. An "expert expert" - an expert who is an expert on experts - who will do the assessment for them and let them know. You could think of a university administering examinations and handing out qualifications as such. But then it turns out that some universities set higher standards than others, the ordinary Joe having no time to sort that out they go to an "expert expert expert", an expert on the expert experts, who will tell them which expert expert to listen to. But then it is discovered that expert expert experts differ in their opinions - some rate Yale, others prefer only Harvard - so you need a... well, you can see where this is going. Most people get fed up after a couple of stages, and pick on the basis of some non-scientific criteria. The end result is much the same as if they had done that to start with.

"Do you have no opinions about study conducted by any scientists unl[ess, as Tom Wigley put it, you've examined the issue fully yourself?]"

If I'm being asked to comment as a scientist, then no, I don't. I would say "Not my area. I don't know." It's a common character trait amongst scientists that they <hate saying "I don't know" about anything, but it's required by professional ethics. I would say the same about teachers, too.

As an interested member of the public, I have various levels of heuristics for testing claims. Most of them have more to do with the arguments and evidence than the people or institutions, and those having to do with people tend to result in either more or less thorough checking, rather than a simple yes or no. Yes, I'll sometimes provisionally accept statements without studying the science in detail myself - if they're plausible, not notably controversial, and if the evidence is clearly openly available and looks like it has been checked by others. If somebody else contradicts it with a plausible argument, it goes back into the 'unknown' pile, until I have time to sort it out.

"Let's take HIV and AIDS. Do you have an opinion on whether HIV causes AIDS? Would you doubt that any scientist who reaches that conclusion has undertaken valid empirical study if you hadn't looked at their arguments, specifically, and the evidence they presented, specifically, to support their views?"

I think - not speaking as a scientist - that HIV causes AIDS. I'm open to the possibility that other things could cause AIDS too, or that there are circumstances where HIV might not cause AIDS (like immunity), or that the causal chain is more complex. But my reasoning has nothing to do with the opinions of experts - it has more to do with the epidemiology. People tested and found to be HIV+ tend to die of AIDS not long after. Evidence, not opinion.

However, if somebody came along and said they thought it didn't, I'd ask them why. What's their reasoning? And if I found their reasoning plausible enough, and if it was a question where having the right answer was important to me, I'd look deeper and find out. So far, nobody has, so I'm sticking with my initial opinion. I don't regard my opinion as being 'scientific', though.

Brad,

"Anyway, thanks again for the feedback—I get it. I need to start letting people know what I really think."

While I agreed with the content of the argument in your comment above, that sort of thing really makes me wince!

I don't tell anyone what they can or can't say, but I'd say communication between the two sides was hard enough without them both letting each other know what they really think. I've been in that sort of environment, and it ends up as mostly incoherent shouting. Anyway, Dan and Joshua already know what we think - I've been telling them both for months. :-)

October 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Nullius,

fear not—the threat of increased honesty was an in-joke. (I guess you had to be me.) I know I'm uncensored—it's one of the things I like about me. We've apparently drawn contradictory lessons from our respective experiences. I've wasted god-knows how many man-months debating good friends who were too polite to articulate their true, underlying objections. The eventual blowup is a catharsis every time. David Mamet said something, which I've never managed to relocate, along the lines of: if we all told the truth for a second we'd be free. I think the key, though, is you have to be in intelligent company. Otherwise, yes, I can picture the "incoherent shouting" you describe!

By the way, in the same no-regrets spirit, I want you to know I greatly appreciate your months of outreach to Dan etc. We may be an army of Davids, but the least we can do is acknowledge each other's efforts from time to time!

October 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Keyes

Brad -

Bosh, Joshua. The mutual stipulation is that these benighted souls do have access to "communicators" who are able to apprise them of the "majority opinion" that AIDS is caused by HIV, yet you fail to see that those exact same communicators could, instead, use that exact same opportunity to tell them about the evidence that AIDS is caused by HIV.


Those two aspects are not mutually exclusive, Let's take climate change, as an example. Some "communicators" tell the public about the prevalence of view among experts, but they also tell them of the evidence. Because the prevalence of expert opinion is related information, although it is not dispositive. The point being, many in the public (I would be a good example) don't have the knowledge or intellectual chops to evaluate the scientific evidence in a precise and detailed empirical manner. Thus, along with finding out what the evidence is, I like to know the prevalence of view among experts. The same is the case with the evidence that HIV causes AIDS. I cannot evaluate the veracity of that evidence in an empirical fashion, so while I don't consider the prevalence of opinion to be dispositive, I do find it useful information that is instructive about probabilities. A construct whereby my conclusions must rest on a belief that the vast majority of experts are stupid (as they miss clear evidence that "skeptics" find so obvious), or frauds, requires, IMO, a belief in something that is highly implausible. Possible? Sure. Plausible? I don't think so.

Might motivated reasoning in be explanatory, at least to some extent? Sure. I think that it is. But the thing about motivated reasoning is that it is a product of basic human attributes in how we reason and in our psychology. It affects all of us. If you get my drift.

(By the way, I used a passive construction because HIV is almost certainly not a sufficient cause of AIDS, but let's not complicate the conversation. Anyway, who knows?—perhaps you were trying to express that HIV is necessary for AIDS.)

Adding words (i.e, "sufficient") into what I say, so as to distort my obvious meaning in a way that is completely irrelevant to my point but looks instead like a weak attempt to promote your superior scientific understanding is not a particularly good rhetorical technique. Therefore, it doesn't advance your argument, but only detracts from it. And I love the, "I could imply X, but I won't because I don't want to distract the conversation" gambit.


"Basically."

Basically? The question is a yes/ no question.

Long answer: stop going on about "scientists" and "a scientist."

Please define "going on."

Science doesn't depend in the slightest on what scientists think, or conclude, or their "views." "

That is a straw man. I didn't say that science does "depend" on scientists' opinions. I am saying that the prevalence of opinion among scientists is information that is relevant to the public. It is instructive as to probabilities.

"That probably sounds absurd to you, but only because you've been immersed in the climate-science debate rather longer than is healthy for the human brain. "

Now this is interesting. We see that you wrongly speculate about my opinions, and feel that you know for certain the reason why I might have a certain opinion (which I don't have). And we see that in fact, not only do you wrongly interpret what I think, but further, you draw conclusions about me without evidence in support So much for always being evidence based in your analytic process, eh?

Try to remember what your genre of argument would have sounded like 30 years ago, before public science was dragged back to the Age of Experts, commonly known as the Middle Ages. (Hint: it was about physical evidence.)

Science is still about evidence. Again, when people speak about the prevalence of expert opinion they don't to it mutually exclusive with talking about the evidence. And again, I don't find the belief that the perspective that ACO2 emissions have the potential to affect the climate in ways that will be harmful to humans to be evidence-free. There is much evidence in that respect - of the same sort that you spoke of w/r/t the epidemiological evidence in support of the HIV/AIDS connection. In neither case is it merely a question of whether there is evidence or not, but a question of how the evidence should be interpreted. And in neither case to I have the background knowledge or brain power required to interpret the evidence in a scientific manner.

I find it highly implausible a widely held opinion among experts would be evidence-free, whether that be with climate change or the HIV/AIDS connection. In both cases, while I consider the possibility that there is an explanation for why the predominant view among scientists is wrong, I also take into account the probabilities of such.

At any rate, I find it much more likely that your opinions, like those of anyone else, are subject to biasing influences - rather than it being a case of the predominant scientific view being the product of influencing biases and your opinion and that of a minority of experts being bias-free.

And btw - there were always the same biasing influences on how people interpret evidence. Those biases are not some product of modern culture.

""Anyway, thanks again for the feedback—I get it. I need to start letting people know what I really think.""

I don't really know what that means. It seems that you think that in response to my feedback, you added something that expressed your "real" feelings more closely? I don't see what you're referring to.

So just to let you know, NiV's concerns about that line are completely unnecessary.

IMO, it is basically the entirely of the rest of your comment that you should is more concerning (from a logical standpoint).
It is interesting, however, that NiV seems to have missed the insulting content of the rest of your post; If anything, in contrast to that last part, it is the other parts of your comment that would likely lead to "incoherent shouting." But fear not. Your insulting insinuations are like water off a duck's ass. No incoherent shouting necessary.

Well, at least no shouting is necessary. I can't promise coherency.

October 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Josh—

"Those two aspects are not mutually exclusive,"

The public's time is inelastic, so yes, they are mutually exclusive. Sure, you can do a bit of both, but the more you do of one, the less you can do of the other.

"Let's take climate change, as an example."

Well, we have to take climate change, don't we?, since no other topic in science is regularly "communicated" by reference to consensus.

"The point being, many in the public (I would be a good example) don't have the knowledge or intellectual chops to evaluate the scientific evidence in a precise and detailed empirical manner. Thus, along with finding out what the evidence is, I like to know the prevalence of view among experts."

So when you can't make up your mind on the basis of mere evidence, you like to supplement it with non-evidence? Hmmm.

Have you considered an alternative, such as not forming an opinion at all? There's absolutely no dishonor in it. I take that route all the time.

"while I don't consider the prevalence of opinion to be dispositive, I do find it useful information that is instructive about probabilities"

Well it isn't. Almost all scientists are wrong about almost everything. 99% of published studies can't be replicated. That's the "scientific condition."

"Adding words (i.e, "sufficient") into what I say, so as to distort my obvious meaning"

Sorry, but it wasn't remotely "obvious" to me that you didn't mean that. Nor that you did: hence my explicit allowance that you might have meant something else—a qualification which you seem to have interpreted as a sort of paralepsis or occupatio. That's amusing, but it really wasn't. Promise! (When you said HIV causes AIDS, what did you mean, may I ask?)

"At any rate, I find it much more likely that your opinions, like those of anyone else, are subject to biasing influences - rather than it being a case of the predominant scientific view being the product of influencing biases and your opinion and that of a minority of experts being bias-free."

It's interesting that you assume my views don't align with the majority of climate scientists when it comes to climate change. As far as I know they do—and the silly work of the Oreskes School hasn't turned up any evidence to the contrary. (Not that I follow their adventures in illogic particularly closely.)

"Basically? The question is a yes/ no question."

Basically means "no, but very close."

"Please define "going on.""

Talking.

"But fear not. Your insulting insinuations are like water off a duck's ass."

Right, and I knew you wouldn't feel insulted by my insinuations, which is why it's hard to consider them "insulting."

Thanks for the frank reply, Joshua!

Take care

October 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Keyes

Sorry Joshua—I don't know where that "Josh" came from.

October 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Keyes

@Dan 10-24-13

The Royal Society motto means knowledge comes from materialistic investigation, not from soul searching, divine inspiration or the like. It seems trivial now but at its inception a different epistemology reigned. I don't see any good reason to get hung up on semantics ("I’m going to do my own experiments to determine the Law of Gravitation.") That's obviously not what it means.

I like your term cultural cognition. The concept deserves a name and yours is apt. However I would disagree with your further argument, it is just a heuristic. A very important heuristic, but still just a heuristic.

On the "Liberal Republic of Science"

The principle that nations should be ruled by scholars is much older than you think it is. I submit that's been the basic theory of government in most all western countries for about the last 80 years. Most regulatory agencies are designed to be staffed by and subject to scholars, most foreign and domestic policies come from "think tanks" originally, and so on.

Of course political power was never formally transferred to the university system. And our vestigial institutions frustrate the reign of benevolent scholarship, such as the unwashed masses and their cherished "right" to vote.

While I definitely agree manipulating cultural cognition is a generally sound strategy for keeping the proles in line, on the issue of global warming (which seems the focus of this blog), the strategy faces two major problems.

First, climate science is just downright fascinating. Heuristics are for times when one wants to be lazy, not for when genuine knowledge and understanding would be preferred, even as ends to themselves and not means of policy making.

Second, all humans shut off heuristic reasoning the moment the price tag/implications of the decision reaches some critical mass, and the generation and availability of cheap electricity is pretty much the most important thing in the whole world.

October 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

@Ryan:

You suggest "the principle that nations should be ruled by scholars is much older than you think it is" -- in your view it's "been the basic theory of government in most all western countries for about the last 80 years."

Actually, I'm sure it's at least 2400 yrs old.

It's not the animating principle of the Liberal Republic of Science. It would really be impossible for me to overstate that.

The idea that I'm proposing "manipulating cultural cognition" as a means of controlling citizens is equally remote from anything I've ever said

October 25, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@Dan

Obviously you are the one who knows what you mean. If there is any difference in our perceptions I am by definition wrong.

If I might refine my position, and hopefully not misunderstand yours, consider an issue like gun control.

In The Liberal Republic of Science (and again, you own this concept and if I'm wrong that's what I am), gun control laws affect public safety. The effect is an object of ordinary scientific inquiry. And good government means laws grounded in the truth discovered by said inquiry.

In, let's call it, "The Conservative Republic of the Constitution," citizens have a right to keep and bear arms. If a law infringes that right it is illegitimate and immoral.

Denziens of each would seem to rather well understand the situation: conservatives tell liberals scientific investigation shows gun control does not improve public safety, liberals tell conservatives arms doesn't mean AK-47's. But I would not read this as evidence that anyone sees actual value in the other point of view. They understand only as a means to an end.

So my opinion, which I confess to probably not conveying well before or perhaps even now, is that for the Liberal Republic of Science to thrive, it's not enough for cultural cognition to indicate (for the purpose of this example) that gun control laws improve public safety, cultural cognition needs to indicate that somehow matters to begin with.

Curve back into climate chance. To turn the first President Bush's comment before the 1992 Rio Summit, Cultural cognition needs to indicate that the American way of life in fact is up for negotiation. Without that step 1, the step 2 of people using the trust scientific authority heuristic doesn't matter.

October 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

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