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Jul312013

Motivated system 2 reasoning--experimental evidence & its significance for explaining political polarization

My paper Ideology, Motivated Reasoning, and Cognitive Reflection was published today in the journal Judgment and Decision Making.

I’ve blogged on the study that is the focus of the paper before.  In those posts, I focused on the relationship of the study to the “asymmetry thesis,” the view that ideologically motivated reasoning is distinctive of (or at least disproportionately associated with) conservativism.

The study does, I believe, shed light on (by ripping a fairly decent-sized hole in) the asymmetry thesis. But the actual motivation for and significance of the study lie elsewhere.

The cultural cognition thesis (CCT) holds that individuals can be expected to form risk perceptions that reflect and reinforce their connection to groups whose members subscribe to shared understandings of the best life and the ideal society.

It is opposed to various other accounts of public controversy over societal risks, the most significant of which, in my view, is the bounded rationality thesis (BRT)

Associated most prominently with Kahneman’s account of dual process reasoning, BRT attributes persistent conflict over climate change, nuclear power, gun control, the HPV vaccine, etc. to the public’s over-reliance on rapid, visceral, affect-laden, heuristic reasoning—“System 1” in Kahneman’s terms—as opposed to more deliberate, conscious, analytical reasoning— “System 2,” which is the kind of thinking, BRT theorists assert, that characterizes the risk assessments of scientists and other experts.

BRT is quite plausible—indeed, every bit as plausible, I’m happy to admit—as CCT. Nearly all interesting problems in social life admit of multiple plausible but inconsistent explanations.  Likely that’s what makes them interesting.  It’s also what makes empirical testing—as opposed to story-telling—the only valid way to figure out why such problems exist and how to solve them

In my view, every Cultural Cognition Project study is a contribution to the testing of CCT and BRT.  Every one of them seeks to generate empirical observations from which valid inferences can be drawn that give us more reason than we otherwise would have had to view either CCT or BRT as more likely to be true.

click on it -- you know you can't resist!In one such study, CCP researchers examined the relationship between perceptions of climate change risk, on the one hand, and science literacy and numeracy, on the other. If the reason that the public is confused (that’s one way to characterize polarization) about climate change and other risk issues (we examined nuclear power risk perceptions in this study too) is that it doesn’t know what scientists know or think the way scientists think, then one would expect convergence in risk perceptions among those members of the public who are highest in science literacy and technical reasoning ability.

The study didn’t find that.  On the contrary, it found that members of the public highest in science literacy and numeracy are the most divided on climate change risks (nuclear power ones too).

That’s contrary to what BRT would predict, particularly insofar as numeracy is a very powerful indicator of the disposition to use “slow” System 2 reasoning.

That science literacy and numeracy magnify rather than dissipate polarization is strongly supportive of CCT.  If people are unconsciously motivated to fit their perceptions of risk and comparable facts to their group commitments, then those who enjoy highly developed reasoning capacities and dispositions can be expected to use those abilities to achieve that end.

In effect, by opportunistically engaging in System 2 reasoning, they’ll do an even “better” job at forming culturally congruent perceptions of risk.

Now enter Ideology, Motivated Reasoning, and Cognitive Reflection. The study featured in that paper was aimed at further probing and testing of that interpretation of the results of the earlier CCP study on science literacy/numeracy and climate change polarization.

The Ideology, Motivated Reasoning, and Cognitive Reflection study was in the nature of experimental follow up aimed at testing the hypothesis that individuals of diverse cultural predispositions will use their “System 2” reasoning dispositions opportunistically to form culturally congenial beliefs and avoid forming culturally dissonant ones.

The experiment reported in the paper corroborates that hypothesis.  That is, it shows that individuals who are disposed to use “System 2” reasoning—measured in this study by use of the Cognitive Reflection Test, another performance based measure of the disposition to use deliberate, conscious (“slow”) as opposed to heuristic-driven (“fast”) reasoning—exhibit greater motivated reasoning with respect to evidence that either affirms or challenges their ideological predispositions.

The evidence on which subjects demonstrated motivated reasoning concerned how “closed-minded” and “unreflective” individuals of opposing ideologies are.

Closed mindedness” is a very undesirable trait generally.

It’s also what those on each side of politically polarized debates like the one over climate change identify as the explanation for the other’s refusal to accept what each side sees as the clear empirical evidence in favor of its own position.

One might thus expect individuals who have a stake in forming perceptions of facts congenial to their cultural commitments to react in a defensive way to evidence that those who share their commitments are less “open-minded” and “reflective” than those who harbor opposing commtiments.

So I tested that.  I advised subjects that psychological evidence suggests that the Cognitive Reflection Test measures “open-mindedness” (some psychologists take that position; I actually think they are wrong—as I’ll explain in a moment!).  Members of a control group were told no more than this.  But subjects in two other groups were told either that climate change “skeptics” score higher than climate change “believers” or vice versa.

I found that subjects displayed motivated reasoning with respect to the evidence of the “validity” of the Cognitive Reflection Test as a measure of “open mindedness.” That is, they credited the evidence that the CRT is a “valid” test of “open-mindedness” and “reflection” much more readily if they were advised that individuals who hold the climate-change position consistent with the subjects’ ideologies scored higher, but rejected that evidence when they were informed that those same individuals score lower, than individuals with the opposing position on climate change.

Moreover, this tendency was highest among individuals with the highest Cognitive Reflection Test scores.

That finding is highly inconsistent with BRT, which assumes that a deficit in System 2 reasoning capacities explains the failure of the members of the public to converge on conclusions supported by the best available decision-relevant science.

But it very much consistent with CCT, which predicts that individuals will use their System 2 reasoning capacities strategically and opportunistically to reinforce beliefs that the their cultural group’s positions on such issues reflect the best available evidence and that opposing groups’ positions do not.

It's consistent, too, with a growing collection of findings in political psychology.  This research shows not only that ideologically motivated reasoning drives political polarization (generating perverse effects, e.g., like hardening of commitment to mistaken beliefs when "fact checkers" try to correct false claims), but also that this effect intensifies as individuals become more sophisticated about politics.

Some could have attributed this effect to a convergence between political knowledge and intensity of partisanship.  But the result in my study makes it more plausible to see the magnification of polarization associated with political knowledge as reflecting the tendency of people who simply have a better comprehension of matters political to use their knowledge in an opportunistic way so as to maintain congruence between their beliefs and their ideological identities. (I've addressed before how "cultural cognition" relates to the concept of ideologically motivated reasoning generally, and will even say a bit more on that below.)

As for the asymmetry thesis, the study also found, as predicted, that this tendency was symmetric with respect to right-left ideology.  That’s not what scholars who rely on the “neo-authoritarian personality” literature—which rests on correlations between conservativism and various self-report measures of “open-mindedness”—would likely have expected to see here.

Interestingly, I also found that there is no meaningful correlation between cognitive reflection and conservativism.

The Cognitive Reflection Test is considered a “performance” or “behavioral” based “corroborator” of the self-report tests (like “Need for Cognition,” which involves agreement or disagreement with statements like “I usually end up deliberating about issues even when they do not affect  me personally” and "thinking is not my idea of fun") that are the basis of the neo-authoritarian-personality literature on which “asymmetry thesis” rests.

It has also been featured in numerous studies that show that religiosity, which is indeed negatively correlated with cognitive reflection, predicts greater resistance to engaging evidence that challenges pre-existing beliefs.

Accordingly, one might have expected, if the “asymmetry thesis” is correct, that Cognitive Reflection Test scores would be negatively correlated with conservativism.  Studies based on nonrepresentative samples—ones consisting of M Turk workers or of individuals who visited a web site dedicated to disseminating research findings on moral reasoning style—have reported such a finding.

But in my large, nationally representative sample, scores on the Cognitive Reflection Test were not meaningfully correlated with political outlooks.

Actually, there was a very small positive correlation between cognitive reflection and identification with the Republican Party.  But it was too tiny to be of any consequence for anything as consequentially large as the conflict over climate change.

Moreover, there was essentially zero correlation between cognitive reflection and a more reliable, composite measure of ideology and political party membership.

Because I think the only valid way to test for motivated reasoning is to do do experimental tests that feature that phenomenon, I don’t really care that much about correlations between cognitive style measures and ideology.

But if I were someone who did think that such correlations were important, I’d likely find it pretty interesting that conservativism doesn’t correlate with Cognitive Reflection Test scores.  Because this test is now widely regarded as a better measure of the disposition to engage in critical reasoning than are the variety of self-report measures on which the “asymmetry thesis” thesis literature rests—and, as I said, has been featured prominently in recent studies of the cognitive reasoning style associated with religiosity—the lack of any correlation between it and conservative political outlooks raises some significant questions about exactly what the correlations reported in that literature were truly measuring.

For this reason, I anticipate that “asymmetry thesis” supporters will focus their attention on this particular finding in the study.  Yet it’s actually not the finding that is most damaging to the “asymmetry thesis”; the experimental finding of symmetry in motivated reasoning is!  Indeed, I obviously don’t think the Cognitive Reflection Test—or any other measure of effortful, conscious information processing for that matter—is a valid test of open-mindedness (which isn't to say there might not be one; I'd love to find it!).  But it has been amusing—a kind of illustration of the experiment result itself—to see “asymmetry thesis” proponents, in various responses to the working paper version of the study, attack the the Cognitive Reflection Test as “invalid” as a measure of the sort of “closed mindedness” that their position rests on!

One final note:

The study characterizes differences in individuals’ predispositions with a measure of their right-left political leanings rather than their cultural worldviews. I’ve explained before that “liberal-conservative ideology” and “cultural worldviews” can be viewed as alternative observable “indicators” of the same latent motivating disposition.  I think cultural worldviews are better, but I used political outlooks here in order to maximize engagement with those researchers who study motivatated reasoning in political psychology, including those who are interested in the “asymmetry thesis,” the probing of which was, as indicated, a secondary but still important objective of the study. I have also analyzed the study data using cultural worldviews as the predisposition measure and reported the results in a separate blog post.

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Reader Comments (46)

Still, I have two questions I've asked before:

but also that this effect intensifies as individuals become more sophisticated about politics.

This wording bugs me, as I don't think that the effect would occur as an individual became more sophisticated in their knowledge. What we can see is that those who are more sophisticated ( using your term, I'm a bit uncomfortable with the inherent value judgement implied by that term) are more polarized, but your description could imply more than just that...

Which leads to my next question:


Some could have attributed this effect to a convergence between political knowledge and intensity of partisanship. But the result in my study makes it more plausible to see the magnification of polarization associated with political knowledge as reflecting the tendency of people who simply have a better comprehension of matters political to use their knowledge in an opportunistic way so as to maintain congruence between their beliefs and their ideological identities. (I've addressed before how "cultural cognition" relates to the concept of ideologically motivated reasoning generally, and will even say a bit more on that below.)

What about the possibility that those who are more inclined to polarization (because they are more strongly identified with a particular orientation) are more inclined to seek out more information because they are more driven to justify their self-identification? I've said this before, and I guess I'm just a bit dense, but I don't see how you've controlled for direction of causality and/or for the potential for a moderator (or mediator) effect. In other words, as I read it anyway, you seem to imply a causality (more information causes more polarization) - but how about the possibility that the causal relationship is between political identification and political polarization, with more information as a moderator (or mediator) on that relationship?

You also seem to be equating more knowledge and better comprehension - which seems a bit dicey to me.

July 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Hmmm.

I guess I should have said: as I read it anyway, you seem to imply a causality (more sophistication + more information causes more polarization)

July 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua

Are you saying you think that the desire to form culturally congruent beliefs on disputed issues *causes* people to acquire the sorts of capacities & dispositions measured by the Cognitive Reflection Test, Numeracy, and science literacy? That seems highly implausible to me! If true, though, then science educators should whip students into a political frenzy!

I accept that partisnahip might generate "political knowledge" -- or that political knowlede might just be an indiator of a partisan disposition.

More work is necessary to figure out how "political knowledge" and various measures of critical reasoning relate to each other

August 1, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

That's an interesting idea. We get better at what we practice a lot. If you take part in lots of debates on contentious subjects, you get better at quickly understanding new arguments and evaluating them critically. When you're talking to someone who is going to take advantage of any slips, experience soon teaches you to not leap too quickly to conclusions, check what you're saying, and that the 'obvious' isn't always right.

Debating requires practice, it's a skill you pick up, and it makes sense that part of what you're learning when you do so could be cognitive reflection.

Numeracy similarly requires practice, and it works better when its not just pointless exercises, but applied to solving a problem you care about, like gaining an advantage in a debate. Motivation is a big part in persuading your subconscious mind that this is a useful skill to incorporate.

If true, then science educators should be whipping up lots of heated debates, and making sure students get lots of practice arguing and criticising. The issues debated don't have to be political, though.

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Scientist does experiment. Result of experiment strongly confirms preconceived notion of scientist :)

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Matthews

@Paul Mathews--

yeah, that silly Sir Arthur Eddington/Alain Aspect/Danny Kahneman/et al.! This whole idea of hypothesis testing is so ridiculous. :)

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

"The issues debated don't have to be political, though."

Yes. I shouldn't have limited my argument in such a way.

"If true, then science educators should be whipping up lots of heated debates, and making sure students get lots of practice arguing and criticising"

Absolutely. This is a pedagogical methodology that I believe in strongly In addition to being motivational intrinsically (as long as you are debating issues where their interest and opinions are truly intrinsic and not contrived) and virtually everyone learns better when they are intrinsically motivated. That methodological approach places "more information" into important and meaningful context (decontextualized information leads to inferior educational outcomes).


"Are you saying you think that the desire to form culturally congruent beliefs on disputed issues *causes* people to acquire the sorts of capacities & dispositions measured by the Cognitive Reflection Test, Numeracy, and science literacy? That seems highly implausible to me!....More work is necessary to figure out how "political knowledge" and various measures of critical reasoning relate to each other"


I need to think this through more - not sure how I'll find the time. Your posts are so damn dense they require too much effort... not like the usual blog discourse.

I think of my own situation. My family and social culture is one of engagement in politics and engagement in intellectual pursuit - including developing context-specific knowledge as well as skill sets such as numeracy. The two vectors of engagement are inextricable. I suspect this is true of the larger public more generally. Those who are more politically engaged and identified - or with incorporating NiV's point, those who are more partisan on issues that don't necessarily conform to a descriptor of "political" - are more driven to develop the knowledge and skills for validating those identifications. The identification is the cause, polarization is the effect, and capacity, skills, and/or knowledge are mediators on that cause-effect relationship.

I think of many people that I know who are not particularly strongly identified with political issues - many of whom I grew up with (my family was a bit of an outlier in the neighborhood where I grew up) - and who are also not particularly "motivated" do develop capacity, knowledge, or skills to validate their sense of self derived from their social/cultural identifications that orient along political compass points. They also were not culturally conditioned to reason through contentious debate - as they see that as conflict and they tend to be more conflict avoidant. Their identifications were validated in other ways - say by becoming a better athlete or a more skilled craftsperson, or better at fighting, or better at getting over on the system, or better at accruing money, or better at getting laid. Of course, there is much cross-over (e.g., I shared the interest in getting laid) - but I am speaking here of generalities.

My interest in acquiring the attributes that might be measured by the measurement tools you use was culturally/socially influenced. My orientation towards acquiring those attributes was not intrinsic somehow to my nature so much as intrinsic to my cultural identity which was associated with political or other types of "motivations" - prominently in my case, political orientation.

So that's what I'm trying to work through. Mostly anecdotal thinking, of course.

To add to the anecdotes - I work, often, with international executives and academics. I am always struck by how the interest of academics and businesspeople in politics seems to be influenced by culture. In particular, I think of East Asian (more specifically, Japanese and Korean more so than Chinese or Taiwanese) academics (and execs) who have absolutely no interest in contentious political debates. I think that it would be much harder to find American academics (and execs) who are similarly apathetic about politics. I have come across many academics who, because of cultural background, are fascinated by the level of investment of American non-politicians in political contentious debates. I remember one Spanish academic telling me, about 12 years or so back, how fascinated he was by watching that political stridency of Bill O'Reilly - as it was something he had never experienced before. Similarly, I've had Japanese academics and execs tell me that a public display of polarized engagement on issues was a relatively unknown phenomenon in the past, but one that is growing. Thus, these anecdotal observations conform with my thinking that the association between polarized orientation and knowledge and skills and styles of reasoning is very much culturally, socially, or experientially based.

BTW - I did manage a brief look at 3 questions posed in the CRT. I am confused, as they seem to me to be basically questions that correlate with numeracy (at least it seemed to me that the skills I needed to answer the questions were, essentially, mathematical skills. I could imagine people who might be very cognitively reflective in some areas but who might not answer those questions correctly because they think that they "can't do math."). Wouldn't the scores on that test be highly, highly correlated with numeracy? How do you distinguish what you're measuring from numeracy? Can you provide a direct link to a CRT (if you haven't already)?

Sorry for the ramble. I realize that rambling about my confusions is no substitute for taking the time to do the hard work of reading what you present more carefully - even if my ability to follow is inherently limited by my lack of knowledge, skills, and no doubt, cognitive reflective ability.

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua & @NiV

1. I predict that more kids would acquire critical reasoning skills & numeracy if connected to sports than to politics (I certainly was motivated to learn math by baseball statistics). Too many kids -- and adults -- find politics boring. At least some would likely find solving problems like "would a penny dropped through empire state bulding go through a skull?" -- mythbuster sort of exercise -- more engaging than politics too. Also, since the studies show that people use critical reasoning skillls in selective way in politics, if schools taught critical reasoning in politcal settings, would kids tend to get only 50% of the answers correct??!

2. There are some interesting questions about whether CRT is "really" a numeracy measure. It does correlate w/ numeracy, certainly; indeed, in the numeracy scale that my collaborator Ellen Peters uses, 2 of the CRT items are included. But the CRT isn't just measuring math; indeed, the "math" of the questions is pretty easy. It's measuring how readily people "catch" intuitive answer & override it with a reflective judgment. It predicts resistance to all manner of cogntive bias, and has also picked up critical reasoning differences in problems that aren't strictly mathetical. Indeed, in my study, the advantage assocated with greater cognitive reflection would have been in following the logic of a moderately dense account of what the findings were on the relative performance of climate "skepics" and 'believers" on an open-mindedness test, particularly where the answer was likely contrary to what people are used to hearing (namely, that "skeptics" are the ones who are closed minded). But I do think there is still a need for a better critical reasoning test -- particularly one that isn't so "hard" that it can't erxplain variance in 50% of the popuation... Numeracy is actully better in this regard, in my view.

August 2, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@NiV:

can you send me email for off-line communication? (promise I won't hunt you down & challenge you to a duel either by gun, drone strike, or regression analysis; I'm sure you'd destroy me!)

August 2, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

Again,I'd be willing to wager that there would be more than a few folks who might score reasonably high on other measures of cognitive reflection but would do miserably on those questions because they associate them with math, and when anyone suggests that they answer test questions related to math their "reflection" skills shut down. Of course, there would also be subset who would be "reflective" in non-test contexts that would similarly shut down as soon as they were being asked to take basically any kind of test.

Makes me wonder about the CRT and stereotype threat and other problems with validity in testing. What happens with the CRT when you stratify by demographics?

August 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua

Maybe you should go ahead and read the paper {gentle nudge} or at least page 18. Gender, income, religiosity, political affiliation and white/non-white.

I am somewhat sympathetic to your concerns, but only because I earned a 0 on that test :) and must, in good identity-protective fashion dismiss a test that concluded that I am not reflective. The real problem is that I am terribly lazy and habitually ration my mental efforts to things I care about. I just couldn't bring myself to care about balls, bats or lily pads. I actually tried to care much more than I tried to get the right answer.

How would one test a more verbal, less mathish cognitive reflection?

I'm remembering a "truthiness" test from someone, I think it was Peter Ditto (?) that was sort of fun. I actually cared about having a good score at discerning truthiness around American political issues.

Isabel

August 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterIsabel Penraeth

Dan, I find your results unsurprising. Antedoctal, but my brothers for the local culture are extremely liberal, whereas I am just liberal. I see in them the cognitive bias in our discussions. They see me as having sold my soul to the company store.

But rather than climate change, I wonder if using discount rates including some of the proposed moral based ones, would preclude some of Joshua's points (objections?). Although there is much political about the moral discounts, from what I have read the political part reflects the individuals' risk/moral culture than their political culture.

August 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn F Pittman

Isabel -

Actually read the paper? What a novel approach!

"I actually tried to care much more than I tried to get the right answer."

What I have often found as a teacher is that often when you ask someone those kinds of questions they are so concerned about getting the answer right that their entire reflective process pretty much just shuts down. They throw out more or less random answers hoping that they're right because they immediately start thinking that only smart people (or people "good at math") could get the answer right and if they don't get the answer right it only confirms their fear that they aren't smart - and even worse - it will be proven that they aren't smart in such as way as that other people can easily see it also.

Their eyes get kind of glassy and unfocused and they give answers that I know they would know are wrong if they really took some time to be reflective.

I have found this phenomenon to be particularly true for questions that even remotely suggest something mathish. I have theories about the reasons why - it goes back to trying to force students to learn math by rote memorization of abstract algorithms as opposed to building upon concrete concepts and adding abstractions in a fashion that parallels cognitive development.....

So yeah - I've got some confirmation bias going on because I am reflexively skeptical about a "test" for reflection, particularly if it seems even remotely mathish. I'd be skeptical of even a more verbalish test. Consider an artist who reflects for days or months on a painting but who would be hard-pressed to put into words the content of their reflection. Is that sort of reflection qualitatively different than the sort of reflection associated with the CRT? Would there be some distinctions in fMRI analysis?

August 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Dan -

1. I predict that more kids would acquire critical reasoning skills & numeracy if connected to sports than to politics (I certainly was motivated to learn math by baseball statistics).

No doubt.

Too many kids -- and adults -- find politics boring.

So, then, what is it that distinguishes them from those of us who find politics stimulating? My sense is that for the most part, people who find it boring aren't very inclined towards polarization - they're inclined towards ambiguity or indifference. Those who find it stimulating are motivate to learn more about politics, to acquire more information, to develop their "reflection" in context. Any assessment that is vaguely in the same domain as that context will pick up greater reflective abilities - but I have serious questions about how generalizable reflective ability is across different domains.

Also, since the studies show that people use critical reasoning skillls in selective way in politics, if schools taught critical reasoning in politcal settings, would kids tend to get only 50% of the answers correct??!

You'd ask students to apply critical reasoning to support both sides on political issues. But as NiV points out - the issues needn't be political. Structure a debate around whether Labron is better or Kobe is better or whether Russell was better than Chamberlain.

What's interesting is that many students engage reflectively in those kinds of debates all the time, but they think that critical thinking in their formal education as something completely different. I'd say the responsibility for that lies with educators for creating a context for critical reasoning that leaves students feeling alienated. The reason for that? I think it's because it actually part of the explicit goal of our educational institutions - that see their role as "sorting" through students to evaluate their skills and abilities comparative. As such, part of the explicit goal is create contexts that will effectively weed out some students.

August 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua

I was only suggesting that your question about demographics on the CRT is actually answered, to some extent, in the paper. (p. 18)

Although it is called a Cognitive Reflection Test, it seems to me it is measuring a little about Cognitive Reflection and a little bit of, hmm, Effortfulness (?) ~ how much effort a person is willing to bring to a psychological test of cognitive reflection.

But this paper is not about whether or not the CRT is an effective measure of reflectiveness, but whether or not whatever it is that this test does measure (called reflectiveness) is useful to address the polarization we see.

Kahan states: "A performance-based measure of subjects’ disposition to engage intellectual problems in a reflective and open-minded manner (Campitelli & Labollita 2010), the CRT has been shown to be superior to selfevaluation
measures in predicting vulnerability to the various cognitive biases associated with low-level
information processing (Toplak, West & Stanovich 2011; Hoppe & Kusterer 2011; Liberali, Reyna, Furlan
& Pardo 2011)."

And I have to agree with him that the CRT is vastly superior to the self-report questionnaires so much in vogue. Though on those tests I score extremely Reflective and Open to New Experience, so perhaps I should re-think my analysis.

The Bounded-Rationality Theory, as Kahan describes it, suggests that those people who freak out at a test are essentially the problem when it comes to our inability to agree on topics like climate change and gun control. They don't take the time/effort to figure out what is really going on and just rely on the group norms to do their thinking for them. So this study tries to measure (That is a very loose description.) Similarly, the Neo-Authoritarian Personality Test, as Kahan outlines it, believes that polarization is the result of System 1 thinking, and that this sort of thinking is more the habit of the Conserv_Repub more than the Lib_Dem, or that those students who freak out at a test the most would be conservative Republicans (statistically).

What is most interesting to me in this paper is in the conclusion:

"Nevertheless, if ideologically diverse individuals all follow this strategy simultaneously, they will be collectively worse off, since under these conditions, democratic institutions are less likely to converge, or to converge as rapidly as they otherwise would, on policies that reflect the best available evidence on how to protect everyone from harm." (p. 28-29)

In a free society, why should scientific conclusions be buffered from challenge? They simply cannot be. And culturally antagonistic meanings will be accrued to anything that suggests meaningfully change will be required or that dearly-held convictions will have to be set aside. Different cultural settings value different things: some individuals in each culture would be willing to suffer rather than to submit to a experiential change they can't accept. I can't help thinking it is better that people feel free to challenge and question scientific conclusions, and even as we suffer from a failure to converge "on policies that reflect the best available evidence," how can we be certain that *on balance* we aren't better for having that intellectual vim and vigor than not?

I thought Divided We Stand by Schwarz and Thompson made an interesting case for the value of diverse viewpoints in assessing *technology* which is perhaps a slightly different thing than science as being broadly discussed, but it is the technological change that will impact people, not the scientific theories themselves, is it not? If no one thought there were any consequences to accepting climate change as a theory, no one would balk. We're all going to have to bike to work *and* admit the tree-huggers had a point. Impossible! It seems to me that it is the risk of technological application of the theory where much conflict arises.

August 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterIsabel Penraeth

"I can't help thinking it is better that people feel free to challenge and question scientific conclusions, and even as we suffer from a failure to converge "on policies that reflect the best available evidence," how can we be certain that *on balance* we aren't better for having that intellectual vim and vigor than not?"

I very much agree! And it applies as much or more to science as it does to technology. "The fatal tendency of mankind to leave off thinking about a thing when it is no longer doubtful, is the cause of half their errors."

You might like some more of John Stuart Mill's thoughts on this same topic:

As mankind improve, the number of doctrines which are no longer disputed or doubted will be constantly on the increase: and the well-being of mankind may almost be measured by the number and gravity of the truths which have reached the point of being uncontested. The cessation, on one question after another, of serious controversy, is one of the necessary incidents of the consolidation of opinion; a consolidation as salutary in the case of true opinions, as it is dangerous and noxious when the opinions are erroneous. But though this gradual narrowing of the bounds of diversity of opinion is necessary in both senses of the term, being at once inevitable and indispensable, we are not therefore obliged to conclude that all its consequences must be beneficial. The loss of so important an aid to the intelligent and living apprehension of a truth, as is afforded by the necessity of explaining it to, or defending it against, opponents, though not sufficient to outweigh, is no trifling drawback from, the benefit of its universal recognition. Where this advantage can no longer be had, I confess I should like to see the teachers of mankind endeavoring to provide a substitute for it; some contrivance for making the difficulties of the question as present to the learner's consciousness, as if they were pressed upon him by a dissentient champion, eager for his conversion.

http://www.constitution.org/jsm/liberty.htm

There's so much in that essay relevant to this debate, but I can't quote it all!

August 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@NiV

As mankind improve, the number of doctrines which are no longer disputed or doubted will be constantly on the increase: and the well-being of mankind may almost be measured by the number and gravity of the truths which have reached the point of being uncontested.

I'm not at all sure I've observed what Mill describes here in my own lifetime . . .

But thanks for the link :)

Isabel

August 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterIsabel Penraeth

Isabel,

It depends whether you are thinking of the number or the proportion. I think the number does increase, as technology advances, there are now so many more doctrines and things known, it's almost inevitable. But the number of doctrines in dispute increases as well.

We tend to hear more about the doctrines in dispute - both because the dispute makes it interesting, and because they tend to be the newest or deepest discoveries and so most likely to be disputed. We don't notice the ordinary things in life - that aeroplanes can fly and radios can transmit messages and computers can play chess and refrigerators can cool and electricity can convey work done across vast distances. They would all have seemed highly disputable to Mill. We don't doubt them because we have direct empirical evidence of them, but we therefore no longer recognise them as doctrines that could be doubted. There are many others related to them where the evidence is somewhat less direct, but which are nevertheless accepted without much dispute. Many of them possibly unjustifiably.

At the same time, there is more to dispute, and the dispute is more visible than it ever was before. So I can certainly understand the impression of an increase in disputation.

August 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV--

I like to read what you write and I appreciate your contributions here. You let me think, something I like to do.

I don't really have a sense that we are more disputatious, actually. I habitually consider that past and present are more similar than not.

:)

Isabel

August 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterIsabel Penraeth

@Joshua

you say


You'd ask students to apply critical reasoning to support both sides on political issues.

Getting people to engage in "counterattitudinal advocacy" --even when framed as an exercise (in nature of lawyer's role) -- is known to be a device that generates open-minded engagement w/ evidence that people might otherwise dismiss. I myself don't think this devfice -- which is very fragile -- can be harnessed in sceince communicatoin generally, particularly the sort that aims to imrpove democratic deliberations over risk regulation & related forms of public policy. But certainly teachers should make ample use of this effect to engage students and promote critical reflection on their part-- in science & other subjects.

August 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

@NiV & @Isabel:

Wow-- Mill was a pretty weak psychologist! Also, as sophisticated as he was about causal inference, he apparently had a tin ear for process of science. Anyone who gets the logic of empirical inquiry knows that every answer not only is provisional but inevitably generates at least two new questions to be resolved.

& @Isabel-- are you not conflating both "empirical contestation" & "political debate" w/ "culturally motivated reasoning"? There can be --pace Mill, inevitably will be -- plenty of appropriate contestation over matters that admit of empirical investigation. Scientific debate doesn't depend on unconscious impulses to defend the status of one's cultural group or one's standing within it! Moreover, the permanent state of "conjecture & refutation" that is intrinsic to science is what drives the constant enlargement of knowledge (Mill got that part right), while culturally motivated conflict will always stifle the same.

Political conflict, too, is permanent wi/ the sort of liberal society that Mill championed (he was a *great* political philosopher). Once those with different values agree on facts, they will still disagree, inevitably & intensely, on the moral & political question of what to do! That's a natural consequence of their being endowed with reason & free will. Resolving those sorts of conflicts in a manner that affords individuals with those endowments the respect they are due is the whole point of liberal democracy. Polarizing conflict over facts infused w/ antagonistic cultural meanings enfeeble the capacity of a self-governing society to resolve conflicts of value on terms that enable diverse citizens to assent to legal obligation w/o experiencing denigration of their cultural identities.

August 4, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

"Wow-- Mill was a pretty weak psychologist!"

How so?

And bearing in mind he was writing in 1859, about 30 years before Freud invented psychoanalysis? And wasn't a psychologist? :-)

"Anyone who gets the logic of empirical inquiry knows that every answer not only is provisional but inevitably generates at least two new questions to be resolved."

He wasn't a scientist, either!

Always provisional:
"We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavouring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still."

Not the end of enquiry:
"Popular opinions, on subjects not palpable to sense, are often true, but seldom or never the whole truth."

Not that I have any need to defend Mill's essay as a perfect and complete constitution for the liberal republic of science. It was written for a specific limited purpose - to answer those who argued that doctrines against the consensus should not be published. I'd say he did pretty well at that, except that we still in some areas have yet to catch up with where he was in 1859!

August 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Some thoughts about the Mills quote:

As mankind improve, the number of doctrines which are no longer disputed or doubted will be constantly on the increase: and the well-being of mankind may almost be measured by the number and gravity of the truths which have reached the point of being uncontested.

As I read it (I guess like Isabel?), I see the connotation of that statement to mean that the number of doctrines which are no longer disputed our doubted will increase in relative terms, not just absolute terms. And I think that perspective misses a fundamental character of human existence - a character that suggest to me that creation and questioning of doctrine do not seem likely to change in proportion, over time, in society as a whole. (Like Isabel, I think that past and present are more similar than not - which is why I would question the premise of Mills that "as mankind improve" really makes much sense as a conditional clause that roots the entire passage. What does "as mankind improve" mean? Does it simply mean "as new technologies are developed?"

I think not, because further down:

Where this advantage can no longer be had, I confess I should like to see the teachers of mankind endeavoring to provide a substitute for it; some contrivance for making the difficulties of the question as present to the learner's consciousness, as if they were pressed upon him by a dissentient champion, eager for his conversion.

Again - "when this advantage can no longer be found"... that seems entirely unrealistic to me: We will never reach, let alone approach, such a state, IMO.

But further there is the question about "contrivances," as students need to engage with the questions of disputation and doubt in a authentic manner or, IMO, the benefits won't materialize. Authentic motivation for the student does not include performing a task for extrinsic motivations such as a good grade, the motivation should be intrinsic. It's hard to for me to interpret Mills' meaning precisely. It is a teacher's job to guide a student to authentically engage with questions that they might not come to on their own - and in a sense, that could mean that it is the teacher's role to "contrive" questions for the student.

August 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Dan -

I myself don't think this devfice -- which is very fragile -- can be harnessed in sceince communicatoin generally, particularly the sort that aims to imrpove democratic deliberations over risk regulation & related forms of public policy.

I think I disagree. The reason that I think that collaborative planning through stakeholder dialog is important as a tool for science communication (or other domains of communication within a context of controversy and position-taking) is because it increases participants' proximity to counter-attitudinal exchange.

When science is communicated by "experts" to non-experts, I think it effectively distances people from their own process of engagement with alternative viewpoints. Such a view is based on my experiences as an educator.

The structure of informational flow from expert to non-expert embodies a structure of passive engagement with the material at hand - the non-expert is an empty vessel to be filled with knowledge as opposed to someone who creates meaning from collecting and analyzing discrete data.

If the communicative structure is one where participants are committed to agreeing upon policies for solving a problem - and in doing so they hear and engage with alternative perspectives from hierarchical equals - they will inevitably be more active in their engagement and they will be lead to perspective sharing because they will know that agreement is only possible with the kind of compromise that comes about through engaging with other perspectives. Meaning is created not passed down to non-expert from expert, and the process of creating meaning is shared among participants. That is also what creates a shared sense of ownership about the outcome, and it is part of helping people to move away from advocating positions and moving towards sharing interests.

August 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@NiV

Writing before Freud makes failures of insight into the workings of the mind less excusable, not more!

Mill's justifications for free speech & liberal freedoms generally are wonderful. But it was silly for him to think either that science "settles" or "establishes" truths; or that there woudl be fewer disputes about what's true as knowledge increases, either as scientific or psychological matter.

But we all believe silly things. We should mesure him by the insight of his best ideas and beliefs.

August 4, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Dan -

Writing before Freud makes failures of insight into the workings of the mind less excusable, not more!

Huh? Are you saying that the net effect of Freud is that we have less insight than previously?

August 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"But it was silly for him to think either that science "settles" or "establishes" truths; or that there woudl be fewer disputes about what's true as knowledge increases, either as scientific or psychological matter."

I don't think he did. I think he was quite clear that we're a long way from settling matters. But in arguing the case with people who think certain matters are settled - enough to ban dissent - he takes it as a hypothetical case to show that even if it was true their arguments for blocking dissent still wouldn't work. He systematically works through each case. Although I would agree it's hard to follow the structure of the argument because of the length of the essay and the 19th century English.

However, as we've noted many times before, different people look at the same information and see different things. Isabel seemingly thought "As mankind improve, the number of doctrines which are no longer disputed or doubted will be constantly on the increase" meant the proportion of doctrines, too. But not being a very good psychologist myself, I don't quite understand why. :-) Perhaps it's our differing cultural tendencies.

I think it probably is true that like many Enlightenment philosophers, he thought that with discussion and debate disputes could be resolved, and that he would have thought that an irresolvable dispute occurring because people of different cultures interpreted information differently very odd. Although again, perhaps not. He was certainly aware that people who favoured censorship and dogma thought very differently to himself. Did he wonder if these detailed arguments he was setting out that made sense to him would make any sense to them? It's an interesting question, of the sort the historical scholars would probably know more.

August 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@Joshua

The net effect of Freud might be positive -- but only insofar as he helped to sharpen discernment of pseudoscience and thus improve our ability to avoid it.

But I'm pretty sure that the same could have been achieved w/o him, in which case, yes, we could also avoided the diversion from knowlegdge that his influence caused (and continues to cause in some), not to mention the suffering of people who were made to endure "treatment" "informed" by his disciples

August 4, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Interesting, Dan. Certainly his work was far from foolproof - but the net impact of his work seems positive to me, and not in the sense that you describe. For example, one net impact of his work seems to me to be that we no longer dismiss childhood trauma as being irrelevant to the development of adult personality. For all the flaws of his theories, I would say that change in views about children has had a significantly positive impact. Do you dismiss the idea that childhood experiences play a key role in personality development, and do you think that such a (mis?) perception has caused harm?

Surely, to make your statements you must be thinking of significant ways that we are worse off because of Freud's work. Could you specify a bit? Perhaps treatment by his methods have not had positive impact in balance - and I don't doubt that it has been counterproductive for some, and I don't doubt that some Freudian analysts have been quacks, but what do you see as the predominant suffering that people have endured at the hands of his disciples?

August 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua:

Freud was concerned w/ mental illness. He focused on childhood experiences.

To get from that to Freud is responsible for evidence-based treatment of mental illness originating in childhood trauma is like saying Lucretius is responsible for particle physics. Their methods had about the same connection to empirical testing as a mode of discovery of knowledge, moreover.

But this is *way* too kind.

Freud is famous for the position that mental illness is the product of childhood fantasies of incest (particuarly among girls). He initially attributed many maladies to childhood "seductions," but gave up on that view. Moreover, while his initial "seduction" theory inovled patients who actually asserted they *hadn't* been sexually abused as children (Freud dismissed their own recollections as inferior to his reconstrucitons from various random clues), he *later* persistently inisted that patients who *did* claim to have been abused were fantasizing.

That was his great legacy: the ubiquity of imagined, fantasized childhood sexual assault! Clinical psychology had to work long & hard to overcome that bullshit.

There is pretty compellingn evidence too -- unearthed by Geoffrey Masson who got sacked as curator of the Freud papers for revealing it -- that Freud knew that at least some of the patients he described in his papers as "fantasizing" were real victims (or else was himself possessed of amazing powers of self-deception).

All of this plus the dense imperviousness of "Freduian analysis" as a mode of thought to empirical testing. That persists, embarrassingly, too, in the form of psychoanalysts who respond to the ample empirical record that psychoanalysis is ineffective by denying that its effectiveness admits of measurment by empirical means.

August 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

I still think you're being hyperbolic. As for my understanding (I don't doubt that you have examined the issue much more than I), this excerpt captures it well:

But the true father of the nurture assumption was Sigmund Freud. It was Freud who constructed, pretty much out of whole cloth, an elaborate scenario in which all the psychological ills of adults could be traced back to things that happened to them when they were quite young and in which their parents were heavily implicated. According to Freudian theory, two parents of opposite sexes cause untold anguish in the young child, simply by being there. The anguish is unavoidable and universal; even the most conscientious parents cannot prevent it, though they can easily make it worse. All little boys have to go through the Oedipal crisis; all little girls go through the reduced-for-quick-sale female version. The mother (but not the father) is also held responsible for two earlier crises: weaning and toilet training.

Freudian theory was quite popular in the first half of the twentieth century; it even worked its way into Dr. Spock's famous book on baby and child care:

Parents can help children through this romantic but jealous stage by gently keeping it clear that the parents do belong to each other, that a boy can't ever have his mother to himself or a girl have a father to herself.

Not surprisingly, it was psychiatrists and clinical psychologists (the kind who see patients and try to help them with their emotional problems) who were most influenced by Freud's writings. However, Freudian theory also had an impact on academic psychologists, the kind who do research and publish the results in professional journals. A few tried to find experimental evidence for various aspects of Freudian theory; these efforts were largely unsuccessful. A greater number were content to drop Freudian buzzwords into their lectures and research papers.

Others reacted by going to the opposite extreme, dumping out the baby with the bathwater. Behaviorism, a school of psychology that was popular in American universities in the 1940s and '50s, was in part a reaction to Freudian theory. The behaviorists rejected almost everything in Freud's philosophy: the sex and the violence, the id and the superego, even the conscious mind itself. Curiously, though, they accepted the basic premise of Freudian theory: that what happens in early childhood--a time when parents are bound to be involved in whatever is going on--is crucial. They threw out the script of Freud's psychodrama but retained its cast of characters. The parents still get leading roles, but they no longer play the parts of sex objects and scissor-wielders. Instead, the behaviorists' script turns them into conditioners of responses or dispensers of rewards and punishments.

http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/h/harris-nurture.html

While we have certainly (and thankfully) moved beyond his understanding of the mechanism linking childhood trauma to adult development, I think you are underplaying Freud's impacti - in aggreagate - on views about "nurture" in general society - and I view that impact as being hugely positive. I'm not describing the validity of his methodology nor the specifics of all his theories - but the overall differences of pre-and post-Freud society and merely whether directly or indirectly those changes were strongly influenced by his work.

I think of if it similarly to how I think of the work of Piaget. Many folks have very legitimate criticisms of the details of Piaget's work (and I don't doubt that there was less harm that resulted from his work than from Freud's) - but nonetheless his work was instrumental in helping us to gain greater understanding of development and pedagogy.

And as for suffering at the hands of his disciples - as I understand it, empirical study does not show that Freudian therapy is efficacious, but I haven't seen either that empirical study shows that it produces suffering in anything approaching a blanket fashion. I can think of people I know who worked with Freudian therapists for years with no benefits that I could determine - but who believed they were getting something out of it and certainly didn't seem to be suffering from the experience. Do you have some links?

August 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Another excerpt from that article:

The Art and Science of Studying Children

As an academic specialty, the study of how immature humans develop into adults had a rather late beginning--around 1890. The early developmentalists were interested in children but didn't pay much attention to their parents. If you look at a developmental psych book written before Freudian theory and behaviorism became popular, you will find little or nothing about parental influences on the development of the child's personality. Florence Goodenough's successful textbook, Developmental Psychology, first published in 1934, has no chapter on parent-child relationships. In her discussion of the causes of juvenile delinquency, Goodenough does talk about the effects of a "bad environment," but she is referring to those parts of a city where the dwellings are "run down and dilapidated" and where there are "many saloons, poolrooms, and gambling-house

August 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua:

All kinds of things happened after Freud. Lots of people have offered stylized, storybook accounts of him & his ideas; others have tried to reinterpret Freudianism or Freud's own work to try to downplay the "fantasy" theory. Nothing that exists in today's evidence-based approaches to mental illness owes anything in particular to Freud, and psyhoanalysis remains devoid of evidence that it does anybody any good.

The truth is simple & not disputed: Freud advanced the thesis that adults' recollections of sexual assault are based on fantasy-- that was his claim to fame, his ticket to influence. Actually, lots of other "drs" at the time believed that but Freud came up w/ especially extravagant, hypertheorized accounts of why patients complaining of being abused make up such things-- penis envy on part of women, Oedipal complex, etc. The idea that sex abuse victms are imaginign things remained a deeply held view among those who practice psychoanalysis well into 20th century-- causing immense harm -- until overthrown under pressure from all sources. The weird, unfalsifiable theorizing remains the Freudian calling card.

The only issue that anyone disputes is whether Freud's abandonment of his initial "seduction theory" (which held that children were in fact the victims of incest; yet as I said, Freud initially diagnoised this in all sorts of people who in fact said they hadn't been abused-- Freud's methods were always about not taking people at their word) involved conscious knowledge on his part that the patients he thereafter preesnted as "fantasizing" were in fact assaulted.

Here are wo useful sources

http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/84feb/masson.htm
http://www.apsa.org/portals/1/docs/japa/541/ahbel-rappe--4-pp.171-199.pdf
\
The first of which is Masson's account of his access to evidence from the Freud archives that Freud knowingly suppressed evidence of genuine sexual assaults, & the second a historical one that challenges "revisionists" who suggest Freud didn't "abandon" the "seduction theory" but rather advanced it & the "fantasty" theory simultaneously (no one has the temerity to suggest that he didn't advanced the latter position very conspicuously):

For Freudianism as pseudoscience, of course the best source is Popper, who identified it along w/ Marxism as exemplars of it, b/c they defy falsification by their own logic.

http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/popper_falsification.html

For a nice account of the contemporary place of Freudian theory -- as a creature of literary studies and an outcast from psychology & other methods of study that use the form of empirical observation & inference that is the signature of science -- see http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/25/weekinreview/25cohen.html?_r=0

On harm, it is rarely disputed that Freud's "fantasy" theory disposed therapists to discount real abuse for decades:

here is one ref: http://tinyurl.com/m7szdnp

here's another http://tinyurl.com/lsnqdg9

August 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

I know this completely off-topic, but Dan's views here re: Freud seem to derive from an unreconstructed 70''s femininisim that itself had been behind some of the worst of cultural/social/political atrocities, such as the witch hunts in various day cares regarding Satanic Rritual Abuse. The notion that Freud is primarily known as a proponent of imaginary sexual abuse is a misandirist fantasy -- or, in terms that Dan appreciates, bullshit. Freud is primarily known for the tri-partite division of the human psyhce into ego, id, and ego-ideal or super-ego, and the pshyco-dynamics that result. No doubt it becomes mythic, especially in its late stages, but really, in comparison with the sophomoric and positivist incantation of "evidence -based" whatever, it continues to resound with meaning and significance.

August 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

that itself had been behind some of the worst of cultural/social/political atrocities, such as the witch hunts in various day cares regarding Satanic Rritual Abuse.

Well - this should be interesting. Let me see if I understand - you're attributing witch hunts in day care institutions to feminism?

If I am right, care to explain?

August 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Dan

& @Isabel-- are you not conflating both "empirical contestation" & "political debate" w/ "culturally motivated reasoning"? There can be --pace Mill, inevitably will be -- plenty of appropriate contestation over matters that admit of empirical investigation. Scientific debate doesn't depend on unconscious impulses to defend the status of one's cultural group or one's standing within it! Moreover, the permanent state of "conjecture & refutation" that is intrinsic to science is what drives the constant enlargement of knowledge (Mill got that part right), while culturally motivated conflict will always stifle the same.

Interesting. No, I don't think that I am, though I am open to being educated otherwise. I am actually assuming empirical contestation and political debate are both infused with culturally motivated reasoning.

My concern is, at what point does a non-orthodox belief that claims scientific validity superior to the actual scientific consensus "pollute" the science communication commons? Let me offer a couple of illustrations I have been mulling.

Is my neighbor polluting the scientific communication commons when she "proves" that microwaved water kills her plants and tap water doesn't? Or is it when she and a group she belongs to harangue the water department to stop fluoridating the water ? Fluoride actually occurs naturally in our water supply, she has been, so it would have to be *removed* rather than ceasing to add it, but she does not believe their report and repeats it with much venom. Or is it only when she argues that climate change is a left-wing conspiracy to take control of our lives? Interestingly, she also fought (representing herself) her foreclosure to a standstill in the state courts.

But with all that busyness on the fringes, I can't personally argue that she is polluting anything. She is energetically expressing her viewpoint that is tied to her cultural worldview. She is not a scientist, but she does not think that trained scientists have a lock on scientific inquiry. She feels she is perfectly capable of researching, doing some small experiments to explore the theories she finds interesting. How would one stop her? Why would one stop her? And it is a package deal, as far as I can tell, the refusal to accept the foreclosure and the refusal to take any one's word for fluoride being safe.

I have another neighbor who composts, has a yard of low-water-use plants (xeriscaping), drives a Prius, pays extra to have her electicity "wind-sourced" and is deeply concerned about climate change. She also refuses to vaccinate her children (she claims scientific validity for this), using homeopathy instead, and sees a naturopath (who are now to be licensed in Colorado) and an Ayurvedic practitioner for the family's health needs. She is really concerned about the FDA stepping in and regulating vitamin and health supplements. So she would give scientists a little to cheer about and a great deal to weep about. Again, I can't argue she is polluting anything. She is embedded in her culture, and living it to its fullest. You don't get the suburban composting and climate change concern without some other conclusions less in line with scientific consensus. The scientific consensus on climate change, it seems to me, just happens to align and bolster her already-existing predispositions. Her scientific alignment is essentially accidental and incidental to her cultural viewpoint.

So I don't see how science is unwound from that or that we, as a society, should want to unwind any of that. We need both of these intelligent, resourceful women to be energetically pursuing their ends. There are things each cultural worldview will end up being right about and things that each cultural worldview will end up being wrong about. Science is the handmaiden in all of this, not the plenipotentiary queen, and I don't see how that would change without completely reorganizing society, and on a principle of never arriving at the truth, but always withholding final judgment! Most people will hang their hat on anything other than that :)

I agree most with this, that you (Dan) say above: "But we all believe silly things. We should measure him by the insight of his best ideas and beliefs." And I think it applies to these women and their cultural commitments as well.

Isabel

August 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterIsabel Penraeth

@Larry:

Freud's bullshit on fantasies of girls' sex w/ their fathers is part of his tripartite bullshit theory, so I think it is hard to separate your claim -- "best known for bullshit tripartite theory" -- from mine -- "bets known for bullshit fantasy theory."

As for ad femina attack: actually, it is very much on topic, or is if we understand the discussion at a higher level of generality.

My claims -- that Freud attributed claims of sexual abuse to patients' fantasies & that this position informed psychiatry (& deformed medicine) for decades -- are factual ones.

They are either right or they are wrong. Anyone interested in the earnest argument that @Joshua & I( were having about whether Freudianism contributed to the development of appropriate mental health treatment of child abuse victims will want to know which.

Your assertion that 1970s feminists made those claims doesn't have any bearing on whether the factual claims at issue are true.

It is information useful, as far as I can tell, only to those trying to decide what their "team's" position is supposed to be.

But the phenomenon of factual claims transmuting into symbols of group affinities is the main conversation here. So you have contributed to it by giving us a nice example of how it happens.

August 6, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

@Isabel:

This is complicated & interesting.

I don't regard cultural cognition as a bias per se. On the contrary, I view it as integral to the process by which ordinary people (scientists too) come to know what's known by science.

But I also see cultural cognition as integral to a pathology that enfeebles the capacity of people to discern what's known. There's no contraction or paradox, I don't think; for me the pathology-- illiberal status competition among groups -- can be seen as attacking the recognition faculty of which cultural cognition is a part or manifestation.

But when I try to work this out, you and others express an anxiety that I'm missing or maybe effacing something of value.

You see value that I think I don't in the group competition.

You are advancing claims about how it contributes something necessary to the exerpience of democratic politics.

Or to the cultivation of critical reasoning dispositions.

Or ultimately to the process by which knowledge is apprenhded via scientific means.

My sense is that these anxieties can't be right. I want to address them by trying to be clearer; by breaking issues and claims down into smaller parts & disentangling connecting threads of exposition and analysis.

But that never works!

So I am persistently missing someting.

After reflecting a bit, I will try a blog post on this issue. That never fails to dispel all confusion -- mine and anyone'e else's.

But once I've posted mine, then why don't you post a reaction? If it restores the confusion that mine purports to dispel, then you will have done everyone the service of preventing them from making the mistake of thinking that something inherently complex has a simple answer.

Which is to say you will be continuing to do what you already are doing.

August 6, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@Dan:


That was his great legacy: the ubiquity of imagined, fantasized childhood sexual assault!
...
But the phenomenon of factual claims transmuting into symbols of group affinities is the main conversation here. So you have contributed to it by giving us a nice example of how it happens.

I'm not sure what team or group I'm supposed to rooting for here, other than those who resist simplistic reductions of complex figures.

August 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

@Larry--

You ignored the only factual claims that were of consequence & admit of meaningful evidentiary discussion -- what Freud believed about claims of sexual abuse & the consequence of what he believed in the treatment of child abuse victimes. "What he's known for" was not only inconsequential part of the discussion (one you took out of context) but also is an ill-formed & irrelevant question, as I explained. You then characaterized the position I took as a product of "unreconstructed 70''s femininisim that itself had been behind some of the worst of cultural/social/political atrocities, such as the witch hunts in various day cares regarding Satanic Rritual Abuse"-- pure us vs. them talk. Nothing simplistic there!

Others can decide what team that approach is a part of

August 6, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@Dan:

The demonizing of Freud as an apologist for child molesters has an unfortunate history, is all, but, as you say, "Others can decide what team that approach is a part of". If I've misunderstood you on this, or taken you out of context, then my apologies.

August 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

@Larry:

Simple remedy: address the facts. Show me how I'm wrong

I attacked Freud & @Josuha, also motivated to defend Freud, demanded a bill of particulars.

I supplied cites -- none of which is to 1970s feminists, that discuss the bkrd on Freud's abandoment his original "seduction" theory, his subsquent adoption & elaboration of the "fantasy" theory, the history of the that theory consisting in its dominance among practioners of psychoanalysis & culminating in its rejection by those trained in medical treatment of child abuse victims, and also the general view that Freudian psychoanalysis is unhelpful b/c not evidence-based.

Do you dispute the substance of this? On what basis? I'm happy to be educated too.

August 6, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@Dan:

"Do you dispute the substance of this?" Yes. "On what basis?" That it's a tendentious, selective, and narrowly focused reading of a large and complex body of work. I don't defend it as science, and I'd join with other critics of it, in fact, but I respect it as a structure that shouldn't be judged by the controversy over one particular facet.

August 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

@Dan

I look forward to that post.

As I think about it, it would be most concise to say that I'm looking for more of something [theory,research, data] to confirm that the word "pathology" is the correct term for what we both are observing (and you are actually measuring).

It is my sense that there is a baby in this rather filthy bathwater.

Isabel

August 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterIsabel Penraeth

Dan, a couple of clarifications:

They are either right or they are wrong. Anyone interested in the earnest argument that @Joshua & I( were having about whether Freudianism contributed to the development of appropriate mental health treatment of child abuse victims will want to know which.

That isn't quite how I thought of our convo. I wasn't focusing my part of the discussion on his contribution to mental health treatment of abuse victims. That is how I saw your focus, but I was looking more broadly to the overall impact of his body of work on enlarging our understanding of the connection "nurture" and adult development - an impact I consider to be extremely important. In fact, that distinction is where, I believe, our disagreement lies. As I see it, it is possible to view his contribution to the specific focus you described as negative in balance and still see his contributions w/r/t my point of focus as being positive in balance.

I attacked Freud & @Josuha, also motivated to defend Freud, demanded a bill of particulars.

It's a minor point, but it always bugs me a bit when people in blog discourse exchanges say that I've "demanded" something. I don't assume that you intended a negative connotation (which is different than what is true more commonly when blogospheric interlocutors say that I'm demanding something), but it still strikes me as being somehow pejorative in tone and so I want to offer a correction. I'm not in a position to demand anything here. I was intrigued by your argument and wanted clarification.

Just as I was intrigued by Larry's argument (which as far as I can tell, is that daycare witch hunts are attributable to feminism) and would like clarification there, also.

Finally, I don't think that I was "defending" Freud. I think I was questioning the categorical nature of your assessment of the impact of his work. To be clear, in no way was I "defending" his misunderstanding (or deliberate manipulation) of child/adult dynamics around sexuality.

August 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"Others can decide what team that approach is a part of.

FWIW, given that I can't made out heads nor tails of a logical sequence of ideas there, I don't have a clue of how to discern some kind of team orientation.

Sill hoping that Larry will clarify.

August 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

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