MAPKIA! Episode 31: what is the relationship between "environmental risk perception" predispositions, science comprehension & perceptions of the risks of (a) fracking & (b) GM foods?!
Time for another episode of Macau's favorite game show...: "Make a prediction, know it all!," or "MAPKIA!"!
By now all 14 billion regular readers of this blog can recite the rules of "MAPKIA!" by heart, but here they are for the 16,022 new 2014 subscribers:
I, the host, will identify an empirical question -- or perhaps a set of related questions -- that can be answered with CCP data. Then, you, the players, will make predictions and explain the basis for them. The answer will be posted "tomorrow." The first contestant who makes the right prediction will win a really cool CCP prize (like maybe this or possibly some other equally cool thing), so long as the prediction rests on a cogent theoretical foundation. (Cogency will be judged, of course, by a panel of experts.)
The motivation for this week's show came from a twitter exchange between super-insightful psychologist Daniel Gilbert & others on whether "liberals" are "anti-science" on GM Foods.
Kind of ruins the "motivated-reasoning mirror on the wall, who is the most anti-science of all?!" game, but I can't help resorting to data whenever I catch an episode of that particular show.
So I figured I'd give others a chance to play "MAPKIA!"" & see if they, unlike me, could accurately foresee what the data would say.
There's some background/windup here, so bear with me!
(1) Let's start by constructing a simple scale for measuring "environmental risk perception" predispositions generally. Members of an N = 2000 nationally representative sample of individuals recruited last summer to take part in CCP studies responded to a battery of "industrial grade" risk perception items, including ones on global warming, air pollution, nuclear power, and disposal of toxic chemical wastes. The responses to those particular items formed a highly reliable (Cronbach's α = 0.82) aggregate Likert scale, which I labeled ... "ENVRISK_SCALE."
(2) ENVRISK_SCALE can be viewed as measuring a latent or unobserved predispostion toward culturally polarizing environmental risks. That was my goal in forming it.
Just to confirm that I was measuring what I thought I was measuring, I regressed ENVRISK_SCALE on the "hierarchy-egalitarian" and "individualist-communitarian" worldview scales. As expected, both scales were negatively associated with ENVRISK_SCALE -- i.e., Egalitarian Communitarians were risk sensitive, and Hierarch Individualists risk dismissive. The model R^2 was an "impressively large!" 0.43.
Moreover, as every school -boy or -girl in Macau would have predicted, these effects interact with science comprehension, an aptitude measured with SCICOMP, a composite formed from the NSF's "science literacy" indicators & a long version of Frederick's "cognitive reflection test. That is, consistent with the signature of "expressive rationality," the polarizing effect of the cultural worldviews grow even more intense as subjects' science comprehension scores increase.
Take a look!
Okay! We are almost ready for the "MAPKIA!" question.
In addition to the global warming, nuclear power, air pollution, and toxic waste disposal items, the survey instrument also had "industrial grade" measures for both fracking & GM foods. That is, the respondents were asked to indicate "how much risk do you believe" each of those two "pose to human health, safety, or prosperity" on a 7-point scale (0 “no risk at all”; 1 “Very low risk”; 2 “Low risk”; 3 “Between low and moderate risk”; 4 “Moderate risk”; 5 “Between moderate and high risk”; 6 “High risk”; 7 “Very high risk”).
I suspected that at least half of the subjects would have no idea what "fracking" was -- after all, like 50% of the rest of the country, 50% of the respondents didn't know the length of the term of a U.S. Senator.
So when respondents got to this particular entry on the randomly ordered (separate page each) list of two dozen or so putative risk sources, they were asked to indicate the seriousness of the risk posed by " 'fracking' (extraction of natural gas by hydraulic fracturing)."
I didn't use any analogous hints for GM foods. Respondents were simply instructed to indicate how serious they thought the risks posed by "genetically modified food" were.
But in fact, GM foods are also a fairly novel risk source. Whether they threaten human health is another issue that most ordinary members of the public have given little if any thought to.
Because both "fracking" & GM food risks aren't nearly so salient -- aren't nearly so entangled in relentless, high-profile forms of cultural conflict-- as global warming, nuclear power, air pollution, or even toxic waste disposal, it would be surprising if cultural worldviews explained a lot of variance in individuals' perceptions of how dangerous they are.
If we really want to give these risk perceptions a "fair chance" to show that they are responsive to the gravitational force of cultural contestation, then we need to turn up the resolution of of our measuring instrument to compensate for the remoteness of fracking and GM foods from the center of everyday tribal rivalry.
ENVRISK_SCALE fits the bill. The risk perception items that are its indicators are necessarily even more proximate to whatever the unobserved or latent group affinity is generating the cultural cognition of risk than are the cultural worldview measures. Why not be really generous, I thought in my own know-it-all way as I reflected on the DG twitter colloquy, & use a culturally infused environmental risk perception measure to show what the evidence really has to say about who fears GM foods & why?
So now the question, which has two subparts:
(i) What is the relationship between environmental-risk predispositions, as measured by ENVRISK_SCALE, and perceptions of GM food risks and fracking, respectively? And (ii), how, if at all, does respondents' level of science comprehension, as measured by SCICOMP, affect the relationship between their environmental-risk predispositions and their perceptions of the dangers posed by GM food and fracking, respectively?
Ready ... get set ..."MAPKIA!"