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« Weekend update: Decisive proof of "conservative distrust in science"? You tell me... | Main | What accounts for public conflict over science--religiosity or political predispositions? Here are some data: you declare the winner in this RAT vs. CAT fight! »
Monday
Nov172014

ICT eats RAT & CAT for breakfast: More (and more data on) religiosity, political predispositions, and "anti-science"

Okay—astonishingly, I’ve held my fire (bitten a hole straight through my lower lip, which fell off during a poker tournament this weekend, in the process) for over a week on the CAT vs. RAT fight.

The answer, in my view, is that both CAT & RAT are barking up the wrong tree!

Neither conservative ideology nor religiosity has been shown to predict a greater anti-science disposition than the other by the evidence presented. And indeed, that  evidence, plus some more, suggests that it's a mistake to think either of them is connected to  such a disposition at all.

For those of you just tuning in (site traffic suggests only 10 billion readers for the original post; apparently there was a climate-change induced net outage in the Netherlands Antilles, where there is a very strong CCP following), the question was, “What ‘explains’ public science conflict—political predispositions or religiosity?”

The inspiration for posing the question was an intriguing study that pinned the blame on religion. CCP blog readers viewed the study as methodologically dubious.

But the question was interesting so I decided to try to help us think about it by gathering data and presenting models that seemed responsive to commentators’ concerns.

I characterized the two positions that the original study seemed to be pitting against each other as the “Conservative-science Antipathy Thesis,” or CAT, which identifies antagonism between conservative or right-leaning ideology toward science as the source of public conflicts over climate change and various other science-informed policy issues; and the “Religion-science Antipathy Thesis,” or RAT, which states that religious animosity toward science is the cause.

I used appropriately modeled data from CCP and from the Pew Research Center studies to try to remedy shortcomings in the study that inspired the question—and then asked you, the loyal, perfectly rational 14 billion readers of this blog (or at least the 10 billion who managed to get through and submit response) to say what you made of the evidence.

I’d say Chris Mooney offered the best response, a conclusion I validated by doing an “expert consensus survey." He has been awarded the prize that was offered (he chose the Synbio Ipad—the very last one in stock).

The three issues that were featured in the original study (the one I tried to remedy the methodological defects of)—were climate change skepticism, disbelief in evolution, and opposition to federal support for stem-cell research.  Political predispositions and religiosity both seemed to predict these attitudes but in ways that varied in degree and that interacted with one another in diverse patterns.  CM thus concluded:

So what's the upshot? Obviously, both politics and religious beliefs contribute to science resistance, and the relative influence of one over the other varies on an issue-by-issue basis. The role of religion is very strong on the evolution issue, far weaker on the climate issue, and somewhere in between on the stem cell issue. And if you picked other issues to examine, you would assuredly find different results yet again.

What this exercise underscores, most of all, is that when people deny science, they do it because they think it conflicts with their personal identity. But many elements go into each of our identities, with both politics and religion constituting vital components for many people.

In light of this, it really doesn't make much sense to assert the power of one over the other.

Yup, for sure I agree with that.

But I’d go further: the evidence presented helped to reveal that neither CAT nor RAT is a very well supported.

In a mistake that is pervasive in the study of public attitudes toward science, the original study constructed its sample of observations in a manner that presupposed a generalized anti-science sensibility is the explanation for conflicts over evolution, climate change, evolution, etc.

But that’s a seriously contested issue too!

ICT—the “identity-protective cognition thesis”—is a major alternative to both RAT & CAT (Sherman & Cohen 2006). On this account, when policy relevant facts become entangled in antagonistic cultural meanings, people start to see individuals’ positions on them as badges of membership in & loyalty to opposing cultural groups. As a kind of identity self-defense, then, they begin to process information relating to these facts in a manner that conforms their beliefs to the positions that are dominant in their group (Kahan 2010, 2012).

RAT & CAT predict, respectively, that “religiosity” and “conservatism” can be shown to offer the best "explanation" for science-hostile positions generally.

It’s not clear that ICT will take any view on the relative influence of religion & conservatism in science disputes. Indeed, for the reasons CM stated, I think it’s strange to imagine that one could meaningfully specify cultural identities in the US in a way that split religiosity and political commitments apart.

But  ICT (or at least the variant I find most compelling) does join issue with both RAT and CAT on whether disputes over science can should be attributed to any particular cultural group's “anti-science” dispositions.

Being “liberal” and even “nonreligious” are both integral to self-defining commitments of certain people. Accordingly, where positions on some science-informed policy or other matter becomes entangled in antagonistic cultural meanings, we should expect liberal and nonreligious individuals, as well as conservative and religious ones, to display the signature forms of motivated reasoning that distort their perception of the best available science (Kahan, Peters, Dawson & Slovic 2013).

ICT is a combatant in the  “great asymmetry thesis debate,” which asks whether motivated reasoning on science-informed policy issues is concentrated in one end of the political spectrum or instead spread evenly across it is the(Crawford 2013; Brandt & Crawford 2013; Kahan 2013; Mooney 2012).

It was a serious defect in the study that inspired this exercise that it didn’t include in its observations any disputed science issues that might show neither conservatism nor religiosity is distinctively “anti-science.”

By doing so, it assumed particular answers to the question it purported to be investigating.

To remedy this defect, I added another disputed science issue: nuclear power.

That’s one where individuals whose cultural identities are more secular and left-leaning are typically understood to be the ones disposed to adopt “science-skeptical” or “science hostile” positions.

Nuke attitudes--click (but only from behind lead barrier)Indeed, in the data I presented, liberalism and nonreligiosity predicted a negative reaction both to building new nuclear power plants and to scientific research on nuclear energy.

That's more consistent with ICT--and its position on the ideological symmetry of motivated reasoning (Kahan 2013)-- than with either RAT or CAT.

A related point: if a researcher wants to do a valid test of whether disputed science issues are a consequence of one or another group's supposed "anti-science" disposition, then he or she definitely should not rely on simple correlations between the disputed issues and group identities.

Yes, conservatism and religion are associated with hostility to stem-cell research, climate skepticism, and disbelief in evolution.

But to treat that as evidence that conservatism and religion are anti-science and that that is what causes disputes on these issues presupposes that these positions are all explained by some sort of anti-science sensibility rather than something else.

To avoid this obvious error (an instance of selecting on the dependent variable), the researcher has to have a way of measuring whether groups are “pro-“ or “anti-science” independently of their positions on climate skepticism, disbelief in evolution, and opposition to stem-cell research.

Here are some typical ones from the General Social Survey and Pew Research:

What do they show?  You tell me! (Click on either for more detail.)

But I will tell you in the meantime what inference I draw from them: (a) that the US public is overwhelmingly pro-science; and (b) that any differences associated with politics and religiosity both are ambiguous and, more importantly, trivial in magnitude. 

These sorts of responses—and there are many more items in these data sets that support the dame conclusions (one should in fact look at all, not just one, if one is trying to figure out what they signify!)—are inconsistent with the inference that either conservatism or religiosity is antithetical to science, and hence inconsistent with the assumption that the correlation of these characteristics with climate skepticism,  disbelief in evolution, or opposition to stem cell research evinces an anti-science orientation.  Accordingly, it is even less sensible to think that one could look at these issues to say which one is “more” anti-science than the other.

Those who attribute disagreement with their views on science disputes to their opponents’ “anti-science” dispositions don’t come off looking especially “pro-science” themselves when they fail  to use evidence in a  scientifically valid way.

Refs

Brandt, M. J., & Crawford, J. (2013). Replication-Extension of 'Not for All the Tea in China!' Political Ideology and the Avoidance of Dissonance-Arousing Situations' (Nam, Jost, & Van Bavel, 2013, Plos One).  Retrieved from http://ssrn.com/abstract=2365281 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2365281

Crawford, J. T. (2012). The ideologically objectionable premise model: Predicting biased political judgments on the left and right. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(1), 138-151.

Kahan, D. (2010). Fixing the Communications Failure. Nature, 463, 296-297.

Kahan, D. (2012). Why we are poles apart on climate change. Nature, 488, 255.

Kahan, D. M. (2013). Ideology, Motivated Reasoning, and Cognitive Reflection. Judgment and Decision Making, 8, 407-424.

Kahan, D. M., Peters, E., Dawson, E., & Slovic, P. (2013). Motivated Numeracy and Englightened Self Government. Cultural Cognition Project Working Paper No. 116.

Mooney, C. (2012). The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science--And Reality. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. 

Sherman, D. K., & Cohen, G. L. (2006). The Psychology of Self-defense: Self-Affirmation Theory Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Vol. 38, pp. 183-242): Academic Press. 

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Reader Comments (33)

Hi Dan,

Nice post, though I admit that I am not one of the 10 billion who have been following the RAT v. CAT debate. At any rate, I find myself disagreeing with you. And when one finds themselves disagreeing with someone with somewhere between 10-14 billion followers, the first question needs to be "are talking (thinking) about the same issue".

I'll get to the point. What do you mean when you say "anti-science"? [my apologies if you already have a full blog post on this topic.] Consider the following three questions:

1) Do you think that scientific research into nuclear energy has done more good than harm or more harm than good? (yours)
2) Did human beings, as we know them today, develop from earlier species of animals? (Jelen & Lockett's, modified)
3) To what extent do environmental scientists agree among themselves about the existence and causes of global warming? (Jelen & Lockett's, modified)

I only view one of these as potentially reflective of "anti-science" attitudes, which I define as "disagreeing with a matter of scientific consensus". Naturally, this definition applies only to non-experts... otherwise Darwin himself would have been "anti-scientific". The idea is that only those individuals who do not have the knowledge or technical training to be able to truly grasp the relevant evidence for a scientific claim, fact, or theory* (the vast majority of the public, including myself as it applies to anything but psychology), but who nonetheless disagree with those individuals who do on the relevant topic (e.g., climate scientists, biologists, nuclear physicists, etc.) can justifiably be labeled "anti-science".

These individuals can (and most likely do) agree with value of "science" in general... but all that tells us is that the latter isn't really a meaningful stance. One can agree with science in principle, but disagree with everything that the current scientific establishment has to say. I consider this "anti-science". Or perhaps we should call it "anti-current-state-of-science-among-those-that-don't-have-a-basis-to-judge". Rolls right off the tongue.

Let's return to the 3 "anti-science" items in light of the foregoing.

1) Do you think that scientific research into nuclear energy has done more good than harm or more harm than good? (yours)

Saying that scientific research into nuclear energy has done more harm than good isn't really evidence that one disagrees with any particular scientific claim/fact/theory (or fact/theory). Do you think that liberals would believe that scientists are wrong about the science of nuclear physics? Nuclear physicists may unilaterally agree that nuclear energy has done more good than harm, but that's just an opinion. If we found out that most scientists cheer for Boston Bruins (God forbid), would it be anti-scientific to cheer for the Toronto Maple Leafs? [Pardon the forced hockey reference. I'm Canadian.]

2) Did human beings, as we know them today, develop from earlier species of animals? (Jelen & Lockett's, modified)

This, I think, is clearly related to anti-science. Evolution is not just a matter of scientific consensus, it forms the very foundation of current biology. It's worth noting that many (most?) of those who would disagree with this question still value "science" (as defined by themselves). Opponents of evolution have long attempted to do so on (ostensibly) scientific grounds. Hence the term "creation science". Naturally, creation science is strongly anti-science using my definition because it rejects scientific consensus and, as a "discipline", doesn't bother employing the scientific method. [For an excellent history of evolution denial, see Ron L Numbers' The Creationists: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Creationists]

3) To what extent do environmental scientists agree among themselves about the existence and causes of global warming? (Jelen & Lockett's, modified)

This is also not really a proper anti-science attitude question given my definition. Anti-science attitudes as it applies to global warming would be more clearly addressed using a question like (off the top of my head): "Global warming is real and humans are largely responsible". There is some data on the question of climate change consensus (Anderegg et al.), but clearly the goal of the question is to measure "global warming anti-science attitudes" and not "global warming consensus anti-science attitudes".

I've droned on long enough. That's my perspective on the matter. Hope it's helpful for at least a dozen of the 10-14 billion readers of this blog!

-Gord

*There will be exceptions to this, but they are surely few in number.

November 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGord Pennycook

@Gord

Very good points. I will have to ponder a bit. Maybe someone will help out or pile on in meantime.

Oh heck... here's a start

Does it help to point out that there's evidence that no politically /culturally defined group believes their position on decision-relevant science is contrary to scientific consensus? (J&L found nothing more than that about conservs + high religiosity & climate change)

That the tendency to be mistaken about what scientific consensus is (including on safety of deep geologic isolation of nuclear wastes & efficacy of restrictions on concealed weapon permit laws on crime) affects members of both sides of polarized issues?

And that members of both sides on these issues process evidence of what scientific consensus is in a manner that selectively credits it based on its consistency with the position that prevails in their group?

Kahan, D.M., Jenkins-Smith, H. & Braman, D. Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus. J. Risk Res. 14, 147-174 (2011).

If one treats simple correlations between ideology & disputed positions on decision-relevant science as evidence of "science skepticism," one ignores everything we know about politically motivated reasoning --including that it biases people's assessment of evidence on whether those who disagree with them are willing to consider scientific evidence in an open-minded way!

Disbelief in evolution, I agree, is more complicated.

November 17, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Let me attempt to summarize your points in my own words.

1) The majority of both liberals and conservatives think that their beliefs about science are matters of consensus. [Though, clearly, the most fervent climate change/evolution opponents are fully aware that their opinions don't coincide with scientific consensus because it's a major talking point for both groups. Regardless, it's not clear that is matters (see below)]

2) Errors about scientific consensus among the public are not, in principle, isolated to conservatives because "members of both sides on these issues process evidence of what scientific consensus is in a manner that selectively credits it based on its consistency with the position that prevails in their group". (can't bring myself to reword something that flows so nicely)

Whether these are important depends on the question that you're interested in. In fact, it seems to me that we can break it down into two related, but very different questions:

1) "Are there members of the American public who are more skeptical about science than others and, if so, what are the causes of this skepticism?"
2) "Are there members of the American public who have beliefs that are inconsistent with science and, if so, what are the causes of this inconsistency?"

Am I correct in assuming that you are more interested in #1? Your points (as summarized above) suggest that the American public is not at all skeptical of science. In fact, it's quite the opposite. They value science and think that it's good for society. However, when they come across a science-related stimulus that doesn't accord with their cultural worldview, they engage in motivated reasoning processes (the opposite of skepticism) to convince themselves that the science agrees with them. If people are cognitive misers and don't know enough much about the specifics of science, then they are very unlikely to be "skeptical" in a meaningful sense of the word.

I am interested in #1, but I'm also interested in #2. Perhaps the CAT/RAT people are as well and this explains some of the difference in opinion. Clearly. large swaths of the American public hold beliefs that don't accord with or directly contradict matters of scientific consensus. Psychologically, this is possible because "people are cognitive misers and don't know enough much about the specifics of science". But this doesn't really tell us what the sources of anti-science attitudes are (read: anti-current-state-of-science-among-those-that-don't-have-a-basis-to-judge attitudes). It only tells us that the mind operates in such a way as to allow anti-science attitudes to emerge.

So what are the sources of anti-science attitudes (again, defined as disagreement with matters of scientific consensus)? This will depend largely on the specific topic and the level of analysis that you're interested in. Clearly some science just doesn't coincide with ideological positions. Evolution conflicts with many peoples religious beliefs. Global warming conflicts with free market capitalism. Etc. But there are also outside forces that contribute. Conservative think thanks such as the Heartland Institute in the case of climate change and ministries such as Answers in Genesis in the case of evolution (though, interestingly, one of the most prominent in the case of evolution is the Discovery Institute, a conservative think tank). I think focusing too much on motivated reasoning may distract us from this additional level of analysis.

The point of all this is that it may be possible for ICTers and CAT/RATers to both be correct in their own way. At the psychological level, cultural cognition and motivated reasoning are the mechanisms by which people's attitudes toward science are formed and maintained. However, at a societal and historical level, influential groups/politicians/media people/etc. have clearly contributed to the public's attitude toward science. At this level it is possible to argue that the negative influence is not uniform across cultural groups. It seems to me that the amount of politicization that has occurred for two key issues, evolution and global warming, probably dwarfs the combined politicization of all other science-related issues (but this is rough and culturally biased estimate from a naive Canadian). This is why there is no liberal anti-science counterpart that matches evolution/global warming in scope and magnitude. Perhaps this isn't what CAT/RATers are really thinking about, but maybe it should be?

-Gord

November 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGord Pennycook

@Gord:

Yes, you got my position.

This time I really *am* going to take some time to think-- & identify carefully all the places where I actually *agree* w/ your thoughtful points as well as where I might have difference

November 17, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Gord -

==> "Though, clearly, the most fervent climate change/evolution opponents are fully aware that their opinions don't coincide with scientific consensus because it's a major talking point for both groups."

What are you referring to w/r/t climate "skeptics?" There is much debate among climate "skeptics" whether any "consensus" exists, let alone whether their view doesn't coincide with the "consensus' to the extent that they accept that there is one.

November 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Sorry Joshua, that was inaccurate. Not really a "talking point". What I was attempting to imply was that prominent climate skeptics focus much of their efforts on undermining the consensus in the public eye (e.g., http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oregon_Petition), which implies that they are at least aware of it.

November 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGord Pennycook

Gord -

Yes - they're aware that claims of a consensus exist, but they often alternately claim that either there is no consensus or that their views are not different than the consensus view (i.e., they accept the basic physics of the GHE, and that while there is a consensus that support those basic physics, there isn't a consensus as to whether anthropogenic emissions explain more than 50% of recent warming).

And yes, even more confusingly, they also spend a lot of time to (1) argue that whether there is a consensus is unimportant (because noting a consensus amounts to an unscientific appeal to authority) and, (2) argue about the precise magnitude of the "consensus."

Anyway - that's all a relatively unimportant aspect of your interesting comments. I was just trying to understand that detail.

November 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Gord, I disagree entirely with your framing of "anti-science" as "disagreeing with the consensus".

The greatest breakthroughs in science have been made by those who challenge the consensus.

You exempt Darwin, and you have to exempt Einstein saying that space and time were all flexible and relative, and John Snow who went against the consensus that cholera was caused by bad air, and numerous other examples. You say that you exempt "experts", but who are the "experts"? Often in such cases the people making the breakthroughs are not established experts in the field - they may have been minor officials working in a patent office, or a scientist from some unrelated field.

As Feynman said
"Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts".

November 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Matthews

Paul -

==> "The greatest breakthroughs in science have been made by those who challenge the consensus."

I'd like to know your basis for making that statement. How do you evaluate the full range of "the greatest breakthroughs?"


I mean yes, all "breakthroughs," by definition, imply some divergence from what was previously known or thought. But I get a sense that you mean something more than that - something along the lines of:

"If we took all breakthroughs and somehow used criteria to evaluate which of those were "the greatest," we would find that disproportionately that group (the greatest breakthroughs) could be characterized in a manner similar to "skeptical" belief about climate change; in other words, we would see that the views of a minority of "experts" would prevail over the views of the majority of "experts" after an extended period of time of where the scientific community as a whole examined those views in opposition to each other.

Sorry for the wordiness - but I'm just trying to find a non-partisan frame. Please correct my description if it doesn't capture your belief.

My assumption is that actually, averaged out, the "consensus" belief among scientists is more often than not validated over time. We can think of notable exceptions precisely because they are notable exceptions.

I'm not particularly impressed with arguments that because a particular view predominates among experts, I should therefore accept that view, but as a matter of probabilities, I do think that when a view predominates among experts, it is more likely to be true than a minority view among experts.

IMO, views on the validity and value of consensus among experts are generally not contentious. Generally, most people ("realists and "skeptics" alike) tend to accept expert consensus - but when the context gets politicized and polarized, people's views about "consensus" reflect group identification.

I think that Dan provides some solid evidence that is in line with my take on how people approach "consensus."

But maybe if you could provide some convincing evidence of your statement, I might see things differently. It's possible that even if you provide me with that evidence, I will reject it out of my own biases due to cultural cognition - but hey, it's worth a shot.

So what's your evidence?

November 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Paul,

An "expert" in this scenario simply refers to "someone who has the knowledge and (perhaps depending on the area) technical training necessary to be able to meaningfully grapple with the facts". I agree that my definition runs into a bit of trouble because it is difficult to decide how much knowledge and technical training is necessary to be an expert, but clearly Darwin, Einstein, and Snow fit the bill.

The purpose of the definition is to isolate those individuals who reject scientific claims that are based on data and argumentation that they don't know (lack of knowledge) or can't possible understand (lack of technical training).

Let's do a thought experiment experiment (not a typo). Imagine (thought experiment) you were to run a study (thought experiment experiment) with a representative sample of Americans in an attempt to determine the true proportion of "anti-science" individuals (by my definition). First step would be to ask about the level of agreement with a number of scientific facts or theories. I would expect that the largest amount of disagreement would be with evolution and climate change, so let's concentrate on those. What proportion of those who disagree with the consensus on either topic would have the knowledge and technical training necessary to be able to meaningfully grapple with the pertinent facts? Surely it is very small. But one could also be more conservative and do a follow-up study with those skeptical about evolution and/or climate change (or whatever topic) in which participants are given an expert knowledge questionnaire with advanced questions that very, very few of the sample would answer correctly. Upon exclusion of the those (presumably) few individuals, would we be justified in calling the remainder "anti-science"? This would isolate the individuals who know very little about the actual science but who nonetheless disagree with the claims of scientists. Would it be justified to call them "anti-scientific" and, more importantly, would it be interesting to investigate how they came to reject the science?

Anyway, that's something that I'm interested in. Perhaps the "anti-science" label is more trouble than it's worth. Maybe each controversial scientific topic should be investigated in isolation to avoid general labels like "anti-science". I do fear that such an approach may blind us to the common societal sources of, let's say, "science disagreement". I am reminded of an interview following Nye and Ham's creationism "debate" where the interviewer asked Nye/Ham about climate change. I was confused about why such a question was asked, but neither Nye or Ham seemed surprised and, evidently, the interviewer felt it was apropos.

November 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGord Pennycook

Getting off the main statistical (correlational) trail, but would it perhaps be clearer to focus on belief in/acceptance of the "scientific method" itself? There is a pretty standard, well-accepted definition of what the "scientific method" is in general terms - equally applicable in physics, bio sciences, social sciences. The method is independent of any particular branch of science or any specific result, hypothesis, conjecture, type of evidence, theory, etc. The degree to which one either accepts or rejects that this method is capable of arriving at verifiable, reproducible, explainable truth about the natural world (truth that is nonetheless always subject to revision by the same scientific methods) might be a way to measure where one falls on the "anti-science" continuum. Could one then look for a left/right or Rep/Dem correlation with belief and trust in the "scientific method" itself, and a fundamentalist/non-dogmatic religious/non-religious correlation? The trick clearly would be in coming up with an appropriate definition of "scientific method" so that acceptance and belief in the method necessarily strongly implies a willingness to accept evidence-based results relating to evolution, natural selection, climate change, quantum mechanics, general relativity, string theory (if there is any evidence!), computational neuroscience, etc. If workable, it seems to me this is different from the "benefits vs. harm" question and might add some insight to the above valuable CAT/RAT/ICT results (i.e., valuable as non-results).

November 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDoug

Gord,

"What proportion of those who disagree with the consensus on either topic would have the knowledge and technical training necessary to be able to meaningfully grapple with the pertinent facts? Surely it is very small."

You might think this would be true but in fact it is incorrect. Dan has shown here in several blog posts that the science knowledge of people who are sceptical about climate change is as high as those who agree with the consensus, and the same is true for specifically climate science knowledge. See for example the post titled
Constructing an "Ordinary climate science intelligence" assessment: a fragment ...

November 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Matthews

Paul -

???

Gord wrote this:'

==> "What proportion of those who disagree with the consensus on either topic would have the knowledge and technical training necessary to be able to meaningfully grapple with the pertinent facts? Surely it is very small.""

And in response you wrote this:


==> "You might think this would be true but in fact it is incorrect. Dan has shown here in several blog posts that the science knowledge of people who are sceptical about climate change is as high as those who agree with the consensus, and the same is true for specifically climate science knowledge.

Do you really not see that your response is a non-sequitur?

As far as I know, Dan has never posted any evidence to show that the % of people (be they "skeptics" or "realists") who have the knowledge and technical training necessary to meaningfully grapple with the pertinent facts is anything other than small. In fact, as far as I know, he has consistently argued that relatively few people formulate their position based on what they know (whether they be "realists' or "skeptics.") as compared to who they are (how they identify).

And surely you must know that the analyses that Dan has done that look at the "scientific literacy" of "skeptics" compared to "realists" show that the differences are small, and that the more significant signal in that data is that people who are more scientifically literate (on both sides) are more polarized because, people who are more informed have more tools at their disposal to confirm their biases.

BTW - do you have that evidence I asked for in my previous comment?

November 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Gord:

A bit more on your 2d response to me (realizing that at this point I might have falled so far behind the thread as to be unimportant).

A.

 You ask about my relative interest in these questions:

1) "Are there members of the American public who are more skeptical about science than others and, if so, what are the causes of this skepticism?"</span><span>
2) "Are there members of the American public who have beliefs that are inconsistent with science and, if so, what are the causes of this inconsistency?"

In fact, both but only as they relate to

(3) Why do individuals with recognizably distinct cultural identities or styles sometimes polarize on risk & other policy-relevant facts that admit of scientific or empirical investigation?

Your numer (1) is a claim or hypothesis, one I think certainly deserves to be tested but is in fact false.  The better explanation, I think, is identity-protective cognition, which motivates formation of identity-congruent beliefs on those facts that have become entangled in culturally antagonistic meanings, making them into symbols of membership in & loyalty to groups.

Indeed, I think the idea that public conflict over such facts can be explained by group-based personality or reasoning styles that are “anti-science” is itself a product of the same identity-protective cognition that creates disagreement about the facts.

I do indeed feel impelled to voice this point, both as a scholar who is engaged in a scholarly conversation about what explains an interesting phenomenon, and as a citizen who is troubled by this dynamic generally & who sees the “anti-science trope” as aggravating it.

B.

A point that you have usefully stressed is the likely distinction between holding an “anti-science attitude” and possessing an anti-science personality or reasoning disposition.

It is the latter that I’ve been saying I think cannot be pinned on any of the groups divided on issues of decision-relevant science such as climate change, gun control, nuclear, fracking, GMO (in other countries; honey badger US doesn’t give a shit, it just wants to eat them) etc.

But I agree it is possible that a group that isn’t “anti-science”—that  is, doesn’t reject the generally –could nevertheless reject what it underestands to be science’s account of some particular phenomenon. Reject it, in fact, on grounds that in fact reflect adherence to of of the alternative ways of knowing.  In other words, they could select some science-alternative beliefs a la carte.

Maybe that explains “disbelief in evolution.”  The people who “disbelieve” clearly are not rejecting science’s way of knowing tout court.

I also think it is possible, though, that this characterization profoundly misunderstands what it means when people say they “don’t believe” in evolution.  I am thinking of Salman Hameed’s work, which shows that it is possible for science-trained profesisonals to “believe” in evolution when they are using that knowledge in their work, and “disbelieve” it when they are occupying roles central to a religious identity away from work.  Without any experience of conflict or dissonance.  Intereseting stuff.  Indeed, I’m convinced potentially extremely important for all manner of conflict over science including climate.

C.

You suggested that professions of “support for science” of the sort I featured from GSS and Pew might not be meaningful in exploring these issues.

I half agree!

One issue goes to measurement: Are these valid indicators of a pro-science disposition?

I’m honestly not sure.

But the problem is a general one: no one has ever meaningfully validated any items as measures of a pro- or anti-science disposition.  So people pick & choose in a way that suits them.  That’s not good. But if people pick out some items from the GSS, say, to say “a ha! conservatives are anti-science,” then it is worth pointing out that they are being very very very very selective indeed.

But one thing we might disagree on is that one could treat items that reflect sketpcism about global warming or disbelief in the safety of deep geologic isolatin of nuclear wastes or either belief or disbelief in the efficacy of laws restricting public carrying of handguns as a better indicator of being “anti-science” than these broader attitudinal measures.

Whether the source of these contorversies is that one or another group's "anti-science" disposition is causing its members to self-consciously reject "scientific consensus" is precisely the issue under debate (btw, all the groups--liberal vs. conserv, relig vs. nonrelig-- are rejecting scientific consensus on one or more of the disputed positions, if we use the National Academy of Sciences "scientific consensus" reports as our benchmark).

An alternative explanation is that they are all pro-science but confused about what the weigth of the evidence is by virtue of identity-protective reasoning.

If one simply define being out-of-line with ‘scientific concensus” as being “anti science,” then one is sidestepping the interesting quesetion whether the positoins people are forming here are a result ofa group-based reasoning or personality style anti-thetical to science or instead something else—like identity-protective reasoning.  That issues shouldn’t be sidestepped.

If one takes this position, then what we need is a measure of “anti-science” independent of the position the groups are taking on this issue.  We could then test whether it explains variance in the positions.

Do you in fact disagree with that, now that I’ve tried to clarify?

I prefer experimental measures: one that aim to figure out how citizens will process information from scientific authorities on contested issues.  Those show that on issues from climate change to nuclear power from gun control to HPV vaccine we are talking about, none of the groups in question reject "scientific consensus"; they conform their view of what experts believe to identity-congruent positions.

We should clear our science communication environment of the toxic cultural meanings that impair their usually reliable sense of who knows what about what.

November 18, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@Doug

I agree with you.

I'd rather know who rejects authority of science's distinctive way of knowing--its focus on inference from observation--in relation to competitor ways of knowing (e.g., revealed truth of God etc.) than who says "I accept/reject scientific consensus."

I also think "anti-science" is a term of derision & not a useful explanatory concept.

Plus I think I owe you more explanation on "religiosity" measures employed & why they are fit for the task; we'll try to get to it

November 18, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Gord -

You say:'

=> "The idea is that only those individuals who do not have the knowledge or technical training to be able to truly grasp the relevant evidence for a scientific claim, fact, or theory* (the vast majority of the public, including myself as it applies to anything but psychology), but who nonetheless disagree with those individuals who do on the relevant topic (e.g., climate scientists, biologists, nuclear physicists, etc.) can justifiably be labeled "anti-science"."

That is an interesting comment, IMO. I don't think that the label of "anti-science" is very useful, for basically the same reasons that in general I find labeling more likely to be misleading rather than informative. But to the extent that the label might be valid, you hit on a key component there, IMO (by adding the qualification of lacking requisite knowledge and training as an exclusion criterion)..

But then wouldn't you need to also qualify the label of "anti-science" with a topic-specific descriptor? Is there any reason to think that someone who fits your label of "anti-science" as defined there w/r/t one issue would also be more likely to have that approach towards science more generally? I doubt there are many for whom that would be the case. It would seem to me, then, that the label would have to be qualified to refer to "anti-science on X, Y, Z issue."


You say:

==> "These individuals can (and most likely do) agree with value of "science" in general... but all that tells us is that the latter isn't really a meaningful stance. One can agree with science in principle, but disagree with everything that the current scientific establishment has to say. I consider this "anti-science". Or perhaps we should call it "anti-current-state-of-science-among-those-that-don't-have-a-basis-to-judge"."

Likewise, your more accurate label should be, I think, modified to "anti-current-state-of-science-on-X-issue-among-those-that-don't-have-a-basis-to-judge."

November 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Should be obvious, but I guess I should correct what I wrote:

"(by adding the qualification of lacking requisite knowledge and training" as an exclusion inclusion criterion). Those dang double negatives.

November 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Dan,

I agree with almost everything that you've said. Indeed, I think I may generally agree with the things that seem disagreeable. Regardless, I'm enjoying the conversation so let's continue.

Potential point of disagreement #1

"If one simply define being out-of-line with ‘scientific concensus” as being “anti science,” then one is sidestepping the interesting quesetion whether the positoins people are forming here are a result ofa group-based reasoning or personality style anti-thetical to science or instead something else—like identity-protective reasoning. That issues shouldn’t be sidestepped."

I think my cognitive science background may be the source of my disagreement here. I have no problem sidestepping that question because I think the idea that there is a set of specifically anti-science cognitions (reasoning style/ personality type / or whatever) that conservatives or religious people are more likely to have can be dismissed without even needing data. There is no science-related (or anti-science related) reasoning module in the mind. There aren't anti-science cognitions, but rather cognitions specific to or relevant for anti-science.

Naturally, it may be the case that some sort of reasoning or personality style has particular relevance for science-related beliefs. Indeed, one might even want to consider "identity-protective reasoning" as one of these. It's worth noting, though, that data demonstrating the role of identity-protective reasoning in determining science beliefs doesn't necessary indicate that other factors at not at play. A key question may be "which factors are most influential in determining science beliefs". Clearly, in so far as we are interested in science beliefs that have been politicized, cultural cognition will be very important.

So, perhaps this isn't a disagreement. Just a rewording.

Potential point of disagreement #1

"identity-protective cognition, which motivates formation of identity-congruent beliefs on those facts that have become entangled in culturally antagonistic meanings, making them into symbols of membership in & loyalty to groups...

I do indeed feel impelled to voice this point, both as a scholar who is engaged in a scholarly conversation about what explains an interesting phenomenon, and as a citizen who is troubled by this dynamic generally & who sees the “anti-science trope” as aggravating it."

Quick reminder that I totally agree that there isn't much to the claims that there is an "anti-science" reasoning style/ personality type. But for now, let's consider a broader possibility that is relevant to our discussion:

Should we avoid using the term "anti-science" to describe individuals who reject evolution and climate change (I limit it to these two for the reasons Joshua just posted)?

One possibility is that term "anti-science" aggravates science polarization. I am correct in assuming that this would be your position? I presume the idea is that the negative label aggravates those who are so labeled, making them less likely to think critically about the issue and more likely to engage in identity protective motivated reasoning.

I think this is probably true... but I nonetheless see value in the term "anti-science". People value science in general - this is why the label has negative connotations. I think it's important for people to know when they have a belief that is flatly inconsistent with the beliefs of our brightest and most qualified individuals. "Anti-science" may, at first, trigger identity protective motivated reasoning, but over time it may cause (at least some) people to reflect on their opinions. This may be helped along even further if we can isolate the vested interests that are the source of misinformation. Hard to test this empirically, though. I'm not overly convinced by my own reasoning here, but it's something to consider.

November 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGord Pennycook

Just realized that my bullet points are both labeled "#1".. oh well.

But then wouldn't you need to also qualify the label of "anti-science" with a topic-specific descriptor? Is there any reason to think that someone who fits your label of "anti-science" as defined there w/r/t one issue would also be more likely to have that approach towards science more generally? I doubt there are many for whom that would be the case. It would seem to me, then, that the label would have to be qualified to refer to "anti-science on X, Y, Z issue."

Excellent point, Joshua! Yes, I totally agree... although, it is an empirical question. One that I'm very interested in.

November 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGord Pennycook

@Gord:

I'm pretty sure my imprecision is the explanation but when you say that

I think the idea that there is a set of specifically anti-science cognitions (reasoning style/ personality type / or whatever) that conservatives or religious people are more likely to have can be dismissed without even needing data. There is no science-related (or anti-science related) reasoning module in the mind. There aren't anti-science cognitions, but rather cognitions specific to or relevant for anti-science.

You wouldn't say that we could dismiss w/o evidence that there are some forms of group identity that are correlated with reasoning styles opposed (or at least less receptive) to open-minded & critical engagement with empirical evidence of the sort featured in science, right?

I think you actually believe that is so-- on the basis of evience you have collected-- about religiosity, correct?

Pennycook, G., Cheyne, J., Barr, N., Koehler, D. & Fugelsang, J. Cognitive style and religiosity: The role of conflict detection. Memory & Cognition, 1-10 (2013).

Pennycook, G., Cheyne, J.A., Seli, P., Koehler, D.J. & Fugelsang, J.A. Analytic cognitive style predicts religious and paranormal belief. Cognition 123, 335-346 (2012).

Scholars certainly purport to present evidence of this nature relating to conservativism too. E.g., Jost, J.T., Glaser, J., Kruglanski, A.W. & Sulloway, F.J. Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition. Psych. Bull. 129, 339-375 (2003). In fact, all the evidence I've ever seen shows essentially zero corrlation between ideology & the sorts of performance-based measures of critical reasoning that you used in your studies of religion.

I'm being loose with language when I characterize this literature on reasoning style as attributing an "anti-science" disposition to conservativism & religion. But people relying on studies that purport to link conservativism with a dogmatic reasoning style certainly make the argument that this accounts for conservative's resistance to evidence on climate change & supposedly other policy issues -- and that's one of the things people seem to have in mind when they hurl the "anti-science" epithet.

I don't buy the argument that correlations between reasoning style and ideology (I really don't think there is any), religion (there's some), or any other conventional indicator of cultural identity disposes people w/ different identies to be dismissive of scientific evidence generally or to form evidence-resistant positions on issues like climate, GMO, nuclear, vaccines, guns, etc., in particular.

The sort of distortion in reasoning associated with identity-protective cognition is very pluralistic in this sense. If fucks us all equally, depriving us of the benefit of our collective knowledge without discriminating against anyone on basis of who they are or what group they belong to.

But I am certainly willing to consider whatever evidence people present in favor of the "asymmetric" quality of politically motivated reasoning

November 18, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

You wouldn't say that we could dismiss w/o evidence that there are some forms of group identity that are correlated with reasoning styles opposed (or at least less receptive) to open-minded & critical engagement with empirical evidence of the sort featured in science, right?

I think you actually believe that is so-- on the basis of evience you have collected-- about religiosity, correct?

Yes, certainly. My apologies for the confusion. I think it may have arisen from my assumption that this:

"If one simply define being out-of-line with ‘scientific concensus” as being “anti science,” then one is sidestepping the interesting quesetion whether the positoins people are forming here are a result ofa group-based reasoning or personality style anti-thetical to science or instead something else—like identity-protective reasoning. That issues shouldn’t be sidestepped."

was referring to two separate mechanisms. Is this an accurate summary? "It is unclear (or, at least, it was at one point) whether a) beliefs that accord with science are determined by analytic reasoning that is focused on questioning one's intuitions and taking into account empirical evidence (i.e., those that don't agree with the science just haven't thought the evidence through) or b) beliefs about science (either pro- or anti-) are determined by analytic reasoning that is focused on justifying/rationalizing/protecting one's prior beliefs/ideology/cultural identity."

Assuming my translation is accurate (regardless, this is the way that I've long thought about your research), I don't really see this as two separate mechanisms. In both cases "analytic reasoning" is the source of strong beliefs about science (how could it not be?). The least analytic people will not have considered the "science" (scare quotes as a reminder that people rarely consider the science itself, which is written in another language, but consider the "science" which is laced with cultural meanings and so on), hence their relative ambivalence. The same should be true for political ideology - people who are the least analytic ought to be the least likely to know about or be engaged in politics (I have evidence for this, but have never bothered attempting to publish it).

The operative question in my mind is whether analytic reasoning is more likely to a) lead to convergence with scientific consensus across the map because people are good at reasoning about complex empirical evidence (scientists, after all, reason about the evidence to get to a consensus) or b) lead to divergence based on ideological lines because people are bad at questioning their intuitions (ideology) and, regardless, don't know the relevant evidence or have the technical knowledge to interpret it. [We all know the answer to this question, thanks to your research.]

So, I agree that in principle it is possible that an analytic cognitive style (which I define as the propensity to engage analytic reasoning) could contribute to science-related beliefs and/or political ideology. In fact, I consider your NCC paper evidence for this. More numerate individuals are more polarized, indicating that analytic thinking was used to get to that point. It's just that the role of analytic thinking in science related beliefs isn't so straightforward as more analytic thinking = a more empirical viewpoint.

In contrast, we have a reasonable amount of evidence that this is true for religious (evidence summarized here) and paranormal beliefs... but there are very specific reasons for that (as discussed in the M&C paper that you mentioned above). Reasons that don't apply to science related beliefs or political ideology.

P.S. - I know that CRT was associated with social conservatism in one of the papers that I published, but this correlation is only there because social conservatives tend to be more religious. Looking back, I should have run this analysis and reported it in the paper. To be honest, we didn't think much of it. This was before I spent much time reading the political ideology literature.

November 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGord Pennycook

@Gord:
Thanks -- for these reflections (and for the kind words).
You say


The operative question in my mind is whether analytic reasoning is more likely to a) lead to convergence with scientific consensus across the map because people are good at reasoning about complex empirical evidence (scientists, after all, reason about the evidence to get to a consensus) or b) lead to divergence based on ideological lines because people are bad at questioning their intuitions (ideology) and, regardless, don't know the relevant evidence or have the technical knowledge to interpret it.

Don't you think the answer will depend on whether we acquire & make use of a particular type of scientific knowledge? One that equips us to protect from disruption the conditions necessary for the reliable exercise of the reasoning faculty most fundamental to the acquisition of all scientific knowledge-- our capacity to recognize who knows what about what?

We shoudl compare notes/data on both the CRT/ideology correlation (CRT is such a wonderful but stunted measure) & the systematic-reasoning political awareness/partisanship one.

November 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

Don't you think the answer will depend on whether we acquire & make use of a particular type of scientific knowledge? One that equips us to protect from disruption the conditions necessary for the reliable exercise of the reasoning faculty most fundamental to the acquisition of all scientific knowledge-- our capacity to recognize who knows what about what?

Yes, but it matters who you are talking about. It's always difficult to make inferences about the content of reasoning, but I nonetheless feel it's unlikely that more than a very small minority of the public have a enough of a grasp on the specific content of scientific claims (i.e., scientific knowledge that is specific to, say, climate change) for the foregoing to matter.

That is to say, science for scientists is far different than "science" for the non-expert public. It is distilled, simplified, and quite often caricatured for wide consumption. The most scientific literate among us know plenty about this "science" and a minority may get passionate about a particular topic and read all about it. But science is very complex. There is a difference between knowing scientific facts and understanding what makes them facts. People spend years as graduate students devoting all of their time to understanding a particular division within a larger field (or maybe even a particular issue within a division within a field), and many still fail. Naturally, this depends on the complexity of the particular field, but I think the principle holds generally. This is why I think it's important to distinguish between experts and non-experts when talking about science-related beliefs. The "science" in that sentence can mean many different things.

[I'm writing authoritatively here, but I'm open to persuasion.]

Okay, so back to your point. How can one recognize who knows what about what if they don't know what the "what" means (this is a ridiculous sentence, my apologies)?

Let's take the present blog post as an example. How can we recognize that Dan Kahan knows something about something based on this blog post?

Well, I know that you know lots about the stuff you've posted in this thread because I also know (much less, but still enough) about similar stuff. I can tell that the content of your post is accurate and meaningful based on the content of other things that I've read and (at least partially) understood.

But, of course, this isn't really how I (or anyone else) decided that you are an expert. I decided that you were an expert before having to read anything because you a) are a professor at Yale, b) have many (seemingly) relevant publications (I say "seemingly" because one need not read or understand them to see that they are probably relevant), c) seem to know the vernacular for the area, d) write confidently, and e) etc. I don't need to know anything about the content of your science-related thought to make the inference that you're an expert. Nor do I need to know how intelligent you are.

Now, after taking about how great of an expert you are, I have come to realize that you not only recognize this argument but have probably made a similar one yourself. (I read your scientific consensus paper yesterday, btw. very nice).

So, after all that, perhaps my response is: I'm not sure I understand your question. My apologies if the foregoing was based on a misunderstanding.

November 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGord Pennycook

I believe that you may be missing the best rationale for the support of ICT—the “identity-protective cognition thesis” in studies of motivated reasoning. That is that this is a sufficiently braod platform form which to construct real analyses.

For years I've debated with Chris Mooney regarding what I saw as his conflation of Conservative/right wing/Republican on the one hand, and Liberal/left wing/Democrat.

This lumps together people from very different subtribes, or tribal outbranching, making things are way more complicated than that. If conservatives were interested in protecting the status quo, why aren't they out battling for the new Deal. Just because in a college town, the massage therapist and the molecular biologist are voting for the same Democratic Party candidate, are they really part of the same tribe?

I think your use of "religiosity" above needs further examination. I believe that a "yes" answer to are you religious would elicit a group of people whose overall orientation would be highly dependent on the dominate sort of religion in the area. And I believe this distorts the rest of the analysis.

What counts as the dominate forms of religiosity in the USA, are largely based on outgrowths from the Tribe of Abraham. This underlying set of beliefs and values has been quite successful, as I see it, that is, in a socio-biology sense due to a very successful amalgam of basic human interest in love and caring welded to one of superiority to AND the need for conversion and domination of others. Historically, both the Western and the Arab world have had their periods of ideological darkness and rational light depending on how these threads of beliefs were expressed. And these religions have blotted out froms of religious expression with less ability to dominate. Just as ISIS is doing in the Middle East today.

So for the US, our historical roots are in the Doctrine of Discovery as set down by Ferdinand, Isabella and Christopher Columbus, as well as the enlightened Thomas Jefferson and his concept that man had been "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness". Puritans and Quakers factor in as well. Which is different than the Coast Salish, whose concept, as I understand it, is that the Creator gave them human form in order to be guardians of the salmon.

So when polling for "religiosity" the results vary depending on whether the dominate group is South Boston Catholics, Kentucky Pentacostals, Urban city Unitarians, Coast Salish, Lakota, Pueblo or other tribes, or college town New Age Spiritualists. All of which could be expected to have varying responses to policy matters related to science, and forms of anti-science. If the world is supposed to come to an end in fire and brimstone, one ought to have a different reaction than if salmon are to return again and again as they have since time immemorial.

In my opinion, the IPC thesis needs to be explored in ways that don't overly rely on x-y graphs. Politicians are exploiting that. Can a subset be shaved off the opposing party and brought to your side? Ask Reagan's handlers, or Obama's. Or can ICP be used to bring people together in coalitions where policies can be forged that cross cut usual divides and expand rational liberal democracy?

November 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

Lot's of interesting stuff in this post and thread. I hope to go through the thread again read it more carefully, but some thoughts from a superficial reading.

==> "But I will tell you in the meantime what inference I draw from them: (a) that the US public is overwhelmingly pro-science; and (b) that any differences associated with politics and religiosity both are ambiguous and, more importantly, trivial in magnitude. "

I agree with the basic argument you're making in this post, but I do think that you're missing a fairly important signal when you describe the American public as "pro-science."

I know that you have some questions about some aspects of Gauchet's analyses - but I think that some of his work supports an argument that jibes with my anecdotal take on the interface between politics and "trust in science," and that I think that you're kind of missing.

Here's what I think: over the past 5 decades or so, there has been an increase in distrust in scientific institutions - specifically including but not limited to academic science - in the U.S. among a subset of "conservatives" that has paralleled an increase in political focus among the religious right. Somewhat related to Gythia's comment - I think that by aggregating across all "conservatives" and people who are "religious" you're missing an important signal among subgroups of "conservatives" [probably those with a libertarian bent] and a subgroup of "religious Americans" [the religious right]. That signal would show a trend over time of increased in scientific institutions. Not exactly the same thing as an increased distrust in science, but not altogether unrelated either. Trying to choose either ideological orientation or religious identity as causal wouldn't be particularly meaningful given the cross-over. Likewise, I think that neither ideological nor religious identity are causal so much as group identity.

But the question for me - perhaps along the same lines of some of what Gord was getting at - is that I think that there's something missing in the discussion if we aren't somehow explaining a particular, related phenomenon: If you turn on rightwing radio or listen to many religious conservatives, you will often hear attacks against our scientific institutions very broadly but specifically those associated with academia, as either being fraudulent (due to liberal bias) or as being godless (and hubristic enough to think that there are "truths" that can be in contradiction to their interpretation of the Bible).

I have problems with the lack of specificity in the label of "anti-science," and I think that the term is largely more used for rhetorical effect than for meaningfully informing discussions; but similarly, I think that the label of "pro-science" is also deceptively simplistic, and something gets lost in the binary construction that the American public is either "pro-science" or "anti-science."

November 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

New survey here on climate change opinion and religious belief. Might be of interest.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/religion/were-awestruck-about-earth-unsure-about-global-warming/2014/11/21/ee67cad4-718a-11e4-a2c2-478179fd0489_story.html

November 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Matthews

@PaulMathews:

Many thanks!

November 21, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@Gord:

You are embarrassing the shit out of me-- but I guess that's okay given all the good substnative points.

I agree w/ you that it is very possible to recognize who knows what w/o being able to comprehend the what.

I regard that recognition capacity as the most foundational element of human rationality.

There'd be no collective knowledge w/o it. Certainly no science.

It is very very widely enjoyed in liberal democratic societies (including Canada as well as US!).

It fills me with awe.

It is exactly this faculty that is disabled & degraded by our polluted science communication environment.

But I do think the impact of critical-reasoning dispositions in compounding cultural polarization reflects exactly that sort of toxicity; it isn't normal.

I also think our reason supplies us with all the equipment we need to protect reason from being demeaned in this way.

November 21, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@Gaythia:

I agree w/ your point about the necessary poverty of 1 dimensional & even 2-. But the goal, certainly, isn't to faithfully describe "identity"; it is to scrabble together a collection of obsrevable things that allow us to form a reasonable measurment of something we can't observe directly -- that doesn't even admit of being "seen" in any meaningful sense -- so that we can better explain, predict, and manage things in our lives. I prefer the Mary Douglas 2x2 over left-right on these grounds. But it's nothiing more than a Bohr-Rutherford model of the cultural identity atom! And for many purposes, the alternative artist's rendition furnished by left-right ideology is just fine.

Same for religiosity. Definitely the measures I'm using here (ones that aggregate various self-report behavioral & attitudinal items into a reliable composite index or scale) are horrible for someone trying to get what "religiosity" means in some experiential sense. But that's not what it's for; it's for testing certain of the bewilderingly large array of plausible candidate explanations for various phenomena relating to conflict over what is known to science.

The quesiton is whether it is actually helping to do that. I agree I should say more about that.

November 21, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@Joshua:

I get the "you are missing something" point.

Do you mean to say that this item captures all of that?

I am going to name some institutions in this country. As far as the people running these institutions are concerned, would you say you have a great deal of confidence, only some confidence, or hardly any confidence at all in them? ... k. Scientific Community ...

If you can't see why that would astonish me, can you at least see why I think it is reasonable, before accepting a contentious conclusion about what trends in this one tell us about public attitudes toward science, to look at additional measures to see if they suggest the same thing?

I can see why people would form the view that there just must be some antipathy between conservativism & science that explains why 50% of the US "doesn't believe" in human-caused climate change.

But I can see too why they migth be wrong; why they might be motivted to reach that conclusion on the basis of insufficient evidence, no evidence, invalid evidence, etc.

That's why one tries to figure out -- "well if that's true, then there should be a correlation between x1 & y1" & does the measurement.

It's reasonable for someone who believes the hypothesis to wonder if maybe x1 & y1 were missing something -- weren't measuring what really mattered.

But what to say if after looking at x1-5000 y1-5000 everyone of the relationships is inconsistent but x2499 & y2499? The conclusion "well, it must be that only x2499 & y2499 are actually measuring what we are interested in" has some pretty obvious problems. Actually, that reaction is x5001 & y5001 -- & like all the other observations but x2499 & y2499 support the inference that the "just must" perception is explained by something else...

As for Limbaugh, he is tapeworm of cognitive illiberalism. And so is Paul Krugman.

I hope no one assumes that because Paul Krugman purports to speak for me that I am as unreflective & as sectarian as he is


November 21, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Dan -

==> " That's why one tries to figure out -- "well if that's true, then there should be a correlation between x1 & y1" & does the measurement."

I'm on board with that. I agree that if someone thinks they've found a correlation, then then need to go further to well, if that correlation where meaningful then we should also find X and Y. They should go further to say, and if that correlation weren't meaningful, we should find A and B.

I'm not arguing that the often found antipathy among many conservatives and among the religious right towards our societal scientific institutions = conservatives being "anti-science." I don't even know what the term means, really. But I am saying that the often found antipathy among a subset of conservatives and the religious right, towards our societal scientific institutions, is meaningful and I think, trending upwards.

==> "As for Limbaugh, he is tapeworm of cognitive illiberalism."

I'm not generalizing from Limbaugh, but from his very large audience. No doubt, some % of his audience is just there for entertainment value. But what does it mean that rhetoric that is so hateful of our scientific institutions is so commonplace among some conservatives and the religious right? What about the outright hatred towards the CDC that was so commonplace over the airwaves just a few weeks ago? Such reflexive and easily-catalyzed distrust of the CDC is mostly a marker of group identification but at the same time it reflects, to some degree, an attitude towards the scientific process. The CDC-hating has largely dissipated, but it's a product of a larger antipathy that is just lurking beneath the surface and it will resurface in other science-related issues. And I suspect that what I'm talking about is reflective of a change over time, mostly within specific subsets of conservatives and people who are religious. It is paralleled by a upward trend in antipathy towards other societal institutions as well. But while it is mostly pointed towards institutions rather than science itself, and while it is an expression of group identification - there is something anti-sciency about it. And I think it is, to some degree, a reflection of the growth of the religious right.

There is an intrinsic tension between religion and science. Add to that some fundamental contradictions between "consensus" science and specific religious beliefs. Given those starting points, if there is a growth in the linkage between a particular political ideology and highly religious Christians - as the result of an explicit strategy of conservative thought leaders seeking to exploit the voting power of a large constituency - then wouldn't we expect to see increased antipathy towards science at some level, and wouldn't the antipathy toward our scientific institutions in some measure be a reflection of that antipathy?

November 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Well put, Joshua!

November 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGord Pennycook

@Joshua:

I have no problem when you or others report your personal observations & interpretations.

It's the adornment of arguments w/ non-supportive public opinion evidence that I object to.


I know that you have some questions about some aspects of Gauchet's analyses - but I think that some of his work supports an argument that jibes with my anecdotal take on the interface between politics and "trust in science," and that I think that you're kind of missing

I'm intersted in evidence; I also really really care about how it is used in public discourse--its value is diluted when people treat it as lawyerly prop in argument, so I check such things out. If I observe the evidence doesn't actually support an answer to a disputed question, then it's a bit odd to be told by those who cite it that the evidence in question "misses the point..."

So tell me what it is about Gauchat that "gets to the point"?

Tell me here!...

November 22, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

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