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Univ. of Colorado deja vu! (sort of): c'mon down & hear about what the "science of science communication" has to say about the "science communication problem"

I'm on my way back to Boulder. But am going to refrain, during the trip, from writing a blog (was working on one on graphic data presentation) so that I don't miss any connecting flights this time.

Anyway, if in area, come to tomorrow's lecture at Univ. of Colorado. This one won't be on professional judgment & motivated reasoning (as last one was) but on science of science communication.  Haven't figured out exactly what I'll talk about, but I have a feeling Pakistani Dr and Kentuck Farmer will insist on making an appearance.

If not in area, then sign up for webcast.

Also, I discovered last time that they serve these great brownies at the post-lecture reception! 

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Reader Comments (6)

Since there isn't really a topic to this post, I guess I could claim that the following comment won't be off-topic.

Listened to these interviews today:

Thought about two things. The first is how I find it hard to reconcile the findings of your study re: ideological bias among judges with both of these interviews related to the political and economic processes of electing judges.

The 2nd was the seeming contradiction in values where people complain about the politicization of our judicial system and judges "legislating from the bench" yet then turn around and make huge ass contributions to the political campaigns of judges.

How crazy is it that we're the only country outside of Bolivia that has this kind of system?

April 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Related to some themes discussed here on this blog: the importance/meaning of scientific consensus and the relationship of empirical evidence to beliefs about gun control:

So I decided to determine objectively, through polling, whether there was scientific consensus on firearms. What I found won't please the National Rifle Assn....This result was not at all surprising because the scientific evidence is overwhelming. It includes a dozen individual-level studies that investigate why some people commit suicide and others do not, and an almost equal number of area-wide studies that try to explain differences in suicide rates across cities, states and regions. These area-wide studies find that differences in rates of suicide across the country are less explained by differences in mental health or suicide ideation than they are by differences in levels of household gun ownership.

I also found widespread confidence that a gun in the home increases the risk that a woman living in the home will be a victim of homicide (72% agree, 11% disagree) and that a gun in the home makes it a more dangerous place to be (64%) rather than a safer place (5%). There is consensus that guns are not used in self-defense far more often than they are used in crime (73% vs. 8%) and that the change to more permissive gun carrying laws has not reduced crime rates (62% vs. 9%). Finally, there is consensus that strong gun laws reduce homicide (71% vs. 12%).

IIRC, Dan thinks that there is no clear signal in the empirical evidence as to the value of gun control or the relationship of gun ownership to positive/negative outcomes. And presumably, Dan thinks that a consensus of view among expert researchers in a field is most likely to be in concordance with the balance of evidence on the related questions of interest.

So, then, is there something interesting here if there the "expert" consensus on gun-related issues is in contrast to Dan's views on the state of the empirical evidence?

April 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua


"These area-wide studies find that differences in rates of suicide across the country are less explained by differences in mental health or suicide ideation than they are by differences in levels of household gun ownership."

But which is cause and which effect?

It's a nice illustration. If you believe guns are dangerous, then you can read a statement like that and feel confident that in some vague way it's an unarguable and devastating blow for your side. (Although you might have difficulty explaining exactly what the theory is here.) You don't bother to look any further for flaws in the argument, even if you're trained and capable of doing so. Why would you? It's just what you would expect to see.

If you don't believe guns are dangerous, then the flaw appears obvious. It's like saying that the incidence of acne is "better explained" by the presence of acne cream in the house, so acne cream causes acne. (That must be why it's called "acne cream"!) Acne cream also causes teenagers and loud music.

So you have two sorts of knowledge. You "know" that correlation doesn't imply causation, and will say so if asked. And the knowledge can "enable" you to spot a flaw in an argument pointing out a correlation. But the latter can be disabled by one's culturally-defined priors and assumptions while the former still operates.

Good example? :-)

April 24, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV


1. I don't doubt that guns enable suicide. I doubt that various forms of gun control that advocates propose would reduce suicide by gun, much less suicide, by much. There are already about as many guns as people in US.

2. I am confident -- for reasons stated in NAS report--that data like ones being referred to in your excerpt don't give anyone a reason to believe anything different from what he or she otherwise would about impact of gun control laws on gun homicides or suicides.

3. Do you think popular support for gun control (there's not much, actually) is motivated in any meaningful way by interest in reducing suicides?

Here's a project for you:

a. Confirm that suicides comprise over 50% (closer to 60%) of gun fatalities in US per yr.
b. Predict relative frequency with which a gun suicide and an accidental gun death of a child under age of age 13 are (i) reported in media and (ii) featured in gun control advocacy material relative to the occurrence of each, respectively.
c. Predict the frequency with which gun control advocacy materials that cite figure on # of gun fatalities in US per yr indicate proportion that are suicides.
d. Collect the data & see what answers are.

On (b), I predict child gun-accident fatalities are reported 10^3 more often (relative to occurrence) than gun suicides in media and are featured 10^4 more often in advoacy materials.

On (c) I predict 0.1%.

When you finish that project, predict how often sources like the one you are citing acknowledge problems w/ data identified by NAS. I predict 0.01%

4. I don't think there is much consensus among those who produce studies like the ones featured in the material you cite. The people doing them are mix of econometricians and advocates who aren't doing valid empirical research. It also doesn't matter to a large proportion of those who do econometrics studies like these -- or even those who edit journals in field --whether their methods are valid; they are playing some sort of game that isn't about figuring out truth. If they have expert judgment, it is in recognizing studies that contribute to that game.

April 25, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Hi Dan,

In your talk you had a slide showing that while belief in AGW split along ideological lines, belief *that scientists believe* in AGW did not. I'm interested in learning more about this finding. Have you published it, and if so in which paper? In Climate-Science Communication and the Measurement Problem there's a very similar finding for evolution, and nine more specific "scientists believe" climate questions related to flooding, skin cancer risk, etc., but I don't see one for climate change or human-caused climate change in general.



April 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTamar Wilner


Pretty sure that all the "climate science literacy" items I featured were ones from Measurement Problme. See for yourself.

In my experience, asking "what do scientists believe" or "most scienitsts believe" about AGW generates partisan division. Pollsters find that too.

I think that item, like the $ question "Do you belivein AGW," measures partisan idenity. For Rs to say "yes" to it is equiovalent to saying, "our group is anti-science" or "stupid."

April 30, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

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