MAPKIA! Episode #73: What is the meaning, if any, of the correlation between vaccine- and GM-food-risk perceptions?!
That’s right--time for another episode of Macau's favorite game show...: "Make a prediction, know it all!," or "MAPKIA!"!
I’m sure none of you has forgotten the rules, but I’m obliged by the Gaming Commission to post them before every contest. So here they are:
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.)
Actually, the discussion was mainly on Twitter, which of course is the ideal forum for any serious, scholarly discussion.
Over a set of exchanges, the issue of how vaccine-risk and GM-food-risk perceptions were related came up. Knowing nothing, I of course confidently declared that the two obviously weren’t connected in any interesting way, which prompted @ScottClif to post this:
His data, he indicated, came from MTurk workers, who (if I’m understanding him correctly; I’m sure I am, because it’s pretty much impossible not to get what other people are saying on Twitter) responded to a set of items that he used to form composite “support for organic food” and “anti-vaccination belief” scales.
So I decided to see if I could reproduce something along these lines using CCP data. Here’s what I came up with:
Using the “Industrial Strength Risk Perception Measure,” the graph plots responses for “Vaccination of children against childhood diseases (such as mumps, measles and rubella)” and “Genetically modified food.”
There’s a relationship, all right.
The question is . . .
What sorts of individual characteristics or predispositions, if any, account for the observed relationship between vaccine- and GM-food-risk perceptions and what, if anything, can we learn about risk perceptions generally from this relationship?
@ScottClif and @Jamesnewburg initiated the comparison by speculating that “disgust sensitivities” might explain variance in both risk perceptions & (@ScottClif surmised) link them.
I scoffed. Why? Because I like to scoff.
But also because, specifically, I see both GM food risks and vaccine risks as defying ready explanation by survey means, although for different reasons: the former because members of the public know and care far too little about GM foods for their survey responses to support meaningful inferences about how they feel about them and why; and the latter because public opinion is so overwhelmingly positive that none of the usual determinants of systematic variance in risk perception (including cultural and political outlooks, religiosity, critical reasoning dispositions, etc.) explain the outliers who say they think they are more risky than beneficial.
I figured that because there’s not anything illuminating to say with survey measures about each one of these risk perceptions, it would be unlikely there’d be anything interesting to say about them jointly.
So seeing even this modest correlation was a bit surprising to me.
Now I’d like to know what if anything anyone thinks can be learned from and about the correlation.
The 14 billion regular readers of this blog are familiar with the kinds of variables that typically are in CCP datasets, including various risk perceptions, demographics, political outlooks, cultural worldviews, and measures of one or another critical reasoning proficiency pertinent to science comprehension.
You might, unsurprisingly, have a hypothesis for which there are not perfect predictors. But if so, it’s likely that a reasonable proxy can be constructed. E.g., a “disgust sensibility” index could probably be constructed by combining perceived risks of behavior that connotes social deviancy (e.g., use of street drugs, smoking, and legalization of marijuana and prostitution).
Anyway, I’m willing to try to work with people who have theories that might admit of such a strategy.
As for me, I’ll tell you now: I still favor the hypothesis that the correlation supports no particularly interesting inferences about concern over these two putative risk sources or about risk predispositions generally. I’m going to try to come with a model that I think would give that hypothesis a fair test. If there are others who feel that way, they are welcome to propose models that would help corroborate or disconfirm this hypothesis, too.
Okay . . . on you mark, get set,