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Saturday
Aug222015

Weekend update: Who really did write the CRT-evolution paper then?

So Will Gervais has a very artful response to my post on his evolution-CRT paper.

The gist of it is that I mischarcterized his views -- that I was addressing some other "Will Gervais," who subscribes to positions wholly unrelated to his.

For sure people should read (a) his paper, (b) my post, & (c) his blog, so they can form their own view.

But I have to say that I find Will's eagerness to distance himself from the position I attributed to him perplexing.

Gervais (I think it was him!) wrote in Cognition

Many supernatural beliefs come easily to people, perhaps because they are supported by a variety of core intuitive processes. As with creationism, reliably developing intuitions support the mental representation of supernatural agents, such as God. However, dual process approaches to cognition suggest that at times people are able to analytically inhibit or override their intuitions.

[P]eople who are more willing or able to engage analytic thinking might be more likely to endorse evolution than people who tend to trust their intuitions. If true, then measures of analytic thinking should predict greater endorsement of evolution. In the present paper, two large studies tested this core hypothesis.

He concludes that his data support this conjecture:

Two studies revealed that—consistent with dual process approaches to cog nition in general, and supernatural cognition in particular—an analytic cognitive style predicts increased endorsement of evolution. Reliably developing intuitions may give creationist views an early cognitive advantage. This early advantage also is likely bolstered by early  enculturation advantages for  creationist, rather than evolutionary, concepts in many cultural contexts. However,  individuals who are better able to analytically control their thoughts are more likely to eventually endorse evolution’s role in the diversity of life and the origin of our species.

Re-analyzing his data, and primarily just showing what the actual raw data look like, I argued that the results of his study didn't support his hypothesis.  That they didn't come anywhere close to supporting it.  

The impact of the disposition to rely on "analytic" as opposed to "intuitive" thinking (measured by the CRT) was "statistically significant" but practically irrelevant. Even the most "analytic" thinkers in Gervais's sample did not endorse a conception of evolution free of divine agency--i.e., did not accept science's own conception of evolution as reflected in the modern synthesis.

The "Will Gervais" who wrote the very interesting Cognition paper states "analytic thinking consistently predicts endorsement of evolution."

But it doesn't. The (very modest incremental) effect of CRT on increased endorsement of evolution was confined to relatively non-religious subjects. Among relatively religious individuals, those who displayed the highest degree of cognitive reflection weren't any more likely to endorse science's account of the natural history of human beings than ones who scored the lowest.  

That's not what we'd expect to see if in fact disbelief in evoultion reflected a deficit in the capacity and motivation to engage in System 2 reasoning.

This result is consistent, however, with an alterative hypothesis.  At least modestly supported by existing researchthis rival position denies that cognitive reflection is something antagonistic to formation of and persistence in culturally identity-defining beliefs that are opposed to scientific evidence.

On the contrary, according to this theory, individuals will use all of the cognitive resources at their disposal to form and persist in beliefs that express their cultural identities on facts that come to symbolize their group allegiances. We should thus expect those most proficient in conscious, effortful, "System 2" analytic reasoning to be even more divided on issues like climate change & evolution than those inclined to rely on "intuitive" System 1 reasoning.

Gervais's data lends more support to that hypothesis than to what he describes as his own "core hypothesis": that "measures of analytic thinking should predict greater endorsement of evolution." 

I'm pretty sure that's all I said in my post, so I'm confused about why Gervais thinks I was mischaracterizing him (maybe he was blogging about another "Dan Kahan"?!).

Gervais complains that the media mischaracterized his study, too. So I took a look at the very impressive volume of press coverage the Cognition study generated.

For sure the media can get things horribly wrong, particularly when a researcher is reporting on how cognitive biases can influence perceptions of disputed issues in science.

But here, I think the media got it right.  Or at least they accurately reported the finding that the "Will Gervais" who authored the article in Cognition unambiguously purported to make: "individuals who are more prone and/or able to engage in analytic thinking to override their intuitions were more likely to endorse evolution."

So I'm really curious now to know who that "Will Gervais" is.  I'd also like to know what the Will Gervais who responded to me in his blog post thinks about that other Will Gervais' Cognition study; I gather he (the blog-post author Gervais) is largely in agreement with me that that the Cognition study drew conclusions not supported by the data that Gervais (not sure at this point which one) uploaded to the Cognition site.

Finally and most important of all, I'd really really like to know what the Gervais who wrote the Cognition article has to say in response to to the substance of points I made.  

The questions the study addressed are really interesting & important. They are also hard; he might point out that there's something I missed--or some additional insight to be gained from the data on the relative strengths of his hypothesis and mine--in which case, I'd like to know that!

I hope that Will Gervais joins the discussion, too.

(Note: I'm closing off comments here; readers should post their responses in the comment thread for my original post-- a more sensible place, I think, for discussion. By all means respond if you have thoughts!)

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