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Do science curious evolution believers and science curious nonbelievers both like to go to the science museum? How about to gun shows?

As the 14 billion readers of this blog know, CCP and Annenberg Public Policy Center have teamed up with Tangled Bank Studios in an ongoing "Evidence based science filmmaking initiative."

I've described highlights from the first study (a more complete report on which can be downloaded here) in some earlier posts.  They include the development of a behaviorally validated "science curiosity" scale (one that itself involves performand and behavioral measures and not just self-reported interest ones), and the successful use of that scale to predict "engagement" --measured behaviorally, and not just with self-reported interest--in the cool Tangled Bank Studios documentary on evolution, Your Inner Fish.

Stay tuned for more reports about our findings in this ongoing project.

But for now, consider these interesting findings about the power of "SCS_1.0," the science curiosity scale we constructed, to predict one or another types of behavior.

The graphic shows, not surprisingly, that those who are more science curious are way more likely to do things like read science books and attend science museums.

Probably not that surprisingly, they might be slightly more likely to do other things, too, like go to an amusement park-- or even a gun show than science uncurious people.  But they really aren't much more likely to do those thngs than the average member of the population.

In addition to estimating the predicted mean probabilities for these activities conditional on science curiosity for the entire sample (a large nationally represenative one), I've also estimated the predicted mean probabilities for individuals who say they "do" and "don't believe in" human evolution:

One of the coolest things we found in ESFI Study No. 1 was that science curious individuals who "disbelieve in" evolution were just as engaged as science curious individuals who do believe in evolution.  In addition, they were both substantially more engaged than their science-noncurious counterparts, most of whom yawned and turned the show off after a couple of minutes, no doubt hoping that the survey would resume its focus on Honey Boo Boo, "Inflate-gate," and other non-science related topics used to winnow out those less interested in science than in other interesting things.

Individuals who "disbelieve" in evolution but who were high in science curiosity also indicated that they found the information in the documentary clip valid and convincing as an account of the origins of human color vision.

Of course, that didn't "change their minds" on evolution.  Their beliefs on that measure who they arenot what they know about science or what more they’d like to know about what human beings have discovered using science's signature methods of disciplined observation and inference.  The experience of watching the cool Your Inner Fish clip satisfied their appetite to know what science knows but it didn't make them into different people!

Indeed, I think it likely succeeded in the former precisely because it didn't evince any interest in accomplishing the latter.  It didn't put science curious people who have an identity associated with disbelief in evolution in the position of having to choose between being who they are and knowing what science knows.

Satisfying this criterion, which I've taken to calling the "disentanglement principle," is, I believe, a key element of successful science communication in pluralistic liberal society (Kahan 2015a, 2015b).

Anyway, check out what evolution believers & disbelievers do in their free time conditional on having the same level of science curiosity.  

Many of the same things -- but not all! 

I have ideas about what this means.  But I'm out of time for today!  So how about you tell me what you make of this?


Kahan, D.M. Climate-Science Communication and the Measurement Problem. Advances in Political Psychology 36, 1-43 (2015a).

 Kahan, D.M. What is the "science of science communication"? J. Sci. Comm, 14, 1-12 (2015b).



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Reader Comments (10)

Unsurprisingly, some people are just more curious than others, and htat's what the variation on the left-right axis captures. "Believing in evolution" seems to indicate that you're much less curious about religion - alternatively, people who "don't believe in evolution" are markedly interested in it. Interestingly, this goes against the stereotype that atheists tend to be better read in religion than believers.

Probably because atheists are just not that common in America.

I wonder what similar data from other countries would look like. You could disentangle which group(s) are actually socially responsible for the difference by looking at people who "believe" and "don't believe" in evolution in other countries - ideally, from both countries that do and don't speak English. Although I wonder if the distinction is as socially valid abroad as at home.

February 20, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon


I agree w/ you the most intriguing panel is the last one.

Your interpretation for sure is reasonable -- that curious evolution nonbelievers are evincing more curiosity than curious believers in religion... I mean that's what the data show, of course.

But to me what's interesting is that the *slopes* in last panel are equivalent; all the difference in likelihood of having read book on religion has to do with intercept for "believer/nonbeliever."

In other words, an evolution nonbeliever is more likely to have read a book on religion than an evolution believer at any level of science curiosity-- but the impact of increasing *science curiosity* in *raising* the likelihood of having read a book about religion in last yr *is same* for both evolution believers & nonbelievers.

Science curiosity makes you more curious about religion--no matter what you believe about evolution. The effect is obviously much more modest than the impact science curiosity has on reading science books or attending science museums. But just as you are a bit more likely to go to a gun show or an amusement part if you are science curious rather than science uncurious, you are more likely to have picked up a book on religion last yr & read it-- *regardless* of whether you have the sort of cultural identity indicated by belief in evolution or the identitiy indicated by disbelief in it.

Makes sense to me . . . .

February 20, 2016 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Good observation, Dan. Yeah, it seems that moving from 1st to 99% on science curiosity just about triples your odds of doing anything new that's not itself related to science, doesn't it? I think your observation argues for the existence of general curiosity. (As if we needed to be told that; parents have treated curiosity as a single motivation for a very long time.) It would be interesting to attempt to measure curiosity in general, and separate it from science curiosity.

To what extent are people induced to be curious or incurious about science by their religiosity as measured by evolution acceptance?

If you overlay the graphs for the whole population averages and the separated population averages, you get no separation, except in the last graph. That's what makes the last graph interesting.

In the last graph, by comparing where the average of the population is in relation to the two subpopulation means, you can get an estimate of the probability of evolution belief/nonbelief as a function of science curiosity. The population average is clearly driven on the left side of the graph by the evolution unbelievers, and on the right side by the evolution believers.

Which is to say that something in the water is causing evolution non-believers to be driven towards incuriosity about science; possibly even towards incuriosity in general. What these data suggest is that the people who disbelieve in evolution may not even be actively disbelieving it, by being skeptical about it and curious of its flaws and weaknesses as a theory; instead, they may be passively and incuriously disbelieving it.

If true, this has implications for science communication strategy. Incurious doctrines attack science on doctrinal grounds. Trying to fight them on doctrine may be futile. Maybe we scientists should be cultivating curiosity in our communications instead, trying to win on our own terms instead of theirs.

February 21, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon

@dypoon-- you can get info on disribution of science curiosity here

February 23, 2016 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@dypoon: Or that could just be the effect of whether you can afford to do all these things. I could see general science curiosity being correlated positively with income.

April 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMatt McIrvin

I argue in forums about evolution with folks who disbelieve evolutionary science quite a bit. While these folks may be 'science curious' as much as others, they are not engaged with science in the same ways and are a source of problems for our country. The fact that most such folks can't spell 'cat' much less grasp the science they are curious about is a rhetorical comment, granted,, but I think we are missing the point and measuring the wrong thing.

Folks with a scientific education at a college level surge ahead substantially in their understanding of the material, of course, but there is no such scientifically well educated large group among those who are 'curious' but do not believe that evolution is real. In other words, curiosity is not the most important measure; understanding is much more important. Scientific illiteracy in the USA is pervasive and influences the nature of these studies, I should think.

'Scientific curiosity among those who do not believe evolution' is how we got Intelligent Design, which has been basically classified as a 'non-science' equivalent to astrology and rejected by the whole of the professional scientific community. In other words, even highly intelligent people with high levels of scientific curiosity (and sometimes even science education!) can fail to grasp the basics sitting before them because they have a preexisting bias.

I'd therefore love to see this kind of sociology done on the basis of understanding evolution and 'preexisting religious bias' rather than 'scientific curiosity'.

April 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTom Walker

Tom writes: 'Scientific curiosity among those who do not believe evolution' is how we got Intelligent Design, which has been basically classified as a 'non-science' equivalent to astrology and rejected by the whole of the professional scientific community.

Suppose someone worked up with a theory of evolution to account for human consciousness and creativity in non-physicalist terms, though with no relation to Christianity. This might get those who do not believe in today's purely-physicalist theory to accept evolution. Is that desirable? Or would such a theory necessarily, because it treated consciousness and creativity as not entirely physical, be "classified as a 'non-science' equivalent to astrology and rejected by the whole of the professional scientific community"? If an agent of evolution is given consciousness and creativity like our own, does that automatically disqualify it?

I have posted such a theory at Is my attempt to come up with an evolutionary origin for non-physical consciousness and creativity doomed to failure because evolution may only be accounted for in purely physical terms, even though most people think their own minds are crucially non-physical, that they have free will?

October 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterShaun Johnston


Comtean commentary is misplaced entirely in a discussion about evolution and your article is simply wrong about evolution as mechanism. There was no evolution before genetics, by definition, nor are their "agents" involved.

The mechanism of evolution that brings about conscious mind as somehow separate from physical evolution is a non-topic with regard to religious belief. The evolution of mind is in some ways well understood in purely physical terms. A single codon with two point mutations, for instance, led to the development of the larger hominid brain and very likely gave rise to speech. It is not a far cry to understand how such a large change could have taken a self-aware animal mind and allowed it to become human over time, given that the enlarged physical support is present. We retain fully animal features psychologically that point to this process quite strongly.

On topic (the article is about science curiosity):

Religious anti-evolution nuts often have a high degree of "science curiosity" but their drive is not to figure out how mind arose; they already "know" that. Their investigations are curious but scientifically untrained and undisciplined, and their goal is apologetics in order to "disprove" evolution rather than any interest in real science.(The goal is cherry picking literature rather than real learning.)

The concept that the human mind is special because it is self-aware (or some other gauge of specialness) as a result of God's direct actions is a form of insanity that is not supported by the data. Chimps are self aware and have language capacity, as do dolphins and whales; those religious folks need to try again, but they can't start over because their world view is already skewed.

So what would allow a religiously-minded evolution denier to accept evolution? The only answer I have found so far is a willingness to drop the idea that the Bible is the perfect and inviolate literal word of God. Until that happens "science curious evolution non-believer" will remain one and the same as "apologetics-minded science denier." The science curiosity remains an untrained search for methods of supporting a literal Bible. Translation: ignorant ramblings of delusional and untrained fundamental Christians.

In large numbers.

October 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTom

Tom, I appreciate that your concern is primarily with creationists. The issue I raise is, I believe maybe a third of the population rejects the modern synthesis not out of Creationist sympathies but because physicalist theories of evolution fail to present them with a self evolved with free will, as commonly understood (free to some extent of physical determinism). Do their preferences matter? Is it legitimate to offer them a theory? Then everyone has a theory of their own. Physicalists have the modern synthesis, Creationists have Genesis, and non-physicalist atheists can have a new theory of their choice. That should probably put believers in evolution in the majority, just not a majority of physicalists. Would that be ok?

Note, I'm replying specifically to "Intelligent Design, which has been basically classified as a 'non-science' equivalent to astrology and rejected by the whole of the professional scientific community." A theory of evolution able to account for free will is likely to involve intelligent design. Does that by itself disqualify any new proposed theory of evolution? Are you declaring it illegitimate to want a theory of evolution able to account for consciousness and free will? Or a theory involving intelligent design, even if not Creationist?

October 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterShaun Johnston


To your point of addressing the "needs" of this non-creationist "middle ground":

No, they do not need "another" version of things in order to grasp the material, and no this is not about creationist idiots. Anyone who is genuinely "science curious" needs to be SCIENCE curious, not "wild-eyed theory" curious if they really want to get someplace with it.

"Popular" servings of scientific material are attempts to bring the data down to layman's level, and while that is wonderful it is also very often misleading. Lay people will never fully grasp science because they don't study the data in volumes or with discipline (such as "prerequisites"). It is one thing to say, for instance, "stars recycle elements from gas clouds in order to form the heavy atoms needed for planets and life to form." It is a VASTLY different matter to understand the mechanisms by which this occurs, and any commentary that people put forth *without* that basic understanding is very likely to become flawed the moment some yokel sticks his thumb in the pie and has an opinion. Creationism is simply the most visible and most egregious of these lunacies, which occur along a spectrum of understanding and opinion from "I really get it" to "I think I get it and I can tell God is behind this..."

That is how we have morons by the millions loudly saying that mankind has not had a hand in climate change. They find tidbits to back up their "scientific" opinion without *any* understanding of the data or the science.

We thus step quickly from "science curious" to "stupid ignoramus" in about a paragraph.

The science is precisely what it is, no more and no less. It may thus pay for a moment to back up and consider what science is. To the general population, "science" is some waffly opinion-filled theories, fully capable of debate. While that is brought out most clearly by young Earth nut cases, the point remains: People do not know what the heck they are referring to when they say the word "science," much less terms like "theory."

Science does not give a crap if a third of the populace wants to understand where free will came from or that they "don't like "physicalist" concepts of human origins." Tough bananas. The data is the data, and "data' - with no opinion - is the vast majority of science. The presence of theories is the (very thin veneer) cream at the top of science, the thin bit of concept that seeks to provide a framework for the data. Theory is the series of charts, graphs and statistical analyses that takes all the (verified and tested) data and finds the Big Red Line of a conclusion.

When there is no big red line on a chart (as with the origin of mind and free will), science simply does not have the data to give a good answer and all discussion is hypothetical. And it is also nonsense that the public latches onto with glee, regardless of the intention of the scientists working on it. That's how we have grand conclusions drawn from insufficient material like the claim of a young Earth because soft dinosaur tissue has been found. No such conclusion is possible to a scientist, and yet... people run with it, like mad.

There is no metaphysical science; start there.

Investigation into the evolution of the human mind is actually fairly well advanced in physical terms (for all it is very, very sketchy still), but there is nothing to latch onto for any historical perspective on how something like "free will" came about. For all we know, "free will" has simply always been part of animal existence, and the human desire to put some meaning on top of that is simply misguided crap. You grasp this? You want to explain to the populace the meaning of something that might have no meaning, and for which there is no evidence.

Not "some," not "that's possibly interesting"; none. Psychological studies do not grant us a sufficient window into the workings of the mind from any physical standpoint strong enough to answer such questions. When push comes to shove there is no answer at all because the question is psuedoscientific by nature.

If it cannot be reliably measured and if the theory cannot be disproved, it is simply off the table by definition. And thus such things become a topic for rampant public bullshit bolstered very improperly by the use of the word "science."

That does not mean that no progress is being made; quite the contrary (and it is such work that confuses the heck out of folks). Neuroscientists now have a very good handle on how evolutionary processes *may have* given rise to a lot of the workings of the human mind. There is good evidence for a physical trail of brain development running up to the present day as well, including the development of various lobes and specific areas in the brain - and even a fairly good grasp of small bits like the locus coeruleus that leave no evidence in the bone.

None of this kind of investigation can really answer the free will question, and certainly not in the way that laymen would appreciate.


My *opinion* is that free will has always existed in every animal form since the dawn of time and that the only meaningful bit of interpretation involved is understanding the point at which an organism gains the capacity for self-awareness *and* self-analysis. Humans are clearly not the only creatures with these capabilities, which to my way of thinking simply rips the band-aid off the idea of religious specialness.

October 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTom

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