"Now I'm here ... now I'm there ...": If you look, our dualistic identity-expressive/science-knowledge-acquiring selves go through only one slit
Tuesday, April 12, 2016 at 9:20AM
Dan Kahan

From correspondence with a thoughtful person: on the connection between the "toggling" of identity-expressive and science-knowledge-revealing/acquiring information processing & the "science communication measurement problem."

So tell me what you think of this:


I think it is a variant of [what Lewandowsky & Kirsner (2000) call] partitioning.

When the "according to climate scientists ..." prefix is present, the subjects access "knowledge of science"; when it is not, they access "identity-enabling knowledge" -- or some such.  

Why do I think that?

Well, as you know,  it's not easy to do, but it is possible to disentangle what people know from who they are on climate change with a carefully constructed climate-science literacy test.

Of course, most people aren't very good climate-science literacy test takers ("they can tell us what they know -- just not very well!"). The only people who are particularly good are those highest in science comprehension.

Yet consider this!

"WTF!," right?

I had figured the "person" who might help us the most to understand this sort of thing was the high science-comprehension "liberal/Democrat."

She was summoned, you see, because some people thought that the reason the high science-comprehension "conservative/republican"  "knows" climate change will cause flooding when the prefix is present yet "knows" it won't otherwise is that  he simply "disagrees" with climate scientists; b/c he knows they are corrupt, dishonest, stupid commies" & the like.

I don't think he'd say that, actually. But I've never been able to find him to ask...

So I "dialed" the high-science comprehension "liberal/democrat."

When you answer " 'false' " to " 'according to climate scientists,  nuclear generation contributes to global warming,'" I asked her, "are you thinking, 'But I know better--those corrupt, stupid, dishonest commies'  or the like?"

"Don't be ridiculous!," she said. "Of course climate scientists are right about that-- nuclear power doesn't emit CO2 or any other greenhouse gas. "  "Only an idiot," she added, "would see climate scientists as corrupt, stupid, dishonest etc."  A+!

So I asked her why, then, when we remove the prefix, she does say that nuclear power causes  global warming.

She replied: "Huh? What are you talking about?"

"Look," I said, "it's right here in the data: the 'liberal democrats' high enough in science comprehension to know that nuclear power doesn't cause global warming 'according to climate scientists' are the people most likely to answer 'true' to the statement 'nuclear power generation contributes to global warming' when one removes the 'according to climate scientists' prefix. "

"Weird," she replied.  "Who the hell are those people? For sure that's not me!"

Here's the point: if you look, the high-science comprehension "liberal/democrat" goes through only one slit. 

If you say, "according to climate scientists," you see only her very proficient science-knowledge acquirer self.

But now take the prefix away and "dial her up" again, and you see someone else--or maybe just someone's other self.

"That's a bogus question," she insists. "Nuclear power definitely causes global warming; just think a bit harder-- all the cement . . . .  Hey, you are a shill for the nuclear industry, aren't you!"



... She has been forced to be her (very proficient) identity-protective self.

And so are we all by the deformed political discourse of climate change ...

"Here I stand . . . "


Lewandowsky, S. & Kirsner, K. Knowledge partitioning: Context-dependent use of expertise. Memory & Cognition 28, 295-305 (2000).

Article originally appeared on cultural cognition project (http://www.culturalcognition.net/).
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