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Science curiosity, not science literacy, is prime virtue in Liberal Republic of Science (here are my slides; see any glitches or mistakes?) 

Talking in few hours here at Northwestern University. Basic message/title of presentation:  "Comprehension without curiosity is no virtue, and curiosity without comprehension no vice." Sums up the quadrillions of studies finding that cognitive proficiency magnifies political polarization and the less-than-a-year's old research suggesting that science curiosity helps to offset this perverse dynamic.

If you hurry & look through, you can still advise me on what to say up until about noon US eastern time!

Watch out for your ears-- we're ready for a fookin good show!

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Reader Comments (19)

On #1 I think that it is important to note that it is just not toxic memes that cause some people to want to avoid topics that are disruptive to their current (or even slightly in the past) economic well being, their community structures and thus a substantial portion of their cultural identity. I think we should have more empathy for the Luddites. They were on the wrong side of "progress", but correct that this "progress" didn't help people like themselves. It was not until substantial other economic based initiatives, like unionization, income redistribution and expansion of access to opportunities were achieved that these science based technological improvements positively impacted average peoples daily lives. The "toxic memes" are actually part of a mechanism to limit their participation in the future and to preserve that of the oligarchs. Cleverly disguised by exploiting fears that change could leave people even worse off.

I think that #s 2-4 have to do with the importance of high quality education. Success with science is not just about science, or curiosity about science in and of itself. To achieve a mature democratic state, all individuals must have access and control to the means to practice curiosity and to make use of it. Which means that a society that is trending more and more towards centralization of wealth is contrary to encouraging curiosity. As are cultural systems that discourage individual thinking. Part of the purpose of public education is thus fundamentally disruptive of some people's cultural principles. This is why some groups, Amish as one more extreme example, actively avoid having their children exposed to public education as much as legally possible. Such education is also fundamentally disruptive to an entrenched oligarchy.

One of the major attempts to bring higher education to more Americans started with the land grant University system, initially created under the Morrill Act of 1862. Since that time, agricultural extension agents associated with many of these Universities have practiced methods of bringing scientific and technological new ideas to people who were entrenched in their ways and resistant to changing them.

The following link is to a group called ThinkWater, which is a US Department of Agriculture funded group originated with the University of Wisconsin Agricultural Extension Service. I've heard Jeremy Solin speak. I believe that their methods are good, albeit a little dogmatic. But I believe that what they call "systems thinking" is one implementation of your "scientific curiosity" above.

I believe that it is important to realize that "scientific curiosity" and "systems thinking" are fundamentally at odds with powerful forces that are actually more interested in producing good consumers for their dogmas and products rather than what is implied as good citizens above.

I disagree with the quote: "Comprehension without curiosity is no virtue, and curiosity without comprehension no vice." Random curiosity, without attempts at comprehension strikes me as nearly useless floundering around. Certainly it would not be developing the tools of evaluation of the best available evidence so crucial to science. On the other hand, comprehension without curiosity would at the very least leave one with the tools necessary to make good scientific evaluations should that individual be freed or inspired to be curious at some later date.

November 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

I disagree with the quote: "Comprehension without curiosity is no virtue, and curiosity without comprehension no vice." Random curiosity, without attempts at comprehension strikes me as nearly useless floundering around.

Dan, other than trying to be too cute by half with his Goldwater-esque masterpiece, is I think referencing the point that all low OSI people aren't as polarized as high OSI by that "...without comprehension" part. But, I don't think his data focus on any subgroup that has "curiosity without comprehension" independently of all that are "without comprehension". It might be the case that "curiosity without comprehension" is a worse-performing subgroup of "without comprehension", because for example they might be easily swayed by pseudo-science. However, I think Dan's point might still be that they wouldn't remain swayed by pseudo-science after seeing it debunked (and they would actively look for debunking resources themselves). But this might still make them more dangerous than low-OSI low-curiosity types who don't require endless debunking resources.

I think this is a valid criticism, although not Daisy-esquely devastating.

November 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

link drop:

The greatest predictor of student evolution acceptance was greater understanding of the nature of science, which includes recognizing the types of questions science can answer and how the scientific method is used to test hypotheses. Intrinsic religiosity, the extent to which an individual relies on religion for decision and opinion making, was also an important factor, but to a lesser extent.

Understanding of the nature of science was the single most important factor associated with acceptance of evolution in our study and explained at least four times more variation than measures of evolutionary knowledge.

So, perhaps, the reason OSI fails is that it is too first-level fact focused - one may need to look at higher-level (epistemological) science beliefs and behaviors (not just curiosity).

November 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

I know that you're asking for proofreading - but what the hey.

#1 really does seem to me to be a pretty big logical jump...from correlation to causation.

Identity-protective reasoning (including motivated System 2 reasoning) results not from bounded rationality but rather form a polluted science communication environment....

Identity-protective reasoning exists in all kinds of environments, not just "science-communication" environments (whatever that means).

It exists in environments were "communication" is not so much the driver in comparison to the strength of identity orientations. For example, if I'm arguing with a Celtics fan about who is the better young player, Brown or Simmons, we would both likely be subject to identity-protective reasoning (as Sixers and Celtics fans, respectively) w/o there really being much "pollution" in the context. Looks like a chicken-versus egg dilemma, to me. I don't suggest that it's either chicken or egg, but that it's likely some kind of bidirectional interaction, which also is likely affected by a moderator (or even a mediator).

November 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

asymmetric link drop:

Researchers found that the areas of the brain used to monitor conflict and evaluate information were more active on incongruent trials for liberal participants compared to conservative participants, especially when they evaluated “in-group,” or same-party, candidates.

non-paywall (but non-downloadable) version of paper:

November 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan


Simmons would be on his way to being a KG-like monster if he were coached by Stevens.

November 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Jonathan -

Yeah, Stevens is remarkable. 13 in a row as of tonight. I'm not feeling good about this.

BTW, seen this?:

Why does belief in the paranormal, conspiracy theories, and various other phenomena that are not backed up by evidence remain widespread in modern society? In the present research we adopt an individual difference approach, as we seek to identify psychological precursors of skepticism toward unfounded beliefs. We propose that part of the reason why unfounded beliefs are so widespread is because skepticism requires both sufficient analytic skills, and the motivation to form beliefs on rational grounds. In Study 1 we show that analytic thinking is associated with a lower inclination to believe various conspiracy theories, and paranormal phenomena, but only among individuals who strongly value epistemic rationality. We replicate this effect on paranormal belief, but not conspiracy beliefs, in Study 2. We also provide evidence suggesting that general cognitive ability, rather than analytic cognitive style, is the underlying facet of analytic thinking that is responsible for these effects.

November 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua


I've seen things like it, but not with the claim "...but only among individuals who strongly value epistemic rationality". Too bad I can't find a non-paywall version, as I'd like to know what they mean by that.

BTW: GSW visits the Gaahden Thursday.

November 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan


You state but do not demonstrate II in the slide above.

Your slide 79 shows that Rep / Cons are moved more towards a scientific consensus with higher Science Curiosity for global warming, yet more away from a scientific consensus with higher SC for fracking. If the scientific consensuses are your gold standard for what is correct, then this outcome is inconsistent with your statement in II.

November 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

Jonathan -

I'd like to know what they mean by that.

And there I was hoping that I could count on you to explain it.

If the Celts beat the Dubs, I'm may have to eat my Embid jersey.

November 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Andy-- I'm not sayihg that curiosity leads to truth, necessarily, only that it mitigates polarization. I did state somethings w/o putting in slides but the best proof thhat science curiosity mitigates is the information-search experiment

November 15, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan


But surely one cannot draw the conclusion from your presented slide 79, that SC mitigates polarization. In your LHS charts, the greater polarization you claim is mitigated occurs with increasing OSI. The fact that there is not amplified polarization with an increasing 'something else' on the X axis that is not OSI, which something happens to be SC, does not tell you what would happen in an actual society if you used whatever means to strongly promote SC, because there is likely a complex and unknown relationship between the components of OSI and SC, with time-domain factors also in play (curiosity often leading to increased knowledge later, for instance). In the less likely case that OSI and SC are fully independent, well you could use increasing love of chocolate on the X Axis instead, and surely this wouldn't produce amplified polarization either. But this doesn't mean that advocating a greater love of chocolate would mitigate the polarization, unless you succeeded to the degree that the foremost thing constantly on the public's mind was chocolate, which displaced all other considerations; but this probably wouldn't be a very productive society. In the end, SC is not a reasoning disposition, which your linked paper states yet you've agreed later is not the case. Given also that curiosity is generally considered an emotion, then intuitively, encouraging any emotive response (culture, the source of the problem in the first place, is also based on emotive responses) does not seem like a great starting base to achieve a more reasoning society. The unreason will likely just be of a different flavor.

And regarding truth, as you note, the slide 79 indication (albeit from a sample of only 2 domains) that SC may just as often land on the wrong side as the right side (and how would this not be the case with more samples??), is definitely germane to your message of advocating SC for a better society and 'good citizenship', whether or not it mitigates polarization. Lets say it does. If the means by which this occurs is to get more people leaning 'correct' in some cases, but more leaning 'incorrect' in others, the net change over all domains will be zero, despite there is less polarization within any single domain. This would just change the nature of the contest and where the battle lines are drawn, yet not assist overall.

November 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

P.S. can you point me to an easy-peasy summary of the Information-Search Experiment, if such exists.

November 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

@Andy-- it's discussed in this paper

November 16, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

link drop - the paywall cartel has been at it longer than previously thought:

Break the paywall cartel and help the science curious, actively open minded, and/or epistemically rational!

November 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan


Hmmm... this is the one that starts off by framing SC as a reasoning disposition, which you later agreed it is not. After the SC scale / measurement section, the crux of the issue rests in the same charts as slide 79 in your presentation, already commented on above. High SC grants its own characteristics, which per your excellent measurements do not include an amplification of polarization such as occurs with high OSI. Yet you have not shown that such characteristics would mitigate the observed amplification of polarization with increasing OSI, or what would happen generally in society if higher SC was much more strongly encouraged throughout, with the intent of mitigation (as you advocate). However, working with the impression that SC is a reasoning disposition, hence presumably similar to OSI in some fashion, would I guess lead one much more readily to suspect that the proposition had stronger legs.

November 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West


"If the Celts beat the Dubs, I'm may have to eat my Embid jersey."

Keep it - it may be worth something someday.

November 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Well, I'd have to actually buy one first. That said, after 46, 15, 7, and 7 the other night, the expense might be justified.

As for last night, it's awfully tough to win when it's 5 against 7. Foul shots 37 to 19 in favor of Boston. Of course, rooting against the Celtics has nothing to do with my assessment that the refs were in the tank for Boston. I am scientifically curious and not very cognitively proficient, so I'm pretty much immune to motivated reasoning.

November 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua


as I recall, you once mentioned the original poverty-trumps-genes theory:

Some studies suggest that the difference in genetic influence between rich and poor families is particularly pronounced in the U.S., but the Florida data, which includes records of siblings and twins, calls this idea into question, the researchers said.
Unfortunately, the paper is paywalled.

November 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

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