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« Only in the Liberal Republic of Science . . . religious individuals trust science more than organized religion! | Main | Here you go -- Science of Science Communication session 6 reading list »

Next week's talks

Will send postcards.


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Reader Comments (16)

You and Gauchat together should be interesting.

February 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua-- He's super smart guy. I like him a lot.

February 24, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Please do send postcards! But I think that you should be very aware that your travels take you from one ivory tower to the next, so that minus a few architectural details, like USC's tile roofs, on a globalized basis, you are traveling in place.

I'd love to take you to a few less lofty places. My favorite selection this morning is Burlington, in far eastern Colorado. An interesting play on water law politics (which drained a reservoir and closed a popular state park), commoditization of grains, circle irrigation and the Ogallala aquifer, wind turbines, and the private prison industry: . I'm interested in the cultural cognative implications of the private prison company renaming itself CoreCivic rather than Corrections Corporation of America. Also what's with the closure now? I'm wondering if Burlington somehow wasn't remote enough for them and they are concentrating operations in states with less potential oversight. Another recently discovered location would be the Flying M cafe in Panguitch, Utah. Where the locals are digging up coal and hauling it off in trucks. Not sure of the details, but the energy balance would be questionable to me. I'm guessing that environmental remediation of federal lands is not factored in. On the other hand the tourist business at the cafe from those of us interested in seeing all of those federal lands locked up as National Monuments is a bit thin this time of year. Plus, I think it would be amusing to send a group of east coast academics in a tour bus down this eroding, very narrow, but highly scenic highway:

Gauchat does seem to be interesting!  I've gotten as far as these two articles:  

  In the very short term, I'm hoping that science communicators can come up with guidelines that aid in those either directly preparing for the upcoming March for Science, and/or wondering what after the fact damage control will be effective when some of those who do participate are highlighted in polarizing and non actually science-favorable ways by the media.

Longer term, I'd like to see Team Academic Cultural Cognative Sciences come up with a battle plan to defend the liberal republic of science and combat the evil twins to this communication effort:

But for starters, I think that much greater clarity needs to be used as to what is meant by “science”. I'd start with the work of Peter Dear: Science,as developed in the European "Western" tradition, is both a knowledge base and a basis for implementing technological changes in the manner in which things are done.

The 2012 Gauchat articles above, has some intriguing references to the impacts of NeoLiberalism on science, as well as the impacts of what is frequently characterized as the “Republican War on Science”. I like the manner in which he is trying to evaluate left/right political identity, using biblical literalism, authoritarianism, and neoliberal beliefs. In my opinion, this gets closer to a profile that can more accurately model the public identities.

I think that issues of implementation of science informed polices is the root of distrust of “science” both on the right and the left. From the 2012 Gauchat link above:

“Notably, the emergence of “neoliberal sci-
ence” as an alternative to regulatory regimes
has coincided with increasing distrust of sci-
ence among conservatives. Changes in the
organization of science include (1) increased
government outlays to private corporations
rather than universities; (2) intellectual prop-
erty rights restricting public access to scien-
tific knowledge; and (3) reversal of the
postwar trend of viewing teaching and research
as mutually reinforcing activities “

I don't think that the above affects only conservatives. IMHO, distrust leads to answers on polling questions that imply rejection of not really science, but the manner in which science is implemented. This arises from the public using a sort of shorthand manner of pigeonholing things. For example, if I inquire of someone wanting a “chemical free” product, if they understand that everything is made of chemicals, they assure me that they do understand that, but that is “not what they mean” when they say “chemical free”, they mean that they want something that is “natural”. This is more of an anti-corporate argument than an anti-science one. Similarly, people who state their disbelief in climate change, may really mean that they don't want to see changes in our fossil fuel based economic structure. I think that this is demonstrated by Dan's work on geoengineering. Reassured that any climate problems can be fixed later if necessary, people are much more likely to accept the idea that change is actually happening now. People who oppose GMOs may have nothing against the science of genomics, but rather the Big Ag implementations.

In my opinion, academia needs to pay much greater attention to the educational failures that occurred with the university model that tried to merge teaching and research and how in fact they were not, in many instances, mutually re-enforcing. Purdue is an example of a university that is beginning to pay attention to this. But what has it meant for the state of Indiana that for years they took their best and brightest high school graduates enrolled them in freshman science and engineering large lecture classes and then bounced them right out again? I also beleive that those of you residing in the tallest ivory towers have little knowledge that a college education is not a universally standardized thing. Even successful graduates from some schools may have only a sketchy background in science. For example, it is entirely possible to have a 4 year degree without expanding upon knowledge of Biology beyond high school. Or, as in my case, have a gob of science classes without any real academic education in philosophy. And two year degrees may be entirely jobs oriented.

I also think that a little historical perspective is in order. The US government has long linked technological “Scientific Progress” with support of industry: Most of the National Laboratories operate on a government owned, contractor operated model, some by universities by others by corporations: Much of industrial science has taken place in an atmosphere of secrecy, we may be returning in that direction (but it is not new). We've long had a military-industrial complex. Privatization of space exploration may be new. But in some ways there is less private basic R&D than in the days of Bell Labs or Parc.

A lot of the decisions regarding governmentally supported research directions and resulting policies have been quite controversial. The chasm between Robert Openheimer and Edward Teller. The controversy between the Salk and Sabin versions of the polio vaccine. Expenditures on social services or exploration of space, Manned or unmanned space flight. Allocation of funding for high or low profile diseases. High or low fat and sugar in diet. In a wide variety of regulatory matters, “How safe is safe enough?” is not a readily answerable question.

In my opinion, one of the most potentially interesting speakers at this event will be Arati Prabhakar. I think that Prabhakar ought to be able to offer some interesting perspectives as to new as well as long term governmental and industrial interrelationships, as well as offer insight as to how new science informed technologies can potentially disruptively change our future and challenge peoples roles within socio-economic structures.

But again, I think that much more clarity is needed as to what is meant by “science' and what it means to support science or not support science. There must be some way to communicate science while leaving the directions and manner of “Scientific Progress” open to public debate. Because at the heart of todays controversy is the current pace of disruptive change. As was the case of the first industrial revolution, only an elite few are early benificiaries, and their inclination is to attempt to lock that advantage in place. What happens next is the crux of the national debate, even if we are covering that issue up with a number of circus and gladiator sideshows.

February 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis


In scanning Gauchat's 2015 article, and comparing it to some of his work I read earlier, it seems he is moving towards giving less weight to the role of religious beliefs in explaining his results on "trust" in science. I'm dubious. I don't see how the growth of the degree to which the religious right influenced the right more generally could teased out from a concurrent shift in their views towards our society's institutionalization of science. I do think, however, that most of the movement there happened a few decades ago, to the effect is essentially "baked in." But it is interesting that Gauchat's newer analysis argues that religious beliefs is not very explanatory.

=={ I like the manner in which he is trying to evaluate left/right political identity, using biblical literalism, authoritarianism, and neoliberal beliefs. In my opinion, this gets closer to a profile that can more accurately model the public identities. {==

I agree to an extent, but I still think that there is a methodological problem for assessing any association between beliefs structures (such as "neoliberalism or authoritarianism" with factors such as views on science. For example, when Gauchat talks about "neoliberalism" he speaks of

—opposition to
government intervention into the economy and progressive social welfare policies.

I have little doubt that when conducting polling, it would seem easy to identify a "neoliberal" type by virtue of answers to questions such as "Do you think that the government should intervene in the economy?" or "Are you in favor of progressive social welfare?" However, don't forget the old "Keep your goddamn government hands off my Medicare." Indeed, look at how public opinions on Obamacare are changing now that people are being threatened with losing the insurance it provides. Look at the sizable differences between polling results in favorability for "Obamacare" versus "The America Care Act."

February 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua


I agree with you. Generalizations are difficult. Polling questions so inadequate. I still like Gauchat's attempts at broadening beyond a linear Left/Liberal/Democrat and Right/Conservative/Republican. Perhaps the world according to Facebook will run circles around everything else:

February 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

Another postcard, compressed video really, that I should have sent is the drive along I5 in California's San Joaquin Valley (the south end of the Central Valley). This area was a giant monoculture of almonds in bloom, all being pollinated by bees in hives brought in (I read someplace) from 26 states. Too many bees met their end on our windshield. Some of the orchards, towards the southern end of the valley in particular, have been torn up and the dead trees are lying in giant piles. This results from both water shortages and pricing. Much of the San Joaquin valley is subsiding due to acute drops in groundwater. This is big time corporate farming. Fields expand: Fields contract:

I think that it is important to realize, that these corporations, are, as are fossil fuel corporations, location independent. Multinational. Of more immediate concern to Dan's Kentucky farmer than those above are current expansions of Amazon rain forest clearing, because soy is a favored crop:\ Who needs Kentucky? Who needs even California?

Of central concern when it comes to the topic of the above meeting, is that for those in positions of power, the corporations and wealthy interests who fund the politicians, even if not the politicians or their constituents themselves, the facts are well known. They do not need persuading, they simply don't give a damn. Everybody else is mostly just after a days work and a days pay. At the lowest level, think of the almond field workers. Should they be concerned that the orchards they care for may not be sustainable? Might seem largely irrelevant with so much immediate concern directed at the possibility of non documented immigrant deportations.

February 26, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

"Of central concern when it comes to the topic of the above meeting, is that for those in positions of power, the corporations and wealthy interests who fund the politicians, even if not the politicians or their constituents themselves, the facts are well known. They do not need persuading, they simply don't give a damn."

I don't know. It's certainly possible. The question is:- should they?

Consider your point about people being concerned about "chemicals".

For example, if I inquire of someone wanting a “chemical free” product, if they understand that everything is made of chemicals, they assure me that they do understand that, but that is “not what they mean” when they say “chemical free”, they mean that they want something that is “natural”. This is more of an anti-corporate argument than an anti-science one.

OK. Corporations know that the products they sell contain chemicals that are "not natural" (whatever that means). And yes, they simply don't give a damn - except to the extent that it impacts their sales, and to the extent that they could get higher prices if they can somehow sell them with a "natural" label. Should they?

You have one set of people believing that the uncaring corporate world are poisoning them with toxic artificial chemicals (as seen in the famous "dihydrogen monoxide" case), and you have another set of people who regard it as unscientific nonsense, and that there's no difference between "natural" and "artificial" instances of the same chemical (like if you burn hydrogen to produce water, is that now an "artificial" chemical? And what happens when the artificial water gets mixed in with the natural water?! How the heck do you filter it out again?!!), and that there are a huge number of "natural" chemicals that are extremely toxic, and a huge range of "artificial" ones that are inert.

Should the former sort of people be angry that the latter *know* the products they sell are artificial, and just don't give a damn? Should the latter be angry that the unscientific nonsense put out by the former results in them having to wade through all sorts of expensive regulations and checks to get any products out, only to be told that they've got to stop selling it and their entire investment (and a whole lot of jobs) has just gone down the pan because some random journalist has claimed that one of the artificial ingredients is slightly carcinogenic? And do the protestors give a damn about what they've just done to several thousand people's livelihoods and life savings?

There's a clash on values, as well as a clash on "facts". But most of the facts are in fact agreed. People who oppose artificial chemicals often 'know' that artificial chemicals can be safe and natural ones can be dangerous, and often that the distinction between them is poorly defined. The producers are likewise well aware that there have been cases of toxic substances being included in products and harming people.

It's not the facts that are truly in dispute; it's the balance of risk and burden of proof. One side acknowledges that some artificial chemicals are innocent, but takes it as given that we should assume guilt until that it proven beyond reasonable doubt. The other side acknowledges that some artificial chemicals are guilty, but that we should assume innocence until guilt is proven beyond reasonable doubt. And like any lawyer arguing the case for their client, they'll one-sidedly highlight those facts that help their case and try to downplay or knock down those that don't, because they know that if they were to be fair and balanced and the other side aren't, they'll lose the argument.

I put it to you that - as in a court case - we need *both* sides. Each side has their own blind spots. The other side's motivations make them especially good at spotting the holes and flaws in their opponent's arguments. You need people to argue for new products that make everybody's lives better. And you need people to keep watch for potentially dangerous products. I have to say, I think it would be better if the people keeping watch were able to distinguish actual threats from dihydrogen monoxide, but that's something that can be solved with education. Teach them to be better and more effective watchdogs. However, it's the intellectual diversity they represent that constitutes their real strength. We don't want to lose that.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

I agree with NiV regarding intellectual diversity. I think that the problem we face is the acute imbalance of power in making those "how safe is safe enough" decisions.

In my opinion, one big narrative form that helps public understanding of science is that of new advances coming from "standing on the shoulders of giants". This enables relationships between what is new and what has been previously understood, and allows for descriptions that are clearly based on explaining the preponderance of the evidence.

Structures in which scientific endeavors are funded and rewarded can thwart this. Nobel prizes are awarded to select individuals or small groups and don't acknowledge the many efforts of others to get to that point. And then there are patents.

I think that problems with GMOs come first from it's apparent isolation from what has gone on before. First, scientists themselves, their academic publicists, and those hoping for commercial profits touted this as as not only an important breakthrough, but very new and novel. This was accentuated by the fact that public understanding of previous hybridization methods was generally limited to an idealized vision of a scientist laboriously cross breeding, looking at the results and cross breeding again, over a number of generations. This had nothing to do with much of the commercialized actual practice which relied on much quicker methods such as radiation induced mutation. Then, when methods were commercialized by Big Ag interests we got plants that were amenable to more amenable to their own economic benefit. Able to withstand their brand of herbicide, rather than stronger and more resilient, more like the weeds that they compete with. We have yet to effectively use the science of genomics to go back and analyze where, in the process of previous breeding methods we have lost nutritional value.

The new technology of CRISPR is already running into difficulties well worth discussing at a law school meeting regarding trust of science. Much of the narrative of how this technology was developed will potentially be lost in the patent fight atmosphere of winners and losers. And more concerningly, rather than a broad based effort going forward leading to a multitude of discoveries in different directions, future work will have to be fed through the needle of patent ownership.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

Some new results on a related topic:

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

jonathan -


Do you suppose the the overall (mostly non- effect) that you observed might hide balancing effects associated with contrasting ideological viewpoints?

IMO, that could be the case somewhat, although I would guess that a reported effect would likely only reflect an ideological reinforcement (in other words, libertarians, who would already distrust climate scientists would say that issue advocacy would reduce their trust, but in reality there was no actual shift - seems to me that the only way to judge would be with a pre/post-test methodology).

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

jonathan -

Oops. Apologies... I just skimmed before I asked those questions and when I went back I saw that you did evaluate for political ideology. Will go back now and actually read the paper.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"Some new results on a related topic:"

Interesting result.

My first thought was that the negative result was because as soon as it became clear it was a pro-consensus climate scientist/meteorologist, everyone decided they knew where he was coming from politically and subsequent statements had no effect. (Nobody makes a special point of saying CO2 reached 400 ppm unless they have a political point to make.) The only one that did was when he advocated nuclear power, which doesn't fit the political stereotype, and I hypothesise that was mainly liberals being put off by a policy disfavoured by liberals.

Then I noted that they do actually discuss this possibility. (Well done!) Unfortunately, I don't follow their reasons for thinking the results contradict it.

Their first argument is that while views on climate science are polarised, views on the credibility of climate scientists are not. This, I think, is because about 10-20% of climate scientists are climate sceptical - there are a significant number of climate scientists that climate sceptics trust and respect. But trust in climate scientists generally doesn't necessarily translate to trust for a specific climate scientist who has identified which side he's on.

The authors evidently have a different interpretation, though. Perhaps that people agree more on the impartiality of scientists, while having set views on the correctness of their conclusions. Unfortunately, they don't expand on their reasoning here, so I'm having to guess.

Their second argument, being that the counter-hypothesis ignores the effect seen in the case of nuclear power, doesn't apply to my variant. They give no reason for thinking that the difference isn't because nuclear power doesn't fit the political stereotype, while all the other statements do.

I've been trying to think of a way to test the difference, and I can't think of an easy one. If it's preconceptions about the political stereotype, perhaps it could be tested by offering other ways in which statements didn't fit the prior expectations? Perhaps you could ask subjects to predict what they thought the scientist's other views would be? If someone just says "I talk about the recent discovery that levels of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in our atmosphere have reached 400 parts per million," is that sufficient (in the eyes of the public) to deduce all his other views on the remaining questions? If so, then all the options obviously give equivalent information, and so might be expected to have a similar effect.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Don't confuse me with any of the authors on that paper. I'm just some science-curious dude who stumbled on it. Too many people named John/Jonathan, I guess.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan


February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"The only one that did was when he advocated nuclear power, which doesn't fit the political stereotype, and I hypothesise that was mainly liberals being put off by a policy disfavoured by liberals."

Perhaps the only effect here is that advocacy of nuclear power by climate scientists is just not a widely publicized view, hence it sounds controversial and impacts credibility that way.

February 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

"Perhaps the only effect here is that advocacy of nuclear power by climate scientists is just not a widely publicized view, hence it sounds controversial and impacts credibility that way."

Could be.

It's one on which the climate scientists are divided, but the liberals less so.

There are a significant number of consensus climate scientists who, being liberals, don't like nuclear power, but say the planetary emergency of climate change makes it necessary. They're supposedly letting their scientific rationality overrule their politics, and trying to be consistent. Others stick to the liberal line, insist that cutting emissions and switching to renewables is sufficient, and there's no need to open the Pandora's box of nuclear power. I think a lot of anti-nuclear, anti-pollution, anti-industry, anti-corporation liberals think the former type are wrong. For many, it's not about climate specifically, but just a generalised opposition to all these 'dirty factories' and general consumerism. Turning to nuclear power surrenders on the wider economic point.

I think it's fairly well publicised that some climate scientists have supported the nuclear alternative, but it's perceived as a minority view. In the absence of any information to the contrary, I'd think the default assumption would be that a pro-consensus climate scientist would stick to the liberal position. Finding out that they hold the 'wrong' position on it impacts their credibility with liberals. And wouldn't give much of a boost from conservatives, who take their 'wrong' position on climate change as the more significant.

I'm guessing based on my experiences talking to people on both sides of the debate. But as Joshua has previously pointed out to me, my experience isn't representative of the general population. It needs further investigation.

February 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

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