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« What do you make of *this*? More on partisan differences in trustworthiness of "university" scientists | Main | What can we *really* conclude from the GSS's 2010 item on the risk of GM/GE crops? An expert weighs in »
Thursday
Mar232017

Should I update my priors on partisanship & trust in industry vs. university scientists? By how much & in what direction?!

I'm still stuck in GSS can.  Actually, it's more like a bag of potato chips; you can't stop munching until you've emptied the thing.

But anyway, the 2006 GSS had an item that solicited respondents' attitudes toward "industry" vs. "university scientists." 

Well, "we all know" that conservatives hold university scientists in contempt for their effeminate, elitist ways & that liberals regard industry scientists as shills.

But here's what GSS says about partisanship & industry vs. university scientists . . . .

 WEKS strikes again?.. Or is this just more survey artifact?

Maybe this ...

is more informative?  Or will people w/ different priors just disagree about the practical significance of this difference in the probability of finding industry scientists less reliable than university ones?...

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Reader Comments (10)

Ok. That's just weird.

March 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

I'm curious what the surrounding questions were? If this was in the context of climate change (or even GMOs), I might be surprised. If this was in the context of, say, computer technology, I'd be unsurprised. Out of context, I'm not sure what industry would immediately come to mind.

I like the second graph, although I'd extend the axis out to 1. (People with different priors will still probably disagree about the practical significance, but people without priors will more easily see the scale of the difference.)

March 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMW

MW -

=={ I'm curious what the surrounding questions were? If this was in the context of climate change (or even GMOs), I might be surprised. If this was in the context of, say, computer technology, I'd be unsurprised. Out of context, I'm not sure what industry would immediately come to mind. }==

Perhaps. But what would be weird to me is to get this kind of results if it isn't in any particular context, just a general framework.

This goes back to a basic confusion hat I have with Dan's evidence related to a more generic concept of "trust" in science - where he shows that there isn't a notable partisan gap, be it towards scientists generally, scientists affiliated with governmental institutions of science, or even just government-affiliated institutions of science.

I have a lot of trouble squaring those findings of his with the flow of partisan rhetoric is see attacking librul elite academics, and academic scientific institutions, and particularly those institutions that have any association with government institutions. (and no doubt, I think that there is a parallel, although I think maybe less disproportionate flow or rhetoric attacking industrial research from "the left" in contrast to similar attacks against industrial research on "the right).

Perhaps one partial explanation for Dan's findings, (which seems somewhat counterintuitive to me), might be that generic questions about something like "trust in science" or "trust in scientists," when taken in aggregate might show no partisan gap, but if you dug down and add detail you would find counter-balancing partisan gaps when comparing "trust in academic scientists" with "trust in industrial scientists."

But these data seem to be inconsistent with even that partial explanation. And not only that, they suggest no impact from the (what seems to me ubiquitous ) rhetoric whereby libertarians and conservatives praise what they see as a practically uniform comparative advantage in the reliability of anything from the "private sector" versus from the "public sector."

Of course, the underlying explanation for my confusion could always go back to my trying to draw conclusions from unrepresentative sampling: in other words, that most people just don't really care particularly much about this shit, and that those who express strong feelings about it are, basically, outliers.

That does seem to me to be a reasonable and plausible explanation, but it tends to be one that is hard for me to wrap my mind around.

March 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Even though we're thinking "university scientist" is virtually synonymous with "academic professor", I'm not sure the public sees it that way. Firstly, most scientists get their training at universities, but a few do still get theirs in industrial settings - so maybe some confused the distinction to be about training.

Also, when the public visualizes a scientist - there's a white lab coat. An academic - a turtle-neck-cardigan combo. They look different. If you're trying to get the right to react against those latte-sipping NYT-reading academics, don't make them visualize a white lab coat.

As for negative framing on the left, I'd guess corporate is worse than industrial.

So, if the phrase had been "Research results from corporate scientists are less reliable than from academic professors" you'd get a wider difference than just that lame 0.11.

March 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

@Mw-- you can likely figure out the surrounding questions by looking at the GSS Codebook.

Strangely the GSS has never had a module with conventional climate-change perception items.

March 23, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

I think that Jonathan's speculation makes good sense.

March 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

There's another way of interpreting the result. Suppose you don't know. You have absolutely no idea. 'Are froods better than blemes?' 'Huh? Dunno!' One way of responding to that is to guess - pick an answer as close to the centre as you can to signal your lack of strong opinions, but pick it randomly. You would get 50% for each, like a coin toss. The other way to respond is to say that with no reason to expect one sort to be more reliable than the other, the default assumption would be that they were equal, and therefore the answer to the question "Do you think one is better than the other?" is "no".

Why the way of interpreting total unknowns might vary between political perspectives, I don't know. This sort of thing often depends on very subtle aspects of wording, context, and culture.

The other possibility is cultural stereotypes about what "industrial scientist" brings to mind. For some people, it's the group in society making better consumer products like shampoos and skin creams and medicines, the people designing self-driving cars and robots and artificial intelligence. The "what everyone knows" division is only triggered in certain particular contexts: pollution, the environment, tobacco, corporate profits, climate change, and maybe in movies.

Most people possibly initially interpret the term in a "cool products I can buy" context - the words "industrial scientists" and "university scientists" are not sufficiently entangled in the alternative political meanings to *automatically* trigger them as soon as they are mentioned - unlike a word like "climate" (as a prefix to 'change', 'scientist', 'science', etc.). In a "cool products" context, industrial scientists are regarded as reliable - more so than university scientists who are seen more as impractical boffins studying stuff with no immediate application, on blue skies subjects where things are a lot less certain and well-developed. Research on string theory applied to rotating black holes is probably less "reliable" than research on new materials for high-performance jet engines.

However, the mere act of asking the question results in subjects asking themselves: "Why are they asking that?". In a 'cool products' context, it makes no sense. If anything, it ought to be the the other way round. (i.e. Do you think research results from university scientists are less reliable than those from industrial scientists?) So you can deduce the context the questioner has in mind from the fact they asked the question. Some small fraction of the subjects do so.

Jonathan would be right that "corporate" is more likely to trigger the political interpretation than "industrial". Joshua is right that the division is a lot stronger than it appears here when examined in the alternative political context, and would not be expected in the 'generic' apolitical one. But just asking the question itself weakly evokes the political context as the only one it makes sense in.

Should you update your priors? Probably not by much. :-)

March 24, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Thanks for pointing to the codebook. The order of questions appears to be:

I. Church/Association module
II. Science news mini-module
III. Science attitudes mini-module, including asking people to agree or disagree with:

A. Because of science and technology, there will be more opportunities for the next generation.
B. Science makes our way of life change too fast.
C. Science and technology are making our lives, healthier, easier, and more comfortable.
D. Even if it brings no immediate benefits, scientific research that advances the frontiers of knowledge is necessary
and should be supported by the federal government.
E. Science is too concerned with theory and speculation to be of much use in making concrete government policy decisions that will affect the way we live.
F. Government decision makers should pay attention only to those scientific theories that have been accepted by most leading scientists.
G. Research results from industry scientists are less reliable than those from university scientists.

So this does frame science at least somewhat in a technological advancement context, where I'd be less surprised to see only a small gap, particularly if questions like E and F don't ring any climate change bells. Certainly if you went straight from A to G, I'd think people would be less likely to discriminate between scientists.

March 24, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMW

@ MW -- your explanation feels "just so" to me. If results on G had demonstrated sharp partisan opposition, we could have attributed *that* to A-F for "priming" charateristically partisan stances.

In fact, there is zero correlation between being conservative and giving pro-science response to items you point to.

Is it possible that it's just wrong to think that ordinary members of public who identify as conservative are anti-university-scietists in general? That "in general"--abstracted from any issue (cf. @NiV and @Joshua)--it's just not the case that conservs have contempt for university scientists & liberals for industry ones? That "trust in science" is always an endogenous variable when measrued in relation to disputed issues like climate change & fracking?

It's also clear that people who rely on NSF INdicators (GSS administered) to make claims about Rs (or D's) beig anti-science, they are relying only on signs and significance of variables in overspecified multivariate regressions. They never plot the relationship or otehrwise use graphics to illustrate effect, which is always trivial, otherwise put it in context.

I've addressed this. before.. More than once!

In general, the NSF Indicator items are useless for explaining huge divisions on particular issues

March 25, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@Joshua-- not dumb. Distribution on conservrepub is not perfectly normal. There is greater density of observations who select "Conservaive REpub" than "Liberal Democrat," so higher standard error for latter. But barely any higher -- b/c in fact these samples are damn big-- > 1500 for last two posts.

The n's for some of the GM Crop risk analyeses were small.

March 25, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

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