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Tuesday
May022017

More GSS data on "anti-science" phantom

Conservative citizens are less likely than liberal ones to believe that humans are causing global warming.

Religiously inclined citizens are less inclined to believe human beings evolved from another species of animal.

I get how one might hypothesize that these results are a consequence of an “anti-science” attitude on the part of individuals so defined.  Some more generalized ambivalence or even hostility to science and/or scientists on the part of these citizens, the argument goes, causes the more specific forms of nonacceptance of scientific evidence relating to these issues.

The problem is that when one looks in the places where one would expect to see the more generalized anti-science attitude, it ain’t there.

I’ve already described how both religious and conservative individuals have a high degree of “institutional confidence” in the “scientific community,” a standard General Social Survey item.

Well, if you look at the more specific “science attitude” items in the GSS, one sees the same thing: more religious citizens and more conservative ones both have pro-science attitudes.  

I pointed out a couple days ago that religious and conservative citizens, just like secular and liberal ones, credit science for making our lives better.

Now consider this:

One can always save the conservative & religious “anti-science” claim by simply treating skepticism about climate change and disbelief in human evolution as being anti-science.

But at that point the claim becomes a (boring) tautology.

Once one equates being anti-science with these positions, “they’re anti-science” is no longer an explanation for why religious and conservative citizens hold these positions—stances that are all the more peculiar once one sees that these citizens, like ones who do believe in climate change and evolution, have generally supportive attitudes toward scientists and scientific research.

Who believes what and why on these issues is an interesting question. But here as elsewhere “anti-science” is a mental roadblock to answering it in a scientific way.

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Reader Comments (13)

Ok, you've already advance published the first good comment above, the tweet by Vincent Rupp. Ask a more specific question. I'd add that another way to bring more dimensionality to the analysis would be to add at least a "z" axis to the plot above. I'd try one that attempted to separate people as 'establishment" or "anti_establishment" in addition to the left-right line above. I once sent you a link to something that was trying for an 8 part analysis: https://8values.github.io/index.html.

The good news here is that people apparently do not want to live like Neanderthals and do want to accept the fruits of Scientific Progress. This is good news for scientific practice as we now know it because, for example, it appears that our Democratic Party - Republican Party polarized Congress has now managed to formulate a budget that provides for good funding for some scientific research, such as that of the National Institute for Health.

I think that the problem here is that there is a lack of underlying substance as to what people profess to believe or disbelieve in. As another example, are there any underlying moral principles beneath the desire that elected Trump:

Make America Great Again!

Does this have any meaning beyond a frustration these voters have with their own lack of sufficient prosperity? Does it matter that said elected "Greatness" leader apparently thinks that a flirtation with all of the major despots of the world is a good idea?

I think that there are some positive aspects to the current situation. There are people who will seek help from medical professionals despite the fact that the scientific knowledge base that the medical treatments given are highly dependent on a thorough understanding of biological processes, including evolution. This situation would even be ok with some medical scientists, who simply want to be recognized, and accepted as "experts". On the other hand, this does leave people unable to sort out on their own good treatments from potentially harmful ones. As exemplified by the rampant abuse of Oxycontin handed out like candy from some pain clinics.

Ok, there is some value in knowing the wrong questions to ask. But how is the "Liberal Republic of Science" to be defended?

Past experiences, such as this article on the decline of Athens, seem relevant: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/04/making-athens-great-again/517791/

May 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

@GAythia-- *why* do you think I posted the twitter comment? Am curious.

May 2, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

"Anti-science" could be like "racist" or "xenophobic" - nobody wants to admit it applies to them. But the prevalence of these terms doesn't stop science from making in-roads - such as with the behavioral immune system (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavioral_immune_system). Repeatedly asking people to self-report how racist or xenophobic they are isn't likely to work very well, however.

Also, like racism and xenophobia, there are many cases where the term doesn't apply to an individual who would be so characterized. The old "but I have black friends!" argument. The terms are ambiguous in the way they imply universality of applicability.

Perhaps a more precise accusatory term for "anti-science" might be "doesn't always prioritize scientific orthodoxy with regard to statements about the natural world over other epistemic commitments". But, how to make that concise and understandable? Also, it's still incomplete - as one would have to add something allowing disagreements with scientific orthodoxy that are themselves constructed of better science than the current scientific orthodoxy. And then an explanation of what is meant by "better science".

Also, independent of all of the above, expecting epistemic consistency in survey results is a bit of a stretch.

May 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

@Dan...are you sure that trying to ask these questions in a scientific way, as you put it, isn't leading you to bark up the wrong tree? Or at least a very distant aerial root, instead of the trunk?

I mean, it's easy to find the explanations for these attitudes if you ask the questions in a -religious- way. "These particular scientific conclusions contradict the fundamental tenets of my belief; therefore, I will ignore them." People who believe in creator Gods can find it difficult to personally accept evolution. People who religiously believe in laissez-faire can find it difficult to accept that the government and/or collective action can have any useful role to play in addressing environmental change challenges. And it doesn't mean that they think the scientists are bad people, or that think that scientists aren't working for the greater good.

Here's a scientific test of this religiously motivated line of inquiry:

Prime a test group to identify themselves with their religion; then ask them about their trust in science, etc. Control group gets primed to identify with humans against extraterrestrials, or with persons against objects. If you see a difference, then you know that the test population's religious identity has an effect on their disposition towards science. If not, not. I'll bet something like this has been done, and you'd know better than me how to find it.

May 2, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon

"The old "but I have black friends!" argument."

Or the "But I'm black!" argument! :-)

I'm a scientist, and I don't believe the global warming hype, and I think a lot of the arguments I see people put forward for evolution are full of holes and/or bogus. How can I as a scientist be "anti-science"?

Plenty of people think it's possible, though. :-)

"Perhaps a more precise accusatory term for "anti-science" might be "doesn't always prioritize scientific orthodoxy with regard to statements about the natural world over other epistemic commitments"."

Scientific orthodoxy?! Isn't that a contradiction in terms? :-)

There are lots of different ways people have used to say this.

"In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual."

"Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts."

"Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth."

"The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, skepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin."

"Blind belief in authority is the greatest enemy of truth."

"The virtues of science are skepticism and independence of thought."

"Progress is born of doubt and inquiry. The Church never doubts, never inquires. To doubt is heresy, to inquire is to admit that you do not know—the Church does neither."

"Who is more humble? The scientist who looks at the universe with an open mind and accepts whatever the universe has to teach us, or somebody who says everything in this book must be considered the literal truth and never mind the fallibility of all the human beings involved?"

"What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence."

"In order to seek truth, it is necessary once in the course of our life to doubt, as far as possible, of all things."

"Most institutions demand unqualified faith; but the institution of science makes skepticism a virtue."

"The first is, to allege the opinions of men, whose parts, learning, eminency, power, or some other cause has gained a name, and settled their reputation in the common esteem with some kind of authority. When men are established in any kind of dignity, it is thought a breach of modesty for others to derogate any way from it, and question the authority of men who are in possession of it. This is apt to be censured, as carrying with it too much pride, when a man does not readily yield to the determination of approved authors, which is wont to be received with respect and submission by others: and it is looked upon as insolence, for a man to set up and adhere to his own opinion against the current stream of antiquity; or to put it in the balance against that of some learned doctor, or otherwise approved writer. Whoever backs his tenets with such authorities, thinks he ought thereby to carry the cause, and is ready to style it impudence in any one who shall stand out against them. This I think may be called argumentum ad verecundiam. "

"Nullius in verba"

Take your pick.

May 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV - there is surely some deeper truth here, and since I know nothing of either psychology or physiology (mathematics is the search for truth, not the successfully repeated experiment, as in the sciences) I hope you can explain how I, who have never seen Joshua in my life, knew - in my bones, can't explain it otherwise - that he was a black man (not a woman) while he (who somehow knew I was white) never spotted me as F until finally I got tired of the aggravation of being called an alt-right man (or worse) and clarified. So the question is HOW? I realize nobody can untangle the WHY, but I figure if 600 million years ago our ancestors were sponges, and we are here, the question cannot be beyond our grasp. Thank you :)

May 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

Link drop, for those following the replicability "crisis" esp. in experimental social & personality sciences:
https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2959799


About "science orthodoxy". Sorry for the bad phrase. Unwrapping it is hard, though. I meant it to capture how people view the widely reported scientific consensus when they don't have sufficient scientific knowledge to accept or reject it on scientific grounds themselves. It is at least partly a deference to authority of the scientific community about certain subjects. It's not part of science itself, but is part of a culture that contains both scientists and non-scientists.

My point was that what people mean when they say "anti-science" is not literally that - but is instead a mild prioritizing of some other commitments in only a few other cases over this "science orthodoxy". Hence, Dan shouldn't be trying to defeat the claim of the existence of "anti-science" by attacking it literally - as that would be a straw-man. He might then say that, if it isn't meant literally, why not switch to something that can be meant literally - to which my answer is because it is too hard to find a concise phrase that fulfills that requirement.

May 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

@dypoon--

I'm not aware of such studies--ones that induce antiscience sensibiliteis by priming for religiosity-- but I could have missed them.

There have been "priming" studies that purport to find that inducing "analytic thinking promotes disbelief"--

1. Gervais, W.M. & Norenzayan, A. Analytic Thinking Promotes Religious Disbelief. Science 336, 493-496 (2012).
2. Shenhav, A., Rand, D.G. & Greene, J.D. Divine intuition: Cognitive style influences belief in God. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, No Pagination Specified (2011).

As you likely know, "priming" has been taking a beating for non-replication. Special section on behavioral priming and its replication. (2014). Perspectives in Psychological Science, 9, 40–80

There is one showing that Gervais & Norenayan didn't replicate:

Sanchez C, Sundermeier B, Gray K, Calin-Jageman RJ (2017) Direct replication of Gervais & Norenzayan (2012): No evidence that analytic thinking decreases religious belief. PLoS ONE 12(2): e0172636. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0172636

Another study found "conceptual" nonreploication for priming analytical thinking & suppression of religiosity; indeed, it found that the priming promoted greater religiosity: Yonker, J.E., Edman, L.R.O., Cresswell, J. & Barrett, J.L. Primed analytic thought and religiosity: The importance of individual characteristics. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality 8, 298-308 (2016). INdeed, it found that priming had the effect of strengthening religious conviction among religious subjects.

I have working paper w/ Keith Stanovich that shows that analytica or "System 2" reasoning promotes more polarizastion among religious and nonreligious subjects on evolution.

Take these for what you wiill

I think the GSS items are interseting. Surely if they had evinced strong antagonism betwen religiosity & pro-science attitudes, *that* would have been held up as evidence of the reason-eviscerating or anti-science quality of the former (cf. Gauchat's 2012 study)so absence of effect should be noted to avoid biasing of the body of evidencde on this issue. (Gauchat is a very insightful, careful & open-minded guy, btw; not all the people who rely on his work are as refelective as he is, though.)

I'm not a big fan, though, of the GSS items--but they are there, they are moderately surprising, and they should be accounted for by anyone trying to aggregate the evidence.

May 3, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Jonathan -

=={ Also, like racism and xenophobia, there are many cases where the term doesn't apply to an individual who would be so characterized. The old "but I have black friends!" argument. The terms are ambiguous in the way they imply universality of applicability. }==

I agree that the term "anti-science" is very ambiguous. And like the term "racism" it is problematic in that it might be a better description sometimes of an act or an argument rather than a characterization of a person who commits that act or makes that argument.

For example, you've probably seen the hubub about the recent Brad Stephens editorial in the NY Times. Consider this excerpt:

They know — as all environmentalists should — that history is littered with the human wreckage of scientific errors married to political power.

That is actually rhetoric that is aimed towards leverage an argument that undermines the validity of “science.” Is that rhetoric "anti-science?" Perhaps. To the extent that the term has any meaning then I would say that the statement is "anti-science."

I highly doubt that Stephens lives his life in a way that dismisses the validity of “science” (on the weak logic that since it hasn’t been 100% perfect throughout history and so therefore shouldn't be trusted). But he is willing to use rhetoric that attacks the validity of science in order to score cheap points in the climate wars*.

Essentially, IMO, labeling someone as "anti-science" more often than not is essentially just another of the labels applied in climate wars - and is a sign of identity struggle.

* On top of other typical rhetorical gambits employed in the climate wars, such as the absurdity of referring to "science" as some collective identity that can be characterized as Stephens characterizes it (i.e., is it "science" who produced those errors or is it people who produced those errors?), or the ubiquitous, tribalisitic Godwinning - along the lines of the often seen cries of "Lysenkoists," and "Eugenicists!," and "MyCarthyists!" (identity-protective, labeling behavior so often employed in the climate wars).

May 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"So the question is HOW?"

Stereotyped behaviour.

"My point was that what people mean when they say "anti-science" is not literally that - but is instead a mild prioritizing of some other commitments in only a few other cases over this "science orthodoxy"."

Sorry. What they actually mean by it is that certain scientific claims have become cultural shibboleths, such that members of certain subcultures regard them as truths beyond question and belief in them as an essential indicator of a person being acceptably intelligent, educated, civilised, sane, ... . They're badges of in-group membership, like the set of orthodox beliefs of a religion, or the creed of an ideology. They just happen to be taken from science rather than scripture or some other aspect of human culture.

Not believing in a culturally-entangled scientific claim marks you as a member of the out-group - a follower of a false belief system. "Anti-science" is just their word for it when the claim happens to be taken from science. Not believing in a socially required claim marks you as either inexcusably ignorant or intellectually perverse, to stand against truth and reason. The old word for it was "heresy".

Very few members of the general public know even basic scientific facts like how electricity works, or what force keeps clouds up in the sky, or why the tops of mountains are so cold and snowy when everyone knows that "hot air rises". But nobody cares. If you tell someone you've never heard of Maxwell's equations, they'll shrug, or say "Me neither". I've even met people who will boast proudly of being bad at mathematics (!!). It's only a very small number of scientific claims that trigger this emotional reaction.

Dan's charted their connection with political subcultures of the American left and right, but they can apply to any in-group/out-group division.

Dan's result is just demonstrating that the in-group's stereotypes about the out-group being ignorant or opposed to reason are false. (It would be like the surprise of a Protestant from Cromwell's time on discovering that Catholics are not baby-eating devil-worshippers as they had always been taught, but it turns out believe in God too.) People who don't believe in evolution are generally no more anti-science than those who do, or for that matter, those who think the electrons whizz along their power cable at the speed of light. They just happen to hold a particular incorrect belief. But we *all* do - nobody knows/understands everything in science, and a lot of what we've been taught about it are simplifications, approximations, or outright falsehoods. Their belief might be incorrect, but it's not because they're opposed to science - they usually think their side of the argument is right and *they're* the ones who are being scientific and reasonable!

Disagreement about scientific claims is not just allowed in science, it's positively encouraged. Hence all the quotes by scientists and philosophers emphasising scepticism and rejection of 'authority' and 'orthodoxy'. The very idea of "scientific orthodoxy" is an oxymoron. The concept isn't from science at all. The phrase itself reflects its source in cultural identity politics by its borrowing of religious terminology.

Locke called it "argumentum ad verecundiam", attacking the appeals to authority used in the medieval second scholasticism movement that referred all its argument's back to Aristotle; the "ipse dixit" epithet for their arguments was in turn coined by Cicero in reference to the Pythagoreans - it's far from a new phenomenon! It's a built-in feature of human psychology. To live together in dense social groups without conflict, we have to hold many of our beliefs in common (it often doesn't matter which option we pick, so long as we all go the same way), so our instincts have evolved enforce conformity to those shared social norms and agreed authorities. It has enabled human cooperation, culture, and civilisation itself, but it does have its disadvantages! :-)

May 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Er...that should be Bret Stephens not Brad Stevens... (been watching the NBA lately).

May 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

NiV - there is a beautiful mathematical model analyzing earth climate over the last 500 million years. As ever, beauty is truth, truth beauty, so don't be misled by the cautious tone of the authors - they conclusively show that CO2 is a second- or third-order effect. The basic structure of the model has been around for a couple of decades, but I know of no biology or geology backtest. Here is a link with abstract:
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2016JA022689/abstract

May 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

PS for the last few hundred years, Carl-Otto Weiss et al ran a spectral analysis (Fourier transforms) and found the same result, i.e. that CO2 is irrelevant. The potential damage to the perception of science by the general public as and when the AGW myth collapses seems to be the main reason some actual scientists still cling to the myth - more important than funding considerations.

May 5, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

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