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« Science comprehension without curiosity is no virtue, and curiosity without comprehension no vice | Main | Scicomm-centerism: Another “selecting on the dependent variable” saga »
Wednesday
Jun072017

Are misconceptions of science & misinformation the *problem* in the Science Communication Problem?...

From Misconceptions, Misinformation, and the Logic of Identity-protective Cognition . . .

This paper investigates the role that “misinformation” and “misconceptions of science” play in political controversies over decision-relevant science (DRS). The surmise that their contribution is large is eminently plausible. Ordinary members of the public, we are regularly reminded (e.g., National Science Foundation 2014, 2016), display only mod7est familiarity with fundamental scientific findings, and lack proficiency in the forms of critical reasoning essential to science comprehension (Marx et al. 2007; Weber 2006). As a result, they are easily misled by special interest groups, who flood public discourse with scientifically unfounded claims on global warming, genetically modified foods, and other issues (e.g., Hmielowski et al. 2013). I will call this perspective the “public irrationality thesis” (PIT).

The unifying theme of this paper is that PIT itself reflects a misconception of a particular form of science: namely, the science of science communication. One of the major tenets of this emerging body of work is that public controversy over DRS typically originates in identity-protective cognition—a tendency to selectively credit and discredit evidence in patterns that reflect people’s commitments to competing cultural groups (Sherman & Cohen 2002, 2006). Far from evincing irrationality, this pattern of reasoning promotes the interests of individual members of the public, who have a bigger personal stake in fitting in with important affinity groups than in forming correct perceptions of scientific evidence. Indeed, the members of the public who are most polarized over DRS are the ones who have the highest degree of science comprehension, a capacity that they actively employ to form and persist in identity-protective beliefs (Kahan 2015a).

The problem, in short, is not a gullible, manipulated public; it is a polluted science communication environment. The pollution consists of antagonistic social meanings that put individuals in the position of having to choose between using their reason to discern what science knows or using it instead to express their group commitments. Safeguarding the science communication environment from such meanings, and repairing it where protective measures fail, should be the principle aim of those committed to assuring that society makes full use of the vast stock of DRS at its disposal (Kahan 2015b)....

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Reader Comments (36)

Dan:

"...public controversy over DRS typically originates in identity-protective cognition—a tendency to selectively credit and discredit evidence in patterns that reflect people’s commitments to competing cultural groups..."

Indeed. Yet identity-protective cognition is one aspect of long-evolved and hence deeply entrenched social behavior, with which the whole and relatively new enterprise of science (not merely its communication arm) is now entangled. Hence one must go much deeper than only 'science communication' to understand and address the issue of cultural conflicts over DRS. In the extract below, ISk = Innate Skepticism; very different to Scientific Skepticism (SSk) and modulated + or - by cultural values, an *evolved* defense against cultural intrusion / overdrive.

While PIT is wrong and the entanglement of science with cultural mechanisms is indeed the place to look, deriving cultural insulation to protect science let alone science communication is a very major challenge (and pretty much all group communication necessarily has cultural aspects). What protection mechanism is not subject to the deeply evolved behaviors in all of us? And you can't stop the public (which also is all of us) being cultural any time soon. Not suggesting that a workable mitigation is unreachable, so far science has worked tremendulously and most science has gotten done under the social radar. But as science gets a higher and higher profile, ironically that radar triggers on a lot more of it, and I think it likely you are way underestimating the scale of the challenge and perhaps too the fundamental embeddedness of the behavior in all of us (including scientists!)

I have a feeling more exposure not more protection may be the way to go. Natural policing mechanisms emerge in cultures and they are also good at subverting or hiding behind protection mechanisms. This site is great exposure btw (especially considering it is read by 14 billion folks - meaning some must be aliens too).

------
9. The entanglement of Science

Science with social impact, or perceived impact, is tangled in the group deception / detection arms race because (at least):

1) Correct science may be associated with or promoted or transmitted by, specific culture.

2) Correct science may challenge values and contradict knowledge established by a culture.

3) Scientific theories often have genuine and significant uncertainty, opening a window to cultural judgments and bias.

4) Via a raft of bias mechanisms, culture can divert or hi-jack science in a particular domain33.

5) Science as an enterprise has picked up cultural characteristics33a, 22a.

6) Strong ISk about a promoted theory may motivate a pursuit of truth via science (SSk)43.

As noted in section 3 ISk is the only framework via which the uninitiated public can interpret and judge the many competing claims and alleged uncertainties, the often obscured loyalties of information and funding sources, plus all the other domain complexities associated with a scientific theory or discovery that becomes socially contentious.

So regarding 1) correct science may be rejected because the cultural package it comes in is rejected by innate skepticism correctly detecting clues of collective deception33b.

Regarding 2), science faces a long-evolved system not looking for truth but for specific clues. Some of these clues will incorrectly be detected by individuals with unaligned values. For instance the absolute certainty granted by straightforward replication, ironically looks just like the unwarranted certainty that cultural consensuses enforce. Scientific zeal may trigger the detection of emotive content as would occur in a cultural narrative (and if the zeal for a particular theory is way OTT, this detection isn’t really wrong). A kind of convenient belief is exhibited by those who don’t understand the theory, yet simply believe ‘because it is science’. The authority science projects, maybe too arrogantly by some scientists, can trigger within some of the public a detection of the demeaning function that cultures employ.

3) means that not only will ISk and cultural beliefs get much more freedom to operate in members of the public regarding the concept at issue, but also in scientists embedded within that public. Even scientists are not Vulcans or able to rise above all long-evolved behaviors. So this may sometimes lead to 4), the worst case of which is a cultural consensus hi-jacking science, hence posing as a scientific consensus33. Such a consensus will correctly trigger the detection mechanisms of ISk, yet not in individuals having closely allied value systems. And ISk may also correctly detect 5).

Hence in resisting that which is bannered as science, ISk will sometimes be apt, and sometimes inapt.

https://judithcurry.com/2017/02/20/innate-skepticism/

June 7, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

@AndyWest-- thanks for reflective comments. At a minimum the paper needs to make some distinctions about different contexts in which one or another of these mechanisms are at work

June 8, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

From Andy's post above:
"5) Science as an enterprise has picked up cultural characteristics"

Do federal $$$ count as a cultural characteristic?

Nobody objects to Elon Musk spending his own money on rockets, or whatever, as long as it requires no public subsidies - his solar panels and batteries have already cost $10 billion ++ in taxpayers' monies, federal and state. If he can come up with a reusable heavy-lift rocket (so far we have none and rely on the Russians to get to the space station) so much the better. NASA has been too busy tracking climate change right here on earth and totally neglected space.

June 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

Dan: Thanks, due to word count limitations I had to shunt all detail and specifics to the footnotes, which are very long too so rather a digging exercise I'm afraid. Some key expectations of an ISk evolving out of the group deception / detection arms race, are skepticism providing protection from cultural overdosing and misinformation, so I ref 4 or 5 papers by Lewandowsky and Ecker on this effect across different scenarios, yet also that this protection will be very culturally modulated, with cognitive features of innate skepticism disabled in cultural conflict. You see a consistent disabling as described in your ICT (I ref this) across various scenarios. (Along the way I ref for interest some MRI evidence of the disabling of cognitive features by strong cultural [religious] belief). Various real-word scenarios regarding dogma / bias / hi-jacked consensus are also referenced, plus I also ref your HPV / HBV case as one perfectly consistent with correct science being rejected because innate skepticism (correctly) detects collective deception associated with the cultural group that is transmitting the science. And there are two or three references to the modern climate change context too. Of course there can be much more. Incidentally also in line with your findings, ISk as manifested in the public has nothing to do with the science, i.e. nothing to do with the specific science issues (as you put this in your thread just below). The behavior is evolved, and reached approx its current state before science was even invented.

June 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

Ecout: 'Do federal $$$ count as a cultural characteristic?'

Absolutely, if it can be shown that the invested $$$ serve the culture concerned more than they serve the real needs of the public. So for example if a poor country has large numbers of magnificent gold bedecked churches. Of course there are always mitigating factors, for instance churches can be havens in war and also serve other +ve purposes too. Nevertheless, they are primarily a cultural investment. So if one believes that Wind Turbines serve calamitous climate change culture more than they serve the genuine power needs and safety of society, then they are more akin to spires than to power stations. But if one believes oppositely, then they are more akin to power stations than to spires.

June 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

Link Drop:
https://theconversation.com/why-is-climate-change-such-a-hard-sell-in-the-us-78794

June 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

"Far from evincing irrationality, this pattern of reasoning promotes the interests of individual members of the public, who have a bigger personal stake in fitting in with important affinity groups than in forming correct perceptions of scientific evidence. "

What if an aspect of rational cognition is to do both - to attempt to form correct perceptions based partially on cultural similarity (affinity groups)? See: DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0168551

In other words, affinity groups could support an important learning heuristic: when viewing a field of others who have experience (authority may be a proxy), but who don't all agree, conform to those most similar to yourself, instead of the majority, under the assumption that the disagreement is due to relevant differences (the affinity groups) in the field of others. In other words, the question isn't "who's correct?", but instead "who's correct for people like me?". Perhaps political affiliation has sorted people to the point where it is viewed as being relevant (or at least correlates highly with relevant properties) in many such decisions.

If so, then there is no (or at least less) competition between fitting in with important affinity groups and forming correct perceptions of evidence - as the first is part of an important heuristic for the second.

June 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

"In other words, the question isn't "who's correct?", but instead "who's correct for people like me?"."

As Dan once put it, when the claim agrees with your cultural expectations the question is "Can I believe this?" but when it contradicts them the question is "Must I believe this?"

In both cases, people are asking "what's correct?" but they set different standards of evidence to be convinced depending on cultural factors.

For example, the link you give in the previous post talks about things it regards as indisputable 'evidence' supporting the author's beliefs, such as "Indeed, five tiny Pacific islands have already disappeared due to global warming...". Someone who culturally believes in climate change will ask "Can I believe that?", and answer 'yes'. It fits with what they know. It links to a reputable scientific source. It sounds plausible given their understanding of how sea level rise works. There's no reason to look further.

But if you culturally disbelieve in climate change, you'll ask yourself "Must I believe that?" So as a member of that culture you would follow the links to the original paper, and the evidence, and would see this graph, which shows how there are lots of islands both increasing and decreasing in size (they're all sat in the same sea, after all), and all they've done is to cherry pick the ones that are eroding, and ignored all the ones expanding in size. Or you might ask one of your culture's trusted experts about it, and they'll tell you about Charles Darwin's discoveries about coral atolls, how they grow up precisely to reach the surface, and how they did so even during ancient cataclysms like meltwater pulse 1a, when sea level rose over 16 metres in 500 years. Must I believe this? No.

You can see in *both* cases people are still asking "who's correct?" They're both checking/assessing evidence, and basing their conclusions on it. They're both trusting experts. They're both respectful of science, and are using their scientific knowledge. They both believe the science is on their side, and that they are on the side of science. Neither side is basing their decision on whether doing so fits in with their "important affinity group".

And most significantly, we would predict that people who are more science literate are more likely to do this. If the claims are culture-conforming, then you would do so on the basis of identifying as someone who respects/trusts science. If they're not, you'd be better at tracking down sources, checking arguments, and knowing how to find the alternative experts who will tell you what's wrong with the claim. The scientifically illiterate are just as motivated to fit in with their affinity group, but they can't justify rejecting claims they can't find anything wrong with.

If knowledge/ability in science is irrelevant to the true causes of the disagreement, why does it affect polarisation at all?

June 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Jonathan -

You say: =={ In other words, the question isn't "who's correct?", but instead "who's correct for people like me?" }==

It looks more to me like: (1) who is most like me? (2) what is their view? (3) Does his/her view conform to the one which predominates in my affinity group? (3a) Yes, it confirms my view. Stop. (3b) No. I will pick one of the infinite variety of ways that I can dismiss that opinion. For example, I will look for other characteristics which I don't share with that person, or I will find a reason to doubt that person's veracity or "motivations." (4) I will look at the next "expert" who is like me and start over.

I'll give you Bob Inglis and an example, but of course, there are many.

June 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

=={ The scientifically illiterate are just as motivated to fit in with their affinity group, but they can't justify rejecting claims they can't find anything wrong with. }==

Not that I want to engage, but that seems to me to be particularly wrong. There are always ways to reject claims that people don't like. People have wonderful methods for doing just that - hardwired into their cognitive processing. Among those methods is to simply ignore any internal contradictions in the logic behind their arguments. And, IMO, it isn't that the "scientifically literate" are particularly good overall at such a process, but that they are particularly good at applying certain methods for doing that in certain contexts. And a higher motivation to and/or affinity for using those particular methods in those particular contexts is part of the reason why some people are more "scientifically literate" than others.

June 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Dan -

=={ Indeed, the members of the public who are most polarized over DRS are the ones who have the highest degree of science comprehension, a capacity that they actively employ to form and persist in identity-protective beliefs }==

I'm not sure I will ever get past the (what seems to me) presumptions about causality that are embedded in this argument of yours.

It seems to me to fly in the face of reality, not to mention to be starkly condescending, to imply that identity-protective beliefs are more actively employed by people who have "the highest degree of scientific comprehension" - in some generalization fashion. That isn't to say that people who rank higher on your assessments of "scientific comprehension" might not be more inclined towards polarization on certain issues, such as climate change. But as they always say, correlation does not necessarily mean causation.

I say condescending because it seems to me that imply that due to a lack of what you call capacity for "scientific comprehension," those lower in "scientific comprehension" capacity somehow deficient in the ability to formulate identity-protective beliefs, or even less inclined to use their inherent skills to do so.

Do you have some generalized evidence that people that you identity as having "the highest degree of scientific comprehension" are more inclined than others lower on that scale to display identity-protective behaviors?

June 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

I wonder which, if not all, of the following propositions are not accurate:

People who care more about science = people who develop skills for reasoning in the context of science = people who care more about scientific controversies.

People who care more about science controversies = people who care more about developing science-related reasoning skills.

People who care more about basketball, or art = people who care more about reasoning in the contexts of basketball and art = people who care more about basketball and art-related controversies.

People who care more about basketball and art controversies = people who care more about developing basketball- and art-related reasoning skills.

"members of the public who are most polarized over DRS are the ones who" care the most about decision relevant science, an attribute which is associated with those who "have the highest degree of science comprehension," because they are the people who have prioritized developing skills for reasoning in decision related science.

June 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Jonathan -

I just came across this. I imagine you are familiar with it, but thought I'd drop it off. I'd be curious to read your thoughts if you cared to offer then.

Accountability and Judgement Processes In a Personality Prediction Task

http://faculty.haas.berkeley.edu/tetlock/Vita/Philip%20Tetlock/Phil%20Tetlock/1984-1987/1987%20Accountability%20and%20Judgement%20Processes%20In%20a%20Personal.pdf

June 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Hmmm.

Let me try linking that again:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3572733

June 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

link drop:
http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/06/10/532110787/a-dad-takes-his-son-to-the-doctor-and-discovers-fear-of-vaccines

"Seriously? I've spent years following the vaccine safety debate, reading the stories and writing a few about how safe and effective vaccines are. And yet here I am putting my entire profession to disgrace, just as scared and confused as anyone else. In that moment, I wanted to slap my brain upside the temporal lobe. The sight of one little needle was turning me into a raging anti-vaxxer."

A sad commentary - but I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that Vance was raised as a Christian Scientist, hence might have acquired some early anti-medicine conditioning. Or, maybe that's just my own rationalization.

Joshua: I guess this might go a bit with that old Tetlock paper in the following way: if motivation is extremely high (decisions about the health of one's children), then maybe we employ yet another category of cognition, one easily dominated by irrational fear. Maybe rational justification only operates well in an intermediate band of motivation.

June 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

"I'll give you Bob Inglis and an example, but of course, there are many."

If you're right, then *everyone* is an example, including yourself.

By having to point to specific examples, it implies that the property you're talking about only applies to a few. By always pointing to examples from the ideological opposition, it implies some sort of asymmetry thesis, that you can't find any useful examples in your own or your friends' behaviour, but examples abound in the opposition.

Is it your position that you don't see or notice such cases (because of your own motivated reasoning), or that such examples are not useful (not being so familiar to readers), or that they don't happen?

In any case, I'm not sure that Bob Inglis is a good example of people trusting or dismissing experts based on whether they're part of the affinity group. I don't think anyone, on any side, would claim or consider him to be an expert on climate science - he just cites "the 97%" as an argument from authority. If we don't believe the National Academy of Science, why on Earth would we take Bob's word for it?

Bob believes the mainstream about climate change, despite being a Republican, and Republicans don't trust Bob, despite him being a Republican. It would seem, if anything, to be a counterexample.

"Not that I want to engage..."

I'm not sure why you bother. It makes no difference to me. It's surely more a question of whether you have something you want to say.

"There are always ways to reject claims that people don't like. People have wonderful methods for doing just that - hardwired into their cognitive processing."

There are always ways, but people all want to believe that they themselves are rational and truth-seeking. They need a justification. The question was, if there are always ways and they're hardwired into everyone, why the non-literate don't use them to the same extent the literate do. And why, when you point out arguments and strategies to them for rejecting an unliked argument, like pointing out how some political actors sometimes distort things, they seize on them and change their opinions.

"Among those methods is to simply ignore any internal contradictions in the logic behind their arguments."

Possibly so. My first reaction to that statement was to say that people don't "ignore" contradictions - it's that they mostly don't notice them. It's somewhat different to see a contradiction but ignore/dismiss it, versus to simply not see it. You need quite a lot of training and background knowledge in science to be able to see the contradictions and holes in technical arguments. But having seen them, it would seem to me like a bizarre thing to do to then simply ignore them.

But then, I was thinking about the use of Argument from Authority, which anyone educated in science knows is opposed to the scientific method and philosophy, and is constantly being criticised by famous science communicators as invalid, but even when the contradiction inherent in invoking the authority of scientists is pointed out to people who pride themselves on being scientifically educated, they do indeed ignore it. They understand the point, and the contradiction, but don't let that change their minds. Nor does it dent their pride in their own science-respecting rationality.

So you may well be right. I need to think about that some more.

"And a higher motivation to and/or affinity for using those particular methods in those particular contexts is part of the reason why some people are more "scientifically literate" than others."

Interesting! You're suggesting that political polarisation might cause people to learn more science, to argue their case better? Yes, I can see how that's a plausible hypothesis. I like it!

I can't think of an obvious way to test it, for the moment. I'll keep thinking about it.

June 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

"A sad commentary - but I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that Vance was raised as a Christian Scientist, hence might have acquired some early anti-medicine conditioning."

I don't know, but my first thought on reading it was that the author was using one of the classic 'science communication techniques' for defusing reflexive opposition in controversial debates by putting himself on the same side as the people he's talking to, seeking their sympathy. Give them a lollipop.

It's not definite enough for me to be confident that's what he's doing. But he never really explains why he felt the fear, and he doesn't actually explain the evidence for vaccines' safety, just asserts it. (Although a lot of science journalists do that, to avoid scaring people off with technical babble, and to avoid giving the more knowledgeable a target to lock on to.)

And as an author of a book titled "suggestible you" about placebos and nocebos, I presume he's well aware of the literature on 'nudging' people's opinions without being obvious about it!

However, it may just be the equivalent of an aerodynamicist admitting to feeling a bit nervous about flying through heavy turbulence, or a biologist being a bit twitchy about the big hairy spider crawling around in her bath. Some of these primitive fears are not based on anything rational.

June 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV - from your post it's unclear whether the following refers to demonstrable facts or not:

>>>>>>>> "There are always ways to reject claims that people don't like. People have wonderful methods for doing just that - hardwired into their cognitive processing."

There are always ways, but people all want to believe that they themselves are rational and truth-seeking.<<<<<<<<<<<<

Is there anyone doubting the existence of gravity? Certainly 100% of all scientists believe it exists - though whether it's generated by gravitons, axions, or is just plain an emergent force, as the string theorists maintain, I personally don't know. So no, there are not always ways, unless the doubter wishes to prove his point by jumping out of a window on a high floor, which should eliminate residual doubt in the observers.

But as to politicians and others attempting to educate themselves, I know I was invited to a working dinner (ca 2000) in DC in which a number of Republican politicians (the only name I remember now is then senator Chuck Hagel) asked me to explain the mathematical modeling involved in the dire predictions of anthropogenic global warming specifically referring to IPCC and the text of the Kyoto protocol.

Now you understand these are people who wouldn't know a first derivative if they tripped over one, but I truly do believe that if you genuinely know something, and you are addressing educated persons willing to learn something outside their area of expertise, you can, indeed, make it ultra-clear. I spoke through the entire dinner and for another three hours when we adjourned to the club's library (this was at the University Club in DC). For the record I did this for public duty, as I'm convinced are those recalcitrant 3-per-centers not subscribing to the "consensus".

I answered endless questions - on the monetary, technical (switch car engines from gasoline to diesel, seriously??), and international politics ramifications - and I know I was clearly understood because when subsequently contacted for follow-up it was never on points I already covered. So yes anecdotal data, but definitely a repeatable experiment.

June 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

NiV,

Something about that Vance article made me think it wasn't an attempt at sympathy - although that could obviously mean Vance is just better at staying undetected than I am at detecting such things. However, that something is how the article didn't take up the opportunity to demonstrate how his rational beliefs in vaccines won the day over his irrational fears. Instead, it did the opposite, and ended on a cynical note (prior to the final lollipop offer):

"Now go beyond that to other issues where fears and tribal loyalties conflict with reason, like GMOs, climate change or evolution. How can rationality win when irrationality is so much more attractive? I sat in the doctor's office staring into space, now terrified of something totally different."

That makes the whole article sound to me more like it is aiming at science communicators instead of anti-vaxxers. Maybe Vance is suggesting to science communicators that the abilities of irrational fears to overwhelm is something that needs more attention. Or, maybe he's just setting this up as a topic for a future book.

June 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

"Is there anyone doubting the existence of gravity? Certainly 100% of all scientists believe it exists"

Actually, yes there are and no they don't. There's a serious strand of thought in general relativity that argues that it doesn't exist - that it's an artifact of our choice of coordinate system, which has been chosen for convenience because of our arbitrary/accidental location on the surface of a planet.

In Newtonian physics there are these things called "inertial reference frames" in which Newton's laws of motion apply. You can also define other non-inertial reference frames - for example, by rotating your position coordinates with respect to one - in which Newton's laws don't apply. There are additional correction terms introduced by the curvature or acceleration of the coordinates that mess up Newton's neat "Force = Mass x Acceleration" formulation, appearing in the acceleration bit. However, you can fiddle the maths to restore Newton's laws by moving those correction terms over to the left hand side of the equation, and calling them "forces". The "centrifugal force" you feel when you're spun around is the most familiar example, but there are also "Coriolis forces" and "Euler forces" for more general motions. All such "fictitious forces" have an identifying characteristic - the acceleration they produce doesn't depend at all on the mass. Acceleration is constant, for all masses, because they're not really forces, they're actually accelerations artificially moved across to the force side of the equation.

Gravity has this same remarkable characteristic, and in general relativity it is seen as being caused by a mathematically identical mechanism - the curvature of the coordinate system. Gravity is a "fictitious force", like the centrifugal forces in spinning objects.

Pick a different coordinate system - and coordinate systems are themselves imaginary constructs - and the forces change or even vanish. In freefall, or in orbit, gravity 'disappears'. Of course, Newton would say it's still there, as shown by the fact you're path is curving downwards, but that path is only defined by means of a coordinate system fixed to the Earth; the one most convenient for us to think in. It's not the only possible choice.

See the second half of the essay here for more discussion.
http://www.mathpages.com/home/kmath641/kmath641.htm

And it's discussed several times in the same author's book. (See for example the chapters 'Vis Inertiae', 'The Equivalence Principle'...)
http://www.mathpages.com/rr/rrtoc.htm

I'm only telling you about this to illustrate the point - yes, for a sufficiently sophisticated and knowledgeable thinker, there are *always* ways to pick holes in claims.

People say that the Earth orbits the sun and not the other way around, as if this was unarguable, but in physics we can define a rotating reference frame fixed to the Earth in which the sun does indeed orbit the Earth, and in general relativity both alternatives are equally valid (a property called "general covariance").

Newtonian gravity is often used as an example of absolute scientific certainty, but it was Newton himself who said of it:

Tis unconceivable that inanimate brute matter should (without the mediation of something else which is not material) operate upon & affect other matter without mutual contact; as it must if gravitation in the sense of Epicurus be essential & inherent in it. And this is one reason why I desired you would not ascribe {innate} gravity to me. That gravity should be innate inherent & {essential} to matter so that one body may act upon another at a distance through a vacuum without the mediation of any thing else by & through which their action or force {may} be conveyed from one to another is to me so great an absurdity that I beleive no man who has in philosophical matters any competent faculty of thinking can ever fall into it.

If not even Newton (!!) believed in Newtonian gravity as a philosophically coherent concept, how has it achieved this status as inarguable and absolute scientific truth?

However, such deep philosophical arguments and reasoning are not available to Joe Public and the general population, and as a rule, they do believe in gravity, which is why I was objecting to Joshua's argument that anyone can reject any proposition they like, by simply abandoning reason. If gravity ever somehow became a subject of political controversy, I'm sure awareness of all the many holes in it would become more widely known. But people would have to seek out their own contrarian experts to be told about them - they wouldn't occur to the scientifically non-literate, and they wouldn't reject gravity without such a justification.

My view would be that even if you can't teach people about the holes and uncertainties in scientific claims, you should at least tell them that they are there - on moral as well as utilitarian grounds. But there is a reasonable contrary pedagogical argument that this just leads to confusion and uncertainty, and teachers mostly subscribe to the "Lies to Children" method of education (look it up). People are told a simplified, untrue theory, and are expected to believe it on the basis of the teacher's authority. Then at the next stage of their education they're told that the old story was a lie, and here's what really happens. And again at the next stage, and so on. It works, but it means that at whatever stage people drop out of the education system, the last set of lies they were told becomes their "scientific truth".

The public understanding of science is a cultural phenomenon, and based largely on Argument from Authority - which is antithetical to scientific philosophy. If that Absolute Authority is challenged, what do ordinary people have left? Cultural Hierarchs argue that without respect for authority, society would break down into chaos and confusion. That fear is at the root of a lot of these arguments.

June 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

"For the record I did this for public duty, as I'm convinced are those recalcitrant 3-per-centers not subscribing to the "consensus". "

Oh, and can people please stop repeating this "97%" lie?

You can find the most commonly cited paper here.

82% of the scientists surveyed supported the "consensus". Figure 1 shows in the third column that about 88% of climatologists did so, and 90% of active publishers in climatology. Only when you whittled it down to those who listed climate science as their area of expertise and who also have published more than 50% of their recent peer-reviewed papers on the subject of climate change (79 individuals in total out of an initial sample of 3146), do you get numbers anywhere close to 97%.

And as every climate sceptic knows, it's very hard to get papers published past the journal gatekeepers if you don't subscribe to the consensus, which is why they keep counting papers instead of scientists.

June 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV,

Excellent comments.

June 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBob Koss

=={ which is why I was objecting to Joshua's argument that anyone can reject any proposition they like, by simply abandoning reason. }==

Just to clarify, I don't think that people "abandon reason."

I think they ignore logical inconsistencies. Another example of what i was discussing is that they would be that they accept inconsistencies.Or they could simply shift in the weight they apply to various aspects of the question at hand. To reference the example I gave downstairs - during the whole Trump/Carrier thing, most Republicans simply chose to ignore the "crony capitalism" and 'government picking winners and losers" as priorities, or downgraded the weight such factors apply in their ideological framework in order to maintain their approval of Trump. Palin, to her credit IMO, didn't. i wouldn't in any way argue that those other Republicans 'abandoned reason." in fact, i think it is entirely reasonable to shift the weight of priorities depending on circumstances. As much as I respect someone like Ron Paul for remaining consistent with his priorities on issues like the invasion of Iraq, at other times i think that his strict application of a theoretical frame without shifting weights leads to poor outcomes. In neither situation would I describe him as "abandoning reason."

With Bob Inglis, Republicans didn't "abandon reason' when they turned on him because he advocated for views on climate change with which they disagreed. They just shifted the weights in how they evaluated his candidacy.

This is why i'm confused by Dan's "Kentucky farmer" line of arguments, because i think it is very normal and reasonable for people to hold contradictory beliefs. It happens all the time.

June 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Dan -

I'm disappointed that you don't think it worth your while to answer some of my previous questions (or to help me better understand the answers you've given), but hopefully you will answer the following:

What are is the demographic profile of the group that you differentiate by virtue of their " highest degree of science comprehension."

How have you controlled for confounding attributes? Are they more-highly educated as a group? Do they tend to share any kind of cultural associations? Higher SES? etc.

June 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"Just to clarify, I don't think that people "abandon reason." I think they ignore logical inconsistencies."

Fair point - that was an unfair characterisation of your position on my part.

In a sense, you could say that when physicists "ignore inconsistencies" like the contradiction between general relativity and quantum mechanics, or between Newtonian gravity and relativity, or between the concept of rigid bodies and relativity, that they're doing the same thing.

People build simplified approximate models of how the world works. All models are wrong, but some are useful. Scientific theories are models of the world, as are ordinary people's beliefs. We all know that our models are imperfect, approximate, of limited applicability, and subject to revision or replacement when you go outside their domain of validity. But we're all guilty of treating them as "true" when reasoning about the world - context switching and suspension of disbelief are fundamental parts of how the human mind works.

June 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV - thank you. I knew about the frames of reference, and thought I had covered the case you describe by listing emergent gravity among the possibilities - see e.g. Verlinde, 2016: https://arxiv.org/abs/1611.02269

>>>>>>>>>>>>. The emergent laws of gravity contain an additional `dark' gravitational force describing the `elastic' response due to the entropy displacement. We derive an estimate of the strength of this extra force in terms of the baryonic mass, Newton's constant and the Hubble acceleration scale a_0 =cH_0, and provide evidence for the fact that this additional `dark gravity~force' explains the observed phenomena in galaxies and clusters currently attributed to dark matter. <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<,

June 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

Dan - your 14 billion readers include a bunch of admirals and generals, which I conclude after reading their report >

https://www.cna.org/CNA_files/PDF/IRM-2017-U-015512.pdf

> in which the term "renewables" is firmly replaced by "advanced energy transition". They honestly admit picking the new term because anything like "green / environmentally friendly / zero emissions" etc immediately brings the mental association of "inferior".

June 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

link drop:
https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/facts-alone-wont-convince-people-to-vaccinate-their-kids/

June 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

From the above link:

"When a new law requires people to change the way they act, they tend to vociferously decry the change at first, but opposition often evaporates as years pass and the new behavior becomes the status quo."

So, way more than a nudge...

June 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

"So, way more than a nudge..."

Yes. Authoritarian tendencies are nothing new in this arena. If they can get a few precedents passed to do things we all agree need doing, it makes it much harder to argue later when they propose new restrictions that you might not agree with. You've already surrendered the principle - all you've got left then are your own personal individual interests. And of what weight are those in the balance, set against the Heroes Saving The World From Apocalyptic Doom? :-)

https://hauntingthelibrary.wordpress.com/2011/01/05/ipcc-green-doctor-prescribes-end-to-democracy-to-solve-global-warming/

But of course, justifying curtailment of freedom in the name of the "common good" is a rhetorical technique with deep history. Gemeinnutz geht vor Eigennutz, as they used to say.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

June 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Gemeinnutz geht vor Eigennutz ONLY in case of market failure. That is the main point in Wealth of Nations (see page 100) http://files.libertyfund.org/files/220/0141-02_Bk.pdf

June 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

Hilarious summary of climate economic debacle written by a friend of mine (also writing under a pseudonym)
http://www.scragged.com/articles/trump-scorns-the-climate-hoaxers

June 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

NiV,

California Bill 227 wasn't exactly enacted by fiat. But, I see where you are going, regardless.

'(C)urtailment of freedom in the name of the "common good"' happens all the time (shouting "FIRE!" in a crowded theater, etc.), the question is which instances are acceptable vs. not.

As for Shearman's dream for a Plato-style Republic, well, the plutocrats currently in charge would never allow it.

June 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Joshua,

Some good cogpsi reproducibility news:

https://digest.bps.org.uk/2017/06/05/these-nine-cognitive-psychology-findings-all-passed-a-stringent-test-of-their-replicability/

June 12, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

From Jonathan's post above: "....As for Shearman's dream for a Plato-style Republic, well, the plutocrats currently in charge would never allow it."

Whatever Shearman's faults he at least appears to have read Plato, as you have not, and therefore clearly sees that the abolition of democracy is a necessary condition if his ideas for punishing those alleged polluters are to be followed. This is the relevant passage, starting with Socrates:

>>>>>>>>>>
Have you not observed how, in a democracy, many persons, although
they have been sentenced to death or exile, just stay where they are
and walk about the world --the gentleman parades like a hero, and
nobody sees or cares?

Yes, he replied, many and many a one.

See too, I said, the forgiving spirit of democracy, and the 'don't
care' about trifles, and the disregard which she shows of all the
fine principles which we solemnly laid down at the foundation of the
city --as when we said that, except in the case of some rarely gifted
nature, there never will be a good man who has not from his childhood
been used to play amid things of beauty and make of them a joy and
a study --how grandly does she trample all these fine notions of ours
under her feet, never giving a thought to the pursuits which make
a statesman, and promoting to honour any one who professes to be the
people's friend.

Yes, she is of a noble spirit.

These and other kindred characteristics are proper to democracy, which
is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and
dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike.

We know her well.
<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

June 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

Source http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.mb.txt
book 8

June 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

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