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Tuesday
Sep192017

Are you curious to see what Financial Times says about curiosity?

cool! And if you now want to read the study he was referring to, it's right here (no paywall!)

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Reader Comments (21)

Dan,

viewing it as a puzzle to be solved - do you really think SC shows that? Or does it just show fascination with reality?

September 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

@Jonathan--curiosity (about science or about other things) probably is best understood as involving a cluster of affective states, including a desire to know & an expectation of surprise & wonder.

September 20, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

"viewing it as a puzzle to be solved - do you really think SC shows that? Or does it just show fascination with reality?"

The other interpretation was that it showed a liking for and trust in science documentaries as a source of knowledge.

September 20, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

link drop - Pew on science news:
http://www.journalism.org/2017/09/20/science-news-and-information-today/

September 20, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

@NiV
<< other interpretation was that it showed a liking for and trust in science documentaries>>
We know SCS doesn't *just* do that; surely resistance to MS2R is no small something else. I suspect, in fact, that enjoying science movies is only a collateral piece of whatever disposition it is tapping into. Conjecturing about what other things it might do & why is the way to breed hypotheses worthy of testing

September 20, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

"We know SCS doesn't *just* do that; surely resistance to MS2R is no small something else."

If that's what it is. The other hypothesis for why high-SCS people converged on controversial topics was that they are the people who rely on science documentaries as their trusted source, rather than partisan social networks. If all the science documentaries pushed a particular side of a disputed issue, so did they.

The test issue I saw in your data presented was fracking. Scientists in general and geologists in particular consider it to be safe, but science documentaries and news stories on the topic only tend to present the controversy, talking about the protestors and the dangers they claim. There's no highly visible group of scientists on TV defending it - fossil fuel mining geologists not being a particularly popular group at the moment. So high-SCS viewers tend to be rather more alarmed about fracking than the scientists say the science justifies.

What's the theory about how SCS works? Is it that they're more knowledgeable about the technical science? More inclined to check and see what scientists actually say about it? More capable of distinguishing good science from sensationalist scares? More open to seeking out opposing views and better at evaluating which side's argument/evidence is better? If it's any of those, why do they get it wrong on fracking? The science here isn't particularly complicated or hard to understand.

Whereas if they simply take science documentaries as their trusted authority, then their position on fracking is because that's what the science documentaries tell them to believe.

As I said before, I didn't think fracking alone is conclusive. What was needed was more subjects where the science documentaries differed significantly from the scientific position. If high-SCS viewers are able to recognise this and pick the correct position despite all the documentaries, then good. But on the other hand, if they simply follow whatever the documentaries tell them, then they're still being sheep - they're just following a different goat to all the others.

September 20, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@NiV--

But what about the gun shows?...

September 21, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Dan,

What about them?

Do science documentaries in the US take a particular position on attending gun shows, that we should expect to show up if the hypothesis is correct?

September 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@NiV--I'm saying it seems high science curiosity is correlated with trying out lots of things that have little to due w/ liking science documentaries

September 21, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

OK. Yes, there's a weak but statistically significant correlation. The problem is there are probably hundreds of ways that might come about, and not much data to be able to guess which ones are plausible.

For example, suppose people allocate their finite time for visiting public events across all their various interests. People who are politically active (which is not the same thing as having strong political beliefs) allocate some of their leisure time to political events and social gatherings, and therefore less time to politically neutral events generally. There would therefore be a correlation between attendance at politically neutral events, political activism, and trusting partisan political networks for information about science.

Perhaps people who trust partisan social networks don't like going to public events because they're full of annoying people who disagree with them politically.

Perhaps people who trust science documentaries do so because of a particular 'common cause' educational history (left early, left late, rich school, poor school, progressive school, whatever) or family background (supportive, educated parents, rich, poor, introverted, extroverted, highly-networked, socially-isolated, whatever) and this also affects their tendency to go out to places.

Maybe documentary-lovers happen to live in places where travel to public entertainments is harder, or more expensive, or such events are less available. Maybe they tend to get jobs where they have less leisure time. maybe they're more likely to have families to take out on day trips. Maybe they're people who are less likely to make their own entertainment, with family and friends, but prefer more public, 'anonymous' events.

The other big problem is that high-SCS people are probably not a uniform group in other regards. So suppose there are 5% of them are there because they're genuinely curious about the world along the lines you're thinking, and 95% are there because they trust science documentaries more than political networks. The 95% dominate the response when it comes to opinions about science. The 5% dominate the response (because the distribution for the 95% is flat) on visiting public events.

For that matter, there are probably many other alternatives to just 'curiosity' and 'trust in documentaries'. It just happened to be the most obvious alternative; the one I thought of first.

So when I suggest that SCS might be measuring trust in documentaries, I am of course grossly simplifying. And I've got no data (besides the fracking result) to suggest that you're *not* right. I have no strong emotional commitment to rejecting your hypothesis - it might well be so. I just think that I've seen virtually no evidence to connect the measure to "curiosity" as a generic personality trait. It's just a handy label for 'whatever the metric is measuring'.

--
So like I said, why do they get it wrong on fracking? Any theories?

September 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Scientists in general... consider it to be safe,

What resource are you using for that?

What does "safe" mean? Free from risk? Free from risk only if properly implemented and highly regulated (where are there guarantees of that?). That statement is kind of like when people say that there is "a scientific consensus on climate change": it can't be falsified because its meaning is so unclear.

Anyway, should we care if there a consensus? I thought that referencing a scientific consensus is fallacious?

September 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"What does "safe" mean? Free from risk? Free from risk only if properly implemented and highly regulated "

Nope. I mean free from risk, compared to other risks that we all accept without concern.

I've been through this multiple times with Gaythia. Fracking is *safe*. It's technology we've been using for fifty+ years without problem. It's technology we've been using in areas of outstanding natural beauty without a problem. It uses materials about as dangerous as the dirty water you get after mopping your kitchen floor, It gets pumped to a location a mile or more away through impermeable rock. The whole process is monitored and regulated to hell. It releases methane, which is non-toxic, non-reactive, and routinely pumped into everyone's homes (OH NOES! THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!) through hundreds of thousands of miles of leak-prone pipes embedded in the water table. It's far *less* toxic than sewerage pumped *out* of everyone's houses through a similar network of leak-prone pipes, passing directly through the water table. It's considerably less dangerous than all those wild and domestic animals defecating directly into the water table. To be concerned about it is a level of dribbling insanity on a par with worrying about the way gas well heads ruin the local feng shui.

You have 110 volt mains electricity *in* your* house*! That stuff can kill you on contact!! That's *waaaay* more dangerous than fracking! The power cables leak radiation into the air! There's kitchen knives! And boiling water! And toilet bleach! And cars moving really fast! And fire! And weedkiller! And cabbage! The toxic never ends!

The problem is that people feel the need to be polite about it. There are people who are seriously concerned. We don't want to tell them they're idiots, who know no science. We waffle a bit about how any industrial process involves risk (true) and how there are problems and accidents and stuff going on that definitely shouldn't. But this ignores the fact that exactly the same can be said of people chopping vegetables in the kitchen.

Compared to thousands of chemical engineering operations that go on daily, fracking is a trivial risk. The controversy is entirely, 100%, political.

"That statement is kind of like when people say that there is "a scientific consensus on climate change": it can't be falsified because its meaning is so unclear."

True. I agree with you absolutely. That's why I prefer statements like "82% of scientists said "yes" to the question: "Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?" [Doran and Zimmerman 2009]".

Do you know anyone citing "scientific consensus" statements who makes such references?

"Anyway, should we care if there a consensus? I thought that referencing a scientific consensus is fallacious?"

That depends on whether you're referring to it as a sociological phenomenon about scientist's opinions (why do they think that? On what evidential basis?) or as evidence that the consensus statement is *true*? It's a fallacy as far as the latter goes, but it's a legitimate subject of enquiry in regard to the former.

But I agree, my use of it here was entirely illegitimate. I figured I was was talking to people who respected argument from authority over empirical evidence, and sought to take advantage of it. Naughty me! Slapped wrist! It was a shortcut to avoid having to talk about the mechanics of underground pipework. But I'm glad to note that you can recognise the tactic - I will look forward to seeing you point it out the next time someone uses a 'consensus' argument in favour of a position you support! ;-)

September 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

I have seen a lot of anti-fracking popsci articles, and very few pro-fracking popsci articles. Check out:
https://phys.org/search/?search=fracking

Of course, numbers of articles don't tell the whole story. But they might give some indication why high-SC folks think the way they do.

Maybe then fracking could become a test case for Dan - can he take some high-SC folks and, by giving them some sciency pro-fracking info, get them to change their beliefs on fracking?

September 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

. It uses materials about as dangerous as the dirty water you get after mopping your kitchen floor,

Well, that's interesting, because looking beyond the fallacious nature of saying that it's safe because it's safer than something else as a way describe its safety (particularly since that something else may or not be safe), I've heard that the exact content of the fluids is proprietary (I've also heard first hand from people who said they were exposed to fracking fluids and suffered significantly negative health impacts - but they could have been lying?). But I've also read scientists who are a bit less sanguine than you?:

https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/newsreleases/2014/august/a-new-look-at-whats-in-fracking-fluids-raises-red-flags.html

So should I accept your word for it because of your self-assigned authority? Or should I accept the authority of others who have appropriate academic credentials? I dunno.

But I do know that not knowing the contents, and whether they might be toxic because I couldn't judge even if I did know what they are, and not knowing whether anyone outside the industry really knows what they are, and not knowing how to evaluate claims of authority, means that I'm not inclined to dismiss concerns about regulation, as I do know that businesses are inclined to take shortcuts to save costs unless they are thoroughly regulated (although thorough regulation is certainly no guarantee), and so I see regulation as a hedge against not knowing what is in the fluids,or how they should be judged, and that what is in the fluids doesn't speak to the technical practice itself but does speak to the protection against accidents or outright neglect due to monetary interests. So I'm not sanguine about claims of authority, particularly when such claims are made by people who are ideologically (perhaps genetically for those who believe I asymmetry?) predisposed to conflate regulation with authoritarianism.

September 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

What's the authority of the American Economic Review?


Hill, Elaine and Lala Ma. 2017. "Shale Gas Development and Drinking Water Quality." American Economic Review, 107(5):522-25.
DOI: 10.1257/aer.p20171133

Abstract: Recent studies have linked shale gas development (SGD) to ground water contamination. The extent of these environmental externalities, to date, remains uncertain. To address this gap, we examine whether shale gas development systematically affects drinking water quality by creating a novel dataset that relates SGD to public drinking water samples in Pennsylvania. Our difference-in-differences strategy finds evidence that additional well pads drilled within 1 kilometer of a community water system intake increases shale gas-related contaminants in drinking water. These results are striking considering that our data are based on water sampling measurements taken after municipal treatment.

https://www.aeaweb.org/atypon.php?return_path=/doi/pdfplus/10.1257/aer.p20171133&etoc=1

September 21, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@ JOshua-- AER is arguable top journal in economics

September 22, 2017 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

I'm not sure I'd expect many high-SC people to read AER, but I would expect many to read SciAm:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fracking-can-contaminate-drinking-water/

September 22, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

"Well, that's interesting, because looking beyond the fallacious nature of saying that it's safe because it's safer than something else"

The idea is to say it's safe because its safer than something else that everyone already knows is safe.

Of course, the other way out to maintain your belief is to reconsider whether mop bucket water might be more deadly than we previously thought. If you want to go that way, I can't help. The belief is unfalsifiable.

"I've heard that the exact content of the fluids is proprietary"

It's basically water, sand (to prop the cracks open), detergent (to reduce surface tension), a thickener like cornflour (to make it dense enough to sink down the pipe) and bactericide (to stop bacteria eating the cornflour). There are a wide range of substances that can be used to tweak the characteristics, which I'm sure are proprietary in the same way that some particular manufacturer's recipe for gravy is proprietary. But there's no great mystery about the main ingredients.

That's why I used the mop bucket water example - the floor cleaner contains detergent and bactericides, dirt contains sand/grit, and kitchen spillages will contain substances like cornflour. You'd not necessarily want to drink it out of the bucket, and detergents are well known to cause problems for aquatic wildlife at high concentrations. But it's a substance many of us are exposed to weekly, and that we manage to dispose of safely, with no ill effects.

"I've also heard first hand from people who said they were exposed to fracking fluids and suffered significantly negative health impacts - but they could have been lying?"

I've heard first hand from people who say their health has been impacted by noise from wind turbines, the EM fields from overhead power lines, and the microwaves from nearby mobile phones. Are they lying? Or could it be psychosomatic? Fear and stress can make you feel ill, too.

Anyway, you could ask these guys...
http://business.financialpost.com/commodities/energy/haliburton-fracking-fluid

Apparently, it's "very stale-tasting".

" But I've also read scientists who are a bit less sanguine than you?"

Their argument was:
"say that out of nearly 200 commonly used compounds, there’s very little known about the potential health risks of about one-third, and eight are toxic to mammals."

This is a very familiar argument - it's used all the time against artificial pesticides and additives. The best answer to this I've seen was the Gold and Ames paper.

http://www.pnas.org/content/87/19/7777.full.pdf

So here's a list of a few of the thousands of ingredients in a substance that humans are commonly exposed to - about 99% there's no toxicity data on, but of those that have been tested, about half have proved to be carcinogenic (The ones with a '*' against them in this list).

Glucosinolates: 2-propenyl glucosinolate (sinigrin),* 3-methylthiopropyl glucosinolate, 3-methylsulfinylpropyl glucosinolate, 3-butenyl glucosinolate, 2-hydroxy-3-butenyl glucosinolate, 4-methylthiobutyl glucosinolate, 4-methylsulfinylbutyl glucosinolate, 4-methylsulfonylbutyl glucosinolate, benzyl glucosinolate, 2-phenylethyl glucosinolate, propyl glucosinolate, butyl glucosinolate

Indole glucosinolates and related indoles: 3-indolylmethyl glucosinolate (glucobrassicin), 1-methoxy-3-indolylmethyl glucosinolate (neoglucobrassicin), indole-3-carbinol,* indole-3-acetonitrile, bis(3-indolyl)methane

Isothiocyanates and goitrin: allyl isothiocyanate,* 3-methylthiopropyl isothiocyanate, 3-methylsulfinylpropyl isothiocyanate, 3-butenyl isothiocyanate, 5-vinyloxazolidine-2-thione (goitrin), 4-methylthiobutyl isothiocyanate, 4-methylsulfinylbutyl isothiocyanate, 4-methylsulfonylbutyl isothiocyanate, 4-pentenyl isothiocyanate, benzyl isothiocyanate, phenylethyl isothiocyanate

Cyanides: 1-cyano-2,3-epithiopropane, 1-cyano-3,4-epithiobutane, 1-cyano-3,4-epithiopentane, threo-1-cyano-2-hydroxy-3,4-epithiobutane, erythro-1-cyano-2-hydroxy-3,4-epithiobutane, 2-phenylpropionitrile, allyl cyanide,* 1-cyano-2-hydroxy-3-butene, 1-cyano-3-methylsulfinylpropane, 1-cyano-4-methylsulfinylbutane

Terpenes: menthol, neomenthol, isomenthol, carvone*

Phenols: 2-methoxyphenol, 3-caffoylquinic acid (chlorogenic acid),* 4-caffoylquinic acid,* 5-caffoylquinic acid (neochlorogenic acid),* 4-(p-coumaroyl)quinic acid, 5-(p-coumaroyl)quinic acid, 5-feruloylquinic acid

So by the same argument your experts are presenting, we ought to ban the entire industry producing this toxic brew until the safety of every one of its ingredients has been proved. The substance we've just banned? Cabbage.

Millions of children will thank you, too! ;-)

Unless you propose to ban all vegetables, the argument that some of the ingredients have not been test or have individually been found toxic at high concentrations does not imply that the mixture is unsafe. Scientists using the argument are either outrageously ignorant about their own area of expertise, or are deceiving the public for political effect.

"So should I accept your word for it because of your self-assigned authority? Or should I accept the authority of others who have appropriate academic credentials?"

Neither, obviously.

You ask both sides to explain their reasoning, until you can make your own judgement. The value of an "expert" should be that they can concisely and clearly explain what the evidence for and against each of the main position is, so you don't have to spend years yourself reading every paper; following every dead end. You should never, ever "take their word for it".

"Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts", as Feynman put it.

"But I do know that not knowing the contents, and whether they might be toxic because I couldn't judge even if I did know what they are, and not knowing whether anyone outside the industry really knows what they are, and not knowing how to evaluate claims of authority, means that I'm not inclined to dismiss concerns about regulation, as I do know that businesses are inclined to take shortcuts to save costs unless they are thoroughly regulated"

So, does that mean you're now worried about the totally unregulated cabbage industry? (Wait till I tell you about the stuff in coffee!!)

If so, I apologise. Cabbage is safe, too. (And coffee.)

"What's the authority of the American Economic Review?"

It's the same as for any other journal. Journal review only gives a minimal assurance that the paper is worth looking at - there is no assurance it is correct, or that the data or calculations have been checked, and indeed over half of all journal papers published turn out to be wrong (according to several journal papers - Hashtag #ReplicationCrisis). I mean, the journal 'Nature', which has about as solid a reputation as you can get, actually published Michael Mann's Hockeystick paper!!!

So far as I can see, all they're saying is that fracking related tracer chemicals are detectable within a km of the pad. Nothing at all about whether the chemicals are dangerous, are dangerous at the concentrations detected, or whether this is notably different to any other industrial process.

When someone is cooking cabbage, I can detect the cabbage-related chemicals released into the air up to a hundred yards away! They're contaminating the atmosphere people breath! I'm pretty sure the excess concentration is far larger than the 1.5% they report, too. But so what?

"I'm not sure I'd expect many high-SC people to read AER, but I would expect many to read SciAm"

Quite so! The pop-sci presentation is almost universally about people raising concerns, which they sort of but never very forcefully rebut. And that's why I'd expect that high-SC people would tend to be alarmed, even though the scientific counter-arguments are relatively easy to find and understand.

They're concerned about Methanol, eh? Well here's something else to worry about, then... https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9267548
;-)

September 22, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV,

The pop-sci presentation is almost universally about people raising concerns, which they sort of but never very forcefully rebut.

One might then think nuclear power would be getting similar treatment, but it isn't:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/nuclear-power-critical-to-u-s-climate-goals/
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-nuclear-option-could-be-best-bet-to-combat-climate-change/

So, maybe the question really is, why isn't fracking getting treatment in popsci similar to nuclear power? That might be the primary reason for high-SC people not loving fracking at this point. Dan is just showing that high-SC folks are very receptive to scientific arguments regardless of group identity, not that they're doing investigative deep dives into academic-level science in order to compensate for popsci's shortcomings (some might, but probably not many, and those probably only into their favorite science topics). If they're not receiving scientific arguments in places they tend to notice that are pro-fracking, but are getting anti-fracking ones there, then that seems to me to be an excellent explanation for the fracking issue you pointed out.

September 22, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Similarly with GMOs:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-people-oppose-gmos-even-though-science-says-they-are-safe/
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/genetically-engineered-crops-are-safe-and-possibly-good-for-climate-change/

September 22, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

"So, maybe the question really is, why isn't fracking getting treatment in popsci similar to nuclear power?"

Interesting question! I had been lazily assuming it was because fracking is about fossil fuels, which are politically unpopular at the moment, but I don't really know. Nuclear power was also politically unpopular. I can't think of any way of finding out, but it's worth thinking about.

"Dan is just showing that high-SC folks are very receptive to scientific arguments regardless of group identity, not that they're doing investigative deep dives into academic-level science in order to compensate for popsci's shortcomings"

Agreed. In my view, the only way to get the accuracy and reliability of science is to do science. If they're not doing science, (and I think some of Dan's other statistics indicate they're not,) then they will have the same problems with truth-convergence as the political partisans - it's just that the pattern of errors will be different.

I think it's an interesting effect and interesting research, and Dan's explanation is still very possible. I'm just trying to inject a note of caution in Dan's enthusiasm that SC is 'the answer' to the polarisation of science problem. :-)

"If they're not receiving scientific arguments in places they tend to notice that are pro-fracking, but are getting anti-fracking ones there, then that seems to me to be an excellent explanation for the fracking issue you pointed out."

Thanks! I'm aware, though, that there are probably lots more potential explanations. It's just a hypothesis at the moment.

September 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

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