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Science curiosity research program

From something I'm working on. More anon. . . .

The Science Curiosity Research Program

We propose a program for the study of science curiosity as a civic virtue in a polarized society.  

1. It has been assumed (very reasonably) for many years that enlightened self-government demands a science-literate citizenry. Perversely, however, recent research has shown that all manner of reasoning proficiency—from cognitive reflection to numeracy, from actively open-minded thinking to science literacy—magnifies political polarization on policy-relevant science.

2. The one science-comprehension-related disposition that defies this pattern is science curiosity. In our research, we define science curiosity as the motivation to seek out and consume scientific information for personal pleasure. The Cultural Cognition Project Science Curiosity Scale (“SCS”) enables the precise measurement of this disposition in members of the general public.

Developed originally to promote the study of public engagement with science documentaries, SCS also has also been shown to mitigate politically motivated reasoning. Politically motivated reasoning consists in the disposition to credit or dismiss scientific evidence in patterns that reflect and reinforce individuals’ membership in identity-defining groups.  It is the psychological mechanism that underwrites persistent political controversy over climate change, handgun ownership, the HPV vaccine, nuclear waste disposal, and a host of other controversial issues.

Individuals who score high on SCS, however, display a remarkable degree of resistance to this dynamic.  Not only are they less polarized than other citizens with comparable political predispositions. They also are demonstrably more willing to search out and consume scientific evidence that runs contrary to their political predispositions.

The reason why is relatively straightforward.  Politically motivated reasoning generates a dismissive, identity-protective state of mind when individuals are confronted with scientific evidence that appears to undermine beliefs associated with their group identities.  In contrast, when one is curious, one has an appetite to learn something surprising and unanticipated—a state of mind diametrically opposed to the identity-protective impulses that make up politically motivated reasoning.

These features make science curiosity a primary virtue of democratic citizenship. To the extent that it can be cultivated and deployed for science communication, science curiosity has the power to quiet the impulses that deform human reason and that divert dispositions of scientific reasoning generally from their normal function of helping democratic citizens to recognize the valid policy-relevant science.

3.  Perfecting the techniques for cultivating and deploying science curiosity is the central aim of our proposed research program.  Certain of the projects we envision aim to instill greater science curiosity in primary and secondary school students as well as adults.  But still others seek to harness and leverage the science curiosity that already exists in democratic citizens.  Specifically, we propose to use SCS to identify the sorts of communications that arouse curiosity not only in the individuals who already display the most of this important disposition but also in those who don’t—so that when they are furnished evidence that challenges their existing beliefs, they will react not with defensive resistance but with the open-minded desire to know what science knows.

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Reader Comments (29)

I think that this is a great project, as long as you expand your definition of scientific curiosity beyond passive consuming of information: "we define science curiosity as the motivation to seek out and consume scientific information for personal pleasure" to actual engagement with the scientific process.

It is perfectly possible to actively "consume" large amounts of scientific information, while simultaniously keeping part of your brain closed to the actual acceptance of the information as true.

The qualities that ought to be searched for and enhanced are those that provide cultural re-enforcemment to people who want to see how things work, people who want to figure out a better way. Real scientists, and the scientifically curious, question authority all the time. It's just that they do it in the process of sorting through the evidence to find the best possible evidence presented by the best possible authorities, not to stick their heads in the sand. Real scientists, and those that are scientifically curious, are people who can accept that the aquisition of scientific knowledge is a continuing, ongoing process. Scientific progress is real, even though in retrospect, some individual steps are later seen to be not as true as once supposed. And still, science in it's current state, is a mechanism that provides a solid basis for making real world decisions.

November 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

November 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Some engraving in the blank slate:

The Predictive Brain as a Stubborn Scientist

non-paywall version:

Before I read into this a bit, I thought it might be restricted to low-level perceptual cognition - but:

These PC [Predictive Coding, lest you think otherwise...] models have therefore been applied to a range of topics in the cognitive and clinical sciences, including language, theory of mind, self-recognition, schizophrenia, and depression. Such accounts emphasise how the machinery of PC explains the flexibility of perception, action, and cognition in a constantly changing world. However, these models that apply the PC concepts have given little attention to a core assumption of PC models: that not all predictions are flexible. Namely, the brain deploys certain stubborn predictions that are resistant to evidence-based updating.

After I read that, I still think it might be restricted to low-level perceptual cognition... Oh, wait...

November 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Jonathan - the article you cite does specify "Some predictions are stubborn because they are necessary for survival.." It's a problem with all AI - the machines don't make our survival-related mistakes, but they come up with their own. That's why eradicating "bias" (racial prejudice, "hate speech", and the like) with automated programs will never work. Unless, of course, the only humans allowed to speak publicly are those brainwashed into PC (political correctness!) uniformity. You know the NPC meme?

November 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

"Through a cognitive dissonance intervention, we then show that conservative participants who first acknowledge these contributions of science generally subsequently report significantly higher rates of believing in climate science, specifically." [emphasis theirs]:

Climate conversations: Seeking a common starting point

November 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan


Prob won't surprise that was a DM long ago (a geek before geeks got cool), and all of my human/elf/dwarf/hafling NPCs, regardless of alignment, are deeply insulted by the alt-right's shallow depiction of NPCs. However, did have a few orcs that tended to murmur things that sounded vaguely like "stay in lane" and "libtard" under their noxious breaths.

November 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Who doesn't believe in SCIENCE? Those "psychological interventions" are so much drivel - if they worked, they would be able to sell their drivel to an allegedly gullible public, especially backed by billions from Steyer, Soros, Bloomberg et al.

Anyone peddling such "interventions" should explain their total failure outside these pathetic "experiments".

November 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage


"Who doesn't believe in SCIENCE?" You are definitely better at irony when it is unintentional.

November 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Ah! A telepath - how very interesting. And funny, too: preceding the term "science" by "climate" obviously invalidates the meaning of the term. Jonathan's long NPC experience at work :)

November 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

"Ah! A telepath..." No mutant powers needed. Just compared the irony under both intentional (eye-rolling) and unintentional (LOL!) contexts.

November 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

CRT = Numeracy + Insight:

November 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Was wondering recently about what would decouple OSI from SC in education, and happen to be reading something else that gave me the following idea.

Suppose there are two possible drives that education can encourage. Let's call one epistemic image maintenance (EIM) and the other epistemic essence maintenance (EEM). EIM is the desire to be judged epistemically capable, while EEM is the desire to be epistemically capable. Hypothesize that those with relatively higher EEM drive than EIM drive (even if both are low) are more SC, but that either high EEM or high EIM (or both) can lead to high OSI.

The intention is that it be obvious that education in can encourage EEM and/or EIM, and possibly that different pedagogical techniques might encourage one more than the other. Also that image drive vs. essence drive is a more productive discriminator than incurious vs. curious (else of course this isn't a helpful reduction).

November 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Jonathan -

. Let's call one epistemic image maintenance (EIM) and the other epistemic essence maintenance (EEM). EIM is the desire to be judged epistemically capable, while EEM is the desire to be epistemically capable.

With the caveat thst I'm not entirely sure I know what you mean by epistemically capable....

Consider working with a rather typical student:

You ask her an abstract math question, and she blurts out an answer rather quickly - not really giving much of an impression that she's trying to think it through. The answer is obviously wrong, and given her level of math skills, if she had really taken the time to reason it through, even if she couldn't produce the correct answer, she would have seen why the answer she provided was obviously wrong. She blurted out an answer because she as uncomfortable with staring down the disturbing possibility that she wouldn't know the answer if she tried to reason it through.

Mostly, she just wants to give her teacher the right answer. She wants to meet the approval of her teacher, and to be judged by the teacher as smart because she gave the context answer.

For her, the goal isn't so much to reason the answer through, but to get the approval of her teacher.

I would say that is a rather common scenario with many students - particularly with math, with students who are likely to say something like "I'm not good at math," or" I can't do math."

Thart's all by way of saying that while I like the frame of EIM and EEM, IMO, often people don't fall into either of those categories very neatly. The desire to be, and to be judged as, epistemically capable are, IMO,, often very connected.

November 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

The desire to be, and to be judged as, epistemically capable are, IMO, often very connected.

Was considering that when hypothesizing SC is roughly EEM - EIM. Dan has found that SC isn't a majority behavior (if I recall Dan's studies correctly - been down that road before!), hence in most cases EIM >= EEM. I suspect that most educational practices manage to increase both, but not to the same degree. Part of the linkage is that it is hard to increase EIM way above EEM - at least at the higher end of OSI, as one will realize that others have some ability to judge epistemic essence. Linkage in the other direction could be due to social aspects, as having EEM >> EIM would tend to indicate someone who doesn't want the responsibility and/or esteem that co-occurs with higher capability.

November 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Consider some bizarre cases to illustrate things:

EEM >>> EIM : Grigori Perelman
EIM >>> EEM : his high-IQ-ness

I suspect that most educational practices focus on encouraging EIM (such as higher test scores) and hope that the linkage of EEM to EIM (through the inability to fool all of the people all of the time, and self recognization of this inability) is sufficient to drag along EEM. But this probably causes EEM to lag EIM, hence EEM > EIM, and perhaps that has assisted in decreasing population-wide SC, while at the same time increasing OSI.

November 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

recognization(?) -> recognition

November 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Jonathan -

November 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Well, there goes all hope that I'd get traditional liberal renamed to olde timey liberal. They should have had a focus group or something before assigning that name.

November 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Not sure exactly where to start, but perhaps I could choose this;

None of the questions used to create the segmentation related to current political issues or demographic indicators such as race, gender, age or income, yet the responses that each segment gives to questions on current political issues are remarkably predictable and show a very clear pattern.

I confused as to how they reach the opinion that none of their questions related to political issues - particularly since answers show a pattern of political association.

Do they think the associations are just coincidence?

November 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Yeah, that's not quite right. Here are some of their questions:

Which statement do you agree with more?
– – People are largely responsible for their own outcomes in life
– – People’s outcomes in life are determined largely by forces outside of their control

Which do you agree with more?
– – Professional athletes should be required to stand during the national anthem at their games
– – Professional athletes should be able to kneel in an act of protest during the national anthem at their

Which do you agree with more? Confederate Civil War monuments are...
– – symbols of Southern pride
– – symbols of racism

Which do you agree with more?
– –
Undocumented immigrants who arrived as children and grown up here should be protected from deportation and given the chance to earn citizenship.
– –
The government should be able to deport anyone living in America who doesn’t have a legal right to be here.

It's a bit of a stretch to get from questions like that to what appears to be their implicit claim that the tribal taxonomy just falls out of very innocent data.

November 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Jonathan -

Which do you agree with more? Confederate Civil War monuments are...
– – symbols of Southern pride
– – symbols of racism

Nothing related to politics or race there, eh? Ok. If they say so.

November 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua


It's easy to debunk that claim of theirs, but that's far from their central claim.

A more central claim of theirs that I find interesting is that "traditional liberal" is not in the left wing, but instead in the "exhausted majority" with "moderates", "passive liberals", and the "politically disengaged". But, "traditional conservative" is in the right wing. To what do they attribute this asymmetry?

November 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

I have a suspicion that SC might be somewhat related to certain anti-social behaviors, as it might be a lower desire for agreement between the self and others one otherwise feels one should agree with. For instance, how does it correlate with introversion or agreeability? For instance, it might be positively correlated with introversion and negatively correlated with agreeability. It would be ironic for Dan's project if it were negatively correlated with agreeability, but, why not? SC people might be more likely to forge a posteriori (after exposure to evidence) agreement on issues that are otherwise polarized by partisanship, but that might mean they're less susceptible to pressures to a priori agree with other ingroup members that they socialize with due to lower agreeability (and/or introversion).

November 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

above should be: and/or greater introversion

November 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Pew on GM food acceptance:

Pretty big split on women (56% against) vs. men (43% against).

November 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Google trend data on searches for conservation (including "climate change" and "global warming"):


Some conservation scientists and practitioners have expressed concern that global interest in conservation may be declining, possibly as a result of displacement by mounting and artificially disconnected concern about climate change, or due to conservation strategies falling in and out of favor. Our research shows otherwise: public interest in conservation in general and in specific conservation interventions does not seem to have decreased over the past 13 years.

The fact that public interest in conservation appears to be waxing and not waning has important implications. First, interest does not necessarily equal support; conservation scientists and practitioners should therefore encourage this growing interest by redoubling efforts to present objective, evidence-based findings about conservation in an accessible, engaging, and relatable way. This may require academics and conservation practitioners to explore new ways of communicating scientific findings, for example through collaborations with educators, journalists, storytellers, filmmakers, celebrities, illustrators, and so forth. Importantly, it appears that the public’s interest in conservation rises and falls simultaneously with the public’s interest in climate change, rather than competing with it, and therefore the two issues can benefit from each other’s popularity.

November 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Jonathan -

November 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua


The Many Labs 2 paper is:

It's long (so have only so far skimmed). It's not as bad as the Atlantic headline claims.

November 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

One very minor thing that I'm puzzling over early when reading the Many Labs 2 report is their substitute for the classic bat and ball CRT question:

“Soup and salad cost $5.50 in total. The soup costs a dollar more than the salad. How much does the salad cost?”

What's the low reflective answer they're expecting, and why? I can't believe they're expecting $0.50 - as that's too obviously wrong. Also, $2.00 and $2.50 require more reflection, and are still obviously wrong when considering that amount of reflection. I thought the point to the bat and ball question was that the 1 dollar separation encouraged a lexicographic split ($1.00, $0.10) that is close enough to the correct answer ($1.05, $0.05) to not set off any obviousness alarms (especially considering that the lower cost ball's price is asked for). Am I wrong about this, or are they?

November 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

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