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Thursday
Apr192018

Practicing what I teach -- or giving it the old college try . . .

A synopsis to be distributed before an upcoming talk:

Are smart people ruining democracy? What about curious ones?

Is political polarization over the reality of climate change, the efficacy of gun control, the safety of nuclear power, and other policy-relevant facts attributable to a simple deficit in public science literacy? Nope. I will review study results showing that polarization on complex factual issues rises in lockstep with culturally diverse citizens' capacity to comprehend scientific evidence generally. The talk will also review surprising evidence about how curiosity affects polarization -- but you'll have to come to the talk if you want to learn more about that!

So . . . get it? get it?

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Reader Comments (52)

link drop - fake news poll and Botometers at Pew:

http://www.journalism.org/2018/04/19/americans-favor-protecting-information-freedoms-over-government-steps-to-restrict-false-news-online/

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/19/qa-how-pew-research-center-identified-bots-on-twitter/

srsly: Botometers? Some painful hybrid of bottom feeders and tuchus lechers?

April 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

"...polarization on complex factual issues rises in lockstep with culturally diverse citizens' capacity to comprehend scientific evidence generally"

Yes.

"Are smart people ruining democracy?"

Despite phrased as a question, this is a highly emotive meme that is essentially (in your own terminology) a pollution of the science communication environment, which you are just using in order to grab attention, despite it may cause significant confusion and harm if it escapes into the wild on the initial support of your authority in cultural cognition.

The state of knowledge on SC seems pretty tentative even of itself, yet you show no restraint at leveraging it to aim denigration at smarts when the net sum of their contribution to society (and a harder still calculation for net contribution to democracy) is not known even wrt these effects, let alone the much wider contributions of smarts. For all we know, without the very same smarts acting in the very same way, there would be no science and technology benefits at all, and possibly no society and democracy such as we enjoy in the West, as the former underpins the latter. Memes have been called words that think for us, and your mindless construction here practically begs for some culture or other to hi-jack these words and successfully inject them over the reason of many adherents. Even if you were in a much stronger scientific position regarding knowledge about the net contribution of smarts from all their +ve and +ve contributions, and relative to all others in society, this would be about the last way to choose to announce your theory if you wanted to avoid conflict and backlash, and maximize understanding. Not to mention precedent here, e.g. Stalin also thought that smarts were ruining his society, but that concept did not end well for said society. I might add that if this concept did truly go viral (after all you have 14.5 billion readers), you'd be considered one of the smarts that perhaps ought to be neutered in some fashion.

It matters not that what your pitch is precisely or whether you are trying to flatter / attract the curious on curiosity etc, the words once out there always have the possibility of an evolution outside your control.

April 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

The result: Around two-thirds (66%) of the tweeted links the Center examined were shared by suspected bots, or automated accounts that can generate or distribute content without direct human oversight.

Oy.

April 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

What Andy West said.

April 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

Gee. If I didn't know you guys loved me, I might actually feel bad

April 21, 2018 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

It's the duty of those who respect the great things you're doing here at cultural cognition, to point out when you drop the ball and do something that not only isn't great, but is outright reckless. Temporarily, you are meant to feel bad 0:

April 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

Another ringing endorsement of what Andy West said!

And a note, this is the second time this dangerous meme-creation happens - the first was a few days ago when Dan wrote about something he called "fascist populism":
http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2018/4/16/interesting-talk-coming-up-today-populist-modes-of-president.html

Yes, we love you, but wish (with due respect) to remind you of an old saying: "Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, third time is enemy action."

To see this, consider that "smart people endanger democracy" was the motto of Pol Pot.

April 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

Funny thing is that the first analysis of "Groupthink" (TM) as a danger implicit in the creation of in- and out- groups originated at Yale in the '70s. Those lessons seem to have been forgotten:

"I use the term ‘groupthink’ as a quick and easy way to refer to a mode of thinking
that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when
the members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically
appraise alternative courses of action. Groupthink is a term of the same order as
the words in the newspeak vocabulary George Orwell presents in his dismaying
1984 – a vocabulary with terms such as ‘doublethink’ and ‘crimethink’. By putting
groupthink with those Orwellian words, I realise that groupthink takes on an
Orwellian connotation. The invidiousness is intentional, Groupthink refers to a
deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing and moral judgment."

Irving Janis, Victims of Groupthink, 1972

https://www.thegwpf.org/content/uploads/2018/02/Groupthink.pdf

April 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

FWIW -

I'm not exactly on board with Andy's alarmist fears.

While I am dubious about Dan's certainty w/r/t the causal relationship between "smarts" and polarization (and his certainty about the causal relationship between SC and polarization, let alone his apparent certainty about the validity of how he measures "smarts"), I think that Dan's "emotive" (I would say hyperbolic) rhetoric isn't as scary as Andy seems (to me) to think.

I mean, comparisons to Stalin and Pol Pot?

Seriously?


We live in an age of hyperbolism and exaggerated outrage. One of the manifestations that exemplify that age is hyperbolic concern about hyperbolism.

Consider the upset about Dan's rhetoric within the frame of the constant hand-wringing about the supposedly catastrophic effect of political correctness (CEOPC, for Andy). Makes Ecoute's comment amusingly ironic, doesn't it?

April 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

I trying to figure out if this is the paper that has been discussed here previously, or if it is a new one:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-018-0122-0.epdf?

April 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Joshua:

My citing of Stalin was clearly not as a direct 'comparison' to Dan in person. As I said, "the words once out there always have the possibility of an evolution outside your [i.e. Dan's] control." Memes of this kind can take on a life of their own, as part of emergent movements that may in turn enable extremist leaders. If you think it's alarmist to call out this ungrounded and emotive meme, so be it. One person's caution can be another person's alarm. Only future history can tell indisputably which is which, though sometimes cultural analysis can give us a very strong likelihood.

April 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

As I said, "the words once out there always have the possibility of an evolution outside your [i.e. Dan's] control

And it's possible that monkeys might fly out of my butt at any minute.

Everyone loves a slippery slope, Andy.

I'm quite sure that we could find, by many, many orders magnitude, more examples of hyperbole like Dan's that lead basically nowhere than examples thst lead to movements like Stalinism or Pol Pot's regime.

We all find patterns and pick points of reference with the influence of bias.

If you think it's alarmist to call out this ungrounded and emotive meme, so be it.

I wasn't criticizing "call[ing] out [Dan's] ungrounded and emotive meme." not at all.

I have been critical of Dan's hyperbole on a number of occasions. I think criticism of hyperbole should stand on a critique of the internal logic, rather than on the potential of alarmist slippery slope extrapolations.

April 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"Gee. If I didn't know you guys loved me, I might actually feel bad"

Of course we love you! But people who love people are entitled to point out when those people are doing evil things, right? :-)

Seriously, that's an exageration. But I get the feeling that you're one of the many smart people who doesn't like democracy when it delivers results you don't like. People disagree about stuff. One of the virtues of the Enlightenment is people disagreeing and debating stuff so as not to get locked into group-think and dogma. Polarisation may, in some circumstances, be a good thing. But obviously not for people whose value system emphasises conformity to authorities and societal consensus. It depends on your 'hierarchical' dispositions, obviously.

"Ruining democracy" could mean that the will of the people was not being respected, so it wasn't 'democracy', or it could mean that the democratic decision was 'wrong', ruining the supposed virtue of democracy - causing it to deliver precisely the political outcomes it's supposed to prevent.

Elitism - the belief that the political/ideological elite know better than the people how to run the world, and should be allowed to do so without the interference of "the people" - is a common belief. It is indeed what led to Stalinism and Pol Pot. It seems unlikely to do so in this instance, which is not to say that we should leave it unremarked. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing, as Mill said.

April 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

>I'm quite sure that we could find, by many, many orders magnitude, more examples of hyperbole like Dan's that lead basically nowhere than examples thst lead to movements like Stalinism or Pol Pot's regime.

Dan's phrase is close enough to a generic meme that *already has* formed a co-evolutionary part of the narrative of such regimes. It's ability to push the right buttons in us to get selected, even with foreknowledge of the last time around the loop, is proven. In the meme soup from which cultural narratives arise, this gives it hugely better odds than most of the others, as indeed there are lots of others that despite some emotive angle have never made the big time, and might never do so. The presence of these others provides no reason not to caution that Dan's authority behind the meme in question might help to propel it back into the wild.

It's worth adding that even within the more modest context of Dan's purpose in helping to alleviate cultural polarizations (and indeed discover systemic means of doing so), this phrase would likely do much more harm than good to such goals, once 'interpreted', or retransmitted minus proper context, by others. The associated conflicts and ghosts it raises would in any case undermine any purpose in deploying it (unless that purpose was purely controversy). And there is no downside in not deploying it anyhow, so no balance to weigh.

>Everyone loves a slippery slope, Andy.

If you are proposing that I'm sliding down the slippery slope to alarmism, then maybe you are being alarmist. But one person's caution is another's alarmism (see last response). Slippery slopes promoted by legions of adherents as a major plank of a cultural narrative on the back of emotive memes, yet revealed by history to have been oversold, will in recent centuries often have been a net burden on society. Occasionally, very seriously so. In this case, I'm advising against the use of an emotive meme. However, Dan will or won't take my one to one advice, and society will be none the wiser as to that advice, and not burdened by me whichever way he goes.

>I have been critical of Dan's hyperbole on a number of occasions. I think criticism of hyperbole should stand on a critique of the internal logic, rather than on the potential of alarmist slippery slope extrapolations.

I think that where internal logic and potential cultural / memetic impacts are both relevant, critique, like above, should address both. It is indeed for both reasons that Dan's phrase is a pollution of the SC environment, to use his terminology, as the way in which communication is crafted affects its efficacy and any likelihood of unintended effects. So this aspect too is definitely worth critique to a professional on the science of science communication, though of course Dan is at liberty to disagree with all or any part of my assessment.

April 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

The Pol Pot meme is indeed one of the most dangerous ones around, but at least it appears to be dormant for now - unless of course Dan succeeds in reviving it. Fastest-spreading memes now are the funny ones, like the "Starbucks free POC coffee" (NB POC=person of color), created and spread by pranksters on 4Chan>
https://boards.4chan.org/pol/thread/168535094/starbucks-free-poc-coffee
> who created fake coupons and spread them all over the internet. Starbucks employees of course know the coupons are fake but they are honoring them anyway, the marginal cost of one cup of coffee being practically zero.

Is there an antidote to memes - that seems to me the most interesting question. There may be, judging by the hackers at the NSA who got so overwhelmed with FOIA requests for information on surveillance techniques that they started sending out tall tales of nonexistent "psycho-electronic weapons" completely baffling the recipients:
https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/weapons/a19855256/muckrock-foia-psycho-electric-weapons/

Dan - this is your clue. Admit you really planned to load all of us dissenters onto the back of a truck, ship us off to political correctness re-education camp, and feed us cockroach gruel until we reform. I don't know if it will work, but it worked for the NSA, so unless you have a better idea it may be worth a try.

April 22, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

Andy -

I will agree to the point (if it is indeed something you agree with), that Dan's tendency for hyperbole can certainly be sub-optimal - from the standpoint of encouraging productive exchange from people who disagree - and probably not all that too terribly infrequently counter-productive. I think it can be an opportunity cost, with little if any upside.

Aside from that, I see little to fear in your slippery slope scenarios: Dan's hyperbole has just about zero chance of significantly increasing the likelihood of a neo-Stalinist state, IMO - and given that (IMO) there are many other more likely catalysts for such scenarios (including many, much more focused and impactful attacks against "smart" people), I'll offer my concern that you might lose sleep over Dan's rhetoric, but anticipate I'll be sleeping just fine after reading Dan's post.

April 22, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

For the record -easily accessible to actual readers right here - Andy NEVER mentioned ANYTHING about a "slippery slope". Contagion can be sudden - as can phase transition.

April 22, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

Joshua:

I'm glad you'll be sleeping just fine. And thank you for your kind concern, but so will I, as indeed I already have since the 21st. My advice stemmed from objective consideration, not from worry. When pointing out that someone has just deployed a known negative meme, it would be normal to cite at least one instance of prior emergence. Even if it seems rather obvious in this case, i.e. one of the top ranking negative memes in cultural history, such citing is still useful to do, and indeed it would be rather odd to avoid that. As to chances, I have made no statement regarding the likeliness of emergence of a neo-Stalinist state from Dan's posting. But I have said that Dan's phrase practically begs for some culture or other to hi-jack it and successfully inject it over the reason of many adherents; which occurrence can cause harm in various ways long before any solid manifestation of such a state starting to arise, and with or without any such follow-on occurring. As you note, there is no upside to this deployment either, and regarding outcomes, if we know anything about the vast array of competing cultural narratives in the world, we know they are not predictable, as some events have demonstrated in recent times.

April 22, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

link drop - "That’s My Truth: Evidence for Involuntary Opinion Confirmation":

https://www.gileadlab.net/uploads/1/4/5/3/14530360/1948550618762300.pdf

in popsci:

https://digest.bps.org.uk/2018/04/20/our-brains-rapidly-and-automatically-process-opinions-we-agree-with-as-if-they-are-facts/

April 22, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Jonathan - the work from Gilead et al you cite seems to be re-discovering (oddly without attribution) a special case of the general case outlined by Chomsky back in 1957 in his magisterial "Syntactic Structures".

I don't believe there is really such a new thing as "post truth", "alternative facts", and related constructs - instead there is such a thing as common sense leading to a rejection of political correctness promoted by much of what passes for social science.

Chomsky's dazzling insight has been confirmed countless times since, and should have led honest social scientists to stop peddling such tripe. The fact that they ignore it shows more about their scientific integrity than about the alleged irrationality of the anti-PC crowd.

"....we can recognize a phrase such as “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously” as both nonsensical and grammatically correct because we have an abstract knowledge base that allows us to make such distinctions even though the statistical relations between words are non-existent."
https://www.nyu.edu/about/news-publications/news/2015/december/chomsky-was-right-nyu-researchers-find-we-do-have-a-grammar-in-our-head.html

April 23, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

“Colorless green ideas sleep furiously”

belongs to the same class as

"Diversity is our strength", "Race is a social construct", "Gender fluidity at birth", "All cultures are equal", "Unlimited immigration by third-worlders is an economic benefit" and suchlike nonsensical sentences too numerous to list here.

April 23, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

I think the "That's My Truth" paper shows an alternative explanation to Dan's MS2R thesis for the results of the skin-rash-gun-control test. In the "That's My Truth" paper, the expertise is grammaracy instead of numeracy (and grammaracy is a much lower bar). Also, in the "That's My Truth" paper, the impact is on delay, not correctness. However, if there is a Stroop-like effect due to congruent vs. incongruent opinion, then it seems likely that this effect interacts with one's ability to decide in the skin-rash-gun-control test whether the correct result requires more than the immediately obvious (but incorrect) math, once the congruent-opinion result is seen (due to using too little math). In other words, a Stroop-like effect may induce subjects to bypass some system-2 grammar checks (although they are unnecessary in this case, they still take time) in the congruent opinion case in "That's My Truth" as well as induce subjects (high in numeracy) to bypass proper base-rate-compensating math in the skin-rash-gun-control test.

So - the impact of the congruent/incongruent opinion is first on system 1, which decides whether or not system 2 should be recruited to do more work. This Stroop-like explanation, unlike MS2R, has the advantage of explaining the lack of conscious knowledge of one's deception.

Also, I think the thesis in "That's My Truth" that humans don't differentiate between different species of belief congruence (subjective vs. objective), nor between different simultaneous sources (as with visual vs. semantic sources in the standard Stroop test) is spot on - at least within system 1.

April 23, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Can we try a transposition here? I want to know if Jonathan's explanation using Dan's test results has an exact correspondence with why most people (growing up with Euclidean space, uniform time, and objects moving nowhere near light-speed) have no problem with Newtonian physics but find general relativity so complicated.

Funny aside on the effects of words on the brain: while sitting in a long-ago classroom I developed vast sympathy for Lorentz because of the "Lorentz boost", which, by eliminating many square meters of blackboard equations, boosted me back to familiar reality. (It reduces general to special relativity). But my true love was something called a "killing field", which I at first understood to be what is sounds like - only much later realizing it is a vector named for Wilhelm Killing.

It reminds me of Mark Twain, who had liked looking at German texts because of the frequency of the word "damit", but lost his wish to learn that language after he found out it simply means "thereby".

April 23, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

Ecoute,

Had similar experience when first reading about "Lie algebra" - before hearing it pronounced.

April 23, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Ah, but that's the advantage of hearing the word before seeing it written! Chomsky had volumes to say on that. But I still hope for an answer to my question :)

Here is another vast right wing conspiracy for you:
https://www.wired.com/story/sciences-reproducibility-crisis-is-being-used-as-political-ammunition/

April 23, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

Andy -

My advice stemmed from objective consideration,...

I admire your ability to objectively assess the risk posed by Dan's rhetoric. What's interesting is that I, objectively, assess the risk much lower than you do (objectively, of course).

April 23, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Ecoute

"Ah, but that's the advantage of hearing the word before seeing it written!" But it went the other way with "Thue system". And neither order works for "Post correspondence problem".

April 23, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Jonathan - you can laugh, but it is to those killing fields and Lorenz boosts that I owe my appreciation for the beauty of pseudo-Riemannian manifolds!

Whatever works.

April 23, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

sorry typo, Lorentz

April 23, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

>I admire your ability to objectively assess the risk posed by Dan's rhetoric.

Your admiration is misplaced. I have not sized the risks associated with Dan's rhetoric. The risks associated with any one transmission source of negatives memes such as "Jews are the source of society's woes", "intellectuals are the source of society's woes", "those of faith X are the source of society's woes", "those of race Y are the source of society's woes", etc. are not calculable, and also are manifold, covering a whole range of damage functions from very high to nuisance and each with their own risk factors. Such memes having high selection value follow epidemiology rules, and hence similarly to diseases the impact from one source depends also on the situation regarding other transmission sources, different vectors of spread, latent levels of resistance or vulnerability in different pockets of the population, and extra to diseases, the levels of potential co-evolutionary partner / accelerative memes also within different parts of the population. Developed societies therefore choose not to attempt the hopeless task of assessing each risk and reacting proportionately, which would also be way too slow. Instead, to use another metaphor, they adopt a fire-watch strategy, including reduction of forest burden (increases resistance, so like vaccines in medicine or vaccimes for memes), forbidding any spark (transmission source) in the forest, and stamping immediately on any that do occur, watching for smoke that might indicate smouldering embers (a disease that can morph to be more harmful, likewise with memes or those in underground transmission modes), or where several unstamped sparks near together might link-up, dowsing down even where there seems on the surface little global threat. The metaphor is not exact, there are far more incidents than sparks in the forest for instance. Nevertheless my assessment is that Dan broke the fire-watch, and given he's a teacher of social psychology and cultural modes, he ought to be one of the wardens. Also that he did this for something which, despite phrased as a question, is a strong implication that he cannot possibly support scientifically, and for which phrasing there is no cost or downside whatsoever in avoiding (indeed one of the nuisance factors, is that this meme will likely harm his goals in any case).

April 23, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

Andy -

I have not sized the risks associated with Dan's rhetoric.

I don't agree. You decided to mention that risk. You wouldn't do so if you sized it as having zero (or less than zero?) risk. This is what I meant above when I spoke about the bias in when and why people focus on certain patterns. You may not have assigned a precise probability on that risk, but your focus on that risk and association of Dan's rhetoric with Stalinism isn't just a random event.

Now I happen to agree that there is a non-zero risk of your afeared connection between Dan's rhetoric and a new Stalinist state - but then again I also think that there is a non-zero chance that monkeys might fly out of my butt at any minute.

My own preference is to try not focus on events that most likely won't ever be associated (e.g., Dan's rhetoric and a neo-Stalinst state) and instead focus on what, it seems to me, are more likely events (i.e., Dan's rhetoric resulting in sub-optimal impact on productive dialog, counterproductive impact on dialog, etc.).

Of course, sometimes I do get distracted from that goal, but certainly I do nonetheless find it interesting when other people turn their focus on the potential of such events happening even though the are massively unlikely. Then I like to query why people focus on certain of those potential occurrences despite their unlikeliness. Such queries can sometimes turn up interesting results.

...he ought to be one of the wardens...Also that he did this for something which, despite phrased as a question, is a strong implication that he cannot possibly support scientifically,

Even though I'm not able to get into Dan's head, I would venture the guess that your interpretation of the implications of his question is different than his interpretation, rather than he was going after an implication that he cannot support scientifically.

Maybe he doesn't consider himself as part of the Stalinist state prevention enforcement forces?

April 23, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Yes, I feel awful that rhetorical questions in my title have wounded our democracy.

April 24, 2018 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

>'You may not have assigned a precise probability on that risk, but your focus on that risk and association of Dan's rhetoric with Stalinism isn't just a random event.'

Well off course it isn't random. Similarly to quoting precedence cases in law, what purpose does it serve to talk about this meme and yet studiously avoid any example of its classic cases? When stating that Dan has broken the fire-watch, mentioning the fire is necessary - the proven selective potency of the meme is pertinent. If I made a similar comment to above and yet without the mention of Stalin, would your critique then have been that I was mysteriously implying Stalinism but had not been candid enough to mention this? I.e. folks know the case anyhow, so they will in-fill. Breaking the fire-watch does not in fact mean there will be a fire, of course. But it is more honest to name the fire than not. Wouldn't your approach imply that any and all serious critique regarding deployment of this meme was not actually admissible, for fear that the implication of Stalinism hanging in the background would come forth, whether or not it was explicitly mentioned?

>'...I would venture the guess that your interpretation of the implications of his question is different than his interpretation.'

Of course. Otherwise he would not have trodden the path. But eagerness to pursue a goal can sometimes obscure the fuller implications of the chosen route, and indeed the possibilities of unintended consequences too.

>'Maybe he doesn't consider himself as part of the Stalinist state prevention enforcement forces?'

I think all of us need to have some contribution in that regard, just like a real fire-watch, though per above Stalinism is only one species of fire. Anyhow it seems to me that the main and most excellent purpose of cultural cognition is to understand the action of, and mitigate against, the negative cultural modes that cause polarization and conflict. And regarding which imo there is more progress here than I see elsewhere. But in any case Dan can hear us. So let's ask him about warden duties directly. Dan, do you consider the guardianship against pernicious memes in society such as those I listed just above, as part of your public / teaching role ?

April 24, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

>Yes, I feel awful that rhetorical questions in my title have wounded our democracy.

Saved from the disingenuous by comedy. So in your professional opinion regarding communication techniques and consequences, rhetoric doesn't count? (not to mention rhetoric about rhetoric).

April 24, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

Andy - except for comedy, what other response would you consider appropriate?

Few people are better qualified to address the spread of memes (qua memes, not related to biology, fire prevention, phase transitions, etc) than Noam Chomsky, and yet he has somehow been rounded up in support of an anti-Trump puppet show prepared by a Mexican artist in honor of celebrating "Marx 100" (presumably to celebrate the Russian revolution) starring Chomsky, Ayn Rand, Elon Musk, and of course Marx himself. The puppet play has already been mercilessly lampooned as "4 Jews walk into a bar" on right-wing media. I haven't seen it - premiere is in 2 days - but the advance notices aren't encouraging.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/16/theater/noam-chomsky-puppet-show-manufacturing-mischief.html

April 24, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

@Andy

sorry-- I thought you had been trying on purpose to advance a laughable position-- to get a rise out of me & others.

As has been suggested, my own "theory" is not obtuse enough to think how a person in my position talks influenes thequality of the science communication environment.

April 24, 2018 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@Dan. No, completely serious. Nothing in my text suggests humor, and I think you'll find those who chimed alignment were not being humorous either.

I can't parse your second sentence, which was no doubt written in a hurry. However, if you think you don't have enough influence to negatively impact the science communication environment, then I think you're mistaken. And the details of your theories don't matter to the issue. Once propelled out into the wild, your meme will in any case be shorn of context. It will retain only the worst possible (from an interpretation PoV) and shortest text, plus initially, your authority, then it will iteratively gain (wrong) meta-data of its own. You know how memes work, right? You need to consider losing this one; highly likely it will anyhow do much more harm than good to your theory about SC mitigating polarization. Also it is in itself a pollution of the SC environment (as I noted when you first used the phrase last October), notwithstanding framed in a rhetorical question. You are using it in a piece of science communication: it is highly emotive, it will misdirect, you cannot have evidence that it could be true (because it's impossible to determine the absolute contribution of smarts to society / democracy). What more does one need, to say this is pollution? Moreover your position and use of the rhetoric device requires an implication that the offending phrase is true, not false, at least relative to SC people - though per above any details of your theories won't matter for the meme to take off, and it will be read as an absolute.

April 25, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

Ecoute:

It seems the answer to your question, is merely 'proper consideration'.

According to the write-up, the Trump puppet only has a walk-on part. The main target is technology (AI), with Elon Musk taking the hits for this, and Ayn Rand being skewered on the side for laughs.

April 25, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

Andy

1. I agree with every word you wrote here. Most emphatically.
2. I am even more alarmist than you are, probably because I place Dan's meme-propagation abilities into a broader context - see in particular reference to previous thread where Dan mentioned "fascist populism", an (as yet) non-existent concept.
3. I, as you, hold Dan in esteem and consider him to be a man of integrity. Otherwise I wouldn't bother posting here.

So therefore our problem reduces to making him see the danger he is inadvertently introducing into the commonweal.

First a word on the broader context: Mrs Albright has a new book out where she claims the 20th century was defined by a battle "between fascism and democracy". That is absurd on the face of it, since the century was defined by the battle between communism and democracy, as anyone not blinded by fanaticism can see for himself. The danger in using her sly, implicit, identification of communism with democracy is too obvious to require elaboration. And that's where the Mexican artist also comes in - a nihilist, Dadaist, neo-Marxist, whose funding over the years originates with known leftist sympathizers under cover of support for the "arts".

Second: how to convey to Dan the nature of the causes he is associating himself with by promoting such memes? Other than utterly ridiculing them - surely Stalin and Pol Pot need no additional criticism - I see no other way.

Finally: all those neo-Marxists share with the neo-Nazis a firm belief in an inevitable future conflagration that will consume all except themselves, leaving them in control of society. Breaching the firewall encourages these two groups and nobody else. And it does increase the probability of a massive conflagration, whence the alarmism. I don't know how to make this clearer.

April 25, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

Ecoute:

For sure I think there's a significant issue regarding the meme within the title of this post. But wherever else you are going above, is outside my scope and taste. I have no issue with Dan's alignments insomuch as my limited knowledge of same even stretches. Which isn't to say they all seem to match mine, but that in itself is no issue to me either. What's important anyhow is his work, which while I reserve judgement on or disagree with some points / analyses in different measures, is generally great stuff. And he makes a better stab in this work at attempting objectivity than I've seen in many other places (nor can any of us achieve this entirely). I'm assuming the inclusion of this meme was due merely to the kind of imprudence moment that happens to us all from time to time, especially when eagerly pursuing a focused goal.

April 25, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

Dan, Re Andy West's sentence in the comment above that starts out: " However, if you think you don't have enough influence to negatively impact the science communication environment..... Or your own: "my own "theory" is not obtuse enough to think how a person in my position talks influenes thequality of the science communication environment. "

If you don't think you could negatively impact the science communication, why would you think that anything you say or do would have positive effects?

What is it that you think you do, anyway?

April 25, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

Gaythia -


If you don't think you could negatively impact the science communication,...

I tend to doubt that Dan is arguing that nothing he might do could impact "the science communicarion environment" (in one direction or another).

One might argue that how Dan "talks" through a rhetorical question he asks on his blog - with no direct exchange and opportunity for explication with an interlocutor, has a significantly different level of impact on "the science communicarion environment" than how he "talks" when he presents materials to an audience or a journalist or academic colleague (with opportunity for interactive explication) or how he "talks" when he prepares a manuscript for publication.

Holding Dan accountable for how anyone might interpret a one-off comment in a blog post as a risk factor for the next Stalinist state or Pol Pot-like regime seems like a rather high bar, IMO.

April 25, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua

Your proposed bar would indeed be incredibly high, implying a sized risk and identified direct path that would stretch potentially decades into the future, and separated only to Dan's postings / lectures (it was part of the distributed synopsis and has I think been in use since last October) rather than tangled with any other sources of similar transmission, and necessitating decent estimates of all other risk factors from elsewhere that might accrue to this unlikely event. And all within the maelstrom of competing cultural narratives that is a wicked system to boot (so defying any prediction anyhow). Well who on Earth is doing that? As explained at great length above, I am holding Dan accountable for breaking the fire-watch upon a particular pernicious meme, the communal upholding of which is the only practical means for moderate societies to defend themselves against the little critters. The deployment of said meme can reap manifold negative effects without any such state arising, or anything approaching same, yet its historic prior emergence (as noted via at least 1 classic example), demonstrating potency, is nevertheless highly relevant. Not to mention that this history will spring to the minds of most educated readers anyhow. However, you've made it very clear that you would rather have had it that the history of this meme remained explicitly unmentioned, but why?

April 25, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

@All

Given that corresponding lecture (& papers) are about how to protect science communication environment from pollution that denies us the valueof high civic science literacy, putting me in same pot as Pol Pot, Stalin, et al.can only be pulled off as satire, conscious or otherwise.

The only regime that my rhetorical questions promote is the a href="http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2012/11/21/the-liberal-republic-of-science-part-4-a-new-political-scien.html"> Liberal Republic of Science.

April 26, 2018 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@All

The corresponding lecture (& papers) are about how to protect science communication environment from pollution that denies us the valueof high civic science literacy. Putting me in same pot as Pol Pot, Stalin, et al.can be pulled off only as satire, conscious or otherwise.

The rhetorical questions I pose protect one regime only: the Liberal Republic of Science.

April 26, 2018 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Dan - you as a jurist will know Scottish juries have a 3rd option, Not Proven. Your case here falls into that category - maybe you could still save it by calling it something other than "liberal" but I think the problem is deeper. This is one of the pioneers of VR explaining why your approach, in spite of all its apparent advantages, truly is a form of Maoism. Please read it. Deadly serious - no joke!

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
I was talking about a few different things at the time I wrote “Digital Maoism.” One of them was the way that we were centralizing culture, even though the rhetoric was that we were distributing it. Before Wikipedia, I think it would have been viewed as being this horrible thing to say that there could only be one encyclopedia, and that there would be one dominant entry for a given topic. Instead, there were different encyclopedias. There would be variations not so much in what facts were presented, but in the way they were presented. That voice was a real thing.

And then we moved to this idea that we have a single dominant encyclopedia that was supposed to be the truth for the global AI or something like that. But there’s something deeply pernicious about that. So we’re saying anybody can write for Wikipedia, so it’s, like, purely democratic and it’s this wonderful open thing, and yet the bizarreness is that that open democratic process is on the surface of something that struck me as being Maoist, which is that there’s this one point of view that’s then gonna be the official one.
<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<
http://nymag.com/selectall/2018/04/jaron-lanier-interview-on-what-went-wrong-with-the-internet.html

April 26, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

@Dan

>Putting me in same pot as Pol Pot, Stalin, et al.can be pulled off only as satire, conscious or otherwise.

As explained in detail to Joshua above, I am absolutely NOT putting you in the same pot as those despicable guys, therefore your assumption of satire simply isn't applicable anyhow. For the avoidance of doubt, I think you are about as far from those guys as it is possible to get. And also for the avoidance of doubt, this is definitely not satire. Have you actually taken in the comments here? (I know you are often in a hurry, and will tend to breeze through sometimes). What I am doing, is fingering you for breaking the fire-watch on a pernicious meme, represented via your rhetorical question 'are smart people ruining democracy'?

The nobility of your cause, indeed gratifyingly high, and the details of your theories, all perfectly resonable no doubt, will both *make no difference* to the potential harmful spread of this meme (initially) via your authority. The reference to Stalinism is merely to demonstrate it's potency, which one presumes you're obviously familiar with in any case. A variety of pernicious memes like this cycle endlessly in history, due to high selective value (hit touch points in our psyche, humanity has traveled a very long time indeed with these 'passengers'). The point being that this potency means you cannot ever hope to control this meme! If you are lucky, the harms will only be of nuisance value, though even that probably means harm to your theories. But breaking the fire-watch cannot be a help to our democratic institutions, and by licensing other science folks to break the fire-watch too, can only be damaging to the Liberal Republic of Science, at least in principle, possibly in practice, and could not ultimately be helpful no matter what great theory your rhetorical question is meant to help support.

As noted up-thread, the way memes work means your context will be shorn off at some point anyhow. Let me try to do this by example rather than by theory. I paraphrase, but you'll get the gist. You are one uber-rightist daily-hit opinion piece away from 'mainstream social psychologist Kahan flat-out confirms hidden leftist agenda, asks whether smart people are ruining our democracy, and it seems he thinks they are - no doubt only smart people they disagree with though, as of course it wouldn't include him. There can be little doubt that it would include all the smart people creating technology and running our companies and economies'. You are one uber-leftist anarchist times opinion piece away from 'mainstream social psychologist Kahan thinks that intellects and their institutions are undermining our society; comrades, at last the mainstream has been forced to admit what we've known all along. Arise, throw over the intellectual elite and return control to the people!' You are one uber-zealous brimstone post opinion piece away from 'mainstream social psychologist Kahan, who has long been an enemy of the good Lord's obvious creation of life, has finally confessed that the smart people in institutions like his own are harming society. His data also says that those of us who are merely God's curious creatures, are naturally helpful to society. We thank the Lord for showing Kahan the way to this fundamental admission. Brethren, it is time to close down all those institutions of so-called learning that deny our Lord's creation.' And so on, through every philosophy in whatever way. These are caricatured for demonstration purposes of course, and of course the 'pieces' are *not true*. But that is the danger with such a pernicious meme like this. Your voluntary inclusion of this meme provides just sufficient plausibility, and is bendable any which way, and once one of these is out, you will never be able to claw back control of this meme again, no matter what you do! The fact that they aren't going to lead to a political or religious tyranny, will not be of comfort.

Your linked lecture of 2013 is fine and dandy. No doubt a powerful contribution to the Liberal Republic of Science. But we know your credentials and high goals already, they are not being challenged here and there is no need to flash you ID card. However, it remains the case that the inclusion of a pernicious meme in your distributed synopsis per the head of this post, is not good. You cannot say that because it it is rhetorical it gets a free pass. Rhetoric is part of communication. Your context will be shorn off anyhow; this is how memes work. But part of that context is in any case that smart people are causing more polarization, which according to your data SC people are mitigating - i.e. you are using the meme to highlight a contrast. BUT this meme once shorn of context will be read as an absolute, not as a relative to SC. And you cannot possibly support that absolute. So there is a (no doubt unintended) unwholesome foothold here that can be leveraged, and in general for highly selective memes, what can be leveraged generally will be, at least to some degree. If it is strong enough, rhetoric is itself pollution of science communication. You are employing a pernicious meme drenched in the ghosts and conflicts of the past, merely as a minor means of contrasting smart and curious people wrt your (perfectly reasonable) theories - this in itself is an (inadvertent) polluting activity.

"The meanings that make positions on a science-related issue a marker of identity are pollution in the science communication environment." Your rhetorical question grants to every type of extremist just sufficient plausible deniability, when you say they are absolutely wrong to have claimed that Kahan's work supports their identity based position, or alternatively the anti-position they are fighting.

April 26, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

Andy - quick note, please take the far right out of your list of potential meme propagators. It's a purely leftist potential, as demonstrated e.g in The Intercept v. prof. Tribe (whose book next month we are anxiously awaiting) >
https://theintercept.com/2018/02/12/harvards-laurence-tribe-has-become-a-deranged-russia-conspiracist-today-was-his-most-humiliating-debacle/
> or Bloomberg v. Steyer (they both promote open borders, climate change, Trump impeachment, but disagree on tactics). >
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-04-25/billionaire-tom-steyer-s-quest-to-impeach-trump
> N.B. the polarization graph in 2nd link is in my view more accurate than the one used by the Cultural Cognition project, though only after being duly adjusted for hispanics and women split into white and non-white.

April 26, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEcoute Sauvage

Since my last comment, my partner has had an accident and is due for surgery tomorrow. @Dan I will reply to any further response in due course, but this will likely be delayed.

April 26, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

I hope all goes well, Andy.

April 26, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

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