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Back in the US ... back in the US ... back in the US of Societal Risk conflict

Back from week in UK where among the many comic misadventure (including seagulls who humiliated me by stealing my sandwich on a crowded rail platform; in the U.S. no rational seagull would do that because: he'd be shot dead!) was forgetting computer power pack which made keeping track of events at home & sending reports of my experiences challenging.

Will try to fill in to some extent this weekend. 

In particular, will post "tomorrow" a reconstructed account I staked out in my "debate" with Steven Lewandowsky in Bristol on the the utility of "97% consensus" messaging for promoting constructive public engagement with climate change science (I was knocked unconscious in the 33nd round and have had to get the assistance of others to piece together what transpired before that).

But here is list of talks I gave (including the "debate"; I'm not a fan of this format-- it is fun, but it is exudes misunderstanding of what the nature of scientific evidence consists in & the nature of the mindset with which serious people should be addressing it).

1. "The Science Communication Measurement Problem," Cardiff Univ., June 1.  Presented major findings from The Measurement Problem study, which used a validated climate-science assessment instrument designed to unconfound the measurement of cultural identity expressed by "beliefs in" climate change (human caused or otherwise) from knowledge of the best available evidence on causes and consequences of climate change. The former ("beliefs in ...") has zero correlation with the latter ("knowledge").  On the contrary, those with the most knowledge are the most polarized on whether "climate change" (human-caused or otherwise) is happening.  Those who don't know much--the vast majority on both sides--do agree, however, that climate science suggests humans are causing climate change and we are in deep shit.  

In sum, "believe in" climate meausures "who you are, whose side you are on," not "what do you know, what do you worry about ..."  Sadly, politics measures former and not latter question.

What can we do to fix that-- and to stop making this problem worse?

Also introduced the ever-popular Pakistani Dr and Kentucky Farmer!

Slides here.

2. "Debating 'consensus messaging,' " Bristol University, June 2.  As you might guess, the Measurement Problem data was very central to my argument that the continuation of a "social marketing campaign" featuring "consensus messaging" completely misses the point. Obviously, the U.S. public has "gotten the memo" on what scientists believe -- that humans are causing climate change and we are in deep deep shit -- even if they haven't gotten the details straight.  The conflict over "believe in climate change" is a cultural status competition, pure and simple. More "tomorrow."

Slides here.

3. "Motivated system 2 reasoning: rationality in a polluted science communication environment," Bristol University, June 3. Summary of CCP studies that pit the "bounded rationaity thesis" against the "cultural cognition thesis" as explanations for persistent public controversy over a variety of societal risks, including but not limited to climate change.  Observational evidence showing that critical reasoning click me... resistance is futile ...proficiency--measured in various ways--magnifies rather than dissipates cultural polarization is strong evidence in favor of latter.  The problem is not too little rationality but rather too much: when risks or other facts that admit of empirical study become entangled in antagonistic meanings, transforming them into badges of membership in competing cultural groups, it is individually rational for individuals to use their reason to form identity-congruent rather than truth-congruent beliefs.  When they all do this all at once, of course, the result is collectively disasterous-- since under these circumstances members of a pluralistic democratic society as less likely to converge on scientific evidence relevant to their common well-being.  This is the tragedy of the science communications commons. 

Slides here.

4.  What do U.S. farmers believe about human-caused climate change and the risks thereof? Cultural cognition and the Cultural Theory of Risk "Moblility hypothesis," University of College London, June 4. Offered conjectural account to explain how U.S. farmers can simultaneously be most skpetical sector of U.S. population (if characterized in some manner distinct from partisan self-identification) yet also the sector that is making the greatest self-conscious use of climate science (yes, the type that treats humans as cause) in everyday practical decisionmaking.  The account was "cognitive dualism," which I presented as a "cultural cognition mechanism" for the so-called Cultural Theory of Risk "mobility hypothesis," which asserts that it is a mistake to see risk perceptions as fixed attributes of individuals, who should be expected instead to change their risk perceptions as they migrate from one institutional setting to another in patterns that enable them to behave in a manner that is conducive to the successful prorogation of their group norms.  I offered provisional supporting evidence in the form of the success of the Southeast Florida Climate Compact in promoting engagement with climate science among ordinary citizens who are polarized on whether climate change (human-caused or otherwise!) is "happening," and discussed the need for a more systematic research program.  My collaborators Hank-Jenkins Smith & Carol Silva in fact described an ongoing project to collect data on how weather, cultural outlooks, and climate change risk perceptions relate to one another in Oklahoma, which of course has the highest per capita concentration of Kentucky Farmers in the US, right after SE Florida.  

I got great feedback from Steve Rayner, whose previously expressed disatisfaction with cultural cognition for neglecting the "mobility hypothesis" I learned the hard & interesting way is quite well founded.

Slides here.



MAPKIA! Episode #73 Results: Stunning lack of any meaningful relationship between vaccine- and GM-food-risk perceptions earns @Mw record-breaking 5th straight MAPKIA! title!

@Mw nuzzles her prize: a baby giganto-technology e. coli -- it's not disgusting!So the results are in!

@Mw has won her Fifth  "MAPKIA!"!, earning her the appellation of MAPKIA “Lance Armstrong”!

Because she already owns 4 I ♥ Popper “Yellow" Jerseys from her previous victories, she selected a giganto-technology genetically engineered e. coli for her prize.  It was the last one in stock—lucky her!

Remember, the question was

What sorts of individual characteristics or predispositions, if any, account for the observed relationship between vaccine- and GM-food-risk perceptions and what, if anything, can we learn about risk perceptions generally from this relationship?  

The “observed relationship” in question was the one in this graphic,

which I constructed in response to a Twitter exchange, which itself was inspired by blog post I wrote in response to a question posed by a “politics & science” webinar member, who . . . Oh, who cares.

Anyway, there were, in effect, two main hypotheses.

@Mw’s was essentially “there isn’t any meaningful relationship between vaccine-risk and GM-Food-risk perceptions in particular—it’s just a weak measure of some indicator of generalized worry about risks.”

That was pretty much my thought, too. I know from lots of previous examinations that general population survey measures are not suited for generating any meaningful insight into either of these risk perceptions. 

Reactions to GM foods are pure static—uninformed noise from survey respondents the vast majority of whom have no idea what they are being asked about.

On vaccines, the vast majority of the US population has extremely positive affective reactions to them, and the small minority that doesn’t has views that are unrepresentative of any of the sorts of cultural or like affinity groups in which clusters of societal risk perceptions tend to form.

If the two risk perceptions are basically just sports, why expect something meaningful to come from the intersection of them?

But resisting this view, @ScottClif & @DaneGWendell, on twitter, seconded more or less by @Cortlandt in comment thread, proposed a “disgust sensibility” link.

Essentially, people who get grossed out easily will be anxious about the effect of ingesting laboratory synthesized variants of food stuffs & being injected with chemical concoctions like vaccines.

Disgust for sure is assigned a risk-detection role, so this is a perfectly plausible conjecture, too, I agree.

But I think at least the data I was able to pull together for testing these competing hypotheses pretty strongly favors @Mw.

A proviso is in order, however. 

Obviously, everything one learns from data, even when the data bear a valid inferential connection to the question at hand, is provisional.  Empirical proof doesn’t “prove” propositions (other than the most trivial ones, I suppose) with probability 1.0; it supplies evidence (again if valid) that gives us more reason or less to believe that one conjecture or another is true.

Accordingly, we have to think about how much more reason we have to believe one thing or another—that is, how much weight the evidence has.  And we have to maintain a permanent state of amenability to adjusting our resulting assessment of the balance of the evidence for or against various hypotheses in light of whatever additional valid evidence might later be adduced.

I’m pointing out these admittedly super obvious things because in fact @ScottClif & @DaneGWendell report that they have collected their own data on disgust sensibilities and vaccine- and GM food-risk perception and believe that theirs do show a connection.

For sure, I’m not saying that what I’m producing here means their conclusions must be “wrong”! I haven’t even seen their study. 

But more importantly, as I just said, it’s not in the nature to treat any valid evidence—assuming that this is; people should weigh in, as it were on that, too—as dispositively resolving an issue.  That's not how empirical proof works!

Obviously, when I do get to see their evidence, I’ll take it into account along with the data I’m about to present and adjust my assessment of the truth about the underlying connections, dynamics, and mechanisms accordingly. 

Indeed, because (I gather) they were setting out to examine exactly this question—whether “disgust” shapes vaccine- and GM food-risk perceptions—I am sure the employed measures that were very well calibrated to testing this hypothesis.  I’m using ones that weren’t designed specifically for that task but that I have reason to think ought to support valid inferences on it.  But maybe the difference in the precision in our respective measurement strategies will make a huge difference.

Or maybe they’ll point out something else about their data that shows how it clears the barriers that I think mine throw down in the inferential path toward the conclusion that disgust sensibilities link vaccine-risk and GM food-risk perceptions.

We’ll see!

And hopefully their observing some evidence that seems to me to be pretty strongly inconsistent with their surmise will help them to sharpen my and others' apprehension of what's even more compelling about their data.

Okay, then. . . back to the “MAPKIA”!

Basically, @Mw proposed a “falsification” strategy: any theory that "explains" the “observed relationship” between vaccine and GM food risk perceptions (which is pretty modest in any case) on the basis of some distinctive affinity between those two risk perceptions loses plausibility if it turns out the same relationship exists between either of them and various other, disparate forms of risk perception.

When we run that test, that’s exactly what we see.

Here is the relationship (in the N ≈ 1800, nationally representative sample featured in Kahan, Climate-Science Communication and the Measurement Problem, Advances in Pol. Psych 36, 1-43 (2015)) between concerns about vaccines and a pile of additional putative risk sources (click for more detail) :

Well, these all look pretty much the same as relationship between vaccine-risk and GM food risk perceptions.  

In all cases, we see simply a very modest positive relationship, which is consistent with the not particularly interesting or surprising inference (one surmised by @Mw) that people who tend to worry about one thing also worry about another (although not very much; the vaccine risk concern level is deemed “low” for those most concerned for each of these risks).

The uniformity of these correlations also seems to tell against the hypothesis that vaccine risk perceptions are related to “disgust sensibilities.”  We can see very modest correlations between the perceived risk of childhood vaccinations and perceptions of the danger of putative risk sources that we might expect to evoke disgust, including pornography, and the legalization of prostitution and marijuana (Brenner & Inbar 2014; McCoun 2012; Gutierrez & Giner-Sorrolla 2007).

But we can see the same very modest correllations betweeen concern over vaccines and concern over over high-voltage residential power lines, private operation of drones, and nuclear power--none of which seems to defile "purity," flout conventional sexual morality, compromise bodily integrity, etc. 

Definitely not what one would expect to see, I'd say, if disgust sensibilities were truly driving vaccine risk perceptions.

Okay. Now consider the same test as applied to GM food risk perceptions.

The correlation between self-reported concern w/ GM foods and the disgust trio—porn, legalization of prostitution, and legalization of weed—is, if anything, weaker than were the (already very modest) correlations between concerns with vaccines and the disgust-eliciting risk sources.

What’s more, the correlations between GM food risk perceptions and the eclectic trio of non-disgust risks is noticeably higher.

I don’t think that’s what one would expect to see if GM food risk perceptions were a consequence of disgust sensitivity.

I did one more test to help sort out affinities between GM food risk perceptions, vaccine risk perceptions, and concerns about various other risk sources: I tossed in responses to a whole bunch of “industrial strength risk perception measure”items into a factor analysis. 

This sort of analysis should be handled with a lot more care and judgment than one typically sees when researchers use it (it’s definitely in the “what button do I push” tool kit), but basically, factor analysis uses the covariance matrix to try to identify how many latent or unobserved variables have to be posited to explain variance in the observed items and how strong the relationship is (as reflected in the factor loading coefficients) between the individual items and those various latent variables.

Here’s what we see:

Basically, the analysis is telling us that we can reasonably make sense of the pattern of responses to all of these ISRPMs by positing three unobserved risk predispositions (because positing any more than that adds too little explanatory value).

It’s pretty obvious what the second "factor" or unobserved latent variable is getting at: the perceived riskiness of socially deviant behavior that, in people who fear them at least, evoke disgust (Gutierrez & Giner-Sorrolla 2007).  In cultural cognition terms, these are the things that divide hierarch communitarians and egalitarian individualists.

I have a pretty good idea what the last one is measuring, too!  The sorts of risk perceptions that provoke conflict between hierarch individualists (particularly white males) and egalitarian communitarians.

The first, then, is just an odd bunch of environmental risks that in fact don't get people very worked up in the US. So I guess they are picking up on some general scaredy-cat disposition.

here are the cool ISRPMs that appear in the factor analysisNotice, that’s where GM Foods (“GMFRISK”) is ending up: connected to neither set of “culturally contested” risk ensembles but rather to the residual “I’m worried about technology, help me!” one, where actually there’s not much political contestation (or even generalized public concern) at all.

That would be in line w/ one of @Mw’s hypotheses, too—that people who are scared of both vaccines and GM foods are probably just scared of everything.

Except that it turns out that vaccine risk perceptions don’t meaningfully “load” on any of these latent risk predisposition variables (in fact, it had anemic loadings of 0.33 on the first 2 factors, and -0.10 on the third).

That is, none of these latent risk predispositions alerts to, or explains variance in, vaccine risks.

Not surprising, given how overwhelmingly positive the general population feels about vaccines and how unconnected those who worry about them are to any recognizable cultural group in the US.

Anyway, that’s how I see it!

Feel free to file a protest of this determination, & I will duly forward it to the Head of Gaming Commission, who rules on all MAPKIA appeals.


Brenner, C.J. & Inbar, Y. Disgust sensitivity predicts political ideology and policy attitudes in the Netherlands. European Journal of Social Psychology 45, 27-38 (2015).

Gutierrez, R. & Giner-Sorolla, R. Anger, disgust, and presumption of harm as reactions to taboo-breaking Behaviors. Emotion 7, 853-868 (2007).

MacCoun, R. Moral Outrage and Opposition to Harm Reduction. Criminal Law, Philosophy 7, 83-98 (2013).


Build it & they will model ... the CCP data playground concept

@thompn4 at site of Fukushima nuclear disaster, calming public fears by drinking a refreshing glass of "cooling" water from one of the melted down nuclear reactor coresAfter a productive holiday weekend, I've whittled my "to be done ... IMMEDIATELY" list down to 4.3x10^6 items.

One of them (it's smack in the middle of the list) is to construct a "CCP data playground."

The idea would be to have a section of the site where people could ready access to CCP data files & share their own analyses of them.

I've had this notion in mind for a while but one of things that increased my motivation to actually get it done was the cool stuff that @thompn4 (aka "Nicholas Thompson"; aka "Nucky Thompson"; "aka "Nicky Scarface"; aka "'Let 'em eat yellowcake' Nicky" etc.) has been doing with graphics that try to squeeze three dimensions of individual difference -- either political outlooks vs. risk perception vs. science comprehension; or risk perception 1 vs. risk perception 2 vs. science comprehension -- into one figure.

I typically just rely on two figures to do this-- one (usually a scatterplot) that relates risk perceptions to political outlooks  & another that relates risk perception to science comprehension separately for subjects to the "right" and "left" of the mean on a political outlook scale:

 @thompn4 said: why not one figure w/ 3 dimensions?

That inspired me to produce this universally panned prototype of a 3d-scatter plot:

So I supplied @thompn4 with the data & he went to work producing various amazing things, some of which were featured in the last post. 

Since then he has come up with some more cool graphics:

This one effectively maps mean perceived level of risk across the two dimensional space created by political outlooks and science comprehension.  It's a 2d graph, obviously, but conveys the third dimension, very vividly, by color coding the risk perceptions, and in a very intuitive way (from blue for "low/none" to "red" for "high").

It's pretty mesmerizing!

But does it convey information in an accessible and accurate way?

I think it comes pretty close.  My main objection to it is that by saturating the entire surface of the 2-dimensional plane, the graphic creates the impression that one can draw inferences with equal confidence across the entire space.

In fact, science comprehension is normally distributed, and political outlooks, while not perfectly normal, are definitely not uniformly distributed across the right left spectrum.  As a result, the corners--and certain other patches-- are thinly populated with actual observations.  One could easily be lulled into drawing inferences from noise in places where the graph's colors reflect the responses of only a handful of respondents.

To illustrate this, I constructed scatterplot equivalents of these two  @thompn4  graphics.  Here's the one for nuclear:

Actually, I'm not sure why @thompn4's lower right corner is so darkly blue, or the coordinates at/around -1.0, -2.0 are so red.  But I am sure that the eye-grabbing feature of those parts of his figure will understandably provoke reflection on the part of viewers about what's going on that could "explain" those regions.  The answer has to be "nothing": the number of observations there -- basically people who are either extreme right & moderate left but utterly devoid of science comprehension-- are too few in number  to draw any reliable inferences.

Here's global warming:

I don't see as much "risk" (as it were) of mistaken inferences here.  Plus I really do think the bipolar red & blue, which get more pronounced as one moves up the science literacy axis, is extremely effective in conveying that climate change risk perceptions are both polarized and that they become dramatically more so as individuals become more science comprehending.  (Kind of unfortunate that "red = high"/"blue = low" risk perception coding conflicts with the conventional "blue = Democrat" & "red = Republican" scheme; but the latter is lame-- we all know the Democrats are Reds!)

That's what the "2 graphic strategy" above shows, of course, but in 2 graphs; be great if this could be done with just one.

But I still think that it is essential for a graphic like this to convey the relative density of observations across the dimensions that are being compared.

The point of this exercise, in my view, is to see if there is a way to make it possible for a reflective, curious person to see meaningful contrasts of interest in the "raw data" (that is, in the actual observations, arrayed in relation to values of interest, as opposed to statistically derived summaries or estimates of the relationships in the data; those should be part of the analysis too, to discipline & refine inference, but being able to see the data should come first, so that consumers know that "findings" aren't being fabricated by statistical artifice!).

A picuture of the raw data would make the density of the observations at the coordinates of the 3 dimensions visible--and certainly has to avoid inviting foreseeable, mistaken inferences that neglect to take the non-uniform distribution of people across those dimensions into account.

I made a suggestion -- to try to substituting a "transparency" rendering of the scatter plot for the fully saturated rendering of the information in  @thompn4's... Maybe he or someone else will try this or some variant thereof. 

Loyal listener @NiV makes some suggestions, too, in the comment thread for the last post, and very generously supplies the R code he constructed, so that others can try their hand at refining it.


The bigger point-- or the one I started with at the beginning of this post -- is that this sort of interactive engagement with CCP data is really really cool & something that I'd love to try to make a regular part of this site.  

The ideas blog readers have about how to analyze and report CCP data benefit me, that's for sure. The risk perception vs. ideology color-coded scatterplot, which I use a lot & know people really find (validly) informative, is (I've aknoweldged, but not as often as I should!) derived from a suggestion that "loyal listner" @FrankL actually proposed, and if Nucky's 3d (or 3 differences in 2 dimensions) graphic generates something that I think is even better, for sure I'll want to make use of it.

I think a "data playground" feature -- one the whole point of which is to let users do what @thompn4 has been up to-- would predictably increase that benefit, both for me & for others who can learn something from the data that I & my collaborators have a hand in collecting.

So I'm moving the creation of this sort of feature for the site up 7,000 places on my "to do ... IMMEDIATELY" list!  Be sure to keep tuning in everyday so you don't miss the exciting news when the "playground" goes "on line" (of course it will be nuclear powered, in honor of  @thompn4!). 



Weekend update: In quest of 3d graphic for risk perception distributions

ideology, risk, & science literacy in *2* graphs (click it!)In response to the scatter plots from "politicization of science Q&A" post, @thompn4 on twitter (optimal venue for in depth scholarly exchange) observed that it would be nice to have a three-dimensional graphic that combined partisanship, risk perception, and science comprehension (or perhaps two risk perceptions -- like nuclear and global warming -- along with science comprehension or partisanship) into one figure.

Great idea!

I supplied @thompn4 with data, and he came up with some interesting topographical plots.

Pretty cool!

But these are all 2 dimensional -- and so fail to achieve what I understand to be his original goal-- to have 3d representations of the raw data so that all the relevant comparisons could be in one figure and so there'd be no need to aggregate & split the data along one dimension  (as the science comprehension plots do).

When I pressed him, he came up with a 3d version, but with only 2 dimensions of individual difference -- science comprehension & risk perception:

Really great, but I want what he asked for -- three graphic dimensions for three dimensions of individual difference.

I've been fumbling with 3d scatter plots.  Here's ideology (x), risk perception (y), and science compression (z)-- with observations color-coded, as in 2d scatter plots, to denote perceived risk of global warming (blue = low to red = high):


Not great, but it gets at least a bit better when one rotates the axes counter-clockwise:

I suspect a topographical or wireframe will work better than a scatter plot -- but that's something beyond my present graphic capabilities.

In the end, too, the criteria for judging these 3d graphs, in my view, is whether they enable a curious, reflective person readily to discern the relevant information -- and in particular the existence of an important contrast.  Being ornate & attention-grabbing are not really the point, in my view. So far not clear to me that anything really improves upon the original 2 graphic solution.

If anyone else wants to try, feel free.  The data are here. Please do share your results -- you can email them to me or post them somewhere w/ URL I can link to.


1. The data are tab delimited.

2. Zconservrepub is a standardized sum of 7-point partyid & 5-point liberal-conservative ideology, valenced toward conservative/republican.

3. scicomp_i is score on a science-comprehension assessment (scored with item response theory; details here)

4.GWRISk & NUKERISK are "industrial strength risk perception measures" for "global warming" & "nuclear power. Each item is 0-7: 0 “no risk at all”; 1 “Very low risk”;  2 “Low risk”; 3 “Between low and moderate risk”; 4 “Moderate risk”; 5 “Between moderate and high risk”; 6 “High risk”; 7 “Very high risk”

There are 2000 observations total.  Some observations have missing data.




APS conference panels: What should I talk about? I can't decide!

I'm scheduled for two Association of Psychological Science conference panels:

I'm having a hard time making up my mind what to talk about for Friday (today!), so I think I'll just let audience vote:

On Sunday, I'll definitely present data relevant to "symmetry."  It's been a while since I got exercised about that issue!


MAPKIA! Episode #73: half-time update!

The competition in the ongoing "MAPKIA!"!

Remember, the question is

What sorts of individual characteristics or predispositions, if any, account for the observed relationship between vaccine- and GM-food-risk perceptions and what, if anything, can we learn about risk perceptions generally from this relationship?  

and was inspired by discussion summarized in yesterday's post & by this graphic 

@Mw, a four-time winner of MAPKIA going for her record-breaking 5th title, suggested these hypotheses and models:

Model-construction & testing is underway!

But it's not too late to enter if you have a competing or complimentary/supplementary hypothesis & testing strategy!

(And don't forget, even if you finish 2d, there is still a chance you'll be declared the winner if post-event drug testing reveals that the the reader who posted the winning entry, in violation of Macau Gaming Commission officials rules, wasn't under the influence of performance-enhahncing drugs!)

Am closing off comments here; post your hypotheses, thoughts, etc. in the comment thread for yesterdays's "MAPKIA!"! post.


MAPKIA! Episode #73: What is the meaning, if any, of the correlation between vaccine- and GM-food-risk perceptions?! 

Winner's prize: an "Alfred E. Noumenal" t-shirt just like Manny's! (subject to availability)Well, it’s been a while, but GUESS WHAT . . . ?

That’s right--time for another episode of Macau's favorite game show...: "Make a prediction, know it all!," or "MAPKIA!"!

I’m sure none of you has forgotten the rules, but I’m obliged by the Gaming Commission to post them before every contest. So here they are:

I, the host, will identify an empirical question -- or perhaps a set of related questions -- that can be answered with CCP data. Then, you, the players, will make predictions and explain the basis for them. The answer will be posted "tomorrow." The first contestant who makes the right prediction will win a really cool CCP prize (like maybe this or possibly some other equally cool thing), so long as the prediction rests on a cogent theoretical foundation. (Cogency will be judged, of course, by a panel of experts.)

Well, “yesterday” I answered some questions from people who had tuned into the cool “Politics & Science” webinar—and sure enough, the answers only generated even more questions.

Actually, the discussion was mainly on Twitter, which of course is the ideal forum for any serious, scholarly discussion.

Over a set of exchanges, the issue of how vaccine-risk and GM-food-risk perceptions were related came up.  Knowing nothing, I of course confidently declared that the two obviously weren’t connected in any interesting way, which prompted @ScottClif to post this:


His data, he indicated, came from MTurk workers, who (if I’m understanding him correctly; I’m sure I am, because it’s pretty much impossible not to get what other people are saying on Twitter) responded to a set of items that he used to form composite “support for organic food” and “anti-vaccination belief” scales.

So I decided to see if I could reproduce something along these lines using CCP data. Here’s what I  came up with: 

Using the “Industrial Strength Risk Perception Measure,” the graph plots responses for “Vaccination of children against childhood diseases (such as mumps, measles and rubella)” and “Genetically modified food.”


There’s a relationship, all right.

The question is . . .

What sorts of individual characteristics or predispositions, if any, account for the observed relationship between vaccine- and GM-food-risk perceptions and what, if anything, can we learn about risk perceptions generally from this relationship?  

@ScottClif and @Jamesnewburg initiated the comparison by speculating that “disgust sensitivities” might explain variance in both risk perceptions & (@ScottClif surmised) link them.

I scoffed. Why?  Because I like to scoff.

But also because, specifically, I see both GM food risks and vaccine risks as defying ready explanation by survey means, although for different reasons: the former because members of the public know and care far too little about GM foods for their survey responses to support meaningful inferences about how they feel about them and why; and the latter because public opinion is so overwhelmingly positive that none of the usual determinants of systematic variance in risk perception (including cultural and political outlooks, religiosity, critical reasoning dispositions, etc.) explain the outliers who say they think they are more risky than beneficial.

I figured that because there’s not anything illuminating to say with survey measures about each one of these risk perceptions, it would be unlikely there’d be anything interesting to say about them jointly.

So seeing even this modest correlation was a bit surprising to me.

Now I’d like to know what if anything anyone thinks can be learned from and about the correlation.

The 14 billion regular readers of this blog are familiar with the kinds of variables that typically are in CCP datasets, including various risk perceptions, demographics, political outlooks, cultural worldviews, and measures of one or another critical reasoning proficiency pertinent to science comprehension.

You might, unsurprisingly, have a hypothesis for which there are not perfect predictors.  But if so, it’s likely that a reasonable proxy can be constructed.  E.g., a “disgust sensibility” index could probably be constructed by combining perceived risks of behavior that connotes social deviancy (e.g., use of street drugs, smoking, and legalization of marijuana and prostitution).

Anyway, I’m willing to try to work with people who have theories that might admit of such a strategy.

As for me, I’ll tell you now: I still favor the hypothesis that the correlation supports no particularly interesting inferences about concern over these two putative risk sources or about risk predispositions generally. I’m going to try to come with a model that I think would give that hypothesis a fair test.  If there are others who feel that way, they are welcome to propose models that would help corroborate or disconfirm this hypothesis, too.

We’ll see!

Okay . . . on you mark, get set,



"Politics & Science Webinar" Q&A: vaccine- & GM food-risk perceptions

The "politics & science" webinar the other day was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, there wasn't time to answer all the great questions that audience members had.

So here are some additional responses to some of the questions that were still in the queue:

Q1. How do you reconcile the fact that left-wing/educated individuals accept scientific evidence about climate change yet reject vaccinations?

Q2. Have you looked at GMOs or vaccines and seen similar results from the left that you've seen on the right?

 I put these two together b/c my answer to the 1st is based on the 2d.

click me!There’s no need to “reconcile the fact that left-wing/educated individuals accept scientific evidence about climate change yet reject vaccinations” b/c it’s not true!

Same for the claim that GM foods are somehow connected to a left-leaning political orientation--or a right-wing leaning one, for that matter.

The media & blogosophere grossly overstate the number of risk issues on which we see the sort of polarization that we do on climate change along with a number of other issues (e.g., fracking, nuclear power, HPV vaccine [at least at one time; not sure anymore]).

Consider these respones form a large, nationally represenative sample, surveyed last summer:

I call the survey item here the “industrial strength risk perception measure” (ISRPM).  There’s lots of research showing that responses to ISRPM will correlate super highly with respones that people give to more specific questions about the identified risk sources (e.g., “is the earth heating up?” or “are humans causing global temperatures to rise” in the case of the “Global warming” ISRPM) and even to behavior with respect to personal risk-taking (at least if the putative risk source is one they are familiar with). So it’s an economical way to look at variance. 

You can see that climate change, fracking, and guns are pretty unusual in generating partisan divisions (click for higher res).

Well, here’s childhood vaccines and GM foods:

Definitely not in the class of issues—the small, weird ones, really—that polarize people.

A couple of other things.

First, to put the very tiny influence of political orientations on vaccine risks (and even smaller one on GM foods) in perspective, consider this (from a CCP report on vaccine risk perceptions):

Anyone who sees how tiny these correlations are and still wants to say that the there is an meaningful connection between partisanship and either vaccine- or GM food-risk perceptions is making a ridiculous assertion.

Indeed, in my view, they are just piling on in an ugly, ignorant, illiberal form of status competition that degrades public science discourse

Second, GM food's ISRPM is higher than that of many other risk sources, it’s true.  But that’s consistent with noise: people are all over the map when they respond to the question, and so the average ends up around the middle.

In fact, there’s no meaningful public concern about GM food risks in the general population—for the simple reason that most people have no idea what GM foods are.  Serious public opinion surveys show this over & over. 

Nonserious ones ignore this & pretend that we can draw inferences from the fact that when people who don’t know what GM foods are are asked if they are worried about them, they say, “oh yes!”  They also say ridiculous things like that that they carefully check for GM ingridients when they shop at the supermarket, even though in fact there aren’t any general GM food abeling requirements in the US.

Some 80% of the foods in US supermarkets have GM ingridients. People don’t fear GM foods; they eat them, in prodigious amounts.

It’s worth trying to figure out both why so many people have the misimpression that both GM foods and vaccines are matters of significant concern for any meaningful segment of the US population.  The answer, I think, is a combination of bad reporting in the media and selective sampling on the part of those who are very interested in these issues & who immerse themselves in the internet enclaves where these issues are being actively debated.

There are serious dangers, moreover, from the exaggeration of the general concern over these risks and the gross misconceptions people have about the partisan character of them

Some sources to consider in that regard:

Cultural Cognition Project Lab. Vaccine Risk Perceptions and Ad Hoc Risk Communication: An Emprical Analysis. CCP Risk Studies Report No. 17

Kahan, D.M. A risky science communication environment for vaccines. Science 342, 53-54 (2013).

Kahan, D., Braman, D., Cohen, G., Gastil, J. & Slovic, P. Who fears the HPV vaccine, who doesn’t, and why? An experimental study of the mechanisms of cultural cognition. Law Human Behav 34, 501-516 (2010).

Q3. I'd like to ask both speakers about the need for science literacy.  How does increasing science literacy - that is, knowledge about the scientific process – serve to influence people’s beliefs about science issues?

Where the sorts of dynamics that generate polarization exist, greater science comprehension (measured in any variety of ways, including standard science literacy assessments, numeracy tests, and critical reasoning scales) magnifies polarization.  The most science comprehending members of the population are the most polarized on issues like climate chagne, fracking, guns, etc.


Here I’ve plotted in relation to science comprehension (measured with a scale that includes basic science knowledge along with various critical reasoning dispositions) the ISRPM scores of individuals identified by political outlook.

As mentioned above, partisan polarization on risk issues is the exception, not the rule.

But where it exists, it gets worse as people become better at making sense of scientific evidence.


B/c now and again, for one reason or another, disputes that admit of scientific inquiry become entantled in antagonistic cultural meanings. When that happens, positions on them beceome badges of membership in and loyalty to cultural groups. 

At that point, individuals’ personal stake in protecting their status in their group wil exceed their personal stake in “getting the right answer.”  Accordingly, they will then use their intelligence to form and persist in the positions that signify their group membership.

The entanglement of group identity in risks and other facts that admit of scientific investigation is a kind of pollution in the science communication environment.  It disables the faculties that people normally use with great success to figure out what is known by science.

Improving science literacy won’t, unfortunately, clean up our science communciation environment.

On the contrary, we need to clean up our science communication environment so that we can get the full value of the science literacy that our citizens possess.

Some sources:

Kahan, D.M. Climate-Science Communication and the Measurement Problem. Advances in Political Psychology 36, 1-43 (2015).

Kahan, D.M., Peters, E., Dawson, E. & Slovic, P. Motivated Numeracy and Englightened Self Government. Cultural Cognition Project Working Paper No. 116  (2013).

Kahan, D.M. Ideology, Motivated Reasoning, and Cognitive Reflection. Judgment and Decision Making8, 407-424 (2013).

Kahan, D.M. “Ordinary Science Intelligence”: A Science Comprehension Measure for Use in the Study of Science Communication, with Notes on 'Belief in' Evolution and Climate Change. CCP Working Paper No. 112 (2014).

Kahan, D.M., Peters, E., Wittlin, M., Slovic, P., Ouellette, L.L., Braman, D. & Mandel, G. The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks. Nature Climate Change 2, 732-735 (2012).

Kahan, D. Why we are poles apart on climate change. Nature 488, 255 (2012).


Want to represent Kentucky Farmer in Congress? Well then you better learn to keep track of which "climate changes" he "believes in" and which he "doesn't"!

A lot of people seem to think that members of Congress who “deny” climate change are stupid.

Obviously, I can’t vouch for the intelligence of every single one of them. But in fact, I think I can readily put my hands on some evidence that attests to the considerable mental dexterity of at least some.

In particular, the ones who represent Kentucky Farmer are pretty impressive. 

Kentucky Farmer, I’m sure you’ll recall, is one of the many citizens who both do and don’t believe in climate change.  Or more specifically, don't or do depending on whether they are doing something that is enabled by disbelieving or believing in it.

The main thing disbelieving enables them to do is enjoy a particular cultural identity. 

Expressing disbelief with genuine conviction and sincerity, and also with a caustic undertone of contempt for people with values different from his--for whom “belief” is also primarily expressive, much like an article of clothing or bumper sticker that evinces contempt for him—is a way for the Kentucky Farmer to be a member of a community defined by commitments to certain social norms.  Being "skeptical" is like carrying a gun: a way to evince male virtues like self-reliance and and honor, and to occupy male roles like provider and protector . . . .Or in his wife's case like being against legalized abortion, which demonstrates commitment to norms that confer status on women for mastering female roles like wife and mother.

But believing in climate change—honestly & truly—is a way for him to do something too: namely, be a successful farmer.

He knows, e.g., that it makes sense to engage in no-till farming to protect the robustness of the soil in his fields, the fertility of which will be subjected, he realizes, to relentless assault from drought and heat and that he should be shifting his crops from, say, wheat to corn and soybeans to adjust for changes in growing seasons.

He has purchased or is planning to purchase greater crop-failure insurance coverage and various other services to help protect himself from the escalating variance associated with climate change.

And he’s hoping, too, that scientists, whose work he has always relied on to help him to master his craft of extraction from nature, will come through for him again with technological innovations that enable him to keep doing what humans but no other animals always have done: defy Malthusian constraints on the progressive expansion of their number.

Whether he lives in Kentucky, Oklahoma, Texas, Wisconsin, or wherever, keeping track of which “climate changes” Kentucky Farmer believes in and the ones he “doesn’t” can be a real challenge for his elected representatives!

Just ask poor Wisc. State Senator Tom Tiffany.  He managed to get himself in a heap of trouble recently by instigating a provision to get rid of two dozen scientists in the state’s Department of Natural Resources who have been studying the impact of global warming on the vulnerability of the state’s vegetation to pest infiltration, as well as the state’s trout stock, another critical element of its economy, mainly for tourists who like to Wisconsin to fish. 

Those scientists, Tiffany complained, shouldn’t be wasting their time studying climate change, a matter he had previously dismissed as a completely “theoretical” matter.

I’m sure this seemed like a great idea to Tiffany.  After all, the majority of his  rural Republican district “don’t believe in” human caused-climate change!  No doubt he expected a hearty round of applause.

Wrong! To his surprise, I’m sure, Tiffany has found himself on the hot seat since his role in the firing of the DNR scientists was discovered, and he’s been trying to get his ass off of it ever since.

Hey, he explained, “I’m only one out of 33 in the State Senate,” so don’t blame me.

Okay, okay, he conceded, “Climate change, climate variability, is happening, I mean, all you have to do is look at the climatic record. It clearly is.

But that “doesn’t mean that we should have these significant shifts in public policy without having proof that we are causing this,” he added.

Wrong answer, dude!

Wisconsin is in deep shit because of climate change and its Kentucky Farmers, including the ones who are part of the state’s forestry and tourism industry, know it.  Fire the scientists that can help them weather it—so to speak—and you’ll lose your friggin’ job!

Now consider how the pros—the ones good enough at politics to earn seats in Congress representing the Kentucky Farmer—handle things.

Global warming? Bull shit!, says Ok. Sen. Inhofe, hoisting a snowball aloft on the floor of the Senate in Feb. 2015. “God is still up there, and He promised to maintain the seasons and that cold and heat would never cease as long as the earth remains.”

I’m sure his Kentucky Farmer constituents in Oklahoma were chortling with glee!

But they aren’t when they think about the impact of global warming on their cattle industry.

Thank God, too, I guess, that the US Department of Agriculture has awarded scientists at the University of Oklahoma at Stillwater some $10 million in recent years to study how to help keep the cattle industry going as temperatures in the state start to soar.

“The ultimate goal is to develop beef cattle and production systems that are more readily adaptable to the negative effects of drought,” explained the principal investigator for the most recent $1 million grant, a faculty member in OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.

Is Inhofe or any other member of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation proposing budget cuts to stop Oklahoma university scientists from engaging in this foolishness?


On the contrary, Rep. Frank Lucas, an OSU Stillwater graduate who represents the district in which that university is located, sponsored  the 2014 Agriculture Bill that funds the research initiative that has made the OSU-Stillwater grants!

Attaboy, Frank!, his constituents, exclaim appreciatively.  That will help us to deal with the horrible consequences of climate change!

But that’s the “climate change” they believe in—in order to be farmers.

There’s also the “climate change” they don’t believe in—in order to be individuals with a particular cultural identity.

Frank Lucas doesn’t believe in that “climate change”—or at least, as a major-league, professional politician knows better than to support legislation that evinces belief in it.

Those goddam idiots at NASA, he says. What they hell are they doing wasting tax payer dollars investigating something that my constituents don't believe in?!

click me ... click me...Frank, as co-chair of the House Committee on Space, Science, and Technology will fix that problem!  Cut the funds for those silly NASA scientists who are modeling climate change.

Way to go, Frank!, his constituents say! Show that stupid Al Gore!

BTW, the chair of the House Committee on Space, Science, and Technology, Lamar Smith, R. Tex., keeps perfect track of the which "climate changes" his constituents do & don't believe in too.

Cut the funding authority that USDA uses to support scientific investigation of the effects of climate change on agricultural production in Texas? Are you out of your mind?!

See? Members of Congress like Smith, Lucas, and Inhofe are no dummies!

What do you think they’d recommend to a junior varsity pol like Tiffany to help him keep his constituents’ “climate changes”—the ones they don’t “believe in” and the ones they do—straight?

I’m not an expert, of course, but I’d try index cards.


Two remarkably different Jewish intellectuals & their two very different formulations of the "Jewish Question"

Just finished Angus Burgin's masterful "The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets Since the Depression." Still plenty of time for another book to overtake it, but it is way out in front of my personal "best book of yr."

Among the many other gems is his discussion of Milton Friedman's "Capitalism and the Jews."

Friedman expresses perplexity over what he sees as the strong, persistent strain of anti-capitalism in Jewish intellectual culture.  He just doesn't get it -- b/c he is convinced that liberal market institutions & the cultural norms they propagate have done more than anything else to constrain persecution of Jews--by quieting the impulses of religious zealotry responsible for centuries of butchery & violence (Friedman would not have joined the historically illiterate chorus that condemned Obama for noting the parallels between Islamic Jihadism and the Christian Crusades).

Security and tolerance are underwritten by capitalism's historical redirection of human beings' attention-- away from the mesmerizing clarion of one or another brand of imperialist moral perfectionism and toward the self-indulgent benefits of free trade: don't cut off that those infidels' heads-- you might be able to sell them something, or buy something cool from them!

Burgin doesn't note the contrast but it's fascinating to juxtapose Friedman's essay (lecture; it has been transcribed & circulated since) w/ Marx's "On the Jewish Question."  In contrast to Friedman, Marx reacts dismissively toward the demands of 19th century Jews, supported w/ uneven degrees of commitment by European liberal parties, to remove barriers to full integration of Jews into emerging democratic political & market institutions.  

No "special pleading" was Marx's stern msg: if you want to be free, then "liberate humanity," not your particular identity group -- & from liberal market and political institutions, the acquisitive individualist foundations of which estrange human beings from their natural sociality (Marx's "On The Jewish Question" should definitely be read together with his essay "The German Ideology," another classic in the "young Marx" oeuvre).

So strikingly different!  

I'm sure someone has written on the two essays.  It's interesting, of course, that both were written by intellectuals who were estranged from their Jewish identities, while by no means assimilated to anything else (aside from their diametrically opposed systematizations of ideas about the relation of markets to human nature and collective life).

For my part, I think Friedman was right to see the benefits of liberal market institutions for Jews and for pretty much everyone else. This is simply the "doux commerce thesis," which A. Hirschman and S. Holmes develop brilliantly in The Passions and the Interests and The Secret History of Self-Interest, respectively (and which Pinker adapts/embroiders/elaborates in his more recent, wildly more popular Better Angels). 

But what most intrigues me is how the two could have such different views of Jewish attitudes toward liberal market institutions: Friedman that Jews were  misguidedly hostile; Marx that they (along w/ everyone else) were self-delusionally enamored w/ them....

I don't think the answer, btw, has anything to do with the different eras they lived in.  

On the contrary, I think their opposing "Jewish Questions" are still very much in conversation-- or noncoversation-- with respect to the stance that not only Jews but members of various other identity-defining affinity groups should adopt toward liberal market institutions.


Science of Science Communication as "evidence based politics"--a fragment . . .

From something I'm working on . . .

Science communication and evidence-based politics

Evidence-based policymaking presupposes evidence-based politics (National Research Council 2012). From the abandonment of nuclear power construction in the 1980s to the backlash against universal HPV vaccination in the last decade; from persistent inaction on climate change to the continued reliance on ineffective law-enforcement policies for reducing gun homicides—the value of decision-relevance science has been squandered by the absence of scientifically informed strategies for enabling citizens to recognize what’s known by science (Kahan 2013). This proposal is aimed at helping to remedy this deficit in the practice of enlightened self-government.


Kahan, D.M. A Risky Science Communication Environment for Vaccines. Science 342, 53-54 (2013).

National Research Council (U.S.). Committee on the Use of Social Science Knowledge in Public Policy. Using science as evidence in public policy (National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2012).



Another country heard from: more data on impact of 'expert judgment' in insulating judges from popular information-processing biases

Here's a cool paper reporting results of study of French judges vs. members of public.  Like we did in the study we report in "Ideology" or "Situation Sense"? An Experimental Investigation of Motivated Reasoning and Professional Judgment, Univ. Pa. L. Rev. (in Press), the authors used a theoretical framework that conceptualized their study as testing the resistance of expert judgment to influences known (and shown in the same study) to bias non-experts. 

Also very cool is that it used behavioral rather than experimental data. B/c no method of study is perfect, the only "gold standard" for research on human decisionmaking is convergent validity.  (This approach assumes, of course, that studies reflecting the diverse methods in question are themselves validly designed, which is a separate matter.) 


The "judicial behavior" measurement problem: What does it *mean* to say that "ideology" explains judicial decisions? 

This is another excerpt from Tthe latest CCP paper, "Ideology" or "Situation Sense"? An Experimental Investigation of Motivated Reasoning and Professional Judgment, Univ. Pa. L. Rev. (in Press). It presents what I consider to be the major methodological defect in observational--or correlational--studies that purport to find that "ideological" motivations explain variation in judicial decisions: the failure to specify a cogent theory of what counts as an "ideological" as oppoosed to a legal or jurisprudential motivation, and a resulting failure to specify what sorts of evidence would support an inference of "ideological" motivations.

A. Observational studies

Associated with the disciplines of political science and economics, studies that use observational methods make up the largest share of the literature on the impact of ideological motivations on judicial decisionmaking. Such studies use correlational analyses—in the form of multivariate regression models—that treat the “ideology” of individual judges as an “independent variable” the impact of which on case outcomes is assessed after partialing out or “controlling for” additional influences represented by other “independent variables.”  

There are different methods for measuring judges’ “ideologies,” including (in the case of federal judges) the party of the appointing President  and (in the case of Supreme Court Justices) the covariance of votes among judges who can be understood to be aligned along some unobserved or latent ideological continuum.  Such studies tend to find that “ideology” so measured explains a “statistically significant” increment of variance in judicial determinations. Studies looking at the decisions of federal courts of appeals, which assign cases to three-judge panels for determination, also find that the impact of ideology so measured can be either accentuated or muted depending on the ideological composition of judges on the particular panel.

Critics of these studies identify methodological problems that they believe constrain the strength of the inferences that can be drawn from them.  The most obvious of these is the sampling bias introduced by parties’ self-conscious selection of cases for litigation. . . . 

Another, more subtle, but equally serious problem for observational studies of judicial ideology is the classification of “case outcomes.” In order to measure the impact of a judge’s “ideology” on decisionmaking, it is necessary to determine which outcomes are consistent with that judge’s ideology and which ones are not. Scholars doing observational studies generally classify outcomes as “liberal” or “conservative” based on the type of case and the prevailing party: for example, decisions favoring the government in “criminal” cases are deemed “conservative” and those the defendant “liberal”; in labor law cases, outcomes are “conservative” if they favor “management,” and “liberal” if they favor unions, and so forth.  

The crudeness of this scheme not only injects noise into empirical analyses of case outcomes but also biases it toward overstated estimates of the impact of “ideology” on judicial decisionmaking.  It is a well known feature of the Anglo-American system of law that it frequently demands that judges resort to normative reasoning.  There is no way for highly general concepts such as “fraud,” “unreasonable seizure,” “unlawful restraint of trade,” “fair use,” “materiality,” “freedom of speech,” and the like to be made operative in particular cases without specifying what states of affairs those legal provisions should be trying to promote.  Under “common law” style of reasoning dominant in Anglo-American law,  the sorts of moral judgments that judges exercise to supply content to these types of concepts is not unconstrained; shared understandings of the general aim of the enacting legislature or other law promulgator, the appropriate deference to be afforded to previous elaborations of the content of the legal concept in question, and conformity to broader normative precepts that structure the law (“notice and opportunity to be heard,” “due process,” “like cases treated alike” etc.) limit the available interpretive options. But in ruling out many solutions, the sources of valid normative inspiration that judges can draw on often do not rule only one in.  

In this environment, it is perfectly commonplace for judges who have competing “jurisprudential” orientations to disagree on what normative theory should animate a particular legal provision. It is not a surprise, either, that in those instances the competing orientations that guide judges will be correlated with alternative political philosophies or orientations on the part of the judges in question.  Justice Douglas had a populist “economic decentralization” conception of “restraint of trade” for purposes of the Sherman Act; Professor and then Judge Robert Bork subscribed to an economic, “consumer welfare” alternative.  These positions undoubtedly cohered with their respective political “ideologies,” too, and likely did as well with the “ideologies” of judges who championed one versus the other understanding of how U.S. antitrust law should be structured. But those who understand how the law works—and the contribution that judges, using normative theories play, in imparting content to it—would not characterize this debate as reflecting extralegal “ideological” considerations as opposed to the perfectly ordinary, acceptable exercise of jurisprudential judgments.  Multivariate regression models are not necessary to ferret out the contribution that value-laden theories make to how judges decide these cases; judges openly admit that they are using such theories. Regardless of which President appointed these judges to the federal bench, no lawyer understands judges engaged in this sort of reasoning to be invoking “personal political preferences.”

An entirely different matter would have been presented, however, had Justice Douglas or Judge Bork proposed deciding an antitrust, labor law, free speech, criminal law or any other sort of case based on the religious affiliation of the litigants or on the contribution a particular outcome would have made to the electoral prospects of a candidate for President. The Sherman Act, the Wagner Act, the First Amendment, and even myriad criminal law statutes  all demand the use of the form of guided normative theorizing we are describing. But the bare desire to use legal outcomes in particular cases (or in large classes of them) to disadvantage those who subscribe to a disfavored view of the best life or to advance the cause of a particular political party is plainly outside the range of considerations that can validly be appealed to in the exercise of normative reasoning intrinsic to law. Whether in the form of regression coefficient correlations, law-enforcement wiretaps, or anonymously leaked emails, evidence that judges of particular ideologies were being influenced by such considerations would be a ground for intense concern.

There is a distinction, in sum, between resort to normative considerations that are internal to law and ones external to it. The former are licit, the latter illicit, from the perspective that lawyers and judges in the U.S. system of justice share of what counts as valid legal reasoning.

The “prevailing party” outcome-classification scheme used in observational studies of judicial ideology is blind to the distinction. As a result, such studies will count in their estimates of the influence of “ideology” perfectly mundane associations between the jurisprudential philosophies of judges deciding cases on the basis of normative considerations internal to law and the party of the Presidents who appointed them or the voting records of those judges and judges who feel likewise about the normative theories that inform labor law, free speech cases, criminal cases and the like.  

The correlations that these researchers report could also be capturing judges’ reliance on illicit political considerations, external to the law. But (critics point out) there is no way to know whether this is the case, or to what extent, given the indiscriminate coding of outcome variables that these studies employ.

Some candid adherents to the “ideology thesis”  have acknowledged this point.  But they have not supplied a response to what critics would identify as the significance of this concession. When observational-study proponents declare that they are finding that “ideology” accounts for judges’ decisions, they say they are measuring the extent to which those judges are not deciding cases on the basis of “law.” That is what gives this entire body of literature its currency—its “shock value.” But to the extent that the observational-study scholars are finding that judges who have different judicial philosophies will sometimes validly interpret the law to support different conclusions, then they are telling us something that already is clear— something, in fact, that the very judges whose behavior is being "explained" plainly say when they justify their decisions—and that gives no one any reason to be concerned about the quality of judicial decisionmaking.


Fun webinar event on politicization of science-- c'mon, sign up! 

I don't have anytime today to say anything -- interesting or not -- b/c I'm so busy preparing for this cool "webinar" on politicization of science.

Sign up-- you can ask really hard questions & try to stump the participants (or easy ones--those are even harder to get right).  Plus its free!


If you think local action focused on adaptation is not the path for promoting engagement with climate-change policymaking at the national level, you are wrong. So wrong.




We are *all* Pakistani Drs/Kentucky Farmers, Part 2: Kant's perspective(s)

This is an excerpt from another bit of correspondence with a group of very talented and reflective scholars who are at the beginning of an important research program to explain "disbelief in" human evolution. In addition, because "we may [must] regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future," this post is also a companion to yesterday's, which responded to  Adam Laats' request for less exotic (or less exotic seeming) examples of people using cognitive dualism than furnished us by the Pakistani Dr & the Kentucky Farmer. No doubt it will be the progenitor of "tomorrow's" post too; but you know that will say more about me than it does about the "Big Bang...."

I agree of course that figuring out what people "know" about the rudiments of evolutionary science has to be part of any informative research program here.  But I understand your project to be how to "explain nonacceptance" of or "disbelief in" what is known.

So fine, go ahead and develop valid measures for assessing evolutionary science knowledge. But don't embark on the actual project until you have answered the question the unreflective disregard of which is exactly what has rendered previous “nonacceptance” research programs so utterly unsatifactorywhat is it exactly that is being explained?

Isn't the Pakistani Dr's (or the Kentucky Farmer's or Krista's) "cognitive dualism" just a special instance of the perspectival dualism that Kant understands to be integral to human reason?

In the Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals and in both the 1st and 2d Critiques, Kant distinguishes two “self” perspectives: the phenomenal one, in which which we regard ourselves and all other human beings, along with everything else in the universe, to be subjects to immutable and determinstic laws of nature; and the “noumenal” one, in which we regard ourselves (and all other human beings) as possessing an autonomous will that prescribes laws for itself independently of nature so conceived.  

No dummy, Kant obviously can see the "contradictory" stances on human autonomy embodied in the perspectives of our "phenomenal" and "nouemenal" (not to be confused w/ the admittedly closely related "Neumenal") selves.

But he is not troubled by it.

The respective “beliefs” about human autonomy associated with the phenomenal and noumenal perspectives are, for him, built-in components of mental routines that enable the 2 things reasoning beings use their reason for: to acquire knowledge of how the world works; and to live a meaningful life within it.

Because there’s no contradiction between these reason-informed activities, there’s no practical—no experienced, no real -- contradiction between the sets of action-enabling mental states associated with  them.

Obviously, Kant's dualism has a very big point of contact with debates about "free will" & "determinism," and the coherence of "compatibilist" solutions, and whatnot.  

But as I read Kant, his dualism implies these debates are ill-formed. The participants in them are engaging the question whether human beings are subject to deterministic natural laws in a manner that abstracts from from what the answer allows reasoning people to do.

That feature of the "determinism-free will" debate renders it "metaphysical" -- not in the sense Kant had in mind but in the sense sense that logical positivist philosophers did when they tried to clear from the field of science entangling conceptualist underbrush that served no purpose except to trip people up as they tried to advance knowledge by ordered and systematic thinking.

I strongly suspect that those who have dedicated their scholarly energy to "solving" the "problem" of "why the presentation of evolution in class frequently does not achieve acceptance of the evolutionary theory" among students who display comprehension of it are mired in exactly that sort of thicket.

Both the Pakistani Dr and Krista "reject" human evolution in converging with other free, reasoning persons on a particular shared account of what makes life meaningful.  They then both turn around and use evolutionary science (including its applicability to human beings because it simply "doesn't work," they both agree, to exempt human speciation from evolutionary dynamics—just as it doesn't work to exempt human beings from natural necessity generally if one is doing science) when they use their reason to be members of science-trained professions, the practice of which is enabled by evolutionary science.

In behaving in this way, they are doing nothing different from what any scientist or any other human being does in adopting Kant's "phenomenal perspective" to know what science knows about the operation of objects in the world while adopting Kant's "nouemanal one" to live meaningful lives as persons who make judgments of value.  

Only a very remarkable, and disturbing, form of selective perception can explain why so many people find the cognitive dualism of the Pakistani Dr or Krista so peculiar and even offensive.  Their reaction suggests a widespread deficit in the form of civic education needed to equip people to  honor their duty as citizens of a liberal democracy (or as subjects in Kant's "Kingdom of Ends") to respect the choices that other free and reasoning individuals make about how to live.

Is it really surprising, then, that those who have committed themselves to "solving" the chimera of Krista's "nonacceptance problem" can't see the very real problem with a conception of science education that tries to change who people are rather than enlarge what they know?



We are *all* Pakistani Drs/Kentucky Farmers, Part 1: Manny's perspective(s)

Quite reasonably, Adam Laats at "I love you but you are going to Hell" asked me if I could come up with additional, less exotic examples of people using cognitive dualism than the Pakistani Dr & the Kentucky Farmer. Here's a start...

Krista's boyfriend, MannySo I was talking with Krista, the high school senior and aspiring veterinarian featured in Hermann's "cognitive apartheid" study, about how puzzling it is to me & everyone else I know that she could get a perfect score on her evolutionary-science exam and still not believe in human evolution. She told me I should go ask her boyfriend Manny for help because he was "really good at explaining stuff."

It turned out that Manny, like Krista, had “aced” the AP physics course at their high school.  

I thus asked Manny how he reconciled what he had learned about the “Big Bang” with his religious conviction that God created the universe and everything in it. 

He replied, “What the hell are you talking about, dude? I’m an atheist!”

“Oh, sorry,” I said, “I just assumed that if you were Krista’s boyfriend, you must be religious too. . . .”

“Well, that was a pretty stupid assumption,” he replied. “Sure, we have different opinions about religion but it’s not like people around here cut each other's heads off over disagreements like that,” he said, fiddling with his iPhone as he spoke.

“Not only do I believe everything I learned in the AP Physics course,”  Manny continued with a demonic grin, “but I also believe that the course explains everything in the universe, including this conversation.”

“Seriously?,” I asked.

“Yes, seriously,” he replied. “In fact, one of the questions on the AP Physics exam was, ‘We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future—true or false?’ Pretty obvious the answer’s ‘true,’ don’t you agree?," he asked.

“Yes, I guess so,” I said.

“Of course you agree—you have no choice in the matter!,” he stated with a smirk.

“So I guess you are going to be a scientist when you grow up then?...,” I asked.

“Nope. A moral philosopher,” Manny answered.

A moral philosopher– how can that be?!,” I asked. “If human behavior, along with everything else, can be linked to the impact of natural laws acting on successive states of the universe all the way back to the Big Bang, isn’t it silly to sit around philosophizing about how we ought to live? What ‘choice in the matter’ do we have?”

“That’s the sort of argument that seems really really clever when you are in junior high,” he replied. “Obviously people make reasoned decisions about how to live all the time.”

“But aren’t you contradicting yourself?,” I asked.  “You said you believe ‘we may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future’—and yet you also are now saying that humans reasonably form their own life plans . . . .”

“Yes, I’m saying both of those things, but if you think that’s a ‘contradiction,’ you really are dense,” Manny said. “What I believe about the impact of natural laws on human beings and everything else in the universe, on the one hand, and what I believe about the power of free and reasoning human beings to decide how to live, on the other, are entirely different things.

“I don’t get it,” I said.

“What sort of sorry ass excuse for an education did you receive?,” Manny asked. “Didn’t you ever read Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morals? Or how about either of his first two "Critiques"-- of Pure Reason & of Practical Reason?”

“Ummm … Sure, but remind me– it’s been a while — what did he say that’s relevant here?,” I asked.

Manny sighed. “Kant posits that that human rationality involves a fundamentally dualistic self-perspective: as a member of the ‘sensible world,’ we perceive our actions, like everything else, to be caused by external forces of nature; but as a member of the ‘intelligible world,’ we perceive our actions as the product of our autonomous or self-determining wills.”

“Oh, right,” I said.

“You sound like you don’t get it,” Manny sneered. “But if you want ’empirical proof,’ just look at how every scientist lives her life. Yes, she believes that ‘the present state of the universe is the effect of its past and the cause of its future’—at work, where that belief enables her to contribute to the advancement of scientific knowledge. Nor does she bother concocting some metaphysical 'humans are exempted' proviso as she's doing so, because obviously that doesn't work.” 

“But at home,” Manny continued, “that same scientist disbelieves human actions are caused by deterministic natural laws." "The belief that that human beings have the capacity to choose how to live is woven into the mosaic of desires, emotions, and moral evaluations that enables her to be a parent who takes pride in the accomplishments of her children; or to be a citizen who decides she should do something to fight the threat that global warming poses to her community or to humanity or whatever."

“Don’t you see,” Manny resumed after a pause, “we are all Pakistani Drs!  Actually, I know you don’t see that; perhaps that is something you’d like to study sometime. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m supposed to meet Krista so we can watch the latest episode of Mythbusters.”

Boy, those teenagers--such "know-it-alls"!


Science of Science Communication 2.0, Session 11.2: Wilner questions "consensus messaging" pedagogy for climate-science education along with her own previous views on teaching students to "believe in," not just comprehend, evolution...

I was so foolish to think that Science of Science Communication 2.0 had reached the end or at least the summer intersession!  

"Science communication honeybadger" Tamar Wilner,  having only appeared to have lapsed into a state of permanent unconsciousness after chomping off the head of the "belief vs. knowledge" viper in teaching evolution, suddenly awoke and started in chewing again, this time on whether "consensus messaging" is an effective/appropriate form of climate-science education for secondary school students.... Yow--she's fearless! 

Her appetite was so voracious, moreover, that she ended up devouring at least part of her own previous (qualified) endorsement of teaching students to "believe in" evolution.

See for yourself! 

And add your own witty voice-over commentary below but only if you are willing to reciprocate the contribution she is making to the class's refletive engagement with complexity.



The law's "neutrality communication problem"

This is an excerpt from the latest CCP paper, "Ideology" or "Situation Sense"? An Experimental Investigation of Motivated Reasoning and Professional Judgment, Univ. Pa. L. Rev. (in Press).

We have suggested that the results of this study furnish evidence relevant to assessing whether identity-protective cognition affects expert scientists. We now want to show how understanding the role of identity-protective cognition in conflicts over policy-relevant science can be used to highlight the practical significance of our study results for the administration of justice.

There is an obvious sense in which the results of this study can be understood as good news for the justice system. The perception that judges are “just politicians in robes” is, as we noted, commonplace. The popular view that judges decide cases on the basis of political or cultural commitment extrinsic to law is both understandable and distressing. Yet in an experiment designed to avoid methodological limitations associated with studies that have purported to corroborate this anxiety, we found evidence that judges of diverse cultural outlooks can be expected to converge on results in cases that predictably divide the public. Their job is to decide those sorts of cases neutrally, and our evidence supports the inference that they have both the capacity and disposition to carry it out.

That such a result defies public perceptions should not come as any sort of surprise. Numerous studies have found that members of the general public themselves can be expected to conform their assessments of evidence and their interpretation of rules to the stake they have in legal outcomes that affirm the status of their groups and their own standing within them. These studies, we have emphasized, are not a reliable basis for drawing inferences about the in-domain reasoning processes of judges. But the one sort of inference that they do support is that members of the public can be expected to perceive judges to be biased in cases the outcomes of which are invested with antagonistic cultural meanings even when the outcomes of those cases reflect neutral decisionmaking.

That conclusion is, in fact, the bad news associated with our study results: the reliable convergence of culturally diverse judges on genuinely neutral outcomes has no connection at all to how untrained members of the public perceive the neutrality of those judges’ decisions. Again, because citizens lack the elements of professional judgment—the “situation sense”—that lawyers and judges acquire through their training and experience, citizens don’t have the capacity to discern those aspects of the case and the governing legal rules pertinent to assessing the neutrality or validity of judicial resolutions of them. On the contrary, in precisely those cases in which public anxiety about the cultural neutrality of the law is likely to be highest, identity-protective cognition will predictably disable members of the public from using their usually reliable lay prototypes of valid decisionmaking to assess cases outcomes. In that circumstance, no matter how expertly and impartially judges decide, one or another segment of the public will be disposed to see judges’ decisions as “politically biased” whenever courts are called upon to resolve culturally fraught controversies.

This problem is exactly parallel to the one that scientists face when empirical issues on which they possess expertise becomes entangled in culturally contested meanings. Obviously, doing valid science does not in itself communicate the validity of scientific research: people lack the expertise to see validity for themselves; they must rely on cues and processes that help them to reliably recognize who knows what about what. The capacity of members of the public to interpret those cues is compromised when propositions of risk or fact become symbols of the status of competing cultural groups. In that sort of “polluted science communication environment,” just doing valid science—including the part of valid science that consists in communicating validity to other scientists—will do nothing to silence public confusion and agitation.

Fixing this science communication problem is the aim of a new science of science communication. This subdivision of decision science uses empirical methods to identify the various dynamics that enable people to recognize as valid scientific insights that they could never verify for themselves. It aims, too, to understand, empirically, how those processes can be disrupted, and how society can effectively preempt such disruptions and counteract them when strategies of prevention fail.

Exploiting the benefits of the science of science communication will demand appropriate adjustments to myriad institutional practices. The sorts of conscious interventions necessary to protect the science communication environment from contamination are not self-executing. An integral part of the science of science communication, then, is to identify programs of implementation that appropriately reconfigure the processes for science-informed policymaking, the norms of science-generating and -consuming professions, and the structure of university training of scientists and public-policymaking professionals.

The law has a similar communication problem. Doing and communicating neutral decisionmaking are as different from one another as doing and communicating valid science. Just as solving the science communication problem demands scientific knowledge and appropriate institutional reforms, so solving the law’s neutrality communication problem will require appropriate acquisition and use of empirical knowledge of a sort aimed at expanding understanding of how people come to recognize the neutrality of the law and what law should do to make its neutrality fully recognizable.

There is one critical difference, however, between the science communication problem and the neutrality communication problem. Unlike scientists, judges are expected both to make valid decisions and communicate the validity of their work to the public. It is widely recognized that the experience of liberal neutrality in law depends on the public’s confidence that the law is genuinely impartial. The practice of reason-giving reflected in judicial opinions is understood to be intrinsic to the rule of law precisely because public assurance of the law’s neutrality depends on their access to a reasoned account of the neutral, impartial grounds for courts’ decisions.

The legal profession is doing well, our study suggests, in equipping those of its number who serve as judges to be neutral decisionmakers. But the very ubiquity and persistence of conflict over whether judges are in fact deciding cases on neutral grounds is a testament to how little the profession knows, and how poorly equipped its members are, to communicate the neutrality of the law. That deficit in lawyers’ “situation sense” is itself a barrier to citizens’ enjoyment of the value that neutral judicial decisionmaking confers on them.


Revisiting "cultural cognition as a conception of the cultural theory of risk"

I'm going to be giving a presentation at the 6th Annual Mary Douglas Seminar series at University College London next month.  I'm pretty psyched, b/c I've known about the series and always been really envious of the participants for their chance to exchange ideas with one another on the significance of Douglas's work for making sense of public conflict over risk and related topics.

I'll be presenting a paper-- which I'll post it in 2-3 weeks-- that extends/updates/qualifies an earlier one I did on relationship between "cultural cognition" &  Douglas & Wildavsky's cultural theory of risk.

Can ‘cultural cognition’ help solve CTR’s ‘mechanisms problem’?

My paper will address the contribution ‘cultural cognition’ makes to remedying a deficit in Cultural Theory relating to the psychological and behavioral mechanisms that connect cultural worldviews to individual risk perceptions. Indeed, ‘cultural cognition’ was self-consciously designed to forge the connection between the cultural and psychometric theories of risk that Douglas (1997) proposed in her essay ‘The Depoliticization of Risk.’ Prepared specifically for the conference, my paper will use this theme to animate a brief survey of ‘cultural cognition’ studies. It will also present new data suggesting how cultural cognition dynamics might be understood to support the so-called ‘mobility thesis’ (Rayner 1992), which sees institutions (or social contexts more generally) rather than individuals as the agents through which opposing worldviews operate to generate variance in risk perceptions. ‘Cultural cognition’ does not furnish a unique solution to Cultural Theory’s ‘mechanisms problem’; but without a solution, Cultural Theory, I will argue, cannot be expected to sustain a meaningful empirical research program for investigating societal conflict over risk.

Best thing: Steve Rayner will be my commentator-- maybe I'll just cede all my time to him so I don't mistake of talking too much & depriving myself & others of any of the benefit of hearing what he has to say.