Friday, July 22, 2011
Science Communication vs. Soulcraft
This raises an interesting question: Does the correlation between belief in global warming and philosophy instead of scientific literacy and numeracy continue all the way to the limit? IOW, is the by no means uniform tendency of scientists to believe in global warming simply a consequence of scientists being primarily of the philosophy correlated with such belief? (Which polls show them to be.)
1. Our data cannot answer. Even in a sample of 1,500 there aren't enough culturally diverse respts w/ PhD's in climate sciences. I can tell you, however, that the increased-polarization effect is linear over the range of numeracy & science literacy (the upper hand has plenty of people w/ advanced degrees). In addition, education has *zero* effect from bottom of range (no formal ed to post-graduate degree).
2. Other researchers *have* specifically looked at the correlation between climate change beliefs and ideology among scientists. Make a hypothesis about what they find. Then see if you were right. http://climateshiftproject.org/report/climate-shift-clear-vision-for-the-next-decade-of-public-debate/#chapter-4
I think this is a very interesting post.. If people were to use the term "climate risk" (reflecting uncertainty as to both the cause and magnitude of climate change), would that help address the problem?
There were two principal findings.
First, public controversy is strongly associated with differences in cultural or group values. People who subscribe to an individualistic, pro-market worldview tend to see climate change risks as small, while people who subscribe to an egalitarian, wealth-redistributive worldview tend to see them as large.
Second, differences in science literacy (how knowledgeable people are about basic science) and numeracy (a measure of their facility with quantitative, technical reasoning) magnify cultural polarization. As egalitarians become more scientifically literate and numerate, their concerns grow even larger; as individualists become more scientifically literate and numerate, their concerns diminish all the more. (For this reason, levels of science literacy and numeracy have essentially no meaningful impact overall).
These data suggest that conflict over climate change, far from reflecting a deficit in public comprehension of scientific information, demonstrates how adept people are in forming beliefs that express their group commitments.
This begs the question of whether AGW proponents are merely advancing the AGW theory as a vehicle to achieve their "egalitarian, wealth-redistributive" public policy goals.
The remedies AGW proponents offer - massive industrial planning and redistribution of wealth - suggest that the answer to that question is yes.
mls: I doubt it. The response measure in this study didn't distinguish between magnitude and severity. But it is a well established finding of risk perception science that *public* perceptions of risk tend to see all aspects of a putative risk pointing in same (normative) direction: high maginitude, high risk, low benefit; high benefit, low magnitude, low severity. Although you might learn something interesting by asking more fine-grained questions, you can be confident that (for ordinary folks) you are measuring a global "yay" or "boo" type response -- this is part of what Paul Slovic calls the "affect heuristic" (all specific facts conformed to valuence of affect that putative risk triggers). The very general "how serious would you rate the risk" item used in this study is thus considered a very reliable way to isolate and examine variance in risk perceptions across different groups of people.
Brian: Sure, the results of this study (and of many others that show cultural outlooks explain disagreement about various sorts of risks) beg that question -- but they beg the question in a symmetrical way: that is, one might say, "are egalitarians just claiming risk as a cover for redistribution?" *&* "are individualistis just claiming no risk as a cover for their freedom to pursue profits from industry & commerce." I believe the answer is *no* for both. That conclusion is what I take away from lots of studies--mainly experiments-- that identify the precise mechanisms that generate these sorts of correlations. Those studies, I think, furnish convincing evidence that the connections run through unconscious cognitive mechanisms (all sorts, from logical & mathematical computation to brute sense impressions).
The problem is that the scientific findings has become irreducably scrambled with policy prescriptions. As it stands now agreeing with the scientific consensus--that the Earth is warming--is tied directly to a belief that Something Drastic Must Be Done at Once.
Science doesn't answer the policy question about what, if anything, to do. It doesn't measure the costs and benefits of policy alternatives. The short-circuting of that debate has led to both sides playing games with the scientific question of what is actually occuring to the planet.
GPS and penicillin don't threaten entrenched interest groups. So the '"administration’s responsibilities to foster a science communication environment that spares us from these sorts of tragic conflicts between individual expressive interests and collective welfare ones" comes up against the brute force of a carbon lobby that wants to promote such conflicts.
And an oil-rig worker in Oklahoma could possibly have kids who will be on the frontline of climate change and they will get increasingly impacted by climate events. So this is not a post-Modern relativist argument like abortion where most people have no real skin in the game.
In the UK before WW2, the broader population wanted to appease Hitler because they didn't want to repeat the tragedy of WW1. In your terminology, 'an opposition toward Hitler and the acceptance of war was heretical within the community, someone who espoused such views might well forfeit the friendship and respect of people he or she depended on most for support in everyday life.'
However, a few politicians of the left and right said a confrontation with fascism was inevitable. And as the facts of Hitler's actions unfolded, the mainstream changed its opinion. Gore may be no Churchill, but he espouses a view that the facts of climate change will support as time goes by. He is taking the role of someone who wishes to accelerate the response before it is too late: Obama isn't.
So who is closer to Churchill and who is closer to Neville Chamberlain?
Dan... The piece from Climate Shift (Chap 4) that you linked to in the second comment reminds me of the Steven Cobert line, "Facts have a well-known Liberal bias."
I often tell people, and I think this is supported by your article, that the more confident we are in the science of climate change, the more reactive and extreme the other side will become.
The way to ratchet down the rhetoric of this issue is not for the climate scientists to be more sure, the tone will only fall when substantive energy solutions start hitting the market.
A faster, cleaner, sexier electric car is going to do more to significantly alter the debate than climate scientists can ever bring to bear.
With all due respect, what a load of hogwash! It all sounds like Intellectual cultural apologetics for Obama's anti-environmentalism. Obama is no friend or champion of the environment with his nuclear power and weapons renaissance and his proliferation of endless wars, global militarism and empire. There is nothing green or sustainable about war and the eco-footprint of the Obama presidency is deep and dirty. You can try to excuse or justify or rationalize his impotency and weakness or cowardice on climate and the environment with cultural cognitive theories and studies and data but i think most environmental critics like myself know the simple sad truth: Obama is not green. He is a war profiteer and he doesn't lead on climate because it isn't in his self interest to be re-elected or play warlord of the world of whatever madness motivates his actions.
And since this blog post is being spread over the internet by the likes of Andrew Revkin (which is how I came across it), it would be good of you to disclose your relationship and allegiances to Obama. Google told me that you both ran the Harvard Law Review, two years apart. there are news stories that say you are in his inner academic harvard circle and are an avid Obama supporter. Do you work for his campaign? Is this a gig? Disclosure would be greatly appreciated.
Justin: I’d say 70% yes & 30& no.
The 70% yes—you are right to point out that there are very difficult political economy obstacles to creation of the sort of science communication environment I’m talking about. Indeed, the quality of that environemtn, like the quality of the physical one, is a collective good & so needs public provisioning (in the form, I believe, of systematic govt support). Plus there will be some smaller, more intensely interested & well organized intersts—& not just on industry side— that have an advantage in trying to promote polarization & hence confusion.
But (29% of no) as is always so, public choice dynamics are indeterminate. Look at nuclear power: died in 1980s (maybe coming back) despite strong industry support *b/c* of hostile cultural climate. Look at HPV vaccine—blocked by hostile cultural climate despite *huge* special-interest support by Merck, Inc. (which financed re-election of Tex. Gov. Perry—who signed short-lived exec order in favor of vaccinating schoolgirls; overturned when Merck’s campaign contributions were disclosed) . . . Basically, it’s a lot easier for interest group to promote public confusion when there is cultural motivation to be misled.
Last 1% of no: yes, the oil rig worker will be affected if policy doesn’t reflect sound science. But his *individual* belief, right or wrong, has no impact on policy. His formation of a belief at odds with his cultural group will in fact affect him— so that controls. To solve this “tragedy of the risk perceptions” commons, we should create a science communication climate that doesn’t make forming a belief or changing one tantamount to betrayal of one’s community.
Oh, one more point: how much more do you think advocacy groups *opposing* policy response to climate change have spen than advocacy groups *supporting* such policies? Again, you can find data in Nisbet. http://climateshiftproject.org/report/climate-shift-clear-vision-for-the-next-decade-of-public-debate/#chapter-1. This time look at the evidence & then hypothesize who will say his data are valid & who not . . . .
RobH: I think this article & others we’ve done (e.g., http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1549444) show that liberals are as likely to be against the “scientific consensus” position as conservatives when scientific conensus is not in line with liberal view (e.g., on safety of deep geologic isolation of nuc wastes). *But* I suspect that scientists, despite being more likely to be liberal, are *more* likely to hold views in line w/ scientific consensus on all issues. This is my hypothesis, anyway (someone likely has looked at this on nuclear). I think professional habits of mind matter a lot. (Disclosure: I am only saying this b/c like Barack Obama, Richard Posner, & Alger Hiss, I was once President of the Harvard Law Review...).
"Soulcraft" as a term is a way of spiritualizing non quantitative language. It's bullshit. My other immediate reaction is disgust at the use of the term "egalitarian" to describe American liberals. That again is bullshit. American liberals are self-regarding, and condescending towards those they consider beneath them. There's concern but it's laced with pity and pity is a sister to contempt. So no, egalitarian is not the term.
A public oratory in a common language is not soulcraft, it's statesmanship. The Gettysburg Address is not a work of Soulcraft. This post, with some interesting data, nonetheless describes the reinvention of the wheel. You pretend to be a blank slate imagining others' tropes and tics. Look to your own.
> *But* I suspect that scientists, despite being more likely to be liberal, are *more* likely to hold views in line w/ scientific consensus on all issues.
It would be an interesting question to explore. Having known very conservative scientists and liberal ones, I found that each group often had crazy (sorry, non-consensus) ideas in areas outside their field of expertise. On some topics, such as mandatory vaccinations for even classic childhood diseases such as measles, or for seasonal flu, both liberal and conservative scientists often reject the consensus view of public health scientists.
IMHO, Obama's neglect and worse of environmental issues stems from the "up to my ass in alligators" problem more than any nuanced view of scientific discourse.
"Having known very conservative scientists and liberal ones, I found that each group often had crazy (sorry, non-consensus) ideas in areas outside their field of expertise"
My favorite example Steven Weinberg.
Chapter 15. Historically illiterate and deeply racist.
Edward & RobH: I definitely want to qualify, if not simply retract & run away from, the statement about the relationship between scientists' ideology & their adherence to "scientific consensus on all issues." Way too broad -- b/c "scientist" and "all issues" are too loosely specified. I suspect that scientists who share a specialty in which an authority akin to the National Academy of Sciences has identified "expert consensus" positions will not be strongly polarized on those positions even when members of the general public (including highly science literate ones) are. E.g., liberal scientists specializing in nuclear safety are not nearly as likely as liberal members of the public to dispute that deep geologic isolation of nuclear wastes is low risk (a position that the NAS's National Research Council has endorsed in "expert consensus" reports). Paul Slovic, a coauthor on the study discussed in this post, has found cultural variance among experts--e.g. toxicologists, on validity of animal studies for identifying carcinogens. But the degree of cultural division is smaller than it is in the public.
Look, if the scientific evidence were actually dispositive, you would expect that at some point one position would start being correlated with scientific literacy.
In fact, perusing the survey, one position IS correlated with scientific literacy, albeit not a strong correlation: Belief that global warming isn't a serious problem! If you look at figure three, while belief that global warming is a serious problem is practically constant for the "egalitarian communitarian" subgroup, it's negatively correlated with both scientific literacy and numeracy for "hierarchical individualists".
Interestingly, they found a similar situation with regards to fear of nuclear power: While both subgroups became less fearful of nuclear power as they became more scientifically literate, (To be expected if the evidence were dispositive.) the gap between the subgroups grew, because belief in the safety of nuclear power was considerably more correlated with scientific literacy among "hierarchical individualists" than the communitarians.
Frankly, the "egalitarian communitarian" subgroup doesn't come off very well in this survey. It's like math and science have virtually no influence on their opinions. And they only end up agreeing with scientists more often than not because most scientists ARE "egalitarian communitarians", and let that influence their thinking on issues like global warming where there's no strong evidence either way.
Brett: Your reading is accurate & fair. If you *are* and egalitarian communitarian, then that proves it *is* possible for people to give open-minded attention to empirical evidence that challenges them. If you are not an egalitarian communitarian, then others who are in a position to prove the point by giving open-minded consideration to *your* interpretation of the findings.
I myself believe that the dynamics we are studying do not have any cultural or partisan or ideological preference; they are happy to screw us all. The only consolation is that b/c it hurts all cultural groups, there is no reason to expect hierarchs, egalitarians, communitarians & individualists from *all* converging on the conclusion that we should do something to fix our situation.
Everyone (including Brett): I have learned a lot from your reflections. Maybe I will do this again soon (if Balkin allows me to).
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Edward & RobH: I definitely want to qualify, if not simply retract & run away from, the statement about the relationship between scientists' ideology & their adherence to "scientific consensus on all issues." Way too broad -- b/c "scientist" and "all issues" are too loosely specified. I suspect that scientists who share a specialty in which an authority akin to the National Academy of Sciences has identified "expert consensus" positions will not be strongly polarized on those positions even when members of the general public (including highly science literate ones) are. E.g., liberal scientists specializing in nuclear safety are not nearly as likely as liberal members of the public to dispute that deep geologic isolation of nuclear wastes is low risk (a position that the NAS's National Research Council has endorsed in "expert consensus" reports). Paul Slovic, a coauthor on the study discussed in Ceramic Tile this post, has found cultural variance among experts--e.g. toxicologists, on validity of animal studies for Plastic Cards identifying carcinogens. But the degree of cultural division is smaller than it is in the public.
Interesting that Brett is now privileging the opinions of the "scientifically literate" elite. That's not like you, Brett...
Privileging in what sense? I've said nothing about "privileging", I've simply observed that, if the scientific evidence for a position was dispositive, you would expect at some level of scientific literacy, belief in that position would be positively correlated with such literacy.
The correlation between scientific literacy and belief that global warming is a serious problem, (As opposed to a mere phenomenon...) is minimal for liberals, (Perhaps because liberals of all levels of scientific literacy are so devoted to this belief that there's little room for variance.) and moderately negative for conservatives.
This at least suggests that the scientific evidence isn't dispositive.
In the case of the safety of nuclear power, OTOH, both liberals and conservatives become more persuaded of it's safety as they become more scientifically literate. This suggests that the evidence in this controversy IS dispositive.
But we can still observe that in neither controversy are liberals' views much correlated with their scientific literacy. Which, again, suggests that, even in cases where they might be right, it's just by coincidence, not a result of evidence and reason.
As I said, the "egalitarian communitarian" subgroup just don't come off very well in this study.
I jumped too soon before and didn't catch how the authors developed the terms of Hierarchy/Egalitarianism and Individualism/Communitarianism. I've just scanned the paper and I'll read it through later. Have the authors read Gambetta and Hertog? "Engineers of Terror" ? PDF. Have they checked for relations of academic and non-profit vs private sector employees? The idea of the profit motive is not the same as the fact of it.
The more I read, the more I wish could delete my first comment entirely. The others are less problematic.
The issue is not jut the communication of science but easy assumption about what science is and isn't.
The first sentence from another paper from the C. Cognition Project: "For years, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has released expert consensus reports confirming the reality of global warming and the safety of disposing nuclear wastes deep underground. However, intense debate still persists over these and many other issues scientifically proven and reported by the NAS."
"In 1965 the Asse-II mine was turned into a temporary storage and research facility for nuclear waste. As the development of nuclear energy boomed, the 1000-metre-deep mine became a permanent disposal site for nuclear material. Between 1967 to 1978, hundreds of thousands of barrels of radioactive waste were disposed in the mine and remain there today. In June this year, news broke that brine, known to be leaking from the mine since 1988, is radioactive – at some eight times above safe levels."
Is that a failure of science?
Here's a discussion of Yucca mountain in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.
This post raised so many red flags, in reference and in response, that I got sloppy. Throwing out the first comment, I'll restate my last point this way: what we need is an understanding of the universal fact of cultural cognition as something through which all of us operate. Any "scientific" study of the cultural cognition of others will be fundamentally in error.
1. We (researchers in CCP) did not write this sentence:
"For years, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has released expert consensus reports confirming the reality of global warming and the safety of disposing nuclear wastes deep underground. However, intense debate still persists over these and many other issues scientifically proven and reported by the NAS."
That's from a college-student science journalist's magazine article.
2. I wish *we* had written these two:
what we need is an understanding of the universal fact of cultural cognition as something through which all of us operate. Any "scientific" study of the cultural cognition of others will be fundamentally in error.
You did, of course. It is pretty much the main point that we try to get across in our work. I'm glad you ended up there, notwithstanding the irony that all the sentences that I *did* write in my blog post transmitted a cultural meaning that made the likelihood of your engaging our work smaller. "Easier said than done," "live & learn" & all that.
Please. No need for fancy theories here.
"Doubt is our product"
A high quality product has been manufactured and sold here.
Of course, if we all follow this strategy of belief formation simultaneously, the collective outcome could be a disaster. I’m not hurt when I adopt a belief that “fits” my values but that is wrong, as a matter of scientific fact; but I and many others might well suffer harm if society adopts policies that don’t Buy Cheap RS Gold reflect the best available science about consequential societal risks. Because we live in a democracy, moreover Cheap Eden Gold, the risk that society will fail to adopt scientifically enlightened policies goes up as individuals of diverse cultural affiliations form Tera Online Gold the impression that it is in their expressive interest to adopt beliefs that affirm their groups’Buy Tera Gold values over their rivals’Cheap WOW Gold.
seo :variations in technology reading and writing (how experienced individuals are about primary science) and numeracy (a evaluate of their ability with quantitative, specialized reasoning) increase national polarization. As egalitarians become more clinically well written and numerate, their worries increase even larger; as individualists become more clinically well written and numerate, their worries reduce all the more.
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These are questions dealt with in the sociology of science, but I still would prefer an anthropology, since sociology is too "scientific" for my tastes. And this ties to my recent comments on the reception of Eric Posner's new book, critical only in the polite terms of the academy, when in deserves something stronger. That authoritarianism has become normative may be a scientific fact, but that does not make authoritarian itself a scientific truth.
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