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Thursday
Nov062014

"Religion, not political predispositions or political elite discourse, generates conflict over science" Seriously?!!!

Okay, I'll get to this but not for a bit.  Maybe one or more of our 14 billion readers can read it in meantime and report in comments field?

As you can see from the abstract, the basic claim is that neither political predispositions nor the positions of political elites contribute much to conflicts over science relative to the contribuiton that religion makes.

I'll admit that I have priors very strongly opposed to this thesis.  But I'll do my best not to let those infect my likelihood ratio as I examine the authors' evidence.

In the meantime, I'd be grateful as I'm sure billions of others would be for anyone else's assessment.

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Reader Comments (7)

Party ID entered as dummy variables, with Independent (middle category) as comparison category. May have dampened effect somewhat.

November 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNeil Stenhouse

I didn't bother reading the whole paper either, but had a quick look at the tables of results.

On evolution, they asked Did humans evolve from animals?
And the answers they got fitted best with religious views. No surprise there I think.

On climate, they asked the wrong question. They should have asked something like "the climate is warming and it's mostly caused by humans". But they didn't, they asked whether most climate scientists agree among themselves about warming.
Now if they'd been familiar with your work, they would know that many climate sceptics would answer yes to that question. So their question is not a measure of climate scepticism. And they get pretty low fits with political views or religious views.

November 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Matthews

In fact the authors acknowledge in the text that it wasn't a very good question:
"Finally, the “global warming” item is also limited. Respondents are not asked whether climate change is occurring, or whether human activity is causing any such change, but simply about the extent of agreement among scientists about “the existence and causes” of global warming. We regard this item as having a certain level of face validity, as the extent of consensus concerning climate change is a point of contention in recent and contemporary political discourse that is often raised by global warming skeptics"

November 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Matthews

I feel like there's a game of telephone from their data analysis to their discussion to your post... (Where did the quote in the title come from?) In a nutshell: they found that religion and ideology (liberal-conservative) predominate over political identification in predicting belief in evolution and approval of stem cell research, and they didn't find a whole lot for their weak measure of belief in scientific consensus on climate change. Their statement, "partisan identification is not generally predictive of attitudes toward contested scientific issues" is a pretty extreme generalization based on these three regressions on non-generalizable outcome variables (where ideology was partialed out, no less).

The researchers used data from the 2006 General Social Survey to run four regressions. The dichotomous outcome variables were:
(1) Belief in evolution, as measured by answer to: "Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier
species of animals (Is that true or false)?"
(2) Agreement that government should fund embryonic stem cell research (grouping "probablies" with "definitelies").
(3) Belief in scientific consensus of global warming, as measured by answer to: "On a scale of 1 to 5, where one means 'near complete agreement' and 5 means 'No agreement at all,' to what extent do environmental scientists agree among themselves about the existence and causes of global warming?" The variable was dichotomized by grouping 1-2 and 3-5.
(4) General skepticism, i.e., non-belief for all three of the above. (Only 10% of respondents.)

Their independent variables for the regressions were demographic (education, age, sex), political (dichotomized Republican and Democrat -- relative to Independent, as Neil notes -- and a 7-point Ideology variable), and religious (Catholic, Evangelical, and belief in the authority of the Bible).

They got pretty different results for each regression:

Evolution: relatively large and significant coefficients on "evangelical" and "bible view." Also a very significant but smaller coefficient on "ideology." (Could that be just as large in effect because of the 7-point scale? I'm not sure about that.) No significant coefficient on Republican or Democrat, but as Neil notes, having the two variables might dilute that. Still, perhaps not surprising that conflict over evolution is more religious and ideological than political.

Stem cells: Larger coefficient on ideology, smaller but still significant coefficient on bible view. Their coefficient on "Democrat" was comparable with their coefficient on "bible view," but Republicans were not significantly different from Independents (unclear how many Independents were in the sample). They mention the significance of Democratic affiliation but instead emphasize the non-significance of Republican party identification. So, really, everything matters for stem cells.

Climate change: There was a weakly significant relationship with ideology and evangelical, and a strongly significant relationship with education. Paul notes some of the issues with this measure. I also note that the dichotomizing might have weakened it a lot.

General skepticism: Coefficients on Democrat and Ideology are both large and significant here, but the researchers emphasize that the Democrat coefficient is driven entirely by stem cell research and assert that Bible view is "most important."

So I think they've been somewhat selective with the results they've chosen to emphasize (religion) and deemphasize (ideology, most obviously, which is probably fairly colinear with partisan ID).

November 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMW

@MW & @Neil & @Paulmathews

Using independents as excluded group makes no sense. They write as if "significance" of coefficents for R or D in relation to independent rather than significance of difference between R vs D was what mattered.... They should either tell us whether Rs differed significantly from Ds or -- better -- use the 7 point party id as continuous variable. Better yet: combine party id & ideology. They are both indicators of same latent variable -- left-right political outlook. Putting both on right hand side of regression partials out the thing that measured the latent variable most reliably--the covariance of the 2. Also weird to partial out ideology or partisanship from religion. Should look at interaction or else ignore.

Weird, too, that they didn't use 2009 Pew data set. It has outcome variables like ones @Paulmathews notes would be better. If one is going to used data in a can, might as well pick the best can!

Maybe I'll post something on this to show how religion & ideology influence GW & evolution beliefs. Also to highlight how many things were done here that shouldn't be in trying to explain how identity-related indicators account for variance in one or another thing ...

November 7, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Nice comments so far.
I hated the article. Here are some of the reasons.
Many really important terms such as evolution, literalism, climate change, and stem cells are undefined. So the respondents could be and often are answering different questions.
Also they did not show distributions and use variables that are not dichotomous. To me, the assumption of dichotomous variables hides all the interesting results and is sort of like assuming that all women have average height and all men have average height. You find that the averages are different. This is true but not that illuminating.

For reference, we had ten discussion sessions last summer. We covered all these topics. The sessions were about 40 people, from 18 to 80, and were about three hours long, with dinner served first. If you analyzed our attendees, you would get very different conclusions than the authors stated. My town, Los Alamos, NM is highly educated, fairly religious, very scientific and about 50% Democrats and 50% Republicans.

This coming summer we will have another ten weeks of discussion, this time to a larger audience and focusing on a single book. Ask for details.

November 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEric Fairfield

Off topic:

Dan - any thoughts on this?:

http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/psp/107/5/809/

Please direct any comments (if you have any) to a different thread if you don't want to clutter this one up.

November 7, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

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