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Thursday
Dec082016

Making science documentaries that matter in a culturally divided society (lecture summary plus slides)

Here is the gist of my presentation at the World Congress of Science and Factual producers in Stockholm on 12/7. ( slides)

1.  I can make movies, too! Plus “identity protective cognition.” I know most of you are expert filmmakers. Well, it turns out I made a movie once myself. 

It was “produced” for use in the study featured in “They Saw a Protest.”  The production values, I’m sure, seem quite low. There are two reasons for that. One is that the production values are low. The other is that swinging my recording device around erratically helped to generate a montage of scenes that, with suitable editing, could be made to plausibly appear to be scenes from either an anti-abortion protest outside an abortion clinic or an anti-“Don’t ask, don’t tell” one held outside a college recruitment center.

Subjects, instructed to assume the role of juror, were assigned either to the “abortion clinic” condition or the “recruitment center” condition.

As you can see, subjects’ perc eptions of the coercive nature vel non of the protestors, and the corresponding justification or lack thereorf on the part of the police for dispersing the demonstrators, varied depending on the condition to which the subjects were assigned and their cultural values: subjects of opposing values disagreed with one another on key facts when they were assigned to the same condition; at the same time, subjects who shared cultural values disagreed with one another when assigned to different conditions.

The resulting pattern of perceptions reflects identity-protective cognition. That is, subjects of particular values gravitated toward assessments of what they saw that conformed to the position that was most congruent with their groups’ postion on the cause of the protestors.

2. Identity-protective reasoning on climate change, etc. The gist of my talk is that many public controversies over risk fit this same pattern. That is, when appraising societal risks, individuals of opposing cultural outlooks can be expected to form perceptions of fact that reflect and reinforce their cultural allegiances.

As an example, consider the results of “Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus.”  That study found that “hierarch individualists” and “egalitarian communitarians” were both inclined to selectively recognized and dismiss the expertise of the featured scientists in patterns that corresponded to whether the attributed position of the putative expert—on climate change, nuclear waste disposal, or concealed handguns--was consistent or at odds with the prevailing position in the subjects’ cultural groups.

This is identity-protective cognition, too. Like the subjects in “They Saw a Protest,” the subjects in “Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus” selectively affirmed or disputed the expertise of the featured scientists depending on whether his positon cohered with the one in the subjects’ cultural group.

3. System 2 motivated reasoning. The “identity protect cognition” thesis’s primary competitor is the “bounded rationality thesis. The latter holds that disagreements among members of the public is attributable to people’s overreliance on “System 1” heuristic reasoning. This position predicts that as subjects become more proficient in the deliberate, conscious, analytic form of reasoning consistent with “System 2” reasoning, they ought to converge on the best available evidence on that societal risk.

In fact, though, as individuals’ scores on any manner of critical reasoning increase, so too does the intensity with which they affirm their group’s view and denigrate the other’s. 

This result is more consistent with the “identity protective cognition” thesis, which holds that individuals can be expected to devote all their cognitive resources to forming and persisting in the position that predominates in their group as a way of protecting their status within the group.

The problem of non-convergence is a consequence not of too little rationality but instead too much. Forced to choose between a truth-convergent and identity-protective form of reasoning, actors whose personal beliefs have zero impact on their (or anyone else’s) exposure to the putative risk at issue predictably gravitate toward formation of beliefs that secure for themselves the benefits of holding group-convergent beliefs.

But if individually rational, this form of information processing remains collectively irrational. It means that members of a diverse democratic society are less likely to converge on the best-available evidence that is essential to the well-being of all.  Nevertheless, the collective good associated with truth-convergent reasoning doesn’t’ change the psychic incentives of any individual to continue to engage information in a manner that is group-convergent instead.

This is the tragedy of the science communication commons.

4. Lab remedies.  These dynamics impose severe constraints on the use of science documentaries to inform people on controversial issues. Can anything be done to steer members of diverse groups away from this form of information processing?  Here are a couple of possibilities.

a. Two channel communication. One Is the “two channel” science communication model.  This model posits that individuals assess information along two channels—one dedicated to the content of the information and the other to the identity-expressive quality of it. The two must be in synch; if they interfere with each other—if individuals perceive the information on the “meaning” channel signifies that assent to the “content” of the information risks driving a wedge between them and others who share their cultural outlooks—then they will fail to assimilate information transmitted on the content channel, no matter how Cleary it is conveyed.

The nature of the dynamics involved here is illustrated by the CCP’s study on the impact of geoengineering and cultural polarization. Whereas the “anti-pollution” message generated a negative or hostile meaning (“game over”; “we told you so”) to individuals predisposed to climate skepticism, the “geoengineering research” conveyed an identity-affirming meaning (“yes we can”; “more of the same”). Consistently with these opposing messages, subjects in the “anti-pollution” condition displayed attitude polarization relative to the control group, while ones in the “geoengineering” condition displayed diminished polarization.

b. Science curiosity. Individuals who are “science curious” process information  differently from their less curious cultural peers.  They will choose, for example, to read new stories that report exciting or novel scientific findings even when doing so means exposure to information that is hostile to their cultural identity. This plausibly explains why science curiosity, of all the predispositions associated with science comprehension, does not aggravate but rather appears to mitigate cultural polarization.

A useful communication plan, then, might focus on maximizing the congeniality of information to science-curious subjects in the expectation that those individuals, when they interact in their cultural group, will convey—by words and action—that they have confidence in climate science, a message that is likely to carry more weight than “messages” by put-up “messengers” with whom they lack a cultural affinity.

5. What to do? You tell me!  But these are very formative and maddeningly general pieces of advice. What would a program that employs them look like?

I don’t honestly know!  I know nothing in particular about making science films.  What I do know is information about lots of general dynamics relating to science communication; for those insights to be translated into real-world practice would require the “situation sense” of individuals who are intimately involved in communication within particular real-world situations.

My panel mate Sonya Pemberton is in that position.  I’ll let her speak to how she is using the “two channel model” and the phenomena of “scientific curiosity” to advance her science communication objectives.

Once she has, moreover, I will happily join efforts with her or anyone else pursuing these reflective, and well-considered judgments to do what I am best equipped to do, which is to furnish tailored empirical information fitted to enabling that professional to make the best decisions she can.

 

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Reader Comments (8)

I believe that the analysis here needs to go beyond viewing the issue as "Identity-protective reasoning on climate change, etc". In my opinion, "identity protective" is too small a frame to describe what is going on. I think that much more emphasis needs to be placed on the concept that we are undergoing a time of very disruptive change. In many ways similar to the Industrial Revolution. But much more severe than that. For one thing, there is no "New World" to immigrate to to absorb displaced workers. Its not a battle over identity, it is the whole socio-economic structure. What kind of future will we have, and who will be in charge of it?

It is also true that we have become geographically segregated, as exemplified, in the US, by the map, by counties of who voted for Trump or Hillary in the last election. http://time.com/4587866/donald-trump-election-map/ This means, IMHO, that there is less chance that the "science curious" are well distributed, or in places of influence where influence may be most needed. And, in a time that we are moving away from fossil fuels, we are isolating those that worked in fossil fuel industries, those that use fossil fuels most heavily in their current work or to commute to work. We are leaving assets and people stranded.

In Western European originating soicio-economic cultures, the knowledge that we acquire by the practice of science is something generally labeled as "Scientific Progress". But this tends to be implemented by those in a position to be early adapters, in a manner that benefits themselves personally, and may take advantage of social and environmental common good in ways that are only slowly realized and accounted for. This leads to much more dynamic and rapidly advancing societies, but also ones that may be exploitive. Far different results than a culture that attempts to limit change by considerations of foreseen possible negative effects 7 generations out. The underlying economic theory is that the advances will eventually bring all people along and allow for environmental remediation. That sort of "trickle down" theory has some merits. One difference now is that we are up against a finite planet. There is no New World safety valve (although it should be pointed out that that settlement came at the expense of the near genocide of Native Americans).

Currently, manufacturing jobs are being eliminated. Not so much by outsourcing, although some companies can use that as a temporary stopgap step, but by automation. That displacement will be reaching into workers in information based employment with the advent of "the cloud" which eliminates many computer systems and programming needs, and in services, where less direct human interaction will also be needed. We still employ plenty of paper pushers and retail clerks. We won't need to in the future. In moving away from fossil fuels, we will again be asking some of those least prepared to take personal advantage of the new economy to take the worst jobs hits. Without drastic changes in how we define work, we will have a large number of people who are simply not needed. The way we solved this last time was with a redefinition of the workday, as well as expansion of education. We also need a way to redistribute new economy jobs out of the now crowded central urban areas such as NYC or Silicon Valley into more widespread geographical distribution.

Politicians and other leaders are not really talking about this directly. Income disparity is a symptom that needs to be addressed to re-create options for more equal opportunity, and not get locked into rigid social classes based on inheritance. But it is not the cause. Free higher education can help, but still, jobs need to be available. We talk about polarization, but we haven't taken into account the geographical constraints that make it so. This can only happen if we again re-define the nature of work, such as allowing for more family and other leave, more opportunities for arts and crafts, and more social services. And work on making opportunities more widely available nationally. Too many people are outside, looking in: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0166083.

We know from history what can happen when people feel economically displaced. The rise of nazi-ism in Germany, then one of the better educated countries in the world is one example. What happens when people lose a sense that they are in control? A research paper circulating this morning is: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/322/5898/115.

But I am not really sure that we are "Post Truth" I think that more of the problem is that the establishment is not recognizing a fundamental underlying truth. We don't really have a future role for many members of our society that in any way gives them the social and economic status that they have enjoyed up to this point. This is especially true for white males. I think that part of the problem that Hillary Clinton had as a candidate is sexist. In the sense that what she was saying was be sensible, settle down and accept a hopefully slowly improving version of the status quo. Something their mothers or school teachers might have said. I think that a Trump vote was a rebellion against that. The incidents we are now seeing of racial, religious, and sexual harassment are often those white males celebrating that they are now in charge, that they do have power.

The central issue of our time is: How do we harness the abilities of those that ought to be science literate and inspre them to step forward and focus their efforts on creating the sorts of changes that were hoped for back in 2008, which the future changes actually seemed like they could lead to general benefit?

December 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

"'We are leaving assets and people stranded.""

""Without drastic changes in how we define work, we will have a large number of people who are simply not needed.""

Gaythia I agree with the two above, but it may be more appearance than fact. The last I read, a case had not been made that the increase in service jobs, precluded numbers of persons working and pay levels. Work is being re-defined. It is whether it is appropriate and sustaining, or will tumultuous changes become the new norm. IMO.

""I think that more of the problem is that the establishment is not recognizing a fundamental underlying truth. We don't really have a future role for many members of our society that in any way gives them the social and economic status that they have enjoyed up to this point. This is especially true for white males.""

I disagree with singling out white or males for two reasons. One is that the problems you outline are definitely real in the short term and should affect everybody. By themselves white males are just another minority. They are fragmented as well. It was not a block vote for Trump. In the respect of being a minority, Hillary did not address their concerns, and taken as individuals they voted in large numbers for Obama, and also Hillary.

I think the Trump vote was a reaction to that he was the only one who promoted their view. In such a contentious election mud was slung everywhere. Is there a basis for saying that the white males were voting in a sexist manner rather than an economical manner? I have seen many accusations, but not much evidence. I know why I voted as I did, but have a problem with saying it reflected anything more than my opinion.

December 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJohn F Pittman

I agree that this is about the economy. I think it is an epic battle to determine who owns the future. But the part mechanisms of identity politics by which the fossil fuel linked oligarchs are using to retain and expand power has to do with "traditional values". Part of the traditional economy was that men were breadwinners and that white men had an edge over minority men in competition for jobs. Certainly women have re-entered the workforce in recent decades, but they did not fundamentally displace men, sometimes their husbands. Thus there was a substantial block of traditional values oriented women who voted for Trump along with their husbands. I don't think that this means that on the details of policy,that they felt Trump promoted their views. I believe that they saw a Trump vote as a vote against the existing establishment which does not seem to recognize their needs. Hillary Clinton lost to Obama in 2008 because she lacked vision. It was a mistake this time to think that such things as somewhat expanded health care or an increase in the total GDP affected individuals in places like Indiana in a way that would make them feel things were going ok. Some may have been able to replace lost manufacturing jobs with service jobs but that came with a big loss of wages as well as sense of control and purpose. Some may not have lost their jobs yet, but see the writing on the wall. Trump made them feel powerful and in control. The more that Hillary Clinton tried to deride Trump and his followers as "despicable" the more inclined they were to vote for him. They wanted to send a message.

December 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

"I think that much more emphasis needs to be placed on the concept that we are undergoing a time of very disruptive change. In many ways similar to the Industrial Revolution."

The industrial revolution never stopped. We are living through its continuation.

"The underlying economic theory is that the advances will eventually bring all people along and allow for environmental remediation."

Yes. The environmental Kuznets curve.

" That sort of "trickle down" theory has some merits. One difference now is that we are up against a finite planet."

It's not "finite" in an economic sense. The reason is that human ingenuity continues to find more efficient ways to do things, more efficient ways to create resources, alternative resources, and so on.

The economist Henry George summed it up as follows: "Both the jayhawk and the man eat chickens, but the more jayhawks, the fewer chickens, while the more men, the more chickens." The question for us to consider is: is the supply of chickens "finite"?

If we divide the number of chickens that currently exist by the number we eat every year, will that tell us on what date we finally run out?

"Currently, manufacturing jobs are being eliminated. Not so much by outsourcing, although some companies can use that as a temporary stopgap step, but by automation."

This is the same story as in the very beginning of the industrial revolution. Automation on farms eliminated agricultural jobs. Automatic looms eliminated weaving jobs. Sewing machines eliminated tailors and dressmakers jobs. And so on.

Automation makes us wealthier by making goods and services cheaper. Instead of only the super-wealthy being able to afford fine cloth, now everybody can. And so, despite automation, we ended up employing many more people making cloth to supply the millions of poor people with clothes instead of merely the few thousand rich people. If automation were to eliminate all jobs, everything would be free, and so there would be no need to work to pay for it.

"Without drastic changes in how we define work, we will have a large number of people who are simply not needed."

That's what the original Luddites said at the start of the Industrial Revolution. Were they right?

It's not the case that there are *people* we don't need. It's perfectly true that there are *skills* we no longer need. The people who formerly had those skills will have to learn new ones, and that leads to economic dislocation during the transition. But there are many jobs where we are in desperate *shortage* of people who have those skills. The few who do can become very rich, supplying the rest of us with what we so desperately want and need.

Society's problem is not the inequality of wealth, it is the inequality of skill that *causes* unequal wealth. Unequal pay is how we *solve* the problem, getting people to learn the skills society needs.

"But I am not really sure that we are "Post Truth" I think that more of the problem is that the establishment is not recognizing a fundamental underlying truth."

I think there are quite a few fundamental truths that they're not recognising. But their big problem now is that while they've finally realised there's something going on they don't understand, they're still completely in the dark as to what it is.

"We don't really have a future role for many members of our society that in any way gives them the social and economic status that they have enjoyed up to this point."

That depends which future you're talking about. Following the current economic trajectory of the industrial revolution, we do. If we panic about "finite resources", start abandoning technological progress, fossil fuels, capitalism, and free market economics, then nobody does because we'll crash the entire system and fall back to the subsistence farming we in the developed nations practiced 400 years ago, and that sub-Saharan Africa is only just now escaping from.

"This is especially true for white males."

The war on "white men" currently being waged, that your comment is part of the narrative for, is both racist and sexist - and the currently fashionable blindness to and tolerance for that variety of racism/sexism is one of the "fundamental truths" the political establishment has been missing.

The politics of envy requires an identifiable hate group, to represent the rich and successful producers of society's wealth that you want to steal, rather than earn. The story told is that they only got that wealth by unfair means, so Socialists are justified in stealing it back. Last time round, it was the Jews who filled that role - portrayed as greedy moneylenders, selfish and uncaring manipulators, propagandists and conspirators, fat-cat bankers and businessmen. This time it's white men. Socialism doesn't change its spots.

Instead of trying to *destroy* the culture, out of envy for its success, society needs to *spread* the effective parts of it to women and to other races. 'Cultural appropriation' of their ways will enable *everyone* to become as rich as white men, rather than everyone becoming as poor as black women currently are. Their *culture* is the cause of their wealth, not their skin colour or sex.

"I think that part of the problem that Hillary Clinton had as a candidate is sexist. In the sense that what she was saying was be sensible, settle down and accept a hopefully slowly improving version of the status quo."

For everyone but white men, apparently...

"I think that a Trump vote was a rebellion against that. The incidents we are now seeing of racial, religious, and sexual harassment are often those white males celebrating that they are now in charge, that they do have power."

A large part of the problem is that for the past few decades there has been a racist, sexist campaign against the culture of conservative white men, and yes, with the Trump victory they're rebelling against it. If you're going to fight a "Culture War" to try to annihilate an entire culture you happen not to like, you've got to expect your victims to fight back. It's unfortunate that we've come back here again, but societies have short memories.

December 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

I agree with NiV.

There has been a decidedly uncivil campaign not just about white males, but in particular non college white males. I use non college because many that I know went into trades. Those that still have jobs our society needs are paid well, yet still the civil downgrading of their worth is presented to them with claims that they are the ones prejudiced and in need of correction. While claiming to show culturally acceptance, the use of the white straight guy as the pratt reinforces stereotyping, IMO. And apparently in others.

I don't know if people realize just how angry some of our population has become with politicians and Democrats in particular. I have been a witness to elections since before desegregation, and the vehemence directed at the Democrats was exceptional. Not in volume, but in stance. Yet here in SC, they adore a minority woman. By her actions, even many of the state's democrats acknowledged her handling of record floods and the murders in Charleston. They voted in a black male senator, and re-elected him. Yet, in news, our state is listed as one of the most conservative.

http://time.com/4587866/donald-trump-election-map/ is the map that shows just what happened for the electoral college win. But consider for a moment if you were the commanding general of the blue army. The strategy does not appear viable. Consider yourself as the person who wanted to claim you represented this country. It is similar to the difference in our air force and army. Boots on ground or control through the air. And truthfully as we have seen repeatedly, it is the boots on ground that control the country.

December 10, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterjohn f pittman

Gaythia -

I thought you might like this podcast if you have some free time.

http://www.stitcher.com/s?eid=48496427&refid=asa

Nothing earth-shattring or deeply profound, but I thought it was interesting to hear the thoughts being expressed on to me of these issues.

December 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Er.... on some of these issues....

December 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Joshua, I haven't listened to the podcast yet, but those listed a participating are interesting. Tanner Colby, http://www.ebony.com/entertainment-culture/some-of-my-best-friends-are-black-really, and Baratunde Thurston http://www.newyorker.com/podcast/political-scene/baratunde-thurston-talks-to-nicholas-thompson-about-humor-and-the-conversation-about-race, have interesting things to say about race, which might also interest John Pittman.

John Pittman, to borrow from your analogy, I'd say that it is the dark money that is used to entice those boots to gather in clusters by way of manipulating the identities contained within the owners brains to cause their feet to gather in such ways that is controlling. Divide and conquer is a strategic means of retaining centralized power and control.

I think that we do have a big rural, high tech urban divide in this country, but also ones that separate portions of metropolitan areas from one another. If Ted Bundy and family end up as the last remaining full time inhabitants of a large area of Nevada, I don't think that means that they ought to dictate public land use policies and essentially end up owning it. The lack of access of African American residents of Oakland to high tech jobs in Silicon Valley is just as much a matter of concern as lack of jobs in Indiana or West Virginia.

Our electoral college was devised in response both to concerns about problems that might arise with direct democracy, the "Hamilton elector" mechanism cited by those who now wish that the Electoral College would not support Trump: http://www.salon.com/2016/12/11/alexander-hamilton-explains-the-electoral-college-a-way-of-opposing-cabal-intrigue-and-corruption/. But it also had quite a bit to do with the stresses that were already rising at that time regarding slavery: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/electoral-college-slavery-constitution/. This was with the persuasion of slaveowner James Madison.

Periodically, there are calls for dividing populous states, such as California, into multiple states. But I think that eliminating the electoral college would make more sense.

IN my opinion, both the Democratic and Republican campaigns were clever diversions that support the existing power structure by playing to their respective bases without really getting into how we make the transitions needed due to both increasing automation and mechanization and the need to move away from fossil fuels to combat climate change. Both those who did not vote and many of those who voted for Trump, were, in my opinion, expressing a frustration with the status quo. We seem to lack the leadership to find real targets and goals and to move collectively forward.

An understanding of cultural cognition ought not to necessarily lead to communication tactics that drive the nation into smaller and smaller identity groups. I think that more efforts ought to be directed towards figuring out better means to create unifying themes

December 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

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