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Do science curious evolution believers and science curious nonbelievers both like to go to the science museum? How about to gun shows?

As the 14 billion readers of this blog know, CCP and Annenberg Public Policy Center have teamed up with Tangled Bank Studios in an ongoing "Evidence based science filmmaking initiative."

I've described highlights from the first study (a more complete report on which can be downloaded here) in some earlier posts.  They include the development of a behaviorally validated "science curiosity" scale (one that itself involves performand and behavioral measures and not just self-reported interest ones), and the successful use of that scale to predict "engagement" --measured behaviorally, and not just with self-reported interest--in the cool Tangled Bank Studios documentary on evolution, Your Inner Fish.

Stay tuned for more reports about our findings in this ongoing project.

But for now, consider these interesting findings about the power of "SCS_1.0," the science curiosity scale we constructed, to predict one or another types of behavior.

The graphic shows, not surprisingly, that those who are more science curious are way more likely to do things like read science books and attend science museums.

Probably not that surprisingly, they might be slightly more likely to do other things, too, like go to an amusement park-- or even a gun show than science uncurious people.  But they really aren't much more likely to do those thngs than the average member of the population.

In addition to estimating the predicted mean probabilities for these activities conditional on science curiosity for the entire sample (a large nationally represenative one), I've also estimated the predicted mean probabilities for individuals who say they "do" and "don't believe in" human evolution:

One of the coolest things we found in ESFI Study No. 1 was that science curious individuals who "disbelieve in" evolution were just as engaged as science curious individuals who do believe in evolution.  In addition, they were both substantially more engaged than their science-noncurious counterparts, most of whom yawned and turned the show off after a couple of minutes, no doubt hoping that the survey would resume its focus on Honey Boo Boo, "Inflate-gate," and other non-science related topics used to winnow out those less interested in science than in other interesting things.

Individuals who "disbelieve" in evolution but who were high in science curiosity also indicated that they found the information in the documentary clip valid and convincing as an account of the origins of human color vision.

Of course, that didn't "change their minds" on evolution.  Their beliefs on that measure who they arenot what they know about science or what more they’d like to know about what human beings have discovered using science's signature methods of disciplined observation and inference.  The experience of watching the cool Your Inner Fish clip satisfied their appetite to know what science knows but it didn't make them into different people!

Indeed, I think it likely succeeded in the former precisely because it didn't evince any interest in accomplishing the latter.  It didn't put science curious people who have an identity associated with disbelief in evolution in the position of having to choose between being who they are and knowing what science knows.

Satisfying this criterion, which I've taken to calling the "disentanglement principle," is, I believe, a key element of successful science communication in pluralistic liberal society (Kahan 2015a, 2015b).

Anyway, check out what evolution believers & disbelievers do in their free time conditional on having the same level of science curiosity.  

Many of the same things -- but not all! 

I have ideas about what this means.  But I'm out of time for today!  So how about you tell me what you make of this?


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

 Kahan, D.M. What is the "science of science communication"? J. Sci. Comm, 14, 1-12 (2015b).



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Reader Comments (6)

Unsurprisingly, some people are just more curious than others, and htat's what the variation on the left-right axis captures. "Believing in evolution" seems to indicate that you're much less curious about religion - alternatively, people who "don't believe in evolution" are markedly interested in it. Interestingly, this goes against the stereotype that atheists tend to be better read in religion than believers.

Probably because atheists are just not that common in America.

I wonder what similar data from other countries would look like. You could disentangle which group(s) are actually socially responsible for the difference by looking at people who "believe" and "don't believe" in evolution in other countries - ideally, from both countries that do and don't speak English. Although I wonder if the distinction is as socially valid abroad as at home.

February 20, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon


I agree w/ you the most intriguing panel is the last one.

Your interpretation for sure is reasonable -- that curious evolution nonbelievers are evincing more curiosity than curious believers in religion... I mean that's what the data show, of course.

But to me what's interesting is that the *slopes* in last panel are equivalent; all the difference in likelihood of having read book on religion has to do with intercept for "believer/nonbeliever."

In other words, an evolution nonbeliever is more likely to have read a book on religion than an evolution believer at any level of science curiosity-- but the impact of increasing *science curiosity* in *raising* the likelihood of having read a book about religion in last yr *is same* for both evolution believers & nonbelievers.

Science curiosity makes you more curious about religion--no matter what you believe about evolution. The effect is obviously much more modest than the impact science curiosity has on reading science books or attending science museums. But just as you are a bit more likely to go to a gun show or an amusement part if you are science curious rather than science uncurious, you are more likely to have picked up a book on religion last yr & read it-- *regardless* of whether you have the sort of cultural identity indicated by belief in evolution or the identitiy indicated by disbelief in it.

Makes sense to me . . . .

February 20, 2016 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Good observation, Dan. Yeah, it seems that moving from 1st to 99% on science curiosity just about triples your odds of doing anything new that's not itself related to science, doesn't it? I think your observation argues for the existence of general curiosity. (As if we needed to be told that; parents have treated curiosity as a single motivation for a very long time.) It would be interesting to attempt to measure curiosity in general, and separate it from science curiosity.

To what extent are people induced to be curious or incurious about science by their religiosity as measured by evolution acceptance?

If you overlay the graphs for the whole population averages and the separated population averages, you get no separation, except in the last graph. That's what makes the last graph interesting.

In the last graph, by comparing where the average of the population is in relation to the two subpopulation means, you can get an estimate of the probability of evolution belief/nonbelief as a function of science curiosity. The population average is clearly driven on the left side of the graph by the evolution unbelievers, and on the right side by the evolution believers.

Which is to say that something in the water is causing evolution non-believers to be driven towards incuriosity about science; possibly even towards incuriosity in general. What these data suggest is that the people who disbelieve in evolution may not even be actively disbelieving it, by being skeptical about it and curious of its flaws and weaknesses as a theory; instead, they may be passively and incuriously disbelieving it.

If true, this has implications for science communication strategy. Incurious doctrines attack science on doctrinal grounds. Trying to fight them on doctrine may be futile. Maybe we scientists should be cultivating curiosity in our communications instead, trying to win on our own terms instead of theirs.

February 21, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon

@dypoon-- you can get info on disribution of science curiosity here

February 23, 2016 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@dypoon: Or that could just be the effect of whether you can afford to do all these things. I could see general science curiosity being correlated positively with income.

April 4, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMatt McIrvin

I argue in forums about evolution with folks who disbelieve evolutionary science quite a bit. While these folks may be 'science curious' as much as others, they are not engaged with science in the same ways and are a source of problems for our country. The fact that most such folks can't spell 'cat' much less grasp the science they are curious about is a rhetorical comment, granted,, but I think we are missing the point and measuring the wrong thing.

Folks with a scientific education at a college level surge ahead substantially in their understanding of the material, of course, but there is no such scientifically well educated large group among those who are 'curious' but do not believe that evolution is real. In other words, curiosity is not the most important measure; understanding is much more important. Scientific illiteracy in the USA is pervasive and influences the nature of these studies, I should think.

'Scientific curiosity among those who do not believe evolution' is how we got Intelligent Design, which has been basically classified as a 'non-science' equivalent to astrology and rejected by the whole of the professional scientific community. In other words, even highly intelligent people with high levels of scientific curiosity (and sometimes even science education!) can fail to grasp the basics sitting before them because they have a preexisting bias.

I'd therefore love to see this kind of sociology done on the basis of understanding evolution and 'preexisting religious bias' rather than 'scientific curiosity'.

April 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTom Walker

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