WSMD? JA! Do science-curious people just not *know* enough about science to be "good at" identity-protective cognition?
This is approximately the 4,386th episode in the insanely popular CCP series, "Wanna see more data? Just ask!," the game in which commentators compete for world-wide recognition and fame by proposing amazingly clever hypotheses that can be tested by re-analyzing data collected in one or another CCP study. For "WSMD?, JA!" rules and conditions (including the mandatory release from defamation claims), click here.
So lots of curious commentators had questions about the data I previewed on the relationship between science curiosity, science comprehension, and political polarization. They posed really good questions that reflect opposing hypotheses about the dynamics that could have produced the intriguing patterns I showcased.
I don’t have the data (sadly, but also not sadly, since now I can figure out what to collect next time) that I’d really want to have to answer their questions, test their hypotheses. But I’ve got some stuff that’s relevant and might help to focus and inform the relevant conjectures.
I’ll start, though, by just briefly rehearsing what the cool observations were that triggered the reflective theorizing in the comment thread.
Here is the key graphic:
What it shows is that science comprehension (left panel for each pair) and science curiosity (right) have different impacts on the extent of partisan disagreement over contested societal risks.
Science comprehension (here measured with the "Ordinary Science Intelligence" assessment) magnifies polarization. This is not news; this sad feature of the class of societal risks that excite cultural division (that class is limited!) is something researchers have known about for a long time.
But science curiosity doesn’t have that effect. Obviously, the respondents who are most science-curious are not converging in a dramatic way. But the patterns observed here—that science curiosity basically moves diverse respondents in the same general direction in regard to their assessment of disputed risks—suggests that individuals who are high in that particular disposition are basically processing information in a similar way.
That’s pretty radical. Because pretty much all manner of reasoning proficiency related to science comprehension does seem to be associated with greater polarization—so to find one that isn’t is startling, intriguing, encouraging & for sure something that that cries out for explanation and further interrogation.
In the post, I speculated that science curiosity might be a cognitive antidote to politically motivated reasoning: in those who experience this appetite intensely, the anticipated pleasure of being surprised displaces the defensive style of information processing that people (especially those proficient in critical reasoning) employ to deflect assent to information that might challenge a belief integral to their identities as members of one or another cultural group.
But responding to my invitation, commentators helpfully offered some alternative explanations.
I think I can shed some light on a couple of those alternatives.
Not a dazzling amount of light but a flicker or two. Enough to make the outlines of this strange, intriguing thing slightly more definite than they were in the original post—but without making them nearly clear enough to extinguish the curiosity of anyone who might be impelled by the appetite for surprise to probe more deeply . . . .
Actually, there are two specific conjectures I want to consider:
1. @AndyWest: Is the impact of science curiosity in mitigating polarization reduced to individuals who are low in science comprehension?
2. @AaronMatch: Are “science-curious” individuals more politically moderate than science-noncurious ones?
I’ll take up @AndyWest’s query today & return to @AaronMatch’s “tomorrow.”
* * *
So: @AndyWest suggests, in effect, that the patterns observed in the data might have nothing really to do with the effect of science curiosity on information processing but only with the effects of greater science comprehension in stimulating polarization about climate change.
Those who know more about a particular domain of contested science, such as that surrounding climate change, use that knowledge (opportunistically) to protect their identities more aggressively and completely than those who know less. That’s why increased science comprehension is associated with greater polarization.
Because science curiosity (as I indicated) is only modestly correlated with science comprehension, we wouldn’t see magnified polarization as science curiosity alone increases. Indeed, for sure we wouldn’t see it in my graphics, which illustrated the respective impact of science comprehension and science curiosity controlling for the other (i.e., setting the predictor value for the other at its mean in the sample).
But the reason we’d not be seeing magnified polarization wouldn’t be that science curiosity stifles identity-protective cognition. It would be that it simply lacks the power to enhance identity-protective reasoning associated with elements of critical reasoning that make one genuinely more proficient in making sense (or anti-sense, if that’s what protecting one’s identity requires) of scientific data.
This is for sure a very pertinent, appropriate follow-up response to the post!
I gestured toward it my original post, actually, by saying that I had run some analyses that looked at the interaction of science comprehension and science curiosity. The aim of those analyses was to figure out if the effect of increasing science curiosity in arresting increased polarization is conditional on the level of subjects’ science comprehension. But I didn’t report those analyses.
Well, here they are:
What these loess (locally weighted regression) analyses suggest is that the impact of science curiosity is pretty much uniform at all levels of science comprehension as measured by the Ordinary Science Intelligence assessment.
There is obviously a big gap in “belief in human-caused climate change” among individuals who vary in science comprehension.
But whether someone is in the top 1/2 of or the bottom 1/2 of science comprehension-- indeed, whether someone is in the bottom decile or top decile of science comprehension-- greater science curiosity predicts a greater probability of agreeing that human beings are the principal cause of climate change, regardless of one's political outlooks.
We can discipline this visual inference by modeling the data:
This logistic regression confirms that there is no meaningful interaction between science curiosity (SCS) and science comprehension (OSI_i). The coefficients for the cross-product interaction terms for science curiosity and science comprehension (OSIxSCS ) and for science curiosity, science comprehension, and political outlooks (crxosixscs) are all trivially different from zero.
In other words, the impact of science curiosity in increasing the probability of belief in human-caused climate change (b = 0.31, z = 5.51) is pretty much uniform at every level of science comprehension regardless of political orientation.
Here’s a graphic representation of the regression output (one in which I’ve omitted the cross-product interaction terms, the inclusion of which would add noise but not change the inferential import of the analyses):
Again, science comprehension for sure magnifies polarization.
But at every level of science comprehension, science curiosity has the same impact (reflected in the slope of the plotted predicted probabilities): it promotes greater acceptance of human-caused climate change--among both "liberal Democrats" and "conservative Republicans."
So this is evidence, I think, that is inconsistent with @AndyWest’s surmise. It suggests the power of science curiosity--alone among science-reasoning proficiencies--to constrain magnification of polarization is not a consequence of the dearth of high science-comprehending individuals among the segment of the population that is most science curious.
On the contrary, the polarization-constraining effect of science curiosity extends to those even at the highest level of cience comprehension.
@AndyWest had suggested that an analysis like this be carried out among individuals highest in “OCSI”—the “Ordinary Science Comprehension Intelligence” assessment. This data set doesn’t have OCSI scores in it. But I do know that there is a pretty decent positive correlation between OSI and OCSI (particularly OSI and the new OCSI_2.0, to be unveiled soon!), so it seems pretty unlikely to me the results would be different if I had looked for an OCSI-SSC rather than an OSI-SSC interaction.
Still, I don’t think this “settles” anything really. We need more fine-grained data, as I’ve emphasized, throughout.
But this closer look at the data at hand does nothing to dispel the intriguing possibility that science curiosity might well be a disposition that negates identity-protective cognition.
More” tomorrow” on science curiosity and “political moderation.”