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What is the relationship between science curiosity & science comprehension? A fragment . . .

From something I’m woring on (and useful refinement of this discussion of how to think about size of individual differences in one or another reasoning disposition). . .

c. Compared to ordinary science intelligence. Science curiosity—generally or as measured here—ought to be have some relationship to science comprehension. It is difficult to experience the pleasure of contemplating scientific insight if one is utterly devoid of any capacity for making sense of scientific evidence. Similarly, if one is aggressively uncurious about scientific insights, one is less likely to acquire the knowledge or the experience-based habits of mind to reason well about scientific insights.

Yet the two dispositons shouldn’t be viewed as one and the same.  Many people who can detect covariances and successfully compute conditional probailities—analytical tasks essential to making sense of empirical evidence—are nevertheless uninterested in science for its own sake.  Even more obvious, many people who are only modestly proficient in these technical aspects of assessing empirical evidence are interested—passionate even—about science. In sum, one would expect a science-curiosity measure, if valid, to be modestly correlated with but definitey not equivalent to a valid science comprhension measure.

SCS, the science-curious measure we formed (Kahan, Landrum & Carpenter 2015), has these properties.  The association between SCS and the Ordinary Science Intelligence (OSI) assessment (Kahan 2016) was r = 0.26 in our two data collections. To make this effect more practically meaningful,

SCS has these properties.  The association between SCS and the Ordinary Science Intelligence (OSI) assessment (Kahan 2016) was r = 0.26 in our two data collections. To make this effect more practically meaningful, the relationship between these measures implies that that individuals in the top quartile of SCS are over four times more likely than those in the bottom quartile to score in 90th percentile or above on the OSI assessment (Figure 6).  This is a degree of association consistent with the expectation that higher science curiosity contributes materially to higher science comprehension. Nevertheless, in both studies science comprehension lacked meaningful predictive power in relation to engagement with the three science videos featured in our two studies (Figure 7). In other words, SCS measures a disposition that is apparently integral to the kind of proficiency in scientific reasoning measured by OSI, yet generates a form of behavior—the self-motivated consumption of science information for its own sake—that is unassociated with science comprehension by itself.


Kahan, D.M. ‘Ordinary science intelligence’: a science-comprehension measure for study of risk and science communication, with notes on evolution and climate change. J Risk Res. (2016), advance on line at 

Kahan, D., Landrum, A. & Carpenter C. Evidence-based Science Filmmaking Initiative, Study No. 1 (2015), at




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Reader Comments (7)

Not sure if you've heard from anyone else, but just for the record: OSI item PROB2 shows "No" underlined to indicate that it is the correct response. I'm reasonably confident that this is a mistake.

July 25, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTaurus Londono

How do you correct for the fact that many people are curious about particular fields of 'science' but not about 'science' in general? Most of the people that I talk to are only interested in very specific subfields. For my town, the dominant subfield is high temperature plasma physics. It is not chemistry or biology.

July 25, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEric Fairfield

@Taurus--thanks. That is indeed an error --of typography-- and was corrected in between preprint & final thanks go eagle eyes of reader like you. Indeed, just uploaded a corrected *prepring* to SSRN repository.

Am very grateful that you'd take the trouble to let me know!


July 25, 2016 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan


Can't tell the difference, at least not yet in research. I agree w/ you that it is unlikely that someone who is curious acout science will be *uniquely* curious about it. On other hand, the project to find a global "curiousity" dispotion is the psychmetric equivalent of Challenge space shuttle, likely b/c not having a concrete object is measurement equivalent of defective "o" ring...

But can & should be the case that science curiosity doesn't predict curiosity in evertying. If you have a measure that predictgs fascinating in watching paint dry, I'd say that's like confusing a toy drone as equivalent of Hubble space telescope.... stay tuned

July 25, 2016 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Off topic...hope you don't mind...


In a study conducted in October, researchers presented 507 self-identified Republicans and 986 self-identified Democrats with actual things that Trump had said — some of which were true and some of which were false. The researchers might explain, for instance, that “Trump said that the MMR vaccine causes autism,” or they would simply present the assertion that “The MMR vaccine causes autism.” Then they asked people, “How much do you believe this statement?”

“If we told participants that it was Trump that said the misinformation, Republicans were much more likely to believe it and Democrats were much less likely to believe it,” said Briony Swire2, a Ph.D. candidate in cognitive psychology at the University of Western Australia, who conducted the study with colleagues at MIT and the University of Bristol. On a 10-point scale, Republicans rated the misinformation 4.8 and Democrats 3.2 when it was attributed to Trump. A similar partisan split appeared with the true statements — Republicans were more likely than Democrats to believe factual statements when told that Trump had said them. “People relate to the world with their partisan lens,” Swire said.

Fact-checking Trump didn’t change his supporters minds about him in Swire’s study. After presenting participants with the various statements, the researchers debriefed the volunteers on which of these statements were true and which were false. Even when Trump supporters accepted that some of Trump’s statements were untrue (recognizing that a vaccine doesn’t cause autism, for instance) they did not change their voting preference. In other words, Trump supporters were willing to acknowledge that some of Trump’s statements were lies, but this didn’t alter their enthusiasm for him. “I guess it means that politicians like Trump can spread misinformation without losing support,” Swire said.


Apparently, the study is in press.

July 29, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Science meets vaccine policy: Who thinks some vaccines are not "cost effective"?

August 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

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