WSMD? JA! Political outlooks & Ordinary Science Intelligence
Tuesday, January 24, 2017 at 3:02AM
Dan Kahan

This is approximately the 2,92nd 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.

Tom De Herdt formed an interesting conjecture, which he posed as follows:

[I]t may well be possible that the increased polarisation (visible in the left-hand graph [from Science Curiosity & Political Inforamtion Processing]) is a result not so much of OSI [Ordinary Science Intelligence], but rather of a selection effect: as OSI increases, many people are convinced of higher risk and hence “switch” camp towards the liberal/democrat voters. Only the “stubborn” republicans remain and, by implication, the perceived risk by highly scientifically intelligent republicans decreases.

In other words: in the “high” OSI group, there would be much more democrats than republicans compared to the “low” OSI group?

It must be easy for you to prove this hypothesis wrong (or to confirm it) but i don’t seem to find these data very explicitly mentioned in your paper(s).

My response:

That's an interesting surmise; for sure it is worth considering whether this kind of endogeneity could be creeping in when one assess how ideological or cultural values influence risk perception.

But here I'd say that the evidence we have on hand makes it unlikely that the results you are curious (science curious, in fact) about reflect flight from the Republican to the Democratic party, thereby causing the Ordinary Science Intelligence (OSI) to become top heavy with left-leaning Americans.

Maybe first I should explain what you obviously know, which is why that possibility wouldn't show up in the figure you are looking at. The two graphs are comparing concern about climate change among left- and right-leaning subjects conditional on their having same OSI scores. So even if there were a disparity in the proportion of right-leaning who score high on OSI, the figures would look exactly the same.

But we can easily look & see if there is such a disparity lurking in the data. Here's what we'd see on relationship of OSI to partisanship:

As reflected in these probability density distributions, those on left & those on right don't differ to any meaningful degree in their OSI scores. The correlation between OSI and scores on the "Left_right" political disposition scale (which is formed by aggregating resposes to liberal-conservative & party-identification items) is - 0.06-- it's hard to get much closer to zero than that! (Indeed,people can look pretty foolishif they think a "statistically significant" difference that paltry matters).

Or at least that's how it looks to me.

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