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Science Curiosity and Political Information Processing

What Is the "Science of Science Communication"?

Climate-Science Communication and the Measurement Problem

Ideology, Motivated Cognition, and Cognitive Reflection: An Experimental Study

'Ideology' or 'Situation Sense'? An Experimental Investigation of Motivated Reasoning and Professional Judgment

A Risky Science Communication Environment for Vaccines

Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government

Making Climate Science Communication Evidence-based—All the Way Down 

Neutral Principles, Motivated Cognition, and Some Problems for Constitutional Law 

Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus

The Tragedy of the Risk-Perception Commons: Science Literacy and Climate Change

"They Saw a Protest": Cognitive Illiberalism and the Speech-Conduct Distinction 

Geoengineering and the Science Communication Environment: a Cross-Cultural Experiment

Fixing the Communications Failure

Why We Are Poles Apart on Climate Change

The Cognitively Illiberal State 

Who Fears the HPV Vaccine, Who Doesn't, and Why? An Experimental Study

Cultural Cognition of the Risks and Benefits of Nanotechnology

Whose Eyes Are You Going to Believe? An Empirical Examination of Scott v. Harris

Cultural Cognition and Public Policy

Culture, Cognition, and Consent: Who Perceives What, and Why, in "Acquaintance Rape" Cases

Culture and Identity-Protective Cognition: Explaining the White Male Effect

Fear of Democracy: A Cultural Evaluation of Sunstein on Risk

Cultural Cognition as a Conception of the Cultural Theory of Risk


More GSS data on "anti-science" phantom

Conservative citizens are less likely than liberal ones to believe that humans are causing global warming.

Religiously inclined citizens are less inclined to believe human beings evolved from another species of animal.

I get how one might hypothesize that these results are a consequence of an “anti-science” attitude on the part of individuals so defined.  Some more generalized ambivalence or even hostility to science and/or scientists on the part of these citizens, the argument goes, causes the more specific forms of nonacceptance of scientific evidence relating to these issues.

The problem is that when one looks in the places where one would expect to see the more generalized anti-science attitude, it ain’t there.

I’ve already described how both religious and conservative individuals have a high degree of “institutional confidence” in the “scientific community,” a standard General Social Survey item.

Well, if you look at the more specific “science attitude” items in the GSS, one sees the same thing: more religious citizens and more conservative ones both have pro-science attitudes.  

I pointed out a couple days ago that religious and conservative citizens, just like secular and liberal ones, credit science for making our lives better.

Now consider this:

One can always save the conservative & religious “anti-science” claim by simply treating skepticism about climate change and disbelief in human evolution as being anti-science.

But at that point the claim becomes a (boring) tautology.

Once one equates being anti-science with these positions, “they’re anti-science” is no longer an explanation for why religious and conservative citizens hold these positions—stances that are all the more peculiar once one sees that these citizens, like ones who do believe in climate change and evolution, have generally supportive attitudes toward scientists and scientific research.

Who believes what and why on these issues is an interesting question. But here as elsewhere “anti-science” is a mental roadblock to answering it in a scientific way.


Oxford Handbook on Science of Science Communication: Preorder this now, before sells out!


At $160.00, this collection is actually much cheaper than most books of its genre. Plus it contains more insight.  How could you go wrong, then, in buying it or buying multiple copies even?


Nature Climate Change commentary: out of the lab & into the field


Are scientists unlikely to be religious persons?! One of the weirdest survey results I've ever seen

That 41% disagree really surprises  That a majority of the public (59%) disagrees with this item shocks me. I would have bet at most only 25% would disagree with this statement; I also would have predicted that religiously inclined people would be much more likely to agree with it.

Can someone explain--and in way that can be tested (i.e., no just-so stories that evade corroboration)?


A token (or 2) of the Liberal Republic of Science

In honor of the march:


Weekend update: a 10-yr reassessment of "expressive overdetermination"

From Kahan, D.M. The Cognitively Illiberal State. Stan. L. Rev. 60, 115-154 (2007). For sure, I still would define the problem this way. But I'm less sure the solution of "expressive overdetermination" makes sense. It's out of keeping, I think, with SE Fla. political climate science and with cognitive dualism. But maybe the point is that there are more solutions--or potential solutions--than just one...


 The nature of political conflict in our society is deeply paradoxical. Despite our unprecedented knowledge of the workings of the natural and social world, we remain bitterly divided over the dangers we face and the efficacy of policies for abating them.

The basis of our disagreement, moreover, is not differences in our material interests (that would make perfect sense) but divergences in our cultural worldviews. By virtue of the moderating effects of liberal market institutions, we no longer organize ourselves into sectarian factions for the purpose of imposing our opposing visions of the good on one another. Yet when we deliberate over how to secure our collective secular ends, we end up split along exactly those lines.

The explanation, I’ve argued, is the phenomenon of cultural cognition. Individual access to collective knowledge depends just as much today as it ever did on cultural cues. As a result, even as we become increasingly committed to confining law to attainment of goods accessible to persons of morally diverse persuasions, we remain prone to cultural polarization over the means of doing so. Indeed, the prospect of agreement on the consequences of law has diminished, not grown, with advancement in collective knowledge, precisely because we enjoy an unprecedented degree of cultural pluralism and hence an unprecedented number of competing cultural certifiers of truth.

If there’s a way to mitigate this condition of cognitive illiberalism, it is by reforming our political discourse. Liberal discourse norms enjoin us to suppress reference to partisan visions of the good when we engage in political advocacy. But this injunction does little to mitigate illiberal forms of status competition: because what we believe reflects who we are (culturally speaking), citizens readily perceive even value-denuded instrumental justifications for law as partisan affirmations of certain worldviews over others.

Rather than implausibly deny our cultural partiality, we should embrace it. The norm of expressive overdetermination would oblige political actors not just to seek affirmation of their worldviews in law, but to cooperate in forming policies that allow persons of opposing worldviews to do so at the same time. Under these circumstances, citizens of diverse cultural orientations are more likely to agree on the facts—and to get them right—because expressive overdetermination erases the status threats that make individuals resist accurate information. But even more importantly, participation in the framing of policies that bear diverse meanings can be expected to excite self-reinforcing, reciprocal motivations that make a culture of political pluralism sustainable.

Ought, it is said, implies can. Contrary to the central injunction of liberalism, we cannot, as a cognitive matter, justify laws on grounds that are genuinely free of our attachments to competing understandings of the good life. But through a more sophisticated understanding of social psychology, it remains possible to construct a form of political discourse that conveys genuine respect for our cultural diversity.


The challenge of doing science journalism in a polluted science communication environment


Boy, this is a tough one.

It's not hard to see how linking Zika to climate change risks infecting the former with the polarizing virus carried by the latter.  Not hard, either to model such an effect in the lab (Kahan, Jamieson, Landrum & Winneg 2017).

On the other hand, if this piece is conveying the truth about the health hazards being created or magnified by climate change, isn't such reporting essential?

I guess I have two reactions.

First, highlighting Gore is not a good idea.  He brands as a partisan issue anything he gets involved with.

Second, the most important thing is that science journalists engage in shared critical reflection on dilemmas of this kind. Such reflection attests to and helps inculcate a professional norm, one that assures journalists exercise their judgment in a manner sensitive to the impact of their craft on the science communication environment.

That sort of norm, and the quality of deliberation it promotes, were clearly on display in the science community's debate about the effect of their upcoming march on Washington.

The importance of having a collective discussion like that, on all the occasions that warrant it, might turn out to be the most valuable lesson of that event.

So what do you think?



UMass SES program: a new science of science communication for a world itself quite new (lecture summary & slides)

Did lecture yesterday at UMass Amherst to remark the launch of the University’s School of Earth & Sustainability program.  Members of the audience asked fantastic questions, leaving me once again regretful that I had not spoken for a shorter period of time in order to make room for more audience reactions.

My message was that the SES program is a model—one of many, but many are needed to build a knowledge base—of how to combine the study of decision-relevant science with the study of science communication. Doing so is essential to assure that the value of the  former is recognized by the public and, in particular, not annihilated by knowledge-enervating forms of group status competition

What causes conflict over decision-relevant science, I argued, is a polluted science communication environment. Devising means of protecting that environment and repairing it when protective measures fail should be one of the primary goals of the science of science communication. 

UMass’s  School of Earth and Sustainability is commendably modeling that understanding, and we can all learn a lot from—and be inspired by--what they are doing.

The expositional strategy I used to guide the audience into critical engagement with this thesis consisted in setting up & knocking down popular misconceptions about the source of public conflict over science, including deficits in public science comprehension;  creeping anti-science attitudes in American society; and orchestrated misinformation.  

Throughout the presentation I also  took aim at the asymmetry thesis, which posits that the incidence of identity-protective cognition is disproportionately concentrated on the right in American society.  I’ll have more to say about that “tomorrow,”™  when I give me reactions to a new pair of newly released opposing meta-analyses on this topic, one by Jon Jost & another by Peter Ditto & collaborators.

Slides here.


Where am I? version 502

Two events this week:



Last session in Science of Science Communication 2017

Not usually where we end, but frolicks & detours along the way were worthwhile


Another genuinely informative study of consensus messaging



Science of Science Communication seminar: Session 10 reading list (teaching climate change)

More Science of #Scicomm . . .


Using science curiosity ... a fragment

From something I'm working on . . . 

. . . Taken together, these studies suggest that science curiosity ought to be viewed as a signal virtue of democratic citizenship in a culturally diverse society.  The information-processing style of these citizens ought to be propagated and extended as an antidote to the enfeebling impact of group rivalries on citizens’ capacity to identify valid science....

a. [A program to employ science curiosity for purposes of enlightened self-government must answer three questions.] First, how can the stock of citizens who are curious about science be enlarged? Presumably, this disposition forms at a relatively young age.  We thus anticipate that this part of the research program will focus on the development of primary-, middle-, and high-school education materials suited to instill curiosity in students.  To date, efforts to develop such materials have met with little success, primarily because educators have not been equipped with reliable and valid measures to test the impact of various pedagogical strategies aimed at cultivating science curiosity (Blalock et al. 2008).  The APPC/CCP Science Curiosity Scale does furnish a valid and reliable measure for adults, and we are currently engaged in exploratory work to develop a version of the scale that can be used for middle-school students.

b. Second, how can the dispositions of the most science-curious citizens be leveraged to promote more productive engagement with decision-relevant science in our political discourse? Field studies conducted by CCP suggests that members of culturally diverse groups display greater open-mindedness when they observe trusted group members evincing confidence in the validity of decision-relevant science by their actions and words.  To multiply the number of such interactions, it makes sense for communicators to seed culturally diverse groups with members who have already formed positive views of decision-relevant science (Kahan 2015). . . .

c. Third, how can the “frontier” of science curiosity be moved back when communicators engage with ordinary citizens?  Individuals  tend to spontaneously and aggressively resist information that challenges positions associated with their group.  The appetite for surprise and wonder associated with science curiosity, in contrast, effectively stifles that form of defensive information processing.  Science curiosity varies across people; but even modestly and weakly curious individuals possess some level of this disposition, which can be elicited with appropriately constructed materials. Thus, the same tools that can be used to propagate and leverage science curiosity can also be used to determine which forms of communication are most likely to excite science curiosity—and preempt defensive resistance—among a larger fraction of society.


How does science curiosity relate to various measures of cognitive proficiency?

I’m frequently asked how science curiosity, as we measure it, relates to education and to scores on one or another scale for measuring cognitive proficiency. For answering this question,  I think the information in a graphic display of overlapping probability density distributions is superior to the information in a correlation coefficient.

All these differences are “statistically signicant” (what difference wouldn’t be at N = 3000!). But are they practically significant?

I can’t confidently say.  They don’t look big to me, at least on the ≥ 90th percentile side. 

But at this stage in our ongoing study of science curiosity, we don’t have enough information to say that disparities of this magnitude will result in noticeable differences in how people behave; all we can say is that the higher the SCS score one group’s members are, the less vulnerable to politically motivated reasoning they will be.   

That's the opposite, of course, of what happens with the cognitive proficiency measures, from CRT to Ordinary Science Intelligence to Actively Open-minded Thinking to Numeracy.


Bookends in the study of individual differences in politically biased comprehension of science

Did a talk at the University of Oklahoma Center for Risk & Crisis Management last Thurs. The questions & discussion were really great.

Here are the main points, rationally reconstructed, that I made (slides here).

1. We know a lot about politically motivated reasoning (PMR) as a “main effect” in the processing of policy-relevant facts.  Generally speaking PMR refocuses individual attention away from “truth-convergent” and toward identity-protective styles of information processing, the goal of which is to promote formation of beliefs that effectively express individuals’ membership in and loyalty to opposing cultural groups.

2. We don’t know as much about individual differences in PMR.  That is, researchers so far have not paid as much attention to dispositions or personality traits that might either accentuate or mitigate the impact of PMR on information processing.

if you have one last click in your life-time supply, this is where to spend it!3. One thing we do know something about, however, is politically motivated system 2 reasoning: Various forms of cognitive proficiency—ones that no doubt help individuals to determine the truth in most settings—seem to aggravate or magnify PMR.  A good number of observational studies suggest this.  And CCP’s “Motivated Numeracy” study supplies experimental data indicating that individuals high in dispositions essential to science comprehension use cognitive proficiency to form and persist in identity-evincing beliefs.

4. There is also at least one measure of reasoning style that appears to have the opposite effect—i.e., that appears to constrain PMR.  That disposition is science curiosity.  Other science-comprehension-related dispositions seem to magnify PMR as the strength of those dispositions increase. The general effect of increased science curiosity, however, is the same on individuals’ of varying political outlooks. In addition, individuals who score highest on the Science Curiosity Scale (SCS) scores also do not polarize as much as their scores on the Ordinary Science Intelligence assessment increases.

5. What are the implications of all this? 

Well, first, it is a mistake to read this literature to imply that increased science comprehension is “bad.” The problem isn’t with that disposition; it is with a science communication environment that has become infused with antagonistic social meanings that transform positions on disputed decision-relevant forms of science with membership in and loyalty to opposing cultural groups.  The upshot, then, is that we should identify means of protecting the science communication environment from being polluted with such meanings so that we can get the benefit of the insights of those citizens who are most proficient in science comprehension.

click me! You'll be astonishedSecond, we should be exploring how science curiosity can be used to help detoxify a polluted science communication environment.  Can we foster science curiosity in the population, either as a fixed trait or as a state that characterizes their engagement with controversial issues?  Can we feature the open-mindedness of individuals high in science curiosity as models of the way in which citizens in a pluralistic self-governing community should reason?

You tell me!


*Now* where am I? Oklahoma City!

Am heading out early (today) to see what cool things the researchers at OU Center for Risk and Crisis Management are up to!

Will send postcards.


Science of Science Communication seminar: Session 8 reading list (climate change 2)

Feel free to comment if you are playing along at home . . . .


Hurry up & get your copy of "Expressive rationality of inaccurate perceptions" before sold out!

Now in print --

If can't leap paywall, the preprint is pretty close to final.



3 forms of "trust in science" ... a fragment

From something I'm working on . . . 

Three forms of trust in science

There are a variety of plausible claims about the role of science attitudes in controversies over decision-relevant science. These claims should be disentangled.

One such claim attributes public controversy to disagreements over the reliability of science. Generally speaking, people make decisions based on their understandings of the consequences of selecting one course of action over another. Science purports to give them information relevant to identifying such consequences: that vaccinating one’s children will protect them (and others) from serious harms; that the prevailing reliance on fossil fuels as an energy source will generate environmental changes inimical to human wellbeing, etc. How readily people will make use of this type of information will obviously depend on an attitude toward science—viz., that it knows what it is talking about.

We will call this attitude decisional trust in science.  Trust is often used to denote a willingness to surrender judgment to another under conditions that make the deferring party vulnerable.  People evince what we will call “decisional trust” in science when they treat the claims that science makes as worthy of being relied on under conditions  in which misplaced confidence would in fact be potentially very costly to them.

That attitude can be distinguished from what we’ll call institutional trust of science.  We have in mind here the claim that controversy over decision-relevant science often arises not from distrust of validly derived scientific knowledege but distrust of those who purport to be doing the deriving.  People who want to rely on science for guidance might still be filled with suspicion of powerful institutions—universities, government regulatory authorities, professions and professional associations—charged with supplying them with scientific information.  They might not be willing, then, to repose confidence in, and make themselves vulnerable to, these actors when making important decisions.

Both of these attitudes should be distinguished from still another kind of attitude that figures in some accounts of how science attitudes generate public controversy. We’ll call this one acceptance of the authority of science.

Science in fact competes for authority with alternative ways of knowing—albeit less fiercely today in liberal democratic societies than in other types of societies.  Religions, for example, tend to identify criteria for ascertaining truth that involve divine revelation and the privileged access to the same by particular individuals identified by their status or office.  Science confers the status of knowledge, in contrast, only on what can be ascertained by disciplined observation—in theory, anybody’s—and thereafter adjudicated by human reason—anyone’s—as a valid basis for inference.

The Royal Society motto Nullius in verba—“take no one’s word for it”—reflects a bold and defiant statement of commitment to the authority of science’s way of knowing in relation to alternatives that involve privileged access to revealed truths. This is—or certainly was at the time of Royal Society was founded—a profound stance to adopt.

 But it would of course be silly to think that the volume of knowledge science generates could possibly be made use of without “taking the word” of a great many people committed to generating knowledge in this way.  The authority of science as a way of knowing, in a practical sense, presupposes decisional trust in and institutional trust of science.

But it is perfectly plausible—perfectly obvious—that some people could be uneasy with science because they really don’t view its way of knowing as authoritative relative to one of its competitors.  We should be sure we are equipped to recognize that attitude toward science when we see it, so that we can measure the contribution it could be making to conflicts over science.


Where am I? Knoxville!

A triple header of talks today at U. Tenn.  I've been warmly greeted here consistent with the historic friendship of our respective states' university systems....


I think the Tennessee player is out of bounds? What do you think?


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