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Quotes to ponder: Education does not determine acceptance of science consensus

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From Caitlin Drummond and Baruch Fischhoff, Individuals with greater science literacy and education have more polarized beliefs on controversial science topics at PNAS:

Prior research has found that political and religious polarization over science and technology issues in the United States can be greater among individuals with more education and science knowledge. We examine that potential pattern in responses to two waves of the nationally representative GSS (31), with respect to six issues: stem cell research, the Big Bang, human evolution, climate change, nanotechnology, and genetically modified foods. Overall, we found that where religious or political polarization existed, it was greater among individuals with more general education and among individuals with greater scientific knowledge, as measured by both whether they had taken science courses and how they scored on a test of science literacy. There were, however, no interactions between education and political or religious identity on two issues, nanotechnology and genetically modified foods, that have generated controversy but have not become part of these larger social conflicts in America. On all six issues, individuals with greater overall trust in the scientific community were also more likely to hold beliefs consistent with the scientific consensus. However, that trust did not interact with education or
identity in predicting those beliefs.More.

The authors do not address the current widespread public knowledge of shoddy science in areas like nutrition or social sciences, where, in many cases, serious belief should be taken as possible evidence of naivete, emotional need, or slow processing.

See also: Study: More education leads to more doubt of science “consensus”

People who do not attend church more likely to believe in ghosts, UFOs

and

Tales of the Tone Deaf, featuring dim profs writing in dozy journals about why people doubt Science and how to fix them.

6 Replies to “Quotes to ponder: Education does not determine acceptance of science consensus

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    Fairly simple. People without science training just don’t know or care much about scientific issues. They trust what Officially Approved Celebrities say.

    People who have invested time and effort in learning or doing science have more passion.

    Those who have only learned the “facts” are likely to stick with the “facts” they learned, which are usually wrong.

    Those who have actually done experiments or made measurements are likely to trust their own experience over the experts.

  2. 2
    Anaxagoras says:

    Says Marco Tulio Cicero in “On the Nature of The Gods” (book I, Chapter 5)

    As for those who ask to know my own opinion upon each point, they display more curiosity than is necessary, for in discussion it is not so much authorities as determining reasons that should be looked for. In fact the authority of those who stand forward as teachers is generally an obstacle in the way of those who wish to learn, for the latter cease to apply their own judgment, and take for granted the conclusions which they find arrived at by the teacher whom they approve.

  3. 3
    daveS says:

    One note: Of course this is paper published by social scientists, and quotes p-values all over the place.

    Regarding one aspect of this, concerning global warming:

    On all six issues, individuals with greater overall trust in the scientific community were also more likely to hold beliefs consistent with the scientific consensus.

    The authors say:

    However, climate change belief and trust in the scientific community were positively correlated: r = 0.14, P < 0.001.

    I’m not a stats person, but I believe that’s a relatively low p-value. But with r = 0.14, it’s also a very weak association.

    Therefore, this in particular seems to me to be a “highly significant” yet perhaps relatively unimportant result. I suspect the same holds for some of the other associations; perhaps this is one problem that Dr Sheldon (rightly) identified?

    PS: If I’m not mistaken, Dan Kahan has written on this issue, and how these sorts of studies often have a polarizing effect; setting the various “sides” in various debates against each other, when there’s hardly a dime’s worth of difference between those “sides”.

  4. 4
    daveS says:

    Adding to the above post, I was playing around with some randomly generated data, and came up with this.

    It’s a scatterplot where the two (normally distributed) variables have r = 0.148 and p = 0.000869 (the null hypothesis being that the two variables have zero linear correlation), which is comparable to the climate change belief/trust in science data I mentioned above.

    I believe this illustrates how weak the association is that the authors are describing, despite the low p-value.

    That said, I could be making some incorrect assumptions or misinterpreting the paper, so any corrections are invited.

  5. 5
    Dean_from_Ohio says:

    daveS,
    Your understanding seems correct to me. There is enough statistical power to separate the actual slope from zero, and this power is obtained by using a large sample, but the slope is near zero so the effect is not prominent. These people have faith in the experts, but it is not total, or the consensus is too diffuse to allow a high correlation.

  6. 6
    daveS says:

    Thanks, Dean_from_Ohio, your explanation is clarifying.

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