Viewing entries in
Scientific Encounters

On the Truth-Value of Techno-Optimism: the Case of US Farmers

The “truth-value” of a belief or proposition is the extent to which it is empirically justified, i.e., at least partly true. The “use-value” of a belief or proposition is the extent to which it serves a need or provides a benefit.

Junk Science: Invoking "Systemic Barriers" to Explain Unequal Returns to Education

To simplify the authors’ argument:

“There are a few standard explanations for unequal outcomes. But those explanations do not explain all the variance in outcomes. Therefore, unobservable facts reflecting systemic barriers explain the rest and they are the ultimate cause of injustice. Elimination of these barriers will require fundamental change in the nature of our society.”

Astrology, Political Attitudes and Party Affiliation

…twice as many Democrats as Republicans consider astrology “very” scientific and Republicans are more likely than Democrats to consider astrology “not at all” scientific. What’s going on here? Is there a solid scientific case for believing in astrology?

Truth-Telling and Persuasive Intent in Conversations about the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change, Part III: Separating the Wheat from the Chaff

Verheggen et al gets the final word:

“Different surveys are not directly comparable, due to different groups of people being asked different questions…. Different surveys typically use slightly different criteria to determine their survey sample and to define the consensus position, hampering a direct comparison. It is possible that our definition of “agreement” sets a higher standard than, for example, survey question[s] about whether human activity is ‘a significant contributing factor’.”

Truth-Telling and Persuasive Intent in Conversations about Climate Change, Part IIa: How was the Consensus Established?

The above graphic conveys two things: first, getting skeptics to accept the scientific consensus on climate change is essential to convincing them of the need for urgent action. Second, in order for skeptics to accept the consensus, you have to convince them that the consensus is overwhelming - not just most scientists, but the vast majority of scientists. So is that what the studies in this graphic show? Let’s find out.

Truth-Telling and Persuasive Intent in Conversations about Climate Change, Part I: What is the Scientific Consensus?

Rule # 1: If you’re going to have an honest conversation about climate change, don’t misrepresent what the scientific consensus actually is.

Rule # 2: If you’re going to have an honest conversation about climate change, be prepared to discuss the evidence for a scientific consensus.

Rule # 3: If you want to have an honest conversation about climate change, remember that conversation is a two-way street. That means it’s just as much about listening as speaking.

Rule # 4: If your goal is to persuade someone to agree with you, then your goal is not to have an honest conversation.

Trends in US Hate Crimes: 2005-2017

The FBI compiles detailed stats on US hate crimes, based on data submitted by thousands of law enforcement agencies covering most of the US population. News outlets and politicians often cite the FBI data as proof that hate crimes are increasing in the age of Trump. So let’s look at the data!

Making Science Real: A Guide

The rest of us rely on mental shortcuts to arrive at our opinions on climate change - mostly to do with trust and perceived plausibility. In other words, how we feel/think about climate change depends in large part on whom we trust or don’t trust, as well as what information, explanations, and opinions fit with our understanding of how the world works. This is not an irrational way for non-scientists to approach a subject as complex as climate change. 

But we could do better. We could live the words “science is real”…

What Do We Know about US Millionaires? It Depends on Whom You Ask.

Not that these survey results are implausible. Plenty of peer-reviewed studies have revealed today’s millionaires to be frugal, hard-working, and mostly from middle-class backgrounds. They buy boring cars. They’re diligent savers. This is not new information - twenty years ago academics Thomas Stanley and William Danko found that 80% of US millionaires were first-generation rich. That is, they did not inherit their wealth.

In The Name of Science: Portraying The Other Side as Driven by Fear

According to this trope, the Fearful Conservative is afraid of change and uncertainty, clinging to the safe harbor of habit and tradition, overly controlled, troubled by bad dreams and distressed by disorder. In so many words: fear makes conservatives stupid. The authors usually bolster their case with a few studies and quotes from “experts”, which can be hard to refute if you don’t know what they’re leaving out - namely, evidence to the contrary.

Behind The Headlines: Are Conservatives Driven by Fear? Part II

One thing the articles and opinion pieces don’t mention is the decades of research on personality and political attitudes, covering tens of thousands of participants. And that research is, well, unequivocal: conservatism is not associated with anxiety or fear - it’s most strongly associated with Conscientiousness.

Behind the Headlines: Are Conservatives Driven by Fear? Part I

Azarian wrote a Psychology Today piece titled, “Fear and Anxiety Drive Conservatives' Political Attitudes” …he supported his claims with evidence from four studies. Luckily I was able to locate most of the original studies to see if his conclusions were reasonable. Here’s what I found…