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Friday, October 18, 2013

Tea Partiers comprehend science better than most

They know more about literature too. Here is the original post by Yale law professor Dan Kahan. He is working on something called the Cultural Cognitive Project. Personally I consider this type statistical analysis, although scientific, the sort of thing one would expect when grant money flows too freely. Yes, it may be accurate but a .05 correlation is akin to a 1 point shift in a political poll. It's hardcore trivia.
Had the finding been the opposite it's a safe bet that it would have made the evening news on all 3 networks. As it was it was begrudgingly cited by Politco. The study uses the responses of a random 2000 person sample. Kahan asked his sample a list of questions that is suppose to measure scientific comprehension. He found that, on average, people who leaned liberal were more science literate than those who leaned conservative. Except when he compared those who self identified with the Tea Party which was about 19% of his sample.
I really must admire his candor. Up until his silly study the professor's perception of the Tea Party had been derived from liberal sources.
The dataset happened to have an item in it that asked respondents if they considered themselves "part of the Tea Party movement." Nineteen percent said yes.
It turns out that there is about as strong a correlation between scores on the science comprehension scale and identifying with the Tea Party as there is between scores on the science comprehension scale and Conservrepub.
Except that it has the opposite sign: that is, identifying with the Tea Party correlates positively (r = 0.05, p = 0.05) with scores on the science comprehension measure:

I've got to confess, though, I found this result surprising. As I pushed the button to run the analysis on my computer, I fully expected I'd be shown a modest negative correlation between identifying with the Tea Party and science comprehension.
But then again, I don't know a single person who identifies with the Tea Party. All my impressions come from watching cable tv -- & I don't watch Fox News very often -- and reading the "paper" (New York Times daily, plus a variety of politics-focused internet sites like Huffington Post & Politico).
I'm a little embarrassed, but mainly I'm just glad that I no longer hold this particular mistaken view.

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