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Asteroidgate: The Rocket, Not the Asteroid, Packs the Punch

Dave Hoffman

Dave Hoffman is a James E. Beasley Professor of Law at Temple Law School. He specializes in law and psychology, contracts, and quantitative analysis of civil procedure. He currently teaches contracts, civil procedure, corporations, and law and economics.

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14 Responses

  1. “When the policy solution was nuclear power, hierarchical and individualist Americans were far less likely to discredit global warming facts than when the solution was an expanded set of anti-pollution measures.”

    Well, yeah: We know that environmentalists want expanded anti-pollution measures. It’s quite reasonable to suppose that, when they recommend such measures as a response to global warming, global warming is just an excuse for what they wanted anyway.

    OTOH, we know that environmentalists have a long standing irrational hatred for nuclear power. For them to advocate nuclear power as a response to global indicates that THEY take the whole global warming thing seriously, that it’s not just an excuse to pursue policies they wanted anyway. It’s the policy equivalent of an admission against interest.

    Similarly, they’d be taken more seriously if they stopped flying to distant conferences, and started teleconferencing instead.

    Short form: Wake me when THEY start acting like they think it’s an emergency.

  2. A.J. Sutter says:

    (1) I was struck by the reference to “market activities” in the explanation mentioned above. Is that really what bugs “individualists” when they think about antipollution measures? Do they think in terms of markets?

    There doesn’t seem to be strong support for this in Kahan & al.’s research — it’s more of a conclusion to which the researchers have jumped. In one of their references (cited as Kahan & al. 2007a in the paper Dave has linked to) they say “For persons of an individualist orientation, market roles are likely to be seen as esteem-conferring
    for both men and women, and for both whites and minorities. ” This is stated as an hypothesis (@10). When interpreting the result that “individualists” oppose antipollution measures (@5), they note: “Those who are more individualistic predictably dismiss claims of environmental risk as specious, in line with their commitment to the autonomy of markets and other private orderings” (@5) — their hypothesis is turned into a conclusion.

    Kahan & al.’s division of people into individualists vs. communitarians is based on a survey shown in Appendix B to the 2007a paper. Only one of the survey items, IMKT (“Free markets–not government programs–are the best way to supply people with the things they need”), makes any explicit reference to markets. Numerous other items refer to government regulation or interference, but not in the market context. An example is IPRIVACY, “The government should stop telling people how to live their lives.” The identification of a participant as an individualist seems to have been based on an aggregate measure. No data is presented about responses to individual items, much less data showing that their response to IMKT was significantly different from that to any other anti-government items.

    It seems to me that there are much simpler explanations for why individualists might not like antipollution measures imposed by the government — e.g., they don’t like the interference in their privacy, or they don’t want to have to trim back their own lifestyle. At the very least, a look at the survey items demonstrates that Kahan & al. present no evidence that would privilege the market explanation over the privacy one, among many other possibilities. Query too whether an affirmative response to IMKT is sufficient to demonstrate a “commitment to the autonomy of markets”. The authors’ repeated, specific and overstated attribution of the “individualists’” attitude about the environment to their attitude about markets seems much more diagnostic of the mishugas of L&E professors than it is explanatory of the data presented.

    (2) As to finding politically congenial solutions: unfortunately, what we are apt to find politically congenial isn’t likely to be a solution at the level of physics, chemistry or biology. It’s difficult to be optimistic; all the more so now that the world’s second-biggest polluter has one of the world’s most vociferous opponents to the precautionary principle in its government.

  3. I thought the cultural cognition folks had developed their theory as an alternative to the absurdity of Grid Group. Well, what do I know?

    To A.J. Sutter: I suspect that crazy cultural cognition crew might respond by suggesting that boht might be right. All the items on the individualism scale are very highly correlated, which is why they are all included on a single scale. On the cultural cognition account, private orderings and privacy are part and parcel of the same underlying value dimension. Is there strong evidence (really, *any* evidence) to the contrary? But then again, who knows how those crazy cultural cognition folks would actually respond! They’re crazy!

  4. I thought the cultural cognition folks had developed their theory as an alternative to the absurdity of Grid Group. Well, what do I know?

    To A.J. Sutter: I suspect that crazy cultural cognition crew might respond by suggesting that boht might be right. All the items on the individualism scale are very highly correlated, which is why they are all included on a single scale. On the cultural cognition account, private orderings and privacy are part and parcel of the same underlying value dimension. Is there strong evidence (really, *any* evidence) to the contrary? But then again, who knows how those crazy cultural cognition folks would actually respond — they’re crazy!

  5. A.J. Sutter says:

    Donald, having clicked on the link under your name, I’m at a loss about whether to respond ironically or earnestly to your comment. I’ll opt for the latter: (1) The high correlation of the items on the individualism scale isn’t demonstrated explicitly in the papers. (2) Even assuming the existence of such a correlation, that’s not sufficient to imply that the respondents’ opposition to the environmental policies is attributable to any one specific item on the scale. The supposed fungibility of the explanatory power of those various items is an exogenous prejudice (mishugas) imposed by the investigators. In my lifetime of observation, presentation of mishugas doesn’t compel a diagnosis of being meshugah, but in this case I’ll trust you know whereof you speak on that point.

  6. Dave Hoffman says:

    AJ: I don’t know what you mean by the correlation being not demonstrated. In most CC work (though not this particular paper) the correlation between items is specified in terms of a cronbach’s alpha score that typically for Hiearchy and Individualism exceeds .8. As I recall, this paper refers to the 2007 White Male Effect paper which describes the method. The correlation very, very strongly suggests that individual items like “privacy” and “markets” relate back to some latent disposition that produces the expressed preferences about market ordering and individual sovereignty.

    I don’t understand the rest of your comment. Can you explain again?

    As for “Donald Braman,” I don’t disagree, but I didn’t write that cultural cognition WAS grid-group theory! I wrote “[cultural cognition] relate[s] back to pioneering work by anthropologist Mary Douglas. That is, group-grid theory.” It’s Mary Douglas and grid-group that are synonymous in this construction. The Cultural Cognition project, as we all know, was born of the work but is now quite distinct from it. And getting distincter all the time.

  7. Dave Hoffman says:

    As for Brett…I don’t understand how your comment relates much if at all to the work I discuss in the post, which shows that both climate change skeptics and those that are believers are subject to motivated cognition. However, you do seem to be displaying many of the characteristic types of arguments discussed in this paper by Dan Kahan. Then again, he’s just another ivory tower egghead.

  8. A.J. Sutter says:

    Dave, the link to the paper doesn\’t seem to work, but I\’ll suppose that a correlation exists. My point was simply that you can\’t prove causation from a correlation, and in particular you can\’t prove causation by a specific one of the multiple correlated effects.

    An analogy: Suppose for the sake of argument that math ability, musical talent and skill in foreign languages were strongly correlated, and that respondents in whom these were correlated were said to exhibit an underlying disposition called \”mathism\”. Let\’s say that there were another strong correlation, this one between exhibiting mathism and liking Star Trek (or, if you prefer, Mondrian). Would it be reasonable to say this evidence demonstrated that the cause of the preference for Star Trek is the mathists\’ skill in foreign languages?

    In the present case, let\’s suppose there is a first correlation among love of privacy, distrust of government and belief that markets are the best for providing the needs of people, and call this the disposition of individualism. And let\’s suppose there\’s a second correlation, between individualism and opposition to pollution controls. Neither correlation is sufficient, jointly or severally, to demonstrate that the opposition to pollution controls arises from the belief about markets.

    What\’s especially striking in the current case is the survey used to measure individualism in Kahan & al.\’s \”Culture and Identity-Protective Cognition\” paper (ref. Kahan & al. 2007a in the \”Second National Risk and Culture Study\” to which you linked). It contained 31 \”Cultural World View Items,\” of which exactly one referred to markets (IMKT, quoted in my previous post). Yet when it comes to proposing explanations for the correlation between individualism and opposition to pollution controls, Kahan & al. single out \”a commitment to the autonomy of markets\” as the explanation.

    Implicit in my references to mishugas is that there is a correlation between being an L&E professor and having a preference for explaining things in terms of markets. I admit that I can\’t cite an empirical statistical study for this, and that it may be anecdotal.

    Some other aspects of my comment may seem strange or puzzling because, trusting soul that I am, it didn\’t occur to me that the poster who signed as \”Donald Braman\” was an impostor (his/her email address being invisible to me). Please disregard those.

  9. A.J. Sutter says:

    Dave, the link to the paper doesn’t seem to work, but I’ll suppose that a correlation exists. My point was simply that you can’t prove causation from a correlation, and in particular you can’t prove causation by a specific one of the multiple correlated effects.

    An analogy: Suppose for the sake of argument that math ability, musical talent and skill in foreign languages were strongly correlated, and that respondents in whom these were correlated were said to exhibit an underlying disposition called ”mathism”. Let’s say that there were another strong correlation, this one between exhibiting mathism and liking Star Trek (or, if you prefer, Mondrian). Would it be reasonable to say this evidence demonstrated that the cause of the preference for Star Trek is the mathists’ skill in foreign languages?

    In the present case, let’s suppose there is a first correlation among love of privacy, distrust of government and belief that markets are the best for providing the needs of people, and call this the disposition of individualism. And let’s suppose there’s a second correlation, between individualism and opposition to pollution controls. Neither correlation is sufficient, jointly or severally, to demonstrate that the opposition to pollution controls arises from the belief about markets.

    What’s especially striking in the current case is the survey used to measure individualism in Kahan & al.’s ”Culture and Identity-Protective Cognition” paper (ref. Kahan & al. 2007a in the ”Second National Risk and Culture Study” to which you linked). It contained 31 ”Cultural World View Items,” of which exactly one referred to markets (IMKT, quoted in my previous post). Yet when it comes to proposing explanations for the correlation between individualism and opposition to pollution controls, Kahan & al. single out ”a commitment to the autonomy of markets” as the explanation.

    Implicit in my references to mishugas is that there is a correlation between being an L&E professor and having a preference for explaining things in terms of markets. I admit that I can’t cite an empirical statistical study for this, and that it may be anecdotal.

    Some other aspects of my comment may seem strange or puzzling because, trusting soul that I am, it didn’t occur to me that the poster who signed as ”Donald Braman” was an impostor (his/her email address being invisible to me). Please disregard those.

  10. As for me, I’m simply pointing out an alternate explanation of the data: People of my bent are applying a rational heuristic to the subject: Are the people talking about global warming acting as though THEY believed in it? Are they willing to resort to measures they would normally find distasteful? Are they teleconferencing instead of flying corporate jets to distant meetings?

    I might ask what’s up with the communitarian/egalitarians, that they don’t care if words and deeds match.

    Oh, and you’re engaging in something worse than motivated reasoning. I call it “diagnostic” reasoning. (If there’s an extant technical term, I’d much appreciate learning it.)

    That’s where somebody tries to argue with you, and instead of addressing the arguments they’re making, even in a biased fashion, you treat the utterances as symptoms, to be diagnosed, not efforts at reasoned discussions.

    I can argue with somebody who’s engaged in motivated reasoning. Somebody who’s diagnosing me is utterly unreachable. Might as well be deaf.

  11. dave hoffman says:

    Brett: But the point is that *both* egalitarians *and* hierarchs exhibit motivated cognition w/r/t the risks of global warming, with their views of the facts/risks turning on factors that might seem irrelevant b(like, for example, the policy solution offered, or the person doing the vouching). You’ve responded by blaming egalitarians for this phenomenon (hypocrisy!, you charge). The paper I pointed you to suggests that seeing people you disagree with as biased and while ignoring bias in those you agree with is a very common problem with bad consequences for the kind of reasoned discussion I’d like (and you’d like, no doubt) in our comment threads. I’m sorry you were offended. Next time I’ll just bluntly tell you that you are being foolish :)

    AJ: (1) It was really Don; (2) try this link for the White Male paper and a discussion of scale correlation; (3)it is true that the C-I scale questions mention markets explicitly only once, I guess, but almost all of the questions are directed at questions about private-v-public ordering and who should be charged with responsibility for flourishing, which is the latent attribute being measured, e.g., IGOVWAST, IINTRFER; INFEEDS, IPROFIT, ITRIES, SPROTECT. The policy solutions which affected the individuals here (regulation v. nuclear power) obviously touch on such values.

  12. A.J. Sutter says:

    Dave, thanks for your reply. As for (3), had Kahan & al. spoken in terms of “private ordering,” I might not have bothered to comment on your post at all. E.g., most of what transpires in my household and in my relationships with friends and colleagues is “private ordering,” too — but has nothing to do with markets, much less with a commitment to their autonomy. That private ordering and markets are seen as synonymous or related via some kind of logical implication is the essence of (to borrow your term:) the bias I was pointing out.

  13. “with their views of the facts/risks turning on factors that might seem irrelevant b(like, for example, the policy solution offered,”

    But that’s my point: The policy solution offered isn’t irrelevant. It tells you something about how the person claiming there’s a problem really thinks about it. It’s rational to take environmentalists more seriously about global warming if they propose expanded use of nuclear power. Because you know it’s something they’d normally oppose.

    Look, if two sides have their views of a topic shifted in opposite directions by the same evidence, that’s pretty good proof that motivated reasoning is involved. But it’s not evidence as to which side is engaging it it. Could be both, could be one side.

    You can’t just say, “There’s motivated reasoning going on here.”, and dismiss both sides as irrational.

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