Sciencists vs. Non- : Benefits vs. Beliefs

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New Ideas and Knowledge As Mortal Threats
The basic problem, that obstructs new ideas, facts and knowledge from being used to help people and solve problems is that the general public gets it’s information from the media and the media is, literally and figuratively, “paid” to monger fear about anything new, different or unfamiliar.   Politicians and policy makers the same*.  Blame the living conditions from millennia looong ago when our brains and behaviors evolved.

Attack the Messengers
So we can’t have new solutions to problems without new knowledge but our brains instinctively hate anything new and react to new knowledge as an immediate mortal threat.  The defensive behaviors are then justified using a grab bag of current pop culture tropes usually citing ethics or morality, etc.  At the same time, personal attacks on the messengers or the new knowledge are the default and, usually best, default tactic.

Beliefs as Epiphenomena
A whole other problem is that all this discussion, theories and research on “beliefs” presumes, what needs to be proven, that what people write or say, at one time and date, using everyday language, aka “beliefs” is predictive of behavior way after and consistently across time!?  In fact, brain science increasingly shows that, same with other animals, behavior at any moment is instinctive, instantly determined by neural processes (in 140 ms) and automatic.  Maybe beliefs expressed socially and publicly at a period long before is predictive, but that theory sure needs a lot more proof.

So, the whole project of studying beliefs and attitudes as a predictor of behaviors is questionable.  After all, no one really cares what people “say,” if it doesn’t accurately and reliably predict what they “do.”

Still, here are reports from some studies of science and lay folks attitudes on new knowledge:

Both lay audiences and scientists differ in their attitudes toward the regulation of academic and commercial nanotechnology research,with each of the two groups being more supportive of the regulation of commercial work.

…scientists may be viewed as an ‘interest group’ who do not welcome strong over-sight of their own research activities. In much the same way private businesses worry about, or are even hostile to, government regulation of their activities. This possibility is further reflected in the finding that scientists’ perceptions of the impacts of regulation on scientific progress served to drive regulatory attitudes, while this relationship was absent among members of the general population. Second, the attitudinal gaps appear to be partly the result of the different heuristic cues that the two groups consider when evaluating different regulatory contexts.

– Lay audiences rely upon value predispositions and media coverage to a much greater extent than do scientists when forming their regulatory attitudes – a finding that fits with previous scholarship on public attitude formation. [Let’s then remember that fear-triggering is one of the most successful media, and political, attention getting strategies. So, the bias will be against new ideas, science and knowledge as favoring communications strategies that emphasize imagined harms.]
– Given their stronger understanding of the technology, scientists may be less susceptible to media influences and have a lower need to turn to normative values such as religiosity and political ideology when forming opinions on regulatory issues.
– *Policy actors operate within a given subsystem according to their self-interests and are likely to employ preexisting beliefs as a principal heuristic to filter and make sense of information as they form policy decisions.

Similar to lay audiences, scientists’ perceptions of risks relative to benefits consistently predicted attitudes toward commercial regulation. Most importantly, scientists form their opinions about regulatory issues largely on the basis of perceptions of regulatory impacts on scientific progress, a variable that is closely tied with their research careers. The finding is consistent with the core assumption of the advocacy coalition framework, which argues that policy participants, including scientific researchers, share a particular belief system that is constituted by a set of basic values and causal assumptions.

‘Deep core’ values among lay audiences, identified as the most stable set of beliefs in individuals, are key heuristics for shaping attitudes to regulatory issues. These include liberal and conservative identity and religious beliefs. Importantly, these values are often rooted in clear perceptions of right and wrong and are unlikely to change among most populations. This may suggest difficult hurdles to navigate as lay publics are brought into scientific decision-making.

Fortunately, deep core beliefs among scientists failed to directly predict regulatory attitudes…Rather, beliefs about the detrimental impacts of increased regulation on scientific progress and perceptions of risks relative to benefits drove scientists’ attitudes to regulatory issues. These beliefs may be viewed as ‘policy core’ and ‘secondary’ values,which refer to belief concerns about specific government programs and regulatory actions and concerns about the seriousness of an issue of interest, respectively. These values are more malleable, primarily affected by outside forces, and are less resistant to change than ‘deep core beliefs’, such as religious beliefs and political ideology…Although only scientists rely chiefly on their perceptions of the impacts of regulation on scientific progress when forming regulatory attitudes

…lay audiences do see at least some difference between commercial and academic research.  They report significantly lower levels of support for the former, a finding that aligns with the outlook of the scientific experts queried in this study.

“For emerging science and technology issues a debate is building concerning the appropriate actors to consult on policymaking decisions. Some argue that scientific and technical expertise should be granted privileged status in this process, while others have suggested that public opinion should be given special consideration. Our findings suggest that:

  • scientists and lay audiences are probably having two different conversations when it comes to the regulation of emerging science issues
  • with scientists focusing on possible impacts on their research productivity
  • lay audiences forming opinions based on a set of tightly held value predispositions.”

“Among lay audiences,liberals and respondents reporting higher levels of religiosity were more likely to support regulation of both academic and commercial nanotechnology research, while those who paid greater attention to the media were more supportive of regulations for commercial research.Across the two groups, perceptions of risks relative to benefits consistently predicted attitudes toward regulation. Importantly, scientists rely less upon their value predispositions when forming regulatory attitudes, instead basing such attitudes on perceptions of regulatory impacts on scientific progress. “

Source: “Attitudinal gaps: How experts and lay audiences form policy attitudes toward controversial science.” Available from: https://www.researchga…­ [accessed Jul 30, 2016].

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