Sunday, October 25, 2009

Knowledge about Global Warming

Rather than measure and examine plain old knowledge, some scholars take that extra step.  This study published this year in Science Communication of what people know about global warming is one example, where the authors constructed a "knowledge complexity" dependent variable as well as that old standard -- accuracy -- and then, and this is kinda neat, an interaction term of the two (complexity x accuracy).

Okay, so what's knowledge complexity?   Here's a bit from the methods section:
That is, a schema may be considered complex if it contains a variety of domain-specific elements that share conceptual linkages; thus, a measurement of cognitive complexity should seek to measure the number of elements and the degree to which they are associated.
 There are a lot of results.  Go through them yourself if you want specifics, but a bunch of variables in the multiple regression significantly predict knowledge complexity.  Education, obviously.  A variable called Understanding (how much you understood info about it).  Information seeking styles, yes, the effort one puts into it, no surprise, and a variable called media sources (the number of sources used).  All those, significant.  Not significant?  Individual media exposure items like newspapers, TV, and the web.  Not sure why they are significant but not the overall measure of number of sources, except perhaps for some multicollinearity issues.

In a final table the authors break down the complexity variable into parts (elements and connections). You don't learn an awful lot from this, but helpful nonetheless if one wants to explore this approach to knowledge. 

It is interesting to see media sources is a positive predictor of the "elements" dependent variable but not the "connections" dv.  In other words, the more sources you use, the more "things" you remember about global warming but you don't see any more connections than someone with fewer sources.  That's interesting and deserves deeper thought.

1 comment: said...

I don't need a study to tell me that we as lay people are just plain ignorant about so many things. It didn't help that my U.S. government course was like nap time in a kindergarden and the professor was more interested in meeting a girlfriend than sharing knowledge. Perhaps this was by design. Fortunately I survived my "education" with a functioning and plastic brain and am left to pick up and learn about things where my senses and intuition left off before the dumbing down began.

Many of us have been kept busy trying to pay off our credit cards or, heaven forbid, student loans. For the most part, unless we are unemployed or can slack off at work, we only really have the time to get our "news" from television and by scanning internet outlets. Sometimes we manage to get preoccupied by watching the Simpsons or somebody's cat on YouTube.

Of course the internet has helped to make information readily available for those who are willing to dig a little. However, for most of us it must surely be very difficult to discern what the closest thing to the truth really is in such a vast sea of information. This seems to be especially true when our society has enabled opportunistic sabateurs and snake oil salesmen who lie in wait ready to make a buck from any undersaturated niche market or herd people like sheep.

Either way, whatever it is that people know or don't know, I am conducting my own "study" in the format of a non-scientific poll regarding global warming and hype. Anyone who wishes to participate is appreciated. If you are on Digg then please help to get more voters as it is difficult to get a true feel for people's opinions with only 4 or 5 votes. Thanks so much.