Thursday, December 23, 2010

Four Kinds of Knowledge?

The latest issue of Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly includes a meta-analysis of the Knowledge Gap Hypothesis, which is a concept I've always liked, particularly when compared to the crud that is called agenda-setting research.  Rather than dig into the study findings, I want to focus deep in the article and its measurement section.  Relying heavily on a previous study, the author argues for four overlapping types of knowledge.  They are:
  • Factual Knowledge -- which is exactly what it sounds like.
  • Awareness Knowledge -- which is a softer version of above, though the article isn't exactly clear.
  • Belief Knowledge -- Even more confusing, but apparently having to do methodologically with how many responses someone gives, and theoretically with how much information someone holds, regardless of its accuracy.
  • And a combination category, for no good reason.
Most studies use the first two.  Factual is easy to measure.  Ask respondents to name the Vice President or Speaker of the House.  Awareness is more like asking people what they think they know or, a bit better, asking them how aware they are of something. In general, it's a sucky measure.  Belief has been used in political science for years -- often badly -- by merely counting how many likes and dislikes someone can generate about a political actor or party.

What's interesting, from the study, is the notion that belief is less correlated with education than the other kinds of knowledge.  This is viewed as a positive.  I'd argue it's evidence that how much information we hold, regardless of its accuracy, makes that conceptually distinct from actual knowledge -- the holding of correct information.  As a respondent or crazy uncle I may rattle off lots of information, none of it accurate, probably full of conspiracy theories about Barack Obama's religion or being the anti-Christ.  But is that knowledge?  Or a sort, certainly, and belief knowledge is probably as good a term as any, but I wouldn't treat that as political knowledge in the strictest sense.

And yeah, that image I put in there makes me want to have a seizure as well.

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