Monday, January 23, 2012

Watch Colbert & Stewart. Learn Science Stuff

I had a bit of fun with the headline, but this study essentially finds that attention to The Colbert Report and The Daily Show, those two Comedy Central programs, goes "hand-in-hand" with knowledge about science and the environment.

That's the lede.  Now let's get into specifics.

The theoretical argument is the two programs are "gateway drugs" to other kinds of knowledge.  Comedy programs reduce the "entry costs" to understanding complex topics like science and the environment, thus lead to greater exposure to such topics in other media.  Unfortunately, the study is a single cross-sectional survey, so arguing causality here is impossible, a problem the authors readily note.  But they do attempt to statistically control for other explanatory factors.  How well this works (are science folks more likely to watch such programs in the first place?) is a matter of some debate, though the authors say they are reasonably confident that, for less educated respondents, "the causal arrow runs from satirical news exposure to science and environmental awareness."

It's a compelling argument, one of many emerging in this kind of research.

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