“People tend to conform their factual beliefs to ones that are consistent with their cultural outlook”

…according to law professor Don Braman, that is. NPR has an interview with members of the Cultural Cognition Project, who have been demonstrating experimentally that people’s climate change beliefs are strongly linked to their worldview.

It’s intuitively obvious that our views, opinions and beliefs are linked together a bit like constellations in the night sky, but when it comes to working out what exactly it is that connects them, it’s quite hard to come up with a viable answer. Now it seems the pattern is becoming clearer.


Why can’t environmentalists just all get along?

Dr Clare Saunders, from Southampton University, was awarded the first British Journal of Sociology prize for her 2008 ethnographic work on environmental organisations in London.

You can hear a podcast of her describing her research, and read the original article (as long as someone you love your institution subscribes to Wiley Interscience).

She argues that: Continue reading “Why can’t environmentalists just all get along?”

Cultural bias and the HPV vaccine

Health communicators need to be able to handle… political issues skilfully and they need the training and tools to do so. Otherwise, their health messages run the risk of being ignored in a storm of political outrage. (Abraham 2009)

Prof Dan Kahan at the Yale Cultural Cognition project has been involved in work on cultural influences in the public debate about the HPV vaccine. For many the HPV vaccine will save lives and improve health, while providing strong returns for the manufacturers. For others, though, jabs are just risky or even downright dangerous.  For yet others, in providing the vaccine to teenagers there is an implicit condoning of promiscuity. Whichever it is, the scientific evidence seems to fuel a political debate.  Sales of Gardasil, says the Wall St Journal “have slowed over the past two years, as Merck has encountered difficulty persuading women ages 19 to 26 to get the shot.”

The Cultural Cogniton project is investigating just how people come to their beliefs about scientific evidence.

Some really interesting results: Continue reading “Cultural bias and the HPV vaccine”

Is Grid-Group cultural theory really a theory?

It was a trick of course. Yesterday I used Grid-Group cultural theory to ‘predict’ the Fatalist viewpoint of Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan. But like the magician who successfully predicted the lottery numbers, it’s more about sleight of hand than about actual magic…

Despite the name, cultural theory isn’t really a theory at all. It’s a conceptual scheme – an heuristic we use, it might be argued, because we are cognitive misers and like making short cuts in our thinking. The world is big and hard to understand, so we make biased assumptions about what ‘usually’ happens, what ‘must’ happen, or what ‘really’ happens, what ‘the facts of the matter’ are, and so on. (to give just one example from millions, some more, some less trivial: Nick Cave’s deep-voiced assertion, ‘People they ain’t no good’). Moreover, we don’t just get these ideas out of our own heads somehow. They are embodied in the institutions in which we participate, from the family mealtime to the Copenhagen Climate summit, so that they are accounts of actual reality as we experience it. They really do explain how the world is – at least parts of it – so that our ideas seem like common sense. It is argued that these cultural biases or cultural solidarities coalesce into four basic ‘ideal types’, the four cultures for Grid-Group Cultural theory. But can we actually measure this? And can we really use the result to predict anything? Continue reading “Is Grid-Group cultural theory really a theory?”

Chaos theory and fourcultures

More on Chaos theory, evolution and fourcultures.

Meika recently posted a piece about brain research, bias and chaos theory.

And DK asked:

How does chaos complicate or enrich evolutionary theory in biology? How does the nonlinearity that chaos features interact with mutation/drift/natural selection? Is there a canonical text (or at least something authoritative & comprehensive) on this?

I think one of the key texts on this subject is going to be Continue reading “Chaos theory and fourcultures”

Grid-Group Cultural Theory: a way of trying not to fool yourself?

complaints departmentTwo recent blog comments  are critical of the way I have presented grid-group cultural theory’s four cultures.

At journalist George Monbiot’s Guardian blog, TheNuclearOption says:

FourCultures: Astrology at least gives one 12 choices, rather than limiting it to four. People are wild chaotic creatures who at any time can flap their wings and turn into a Black Swan!

Meanwhile, over at economist John Quiggins’ blog, KieranO says:

Fourcultures, i like what Richard Feynman says ….
“Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”

These four cultures that you describe, simply find and fool themselves. Science is about discovery.

To take the first criticism first, why are there only four cultural solidarities – why not two, twelve or more? Continue reading “Grid-Group Cultural Theory: a way of trying not to fool yourself?”