Tuesday, March 29, 2011

For a New Independence

I'm still mulling over this survey suggesting that (as the presenter puts it) "Republicans are more scientifically literate than Democrats or independents are." Yes, that's what it says: across 19 categories, Republicans come across as best informed in 16 categories, Democrats in only two. By contrast, Democrats come across as worst informed in seven categories; Republicans in only two(the balance comes from "Independents," of which more infra).  Some of the spreads are pretty narrow, with one notable exception: 57.6 percent of Democrats believe that humans evolved from other animals, only 41.5 percent of Republicans (Dems' worst score was on pesticides: evidently 44.5 percent of Democrats believe that exposure necessarily causes cancer).

But back to those "independents:" they came off as worst of the three contenders in 10 categories; best in only one (continental drift, by only half a point).  A number of commentators have remarked on how this just goes to show that independents are the least connected, the least involved, the least, well, informed of any.

Which scratches a particular scab with me.  A few months ago, for my sins I found myself getting voire dired by the Palookaville DA to determine my fitness to serve on the jury in a gruesome and high-visibility criminal case.  He was having some trouble.  "So, you don't count yourself as a liberal, then."--"Not exactly."   "But not a conservative?"  --"No, not that either."  "Well, I guess you are a sort of an independent, then."

What I hope I said then--but I can't exactly remember--was: look, I just don't think it is a very helpful focus of inquiry.  I'd concede that my views don't seem to track particularly well on a standard scale.   But "independents" very often are the disconnected and the uninvolved.   I think of myself as deeply connected and involved.    It's just that I don't track very well.

Thing is, I think there are a lot of us--independents who are not disconnected.  Maybe not as many as the other kind but among, e.g.,, blog readers and writers, maybe more.  Some may be apostate Republicans who remember life before the prescription drug benefit.  Some may be apostate Democrats who are revolted at the growing police state, or the metastasis of crony capitalism.  Some may--well, they may be a lot of things, but they aren't "independent" in the conventional sense.  Like I tried to tell the prosecutor.

Footnote:  As you might guess, he struck me.  But more interesting to me at least--I've been voire dired a dozen times over the last 20 years, never sat on a jury.  Must be those lunches of onions and sour milk I tank up on before submitting to questioning, just like I used to do for Army inspections. 

Another footnote: Would I have aced the science test?  I doubt it, but I won't go into detail. 


Ebenezer Scrooge said...

Don't worry. The science test didn't ace the science test. "Electrons are smaller than atoms" is not really true. Atoms are heavy enough to be classical objects, so they have a fairly well-defined radius. Electrons are quantum mechanical objects, so they have a spatial probability distribution, not a radius. The median radius of the spatial probability distribution of an electron in a hydrogen atom far exceeds the radius of the proton.

As far as the "Republicans know more science than Democrats", I'm surprised that the distinction is so small. The Republicans have been so successful in their culture war that we often forget that the political spectrum is bimodal with respect to education, with Democrats owning the top and bottom, and Republicans owning the "some college" and "college" groups. The poll didn't ask any difficult science questions. Since there aren't all that many MDs, JDs, and PhDs, you would expect the Republicans to do better in an educational filter that cuts off people below high school graduate level.

dilbert dogbert said...

We don't know jack about this survey until we know how the social-economic factors were controlled for. If it had good design then we could draw some conclusions. If not, it is just a feel good study for teatardrethuglicans.