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Saturday, March 30, 2019

A "Science of Deliberation"?

As regular readers know, I am firmly on the side of science--specifically the "scientific method(s)," warts and all. But, what about "political discourse," which seems more than ever overpopulated with noisy, demagogic fact-averse partisans and ad hominem rhetorical bomb-tossers? After all, the phrase "political science" is unhappily viewed by many as a contradiction in terms.

Interesting piece in Science Magazine (paywalled):

The crisis of democracy and the science of deliberation

That there are more opportunities than ever for citizens to express their views may be, counterintuitively, a problem facing democracy—the sheer quantitative overabundance overloads policymakers and citizens, making it difficult to detect the signal amid the noise. This overload has been accompanied by marked decline in civility and argumentative complexity. Uncivil behavior by elites and pathological mass communication reinforce each other. How do we break this vicious cycle? Asking elites to behave better is futile so long as there is a public ripe to be polarized and exploited by demagogues and media manipulators. Thus, any response has to involve ordinary citizens; but are they up to the task? Social science on “deliberative democracy” offers reasons for optimism about citizens' capacity to avoid polarization and manipulation and to make sound decisions. The real world of democratic politics is currently far from the deliberative ideal, but empirical evidence shows that the gap can be closed.

Declining civility in interactions among elected representatives decreases citizens' trust in democratic institutions. The more polarized (and uncivil) that political environments get, the less citizens listen to the content of messages and the more they follow partisan cues (1) or simply drop out of participating. Declining complexity in arguments means a growing mismatch between the simple solutions offered by political leaders and real complex problems. This decline combines with post-truth politics and the displacement of facts and evidence by the felt truth of “cultural cognition,” in which social identity conditions opinion, as seen clearly on climate change.

A long tradition of survey research in political science—going back to the 1950s—yields skeptical conclusions about citizen competence. Claims that people vote mainly guided by group identity, oblivious to reasons for or against candidates or policies (2), can fuel arguments against democracy and in favor of, for example, an “epistocracy” of government by wise elites (3). Not all survey research is so skeptical about citizen capacities; some treat cues from leaders and groups as useful cognitive shortcuts. But all survey research is “monological” in that it obtains evidence only about the capacity of the individual in isolation to reason about politics.

Psychological research shows that even if people are bad solitary reasoners, they can be good group problem-solvers (4). Individual reasoning can improve under the right social conditions (for example, ones that generate alternative viewpoints for the individual to consider), thus enabling the more positive assessment of individual reasoning found in cognitive and decision psychology (as opposed to social and political psychology) to come to the fore. Human life is indeed group life, but not in pathological form (5). Thus, research focused on individuals in isolation is not a strong match for the novel aspect of the contemporary crisis of democracy, which is a crisis of communication, not of individual reasoning, the virtues and flaws of which remain much as they have always been…

Deliberative Democracy
The science of deliberative democracy seeks evidence on the capacities of citizens as they engage democratic dialogue, not as they respond as isolated individuals to survey questions (or even as they respond in social psychological experiments that fail to capture key democratic features). In addition to focusing on individual knowledge, preference, and voting, deliberative democracy also incorporates inclusive participation that encompasses citizens and leaders, mutual justification, listening, respect, reflection, and openness to persuasion. The field of deliberative democracy could be viewed as going as far back as Aristotle (who grounded practical reason in collective political life). But what is new in the past two decades is the precision with which the tasks of deliberation—notably, the legitimation of public authority, mutual understanding, and the integration of diverse sorts of knowledge—have been specified and tested…

The citizenry is quite capable of sound deliberation. But deliberative democratization will not just happen. Much remains to be done in refining the findings of the field and translating them into political practice. That political reconstruction itself would ideally be deliberative and democratic, involving social science but also competent citizens and leaders in broad-ranging political renewal.
Highly recommended, fairly lengthy reading. Hits my sweet spot. My "Ethics & Policy Studies" Master's program was all deliberation all the time, to my great fortune.

More on this ASAP. We're flying home today from closing on our new digs in Baltimore. Moving truck comes to CA next Friday. About to leave for BWI. Hotspotting off my iPhone at my new kitchen nook.


Finished this book. Quick cite:

…[E]ven as networks of interactions between humans change, much about them is enduring and predictable. Understanding human networks, as well as how they are changing, can help us to answer many questions about our world, such as: How does a person’s position in a network determine their influence and power? What systematic errors do we make when forming opinions based on what we learn from our friends? How do financial contagions work and why are they different from the spread of a flu? How do splits in our social networks feed inequality, immobility, and polarization. How is globalization changing international conflict and wars?
Despite their prominent role in the answers to these questions, human networks are often overlooked when people analyze important political and economic behaviors and trends. This is not to say that we have not been studying networks, but instead that there is a chasm between our scientific knowledge of networks as drivers of human behavior and what the general public and policymakers know. This book is meant to help close that gap.

Each chapter shows how accounting for networks of human relationships changes our thinking about an issue. Thus, the theme of this book is how networks enhance our understanding of many of our social and economic behaviors.

There are a few key patterns of networks that matter, and so the story here involves more than just one idea hammered home. By the end of this book, you should be more keenly aware of the importance of several aspects of the networks in which you live. Our discussion will also involve two different perspectives: one is how networks form and why they exhibit certain key patterns, and the other is how those patterns determine our power, opinions, opportunities, behaviors, and accomplishments…
[pp 4-5]
Awesome read. Much triangulation to come, ASAP.

Dr. Jackson in closing:
The more things change
Technology will continue to advance and reshape our networks. Humans have been rewired many times: by the printing press, letter writing, trains, the telegraph, overseas travel, the telephone, the Internet, and the advent of social media. Perhaps it is our arrogance that leads us to assume that the current changes in our lives are truly revolutionary and unique.

Nonetheless, the changes are real— as we saw with networks of trade and military alliances. Still, humans are predictable. Human networks are easily recognizable and have exhibited regularities for some time. In our social transformations we see “more” of many things: denser networks, more homophily, more polarization, faster movement of information and contagion. And, as we have learned, even small changes in connectedness can have big consequences. Even changes in the extent, rather than the shape, of our networks can have profound implications— for contagion, immobility, and polarization.

There is much to be optimistic about. Economic productivity is at a historic high, large parts of the world are emerging from extreme poverty, and wars are down. People are living longer and enjoying themselves more. But there are challenges ahead. Divisions in our networks of interaction and communication remain, and some are even growing despite our advances in the ability to connect at a distance. The resulting frustration with increased immobility and inequality, when combined with growing polarization, can be volatile.

We need to better understand the benefits and risks from ever increasing financial entanglements and address those risks rather than ignoring them. We need to recognize that our network is highly connected when it comes to the transmission of diseases, including some that we have yet to encounter and that may spread more rapidlyand widely than in our worst nightmares. We need to recognize the numerous externalities in our lives, as well as how networks shape our social norms and behaviors, including corruption and crime.

We need to combat the damaging side- effects of homophily, as well as improve the incentives to collect and spread accurate and deep information, while learning to better filter the noise. Understanding the human network can ensure that our increased connectivity will improve our collective intelligence and productivity, instead of dividing society even more.
[pp 239-40]
Could not be more timely.

Downstream update: "Define 'science'."Also, what about "Democracy?"



More to come...

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