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Friday, July 15, 2011

Scientific Literacy and Global Warming

It's the scientifically illiterate who don't believe in global warming, right? Wrong. A recent study by Yale law professor Dan Kahan and his colleagues, shows that people who are more science- and math-literate tend to be more skeptical about the consequences of climate change ("Scientific Literacy Does Not Increase Concern Over Climate Change"). They're also more associated with the culture wars. Here's the abstract:
"The conventional explanation for controversy over climate change emphasizes impediments to public understanding: Limited popular knowledge of science, the inability of ordinary citizens to assess technical information, and the resulting widespread use of unreliable cognitive heuristics to assess risk. A large survey of U.S. adults (N = 1540) found little support for this account. On the whole, the most scientifically literate and numerate subjects were slightly less likely, not more, to see climate change as a serious threat than the least scientifically literate and numerate ones. More importantly, greater scientific literacy and numeracy were associated with greater cultural polarization: Respondents predisposed by their values to dismiss climate change evidence became more dismissive, and those predisposed by their values to credit such evidence more concerned, as science literacy and numeracy increased. We suggest that this evidence reflects a conflict between two levels of rationality: The individual level, which is characterized by citizens’ effective use of their knowledge and reasoning capacities to form risk perceptions that express their cultural commitments; and the collective level, which is characterized by citizens’ failure to converge on the best available scientific evidence on how to promote their common welfare. Dispelling this, “tragedy of the risk-perception commons,” we argue, should be understood as the central aim of the science of science communication."
Here's a link to the paper: "The Tragedy of the Risk-Perception Commons: Culture Conflict, Rationality Conflict, and Climate Change"

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