The Situation of Scientific Consensus
Abstract (Via SSRN)
Why do members of the public disagree – sharply and persistently – about facts on which expert scientists largely agree? We designed a study to test a distinctive explanation: the cultural cognition of scientific consensus. The “cultural cognition of risk” refers to the tendency of individuals to form risk perceptions that are congenial to their values. The study presents both correlational and experimental evidence confirming that cultural cognition shapes individuals’ beliefs about the existence of scientific consensus, and the process by which they form such beliefs, relating to climate change, the disposal of nuclear wastes, and the effect of permitting concealed possession of handguns. The implications of this dynamic for science communication and public policy-making are discussed.
Favorite Bit (Via SSRN)
We present evidence in support of a novel explanation for the limited policy-shaping power of scientific opinion: the cultural cognition of expert consensus. The cultural cognition of risk is a theory that helps to explain public disagreement about the significance of empirical evidence generally (Kahan, Slovic, Braman & Gastil 2006). The theory posits a collection of psychological mechanisms that dispose individuals selectively to credit or dismiss evidence of risk in patterns that fit values they share with oth-ers. We designed a study, including both correlational and experimental elements, to test the hypothesis that mechanisms of cultural cognition extend to evidence of what scientific expert opinion is on climate change and other risks.