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Friday, January 1, 2010

Prof. Dan Kahan Discusses Cultural Cognition Project Research in Journal Nature

In the latest issue of the journal Nature, Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law Dan Kahan discusses research conducted by Yale Law School’s Cultural Cognition Project into how cultural values influence people’s beliefs and risk perceptions when it comes to disputed scientific matters. Here is an excerpt from Professor Kahan’s article, “Fixing the Communications Failure.” You may read the entire article on the Nature website.

In a famous 1950s psychology experiment, researchers showed students from two Ivy League colleges a film of an American football game between their schools in which officials made a series of controversial decisions against one side. Asked to make their own assessments, students who attended the offending team’s college reported seeing half as many illegal plays as did students from the opposing institution. Group ties, the researchers concluded, had unconsciously motivated students from both colleges to view the tape in a manner that favoured their own school.

Since then, a growing body of work has suggested that ordinary citizens react to scientific evidence on societal risks in much the same way. People endorse whichever position reinforces their connection to others with whom they share important commitments. As a result, public debate about science is strikingly polarized. The same groups who disagree on ‘cultural issues’ — abortion, same-sex marriage and school prayer — also disagree on whether climate change is real and on whether underground disposal of nuclear waste is safe.

The ability of democratic societies to protect the welfare of their citizens depends on finding a way to counteract this culture war over empirical data.

Read the full article.