Prof. Kahan, Mother Jones and Science Denial

May 5, 2011

Recent research by Prof. Dan Kahan and others at the Cultural Cognition Project was highlighted in the April, Mother Jones article, "The Science of Why We Don't Believe in Science." In their own article, published in the Journal of Risk Research, Prof. Kahan and his colleagues examine why scientific consensus on issues like climate change, disposal of nuclear waste, and the effect of permitting concealed posession of handguns doesn't necessarily translate into political consensus on these issue.

More specifically, the authors hypothesized that individuals disagree with experts not because they're anti-science or "science-deniers", but because cultural viewpoints influence perceptions of what the scientific experts believe.

The authors found that there was indeed a strong correlation between subjects' cultural values and their perceptions of what the scientific consensus is on these issues. The authors also found that the subjects credited experts who adopted posititions matching the subjects' own viewpoints on these issues.

These findings indicate that when seeking to persuade it's more effective to couch your approach in the values shared by the audience, rather than leading with the facts shared by the scientific experts.


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