The Corner

Disagreements over Global Warming Totally Unrelated to Levels of Scientific Literacy

Unsurprisingly, it turns out that those who don’t believe in the risks of climate change don’t do so, as some on the left might suggest, out of lack of intelligence or scientific knowledge. A new study from Yale University funded by the National Science Foundation suggests that it tends to be “opposing sets of cultural values” which affect individuals’ perceptions of the issue, not their ability to understand the science — in fact, those who are better equipped to understand actually seem more likely to fit the science to their values. The Yale press release explains:

And the Yale research published today reveals that if Americans knew more basic science and were more proficient in technical reasoning it would still result in a gap between public and scientific consensus. Indeed, as members of the public become more science literate and numerate, the study found, individuals belonging to opposing cultural groups become even more divided on the risks that climate change poses. . . .

“The aim of the study was to test two hypotheses,” said Dan Kahan, Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology at Yale Law School and a member of the study team. “The first attributes political controversy over climate change to the public’s limited ability to comprehend science, and the second, to opposing sets of cultural values. The findings supported the second hypothesis and not the first,” he said.

“Cultural cognition” is the term used to describe the process by which individuals’ group values shape their perceptions of societal risks. It refers to the unconscious tendency of people to fit evidence of risk to positions that predominate in groups to which they belong.  The results of the study were consistent with previous studies that show that individuals with more egalitarian values disagree sharply with individuals who have more individualistic ones on the risks associated with nuclear power, gun possession, and the HPV vaccine for school girls.

Patrick Brennan — Patrick Brennan is a writer and policy analyst based in Washington, D.C. He was Director of Digital Content for Marco Rubio's presidential campaign, writing op-eds, policy content, and leading the ...

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