Study: Climate change opinions not about science

May 29, 2012 at 4:34 PM
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NEW HAVEN, Conn., May 29 (UPI) -- U.S. public apathy over climate change is unrelated to any lack of science literacy about the subject, a study by Yale University researchers found.

In fact, as members of the public become more science literate, individuals belonging to opposing cultural groups become even more divided on the risks climate change poses, researchers at Yale University reported.

"The aim of the study was to test two hypotheses," study member Dan Kahan said. "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.

That's the result of "cultural cognition," the researchers said, the unconscious tendency of people to fit evidence of risk to positions that predominate in groups to which they belong.

"In effect," Kahan said, "ordinary members of the public credit or dismiss scientific information on disputed issues based on whether the information strengthens or weakens their ties to others who share their values."

The study suggests the need for science communication strategies based on an understanding of cultural values, Kahan said.

"More information can help solve the climate change conflict," he said, "but that information has to do more than communicate the scientific evidence. It also has to create a climate of deliberations in which no group perceives that accepting any piece of evidence is akin to betrayal of their cultural group."

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