The Situationist

The Situation of Scientific Consensus

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 15, 2010

Situationist Contributor Dan Kahan, Hank Jenkins-Smith, and Donald Braman, have just posted another fascinating paper, “Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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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.

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You can download the paper for free here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Broader Situation: A Case Study of Cop Car Cameras,” Whose Eyes are You Going to Believe?,” Dan Kahan on the Situation of Risk Perceptions,” Cultural Cognition as a Conception of the Cultural Theory of Risk,” To still more  Situationist posts discussing cultural cognition, click here.

3 Responses to “The Situation of Scientific Consensus”

  1. Thanks for this post. We write about this issue a lot at our blog (The Jury Room).

    It isn’t just scientific findings but stories, themes, even television news that conflicts with our values. We don’t want to hear it so we don’t tune in OR we actively work to defend against the validity of the information.

    In litigation, we work to identify the values a story evokes and then make decisions about what sorts of jurors will be able to hear us best and how we can present the truth in ways that don’t set off automatic (hard-wired) biases. We are sometimes more successful than other times but we keep trying. :)

    Today’s post reflects this theme:

  2. […] The Situationist : Dan Kahan, Hank Jenkins-Smith, and Donald […]

  3. […] scientific experts on complex issues from climate change to disposing of nuclear waste. We think we know better.  And who can we trust more than our own […]

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