Cultural Cognition and Safeguarding the Science Commons. Dan Kahan

Why do people believe what they believe?  

Dan Kahan, the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology at Yale Law School, and director of Yale’s Cultural Cognition Project, explores that question in the dinner keynote delivered the evening prior to the YCEI 5th Annual Conference. Cultural cognition holds that individuals tend to “conform their beliefs about disputed matters of fact (e.g., whether global warming is a serious threat; whether the death penalty deters murder; whether gun control makes society more safe or less) to values that define their cultural identities.”  Using empirical studies, Kahan shows that scientific literacy is not a determinant of climate change acceptance, and in fact may widen the divide.  In a presentation that is insightful and often hilarious he demonstrates that in matters involving complex issues and science, understanding and appreciating people’s value systems is imperative.  Failure to do so leads to a “tragedy of the science commons”, with implications for climate change and other complex issues about which we fundamentally disagree.


August 4, 2014