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Cognitive Bias and the Constitution of the Liberal Republic of Science

Dan M. Kahan

Yale University - Law School

November 11, 2012

Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 270

This essay uses insights from the study of risk perception to remedy a deficit in liberal constitutional theory — and vice versa. The deficit common to both is inattention to cognitive illiberalism — the threat that unconscious biases pose to enforcement of basic principles of liberal neutrality. Liberal constitutional theory can learn to anticipate and control cognitive illiberalism from the study of biases such as the cultural cognition of risk. In exchange, the study of risk perception can learn from constitutional theory that the detrimental impact of such biases is not limited to distorted weighing of costs and benefits; by infusing such determinations with contentious social meanings, cultural cognition forces citizens of diverse outlooks to experience all manner of risk regulation as struggles to impose a sectarian orthodoxy. Cognitive illiberalism is a foreseeable if paradoxical consequence of the same conditions of cultural pluralism that make a liberal society conducive to the growth of scientific knowledge. The use of scientific knowledge to mitigate the threat that cognitive illiberalism poses to those very conditions is integral to securing the constitution of the Liberal Republic of Science.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 36

Keywords: cultural cognition, liberalism, bias, heuristic

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Date posted: November 11, 2012 ; Last revised: April 16, 2013

Suggested Citation

Kahan, Dan M., Cognitive Bias and the Constitution of the Liberal Republic of Science (November 11, 2012). Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 270. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2174032 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2174032

Contact Information

Dan M. Kahan (Contact Author)
Yale University - Law School ( email )
P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States
HOME PAGE: http://www.culturalcognition.net/kahan

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