The Polarizing Impact of Science Literacy and Numeracy on Perceived Climate Change Risks
Nature Climate Change, Vol. 2, pp. 732-735, 2012
31 Pages Posted: 23 Dec 2012 Last revised: 16 Apr 2013
Date Written: December 23, 2012
Seeming public apathy over climate change is often attributed to a deficit in comprehension. The public knows too little science, it is claimed, to understand the evidence or avoid being misled. Widespread limits on technical reasoning aggravate the problem by forcing citizens to use unreliable cognitive heuristics to assess risk. An empirical study found no support for this position. Members of the public with the highest degrees of science literacy and technical reasoning capacity were not the most concerned about climate change. Rather, they were the ones among whom cultural polarization was greatest. This result suggests that public divisions over climate change stem not from the public’s incomprehension of science but from a distinctive conflict of interest: between the personal interest individuals have in forming beliefs in line with those held by others with whom they share close ties and the collective one they all share in making use of the best available science to promote common welfare.
Keywords: climate change, cultural cognition, heuristics, science literacy
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