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The Polarizing Impact of Science Literacy and Numeracy on Perceived Climate Change Risks

31 Pages Posted: 23 Dec 2012 Last revised: 16 Apr 2013

Dan M. Kahan

Yale University - Law School

Ellen Peters

Ohio State University - Psychology Department; Decision Research; University of Oregon

Maggie Wittlin

University of Nebraska at Lincoln - College of Law

Paul Slovic

Decision Research; University of Oregon - Department of Psychology

Lisa Larrimore Ouellette

Stanford Law School

Donald Braman

George Washington University - Law School; Cultural Cognition Project

Gregory N. Mandel

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

Date Written: December 23, 2012

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Kahan, Dan M. and Peters, Ellen and Wittlin, Maggie and Slovic, Paul and Ouellette, Lisa Larrimore and Braman, Donald and Mandel, Gregory N., The Polarizing Impact of Science Literacy and Numeracy on Perceived Climate Change Risks (December 23, 2012). Nature Climate Change, Vol. 2, pp. 732-735, 2012; Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-04; Yale Law & Economics Research Paper No. 464; Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 278. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2193133

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

Ellen Peters

Ohio State University - Psychology Department ( email )

Blankenship Hall-2010
901 Woody Hayes Drive
Columbus, OH OH 43210
United States

Decision Research ( email )

1201 Oak Street, Suite 200
Eugene, OR 97401
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.decisionresearch.org

University of Oregon ( email )

1280 University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403
United States

Maggie Wittlin

University of Nebraska at Lincoln - College of Law ( email )

103 McCollum Hall
P.O. Box 830902
Lincoln, NE 68583-0902
United States

Paul Slovic

Decision Research ( email )

1201 Oak Street, Suite 200
Eugene, OR 97401
United States
541-485-2400 (Phone)
541-485-2403 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.decisionresearch.org

University of Oregon - Department of Psychology ( email )

Eugene, OR 97403
United States
541-485-2400 (Phone)

Lisa Larrimore Ouellette

Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305
United States

HOME PAGE: http://law.stanford.edu/profile/lisa-larrimore-ouellette

Donald Braman

George Washington University - Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States

Cultural Cognition Project ( email )

2000 H St NW
2000 H Street
Washington, DC 20052 20052
United States
202-491-8843 (Phone)
202 491-8843 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.culturalcognition.net/braman

Gregory Mandel

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States
(215) 204-2381 (Phone)

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