Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences

Distinguished Lecture Series: Dr. Dan Kahan

Distinguished Lecture Series: Dr. Dan Kahan

Culture, Rationality, and Risk Perception: the Tragedy of the Science-Communication Commons

AbstractFrom climate change to the HPV vaccine to gun control, public controversy over the nature of policy-relevant science is today a conspicuous feature of democratic politics in America. A common view attributes this phenomenon to the public’s limited comprehension of science, and to its resulting vulnerability to manipulation by economically motivated purveyors of misinformation. In my talk, I will offer an alternative account. The problem, I will suggest, is not a deficit in rationality but a conflict between what’s rational at the individual and collective levels: ordinary members of the public face strong incentives – social, psychological, and economic – to conform their personal beliefs about societal risk to the positions that predominate within their cultural groups; yet when members of diverse cultural groups all form their perceptions of risk in this fashion, democratic institutions are less likely to converge on scientifically informed policies essential to the welfare of all. I will discuss empirical evidence that supports this analysis--and that suggests potential strategies for securing the collective good associated with a science communication environment free of the conflict between knowing what is known and being who we are.

BioDan Kahan is the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology at Yale Law School. He is a member of the Cultural Cognition Project, an interdisciplinary team of scholars who use empirical methods to examine the impact of group values on perceptions of risk and science communication. In studies funded by the National Science Foundation, Professor Kahan and his collaborators have investigated public dissensus over climate change, public reactions to emerging technologies, and public understandings of scientific consensus across disputed issues. Articles featuring the Project’s studies have appeared in a variety of peer-reviewed scholarly journals including the Journal of Risk Research, Judgment and Decision Making, Nature Climate Change, Science, and Nature. The Project is currently engaged in a field research that features using evidence-based strategies to promote public engagement with climate science in Southeast Florida.


CIRES Auditorium

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