Homework assignment: what's the relationship between science literacy & persistent political conflict over decision-relevant science?
I've agreed to do a talk at the annual American Geophysical Union in December. It will be part of a collection on "climate science literacy."
Here's the synopsis I submitted:
The value of civic science literacy
The persistence of public conflict over climate change is commonly understood to be evidence of the cost democracy bears as a result of the failure of citizens to recognize the best available decision-relevant science. This conclusion is true; what’s not is the usual understanding of cause and effect that accompanies this perspective. Ordinarily, the inability of citizens to comprehend decision-relevant science is identified as the source of persistent political conflict over climate change (along with myriad other issues that feature disputed facts that admit of scientific investigation). The truth, however, is that it is the persistence of public conflict that disables citizens from recognizing and making effective use of decision-relevant science. As a result, efforts to promote civic science literacy can’t be expected to dissipate such conflict. Instead, the root, cultural and psychological sources of such conflict must themselves be extinguished (with the use of tools and strategies themselves identified through valid scientific inquiry) so that our democracy can realize the value of educators' considerable skills in making citizens science literate.
But I haven't come close to working all this out.
What's more, I worry (as always) that I could be completely wrong about everything.
So I welcome reflections by others on the basic claim expressed here-- reflections on how to convey it effectively; on what to do about the practical problem it reflects; but also on how to continue to probe and test to see whether it is true and to help identify any alterative account that's even more well founded and that furnishes an even more useful guide to action.
So get going-- don't put this off until the day before the talk & pull an all nighter!
A thoughtful commenter asks for a more specific elaboration of the sources that are the basis for the conclusion reflected in the abstract – viz., that lack of science comprehension doesn’t generate political conflict; instead political conflict generates the failure of the public to recognize and make use of the best available decision-relevant science (not by causing "science illiteracy," I should stress, but rather by disabling the faculties citizens--including the most science literate, numerate, and cognitive reflective ones--use to recognize what’s known to science).
Some things below. The studies are only “CCP” ones but papers & many of the blog posts refer to studies by other researchers too.
A. Some studies
Kahan, D.M., Peters, E., Wittlin, M., Slovic, P., Ouellette, L.L., Braman, D. & Mandel, G. The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks. Nature Climate Change 2, 732-735 (2012).
Kahan, D., Braman, D., Cohen, G., Gastil, J. & Slovic, P. Who Fears the HPV Vaccine, Who Doesn’t, and Why? An Experimental Study of the Mechanisms of Cultural Cognition. Law Human Behav 34, 501-516 (2010).
B. Couple of Papers
C. Assortment of blog posts