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Project disentanglement ... a fragment

from something I'm working on . . . 

Project Disentanglement

I. CCP is currently involved in a series of interlocking initiatives. Spanning a variety of  settings, these initiatives are animated by a common objective: the extrication of science from cultural conflict by use of the science-communication disentanglement principle.

II. Cultural conflict over what is known by science is not the norm. It occurs only when risks and like facts become entangled in antagonistic cultural meanings, which effectively transform positions on them into badges of membership in opposing groups. In such circumstances, the interest individuals have in protecting their connections to others with whom they share important social ties can exceed the personal stake they have in forming beliefs consistent with the best available evidence. It can thus become individually rational—albeit collectively disastrous—for people to use their reason to maintain beliefs consistent with the ones predominant in their cultural groups (Kahan 2012). Indeed, polarization rooted in this dynamic—known as identity-protective cognition—is most intense among individuals  highest in science literacy (Kahan 2013; Kahan, Peters et al. 2012).

III. The only means to neutralize identity-protective cognition is to dispel the conflict cultural diverse individuals experience between recognizing valid science and forming beliefs that express their defining commitments (Kahan in press). The disentanglement principle describes the fundamental imperative of effective science communication under such circumstances: to protect reasoning individuals from having to choose between knowing what is known by science and being who they are.

IV. “Project disentanglement” is dedicated to enabling science communication professionals to implement the disentanglement principle. The Project contemplates two sets of complementary practical research initiatives.

V. The climate-science education initiative will focus on teaching of climate science at the secondary-school level. The disentanglement principle is in fact derives from classic studies on teaching evolution to high school students (Lawson & Worsnop 2006). Such research showed it was possible—indeed, indispensable—to divorce the opportunity to learn  evolutionary science from the psychological experience of being forced to “assent” to propositions inimical to religious students’ defining commitments.

The climate-science education initiative will adapt these techniques to secondary-school climate-science education. The same tension between recognizing what’s known to science and maintaining fidelity to defining cultural commitments is now widely recognized as threatening education in this critical area of science, too. Working with education researchers, CCP is devising project-based learning materials, on the theory that rooting instruction in familiar local issues is distinctively suited to disentangling climate-science  knowledge from the antagonistic meanings that pervade the climate debate nationally.

VI. While intrinsically valuable, the climate-science education initiative is also expected to generate insights of value for research on the disentanglement principle in local political decisionmaking. The evidence-based science communication initiative is committed to furnishing science-communication support services to local governments pursuing adoption of environmental and conservation policies (Kahan 2014).

Communication strategies featuring the disentanglement principle have been the central focus of  the Southeast Florida Science Communication Initiative, a collaborative partnership between CCP and the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact. The four member Counties (Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Palm Beach) have generated widespread public support for a multifaceted Climate Action Plan despite the high degree of cultural polarization that characterizes public opinion on climate change in the region, just as it does in the rest of the U.S. (Kahan in press).

Just as we anticipate that insights gleaned from the climate-education initiative can be used to advance the aims of programs like the Southeast Florida Evidence-based Science Communication Initiative, so we believe that research in the setting of local decisionmaking can support development of effective climate-science education in secondary schools. Indeed, appropriate project-based learning programs in area high-schools can be seamlessly integrated into larger science-communication packages used to support public engagement with valid science in local decisionmaking. Positive impressions of the effectiveness of project-based learning can materially contribute to the disentanglement of scientific knowledge and identity in the community at large as its diverse members deliberate on how to meet the environmental challenges the face.

VII.  The toll that a polluted science communication environment exacts on human reason is in fact one of the principal impediments to the use of science to protect our natural environment.  But we can use reason to protet reason. Research on the science-communication disentanglement principle is critical to the development of a new ethos of science communication environment protection.


Kahan, D. (2012). Why we are poles apart on climate change. Nature, 488, 255.

Kahan, D. M. (2013). Ideology, Motivated Reasoning, and Cognitive Reflection. Judgment and Decision Making, 8, 407-424.

Kahan, D. M. (2014). Making Climate-Science Communication Evidence-Based—All the Way Down. In M. Boykoff & D. Crow (Eds.), Culture, Politics and Climate Change. New York: Routledge Press.

Kahan, D. M., Peters, E., Wittlin, M., Slovic, P., Ouellette, L. L., Braman, D., & Mandel, G. (2012). The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks. Nature Climate Change, 2, 732-735.

Kahan, D.M.(in press).Climate science communication and the Measurement Problem. Advances in Pol. Psych.

Lawson, A. E., & Worsnop, W. A. (2006). Learning about evolution and rejecting a belief in special creation: Effects of reflective reasoning skill, prior knowledge, prior belief and religious commitment. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 29(2), 143-166.


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  • Response
    So in addition to The Disentanglement Principle, can we also use Atran and Axelrod’s tactics for Reframing Sacred Values to disentangle cultural identity and status from commitments on climate change?

Reader Comments (1)

Keep up the good work - fascinating and encouraging to me!

January 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterKurt Navratil

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