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Two publics, two modes of reasoning, two forms of information in science communication: a fragment . . .

From something I'm working on . . .

Members of the public vary in the mode of reasoning they use to engage information on decision-relevant science. To be sure, many—including not just official decisionmakers but leaders of important stakeholder groups,  media professionals, and also ordinary citizens of high civic engagement—apply their reason to making informed judgment about science content.  Evidence-based methods (Kahan 2014; Han & Stenhouse 2014) are essential to anticipating how affect, numeracy, and cultural cognition interact when these "proximate information evaluators" assess scientific information (Peters, Burraston & Mertz 2004; Dieckman, Peters & Gregory 2015; Slovic, Finucane et al. 2004; Kahan, Peters et al. 2012).

Most members of the public, however, use a different reasoning strategy to assess the validity and consequence of decision-relevant science. Because everyone (even scientists, outside of their own domain) must accept as known by science much more than they could possibly comprehend on their own, individuals—all of them—become experts at using social cues to recognize valid science of consequence to their lives (Baron 1993).

The primary cue that these "remote information evaluators" use consists not  in anything communicated directly by scientists or other experts. Instead, it consists in the confidence that other ordinary members of the public evince in scientific knowledge through their own words and actions. The practical endorsement of science-informed practices and policies by others with whom individuals have contact in their everyday lives and whom they regard as socially competent and informed furnishes ordinary members of the public with a reliable signal that relying on the underlying science is “the sensible, normal thing to do” (Kahan 2015).

Much of the success of the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact in generating widespread public support for the initiatives outlined in its Regional Climate Action Plan reflect the Compact’s success in engaging this mode of public science communication. Because so many diverse private actors—from  business owners to leaders of prominent civic organizations to officers in neighborhood resident associationsparticipated in the planning and decisionmaking that produced the RCAP, the process the Compact used created a science communication environment amply stocked with actors who play this certifying role in the diverse opinion-formation communities in which "remote evaluators" exercise this rational form of information processing (Kahan 2015).

As was so in Southeast Florida, evidence-based methods are essential for effective transmission of information to "remote evaluators." In particular, communicators must take steps to protect the science communication environment from contamination by antagonistic cultural meanings, which predictably disable the rational faculties ordinary citizens use to recognize the best available evidence (Kahan 2012). . . .


Baron, J. Why Teach Thinking? An Essay. Applied Psychology 42, 191-214 (1993).

Dieckmann, N.F., Peters, E. & Gregory, R. At Home on the Range? Lay Interpretations of Numerical Uncertainty Ranges. Risk Analysis (2015).

Han, H. & Stenhouse, N. Bridging the Research-Practice Gap in Climate Communication Lessons From One Academic-Practitioner Collaboration. Science Communication, 1075547014560828 (2014).

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.M. Climate-Science Communication and the Measurement Problem. Advances in Political Psychology 36, 1-43 (2015).

Kahan, D.M. Making Climate-Science Communication Evidence-Based—All the Way Down. in Culture, Politics and Climate Change (ed. M. Boykoff & D. Crow) 203-220 (Routledge Press, New York, 2014).

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

Peters, E.M., Burraston, B. & Mertz, C.K. An Emotion-Based Model of Risk Perception and Stigma Susceptibility. Risk Analysis 24, 1349-1367 (2004).

Slovic, P., Finucane, M.L., Peters, E. & MacGregor, D.G. Risk as Analysis and Risk as Feelings: Some Thoughts About Affect, Reason, Risk, and Rationality. Risk Analysis 24, 311-322 (2004).

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