First things first: the science of normal (nonpathological) science communication
Monday, April 18, 2016 at 10:36AM
Dan Kahan

From something I'm working on...

The priority of the science of normal science science communication 

The source of nearly every science-communication misadventure can be traced to a single mistake: the confusion of the processes that make science valid  for the ones that vouch for the validity of it.  As Popper (1960) noted, it is naïve, to view the “truth as manifest” even after it has been ascertained by science. The scientific knowledge that individuals rely on in the course of their everyday lives is far too voluminous, far too specialized for any—including a scientist—to comprehend or verify for herself.  So how do people manage to pull it off?  What are social cues they rely on to distinguish the currency of scientific knowledge from the myriad counterfeit alternatives to it? What processes generate those cues? What are the cognitive faculties that determine how proficiently individuals are able to recognize and interpret them? Most importantly of all, how do the answers to these questions vary--as they must in modern democratic societies--across communities of culturally diverse citizens, whose members are immersed in a plurality of parallel systems suited for enabling them to identify who knows what about what? These questions not only admit of scientific inquiry; they demand it.  Unless we understand how ordinary members of the public ordinarily do manage to converge on the best available evidence, we will never fully understand why they occasionally do not, and what can be done to combat these noxious sources of ignorance.



Popper, K.R. On the Sources of Knowledge and of Ignorance. in Conjectures and Refutations 3-40 (Oxford University Press London, 1960).


Article originally appeared on cultural cognition project (
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