Tragedy of the Science-Communications Commons

Giving lecture today at Hampshire College. Here’s the summary:

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

From 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.

The talk will feature data from our study of science-comprehension and cultural polarization on climate change and our experimental examination of how using geoengineering as a framing device can promote more open-minded engagement with climate science.

Slides here.

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