September 23, 2010


Why science can't hold sway: Our biases are overpowering. (Faye Flam, 9/22/10, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Why do so many Americans disagree with scientific consensus on issues such as global climate change and the safety of burying nuclear waste? Is it our poor education? Science illiteracy? Innumeracy?

None of the above, according to a new study published in Journal of Risk Research. People's positions on these issues and their willingness to believe or discount scientists depends mostly on ideology, or what the study's authors call "cultural cognition."

After surveying 1,500 people, the researchers found that those who were "egalitarian and resentful of economic inequality" were more likely to assume that there was scientific consensus that human activity is contributing to climate change, but not that it's safe to dispose of nuclear waste underground. Those who were more "hierarchical, individualistic and connected to industry and commerce" were more likely to make the opposite assumptions.

The problem, of course, is that we bring these same biases to the practice of science, and they produce the results we wish.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at September 23, 2010 6:06 AM
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