Cultural beliefs split climate views not science

By Tierney Smith

Cultural beliefs split people’s climate change views, not their level of science literacy, according to a new study.

Published in the journal Nature Climate Change, the research found that an increase in science understanding does not necessarily mean greater support for climate science, and that people are still largely influenced by the cultural groups to which they belong.

It goes against a previous belief that public apathy over climate change was caused by society’s lack of understanding of the topic.

“The aim of the study was to test two hypotheses,” said Dan Kahan, Professor at Yale Law School and part of the study team. “The first attributes political controversy over climate change to the public’s limited ability to comprehend science, and the second, to opposing sets of cultural values.

“The findings support the second hypothesis and not the first.”

The study – a survey of 1,540 people in the US – measured science literacy and a subject’s numeracy, their ability to understand quantitative information. It also collected the cultural viewpoints of the subjects.

It found that technically astute people were in fact more “culturally polarised” than others, tending to side with the view of people in their cultural circles about climate change – fitting evidence into already established positions.

“In effect, ordinary members of the public credit or dismiss scientific information on disputed issues based on whether the information strengthens or weakens their ties to others who share their values,” said Kahan. “At least among ordinary members of the public, individuals with higher science comprehension are even better at fitting evidence to their group commitments.”

The researchers say the study supports the case that a more complex understanding of cultural values must be considered when developing science communication strategies.

Read the full report here.

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