‘Political controversy over climate change cannot be attributed to the public’s limited ability to comprehend science,’ according to Dan Kahan, Professor of Psychology at Yale Law School.
Researchers measured ‘science literacy’ with test items developed by the National Science Foundation.
The questions were simple questions such as ‘Electrons are smaller than atoms, true or false?’
They also measured their subjects’ ‘numeracy’ that is, their ability to understand quantitative information.
The controversy comes down, in effect, to a conflict over values – and informed individuals are better at fitting the scientific facts, and gaps in our knowledge, to whatever they happen to believe in.
The questions were simple questions such as ‘Electrons are smaller than atoms, true or false?’ In case you’re puzzled, the electrons are on the outside.
‘At least among ordinary members of the public, individuals with higher science comprehension are even better at fitting the evidence to their group commitments.’
‘In effect,’ Kahan said, ‘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.
‘More information can help solve the climate change conflict,’ Kahan said, ‘but that information has to do more than communicate the scientific evidence.
It also has to create a climate of deliberations in which no group perceives that accepting any piece of evidence is akin to betrayal of their cultural group.’
According to Greenpeace activists, skeptical individuals are slightly more science literate than ‘believers’ in climate change.
The difference isn’t huge, according to a survey of 1500 U.S. adults. percent of skeptics are ‘science literate’ according to tests asking basic science and maths questions, versus 56 percent of believers.