New Point of Inquiry — Dan Kahan: The American Culture War of Fact

By Chris Mooney | February 14, 2011 11:58 am

My latest POI episode is now up. Here’s the write up:

Why do Americans claim to love science, but then selectively reject its findings when they’re inconvenient? And why do some cultural groups reject certain types of scientific findings (about, say, harm to the environment), whereas others reject others?

Yale law professor Dan Kahan is doing some of the most cutting edge work right now when it comes to figuring out this out. Kahan is trying to resolve what he has called the “American Culture War of Fact,” by determining how it is that our core values-whether we are “individualists” or “communitarians,” “hierarchs” or “egalitarians”—can sometimes interfere with our perceptions of reality.

Most intriguingly—or, if you prefer, disturbingly—Kahan has found that deep-seated values even determine who we consider to be a scientific expert in the first place.

His results have very large implications for how to depolarize an array of scientific issues-and how to communicate about controversial science in general.

Dan Kahan is the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law at Yale Law School. In addition to risk perception, his areas of research include criminal law and evidence. He has served as a law clerk to Justice Thurgood Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court (1990-91) and to Judge Harry Edwards of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (1989-90).

You can listen to the full episode here.


Comments (3)

  1. That was one of the best POI episodes I’ve heard in a long time. Thank you very much for posting it.

    I especially liked the part where you cracked him up by asking why Yale Law School was doing this kind of research. But it was all really good. It will definitely inform my own efforts to communicate about climate change with those who find the message hard to accept.

  2. Chris Mooney

    Thanks so much, John. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a very good guest.

  3. Sean McCorkle

    Finally had a chance to listen to this interview. An outstanding show; informative and thought-provoking.

    Along the lines of the point made about how people listen more carefully to a messenger they perceive to be in their social group, I for one would like to see a LOT more articles and editorials like this one in the NY Times a while back, written by Jack Hedin, a farmer in Minnesota, about global warming from his perspective.
    We should find more spokespeople within the demographic group(s) we’re trying to reach, and encourage them to write in local or regional papers, show up on talk shows, etc.


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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