Day By Day

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Now This Is Interesting -- Literacy, Numeracy, and the Climate Debate

If these findings are borne out they suggest something really important:
The conventional explanation for controversy over climate change emphasizes impediments to public understanding: Limited popular knowledge of science, the inability of ordinary citizens to assess technical information, and the resulting widespread use of unreliable cognitive heuristics to assess risk. A large survey of U.S. adults (N = 1540) found little support for this account. On the whole, the most scientifically literate and numerate subjects were slightly less likely, not more, to see climate change as a serious threat than the least scientifically literate and numerate ones. More importantly, greater scientific literacy and numeracy were associated with greater cultural polarization: Respondents predisposed by their values to dismiss climate change evidence became more dismissive, and those predisposed by their values to credit such evidence more concerned, as science literacy and numeracy increased. 
Read it here. [emphasis mine]

The media-driven stereotype of climate sceptics as ill-informed and mentally challenged is shown to be false. In fact, it is the devotees of Goreism who are relatively poorly informed. Of course, I've known that for a long time. What is more interesting is the fact that greater understanding of the science involved leads to greater, rather than less, polarization. This runs counter to the naive faith that education promotes understanding and consensus. Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in academic knows that to be false, but it still is a major imperative shaping our public policy. Education, it seems, is not the answer to culture conflict -- in fact it might well be part of the problem.

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