Visiting Scholar Dan Kahan Talks About Science, Identity and Climate Change

    Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) visiting scholar Dan Kahan recently gave talks in Vermont and Connecticut on his ongoing research in science communication. He spoke at the 14th Annual “Climate Prediction Applications Workshop,” hosted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service Climate Services Branch, in Burlington, Vt., on March 23, 2016, and to Yale Cognitive Science program undergraduates on March 31. Kahan is a professor of law and psychology at Yale Law School and a member of the Cultural Cognition Project (CCP).

    Dan Kahan speaking at APPC in March.

    Dan Kahan speaking at APPC in March.

    Kahan presented his thesis on “America’s two climate changes”: the idea that people engage in information to both 1) express who they are and to which identity group they belong, and 2) to take action based on that information. His latest research, conducted in collaboration with CCP and APPC, looks at science knowledge and how we can separate what people know about science from their identity, such as religion or political ideology.

    The study has shown that increasing science knowledge doesn’t always mean that people will provide correct answers to questions — if those answers run contrary to their identity-related beliefs, those with higher science comprehension are even more likely to provide incorrect answers. Responses to science-based questions can vary greatly depending on how the question is asked. Including prefixes such as “According to scientists…” or “According to the theory of evolution…” disentangles identity from science knowledge, and people are more likely to provide the scientifically correct answer.

    Kahan has looked at work done in Southeast Florida, where leaders have framed discussion of climate change by taking identity out of the discussion so they can tackle issues like coastal flooding. Instead of forcing people to choose between taking a side and expressing an identity, they focus on the science and what people can do to help protect their communities. Kahan previously spoke at a meeting of the Institute for Sustainable Communities, a major partner of the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact. (See the video here.)

    Kahan’s latest paper, published online last month in the Journal of Risk Research, describes the “Ordinary Science Intelligence” scale and survey results. For more information about his research and talks, visit the Cultural Cognition Project blog.

    Florida neighborhood flooded after a tropical storm. Credit: FEMA/Barry Bahler.

    Florida neighborhood flooded after a tropical storm. Credit: FEMA/Barry Bahler.