We all have preferences about how society should be ordered, and whether we believe in hierarchy and individualism or are egalitarian and value community, those cultural values shape our reception to science and communication about science. “It isn’t that the other guys are anti-science. It isn’t that they’re stupid. It’s that we’ve come to a misadventure, a bad situation where diverse citizens, who rely on diverse systems of cultural certification, are in conflict. And that’s not inevitable,” says Yale’s Dan Kahan.
In the second half of this interview, Kahan explores what guidance the “cultural cognition” research that he and his colleagues conduct has for those trying to communicate successfully about climate change and other contentious issues. He discusses in some detail the 2010 paper, Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus, which confirms that people’s sense of what “scientists” believe is strongly influenced by their cultural values.
In a wide-ranging reconnaissance of the culture wars, he argues for a science communication based on narratives that are sensitive to underlying cultural values. Seems obvious? As Kahan jokes, “As my grandmother would say, ‘If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?’ We’ve not been doing this. We’ve been doing almost the opposite!” Apart from his grandmother, insights about Al Gore, Texas Gov. Perry, cholera, humility, and misdiagnosing problems further enrich Kahan’s remarks, which provide a good introduction to the important research of the Cultural Cognition Project.
Incisive research relating to successful communication about climate change and other contentious public issues is being conducted by members of the Cultural Cognition Project. Dan M. Kahan, Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law at Yale Law School, is an author of several research articles that have explored and described “how cultural values shape public risk perceptions and related policy beliefs.” In the first of two interview parts, Dan discusses the background of the cultural cognition notion, defines, and develops it, all in a very personable and engaging way. (Check back for the second part of the interview which explores particular findings and recommendations from the research; it should be produced within a couple weeks.)
As with some earlier podcasts, this stimulating conversation with Dr. Elinor Ostrom is also in two parts. Ostrom, the Arthur F. Bentley Professor of Political Science, Indiana University, and Co-Director, Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, brings a broad, system-based perspective to a discussion of responding to climate change. Having an appropriate, workable governance framework for such a response would certainly affect what was communicated about climate change.
The first part of the discussion moves from a review of systems thinking to focus on social-ecological systems and their resilience, to the challenge of managing these systems so they can be resilient: How will they best cope with change? In the second part of the conversation, Ostrom elaborates on the framework she’s been developing, which she describes as “a step toward building a strong interdisciplinary science of complex, multilevel systems that will enable future diagnosticians to match governance arrangements to specific problems embedded in a social–ecological context.” In wide-ranging observations, she also discusses how people self-organize successfully; the role of trust and reciprocity; and the preservation of ecological knowledge.
(Oct. 12, 2009 update: Dr. Ostrom is one of two 2009 winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics, and the first woman to receive the economics prize.)
She refers at points to an article (and diagrams in it), which is also linked below.
The social dimensions of climate change and vulnerability are discussed by Dr. Jesse Ribot, who leads a new initiative in the Social Dimensions of Environmental Policy at University of Illinois’ School of Earth, Society and Environment. Dr. Ribot conducts research on, among other issues, decentralization and democratic local government and household vulnerability in the face of climate and environmental change, both of which he discusses in this podcast.
This episode presents a different perspective, from a climate communication practitioner, photojournalist Gary Braasch. He discusses his new book, Earth Under Fire, highlighting his reasons for telling the climate story as he has and offering some insights into the reception that the book’s been receiving. Passionate and committed, Braasch is definitely one of those “out on the front lines,” translating and communicating climate science for public audiences. As such, his experience may have particular interest to this Web site’s audience.
Braasch’s own site presents the two photographs that he discusses in the conversation:
[Note: the following news story highlights the podcasts to date; follow the link to the complete story]
Presidential hopefuls and policy-makers across the political spectrum seem to have absorbed the news that the changing global climate is a cause for serious concern and action. But communicating successfully with the American public about the issue is still very much a work in progress.
“People are convinced that climate change is here,” said Susanne Moser, of the Institute for the Study of Society and Environment at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). But “people don’t know a lot about the solutions,” she added. “They feel quite disillusioned or pessimistic that their little action will address this global overwhelming problem.”
Dr. Maibach is a professor in the Department of Communication at George Mason University and also the director of the Center of Excellence in Climate Change Communication Research. Among topics of our conversation are a communication model which he has been developing, the results of a recent and very large climate survey he conducted, and Americans’ perceptions of the threat from global warming.
As with the conversation with Baruch Fischhoff (below), this one is divided into two parts. Both parts are linked here in this one post.
Here’s the shorter, second part of the conversation with Dr. Fischhoff, in which he discusses a range of intriguing topics, including whether climate change is different in kind, or only degree, from other communication challenges; the role of emotions in decision making; and panic and human resiliency.
Although this part could be listened to independently of the first part (Episode 4), the conversation tends to build on what came before, and the listener is encouraged to hear the previous episode first. As before, a table of contents with time indicators is provided for those who want to hear a particular topic.
Episode 4 is the first part of a two-part conversation with Dr. Baruch Fischhoff of Carnegie Mellon University. A prominent national expert on risk analysis and communication, Fischhoff makes a persuasive case for a “nonpersuasive” approach when communicating with the public about scientific and technical issues such as climate change.