The Tragedy of the Truth

The Yale Cultural Cognition Project recently released a new study with surprising findings. According to the data of their national survey, people who are more “scientifically literate and numerate” are more skeptical of “climate change as a serious threat” than those who are less scientifically literate and numerate. Of course, this flew in the face of the presumed scientific consensus that climate change is a threat.

To most rational people this would indicate that since the “smart” people of this study are most skeptical of the evidence, then maybe the evidence is not so definitive. This did not detour the experts at Yale, however, as they concluded that,

The data in this study suggest that the impact of cultural cognition on perceptions of scientific evidence only grows in strength as individuals become more knowledgeable about science and develop greater facility with technical reasoning.

That’s right, according to this study, the better grip a person has on the facts, the more likely they are to ignore them in favor of their personal bias. Apparently,

This evidence reflects a conflict between two levels of rationality: The individual level, which is characterized by citizens’ effective use of their knowledge and reasoning capacities to form risk perceptions that express their cultural commitments; and the collective level, which is characterized by citizens’ failure to converge on the best available scientific evidence on how to promote their common welfare. Dispelling this, “tragedy of the risk-perception commons,” we argue, should be understood as the central aim of the science of science communication.

The data draw out more questions from their study than answers.

If the more scientifically literate people who participated in this study still have questions about the preponderance of evidence that supports the scientific consensus of the treat of climate change, how can it be called a consensus?

Better question, if the least scientifically literate participants (some failing questions so simple as how long does it take for the Earth to go around the Sun? And is the center of the Earth very hot?), believe the evidence for climate change, should not climate change supporters be seriously concerned about their own gullibility?

The best question though, is why the threat of climate change was taken for granted in this study? For accurate results, the scholars framing this research would have been better served to have started with a topic of real scientific consensus yet an open moral debate.

Scientific accuracy, of course, was not their goal. The Yale Cultural Cognition Project is very clear about their intention to influence public policy. According to their website,

The Project also has an explicit normative objective: to identify processes of democratic decision making by which society can resolve culturally grounded differences in belief in a manner that is both congenial to persons of diverse cultural outlooks and consistent with sound public policymaking.

Restated, their objective is to leverage our current ideological belief systems to convince us to agree upon coercive public policy that the American public currently does not accept.

Here is another possible conclusion that can be drawn from their data, the “smart” participants recognized the manipulation and rejected the paternalistic, liberal bent of the study. Let us hope that we can all be as smart. And while the Yale scholars lament “the tragedy of the risk-perception commons,” what they should be worrying about is the tragedy of the truth.

That is, that intelligent people are not buying their politically-predisposed pseudo-science.