10 March 2010

The marvels of science

Anyone who reads Internet discussions regularly will be aware that there are heated debates over scientific evidence for things like global warming, and that people argue about empirical data and interpret it in radically different ways.

Now someone has done some empirical research into the debates themselves.

Fixing the communications failure : Article : Nature:
Our research suggests that this form of 'protective cognition' is a major cause of political conflict over the credibility of scientific data on climate change and other environmental risks. People with individualistic values, who prize personal initiative, and those with hierarchical values, who respect authority, tend to dismiss evidence of environmental risks, because the widespread acceptance of such evidence would lead to restrictions on commerce and industry, activities they admire. By contrast, people who subscribe to more egalitarian and communitarian values are suspicious of commerce and industry, which they see as sources of unjust disparity. They are thus more inclined to believe that such activities pose unacceptable risks and should be restricted. Such differences, we have found, explain disagreements in environmental-risk perceptions more completely than differences in gender, race, income, education level, political ideology, personality type or any other individual characteristic

At first sight it struck me as a prize-winning statement of the obvious, and I marvelled at the way people spend money on researching things that everyone knows anyway.

On second thoughts, however, it seems that there is more to it than that. Postmodernists have been saying for years that "science", even empirical science, is largely a matter of cultural perception. Now here are people using empirical methods to prove it.

Is this the death knell of modernity?


Aquila ka Hecate said...

Something I've had on my mind lately, too - but I'm using Spiral Dynamics models to look at it.

Climate change denialists, under this model, fall into the Blue and Orange turns of the spiral- hierarchical and individualist/materialist. The err..non-deniers, I guess...are green and upwards.
I'm considering what I see in this country in SD terms. I might post on that later.
Terri in Joburg

Shane said...

I've been mulling over the disparity between "the believers and deniers" in the global warming debate as well. Being forced to cover the topic in class I've noticed a definite shift among those who consider themselves educated toward the denier camp. I feel that it has more to how effectively the messages (call them memes if you want) of both sides are being communicated. In this the denier camp is winning hands down as their rhetoric is so much more convincing. It's easier to point and say "you lie and wrote bad things about us in emails" than it is to explain the process of climate change.

Yewtree said...

On the whole it seems to me that the deniers are politically, socially and economically conservative, and the non-deniers are progressive (as described in the excerpt you quoted).

Ploni Almoni said...

I wonder what biases would be in reference to evolution, but I think that apparently the secular world is pretty much unanimously in favor of evolution despite its problems.


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