I’ve been following Chris Mooney’s blogging and podcasting really closely for a while now; he’s digging into subjects that I find fascinating, and I like his take on them.
He has an article in the upcoming issue of Mother Jones that covers some of the most interesting stuff he’s been into lately: The science of why we don’t believe science. It discusses recent research that Dan Kahan (among others) has been doing — see Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus (PDF) — that discusses how a person’s deeply held values influence his or her perception of scientific opinion. So, for example, if you are a politically conservative/libertarian-leaning person (in Kahan’s formulation, someone who values hierarchy over egalitarianism and individualism over communitarianism), then you will resist the (truthful) idea that there exists a scientific consensus that human activity is warming the planet, and poses a grave risk, presumably because you fear that such a consensus, if it existed, would be used to advance a government regulatory regime that would restrict free enterprise.
But the same sword cuts the other way, too. Kahan’s research shows that those on the progressive end of the political spectrum (in his formulation, those who value egalitarianism over hierarchy and communitarianism over individualism) are similarly likely to question the (truthful) idea that there exists a scientific consensus that radioactive wastes from nuclear power can be safely disposed of in deep underground storage facilities.
Mooney interviewed Kahan for his Point of Inquiry podcast a few months ago (Dan Kahan – The American Culture War of Fact), and it was a great interview; highly recommended. I was actually kind of disappointed that the article in Mother Jones didn’t go into as much detail as the podcast (see my griping here, for example). But for a broad-but-shallow overview of some intriguing aspects of the issue, it (the Mother Jones article) is definitely worth reading.