May 28, 2012
Lack of Science Education Not The Cause Of Climate Change Debate
Is the divide between climate change theory advocates and global warming skeptics due to scientific ignorance? Not according to a new study published in the latest edition of the journal Nature Climate Change.
According to a Sunday statement, researchers affiliated with the Yale Law School's Cultural Cognition Project tested the scientific literacy of a "representative sample" of 1,500 American adults in order to determine whether or not a lack of basic scientific education was responsible for differing opinions on the hot-button environmental issue.
To conduct these tests, the researchers used questions from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) annual assessment of technical knowledge, as well as the "cultural viewpoints" of the 1,540 participants, USA Today's Dan Vergano explained.
What they discovered was that those with a good technical knowledge of climate change are more "culturally polarized" and tend to share the viewpoints of others within their social circle, he added.
"The aim of the study was to test two hypotheses," Dan Kahan, Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology at Yale Law School and a member of the study team, said in a statement. "The first attributes political controversy over climate change to the public's limited ability to comprehend science, and the second, to opposing sets of cultural values. The findings supported the second hypothesis and not the first."
"In effect, ordinary members of the public credit or dismiss scientific information on disputed issues based on whether the information strengthens or weakens their ties to others who share their values," he added. "At least among ordinary members of the public, individuals with higher science comprehension are even better at fitting the evidence to their group commitments."
Vergano wrote that "a great deal" of evidence supports the notion that the Earth's climate has warmed over the past 100 years, with greenhouse gasses resulting from the burning of fossil fuels serving as the catalyst for this, according to documented evidence provided by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and other scientific organizations. Despite this compiled evidence, he said that public opinion remains split on the topic, with 53% blaming human activities for warming and 41% blaming naturally occurring environmental changes.