The Cultural Cognition of Climate Change

Last year, I posted on research by Dan Kahan’s “Cultural Cognition Project” which found, in effect, that increased political and social education is associated with increased political polarization. Contrary to conventional wisdom, where greater education should cause a convergence amongst political actors (as their greater factual knowledge reveals the “right” policy path), Kahan has consistently found the opposite — greater education and knowledge is typically deployed to buttress and entrench prior cultural narratives, deepening divides amongst political actors.

Kahan et al have now released a new paper verifying this finding in how people assess the risk of global climate change. Though most of the buzz is surrounding the “finding” that scientific-literacy has a slight negative correlation with believing that climate change is high-risk, for reasons I explain in this post that conclusion is actually of relatively little import and misses the bigger issues raised by the study (and Kahan’s project writ large) — namely, increased information as a harbinger of political polarization.