Why do members of the public disagree - sharply and persistently - about facts on which expert scientists largely agree? We designed a study to test a distinctive explanation: the cultural cognition of scientific consensus. The "cultural cognition of risk" refers to the tendency of individuals to form risk perceptions that are congenial to their values. The study presents both correlational and experimental evidence confirming that cultural cognition shapes individuals' beliefs about the existence of scientific consensus, and the process by which they form such beliefs, relating to climate change, the disposal of nuclear wastes, and the effect of permitting concealed possession of handguns. The implications of this dynamic for science communication and public policy-making are discussed.
In this paper, we respond to the critiques presented by [Kahan, 2017]. Contrary to claims that the scientific consensus message did not significantly influence the key mediator and outcome variables in our model, we show that the experiment in [van der Linden et al., 2015] did in fact directly influence key beliefs about climate change. We also clarify that the Gateway Belief Model (GBM) is theoretically well-specified, empirically sound, and as hypothesized, the consensus message exerts a significant indirect influence on support for public action through the mediating variables. We support our conclusions with a large-scale replication.
Big thanks to Rick Davies ( ) for pointing us to this 50 minute presentation by Dan Kahan (Yale Law School) on cultural cognition and how it effects peoples perceptions of evidence. It is part of a wider body of work by The Cultural Cogition Project, also at the Yale Law School.
The scientific consensus that human activities are the primary driver of global climate change is now unequivocal. This consensus is found not only in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report , but also by several different studies, including surveys of experts  and comprehensive reviews of the peer-reviewed literature on climate change   . All of these methods converge on the same basic conclusion: at least 97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening .
Perceived expert consensus plays an important role in the formation of public attitudes towards and the acceptance of general scientific principles, including climate change [15, 16]. In fact, misperceptions of the scientific consensus can be highly consequential, as even a small amount of perceived scientific dissent can undermine public support . For example, a recent nationally representative study  found that the degree of perceived scientific agreement influences key beliefs about global warming, which in turn, drive public support for climate change policies. McCright, Dunlap & Xiao  successfully replicated these results in a recent independent study and similarly point to the robust role of perceived scientific agreement in generating public support for climate change policies.
This analysis draws upon results from a recent experiment that investigated how to effectively communicate the scientific consensus on climate change (full details of the experiment, sample and materials are available and described in van der Linden et al. ). The purpose of the experiment was to test the efficacy of different ways to communicate the consensus-message (e.g., descriptive text, a pie chart, metaphors etc.). In total, 11 different treatment conditions were administered. The experiment was conducted using an online national quota sample (N = 1104) obtained from a major vendor (Survey Sampling International). The study was approved by the Yale Institutional Review Boards for ethical research (Human Research Protection Program) and participants signed a consent form with the sampling company (SSI) through which they chose to participate. A descriptive overview of the sample characteristics is provided in Table 1.
We conducted a propensity weighted internet-panel survey of the U.S. population and show that conservatism and free-market worldview strongly predict rejection of climate science, in contrast to their weaker and opposing effects on acceptance of vaccinations. The two worldview variables do not predict opposition to GM. Conspiracist ideation, by contrast, predicts rejection of all three scientific propositions, albeit to greatly varying extents. Greater endorsement of a diverse set of conspiracy theories predicts opposition to GM foods, vaccinations, and climate science.
First, it is unknown how worldviews shape people's opinions about other controversial scientific issues, such as genetically-modified (GM) foods and childhood vaccinations, both of which have attracted considerable opposition. A better understanding of the role of worldview vis-á-vis those issues is important not only in its own right but also because it can triangulate the reasons why climate science has become so ideologically disputed. For example, if fear of government regulation of businesses were the sole factor underlying Conservatives' opposition to climate science , then one would expect them to embrace GM foods, like other new technologies , because of the associated business opportunities. If Conservatives were found to oppose GM foods, by contrast, this would point towards a more general opposition to science that transcends pragmatic considerations. Although media reports have implicated the political Left in the opposition to GM foods , , European surveys have variously associated GM-food rejection with the extreme political Right  as well as the political Left . We are not aware of any equivalent peer-reviewed research in the U.S. A similar ambiguity arises with respect to vaccinations. Media reports have ascribed an anti-vaccine stance to the political Left , largely based on the political leanings of spokespersons. By contrast, research has linked opposition to mandatory human-papillomavirus (HPV) immunizations against cervical cancer to free-market and individualistic worldviews , perhaps reflecting fears of government intrusion into parental sovereignty. Likewise, social conservatives have taken a contrarian stance because HPV is transmitted primarily through sexual contact, thereby associating vaccinations with potential promiscuity . To resolve these ambiguities, we examined the role of worldviews in determining the American public's attitudes towards GM foods and vaccinations using established measures of worldviews in a representative survey.
The prominence of conspiracist ideation in science rejection is not unexpected in light of its cognitive attributes: For example, if a scientific consensus cannot be accepted as the result of researchers converging independently on the same evidence-based view, then the belief in a scientific conspiracy can provide an alternative explanation for the consensus , , . Moreover, because conspiracist ideation need not conform to the criteria of consistency and coherence that characterize scientific reasoning , its explanatory reach is necessarily greater than that of competing (scientific) theories . Conspiracist ideation is also typically immune to falsification because contradictory evidence (e.g., climate scientists being exonerated of accusations) can be accommodated by broadening the scope of the conspiracy (exonerations are a whitewash), often with considerable creativity . Those cognitive attributes render conspiracist ideation ideally suited for the ongoing rejection of scientific evidence. Notwithstanding the growing prominence of conspiracist ideation in science denial, broad-based empirical data on its role are lacking. Our survey therefore also probed conspiracist ideation.
In summary, several attributes of the cognition underlying conspiracist ideation run counter to conventional scientific thinking. The prominence of conspiracist ideation in the rejection of science should therefore not be unexpected. Knowledge of its involvement is crucial to permit scientists and communicators to respond appropriately to the rejection of evidence by segments of the public.
In a survey of AMS members, perceived scientific consensus was the strongest predictor of views on global warming, followed by political ideology, climate science expertise, and perceived organizational conflict.
To better understand members' views about climate change and their perception of any remaining conf licts about climate change within AMS membership, the CICCC commissioned George Mason University researchers to survey AMS members; the top-line findings of that survey have been reported elsewhere (Maibach et al. 2012). In this paper, we report the results of two additional sets of analysis. First, to update previous research on the extent to which meteorologists are convinced of human-caused global warming, we conducted a modified replication of Doran and Zimmerman's (2009) study. Next, we tested four specific hypotheses about factors believed to influence meteorologists' views about climate change, specifically their level of certainty that climate change is occurring, their views on whether it is mostly human caused, and their views on how harmful or beneficial its results might be. The four hypothesized influencing factors are climate science expertise, political orientation, perceived scientific consensus, and perceived conflict about climate change within AMS; the specific hypotheses are presented and explained in detail below. Last, we analyzed open-ended responses from survey participants about the nature of the conflict about climate change within AMS; these findings will be reported in a subsequent paper.
H3: As compared with professionals who perceive less scientific consensus about global warming, professionals who perceive more scientific consensus will have higher levels of personal certainty that global warming is happening, will be more likely to be view it as mostly human caused, and will be more likely to view it as harmful rather than beneficial. 2b1af7f3a8