Shouldn’t science be able to resolve the climate change issue? Apparently not. And for anyone interested in the communication issues under the hood it is important to understand why raw intelligence cannot account for disagreements. Dan Kahan at Yale, working with Donald Braman, is on it, as featured in the Chronicle Review. They found that measuring individuals on an egalitarian-hierarchal and indvidualism-communitarian scales helped to create four possible “worldviews” that explain conflicting takes on a myriad of issues.
Senior legal scholars immediately objected, the start of a long line of smart people affronted by Kahan’s findings. Their protests boil down to a gut reaction: “This couldn’t possibly apply to me!” There are many exemplars of the genre, with The New York Times’s Paul Krugman providing an excellent case this year, skewing Kahan’s work to fit his belief that Democrats value science more than Republicans do. Few people can admit that they let their cultural values trump facts. Could you? “We get a lot from our communities,” Braman says. “They help us think through problems.” This was Douglas’s basic insight, and it explains why campaigners have spent decades arguing over cultural fault lines. The notion that truth can’t resolve a factual debate—it’s threatening.
Douglas, however, was also troubled, and evasive on what questions might elicit worldviews, a vagueness, Braman says, that also “allowed her to apply the theory to whatever she wanted.” Douglas (who died in 2007) told them she had not meant to describe fixed personality traits; to her, worldviews were fluid. At work, you may behave like a hierarchical individualist, but in your softball league, you may turn communitarian. The work is fine, she eventually told Kahan, but it’s not cultural theory as she intended it. They should get a new name.