Why do Americans claim to love science, but then selectively reject its findings when they’re inconvenient? And why do some cultural groups reject certain types of scientific findings (about, say, harm to the environment), whereas others reject others?
Yale law professor Dan Kahan is doing some of the most cutting edge work right now when it comes to figuring this out. Kahan is trying to resolve what he has called the “American Culture War of Fact,” by determining how it is that our core values-whether we are “individualists” or “communitarians,” “hierarchs” or “egalitarians”—can sometimes interfere with our perceptions of reality.
Most intriguingly—or, if you prefer, disturbingly—Kahan has found that deep-seated values even determine who we consider to be a scientific expert in the first place.
His results have very large implications for how to depolarize an array of scientific issues-and how to communicate about controversial science in general.
Dan Kahan is the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law at Yale Law School. In addition to risk perception, his areas of research include criminal law and evidence. He has served as a law clerk to Justice Thurgood Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court (1990-91) and to Judge Harry Edwards of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (1989-90).