Please join the UF Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere this Wednesday evening at 5:30pm for the inaugural lecture of the 2013-14 speaker series "Civil" Society? On the Future Prospects of Meaningful Dialogue


Democracy and the Science Communication Environment

Dan Kahan (Yale University)

11 September 2013, 5:30 pm

Smathers Library (East), 1A

Promoting public comprehension of science is only one aim of the emerging "science of science communication" and is likely not the most important one for the well-being of a democratic society. Ordinary citizens form quadrillions of correct beliefs on matters that turn on complicated scientific principles they cannot even identify much less understand. The reason they fail to converge on beliefs consistent with scientific evidence on certain other consequential matters—from climate change to genetically modified foods to compulsory adolescent HPV vaccination—is not the failure of scientists or science communicators to speak clearly or the inability of ordinary citizens to understand what they are saying. Rather, the source of such conflict is the proliferation of antagonistic cultural meanings. When such associations become attached to particular facts that admit of scientific investigation, these meanings are a kind of pollution of the science communication environment that disables the faculties ordinary citizens use to reliably absorb collective knowledge from their everyday interactions. Understanding how this science communication environment works, fashioning procedures to prevent it from becoming contaminated with antagonistic meanings, and formulating effective interventions to detoxify it when protective strategies fail—those are the most critical functions science communication can perform in a democratic society.

Dan Kahan is the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology at Yale Law School. He is a member of the Cultural Cognition Project, an interdisciplinary team of scholars who use empirical methods to examine the impact of group values on perceptions of risk and and science communication. In studies funded by the National Science Foundation, Professor Kahan and his collaborators have investigated public disagreement over climate change, public reactions to emerging technologies, and conflicting public impressions of scientific consensus.  Articles featuring the Project’s studies have appeared in a variety of peer-reviewed scholarly journals including the Journal of Risk Research, Judgment and Decision Making, the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Nature Climate Change, and Nature.

This event is free and open to the public.

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This event is part of a series of six lectures organized by the UF Center for the Humanitise and the Public Sphere to examine the obstacles and opportunities for constructive public dialogue on pressing political issues. is sponsored by the Rothman Endowment at the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with co-sponsorship from the UF Libraries, Honors Program, Department of History, Department of English, Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, and the Office of Sustainability.

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