Over the years we have considered several counterintuitive psychological conditions that cause citizens and politicians to act in ways others see as irrational:

and here is one more we think you will find interesting.  In 2014 Yale Law school professor known for cultural cognition theory, Dan Kahan, explains why smart people can be climate change deniers in the face of overwhelming evidence:

“…What people BELIEVE about global warming doesn’t reflect what they know; it EXPRESSES who they are.” SOURCE

Dan Kahan global warming human vs natural vs no change by political affilition 2013

In his new book ‘Do Something’, Canada’s Preston Manning quotes Kahan as saying:

“…’The principle reason people disagree about climate change science is not that it has been communicated to them in forms they cannot understand… Rather, it is that positions on climate change convey values… that device them along cultural (and political) lines’…

More particularly, the reason some right of center people deny the scientific evidence for climate change (is because) to accept such evidence would convey support for and allegiance to the values and positions of its political champions (in this case the environmental lobby and the Trudeau Liberals) whom then mistrust and dislike for a variety of reasons (many complete unrelated to climate change)…”  SOURCE PAGE 197

Manning goes on to point out that this factual blindness is not just a problem for the political right by reminding us that many left of center people willfully ignore or completely deny the scientific evidence that pipelines are the safest way to transport oil and that we will collectively need oil for decades to come, often because they dislike and mistrust conservatives.

As a result of Kahan’s research Manning explains that having scientific endeavors publicly supported by a politician will necessarily mean that their opponents will often take the opposing position.

trump no mask vs fauci mask

Certainly environmental science has been an enduring symbol of this good vs evil, us vs them, black vs white, polarized conversation we have all been participating in for the last few decades.  However, a more current example of what Kahan labeled ‘belief vs expression’ is wearing a mask in the time of COVID.  Well meaning, intelligent people are wrong on both sides of this argument as they have pushed each other to extremes:

  • On the right are (mostly) people who surely understand the effectiveness of wearing a mask but refuse to do so and, worse, vigorously encourage others not to.
  • On the left are (mostly) people who surely understand that wearing a mask while driving alone in your car or in very sparsely populated areas (i.e. after 7pm on a sidewalk in suburbia) has very little utility but will still call people out for not having one.

It is clear that former President Trump’s bold position on masks in the time of COVID forced many of his supporters to not wear face masks even though they knew better.

Poli-Sci students and commentators call this “Identity Politics” and you are either with us or against us.  Manning summarizes this unfortunate situation for science:

“…it is unwise to allow politicians to become the principle communicators and champions of your science in the public square.  Welcome interest group and political support, preferably on a cross-partisan basis, for your scientific investigations…” SOURCE PAGE 198

 


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