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Law Prof Has an Explanation for Differing Opinions on Climate Change

Posted Jul 25, 2012 6:00 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A law professor who studies risk and science communication cites a reason why people hold differing opinions of climate change: confirmation bias.

This bias is the tendency to pay attention to information that reinforces what we already believe and to discount evidence that would require us to change our minds, the New York Times reports. Yale law professor Dan Kahan says this bias helps explain diverging climate viewpoints.

Kahan and his fellow researchers have found that people with more hierarchical, individualistic worldviews realize that accepting climate science would lead to restraints on commerce—something they value—so they often dismiss evidence of risk, the Times says. Those with more egalitarian, community-oriented views, on the other hand, are suspicious of industry and more likely to believe it is causing global warming.

Kahan suggests that the bias might be overcome by the way solutions are framed. In another study, he found that individualists were more likely to believe the validity of a paper on the speed of climate change when they thought about the problem as a technological challenge rather than a regulatory problem.

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