The Jacob Marschak Interdisciplinary Colloquium on Mathematics in the Behavioral Sciences at UCLA

"The Tragedy of the Science-Communication Commons" presented by Dan Kahan, Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law and Psychology, Yale University

Friday, March 08, 2013
1:00 PM - 3:00 PM
2343 Public Affairs Building

Host: Susanne Lohmann, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, UCLA

Lunch 11:45 pm – 12:45 pm UCLA Faculty Center — RSVP to
Talk 1-­‐3 pm 2343 Public Affairs Building (Luskin School) — no RSVP required

From  climate  change  to the HPV  vaccine  to gun control,  public  controversy  over  the nature  of policy-­‐relevant science  is  today  a  conspicuous   feature  of  democratic   politics  in  America.  A  common  view  attributes   this phenomenon to the public’s limited comprehension of science, and to their resulting vulnerability to manipulation by  economically  motivated  purveyors  of  misinformation.  In  my  talk,  I  will  offer  an  alternative  account.  The problem, I will suggest, is not a deficit in rationality but a conflict between what’s rational at the individual and collective levels: ordinary members of the public face strong incentives—social,  psychological, and economic—to conform their personal beliefs about societal risk to the positions that predominate within their cultural groups; yet  when  members  of  diverse  cultural  groups  all  form  their  perceptions  of  risk  in  this  fashion,  democratic institutions  are  less  likely  to  converge  on  scientifically  informed  policies  essential  to  the  welfare  of  all.  I  will discuss  empirical  evidence  that  supports  this  analysis—and  that  suggests  potential  strategies  for  securing  the collective good associated with a science communication environment free of the conflict between knowing what is known and being who we are. 

Dan Kahan 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 related facts. Funded by the National Science  Foundation,  the  Project  has  investigated  public  disagreement  over  climate  change,  public  reactions  to emerging technologies, and conflicting public impressions of scientific consensus. The Project’s research has been featured in Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, the Journal of Risk Research, Nature Nanotechnology, and Nature. 

The Jacob Marschak Interdisciplinary Colloquium on Mathematics in the Behavioral Sciences was founded 50 years ago by Jacob Marschak, a pioneer in the economics of information.  It is directed by Susanne Lohmann (Political Science and Public Policy) in collaboration with Sally Blower (Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences), Louis Gomez (Education), Martie Haselton (Communication Studies and Psychology), and Mark Kleiman (Public Policy). Michael Intriligator (Economics, Political Science, and Public Policy) is Honorary Lifetime Director.