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Cambridge University Science Magazine

A recent study, published in The Journal of Risk Research [1], proposes that our reaction to such issues depends on our cultural values. Various branches of scientific inquiry highlight potential risks to society. But our response to this scientific research is tempered by our moral outlook on life and our commitments to others, argues Professor Kahan of Yale University; peer pressure appears to play a role in our reaction to science! For example, those with a more egalitarian worldview are thought to be predisposed to be more accepting of the evidence for climate change. Furthermore, people were found to be more trusting of scientific experts whom they believed shared their cultural values.

Since public opinion goes on to influence policy-making, this break-down in communications could be a crucial missing link. For climate scientists in particular the implications are profound.

"Science needs better marketing to allow for more open-minded consideration of the information," says Professor Kahan. So how should scientists present their work? Professor Kahan advises using a diverse range of experts to vouch for good science and suggests presenting information in a manner that affirms rather than threatens people's values.

Clearly it's not so much what you say but how you say it.

Written by Tim Middleton