This is the conclusion of a new study issued today by researchers affiliated with the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School.
The study, 'Making Sense of - and Making Progress In - the American Culture War of Fact,' was funded by the National Science Foundation and reflects the results of surveys and experiments involving some 5,000 Americans.
Among the key findings in the study - Americans are culturally polarized on whether global warming poses a serious environmental risk and whether nuclear power should be used to reduce that risk.
'There is a culture war in America, but it’s not about what people normally think,' said Dan Kahan, the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law at Yale Law School and one of the study investigators. 'The vast majority of Americans agree government should avoid imposing one group’s cultural values on others. But people with different cultural outlooks strongly disagree with each other about societal risks and what to do about them….America has a culture war of facts, not values.
'People who place a high value on individual freedom tend to be skeptical about environmental risks,' Kahan said, 'because accepting such risks exist would imply government should restrict commerce, an activity people with such values like. People who value equality readily accept that commerce and industry are dangerous, precisely because they believe those activities create social inequality.'
The study also found that proposed policy solutions can influence reactions to information about climate change.
'Cultural individualists who are told that nuclear power will reduce greenhouse gas emissions are more likely to accept that global warming is caused by humans and is a serious threat than those who are told that restrictive anti-pollution regulations are necessary,' said Kahan.
'The reason is that anti-pollution regulations threaten the values of people who like commerce, whereas nuclear power strikes those same people as a good idea.'
Said Kahan, 'Nuclear power makes individualists see green.'
The Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School is an interdisciplinary team of scholars from Yale Law School, the University of Washington, The George Washington University School of Law, the University of Oregon and Decision Research.
Project research is supported by the National Science Foundation, the Oscar M. Ruebhausen Fund at Yale Law School and the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.