Year of grant:

Research Area:
Mentan og samfelag

Project type:

Project title:
Science as a Political Battlefield: How Cultural and Political Values Shape Peaple´s Attitudes to Science

Grant number:

Project manager:
Heini í Skorini

Søgu- og samfelagsdeildin

Project period:

Total budget:

Grant from the FRC in DKK:

Project description:
Summary In 2016, the word ”post-truth” was awarded Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionaries. That same year, The Economist launched a special edition under the headline “ Art of the Lie: Post-Truth Politics in the Age of Social Media”, and numerous best-selling books have been publiched with titles and subtitles such as Factfulness, The War on Science, The Death og Truth and How to Think Critically in the Post-Truth Era. In 2017, the March of Science movement was launched in the US and has spread across the west, including in Scandinavia. As these examples demonstrate, age-old questions of thuth versus falsehood, fact versus fiction and enlightenment versus ignorance have – within a reatively short period of time - become one of the most debated and topical issues both in the media and within the narrower circles of academia. Some studies direct their attention towards the effects of social media. Fake news, “alternative facts” and the new digital infrastructure, but this research project will address different and more fundamental questions: what factors shape peaple´s attitudes to science in general and decision-relevant scientific issues in particular? What cognitive mechanisms shape our decisions on what information to belive and what to reject? Is there any significant correlation between attitudes to science and political, economic, cultural or religious values? Why is there such a conspicuous gap between popular opinion and expert views on certain scientific issues such as climate change, Darwinian evolution and certain vaccines? How should democracy resolve tensions between the best available scientific knowledge and popular attitudes? And how should democracy accommodate pluralism and facilitate deep rooted cultural conflicts while simultaneously preserving the ideal of informed decision-marking and rational policy-making which makes use of scientific expertise when addressing collective political challenges? Empirical work in the interface between cognitive psychology and electoral behavior has documented important mechanisms that are likely to drive public skepticism against issues, especially issues likely to trigger political and cultural controversy. According to this interdisciplinary research tradition, we humans are strongly inclined seek information whish confirms our pre-existing worldview while rejecting or ignoring information which challenges our identity and pre-existing views (identity-protective cognition). These cognitive mechanism lead to biased information processing (confirmation bias), and we are inclined to reject the best available knowledge while uncritically accepting misleading claims about the wourd. This project will carry out new research on identity-protective cognition, confirmation bias, ideological group thinking and poltitcal tribalism in a tiny democratic Scandinavian welfare state, the Faroe Islands. The first phase of the project will cillect quantitative data in order to examine what factors shape popular attitudes to science in general and controversial scientific issues in particular. The second phase of the project will discuss these findings in the context of democratic theory and practical philosophy. On the one extreme, we have Plato´s old ideal of rule by the experts with no room for democratic debate and dissent, as the public is too ignorant (epistocracy). On the other extreme, we have the rule of the popular will without any rule for science and without any commitment to outmoded concepts such as truth, facts, science and knowledge. All facts can be superseded by alternative facts, and when scientific data does not confirm pre-existing political or cultural views, they can always be brushed away as fake news or supercilious elitism. The project will examine issues of great importance for every democracy, namely the level of conflict and cultural polarization, the role of science in political decision-making and great democratic challenge to accommodate disagreement while maintaining the ideal of informed decision-making in order to reach the best political solutions for everybody.

Project status:
Fer í gongd

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