Distinguished Lecture Series
The Distinguished Lecture Series brings eminent and influential guest speakers to Cardiff University and a wider audience to showcase their work.
The series has the specific objective of contributing to the establishment and consolidation of Cardiff's international reputation for academic impact.
Professor Dan Kahan
Democracy and the Science Communication Environment
Dan Kahan is the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology at Yale Law School. He 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 science communication.
Promoting public comprehension of science is only one aim of the emerging "science of science communication" and is likely *not* the most important one for the well-being of a democratic society. Ordinary citizens form quadrillions of correct beliefs on matters that turn on complicated scientific principles they cannot even identify much less understand. The reason they fail to converge on beliefs consistent with scientific evidence on certain other consequential matters—from climate change to genetically modified foods to compulsory adolescent HPV vaccination—is not the failure of scientists or science communicators to speak clearly or the inability of ordinary citizens to understand what they are saying. Rather, the source of such conflict is the proliferation of *antagonistic cultural meanings*.
When such associations become attached to particular facts that admit of scientific investigation, these meanings are a kind of pollution of the science communication environment that disables the faculties ordinary citizens use to reliably absorb collective knowledge from their everyday interactions. The quality of the *science communication environment* is thus just as critical for enlightened self-government as the quality of the natural environment is for the physical health and well-being of a society’s members.
Understanding how this science communication environment works, fashioning procedures to prevent it from becoming contaminated with antagonistic meanings, and formulating effective interventions to detoxify it when protective strategies fail—those are the most critical functions science communication can perform in a democratic society.