Friday, August 17, 2012

We need to improve information literacy and group decision making!

Dan Kahan has an interesting article in Nature titled "Why we are poles apart on climate change". He suggests that for the common person there is not much benefit from believing scientists about climate change, but there may be a large cost in accepting a position on climate change that differs from that of ones friends, neighbors and colleagues. I recommend the article.

It occurs to me that we humans are social animals. I suppose we evolved to make decisions in groups, and there is a fair amount of research that suggests that we tend to make better decisions in groups than we do in isolation. It may be that groups that share preconceptions about climate change find it very hard to change those preconceptions due to new information, or due to representations by unknown people from outside of the group.

Clearly the scientific community shares wide agreement that human emission of greenhouse gases is driving climate change to dangerous levels. It also seems clear that there are well financed groups that want the public to deny anthropogenic climate change. I wonder if there is research on group decision making with preconceptions and with two outside sources of information with diametrically opposed messages and differing frequency of communications to the group.

I would guess that we need to improve the information literacy of the public. People should be better able to judge the credibility of sources of information. We should also teach people improved processes for group decision making. Small groups should become more willing to accept new ideas from highly credible sources and to reject ideas promoted by sources that are not credible.

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