Scientific Literacy Does Not Increase Concern Over Climate Change; Now Go Shout About It


A new study by the Cultural Cognition Project, a team headed up by Yale law professor Dan Kahan, shows that people who are more science- and math-literate tend to be more skeptical about the consequences of climate change. Increased scientific literacy also leads to higher polarization on climate-change issues:

The conventional explanation for controversy over climate change emphasizes impediments to public understanding: Limited popular knowledge of science, the inability of ordinary citizens to assess technical information, and the resulting widespread use of unreliable cognitive heuristics to assess risk. A large survey of U.S. adults (N = 1540) found little support for this account. On the whole, the most scientifically literate and numerate subjects were slightly less likely, not more, to see climate change as a serious threat than the least scientifically literate and numerate ones. More importantly, greater scientific literacy and numeracy were associated with greater cultural polarization: Respondents predisposed by their values to dismiss climate change evidence became more dismissive, and those predisposed by their values to credit such evidence more concerned, as science literacy and numeracy increased. We suggest that this evidence reflects a conflict between two levels of rationality: The individual level, which is characterized by citizens’ effective use of their knowledge and reasoning capacities to form risk perceptions that express their cultural commitments; and the collective level, which is characterized by citizens’ failure to converge on the best available scientific evidence on how to promote their common welfare. Dispelling this, “tragedy of the risk-perception commons,” we argue, should be understood as the central aim of the science of science communication.

 ADDENDUM: See our Freakonomics Radio podcast on this topic.

Mike B

I have noticed that people who are more math and science literate are simply able to come up with better excuses on why the problem should be ignored. Mostly it is along the lines of "the climate is changing, but there are uncertainties on the causation (insert some scientific or statistical factoids they read somewhere online) THEREFORE we shouldn't bother trying to curb CO2 emissions.

The fact that every person who follows this argument lasers in on how the whole CO2 reduction campaign is a giant waste of time completely highlights their bias. They aren't focused on the science or the real problems accosted with climate change, they simply don't want to give up/pay more for their energy.

In all honesty I find the less scientific arguments to be the most persuasive. We have a closed system and year after year we are burning up billions of tones of carbon and sticking it in the atmosphere. Once people get past the whole "Humans can't hurt God's creation" hangup this is a very persuasive argument. Once people are able to go out and find scientific "alternate explanations" that will latch onto them because its a way out of having to confront some hard choices.

My main disappointment with this is that people put so much energy into denial instead of technical solutions to the problem like Geoengineering or economic solutions...just paying the costs of a changed climate. For this I blame the the ecomentalists who have for decades presented the solution as giving up our modern way of life to live in a yurt eating bean sprouts and bicycling to work every day. They have so scared the rest of the population that they will mentally do whatever it takes to avoid this distorted vision of a Carbon Neutral future.


Joshua Northey

"The fact that every person who follows this argument lasers in on how the whole CO2 reduction campaign is a giant waste of time completely highlights their bias. They aren’t focused on the science or the real problems accosted with climate change, they simply don’t want to give up/pay more for their energy. "

I don't think that is entirely fair. From a personal perspective:

I think that we will eventually decide we do want to warm the planet.
I am very skeptical about some of the proposed consequences of the warming.

Yet I don't think we should just be changing the atmosphere without thought and should get our emissions under control so that we can do things with intention and purpose instead of on accident.
I also think we need to get population growth under control, and stop being so focused on solving societal problems with economic growth (at least the type of growth that requires more and more energy/material/land).
I don't use an air conditioner or car unless absolutely necessary (for years I have biked 5-15 miles to work each day, kept the air conditioner at 80 and the heat at 64).
I am perfectly willing to pay 10 times as much for my electricity if it would mean none of it was produced by burning stuff (I am not going to do it unilaterally as that will change nothing and cost me a large amount of money).

So here is an example of someone who would supposedly has "bias" according to your position, yet is perfectly willing to adopt lifestyle changes that in my experience maybe <5% of the people in my class are willing to adopt.



The trouble with climate change is simply that we don't know what we don't know. Are human activities impacting phenomena like the greenhouse effect? To what extent? It's difficult to really see what is natural and what is caused by man. The same goes for efforts to reduce human impact on the environment, do these efforts really work? Or do they just make us feel better about ourselves for trying?

Fiona Hamer

I like the bathtub analogy.
If water is flowing into a tub and flowing out at roughly the same rate, give or take a few surges or blockages , it will remain at a similar level.
If you turn on an extra tap, no matter if it's just a trickle in comparison, the same tub will overflow eventually.
Human emissions are that extra trickle.


Very pity that he had so little information.

Harold Faulkner


People in the USA, are being told by the U.S. government and media that global warming is man-made. If that is true, how can the government and media explain the high temperatures the earth has experienced in past years when there were far fewer people? Let us look back in the world's history: for example, between roughly 900AD and 1350AD the temperatures were much higher than now. And, back then there were fewer people, no cars, no electric utilities, and no factories, etc. So what caused the earth's heat? Could it be a natural occurrence? The temperature graph at the bottom of this article shows the temperatures of the earth before Christ to 2040.

In the book THE DISCOVERERS published in February 1985 by Daniel J. Boorstin, beginning in chapter 28, it goes into detail about Eric the Red, the father of Lief Ericsson, and how he discovered an island covered in green grass.

In approximately 983AD, Eric the Red committed murder, and was banished from Iceland for three years. Eric the Red sailed 500 miles west from Iceland and discovered an island covered in GREEN grass, which he named Greenland. Greenland reminded Eric the Red of his native Norway because of the grass, game animals, and a sea full of fish. Even the air provided a harvest of birds. Eric the Red and his crew started laying out sites for farms and homesteads, as there was no sign of earlier human habitation.

When his banishment expired, Eric the Red returned to congested Iceland to gather Viking settlers. In 986, Eric the Red set sail with an emigrant fleet of twenty-five ships carrying men, women, and domestic animals. Unfortunately, only fourteen ships survived the stormy passage, which carried about four-hundred-fifty immigrants plus the farm animals. The immigrants settled on the southern-west tip and up the western coast of Greenland.

After the year 1200AD, the Earth’s and Greenland’s climate grew colder; ice started building up on the southern tip of Greenland. Before the end of 1300AD, the Viking settlements were just a memory. You can find the above by searching Google. One link is:

The following quote you can also read about why there is global warming. This is from the book EINSTEIN’S UNIVERSE, Page 63, written by Nigel Calder in 1972, and updated in 1982.

"The reckoning of planetary motions is a venerable science. Nowadays it tells us, for example, how gravity causes the ice to advance or retreat on the Earth during the ice ages. The gravity of the Moon and (to a lesser extent) of the Sun makes the Earth's axis swivel around like a tilted spinning top. Other planets of the Solar System, especially Jupiter, Mars and Venus, influence the Earth's tilt and the shape of its orbit, in a more-or-less cyclic fashion, with significant effects on the intensity of sunshine falling on different regions of the Earth during the various seasons. Every so often a fortunate attitude and orbit of the Earth combine to drench the ice sheets in sunshine as at the end of the most recent ice age, about ten thousand years ago. But now our relatively benign interglacial is coming to an end, as gravity continues to toy with our planet."

The above points out that the universe is too huge and the earth is too small for the earth’s population to have any effect on the earth’s temperature. The earth’s temperature is a function of the sun’s temperature and the effects from the many massive planets in the universe, i.e., “The gravity of the Moon and (to a lesser extent) of the Sun makes the Earth's axis swivel around like a tilted spinning top. Other planets of the Solar System, especially Jupiter, Mars and Venus, influence the Earth's tilt and the shape of its orbit, in a more-or-less cyclic fashion, with significant effects on the intensity of sunshine falling on different regions of the Earth during the various seasons.”

Read below about carbon dioxide, which we need in order to exist. You can find the article below at:


Of the 186 billion tons of carbon from CO2 that enter earth's atmosphere each year from all sources, only 6 billion tons are from human activity. Approximately 90 billion tons come from biologic activity in earth's oceans and another 90 billion tons from such sources as volcanoes and decaying land plants.

At 380 parts per million CO2 is a minor constituent of earth's atmosphere--less than 4/100ths of 1% of all gases present. Compared to former geologic times, earth's current atmosphere is CO2- impoverished.

CO2 is odorless, colorless, and tasteless. Plants absorb CO2 and emit oxygen as a waste product. Humans and animals breathe oxygen and emit CO2 as a waste product. Carbon dioxide is a nutrient, not a pollutant, and all life-- plants and animals alike-- benefit from more of it. All life on earth is carbon-based and CO2 is an essential ingredient. When plant-growers want to stimulate plant growth, they introduce more carbon dioxide.

CO2 that goes into the atmosphere does not stay there, but continuously recycled by terrestrial plant life and earth's oceans-- the great retirement home for most terrestrial carbon dioxide.

If we are in a global warming crisis today, even the most aggressive and costly proposals for limiting industrial carbon dioxide emissions and all other government proposals and taxes would have a negligible effect on global climate!

The government is lying, trying to use global warming to limit, and tax its citizens through “cap and trade” and other tax schemes for the government’s benefit. We, the people cannot allow this to happen.

A temperature graph normally goes here that shows the Earth's Temperature from -2400 to guesses in +2400.

If the Earth's temperature graph is not shown above, you can see this temperature graph at the link:


Fiona Hamer

Once again, a long collection of unrelated or incorrect "facts" leading to a false conclusion. The Medieval Warm Period was not warm all over the globe (as now). A few areas were as warm as current (local) temperatures but most were not. The fact that climate has varied in the past does not mean that current changes are free of human causation.
I think this is a perfect example of the original premise, that people with some scientific literacy may use the information they find to reinforce their own existing beliefs.
There are, however, increasing quantities of really useful information out there.


Woefully late to the party (bad Freak, reading the book so long after release), but I was really disappointed that the earlier theme of "I don't know" was not addressed.

The question of "How much risk do you believe climate change poses to human health, safety, or prosperity?" is not readily answered. I'd go so far as to say it's a bad question and a big part of the reason people ignore the issue. Credibility of those making claims on either side is questionable. How much risk over what time frame? In my lifetime: none. In 5 generations: maybe up the middle. At some point long in the future: critical. Adjunct question: can anything we do make a significant impact? I don't know. What I do know is a 10% reduction in what humans generate won't matter, and though we should continue to influence, America putting themselves at a serious economic disadvantage to cut at best 25% while China adds 10 times that amount makes no sense. Not to mention consideration of the next country to modernize.