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Cultural Worldviews and Lay Interpretations of Research Findings: The Role of the Scientific Consensus

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Science under Siege

Part of the book series: Cultural Sociology ((CULTSOC))


This chapter presents evidence of the role of cultural worldviews in lay interpretations of truth and falsity. Following in the footsteps of Douglas and Wildavsky (1982) it demonstrates firstly that ‘hierarchical individualists’ are less likely to believe in the actual occurrence of climate change than their ‘egalitarian’ and ‘communitarian’ counterparts. Using experimentally manipulated news reports about research findings that appear to contradict climate change, it then shows that ‘egalitarian communitarians’ do with both hands seize evidence that these findings may be compatible with the scientific consensus of actually occurring climate change after all. This means that not only the authority assigned to research findings, but even the interpretation of the scientific consensus within which these findings are launched, is informed by cultural worldviews.

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The authors would like to thank all the other contributors to this book for their valuable feedback on this chapter. We would also like to thank Julia B. Corbett and Jessica L. Durfee for answering our request to send us their original questionnaire.

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Correspondence to Paul Tromp .

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Appendix 1: News Reports About Climate Change (Offered to Respondents in Dutch)

Appendix 1: News Reports About Climate Change (Offered to Respondents in Dutch)


Please read this as you would any news article.

West Antarctic Ice Sheet Thickening, Scientists Say

by John Middleton, Associated Press

A study published today in the journal Science has found that parts of the ice sheet in Antarctica, the frozen continent that straddles the South Pole, are getting thicker rather than thinner. Using satellite-based radar technology, the study found that instead of losing about 21 billion tons of ice a year, west Antarctica is accumulating nearly 27 billion tons of ice a year. These new findings cast doubt on the speed with which global warming might be felt in the reaches of the southern hemisphere.

Conducting the research were Dr. Ian Tulland and Dr. Stanley Barton from [INFORMATION SOURCE TREATMENT]. Their flow measurements for the Ross ice streams indicate that movement of some of the ice streams has slowed or halted, allowing the ice to thicken. The scientists say their study could indicate a reversal of a long-term trend in glacier shrinkage. ‘The ice sheet has been retreating for the last few thousand years, but we think the end of this retreat has come,’ said Tulland.



The Tulland-Barton study of the West Antarctic ice sheet was featured at the latest meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, a gathering of scientists across the U. S. but attended by scientists worldwide.


However, not all scientists agree with the ice-thickening assessment. Dr. Lee Weaver, a chief scientist from the University of Cambridge, said, ‘The preponderance of scientific data simply does not support their hypothesis.’ Weaver has found instances of rapid ice thinning in Antarctica, a likely result of temperatures that have been rising sharply over the past 50 years on the continent due to global warming. Weaver called Tulland and Barton’s research noteworthy, but expressed concern over their use of a relatively unproven computer modeling program. Over the past two decades, Weaver and Oxford University climatologist Arthur Hutchins have been monitoring temperatures and glacial ice using multiple data modeling programs. ‘There is enough water in the West Antarctic ice sheet to gradually raise sea levels a staggering 20 feet, so any changes in glacial ice are of great concern,’ Weaver said.


Although the world’s university scientists agree that the earth’s surface has warmed significantly, especially over the last several decades, there is a far more complicated picture of Antarctica’s weather and how global warming will materialize here. A 1991 study indicated that ice was thickening in parts of the continent, and another study found a cooling trend since the mid-1980s in Antarctica’s harsh desert valleys. However, other recent studies have noted a dramatic shrinkage in the continent’s three largest glaciers, losing as much as 150 feet of thickness in the last decade. While such individual research results seem contradictory, they cast doubt only on where and how soon global climate effects might be evident. At a major international meeting last fall, university scientists agreed that global warming is occurring and that human actions are contributing to the warming.

INFORMATION SOURCE TREATMENT: either ‘Harvard University’ or ‘Royal Dutch Shell.’

Note: Because news reports with either ‘controversy’ and/or ‘reconciliation’ end up being longer than those without either or both of these, Corbett and Durfee (2004, 138) decided to add ‘so called boilerplate material about the ice sheet and simple facts related to its size and formation’ so as to make these reports just as long as the other ones. We have not done so ourselves.

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Tromp, P., Achterberg, P. (2021). Cultural Worldviews and Lay Interpretations of Research Findings: The Role of the Scientific Consensus. In: Houtman, D., Aupers, S., Laermans, R. (eds) Science under Siege. Cultural Sociology. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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  • Print ISBN: 978-3-030-69648-1

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