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October 9th, 2007
The Culture War on Facts
The new study also reports the results of the Project's first survey in 2004. That survey focused on how cultural values shaped how people feel about the risks of new technologies about which they know little, in this case, nanotechnology. Some 80 percent of the subjects surveyed had previously not heard much about nanotechnology. As part of the survey, a subset of 300 subjects was given identical factual statements about the risks and benefits of nanotechnology.
Unfortunately, more factual information about nanotechnology led to more polarization on its risks and benefits. The study found that after reading the factual information that "egalitarians and communitarians were significantly more concerned with risks of nanotechnology relative to its benefits than were hierarchs and individualists." Why? Because of "biased assimilation." This is the predisposition of people to selectively notice and credit information that affirms their values. "When this dynamic is at work, individuals of diverse values don't converge but instead polarize when exposed to a common body of information on some disputed factual issue," say the researchers.
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