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How to Change Your Mind About Climate Change

Posted on 7 February 2018 by David Kirtley

What causes someone to change their mind about climate change? It is no secret that climate change is a highly polarized subject with some people accepting what climate scientists tell us, and others who think those scientists are only in it for the money, or that the globe isn't really warming, or that, if it is warming, it's nothing to worry about. But occasionally, some people change their minds and move from "doubtful" or "dismissive" about climate change to "concerned" and "alarmed". What moved these people? Was it a particular argument or a specific graph? Was it because of a sudden "aha!" moment when the light bulb flashed and all of climate science made sense, or was it something else?

Over the past several years there have been a number of reports from some of these "converts" explaining how they changed their minds. This post looks at some of these accounts with the goal of discovering what led these people to change their minds. This is by no means an exhaustive list. If you know of other examples not seen here please add to the list in the comments section.

Two Scientists - "Total turnaround"

Scientists are naturally, and appropriately, skeptical. They ask questions about how the world works; and when they find answers they ask further questions about those answers, always striving to get to better explanations of the natural world. So it is no surprise that scientists would turn their skeptical eyes to anthropogenic climate change (AGW).

Kasra Hassani was a scientist working in microbiology and immunology who had a  skeptical view of climate science. At first he thought there were more immediate problems facing humankind than climate change. For a time, he toyed with conspiracy theories about AGW (thanks to Michael Crichton's State of Fear), but more and more evidence for climate change forced him to face reality:

I created a list of every question and doubt I had about the physics, chemistry, biology, economics and politics of climate change, and I started reading. I took online courses. I listened to podcasts. Every myth in my head popped and floated away.

Hassani also said,

No singular bit of evidence unequivocally proved to me that humans were responsible for climate change, which makes sense if you're a science nut like me. Science works on multiple proofs. One experiment or piece of evidence supports a theory, it doesn’t prove anything.

Over time, as different researchers gather more evidence, a theory becomes refined and a more acceptable explanation for natural phenomena. It also took time because I was never astonished by a piece of evidence or a big news story; when you are in denial, evidence is unlikely to change your mind. On the contrary, it might persuade you to cover your ears and pretend you're not listening.

Hassani realized that denial was the easier answer. The real effort was in recognizing his own biases, and seeing that his own strong-held beliefs and stubbornness went beyond a healthy skepticism:

No human is free of bias. There could be certain social, political and even personal circumstances that would stiffen a thought or belief in one's mind. It takes effort try to identify our biases and rid ourselves of them, or at least be conscious of them. But it's definitely worth it.

Richard Muller is a physics professor at the University of California, Berkeley who looked critically at certain climate studies and identified problems with global temperature records which, for him, "threw doubt on the very existence of global warming". So, like a good scientist, he looked at the data with fresh eyes and created the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) Project  to see if global warming was really occurring. Long story, short: BEST verified what other climate scientists already knew--the globe is warming and human CO2 emissions are the cause. (Here is a short video of Muller explaining his work.)

Muller credits his "total turnaround" to "careful and objective analysis". But was his former skepticism "healthy" or "unfounded"? Perhaps there is a fine line here, but another scientist, James Powell, sees Muller's skepticism as arrogance:

I think that we could learn from the case study that Muller did is that he should have trusted the other scientists and the peer review process which had produced the data that he was questioning.

But good science should be replicable, and in this case, Muller's work strengthened the prevailing science. So, whether his skepticism was healthy or bordered on denial, it eventually led Muller (and all of us) to see more clearly the reality of AGW.

Three Meteorologists - "Something ain't right"

Climate is merely the average of weather over some time period, so meteorologists should have a keen interest in whether or not the climate is changing. But many meteorologists are quite dismissive of AGW. Minnesota weatherman, Paul Douglas, explains:

Some TV meteorologists, professionals who are skilled at predicting short-term weather, are still in denial. Why? Some don’t like being upstaged by climate scientists; we’ve all been burned by weather models, and some (mistakenly) apply the same suspicion to climate models. Others haven’t taken the time to dig into the climate science.

Douglas, a moderate Republican and conservative Christian, was skeptical like most of his colleagues:

My climate epiphany wasn’t overnight, and it had nothing to do with Al Gore. In the mid-90s I noticed gradual changes in the weather patterns floating over Minnesota. Curious, I began investigating climate science, and, over time, began to see the thumbprint of climate change, along with 97% of published, peer-reviewed PhD’s, who link a 40% spike in greenhouse gases with a warmer, stormier atmosphere.

Douglas recognized that AGW has become a political football: "'It’s all political' one local TV weather-friend told me recently. No, it’s science. But we’ve turned it into a political football, a bizarre litmus test for conservatism." But Douglas was able to ignore all of that and focus on what really mattered: the science.

Stu Ostro, a meteorologist with Accu-Weather and The Weather Channel, described himself as a "vehement skeptic…not only about a human role in global warming, but also the idea that there was anything unusual about any weather we had been seeing."

He elaborates further:

I am a meteorologist, not a climate scientist. I hadn't ever read any peer-reviewed scientific literature on climate change. Why bother? I was busy forecasting the weather, didn't have much spare time, and anyway all this global warming business was bunkum.

But, while forecasting the weather, Ostro began to notice "that something ain't right." The weather patterns he was used to were changing. He collected example after example after example of changes in the weather which point to a changing climate. His change from skeptic to acceptance of AGW didn't happen overnight: 

Let me be clear: the change from hard-core skeptic to my current way of thinking was not a sudden, reactionary thing based on a single warm day! It was a looong journey, based on trying to assimilate all the information I could.

That has included being more "plugged in" to the climate science community during the time since Dr. [Heidi] Cullen came to TWC [The Weather Channel] and having an increased awareness of the different perspectives that climatologists bring.

Ostro was the very definition of healthy skepticism:

I come to my own objective conclusions, and that will never change. Skepticism is a fundamental part of the scientific process, and healthy when in that vein. I continue to look at data with a skeptical eye. However, skepticism is not constructive when it becomes overwhelming and results in being closed-minded and only seeing what you want to see.

Greg Fishel has been a broadcast meteorologist in Raleigh, North Carolina for his whole career. He, too, was dismissive about AGW, but he said, "little by little and over a period of several years, I began to wonder if I was being fair and objective in my assessment of global warming."

In 2005 he realized he had to give AGW an unbiased look:

I woke up one morning convinced of my own confirmation bias. I felt I’d abandoned my work as a scientist to be an ideologue...
I didn’t change my mind about global warming that day. Instead, I committed to talking with scientists who were actually involved in research and who published peer-reviewed literature in respected scientific journals. I also read many of those papers...
My argument that global warming had nothing to do with human activity was, I realized, an argument I would lose in the scientific court of law.

Fishel decided to change when he realized that his former skepticism was biased because of his political views. When he looked at climate science with an open mind, he realized that "tribal loyalty has no place in science".

Two Political Commentators - "Defeated by facts"

In 2010, Massachusetts-based, conservative journalist D. R. Tucker was dismissive of AGW, saying: "It was my firm belief that the science was unsettled, that any movement associated with Al Gore and Van Jones couldn’t possibly be trusted, that environmentalists were simply left-wing, anti-capitalist kooks." But, after reading a book which had informed him that the Republican party had once had environmental and conservationist concerns, he "was curious as to how the political climate shifted with regard to environmentalism—and whether there was something to all this talk about climate change."

A friend challenged him to read the then-current Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report (AR4), which Tucker did:

Initially I was a bit skeptical. But I kept on reading it, and there was just so much evidence, and it was so detailed, and it was so backed up, and it was so documented, that I was like, 'holy shit, this is for real.'

Tucker put it simply, "I was defeated by facts".

Jerry Taylor was the resident climate change "skeptic" at the libertarian think-tank Cato Institute, who "used to write skeptic talking points for a living". He often appeared on television and radio news programs for the "skeptic" side in the climate change "debate". On one such program he went up against Joe Romm, a physicist and blogger at ClimateProgress. Taylor describes the encounter:

On air, I said that, back in 1988, when climate scientist James Hansen testified in front of the Senate, he predicted we’d see a tremendous amount of warming. I argued it’d been more than a decade and we could now see by looking at the temperature record that he wasn’t accurate. After we got done with the program... Joe said to me, “Did you even read that testimony you’ve just talked about?” And when I told him it had been a while, he said “I’m daring you to go back and double check this.” He told me that some of Hansen’s projections were spot on. So I went back to my office and I re-read Hanson’s testimony. And Joe was correct. So then I talked to the climate skeptics who had made this argument to me, and it turns out they had done so with full knowledge they were being misleading.

After that, I began to do more of that due diligence, and the more I did, the more I found that variations on this story kept arising again and again. Either the ["skeptic"] explanations for findings were dodgy, sketchy or misleading or the underlying science didn’t hold up.

Taylor gradually saw that his previous talking points about climate science were rubbish. With an open mind, he looked further at his economic and policy arguments against action on climate change and they too crumbled.

When asked what works to change conservative Republican's minds about climate, Taylor said:

[T]alking about the science in a dispassionate, reasonable, non-screedy, calm, careful way is powerful, because a lot of these people have no idea that a lot of the things they’re trafficking in are either the sheerest nonsense or utterly disingenuous.

What Can Change Your Mind?

There is an excellent interview of Jerry Taylor in a podcast put out by Reckonings and Enquiring Minds. At the end of the podcast the hosts are discussing the fascinating story of Taylor's "conversion" and one of the hosts, Stevie Lepp, says, "Jerry Taylor really is this rare bird whose mind was changed by information."

But, how rare is Taylor's case? All of the cases presented here rely heavily on an open-minded look at accurate information about climate change. In the examples described here, we have seen people who were able to look beyond their ideological filters and look just at the science in an open minded, non-biased way. These few examples of people who have changed their minds about climate change show how central "the science" is to their "conversions".

Perhaps I just chose examples which illustrate this point. Fair enough. There are other reasons why people may change their minds. And sometimes people have multiple reasons for accepting the reality of AGW.

In a recent Reddit conversation the question was put out: "Former climate deniers, what changed your mind?" Karin Kirk*, at Yale Climate Connections, analyzed the responses and found that "science" was the number one reason people gave for changing their minds (47%). The second most popular reason people gave was "stewardship" of the Earth (29%), and the third was the changing weather (21%). The fourth reason (17%) is related to the first: the credibility of science deniers' arguments. Kirk noted, "An interesting sentiment among the commenters was that climate science deniers’ attempts to discredit climate science often had the opposite effect." The poor quality of scientific arguments used by science deniers, as Jerry Taylor discovered, leads many to look more closely at valid scientific arguments, which further leads them to see how solid the science behind AGW really is. (For more on the poor quality of "skeptic" research see Lewandowsky et al. 2016 and Benestad et al. 2015.)

One reason Stevie Lepp (the host of the Reckonings podcast) thought that it was rare for people to be swayed by information is because often factual information can "backfire". Some people are adept at using "motivated reasoning" when they hear inconvenient facts which might seem to threaten their worldviews. Rather than correcting misinformation or misunderstandings about science, these facts "backfire" and strengthen the misinformed views of the motivated reasoner. For this reason, climate science communicators often avoid using an "information deficit model" when describing climate change. The information deficit model of communication assumes that if someone has a lack of knowledge or is misinformed on some topic then simply giving them the proper information should be enough to correct the misunderstanding. This simple model breaks down because people use motivated reasoning, and when confronted with inconvenient facts the information backfires.

Overcoming the Backfire Effect with an Open Mind

There have been many studies looking at the "backfire effect" and "motivated reasoning", but there have also been studies which find that these effects may not be as strong as once thought. (Also see Stephen Lewandowsky's post on some of this new research.) Indeed, the people we have seen in this post show that sometimes the information deficit model works, especially when self-administered. With an open mind, it is possible to short-circuit one's biases and motivated reasoning, and just use logical reasoning. With this type of critical thinking facts do not backfire.

Climate change is fundamentally a scientific topic. Earth's climate system operates according to the laws of physics and chemistry. The Sun emits a certain amount of energy, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere absorbs and emits certain wavelengths of infrared radiation, etc. These and so many other known facts about the natural world converge to give us a coherent view of how the climate system works. None of this has anything to do with whether someone is liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat. Before any human concerns about climate change can be addressed (such as carbon taxes, what types of energy sources to use, or what international agreements we should agree to, etc.), we have to know and understand how the natural world works. And that understanding exists whether we do anything about climate change or not. It is entirely independent of any human concerns.

The examples of climate change "converts" seen in this post all realized that to get a true understanding of climate change they had to set aside their motivated reasoning and take an open-minded look at climate science. And when they do so with a truly unbiased mind they have no choice but to be "defeated by the facts".

A few final notes--the "backfire effect", "motivated reasoning" and the drawbacks of the "information deficit model" are all valid points to remember about the pitfalls of science communication. Sometimes facts don't matter. But, in the case studies shown in this post, something more than merely communicating science facts person to person (or blog post, etc. to person) is going on. Each one of these cases was highly self-motivated to confront their prior beliefs open-mindedly and they all did the necessary "homework" to grapple with the science underpinning AGW.

Also, I purposefully titled this post "How to Change Your Mind About Climate Change" rather than something like "How to Change Other People's Minds..." because I think this type of "conversion" is fundamentally a self-directed enterprise. Too often, as climate science communicators, we worry about exactly how to massage or frame our statements just the right way, striving to avoid backfire effects in our readers. Yes, this is important, but, ultimately the onus is on the reader to approach the topic with an open mind and with the desire to actually learn from past misunderstandings. The old saw is true: "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink".

*Karin Kirk talks about her analysis in this short radio program. She also has a number of relevant articles at Yale Climate Connections:

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Comments 1 to 32:

  1. I don't have a lot of hope most deniers will ever change their minds. Many of them know the science as well as I do, quite a few better in fact.  Yet they cling to their current world view.  This effect is well documented in Shankar Vedantum's book "The Hidden Brain"

    The Hidden Brain - Amazon

    You see the same effect with respect to vaccines, where people will acknowledge what the science says, but still insist vaccines are dangerous.  Deniers are clinging to the hope we will soon see a significant cooling trend, when, like the proverbial hypochondriac, they can respond with "See I told you I was right!"

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  2. Michael Shermer is a psychologist, and author of Skeptic and The Moral Arc, both interesting books. From his book he was apparently a climate sceptic and general environmental sceptic, because of the overly negative failed predictions of the book Limits to Growth. But this was an early book based on a lot of huge approximations of resources.

    However Shermer  changed his mind, and accepted agw climate change and other environmental problems were real, after  reading various popular books by Tim Flannery, Jared Diamond,  and seeing Al Gores presentation on agw science. He cited Gore as a significant influence.

    So Al Gore converted at least one sceptic! And Shermer was converted by old fashioned factual information, and making the effort to read a few books, and there are great books out there.

    John Key, the moderately conservative leader of one of our political parties, became a convert to AGW after seeing a graph of the last 70 years plotting solar irradiance against temperatures, and it was clear to him that solar irradiance was mostly flat in recent decades, so is obviously not a driving factor. He is a currency trader, and so possibly very data orientated.

    This was something that also convinced me agw was real, because the sun is obviously such a powerful possible alternative theory. However not everyone relates to graphical information, and data on watts / sq m and things like this. 

    So some sceptics do change their minds simply through looking at the facts. They seem to be less strongly influenced by motivated reasoning and confirmation bias.

    And there seem to be many different paths to how they decide agw is real because different people seem to connect with different aspects. For this reason as a general rule presentations on climate change might be best to include a mixture of human interest, natural world material, and more abstract material on ocean processes and graphical trends.

    I do however agree with Knaugle that a certain group of deniers are very intransigent. They might never be convinced, even if sea levels rose 20 metres, or perhaps only then. I think the reason is that there are an overwhelming number of political, ideological and psychological issues combining together with this group. It's an additive thing. It's not just one thing.

    No doubt the denialists look at both sides of the debate, but see only what they want to see. They get very invested in a position, or strongly tied to the influence of a peer group,  and then its hard for them to back down, and pride wont let them admit they were wrong.

    We all know that shifting political beliefs can be difficult. However most people also have some desire to know the truth, and understand that science is about getting at the truth.


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  3. the other notable one is Bob Inglis a republican politician who features in the film Merchants of Doubt

    He was swayed when he went to Antartica and looked at the Ice Cores

    where Shermer also talks about his initial doubts - and metions the tribal nature of climate denia - in that you buy into a "package of beliefs"

    This a subject that fascinates me - and one one science blog i visit ( - dedicated to debunking Chemtrail nonsense amongts other things), there is a thread called "A view from the rabbit hole" which documents peoples conversions from all sorts of conspiracy theories - and it is fantastic, and in some instances quite moving how they find a way out.

    it also has good threads on the backfire effect - and science communcation in general

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  4. Metabunk sounds excellent.

    Scientific American also has a really nice magazine size publication "The Science Behind the Debates" Collectors edition, Volume 26, no 5, Winter 2015 / 2018. It might be on their website, but I'm older generation and buy the paper copy,

    It deals with the philosophical issues, post truth, climate change, vaccines, the gun debate in America, food and diets, ge food, evolution and creationism. And it does it really well.

    One of the problems with conspiracy theories and 'alternative' science theories is theres sometimes a "grain of truth" in some of them. It takes a lot of mental and emotional discipline to work out which conspiracy theories are nonsense, which might make sense, and what might be really going on.

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  5. Sorry I hit submit by accident before finishing that. I wanted to add conspiracy theories intrigue me, and also the package of associated philosophical beliefs that the conspiracy theory believers have, which often seems to include a belief in multiple conspiracies, and a deep suspicion of government and academic elites, and law enforcement.

    Of course we all have some of that scepticim of authority, or should have, but I have slowly realised it goes incredibly deep in some people, and is a total guiding force in their lives. Tinfoil hats anyone?

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  6. @ Nigelj

    yes metabunk is a very good and informative blog - it has a very strict "politness policy" that does keep threads on topic and free of adhoms (which i am gulity of as much as anyone)

    but you make a great point about "a grain of truth"  - absolutly, from the conspiracy memes of "the twin towers fell straight down" - err yes that is simply gravity

    to "the climate has always changed" err yes no one says it has not

    they are used because they are powerful and represent a "truth" that is hard to refute and to apoint self evident

    aka - the NWO conspiriacy, a conspiracy that says a small cabal of [jewish] shadowy bankers conspire to rule the world

    well sort of...... the rich are powerful, it is sort of a benefit of being rich after all 

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  7. Tadaaa @6

    Yes agreed.

    Gravity caused the twin towers to fall straight down - but also buildings are deliberately designed to fall straight down in a certain way. In fact they are designed to withstand being hit by aircraft, but there were design issues in the twin towers steel structure and fire proofing systems that caused a weakness.

    Most conspiracy theories are rubbish of course, particularly the sorts we are talking about. But you do get conspiracies where corporates collude to fix prices, and it has been suggested America knew Pearl Harbour was coming, and I believe official  data has confirmed that relaeased in recent years. So there are grains of truth. 

    The trouble is the really silly conspiracy theories are hard to refute, because its hard to complely prove a conspiracy theory wrong. Refuting them is like wrestling with jelly as follows:

    However people should ask themselves how things like a climate change conspiracy starting with Arrhenius in 1895, and involving thousands of scientists and  of officials, would keep secret. It just wouldn't. If you have more than ten people, things leak like a sieve, just look at the White House.

    The NWO / jewish /  illuminati thing has been debunked hundreds of times. But in terms of a grain of truth, the Bilderberg group does meet secretly,  but largely to consume caviar and pontificate on policy as people do. So who really cares.

    People need to look at these conspiracies with their healthy sceptics arsenal of analytical tools.

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  8. I actually came to the "climate debate" (in 2011ish) a bit of a sceptic tbh (although i knew nothing the science) but it was Potholer54's debunking/demolition of Monkton (and his video series) that really hit me. In particular it was the “trace gas” meme they trotted out, because when you sit down and think about it just contains no actual science – it is simply nonsense, yet it seemed a tenet of faith to people like Monkton et al.

    That really made me just trust the science, not in a blind way but simply a belief in peer review science as a way to gaining knowledge – it is not perfect, but the best we have. (Actually the concept of “perfection” is a recurring conspiracy theorist meme - the theorise that because we do not have a perfect record of an “event” – well it must be “fishy” – it is similar to the “because we don’t know everything we know nothing” the AGW deniers use about climate science

    And you are right about the fact that conspiracies do occur – we know that because we have evidence, Watergate et al, but the evidence CT provide simply does not pass the smell test

    Actually "climategate" is a good example – when you look at it with a debunker’s mentality and apply the null hypothesis i.e. if you expose the email conversations of the “movers and shakers” of any worldwide company or organisation (political or not), would you find disagreements and rudeness as in the climategate expose

    Err yes you would – and probably a lot more, the emails did not reveal anything you would not find if you had hacked into the top brass of the Sony Corporation – and if the one or two they highlighted was the best they could find!!!! It actually shows that the science is robust and agreements very few

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  9. I started out believing in agw climate change, then went through a brief sceptical period after seeing some sceptical movie, can't remember the name, then went back to believing in the mainstream position after looking more closely at all sides of the issue. It wasn't one thing that convinced me really, although understanding solar trends was important.

    Moncton drives me insane, but is presumably quite well educated. Its a mystery to me whether he really believes the "insignificant trace gas" theory, or it's just deliberate stupidity, or maybe hes just talked himself into it.

    But there are just so many obvious examples of very small quantities having profound impacts, such as certain toxins, and semiconductor physics. But it appears a lot of people struggle with this concept.

    Yes peer reviewed science is not perfect, but nobody has a better alternative as you say. Individuals and governments must go with the mainstream, weight of peer reviewed evidence, even if it sometimes turns out to be wrong, which is not actually very often. The only alternative is gut instincts and conspiracy theories, which will be wrong a great deal more of the time. Anyway, the climate issue has been researched in vastly more depth than most scientific issues, like for example the saturated fats issue where a lot of reliance was put on a couple of poor quality, ancient studies.

    I agree about climategate. Private emails from other organisations would probably be much the same or worse. In fact, what surprised me about climategate is how little of substance was revealed. It actually convinced me more that scientists could be trusted. 

    But it all hinged around the "hide the decline" email. This looked really bad from the general publics point of view, and has set things back in terms of winning over the public. I knew roughly what was meant by that, and it as a legitimate technical term, not meaning literally manipulate the evidence, but the general public would not know, and trying to then explain "after the event" sounds defensive and like a convenient excuse, even although it isn't. Someone in politics said that "explaining is losing". Of course this is a rash generalisation and not literally true, but you would understand his point.

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  10. knaugle @1 Funny you should mention The Hidden Brain, my wife is a big fan of Vedantum's podcast and is currently reading that book. I might have to read it next.

    Tadaaa @3 I agree with nigel, Metabunk looks very interesting.

    I originally had included Bob Inglis in this blogpost but I felt it was getting a bit too long so I edited him out. Here is a good Yale360 interview with him. As you noted, he too was persuaded by evidence (ice core info from Antarctica) but another thing which moved him was his voters, specifically the voters in his own family! Perhaps there's some hope in that fact: politicians do have to answer to their voters, and ideally they should listen to their constituents, so that gives us some "power" to influence them. Although in reality that power is pretty "soft" when compared to the power which their major donors have over them (for example, the Koch brothers).

    Another example which didn't make the cut is Dave Titley, former US Navy Admiral. Peter Sinclair has a good video of him describing his "conversion" .

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  11. Powell is appealing to authority. As a geologist he should know that befoe Wallace's and Darwin's papers were read the almost 100% view by the experts in the field (eg Owen) was that biological species do not change. His comments on Muller were completely unfounded and do not reflect history.

    By definition not a single revoltionary thought eg from Darwin, Galileo, Bohr and Einstein have always come by disagreemt with the consensus.

    "One of the great commandments of science is "Mistrust arguments from authorty". Too many such arguments have proved painfully wrong" - Sagan

    One Muller is worth 98 Powells 

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  12. sorry typo please delete "not a single " and replace with "every"

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  13. Alchemyst @11

    Obviously a "consensus" is not 100% proof of an idea. However a consensus has considerable value, and  is more likely to be correct that the ravings of some ignoramus with limited intelligence in the local drinking house. Its also more likely to be correct than dozens of eccentric alternative theories. 

    Your Einsten example is a poor example. Everyone in physics knew that Newtons laws didn't explain everything, and that change was coming.

    I think it  comes down more to politics. Do governments look at the consensus, or the views of some eccentric when deciding policy? I think they have to go with the consensus. Perhaps there are exceptional circumstances otherwise sometimes, but there are none to suggest they should ignore the agw consensus. 

    A consensus also gives the general public an indication of what the majority of scientists are thinking, and this is necessary. One of the great frustrations in the climate debate is deceptive propoganda planted by climate denialists suggesting there is no consensus, or something like a 50 / 50  split. For this reason alone its important to highlight that a consensus exists. People are entitled to know the staus of things at least. 

    I personally think Muller is slightly more towards the healthy sceptic end of the spectrum, and was at least prepared to back himself. But lets face it, 90% of the scepticism directed at agw climate change is irrational, misleading, barking mad denialism.

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  14. nigelj

    Not "everyone in physics". von Jolly, who's main claim to fame was that he was Max Plank's professor is quoted as advising his student against physics as "in this field [physics] everything is already discovered, and all that remains is to fill a few holes"

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  15. There are major genetic constraints to critical thinking on topics like climate change. For 17 years starting in 1995, I tried to reason with a group of very conservative American foresters in an Internet discussion group called SAFNews that morphed into ForestryFocus. They argued that we have no significant environmental problems at all and that global warming was a hoax. I had assumed that climate change was real, but the conviction of this group took me aback. For about four years, I would look up their sources, and became convinced they were all wrong. Evidence that I would present on anthropogenic global warming only seemed to strengthen their conviction that it was a hoax. I am a very strong liberal and I had never med people like this. I found it very difficult to accept that one could not find a way to reason with these people. I tried every tactic I could think of. After 17 years of trying, I finally came to conclude that they were sincere in their belief and there was no way to change that.

    Then, about two years after giving up, I read “The Republican Brain” by Chris Mooney, and it explained what I had just experienced. The book summarizes peer reviewed research that found that there is a strong genetic influence on our political orientations and that strong conservatives are incapable of thinking rationally/critically/logically about issues that conflict with their conservative beliefs. Conservatives recognize correctly that if global warming were true, then, not only does it necessitate a role for government to intervene in the economy, but, horror of horrors, all the governments in the world need to collaborate together to solve the problem. So therefore, it can’t be true and global warming is a hoax. And the most incredible research finding of all is that it is the best educated conservatives who are the least capable of thinking critically about things that conflict with their beliefs. And there is no equivalence on the liberal side – it is the best educated liberals who are the most capable of thinking critically about things that disagree with their political beliefs.

    More recently, I read the book “Our Political Nature” by evolutionary anthropologist Avi Tuschman. It argues that our genes are responsible for just over half of our political orientations and it goes into what scientists believe the evolutionary selective factors were for our political orientations. Conservatives are genetically predisposed to be more xenophobic, have greater religiosity, to be more repressive of women’s rights, to be less concerned about fairness than liberals and to have a darker view towards human nature. One can clearly see this being played out on the national stage today.
    Roy Hagen

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  16. chapeaured @15

    I think you are exactly right in all of that, and thank's for posting some detail on it. Here's some more published research on a genetic basis for liberalism and conservatism that I was reading some weeks ago.

    Having said that, while genetics  predisposes some people to xenophobia for example, the vast majority of people in my country including conservatives appear to have now become pretty supportive of multi cultural immigation. There has been a change in attitude over time with at least some conservatives, perhaps partly because they have seen these people are largely well behaved, self reliant, and largely hard working, values they admire. There is however a smaller group of conservatives who remain bitterly and totally opposed to "foreigners", and no evidence shifts their view.

    But the bottom line is we have to at least try to convince people of various things. The way to change attitudes is normally to find common ground and build on that, however this appears to have broken down in America recently. It hasn't however broken down in every country.

    However blaming conseratives or  liberals as a group for whatever problem will cause people to become defensive and even more entrenched and tribal. I think the focus still has to be on criticising a particular behaviour or faulty reasoning, even although this is hard going. But I'm interested if anyone disagrees, or has a better idea.

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  17. If you stick to thinking "naturally", then yes, we are all extremely prone to motivated reasoning  (scientists included) to support value-based predispistions based on upbringing and genetics. If that was the end of the story, science wouldnt exist. However, the practice of science (if not necessarily every scientist) has evolved to counter-act this problem. The critical thinking approach is at least an approach which a self-aware thinker can use to reduce their biases. If you ask most people whether they think a position should be determined by data or values, they will reply that of course their position is based on data (even if that turns out to be deceptive blog posts). If they are  honest and open enough (and any encounter with flat-earth society will make you realize that not everyone is) then they might be induced to try a more disciplined approach to evaluating a position.

    Broadly speaking, I think you can change a person's mind but not a person's values. Demanding that the only way to solve a problem is doing something deeply offensive to their value system and identity is going to be completely counter-productive. I think a lot of environmental activism has got mixed in with left-wing political positions to the detriment of the environment. If people are going to admit that climate change is problem that is solvable by humans, then there needs to be strategies that work that dont involve an end to capitalism.

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  18. In my liturgically conservative parish, famously liberal in everything else, deniers are very few. A dozen-or-so years ago, this was not the case. I have discretely investigated what got people to change their minds. Overwhelmingly, it has simply been seeing that among the more intellectual parishioners (there are three big universities in the area; the parish has a disproportionately large number of professors… and chefs), there was no climate denialism whatever. I should add that very few if any of the people thus "converted" were passionate deniers. Indeed, the passionate deniers continue to deny at least as passionately as ever. (Fortunately, their presence lacks the persuasive presence of the intellectual elite.)

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  19. Perhaps changing peoples thinking ultimately changes their values, over time.

    "If people are going to admit that climate change is problem that is solvable by humans, then there needs to be strategies that work that dont involve an end to capitalism."

    Yes to that and for numerous reasons. If the world holds a conference on how to reform capitalism, my prediction is we will still be debating it in 50 years, exactly too long to be of any use in fixing the climate problem. And conservatives will blow a huge fuse.

    Capitalism will evolve and change anyway. ("Incrementally" of course). It always has, and didn't come as a complete package fully worked out at some point in history. 

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  20. Here is another interview with Jerry Taylor in this podcast: Important, Not Important: Episode 3

    Alchemyst @11 - It seems to me that Powell is appealing more to the "authority" of the peer-reviewed science rather than to any particular scientist(s). The "appeal to authority" fallacy usually involves a claim that something is true because "Great scientist x" said so; not by pointing to a consensus of scientists and the wealth of data/theory that the consensus is based upon. A good example of this fallacy (or at least the thinking which it is based on) might be: "One Muller is worth 98 Powells". ;)

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  21. David Kirtley 3:55 am 14 feb

    "Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts

    "I never pay attention to anything by "experts" I calculate everything myself"    -Feynman

    And if it was good enough for Feynman it is good enough for me. I admire Muller for calculating it himself which I suspect that the overwhelming majority of the advocates of man made climate change have not.

    It then becomes an act of faith and that has been horribly wrong in the past. If you believe that you definately know the answers on a subject, then you do not not it well enough.

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  22. Alchemyst @21

    Richard Muller didn't do the calculations for the global temperature record himself. He was part of a large team of scientists called the BEST project as below.

    So this is not so different from other research teams, or even the IPCC in principle.

    I know thats not your point, and its good to check things yourself where possible. But its not always going to be possible, because some issues are too large. So we have to have faith in other people at some level I think. 

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  23. Alchemyst,

    I suppose you diagnose all your illnesses yourself instead of going to the doctor and fill your own cavaties also.  You build your own car and pilot the airplane whe you travel.

    What a stupid comment.

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Over the line.

  24. michael you are offensive.  

    Read the Feyman quotes. My opinion is that he was the greatest scintist of his era


    scientists were unable to replicate the results of 47 out of 53 papers that were seminal to launching drug-discovery programs. “This is a systemic problem built on current incentives,” he said according to Nature.


    In answer to your question regarding medics. I do not self diagnose but I always ask to see the test results and often  ask for a second opinion. I only fly in planes that have co-pilots. It's what is known as double contingency. The systems allow it for a very good reason as a bad decision can easily be fatal. As for a second shot at filling a cavity, on that, I gernerally think that once is enough, the pain ain't worth the gain.

    nigelj, you seem to give too much reverence and attribute too much power to the peer review system. It is better to have it than to have not. But it has limitations, in that  it does not guarantee 
    that the work is reproducible, or correct, see above. The reviewers check it for grammer, style, reasoning but not specifically that the results are correct and reproducible. see

    1/      I have personal experience of stopping an already peer reviewed  paper from an eminent scientist going to publication. The reasoning in the paper was correct. His results were not faked, but his conclusions had a mistake, which had only become apparent through supplemental work which we had performed at our own suggestion to strengthen his work. Upon hearing of our results he pulled the paper back.  But it was only by luck through that eminent scientist talking with my collegue that these supplemental tests were performed.

    2/ Peer reviewers are normally very busy and do not go to their labs and repeat the experiment, or in the case of climate reseach do not repeat the darting of polar bears or checking the thermometer readings.  However there should be sufficient information available so that another researcher can reproduce the results. Please read the next ref in it you will find how long a reviewer spends on a paper. the longest time in this unscientific sample was one day whilst the researcher may well have encompassed an entire PhD project of 900 days. It can hardly do merit to the original work.

    3/ Having shown you the weakness of the publish and peer review process, it is still better than nothing at all. However it does have a strength. It sets out a paper with a conclusion that can be confirmed or  denied by someone else skilled in the art.  In reality most papers end up in the journal and get read by the apocraphal 2 and a half other researchers on a wet thursday afternoon. But sometimes someone will take the effort to properly check out the paper, which is more likeley if the guy has a genuine interest or maybe does not like the author. It is only then do we have any idea if the paper was reproducible or just bad sciencce. I hope now that you and this website will realise that Muller did the correct thing

    please take the time to read these attachments and give me your opinion  

    ps from the accounts Bohr and Einstein were always disagreeing with each others papers and trying to find holes in them. Yet both men had a deep respect for each other (and both men went out to meet the young Feynman ) and that is how scientific knowledge progresses.  What I am seeing in the climate change argument is a lot of disagreement without respect.

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  25. Alchemyst @24

    Thank's for the links etc. Interesting.

    I didn't really refer to the peer review system as such. I'm just saying climate science generates a huge mountain of research, even on basic causation. It would be almost impossible for one individual to make sense of it all to see what it adds up to, and it seems only a large organisation like the IPCC or someone like the BEST organisation can do this as a team effort. And we see meta studies. None of this is ideal, but I'm mystified what the practical alternative would be.

    Likewise as MS says no one individual can be expert in everything in life. I like to think I am, but I'm just not!

    But regarding peer review. I have never been involved in this, but I was a quality assurance manager for a design company for a couple of years, so I know about reviewing things and writing QA systems.

    I think peer review is a very good system from my general knowledge, but its only really a means to maintain quality, and weed out obvious junk science and basic errors to declutter things. It doesn't mean every paper is guaranteed100% correct. I think the correctness can only be established by how the science community responds to published science over time, so its a quite drawn out subtle kind of process to me. But it basically works well.

    Of course peer review isn't perfect, and some absolute junk slips through the system sometimes. That is not good. But nothing is perfect. And it's expensive to purchase research. On the other hand, peer reeview has worked well enough for a long time, and you would need a significantly better alternative. Journals that make scientists pay are not too compelling, and this website did an article I think.

    The validation system is hard to understand, looks complicated, and like its subcontracting part of the process to some person, who in turn is validated by someone else? This looks like an expensive process, and is not going to be 100% proof something is correct. However it would provide a sort of chain of documents identifying strengths and problems in a rigorous, formalised way and this is a strength.

    The stealth syndromes project peer review reproducability... I think this is all good commentary.

    This makes obvious sense "For all those reasons, important decisions should not be based on a single study, but need to be made on the basis of a consensus of the overall body of trustworthy studies considered as a whole."

    Repoducability and easily available and full data and methods definitely needs much more emphasis.

    Stealth systems what is peer review? Churchill sums it up well. Again the criticisms of peer review make sense, and I certainly think the suggestions to improve peer review largely make sense, after a quick read.

    I wouldn't blame regulatory agencies too much. They are just people trying to do a job, and are governed by partisan politics, which is sometimes very hostile even to the idea of a regulatory agency. This probably warps things.

    Ultimately no checking procedure will be perfect but they can certainly be very good. I think it comes down to how studies stand up over time to wider scrutiny and more information, and also having multiple studies, especially of criticaly important science. For example, the risk of saturated fats seems to have been exaggerated to some extent, and was based on a small number of rather old papers apparently. The body of research on climate change is much larger and more recent.

    Yes the climate debate gets a bit personal at times unfortunately. Perhaps theres fault on both sides. However Michael Mann and other "warmists" have been viciously insulted and received death threats not so much from scientists, but from political groups etc. Anyone in his shoes would then get bad tempered sometimes, although he seems very affable. 

    I have my share of dark thoughts on certain people, and its also possible to be excessively polite, but I dont like debates that become highly abusive. It just becomes a shouting match.

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  26. Alchemyst,

    I was commenting in the same spirit as your post I was replying to.

    Medical papers are a special case where comanies with much money to gain have gamed the system.  Scientists have identified that there is a problem and are working on solving this problem.

    By contrast, all the money in climate is on the denier side.  Seminal papers have been reproduced many times.  Arrhenius 1896 paper is still in the IPCC range and he did his calculations with a pencil.  Many projections of temperature rise have been shown to be within the range of error after 30-50 years wile denier claims of flat ot cooling have been proved incorrect.  Review  the temperature comparisons here at SkS or at Realclimate.  Jacobson has hundreds of citations that get about the same result as he did on using renewable energy.  While there are undoubtedly errors in Jacobson's work, the replication of his work by so may others shows he was on the right path.

    The consensus of evidence is what shows us that Climate Theory is on the correct path.  Yout claim is false.

    I see that as I expected, you trust experts most of the time.  It is only when you do not like the result that you claim that they are always incorrect.  

    You inform no-one when you claim that peer reviewers do not re-do the papers they  review.  It is not their job.  They are supposed to provide a filter to remove errors but they are not expected to be perfect.  The good journels (like Science and Nature) do a pretty good job of removinng the chaff.  Lower quality jourals are not as good.

    Mann's hockey stick paper has been reproduced by other people using different data hundreds of times.  How much replication do you need?  Every global climate model (dozens of different models) makes a projection of future temperatures.  That is in addition to the papers that sepecifically address the climate sensitivity by other means like comparison to past temperatures. 

    Replication by obtaining the same result by a different path, as has been done repeatedly in climate science, is better than re-doig the experiment.    Your insistance on re-doing things over is rarely done.

    Your argument is incorrect.  Your claims do not withstand the slighest examination.  You should apologize to the hard working scientists you have insulted.

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  27. The main thing I think needs pointing out with respect to the skeptical/denial side, is that almost entirely all of their claims come from people, blogs, media and organizations with absolutely no science background what so ever, much less that of climatology.  Additionally, the science papers they criticize are based on cherry picked data or deliberate misrepresentations of what those papers actually show.  Also, I would have to ask these skeptics/deniers why is it that none of the non consensus climate scientists are taking any of the 97% consensus papers and showing "specifically" their mistakes?

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  28. As a professional engineer I was never opposed to climate science. I was less aware than I should have been, mainly because the socio-economic systems were not raising awareness of the issue.

    Increased awareness and understanding of climate science was natural for me as an engineer dedicated to constantly increasing my awareness and understanding of things related to my works as a civil and structural engineer. Regional extreme climate design conditions are the basis of much of the designs developed by civil and structural engineers. So the rapid pace of climate change potentially creating unanticipated climate conditions became a serious concern of mine.

    As I was becoming more aware of, and better understanding, climate science I was amazed to see others in my profession in Alberta being dismissive of climate science and even being angry at anyone who tried to increase proper awareness and understanding of climate science.

    That behaviour needed an explanation. I also have a MBA, and learned about the way that pursuers of wealth can develop damaging desires and try to justify them (usually wanting the items I was engineering to be cheaper and done quicker and not liking me pointing out the reasons they could not get what they wanted). It led me to wonder about the power of socio-economic situations on the way people think, and to date I have reached the following understanding, consistent with many other presentations of human behaviour.

    The socio-economic environment a person developed their ways of thinking in can challenge their ability or willingness to change their minds about climate science, or many other matters that they have a Private Interest in.

    A Developed Lack of Concern for Others or the Future of Humanity can be the result of a competitive socio-economic environment (a desire for the best possible personal Present any way that can be gotten away with). And that lack of concern can lead to unacceptable ways of deciding what is acceptable.

    People can be easily tempted to believe that acceptability should be determined by comparing personal (Private Interest) perceptions of joy/benefit to the perceived harm/detriment that actions cause, with the personal conclusion being that things are acceptable as long as the perceived personal joy/benefit obtained exceeds the assessment of harm done (as the person pursuing benefit sees it).

    And competition to appear to be better-off ruled by popularity and profitability, rather than competition to be understood to be most helpful ruled by Good Reason, develops more people who are more determined to believe that unacceptable way of determining the acceptability of attitudes and actions.

    And groups of people who share that unacceptable way of determining acceptability can be seen to gather together in opposition to any developing better understanding that contradicts their preferred, but understandably unacceptable, Private Interest beliefs.

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  29. Further thoughts related to my comment at 28.

    This issue could also be seen as a conflict between Teaching/Education and Indoctrination/Brainwashing.

    Teaching and education today is very different from the past. That is because, when performed properly teaching/education is updated as new awareness and more complete or more correct understanding develops.

    Attempts to maintain previous understandings can be seen as being the result of effective indoctrination/brainwashing rather than genuine educating that leaves the learner open to new learning, or as a result of personal resistance to new awareness and understanding (a self-imposed indoctrination/brainwashing).

    And new awareness and understanding that contradicts a perceived to be personally beneficial belief could even be challenged as being an attempt to indoctrinate/brainwash people (that could be how it is perceived by people with a motivation to hold onto beliefs that the new awareness and understanding contradicts).

    That would explain the high percentage of highly educated people in regions like Alberta choosing to disagree with the developed better awareness and understandings of climate science and arguing that 'they do not have to give up their potential for benefit just because of claims about the future developed by climate science', after all, they can vote in their preferred leaders and profit from the activity, so it must be justified.

    Regional socio-economics can result in indoctrination/brainwashing of many people including people who have completed high levels of education. To change their minds, they would have to admit they have allowed themselves to desire unacceptable things, admit their developed desired ways to pursue benefit are harmful to others, and admit that their perceived success/superiority relative to others is not deserved. Those can be powerful motivations to not change their minds.

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  30. I think a lot of this climate denialism is founded in political ideology, and fear of change, which goes deep in some people, along with fear of giving up even a little financial benefit for the sake of environmental goals. These attitudes are complex and partly learned and partly genetic, with plenty of science on this issue.

    However we just can't avoid change sometimes. We would all be better off if we let science guide us on matters of change, because its the most rigorous information we have. That would be the main thing.

    And everyone likes to make a profit. Renewable electricity is now profitable, and watch everyone eventually accept this and get on board, apart from the complete crazies.

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  31. Here's a good companion piece in today's NYTimes: How Six Americans Changed Their Minds about Global Warming.

    And Peter Sinclair has a new video about Jerry Taylor at Yale Climate Connections.

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  32. @nigelj

    "I agree about climategate. Private emails from other organisations would probably be much the same or worse. In fact, what surprised me about climategate is how little of substance was revealed. It actually convinced me more that scientists could be trusted. "

    100% spot on - and me too, you put it better than i did

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