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Facts can convince conservatives about global warming – sometimes

Posted on 7 August 2014 by dana1981

While there’s a 97% consensus among climate science experts and their research that humans are causing climate change, only about 67% of Americans believe global warming is even happening, including 25% of Tea Party members and 61% of other Republicans. Only about half of Americans realize that humans are causing global warming.

Social scientists have been investigating this disconnect between the evidence and expert consensus, and public opinion. Is it caused by information deficit and misinformation surplus, political and ideological biases, or some combination of these factors?

There’s one school of thought among social scientists that information just doesn’t matter – in fact, it might even be polarizing. In essence, liberals feel as though they’re on Team ‘global warming is a problem caused by humans’ while conservatives identify with Team ‘no it’s not.’ Some social scientists believe this cultural identity is so strong that scientific evidence, facts, and information can’t break through it. A 2012 study led by Yale’s Dan Kahan seemed to support this idea, finding that conservatives who are more scientifically literate are less worried about global warming.

However, that study looked at general science literacy. A new paper led by Sophie Guy, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, looks at climate-specific knowledge and ideology. The authors conducted a survey of a national sample of 335 Australians and tested their climate knowledge by asking them to correctly identify factors that are and aren’t causing the rise in atmospheric greenhouse gases (for example, deforestation, automobiles, pesticides, and ozone depletion). They also asked participants, “How much do you feel you know about climate change?,” about their climate-related beliefs, and their ideology. The authors concluded,

...[climate] knowledge dampened the negative influence of individualist ideology on belief in climate change.

Individualists favor small government and self-sufficiency, in line with the libertarian wing of the Republican Party. Individualists were less likely than communitarians (those who think interdependence is an important part of society, i.e. “it takes a village”) to believe that climate change is happening. However, individualists with high climate-specific knowledge were significantly more likely to accept the climate is changing than those with low climate knowledge.

Interaction between specific knowledge and individualism on belief that climate change is occurring. Interaction between specific knowledge and individualism on belief that climate change is occurring. Photograph: European Journal of Social Psychology, Guy et al. (2014)

Communitarians were equally likely to accept that climate change is happening regardless of their level of climate-specific knowledge, because the facts mesh with their ideology.

In another interesting result, perceived climate knowledge made hierarchists (those who favor distinct socioeconomic classes – closely related to the ‘religious right’ in the USA) more likely to reject that humans are causing global warming. This may explain Kahan’s results, because those who have solid general scientific literacy may have an inflated perception of their understanding of climate science.

Thus, scientifically literate hierarchists may be more likely to let their biases influence their opinions on the causes of global warming because they have an inflated perception of their understanding the underlying science. This may also explain why we so frequently hear from engineers, geologists, and physicists who are skeptical of human-caused global warming despite lacking expertise in climate science. Because of their scientific backgrounds, they may have an inflated sense of their understanding about climate science, and thus draw incorrect conclusions that conform to their ideological biases.

There are two pieces of good news in this new study indicating that information does make a difference and climate education isn’t a lost cause.

Click here to read the rest

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Comments 1 to 19:

  1. The "Communitarian" "Individualist" split of the sample may be missing key factors that could significantly affect a person's attitude toward investigating and interpreting infromation regarding this issue.

    More applicable differentiatiors would be:

    - "Desiring the development of a better future for others" vs. "Desiring a better present for themselves". Communitarians can be tribal and not care about others or the future. Individualists can recognise the benefit they obtained from others who cared about the future they contributed to developing through their individual actions.

    - "Accepting that something profitable or propular is justified by its popularity ot profitability" vs. "Understanding that profiatbility is increased by the amount of unacceptable activity that can be gotten away with due to popular support, unwitting or aware, for the unacceptable activity". Again, communitarians and Individualists could develop either attitude.

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  2. I have found when dealing with deniers that talking with them helps, and I mean talking as oppossed to writing back and forth in e-mails or blogs. Also, not being afraid to back them into corners helps. Leave them no room for escape in a non confrontational way. Most people can be got at. It also helps to anticipate what they are going to say, so that you have ready proof to show them. Know what you are talking about.

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  3. The problem is that people tend to generalize and put everyone who disagrees into one box. The climate is always and has always changed.   There is no"normal". Am I a "denier" Doug if I think the climate would be warming even if humans were not adding any CO2?  What about if I think CO2 concentration is only a small part of the complex system that drives temperature?  There are too many aspects to the argument to label everyone who disagrees with one aspect. ... a denier. 

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  4. Donny, here's one unofficial answer to your questions. You might be a denier if:

    • You suggest that natural variations in climate represent a reason not to worry about human-caused climate variations.
    • You point out that climate is and always has been changing without examining the rate of such changes and why the rate of change is important.
    • You state that "CO2 concentration is only a small part of the complex system that drives temperature" as if this information is new to climate scientists and is not incorporated into their models.

    My personal experience in this field suggests one other indication that you're a denier:

    • You probably are a denier if you pose the above claims in a manner that gives you an escape if these claims are shot down: "I was only asking questions!"

    Of course, maybe you're really not a denier, and so this doesn't apply to you. But if that's the case, you might want to modify your rhetorical style a bit. Being upfront about what you're arguing for, what you think you know, and where your information comes from is a good way to avoid unfairly being labeled as a "denier".

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  5. In addition to the points by NowhereMan,

    A denier will also try to claim that the benefit that a portion of the current generation of humanity would have to give up to reduce the impacts on future generations is worth more than the potential consequences that will be faced by the future generations.

    This type of 'economic evaluation' is obvious nonsense because it is the same as saying it is OK for a person to benefit from an activity that is likely to create consequences that are only faced by their neighbour. Yet it is done by many who attempt to justify the unacceptable activity they wish to have expand or be prolonged. And the worst of them deliberately overstate the case in favour of the current day trouble-makers and deliberately understate the future consequences. Some even go as far as to claim that what hapopens in the future is less important than what happens today, using Net-Present-Value discounting of future costs.

    In addition, there is the presumption that the economy they want, full of unsustainable activity, will magically continue to grow like it did in the past making the future so much wealthier. That is more clear nonsense because none of the actions of today's developed economy they want to prolong or expand will produce any lasting benefit into the future.

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  6. Donny, if you have formed those opinions without expert command of the scientific arguments against them, then you are a denier.  On a complex issue like climate, encompassing as it does all of the natural sciences, a genuine skeptic who is not himself a specialist will acknowledge that there are actual experts, who know more about the subject than he does. A skeptical but self-aware non-expert will reserve judgement at least until he knows what the real experts think.

    A genuine skeptic also recognizes that some experts are more credible than others.  One who is scientifically meta-literate knows that the US National Academy of Sciences collectively represents as high a level of expertise as any scientific body in the world.  This is not the argument from authority, it's the argument that unless you've put the time in to become an authority yourself, what's good enough for the NAS ought to be good enough for you.

    The NAS and the Royal Society of the UK have jointly published a 36-page booklet titled "Climate Change: Evidence and Causes":

    The booklet, aimed at an educated lay audience, addresses 20 common questions about anthropogenic climate change including yours, with answers drawn from the combined expertise of two of the world's most respected scientific societies.  You don't need to accept their conclusions with full certainty, but rejecting them without showing the world why they're wrong makes you a denier.


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  7. I agree with Mal. Even if you left it at "I think Global Warming is happening and a problem because the best global warming scientists (In the NAS) think it is a problem." that still would not be an argument from authority. An argument from authority only applies if the authority is not an expert on that subject matter, the claim is outside their field, there is no agreement within the field, the person is significantly biased, the area is not a legitimate discipline, or we don't identify the authority.

    I don't think anyone is about to tell you that they don't have to worry about their cancer because believing their doctor is relying on an argument from authority.

    TLDR, relying on expert opinions is not an argument from authority.

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  8. Look up "followership" on wikipedia. Under "Followeship Patterns" there are five descriptions of types of followers. Have a look at #5.

    "5. The Star Followers: These exemplary individuals are positive, active and independent thinkers. Star followers will not blindly accept the decisions or the actions of a leader until they have evaluated them completely. Furthermore, these types of followers can succeed without the presence of a leader."

    The last sentence indicates that a star follower is actually leadership material.

    Now, ideally all scientists would fit this description. However, how many people have the time, money, persistance or for that matter the intelligence to truely fit the description of a "Star Follower" when it comes to climate change. More often than not, one scientific paper depends on another that has already been written to back it up. Yet there are highly quallified scientists who attempt to fit the star follower description and have come to the conclusion that AGW theory is seriously flawed. I dare say many people put them in a group as deniers.

    Most likely the majority of people fit #'s 1,2,3 and 4 follower descriptions. (Typical society %'s next to all 5 types would be helpful.)

    So then, what percentage of the 97% concensus on climate change are, or truely attempt to be a "Star Follower"? Indeed should society pick their leaders due to a high % of followers in a scientific consensus?

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] It is customary for commenters on this website to provide links to materials being cited in a post. Please do so in your future posts. 

  9. carbtheory:

    I'm not really sure why we should find your line of thinking compelling.

    Can you clarify? Are you suggesting that we should suspect the results of the research of tens of thousands of scientists over 150 years because of a very recent, and (charitably) modestly-supported foray into some aspect of personality?

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  10. carbtheory...  What you're presenting doesn't seem at all relevant since the 97% is not based on anyone following anyone. The 97% (at least relative to Cook et al) is a measure of the results of research. It's conclusions based on data and research.

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  11. Donny said... "Am I a "denier" Doug if I think the climate would be warming even if humans were not adding any CO2?"

    In a word: Yes. 

    You have to understand that scientists have researched that exactly possibility to exhaustion. The overwhelming conclusion is that, over the past 50 years, in absence of human carbon emissions, the earth would be experiencing a mild cooling.

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  12. Carbtheory.  It is a scientist's job to critically evaluate evidence in support of propositions.  They are hired and promoted largely based on the ability to do just that.  So it is not that much of a stretch to believe that many of them do in fact have the time to evaluate evidence thoroughly, especially in their specialty.  

    As for those denying the consensus, they would seem to fall just as easily into category 4 of your system — The alienated.  Frankly, Im not sure that label is constructive either.  Contrary voices play an important role in science generally, even though they are most often wrong — it's just that in this case those voices are amplified to such a degree that the general consensus among climate scientists is not apparent to the general public. 

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  13. Donny, you really, really need to become more aware of the nature of the climate system.  Using short-term surface temperature trends to make fundamental statements about the theory of anthropogenic global warming is analogous to writing a restaurant review after having had one bite of an appetizer and a glass of tap water.  

    Where is the bulk of the thermal capacity of the climate system?

    And you also really, really need to refer to the science, instead of doing this "I believe" and "maybe" thing.

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  14. I agree that our temperature data encompasses such a tiny snap shot of history that making huge claims is premature.  Looking at temperature trends since 1980.... 15 years would be about half that period. Not insignificant.   Do you know of a study that looks at unadjusted temperature data that encompasses more than just the US and Europe? And does so with consistent methods. ..??

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  15. Let me ask one more question of the accurate models. ... when will the surface temperatures begin to significantly rise again? What do they predict?   Also there are so many of them. ... which one should we believe? 

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Please put this question in the "Models are unreliable thread".  Any response here will be deleted.

  16. Donny, are you saying that you can make better scientific statements from temperature data that has not been adjusted for ToD, screen use, UHE, change of measuring site, etc? There are very good reasons why real studies adjust data. See "The temperature record is unreliable". Not to mention proxies like sealevel rise and ice loss.

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  17. Yes.

    Then when the graph shows a sudden dip like it should around 1960 because of the ToD change .... we can see it graphically.   It would take a certain amount of subjectivity out of the data. 

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  18. I have responded you in the proper place. Please also read the associated article and note the plot of unadjusted data.

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  19. I have also responded to your model question in the appropriate place.

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