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Fake news is a threat to humanity, but scientists may have a solution

Posted on 27 December 2017 by dana1981

People are very good at finding ways to believe what we want to believe. Climate change is the perfect example – acceptance of climate science among Americans is strongly related to political ideology. This has exposed humanity’s potentially fatal flaw. Denying an existential threat threatens our existence.

But that’s exactly what many ideological conservatives doPartisan polarization over climate change has steadily grown over the past two decades. This change can largely be traced to the increasingly fractured and partisan media environment that has created an echo chamber in which people can wrap themselves in the comfort of “alternative facts” (a.k.a spin and lies) that affirm their worldviews. We’ve become too good at fooling ourselves into believing falsehoods, which has ushered in a dangerous “post-truth” era, with no better example than the subject of climate change.

In its December 2017 issue, the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition published a paper by Stephan Lewandowsky, Ullrich Ecker, and John Cook, along with an impressive 9 responses from other social scientists, essentially investigating how we can make truth great again.

The Fox Newsification of America

The December 2017 Alabama special election provided an excellent example of the problem at hand. Despite numerous allegations and evidence that Roy Moore pursued and in some cases sexually assaultedteenage girls while in this thirties, 71% of Alabama Republicans believed the allegations were false. Among those disbelieving Republicans, approximately 90% said that the media and Democrats were behind the allegations. As Donald Trump would put it, they believed the allegations were “fake news.” Similarly, 51% of Republicans still believe that Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

It’s understandable that an Alabama Republican would want to believe Roy Moore. We want our representatives to reflect our ideological worldviews. Motivated reasoning and confirmation bias kick in, and partisan media outlets like Breitbart and Fox News provide the material to affirm those biases.

We now have influential partisan media outlets that help people believe what they want to believe, irrespective of factual accuracy. Inconvenient facts are labeled “fake news” and disregarded. In a nutshell, we no longer inhabit a shared reality, and as a result, major problems are going unaddressed because a segment of Americans rejects inconvenient truths.

‘Technocognition’ proposed as the solution

To solve this dilemma, Lewandowsky and his colleagues propose what they call “technocognition,” which is described as:

the idea that we should use what we know about psychology to design technology in a way that minimizes the impact of misinformation. By improving how people communicate, they hope, we can improve the quality of the information shared.

The authors propose a number of ideas to help bring an end the post-truth era. One key idea involves the establishment of an international non-governmental organization that would create a rating system for disinformation. There are already some similar examples in existence – Climate Feedback consults climate scientists to rate the accuracy of media articles on climate change, and Snopes is a widely-respected fact checker. The challenge would of course be to convince conservatives to accept a neutral arbiter of facts, and continue accepting it when information they want to believe is ruled inaccurate.

These independent rulings could then be conveyed via technology. For example, Facebook could flag an article that’s based on false information as an unreliable source, and Google could give more weight in returning factually accurate news and information at the top of its search results lists.

The study authors also suggest that inoculation theory techniques could help dislodge misinformation after it first takes hold. This involves explaining the logical fallacy underpinning a myth. People don’t like being tricked, and research has shown that when they learn that an ideologically-friendly article has misinformed them by using fake experts, for example, they’re more likely to reject the misinformation.

The authors also encourage teaching people – particularly students – how to identify misinformation techniques and the other strategies used to create the partisan echo chamber. Younger Americans are already less susceptible to the conservative media bubble. The median age of primetime Fox News viewers is 68, and Alabamans under the age of 45 voted for Roy Moore’s opponent Doug Jones by a 23-point margin. Teaching them how to identify misinformation techniques will help inoculate younger Americans against the corrosive effects of the partisan media bubble.

The gorilla in the room – political corruption

However, in their follow-up paper addressing and summarizing the 9 responses to their original study, the authors note that technocognition faces one additional major obstacle:

This obstacle is the gorilla in the room: Policy making in the United States is largely independent of the public’s wishes but serves the interests of economic elites.

To illustrate this point, they plot data from a 2014 study by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page. The study concluded:

When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it…we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.

policy drivers

Data on correlations between public opinion/economic elites’ preferences and odds of a policy being implemented, from Gilens & Page (2014). Illustration: Lewandowski et al. (2017), Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition

The study found that while economic elites’ and business groups’ preferences often result in policy changes, public opinion has virtually no influence on policy outcomes. We see this all the time on issues from climate change to gun control, and in the recent examples of Obamacare (+12% approval but just one vote shy of Republican repeal) and the tax plan (-14% approval but passed by Republicans in Congress). This means it will be difficult to implement policies to shift us away from our current post-fact and post-truth world unless elites or interest groups or policymakers decide it’s in their best interest.

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Comments 1 to 45:

  1. Excellent article, with constructive suggestions.

    Alternative facts are a most unfortunate modern phenomenon. One can only despair at this unusual and corrosive development, coming mostly from The White House in a continuous affront to our sanity.

    The Age of Enlightemment in the 17th century was based on society sharing objective facts and especially scientific facts, and has led to huge scientific and economic progress. We are in real danger of reversing all this progress.

    'Alternative facts' and fake news are a response to a changing world seen as a threat, and IMO are also driven by putting beliefs and instincts above hard objective evidence. It all leads to yet more partisan divisions.

    Notice how despite Donald Trumps many hopeless policies and and his poor standard of personal conduct, how he still has a solid loyal base of supporters. An article I read in the NZ Herald (can't find the thing now) observed he maintains some level of support by falsely blaming 'scapegoats' for all the problems in society, including blaming the media, immigrants, or liberal elites. This inflames the public and their prejudices, and distracts attention from what Trump is actually doing so he gets away with it.

    All Trump's failings are labeled 'fake news' and blamed on the scapegoats. The Republican Party as a whole does much the same thing at times especially their media supporters like Fox. However more and more people are seeing that "the emperor has no clothes".

    The parisian divide in America is driven by complex social and political forces. One thing needs resolution fast: The debate on free trade versus protectionism. Better public understanding of this issue would go a long way to diffuse tension, and partisan divisions. Economic evidence favours free trade, and this needs to be highlighted. Of course it has to have rules, and countries have to abide by those rules. But my point is get the public agreed on a few simple economic basics and this will help unite people.

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  2. - social science still has much to contribute with climate science (and with science in general). But not in the way portraited in the article - as a technique to separate the truth from the lie. That is naive.

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  3. The authors propose a number of ideas to help bring an end the post-truth era. One key idea involves the establishment of an international non-governmental organization that would create a rating system for disinformation.

    Unfortunately this won't make an impact on the confirmatory bias that grips most Conservative's minds.

    Also, what happens when the objective non-governmental agency gets replaced by someone who's not objective?

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  4. Snipped

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    Moderator Response:

    [TD] Snipped for being on an inappropriate thread. I'm fed up with you ignoring my advice and then warnings.

  5. Deleted

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    Moderator Response:

    [TD] You are on the verge of having your commenting privilege revoked.

  6. I first began noticing the growth of an 'alternate conservative reality' nearly 20 years ago, so it is gratifying that this is now (finally) a widely recognized problem that people are researching possible solutions to.

    That said, I've developed my own theory on the best response... give them what they want. That is, the next time the US government falls under mostly reality based control they should put forward legislation that allows each state to choose one of two economic paths. This would be similar to the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare... each state can choose to opt in or not. Either they get huge tax cuts for the rich, elimination of welfare and other benefits, and the rest of the conservative wish list... OR they can raise the minimum wage, rebuild infrastructure, shift the tax burden back to the wealthy, strengthen the social safety net, and so forth as progressives want.

    Everybody gets what they say is the best course of action, so it should be wildly popular and pass easily... at which point those living under conservative 'trickle down' economic fairy tales would sink ever further into collapse while the states governed by reality based politicians would finally be able to make sustained economic progress.

    It becomes a lot more difficult for people to deny reality when it is impacting their ability to survive... and they can no longer blame 'the other side' because they got exactly what they asked for. Still, if they somehow perservere in believing nonsense... that means economic and social collapse, effectively limiting the power of those states and still allowing the rest of the country (and world) to move forward as they retreat back to the dark ages.

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  7. CBDunkerson@6 The idea that we should let states do what they want is not new. We kept Slave/State Free States for far to long. It was the call for States Rights that the Southern States fought the Civil War About. The fear is that States with high tax and regulations would lose their wealthiest citizens while bringing jobs to low tax low regulation States.

    I am particularly interested in the topic of inoculation and vitamins. In both the Engineering and Geology Classes teach as an Adjunct at the Community College I ask the students to write 10-15 true/false and multiple choice questions on the reading before class. I then use the questions in the lectures and the quizzes. My thinking is that this will help them formulate challenges in their minds to get them to think critically about the claim. I also impress on them the 12 tests they can apply from Attacking Faulty Reasoning to help them with the exercise. These 12 tests fall into 3 categories: Table manners, fallacies, and resolution.

    A) Table manners

    1. Fallibility - no one is always right.
    2. Truth Seeking – we must agree to seek the truth
    3. Burden of proof – the guy with the claim has the burden
    4. Charity – put the other guys argument in the best possible light
    5. Clarity – be as clear with your position as possible.

    2) Fallacies

    1. Acceptable – another researcher must have an opportunity to reproduce to replicate the results
    2. Relevant – the premises must be appropriate to the argument
    3. Sufficient – there must be sufficient evidence on one side or the other
    4. Rebut all challenges – explain contradictory evidence

    3) Resolution

    1. Resolve without full agreement - When all the above are satisfied but time is of the essence it’s okay to resolve without full agreement.
    2. Suspend judgement– While there is time, and not all agree, it’s okay to wait for new information.
    3. Re-evaluate – When new acceptable, relevant and sufficient, fully vetted evidence comes in it’s okay to proceed in a different direction.

    Best regards

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  8. As a conservative I resent the impression that it is only conservatives that have an issue with the truth. I believe those in power will distort the truth to maintain that power, regardless of party affiliation. Many have brought up concerns with news organizations other than Fox News. It’s easy to point to Fox News for spinning the truth for conservatives since they are the only name in the game as far as broadcast news goes. Yet it’s harder to point to spin perpetrated by other news agencies since they all tilt left more than they tilt right. Which in my estimation creates its own risk of "corrosive effects of the partisan media bubble".

    I think it’s disingenuous to imply that it’s only Fox News or conservatives that have issues with the truth. Understandably this blog points to them for their reluctance to believe Climate Change, but that does not change the fact that liberals and progressives have issues with the truth as well. To that end, I have a friend with a PHD in Poli Sci and is a far left socialist who is critical of the medias madness on “Russiagate”. By making this post “Very refreshing: Aaron Mate brutally destroys Guardian journalist Luke Harding, author of a new book which makes the case for Trump-Russia "collusion.” Harding's efforts to defend his book are utterly laughable. If you're wondering why the corporate press never brings on skeptics of the "Russiagate" hysteria despite near-constant coverage, this should make it fairly clear.”

    Point being is political ideology has no bearing on issues of truth.

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Off-topic snipped.

  9. Clayeight3@8 I try to respect the terms of participation here about political posts, although I am frequently reprimanded for being off topic [irrelevant, require more charity and lack clarity] so let me take your comments in a more topical, less political direction. What I see a lack of in the media, leading to False News accusations is the requirement that we seek the truth, not try to appear infallible. With regard to government the truth we seek is the best way to “Secure the Blessings of Liberty for Ourselves and our Posterity”. This “truth” is by no way universally accepted. If we lived in Iran the truth might be “Inshallah”, but because we all repeated the pledge to “Liberty and Justice for All” let’s just go with that.

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Moderation complaints snipped.

  10. Clayeight @3, I agree all news organisations get things wrong sometimes, or spin the truth. However right now according to this survey Fox have the worst record, and CNN best as below:


    However this  truth / fake news / alternative facts issue is clearly not all about news organisations. It's about the absolute nonsense that comes from politicians themselves, particularly the current White House and Trump himself. In all fairness its hard to categorise Trump as genuinely conservative,  he is hard to categorise, but his white house is mostly conservative. Then you have the nonsense claims coming from people like The Heartland Institute on matters of science, which is a conservative institute.

    There's a proliferation of websites peddling alternative facts and conspiracy theories, and in my experience most of these leans quite strongly conservative and to the right. Then there are social media where the whole truth issue really explodes into many alternative facts and complete fantasy land.

    Do liberal / left leaning sources have their own alternative facts? Maybe sometimes, but right now conservatives seem to be in the middle of the alternative facts phenomenon, while liberals are taking the side of mainstream science, traditional sources,  and evidence based decision making and so on. They do this imperfectly but this is their general philosophy. Its an observable socio-political phenomena. Polls have even been done showing conservatives dismissive of climate science for example.

    For myself its sad seeing such partisan divisions and conservatives embracing nonsense, as I have conservative and liberal friends and family, and all are good people. My instinct is to seek common ground and togetherness, and acceptance of differences and using different perspectives whether liberal or conservative as tools to solve problems and achieve solutions and a common good, as was common in the past. But America is going the opposite way, into strong partisan divisions and these sorts of strong divisions  whether political, tribal, religious or otherwise can ultimately lead to civil war or abrupt restructurings of societies systems. 

    Maybe CBD is right, let the states decide their own economic and social policies. It's interesting to look globally, and in most democracies around the world, especially wealthy successful ones embrace  "middle way" economic systems  with welfare systems of some sort, maybe categorised as "medium size government" in the main,  because clearly the majority want this. You also get a few large government models like France.The small government model promoted by current American conservatives is largely not wanted, and this may give an indication of what America would look like if policy was decided at state level.

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  11. Aaron Davis @9,

    You say “Secure the Blessings of Liberty for Ourselves and our Posterity”. This “truth”....

    We can say "its true that liberty is a good thing" and it is, but it depends on what is meant by liberty. The standard dictionary definition is typically "the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one's behaviour or political views."

    This is a good goal to have. Note it doesn't say free from all restrictions. This would be anarchy and the rule of the jungle and unworkable. We need at least some rules and restrictions in order for society to function. Yet at the same time nobody wants excessive restrictions either.

    So our definition of liberty is just a right to do "certain things". It's then purely a case of how do we figure those limits out? Our laws and rules might be based on principles:

    1) Laws are needed if our behaviour effects other people, and causes them physical or psychological harm at significant levels. Laws are also needed if we degrade the "commons" (the environment we all share)

    2) Laws should be based on mainstream scientific evidence, not conspiracy theories and alternative facts.

    Right now some conservatives seem to have lost touch with these principles, and seem to think laws can be based on alternative facts, and rights to pretty much destroy the environment. This has to change.

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  12. What John Cook is talking about is the Innoculation Theory and how it can be used toprotect us from Fake News. nigelj@10 and Clayeight3@8 seem a bit off topic.  If you define liberty as 1) having the means to exercise free will and 2) being free from arbitrary authority, and the roll of government is to secure these characterists for All. Both conservative and liberal approaches have advantages and disadvantages. 

    However, a critical view of the tax bill passed and signed by only conservatives puts all our posterity (both conservative and liberal) at risk of losing liberty as the National Debt exceeds $21T.  Those that support these cuts are clearly not seeking to fulfil the requirements clearly stated in the constitution and should be removed from power, or we should all expect to lose our liberty.  Failure to see this is an example of the crippling power of Fake News, and greed of the few, which the Russians are successfully exploiting to their advantage every day.

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  13. Aaoron Davis @12, 

    "What John Cook is talking about is the Innoculation Theory and how it can be used toprotect us from Fake News. nigelj@10 and Clayeight3@8 seem a bit off topic."

    No we aren't off topic. The article discuses a whole range of issues including the origins of fake news. Innoculation theory is mentioned as part of the picture.

    I do agree with your proposition to teach critical thinking in schools. I have promoted that myself on this and other websites several times, so saw little point in repeating it again. I read your link.

    If anything your comments on liberty are a little off topic! However I responded briefly as one does and because your comment was interesting. But I suggest we should stay with the simple dictionary definitions of liberty, and not your arbitrary re-definition or discussion becomes confused. Your use of the term arbitrary authority is a little vague, and I don't see where you are going with it. Proper authority that is not arbitrary would have to mean democratically elected authority and governed by rule of law. This is uncontraversial anyway.

    I also agree on the problem of the tax cuts and higher government debt and your general commentary on that. It is also going to make dealing with climate change much harder, as it means its even harder for governments to spend money on climate research and renewable energy should they wish. This was probably part of the intention.  

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  14. One of the great things about innoculation theory is it's politically neutral. It exposes nonsense regardless of who is speaking or writing and regardless of political parties.

    Innoculation theory helps get us towards the truth, and to identify credibility of websites, and claims they make, and to identify sensible, rational, effective solutions.

    The only people opposed to innoculation theory are people afraid of the truth, and people with hidden agendas they are too embarrassed to openly admit to.

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  15. John Cook's video was more specific regarding innoculation than the posted text.  As an engineer I try to focus on the basic requirement - aka L&JFA. This is what I expect the media and my representatives to focus on too. 

    Is it true that a rising GDP will raise all boats? Certainly not if the economy colapses as a result.

    Is a regulation to reduce CO2 emissions arbitrary if we wont see a reduction in global temperatures for a hundred years?  We need a better plan.

    Can this country survive an administration that lies under oath on written Top Secrete Security Clearences, refuses to disclose financial relationships to hide collusion with foriegn adversariey, shrinks the State Department, unminds the FBI and deliberately bankrupts the country? 

    Please show me the controlled requirement document we are supposed to be working towards as I am totally lost.

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  16. I am a conservative religious republican voter who adamantly beleives in climate change. From my point of view the Left pushes the Political Polarisation far more than the right does. I surf many Global Warming websites and it constantly amazes me the blatant Anti-Republican articles and bias, never acknowledging the hypocricies of the Left Democrats who also fail to do what is necessary. The problem in America and I am a immigrant who lives here now, is the Left screams blue murder about every topic and constantly makes dooms day Nazi Racist extreme accusations at the Republican party without proof or even the disasters happening in REALITY itself to match the rhetoric. I read the above article and automatically I see it perpitrate exactly the same thing ALIENATING the right wing people by persisting the same tactics with its language use of "numerous allegations and evidence" to make its point. The left propganda machine exagerates huge amounts of allegations which become Proof without evidence ? where is the Proof ? its never actually stated ?... There is no race war , nazis expelling millions of mexicans , no russian collusions bla bla bla. Its all Left wing propoganda to solidify there voting block base which it solely based on divisionary identity politics and no one has the guts to say this because its not progressive politically correct to do so. When a political party screams racism constantly to gain votes who is dividing the PEOPLE ?..Without the right wing conserative smart hard working middle class people of the USA we will not solve Global Warming and I am afraid the Left wing progressive socialistic types are doing there best to stop any NON political intercourse and unity from happening. You have to live in the USA to see how ridiculous this is. Americans themselves are turned off by politics and the MSM is way over the top and studies show its the Left that is MORE BIas then FOX news which also has its BIAS....

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] As a religious conservative and Republican (me) that helps run this venue, ideological rants are unhelpful.  If you have specific examples from within the OP of this thread, fine.  Otherwise, please re-read the Comments Policy of this venue and compose future comments to comport with it.  Thanks!

    Ideological rant snipped.

  17. max574, I think your valid points are good. The problem with the proposal as offered is precisely who would control it. Neutral parties can be drastically biased one way or another. Look a Jim Crow Laws, and all separate but equal ideas; completely bogus, according to the supreme court. 

    However, something needs to be done: My graduate level study of this very topic suggests that rather than try to impose something from the top down, content can be self-validating from the bottom top up. As far back as the late 70s, it was clear this problem was growing, now it is exploding in our faces, and it could easily destabilize our democracy, by exploiting errors in its design. This is what oligarchs in Russia have done, and together with ours, what we see now being done to the US.

    My feeling is that this is a catharsis, the inoculation suggested. The USA will be fine and that our institutions will prevail, but we must learn from this hard punch, which will probably end our dominance of world economics and politics, another good thing, and maybe what Trumpism, supported by many reasonable people, is wisely trying to accomplish. Nevertheless, creating a bottom up clearing process has tremendous value, as technological bandwidth is proving to be boundless, but the mental limitations of human cognition, although amazing, are very limited by comparison. 

     I want to work on this concept but must finish my work on the other subject I have been warned not to talk about. If someone wants my graduate materials on the subject, I can copy them for you, look me up at my broken website, I will tell you the fatal flaw on the work, which when understood makes this a viable idea. 

    Sorry if this is inproper, and pleaes delete if so. Thanks

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  18. Pluvial @17

    "which will probably end our dominance of world economics and politics, another good thing, and maybe what Trumpism, supported by many reasonable people, is wisely trying to accomplish."

    It is hard to reconcile this statement with Trumps efforts to increase military spending, and hold other countries almost to ransom by threatening to remove financial aid and other benefits if they disagree with trump over anything, and attempts to rewrite trade polices brutally in ways that favour america more (most economists say america already benefits more than most from free trade) and generally bully and threaten.

    Or maybe this shows how we all have different interpretations of dominance!

    Maybe you mean America is giving up moral leadership? Or giving up  promoting multi party international agreements and trying to spread democracy? Or  just becoming isolationist as it was prior to the 1940's.

    I do agree that some sort of bottom up revolution is likely. And a better understanding of logically flawed arguments and identifying poor quality information sources will probably happen. But not before a lot of damage is done.

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  19. Fake ideas from ANY source are a threat.  Including fake science of course., where motivated or campaigning reasoning can be presented as honest objectivity,  in a similar way as fake news is.

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  20. Gail @19

    "Including fake science of course., where motivated or campaigning reasoning can be presented as honest objectivity"

    You mean like the anti vaxxers pseudo science, and campaigning?

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  21. Nigelj @20

    Fake science. The key issue to look for where the funder of a science has a vested interest it coming to a consensus around a particular finding.  As with fake news, it's not just about what they DO tell the public and DO look nto,  but what they DON'T.

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  22. Gail @21, yes I agree we should look at funders of science and vested interests.

    IMO fossil fuel companies who fund research are a huge problem, because if you do research for them that finds we do actually have a climate problem, how likely is it you would get further research contracts? I would say not likely, so theres going to be subtle pressure to minimise the climate problem.

    In comparison government grants for climate research seem more neutral to me. Governments just dont care what your research finds, If anything governments would rather the whole climate problem just went away.

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  23. " ... The Fox Newsification of America ... "?

    " ... 71% of Alabama Republicans believed the allegations were false ... "?

    Does the writer (Dana) really know 450,000 republicans (650,000 voted for Roy Moore), who knew the allegations were false? C'mon! That's based upon a poll of a few thousand people.

    Climate science doesn't base their findings on Michael Mann's "Hockey Stick Graph". Do they? His graph surely made it into the UN IPCC's Policymaking recommendations even though it wasn't "consensus" science information.

    Are we talking political science or climate science?

    I like the idea of a RED TEAM/BLUE TEAM forum. It surely wasn't the choice of James Hansen, Al Gore, or Michael Mann over the past 30 years. The science was "settled" to them. 

    I find this article to be based upon arrogant assumptions, just as is 'climate sensitivity to raised CO2 levels'. There is no consensus on the ideal CO2 level of our atmosphere.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Sloganeeing snipped.

    Please note that posting comments here at SkS is a privilege, not a right.  This privilege can be rescinded if the posting individual treats adherence to the Comments Policy as optional, rather than the mandatory condition of participating in this online forum.

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  24. Zippi @23 , there is no need for you to be incensed or even consensed — for now Breitbart has just discovered that Roy Moore himself was born in Kenya in 1947 and lived the first 40 years of his life there.  And all the teenage girls he molested (consensually) were Kenya-born as well.  Since in Kenya the legal Age of Consent is 12 for girls, then it follows that Moore had done nothing unlawful.

    71% of Alabama Republicans were already aware of that fact, Zippi — so you and Breitbart are well behind the times.

    Alternative facts are so very useful.   Especially against CO2 science.

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  25. @nigelj @ 22
    Government spends orders of magnitude more on climate science than everyone else put together.  And it too is plainly not neutral,  having an obvious  vested interest in scaremongering calculated to ease the path of political expansionism.   Hence the credibiliy crisis being addressed by the red-team/blue-team initiative.   
    All in all this is a very thorny problem the layman faces here - potential catastrophe intertwined with trust issues.

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  26. @Zippi62 23

    "That's based upon a poll of a few thousand people."

    A few thousand people? That sounds like a comprehensive poll then. 

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  27. Gail @25 , the governments of Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France . . . thru to Zambia . . . are plainly not on "the path of political expansionism".

    All these governments have plenty of other problems on their plate — they don't want to have to grapple with fresh problems like AGW.   They all heartily wish they had 20 times fewer problems to grapple with ( Gail, your own common sense should tell you that!! ).   They put some investment into science, as a matter of duty . . . and rather reluctantly in the case of climate-related science.

    Reluctantly because [as Nigelj correctly states ] governments would rather the whole climate problem just went away.   But most governments (with one or two exceptions which you may not have noticed) have the honesty to at least make some token effort to counter the global warming problem.  That includes funding some climate research — but they are certainly not wanting to push or encourage "bad news results".  Quite the contrary.  They would prefer only "good news" . . . but alas there's not much of that to be found.

    Gail, where did you read such a looney idea as "expansionism"?  Have you been frequenting such insane websites as WhatsUpWithThat?  Please, give up such websites, and return to the real world.

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  28. Gail @ 25

    "And it too is plainly not neutral, having an obvious vested interest in scaremongering calculated to ease the path of political expansionism."

    Just adding to Eclectics accurate comments, no  government wants the climate change problem, because it obviously is another problem to deal with, and will cost them money. Notice governments are generally measured and restrained in their tone discussing climate issues and stick to the findings of the IPCC reports, rather than the more extreme possible scenarious of some research on very high rates of sea level rise etc.

    Of course none of us want to see excessive government power either. The carbon tax and dividend idea has the strength of being revenue neutral, and not increasing government spending.

    Emotive and ideological fears about role of government must not stand in the way of commonsense solutions like renewable energy and carbon taxes.

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  29. Zippi62 @23

    "Climate science doesn't base their findings on Michael Mann's "Hockey Stick Graph". Do they?"

    No  they dont, because it was only one early study and of average quality. The IPCC reports mostly do not to rely on single isolated studies, because that would obviously be sub optimal. I would have my doubts myself. 

    The IPCC rely on multiple studies whenever they can, and this is why a lot of research is done, like double entry book keeping in accounting it helps identify errors in research and improve research.

    We have about 10 other more recent and thorough studies on the medieval warm period,  that find very similar results and similar shaped hockey stricks to Manns original study, for example by Briffa, Esper and many others. Refer medieval warm period on wikipedia for lists of published research. The studies all take different approaches to researching the issues.

    You think this is some giant conspiracy? If so,that is where we part company completely and irrevocably. I live in the real world (which is hard enough) not the Brietbart fantasy world.

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  30. Having worked in government research over two+ decades, I can definitely say that the times when I have felt that research outcomes were being suppressed if they did not meet the governing party's political agenda, it was when the political agenda was rejecting climate science, not the other way around.

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  31. He who pays the reseacher calls the tune.  No sensible layman would trust tobacco-funded research into smoking would they ?     No,  because the motives of a science's funder can easily skew and disguise results to advance the funder's vested interest,  cleverly highlighting or hiding various aspects as needed.
    Moderators - Yes, your rule is that political comments are not allowed. But, as it happens, most climate science is politically funded.  So you have thus ruled out any fundamental discussion of the actual practice of climate science, its motives and adherence to the scientific method.   
    I  think that is Unskeptical Science, and urge you to reconsider.

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  32. Gail @31 , your arguing is getting even more confused.

    You are comparing apples and oranges.   Tobacco-funded research was "looking for an escape clause" — they wanted to find "negatives" or at least some counter-arguments against the scientific consensus position.

    Government-funded climate research [done by agencies, institutions, and hundreds of independent universities] is not angled toward an escape clause — every genuine climate scientist knows there is no escape clause and there is no counter-argument against AGW.   If there were a valid counter-argument against AGW, then the handful of "contrarian scientists" [richly backed by Fossil Fuel industry funds] would have discovered & publicized it long before now.   And indeed, the contrarians don't have a clue : they only have various hypotheses which have already been proven false (and their "hypotheses" are mutually contradictory and have zero evidence backing them).

    Gail, you are comparing apples and oranges there . . . and so your conclusions are invalid.  Invalid and worthless.

    Gail, it is high time you started to educate yourself about science.

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  33. Eclectic @ 32
    No I am not comparing oranges and apples.  The overarching point is that the vested interest of a funder can corrupt the science to its own needs.  Searching for positive or negative results, it makes no difference here. 

    Possesion of  science degrees, or having "science" in job titles,  is no guarantee that objectivity and scientific method are being followed.

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  34. Gail @33

    Your view of (climate) scientists seems to be very biased to say the least. Please, take a look at the website "More than scientists" and the collection of expert interviews recorded for our MOOC Denial101x where some of them share why they actually do the work they do. 

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  35. Eclectic @ 32
    Skepticism about climate science isn't over the basic notion of AGW,  which is widely accepted;   sooner or later there must surely be a problem, yes.   It's about whether the science truly is settled as regards How Much Warming How Soon - ie the claimed high certainty of an  imminent catastrophe (CAGW).  And also more general skepticism over  objectivity.

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  36. @Gail 33

    The problem is not just that you are biased against (climate) scientists but you give the impression you view the world of funding in a very simplistic, cynical and black and white way. 

    How do you think scientists should be funded? By government or industry? Obviously the answer is both because you need independence from industry but also industry genuinely wants answers to questions, so they sometimes employ scientists directly or commission research. Naturally, ultimately, these are just people with various levels of integrity as is reflected anywhere.

    Scientists, on the whole, take a pride in their objectivity and value the integrity of science and truth. This does not mean none of them cannot be corrupted by money but that is rare. (Hence the very few contrarian scientists perhaps?). More the problem is industry taking research results and then spinning the results to over-emphasise small effects or ignore poor results. This can be ameliorated by good communication from scientists but they tend not to have budgets for this. 

    When scientists accept funding there are always contracts that protect the integrity of the science and bolster the independence of the scientists. This can get quite messy when it comes to interpretation and control of results. But on the whole there is quite a distinct gap between the scientists and the industry.

    Your view that everything is just all one-way to the bad is just unrealistic.

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  37. Gail @33

    "The overarching point is that the vested interest of a funder can corrupt the science to its own needs."

    Yes fair enough.  However I dont see governments directing the science in any significant way. If you are very paranoid you might believe they use the climate scare to increase their powers, so look to somehow exaggerate the science, but we see many centre right anti tax parties taking climate change seriously, presumably because they see the risk factor ( as already pointed out to you above).

    If anything, and I have to say this again hoping you see the point, governments would probably prefer the climate problem to just go away. If they want to "increase their powers" there are much simpler and more nefarious ways of doing this! 

    In fact I would suggest that if government does inject a bias into the science, it would be to 'downplay' the risks of climate change. It's commonsense! However I doubt they would be aggressive in doing this, or it may vary depending on the policial party of the day. Clearly The republican party dont like climate science.

    And we do actually have some anecdotal evidence leaking out that government officials who sign off the IPCC reports have tried to have the risks of dangerous climate change and levels of certainty of climate change downplayed.

    Of course there is the allegation of whether scientists inflate the risk of climate change to get governments worried so they then fund research. Just remember scientists are employed as a matter of course to do science on all sorts of issues that pose no threat, like studying beetles, they dont have to scaremonger to get work. Scientists are also trained to be restrained and objective. They may of course say climate change is serious and needs study: But Gail it is clearly a serious issue so this is only stating the obvious.

    In comparison, the fossil fuel industry have strong interests in business as usual, and are likely to go shopping for scientists who have a sceptical point of view. Once employed, they may become even more biased towards a sceptical view out of fear of losing their contracts. 

    Anyway as pointed out by others funding comes from both governments, companies and other sources, and this is very healthy balance that ensures we get good information overall. But the fossil fuel funded sceptical leaning studies have been unconvicing - for decades now. That should tell you something.

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  38. "the vested interest of a funder can corrupt the science"

    That something is possible says nothing about the likelihood. It is possible that an undetected asteroid will hit the earth and destroy life as we know it before I will get a chance to ring in the New Year tonight. It's not worth changing my plans for that possibility, though.

    Gail's repeated assertions basically amount to claiming that all the science is made up to get money, and every scientist that publishes on climate change and supports the idea that it is happening, humans are causing the bulk of recent warming, and it will get a lot worse if we continue to burn fossil fuels at current rates, are all part of a conspiracy to hide the truth. It basically lets her reject anything she doesn't like.

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  39. I agree conspiracy theory thinking allows people to reject uncomfortable information. This is partly because you can't really disprove some conspiracy, so its an easy escape. The entire climate denial movement appears fixated on conspiracy theories.

    Conspiracy theory ideation is largely childish. Read scientific and hard evidence on so called conspiracies, and you will see most of them are nonsense and just escapism and lazy thinking (but fun to read about, I lap them up out of curiosity)

    But there is of course a grain of truth sometimes. Companies are sometimes caught colluding to fix prices, and end up in trouble with the authorities. But this has to be proven!

    Are governments all colluding to create a global warming scare? It doesn't make sense to me, because the costs of climate change on governments in providing all this renewable energy etc would be far larger than any benefits from some increase in their powers, which would at best be some carbon tax and so on. This is not some huge enhancement of powers, especially as the proposals are for tax and dividend schemes.

    And IMO such a giant climate conspiracy would have leaked out by now if it was true, and is about as likely as 911 being an "inside job".

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  40. This article got me thinking ... Then the comments got me thinking some more ... then the challenge of writing a reduced presentation of my thoughts ... made more challenging by my understanding that shortening a presentation to be a punchier marketing sales pitch piece by using shorter statements and emotive labels rather than providing dispassionate fuller explanations will lead to arguments about interpretation rather than discussion of the real problem that was trying to be pointed out ... so I gave up on trying to limit what I wrote ... hope the intent/point is clear ...

    Key Words/Thoughts/Considerations: Alignment - Common Increased Awareness and Understanding; Good Objectives/Intent; Sustainable Change - Improvement/Progress; Future of Humanity; Competition to Win; The Good, The Bad, Help and Harm.

    The 'technocognition' proposal can be helpful. But it's success and sustainability will require understanding and acceptance that it is guided by, and aligned with, Global Sustainable Public Good Objectives. The Sustainable Development Goals are an excellent compilation of Good Objectives. They include Climate Action. And, like the climate science basis for the Climate Action Goals, all of the identified goals have an extensive and robust basis, making them open to potential change but only for Good Reason (like climate science, everyone cannot be free to have their own opinion about these goals).

    The Key Point: The discussions and disputes regarding this article (on this site and at the Guardian site) expose a lack of alignment regarding what the real problem is. The propensity for people to seek validation for understandably harmful unjustified beliefs is caused by a more fundamental problem. The fundamental problem is the result of the combination of 'competition to Win that is not governed by alignment on a Good Objective measure of what is allowed/forbidden in the competition', with the powerful alluring dogma that 'everyone freer to believe what they want and do as they please is the best/only way to develop good results', and leniency regarding misleading marketing and reporting. Without the filter/limits of a Governing Good Objective, all manner of unacceptable ways of marketing and competing can, and will, develop and Win for as long as they can be gotten away with, with undeniably damaging results.

    Climate science has unwittingly exposed the need for some people to be removed from the competition, particularly from positions of influence and leadership, as soon as the evidence of their desire for unhelpful actions is clear. That means effectively neutralizing the impact of information providers in the system/competition for Good Reason, not just hoping that warnings about the incorrect presentations they have delivered will be effective. A 'mechanism' to catch every variation of presentation of misinformation would rely on the public acceptance that such a mechanism is 'justified/correct'. Such a mechanism could never flag a presentation that could be 'open to interpretation' because the first time it did so would be the fuel for the denial pushers/addicts to proclaim that the mechanism is biased/rigged 'Against Them'. Mind you, they would also believe that any information presentation contrary to their Private Interests is biased/rigged 'Against Them'. And they would be correct about the bias because their Private Interest must be commonly understood to deserve derision.

    The key is having alignment and common understanding regarding Helpful Public Objectives and Intentions, especially among the leaders/winners among humanity. There can be many divisive matters but the focus must remain on understanding how any 'side' is helpful/harmful. Helpful Conservatives can, and should, have healthy debates with Helpful Democrats. Correctly distinguishing the Helpful from the Harmful allows debate among leaders to be of value. That requires a common Good basis for that evaluation. That Common/Public Good basis for evaluation is what appears to be missing, leading to damaging rather than helpful divisive behaviour among competing leaders, leading to misleading marketing efforts that are powerful even though they are ultimately unsustainable (I support being divisive when it comes to helpful vs harmful. The harmful should be helped to change their minds, and not be free to influence things until they prove they have decided to be helpful).

    That leads to the appreciation that there can be Good and Bad in any action. There can be good and bad biased reporting (or conservatives, democrats, capitalist, communists, socialists, environmentalists, religious, ...). Good Biased Reporting is the acceptable/desirable kind of reporting. People with Private Interests that are contrary to The Global Public Good will focus on twisted claims/excuses like 'Bias is Bad (when it is against Them)' - Any Belief must be tolerated (unless it is not liked by Them)', rather than face the challenge of the differences that matter and make Their beliefs/opinions/desires (private interests) understandably unacceptable/unjustified.

    How do you communicate with those type of people to make them more aware and understanding? How do you educate them? How do you 'correct their thinking'? How do you 'Change their Minds'?

    Many people who are tempted to try to win by behaving less acceptably cannot be 'corrected' before they get a taste for winning that way. And once a person or group get a taste of winning by getting away with behaving less acceptably than 'the competition' it can be very difficult to 'fully correct their understandably damaging addiction'. The result is the competition spiralling downward as people compete to Win as unacceptably and harmfully as possible.

    The following warning from John Stuart Mill in “On Liberty” keeps coming to mind: “If society lets a considerable number of its members grow up mere children, incapable of being acted on by rational consideration of distant motives, society has itself to blame for the consequences.”

    The focus needs to be understanding the Fundamental Problem and being aligned on a Good Objective for the 'fix'. That will develop a sustainable solution rather than just creating the temporary impression that things have been fixed for good (with some people believing/complaining that the Fix is Unjustifiably Against Them).

    I have many Back-up and related thoughts but choose to only include the following:
    As an engineer with an MBA whenever I am presented with an existing item that 'appears, or is claimed, to need to be fixed or corrected' my first step is to ensure I identify/understand the fundamental basis of the problem (being as aware as possible and understanding as much as possible). I also make sure that any correction is consistent with the overall guiding objective of engineering to protect the general population (Others) and the environment (today and into the future), from the potential negative consequences of what a pursuer of Private Interest may try to get away with. That objective is well aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals. Unfortunately many engineering actions have that objective diminished by 'being balanced with Private Interests that are contrary to that objective (less safe, more harmful). My MBA training helped me understand and witness how motivated many classmates pursuing an MBA were to Win their competition for Private Interests any way they could get away with.

    Being guided by that awareness and understanding has led me to disappoint many clients/customers who have identified that their desire is 'to get something done quicker or cheaper'. Admittedly, developing the most advantageous solution to a challenge is an objective of engineering. But responsible considerate engineering (moral/ethical engineering) always has to severely limit the potential for negative Public/Environmental consequences (at the expense of the customer). When I point out the time and cost required to ensure the Quality of the engineered result there is often a claim that my job is to make them happy because 'the customer is always correct'. My response has been to pursue 'correcting the customer' to make sure the customer is actually correct. That often requires support from superiors who must be aligned with the understanding of how everyone is protected when such customers get corrected.

    The bottom line is: If the fundamental cause of the problem is not identified, or if the 'fix' is not aligned with protecting the Public/Environment into the future, then any 'fix' will not be sustainable. It will only appear to repair what appeared to be broken. There will likely be future failure because the real problem was not identified and corrected.

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  41. There may be some objection to my comment point about "...the need for some people to be removed from the competition, particularly from positions of influence and leadership, as soon as the evidence of their desire for unhelpful actions is clear."

    Any business that fails to do that has no real future. Failing to correct that type of behaviour may create an appearance of value in the short-term, but eventually the damaging reality will be undeniable. Of course, many harmful gamblers only need the short-term to gather up significant unjustified benefit and hide it and themselves away, with repeated denial that they did anything wrong being their last/main line of defense.

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  42. I'm baffled by the confidence displayed by both deniers of anthropogenic global warming and conspiracists.  What follows may be sloganeering, but I'm taking the chance on fooling myself that it isn't ;^).

    As the son of a science professor, educated in the public schools of a university town, I came early to regard science first and foremost as a way of trying not to be fooled ("The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool." -R Feynman). Half a lifetime later, it's still all too easy to fool me, but AFAICT AGW deniers aren't even trying. They make no serious effort to distinguish real from fake news, because they fail to acknowledge how easy it is to fool them.

    Conspiracist AGW-deniers, especially, seem uncomfortable with ambiguity, and readily succumb to the appeal of certainty.  They may be wrong, but at least they're sure, and they don't 'do' nuance!

    Genuine skeptics, OTOH, learn to quantify ambiguity, and give up on absolute certainty.  They are willing to consider action based on what's most likely, despite known unknowns, and with awareness of the potential role for self-aggrandizement. Non-specialists may lack effective skills to evaluate genuine expertise; but why would a soi-disant 'global warming skeptic' be suspicious of working climate scientists, and no at least as suspicious of anyone else?

    IOW: yes, it's remotely possible AGW is a 190-year-old hoax, but it's more likely the conspiracists are fooling themselves.

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  43. MalAdapted @42, yes I observe all this all the time. I think you have just described fundamental differences between conservative and liberal mindset, with conservatives displaying trouble with nuance and ambiguity and probabilities. Liberal mind set has its own trouble at times.

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  44. Mal, I don't think it's "confidence" it's absolutism and totalitarianist tendencies covering up for their profound lack of substantive confidence.

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  45. Although I should add, I liked your comment enough to share it over at the CFI forum where we've got a discussion on pseudo-science going on (along with parts of #7 Aaron D).

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