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« What is the *message* of real-world "scientific consensus" messaging? Ruminations on the external validity of climate-science-communication studies, part 3 | Main | External validity of climate-science-communication studies: ruminations part 1 »
Tuesday
Jun172014

"Messaging" scientific consensus: ruminations on the external validity of climate-science-communication studies, part 2

This is the second installment of a set on "external validity" problems in climate-science communication studies.

"Internal validity" refers to qualities of the design that support drawing inferences about what is happening in the study. "External vality" refers to qualities of the design that support drawing inferences from the study to the real-world dynamics it is supposed to be modeling.

The exernal validity problems I want to highlight don't affect only the quality of studies. They affect the quality of the practice of climate-science communication, too, because communicators are relying on externally invalid studies for guidance.

The last entry concerned the use of surveys to measure public opinion on climate change.

This one addresses experimental and other evidence used to ground "social marketing campaigns" that feature scientific consensus.  It is also only the first of two on "messaging" scientific consensus; the next, which I'll post "tomorrow," will examine real-world "messaging" that purports to implement these study findings.

This post, like the last, is from a paper that I'm working on and will post soon (one with some interesting new data, of course!)

* * *

5. “Messaging” scientific consensus

a. The “external validity” question. On May 16, 2013, the journal Environmental Research Letters published an article entitled “Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature.” In it, the authors reported that they had reviewed the abstracts of 12,000 articles published in peer-reviewed science journals between 1991 and 2011 and found that “among abstracts expressing a position on AGW, 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming” (Cook et al. 2013).

“This is significant,” the lead author was quoted as saying in a press statement issued by his university, “because when people understand that scientists agree on global warming, they’re more likely to support policies that take action on it.” “Making the results of our paper more widely-known,” he continued, “is an important step toward closing the consensus gap”—between scientists who agree with one another about global warming and ordinary citizens who don’t—“and increasing public support for meaningful climate action” (Univ. Queensland 2013).

The proposition that disseminating the results of ERL study would reduce public conflict over climate change was an empirical claim not itself tested by the authors of the ERL paper.  What sorts of evidence might one use (or have used) to assess it?

Opinion surveys are certainly relevant.  They show, to start, that members of the U.S. general public— Republican and Democrat, religious and nonreligious, white and black, rich and poor—express strongly pro-science attitudes and hold scientists in high regard (National Science Foundation 2014, ch. 7; Pew 2009). In addition, no recognizable cultural or political group of consequence in American political life professes to disagree with, or otherwise dismiss the significance of, what scientists have to say about policy-relevant facts. On the contrary, on myriad disputed policy issues—from the safety of nuclear power  to the effectiveness of gun control—members of the public in the U.S. (and other liberal democratic nations, too) indicate that the position that predominates in their political or cultural group is the one consistent with scientific consensus (Kahan, Jenkins-Smith & Braman 2011; Lewendowsky, Gignac & Vaugh 2012).

Same thing for climate change. As the ERL authors noted, surveys show a substantial proportion of the U.S. general public rejects the proposition that there is “scientific consensus” on the existence and causes of climate change. Indeed, the proportion that believes there is no such consensus consists of exactly the same proportion that says it does not “believe in” human-caused global warming (Kahan et al. 2011).

So, the logic goes, all one has to do is correct the misimpression of that portion of the public. Members of the public very sensibly treat as the best available evidence what science understands to be the best available evidence on facts of policy significance. Thus, “when people understand that scientists agree on global warming, they’re more likely to support policies that take action on it” (Univ. Queensland 2013).

But there is still more evidence, of a type that any conscientious adviser to climate-science communicators would want them to consider carefully. That evidence bears directly on the public-opinion impact of “[m]aking the results” of studies like the ERL one “more widely-known” (Univ. Queensland 2013).

The ERL study was not the first one to “[q]uantify[]the consensus on anthropogenic global warming”; it was at least the sixth, the first one of which was published in Science in 2004 (Oreskes 2004; Lichter 2008; Doran & Zimmerman 2009; Anderegg et al. 2010; Powell 2012).  Appearing on average once every 18 months thereafter, these studies, using a variety of methodologies, all reached conclusions equivalent to the one reported in ERL paper.

Like the ERL paper, moreover, each of these earlier studies was accompanied by a high degree of media attention. 

Indeed, the “scientific consensus” message figured prominently in the $300 million social marketing campaign by Alliance for Climate Protection, the advocacy group headed by former Vice President Al Gore, whose “Inconvenient Truth” documentary film and book both prominently featured the 2004 “97% consensus” study published in Science (which was characterized by Gore as finding that "0%" of peer-reviewed climate science articles disputed the human contribution to global warming). 

An electronic search of major news sources indicates finds over 6,000 references to “scientific consensus” and “global warming” or “climate change” in the period from 2005 to May 1, 2013.

There is thus a straightfroward way to assess the prediction that “[m]aking the results” of the ERL study “more widely-known” can be expected to influence public opinion.  It is to examine how opinion varied in relation to efforts to publicize these earlier “scientific consensus” studies. 

Figure 9 plots the proportion of the U.S. general public who selected “human activities” as opposed to “natural changes in the environment” as the main cause of “increases in the Earth’s temperature over the last century” over the period 2003 to 2013 (in this Gallup item, there is no option to indicate rejection of the premise that the earth’s temperature has increased, a position a majority or near majority of Republicans tend to selection when it is available). The year in which “scientific consensus” studies appeared is indicated on the x-axis, as is the year in which “Inconvenient Truth” was released.   


Nothing happened.

Or, in truth, a lot happened.  Many additional important scientific studies corroborating human-caused global warming were published during this time.  Many syntheses of the data were issued by high-profile institutions in the scientific community, including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society, and the IPCC, all of which concluded that human activity is heating the planet. High-profile, and massively funded campaigns to dispute and discredit these sources were conducted too.  People endured devastating heat waves, wild fires, and hurricanes, punctuated by long periods of weather normality.  The Boston Red Sox won their first World Series title in over eight decades.

It would surely be impossible to disentangle all of these and myriad other potential influences on U.S. public opinion on global warming.  But one doesn’t need to do that to see that whatever the earlier scientific-consensus "messaging" campaigns added did not “clos[e] the consensus gap” (Univ. Queensland 2013). 

Why, then, would any reflective, realistic person counsel communicators to spend millions of dollars to repeat exactly that sort of “messaging” campaign? 

The answer could be laboratory studies. One (Lewendowsky et al. 2012), published in Nature Climate Change, reported that the mean level of agreement with the proposition “CO2 emissions cause climate change” was higher among subjects exposed to a “97% scientific consensus” message than among subjects in a control condition (4.4 vs. 4.0 on a 5-point Likert scale).  After being advised that “97% of scientists” accept  CO2 emissions increase global temperatures, those subjects also formed a higher estimate of the proportion of scientists who believe that (88% vs. 67%).

Is it possible to reconcile this result with the real-world data on the failure of previous “scientific consensus” messaging campaigns to influence U.S. public opinion?  The most straightforward explanation would be that the NCC experiment was not externally valid—i.e., it didn’t realistically model the real-world dynamics of opinion-formation relevant to the climate change dispute. 

The problem is not the sample (90 individuals interviewed face-to-face in Perth, Australia). If researchers were to replicate this result using a U.S. general population sample, the inference of external invalidity would be exactly the same. 

For “97% consensus” messaging experiments to justify a social marketing campaign featuring studies like the ERL one, it would have to be reasonable to believe that what investigators are observing in laboratory conditions—ones created specifically for the purpose of measuring opinion—tell us what is likely to happen when communicators emphasize the “97% consensus” message in the real world. 

Such a strategy has already been tried in the real world.  It didn’t work.

There are, to be sure, many more things going on in the world, including counter-messaging,  than are going on in a “97% consensus” messaging experiment.  But if those additional things account for the difference in the results, then that is exactly why that form experiment must be regarded as externally invalid: it is omitting real-world dynamics that we have reason to believe, based on real-world evidence, actually matter in the real world.

On this account, the question to be investigated is not whether a “97% consensus” messaging campaign will influence public opinion but why it hasn’t over a 10-year trial.  The answer, presumably, is not that members of the public are divided on whether they should give weight to the conclusions scientists have reached in studying risks and other policy relevant facts. Those on both sides of the climate change believe that the other side’s position is the one in consistent with scientific consensus. 

The ERL authors’ own recommendation to publicize their study results presupposes public consensus in the U.S. in support of using the best available scientific evidence in policymaking.  The advice of those who continue to champion “97% consensus” social marketing campaigns does, too. 

So why have all the previous highly funded efforts to make “people understand that scientists agree on global warming” so manifestly failed to “close the consensus gap” (Univ. Queensland 2013)?

There are studies that seek to answer exactly that question as well.  They find that culturally biased assimilation—the tendency of people to fit their perceptions of disputed facts to ones that predominate in their cultural group—applies to their assessment of evidence of scientific consensus just as it does to their assessment of all other manner of evidence relating to climate change (Corner, Whitmarsh & Dimitrios 2012; Kahan et al. 2011). 

When people are shown evidence relating to what scientists believe about a culturally disputed policy-relevant fact (e.g., is the earth heating up? is it safe to store nuclear wastes deep underground? does allowing people to carry hand guns in public increase the risk of crime—or decrease it?), they selectively credit or dismiss that evidence depending on whether it is consistent with or inconsistent with their cultural group’s position. As a result, they form polarized perceptions of scientific consensus even when they rely on the same sources of evidence.

These studies imply misinformation is not a decisive source of public controversy over climate change.  People in these studies are misinforming themselves by opportunistically adjusting the weight they give to evidence based on what they are already committed to believing.  This form of motivated reasoning occurs, this work suggests, not just in the climate change debate but in numerous others in which these same cultural groups trade places being out of line with the National Academy of Sciences’ assessments of what “expert consensus” is.

To accept that this dynamic explains persistent public disagreement over scientific consensus on climate change, one has to be confident that these experimental studies are externally valid.  Real world communicators should definitely think carefully about that.  But because these experiments are testing alternative explanations for something we clearly observe in the real world (deep public division on climate change), they don’t suffer from the obvious defects of studies that predict we should already live in world we don’t see.

Part 3

References

Anderegg, W.R., Prall, J.W., Harold, J. & Schneider, S.H. Expert credibility in climate change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107, 12107-12109 (2010).

Cook, J., Nuccitelli, D., Green, S.A., Richardson, M., Winkler, B., Painting, R., Way, R., Jacobs, P. & Skuce, A. Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature. Environmental Research Letters 8, 024024 (2013).

Corner, A., Whitmarsh, L. & Xenias, D. Uncertainty, scepticism and attitudes towards climate change: biased assimilation and attitude polarisation. Climatic Change 114, 463-478 (2012).

Doran, P.T. & Zimmerman, M.K. Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change. Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union 90, 22-23 (2009).

Farnsworth, S.J. & Lichter, S.R. Scientific assessments of climate change information in news and entertainment media. Science Communication 34, 435-459 (2012).

Kahan, D.M., Jenkins-Smith, H. & Braman, D. Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus. J. Risk Res. 14, 147-174 (2011).

Lewandowsky, S., Gignac, G.E. & Vaughan, S. The pivotal role of perceived scientific consensus in acceptance of science. Nature Climate Change 3, 399-404 (2012).

Lichter, S. Robert. Climate Scientists Agree on Warming, Disagree on Dangers, and Don't Trust the Media's Coverage of Climate Change. Statistical Assessment Service, George Mason University (2008).

National Science Foundation. Science and Engineering Indicators (Wash. D.C. 2014), available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind14/index.cfm/chapter-7/c7s3.htm.

Oreskes, N. The scientific consensus on climate change. Science 306, 1686-1686 (2004).

Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Public praises science; scientists fault public, media (Pew Research Center, Washington D.C., 2009).

Powell, J. Why Climate Deniers Have No Scientific Credibility - In One Pie Chart. DESMOGBLOG.com (2012).

Univ. Queensland. Study shows scientists agree humans cause global-warming (2013). Available at http://www.uq.edu.au/news/article/2013/05/study-shows-scientists-agree-humans-cause-global-warming.

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Reader Comments (24)

I am hearing less and less pushback from my very conservative friends on the scientific basis of AGW. Many are conceding -- yet new tropes are popping up to go along with the standard "CO2 makes plants grow => more food for all and/or its all in God's plan) -- which is: "I'm not a scientist, so I can't say -- and by implication you can't either unless you are one "Anecdotal, I know -- but I think it speaks to the motivated reasoning dimension of this communication challenge in that it suggests that the "97% point is both having its desired effect while at the same time driving new motives for tribal cog. And certainly of use to PR firms employed by Carbon fuel marketers.

June 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterWalter Borden

@Walter:

So what do you make of all that? That there is a "shift" in opinion? And it is being propelled by "97%"?

I actually think people know what scientific is & have for a long long time. What the "97%" messaging campaign tells them is that it is still the case that the issue remains "who are you, whose side are you on?"

tomorrow... (& even more not too long after that!)

June 17, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Dan, I'm curious. What exactly do you perceive the "97% consensus" statement to be?

Because it mutates several times through the piece. You start with the Cook et al. claim that 97.1% of published abstracts that expressed an opinion endorsed the position that humans cause global warming. Later we are told it's "97% of scientists accept CO2 emissions increase global temperatures". So which is it? 97% of abstracts or 97% of scientists?

Or, as several would have it, 97% of climate scientists?

Because it makes a big difference. You cite a number of papers you say support the figure. Have you checked precisely what they say? Because so far as I am aware, Anderegg didn't estimate the percentage (and his list was only about 66% believers and 34% sceptic), and I believe Doran and Zimmerman got 82% of scientists for the consensus (and 64% of meteorologists). The 97% figure quoted so widely in the press was for a more restricted question.

You might also like to add the Bray and von Storch surveys of 2008 and 2010 to your list. Those were of much better quality.

It's not clear to me whether you are citing those papers to support the 97% assertion itself, or simply to note the media attention that surrounded them, and that the assertions had been made. I would assume it's still standard academic practice when citing a paper in support of a point to check that it really does. So as a result I'm very unclear what point these are supposed to support.

Unfortunately, as I've often noted, the "97% consensus" figures tend to be for the "Is warming anthropogenic?" question, when the question we're really interested in is "Is anthropogenic warming potentially dangerous?" I'm sure you can see the difference from the perspective of policy-making. Again, you would expect different percentages for the two questions. Don't you think it's curious - given its perceived relevance to the politics - that the latter question is so rarely asked?

I realise that this is all a side-issue to your main point, which is that whether true or not, the widespread reports of a 97% consensus have not had the effect expected of them. But I find it distracting, because you talk of the '97% consensus' statement throughout as if it was a single thing, and as if all the survey results were talking about the same quantity. For example, when you say "those subjects also formed a higher estimate of the proportion of scientists who believe that (88% vs. 67%)", are those numbers representing the same quantity as the 97% figure quoted to them? And could it be relevant that for the question apparently asked, the subjects are far closer to being correct? Might they have known better?

To help with your checks (because Nullius in Verba, of course), here's Doran and Zimmerman, Bray and von Storch (see Q57 on p46 in particular) and for some earlier results a comparison here. For a rundown on the numbers on Anderegg's list, you need to check the SI here.

June 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@NiV:


My point is independent of the quality of the studies. They could be great, mediocre, somewhere in between & I would make the same point.

I've discussed elsewhere -- here, for example, & here, -- whether I think it makes sense to expect people who aren't sure what the state of scientific opinion is to find surveys of scientists helpful. NOthing more to add.

June 17, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

"My point is independent of the quality of the studies. They could be great, mediocre, somewhere in between & I would make the same point."

My point isn't about the quality of the studies. My point is about whether the papers you cite say what you seem to say they say. Did you mean to say they said that?

"I've discussed elsewhere -- here, for example, & here,"

Yes. I notice you dodged answering the same question in comments there, as well!

"NOthing more to add."

OK. But I hope you won't mind if I keep on asking the question?

June 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

the question to ask, is what 'specifically' do 97% of scientists actually agree on....


“Defining the scientific consensus,” John Cook explains:

Okay, so we’ve ruled out a definition of AGW being “any amount of human influence” or “more than 50% human influence”. We’re basically going with Ari’s p0rno approach (I probably should stop calling it that :-) which is AGW = “humans are causing global warming”. Eg – no specific quantification which is the only way we can do it considering the breadth of papers we’re surveying.

http://rankexploits.com/musings/2013/climate-science-p0rn/

it is just a stick to beat sceptics with, with no object ever defined, Cook was happy to let Obama tweet that the paper had a 97% consensus that CC was dangerous, when it did no such thing.. PR

June 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

@NiV:

Sorry-- I misunderstood. I thought you were asking me something like what I think @Barry is asking me (I think), which is how do I understand what was being measured.

The studies say

Doran & Zimmerman:

In our survey,
the most specialized and knowledgeable
respondents (with regard to climate
change) are those who listed climate science
as their area of expertise and who
also have published more than 50% of
their recent peer-reviewed
papers on the
subject of climate change (79 individuals
in total). Of these specialists, 96.2%
(76 of 79) answered “risen” to question 1
and 97.4% (75 of 77) answered yes to question
2 [i.e., "Do you think human activity is significant contributing
factor to changing climate means?"]

It seems that the debate on the authenticity
of global warming and the role played
by human activity is largely nonexistent
among those who understand the nuances
and scientific basis of long-term
climate
processes. The challenge, rather, appears
to be how to effectively communicate this
fact to policy makers and to a public that
continues to mistakenly perceive debate
among scientists.



Anderegg
:

Here, we use an extensive dataset of 1,372 climate researchers and their publication and citation data to show that (i) 97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field surveyed here support the tenets of ACC outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and (ii) the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.


Maybe you think the media misinterpreted them etc. But is your argument not with the authors, in that case? These are the findings they seem to be highlighting-- hard to blame press!

In any event, I'm not interested in parsing the findings. I am talking about how the studies were "messaged." I think that's clear.

Also not interested in what other studies say, etc. That's not part of the "messaging" I'm discussing.

The substance of the issue bores me, in truth.

June 17, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

"Maybe you think the media misinterpreted them etc. But is your argument not with the authors, in that case?"

No, the authors were clear in the paper what they were saying. They were not reporting "“97% of scientists” accept CO2 emissions increase global temperatures". They made the distinction perfectly clear. Doran reported that the two numbers were significantly different, and Anderegg made clear that it was only a very select group being counted.

(Neither result is a surprise to sceptics, of course. It's well known that one is unlikely to have much of a career or be able to publish much as a sceptic in climate science. The difference between the counts of publications and the opinions of scientists is the clearest evidence one could imagine of the publication bias. But as you say, that's a separate point not at issue here.)

If what you meant by the "97% consensus" claim was what was reported in the media about these papers, then that's fine. I agree with what you're saying. Although in that case it might be more relevant to give reference to the media stories themselves, and be clear that it is only the "messaging" you're interested in. As the article is written at the moment, it could easily be misread.

I'm not sure about "boring" - it's supposed to be about the fate of the planet and the future of humanity. Perhaps "boring" is not quite the right word for that? I suspect you find it uncomfortable to think too closely about, and I expect you don't want to get dragged into the fight, and so don't want to talk about it for that reason. The fighting is often unpleasant. Sure, I can understand that. Those are perfectly good reasons. But then you should be careful about saying things that suggest there is a 97% consensus of scientists, because that is indeed a matter of substance, and a particularly controversial and acrimonious one at that. Talking imprecisely, you will be perceived by partisans on both sides as having taken a side on the issue. If you want to remain neutral, that's best avoided.

I won't press you any further, though. I'll assume you meant to refer just to the media summaries and "messaging" of the papers in question. Thanks for satisfying my curiosity.

June 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@NiV

You do realize I was quoting from the articles?

Doran & Zimmerman are as clear as can be: anyone who knows anything bellieves human activity is significant cause of global warming. Only people who don't know anything dispute that. People who dispute what the 97% are saying are stupid.

I don't care whether they have good grounds for saying it. I really really really do mean to say that I find trying to figure out the right way to do opinion surveys of scientists on something like this boring.

But I can tell you that if you are trying to read Doran & Zimmerman as suggesting that there's doubt among knowledgeable people, that makes you look like you are workigng waaaaaaaay to hard.

I do find that interesting (a little surprising in your case, though, to tell you the truth), in the same way that I find the weird fixation of the "messengers" on this "strategy" to be intersteresting.

June 17, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

"You do realize I was quoting from the articles?"

Yes, of course. It was the bit immediately after the part that I was talking about:
"Results show that overall, 90% of participants answered “risen” to question 1 and 82% answered yes to question 2."

The context of which is "The objective of our study presented here is to assess the scientific consensus on climate change through an unbiased survey of a large and broad group of Earth scientists." The questions were: "1. When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant? 2. Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?"

Only when you constrain the population by defining 'expertise' in terms of the number of publications (are they serious?) do you get the higher numbers. So you can only say that 97% of well-published, core-community climate scientists say so. Not "97% of scientists".

Interestingly, even the 97% bit is calculated wrongly. They say "Of these specialists, 96.2% (76 of 79) answered “risen” to question 1 and 97.4% (75 of 77) answered yes to question 2." Did you notice that the denominator changed from 79 to 77? That's because the two who said 'not risen' to the first question were not asked the second question, which means that actually 75/79 = 94.9% of the chosen 'experts' agreed on both questions.

But anyway, The answer to the "percentage of scientists" question without all the caveats is 82%, according to this survey. Clearly, given the size of the difference in outcome, the distinction is important.

June 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Dan.. The scientists that took part in the Doran survey, were very critical of the 2 rather vague questions..
Have you read the source material for the survey, which includes 60 pages of appendices with critical feed back.
It is cited in the Doran EoS paper

I would agree with the 2 questions, for an interpretation of significant... (But they are 2 vague)

Is to a scientist 5% would be a significant result, or 95%, or anywhere in between..
The survey never actually defined, what 'significant' meant, so it was open to any of the interpretations above

And as I said, the participants were very critical of these 2 vague questions

Additionally,over 96% of those surveyed in Doran were from North America....
What do the rest of the worlds scientist think? :-)

June 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Here's a reminder of Dan's first post on the Cook et al paper just after it came out

http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2013/5/17/annual-new-study-finds-97-of-climate-scientists-believe-in-m.html

"Annual "new study" finds 97% of climate scientists believe in man-made climate change; public consensus sure to follow once news gets out

Hey! Did you hear? A new study shows that 97% of scientists believe that human activity is responsible for climate change!

We all need to be sure this new information gets reported far and wide -- not only because it is genuinely newsworthy, a true addition to what's known about the state of scientific opinion -- but also because public unawareness of this degree of consensus surely explains cultural polarization over climate change.

The ugly, demeaning, public-welfare-enervating debate will be over soon!

Why didn't anyone think of telling the public about this before now?!"

June 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Matthews

==> "On this account, the question to be investigated is not whether a “97% consensus” messaging campaign will influence public opinion but why it hasn’t over a 10-year trial."

I agree with your basic point (that messaging related to a "consensus" will only be filtered in ways that support preexisting opinions) - but I have a couple of questions.

It is my recollection that you had indicated previously that you thought that the 97% messaging had an effect counter to that expected by Cook and company, and that it actually increased the public prevalence of "skepticism." Is my recollection accurate? If so, has your opinion on that changed or do you still feel that way?

Also - you seem to have concluded that the reporting on the consensus has had no influence. Do you really have the evidence to support that conclusion? Can you say that the level of "skepticism" among the public wouldn't have been higher absent the 97% messaging (or more generally, messaging about the existence of a "consensus?"). I mean I agree about the most likely way to interpret the lack of change in public opinion despite 97% messaging - but I'm not sure about the evidence in support of that perspective.

June 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Hey Barry -

While I got you here. From above:

==> "in this Gallup item, there is no option to indicate rejection of the premise that the earth’s temperature has increased, a position a majority or near majority of Republicans tend to selection when it is available..

I know that polling questions related to climate change tend to be somewhat incomplete, and that trying to get a clear picture of public opinion on such complicated issues is always problematic, but what do you think about the part of that statement I put in bold?

If I'm not mistaken, your one of those "skeptics" who maintains that there isn't significant disagreement from "skeptics" that the Earth is warming and that ACO2 has a warming effect (they only question the magnitude of that effect). So what do you say, then, to Dan's statement (as supported by this graph: http://www.culturalcognition.net/storage/fig4.png?__SQUARESPACE_CACHEVERSION=1402926032166)

I recognize that it is possible that some respondants might, when they say that there has been "no warming," mean that there has been no ACO2-influenced warming (thus conflating "global warming" with "anthropogenic global warming"). And I also realize that being asked to choose between "human caused" and "naturally caused' might lead to misleading results in that it might encourage respondants who think that both are happening to appear to reject "human caused" - but given that the respondants were, in this poll given the option of choosing either "human caused" or "naturally caused," and still a significant % chose "no warming" - it would seem to me that the % of respondants who might conflate any form of warming with human-influenced warming wouldn't be very high.

Dan's evidence seems to suggest that indeed, a significant % of "skeptics" not only doubt that ACO2 influences the climate to any measurable degree, they also doubt that the Earth is warming. Thus, when "skeptics" say that virtually no "skeptics" disagree that the Earth is warming or that ACO2 influences that warming, then they should be able to reconcile that view with Dan's evidence.

How do you do so?

June 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Joshua - I'm not American, nor Republican.. ands surveys are basically pointless now.

However. Let's ignore the people who say CO2 is not a GHG, don't think the earth has warm, and don't think man may contribute, And move on? I for one would really welcome that.

Problem is Cook is trying to use his 97% consensus stick, to shut out all 'sceptics'

June 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

I'm also referring to sceptics and concerned from subset of the 'public' that know about the subject not the general public..

ie the general public, climate concerned or unconcerned are pretty ignorant about the subject, they only seem to be useful for surveys of public opinion..

when I refer to 'sceptics' I'm referring to Watts, Nova, Lucia, Donna, etc,etc

the general public (which ever 'side') are clueless about most of the science and even policy

June 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

More information can work. Also this '97%' kind of meta-information that says something about the quality of other information. But it will only work for the fraction of the population that is open to being persuaded, and willing to listen.

For all other people, it can be very convincing when they hear certain messages being repeated often on the media, even when they are in blatant opposition of scientific evidence. The familiar messages win out, even if they are basically wrong. This is the ancient weakness of a democracy: people that don't know (or even don't care) can be convinced by pseudo-arguments that are repeated often, in a way that sounds nice, or makes the hearer feel good, or superior. This is also why advertising works. It is how the Irak war was sold to the US people.

Only in a well-organised community of scientists working on a given topic is there enough discipline to approximately let the hard arguments win the day and the refuted ones lose very quickly. And even among scientists this isn't always easy.

The only answer is that the '97%' argument does work, but only on a limited fraction of people. But if you repeat is widely enough, it will work a bit more. And those people that change their mind, or become a bit more sure, they might move their friends that one step further. Every next group of people will probably need a new argument, given to them by a new set of people they trust. That is how a whole population can slowly evolve its general opinion, towards the point where change is possible.

June 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNichol

Barry -

==> "However. Let's ignore the people who say CO2 is not a GHG, don't think the earth has warm, and don't think man may contribute, And move on? I for one would really welcome that."

I don't think it makes sense to ignore the vast majority of the public when discussing the public polarization around climate change, and the process of climate policy development.

But we certainly don't have to ignore that overwhelming majority to discuss the climate debate as it refers to other segments of the public (e.g., that group of "skeptics" that you listed) - as long as we define terms and make it clear what we're talking about.

I think that there is a problem, however, when "skeptics" use terms like "concerned" and "skeptics" and talk about the beliefs of "concerned" and "skeptics," and the causality behind how those groups formulate their beliefs, when they don't define their terminology. It leads to fallacious conclusions that make meaningful discussion impossible. For example, how often have we both read "skeptics" - including those who are included on your list and who regularly participate at WUWT, Jo Nova's blog, etc.. - generalizing from their own perspective to assign beliefs and reasoning processes (with complete certainty) to the greater public (in an entirely unskeptical fashion)? Very often, in my view.

==> "the general public (which ever 'side') are clueless about most of the science and even policy'

I don't really agree with your description, but either way, then it brings up the question of how to help the general public to become better informed - keeping in mind that it seems that more informed people are more polarized in their views (personally, I think the direction of causality there is not what Dan describes, as I don't think it is simply a case of as people become better informed they become more polarized. I think there is likely an element where people who are inclined toward polarization are more likely to be so motivated as to become better informed).

June 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Nichol -

How do you address Dan's point that polarization is greater among those that display higher levels of scientific literacy? How do you address that segment of the public that is likely to think that 97% messaging is "hear[ing] certain messages being repeated often on the media?"

==> "The only answer is that the '97%' argument does work, but only on a limited fraction of people"

It seems to me that the 97% argument "works" for those who are ideologically inclined to receive that message and doesn't work for those ideologically inclined to reject it. If so, then for your logic to hold, then you need to provide evidence that the first group of people is more "open to being persuaded" than the latter. What evidence would you gather to support such a viewpoint?

June 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Nothing happened. Or, in truth, a lot happened.

In you list of things that happened you forgot something, which I would see as relevant:
The Climatic Research Unit email controversy (also known as "Climategate") began in November 2009 with the hacking of a server at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA) by an external attacker.

If you account for a break at the end of 2009, the trends look very different.

Even if you do not account for this break, the temporal behavior of such a graph is rather modest evidence for the strong claim that communicating that there is a consensus does not work and that the laboratory experiments must be invalid for the real world.

June 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVictor Venema

@ Victor:

So your first point is that the distrust of scientists from climate gate is what kept the previous consensus messaging strategies from working. But if the problem is that people distrust climate scientists, why exactly are we supposed to believe that "messaging" consensus will work? You see no contradcition apparently... amazing. (BTW, there's zero evidence that climate gate affected anything -- less than 5% of the general population ever had any idea what the issue was; these aren't things that ordinary people pay attention to.)

Your second point -- the ineffectiveness of previous 97% consensus messaging campagins isn't "strong evidence" .... I'm sure the complete ineffectiveness of another 10 yrs & another $10^8 wouldn't be strong enough evidence for you either.

Can you see why people might conclude that there simply is no evidence that could persuade you that spending millions of dollars to repeat the last decade's strategy is a *bad* idea? That this is not about evidence for you at all?

June 20, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Maybe, just maybe, the public is not a naive as you and that they can spot a Baghdad Bob one they see one.
It is obvious that the '97%' consensus isn't what either Coo or you state it to be.

You could do worse than to examine the mettadata of the Cook et al., 2013, and see what '97%' endorse.

June 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDocMartyn

(BTW, there's zero evidence that climate gate affected anything -- less than 5% of the general population ever had any idea what the issue was; these aren't things that ordinary people pay attention to.)

==> "On this account, the question to be investigated is not whether a “97% consensus” messaging campaign will influence public opinion but why it hasn’t over a 10-year trial."

Seems both groups bang on about something that makes few converts.

Disclosure: I wrote several blog articles for JeffID's blog on Yamal, spruce, and other interesting facts about the science in the Climategate release.

June 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohn F Pittman

Dan Kahan: "@ Victor: So your first point is that the distrust of scientists from climate gate is what kept the previous consensus messaging strategies from working. But if the problem is that people distrust climate scientists, why exactly are we supposed to believe that "messaging" consensus will work? You see no contradcition apparently... amazing."

I have no strong opinion on how strongly consensus messaging works. I do not work on communication, where I live people know there is a consensus on climate change and do not make a fuss about it and I am not fooling myself to understand a country where half of the population feels the need to reject evolution. My comment was purely scientific, I do not think that the evidence presented in this post, just a trend in public opinion, is strong.

Let's take a neutral example. Since the time the official nutritional recommendations are to eat more vegetables and fruit, obesity has been on the rise in the USA. Would you conclude from this that these nutritional recommendation were bad? Or would you in that case conclude that other forces were stronger? And at least ask for more evidence.

Would you conclude from the rise in unemployment that the stimulus did not work? Or that that is not sufficient evidence, that the counter factual is missing? Would you conclude from the rise in temperature the last decades, while the sun was constant, that the sun does not influence the temperature on Earth? Or would you reply that you need to quantify all changes that could have changed the Earth's temperature?

Why do you feel it to be impossible that other forces were stronger in this period as people messaging that there was a consensus. Next to climategate also the rise of the Tea Party in response to a black president comes to mind. You have shown yourself that there is a consensus among conservative Tea Party members that humans are not causing climate change. Is it impossible that that has changed public opinion?

I do not see why this is not a valid argument and why the ironic "amazing" is necessary in a scientific discussion. An argument why the above evidence is thin, not an argument that consensus messaging is effective.

Dan Kahan: "(BTW, there's zero evidence that climate gate affected anything -- less than 5% of the general population ever had any idea what the issue was; these aren't things that ordinary people pay attention to.)

Your evidence is a change of about 5%, thus that would be sufficient. Furthermore, I feel it is not a bad assumption that when people that do pay attention change their mind their peers will be influenced by that. Actually, I thought that was one of the main messages of this blog, but maybe I have misinterpreted that.

Dan Kahan: "Your second point -- the ineffectiveness of previous 97% consensus messaging campagins isn't "strong evidence" .... I'm sure the complete ineffectiveness of another 10 yrs & another $10^8 wouldn't be strong enough evidence for you either.

Would you change your mind about recommending to eat fruit and vegetables if obesity keeps on rising for another decade? (Fortunately, it seems to be levelling, possibly because people no longer believe other parts of the recommendations.) Or would you ask what the counter factual is, what would have happened otherwise?

Given that you do think that such a trend is convincing when it comes to climate, would you change your mind if the trend since 2009 towards accepting that humans caused global warming continues for another decade?

Dan Kahan: "Can you see why people might conclude that there simply is no evidence that could persuade you that spending millions of dollars to repeat the last decade's strategy is a *bad* idea? That this is not about evidence for you at all?

Can you see why I am deeply disappointed by your reply? This is not the tone I am used to in the natural sciences, when someone makes a scientific argument. Is there any need whatsoever to claim that I am anti-scientific (ignore evidence)?

P.S. I have only read a few posts on this blog. They were either descriptive or explained what does not work (according to you). Do you also have ideas on what does work?

June 28, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVictor Venema

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