follow CCP

Recent blog entries
popular papers

What Is the "Science of Science Communication"?

Climate-Science Communication and the Measurement Problem

Ideology, Motivated Cognition, and Cognitive Reflection: An Experimental Study

'Ideology' or 'Situation Sense'? An Experimental Investigation of Motivated Reasoning and Professional Judgment

A Risky Science Communication Environment for Vaccines

Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government

Ideology, Motivated Cognition, and Cognitive Reflection: An Experimental Study

Making Climate Science Communication Evidence-based—All the Way Down 

Neutral Principles, Motivated Cognition, and Some Problems for Constitutional Law 

Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus
 

The Tragedy of the Risk-Perception Commons: Science Literacy and Climate Change

"They Saw a Protest": Cognitive Illiberalism and the Speech-Conduct Distinction 

Geoengineering and the Science Communication Environment: a Cross-Cultural Experiment

Fixing the Communications Failure

Why We Are Poles Apart on Climate Change

The Cognitively Illiberal State 

Who Fears the HPV Vaccine, Who Doesn't, and Why? An Experimental Study

Cultural Cognition of the Risks and Benefits of Nanotechnology

Whose Eyes Are You Going to Believe? An Empirical Examination of Scott v. Harris

Cultural Cognition and Public Policy

Culture, Cognition, and Consent: Who Perceives What, and Why, in "Acquaintance Rape" Cases

Culture and Identity-Protective Cognition: Explaining the White Male Effect

Fear of Democracy: A Cultural Evaluation of Sunstein on Risk

Cultural Cognition as a Conception of the Cultural Theory of Risk

« "I was wrong?! Coooooooooool!" | Main | Am I doing the right thing? . . . The “chick-sexing” disanalogy »
Thursday
Sep242015

Why do we seem to agree less & less as we learn more & more-- and what should we do about that?

from correspondence ...

Dear Prof Kahan,
 
I’m working on an article describing how our ideologies skew our ability to deal with the facts, no matter how true/scientifically sound they are. While researching this, I (obviously ;) landed upon your research. I’ve been eagerly reading papers and posts on Cultural Cognition –site, but  there are couple of things I’m still unsure of. Namely:
 
1 How does cultural cognition differ from motivated reasoning? Or is the latter included in the former; thus motivated reasoning is merely cultural cognition ”in action”?
An account here
Also see this 
 
2 Are smart people more prone to twist given facts so that they fit into their existing beliefs/values? Or are intelligent persons just moreskillful in this process...?  
I think latter.  That is, I don't think the reason various critical reasoning proficiencies magnfiy cultural cognition is that they are correlated with a greater stake or unconscious motivation to form identity-protective beliefs;  individuals who are better than average in critical reasoning aren't more partisan or intensely partisan when one measures those things in them. I think they are just better at doing what people naturally do with information that helps them to form "beliefs" that express who they are.  Our motivated numeracy paper is in line w/ that interpretation.
3 Is motivated reasoning unconsious reaction? Do we know we do it? Does everybody do it, even the ones who try not to?
That's the theory, & I believe the evidence supports it; well-designed experiments have for sure connected motivated-reasoning dynamics to unconscious processes.
Knowing doesn't seem to help, no. One can't "observe" the effect of the dynamic in oneself, much less control it. I'm sure, though, that one can behave in ways that anticipate the effect -- trying to manage the conditions under which one examines information, & also being conscious when an issue is of the sort about which one's beliefs might well have been influenced in this way & taking that into account in acting 
 
4 If motivated reasoning is unconsious (= automatic), how on earth do we stop it? Can we?
 
 
I have to confess this whole phenomena bothers me to the bone, both as a human being and (especially) as a science journalist. How can we, how can anyone promote rational ideas or actions or work towards the kind of society s/he thinks is worthwhile, if s/he doesn’t first know how thing are, thus is able to take in the facts?
The only grounds any of us ever has for confidence in our perception of what is in fact known to science is the reliability of the faculties we use to recognize who knows what about what.  Those faculties are vulnerable to disruption by one or another form of social pathology.  We can attend to those pathologies; we all have an interest in that no matter what our cultural worldviews or our positions on particular issues. 
 
I would appreciate enormously, if you found a minute answering me.
 
With kind regards,
By enabling free and reasoning people to understand what science can teach us about how members of a pluralistic liberal democratic society come to know the vast amount of scientific knowledge that their way of life makes possible, you are a critical part of the solution. Thanks, & good luck w/ your story. 

 

 

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (35)

Hey Dan -

Kinda related:

"WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A Purdue University-led survey of nearly 700 scientists from nonclimate disciplines shows that more than 90 percent believe that average global temperatures are higher than pre-1800s levels and that human activity has significantly contributed to the rise.

The study is the first to show that consensus on human-caused climate change extends beyond climate scientists to the broader scientific community, said Linda Prokopy, a professor of natural resource social science.

"Our survey indicates that an overwhelming majority of scientists across disciplines believe in anthropogenic climate change, are highly certain of these beliefs and find climate science to be credible," Prokopy said. "Our results also suggest that scientists who are climate change skeptics are well in the minority."


Here's where it gets a bit more interesting:

"Disagreement about climate change is rarely a simple dispute about facts, Prokopy said. People's interpretation of information can also be influenced by their cultural and political values, worldview, and personal identity. Prokopy's research team found that division over climate change was linked to disagreement over science - such as the potential effects of carbon dioxide on the Earth's climate - but also differing cultural and political values, which the survey gauged in a section of questions on respondents' general worldviews.

While cultural values did not appear to influence scientists as much as previous studies have shown they influence the general public on a variety of issues, including climate change, the survey indicated that "when it comes to climate change, scientists are people, too," said lead author Stuart Carlton, a former postdoctoral research assistant in Prokopy’s lab.

"While our study shows that a large majority of scientists believe in human-caused climate change, it also shows that their beliefs are influenced by the same types of things that influence the beliefs of regular people: cultural values, political ideologies and personal identity," he said.

Prokopy said she was "quite surprised to find cultural values influencing scientists as much as they are. This shows how strong these values are and how hard they are to change."

Respondents' certainty in their beliefs on climate change appeared to be linked to the source of their climate information. Certainty was correlated to how much of respondents' climate information came from scientific literature or mainstream media, Prokopy said. The more respondents relied on scientific studies for information on climate change, the greater their certainty that human activity is causing the Earth's temperatures to rise.

September 24, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2015/Q3/purdue-study-climate-change-consensus-extends-beyond-climate-scientists.html

September 24, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua-- If "more than 90 percent believe that average global temperatures are higher" as a result of human activity, it's hard to understand how "cultural values" could be of any pratical importance.

Maybe a significant p-value for a practically nonsignificant correlation, but needless to say, will read & figure that out --Purdue has a lot of great researchers so I'm sure it will be informative in any event.

Thanks!

September 24, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

@Joshua--

the differences they report are so trivial compared to ones in members of public w/ same views that the study is much stronger evidence for the conclusion that cultural worldviews don't matter sore scientists than that they do

September 24, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

==>"the study is much stronger evidence for the conclusion that cultural worldviews don't matter sore scientists than that they do"


Having some trouble parsing that, Dan...

September 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Dan -

What do you think about this?:

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-oOoeJIn6doM/VgTVIitqy5I/AAAAAAAAKok/IfKSifISmwk/s400/hierarchical%2Bindiv%2Bscientists%2Band%2Bclimate.png

From here: http://blog.hotwhopper.com/2015/09/its-not-just-climate-scientists-who.html#more

Seems like their survey suffers from the same kind of wording/semantics problems that other surveys suffer from (e.g., they don't survey opinions on magnitude of anthropogenic effect) - but personally, I don't look at this stuff to assess precise prevalence in views (because all I need to know there is that a very significant # of experts think that ACO2 poses significant long-term risk), but instead to look at the overall dynamics in play. As such, it's interesting that yes, as you point out, the "cultural cognition" effect they found was small:

"A significantly smaller proportion of hierarchical individualists (e.g., those who scored above the median on both the hierarchical and individualism scales, Kahan et al 2011) believed in climate change than non-hierarchical individualists (94.3% versus 98.8%; t = 2.11, p = 0.02)."

Which would seem to support your confidence that it's questionable to extrapolate from patterns in the general public to make assumptions about the manifestation of cultural cognition among scientists....

What do you think about how they assessed ideology among the participants?

September 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

In the big logistic regression at the back, the strongest effect comes from the factor "Proportion of research concerning climate change". Interestingly, the ratio is less than 1: maybe there's some statistical truth to the maxim in research that the person presenting their model is the least sold on it.

More disturbingly, the factor with the second-strongest effect in the entire table is "Male". Apparently, other things being equal, male subjects were 1/4th as likely to agree with the facts on the ground that climate change -is- occurring. First, WTH? How do men live in an alternative reality?

Second, care to comment on that, Dan? Is that consistent with your statement earlier that "the differences they report are so trivial compared to ones in members of public w/ same views that the study is much stronger evidence for the conclusion that cultural worldviews don't matter sore scientists than that they do"?

There is a similar gender discrepancy in the population at large, but the effect size seems to be greater in scientists than in the population in general. Haven't done the stats, but we could be looking at even more evidence for the increased polarization at high analytic capacity that we so often see.

September 25, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon

"Seems like their survey suffers from the same kind of wording/semantics problems that other surveys suffer from (e.g., they don't survey opinions on magnitude of anthropogenic effect)"

Quite so. I'd have answered 'yes' to both their two questions, and so would scientists like Anthony Watts, Richard Lindzen, Andrew Montford, Roy Spencer, and Craig Idso. When you're main metric puts that lot on the side of the 'consensus', your study is garbage.

But still, in Q27 they do ask a few more useful questions than is usual in studies of this sort. Interesting highlights: 20% are 'undecided' about whether variation in solar activity dominates 20th century warming, and about 30% think climate models are unreliable.

But I think the most fascinating statistic of all is Q31, revealing that 64% of the sample consider themselves 'liberal' while only 5% consider themselves 'conservative'! (And 86% say they are sympathetic to the environmental movement in Q30.) The political bias is even larger than the gender bias!

Given that something like 40% of the population as a whole consider themselves conservative, the odds of such a large imbalance occurring by accident in a sample of about 700 individuals ... , well, it's a 19-sigma event, and my calculator doesn't do numbers that high. I think it's pretty definitely not accidental - and we know what people would say about the causes if it was black people or women (sorry: 'people of gender') we were talking about.

Somebody needs to have a word with the 'diversity officer' at these so-called universities... Academia, eh?

So anyway, the sample size of 'conservative' scientists they're basing their contrarian results on is about 35. And that's conservative scientists able to survive socially in a strongly liberal academic culture. I'd be - let us say - inclined to question how representative the sample is.

--

Nevertheless, 'Bravo!' to the social scientists who **actually did a survey of scientists** to try to identify scientific views on climate change. They're actually doing their job!

Now, how about a few more?

--

"Apparently, other things being equal, male subjects were 1/4th as likely to agree with the facts on the ground that climate change -is- occurring. First, WTH? How do men live in an alternative reality?"

Some will be using alternative scientific definitions. More, I suspect, will be answering the question the surveyors should have asked, rather than the ones they did ask, because they know to what political uses such surveys will be put, and modify their answers accordingly.

It's kinda like doing a survey on belief in evolution, and testing it by asking: "Do you believe that animals better suited by their construction to survival and reproduction reproduce more?" as the criterion. people who know perfectly well what the question is driving at, are so annoyed at knowing how the survey results are going to get used ("97% of respondents said they believe in evolution!!!"), they'll even give an obviously wrong/stupid answer just to mess your planned media headlines up. It's no big surprise that the people who do this tend to be the ones with strong political views.

At least, there doesn't appear to be any evidence here that this isn't so. Maybe they need to ask better questions?

September 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV, none of your proposed explanations would explain why men and women would react differently. To put it a different way:

I know that coefficient in the logistic regression is only significant in the context of that model itself. One can't just take it out, and so I make no claim about the data.

If, however, I -had seen- that odds ratio in a single-variable logistic regression of CCstance ~ sex, I could make the following back-calculation to their cross-table:

If we let A stand for those accepting and D those denying that global mean temperature has significantly increased since before the 1800s, an odds ratio of 0.2 for Male would mean that

0.2 AF/DF = AM/DM. Here, concatenation is intersection.

Solving that for DM under the constraints that appear in the paper,

AM + DM = M = 78.31,
AM + FM = A = 93.48,
DM + DF = D = 6.52,

one would get DM = 6.16, DF = 0.36, and DM/DF = a whopping 17 to 1, which would have been a pretty strong indication that climate change denial among Big 10 university scientists was almost exclusively a male phenomenon.

So I'd love to look at the authors' original data, or at least that cross-table.

September 25, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon

==> "But I think the most fascinating statistic of all is Q31, revealing that 64% of the sample consider themselves 'liberal' while only 5% consider themselves 'conservative'! (And 86% say they are sympathetic to the environmental movement in Q30.) The political bias is even larger than the gender bias!"

Can't speak to it's veracity, but Sou posted this:

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-Kmgokpk_fS0/VgTPxq6veUI/AAAAAAAAKoE/u51CD2xM7Do/s400/Cultural%2Bvalues%2BCarlton15.png

That's why I asked Dan about his take on their ideological categorization of the participants.

September 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

So Niv -

You're always explaining how "us skeptics" come to their views because of the flaws in the science presented by "realists," but it seems that you think that the results of the survey are explainable by the large "liberal" "bias" on the part of the participants.

What is the mechanism by which you see ideological bias disproportionately affecting "realists" in comparison to "skeptics?"

September 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"What is the mechanism by which you see ideological bias disproportionately affecting "realists" in comparison to "skeptics?""

I think Dan once described it as the choice between asking "Can I believe this?" as opposed to asking "Must I believe this?"

When new information conforms to expectations, people set a lower standard of evidence to accept it. If the new information violates expectations, then either the new information is wrong or their prior beliefs were wrong and people will activate their critical faculties to try to determine which. They'll ask more questions, test the evidence, look for flaws, re-examine what their beliefs about the world would predict at a deeper level, to try to resolve the conflict. They'll do harder calculations, use less approximate physics, check assumptions, and generally take more care, when it appears that the initial impressions are giving the "wrong" answer.

If all the evidence checks out after an exhaustive attempt to find any flaws in it, people will generally revise their beliefs. But it's a hugely higher threshold to pass than if the evidence was consistent with existing beliefs, telling you more or less what you already knew.

So in this case, because liberals tend to sympathise politically with the climate movement, they accept Argument from Authority and follow what the media and governments tell them that government-funded, government-selected scientists say.

Because conservatives find the economic solutions being offered disquieting, they ask the question "Must I believe this?" They check the evidence themselves if they're qualified to do so, or they seek alternative experts to trust if they're not. And in most cases, scientific evidence/argument presented to the public is incomplete, insufficient, full of gaps and ambiguities, so it's not hard for the sceptical - especially with a bit of scientific training - to poke holes in it. The question is, can scientists fill in the holes when challenged?

The effect is entirely symmetric. There are plenty of things conservatives take for granted that liberals will expend much more effort questioning. We each have our blind spots, and we have to rely on people with a different set of blind spots to warn us of what is lurking in our own.

Science depends on being challenged for its credibility and its success. We reason with an imperfect engine. Science tells us that we all have cognitive biases. So how can we have any assurance that what our reasoning is telling us is correct? The answer is to find people biased against the hypothesis try to find flaws in it. If they fail, and the hypothesis survives the challenge, we can have more assurance in it. The more challenges it survives, and the more competent those challenges are, the stronger our confidence can be. So to progress the science, you *need* sceptics. They have to be at the heart of the process.

Science with the self-confidence to encourage challengers and to answer them with data and evidence in open debate is good science. When adherents to a position try to shut down debate, exclude or eliminate opposition, withhold data, fudge evidence, not answer questions or challenges, and cover it with blatant appeals to authority and 'consensus': that's not science.

Science depends on a diversity of viewpoints. 'Consensus' is a profoundly anti-scientific approach. And if almost all scientists are of one viewpoint, all with the same set of blind spots, they're going to miss stuff.

September 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

"NiV, none of your proposed explanations would explain why men and women would react differently."

True. I don't know. An obvious hypothesis is that it is because women - less aggressive and competitive by nature, already in a minority and under cultural pressure in a male-dominated subsection of society - are far less likely to challenge the prevailing culture (or to want to challenge it), and less likely to survive (career-wise) if they do.

One approach to getting an answer might be to ask some climate-sceptic women and find out.

September 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@Joshua & @NiV:

For sure @Joshua the results have to adjusted to account for the strong skew in sample toward liberal, and hence presumably more egaltiarian/communitarian subjects. I overlooked that in my initial assessment of how strongly the results suggest the absence of a "cultural cognition" effect. B/c the authors classified the subjects based on sample mean scores on the CWV scales, many of their "hierarchical individualists" would likely not be --indeed, conceivably even would be "engalitarian communitarians"--in relation to distribution of those types in the general population. Accordingly, the impact of cultural cogntion would be understated considerably.

In our work, we classify subjects by "type" only for exploratory or illustrative purposes. The culture scales are continuous; we estimate the impact of variance in each on perceptions of risk, believe in climate change, etc.

If we had that information for this sample, we'd have a better idea if the *strength* of the relationship between worldviews and climate change acceptnce was weaker for this scientist sample than what we'd expect for a general population sample.

I strongly suspect that's what we'd see. But obviously, that's just a guess on my part; and indeed, I'd be keen to try to make the results in this sample more commensurable w/ those from a general population sample in order to be able to replace my guess w/ some actual data.

I myself don't think polling scientists is a good way either to *measure* or "communicate* the weight of expert opinoin.

But I do think it's interesting & important to examine how dynamics like cultural cogniton interact with the professional judgment of scientists & others.

I think it's great that the authors did the study -- & I suspect they'll be happy to enable others to learn even more from their data.

September 26, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@NiV:

Yes, it's pretty darn interesting that being male rather than female was 5x more consistent with being climate skeptical.

Obviously, that's a five-fold shift in odds that are already super long against being skeptical, so I'm sure even the male respondents acdcepted AGW by a decided margin.

But still, the gender effect is not one that fits with a theory of how professional judgment should generate convergence among scientsits, etc.

September 26, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

"Yes, it's pretty darn interesting that being male rather than female was 5x more consistent with being climate skeptical."

I'm wondering what sample size we're talking about here. If 20% are female and 10% of those (assuming independence, which I don't believe is a safe assumption) are "skeptical", then we're talking about 2% of the total - about 14. The SD of the estimate is about 0.5%, so using a 2-sigma interval either side of 2% it could plausibly report anywhere from 1% to 3%, ballpark. That's a back-of-an-envelope calculation (and all of this would be easier to look at if the scientists had published their data!), but it suggests the significance of the finding needs to be checked.

I can't say I'd be all that surprised if it was true - there are several possible explanations for it - but I honestly don't know.

"Obviously, that's a five-fold shift in odds that are already super long against being skeptical, so I'm sure even the male respondents acdcepted AGW by a decided margin."

We need to be careful of our terminology here. As I noted above, by the standards being used here, most of the most prominent climate-sceptical scientists in the public debate would not count as "skeptical" in this survey - so it's a highly non-standard usage. It doesn't actually say a lot about how many "skeptics" in the more conventional sense of the word there are.

Earlier surveys (e.g. Doran & Zimmerman) generally report about 80-85% for similarly vague questions. If we suppose the liberal sampling bias in academia is under-counting conservative scientists by a factor of 2, 90% isn't actually all that far off what we'd expect. Nevertheless, it's weak evidence.

Or that matter, it's entirely possible that the political distribution is less skewed than it looks, and conservatives are hiding their politics, claiming to be liberal and to hold liberal views to fit in when they're not and they don't. Who knows?

And I'm definitely intrigued by the 20% who were "undecided" as to whether it was mostly due to solar variations. That's not a position consistent with the 'IPCC consensus', either!

"But still, the gender effect is not one that fits with a theory of how professional judgment should generate convergence among scientsits, etc."

Agreed!

September 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV --

So your first mistake is in not differentiating between situations where they are strongly identified with their prior beliefs from where they aren't.

From that,

Your second mistake:

==> "and people will activate their critical faculties to try to determine which. "

Your first mistake...

==> " re-examine what their beliefs about the world would predict at a deeper level, to try to resolve the conflict."

#3

==> " re-examine what their beliefs about the world would predict at a deeper level, to try to resolve the conflict."

#4:

==> "If all the evidence checks out after an exhaustive attempt to find any flaws in it, people will generally revise their beliefs


#5:

==> "Because conservatives find the economic solutions being offered disquieting, they ask the question "Must I believe this?"

#6:

==> "They check the evidence themselves if they're qualified to do so, "

...if only because only a tiny % of them are even remotely close to being able to do so, but of course even for those who are your construction is another rose-tinted fantasy...

#7:

==> "or they seek alternative experts to trust if they're not."

They seek out expert opinion only from those who they've predetermined won't contradict their beliefs. And when they happen to stumble against an expert who disagrees, they just dismiss that person's expertise.

#8:

==> "And in most cases, scientific evidence/argument presented to the public is incomplete, insufficient, full of gaps and ambiguities, so it's not hard for the sceptical - especially with a bit of scientific training - to poke holes in it."

A, you're ignoring that most of them aren't capable of evaluating the scientific evidence. B, they also go on, with absolutely no problem, to fully believe arguments that are incomplete, insufficient, full of gaps and ambiguities, and they leave their skepticism at the door.

#9:

==> "The question is, can scientists fill in the holes when challenged?"

They only ask that "the question" w/r/t the scientists they disagree with.

--------------

You have merely argued by assertion. What you have not done is describe a mechanism that differentiates "skeptics" from "realists."

September 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

oops. Screwed up on the numbering...but I'm sure you get the point.

September 26, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Joshua,

Would you like to try that again? I can't figure out what argument you're attempting to make.

Try using complete sentences.

September 27, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@NiV

Complete sentences usually contain a lot of unnecessary information

September 28, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Re: "We need to be careful of our terminology here. As I noted above, by the standards being used here, most of the most prominent climate-sceptical scientists in the public debate would not count as "skeptical" in this survey - so it's a highly non-standard usage. It doesn't actually say a lot about how many "skeptics" in the more conventional sense of the word there are."

Huh? What exactly is the more conventional sense of the word, as you think it? The survey worded itself to identify those scientists skeptical of climate science's conclusions that global warming is happening and that human activity is its principal cause. It does not identify those people who disagree that there is cause for immediate action on part of the worlds' governments; I think correctly, for I wouldn't call them "skeptics", either. They wouldn't even have to be skeptical about the science to hold that position consistently. They're simply proponents of inaction.

Whether governments should take up action, and of what sort, is a wholly appropriate public question, one I would prefer not to conflate with skepticism about the climate science itself. That's why I agree with the survey's framing.

September 28, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon

"The survey worded itself to identify those scientists skeptical of climate science's conclusions that global warming is happening and that human activity is its principal cause."

Yes, but those aren't the conclusions under dispute. Or at least, not by the sceptical scientists.

The scientists involved in the debate on the sceptical side, and that most non-scientist sceptics respect and follow, hold that climate has historically varied over a wide range, that a number of the previous warm periods were likely as warm or warmer than the current one, that CO2 should, on its own, give rise to about 1-1.2 C of warming per doubling, and that this is multiplied by an unknown factor caused by a variety of poorly understood climate feedbacks, that the best empirical evidence so far gives a multiplier between 1 and 2, and a predicted transient end-of-century warming of about 1.0-1.5 C, that we currently do not have a validated model of the statistics of natural warming and therefore cannot reliably detect or quantify how much of any observed warming is natural/artificial, that the climate models are inaccurate and contradict observations, that the historical reconstructions of past temperatures are unreliable and in many cases known to be statistically invalid or have been derived by erroneous methods, and that the whole subject is currently poorly understood (primarily due to the immense complexity of the climate system rather than any lack of dedication on the scientists' part) and that the confidence in the conclusions is being massively overstated. They also hold that many of the projected consequences of global warming are grossly exaggerated or incorrect, such as the spread of disease, agricultural failure, polar bear extinctions, droughts and hurricanes, melting ice sheets, or the impact of sea level rise on coastal populations.

Simply asking whether temperatures have risen since the 1800s doesn't tell us anything at all about whether a scientist is sceptical since we all agree that the 1800s was the end of the 'little ice age', the last downswing. The critical question is whether temperatures have generally risen since the 900-1400 'medieval warm period', which is far more controversial. (Or for that matter, the Roman warm period, the Minoan warm period, or the Holocene climate optimum...)

Simply asking whether CO2 is a "significant" contributor to temperatures doesn't tell us much about it either because we all agree that without feedbacks CO2 would cause 1.2 C/doubling of warming, and that with an observed 40% rise in CO2 over the 20th century we expect about 0.6 C of warming contributed, which is obviously a "significant fraction" of the 0.6-0.8 C observed. What's controversial is the mainstream claim that the feedback factor is actually about 3.5 as the climate computer models claim, and that most of the predicted warming from this has been 'cancelled out' by a bunch of other temporary effects that observations cannot quantify, and for which there is no solid empirical evidence.

Not even people like Senator Inhofe think that climate doesn't change! I'm not saying that nobody does, but we're supposed to be talking about the opinions of scientists here.

The questions completely fail to understand the debate, or what the scientific argument is actually about. They're apparently addressed only at the strawman position that appears in the pro-AGW propaganda trying to discredit them. I constantly find it astonishing that any serious social scientist could wade into this area without having first found out what the subjects being studied actually believe!

But that's how this debate works, and what happens if you get all the academic social scientists on one side of the political divide. They tend to share the same political blind spots, and there's nobody around inside their community to give them a different perspective.

September 28, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Thank you for your very informative and clear post, NiV. I'm not myself a climate scientist, and I don't know if you are, but you've certainly done more research on the subject than me. I now understand much better how scientifically speaking, the aspects that remain under dispute are those that conceptually lie in between human causation and governmental action. Specifically, your "skeptics" claim that the errors & uncertainties of climate scientists' climate projections are too wide to base long-term public policy on, and that the harms and benefits associated with climate change are insufficiently well characterized to warrant any sacrifice, be it economic or civic. This makes sense: it's a valid position. It leads straight to a stance from which adaptation and mitigation co-benefits are easier to argue for than mitigation itself, at least if you live in the United States.

It was completely unclear to me, a scientist who's not a climate scientist, that the skepticism of scientists that you speak of, NiV, is totally different from the ill-considered and naive skepticism of climate science in general that has formed my experience of the general populace.

I don't think that the rest of the data on this site supports your assertion that lay climate skeptics by and large follow the skeptic scientists. If so, if you were to survey the general population, 90+% would agree with both the statements you claim are uncontroversial. That's not what we see. Instead, the data we have show that most people are clueless, and invent all sorts of bogus theories and arguments for action and inaction that don't even get the right signs on effects. "Skeptic" scientists' justified ambivalence about the policy relevance of climate models is used by nth-parties to socially substantiate completely unjustfiable doubts that don't contribute to the public discourse. The "consensus" is similarly misused to construct completely unsound arguments.

To bring the topic back on track to the science of science communication when science is a tribe of its own: Inasfar as what scientists believe as people about fields not their own specialty, it does seem that the biggest factor is the one between scientists and the general population: scientists trust other scientists in a way that non-scientists just don't trust any scientists. This trust isn't something scientists can take for granted when it comes to pushing policy.

September 28, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon

NiV -

It's mostly a pattern that repeats...(there are some variants and unique properties related to each individual comment I highlighted, but the most important point is the repeated, fundamental error).

Again, the first problem is that you don't differentiate between situations relative to the level of identity protective cognition that is stimulated for any particular individual.

So here's the pattern shown in the first statement of yours I highlighted:

==> "...then either the new information is wrong or their prior beliefs were wrong and people will activate their critical faculties to try to determine which. "

(Particularly when identity-protective cognition is stimulated), people don't activate their critical facilities to try to determine whether the new information is wrong or their prior beliefs are wrong. They activate their critical facilities to try to prove that their prior beliefs are correct and that the new information is wrong.

You just argue by assertion that "skeptics" are immune to the biases that you find in "realists." Your argument differentiates "skeptics" from "realists" merely on the basis of assertion, and your analysis lies in contrast to the evidence that Dan provides in how people's reasoning tends towards bias when identity protective cognition is stimulated.

Maybe you're right about how 'skeptics" think differently than anyone else, but it looks to me like confirmation bias on your part. That's why I'm asking you to describe a mechanism by which you exclude "skeptics" from the same processes that apply to everyone else.

The other comments I highlighted suffer from basically the same problem, IMO.

For example:

==> "If all the evidence checks out after an exhaustive attempt to find any flaws in it, people will generally revise their beliefs

People don't generally subject their own beliefs to an exhaustive attempt to find flaws, and in contrast, what we know is that people are generally resistant (without ever getting exhausted) to revising their beliefs. I see no particular reason to believe that "skeptics" are so differentiated.

Basically, everything you said about the mechanism by which you exclude "skeptics" begs the question.

September 28, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

...critical faculties...although I supposed critical facilities (in the sense of abilities or skills) isn't that far off the mark...

September 28, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"I'm not myself a climate scientist, and I don't know if you are, but you've certainly done more research on the subject than me."

I'm a scientist in another area (mainly maths/physics), who has spent about 10 years studying climate science as a 'hobby/interest', to try to get a handle on the debate. I don't know whether you'd count that, but I certainly don't get paid for it!

"I don't think that the rest of the data on this site supports your assertion that lay climate skeptics by and large follow the skeptic scientists."

By "follow" I mean in the same sense that ordinary AGW-believers "follow" the scientists of the IPCC and academia. If you were to survey the general population of AGW-believers, you would similarly find that most of them get a lot of even the basics wrong. That's not a feature of controversy, either. You would get the same result if you asked people why the sky was blue, or how electricity works, or why the tops of mountains are so cold when everyone knows that 'hot air rises'.

Most people are broadly ignorant of science, and what they do know is only known in a shallow, pop trivia quiz sort of way, picked up by rote from authority and popular culture. It's all very 'cargo cult'.

It's only on certain very select subjects, where they become cultural shibboleths, that it suddenly becomes 'shocking' that so many people are ignorant about particular scientific conclusions. But even the ones who do know the 'right' answer usually don't know why. I'd question whether that counts as truly 'scientific'. They're just putting their faith in different authorities.

However, it's not quite as bad as I just painted it. People do have a degree of native intelligence and natural problem-solving ability that they apply to such decisions as they do to any of the choices they have in life. They don't simply believe blindly whatever the adverts on TV tell them. They apply, to the best of their ability and training, some checks of consistency, plausibility, and pattern recognition. They form social networks of friends, relatives, work colleagues, etc. who spread the news and opinions, and they make judgements about who is more reliable: about 'who knows what' about science. The scientists pass the word onto the technically able, who pass it on to the interested laymen, who pass it on to everyone else. The message gets garbled and simplified at every step, but it's not entirely random what gets through.

"If so, if you were to survey the general population, 90+% would agree with both the statements you claim are uncontroversial."

The trouble with such surveys is that by now people know very well what such surveys will be used for, and what the given answers will be interpreted to mean. If you ask "Do you believe in climate change?" people will hear the question "Do you believe in dangerous anthropogenic climate change that we must take urgent political action to prevent?" and will answer "No", even though of course they believe in climate change. There're these things called "Ice Ages", you know.

Once a question becomes a political shibboleth, you can't simply ask. Subjects tell lies in surveys.

-

Dan has spent a lot of time discussing what he calls the 'Kentucky Farmer' paper, which purported to show an inconsistency between what people said they believed, and what they did. It turned out when you looked at the results more closely that the farmers were being entirely consistent - they believed in *natural* climate change, but not *anthropogenic* climate change. Hence, they answered questions related to the effects of changing climate positively (i.e. they believed climate change would result in costs and impacts on the way they did business), but they answered questions on causes negatively (they didn't think it was anthropogenic, or had been scientifically proved). Because Dan was unable to distinguish natural from anthropogenic climate change, he found these beliefs incompatible, and presumed that they knew the truth but were telling a particular story to show their membership of their political in-group.

In fact, it showed that if you give them questions in which the more subtle distinctions are made, so they don't have to lie to avoid giving misleading answers, farmers were quite able to make them.

"it does seem that the biggest factor is the one between scientists and the general population: scientists trust other scientists in a way that non-scientists just don't trust any scientists."

Scientists trust other scientists in a different way, for a different reason.

The scientific method depends on even well-established results being continually challenged and checked. When scientists see results they know have survived for a long time through these checks, they will trust other scientists to have found and reported any flaws that there might be. They trust the results because they know that other scientists before them didn't trust the results.

Non-scientists trust scientists in the same way that the religious trust their priests. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. It depends on the context.

"This trust isn't something scientists can take for granted when it comes to pushing policy."

Agreed! That's exactly the problem.

September 28, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Joshua,

Thank you.

"They activate their critical facilities to try to prove that their prior beliefs are correct and that the new information is wrong."

I agree.

But if they fail, they change their minds. Unwillingly. Unhappily. Slowly. But they do.

"You just argue by assertion that "skeptics" are immune to the biases that you find in "realists.""

No I don't. I stated explicitly and clearly that the effect was *symmetric*.

What I described is a form of confirmation bias. People only check results they don't want to be true. 'Sceptics' checked and 'realists' didn't because *in this case* only the realists wanted it to be true. It's vice versa for things sceptics want to be true - as we both said.

"Your argument differentiates "skeptics" from "realists" merely on the basis of assertion"

No, I said it was on the basis of whether they wanted to believe. "because liberals tend to sympathise politically with the climate movement" / "Because conservatives find the economic solutions being offered disquieting".

I'm not sure how I could have said it any more clearly.

My point was, cultural identity doesn't determine *what they'll decide*, it determines * whether they'll check it*.
"Can I believe this?" versus "Must I believe this?"

"and your analysis lies in contrast to the evidence that Dan provides in how people's reasoning tends towards bias when identity protective cognition is stimulated."

On the contrary. If it was simply a question of whether somebody's identity-protective cognition was stimulated, then people with little scientific aptitude would be just as polarised as people of high scientific aptitude. After all, scientific numpties do still have strong political identities.

How can it be that on many of Dan's graphs the cultural opposites start from the same place on the left, at low levels of scientific awareness/reflection? Why don't they draw the culturally-expected conclusions, but for bad reasons? Why does scientific ignorance apparently give immunity to culturally-motivated cognition?

Whereas my hypothesis of selectively-activated *checking* would predict that people only disagree with the expert when they find a specific reason to doubt them, and the more scientific aptitude they have the more likely it is their checks will find something they can use. The reason for the polarisation is that the deeper processing is only activated if there's a motivation for doing so. Even people with the right aptitude don't use it if it's not in their interests to do so.

September 28, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Dan -

If you're still bothering with this thread....

I was wondering if you've done any research (or know anyone who has) into an associations between levels of creativity and/or creative thinking and biases such as cultural cognition, motivated reasoning, confirmation bias, etc.

I'm dubious about causality and direction of causality behind the association between assessments of cognitive attributes and polarization on issues such as climate change, and I'm always wondering about unidentified moderators or mediators. It seems to me that "convergent thinking" vs. "divergent thinking" might be at least somewhat influential. Perhaps people more prone towards convergent thinking are more prone towards fitting evidence into preexisting mental models and people more prone towards divergent thinking might be more open to new ways putting together evidence. Of course, the reverse processes could also be in play, where divergent thinkers can find more ways to confirm biases....

September 29, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Hey Dan -

You might find this interesting:

Particularly the parts about differences in trust in scientists stratified by issue and political orientation:

http://scholars.unh.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1251&context=carsey

September 30, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua-- still bothering-- thankis!

October 3, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Then you may also want to read this:

https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2015/09/30/guest-post-the-elephant-in-the-room/

(You prolly want to skip the comments, which are cluttered up with the inane rambling of some dude named Joshua who prolly is confused about your findings.)

And this:

https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2015/09/30/guest-post-the-elephant-in-the-room/#comment-64028

and this (if you haven't already seen it):

https://carsey.unh.edu/publication/views-of-science

October 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

And while I"m at it:

http://neven1.typepad.com/blog/2015/10/arctic-perceptions-pre-election-year-update.html


From that thread - this was interesting:

"Many drivers of polar-region change originate in mid-latitude industrial societies, so public perceptions there matter. Building on earlier surveys of US public knowledge and concern, a series of New Hampshire state surveys over 2011–2015 tracked public knowledge of some basic polar facts. Analysis indicates that these facts subjectively fall into two categories: those that are or are not directly connected to beliefs about climate change. Responses to climate-linked factual questions, such as whether Arctic sea ice area has declined compared with 30 years ago, are politicized as if we were asking for climate-change opinions. Political divisions are less apparent with factual questions that do not suggest climate change, such as whether the North Pole is on land or sea ice. Only 38% of respondents could answer that question correctly, and even fewer (30%) knew or guessed correctly that melting of Greenland and Antarctic land ice, rather than Arctic sea ice, could potentially do the most to raise sea levels. At odds with the low levels of factual knowledge, most respondents say they have a moderate amount or a great deal of understanding about climate change. A combination of low knowledge with high self-assessed understanding characterizes almost half our sample and correlates with political views. The low knowledge/high understanding combination is most prevalent among Tea Party supporters, where it reaches 61%. It also occurs often (60%) among people who do not believe climate is changing. These results emphasize that diverse approaches are needed to communicate about science with people having different configurations of certainty and knowledge."

Can't say as I"m shocked.


http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1088937X.2015.1051158?journalCode=tpog20#.VhQDgCvzVpU

October 6, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

As for this:

==> "The low knowledge/high understanding combination is most prevalent among Tea Party supporters, where it reaches 61%. It also occurs often (60%) among people who do not believe climate is changing."

When I posted this:

https://tamino.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/q74.jpg?w=500&h=325

and this:

https://tamino.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/q54.jpg?w=500&h=325

(con't)...

October 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

And this:

https://tamino.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/q54cum.jpg?w=500&h=325

Lawrence responded with this:

"Research on US public concern about environmental issues finds ideology or political party are the most consistent background predictors. Party is commonly defined by three groups: Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. Here, using statewide New Hampshire survey data, we elaborate this approach to distinguish a fourth group: respondents who say they support the Tea Party movement. On 8 out of 12 science- or environment-related questions, Tea Party supporters differ significantly from non–Tea Party Republicans. Tea Party supporters are less likely than non–Tea Party Republicans to trust scientists for information about environmental issues, accept human evolution, believe either the physical reality or the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change, or recognise trends in Arctic ice, glaciers, or CO2. Despite factual gaps, Tea Party supporters express greater confidence in their own understanding of climate change. Independents, on the other hand, differ less from non–Tea Party Republicans on most of these questions—although Independents do more often accept the scientific consensus on climate change. On many science and environmental questions, Republicans and Tea Party supporters stand farther apart than Republicans and Independents."

October 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

from this:

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09644016.2014.976485?journalCode=fenp20

Interesting stuff...

I would still like to see data from a more symmetrical breakdown - where the left side of dependents is sub-divided as is the right side of independents...

October 7, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Post:
 
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>