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Monday
Oct102016

Pew on Climate Polarization: Glimpses of cognitive dualism . . .

I’ve now digested the Pew Research Center’s “The Politics of Climate" Report. I think it’s right on the money—and delivers a wealth of insight.

What most readers seem to view as the highlights are interesting, certaintly, but you have to dig down a bit to get to the really good 
"believe it or not" stuff. . . .

1. Conservation of polarization. People have been focusing on what is in fact the Report headline, namely, that there’s deep political polarization on all matters climate.

That’s not news, of course.

Still even in the “not news” portion of the Report there is something of informational value.

The Report documents the astonishing level of stability in public attitudes—with individuals of diverse political outlooks being highly divided, and only about 50% of the population accepting human-caused global warming overall—for over a decade.

It’s easy for people to get confused about immense inertia of public opinion on climate change because advocacy pollsters are constantly “messaging” an “upsurge,” “shift,” “swing” etc. in public perceptions of climate change.

Likely they are doing this based on the theory that “saying it will make it so.”  It doesn’t.  It just confuses people who are trying to figure out how to improve public engagement with the best evidence.

Good for Pew for recognizing that the most valuable thing a public opinion researcher can do is tell people what they need to know and not just what they want to hear.

2. New & improved science literacy. There's also been a fair amount of attention to what Pew finds on science literacy: that more of it doesn’t mitigate polarization but in fact accentuates it across a range of climate change issues.

Again, that's not news.  The perverse relationship between science literacy and climate change was emphasized in a recently issued National Academy of Sciences report, which synthesized data that included various CCP studies, including the one featured in our 2012 Nature Climate Change paper.

But what is new and potential really important about the Pew Report is the measure that it has constructed to measure public science literacy.

The need for a better public science literacy measure was the primary message of the National Academy Report, which concluded that the NSF Science Indicators battery—the traditional measure—is too easy and lacks sufficient connection to critical reasoning.  Addressing these shortcomings was the motivation behind the development of CCP’s “Ordinary Science Intelligence” assessment.

It’s really great that Pew is now clearly devoting itself to this project, too. Its new test, it’s clear, contains items that are more difficult than the ones in its previous tests. Moreover, the Report indicates that Pew  is using item response theory, a critical tool in developing a valid and reliable science comprehension assessment, to determine which array of items to include.

It would be super useful to have even more information on Pew’s new science literacy test. I’ll say more about this “tomorrow.”

But it is certainly worth noting today that this is exactly the sort of work that distinguishes Pew, a genuine creator of insight into public opinion, from the pack of 5&dime commericial public opinion purveyors.

3.  Cognitive Dualism.  As the 14 billion readers of this blog know, “cognitive dualism” refers to the phenomenon in which people who use their reason for “identity-protective” ends switch to using it for “science-knowledge acquiring” ones when they are engaged in activities that depend on the latter.

One example is Salman Hameed’s Pakistani Dr, who disbelieves in evolution “at home,” where he is a practicing Muslim, but believes in it “at work,” in order to be an oncologist and also a person who takes pride in his identity as a science-trained professional.

We see the same thing in science curious evolution non-believers who, when furnished with a superbly done documentary that doesn’t proselytize but just wows them with human ingenuity, can appreciatively agree that it has deepened their insight into the natural history of our species.

Cognitive dualism is also on display in the reasoning of the Kentucky Farmer: his experience of membership in his cultural group is enabled by believing that climate change “hasn’t been scientifically proven”; but to succeed as a farmer he engages in no-till farming, buys more crop insurance, changes his crop selection and rotation, and excitedly purchases Monsanto Fieldview Pro “climate forecaster” (powered by the world’s best climate change science!)—because he accepts the best available evidence on climate change for purposes of being a successful farmer.

Well, Pew’s survey tells us that there are a lot more cognitive dualists out there. 

E.g., although only 15% of “conservative Republicans” say they believe that the “earth is warming mostly due to human activity,” almost double that percentage agree that “restrictions on power plant carbon emissions” (29%) and “international agreements to limit carbon emissions” (27%) would “make a big difference” in “address[ing] climate change”!

Plainly, many who are answering the “do you believe in human-caused climate change?” question in an identity protective fashion are answering the “what would make a difference in reducing climate change” in a “what do you know, what should we do?” one.

Outside of SE Florida, the question posed by our politics is the first and not the second. 

That’s what has to change if we are to make progress as a self-governing society in addressing the issues that climate change poses about how to secure our well-being.

4.  Attitudes toward climate scientists.  Last is definitely not least: there is some really grim news for scientists in this poll . . . .

Generally speaking, I’ve been very skeptical that distrust of scientists, by anyone, explains conflict over decision relevant science.  The U.S. is a pro-science society by any sensible measure (including multiple ones that Pew has developed).  On climate change in particular—as on other contested science issues—both sides think their position is consistent with scientific consensus

But this survey had some responses that are making me reassess my understanding.

The survey items in question weren't ones that have to do with the skepticism of conservative climate change disbelievers, though. They were ones suggesting that even liberal climate change "believers" are a bit skeptical about what "climate scientists" are saying.

According to the survey, only 55% of “Liberal Democrats”—a group 79% of whom accept human-caused climate change is occurring—believe that climate scientists “research findings . . . are influenced by” the “best available evidence . . . most of the time . . . .” 

That’s really an eye opener. Apparently, even among those most disposed to believe in” human-caused climate change, there are a substantial number of people who think “climate scientists” aren’t being entirely straight with them. . . .

What could explain this sort of cognitive dualism?

More study is warranted, certainly, to figure this out.

But since we know that “liberal Democrats” don’t watch Fox News and instinctively dismiss everything that conservative advocacy groups say, a plausible hypothesis is that the advocates whom these individuals do credit have imprinted in their minds a highly politicized picture of who climate scientists are and what they are up to.

That wouldn’t be particularly surprising.  The principal groups speaking for climate scientists have played a central role in making “who are you, whose side are you on?” the dominant question in our climate-change discourse.

That’s a science communication problem that needs to be fixed.

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Reader Comments (49)

Link in this paragaph links to 'your documents' instead of a hosted file:

'. Cognitive Dualism. As the 14 billion readers of this blog know, “cognitive dualism” refers to the phenomenon in which people who use their reason for “identity-protective” ends switch to using it for “science-knowledge acquiring” ones when they are engaged in activities that depend on the latter.'

October 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

@Simon-- thanks, fixed (on any given day we have 0.5 billion casual visitors; they are especially grateful to you for calling this problem to my attention)

October 10, 2016 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

The thing I found most interesting, and I'm surprised you didn't make similar note of it Dan, are the two items asking "What do you expect for the next 50 years?" on page 2 of the online report.

The two items there were structured like a push-poll; will Americans make major changes to their way of life, or will technology solve our problems? If you take the dominant left-wing anti-consumerist, anti-industrial narrative for granted, these choices have opposite cultural valence, and it would have been reasonable to hypothesize that the left-right scale would vary in opposite directions: lefts would be more likely to expect cultural adaptation, and rights more likely to expect that technology will solve our problems. But that's not what happened at all.

Instead, what we have seen is that the left-right scale coheres on almost every other measure, but on this item, it breaks; self-identified conservative Republicans stand out as a group from everyone else, who are statistically indistinguishable from each other on this measure. The conservative Republicans seem to be motivated by the idea that nothing changes, nothing works, for almost any reason ever, except for the self-interest of people and industries.

In contrast, the general feeling from the majority of the rest of the population is that yes, climate change is going to be big and life-changing, but as humans, we will manage. We just need to know what changes are necessary, and be willing to politically and economically commit to them. I would argue that this is the consensus we should be building as a nation. Let's exclude the people who self-identify as pessimists, because pessimists are almost never helpful. The rest of us are looking for answers, ways in which to manage the change that is coming. We are ready for solutions that are more effective than what Pew thinks is our current repertoire: restrictions on power plant emissions, international agreements, fuel efficiency standards, tax incentives, hybrid cars, and individual behavior changes.

tl;dr: Engineering scientists really need to do a better job communicating their proposed climate change solutions.

October 11, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterdypoon

Hi Dan, I'm always surprised at how what I believe the major position on climate change is, is ignored totally. Most, (the vast majority BTW) sceptics I know aren't sceptical about humans causing climate change at all. They are sceptical in two areas. First how much warming CO2 has caused. The scientists say it's over 50% of the warming since 1950, but there's no scientific evidence for that it's a best guess. The world has in fact been warming since around the beginning of the 19th century when there wasn't the remotest possibility of humans causing it. The second disputed area of the science isn't science at all it's soothsaying. The scientists are telling us there will be disasters galore, droughts, rising seas, melting ice etc. But they have no special insight into the future, they're merely projecting their models programs into a future scenario. It is a common mistake to take two variables in a multi-variable system compare them by keeping all the other variables constant and make a forecast based in what looks like good science/mathematics - and be wrong. Malthus is an excellent example, but we, human beings that is, do it all the time. For instance Otto et al 2015 tells that the Earth is accumulating around 0.6Watt/m^2 per annum, from the 334W/m^2 coming from the Sun in their radiation model. A change in the cloud cover of 1% would make this a cooling of 0.3W/m^2 ( figures are approximate). The climate is too complex to make calls about the future, and if you think that's just a denier talking then I'll refer you to the IPCC TAR WG1 14.2.2.2, which explains that the future state of a coupled non-linear chaotic system (the climate) cannot be predicted.

October 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGerry Morrow

That’s really an eye opener. Apparently, even among those most disposed to “believe in” human-caused climate change, there are a substantial number of people who think “climate scientists” aren’t being entirely straight with them. . . .

In the eyes of the public Pielke or Curry are also climate scientists. Either they or the mainstream is not being entirely straight with them.

Kevin Anderson and Naomi Oreskes go around telling the public that climate scientists understate the problem. At least Oreskes may be right. Scientists have a tendency to understate problems to make a scientifically strong case that the understated phenomenon exists.

While I see us scientists as speaking truth to power, the population probably sees us as part of the establishment, which is not popular in the USA for understandable reasons.

October 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterVictor Venema

Gerry -

==> Most, (the vast majority BTW) sceptics I know aren't sceptical about humans causing climate change at all. ==>

Moving beyond the realm of your anecdotal evidence gathered from your personal circle, have you seen the evidence that Dan has collected regarding the belief of "skeptic' in the general public on that issue?

October 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Apparently, even among those most disposed to “believe in” human-caused climate change, there are a substantial number of people who think “climate scientists” aren’t being entirely straight with them. . . .

It's not clear to me that this is necessarily the correct interpretation of that result (although it might be). It's not even clear to me, at least - what the question was really getting at. Was it asking whether or not individual scientist always do their research in the best possible way? Well, when it comes to detailed analyses of complex topics, scientists who work in the same field may disagree about the best analysis method, the best model, maybe even the best datasets. Each scientist may regard themselves as doing the best possible research that they can, but others may disagree. If anything, this is a healthy part of doing detailed research about a complex topic.

Alternatively, is the question asking whether or not they think scientists are objective and unbiased? Well, they almost certainly are not. They're human like everyone else. They may have a skill set that always them to avoid making obviously biased judgements about their research, but there's rarely a single interpretation of a piece of research and so some subjectivity and bias is probably unavoidable. This is why we should be careful of trusting individual researchers or individual studies, but should instead base our understanding on an analysis of the overall position, not just the views of individual scientists.

If anything, I think these kind of questions are problematic because it propagates this perception that scientists are expected to be superhuman. Scientists are not superhuman, but the scientific method - if applied properly - can overcome the failings of individual scientists.

Gerry,
The scientists say it's over 50% of the warming since 1950, but there's no scientific evidence for that it's a best guess.
This is simply not true. There is plenty of evidence. It might be evidence that you don't like, or agree with, or that you think shouldn't be called "evidence", but it still exists. In fact, it is extremely difficult to construct a physically plausible scenario in which less than 50% of the warming since 1950 was anthropogenic; that's why this hypothesis was rejected at the 95% level.

ATTP -

==> Well, they almost certainly are not. They're human like everyone else. ==>

The poll is certainly suggestive of some problems.

But what's missing is the larger context for comparison. What would the results of such polling be if people were asked similar questions about the immunity from the influence of self-interest or ideology among priests or plumbers or "skeptics" or politicians or ditch diggers or social scientists or lawyers or engineers, etc.?

And although I think that the poll numbers are certainly suggestive of problems, I also think it's important to have longitudinal data on these issues. Trying to extrapolate lessons to be learn from these data are very difficult w/o information on what the trends look like. How can we understand what the correlated influences might be if we don't have information on the tends?

==> If anything, I think these kind of questions are problematic because it propagates this perception that scientists are expected to be superhuman. ==>

Indeed, it is easy for partisans to point to the lack of superhumanness among scientists to advance their own ideological agenda. It's useful to exploit examples of corruption or error among scientists without placing those examples within larger context. For example, the constant refrain about how "the consensus" was wrong about plate tectonics is useful for "skeptics" to exploit - and then argue that the existence of a "consensus" on climate change isn't meaningful - when they don't also consider just how pervasively we all trust the product of scientists' work, and by extension the power of shared opinion among experts, as we live our daily lives.

That said, there is a balance that needs to be struck between an unreasonable expectation of superhumanness and a reasonable expectation that the product of science be held to a higher standard. As compared to other fields, I think it is reasonable to have a stronger expectation that scientists will be rigorous in employing a method for controlling for biases, or confounding variables, or inconsistent application of criteria, etc. As such, there should be a higher level of trust in the work of scientists, which in turn makes our level of "trust" in scientists more susceptible to an outsized impact from counter-examples.

October 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Dan stated:

""The principal groups speaking for climate scientists have played a central role in making “who are you, whose side are you on?” the dominant question in our climate-change discourse.

That’s a science communication problem that needs to be fixed.""

I would assume that Dan included both sides, since it appears both sides are claiming science ( or lack of) is on their side.

ATTP: The questions were listed. They are not as specific as your points.

October 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJohn F Pittman

JFP -

==> I would assume that Dan included both sides...

Personally, I doubt Dan's "central role," conclusion, as I think that the tribalism evident among some of the different groups speaking for climate scientists is a reflection of a preexisting dynamic more than that those groups are responsible for creating the landscape where the discussion about climate change has become one more of who you are than what you know .

IMO, climate change is not a unique context, but a proxy for much more widespread ideological struggles - one battlefield for a larger war. Finding a significant level of responsibility in what those particular groups do or don't do seems off to me.

October 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Joshua,
I would argue that, ideally, everyone's work should be consistent with what they claim they are capable of doing. I sometimes wonder if this isn't part of the issue. We lump a great deal of research into a category that we call "science". However, not all researchers are claiming to be able to achieve the same goals. An applied researcher might claim to be able to solve a problem, while a fundamental researcher may simply claim to be able to improve understanding of something. However, this still means that we should expect these people to conduct themselves in a manner that is consistent with best practice in their field. Sometimes, however, getting everyone to agree on what this is might be difficult, especially if you're considering researchers at the forefront of a field that we have yet to fully understand.

John,
I'm not quite sure what your point is. The follow-on questions would seem to suggest that the original question was based on whether or not people regarded scientist as un-self-motivated, unbiased, and objective. I think it's obvious that scientists are not this perfect and any expectation of perfection is silly. That's why we should, ideally, trust the overall scientific method, rather than individual researchers, or individual results. In other words, we start to trust our understanding of a topic if the overall position is consistent across many different studies and many different researchers/research groups.

Joshua, isn't that what Dan's research is showing is that it is a battlefield where prior beliefs, positions, etc indicate the presence of a bias? But the question of needing to be fixed, I agree with and that it is on both sides I agree with.

ATTP I accept ""The follow-on questions would seem to suggest that the original question was based on whether or not people regarded scientist as un-self-motivated, unbiased, and objective"" in that these were the questions asked.

But in that they have asked the questions wrt to scientists and climate scientists, I do not find the conclusions contradicted by the data.

I find this statement wrong and unsupported "" I think it's obvious that scientists are not this perfect and any expectation of perfection is silly." I did not read that statement or claim. That a measurement is someone's opinion away from an ideal is done all the time. It is similar to ideal gas law, it is useful, it is a model.

My point about your specific arguments was that these questions are general.

ATTP: ""In other words, we start to trust our understanding of a topic if the overall position is consistent across many different studies and many different researchers/research groups."" Where I disagree is in that our trust will be the same and our understanding will be the same. The present cc debate indicates that different trusts and consistencies of understanding are different. And then there's the Kentucky farmer added to the mix.

October 12, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterjohn f pittman

John,


My point about your specific arguments was that these questions are general.

I wasn't really making specific arguments; if anything I was suggesting that we should be careful of drawing specific conclusions, given that the questions are rather general. Also, it's not entirely clear that they thought they were answering. For example, what industry do they think scientists are helping?


Where I disagree is in that our trust will be the same and our understanding will be the same.

I didn't suggest that they would be the same.

JFP -

==> Joshua, isn't that what Dan's research is showing is that it is a battlefield where prior beliefs, positions, etc indicate the presence of a bias? ==>

More generally, yes (at least that's how I interpret it).

But Dan seems to place a lot more weight on the impact of what scientists do or don't do as factor that drives polarization. I don't see where he has presented evidence to confirm the level of confidence he places in that attribution of causality. For example, he doesn't have longitudinal data to track change over time, among given individuals or even among groups. How can causality be determined without longitudinal data? Sure, people say that they are "motivated" in reaction to what they see as identity-threatening rhetoric from the other "side," but without a kind of pre-test, post-test analysis, how do we know that they aren't just conveniently pinning the blame onto that rhetoric for changes that we might see anyway. The reactions to "Climategate" might be a good example. Although many "skeptics" say that the details of "Climategate" were decisive in driving their views about climate change, we know that there is a very strong association between ideology and views on climate change, and that association plays out just as strongly as those who say that they were driven to their views on "Climategate." What would explain the similarity in the association among them as the association that exists among people who never even heard of "Climategate" or never followed it in any close detail at all (a grouping that would include the vast majority of "skeptics").

In the end, relatively few of those who have ideologically associated views about climate change have much knowledge at all about what, for example, John Cook has to say about "consensus." Not to say that the groups of which Dan speaks have NO influence, or certainly that they have a positive influence of mitigating polarization, but IMO, the "central" driver is a broader mechanism of how identification creates polarization on climate change and a slew of other issues as well.

October 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Anders -

==> We lump a great deal of research into a category that we call "science". However, not all researchers are claiming to be able to achieve the same goals. ==>

I agree. People cross those categories all the time, to use a broad brush to criticize anything that might fall under a loose category of science. They apply the greater uncertainty that is intrinsic to research in some fields to generalize about the scientific product in fields that have less uncertainty. I would even go so far as that they generalize from the results of qualitative research to judge the outcomes of quantitative research, and visa versa. The public's views about "science" just as much a product of people seeking to exploit and leverage overly broad generalizations about science in order to confirm their ideological predilections, as it is that scientists fail to measure up when controlling for bias.

There is also a related phenomenon, whereby scientists are viewed as being in error because their theories are judged wrong, when actually, their theories were bounded by the such qualifications as confidence intervals and errors bars. The problem is a combination of a tendency for scientists towards over-confidence and a tendency for the public to judge science in ways that reflect their own lack of understanding of the scientific process and the actual research outcomes. Surely, we see this a lot with climate change, when "skeptics" see scientific overconfidence when actually what is happening is that they didn't understand (or ignored, or filtered out) uncertainty that was quantified and stated.

October 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

ATTP, I understand the concern of generalities, but when Dan did the lukewarmer/skeptic questions, NiV and I also made similar points. My observations are that Dan is using the same methodology. This dovetails with Joshua's comment to me.

Where I would disagree with Joshua, is that it is not what the scientists do or don't do in science, but what they do or could do in the communication of the science. As far as longitudinal, that I believe is other's prior work. Though perhaps Dan would care to comment.

Another area where Joshua and I agree to disagree, though I think it is part of the longitudinal, is the history of the development of the IPCC wrt to CC dissonance. My position is that to understand the forces, so that corrections can be made, needs to include the problems brought about by the mixture of politics and science that the IPCC represents. This is one of the reasons that I find this site informative and interesting. Dan's research may well show that many of the things that we think important to reach understanding and consensus are instead procedures we use to protect identity and further do not help understanding or consensus, but may well promote the opposite.

October 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJohn F Pittman

John,


Dan's research may well show that many of the things that we think important to reach understanding and consensus are instead procedures we use to protect identity and further do not help understanding or consensus, but may well promote the opposite.

Quite possibly, but here are some views of mine - for what they're worth. I don't accept that consensus is a necessarily a procedure to protect identity. It might be, but it's not clear - to me, at least - that the link necessarily works in that direction. It seems quite possible that it's ones identity that determines whether or not one accept a consensus, rather than promoting a consensus protecting ones identity.

What do you mean by "understanding"? If you mean, the public actually beginning to understand a topic, then consensus messaging alone will not do so. That's why more detailed science communication is important; it can play a role in improving understanding, even if it doesn't actually make much difference to people's overall views (i.e., the failure of the deficit model). However, there is a great deal of this kind of activity going on and - in my view - any suggestion that science communication is dominated by consensus messaging is clearly wrong (although I'm not sure that this is what is being suggested).

A major problem I have with the vocal critics of consensus messaging is that - in the case of climate science - it is clear that one exists. We should therefore not be afraid of pointing this out. A suggestion that we should avoid doing so, therefore appears - to me, at least - to be a suggestion that we avoid pointing out a truth. I have trouble accepting that a communication strategy that avoids truths will be effective. I might be wrong, but I'm yet to be convinced.

" That's why we should, ideally, trust the overall scientific method, rather than individual researchers, or individual results. In other words, we start to trust our understanding of a topic if the overall position is consistent across many different studies and many different researchers/research groups."

I would say that we trust our understanding of a topic if lots of researchers have tried very hard to poke holes in it, and failed. It only takes one solid contrary result, by one researcher, to disprove a hypothesis.

"Quite possibly, but here are some views of mine - for what they're worth. I don't accept that consensus is a necessarily a procedure to protect identity."

I don't think that was what was being said. The research indicates that some of the things people do to try to *create* a consensus - i.e. to persuade people to their own point of view - often drive them away. This happens when the science has implications for, or gets associated with cultural identity-related 'shibboleth' beliefs. The evidence threshold for changing your mind differs between groups. If the new result supports your beliefs, you'll accept it easily. If it contradicts your beliefs, you'll poke around much harder to try to find holes and flaws in it, and we find that the more scientifically literate people are, the more likely they are to find sufficient holes to be able to reject it.

The problem arises because one side find the culturally-supportive implications to be powerfully persuasive for themselves, and so use them as arguments when trying to sell the idea to others. Having Al Gore do the presentation - former presidential candidate and a trusted authority figure for much of the population - helps to persuade a lot of people. As a politician, he is clearly skilled in the arts of persuasion, and knows the sort of issues and concerns to raise that people care about, and motivates them to do something about it. But equally clearly, it wound up further identifying belief in climate change with Democrat politics, Democrat concerns, and motivated the *other* half of the population to try to prove him wrong. Proposing regulatory solutions rather than technological ones similarly motivated one side of the population to take it as a new justification for their political beliefs, and the other side to see it as an assault on their freedom and motivated them to find flaws in it. And so on.

The problem comes from their entanglement with identity-relevant issues that motivate resistance from large segments of the population, and that then become shibboleth beliefs themselves as the resulting division becomes apparent.

"A major problem I have with the vocal critics of consensus messaging is that - in the case of climate science - it is clear that one exists. We should therefore not be afraid of pointing this out."

I agree. Surveys of actual scientific opinion are surprisingly thin on the ground for something that people have made such an issue of, but it is apparently true that around 80-90% of climate scientists support the AGW hypothesis. As a sociological observation, there's no problem at all with pointing that out.

The problem comes from using it as an argumentum ad verecundiam to try to *persuade* people - to say that it makes it unreasonable or irrational to disagree. believers find the argument emotionally very supportive and persuasive when thinking about their own beliefs and motivations, and don't understand why other people would not find it so.

Argumentum ad verecundiam from the point of view of a dissentient conveys a very different emotional message. It tells you that you're stupid and ignorant, that we know better than you, that the numbers are on our side, all the power and authority is on our side, and you had better buckle under or else. Your group is tiny and weak, and will be made a laughing stock, or worse. Such a message makes people angry, makes them want to fight back. It activates feelings of opposition, of being patronised and persecuted.

It doesn't work. It hardens polarisation. It's nakedly one of the classic styles of invalid argument - and profoundly unscientific. And certain people in an effort to increase its impact have taken to manipulating and exaggerating the numbers; something that it's very easy to find information about and holes their credibility below the water line. People who already believe will continue to. People who don't believe will swiftly come to regard them as unethical liars and partisan propagandists. This is not the way to create a public consensus - it's a way to further drive the two sides apart.

Personally, I don't see public consensus as particularly desirable. Intellectual diversity is more healthy, as it gives us a better assurance that any holes in prevailing hypotheses are going to be found. But I don't think it's healthy for the division to be so extreme that people start distorting the workings of the scientific process itself as part of the fight. It would be helpful to take some of the heat out of the debate.

October 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV's comment is to my point.

Perhaps I was not clear. I read thereof different understandings once one starts to use what the consensus actually states.

An example I use to show that it is clear that a consensus exits, but may have different meanings, is to advocate using an ECS of 1.7 C increase for a doubling of CO2. It is scientific, it is in AR4 and AR5, and it means that the changeover from adaptation to mitigation should take place 2100 or later (linear approximation). In fact, using this with high discount rates can still yield that we should encourage more fossil fuel use until 2020 to 2050 depending on assumptions, discount rate, model chosen to linearize for ECS of 1.7C, etc.

Someone with this understanding may well disagree with changing to renewables through an increase in taxes, or costs. Which brings us to how persons could perceive the effect of a scientific statement used to support a political policy.

October 14, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterjohn f pittman

JFP -

Regarding this...

==> As far as longitudinal, that I believe is other's prior work. ==>

And yes, our long-standing agreement to disagree w/r/t this:

==> Another area where Joshua and I agree to disagree, though I think it is part of the longitudinal, is the history of the development of the IPCC wrt to CC dissonance. ==>

The longitudinal evidence I've seen is Gauchat's...which points to a long trend of a drop in "trust" in science over decades, among a particular subsection of the public (about 1/3 of Republicans - in contrast to a stable rating among Dems and Indies - or it could have been conservatives, liberals, and moderates, I don't remember the taxonomy).

Dan once made the argument that the time frame doesn't exclude that the possibility that those numbers reflect the effect of advocacy (poor quality messaging) from climate scientists, and that in fact the time frames overlap, as the decline coincided with the beginnings of when we started hearing about climate change from the IPCC. In fact, he argued that the longitudinal evidence supports a "centrality" of counterproductive scientific messaging.

I think that conjecture is implausible, as while there was some focus on climate change back then, it was relatively small. Consistent with Gauchat's interpretation...my view is that the beginning of the trend is congruent and contemporaneous with the politicization of science more generally, which was concurrent with the growth of the religious right and increased focus on "drowning government in a bathtub," and a growth in the "those librul pinkos in academia are brainwashing our youth." IMO, the influence of messaging is far broader than a relatively circumscribed influence of the communication of scientists. It was more about a development whereby religious identity drove a divergence from conservatives (who were higher in in "trust" in scientists previously). not because of the style of messaging, but because of the need to protect identity against the content of the science being produced, the alignment of their findings with the split over abortion and stem cell research, etc.

October 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

John,


An example I use to show that it is clear that a consensus exits, but may have different meanings, is to advocate using an ECS of 1.7 C increase for a doubling of CO2. It is scientific, it is in AR4 and AR5

Except both AR4 and AR5 provide a range for ECS. In fact, they provide a likely range, which means that there is a 66% chance of it lying within that range. Choosing a single value is still a guess, even if it lies within that range. Ideally, we should be considering the full range, and the associated probability distribution function, rather than simply chooing a single number within that range.

NiV,
You seem to be objecting to the manner in which the information is used publicly. It seems fairly clear that people will always use information that they perceive as supporting their views. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with this, especially if the information they're using is essentially true. I too would quite like it if there was less heat in the debate, but I would dispute the idea that this is predominantly due to those who happen to use the existence of a consensus to support their preferred position.

ATTP, yes, it is a range. And yes, scientists could take the same studies, develop a methodology that was different and come to a different range, such that choosing a single value is even more contentious. One could have methodology that eliminated geological time scale data and methods as beyond the time frame that is relevant. One could make assumptions that allowed the use of geologic time scales. These are real issues for making policy.

I also advocate for using ranges. But then, with the range of probable options ranging from encouraging fossil fuels to draconian measures today, it poses a difficulty for policy. In this case of encouraging and draconian measures, the range is most likely, not likely.

I have seen some pdf work, both distribution and density, but note, like the range itself, different methodologies give widely varying results.

You state " I would dispute the idea that this is predominantly due to those who happen to use the existence of a consensus to support their preferred position". I agree with this.

However, the consensus is being used, in almost all cases I have read, to promote policy based on the canonical 3C ECS or even higher as the single value to be used. In this case, those who support action for policy are the ones pushing the use of "information that they perceive as supporting their views" for expanding policy, and most definitely not using the range of ECS in a meaningful way for policy. Unless, you support the number or the values used to determine such a number, or some other criteria.

October 14, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterjohn f pittman

Joshua
On Gauchat's, it will take awhile for me to digest such a work, much less the time it will take to conclude that Dan's conjecture is implausible. If I have correctly concluded that the trust, in general, is still high for all groups in Gauchat, then I fail to see why Dan's conjecture is implausible.

October 14, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterjohn f pittman

"You seem to be objecting to the manner in which the information is used publicly."

Not particularly. That might well be my inclination, but on this occasion I'm simply trying to clarify the identity-entangled motivated reasoning hypothesis for you. You was asking how/why the consensus messaging could be related to identity protection. This is just one viewpoint on that.

From a partisan political point of view, I don't actually care much about the false claims of '97% scientific consensus', since (as Dan has pointed out in the past) they don't actually work persuading people, and for a significant fraction of the population actually serve to turn people against it. If the climate campaigners still want to make those claims, that's fine by me. As a scientist I find such inaccuracy irritating, but if I spent time worrying about all the incorrect statements floating around on the internet, I'd never get anything done! :-)

It's just politics.

" It seems fairly clear that people will always use information that they perceive as supporting their views. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with this, especially if the information they're using is essentially true."

The information is true, but the subsequent reasoning is invalid. Argument ad verecundiam is profoundly unscientific. It's vaguely distressing to see it being used by 'scientists'.

"I too would quite like it if there was less heat in the debate, but I would dispute the idea that this is predominantly due to those who happen to use the existence of a consensus to support their preferred position."

Oh, I agree, absolutely. It's only one of many reasons, and very far from the most important.

It just happened to be the example to hand. You was asking how making true statements with regard to the existence of a consensus could possibly be counterproductive. I was explaining one way that it could. It was just for illustration.

The heat arises because people - on both sides! - are passionate about the social and economic issues and the major consequences for people's lives this stuff could/does have. It's natural, and I'm not blaming anyone. It's just that it's highly undesirable when it comes to the science.

October 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV,


Argument ad verecundiam is profoundly unscientific. It's vaguely distressing to see it being used by 'scientists'.

I certainly didn't say it was being used by scientists. I was suggesting that people will use things like this if it happens to support their views. I wasn't referring to scientists. In fact, I'm unaware of many (or any) examples of scientists using a consensus argument in the manner that you suggest. A scientist pointing out that a consensus exists is not an argument from authority.


It's natural, and I'm not blaming anyone. It's just that it's highly undesirable when it comes to the science.

Again, I'm not referring to scientists. I'm pointing out that once the existence of a consensus is known, people will use this information to support their views. Suggesting that they shouldn't because it distresses you seems a little unrealistic.

" I was suggesting that people will use things like this if it happens to support their views. I wasn't referring to scientists. In fact, I'm unaware of many (or any) examples of scientists using a consensus argument in the manner that you suggest."

OK. In what way does the existence of a consensus "support their views"?

October 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV,


OK. In what way does the existence of a consensus "support their views"?

Consider, for example, climate change. There are clearly those who believe/accept that man is causing climate and, hence, that we should do something. Therefore they will regard consensus studies indicating that a large majority of published studies/relevant scientists agree that man is causing climate change and will use this information to support their arguments. In some cases they may well overstate the significance of these studies, but that would - unfortunately - appear to be pretty normal when advocates present arguments in support of their positions.

I'm not defending this; just suggesting that people who have preferred positions will utilise information that appears to support their views. Would be wonderful if everyone who engaged publicly in these discussions were careful about how they used evidence, but many aren't and expecting all those who engage publicly to have a good understanding of the scientific method, and best scientific practices, is probably unrealistic.

So, I guess my suggestion is that people who criticise the use of consensus messaging should maybe be clear about who they are actually criticising, and why. Is it those who do consensus studies? Is it scientists who might mention its existence? Is it journalists? Is it politicians? Is it activists? Each of these groups may use it differently.

"Therefore they will regard consensus studies indicating that a large majority of published studies/relevant scientists agree that man is causing climate change and will use this information to support their arguments."

Yes, what I meant was by what logic do they think the existence of a consensus 'supports' their beliefs?

The percentage is just a number. We can also measure and report the percentages of Republican congressmen, air traffic controllers, left-handed carpenters with a 'W' in their surname, or any other subgroup of the population that believe in climate change being mostly man-made. Why is the percentage of scientists who believe any different?

Science itself says that it shouldn't be. "Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts," as Feynman put it. "In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual." That was Galileo. "No scientist who wishes to maintain respect in the community should ever endorse any statement unless they have examined the issue fully themselves." Tom Wigley. "Nullius in Verba." The Royal Society.

Scientists say that you should not take scientists' word for it. Do the people who use the consensus to 'support' their beliefs accept and believe in that principle? If they do, how does the existence of a consensus 'support' their belief, in a scientific sense? In trusting scientific expertise, are they not doing exactly what scientists say you should never, ever do?

That's my point. Scientific method does not allow the use of ad populam, ad verecundiam arguments. It's not a scientific or scientifically approved method of knowing. But given that only the scientific method gives a reliable way of knowing, and given that the vast majority of people don't have the training to be able to apply the scientific method themselves, that implies that the majority of people must of necessity use unreliable methods.

Which is fine, so long as you understand they're unreliable. They're like any other heuristic people use for coming to their opinions. But the people using 'consensus' to support their opinions don't see it that way. They think that because they're following the 'scientific consensus', their opinions partake of the reliability and assurance of the scientific method itself. That's wrong.

The percentage of scientists who believe in AGW is as significant a fact as the percentage of left-handed carpenters who do so. I've got no problem with people quoting it as a sociological fact, with the same lack of implication about the truth of climate change. It's interesting to speculate on how and why they came to that view. The issue is that certain people have taken to citing the percentage of scientists who believe knowing that a lot of people rely on scientists as an authority, with the deliberate intention that they use this invalid reasoning to conclude from it that the anthropogenic climate change hypothesis is reliable. Whether the conclusion they reach is true or not, the means by which they got there definitely isn't.

"many aren't and expecting all those who engage publicly to have a good understanding of the scientific method, and best scientific practices, is probably unrealistic."

Agreed. We both agree (I think) that most ordinary, scientifically-illiterate people on *both* sides of the debate come to their views by unscientific, unreliable methods. This is unavoidable.

Dan's work is about studying how they *do* come to their views, and finding ways to avoid *unnecessarily* distorting the outcomes due to the interaction with similarly invalid (from a truth-seeking perspective) identity-protective reasoning. Dan says that it makes perfect sense for a person to trade truth-seeking off against other priorities, like identity protection and social reputation, when deciding what reasoning methods to use. If you don't want your science to be ignored or rejected, or to trigger massive social conflicts like climate change has, then you have to present the science in a way that avoids such pitfalls. That doesn't mean you hide the truth. It means that you present the truth in a way that doesn't trigger ideological defence mechanisms.

Dan's pointed out that the consensus messaging 'doesn't work', in the sense that it has not significantly shifted public opinion. That's a scientific fact. If your political aim is to shift public opinion, then that means you need to look at changing the way you do things. If that's not your aim, then it doesn't mean anything. Carry on as you were.

Personally, I think that we could do a lot better job of teaching elements of the scientific method to the public, and that explicitly rejecting uses of Argument from Authority would be a good step to take in that direction. But I agree that it will never be possible for the general public to have as deep a knowledge of the science as the specialist scientists. It's the difference between "is" and "ought" - Dan's work is primarily looking at the "is".

October 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV,


Dan says that it makes perfect sense for a person to trade truth-seeking off against other priorities, like identity protection and social reputation, when deciding what reasoning methods to use.

I think one needs to be clear as to who is being referred to here. I think scientists who communicate to the public should endeavour to remain value neutral and objective. Clearly you might somewhat tailor what you say to your audience, but adjusting what you present on the basis of the cultural/ideological biases of your audience is potentially problematic if it requires not saying things that you regard as scientifically defensible.

The reason I say the above is that I don't think a fundamental goal of science communication is shifting public opion; it is simply to communicate scientific information to the public. What they do with that information is up to them. Shifting public opinion (or deciding that it should be shifted) is - IMO - not the job of scientists, or science communicators.


Dan's pointed out that the consensus messaging 'doesn't work', in the sense that it has not significantly shifted public opinion. That's a scientific fact.

I have two issues with this statement. One is that there are others who have done studies that suggest otherwise. That makes it hard to accept that it is a scientific fact. Secondly, to make such a defintive statement would require knowledge of what would have happened had there been no consensus messaging. Since, we can't know this, it doesn't seem as though one can state definitively that it doesn't work.

"I think one needs to be clear as to who is being referred to here. I think scientists who communicate to the public should endeavour to remain value neutral and objective."

It would be nice. But again, we have to be realistic. Scientists are people too. They will have political opinions. And they have the same right anyone else does to express them.

The distinction I make is that scientists speaking on their own behalf can say what they like, but that when speaking as a scientist they ought to stick to neutral and objective. A lot don't, though. (That Stephen Schneider quote is particularly apposite here...)

"Clearly you might somewhat tailor what you say to your audience, but adjusting what you present on the basis of the cultural/ideological biases of your audience is potentially problematic if it requires not saying things that you regard as scientifically defensible."

I tend to agree. But that's at least partly because Dan is proposing using such methods to better persuade people to support action on climate change. :-)

To be fair, I think the idea is to better communicate a more accurate view of the science by avoiding unnecessary cultural pitfalls. There are instances where there is no conflict between the science and people's cultural predispositions, but because of the way it was presented, it gave that impression and resulted in people getting an incorrect understanding of the science as a result. If it's aimed at enabling people to get a better, more accurate understanding, I've got no objections. I've often argued long and hard with skydragon-type climate sceptics myself, explaining that there's no essential conflict between accepting the core physics of the basic convective greenhouse effect and rejecting the forecasts of global climate doom.

The problem is that however carefully you try to maintain neutrality, everyone is always subconsciously influenced by their own politics and culture. It's good to try to convey the most accurate understanding of science you can, but when you find yourself tailoring your message to bypass their political biases about the science, there's a risk that you're unconsciously indulging your own.

You're right. It's a problem. We can only do the best we can do.

October 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

I think many understand that Stephen Schneider's ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Schneider ) justification for scientists to become part of the propaganda wars reflects a reality that is real and pervasive.
"On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but — which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we'd like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public's imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This 'double ethical bind' we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both."

October 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Scott

Unfortunately the link "both sides think their position is consistent with scientific consensus. " goes to a file on your computer and not a web site.

October 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Scott

Given that I have a personal issue with Stephen Schneider - who, from what I know, was an excellent science communicator - being maligned on blogs, the relevant quote that is being mentioned by other commenters is


This “double ethical bind” we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.

Apologies, I missed that Michael Scott had actually included the full quote.

ATTP I think that this quote is an excellent example of Cognitive Dualism. We have the "scientist" who understands the questions, uncertainties and doubts that are inherent in Climate Science with the scientific ethos of full disclosure of all those, and the "human being" who for the good of the planet must address the non scientific audience with dramatic, simplified, scary and non realistic scenarios.

I am not sure in this situation how you square the circle with the simple phrase "hope that it means both" when you have just made an argument that it doesn't.

October 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Scott

Michael,
You added non realistic. Why?

"This “double ethical bind” we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both."

I tend to give the full quote myself too, because I know people object if I don't, but I'm not sure how people think it helps. If you can be both, then there's no double ethical bind, and nobody has to find a balance between anything.

It always looks to me like something added in haste by someone who's just realised what he's just said on the record. But perhaps you could explain how you think it ought to be interpreted? If you're able to be both, what do you have to "balance"?

On the other hand, I disagree that the quote without the last sentence merits him being "maligned". On the contrary, I'd call it an admirable display of openness and honesty. Nor is the behaviour described necessarily bad. It puts "seeing the world a better place" ahead of scientific principle, and it is at least arguable that that's the right order to put them in. There are plenty of situations where ethics are placed ahead of good science, and nobody complains about that.

I also think it's an entirely accurate characterisation of how some in the climate science community see the issue, and it doesn't take Schneider's 'confession' for us to be able to see it. It happens to be a particularly clear an concise way of explaining it, which is why I like the quote, but if he hadn't said it I'd only be saying the same thing in different words. For another example, the source of that Tom Wigley quote above is worth reading as well.

I happen to disagree with Schneider's sentiment - but possibly not for the reasons you might assume. The problem with it is that it works fine if they happen to be right, but it takes an unacceptable risk of them being wrong. The point of us understanding all the "ifs and buts" is for us to be able to properly weigh the possibility of them being wrong, but they don't want us to do that because they're utterly convinced that they're not. That's their real sin. But *given* that they're assuming they're right, without the scientific justification, then their behaviour in simplifying the story to get politicians to take action are at least understandable and arguably moral. If we're assuming they're right, then it is indeed an ethical bind. And frankly, the final sentence doesn't change that in the slightest. You might "hope", but that doesn't mean it will.

I disagree with the approach Schneider describes, but I have nothing but praise for Schneider's honesty in saying it. How much worse is it to do it, but not say anything about it in public?

October 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

ATTP I didn't quote it, they were my words, so was not added. But realistic would be representative of reality. I generally equate realistic with scientific - you may argue with that if you wish - and in point of fact that is the whole aim of this endeavor, I suppose. I equate "unrealistic" in this case with knowingly simplifying, presenting a one sided view etc. In fact he contraposed "being honest" with his case for propagandization. And I am using propagandazation in the full sense of the word.

I am speaking here as someone trained in Social Psychology, and about that aspect, not my appreciation of the science. My real point in all this, aside from pointing out a Cognitive Dualism, is that I think most thinking observers see that many discussions about climate change on BOTH SIDES are infused with a desperation to change minds, and are couched in terms that one would not normally associate with dispassionate science. They understand that whatever the title of the person, they are listening to a true believer not an objective observer. No, on one hand this, and on the other that. Even Ahrennius, the father of the Greenhouse Theory, saw some good in that warming "We may find a kind of consolation in the consideration that here, as in every other case, there is good mixed with the evil. By the influence of the increasing percentage of carbonic acid in the atmosphere, we may hope to enjoy ages with more equable and better climates, especially as regards the colder regions of the earth, ages when the earth will bring forth much more abundant crops than at present, for the benefit of rapidly propagating mankind". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Svante_Arrhenius It has always seemed to me that there is some small silver lining in everything. Simplistic dichotomies of good and evil are not a hallmark of any real intellectual analysis. When I see not the smallest of positives or acceptance of uncertainty, I know I am being propagandized. And what of those who do see some small positives or even uncertainty, and are immediately banished from the universe of acceptable discourse. That and given that even the most trivial things are linked to Climate Change give me cause to believe that we are seeing much uncritical acceptance, or perhaps more accurately some have simply become dogmatic. ( I might suggest you read an article on Social Judgement Theory https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_judgment_theory) Climate Science deserves better than that. In fact Science as a whole deserves better.

October 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Scott

Michael,
Except nowehere did Stephen Schneider suggest saying anything that was unrealistic. My own interpretation of what he meant is simply that it is difficult to decide how to present information to the public. If your research indicates that there might be serious consequences to something we're doing, then clearly this should be communicated to the public/policy makers. However, if you overstress the uncertainties, caveats, and how unlikely such an outcome might be, it could simoky be ignored. If you overstress how serious the consequences might be, you might instill a sense of panic. In the former case, if the outcome does materialise, you'll be criticised for not making this clearer. In the latter, if the event does not materialise, you'll be seen as an alarmist. The ideal is to both get people to understand the consequences of our actions while also understanding that we can't know the outcome with certainty. Deciding how to do so is difficult, hence his conclusion that it should be both effective and honest.

OK, Let's take a specific example of what I think Stephen was talking about.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7139797.stm

Here's a prediction from 2007 where a climate scientist predicts that Arctic sea ice may disappear by 2013, saying that since his modelling didn't include the last couple of record lows in its training data, " you can argue that may be our projection of 2013 is already too conservative."

I think this is an attempt to do what Stephen was describing. "To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public's imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have." I think the arctic melting by 2013 is a scary scenario, and a simplified dramatic statement. Doubts are mentioned but underplayed - it's repeatedly said to be "realistic", and potentially even "conservative". This sort of coverage was reasonably common in the media presentation of climate science to the public a few years back.

I think, scientifically speaking, it's utter tosh. It's an extrapolation from insufficient data regarding a poorly understood but extremely complex system with unvalidated, unreliable models. I think it's a case of taking a wild hypothesis, building a highly speculative model from it, generating some scary and dramatic predictions for the media, with the *specific* aim of raising public alarm and getting some political action.

And I think the scientists in question were *well aware* of the uncertainties, and didn't care, because getting immediate political action on climate change was everything to them.

So, my question for you would be: is a prediction of all the Arctic sea ice melting by 2013 what you would call "realistic"? Does it fit the description of a "scary scenario", and a "simplified dramatic statement"? Does it make little mention of the true doubts and uncertainties that ought to surround such a prediction?

If so, would you be willing to agree that this sort of thing does climate science no credit, and that there is at least some justification in climate sceptics complaining about it?

October 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV,
Yes, when it comes to Arctic sea ice, there are examples of people making predictions that turn out to be wrong. However, in many cases, their predictions are pretty obviously going to turn out to be wrong, and many other scientists criticise these predictions when they are made.


If so, would you be willing to agree that this sort of thing does climate science no credit, and that there is at least some justification in climate sceptics complaining about it?

You're, of course, free to complain about it, but given that these predictions are publicly criticised by others, it would seem rather churlish to assume that these failed predictions somehow reflect on climate science as a whole.

"Yes, when it comes to Arctic sea ice, there are examples of people making predictions that turn out to be wrong."

Yes, but the question was do you consider it to be "realistic"?

It's possible to make realistic predictions that turn out to be wrong. I don't think this is one of them - do you agree?

"However, in many cases, their predictions are pretty obviously going to turn out to be wrong, and many other scientists criticise these predictions when they are made."

Yes. Sceptics. In the mainstream, criticising a fellow climate scientist for making outrageous alarmist claims was often perceived as professional suicide. And not without justification. (You can ask Judith Curry about that.) Mostly they kept quiet.

There are a couple of examples of the other climate scientists "criticising" the 2013 claim at the time that are given in the article. One says "The implication is that this is not a cycle, not just a fluctuation. The loss this year will precondition the ice for the same thing to happen again next year, only worse. There will be even more opening up, even more absorption and even more melting. In the end, it will just melt away quite suddenly. It might not be as early as 2013 but it will be soon, much earlier than 2040." The other says "I think Wieslaw is probably a little aggressive in his projections, simply because the luck of the draw means natural variability can kick in to give you a few years in which the ice loss is a little less than you've had in previous years. But Wieslaw is a smart guy and it would not surprise me if his projections came out."

"Probably a little aggressive in his projections"!!

Professor Wieslaw is a "smart guy", apparently, and the BBC apparently was unable to find any of these "many" other scientists to criticise these predictions as they clearly deserve at the time they were made. A non-specialist, non-scientist, ordinary member of the general public would, I think, be forgiven for reading that article - on the BBC! hardly a source of dubious repute... - and believing this to be what climate science was saying.

I don't believe for one second that a professional climate scientist and professor could possibly be unaware of the uncertainties! I am confident that he was doing exactly what Schneider claimed climate scientists were doing - putting scary scenarios and dramatic statements into the media to get some broadbased support, to capture the public's imagination. I'm confident that the two other scientists asked about it knew it too, and were quite happy to let it happen. Evidently, nobody told the BBC "Don't publish this! It's pretty obviously going to turn out to be wrong!" Or if they did, the BBC chose for some mysterious reason not to quote them...

So like I suggested, would you be willing to agree that in at least some cases, "unrealistic" predictions were published on exactly the politics-before-science basis that Schneider described? Or are you going to maintain that a prediction of total Arctic ice loss by 2013 was "realistic"?

October 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV,


So like I suggested, would you be willing to agree that in at least some cases, "unrealistic" predictions were published on exactly the politics-before-science basis that Schneider described? Or are you going to maintain that a prediction of total Arctic ice loss by 2013 was "realistic"?

If you're going to misrepresent me, this conversation is over. No, these predictions were, in my opinion, not realistic, and I did not in any way suggest that they were. Stephen Schneider is not responsible for those who make unrealistic alarmist predictions, just as he is not responsible for those who largely dismiss the risks associated with AGW, some of whom are also climate scientists. As far as I'm concerned, what he said was a perfectly reasonable description of how it can be difficult to get the balance right when communicating publicly. That some do not do so, is not somehow a reflection on Stephen Schneider.

"If you're going to misrepresent me, this conversation is over. No, these predictions were, in my opinion, not realistic, and I did not in any way suggest that they were."

I'm not misrepresenting you. I was simply asking you to answer the question.

Thanks for doing so.

"Stephen Schneider is not responsible for those who make unrealistic alarmist predictions"

Again, not claiming that he is. What I'm saying is that Schneider is accurately describing the motivations of those who do. It's a good quote because it explains what climate scientists were thinking as it was seen by a community insider. Each climate scientist has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. Some, I'm sure pick points further towards the "effective" end than I'm sure Schneider would feel comfortable with, but this is exactly the balance he's talking about.

He must have known it was going on. I'm sure he knew there were people out there picking balances further towards the "effective" end than he was. And he clearly felt a little uncomfortable with that, which speaks marginally to his credit. No, he's not responsible for their actions in telling such stories, only for his own in not denouncing them as loudly as he might. But that's another argument, that I don't particularly want to get into.

The only point I wanted to make in bringing it up was that scientists when speaking as scientists should stick to neutral and objective, but a lot don't. Schneider's quote explains why.

October 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

ATTP I will henceforth leave the argument about Schneiderman to you and NIV.

My real interest was in responding to the author's statement " a plausible hypothesis is that the advocates whom these individuals do credit have imprinted in their minds a highly politicized picture of who climate scientists are and what they are up to." I wished to give a couple of reasons why I and many others might take the more common pronouncements with a grain of salt. This does not require any great expertise in Climate Science, but only an everyday familiarity with advertising and propaganda. (For some of the hallmarks that stand out to me in this regard, see my earlier post where I quote Arrhenius.) I have given three examples of what are telltale signals that we are being propagandized; 1. Lack of willingness to admit any possible positive consequences no matter how trivial. 2. Treatment of those who do not hue to the party line, 3. The plethora of trivialities that are given press coverage because they are "climate related", and I would also posit a 4th the insistence that dissenting voices of other scientists should never be given any public recognition, nor should one even appear on the same stage. The last has been a rather successful attempt to forestall any real discussion or address any questions about fundamental matters which would occur to a curious mind. All of these are classic signs of in group solidarity and ego involvement directed towards an out group. I don't think it would take much effort to create a larger list. Certainly there is extensive literature on the subject and would make a highly informative study. At any rate, had I not cared to delve into the questions of Climate Science themselves, these signals would have been enough to make me look askance at many of those those who make proclamations in its name. Nor do I think you need a degree in Social Psychology to recognize these signs for what they are.

October 16, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Scott

Kip,
You're ignoring that part of the probiem is there are some who continually spread information that is not true. For example, you say


the West Side Highway will be underwater

I assume that this refers to James Hansen. What happened was that he was asked - in 1988 - what the view out of his office would be like in 40 years time if CO2 doubled. So, it wasn't really a prediction, it was a hypothetical. Also, 40 years have not yet passed and we haven't yet doubled CO2.

So, your suggestion that the problem is climate scientists who exaggerate and hype would be more believable if you weren't yourself apparently promoting something that is not true.

Dan, the first two links in section 4 are "broken" -- they are to documents on a computer, not to the website.

October 23, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCortlandt

@Cortlandt--

Fixed. I think.

My Hal 9001 automated blog administrator has been acting up.

October 23, 2016 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

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