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« C'mon down! Let's talk about culture, rationality & the tragedy of the #scicomm commons today at Mizzou | Main | As their science comprehension increases, do members of the public (a) become more likely to recognize scientific consensus exists on human-caused climate change; (b) become more politically polarized on whether human-caused climate change is happening; or (c) both?! »
Tuesday
Feb092016

"They already got the memo" part 2: More data on the *public consensus* on what "climate scientists think" about human-caused global warming

So as I said, CCP/Annenberg PPC has just conducted a humongous study on climate science literacy.

Yesterday I shared some data on the extent to which ordinary members of the public are politically polarized both on human-caused global warming and on the nature of scientific consensus relating to the same.

I said I was surprised b/c  there was less division over whether “expert climate scientists” agree that human behavior is causing the earth’s temperature to rise. 

Because Americans-- particularly those who display the greatest proficiency in science comprehension-- are less likely to disagree on whether there's scientific consensus than on whether human beings are causing global warming, it's not very compelling to think confusion about the former proposition is the "cause" of the latter.

But there is still a huge amount of polarization on whether there is scientific consensus on human-caused climate change.

Answers to these two questions -- are humans causing climate change? do scientists believe that? -- are still most plausibly viewed as being caused by a single, unobserved or latent disposition: namvely, a general pro- or con- affective orientation toward "climate change" that reflects the social meaning positions on this issue has within a person's identity-defining affinity groups.

Or in other words, the questions "is human climate change happening" and "is there scientific consensus on human-caused climate change" both measure who a person is, politically speaking.

That's a different thing from what members of the public know about climate science. To measure that requires a valid climate-science comprehension instrument.

The study in which we collected these data was a follow up of an earlier CCP-APPC one that featured the “Ordinary Climate Science Intelligence” assessment, or OCSI_1.0. 

The goal of OCSI_1.0 was to disentangle the measurement of “who people are”—the responses toward climate change that evince the affective stance toward climate change characteristic of their cultural group—from “what they know” about climate science. 

OCSI_1.0 met that goal. 

The current study is part of the effort to develop OSI_2.0, the aim of which is to discern differences across a larger portion of the range of knowledge levels within the general population.

Here is how 600 subjects U.S. adults drawn from a nationally representative panel) responded to some of the OSI_2.0 candidate items. 

For me, these are the key points:

First, there’s barely any partisan disagreement over what climate scientists believe about the specific causes and consequences of human-caused climate change.

Sure, there’s some daylight between the response of the left-leaning and right-leaning respondents. But the differences are trivial compared to the ones in these same respondents’ beliefs about both the existence of climate change and the nature of scientific consensus.

There is “bipartisan” public consensus in perceptions of what climate scientists “know,” with minor differences only in the intensity with which respondents of opposing outlooks hold those particular impressions.

Second, ordinary members of the public, regardless of what they "believe" about human-caused climate change, know pitifully little about the basic causes and consequences of global warming.

Yes, a substantial majority of respondents, of diverse political views, know that climate scientists understand fossil-fuel CO2 emissions to be warming the planet, and that climate scientists expect rising temperatures to result in flooding in many regions.

But they also mistakenly believe that, “according to climate scientists, the increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide associated with the burning of fossil fuels will increase the risk of leukemia” and “skin cancer in human beings, and “reduce photosynthesis by plants.”

They think, incorrectly, that climate scientists have determined that “a warmer climate over the next few decades will increase water evaporation, which will lead to an overall decrease of global sea levels.”

 “Republican” and “Democrat” alike also mistakenly attribute to “climate scientists” the proposition that “human-caused global warming has increased the number of tornadoes in recent decades,” a claim that Bill Nye “science guy” believes but that actual climate scientists don’t, and in fact regularly criticize advocates for leaping up to assert every time a tornado kills dozens of people in one of the plains states.

Third, the overwhelming majority of ordinary citizens, regardless of their political persuasions, agree that climate scientists have concluded that global warming is putting human beings in grave danger.

The candidate OSI_2.0 items (only a portion of which are featured here) form two scales.

When one counts up the number of correct responses, OSI_2.0 measures how much people genuinely know about the basic causes and consequences of human-caused global warming.  You can figure out that by scoring.

Alternatively, when one counts up the number of responses, correct or incorrect, that evince a perception of the risks that human-caused climate change poses, OSI_2.0 measures how dreaded climate change is as a societal risk.

No matter what they “believe” about human-caused climate change, very few people do well on the first, knowledge-based scale.

And no matter what they “believe” about human-caused climate change, the vast majority of them  score extremely high on the second, dreadedness scale.

None of this should come as a surpriseThis is exactly the state of affairs revealed by OSI_1.0.

Now in fact, one might think that it’s perfectly fine that ordinary citizens score higher on the “climate change dredadedness” scale than they do on the “climate change science comprehension” one.  Ordinary citizens only need to know the essential gist of what climate scientists are telling them--that global warming poses serious risks that threaten things of value to them, including the health and prosperity of themselves and others; it’s those who ordinary citizens charge with crafting effective solutions (ones consistent with the democratic aggregation of diverse citizens' values) who have to get all the details straight.

The problem though is that democratic political discourse over climate change (in most but not all places) doesn’t measure either what ordinary people know or what they feel about climate change.

It measures what the item on “belief in” climate change does: who they are, whose side they are on, in an ugly, pointless, cultural status competition being orchestrated by professional conflict entrepreneurs.

The “science communication problem” for climate change is how to steer the national discussion away from the myriad actors-- all of them--whose style of discourse creates these antagonistic social meanings.

“97% consensus” social marketing campaigns (studies with only partially and misleadingly reported results notwithstanding)  aren’t telling ordinary Americans on either side of the “climate change debate” anything they haven't already heard & indeed accepted: that climate scientists believe human-caused global warming is putting them in a position of extreme peril.

All the "social marketing" of "scientific consensus" does is augment the toxic idioms of contempt that are poisoning our science communication environment. 

The unmistkable social meaning of the material featuring this "message" (not to mention the cultural conflict bottom-feeders who make a living "debating" this issue on talk shows) is that "you and people who share your identity are morons." It's not "science communication"; it's a clownish bumper sticker that says, "fuck you."

It is precisely because of the assaultive, culturally partisan resonances that this "message" conveys that people respond to the question "is there scientific consensus on global warming?" by expressing who they are  rather than what they know about climate change risks. 

More on that “tomorrow.”

 

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Reader Comments (18)

=>> "All the "social marketing" of "scientific consensus" does is augment the toxic idioms of contempt that are poisoning our science communication environment."

That seems to me like conjecture that is not directly supported in the evidence presented. My own conjecture is that the "consensus messaging" has little differential impact. People of particular ideological orientations interpret evidence about the 'consensus" in ways that align with their pre-existing ideologically-influenced biases. But they hardly depend on "consensus messaging" to formulate their polarized views on climate change. The mechanisisms for reinforcing the ideological identifications are myriad, and extend far and wide to discussions of many issues that have nothing to do with climate change.

February 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Looks like you posted the same graph twice?

February 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua--

which graph? a para-graph? Ah-- I think I see (yesterday's thumbnai-- a graphic from OSI_1.0 data -- somehow grew like staypuft marshsmallow man)

Curious what inferences do you draw from this "evidence": asking people whether there is "scientific consensus" on climate change provokes an identity-protective response; asking them whether climate scientsits have concluded x, y, z, p, q, r about the causes and consequences of climate change does *not*.

Not to say there isn't more where that came from.

February 9, 2016 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Middle row of graphs (in the 9 graph block)...one on the left and one on the right.

Need to think about the inferences...

February 9, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua-- ah... thanks!

February 10, 2016 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Dan, just to check I've got this the right way round - in your block of nine graphs, the more left-wing people are on the right, and the more rightwing people are on the left, right? :)

Anyway, the main interesting points are, as you say, that there's virtually no difference, and that both left and right are pretty clueless.

The idea of measuring 'dreadedness' is a nice one. It's a bit surprising that the Rs are virtually as dreaded as the Ls. I thought that in the pictures in your Measurement Problem paper the Rs were a bit less likely to believe in the false scares than the Ls.

February 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Matthews

@Paul M

Take care Paul, it is not 'dreadedness' that is being measured.

Dan's work on the OSI and OCSI scales is a great project and a great way forward. It produces excellent data, not least the ability to then demonstrate the increasing polarization of the more domain knowledgable as measured by OCSI, a sign of strong cultural bias. Notwithstanding some quibbles, the OCSI test works as desired in itself, not least in helping to decouple identity from comprehension of climate issues. And the data it produces, has I think largely escaped bias. Nice work.

But 'dreadedness' is not what the data says. This term, or to use an earlier phrase of Dan's, a 'universal latent fear that we're screwed', is an interpretation of what the data means, but NOT an inherent truth of the data. The data says *only* that the great majority of respondents from both political camps poll the same way. There are many potential solutions for why this is so, which can be picked for best fit from a wide solution space, the eventual pick being 'the interpretation'. For instance as an obvious possibility (without even needing to know anything about that solution space), not all the respondents may be polling in that same direction *for the same reasons*. For instance the 2 political camps may be polling in the same direction for *different* reasons. Or even within a single political camp, there may be more than one group polling in the same direction for different reasons. If so, then a fear that we're screwed would only be a motivation for a subset of the respondents, at best.

BUT... Dan has seriously limited his solution space. His baked in prior (see my comments at the thread before this one) has closed down the solution space to *only* those possibilities that are consistent with all the cultural bias being on the side of the Rep / Cons. The solution space whereby the cultural bias is all on the side of the Dem / Libs, or mixed between the Dem / Libs and Rep / Cons, has been closed. Again see my comments at previous thread.

Further, a preference to an eventual interpretation that aligns to calamity from dangerous AGW, and applies similarly to all the (majority) respondents, is no doubt subconsciously tempting. That temptation could likely be resisted if the full solution space was open, because much better fits to the *whole* data, including what the OCSI produces, are available. But within such a limited space, the 'dreadedness' interpretation is much more tempting, because fewer possibilities exist anyhow.

It is easier to see all this from Dan's evolution of this work back in summer 2014. Less sophistication, but same basic theme and results, and more of the thought process recorded between steps. Dan's studious recording of his steps is to be highly applauded. Opening the solution space reveals a much better fit for an interpretation that has most of the cultural bias on the Dem / Lib side. It turns out from this that there are 3 groups polling the same way, with 2 behaviors. The majority of Rep / Cons think that *the scientists* believe the stories, but they do not believe the stories themselves. A large slice of the Dem / Lib majority polling the same way, think likewise. All these respondents are not motivated by fear, but by a lack of faith in climate science. A regular diet in the media of stories more outlandish than Dan's, no doubt has contributed. The remainder of the Dem / Libs polling the same way, are emotively committed to the concept of calamitous climate change, and appear to believe any scare story purporting to come from the authority of climate scientists. These respondents are not really motivated by fear either, I'd say more by blind faith.

The behavior of the Rep / Cons is more or less their public stance regarding (legit) climate science pronouncements anyhow. They don't change that stance when identity challenge is removed via Dan's lead-in of 'climate scientists believe' or 'according to climate scientists'. The Democrats who exhibit this same behavior *are* changing their stance. If asked straight whether they believe in dangerous AGW, they will say 'yes', because they have to defend their Party identity. Dan's distancing from identity has worked, but has revealed a different truth to the one I'm sure he expected, namely that it would be the Rep / Cons who changed response when identity challenge was removed. Dan closed such possibilities out of the solution space already, so never considers these. But the 'shifting' Dem / Libs are in fact demonstrating a convenient alliance with a core culture, the same culture that the more emotively committed Dem / Libs fully believe in.

So we are not seeing 'dreadedness' here. We are seeing a lack of faith in climate science from Rep / Cons and *some* Dem / Libs, who basically don't believe a word of it. And 'blind faith' from other Dem / Libs, who basically believe all the scares whatever they say.

Going back to the posts in summer of 2014, for instance the link below, you can see Dan attempting to build more nuanced and complete explanations on top of basics like the concept of a 'universal fear' that he believes he has discovered per above. Armed also with the polarization graph (2nd figure), in which he defines the Dem / Lib pole as 'true', by this act also defining all cultural bias to be in the Rep / Con pole (!), he closes down the solution space. The four candidate explanations he puts forward are all then necessarily from the limited space left open, in which Rep / Cons carry all the bias. A balanced investigation would not close out this space, but allow the best fit from whatever part of the solution space it comes from.

http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2014/8/19/what-exactly-is-going-on-in-their-heads-and-in-mine-explaini.html

February 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

@Dan: In the 2/8 article, "As their science comprehension increases...", you write


most Americans don’t really know anything about the rudiments of climate science. They just know -- pretty much every last one of them--that climate scientists believe we are screwed.

In this paper you restate it:


the overwhelming majority of ordinary citizens, regardless of their political persuasions, agree that climate scientists have concluded that global warming is putting human beings in grave danger.

You continue


When one counts up the number of correct responses, OSI_2.0 measures how much people genuinely know about the basic causes and consequences of human-caused global warming. You can figure out that by scoring.

Alternatively, when one counts up the number of responses, correct or incorrect, that evince a perception of the risks that human-caused climate change poses, OSI_2.0 measures how dreaded climate change is as a societal risk.

No matter what they “believe” about human-caused climate change, very few people do well on the first, knowledge-based scale.

And no matter what they “believe” about human-caused climate change, the vast majority of them score extremely high on the second, dreadedness scale.

Now you seem to be calling "acknowledgement that scientists believe we're screwed" a "dreadedness scale", as if you're conflating agreeing "scientists believe we're screwed" with their own personal dread. But the people on the right -- the most committed movement conservatives and those they influence, and some libertarians and those they influence are bombarded with the meme that climate scientists are totally corrupt. They say what they say because they have to to get research grants, or to say otherwise would result in abuse and ostracization by colleagues. They, the academic world in general, mainstream journalists, and liberal politicians are all complicit in a "power grab" (the phrase was applied to the silliest things, especially, as I recall around the start of the Obama administration) to wrest trillions of dollars from oil producers and consumers in order to finance a total bureaucratization of the world through "enforcement agencies".

A few, perhaps like Andy West, "moderates" and indeed Judith Curry say well yes, not many climate scientists are outright liars, and there will be some warming due to C02, but it is only a few activists putting the icing on the cake and calling it a catastrophe in the making, and you seem rather close to saying that yourself, or at least half agreeing with that.


All the "social marketing" of "scientific consensus" does is augment the toxic idioms of contempt that are poisoning our science communication environment.

While you are not shouting it, you believe implicitly that the consensus of a large varied scientific discipline is something we ought to heed, and you are having a hard time wrapping your head around the success (beyond their wildest dreams) of attempts to ridicule and nullify that consensus in the minds of some 30-40% of the U.S. population. You are looking for explanations in the realm of psycho-social tendencies, and missing a unique historical event. You seem inclined to trust Theda Skocpol if not so much Naomi Oreskes (too much of a happy warrior? insensitive to those she criticizes some of whom are honorable people? somewhat in her own echo chamber of liberal fans?); you might want to reread her paper that you linked to a while back.

February 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterHal Morris

Andy West, w.r.t. my essay "Global Warming and the Controversy: What is Scientific Consensus? Continental Drift as Example." wrote:


Hal, I think your linked blog post has rather sanitized historic events regarding tectonic plate theory, and avoided the issue that for the best part of half a century there was a solid consensus actively impeding the concept of continental drift. Wegener himself was ridiculed, and scientific authority within the field of geology resisted rather than encouraged the emergence of the theory plus the underlying data that eventually demonstrated its truth. This is despite the fact that a 6 year old child can see that the east coast of South America dovetails with the west coast of Africa.

That was an integral part of the chapter I was summarizing from Miriam Solomon's Social Empiricism. After the "Great War" it seemed the French especially found it easy to dismiss a German scientist with a radical theory. But the academic community was unwilling to pronounce a consensus (which apparently drove your geology teacher crazy) among scientists who had something to say on the matter, until there actually was a consensus. I was also trying to make the point that scientific consensus is nothing like groupthink. I was describing only the last phases of the process.

Scientists take with a grain of salt what any "6 year old child can see", which often amounts to fools gold.

February 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterHal Morris

P.S. Dan's four candidate solutions mentioned above are for the domain knowledgeable (and limited to Rep / Cons); the proposed latent fear is for everyone (including the domain knowledgeable).

February 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

@Hal,

Indeed a scientific consensus is nothing like a socially enforced one.

The former is a parking place for uncertain science, a framework for co-operation and a beachhead for further advance, which *expects* to be seriously updated and maybe even overturned, and welcomes the possibility of potential advance whether or not such updates are the result. Of course when the uncertainty is diminished enough, a consensus isn't needed, the answer is manifest.

The latter is endemic in humans, because a major part of the 'job' of culture is to create a consensus in the face of the unknowable, which is a huge evolutionary advantage. And lets face it almost everything used to be unknowable, and a vast amount still is. Socially enforced consensuses resist change, and police themselves, yet do evolve slowly over time. They can be small-scale up to large-scale (closing of ranks to group-think to full blown cultural entity like a religion).

The latter can masquerade as the former; the trick is to tell which one is which.

My geology teacher faced a socially enforced consensus that continental drift was not a serious theory.

February 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

Blog post here about Dan's findings and similar results in the UK just announced by Richard Tol.

February 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Matthews

@HalMorris & @AndyWest--

Your points about alternative accounts of what I am holding forward as a "dreadedness" cale are well taken. It *is* my interpretation; and I don't think there is ever meaning in evidence w/o that. But other interpretations are plausible; and the full account of my own -- including additional evience that I think admits more readily of my interpretation than others -- is not presented here.

One thing your alternative "intepretations" must also take account of, though, is the remarkable contrast between the responses of skeptically disposed rspts to the OCSI items and the "climate science consensus" item. On your account of what they are "saying" in their responses to the former, there'd be no reason form them to say "no" on the latter.

Today's post presses the point, although you'll be avoiding it if you fixate on "97%": that particular figure is not what rspts object to when they say "no" on the standard "scientific consensus on climate change?" item

February 12, 2016 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

one question it might be fun asking the public. is what exactly the think 97% of scientist actually agree about..

range of options being between
doomed, 6C by 2100 to, great swathes of earth inhapitable next few decades.

to CO2 is a GHG and adding man made CO2 (FF) to atmosphere causes additional warming,

February 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

@Dan,

I don't think your new post addresses any of the difficulties with your interpretation. Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't see any clash of my own interpretation with the divergence of the 2 charts at top of head-post here, regarding 'climate science consensus' response. Anyhow, addressed all details on new thread.

February 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAndy West

@PaulMathews--Good point about the graphic. I've now put "left" on left, "right" on right & made labels more clear.

I know the colors will still create dissonance for UK readers. But that's why you get for taxing us w/o representation.

February 13, 2016 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Dan -

==> Curious what inferences do you draw from this "evidence": asking people whether there is "scientific consensus" on climate change provokes an identity-protective response; asking them whether climate scientsits have concluded x, y, z, p, q, r about the causes and consequences of climate change does *not*.


Yeah. That's interesting.

As a caveat, keep in mind that I think that there's a danger from trying to drill too deep into these data. They aren't fully informative. I don't necessarily expect there to be the consistency in what is reveled in the data that there might be in tightly controlled contexts.

I buy that your data suggest that there is more polarization over the issue of whether there is a "consensus" than there is in what people think that climate scientists believe. Certainly, the question of "consensus" in and of itself has come to be a marker of identity orientation in itself, to a large degree.

That doesn't mean, however, that I think that the issue of "consensus" in and of itself is an actual driver of polarization so much as it is that polarization about the "consensus" is a marker of climate change.

As Larry Hamilton says:

https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2016/02/12/consensus-messaging/#comment-72685

Consensus messaging no doubt constructively informs some people while irritating others, although most of those irritated probably disbelieved the science already — as constrained by our surveys above. But I see no evidence that recent efforts at consensus messaging have increased public polarization.

I think it is similar to the effect you found about "Climategate." There are some who say that "Climategate" affected their opinion just as there are probably many who say that claims of a "consensus" stimulate their distrust of climate scientists or their doubt about the risks posed by aCO2 emissions...,but: (1) those who say it are aligned ideologically in ways that suggest that ideology is more than just a coincidental association (and either a causal factor or a mediator/moderator in the causal relationship between identity group and views related to climate change and (2) it's awfully convenient to make such claims as it works for them ideologically to do so. With "Climategate," my guess is that there are many "conservatives" who say that "Climategate" undermined their trust in climate science, but w/o actual pre/post longitudinal data, I remain unconvinced. My guess is that for many of them, they are saying that "Climategate" significantly affected their views when in reality, "Climategate" just provided a convenient rational for justifying opinions they'd have anyway. I suspect the same dynamic is in play with how they respond to the issue of a "consensus." "Consensus-messaging" doesn't polarize as much as it becomes a convenient rationalization for pre-existing polarization.

February 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Dan -

I think a comment of mine disappeared? Too repeat...

For Paul:

==> It's a bit surprising that the Rs are virtually as dreaded as the Ls. I thought that in the pictures in your Measurement Problem paper the Rs were a bit less likely to believe in the false scares than the Ls.

Consider the "false scare" in response to the Ebola "crises," in the U.S., where R's where running around like chicken-littles, suggesting that we counterproductively close the borders, waste time and energy quarantining people, etc., in opposition to "expert" advice, all for the sake of political expediency.

February 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

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