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Another genuinely informative study of consensus messaging


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Reader Comments (6)

Interesting article! It's basically a study of the effect on public opinion of use of the Argument from Authority fallacy, in combination with a (true and logically valid) reminder that the authorities in this case are divided along political lines.

It's found that the Argument from Authority fallacy alone works on low-information partisans, but is easily counteracted by the reminder that it is disputed (except for high-knowledge Democrats, who are unaffected by the reminder), and neither 'warnings' nor 'corrections' seeking to re-affirm the Authority fallacy work.

They say "We have no evidence on why this occurred, although we suspect that the politicization message is simply stronger (i.e., more compelling) than the warning or correction (see Chong & Druckman, 2007)." I would have thought a simpler explanation would be that the warning/correction was simply interpreted as part of that politicised debate/dispute.

A little later they say "We take these results as implying that climate change is inherently linked to confidence in the scientific community and thus information about climate change has potential downstream effects on confidence", referring to their finding that high-knowledge Republicans don't decrease their confidence in science because of the politicisation reminder or the correction message. I don't see how that conclusion follows - it surely demonstrates that climate change is inherently *not* linked to confidence in the scientific community. I personally don't find that surprising - high information Republicans wouldn't consider climate scientists as part of the "scientific community", in the sense they're not acting as scientists but as political partisans. Scientists acting like scientists are still trusted. But even if there's another reason for it, I don't see how the lack of any observed effect justifies the claim of a linkage and the prediction of a downstream effect.

They draw a conclusion "Specifically, not everyone who identifies with a partisan group knows “what position to take” and thus those low in such knowledge, perhaps ironically, are open to substantive information even when ostensibly contradicting an identity position (i.e., low knowledge Republicans)", but looking back, there's no evidence presented for this - the previous mentions were all careful to present it as a possibility. An alternative interpretation is that people need a logical reason to reject an argument, they can't justify drawing a conclusion purely on partisan grounds, and low-knowledge partisans might not be able to generate the "divided authorities" argument for themselves.

But I do like, and strongly agree with their conclusion: "Third, the rhetorical environment matters; most prior research that explores how communicating scientific consensus shapes opinions focuses on providing information about what most climate scientists believe in the absence of any competitive rhetoric. The reality is that scientific consensus is often politicized and there will always be actors who attempt to contest such claims." Yes indeed! That's the big problem with the AfA fallacy - everyone can appoint and pick their own alternative authorities!

I think the answer to the problem they identify is obvious - it's interesting that the authors apparently don't, and are at a loss for any more effective approach. It's a different weltanschauung.

April 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

=={ Second, we find that communications emphasizing the politicization of climate change eliminates the aforementioned effects of the consensus information on low knowledge partisans (i.e., their opinions on human - caused climate change are no longer affected by the consensus information) }==

One interesting aspect there...

In the real world, there is going to be come measure of communication emphasizing the politicization of climate change regardless of consensus-messaging - meaning that while consensus messaging might have a limited effect towards creating a widespread public belief in climate change it might also lead to less disbelief in climate change (i.e. it may have an effect to mitigate messaging aimed at creating disbelief).


=={ ...the precise impact of partisan group identity depends on one’s knowledge levels and the competitive rhetorical environment }==

April 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

I'd also note that they describe the counter-effect (from consensus-messaging) among "high knowledge Republicans" as marginal.

Thus, their findings seem consistent with my view that while consensus-messaging is not likely to in balance result in a dominant belief in climate change (considering a diverse audience of low/high knowledge Pubs and Dems), neither does a counter-effect from consensus-messaging go very far in explaining the existing magnitude of the "anti-consensus" public viewpoint. According to their evidence, it only nudges an existing phenomenon a bit further down the track.

In the end, IMO, much of the explanations about viewpoint formation on climate change (such as that presented by "skeptics" who say that "consensus-messaging" has created "skepticism" to a meaningful extent) amount to just-so stories.

IMO, rather simply the explanation lies at the root of identity-orientation. That doesn't mean, IMO, that identity-orientation is actually causal, but that identity orientation acts as a mediator between with the causal mechanisms of pattern recognition and identity-protective cognition and polarization.

Indeed, we see the same mechanism in play along many different polarized controversies and perhaps more interestingly, (IMO) the particular shapes of polarization are more or less arbitrary. They shape can shift dramatically with a kind of capriciousness... as we have seen in so many recent examples, my most recent favorite being how so many Pubs have shifted in their views on the wisdom of bombing Syria in reaction to the use of chemical weapons by the Assad association (if not necessarily causation) with whether there was a Pub or a Dem in the Oval Office.

April 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Agreed with @ Joshua. Not only marginal, the consensus message seemed to have had a universally positive effect on Republicans and Democrats alike, at least when it comes to perceptions of scientific agreement, including High-Knowledge Republicans, see Table A13 on the last page of the working paper (all coefficients are positive). This suggests IMO that consensus messaging is not polarizing at least with respect to communicating the state of scientific knowledge, the marginal backfire effect for high-knowledge Republicans' belief in climate change implies that identity-orientation is indeed not causal, but perhaps a mediator, as Joshua suggests.

April 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJesse

"This suggests IMO that consensus messaging is not polarizing at least with respect to communicating the state of scientific knowledge"

Do you mean "state of scientific knowledge" or "the opinions held by climate scientists"? I thought they were only being asked about the latter?

April 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Thanks for posting this Dan and we appreciate the thoughtful comments and are revising the paper along many of the lines suggested!

April 18, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJamie Druckman

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