Skeptics are the Educated
Posted by Jeff Condon on June 29, 2011
An interesting post at Judith Curry’s blog links to a paper by Dan Kahan and an article at DeSmog blog. Sadly, skeptics actually are rational people, who actually understand science. What’s worse, the more people understand, the more likely they are to be skeptical! Apparently the reader background link at the top of this blog where technical people left comments on their own backgrounds, is actually real!! Who knew.
Abstract: The conventional explanation for controversy over climate change emphasizes impediments to public understanding: Limited popular knowledge of science, the inability of ordinary citizens to assess technical information, and the resulting widespread use of unreliable cognitive heuristics to assess risk. A large survey of U.S. adults (N = 1540) found little support for this account. On the whole, the most scientifically literate and numerate subjects were slightly less likely, not more, to see climate change as a serious threat than the least scientifically literate and numerate ones. More importantly, greater scientific literacy and numeracy were associated with greater cultural polarization: Respondents predisposed by their values to dismiss climate change evidence became more dismissive, and those predisposed by their values to credit such evidence more concerned, as science literacy and numeracy increased. We suggest that this evidence reflects a conflict between two levels of rationality: The individual level, which is characterized by citizens’ effective use of their knowledge and reasoning capacities to form risk perceptions that express their cultural commitments; and the collective level, which is characterized by citizens’ failure to converge on the best available scientific evidence on how to promote their common welfare. Dispelling this, “tragedy of the risk-perception commons,” we argue, should be understood as the central aim of the science of science communication.
The paper is not behind a paywall, thank god, and you are free to fill your minds. It does seem to be another paper trying to figure out how to communicate the need for ‘action’ to those who think ‘action’ is not the correct act, but at least they go at it from a seemingly more rational viewpoint.
Here is an opening paragraph:
Controversy over climate change is commonly attributed to a deficit in public comprehension of scientific information. The most straightforward explanation is ignorance: the public knows too little science to understand the evidence or to avoid being misled by distortions of it. A subtler account puts the blame on widespread cognitive biases and related limitations on the capacity of citizens to assess informa-tion about risk. In short, because members of the public do not know what scientists know, or think the way scientists think, they predictably fail to take climate change as seriously as perfectly rational risk-evaluators would.
You would think the paper could be titled the amazing Schmidt or super Mann but the next sentence clears it up (my emphasis):
The goal of this paper is to challenge this critique of the rationality of public opinion on climate change. Our motivation is in part to show how poorly supported the conventional picture of public dissen-sus is by empirical evidence: scientific examination does not bear out the premise that deficiencies in science education or defects in individual reasoning explain conflict over climate change.
But an even more fundamental objective is to advance a more precise diagnosis of the kind of ir-rationality that afflicts public deliberations on climate change. “Irrationality” describes a state of antagon-ism between an agent’s goals and the decision-making capacities that the agent uses to attain them. Ac-cordingly, it is necessary to specify who the agent is and what good he or she or it is trying to attain; only then can one identify and assess the performance of the reasoning processes being employed (Gigenrenzer 2000). The dominant critique of public rationality, we submit, doesn’t pay sufficient attention to these issues.
In my opinion, those who dominantly critique our rationality need to open their ears. Perhaps the reason that so many educated people who actually can read and comprehend end up disagreeing with both the result of IPCC pseudoscience and the pseudosolution to the human disease, is because we have a point.
Naw, can’t be it.
Apparently what is needed is better communication and understanding of the positions of the science minded skeptics, it is understanding their ‘cultural biases’ that can help those who know the truth, teach us the way to Gaia’s favor.
5. Conclusion: The science of science communication as a public good
Our study results belie the conventional view that controversy over policy-relevant science is rooted in the public’s lack of scientific knowledge and its inability to engage in technical reasoning. As ordinary people learn more science and become more proficient in modes of reasoning characteristic of scientific inquiry, they do not reliably converge on assessments of climate change risks supported by scientific evidence. Instead they more form beliefs that are even more reliably characteristic of persons who hold their particular cultural worldviews. Indeed, far from a symptom of how poorly equipped ordi-nary individuals are to reach rational conclusions on the basis of complex scientific data, disputes over issues like climate change, we’ve argued, are evidence of how remarkably well equipped they are to dis-cern what stances toward such information satisfy their expressive interests. The high degree of rationality individuals display in forming risk perceptions that express their cultural values can itself inhibit collective welfare rationality by blocking citizens from converging on the best available scientific evidence on how to secure their common interests in health, safety, and prosperity. [gotta love that statement 'collective welfare rationality' - my Id]
Resolving controversies over climate change and like risk issues requires dispelling this tragedy of the risk-perception commons (Hardin 1968). A strategy that focuses only on improving transmission of sound scientific information, it should be clear, is highly unlikely to achieve this objective. The principal reason people disagree about climate change science is not that it has been communicated to them in forms they cannot understand. Rather, it is that positions on climate change convey values—communal concern versus individual self-reliance; prudent self-abnegation versus the heroic pursuit of reward; hu-mility versus ingenuity; harmony with nature versus mastery over it—that divide them along cultural lines. Merely amplifying or improving the clarity of information on climate change science won’t gener-ate public consensus if risk communicators fail to take heed of the cues that determine what climate-change risk perceptions express about the cultural commitments of those who form them.
In fact, such inattention can deepen polarization. Citizens who hold hierarchical and individualistic values discount scientific information about climate change in part because they associate the issue with antagonism to commerce and industry. That association is aggravated when a communication identifies carbon emission limits as the exclusive policy remedy for climate change (Kahan in press). Individu-als are prone to interpret challenges to beliefs that predominate with their cultural community as assaults on the competence of those whom they trust and look to for guidance (Kahan, Braman, Cohen, Gastil & Slovic 2010). That implication—which naturally provokes resistance is likely to be strengthened when communicators with a recognizable cultural identity stridently accuse those who disagree with them of lacking intelligence or integrity.
Public controversy over climate change science cannot be pinned entirely on mistakes in science communication. But it would be a mistake not to recognize that communicators’ disregard of citizens’ cultural outlooks has made things worse.
It would also be a mistake, at this point, for information communicators not to take care to avoid accentuating the cues that sustain cultural factionalization. It isn’t the case, of course, that carbon-emission controls are the only policy response to climate change risks; technologies that furnish a substi-tute for and that offset the effects of greenhouse-gas-producing energy sources can contribute, too. Many of these alternatives, such as nuclear power and geo-engineering, are likely to convey cultural resonances that affirm rather than threaten hierarchical and individualist confidence in the power of human ingenuity to overcome environmental constraints on economic production. There are also many hierarchical and individualistic people who believe in the need to take action, of one form or another, to address climate change risks, and who can be counted on to make the case for doing so in terms that appeal to rather than alienate members of the public who share their outlooks (Kahan 2010). The cultural richness of the full range of potential policy responses and available advocates are narrative resources for opening minds (Jones & McBeth 2010; Verwij et al. 2006). It would be irrational for actors committed to disseminating sound scientific information not to make use of them.
Finally, it would be a mistake not to learn lessons from the misadventures that have beset efforts to communicate the science of climate change. Scientists are among the most trusted groups in the United States, which is a singularly pro-science society (Pew Research Center 2009). Bitter public disputes over science are in fact the exception rather than the rule. But those exceptions can be very damaging, to both the physical environment and the deliberative environment. Experience with the issue of climate change has shown that; but it has also furnished us data from which the science of science communication has derived important insights.
Citizens are most likely to be driven off the path of convergence on the best available science, this research shows, when issues of environmental and technological risk become freighted with cultural meanings that motivate diverse groups to form opposing positions. This state is by no means inevitable with respect to any particular issue. What’s more, how such a state comes about does not defy empirical explanation, which can in turn be used to predict such controversies and to formulate strategies aimed at forestalling their occurrence or ameliorating their consequences should they occur.
Development of these forecasting and management tools is the task of the science of science communication. Establishing the institutions and procedures necessary for promoting their reliable use in policymaking is a public good of singular importance to the wellbeing of modern, culturally pluralistic democracies (Nisbet & Mooney 2007).
I have bolded two sentences above which touch some of the papers unspecified motivation. Rather than stating that citizens with communal leanings tend to bias toward institutionalized solutions and anti-industrial solutions, it is stated that those who resist them, are biased to do so. It also states that the skeptical view is to discount climate change information, but I see very little of that being done at the main science based blogs. Instead, the blogs have become the only public outlets for information which refute the institutionally and anti-industry biased groups.
It should be completely uncontroversial to state that climate science solutions presented by the climate science community are anti-industry,anti-capitalist and economically reducing by design. On the whole, they flatly state such things in their conferences, publications and in the organizations which provide much of their funding. Yes they also put out lies about green jobs and prosperity, but in the layers of dirt which make up climate alarmism, green job creation is the media/leftist political line sold to the public rather than something regularly spouted by scientists. Not that the scientists aren’t also selling the same dirt on occasion.
After all that long winded noise, I’ll get to the real problem with climate science which is no news here.
Climate science is biased by bad papers being passed easily through peer review because of the money, fame, leftist politics and government power which have corrupted the balance of the science. The fact that climategate didn’t result in any heads rolling whatsoever, even though the corruption was flatly exposed, should be proof to anyone that the corruption is endemic to world governments and the climate community. Therefore, it is my firm opinion that it is BAD science which gives cliamate science a BAD rap in the minds of scientists working in other fields. Skepticism itself as a cultural phenomena has nothing to do with BAD skeptics who need to be negotiated with in a different manner. Skeptics exist because of bad scientific practice and blatantly exaggerated result being regularly passed off as reasonable science.
Maybe we should make a list of ‘consensus’ papers verified to be false on climate blogs.