A Reasoned Rejection of Science, Explaining the Tragedy of Data to the Experts
Posted by Jeff Id on January 20, 2013
Ex-spurt is a commonly misunderstood term. The true definition of Ex-spurt is, “A drip under pressure”, or perhaps in past tense form, “a drop under pressure.” Often an ex-drip will self-identify as a spurt, but on closer examination he is really just a drip. Reader (Alan D McIntire) left a link on the Yellow Science thread, to a “scientific” paper written by this latter sort of expert, which is a rather humorous contribution to science. The paper was message-motivated its conception, but the inspiration to write this post came from the machinations the authors exhibited in trying to rationalize the unfortunate data they collected.
The full paper can be downloaded here – The Tragedy of the Risk-Perception Commons: Culture Conflict, Rationality Conflict, and Climate Change
Dan M. Kahan is the main author of the “work” which employs statistical techniques to interpret a questionnaire. Anyone can critique a question, and many readers of the technical climate blogs do, but the reasoned questioning of a stupid question makes me glaze over so that is not the topic of this post. What is interesting is that the authors really attempted to discern why the public has expressed such a wide rejection of “climate science™” in the face of the “National Academy of Science”, and how better to communicate their (the authors) own beliefs.
The paper uses a lot of obtuse language which will dissuade most casual readers from actually parsing the intent. Psychology is likely to be a permanently soft science due to the difficulty and occasional unwillingness to define well qualified, limiting parameters for statistical tests. This is the central reason that psychology has never actually achieved the true “gold star” rating of physics. There is simply too much room in the field for opinion to interpret weakly fulcrumed data. e.g. you write a question which intends to differentiate subjects and then interpret the question with complex statistics. The actual result of both the question and the statistics are beyond most human scientists abilities to interpret, but that doesn’t stop any of us.
Reality doesn’t change funding, the authors note states:
Authors’ Note. Research for this paper was funded by the National Science Foundation, Grant SES 0922714.
The abstract begins:
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.
The people which the authors regularly associate with state that skepticism of climate change alarmism is rooted in misunderstanding of science, inability to access the technical results mentally, and the general stupidity of the population.
The rest of the abstract indicates quite obtusely when the “science” ends and the activism begins:
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.
Those who understand science and math, are less likely to see climate change as a serious threat to their existence, but those who are predisposed by their “values” to reject climate science, have a stronger correlation to rejection of science. The authors “suggest” that the subjects lack of rationality is caused by cultural commitments which override reason. The individual understands the collective need, yet overrides it with individual interest.
Old song eh?
I do love that song. But why does the increased rejection of a conclusion by “cultural rationale” make any point regarding the rejection by scientifically literate individuals? Culture and reason are uncorrelated by definition. To those of us who value data over result, the fact that the correlation is higher for cultural rejection of climate science, has literally zero influence on the scientific rejection of the same. Still, the current bed-wetting phase of psychological science allows plenty of room for motivated, sophistic, discussion as to why people make decisions that others, particularly authors, don’t agree with.
The “irrationality” of every human are defined in the paper as:
But an even more fundamental objective is to advance a more precise diagnosis of the kind of irrationality that afflicts public deliberations on climate change. “Irrationality” describes a state of antagonism between an agent’s goals and the decision-making capacities that the agent uses to attain them.
So, in climate science, “public deliberations” are some kind of irrationality…. Because an agent’s goals don’t match the authors “expected” results.
The meat of the paper is shown in the following sets of graphs:
Interesting that the more adept a person is in science and math, the less likely they are to agree with climate change! A similar result was found for nuclear power as well:
The more educated people are, the less worried they are about nuclear power. The problem the authors have though is that they cannot understand how education on climate change results in less concern. They don’t seem to suffer the same personal disdain regarding nuclear power, but the issues discussed in this paper were comprised entirely of current US liberal (egalitarian-communitarian) hot-button topics. On reading, it is no stretch to assume that these are the issues which the authors deem important concerns for society.
The cultural cognition theory also generates a testable prediction. This theory posits that persons who subscribe to a “hierarchical, individualistic” worldview—one that simultaneously ties authority to conspicuous social rankings and eschews collective interference with the decisions made by individuals possessed of such authority—can be expected to be skeptical of claims of environmental and technologi-cal risks. Such people, according to the theory, intuitively perceive that widespread acceptance of such claims would license restrictions on commerce and industry, forms of behavior that Hierarchical Indivi-dualists value. In contrast, persons who hold an “egalitarian, communitarian” worldview—one that favors less regimented forms of social organization and greater collective attention to securing individual needs—tend to be morally suspicious of commerce and industry, which they see as the source of unjust disparities in wealth and power. They therefore find it congenial, the theory posits, to see those forms of behavior as dangerous and thus worthy of restriction. On this view, then, we should expect Egalitarian Communitarians to be more concerned than Hierarchical Individualists with climate change risks (Doug-las & Wildavsky 1982).
The authors point out here that politics affects peoples opinion to a greater degree than education. However, in the near standard circular-reasoning mode of soft-science, the authors imply the correct answer for both the nuclear and the climate change cases, and generate conclusions from there. They fail to notice how their own bias affects their conclusions. For instance, climate change:
The result is the failure of the public—or at least a large propor-tion of it—to form the views of climate change risk held among more knowledgeable, dispassionate ex-perts (Weber & Stern 2011).
We will call this position the “public irrationality thesis” or “PIT.” Our claim is that PIT is con-trary to empirical evidence of who believes what about climate change.
And on nuclear:
This result is arguably consistent with PIT. Historically, members of the public have been understood to be more concerned about nuclear power than they should be based on the best available scientific evidence. If, consistent with PIT, we attribute the public’s view to deficits in reason, then we should expect to see concern with nuclear power risks abate as science literacy and numeracy increases.
So the authors are self-certain that the graphs above mean that the smart people got Nuclear power more right, but climate change wrong.
Unfortunately, this is absolutely a climate change activist paper, we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking anything else of it. It also has a strong communitarian leaning. The concept of it is entirely centered around using psychology to empower science to act on our behalf and direct the public as they see fit. Irrational decision making based on political views are fingered as the culprit for the publics “incorrect” decisions on climate change.
The authors of the paper do make some good points of course but again, nothing which jeopardizes the authors intent. The following paragraph correctly notes the anti-industrial stance of the “communicators”, the fake carbon-emission limit “solutions” but again blames only misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the science based on non-communitarian political views for the disagreement.
In fact, such inattention can deepen polarization. Citizens who hold hierarchical and individualis-tic 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 identi-fies 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.
I Believe that in their humorous machinations on irrational decision making, the authors have missed a simpler alternate explanation that happens to fit their own data better.
Negative slope of the risk with increased education.
This means that the generally dumber people see nuclear power and climate change as more risky. Sorry dumb people! The smarter people, who didn’t need much education to answer the brain-sorting questions, see it as less risk (slightly). To be fair to the study, there is an extreme bifurcation of risk in climate change between the individualistic and the communistic groups. This large-scale bifurcation of risk assessment on climate change, combined with a negative overall slope WRT education, is not an insignificant fact and the huge differential of opinion is not satisfactorily explained by the authors.
My explanation is that the smart people are more right……
Climate change science is a self-sorted group of communitarian personalities, funded by government with a strong belief that they know best for society. Of interest to me was that general climate science results and beliefs, are at the extreme end of the data collected in this paper. The dangers are systematically exaggerated, and their solutions to the problems posited are singularly anti-industrial. Additionally, these authors made the false claim that the climate scientists are the least-emotional and biased source. A brief review of the general public behavior of climate scientists as well as private emails, indicates that fact the opposite is true. You don’t hide the decline, if you aren’t interested in a particular result.
It takes little imagination to understand that communitarian personalities see climate change as their best chance to enact global changes to energy and governance. Backing this point up, there is substantial evidence that their decision process is based heavily on emotion. For example, we know low-energy density technologies like biofuels, wind and solar don’t do anything to solve the “scientific problem” yet viable high-output technologies like nuclear and natural gas are held back by the same people. These are examples of “feel good” science. All of these examples point directly and singularly to rationality of decisions for political gain by the anti-industrial communitarians.
Let’s look briefly at how this alternate conclusion has explained the data in the paper. Climate risk is being heavily exaggerated by the climate science community as evidenced by their opinions being on the extreme end of the collected data, and smart recognize it. Communitarians, also at the extreme end of the spectrum, emotionally approve of the result and see the advantage of the argument which they help exaggerate to their own perceived benefit. Individualists look at the same data, recognize that climate science has NOT made an adequate case for any danger whatsoever, and further recognize that the political goals of the science are highly-destructive to their economic well-being. Logically, the individualist still sees the lack of an adequate argument as still having some risk associated with it.
We shouldn’t forget that there isn’t a single piece of evidence that anyone has been hurt by global warming — anywhere — ever. We are often told the opposite is true by the communitarian scientific thinkers, against all evidence. Hurricanes, drought, shrinking fish, sheep etc… All fake results today, which may start to show trends in the future. In the case of nuclear energy, the communitarian groups have consistently and dramatically overestimated risk. The situation is so bad that all nuclear is lumped together into a single concept completely ignoring the realities of differing technologies. To me the anti-nuclear people are completely delusional, and some even express concern about the nuclear pollution of space! Dumber than hell in my opinion. Still there is less political advantage to be had in fighting nuclear power than fighting for climate change “solutions”, and the two groups in Figure 2 above are much closer in conclusion.
So there you have it, an explanation for the authors results which requires zero irrational thought on anyone’s behalf. It explains the huge discrepancy between the different political viewpoints on climate change, without resorting to making decisions that are not in their own best interest. It also employs the fact that “climate science™” sits at the extreme end of the risk spectrum, despite having literally zero evidence of any damage to date and substantial evidence of models running too hot. It does all that while providing a rationale for political bifurcation on nuclear power being closer together than climate.
Adding irrationality to explain why people don’t converge on the most extreme end of climate change opinion, makes no sense whatsoever, and shows a form of irrationality by the authors of this paper. A loose and irrational(adjective) variable called “irrationality”, added to a paper to create a perceived data fit, without messing up the authors world-view.
And this concludes another episode of communitarian climate change insanity brought to you by the “experts” of the crazy world we live in.