by Judith Curry
There is a recent article in the NYTimes entitled “Snubbing skeptics threatens to intensify climate war, study says.” The NYTimes article refers to a study entitled: “Talking Past Each Other: Cultural Framing of Skeptical and Convinced Logics in the Climate Change Debate.”
Talking Past Each Other: Cultural Framing of Skeptical and Convinced Logics in the Climate Change Debate
Andrew J. Hoffman
Stephen M. Ross School of Business
University of Michigan
In press, Organization and Environment
[link to full manuscript]
This paper analyzes the extent to which two institutional logics around climate change – the climate change “convinced” and climate change “skeptical” logics – are truly competing or talking past each other in a way that can be described as a logic schism. Drawing on the concept of framing from social movement theory, it uses qualitative field observations from the largest climate deniers conference in the U.S. and a dataset of almost 800 op/eds from major news outlets over a two-year period to examine how convinced and skeptical arguments of opposing logics employ frames and issue categories to make arguments about climate change. This paper finds that the two logics are engaging in different debates on similar issues with the former focusing on solutions while the latter debates the definition of the problem. It concludes that the debate appears to be reaching a level of polarization where one might begin to question whether meaningful dialogue and problem solving has become unavailable to participants. The implications of such a logic schism is a shift from an integrative debate focused onnaddressing interests to a distributive battle over concessionary agreements with each side pursuing its goals by demonizing the other. Avoiding such an outcome requires the activation of, as yet, dormant “broker” frames (technology, religion and national security), the redefinition of existing ones (science, economics, risk, ideology) and the engagement of effective “climate brokers” to deliver them.
Perspective on the problem
Unfortunately, much of our social science research either takes a relatively dismissive attitude toward those who challenge the scientific view that climate change is real – dubbed “climate skeptics” or “climate deniers” – or subscribes to them sinister motives and neglects their beliefs altogether (see McCright and Dunlap (2000) and (2003) for exceptions). This nearly complete neglect and/or dismissal of a challenger climate logic, however, has proven to be a significant oversight on the part of social science researchers in the organizational and policy fields. Within the last three years, the logic that climate change is a problem has faced renewed challenge. As a result, scholars, politicians, activists and business representatives adhering to the dominant logic have recently experienced something akin to “climate whiplash” around the issue.
Hoffman notes a shift in the debate in fall 2009, associated with unauthorized release of the East Anglia emails.
Believers, convinced, skeptical, and deniers
Here is the basis for Hoffman’s categorization:
In this analysis, I am careful to distinguish between the organized “climate denier” movement and the broader “skeptical” population. Whereas the organized denier movement is a collective social movement run by professional advocacy organizations working to discredit climate change like the Heartland Institute and conservative think tanks like the Cato Institute that produce research and white papers, the “skeptical” label is ascribed to a population who are doubtful about climate change or the motivations behind calls for climate action in the broader population. Figure 1 shows a stylized depiction of these populations based on opinion polling data from the Pew Research Center (2009). Climate change deniers and believers occupy the extreme positions in the debate, employing a logic that is fairly closed to debate or engagement. The convinced and skeptical populations occupy a more central position in the debate, actively asking questions and debating the issues. A fifth group of those that are disengaged on climate change might also be found in a position between these groups.
In terms of labeling “deniers” and “believers:”
On the issue of climate change, social movement actors have actively mobilized to influence the form and direction of the broader debate. In the climate “denier” movement, there are groups like the Heartland Institute, Cato Institute, Hoover Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, and others. In the climate “believer” movement, there are groups like the IPCC, the National Academies of Science, the Center for American Progress, the Environmental Defense Fund, and others. The engagement between the opposing movements has had notable influence within specific constituencies that lie between them, within the general public and the social debate over the problems and solutions to climate change.
Lets for now not talk about whether we like the words “believer” and “denier.” They are clearly defined here in a way that is not pejorative.
No surprises on the denier list, but on the believer list the IPCC and National Academies of Science are lumped together with the Center for American Progress! Well this is a first. The IPCC as a “believer” activist organization, well that is probably true, despite the IPCC’s charter and stated intention (and despite the fact that many individual scientists participating in the IPCC should not be categorized as believers.) Listing the National Academies of Science on the “believer” list is really interesting. Statements by the NAS President, Ralph Cicerone plus the petition of 255 NAS members have presumably contributed to being included on this list; while their statements are ostensibly about scientific integrity, they are arguably activist statements. This characterization of the IPCC and NAS as “believer” organizations should motivate some self reflection by these institutions.
Methodology and analysis summary
Hoffmann analyzed the following sources of relevance to the public debate on climate change: newspaper op-eds and letters to the editor, books written on the subject, and talks and interviews at a recent Heartland climate change conference. A comprehensive code key was created that includes frames in the following issue categories: science, risk, technology, economics, religion, political ideology, and national security. Based upon this source material, they characterized the categories in the following way:
Deniers: Despite these differences within the movement, the majority of presenters invoked three primary issue categories during the conference – science, ideology, and economics – and a predominant emphasis on addressing the nature of the problem through a diagnostic frame. For the convinced, the dominant categories are risk and political ideology. The secondary categories of concern are science and religion. For the skeptical, the dominant categories are science and political ideology, and the secondary issue category is risk. (JC note: I didn’t find an analogous analysis of believers.)
The coding results of newspaper articles also show a division between the skeptical and convinced logics with the former devoting a great deal of attention to the diagnostic frames around whether climate change is actually happening as a man-made phenomena, and the latter moving to the prognostic frames of accepting the nature of the problem and attending to solutions.
The skeptical logic is predominantly built upon a diagnostic frame around the issue categories of science and ideology, whereas the convinced logic is predominately built on the prognostic frame around risk and ideology. Within the convinced logic, arguments span the spectrum of all three frames, suggesting continued engagement in a debate with the skeptical logic over the validity of the science.
Well, this would explain why the convinced don’t want to debate the skeptics. I also find it interesting that the skeptics/deniers are often referred to as anti-science (e.g. Joe Romm and many others), while their motivation in the context of the public debate seems more strongly based on science than the convinced group. Note, the convinced group only includes people engaging in the public debate (it does not include the vast majority of “silent” scientists). It seems that a larger fraction of the skeptical scientists are involved in the public debate relative to the convinced scientists (although among the truly silent group, as opposed to say non-activist scientists participating in the IPCC, it is of course difficult to categorize them owing to their silence on the subject).
Both sides talk about risk, but in markedly different ways:
Clearly both logics view climate change as a political issue and engage on the issue by talking about political ideology, politics, and legislation. However, they do not frame the issue of political ideology in the same way. Skeptical authors almost unanimously question the definition of the problem and who is to blame, using a diagnostic frame for political ideology to suggest that climate change is not a real scientific problem but rather a problem of morally questionable political figures. Convinced authors invoked a prognostic frame for political ideology, placing emphasis on what type of federal climate legislation should be passed to do something about a problem that has already been defined. Where convinced articles emphasize the physical, social, and health risks from climate change, skeptical articles focus on the risks to quality of life if climate change is addressed and the positive externalities that will occur due to climate change (e.g. longer growing seasons). Risk is built on two completely contrasting assessments of the threat at hand, one coming from inaction and the other from action.
Whither the dispute?
Hoffman addresses the issues as to whether the climate change debate is approaching the logics schism with no possible resolution, or whether a more integrative form of the dispute can lead to a resolution.
Integrative form of the dispute. Resolution of the debate over climate change would likely require an integrative shift (Raiffa, 1985) in the focus of the discussion away from positions (climate change is or is not happening) and towards the underlying interests and values that are at play (the validity of the scientific process, the risk related to the likelihood and impact of action or inaction, the economic implications of action or non-action, and the myriad ideological issues around personal freedom, the proper role and size of government, and others). While this study shows that the debate is centered presently on the issues of science and risk, it also notes that the activation of, as yet, latent or dormant issue categories of religion, technology and national security and the redefinition of existing issue categories of science, economics, risk, and ideology may create possible “broker” issue categories to resolve differences. . . Frames and categories can provide a template for the kinds of bridges that are necessary for finding common ground and expanding the solution space to difficult issues.
Similarly, individuals with credibility on both sides of the debate would be necessary to act as “climate brokers” in this realm. People are more likely to feel open to consider evidence when it is accepted or, ideally, presented by a knowledgeable member of their cultural community (Fisher and Shapiro, 2006; Kahan, Jenkins-Smith and Braman, 2010). Conversely, they will dismiss information that is inconsistent with their cultural values when they perceive that it is being advocated by experts whose values they reject. Give that only 35% of Republicans believe there is solid evidence of global warming compared to 75% of Democrats (Pew Research Center, 2009), the most effective broker would best come from the political right. At present, no one is playing this role.
In contrast to the integrative approach, we have the logics schism:
Logics schism. Pielke (2007) describes the extreme of such schisms as “abortion politics,” where the two sides are debating completely different issues and “no amount of scientific information…can reconcile the different values” (Pielke 2007: 42). In such circumstances, two sides are not so much competing as they are talking past one another. In the end, the rigidity of either side of the debate closes down avenues of examination such that resolution of the issue becomes intractable. In a logic schism, a contest emerges in which opposing sides are debating different issues, seeking only information that supports their position and disconfirms their opponents’ arguments (Lord, Ross and Lepper, 1979). Each side views the other with suspicion, even demonizing the other, leading to a strong resistance to any form of engagement, much less negotiation and concession . . . [I]f the debate over climate change regresses into a fully developed logic schism, the solution space for resolving debate collapses and negotiations become a win-lose scenario in which the two sides fight a distributive battle over concessionary agreements with eachside pursuing its goals by demonizing the other (Bazerman and Neale, 1992). With this mindset, joint solutions through cooperative decision-making become virtually impossible (Bazerman and Hoffman, 1999) and the dynamics of interaction become based on power, domination and coercion. In such a scenario, interests and values are no longer the basis of engagement and outcomes are not likely to be optimal.
JC’s concluding remarks
I found this report to be quite thought provoking. So, how can we encourage the integrative approach? I view Climate Etc. as a place where the convinced and skeptical can discuss the science, the policy options, and the nature of the debate itself. Progress perhaps can be made between the skeptics and convinced; the believers and deniers are a much greater challenge.