by Judith Curry
Some interesting new research on understanding why there is a lack of public support for the climate change ‘consensus’, the nature of the scientific consensus, and agendas in characterizing the consensus.
Dan Kahan continues to provide insight, most recently in this post “What exactly is going on in their heads?” (And in mine?) Explaining “knowing disbelief” of climate change. Excerpts:
As I explained in my Monash and RMIT lectures, ordinary members of the public—no matter “whose side” they are on—don’t know very much about the basic mechanisms of climate change. That’s hardly a surprise given the polluted state of the science communication environment they inhabit.
What’s genuinely difficult to sort out, though, is how diverse citizens can actually be on different sides given how uniform their (mis)understandings are.
Regardless of whether they say they “believe in” climate change, most citizens’ responses to the “Ordinary Climate Science Intelligence” (OCSI) assessment suggest they are disposed to blame human activity for all manner of adverse climate impacts, including ones wholly at odds with the mechanisms of global warming.
This result suggests that what’s being measured when one disentangles knowledge from identity is a general affective orientation, one that in fact reflects a widespread apprehension of danger.
The only individuals whose responses don’t display this generic affective orientation are ones who score highest on a general science comprehension assessment—the “Ordinary science intelligence” scale (OSI_2.0). These respondents can successfully distinguish the climate impacts that scientists attribute to human activity from ones they don’t.
This discriminating pattern, moreover, characterizes the responses of the most science-comprehending members of the sample regardless of their cultural or political outlooks.
Yet even those individuals still don’t uniformly agree that human activity is causing global warming.
On the contrary, these citizens—the ones, again, who display the highest degree of science comprehension generally & of the mechanisms of climate change in particular—are also the most politically polarized on whether global warming is occurring at all.
The comments are very interesting. I posted two comments, but can’t find them. The issue is this: the public sees a vociferous debate about climate change in the media and on blogs, and people that are actually paying attention to science see reasons to question the consensus.
Don’t even think about it
Re ‘why’ people think the way they do: A new book by George Marshall has recently been published: Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change. I’ve ordered a kindle copy, but haven’t read it yet; the reviews are very strong. The book is discussed here, excerpts:
George Marshall’s search for the answers brings him face to face with Nobel Prize-winning psychologists and the activists of the Texas Tea Party; the world’s leading climate scientists and the people who denounce them; liberal environmentalists and conservative evangelicals.
Along the way his research raised other intriguing questions:
- Why do most people never talk about climate change, even people with personal experience of extreme record breaking weather?
- Why did scientists, normally the most trusted professionals in our society, become distrusted, hated, and the targets for violent abuse?
- Why do the people who say climate change is too uncertain become more agitated about the threats of cell phones, meteorite strikes or alien invasion?
- Why does having children make people less concerned about climate change not more?
- And, why is Shell Oil so much more concerned about the threat posed by its slippery floors than the threats posed by its products?
Don’t Even Think About It argues that the answers to these questions do not lie in the things that make us different and drive us apart, but rather in what we all share: how our human brains are wired, our evolutionary origins, our perceptions of threats, our cognitive blindspots, our love of storytelling, our fear of death, and our deepest instincts to defend our family and tribe.
With witty and engaging stories, drawing on years of his own research, Marshall shows how the scientific facts of climate change can become less important to us than the social facts – the views of the people who surround us. He argues that our values, assumptions, and prejudices can take on lives of their own, gaining authority as they are shared, dividing people in their wake.
New study on consensus among scientists
So, what is going on in the scientists’ heads? There’s an interesting new paper on ‘consensus’ that surveys climate scientists regarding their views on attribution.
Scientists’ views about attribution of climate change
Bart Verheggen, Bart Strengers, John Cook, Rob van Dorland, Kees Vringer, Jeroen Peters, Hans Visser, Leo Meyer
ABSTRACT: Results are presented from a survey held among 1868 scientists studying various aspects of climate change, including physical climate, climate impacts, and mitigation. The survey was unique in its size, broadness and level of detail. Consistent with other research, we found that, as the level of expertise in climate science grew, so too did the level of agreement on anthropogenic causation. 90% of respondents with more than 10 climate-related peer-reviewed publications (about half of all respondents), explicitly agreed with anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs) being the dominant driver of recent global warming. The respondents’ quantitative estimate of the GHG contribution appeared to strongly depend on their judgment or knowledge of the cooling effect of aerosols. The phrasing of the IPCC attribution statement in its fourth assessment report (AR4) – providing a lower limit for the isolated GHG contribution – may have led to an underestimation of the GHG influence on recent warming. The phrasing was improved in AR5. We also report on the respondents’ views on other factors contributing to global warming; of these Land Use and Land Cover Change (LULCC) was considered the most important. Respondents who characterized human influence on climate as insignificant, reported having had the most frequent media coverage regarding their views on climate change.
The questions in this survey are far and away the most sophisticated an nuanced that I’ve seen in a survey on this topic. The punchline is 82% of total respondents agree with the IPCC attribution assessment, with 90% agreement from the scientists most qualified to evaluate this. These are certainly more defensible and believable numbers than the infamous 97%. Bart Verheggan also has some blog posts on the paper, see this FAQ
My only minor criticisms of this study was the lack of diversity in the authorship, who they asked, and who responded. Here is who they asked:
Survey Sample. Participation in our survey was sought from scientists having authored or coauthored peer-reviewed articles or assessment reports related to climate change. Approximately 6000 names were assembled from articles with the keywords “global warming” and/or “global climate change”, covering the 1991−2011 period via the Web of Science. Around 2000 names were collected from a public database assembled by Jim Prall, based on scientific literature up to 2009,17 supplemented by an additional ∼500 authors of recent (2009−2011) climate science peer-reviewed literature. Prall’s database also includes signatories of public statements disapproving of mainstream climate science. They were included in our survey to ascertain that the main criticisms of climate science would be captured. This last group amounts to less than 5% of the total number of respondents, about half of whom had only published in the gray literature on climate change.
Filtering scientists by whether they use keywords ‘global warming’ or ‘global climate change’ would miss a lot of relevant people publishing on specific aspects of processes of relevance to climate change, e.g. solar physics, ocean circulations, even clouds. They did make efforts to include ‘skeptics’ by looking at signatories of public statements disapproving of mainstream climate change, but this captures the more ‘activist’ types, not necessarily the most serious scholarship that is skeptical.
The other issue is who actually responded. I think I was invited to participate in this, I vaguely recall a few emails (but this was 2012 and I no longer have the emails). I didn’t respond to the survey (unless my memory is really failing me). I’ve responded previously to AMS and von Storch/Bray surveys on this topic. Bart is regarded by many as a partisan in the climate change; adding John Cook to the author list may have been sufficient for some people not to respond to the survey, figuring that this would be more Lewandowsky/Cook style spin. Adding a skeptical coauthor (see my recent post Institutionalizing Dissent) could have contributed to to a broader invite list, broader response, and possible changes to the questions or portrayal of the results.
But overall Verheggen et al. are to be congratulated for the most insightful analysis to date on this.
Social scientists on the consensus
And finally, what are the social scientists thinking that are analyzing the ‘consensus’? Joe Duarte continues to hit hard on the Cook et al paper with a new post Cooking stove use, housing associations, white males and the 97%. The bottom line is that they included papers on topics like cook stoves, inferring that they supported the ‘consensus’, but didn’t include relevant papers by Lindzen and Spencer. This is really pretty unbelievable. Duarte characterizes all this as ‘Sesame Street consensus counting.’ I was particularly struck by this text towards the end of the lengthy post:
My fellow scientists, let’s huddle up for a minute. What are we doing? What the hell are we doing? I’m mostly speaking to climate scientists, so the “we” is presumptuous – I ask for a couple of minutes of your charity. Is this really what we want? Do we want to coarsen science this much? Do we want to establish a scientific culture where scientists must take polar positions on some issue in the field? Do we want to tout a “consensus” that ignores all those who don’t take a polar position? Do we want to import the fallacy of demanding that people prove a negative, a fallacy that we often point out on issues like evolution, creationism, religion, and so forth? Modern scientific culture has long lionized the sober, cautious scientist, and has had an aversion to polar positions, simplistic truths, and loyalty oaths. Do we mean to change that culture? Have we tired of it? Are we anti-Popper now? No one is required to be Popperian, but if we’re replacing the old man, it should be an improvement, not a step back to the Inquisition. Do we want dumb people who have no idea what they’re doing speaking for us? Are we fraud-friendly now, if it serves our talking points? When did we start having talking points?
In any case, what the hell are we doing? What exactly do we want science to be and represent? Do we want “science” to mean mockery and malice toward those who doubt a fresh and poorly documented consensus? Do we want to be featured in future textbooks, and not in a good way? When did we discover that rationality requires sworn belief in fresh theories and models that the presumed rational knower cannot himself validate? When did we discover that rationality requires belief in the rumor of a consensus of researchers in a young and dynamic field whose estimates are under constant revision, and whose predictions center on the distant future? (A rumor, operationally, since laypeople aren’t expected to engage directly with the journal articles about the consensus.) Who discovered that rationality entails these commitments, or even argued thusly? Give me some cites, please. When did we discover that people who doubt, or only mildly embrace, the rumor of a consensus of researchers in a young and dynamic field whose estimates are under constant revision, and whose predictions center on distant future developments, are “deniers”? When did science become a church? When did we abandon epistemology? Again, what are we doing?]
I think some of you who’ve defended this study got on the wrong train. I don’t think you meant to end up here. I think it was an accident. You thought you were getting on the Science Train. You thought these people — Cook, Nuccitelli, Lewandowsky — were the science crowd, and that the opposition was anti-science, “deniers” and so forth. I hope it’s clear at this point that this was not the Science Train. This is a different train. These people care much less about science than they do about politics. They’re willing to do absolutely stunning, unbelievable things to score political points. What they did still stuns me, that they did this on purpose, that it was published, that we live in a world where people can publish these sorts of obvious scams in normally scientific journals. If you got on this train, you’re now at a place where you have to defend political activists rating scientific abstracts regarding the issue on which their activism is focused, able to generate the results they want. You have to defend people counting psychology studies and surveys of the general public as scientific evidence of endorsement of AGW. You have to defend false statements about the methods used in the study. Their falsity won’t be a matter of opinion — they were clear and simple claims, and they were false. You have to defend the use of raters who wanted to count a bad psychology study of white males as evidence of scientific endorsement of AGW. You have to defend vile behavior, dishonesty, and stunning hatred and malice as a standard way to deal with dissent.
I think we need to declare the idea of a 97% consensus among climate scientists on the issue of climate change attribution to be dead. Verheggen’s 82-90% number is more defensible, but I’ve argued that this analysis needs to be refined.
Climate science needs to be evaluated by people outside the climate community, and this is one reason why I found Kahan’s analysis to be interesting of people who scored high on the science intelligence test. And why the perspectives of scientists and engineers from other fields are important.
As I’ve argued in my paper No consensus on consensus, a manufactured consensus serves no scientific purpose and can in fact torque the science in unfortunate ways.
Understanding scientific disagreement on the topic of climate change would be a welcome addition to the sociology of climate change science, but a meaningful study on this topic would need to include at least one skeptical scientist as a coauthor.