Climate Culture

NOTE: from 20th November this Post was up at Climate Etc, the well known Lukewarmer blog of atmospheric scientist Judith Curry:

A frequent topic at Climate Etc. is the ‘consensus.’ An argument is presented here that the climate consensus is as much about culture as it is about climate science.

For about 150 years we’ve been learning how cultures work and evolve. Great progress has been made on a wide range of topics such as the mapping of cultures, cultural coalitions, the categorization of underlying bias mechanisms, gene-culture co-evolution and others, even if much mystery remains, for instance at the fundamental level of what happens inside the mind regarding the social / individual interface, gnawed at from different directions by anthropology, memetics, psychology, neuroscience and other disciplines.

This accumulated knowledge on cultures is directly relevant to understanding the climate movement. So that we don’t have to relearn the 150 years experience again in the climate domain as though this is all something new, it is crucial to acknowledge the cultural nature of the consensus and bring this wealth of acquired knowledge to bear.

Climate culture recognition

I’ve long since lost count of the many parallels drawn between the climate consensus and religion, from both notables and many blog commenters within the climate domain1. While these tend to be instinctive expressions and are mostly from skeptics, there are a few from the consensus side2 and still more from this side describing climate change as a transformative culture. The former sometimes draw the worst possible connotations or even invalid consequences, yet nevertheless correctly discern the underlying truth that the climate consensus is a cultural phenomenon, while the latter fail to appreciate that cultures of this kind do not so much communicate the truth, as manufacture it.

I’ve prepared a 3 step basic social analysis that I hope will be straightforward to follow, conveniently available as a Word file and also posted below, showing the cultural nature of the climate consensus. The 3 steps are first executed for the creationism / evolution domain, and then in exactly the same manner for the climate change domain. The analysis takes the ‘robot from Mars’ view; it is possible to identify a culture with very little knowledge of domain details, and best to do so if possible in order to maximize objectivity. The steps are built on data from public surveys and Dan Kahan’s great data from Cultural Cognition.

Despite the large commentary about cultural characteristics that pervades the climate change domain, there does not appear to be recognition that the Consensus, with its narrative of imminent (decades) calamity, *is* a formal culture. All the disciplines involved in cultural understanding, such as anthropology, psychology, memetics, neuro-science and others, think climate change is merely a matter of science; why would they even attempt apply their knowledge in this domain? Unless perhaps to try and explain ‘deniers’, of course. So what might these disciplines think if they weren’t blinded by the science label?

A thought experiment

A professor in one of bio-cultural evolution who researches and favors the strong Darwinian end of the current range of cultural evolution theories, is returning from a field trip in the Pacific. He runs into trouble of some sort, and ends up stranded for over 30 years, like Robinson Crusoe, on an isolated island. Hence he receives no knowledge of the climate change phenomenon. Then sailors rescue him, and tell him that the whole world is hugely worried about climate change and is spending trillions to try and avert an imminent (decades) calamity. Before any other detail gets discussed, one sailor happens to add that he’d read a recent article showing that the climate change consensus (along with the wider movement it inspires) advocating urgent action to save the planet, was shown to be a formal culture. The professor immediately has strong suspicions that:

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Who is Who

Detecting a cultural position in debates, with focus on creationism and climate change.

  1. Classes of debate

There are different classes of debate. Some debates occur between two or more culturally defined (CD) positions, of which none are ‘correct’; all positions are simply a matter of cultural support and beliefs. An example of this class is the clash between two sides of a religious schism.

Some debates occur between evidentially defined (ED) positions where, nevertheless, the current state of knowledge is such that no resolution can yet be attained. In such a debate there is theoretically a ‘correct’ answer, despite it is not yet uncovered. An example of this class is the dark matter debate, on which the scientific method could take decades or longer to eliminate challenging uncertainties. In scenarios like this all competing positions claim evidential support, but the uncertainties are wide enough such that the total evidence cannot yet resolve candidate theories, and indeed may even include what seem to be (from a state of limited knowledge / data) complete contradictions.

Other debates are hybrids of the above cases, wherein one side is largely characterized by (an) evidential position(s) while the other side is largely characterized by a cultural position. In this ED versus CD class the ‘correct’ answer may, like the ED versus ED case above, simply be unobtainable yet. Or the correct answer may actually be available, but it is largely obscured by the cultural inertia working in opposition (and so also keeping a debate alive). Or the very process of obtaining an answer is likewise resisted and undermined by the opposing culture. An example of this class is the evolution versus creationism debate.

It should be borne in mind that for any debate that actually matters to society at large, there is never a complete absence of cultural bias. And oppositely, even strong cultural arguments may co-opt real-world evidence (albeit selectively). However, debates may be largely CD versus CD, or ED versus ED, or ED versus CD. In the first case there is no ‘correct’ answer. In the second case, no answer is yet obtainable (otherwise there would be no debate). In the third case, whether the answer is obscured or genuinely not yet available, and without any detailed knowledge on the actual subject of the debate, social analysis can nevertheless tell us who is who. That is to say it can confirm an ED versus CD scenario, and tell us which side is arguing (largely) from the cultural perspective, and which (largely) from an evidential perspective.

Note: in this context ‘evidentially defined’ by no means indicates correctness. A range of evidential positions may even include at the fringe, wacky theories. It indicates a position or range of positions that whatever their merits, are not based mainly on a cultural argument or culturally enforced consensus, but on (potentially subsets of) evidence, no matter how well or how badly that evidence has been interpreted, or indeed how complete or incomplete the total evidence available currently is. Rather than stretch ED bounds still further, i.e. to arguments from complete ignorance or arising from misinformation or emotive memes that nevertheless have not been culturally co-opted, it seems more appropriate to tag these as non-evidentially-defined (NED), the main point still being that they are not CD.

  1. The Robot from Mars

A cultural entity can be detected by its artifacts and alliances and by direct bias effects upon society, the latter of which typically form a positive feedback reinforcing the culture. Critically, culture contributes to identity, so a strong CD position will be tangled with identity; this is not the case for ED/NED positions.

A principal artifact of mature culture is a narrative text, and often physical objects too that serve the principles of this text (for instance the bible and churches). Yet when seeking to identify the presence of a culture, how would we know that it is not our own influences from culture which lead us to assume for example that the IPPC AR5 is more akin to the cultural narrative we know as the bible, or indeed more akin to, say, the evidential collection of works defining General Relativity?

A good way to address this issue when executing social analysis, is to attempt maximum objectivity by taking the view of a robot from Mars. This robot initially knows nothing about the Earth’s religions or what evolution is, nor indeed anything regarding climate change and associated science. It picks up only the most basic public expressions of these (from all sides) as it goes along. Of course we do have to grant it knowledge of social analysis, and it also knows what the general endeavor of science is about, along with other basics like what education is for. And if our robot focuses mainly upon societal effects and alliances, these can be observed more or less independently of domain knowledge (e.g. about religion or climate change), hence avoiding the need for value judgments made on specific texts or other artifacts or enterprises that may or may not be largely the product of arbitrary cultural emergence.

  1. A classic ED versus CD debate

The creationism versus evolution debate is a classic ED versus CD model that we can use to walk through our robot’s analysis method, to see whether it correctly identifies the scenario and also who is who.

WiWFig1The first big clue as to the nature of this debate comes from Figure 1, which shows that views on evolution in the US polarize with increasing science knowledge. I.e. going right on the X-axis, those leaning more to religion believe (slightly) more emphatically in creationism, and those leaning less towards religion believe (much) more emphatically in evolution. This is a sign of strong cultural influence; polarization of this kind arises because initial bias sets people upon educational paths to different knowledge, and also for the culturally influenced, the use of more knowledge to better support their cultural position. The different gradients for the two lines provides further clues (see footnote 1), but these may be too subtle for our detached robot. At this point it simply assumes strong culture is involved, but is this a CD versus CD scenario, or CD versus ED? And if the latter, which side is which?

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‘Climate Culture’ versus ‘Knowing Disbelief’: A Test

NOTE: as of yesterday this Post is up at Climate Etc, the well known Lukewarmer blog of atmospheric scientist Judith Curry:

(…and the embedded links pointing to referenced previous posts are set to the Climate Etc. version of these posts).

  1. Introduction

In a previous post at Climate Etc I showed two analyses on US public attitudes to climate change, based upon data from psychologist Dan Kahan’s studies plus some independent surveys. Both of these seek to explain what social / psychological mechanisms are driving the observed attitudes. The first analysis is Kahan’s own, which concludes that identity defense by adherents of particular political views / parties is the chief mechanism explaining the data, of which ‘knowing disbelief’ is the strongest form exhibited by those Conservatives / Republicans who are science aware. The second analysis, mine, demonstrates that the concept of a ‘climate culture’ provides a much better fit to the data, a culture that has adherents in its own right plus asymmetrical alliance with politics; also that Kahan’s conclusion is largely a product of his own bias due to a major influence from this same climate culture.

For some time before the above post was published (Jan 30th), I’d been looking out for a particular kind of survey that ought to provide significant evidence supporting either one or other of the above analyses. Unfortunately there seemed to be no such survey measuring the group I was interested in, so I had to run without this. However I noticed in June that a Gallup poll (G1) had appeared at the end of March, which while not ideal does measure a superset grouping in an appropriate enough manner to provide useful insight. This new poll data matches closely what the ‘climate culture’ hypothesis expects, and I believe it strongly challenges the ‘knowing disbelief’ hypothesis. While G1 covers respondents from the full US political spectrum, the most insightful data comes from the Independents. The next section is thus helpful context for understanding this data. (Note: for new readers wanting a short-cut, or prior readers wanting a refresher, there’s a compressed summary of Kahan’s theory versus mine in the ~700 word Appendix at pg4).

  1. A brief characterization of US Independents

In an interesting 2012 Washington Post article (WP1), journalist and political analyst Linda Killian says: ‘In hundreds of interviews with independent voters, I found that they tend to be well informed and care about the political process — even though the two parties have done their best to alienate them through attacks, gridlock and dysfunction.’ And later: ‘Sixty percent of independents say they are not aligned with a party because they agree with the Republicans on some things, such as the economy and national security, and with the Democrats on social issues.

Another Gallup poll (G2) from 2013 claims that 42% of Americans identified as Independents, of which figure 16% percent generally lean towards the Democrats and also 16% lean towards the Republicans, so have partial predictability. This leaves 10% of ‘centrists’ whose allegiance is still less consistent and will always swing on particular issues. However, the WP1 article claims it is ‘a myth’ that most Independents are ‘leaners’, and that in fact about half are ‘truly independent’. A Pew pole quoted in a CNN article (C1) about Independents, approximately agrees with the figures in G2, yet whether it is a quarter or a half of Independents who are ‘leaners’, everyone seems to be agreed that Independents generally are much less partisan, and are driven away from the main parties in part by negative tribalism:

The CNN article C1 says: ‘The shift away from partisan affiliation has occurred during a sustained period of government distrust and distaste for partisan politics. In the last year, negative impressions of government have displaced the economy atop Gallup’s monthly measure of the nation’s most important problem.’ The article WP1 says: ‘Independents are more turned off than partisan voters by negative campaign ads and are more likely to say they want more substantive discussions from the candidates and the media. Independents take voting seriously but are less moved by partisan appeals.’ Poll G2 says: ‘The rise in political independence is likely an outgrowth of Americans’ record or near-record negative views of the two major U.S. parties, of Congress, and their low level of trust in government more generally.

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A key admission regarding climate memes

NOTE: as of today this Post is up at Climate Etc, the well known Lukewarmer blog of atmospheric scientist Judith Curry:

The version as posted here has a very short extra section (5), which refers to Appendices tacked onto the end that aren’t at the Climate Etc version, one of which explores Ben Pile’s position on the L2015 and pause memes.

  1. Introduction

At the beginning of May, psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky brought out a new paper continuing his theme of highly eccentric challenges to climate skeptics and skeptical positions. Previous works include ‘Moon hoax’ and the (later withdrawn) ‘Recursive Fury’, dismantled here, here, and here. Naomi Oreskes is one of the co-authors of the new paper (L2015), which focuses upon the social psychology surrounding the concept of ‘The Pause’ in Global Warming. L2015 claims that a ‘seepage’ of contrarian / skeptical / denialist ‘pause’ memes into the scientific process has introduced unwarranted uncertainty, and even that the physical phenomena of the pause does not actually exist.

However despite being highly implausible, L2015 contains a profound admission which is critical to the climate debate. This post explores that admission and also the interesting role of ‘pause’ memes.

  1. The admission

While L2015 is yet another strenuous attempt to attack skepticism by any means to hand, it reveals some knowledge of a key process via which the climate Consensus arose in the first place. Namely, narrative competition. In L2015 Lewandowsky rather surprisingly admits both that this process is in play, and that it can trump science.

As some commenters (e.g. hidethedecline) have pointed out, terms like ‘the pause’ and ‘the hiatus’ are changing the climate conversation, are impacting the perceptions of Consensus scientists. Lewandowsky is right in this regard; he understands enough about narrative competition to recognize this issue and is attempting to fight back in kind. Hence he is seeking to stigmatize ‘pause’ memes, in order to halt or to significantly reduce their advance against orthodox anthropogenic global warming memes.

Yet whether they realize it or not, in opening this front Lewandowsky and Oreskes and their co-authors are taking a huge gamble. L2015 essentially states that the entire mainstream climate science community has been significantly impacted by [arbitrary] memes. And not only that, they have a great case; over the last couple of years ‘pause’ memes have indeed spread through the Consensus and caused many adherents to make an accommodation of some kind. Hence L2015 exposes the fact that climate science is not by any means a purely factual domain, that social factors as expressed by popular memes can change the perceptions of climate scientists, and so can alter the very nature of the consensus they contribute to. In turn this places front and centre the possibility that the original, ‘unsullied’ consensus on CAGW might also be a product of memetic influence, and is not after all an objective and unquestionable truth.

Of course Lewandowsky and Oreskes would argue that CAGW memes conform to reality and ‘pause’ memes do not. But do either fully conform to reality anyhow? And if not, what determines their relative success? I.e. the replication and spread rates of each of the competing memes? (and hence the narrative frameworks in which they are grouped).

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Contradiction on emotional bias in the climate domain

NOTE: as of 24th April this Post is up at Climate Etc, the well known Lukewarmer blog of atmospheric scientist Judith Curry:

Section 1: Universal acknowledgement of emotional bias.

The psychological phenomena of emotional bias, a distortion in cognition and decision-making due to emotional factors, has been known of for millennia. I perhaps should say ‘enhanced’ emotional factors, because emotional reaction is a core part of our thinking machinery and hence wholly rational perceptions or decisions would likely be a rarity at best, and possibly non-existent. Yet as emotional factors increase to something that truly touches us, distortion away from what might be termed ‘regular’ (i.e. no strong emotions present) or ‘rational’ or ‘balanced’ thinking, becomes much more significant.

This distortion is so well known that consciously or sub-consciously, arguments often employ an appeal to emotion exactly because this significantly increases the chance of overcoming opposing views. From the link immediately above (warning, wiki; short summaries of this topic are hard to come by) we are told that Aristotle (died 322BC) in his treatise Rhetorica described emotional arousal as critical to persuasion, while Seneca (died AD 65) warned that “Reason herself, to whom the reins of power have been entrusted, remains mistress only so long as she is kept apart from the passions.”

Many studies in the modern era back this general understanding, adding more sophistication plus detail of the underlying mechanisms (though to date these are by no means fully understood). Apparently the role of ‘affect’, emotional reaction, underwent somewhat of a de-emphasis within social psychology for a time from the early 1970s, returning some thirty years later but on a wider stage, acknowledged to have other cognitive players with which emotional bias can interact or fuel to varying degrees. According to Daniel Kahneman, from his Nobel Prize in Economics Lecture, December 8 2002: ‘It is worth noting that in the early 1970’s the idea of purely cognitive biases appeared novel and distinctive, because the prevalence of motivated and emotional biases of judgment was taken for granted by the social psychologists of the time. There followed a period of intense emphasis on cognitive processes, in psychology generally and in the field of judgment in particular. It took another thirty years to achieve what now appears to be a more integrated view of the role of affect in intuitive judgment.

So, while the leading-edge understanding of emotional bias mechanisms is dynamic and ongoing, aided considerably by the recent assistance of MRI scans, in its very long wake is a general understanding that all psychologists and sociologists and associated disciplines have to be very familiar with. Along with professional communicators, probably most politicians and I should imagine a great many of the general public too, they will know at the very least about the power of appeal to emotion plus the danger that rationality will be compromised, or even derailed, when such an appeal is powerfully and / or repeatedly enacted. And while emotional bias has beneficial properties (e.g. condensing a large range of options and also promoting group cohesion / consensus), disrupting rationality can work out very badly indeed. For examples at various scales emotional bias can strongly contribute to: skewed jury / legal decisions and extremist politics, bad business practice and financial meltdowns, cults and the spread of misinformation, and yes the social hi-jacking of science too, for instance the Eugenics saga in the first half of the 20th century.

Hence there are increasing efforts to limit emotional bias effects in society. The business community have joined that campaign in recent times, not just to limit corporate damage from emotively driven negative culture, but also for reasons of direct profitability (See ‘Bottom Line’ at Investopedia).

Of all those masses of professionals who know about the characteristics of emotional bias, a subset are playing an active part in the climate change Consensus. This does not alter their knowledge of the former topic. Indeed a few of this subset are even helping to push forward our understanding of emotive bias mechanisms. For instance Stephan Lewandowsky has a string of papers (with associated authors) about cognitive bias impacts, which include insights on emotional bias. The paper Misinformation and Its Correction: Continued Influence and Successful Debiasing by Lewandowsky et al, posits that emotive content significantly increases the degree to which misinformation both spreads and persists. Resistance to vaccines based on emotive scare stories is an example Lewandowsky highlights. A similar point is made in Theoretical and empirical evidence for the impact of inductive biases on cultural evolution by Griffiths et al (one of the other authors is Lewandowsky). This paper supports the evidence that cultural concepts with an emotional component are easier to memorize, which in turn appears to result in them being retained for longer plus better transmitted to others in society, than is the case for similar concepts minus the emotional component. I.e. an emotive load provides arbitrary bias favoring the concept.

Lewandowsky is an ardent advocate for the certainty of dangerous man-made climate change, and at least some of the associated authors (e.g. Cook and Ecker) have comparable sentiments. So emotional bias is most certainly understood and accepted by the strongest end of the spectrum of CAGW support. Similarly the role of emotional bias, at least in broad-brush terms, is just as much a part of the mind-set of all the psychologists, sociologists, professional communicators, etc. who work in or actively support the climate Consensus, as it is for those belonging to these same professions who don’t happen to work within the climate Consensus. I.e. this knowledge is simply part of their job; they must all grasp both the power and danger of emotional bias independently of their climate domain credentials. Hence the understanding of emotional bias is absolutely not something that the climate Consensus supporters could abandon when inconvenient, nor something that could possibly be framed as some kind of climate skeptic invention.

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Climate psychology’s consensus bias

NOTE: as of today this Post is up at Climate Etc, the well known Lukewarmer blog of atmospheric scientist Judith Curry:

Climate psychologists have for years now puzzled over public inaction on climate change and also what makes skeptics tick (or sick), apparently making little progress on these issues. Their lengthening list of possibilities includes plausible candidates that are nevertheless weak or narrow in scope – attempting to stretch them to match survey data always causes a conundrum of some kind to be exposed – and the implausible such as conspiracy ideation, which appears not stretchable to the data at all.

I believe the systemic error behind the puzzlement of climate psychologists is readily identifiable. The error is that the climate psychologists do not perceive that a culture dominates environmentalism. A culture based upon misinformation about the certainty of catastrophe (from CO2). A culture which enforces a Consensus, as strong cultures do, upon scientific endeavor that is nowhere near mature enough to have reached consensus without enforcement.

The climate psychologists come in two groups, which I call the Bad Cops and Good Cops, and who intentionally or not end up policing the Consensus. Both appear to view climate change as essentially flat fact, purely settled science, not as a culture.

I’m sure we all know the archetypal bad cop. Psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky’s ‘conspiracy ideation’ papers (‘Moon hoax’ and ‘Recursive Fury’) that link climate skeptics to generic belief in ‘way out there’ conspiracies, have generated a great deal of traffic in the climate blogosphere and the media. Not least regarding pretty much inarguable challenges to their detailed methodology and data collection, the legitimacy of such approval procedures as occurred, and even the ethics of the papers; essentially the entire validity of these works. Indeed ‘Recursive Fury’ was eventually withdrawn from the journal Frontiers of Psychology on ethical grounds. My posts AW1 to AW3 at Watts Up With That describe the likely route of Lewandowsky into the cognitive-dissonance avoidance which appears to be driving his psychological policing of climate orthodoxy. This avoidance stems from much reasonable work on cognitive bias, largely prior to his jumping off the deep end in the climate domain, which if applied to this domain shows that the CAGW Consensus absolutely has to be soaked in bias.

So much for our archetypal bad climate cop. What about good climate cops? Just like real cops, these are the ones who don’t work backwards from a gross assumption of guilt for the crime, who don’t end up force-fitting the evidence while loudly proclaiming “he did it, bang him up!” (The ‘crime’ in question being psychological dysfunction expressed within the climate domain). The ones who actually try to figure out what the data about public attitudes is telling them, the ones with a reasonable approach, the ones who can still be surprised, the ones who do actually want to investigate this ‘crime’, rather than simply pinning it on the guys who everyone ‘knows’ are bad and loudly proclaiming that ‘result’ to the public (thereby ‘saving’ everyone from further bad influence). One such good cop is Dan Kahan. And indeed, our good cop expressed surprise at the results of a survey that was part of his investigation. I was alerted to this surprise by a Climate Etc post, which I followed back to Dan’s post What is going on inside their heads? (DK1) on the blog at the cultural cognition project, which post is in turn the main source of my ‘good cop’ analysis here.

Dan’s surprise comes from a noble attempt to separate identity from knowledge in a survey crafted to gather what he hopes are genuine public attitudes to climate change, on the basis that the wording of questions in many previous surveys caused respondents to identify with and promote ‘their side’, rather than reveal what they truly think about particular aspects of the climate debate. See some detail on this new approach at another of Dan’s posts (DK2). He says towards the end of DK1: ‘The thing to be explained took me by surprise, and I don’t feel that I actually have figured out the significance of it for other things that I do feel I know.

So what caused this surprise? What needs to be explained? Well unlike in the UK, in the US mainstream politics is split over attitudes to climate change. And the split is ugly, as Dan himself notes. However in his DK2 survey regarding scary climate possibilities, which is theoretically geared to eliminate identity issues (the main one here being political allegiance), the responses of both the Republicans and Democrats are very similar. The response differences are reduced to ‘trivial’, Dan says, the big majority of both groups believing all the scary possibilities. Dan claims this implies a common attitude, a ‘widespread apprehension of danger’ in both the Democrats and the Republicans.

Part 2 comes from direct questioning about whether the world is warming ‘mostly because of human activity such as burning fossil fuels’, or ‘mostly because of natural patterns in the Earth’s environment’. As expected, this head-on style questioning invokes identity issues and so yields responses that differ significantly due to political allegiance (Republican / Conservative or Democrat / Liberal). Respondents perceive this question as a political one and so respond accordingly. Yet the more science-aware the responders are (established by other questions), the wider the gulf is between the two political groups. Science-aware Republicans / Conservatives almost all answer ‘natural patterns’ whereas science-aware Democrats / Liberals almost all answer ‘human activity’; the gulf between these two is nowhere near so large for the science unaware, to the extent that there is even a small overlap. Dan says: ‘…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.’ Note: the science questions come in an Ordinary Science Intelligence survey (DK3) and an Ordinary Climate Science Intelligence survey (DK4).

Dan then logically adds part 1 to part 2 and comes up with ‘what needs to be explained’. He expresses this in DK1 by quoting a question from one his audience at a lecture, as the man’s question perfectly expressed his own puzzlement: ‘How, he [the member of the audience] asked, can someone simultaneously display comprehension of human-caused global warming and say he or she doesn’t “believe in” it? In fact, this was exactly what Yoshi and I had been struggling with…’ Hence the title of Dan’s DK1 post: ‘What is going on inside their heads?

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Wrapped in Lew Papers: The psychology of climate psychologization – Part3

Note: as of 9th November, this Post is up at ‘Watts Up With That’, the most viewed climate site on the planet:

∙Third of 3 posts examining papers by Lewandowsky & co-authors before ‘conspiracy ideation’ claims. These papers warn of cognitive bias effects, all of which occur in the CAGW Consensus, confirming it is heavily biased. Can’t admit this? Skeptics exposing the dilemma? So… push skeptics beyond the pale, minimizing cognitive dissonance.

From the first post in this series, and summarized as warnings for an individual seeking to avoid bias, the various papers by Lewandowsky and associated authors (see refs at end) include the following wisdom:
Type 1: Beware of the bias from one’s worldview.
Type 2: Beware of the bias caused by explicit emotive content.
∙∙∙∙∙∙Type 2A: Beware of implied emotional content, which via a powerful type 1 reaction may enhance or attenuate Type 2 (essentially an interaction of 1 & 2).
Type 3: Beware of the bias from the CIE, which can never be wholly eliminated.
∙∙∙∙∙∙Type 3A: Beware of information that does not come with health warnings.
∙∙∙∙∙∙Type 3B: Try to be aware of corrections / retractions; be suspicious if these are not on a par with the vigor of the original information transmission.
∙∙∙∙∙∙Type 3C: Be healthily skeptical; suspicions based on innate skepticism reduce the CIE.
∙∙∙∙∙∙Type 4: Beware of the ‘third person effect’, especially for oft repeated / saturating information.

Post 2 showed how each of these warnings is highly applicable to the CAGW Consensus. Yet before we continue regarding the fuller implications of this truth, there is one more important finding from the Lew papers that is important to know about. This finding concerns a psychological tactic employed by both the Consensus and the skeptics, while also providing an excellent candidate explanation for the ‘riddle’ of public inaction on climate change (also described in post 2), which so many in the Consensus obsess over.

Bias warning type 3C says: Be healthily skeptical; suspicions based on innate skepticism reduce the CIE. Yet knowledge about innate skepticism and its effects opens up the possibility of attempting to subvert this healthy characteristic. I.e. one can theoretically trigger the mechanism in people by casting false (or at least highly speculative and unverified) suspicion upon a source of the information one is attempting to counter. Both sides in the climate debate have followed this course. On the skeptic side, this is essentially the tactic of the ‘hoax’ and ‘liberal conspiracy’ arguments. On the Consensus side, the tactic is manifested by the ‘evil Big Oil’ argument, plus the ridiculing and demonization (e.g. ‘deniers’) of skeptics. Yet for both sides attempting to induce false suspicion has resulted in only partial success, and has caused some damage to the home sides too.

For skeptics, the main thrust of their argument has always stayed pretty close to science issues (e.g. the use of questionable statistics, or the divergence of models and observations), hence conspiracy theories have been secondary. And those shouting ‘hoax’ have tended to damage the skeptic position rather than enhance it. Yet more subtle leftwing conspiracy arguments have likely found some purchase with the public, more so of course with right-wingers and it seems also in particular countries, probably where politics is already more polarized. Skeptics adopting the milder tactic of merely pointing at the leftwing / redistributionist worldview alignment of certain Consensus heavy-weights, may not technically be inducing false suspicion, because at least where quotes are provided (see the example quotes in post 2), this alignment is self-proclaimed. Such an alignment does not imply conspiracy though, only a heavy cultural bias, i.e. from an initial political platform now heavily juiced by the culture of catastrophe, which itself is based upon the misinformation of certainty. Nor of course is there anything inherently bad about being leftwing, only in being extreme (to left or to right) or through bias improperly amplifying or leveraging climate worries for political ends (which therefore quotes should show). However, despite some climate justified left activisms that are becoming more obvious, plus the fact that various secondary intrigues and agitations will accompany any major movement from whatever origin on the political spectrum, it seems too easy a step to make from highlighting alignment, to incorrectly deducing a global conspiracy. Quite a few skeptics don’t resist this step, with mixed results when their deduction is then broadcast. Overall, the attempt to induce false suspicion may well have gained skepticism barely more supporters than it has lost them, yet it has almost certainly contributed to a stronger alignment of sides in the debate, with pre-existing political poles. (Likewise to above, deducing rightwing conspiracy only from rightwing alignment, is incorrect).

Overall, the media punch of the skeptic side, whether broadcasting genuine information (e.g. about real uncertainties), or indeed false suspicion, is still very weak compared to the public pile-driver deployed by the Consensus. It was weaker still until the recent official acknowledgement of ‘the pause’. Hence as noted before, Consensus information (whether true or false) continues to dominate. Yet at first sight curiously considering the vast efforts pumped into them, Consensus attempts at inducing false suspicion have also achieved only a relatively modest payback. Tellingly, the impact of the technique is domain-orientated. In what might be considered the core domain for the Consensus, i.e. the elite science and policy circles, the environmental NGOs, plus the majority of the mainstream media organizations, the de-legitimization and demonization of skeptics has worked pretty well, despite some blowback from a few more moderate Consensus adherents. However this is largely preaching to the converted, and it is in this very domain that the message originated in the first place. Hence what we’re really looking at here is a consolidation and entrenching process. While certainly very significant, for instance in largely locking skeptics ‘out of the system’, the main audience that the Consensus-orientated media are actually aiming at, i.e. the general public, seem surprisingly resilient to this tactic.

The Consensus seems to acknowledge this major failure to eliminate the credibility of skeptics in the public domain. There seems to be plenty of angst in the ranks expressed via phrases like ‘the deniers are winning’, or even ‘the deniers have won’. A wide range of reasons is cited, some of which conflict and at the extreme end of which (I guess simply as a comfort blanket), invoke the very technique that has failed, e.g. a ‘Koch conspiracy’ and / or nasty propagandist techniques by skeptics. Yet considering how little skeptic messaging actually makes it past the orthodox Consensus gatekeepers, we must be talking about incredibly potent stuff here. And considering too the deluge of demonization over decades, skeptics must surely be super-cyborg Teflon ducks for this all to simply slip off their backs – the public is still listening to them! OR, there’s another explanation, a much simpler and less fantastical one.

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Wrapped in Lew Papers: The psychology of climate psychologization – Part2

Note: as of 8th November, this Post is up at ‘Watts Up With That’, the most viewed climate site on the planet:

∙Second of 3 posts examining papers by Lewandowsky & co-authors before ‘conspiracy ideation’ claims. These papers warn of cognitive bias effects, all of which occur in the CAGW Consensus, confirming it is heavily biased. Can’t admit this? Skeptics exposing the dilemma? So… push skeptics beyond the pale, minimizing cognitive dissonance.

IMHO the engagement of psychologists with the social phenomenon of climate change has been hugely disappointing. As noted at the end of the last post, knowledge of cognitive bias by no means guarantees protection against it, and as a consequence of this simple fact psychologists do not apply their knowledge and tools to the entire social landscape of the climate change domain. Instead they appear to assume that the dominant paradigm of catastrophic AGW is magically free of bias, and so focus only upon negative reactions to that paradigm, namely skepticism and inaction, with which they appear to be obsessed. This obsession in turn appears to stem from a kind of prejudiced fascination in attempting to solve what is perceived as a fundamental riddle: why is there an apparent gulf between attitudes and action on climate change? And why do a small band of ‘way-out’ skeptics appear to foster so much success? An article on the New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) website, Psychology may yet be the most potent foil to climate change, finds Harriet Palmer (November 9, 2011), summarizes the appeal of the problem thusly:
∙∙∙∙∙∙That contradiction between what we feel we should be doing, and what we are doing, is fertile ground for the social sciences. Psychologists, analysts, academics, policymakers, politicians – they’re all dying to know why what we think about climate change, and what we do about it, seem to be two very different things.
Palmer later encapsulates the lack of progress on this perceived problem, essentially stating that we still don’t know the answer, along with pleading special case (‘unique’), which is never a good sign [my underline]:
∙∙∙∙∙∙Psychologists are trying to find out what happens in our heads when we hear the ‘CC’ words. They suspect that climate change presents a unique set of barriers that stop people engaging with the reality, and sap their will to act.
However, this hasn’t prevented very many proffered insights and candidate explanations from a wide array of psychologists. From the same article:
∙∙∙∙∙∙It feels like environmentalists are asking us to give up the good life. That’s when we’re tempted to slip into what Albert Bandura, Professor of Social Science in Psychology at Stanford University, calls “selective moral disengagement,” a neat trick we’ve learned to keep guilt at bay.
∙∙∙∙∙∙Dr Niki Harré, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology, University of Auckland, argues a better appreciation of human psychology would prompt a much wider response [to the challenges of climate change]. Harré believes our morals, and beliefs about justice, are a big part of the equation. Inherent moral values guide much of our behaviour, and Harré says we’d make more progress if people thought about conserving resources at least as a societal convention, but better still, as something that was simply morally right.
∙∙∙∙∙∙Psychologists describe climate change risks as having ‘high psychological distance’ – a long way off in the future, happening to somebody else, on the other side of the world.

In the article Psychological Factors Help Explain Slow Reaction To Global Warming (August 10, 2009), the American Psychological Association appears to agree with the ‘set of barriers’ approach:
∙∙∙∙∙∙While most Americans think climate change is an important issue, they don’t see it as an immediate threat, so getting people to “go green” requires policymakers, scientists and marketers to look at psychological barriers to change and what leads people to action, according to a task force of the American Psychological Association.
This approach certainly allows for much ground (and much ass, perhaps) to be covered; they identify ‘numerous’ barriers, of which half a dozen (uncertainty, mistrust, denial, undervaluing risk, lack of control, habit) are briefly expanded, adding:
∙∙∙∙∙∙The task force highlighted some ways that psychology is already working to limit these barriers.
Yet these ‘barriers’ have very much the feel of a large mish-mash of second or third rank factors that have all been rather forcefully marshaled into some kind of coherent narrative.

Many contributions from psychology seem to run along similar lines, and some psychologists even claim that they may have an answer to the riddle. An article in Time, The Battle Over Global Warming Is All in Your Head (August, 2013), is subtitled:
∙∙∙∙∙∙Despite the fact that more people now acknowledge that climate change represents a significant threat to human well-being, this has yet to translate into any meaningful action. Psychologists may have an answer as to why this is.’
Yet once again these ‘answers’ invoke a range of factors, up to 30 in fact, and hardly seem convincing. From the same article (and noting that in respect of climate change not taking ‘a human form’, I’d say it has been massively anthropomorphized over the last thirty years!):
∙∙∙∙∙∙For some, the answer lies in cognitive science. Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, has written about why our inability to deal with climate change is due in part to the way our mind is wired. Gilbert describes four key reasons ranging from the fact that global warming doesn’t take a human form — making it difficult for us to think of it as an enemy — to our brains’ failure to accurately perceive gradual change as opposed to rapid shifts. Climate change has occurred slowly enough for our minds to normalize it, which is precisely what makes it a deadly threat, as Gilbert writes, “because it fails to trip the brain’s alarm, leaving us soundly asleep in a burning bed.”
∙∙∙∙∙∙Robert Gifford, a professor of psychology and environmental studies at the University of Victoria in Canada, also picks up on the point about our brains’ difficulty in grasping climate change as a threat. Gifford refers to this and other psychological barriers to mitigating climate change as “dragons of inaction.” Since authoring a paper on the subject in 2011 in which he outlined seven main barriers, or dragons, he has found many more. “We’re up to around 30,” he notes. “Now it’s time to think about how we can slay these dragons.” Gifford lists factors such as limited cognition or ignorance of the problem, ideologies or worldviews that may prevent action, social comparisons with other people and perceived inequity (the “Why should we change if X corporation or Y country won’t?”) and the perceived risks of changing our behavior.

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Wrapped in Lew Papers: The psychology of climate psychologization – Part1

Note: as of 6th November, this Post is up at ‘Watts Up With That’, the most viewed climate site on the planet:

∙First of 3 posts examining papers by Lewandowsky & co-authors before ‘conspiracy ideation’ claims. These papers warn of cognitive bias effects, all of which occur in the CAGW Consensus, confirming it is heavily biased. Can’t admit this? Skeptics exposing the dilemma? So… push skeptics beyond the pale, minimizing cognitive dissonance.

Psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky’s ‘conspiracy ideation’ papers (‘Moon hoax’ and ‘Recursive Fury’) that link climate skeptics to generic belief in ‘way out there’ conspiracies, have generated a great deal of traffic in the climate blogosphere and the media. Not least regarding pretty much inarguable challenges to their detailed methodology and data collection, the legitimacy of such approval procedures as occurred, and even the ethics of the papers; essentially the entire validity of these works. Indeed ‘Recursive Fury’ was eventually withdrawn from the journal Frontiers of Psychology on ethical grounds.

However prior papers from Lewandowsky (with various co-authors) identify and warn us about a list of major cognitive bias effects in society, all of which occur within the social phenomenon† of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW), and strongly contribute to the dominance of this phenomenon. Constrained so tightly by his own findings, wrapped if you will in Lew papers, yet apparently possessing a worldview that is highly challenged by any questioning of the climate change ‘Consensus’ (note: a challenge to worldview is itself one of the warnings), any attempt by Lewandowsky to analyze rising world skepticism is very likely to have resulted in a polarized outcome: Either a wholesale rejection of the climate Consensus based upon the belated realization that all his above warnings apply to CAGW, and must always have applied, or an attempt to place skeptics beyond the pale, which hence might preserve a pre-existing worldview and prevent the head-on intellectual and emotional crash of the bias list with the behavior of the Consensus. It seems that the latter course was taken. While I have some sympathy for anyone caught in such an excruciating position, and the resultant behavior in these circumstances is typically not fully conscious, the debacle described in the second paragraph above seems very much like a desperate and sustained attempt to reduce cognitive dissonance.

This short series of posts does not delve further into the tangle surrounding Lewandowsky’s recent jaunt into conspiracy ideation, represented by Moon Hoax / Recursive Fury and other papers. Instead I explore, in detail, warnings about cognitive bias that came mainly before that jaunt. In this first post, each of the warnings is detailed by type. In the second post, the excellent applicability of each warning to CAGW is demonstrated. And finally the clash of these warnings with pre-conceptions is examined in the third post, a clash that psychologists and academia generally should heed regarding climate change perceptions. The three posts together form an extensive look at climate psychologization, using Lewandowsky’s work and stance as a prominent example case and framework, demonstrating that bias has blinded the discipline of psychology and prevented it from applying established principles and past findings (even about bias!) to the climate domain, which in turn has led to grossly erroneous conclusions. Along the way we glimpse the root causes of, and flawed treatments for, climate depression aka eco-anxiety aka apocalypse fatigue, and open a useful window onto the fundamental workings of Consensus culture itself.

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CAGW bias in academia; Lesfrud and Meyer 2013 revisited.

Well I am very late in posting this at my own blog; bar 1 minor correction (old retained as strike-through) it is repeated below exactly as it appeared at Watts Up With That, the most viewed climate site on the planet, on 27th January. There is useful discussion in the comments there.

Posts at WUWT have often featured scientific papers that are clearly impacted by a cultural bias towards CAGW. Given the impressive reach of WUWT and the likelihood that a number of folks from academia will be peeking here, some examination of the impact upon conclusions, and also how bias has occurred for particular scientists or organizations, not only keeps alive healthy skepticism in science but hopefully might result, one day, in a reduction of the CAGW bias. In that spirit, this post revisits ‘Science or Science Fiction? Professionals’ Discursive Construction of Climate Change’ by Lianne M. Lefsrud and Renate E. Meyer, LM2013; It is not pay-walled. An article at Forbes plus the Investor’s Business Daily on the paper, triggered a WUWT post here. Unfortunately however, the former articles misfired into a tangent that was not well considered, greatly distracting from a deeper look at the paper; hence also from something that I believe is valuable, plus deeply ironic for the authors.

The post is adapted from supporting material in my essay The CAGW Memeplex summarized in a WUWT guest post here. However, no particular memetic insight is invoked here and none is needed to see how the authors of this paper have fallen victim to bias and ended up with unsupportable conclusions; just an appreciation (from history) that social narratives can acquire an inertia of their own, a kind of insistent culture that sometimes dominates events while leaving facts far behind. This can happen not only where the narrative is long-lived and wide in scope, e.g. mainstream religions evolving over many generations, but also where an original narrative is narrow in scope, e.g. Lysenkoism. Such narratives and counter narratives compete in our social space and may do so via strong or weak alliances and wider coalitions, for instance Lysenkoism was strongly coupled to Stalinism in the USSR, and the culture associated with Eugenics was loosely allied to right-wing various politics in various countries, later becoming strongly coupled to Fascism especially in Germany. Religions have often found alliances within shifting maps of state and regional politics. The increasing number (and depth) of comparisons between CAGW and religion (e.g. see the varied selection: UK MP Peter Lilley , blogger John Bell, Michael Crichton via blogger Justice4Rinka [Jan 10, 2013 at 10:07am], Richard Lindzen, blogger BetaPlug, philosopher Pascal Bruckner, blogger sunshinehours1 [cult], professor Hans Von Storch [prophets], Evangelical skeptics, and a Climate Etc post discussing this area, plus very many more), acknowledges that CAGW is a (successful) social narrative, an ‘insistent culture’ that has indeed left reality behind.

With the above in mind, the approach of LM2013 seems at first to be admirable. For instance social coalitions (termed ‘discourse coalitions’) are understood to be important entities backing the survival / growth of competing ‘storylines’ within a contestable narrative space, where coalition members attempt to ‘frame’ the debate so as to promote their storylines while trying to ‘break the persuasiveness’ of competing stories, a process within which apparent truths are relative (‘…experts construct interpretive packages or frames that stand in for the ‘truth’.’) It is also recognized that these ‘frames’ are intimately linked to the legitimacy and identity of the framers: ‘Besides defining the issue, framing is also the means by which professionals draw from broader values (Hulme, 2009), construct their self-definitions and expert identities.’ The latter is consistent with literature (e.g. the concept of the ‘The Social Mind’ by neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniger) essentially saying that our thoughts and identities are in some part formed by the societal entities we’re embedded in. This concept not only helps with understanding the motives of the players, it also helps regarding awareness of one’s own social embedding and hence the attempt to distance oneself from personal bias, as presumably the LM2013 authors would wish. Ultimately the authors appear to grasp that it’s a narrative war out there, in which ‘the truth’ may not always win out.

So what’s not to like? Shouldn’t a paper that recognizes these principles be robustly impartial? In trying to analyze the various ‘storylines’ shouldn’t the authors have attempted to position themselves, at least so far as is possible, outside of all of the relevant narratives? Well, unfortunately not…

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