I’ve spent quite some time on this type one warning from Lewandowsky. But it’s an extremely sound warning indeed, and it’s important to demonstrate just how relevant this warning is regarding reactions to the heavily promoted climate Consensus. Any payload of information set within the dominant cultural package of climate change will be subject to a worldview interaction between that dominant culture and those who seek to understand the information; resulting in bias at some level, for or against. One cannot ‘know’ how true (or otherwise) the payload is. And which of us can say we have no worldview of any type, which won’t be bruised or stroked or strangled or engorged by this potent climate change culture?
Incidentally, scientists as people are no less subject to this bias than anyone else. And academia as an enterprise appears to be considerably more vulnerable to such bias, probably due to the ‘cellular’ nature of academia, within which each scientist in a narrow domain often trusts much too uncritically the output of nearby cells, which he / she uses in his / her own research. (At a WUWT post here I detailed a specific example of heavy bias within academia towards the climate Consensus). Hence ‘external’ reactions to the Consensus aren’t the only issue here. Because Consensus-orientated scientific and policy endeavors now constitute a vast field with constant internal feedback loops that have run for decades, all of which are heavily dependent on bias-fragile and often politically similar (left leaning) academic institutes, this has resulted in a major amplification of bias, enacted via noble cause corruption and confirmation bias and the other effects mentioned above.
So indeed beware the bias from one’s worldview: For instance from the deep satisfaction one might feel that the climate itself is apparently voting for the governmental systems one has always hankered for, yet frustratingly couldn’t get near to achieving until now; from that tingling spine when hearing speeches that high ranking politicians all over the world now make regarding co-operation and redistribution and the taming of capitalism, for the sake of our grandchildren, which chime so well with ‘what I would have said myself’, which will be what I say down the bar or community meeting or next works outing; from the feeling of sheer elation that the ‘good things’ one likes anyway and supports with gusto regardless, are saving the planet; from one’s heartfelt relief that even in this time of hardship and recession, we urgently need trillions stuffed into environmental related academia and ‘sustainability’ and climate messaging, within which network one happens to work; the feeling of absolute wonder that one will be helping lift Global Consciousness to a higher level. Okay I employed a storyline here, but one which highlights the huge ‘positive’ bias that occurs in the social domain of climate change, as well as the ‘resistive’ bias that psychologists appear to focus almost exclusively upon; post 3 will return to this point.
This leads us nicely to Type 2: beware of the bias caused by explicit emotive content. Well even a cursory look at the information landscape of climate change reveals that this is absolutely saturated with emotive content, which also appears to be hugely weighted towards the catastrophic scenarios promoted by the Consensus (e.g. as expressed by the major NGOs such as Greenpeace and WWF, advocacy orientated climate scientists, most mainstream media channels, numerous politicians committed to CAGW – from presidents and prime ministers on downwards, mass comments on very many pro-CAGW websites and stretching way outside the domain of climate into many aspects of society, etc.) Content includes the highly exaggerated scare language of disaster, the inappropriate emotive leverage from ‘threatened grandkids’, demonization of ‘denialists’ and more, all of which proliferate. While emotive content certainly exists within the sub-domain of skepticism too (e.g. as centered upon ‘scam’, ‘hoax’, or ‘left-wing conspiracy’ perceptions), within the overall domain this is massively outgunned by the stronger emotive storylines pouring out of all the above major sources, such as (I paraphrase) “we’re all gonna fry”, “your coastal cities are gonna drown”, “your grandkids are gonna die”, “only N days to save the planet”, “extreme weather is our fault”, plus the attempted suppression of argument by deployment of the ‘denier’ term, which diverts enormous and negative emotive power from a completely different narrative domain (Holocaust denial) and injects this into the climate arena. As does James Hansen’s stance on coal: “The trains carrying coal to power plants are death trains. Coal-fired power plants are factories of death”. Nor can this deluge of emotion somehow be ‘disconnected’ from the science. Albeit typically in more subtle forms, these emotive messages thread deep into Consensus science communication, and also as noted above scientists are people too, so no less subject than the rest of us to emotively driven bias, especially when amplified by the authority of senior politicians. (In fact at the time of the above quote, 2009, Hansen was NASA’s leading climate scientist).
Because the two main sides in the climate arena are so polarized and committed, examples of Type 2a bias, from implied emotional content, also abound. This is essentially a combination of worldview bias and emotive bias (or looked at another way, perhaps ultimately the hidden cause of all worldview bias), with the most obvious examples of implied emotional content occurring where there happens to be an explicit emotional content of zero. Hence all of the emotion observed springs from a strong worldview challenge or endorsement of some kind, yet then acts just as potently as if it had been explicit emotive content. For instance, the five main Global Surface Temperature (GST) series report a standstill in GST lasting about 14 to 18 years (depending on which series one takes). The graphs these series provide are devoid of emotion; they are just colored lines on our screens. However, it has proved tremendously difficult for both official organizations and grass roots supporters within the Consensus to acknowledge these simple colored lines. Typically very late and very grudging, such acknowledgement has also been bristling with caveats and bursting with pre-emptive distractions and justifications about why it doesn’t matter. One can almost smell the emotion. Well maybe indeed it doesn’t matter to the bigger picture, but if so, why therefore this aggrieved and reluctant mode of expression?
The difficulty here is that GST was promoted for so long as the icon of global warming (aka climate change), underwritten by ‘the science is settled’ storyline. Hence ‘the pause’ in GST has fundamentally fractured that storyline and soiled the icon. So the Consensus is frantically attempting to pivot from GST onto other markers for climate change, along with associated explanations for ‘the pause’. This speaks volumes about the level of uncritical commitment invested in the original simplistic icon, and hence the emotional bias that comes with such commitment. While the insidious influence of emotive bias seems still to hang around some of the theories about the emergence of ‘the pause’, the fact that there are many such theories seems a welcome return of the scientific diversity that should never have been suppressed in the first place. Had that suppression and the focus upon a simplistic icon not occurred, those colored lines would elicit only healthy curiosity, not unhealthy defensiveness.
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