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

When considering the evolution of emotional vectors, one realizes that confirmations like those in the paragraph above are, in a sense, quite an admission from the Consensus (and S&L2014 is just one source confirming long-term deployment of emotive messaging). Given the type 2 warnings about bias from emotive information as published by Lewandowsky and associated authors (essentially triggering the long known effect of emotional bias), then such confirmations are tantamount to confessing that there are both deliberate and long-term campaigns that together, surely, is known will create significant bias towards the Consensus position.

We must bear in mind that the scientists, politicians and bureaucrats who are empowered in the climate arena, are not magically extracted from the public, they are embedded. Hence they are just as subject to this emotional pressure as anyone else. Almost everyone in the domain will be affected to some degree; only a very few folks possessing some opposing cultural inoculation, or a truly machine-like objectivity, might escape the consequent bias. For everyone else, emotive pressure will to a greater or lesser degree affect all their work within the domain; this is the inherent nature of bias. (Despite the once ‘science is settled’ narrative, revealed as false by the many explanations for ‘the pause’, there was and is enough raw uncertainty in the underlying climate science to undermine most constraints on bias, in either direction).

In addition to other fields, both Smith and Leiserowitz are trained in psychology. Yet it would seem that one set of psychologists engaged on emotive messaging, cannot be talking to their colleagues regarding studies of emotive bias; the field is apparently schizophrenic in some sense. The accepted principle that emotive messaging causes bias does not, as far as I can see, appear to have caused alarm bells to ring in the minds of Consensus-aligned professionals regarding long-term emotive messaging campaigns aimed at increasing the support for policy. The principle of emotive bias has not even been applied regarding an understanding of the dominant system in the climate change arena, i.e. the Consensus. Only, apparently, to the much looser and by comparison tiny community of skeptics. To make matters worse, S&L2014 suggests furthering and ‘improving’ the emotive campaigns, based on knowledge from its survey, which will increase the incurred bias still more. Other psychologists engaged within the climate domain and especially with climate communication, are also seeking to ‘improve’ the Consensus impact via targeted emotive messaging. The following three quotes summarize S&L2014’s recommendations in this regard:
∙∙∙∙∙∙By contrast [with fear], worry was the strongest predictor of public support for global warming policies, suggesting that perhaps “worry appeals” should be a focus for risk communicators. “Worry appeals” might promote a more sustainable and constructive emotional engagement with the issue of global warming.
∙∙∙∙∙∙Elaboration likelihood models of persuasion also suggest that positive rather than negative emotions are more persuasive and likely to sustain enduring attitudes over time for issues of low involvement, that is, for issues where people do not see themselves personally “at risk” or vulnerable. Given the general lack of public involvement with the issue of climate change, combined with the relationship between hope, interest, and policy support found in this investigation, developing communications that increase public interest, inspire hope, and encourage positive feelings when people act in climate-friendly ways may be more effective than fear or guilt appeals.
∙∙∙∙∙∙In summary, this research found that discrete emotions—especially worry, interest, and hope—appear to have a large influence on American climate change policy preferences. The challenge for communication strategists is how best to cue these powerful motivations to promote public engagement with climate change solutions.

For a wicked problem dominated by the presence of Uncertain T. Monster‡, then long-term, over decades that is, these methods will not so much communicate the message as iteratively forge it to fit the mould of the projected emotions. Such methods, if they belong anywhere, belong to domains with much shorter timescales and much higher degrees of certainty that a calamity is coming.(‡ credit for name: Prof Judith Curry).

Note: I’ve done no checks at all on the math and methods of S&L2014, merely taking the paper at face value. We only need a yardstick here for the Consensus-orientated perception of the emotional landscape.

So now we are on to warning Type 3, beware of the bias from the Continued Influence Effect, which can never be wholly eliminated. Its subsidiaries are:
∙∙∙∙∙∙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.

Let’s start with Type 3A. Plugging ‘climate change settled science’ or phrases with similar meaning into search engines nowadays, seems to pull up as many references from the last year or two about why the science isn’t settled, or at least arguably isn’t settled, than references claiming that it is settled. However, this is a relatively new phenomenon most likely caused by ‘the pause’. Prior to this time, the dominant message in the media was indeed that the science was settled. In retrospect it seems very likely that the problem was highly simplified – anthropogenic CO2 is the dominant cause of global temperature rise and hence also of a coming catastrophe – as was the solution – drastically reduce CO2 emissions at any cost. Model outputs and ‘multiple lines of evidence’ were presented as incontrovertible foundations for these stark and certain conclusions. The message was output via senior politicians and scientists and NGOs, then on down through a plethora of media and social channels. Yet whether or not there does turn out to be some significant climate problem, this approach is as far as it is possible to get from giving decent health warnings, or any health warnings in fact, about the primary information. If we are to believe what Lewandowsky and other psychologists tell us, bias will inevitably result. There can be no other possibility, unless that the psychologists were wrong all along. I very much doubt this. Because of the lack of health warnings, then the Consensus has essentially transmitted misinformation; primarily a false certainty.

Next page for more…

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