Regarding warning type 4, beware of the ‘third person effect’, especially for oft repeated / saturating information, recall from the first post that in L2014 Lewandowsky uses skeptic messaging as an example of this: ‘Scientists may therefore think that they are impervious to “skeptic” messages in the media, but in fact they are likely to be affected by the constant drumbeat of propaganda.’ However, this could only be the case for Consensus scientists who constantly expose themselves to skeptic messaging; given the minimal public presence and low impact of such messaging compared to the sheer avalanche of incessant Consensus messaging about impending calamity (which pretty much saturates the media and is delivered by presidents and prime ministers on downwards), constant exposure would have to be a conscious act.
In a narrative war for influence on minds, volume of messages matters. To use Lewandowsky’s drum analogy, skeptics are trying to make a single tom-tom heard while the massed Consensus drum circle surrounds them playing a hundred strong. Objectivity constrains us to assume that both sides may have information that later turns out to be largely true, and misinformation too, but the net third person effect will be overwhelmingly aligned to the rhythm of the drum circle. Such misinformation as is therefore going to cause bias will belong to the Consensus (and per above this misinformation is mainly about the false level of certainty). And too, while a proportion of skeptic messaging might indeed be regarded as propaganda, the Consensus has an unwholesome tendency to redefine genuine questions about scientific uncertainties as propaganda. So to rephrase Lewandowksy’s quote such that it reflects the dominant beat within the narratives of climate change, we have: the well-known “third-person effect” refers to the fact that people generally think that others (i.e., third persons) are affected more by a persuasive message than they are themselves, even though this is not necessarily the case. Scientists may therefore think that they are impervious to “alarmist” messages in the media, but in fact they are likely to be affected by the constant drumbeat of propaganda. One might also add that the dramatic, emotive and simplistic narrative of coming catastrophe, is much more persuasive than skeptic attempts to point out realistic uncertainties within various complex fields contributing to the overall perception of climate change. And while some Consensus scientists do distance themselves from alarmist scare stories in the media, the Consensus as a whole makes no systemic attempt to prevent or negate such stories, which are sufficiently orchestrated by advocacy wings (e.g. NGOs) to label as propaganda.
So in summary, this post has shown how all the warnings about cognitive bias from Lewandowsky and associated authors, which I believe are valid, are highly relevant to the workings of the Consensus, and will produce heavy bias because these warnings are completely ignored within the Consensus context.
Regarding type 1, beware of the bias from one’s worldview: support for the Consensus is highly aligned to specific worldviews and this is self-declared; worldview endorsements will produce no less bias than worldview challenges. Regarding type 2, beware of the bias caused by (explicit or implied) emotive content: the Consensus is saturated with emotive messaging, both within itself and projected out to the public (within which its science and policy contributors are inextricably embedded). Deliberate and sustained emotive messaging campaigns have been carried out over decades, and the Consensus proposes to tune these for more efficient hits on the appropriate emotive hot-buttons, and continue hitting those buttons as hard as possible for the foreseeable future. This can only result in heavy bias. Regarding type 3, beware of the bias from the CIE (with subtypes): the Consensus has transmitted critical misinformation (primarily regarding the certainty of calamity), from the highest possible levels on downwards to every imaginable media channel and local interaction. It is hard to think of any other message in history that has received so much global attention from practically every nation upon Earth. The Consensus did not accompany their message with appropriate health warnings. Even when challenged by ‘the pause’, the Consensus has not promoted cautions, corrections or retractions at the same level of vigor as the original information; indeed it actively seeks to resist this activity and only acknowledges the absolute minimum adaptations, which are typically transmitted in the most obscure manner possible (while all along attempting to maintain undamaged the narrative of an inevitable looming calamity, which it still promotes). When healthy skepticism that might reduce the CIE is expressed, the typical response of the Consensus is to de-legitimize, and in cases even demonize, the skeptic voices. Hence the CIE, which even in the best of circumstances can never be wholly eliminated, will continue to play a big role in biasing both the public and also the current core Consensus contributors themselves. Regarding type 4, the third person effect: the massed drums of the Consensus, amplified by authority, which for decades have repetitively beaten out the narrative of ‘the science is settled’, and ‘calamity is certain’, will indeed have had the effect of causing considerable bias in any scientist honestly struggling to uncover the truth, let alone in the public, who are far less armed to resist such false certainty.
I started this post by saying how disappointing were the efforts of psychologists engaging with the social phenomenon of climate change. They appear only to be examining skepticism, as though this mole (some might say ‘beauty spot’ 😉 ) was surgically removed from the whole social landscape of environmentalism, the rest of which is assumed to be absolute truth, yet they don’t understand why this mole is still alive and healthy! While caused by the sheer blindness of bias rather than malicious intent, such a misguided focus, probing endlessly for the ‘dilemma’ of skepticism, which of course remains ‘puzzling’ as it is founded on false assumptions, is essentially an equivalent to the old ploy of declaring one’s enemies crazy. You’d think all the puzzlement, coupled with the reality of a largely unmoved rump of the public (poll figures are briefly featured in the next post), would alert intelligent professionals to the fact that they might well have wandered down a blind alley. Yet we cannot be quick to apportion blame. In the end, the obsession of psychologists with skepticism and public inaction is a direct consequence of Consensus misinformation about the certainty of calamity. From the NIWA article on psychology quoted at beginning of this post:
‘Climate scientists tell us that, even if we sell our cars and turn everything off now, the mercury will go on climbing for years – possibly beyond the critical two degrees of warming tipped to precipitate drastic change – thanks to a lag effect. For a lobbyist, that’s a powerful incentive; it ramps up the immediacy of the threat, and puts a physical face on an abstract phenomenon.’
Despite inclusion of the words ‘possible’ and ‘tipped’, alarming statements such as this one for a zero emission scenario (‘turn everything off now’), and ‘drastic’ change beyond two degrees, underwrite with the authority of climate scientists an impending disaster, a serious ‘threat’, tantamount to fact, which then steers all the psychologists down their narrow quest. But even for a ‘business as usual’ scenario, such a high level of certainty regarding catastrophe has never existed, nor for that matter has much confidence in a highly damaging tipping point at two degrees, which is effectively an arbitrary figure. Economists for instance, have posited this same figure to be the point when overall benefits turn to overall harms; not exactly a catastrophic outcome. While the IPCC AR5 summary for policymakers continues to contribute to the misinformation of certainty, it does not even appear to be supported by the more moderate technical output it is supposed to be summarizing, nor any longer by model projections that are parting company with observations. The false certainty is criticized more frequently these days by a number of mainstream climate scientists, such as professor Curry, who are brave enough to risk the considerable acrimony and attacks this prompts (a sign in itself of likely cultural bias). An interesting summary of the uncertainty inherent in the climate models, which have long formed a foundational pillar for certainty itself, can be found in the WSJ article by Stephen Koonin, who summarizes thus:
‘Any serious discussion of the changing climate must begin by acknowledging not only the scientific certainties but also the uncertainties, especially in projecting the future. Recognizing those limits, rather than ignoring them, will lead to a more sober and ultimately more productive discussion of climate change and climate policies. To do otherwise is a great disservice to climate science itself.’
Dr. Koonin, a physicist by training, was undersecretary for science in the Energy Department during President Barack Obama’s first term, and could in no way be called a skeptic. But until very recently when a few are starting to speak up, the long silence of many in science who are probably feeling very uncomfortable indeed about the long imposed narrative of certainty, has contributed considerably to a situation where misinformation has come to dominate perceptions and events.
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