NOTE: as of today this Post is up at Climate Etc, the well known Lukewarmer blog of atmospheric scientist Judith Curry: http://judithcurry.com/2015/01/30/climate-psychologys-consensus-bias
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 Indeed ‘Recursive Fury’ was eventually withdrawn from the journal Frontiers of Psychology on ethical grounds.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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