Climate psychology’s consensus bias

While clearly unsettled about this apparently bizarre contradiction, Dan bulls on and attempts to explain this contradiction in psychological terms. He comes up with four possibilities, which he names FYATHYRIO (F*ck you and the horse you rode in on), Compartmentalization, Partition, and Dualism. Well I’m not going into detail on each of these, follow them up at DK1 if you’re interested. Suffice to say that while these are all effects that can be found somewhere in society, each only occurs for a small minority within extremely specific circumstances, and there is no evidence at all that these circumstances could apply across such a wide and varied swathe of the population expressing skepticism on climate change. This is still more the case in countries like the UK, where all the three main political parties fully back climate change policies to combat CO2 emissions, yet public skepticism (which therefore is necessarily far less tribal, much less aligned to particular political parties that is) is nevertheless still rife. While Dan’s surveys cover the US only, even within this more tribal subset case he is turning over very small stones indeed to try and discover a psychological profile for his culprits. Adding panto to good cop / bad cop metaphor, I was tempted in my original reading to shout “its behind you”.

To be fair to our good cop, he rapidly rules out 3 of his 4 possibilities, settling uncomfortably on Dualism. He uses the example of a religious medical doctor (I think based on a real case) to illustrate what happens in this effect. The doctor does not believe in evolution, yet he simultaneously uses the theory to achieve success in his job (for instance in stem cell research). This apparently grave mental contradiction can work without the doctor becoming schizophrenic or being otherwise impaired (and even unaware of his bizarre position), as long as the domains of his social and religious life remain strictly separate from his career domain. While no doubt this effect could occur outside of religion, would anyone like to guess what the odds are of about half of America’s science-aware population being subject to this same kind of effect regarding their belief in climate change? That’s probably tens of millions of people (the Commerce Department claims that about 15 million US residents hold a STEM major, and to be merely ‘science aware’ must be a very much larger figure indeed). This ‘dualism’ is after all an extraordinary condition; one that requires a strict maintenance of specific circumstances, plus I think also a pretty damn unusual developmental path to arrive at. To his credit, I don’t think that in his heart Dan really believes in this answer anyhow. He says: ‘But I do not feel particularly confident about this account—in part because even after constructing it, I still myself am left wondering, “But what exactly is going on in their heads?”

A number of commenters at DK1 have attempted to point out to Dan that his investigation is flawed and / or that he’s chasing the wrong scent. And Dan is very accommodating and eminently reasonable in reply. He’s a good cop after all, and it seems a hard working one too. He makes some useful points, such as the fact that the science literate in a debate (or those possessing other forms of literacy or critical thinking) can magnify a disposition to fit the evidence to cultural predispositions. (This would appear as a symmetrical motivated reasoning effect for both sides, although in various ways the climate debate is far from symmetrical).

Yet he constantly slips very politely away from any suggestion that his own bias, or indeed possible bias within Consensus science generally, could have materially affected either his suspect list or the basis of his investigation. For instance in reply to several folks, Dan says: ‘…whether the evidence is “clear” or “unclear” etc. doesn’t affect any of the inferences I’m drawing on… maybe the problem is that people don’t understand what I’m drawing inferences about (public opinion formation– not whether the evidence supports human-caused global warming or whether scientists are biased, etc).’ To Paul Matthews pointing out that there isn’t any contradiction implied by science aware Rep/Cons rejecting the views of [orthodox] climate scientists on Global Warming, Dan’s main response is that he doesn’t think this ‘plausibly explains the patterns of public opinion I am examining’. He also admits that there are (maybe many) possibilities that could explain the data, but in reply to commenter Paul says (among other things): ‘The puzzle — if there is one– is a consequence of the thing to be explained being the opposite of what one would have expected.’ But what one expects depends upon one’s biases and assumptions.

As a pre-cursor to looking at his results, I figured to check what bias or ambiguity may exist in Dan’s survey questions, which might possibly have tilted respondents results in some way. (If so, there may be nothing to be done about that in retrospect, no analytical fix, but it’s always good to be aware). In DK2 / DK4 some of the questions are meant to be wrong, but ambiguity in the wrong questions could potentially still be a problem too. For instance ‘false’ is the appropriate response to the question ‘If the North Pole icecap melted as a result of human caused global-warming, global sea levels would rise.’ While this is technically the right response, there have been many scare stories about sea level rise due to melting ‘in the Arctic’ or ‘in Greenland’. How many folks wouldn’t be able to distinguish between ‘the North Pole’, and ‘the Arctic’? Especially when the term ‘icecap’ is rarely used for sea-ice, as ‘Rob’ points out. Maybe a bit too ambiguous even for a science comprehension test. In practice this ambiguity truly may not matter in the context in which it is set; given a big majority of both camps believed all the scare stories whether they were true or not, the responses would likely be very similar. Likewise for a question incorporating a core value that one is trying to explore in the first place: ‘human-caused global warming will result in flooding of many coastal region’. Dan’s appropriate response is ‘true’, but this response is really only true if human caused global warming is sufficient of a problem, which is what the entire debate and the entire scientific effort is still engaged upon finding out. Given the context and the DK2 / DK4 results that did occur, I wouldn’t expect a big impact, yet the latter issue reveals a mindset that might bring bias to more critical parts of the investigation.

Indeed there’s a bigger problem with the main (directly phrased) question in DK1: ‘[is the Earth] getting warmer (a) mostly because of human activity like burning fossil fuels, or (b) mostly because of natural patterns in the Earth’s environment?’ While various surveys in recent years have used almost this exact same wording, and indeed until a belated acceptance of ‘The Pause’, (a) was the only officially available line, it’s hard to forgive Dan for not digging deeper and understanding that much of the real debate in fact centers upon the relative weights of (a) and (b). Especially after that acceptance, when the much greater role of natural patterns (up to ~50:50 weighting) is a front runner in the various mainstream offerings trying to explain why the real-world failed to get warmer over the last ~15 to 18 years, as projected by climate models. The absence of an option (c) no-one knows yet, will surely increase polarization and the ‘identity defense’ nature of responses, which may have dominated anyhow yet now we won’t know that.

This all suggests that Dan’s instruments are somewhat weighted off centre, constructed using parts from orthodox climate science . For instance in DK4 he seems to suggest that the ‘decreased rate at which temperatures increased’ over the last 15 years, is still supportive re the Consensus position, rather than a rate that’s on the edge of invalidating the models, not to mention is effectively zero (within statistical significance and across multiple temp series, with some data ‘paused’ for more years than 15). These are the very same models from which the conclusion of serious danger regarding AGW were drawn. This is a hint that Dan’s subsequent analysis may biased this way too. On the upside and despite an orthodox framework, Dan has tried to tempt equally those of either affective orientation (i.e. skeptic or orthodox) into the wrong answers (another device that may help to separate knowledge from identity defense).

Despite all this there is some great data here, especially on the ‘science aware’ people, albeit we need to look at it within the context of other surveys. And indeed focusing so intensely on the left/right political polarizations makes the effects we see through that particular lens appear more important than they are. The place of those effects within the whole context will be better fixed by looking through other lenses too. In this respect at least, Dan’s plan to remove political identity seemed good. Appendix 1 looks at the results of a few other surveys, which rank Global Warming within other environmental issues, and also within all US National issues of importance. This is a way of diluting left/right identity challenge within a larger context, and assessing the true importance of Global Warming to the respondents. And it is clear that the strong majority support from Democrats regarding belief in man-made Global Warming (typically in the 60-85% range), drops to minority support (typically 20-45%) regarding the mandate to make it the top priority, causing this ‘ultimate’ issue to sink very low or dead last on all priority polls. Republican figures shrink much less (typically 10-15%), though far less believe in man-made GW in the first place. But it is the Democrat loss of resolve that largely drives the collapse in support for action on Global Warming.

Next page for more…

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11 Responses to Climate psychology’s consensus bias

  1. TinyCO2 says:

    I do find Kahan interesting, though having observed him over several years getting no closer to understanding sceptics I have my doubts he has the mental tools to do so. He’s not alone. There are a small group of consensus supporters who persevere in trying to understand the lack of support for CAGW but even when people explain exactly how they feel, the questioners reject those concepts. Part of me wonders if that rejection is due to a motivated blindness but mostly I think it’s deeper than that.

    I think it has something to do with narrow focus people versus broad focus. For a climate sceptic, their view of the science is a plethora of inputs that range from the purest science, through the solutions and politics and on to trust and personalities. To the narrow focus person each of those issues seems to be compartmentalised. To the narrow focus person the science is either right or wrong, to the wide focus person the evidence has to increase the higher the stakes. Thus I can accept the science of Higgs Bosun, because it costs me nothing to do so but if I was wagered £1000 on the question 1+1=? I might think very hard about the answer or even refuse the bet.

    As a theory I think it explains why people become more polarised the more they examine the issue of AGW and why engineers are often pitched against specialists. The narrow focused person (the scientist) often only considers the research at hand whereas the broad focus person (the engineer) has to often juggle a great many disparate issues including the vagaries of human behaviour and cost.

    Unfortunately for consensus supporters, acting on AGW requires broad focus appeal because it’s not enough to convince people of AGW, they also have to sell people on the solutions. Narrow focus people are quite capable of accepting the catastrophe meme but reject the solutions (eg go nuclear, stop flying, cut personal CO2) because for them, acting on AGW is a new subject. For the broad focus person, as proof of AGW increases then less favourable solutions become more viable but for the narrow focus person the unacceptable solutions will always be unacceptable.

    • Ryan says:

      You have an interesting perspective here. I have long recognized the engineer/scientist split but never thought of your reasoning. I used to figure it happened because engineers are required to make things actually work, and (to use my example) once you take Transport Phenomena it’s from then on impossible to think a climate model has predictive usefulness.

      But my own subjective experience of the policy debate is exactly what you describe. How are we going to provide electricity to the country is an entirely separate question from cause and effect of CO2 on the atmosphere. Concerns about the second should logically be taken into account when thinking about the first, but so should a host of other considerations.

      And then the other typical engineer thing is to say “alright, we need to X, how do we do that most efficiently?” Which then leads to utter confusion when the great and the good so concerned about climate change have not spent the last 30 years advocating for nuclear power. It seems like it should be completely obvious.

  2. andywest2012 says:

    Thanks for dropping by Tiny,

    I can see where you’re coming from, but I don’t think the abilities regarding narrow / broad focus are a principal driver here, though may play their part. And I think Dan Kahan has the mental tools as you put it, to understand. Looking over his blog he seems to be highly intelligent and deeply knowledgeable. Unfortunately these things don’t save one from cultural bias (and in some circumstances my make one *more* vulnerable to it – but that’s a different story).

    He is blind to climate culture, therefore blind to any inference that climate orthodoxy is anything other than scientific truth. To him therefore, skepticism, whether gut feel skepticism from the science unaware or the refined version from the science aware, is ‘disbelief’, which can only in his mind be due to cultural factors and worldview defense. He probably can’t get past the fact that such a massive ‘scientific’ movement could actually be significantly in error, yet this has happened before in the past and will happen again.

    However, it could be that folks who are more narrow focused as you put it, may be more amenable to being sucked into cultural orthodoxy in the first place. And folks with a broader perspective may have more defenses for resisting a cultural takeover. There is a natural form of resistance to misinformation and cultural hi-jacking, an ‘innate skepticism’, which Lewandowsky (yes HIM, his cognitive bias stuff prior to jumping off the deep end in climate is both reasonable and mainstream) terms ‘the key to accuracy’. It may be triggered by features of the invading narrative (i.e. its too emotive, too coherent, too forceful, too authoritative etc), but maybe broader minded folks have more of this natural defense anyhow 🙂

  3. TinyCO2 says:

    “Looking over his blog he seems to be highly intelligent and deeply knowledgeable.”
    I agree and I think it’s the intelligence that holds him back. He’s looking too deeply for answers. I’ve seen him ask a question and be given multiple similar answers but couched in individual terms and he just doesn’t comprehend or believe them. I suspect part of that is due to an idea that people don’t grasp their inner motivations, which may be true but you can’t dismiss people’s conscious motivations just because they don’t fit with what you expected.

    I’ve built the impression he’s not really interested in the facts of climate change or its bandwagon. When quizzed on his stance over AGW, he basically wrote “because the scientists say so”. If you don’t at least know what the sceptic arguments are, how can you understand sceptic reactions and objections? If sceptics grumble about NOAA and GISS’s hottest year ever 2014 claim, how is an observer able to judge the reaction if he or she doesn’t know where that statement fits in the real science? How would an outsider know if the grumbles are denial of a warming future or a protest against spin and dodgy science or that the miniscule warming is at least some ammunition to start questioning the models.

    A question that is asked in polls over and over is “do you believe in climate change?” It’s a very useless question. Some polls try to determine whether that position is connected to something else like politics but rarely strive to go deeper into why people believe what they do or even find out what they believe. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the more people know about the science the more polarised they become… or do they? If researchers into opinion don’t recognise that there are people on both sides of the debate who have very similar beliefs, how can they tell how polarised people are? The lukewarmer is invisible in the data. They may fall one side or the other in a survey, simply because the survey creator doesn’t understand the complexity of climate change, let alone our reactions to it.

    If I wanted to research climate scepticism and belief, I’d want to ask loads of questions about how people arrived at their position. What really annoys or just niggles? Which things are credible about the issue to people and which things are not? What is most alarming? The questions would range way beyond the science. My guess would be that those who believe but are not knowledgeable, would be most influenced by bad weather they erroneously see as a definite sign of climate change. How good would the advice of psychologists be if they decided the authorities should use weather as the core of their climate change message? It’s a mistake they might make if they didn’t know that the ‘consensus’ hadn’t yet made the link, despite the outpourings of a few outlier scientists.

    It maybe that Dan Kahan thinks that knowing more about climate issues is unnecessary or might even muddy his thinking but personally I’m not sure how you can glean useful conclusions about behaviour without understanding the drivers. I’m not even sure you would know what questions to ask.

    Psychologists are right to think we are in denial. More right than they know because almost everyone is denying something on the issue, even if it’s the human right to choose. I see few consensus supporters living the life they espouse. But is it useful to dwell on the inner conflict when there are plenty of outer ones going un-addressed?

  4. andywest2012 says:

    Yes Tiny, I think Kahan’s cultural bias prevents him from seeing the obvious, so I guess he is indeed engaged in assembling a string of more complex / obscure explanations in an attempt to solve the puzzles that arise through not acknowledging a climate culture. For science that *hasn’t* gotten caught up in an enormous cultural movement, maybe one doesn’t need to know it too deeply in order to successfully analyze public attitudes with reasonable objectivity. Perhaps for instance GM food fits into this category. But for a massive cultural entity like CAGW, which is not only capable of manipulating science but of seismically shifting our very values and morals, one needs to set out an investigatory path in a completely different way. And yes in my book exploring skeptic arguments in detail would be one essential. But for someone who doesn’t even acknowledge a climate culture at all, and yet who is caught up in this culture too, the sheer scale of the impact is probably not going to be believable.

    I think to be fair Kahan applies a varied range of questions and, within the scope of climate orthodoxy, does attempt to reasonably apply such techniques as might find out what folks really think, as separate to ‘who are they’. But with the tools framed in orthodoxy and hence lacking acknowledgement of the true scientific uncertainties (which is where most of the complex arguments arise), then the responses are always going to be misaligned with reality. I suspect very many of the ‘innately skeptical’ general public (i.e. those whose natural defenses against misinformation and cultural takeover, are aroused), have stumbled on threads regarding genuine scientific uncertainty by now. And even for those that haven’t they *know* simply from the narrative form of CAGW, that something is wrong.

    As for dwelling on the ‘inner conflict’; far more of the huge CAGW phenomenon is about sociology and psychology than is about science and whatever is actually happening in the climate. If we don’t attempt to understand the psychology, and don’t attempt to challenge the messages by which the professional psychologists are amplifying and policing this climate culture they’re so immersed in, the CAGW culture will continue to dominate, and do damage in the name of a science that does not support the certainty of catastrophe upon which the culture itself is based.

  5. dmk38 says:

    Hi, Andy.

    Thanks for this extended & thoughtful reply.

    There are lots of points; and I’m a plodder, so it takes me a while to digest & ruminate etc.

    But one thing that might be intersting is for you to try to make sense of the Pakistani Dr’s friend, the Kentucky Farmer. http://www.culturalcognition.net/blog/2015/1/7/so-you-want-to-meet-the-pakistani-dr-just-pay-a-visit-to-the.html

    This is related to my exchanges w/ Paul Mathews & some others.

    I don’t see myself as trying to explain *you* — by which I mean a segment of intensely interested, highly science literate (in many case professional scientis) critics of the various forms of evidence that are featured in, say, IPCC & like.

    I am trying to explain public opinion, which includes much larger group of people of varying degrees of science comprehension who are generally *unengaged* w/ the evidence.

    Actually, some of them are quite high in science comprehension & they are indeed an interesting subset. But they still aren’t even close to you & those you converse w/ in their engagement with & attention to the specific claims that are being advanced.

    That’s why I tend to discount the explanation, “Oh, the high science comprehension, high-scoring OCSI subjects who reject ‘mainly caused by human’ option are rejecting b/c they disagree with evidence.” I think you are overstating their degree of engagement w/ specifics.

    In any case, that explanation would not cover why their egalitarian, communtarian (or left-leaning, however you want to put it) counterparts *aren’t* reaching the same conclusion but are in fact reaching diametrically opposed ones as they become more proficient in any measure of science comprehension, general or specific to climate …

    But back to the Kentucky Farmer … He says he “doesn’t believe” human activity is causing climate change. Yet he also is changing his farming practices, buying crop failure insurance, prediting contraction of his industry, cheering Montsanto’s development of GM seeds to withstand drought — all based on his assessment that human-caused climate change will be affecting his life…. You can’t explain him by saying “he knows what climate scientists say but doesn’t believe it ….”

    Something else is going on…. what?

  6. andywest2012 says:

    Hi Dan, thanks for dropping in, appreciated.

    It’s okay I’m definitely a plodder too, I have to get down to absolute fundamentals before anything will go in (not to mention that the day job sucks up most time so I sometimes have to catch up at weekends only). Plus I’ve only eyeballed a fraction of your vast works at CCP blog, and it will take me time to assimilate any required new lumps.

    I got it that you’re not primarily trying to explain high science comprehension folks. Yet I nevertheless point out that the test of a truly robust explanation for what’s going on, should be whether that explanation encompasses these folks *as well as* the generally unengaged public. And indeed any folks in-between too (still high scoring but ‘not as engaged’, in your terminology above). Ideally this being accomplished by simply sliding a parameter somewhere within the candidate theory.

    And per your proposition starting ‘in any case’, I don’t agree that deep engagement being an explanation for skeptics disagreeing with the evidence, is mutually exclusive with also explaining why the deeply engaged left-leaning counterparts reach a diametrically opposed conclusion. Quite the contrary. There *is* a model that explains why the more deeply engaged two sides get, the more polarized they become (I’ll discuss what they are two ‘sides’ *of* later). Not only that, but this model has been well-researched for decades, the characteristics and behaviors it implies are well described in mainstream literature, you yourself employ knowledge of these characteristics regularly, as do all other social psychologists plus other disciplines too. It’s called a culture, and this appears to be the missing piece that explains your puzzles at CCP regarding global warming / climate change.

    One has to unhook from one’s mind from the assumption that there is an absolute truth anywhere in this (if you have trouble with that, try asking atmospheric scientist and IPCC contributor Judith Curry). Let the truth ‘float’ on a scale of zero to full. Like for instance the truth of whether a deity exists or not. In the West where religion is no longer dominant, the more learned disbelievers are, the more emphatically they tend to disbelieve. Less agnostic, more atheist. They know about evolution and the big bang and stuff. Dawkins is perhaps an ultimate example. (And there is a belief scale, formal religious belief is only the top; there can be casual belief, various forms of spiritualism and lately even alien substitutes for a deity, then agnostic and full atheist). But the more learned the spiritual / religious folks are, the more emphatically they tend to *believe*, and more in the formal top-of-scale brand too. They know about the scriptures and religious history and the tenets of faith and so on (theologian priests are perhaps an ultimate example, Oxbridge degrees and super intelligent etc). It is a culture that causes this. Cultures can create a consensus (and indeed a huge canon of detailed orthodox knowledge, e.g. saints / sinners / the father, son and Holy Ghost and all the other rules), about the unknowable. To some extent one can argue from an evolutionary development point of view, this is one of their prime purposes (super social cohesion is an advantage). They are certainly extremely good at it. Disbelievers are resisting religious culture and consensus.

    ‘CAGW’, Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming, is a culture. It is even a self admitted culture (see Mike Hulme’s work and the quotes of many other climate change notables). No matter what is actually happening in the climate, and whether it is good, bad, or indifferent, the cultural effects have impacted the science and policy for many years now, to the extent that culture dominates. So, the IPCC summary for policy makers is the orthodox canon. The climate consensus on the certainty of dangerous warming due to man, is a culturally enforced consensus, *not* a scientific truth. Like agnostics / atheists, the ‘innately skeptical’ public mentally resist this culture, and do so much more as they become more (science) learned. An ultimate example is say Lindzen. Like the spiritual / religious, the believers in climate orthodoxy are more emphatic in their belief as they become more (science) learned. (‘Innate skepticism’ refers to natural resistance to misinformation and cultural takeover [think of population variable biological resistance to diseases]; Lewandowsky came across this in his studies and named it ‘the key to accuracy’).

    The situation is not at all symmetrical. A culture is a highly integrated entity of co-developed narratives with typically much infra-structure support (in this case, massive: Governments, NGOs, etc). Skepticism has indeed some narratives that may be very unaligned to scientific truth too, but it is scattered, not co-developed, not a culture; skeptics resort to science in order not to be crushed out of existence. Yet even so there is and always will be an enormous body of skeptical public, the innately skeptical, while CAGW continues as a culture and not as a science subject (or, unless the climate culture lasts for generations and so squeezes out all resistance – all cultures have developmental trajectories over time). So the ‘two sides’ I mentioned above are NOT left-wing and right-wing. They are ‘climate culture’ and ‘not climate culture’.

    Left-wing and right-wing only come into this because cultures are famous (or notorious) for cross-coalitions. And true to form CAGW has these; which *in the US* happen to be far stronger with the left than the right, but *not exclusive* to the left. So per the survey results in the post here plus your data, a majority of Dem / Libs are *allied* to climate culture, but when their political identity is not challenged, they don’t believe in dangerous GW either.

    This model encompasses the general public, and on a sliding scale the more engaged and the fully engaged. One can dial in the different strengths of political alliance to different parties within each country, but same model works. If you pin climate orthodoxy to ‘absolute truth’ (which I feel you are doing), it will be near impossible to countenance a (science aware) Rep/Con disagreement with the evidence, and hence you are bound to end up feeling that this position must be entirely culturally steered (despite the resulting ‘dualism’ paradox, which seems wholly unsatisfactory as a condition of many millions of varied US citizens). A culturally enforced orthodoxy may contain much ‘truth’, and it may not; who knows? What matters is that it is a cultural construct and not a scientific one.

    I urge you to apply all that you know about cultures and cultural influence (which is probably much more than me), to CAGW. I think explanations rooted in the commonplace are much more likely, don’t you? Culture in humans, culture that enforces consensus on the unknowable, is much more common than the common cold, ubiquitous in fact. With or without man’s influence, understanding climate is a wicked problem, it is not currently knowable, projected scenarios are not even probabalistic but possibilistic (see Climate Etc posts).

    Regarding your farmers, it’ll take me a while to absorb the paper properly. But at a glance I’d say nothing unusual is going on at all. Off to work right now, but I’ll try and jot down a first impression tomorrow.

    • Michael 2 says:

      “Cultures can create a consensus (and indeed a huge canon of detailed orthodox knowledge, e.g. saints / sinners / the father, son and Holy Ghost and all the other rules), about the unknowable.”

      I do not subscribe to the “unknowable” part but almost the same thing; few know a thing and from that is spawned a huge culture co-opting that little bit of knowledge for its own purposes, and like a living thing, the culture itself has a “will to live”, reproduce, assimilate neighbors and protect itself from enemies and challenge.

      I can think of no cultural phenomenon that has NO members that experienced something relevant to the culture. What’s important is the ratio of experiencers to believers, and that ratio is probably related to how desirable is the belief. Believing in eternal life (a good one that is) is highly desirable making it possible for exceptionally few experiencers to motivate belief in millions of other people.

      Moon landing was experienced by only a few, but witnessed real-time on television by millions (including me); it also has a “priesthood” of persons that didn’t personally experience the moon landing but were very closely involved in it, such as Mission Control in Houston. The odds of all of that being a hoax is incalculable (effectively zero).

      But in another 50 years when everyone alive at the time is dead, all that will remain will be claims and this “priesthood” of then-current NASA employees whatever is left of it, and the belief could start to drift.

      I see a religion already forming around Martin Luther King, with streets in every major U.S. city named after him, politicians standing on his memory saying that MLK would say this or that. Instead of WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) it is now WWMLKD (What would Martin Luther King do). In 2,000 years there will likely not be a shred of the real MLK left but possibly a vast priesthood built up on a mythology.

      But none of that proves the non-existence of a moon landing, or MLK, or Dog. Such things are known only to the people that know them.

      • andywest2012 says:

        Hi Michael2,
        The existence of God is neither provable nor disprovable, so in this formal sense is unknowable, despite what some people claim to have experienced (which I believe is simply a interactive effect of the personal and the wider cultural drive). However, we have got to the stage of knowing that inanimate objects or forces, like the sun, the moon, the weather, are not deities, which disproves most religions that have ever been.

        I very much agree though that strong cultures have an ‘agenda’ of their own, which despite being neither sentient or agential (instead enacted across swift generations of mutually supportive narrative forms), does straddle the characteristics of life. In similar ways for instance in biology, to how the ‘agenda’ of a disease caused by prions also straddles our definitions of life.

        But cultures have fairly well identifiable characteristics, or at least without certain traits and features it is hard to call something a full culture in its own right, as opposed to just a sub-narrative within a culture. While moon landings and MLK may spawn mythic dimensions within an overall culture, especially MLK acquiring a little of a religious or saintly aura, I don’t think his legacy is ever going to blossom into a full culture in its own right. And given the factual evidence about the moon landings, this is much less likely still for that topic (despite a few conspiracy theorists who in the end exist for practically every topic), unless civilization should so decline that the facts are lost. In short, these things *are* known and also recorded on media in modern times, and that severely hampers the blossoming to a full culture.

        Yet to follow your speculation, yes there’s a very very outside chance that a millennia hence MLK might indeed be perceived as something equivalent to a saint, but given the current decline in (true as opposed to secular) religions, that seems unlikely. Not to mention that he will have so much competition, who can say who wins anyway if conditions swing to arbitrary deification? He might get beaten out by Mother Theresa or even Al Gore, or maybe Kylie Minogue! Or more probably 100 times more Indian or Chinese candidates. If he did win, it’s what the people of the time *don’t* know about him that would allow a cultural consensus on his ‘saintly’ works to prosper, the facts having been lost.

        In the here and now, the existence or not of God is still unknowable, plenty of room for a culturally enforced consensus established long ago still to survive. In fact several of them in competition 🙂 Likewise, the climate is currently unknowable. We have nowhere near enough information yet. Hence, plenty of room for a cultural consensus to spring up here too. And one has indeed sprung up, one that appears to espouse the certainty of catastrophe, which is effectively misinformation.

  7. andywest2012 says:

    Hi Dan, part 2…

    So I skimmed through the Kentucky farmer post and the JAEE paper it references. While I can’t claim to have fully digested this, the paper does not appear to raise any difficult issues about ‘what is going on?’. It seems to confirm similar (cultural) effects as are described in the head post here. I don’t know what your farmer is called, so I’ll name him Ethan. Later I’ll introduce you to his cousin, Jacob, who also farms just down the road from Ethan’s place.

    Firstly, I really don’t think you’ve allowed the true context of the JAEE paper to come out in your post, so a great place to start is by doing that. Similarly to your surveys I linked to, we expect the 4 direct questions on belief in human caused or natural climate change in the first half of the paper, to invoke some cultural identity bias in the respondents. Later on, in the questions that are essentially about farming practice, we’d expect cultural identity issues to be less prominent; asking what a farmer’s crop diversification plans are should hardly invoke cultural allegiance.

    The most definitive question for belief / disbelief is the one actually using the phrase ‘human activities are causing change’ (it seems some folks agreeing with this nevertheless don’t think there’s scientific proof, so the proof question is more fuzzy). Hence I’ll focus on the corellations with the yes / no respondents for this ‘human caused’ question as the most typical / defined case.

    So, on to what farmers think climate change (natural or human caused) will do to their crops. Well of those who agree / strongly agree that climate change is not human caused, about 80% think yields will stay about same as a result of climate change, with the remainder split about equally between a prediction of decreased yields or increased yields. This means about 90% think crops yields will be about the same, or better. The overall distribution is identical for yield variability as a result of climate change; about 90% think variability will be about the same, or better (less variability = better).

    SO… whatever follow-on questions are asked about farming practice in the light of extreme weather due to climate change (which also does not appear to be specified as ‘man made’ climate change, therefore encompasses natural cycle causation too), ~90% of ‘disbelievers’ do not think there is any significant crop problem due to climate change that needs addressing with these practices in the first place. Hence whatever practices they do or don’t envisage in later responses, these cannot be substantive regarding the main purpose of their operation – continuing to produce crops at the same or better output.

    Interestingly, for ‘believers’ that climate change is human caused (per that same question), these same figures are 59 + 15 = 74% who think that yields will be the same or better. Yield variability figures don’t seem to be listed separately for ‘believers’, but would have to be about the same to match the averages in the results table 3. So of the folks who claimed to believe in human caused climate change (hence including all its attendant narrative about dangerous warming of the entire planet and increased extreme weather events and potential environmental catastrophes to which we must divert untold trillions, the same narrative relayed frequently by the president himself who urges immediate action in the strongest terms for this ultimate problem), folks whose entire business exists in the environmental domain exposed to climate change, 74% of them think that their crop farming output will be about the same or better in future years, despite all this apparent danger.

    THIS is the same effect we saw in the surveys linked in the head post here. When cultural identity issues were at stake, all these folks claimed they were ‘believers’. When the heat is off regarding cultural identity, a huge majority of these ‘believers’ show that they were in fact only in alliance with CAGW (perhaps as Democrat voters who must show party allegiance). They no more believe, truly, all the scary stories than the ‘disbelievers’. They bail out, not really expecting any problem with their farm yields at all. Only the remainder, just 26%, may truly believe, are likely full CAGW cultural adherents.

    Meanwhile the ‘disbelievers’ are far more consistent whether the cultural identity pressure is on or off. Only 10% of them bail from their assertion of disbelief in human caused climate change, to an expectation of worsened farm output (and even some of these may be bailing because of expectations of natural climate change problems, e.g. from decadal cycles, as the questions on yield don’t specify the type of climate change causation).

    So what we see here is again an effect of a cultural alliance. An alliance of most of the ‘believer’ respondents with CAGW culture. An alliance that folds when cultural identity is not at stake and real world issues take precedence. This is consistent with expectation, is the same as what is discussed in the head post here, does not raise any dilemma.

    Despite some text clearly phrased from the perspective of climate orthodoxy (e.g. on communicating ‘the problem’) the conclusions at the end of the paper do at least acknowledge the above, in an overall fashion. ‘Our data suggest that not only is there relatively little acceptance of the existence of climate change, but also little belief that climate change will have negative effects on crop yields‘. Although, the authors don’t emphasis that the lack of belief in negative yields is held by the big majority of climate change (so called) ‘believers’ too.

    The high score of ‘no opinion’ in all categories is also unusual and indicates rather a lack of interest; a mild surprise. Maybe climate change issues have reached the turn-off point in peoples’ minds after saturation coverage. The high skepticism from farmers is expected from an area that has dealt with natural cycles forever, and is shared with meteorologists who are also familiar with these cycles.

    Regarding the practices; crop diversification, irrigation, insurance, leasing arrangements or even leaving the business, the percentages for these wrt weather extremes from climate change are rather moot if pretty much no-one (even most of the ‘believers’) is expecting any loss of output. We are probably seeing the trajectory of modern farming, which must always improve buffering against climate cycles anyhow (whatever the causation) and faces more competition as food production continues to increasingly outstrip population growth and pressure margins, making once survivable weather events into a business risk. More balance and more risk elimination is required than before. Some businesses will fold in this competition; nothing to do with man-made climate change, almost all farms expect to maintain their crop output wrt climate so this reason is already eliminated, but they may not beat the market or their competitor at home or in another country, if those improve faster. If all this is the case, we’d expect to see similar responses from the two groups. Um… we do. You make a point of it 🙂 There is no cultural identity at stake here.

    You list three of these percentages at your CCP post on the Kentucky farmer (now christened Ethan):
    Likely that farmers will resort to crop diversification as a result of climate change:
    – Believers: 51% agree
    – Disbelievers: 47% agree

    Likely that farmers will be driven out of business by climate change:
    – Believers: 50% agree
    – Nonbelievers: 47% agree

    Likely that farmers will acquire greater crop insurance protection to deal with climate change:
    – Believers: 56% agree
    – Nonbelievers: 45%, agree

    And I guess this is the kind of thing you’re basing your assumption of compartmentalized thinking upon. So Ethan represents the slightly less than half of farmers who despite disbelief in human caused climate change, are doing stuff in their business, per above, apparently to accommodate its effects. Except according to the paper, Ethan is certainly not doing this!

    He and 90% of the ‘disbelievers’ do not think that their crops will be adversely impacted in the first place! And nor does it indicate anywhere in the paper that (as you say in your post above), this is ‘all based on his assessment that human-caused climate change will be affecting his life’. The type of climate change causation is not specified in the farming practice questions. Ethan is probably a natural cycles man, and he likely wants to improve his business. As for chasing Monsanto, farmers have been chasing drought resistant strains (and other advantages) for about 10,000 years, and rightly too because in addition to improving business robustness, archeological and paleo evidence in the Americas inform that Ethan or his inheritors could potentially face changes the like of which no-one has seen in the modern era, and clearly these were nothing to do with man’s effects.

    However, let’s play ball and frame him that way. Yet if we’re doing that, what about cousin Jacob? He represents the slightly less than half of farmers who despite *belief* in human caused climate change, are doing nothing in their business to accommodate its effects wrt the above mitigations, which things they think are not necessary. Nor do they think farmers are going to go bust. Say what? They believe in the ultimate threat to the environment, the engine of rapidly increasing extreme weather that some in climate orthodoxy claim is already upon us, and yet they’re fine with doing nothing to face the future?

    You state regarding Ethen:
    You can’t explain him by saying “he knows what climate scientists say but doesn’t believe it ….”
    I could equally state regarding Jacob:
    You can’t explain him by saying “he believes what climate scientists say but knows it doesn’t apply to him ….”

    By introducing Jacob to you, I hope to make it obvious that *both* the Ethan and Jacob paradigms are falsely framed. There are not TWO dilemmas here, one of which (Ethan) you are proposing to explain with the same ‘duality’ theory as the Pakistani Doctor. There are NO dilemmas. These are both false problems, they don’t exist. Neither Ethan or Jacob represent the data. I’ve explained above why that is the case for Ethan. In Jacob’s case, it’s because he *isn’t* really a believer either (or 74% of him isn’t, perhaps more if he’s an approx 50% of that group, of whom 74% don’t think their crop output will be affected anyhow, likely a 50% who are more confident about business health generally and entirely within the 74%, hence so unworried as not to take up those mitigations). He’s only allied to CAGW culture for political purposes. When it comes down to practical action on his farm, he does not exercise true belief in dangerous man-made Global Warming or the consequent behavior that would be appropriate to that belief.

    The cultural model for CAGW explains the survey results you see. It holds for all science aware, unaware, or inbetweenies. It explains continued mass public disengagement that so puzzles all the climate orthodox folks. It explains why this apparently urgent problem that in the US most Democrats say they are wholly behind, is always last or near last in the priority polls. It also works in countries not politically tribal about the climate issue (i.e. unlike the US). And it requires no exotic theories or challenging ‘Kentucky farmer’ templates; only ordinary cognitive bias and utterly ubiquitous cultural behaviors. This is what is going on, it’s normal!

    (minor correction: underline = replacement text for strike-out)

  8. Pingback: Appeals to fear gain little support for the Left on climate change. What next? | The Fabius Maximus website

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