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.
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