4b. Pause memes in particular: informational or emotional
One would like to think that this is because they better reflect reality, that their success indicates some resurgence of the scientific method; some ‘waking up’ from emotional influence and a return to greater objectivity plus reliance upon observations. Memes don’t spread exclusively because of emotion; for instance where the scientific method and associated results reporting are not subverted, they can even spread because they usefully reflect reality. Or at least more usefully than before. In this case the memes would not be arbitrary.
Yet hang on, we need to step back a bit. I don’t really trust what I would like to think. Social effects are best looked at with the ‘robot from Mars view’, i.e. with as much objectivity as we can muster…
So, given the many uncertainties in climate science, to start with at least we shouldn’t assume that there is any more reality within pause memes than in any of the others flying around. For instance, if there never was a strong AGW effect in the first place (much lower than natural variability, say) then to declare that GST observations are explained by AGW ‘pausing’, would not be a reflection of reality. Likewise, and notwithstanding the shifting emphasis of what apparently demonstrates warming, if AGW is continuing unabated as Lewandowsky and other Consensus folks assert, then again pause memes would not reflect reality. In both these hypothetical cases and maybe others, the success of pause memes would be just as independent of veracity as is the case for emotive CAGW memes. So with an eye on the fact that no-one can actually ascertain the truth right now, we should ask: why else might they spread? And one potential reason is emotive, very strong, and so may indeed trump whatever reflection of reality that pause memes happen to contain.
Whether or not ‘warming continues unabated’, the once primary icon of the Consensus, a ‘constantly rising GST’ has been contradicted. This creates something of a crisis for dedicated CAGW adherents, because via the penetration of potent memes into the psyche their position is largely underpinned by emotion, whatever reasoning is layered above. And even while new icons are being sought or promoted from a lesser status, adherents will attempt to minimize a negative emotional reaction to this serious demotion of the once revered ‘rising GST’ icon. A superb strategy for doing so (though typically enacted subconsciously) is to adopt the notion of ‘a pause’. While this does accommodate recent GST observations, it does not acknowledge any fundamental flaw in the core narrative (‘a pause’ concedes only some inconsequential minor delay), and also avoids the unthinkable consequence of being cast out of the community for heresy, risking only some criticism by the extreme enforcer fringe as represented by Lewandowsky and Oreskes in L2015. So despite what I’d like to think, this scenario seems much more plausible.
Hence the success of pause memes within the Consensus probably does owe more to emotive issues than to a voluntary return of more objective climate science, e.g. based on acknowledging the model / GST gap. They are being assimilated primarily as defensive memes, to avoid bad feelings and ostracism, and also to protect the core CAGW narrative from much worse damage. While their spread is certainly not unrelated to informational content, it is these powerful, emotive motivators that underwrite success against other candidates, such as the much more frank ‘we don’t know’ memes (unthinkable after the prior story of high certainty), or ‘model fail’ memes (also bad feelings plus highly damaging) or ‘AGW continues unabated’ memes (very risky, yet next best candidate) or ‘AGW has stopped / is not significant’ memes (worse than unthinkable, memeplex death), or others. This effect can also cold start; the resisted divergence of data and expectation for some years prior, effectively primed the community. So in a very real sense ‘pause’ memes are indeed arbitrary, just not in the way that Lewandowsky thinks they are.
Further cultural resistance appears to be the main reaction of CAGW adherents to the brute force of a sluggish GST. Adherents are not bailing out of orthodoxy or acknowledging any serious flaws within the Consensus narrative; for instance that the science has not yet got a good grip on the wicked problem of understanding Earth’s climate system. CAGW cultural orthodoxy is adapting to the new circumstances, via selection assimilating the concept of ‘a pause’, which preserves core narrative with minimal change. The concept is highly selective because in terms of risk and emotive comfort, it’s the least worst option. Orthodox adherents can message that the science still holds; ‘the pause’ must perforce return to warming.
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