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Amusing snobbery on climate scepticism

  • June 5th, 2012

I've posted before on the fond belief of those who share most consensus faiths, that their opponents are thick. I hear frequently from those who hate Garth McVicar and the success of his Sensible Sentencing Trust, that he and his supporters are too thick to understand the 'research' and the 'evidence'.

I discovered the opposite when I asked the Parliamentary library to find me the research support for  the beliefs that have underpinned our 30 year experiment with criminal centred, therapeutic justice.  It does not exist. The views of the traditiionalists, and the 'hardliners' are much better supported by empirical research.

So I love the four day old story from Nature, Climate Change reporting on research funded by the US National Science Foundation. The Register, an IT publication summarises it vividly.  The more maths and science you know, the less worried you are about global warming.

This came as a shock to those who organized the study. So they now want to organise new "science communication" to "dispel this tragedy of the risk-perception commons. A communication strategy that focuses only on transmission of sound scientific information, our results suggest, is unlikely to do that".

The researchers were plainly confident they would find that if people were better educated they would come to understand the validity of climate change fears. Presumably they wanted a case for more science education to support climate change alarm. It backfired.

As The Register puts it:

Participants' science knowledge and numeracy was tested and compared with levels of concern regarding climate change. The soft-studies profs were amazed, however, to find that as one moves up the scale of science knowledge and numeracy, people become more sceptical, not less.

According to the profs, this is not because the idea of imminent carbon-driven catastrophe is perhaps a bit scientifically suspect. Rather it is because people classed as "egalitarian communitarians" (roughly speaking, left-wingers) are always highly concerned about climate change, and become slightly more so as they acquire more science and numeracy. Unfortunately, however, "hierarchical individualists" (basically, right-wingers) are quite concerned about climate change when they're ignorant: but if they have any scientific, mathematic or technical education this causes them to become strongly sceptical.

As scientific/tech knowledge and numeracy appears to be more common among "hierarchical individualists" than among "egalitarian communitarians", this meant that in the sample as a whole the effect of more scientific knowledge and numeracy was to increase scepticism. Given that the profs had assumed from the start that scepticism is wrong, this forced them to the conclusion that simply teaching people more science and giving them more facts and numbers is not a good idea as it will lead them into bad (sceptical) decisions.

They write: "This form of reasoning can have a highly negative impact on collective decision making … it is very harmful to collective welfare for individuals in aggregate to form beliefs this way. One aim of science communication, we submit, should be to dispel this tragedy … A communication strategy that focuses only on transmission of sound scientific information, our results suggest, is unlikely to do that. As worthwhile as it would be, simply improving the clarity of scientific information will not dispel public conflict …"

So they now want the  US government to fund a communication strategy on climate change –  focused not on sound scientific information, but on "culturally diverse communicators … with resonances congenial to diverse groups".  I should let them speak for themselves. You can read it at the links above, but some stuff is too rich to leave there:

"It does not follow, however, that nothing can be done … Effective strategies include use of culturally diverse communicators, whose affinity with different communities enhances their credibility, and information-framing techniques that invest policy solutions with resonances congenial to diverse groups. Perfecting such techniques through a new science of science communication is a public good of singular importance."

PS The amusing (or sinister ) response to unexpected findings is the point of this message. I'm agnostic on most of the underlying argument. Significant human induced climate change is probably happening. Whether it is good or bad for the world, for most humans, or even for us in New Zealand is much less clear, and I suspect that many of the policy responses are misguided, or hijacked by people with other agendas.



It's hard to tell from that last paragraph whether the writer has far too much education, or not enough. Mind you, I can identify them: it's the person who writes job descriptions for government situations vacant.


They could start shooting people who disagreed with them. That worked for “egalitarian communitarians” like Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, at least for a while.

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