Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Climate science denier (knee) jerks

MobyT | 6:58 AM Feel free to comment!

Stephan Lewandowsky does research in one of the more fascinating areas of science - human cognition.  In this article on independentaustralia.net, he writes about two different modes of reasoning: rapid reasoning and deliberative reasoning.

Rapid reasoning "relies on relatively shallow analysis of stimuli, which allows us to respond in situations in which time is at a premium".

Deliberative reasoning "requires slow deliberation but is guided by more complex rules".

Lewandowsky writes that: "Arguably, the former may be triggered by emotive stimuli, because emotion may serve as a “stopping rule” for reasoning — in a nutshell, the more emotion, the less deliberation."

Now that's not to say that emotion can't play a useful role in reasoning.  What Lewandowsky was writing about was the tricks some people play to confuse.  For example by triggering an emotion using some word or phrase quite unrelated to the subject at hand in proximity to the topic.  (Many deniers will say they don't accept climate science because of taxation!)

An example of 'rapid reasoning'

I'll stick my neck out here and say that when it comes to some topics, like climate science, there are people whose emotional triggers are so sensitive that they don't get to exercise their 'deliberate reasoning' capability. Here's an example of an emotive reaction - Hanrahan confuses a critique of a book with the 'assassination' of a character. 

Source: HotCopper.com S&M forum

(Tin - or tinnitus, is one of the mildest-mannered most polite contributors to the S&M forum.  He rarely lets the trolls rattle him.  To deniers he's a bad guy because of his science background - and to make things worse, he has an economics degree as well.)

Rapid reasoning vs no reasoning

Using 'rapid reasoning' seems to me to be different to having limited reasoning.  For example, Moondoong in a recent comment here uses the argument that human species survived the last glacial maximum therefore humans will survive global warming.  That's not an uncommon argument from science deniers.  Moondoong goes further than most and talks blithely about humans surviving constant 47C without plants and animals and almost no rain, as if all humankind could still be fed, clothed and housed!

Moondoong is probably right that the human species would survive - albeit in small refuges on the planet - even if the average global surface temperature goes above 4 degrees of warming.  Humans as a species are very adaptable.  But although our species may survive as it survived climate change in the past, most of the world's population probably wouldn't just as it didn't in the past.  (That becomes a 'definitely wouldn't' if we let the earth warm six degrees or more.) 

The argument of 'we'll adapt' is neither rapid reasoning nor deliberate reasoning.  Maybe it's self-deception - trying to rationalise the irrational.

Deliberative reasoning

The average science denier who comments on websites generally leaves their deliberative reasoning behind.  Some professional deniers use it to great effect.  Anthony Watts uses deliberative reasoning, though often too transparently, to tweak his readers' emotional response and get a knee jerk reaction to his latest 'bombshell'.  Many of his readers are so well trained their emotional response acts as a block preventing deliberative reasoning whenever Watts mentions leading climate scientists by name. 

Believe it or not, I didn't even have to search the site.  The latest WUWT article is in response to a post by Greg Laden who listed the top climate stories of 2012.  (Eli Rabett has a poll going on this.) 

The WUWT article is a guest post by Joe Bast of the Heartland Institute in which he tries to justify his equating serial killers with acceptance of climate science, among other things. The article is headed with an image of Peter Gleick's name and uses Gleick's name in the title. (Peter Gleick exposed some of the shenanigans of the Heartland Institute.)  To make sure he gets the 'right' response, Anthony adds a postscript, interpreting Greg Laden's 'about' page as illustrative of a "strange and hateful mind". (If you read Greg's page you'll see Anthony's comment is more an indictment on WUWT readership than on Greg Laden. Greg doesn't pull his punches and his dry humour is lost on climate science deniers.) 

Back to knee jerks.  Here is the second comment to Bast's article - classic WUWT.  Exactly the sort of emotional response Anthony and Joe were hoping for:

The article, the title, the image at the top and Anthony's post script are an example of deliberative reasoning aimed at evoking an emotional response.  In this instance my guess is that it would only work with true denialists.

Further reading

If you want to read more on the subject of emotion and its role in reason, this paper by Muramatsu and Hanoch to which Stephan Lewandowsky linked looks interesting. Neat title: Emotions as a mechanism for boundedly rational agents: The fast and frugal way.

PS Happy 2013 - the millennium has hit its tumultuous teens!

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