There's an article at WUWT (archived here, latest here) about a new paper in Nature Climate Change. The paper is another one of those that looks at the differences between people who accept climate science and those who reject it. It's about the social dynamics of denial. (I was really interested in the paper and got a bit carried away. That means that this article is another one that's too long.)
WUWT gets it wrong, as usual
The way Eric Worrall at WUWT describes it suggests his comprehension skills are flawed at best. He wrote under a headline and sub-head and sandwiched around some quotes from the Toronto Star and the paper's abstract. The WUWT article states:
Shock study results: Calling climate skeptics ‘deniers’ just pisses them off
Academics discover civlity – (sic)
A study into why skeptics are not persuaded by the apocalyptic predictions of broken climate models has concluded that the solution is better communication....
This isn’t the first time researchers have blamed “communication” for climate skepticism.
Given that the abstract bases its rather imprecisely defined assumption of climate consensus on the heavily discredited Cook study I suspect there may be problems other than communication which need to be addressed, before a common understanding can be achieved.
The headline is evident. The rest is spin. It's not true. It's not just the part about the 97% that Eric got wrong. (At least 97% of science papers that attribute a cause to global warming, show it's human activity.) Given the last paragraph of the abstract, which also appeared at WUWT, the above demonstrates once again that deniers suffer from a cognitive deficit. Here's the part I'm referring to (my emphasis):
The key implication is that the divisions between sceptics and believers are unlikely to be overcome solely through communication and education strategies, and that interventions that increase angry opposition to action on climate change are especially problematic. Thus, strategies for building support for mitigation policies should go beyond attempts to improve the public’s understanding of science, to include approaches that transform intergroup relations.
It's almost the opposite of what Eric claims. The paper doesn't suggest that communication is the problem. It goes further and suggests that communication and education won't overcome the divide.
About those conflicting socio-political identities
But I'm putting the cart before the horse. You can read the complete abstract of Bliuc15 on Nature Climate Change. Or the full paper if you can get access to it. You can also read about it at the Washington Post, and there's a press release on Science Daily.
Before I begin, it's worth pointing out that the research, while done by Australian researchers, was based on a study of people living in the USA. The authors point out that the USA is different from many other countries when it comes to the politicisation of climate denial.
A self-defining inter-group conflict
What is different about this paper is probably the way it describes science deniers ("skeptics") vs normal people (who Bliuc15 refers to as "believers"). What they hypothesise is that "believers" and "skeptics" can be seen as "conflicting opinion-based groups". The paper goes on to argue that:
...people come to see climate change beliefs and scepticism not just as an opinion on an issue, but as an aspect of self that defines who they are, what they stand for, and who they stand with (and against). In doing so, opinion-based identities provide a basis for collective action as a coordinated, collective attempt to bring about, or thwart social change.
I don't think that notion will be foreign to most people. Anyone who reads climate blogs will be nodding their heads in recognition. The authors say that what is novel is regarding this as an inter-group conflict, They may well be correct. You know that and I know that, but it may be the first time it's been described in the literature in those terms. I'm not across all the literature that examines the psychology of science denial vs rationally looking at science :D.
Predictors of collective action
The paper refers to contemporary models of collective action integrating psychological and social perspectives. That is, subjective and structural perspectives. It describes predictors of collective action as follows:
- social identification with or commitment to a relevant group (most important)
- a sense of grievance or perceived injustice expressed as anger at opponents
- beliefs that a group can achieve its goals (group efficacy).
It goes on to say there is a distinct group consciousness that can be represented by a cluster of variables. And that if all these can be represented by a factor, it provides a predictor of collective action. Or something like that.
Characterising deniers and "believers"
To test their ideas, the authors conducted a survey of "believers" and deniers in the USA. (All respondents fell into one or other grouping.) I won't go into all the findings. However there were a few things to which people will probably relate.
"Believers" were more likely commit to "environmental behaviours" (I think that means responsible environmental behaviours) than deniers. And they had more fear and guilt, and less hope, about the future of the planet. Deniers were more likely to have higher levels of national identification, but identified less with humanity than "believers". The "moral values" of deniers were more aligned with those of conservatives - whatever those may be.
Another interesting finding was that political stance was a predictor of the "believer" group but not of the "skeptic" group. I think that is born out in surveys like the NYTimes one I refer to further down. That is, if one picks a Republican, there's roughly a 50% chance they'll accept climate science. If one picks a Democrat, the chances are much higher that they will accept scientific knowledge - or the science of climate at any rate.
They also suggest that "believers" are more likely to focus on solutions to global warming, whereas deniers tend to focus on, well, on denial. Or in the words of the authors, on "the definition of the problem (the debate)".
Suggested "guidance" from the authors
The authors say that their findings suggest some guidance for "advocates of action on climate change". (There are no suggestions for advocates of inaction on climate change.) They suggest that because deniers are angry at people who accept science (my words, not the authors), it doesn't help to antagonise them. It only makes them more committed in their denial. They suggest a more rewarding approach would be to undermine group efficacy by demonstrating that denier actions are unlikely to prevent action to mitigate global warming.
A clash of cultures
Chris Mooney wrote about the paper as well as a news and views article on the paper, at Washington Post. He describes it as a clash of cultures.
I wonder what sort of culture it takes to reject scientific findings so persistently over time. And so vehemently, despite all the evidence that has been accumulated over decades. Chris talks about the "them" and "us" which is as clear as anything to people who've read different climate blogs. I don't think it's anywhere near as clear in real life though. Or not in my experience. In real life I meet deniers and we agree on many things, just not climate science. So the "them" and "us" is specific to climate - or that's how it seems to me. Though I have to acknowledge that it's more likely for people I know to be deniers if they are ideologically conservative.
Yet by no means do the majority of people who have conservative leanings reject climate science. Or not in most of the world. See this recent NYTimes poll for evidence that conservatives as a whole don't necessarily reject climate science (or action to mitigate global warming). 54% of Republican respondents think global warming will be somewhat serious or very serious for the USA if nothing is done to reduce it. (In contrast, 99% of Democrat respondents indicated it would be somewhat or very serious.)
About that anger and commitment to action
I don't think too many people would disagree with the characterisations relating to anger and commitment to action. Both are evident not only on the internet (for both "groups"), but in community action (from climate hawks, not so much from deniers). For example the People for Climate demonstrations that were held around the world recently. Deniers are less committed to public street displays and less organised, as demonstrated by the pathetic buses to Canberra to protest the carbon pricing scheme. I've not seen any denier demonstrations of "People for Global Warming" or "People against Climate".
As regards anger, maybe it's my confirmation bias or maybe it's that climate hawks don't let their anger show as much. I see a lot more anger on denier blogs than on climate blogs. (I don't often feel anger these days. I can't say I felt that emotion a great deal in relation to climate or the denial of climate science. Nevertheless, as is obvious by this blog, I do feel strongly about the importance of taking action to mitigate global warming. And about getting a better understanding of the science. And about figuring out what's the best thing to do to mitigate global warming.)
The wrong tactic, the wrong target
Chris Mooney's article also refers to a "News and Views" paper by Tom Postmes. This is the part that gets me. Chris wrote:
He particularly targets those on the side of the scientific consensus, noting that the “improvement of relations between groups partly depends on believers being willing and able to engage with climate sceptics and to jointly move towards pro-environmental action.”I know that the good guys have to be the ones beyond reproach. It seems it's always the way. I can see the benefits in reaching out to normal people, who might not understand that they are rejecting science. I've yet to see any evidence that "reaching out" to disinformers and hard-core deniers has any benefit. On the contrary. I see a lot of damage can be done. Bending over backwards sometimes does nothing for the bender other than causing a back injury. It only benefits the person with whom you've bent over backwards to engage.
Think about Nic Lewis' dinner party which resulted in Anthony Watts posting an article that likened climate science to Hitler's "big lie". And followed this up with another one just as bad a couple of days later. Think what happened when co-diners Richard Betts and Tamsin Edwards "bent over backwards" to try to engage with deniers. They got nothing but abuse and flack from WUWT. Some people might be able to persuade themselves that good comes out of "bridging the gap" or supping with deniers. I don't see it.
Look at Judith Curry. She faked a "bridging of gaps" and instead shifted from being a scientist to being someone who writes to disinform her readers and the US Government, and argues that nothing be done to mitigate global warming until it's all less "uncertain". (Her inconsistent application of the precautionary principle.)
Playing into the hands of climate disinformers
For it to be the climate hawks reaching out is what climate disinformers want. The disinformers don't want to reach out themselves. What they want is for people to cross over the line of facts into the world of denial. Disinformers want to be "reached out" to. The reason? To shift the Overton Window. To get the mainstream media to write pieces that play down the problems caused by global warming.
Disinformers would love it for climate scientists and climate communicators to give an inch or a mile. That would allow disinformers to shift even further away from the science, without (they think) looking like the extremist anti-environmentalists that they are.
So in my view, when people talk about "engaging with climate skeptics" they are misguided at best. That's assuming that by "climate skeptics" they are referring to the people who, for ideological reasons or because it's their job, spread disinformation about climate science.
I've chosen ridicule plus science to combat disinformation. Others go for straight science. Others, where they can, go for finding common values. The last probably has the biggest payoff of all. It only works with normal people though. Not with hard-core deniers.
Finally, the thing that you may have noticed is how Anthony Watts chose an inflammatory headline. Not that it will inflame climate hawks. No. What it will do is get deniers all worked up. They love the "poor little us being called nasty names by normal people" meme. Anthony Watts trades on the culture clash. Deniers are happy to accuse scientists of massive fraud and fakery, but they object when it's pointed out that they are deniers. That they reject climate science.
Committed deniers aren't the least bit interested in coming to any agreement with how best to mitigate climate change. Their actions show that they are still trying hard to shove the Overton Window into denial, despite the fact that global warming is becoming more and more evident as each decade passes. Science deniers won't or can't accept this:
|Data source: NASA GISS|
From the WUWT comments
People who habitually choose to get their "science" from blogs like WUWT are beyond hope of having any type of rational exchange of views with normal people. I'm not talking about the stray who stumbles upon WUWT by accident. I'm talking about the WUWT fans. Most people who comment at WUWT have decided they don't want to participate in public discussion about how to best address environmental issues, let alone climate mitigation. They see environmental concern as a communist plot (or a Nazi plot, depending on the day of the week).
And in that paragraph you can see fairly strong evidence of my affiliation with the climate hawk group, and demonisation of climate science deniers. That's just the way it is. Group efficacy in action.
The WUWT comments range from extreme denial based on delusion and conspiracy ideation, to the normal protest at anything published in a science journal. It's interesting to also consider the WUWT comments in the light of the paper. What it illustrates is that deniers will rebel against any attempts to be "reached out" to. What they intuitively realise is that deniers cannot maintain group cohesion if they let normal people engage with them.
Jack is one of the motivated deluded:
February 2, 2015 at 11:15 pm
They are masters of delusion.They are trying to convince themselves the 97% figure is correct when we know that it is less than1% in the true figures.
They are also good at beating up scares that the media love to sell papers. Except for politicians who want the carbon tax/ trading rights and the media, the majority of people have worked out it is a scam.
We have a retired politician here that said recently, it might take a while but eventually the people will work you out. That is what they have done with CAGW.
Which is a shame because and awful lot of good science has been done on climate but it will take decades to sift out the politics.
Gary in Erko gets it about right :)
February 2, 2015 at 11:16 pm
“Here we demonstrate that US believers and sceptics have distinct social identities, beliefs and emotional reactions that systematically predict their support for action to advance their respective positions.”
We’re not capable of independent rational analysis of trumped up statistics of inconsistent quality data. We need to be spoken to as creatures bound by the predictable limits of our “social identity”.
Stereotypes – that’s what we are. …… Uuummmm – they can speak for themselves.
Louis provides a neat illustration of what the paper found. He'd rather be called a denier than accept science:
February 2, 2015 at 11:20 pm (excerpt from a longer comment)Peter Jones doesn't like being labeled by the term that fake sceptics co-opted to describe themselves. It comes across as an attempt to disparage the paper so he can show group solidarity with his fellow deniers:
A new study from the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology is careful to use the term “skeptic” instead of harsher names, but it will still piss you off. I don’t know about you, but I would rather they call me vile names than have them throw such shoddy science in my face. This study makes the ridiculous claims that climate model simulations actually agree with observations and that “Climatologists have been fairly correct with their predictions.”
February 2, 2015 at 11:24 pm
Sorry, when you define ‘sceptics’ as those whose views are in disagreement with those of the scientific community, it is just another insult to the large number of scientists that are skeptical of various aspects of climate change “theory” one degree or another. Maybe not as insideous of a comment as calling one a “denier,” but certainly calling a scientist, basically, a non-scientist is only slightly more civil.
It's interesting the number of deniers who object to being referred to as "sceptics". It's only used because it was chosen by fake sceptics. Here's another one - Ian W wrote:
February 3, 2015 at 1:29 amIt's as though if deniers can't find something to be offended by, then they'll manufacture it in order to prevent being "reached out" to.
If you want to persuade someone do:
* Not insult their intelligence by parroting debunked papers
* Not insult them personally by calling them names – always a sign that you have an extremely weak case
* Show real evidence for what you are claiming
These are three very simple steps but the Gruber academics who author this paper proceed to break those three rules. Disappointingly, but unsurprisingly, Nature publishes these papers insulting the intelligence of many of their reducing readership
aussie pete has been made angry by the paper, which probably helps fuel his denial and sense of belonging with the denier group. He has no intention of reaching out to "believers" or accepting any attempt to reach out to him.
February 3, 2015 at 1:54 am
This made me very angry. I am one of the non scientific dumb arse public. “You know”,the kind of person called upon to sit on juries and make up our minds about the veracity of opposing arguments. Ana-Maria Bliuc et al are patronising in the extreme to both, the likes of myself and many learned skeptical scientists.
The use of that stupid 97% reveals their closed minds. i suspect, btw that skepticism among scientists is actually higher than among the dumb arse public.(which i understand exceeds 50%). I for one am not swayed by pseudo expressions of reconciliation.
George Lawson is a conspiracy theorist. This study didn't test for conspiracy ideation. I can't see any value (group efficacy) in trying to engage with people having such weird views.
February 3, 2015 at 2:15 am
“This isn’t the first time researchers have blamed “communication” for climate scepticism”
It isn’t communication that is the problem, it is the communication of the truth that is the problem with all AGW scientists. The moment they and the media give a platform to an alternative viewpoint then their so called communication problems will be resolved, which of course they know will be against their own twisted and self serving view point.
gregory demonstrates what values and ideology motivate his denial. (I'd like to see a similar survey testing to see if there is a correlation between money worship and climate science denial.)
February 3, 2015 at 2:54 am
Ah, the progressive way. Let’s focus on messaging not on actual truth And then we can get our way to empose crushing taxes and end capitalism. Fascism with a smile.
Ana-Maria Bliuc, Craig McGarty, Emma F. Thomas, Girish Lala, Mariette Berndsen, RoseAnne Misajon. "Public division about climate change rooted in conflicting socio-political identities." Nature Climate Change, 2015; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2507
Tom Postmes. "Psychology: Climate change and group dynamics" Nature Climate Change, 2015; doi:10.1038/nclimate2537