A new paper in Nature Climate Change discusses from where the elite in the USA get their opinions about climate. Echo chambers are significant. The elite are described in the abstract as "the community of political elites engaged in the contentious issue of climate politics in the United States". The researchers used exponential random graph (ERG) modelling (don't ask me :D) and found that both "the homogeneity of information (the echo) and multi-path information transmission (the chamber) play significant roles in policy communication".
There's a press release at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) of the University of Maryland (where the lead author, Lorien Jasny, resides). It translates the social science speak into everyday language.
The Echo Chamber
Echo chambers are explained as social network structures in which individuals with the same viewpoint share information with each other. Like here at HotWhopper to some extent (though this site shows what's happening at denier blogs), and at denier blogs like WUWT (though it also shows some of what's happening in science). The press release has a simple diagram of how echo chambers work - click to enlarge it:
The authors said the survey was done at a time when important legislation was being considered:
Our survey period coincides with the most active and contentious period in the history of US climate policy, when legislation regulating carbon dioxide emissions had passed through the House of Representatives and was being considered in the Senate.The press release explains who was included in the survey and what they were asked about:
In summer 2010, researchers surveyed the most active members of the U.S. climate policy network, including members of Congress and leaders of non-governmental organizations and business and trade unions. Respondents were asked questions about their attitudes toward climate science and climate policy, as well as questions to establish their policy network connections. For example, respondents were asked to identify their sources of expert scientific information about climate change and with whom they collaborate on a regular basis regarding the issue of climate change.
If you want to know what an exponential random graph (ERG) model is, all I can tell you is that it is "a complex statistical model for analyzing data about social and other networks". I imagine your imagination is as good as mine :D.
Echo chambers explain why some people hang onto wrong "beliefs" about climate, and why those wrong beliefs gain traction. It's because there are "disproportionate connections among ideologically similar political communicators".
Information has become a partisan choice
More from the press release:
“Information has become a partisan choice, and those choices bias toward sources that reinforce beliefs rather than challenge them, regardless of the source’s legitimacy,” Fisher said.
Jasny and Fisher point out that the debate on climate change is not indicative of inconclusive science. Rather, the debate is illustrative of how echo chambers influence information flows in policy networks.
Although I didn't purchase the paper itself, I found the supplementary information a fascinating read. If you get the chance, read up on how the sample was selected, the type of information sought, and some of how it was analysed. The work looks to have been an offshoot from a larger study.
Most active participants in the US climate policy network
The researchers chose "the 100 most active participants in the US climate policy network" drawn from a database they already had. They went through the database and looked to see the recorded activity of each person, weighting some activities (such as appearances before Congress) more heavily.
It wasn't just a written survey either. The researchers interviewed each person. They got a 64% response rate, which is rather good, even though it means only 64 people. (It's quite a job to interview 64 people, believe me.) Bear in mind, too, that the research project was to explore how people of critical influence get their beliefs. It wasn't looking at influential people more generally - only those people having greatest influence in climate policy decisions in the USA. The researchers were interested in deep, rather than broad, analysis.
First reaction of Anthony Watts - Am I in it?
Anthony Watts copied and pasted the press release. His first thought was whether he featured or not. This is consistent with his view of himself as a "hero" to thousands. He wrote:
...no word on whether WUWT or Real Climate was part of the study, since it is paywalled, but apparently, blogs on both sides of the debate matter
Not only does Anthony think of himself as a hero to thousands, he seems to think his anti-science blog is the denier equivalent of realclimate.org - which leaves me, as it will you, quite speechless - almost :D
From the WUWT comments -o- A sigh of relief
Other than that comment and his headline, Anthony doesn't give his readers instructions as to how they should react. I'll let you imagine the comments (or read them yourself), except for a couple that IMO typify why deniers flock to anti-science blogs.
Ian Magness doesn't like being reminded that he's just another anti-science denier. He is insulted and feels demeaned. Good! He dismisses the research as "absurd intellectualising", in much the same manner as I expect he dismisses data relating to surface temperatures, ocean heat, melting ice, ocean acidification, rising seas, fiercer heat waves, more intense downpours, coral bleaching and all the rest.
May 26, 2015 at 7:48 am
This is just further absurd intellectualising – very much in Lew/Oreskes mode – about how and why people may not think exactly like they do. When are these numskulls going to wake up to the fact the reason we don’t share their views is NOT that we are idiots brainwashed by websites by sites like WUWT and follow their memes like sheep, but that we just look at what real (not modelled) evidence there is and make up our own minds.
It’s so insulting to our intelligence to be demeaned in this way. Fortunately, they might be fooling themselves but they are not fooling anybody else with this nonsense.
This is the comment that I thought was the most telling. It's from a hard-core denier wickedwenchfan. Makes one wonder if wickedwenchfan will turn out to be an excellent Poe.
May 26, 2015 at 7:50 am (extract - all except a quote)
They just don’t get it, do they? We come to these forums AFTER we have had the message and the so called science shoved down our throats. We come here despite being vilified by mainstream media because after doing our own research the evidence doesn’t add up. Most of us were quite open or even receptive to the CAGW propaganda at first. We don’t come here for group think, we come here to find out if we’re the only ones with serious doubts or objections that we can’t get answers to from the other side and simply sigh in relief when we discover how many other people have been thinking the same!
Like it? We "simply sigh in relief" when we discover there are a few other people in the world willing to dismiss the past two hundred years of climate science, along with a large proportion of physics, chemistry, biology, geology, oceanography ....
Reference and further reading
Lorien Jasny, Joseph Waggle & Dana R. Fisher. "An empirical examination of echo chambers in US climate policy networks", Nature Climate Change (2015) doi:10.1038/nclimate2666 (subs req'd)
Climate Change Debate Fueled by ‘Echo Chambers,’ New Study Finds - press release at the University of Maryland
Selected from HotWhopper
- Protect the children...or trapped in the denialist echo chamber
- Downside of the Conservative Brain
- An economist should know better, maybe ...but what about Anthony Watts? (I've included this last article to demonstrate that there are few things deniers agree upon. One thing stands out - all of climate science is "wrong". For what could be "right", WUWT offers a sumptuous smorgasbord. There's something for every flavour of conspiracy theorist, science denier and fake sceptic.)