Anthony Watts gives another illustration of his limited vocabulary and poor grasp of English (archived here). Anthony put up a rather nice photo of a researcher at Michigan State University and described him as looking "angry". He doesn't. He's even showing a hint of a smile.
Many times when Anthony disagrees with someone, he describes them in terms of being "angry" or "full of hate" or "mendacious" or a variation. Those are three of his favourite ways of describing people with whom he disagrees. He couldn't label this scientist using what is pretty well the only other descriptor in his arsenal, an "anonymous coward" or a "hateful anonymous coward", because his name was on the research paper and in the press release. And anyway, he showed his photo, which tends to dispel any notion of anonymity.
Anthony seems unable to write: "I disagree with X because Y". Many times it's because Anthony can't figure out what "X" is. All he knows is that it's something that he disagrees with. Maybe because a scientist wrote it. Or maybe because the person who said "X" votes Democrat. Or maybe because they wear yellow socks, or a polka dot tie, or a skirt and high heeled shoes. Whatever. If by some chance Anthony does work out what is being said (the "X"), then he's unable to articulate the "Y" - why he disagrees. In this case it's really hard to figure out what Anthony Watts disagrees with or finds contentious. The research results should not surprise anyone.
This particular researcher, Michigan State University sociologist Aaron M. McCright, has had a paper published about American perceptions of weather and human-caused global warming. Interestingly it was published in Nature Climate Change, rather than a sociology journal.
Are fake sceptics "cynics"?
Anthony picked out one word used once in the press release title and once at the very bottom of the press release: "cynics". Now you'd have thought he'd be quite happy with that word. It's a bit like the word "skeptics", which is how many fake sceptics like to describe themselves. One could argue that either or both definitions here would fit many fake sceptics and disinformers. You'd even expect most science deniers to agree with me on that, if their knee-jerk reaction were not to disagree with me on principle. But not Anthony Watts, who took exception to the word "cynic" and wrote:
Michigan State professor labels skeptics as “global warming cynics” due to not getting on board with the extreme weather link
From Michigan State University, and the Department of Junior Lewandowskys, where this angry looking guy obviously thinks global warming manifests itself in every weather event, we have the same old ad hominem argument, except published.
You'd have to have an extreme case of confirmation bias to think that Aaron McCright looked "angry" in the photograph. You'd also have to be ignorant about logical fallacies to think that either the press release or the paper was an ad hominem argument. And those mysterious and eminently wrong lines Anthony wrote are "it". That's all Anthony says on the subject. We're left to guess what it is about the research that Anthony objects to. If we can. I can't.
As is normal, Anthony didn't publish a link to the paper or to the press release he copied and pasted. But neither were too difficult to find. Which leads in to another observation.
The Serengeti Strategy at WUWT
The paper was written by three people. But Anthony Watts gave the impression there was only one author, posting his photograph which has a hint of a smile and labeling it "angry". This is the Serengeti Strategy in action and is commonly used by Anthony Watts and deniers in general.
It's not that Oklahoma State University's Regents Professor of Sociology and Laurence L. and Georgia Ina Dresser Professor, Riley E. Dunlap, or American University's Associate Professor (Sociology) Chenhyang Xiao are not worth mentioning. Indeed, Anthony does list their names at the bottom of his article. It's probably partly that it would be even more ludicrous to put up a smiling face or two and try to claim they looked "angry". The main problem though is that had Anthony included their names up top with that of the lead author, he'd have had to expand his attack to three people. Getting his readers to attack one academic is easy. Asking them to attack all three or, worse, to dilute the attack by providing two more targets, makes things so much harder and is much less effective from a science disinformer's point of view. That's not how the Serengeti Strategy works.
Some scientists (wrongly) think most people will accept facts if they are explained to them
There are some scientists who believe that, provided the science is explained to people, they will understand and accept it. Science communicators and others who work in communication (and politics and behavioural science) know this is nonsense. Many human brains don't work like that.
There is much more to the human brain than simply processing facts and drawing conclusions. There are "beliefs" for example. A "belief" can be quite different from a fact or set of facts. A "belief" is like an end result in the mind. It can just arrive fully formed (without supporting evidence or information) or it can evolve over time. Religious "beliefs" are probably the most-cited examples. When I was taught religion it was made plain right from the earliest times I can recall, that there was this thing called "faith". "Faith" is something one is expected to accept without question and without evidence, if one belongs to a religion. It's something to be proud of if one has "faith". It's considered a gift. It makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside to be able to say proudly "I believe without question". It's like a feeling of belonging. It binds one to other people. A sense of belonging is really, really important for social animals like humans.
The same sort of thing operates in a lot of spheres besides religion though. Think about it. Almost everyone has beliefs they have never questioned. Not everything we assume about ourselves or the world around us is based on something we've carefully researched and come to a reasoned conclusion about. There's just not enough time in any one life to research everything we think we know. Nor do we have to.
A snarling dog analogy
If we're to operate and function every day we cannot question every little belief we hold, every single assumption we make. Imagine walking along the road and having a snarling dog jump out at you. Say your first reaction is based on an assumption that snarling dogs are prone to attacking people they jump out at.
Would you take the time to pull out your smartphone, Google "proportion of snarling dogs that will attack humans without provocation", scroll through all the entries, weigh up the likelihood of any one entry being relevant to your immediate circumstance, deciding whether any were indeed relevant, then doing more research to see which, if any, were supported by hard evidence and likely to be correct, then work out the odds of this particular dog attacking you? (Did you get all that? It's a long sentence, isn't it!) When you scrolled down the list in Google, you probably came upon a website describing dog breeds that tend to be more aggressive. That might slow you down even more as you tried to figure out what breeds this particular mongrel had more of, and whether that changed the odds one way or another.
Surely just by standing still, or running away, or looking for the nearest hose on a tap to squirt the dog with - you'd find the answer to whether your initial assumption or belief about snarling dogs was correct in this particular case. Which would be all that mattered in that instance.
Some issues need reasoned fact-based consideration, not unquestioned "beliefs"
There are, however, other matters that do require serious consideration. These are matters on which making the wrong decision (or no decision) can have very adverse consequences. Maybe at an individual or personal level (like choosing a life partner or having a child), or at a societal level (like whether society should collectively support its own when they are ill or have an accident, whether education should be made available to every child or only the children of people who can afford it).
One such matter is the human influence on climate. (Ah, you say. I wondered if she'd get to the point eventually.) Well, yes. That is the point of this new paper in Nature Climate Change.
ScienceDaily.com has posted the press release so I'll let them tell it (my emphasis):
What will it take to convince skeptics of global warming that the phenomenon is real? Surely, many scientists believe, enough droughts, floods and heat waves will begin to change minds.
But a new study led by a Michigan State University scholar throws cold water on that theory.
Only 35 percent of U.S. citizens believe global warming was the main cause of the abnormally high temperatures during the winter of 2012, Aaron M. McCright and colleagues report in a paper published online today in the journal Nature Climate Change.
"Many people already had their minds made up about global warming and this extreme weather was not going to change that," said McCright, associate professor in MSU's Lyman Briggs College and Department of Sociology.
Winter 2012 was the fourth warmest winter in the United States dating back to at least 1895, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Some 80 percent of U.S. citizens reported winter temperatures in their local area were warmer than usual.
The researchers analyzed March 2012 Gallup Poll data of more than 1,000 people and examined how individuals' responses related to actual temperatures in their home states. Perceptions of warmer winter temperatures seemed to track with observed temperatures.
"Those results are promising because we do hope that people accurately perceive the reality that's around them so they can adapt accordingly to the weather," McCright said.
But when it came to attributing the abnormally warm weather to global warming, respondents largely held fast to their existing beliefs and were not influenced by actual temperatures.
As this study and McCright's past research shows, political party identification plays a significant role in determining global warming beliefs. People who identify as Republican tend to doubt the existence of global warming, while Democrats generally believe in it.
The abnormally warm winter was just one in an ongoing series of severe weather events -- including the 2010 Russian heat wave, Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and the 2013 typhoon in the Philippines -- that many believed would help start convincing global warming skeptics.
"There's been a lot of talk among climate scientists, politicians and journalists that warmer winters like this would change people's minds," McCright said. "That the more people are exposed to climate change, the more they'll be convinced. This study suggests this is not the case.
This is the sort of finding that supports the need for dissemination of the findings of research like Cook13, which shows that of scientific studies that attribute a cause to global warming, 97% attribute it as being mostly, some all, caused by human activities.
The paper was looking at two things:
- the extent to which people correctly perceived weather, compared to the instrument-based measurements; and
- the extent to which weather or perceived climatic conditions influences people's beliefs about anthropogenic climate change.
The researchers found that people generally correctly perceived changes in weather, in this case the milder winter in the USA. However there was a disparity among people in regard to their belief about what it is that's influencing the weather. The perception of whether warmer-than-usual winter temperatures is evidence of global warming was associated with perceived scientific agreement; "belief" (there's that word again) about whether global warming is even real, and other cited factors.
This is from the abstract:
We show that actual temperature anomalies influence perceived warming but not attribution of such warmer-than-usual winter temperatures to global warming. Rather, the latter is influenced more by perceived scientific agreement; beliefs about the current onset, human cause, threat and seriousness of global warming; and political orientation. This is not surprising given the politicization of climate science and political polarization on climate change beliefs in recent years.
The USA, probably more than anywhere else, including Australia, has suffered from the politicisation of climate science. It's as if conservative candidates are not allowed to have any scientific acumen. Not just climate science. Health sciences were targeted by corporate interests in the USA as well. I don't know how much it has to do with the US education system and the US political system, which is quite different to that of most other democracies. From the outside looking in, it is easy to criticise - and maybe Australia isn't so different when it comes right down to it.
But the reasons for the rejection of science by US conservatives isn't explored. Or not at any fundamental level. That would be quite a task, I'd imagine and would probably require comparisons with other countries around the world.
The paper itself is behind a paywall, but the supplementary information has results of the statistical analysis on which the paper was based for those who are interested. And there's this from the paper itself, for all you statisticians and psychometric nuts out there, after describing the various factors being examined the paper states:
To model the individual-level predictors and mediating factors discussed above, and to accommodate the multi-level nature of our data set (that is, individuals nested in states), we used an approach that integrates structural equation modelling and multi-level modelling.There's much more about the analysis that's described in the paper, such as the following extract, with the variable referred to being the perception of whether local winter temperatures (2012) were warmer than usual or not:
As this variable is dichotomous, our SEM is essentially a logistic regression model with one latent mediator (global warming beliefs) and one observed mediator (perceived scientific agreement). At the state level, we applied linear regression analysis, because the outcome is the random intercept component of the individual-level SEMs.
I've had a look at the paper and it's important to stress that this research was not looking at global warming as such, it was examining people's beliefs about it. Nor was it claiming that the warm winter of 2012 in the USA was caused by global warming. This is what they wrote about that:
Although climate scientists caution against attributing specific extreme weather events and unusual seasonal temperatures to anthropogenic climate change, many use a `loaded dice' metaphor to emphasize that anthropogenic climate change shifts the probability distribution of such phenomena making them more likely in a warming world.
Don't count on the weather to shake a person's faith in science denial
The abstract summarises one of the more important messages from this work:
These results suggest that personal experience with weather or climate variability may help cultivate support for adaptive measures, but it may not increase support for mitigation policies.
Obviously it would be bad news for humanity if collectively we opted for adaptation without mitigation.
The importance of knowing what the science says
The other important take-home message relates to "perceived scientific agreement", which was another factor the researchers investigated. This is from the paper:
The more respondents perceive scientific agreement on climate change and the more they believe in the current onset, human cause, threat and seriousness of global warming, the more likely they report warmer local winter temperatures to be due mainly to global warming rather than normal yearly variation.
Which is what makes it important to spread the 97% message got from the Cook13 study and others like it.
I'd say the research was an eye-opener, except that these days, it's just confirmation of what most of us already know. That people who are more conservative in political ideology are more prone to irrational "beliefs" about climate science, not based on facts or evidence.
I suppose that's what makes people like Anthony Watts so stuck for words that "angry", one of his stock standard catch-alls, was all he could think of to rouse the emotions of his readers.
From the WUWT comments
Oh, you probably don't need these. If you've come across WUWT before you can guess how the denialati will react. I'll give you a sample just the same - to confirm your "beliefs" about the WUWT fans :)
maccassar is going to use it as an excuse to test the patience of his golfing buddies by subjecting them to a denialist rant.
November 24, 2014 at 6:26 pm
I play golf with a bunch of MSU grads. They are going to hear about this.
Col Mosby misunderstands the study. He seems to think it was climate science research. It wasn't. It was sociological research. By his words one might deduce that were he asked, he'd vote for conservatives, reject climate science, and wouldn't know that almost all climate scientists attribute global warming to human activity and the increased levels of atmospheric CO2. One might need to collect more evidence to test that deduction - and there is plenty there in his years of comments at WUWT.
November 24, 2014 at 4:19 pm
A sociologist who claims to be a climate expert. That’s a new one. Most people wouldn’t consider a sociologist a scientist in the first place.
Sunspot might or might not have it right, but if I had to bet, I'd bet that Sunspot is correct, assuming he's referring to the scientists who know that we're causing global warming. As with climate scientists, these sociologists collected evidence, analysed it and drew conclusions - which are consistent with those of other similar studies.
November 24, 2014 at 6:23 pm
He is typical of the 97%
In complete contrast, Keating Willcox spouts his "beliefs" that are not merely unsupported by evidence, they are contradicted by evidence. Keating Willcox's comment is an example of reliance on unquestioning allegiance to a faith, the faith of science denial, rather than on considered examination of evidence. He's provided evidence that he fits the right wing demographic, and I'd say the extreme right wing - where everyone left of the extreme right is left wing. Keating Wilcox doesn't know the meaning of ad hom, either :)
November 24, 2014 at 4:20 pm
What a pathetic scientist. Thousands of climate scientists disagree with him, and have solid evidence. This stooge thinks that ad-hominem attacks are good science. He can join the hockey stick idiots and ignore the massive failures of the computer models. Just another left wing kook playing scientist. despicable.
I think it would be a reasonable hypothesis that Patrick B hasn't read the article, hasn't looked at the abstract, and hasn't looked at the supplementary information and that if he did he wouldn't understand it. It's a shame that there's no direct way to test that hypothesis.
November 24, 2014 at 4:24 pm
I was going to say has this guy received any training in the scientific method, and then I saw he’s in the Dept of Sociology at MSU, so of course he hasn’t. Anybody out there in a real science department at MSU that would like to take this little Associate Professor aside and teach him a bit of how science works?
Louis wants to change scientific meaning of extreme weather. That is, what is approaching or beyond the upper or lower limits of what would be expected, given the climate of a particular region.
November 24, 2014 at 6:40 pm
Extreme weather indeed! Who in his right mind calls a milder-than-normal winter “extreme”? My ice-cream cone is starting to melt. Oh no, it’s too extreme to lick! All the ice just melted in my drink. Now it’s too extreme to consume! I don’t think “extreme” means what you think it means, Mr. McCright. Something that is too hot or too cold could be extreme, but lukewarm is not. It may not be someone’s preferred temperature, but it is not extreme. You don’t have to be a climate scientist to know that one mild winter is just a variation in the weather. Have we seen a repeat warm winter since 2012 to indicate that it might be a change in the climate?
Even if you don't live in the USA, you may remember the 2012 winter, particularly the record-breaking March. (I think in the USA, winter continues to 21 March.) NOAA wrote:
Record and near-record breaking temperatures dominated the eastern two-thirds of the nation and contributed to the warmest March on record for the contiguous United States, a record that dates back to 1895. The average temperature of 51.1 degrees F was 8.6 degrees F above the 20th century average for March and 0.5 degrees F warmer than the previous warmest March in 1910. Of the more than 1,400 months that have passed since the U.S. record began, only one month, January 2006, has seen a larger departure from its average temperature than March 2012.
And there's more from NOAA:
The first three months of 2012 were also record warm for the contiguous United States with an average temperature of 42.0 degrees, which is 6.0 degrees above the long-term average.
For the January-March period, 25 states east of the Rockies had three-month average temperatures which were the warmest on record, and an additional 16 states had temperatures for the first-quarter of 2012 ranking among their ten warmest. Numerous cities had a record warm January-March, including Chicago, Boston, and Washington, D.C. No state in the Lower-48 had 3-month temperatures below average.
george e. smith provides an example of someone who relies purely on faith. He doesn't care that his position is contradicted by data. He won't believe it. His "belief" is unshakeable. He'll rationalise it by claiming "they haven't got the science right". The "they" being the thousands of scientists who've been studying various aspects of the natural world for decades. He could well still smoke tobacco and tell himself "I'm quite sure they haven't got the science right".
November 24, 2014 at 4:38 pm
There’s skepticism, and then there is cynicism. So what is this chumps evidence, that skepticism leads to cynicism ?
Well I’m neither skeptical nor cynical. I’m quite sure they haven’t got the science right, either experimentally or theoretically, as in modeling.
Why does this editor want me to spell modelling as “mowed- ling”. I was always taught to double the (l) before adding (ing).
Please excuse me, I suppose that should be “ading”, and not adding.. And I’m geting quite tired of it changing my speling without my permision
(George might also benefit from recognising that American English is different from British English and Australian English can be the same as one or the other or neither :D)
I found this comment from peter interesting. It's a bit longer than I'd usually post but it's illustrative of the points in this article. He acknowledges the politicisation of science in the USA, which is one thing. But what's illuminating is that despite this acknowledgement, his comment includes a weak attempt to rationalise his own denial without considering the evidence. He is relying on the conspiracist ideation of disinformers. He can't or won't do his own research. He hasn't yet come to the realisation that there's no way, even were there the will, that thousands upon thousands of scientists over the years could have colluded to the extent he assumes. And even if that impossibility were to occur, there would be thousands of young upstarts looking to make a name for themselves who'd blow the whistle quick smart. Peter wrote:
November 24, 2014 at 4:36 pm
This does touch on something I have wondered. The general public does not spend a lot of time researching Global Warming. They take their opinion from authority. Scientist say it is happening, so it must be happening.
But a lot of them take it from the position their personal political party has staked out. The Democrats have come down heavily on the believe it side, while the Republican, or conservatives, have come down on the other side.
The problem is, I feel a lot of those politicians have adopted their beliefs for purely political motives. I don’t think either side really care all that much about the truth. The democrats see it as a means of shoe horning their favorite socialist theories down our throat. Their opposite side seeks to deny them that leverage.
I made up my own mind about it due to the way one side always seems to fudge the figures and relies more heavily on scare tactics than actual real world observations. But I fear most people who agree with me do so for purely ideological reasons.
As such, I find it hard to take support when this politician or academic supports my view, or to have my mind changed when they don’t.
They need to offer more than speculation and opinion to sway me.
The ability of people to hoodwink themselves is quite amazing. I'm not surprised that some scientists don't get it. It's not rational. Physical scientists deal with hard data. And most of them would socialise with people like themselves, who also think and analyse more than "believe". So they probably don't realise that the above comment is "hard data". It's evidence. It shows them to be wrong if they assume that "hard data" is sufficient to persuade people. It's not. Not even when a person knows they are being hoodwinked. Which is almost surreal.
Scientists have "beliefs" about things outside their field of competence, too
Let me add one more thought. I've read scientists who argue that letting people know about the scientific consensus (that humans are causing global warming) isn't necessary and might even be counter-productive. Let's hope that this "belief" of theirs, which is constantly being refuted by hard data, by the evidence - will change. Are they as willing to challenge their own beliefs, given the mounting evidence that they are in error on this point? Or is this just another example of humans holding some beliefs so dear that they cannot change them, no matter how much hard evidence is put in front of them? Even heavy duty, evidence-driven scientists are prone to having unshakeable "beliefs", it would seem.
Aaron M. McCright, Riley E. Dunlap, Chenyang Xiao. "The impacts of temperature anomalies and political orientation on perceived winter warming." Nature Climate Change, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2443
John Cook, Dana Nuccitelli, Sarah A Green, Mark Richardson, Bärbel Winkler, Rob Painting, Robert Way, Peter Jacobs and Andrew Skuce. 2013 "Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature" Environ. Res. Lett. 8 024024 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024024