Saturday, February 28, 2015

On Gateway Beliefs: And a tough question at WUWT that no-one could answer

Sou | 6:25 PM Go to the first of 4 comments. Add a comment

A new paper by Sander L. van der Linden and colleagues has been published in the open access journal PLOS | One. It describes a 'gateway belief model' in the context of the scientific consensus on global warming.

This new paper is another one that finds that people will be more likely to accept the science of climate if they understand how much scientists agree on the subject. And in turn, they'll be more likely to support action to mitigate climate change once they understand the extent of agreement among scientists.

This article is another one that's a bit "too long". It's in two parts, so you can take your pick, if you're short of time. One part starts here at the top, or you can skip to the failure of denialists here :D

In the abstract it states in part:
...we find that increasing public perceptions of the scientific consensus is significantly and causally associated with an increase in the belief that climate change is happening, human-caused and a worrisome threat. In turn, changes in these key beliefs are predictive of increased support for public action. In short, we find that perceived scientific agreement is an important gateway belief, ultimately influencing public responses to climate change.

Sander L. van der Linden is from the Department of Psychology and Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University. The other authors are from Yale and George Mason universities. These are the cream of the crop as far as pedigrees go.

Here is a diagram of the gateway belief model. (Click to enlarge):

Sourcevan der Linden15

This paper is another vindication of Cook13, which was carried out to determine the extent to which the scientific literature supported or refuted the fact that humans are causing global warming. The finding, that 97% of papers published in the past twenty years, which attributed a cause to warming, attributed it largely to human activities.

Chris Mooney has written about the paper at Washington Post. (He notes that Dan Kahan doesn't like it much. I've mentioned briefly some work Dan did recently on opinions about geoengineering vs climate action. Dan has a lot invested in his own "cultural cognition" hypothesis, which is fine and has a lot going for it. For some unknown reason, Dan seems to think that knowing about the scientific consensus isn't all that important when it comes to public opinion. I doubt he's correct. I haven't ever seen anything from him that refutes the importance of understanding the scientific consensus, Nor am I aware of other scholars who would agree with Dan's viewpoint on the subject - the consensus, that is; not the cultural cognition thing. Dan seems to be on the outer in that regard.)

The van der Linden paper cites other studies that have confirmed that understanding how strong is the acceptance of human-caused warming among experts, has a strong influence on a person's opinion. People are more likely to accept the science when they find out how strongly it is accepted by the scientists themselves.

You can read the paper for yourself. Here are some important findings and conclusions (my emphasis):
...results of this study show that perceived scientific consensus acts as a key gateway belief for both Democrats and Republicans. In fact, the consensus message had a larger influence on Republican respondents. It should be noted that this interaction might, to some extent, be attributable to a ceiling effect (i.e., there is relatively less upward adjustment potential in perceived scientific consensus for Democrats, although a significant gap in understanding persists even among Democrats). We do not dispute, however, that some people—especially those with strong ideological responses to the issue—selectively process information or engage in motivated reasoning [9, 14]. Yet, we find that consensus-messaging does not increase political polarization on the issue (perhaps partly due to the neutral scientific character of the message) and shifts the opinions of both Democrats and Republicans in directions consistent with the conclusions of climate science.
...It is also important to note that this study only used a single treatment, yet found that even a single, simple description of the scientific consensus significantly shifted public perceptions of the consensus and subsequent climate change beliefs and desire for action. A concerted campaign to inform the public about the scientific consensus would ideally involve numerous exposures to the key message, conveyed by a variety of trusted messengers [6, 20]. 
...Particularly, repeated exposure to simple messages that correctly state the actual scientific consensus on human-caused climate change is a strategy likely to help counter the concerted efforts to misinform the public.  

FAIL: WUWT-ers couldn't produce a single paper refuting AGW

There's still not much happening at WUWT apart from general wailing and gnashing of teeth. The main topic that is occupying deniers is the shock and horror that some Democrats have decided to use similar tactics to those often employed by denier republicans and right wing lobby groups (archived here). What's good for the goose isn't good for the gander in deniersville. (It's not fair. "They" can't do that! Deniers are the only people permitted to seek information about climate activists and scientists. No-one is permitted to seek information about climate inactivists.)

While looking through the comments on the article about Senator Inhofe and his mates, I came across a question that no-one could or would answer. It's directly related to the PLOS paper I discussed above.

John Franco (aka  JohnnyCrash), who seems to be a regular at WUWT, wrote:
February 27, 2015 at 5:20 pm
This is a bit off topic. I have to find a paper by a “credible” scientist that refutes global warming. In discussion with someone, I was told that everything I base my skepticism on is sourced from … you guessed it, “non credible” scientists. This particular individual doesn’t want to actually read the paper to form their own opinions, they honestly believe that no such thing actually exists. They tell me that they believe in science and “science will work it out.” They say they can’t review what scientists say because their opinion of science doesn’t matter. The guy is an engineer, so it is frustrating to me. he could surely understand that models don’t prove anything, or a study starting and ending at certain times will show a warming or cooling signal. He won’t though. He is stuck on what mainstream media says science is. The debate is over, blah blah blah. I said I don’t really know about a paper that widely discredits global warming, most papers are about very specific topics. He wouldn’t pick a topic. I don’t want to grab something that is just blog text because that won’t work with this individual. I think I just need a paper from a scientist at a well known university that says anything in the title against AGW. I read this blog hourly and I know that you all have links galore to interesting papers. Thanks!

Now for all the WUWT protests that the 97% Cook study was wrong, you'd think that there'd be loads and loads of offerings from WUWT readers. Not a one. Not a single scientific paper was offered, let alone a scientific paper by a credible scientist.

There have only been responses from two people so far. One, wickedwenchfan, didn't have a scientific paper by any credible scientists and instead offered a silly blog article from the SkyDragon Slayer's website. (The article was a supposed refutation of the greenhouse effect, arguing that absorbed energy cannot be re-emitted by CO2, or some such nonsense.)

The other, DavidMHoffer, couldn't offer a scientific paper by any credible scientist either, and instead suggested that John build some strawmen. After suggesting some sciency questions, DavidMHoffer wrote this:
Another toute I have used is to ask if they think the satellites that measure global temps are accurate. Invariably the answer is yes. Then I ask if they think the guy who designed the satellites would know an awful lot about atmospheric physics. Again, the answer is invariably yes. Then ask, that being the case, why does Dr Roy Spencer, the guy who designed those satellites and actually runs them for NASA think there’s more hype than science in CAGW?

David thinks that everyone would agree that the satellites that measure global temperatures are accurate. He's wrong. For one thing, he neglects to say that the scientist who analyses his favourite data set says surface temperature datasets are more reliable. And despite touting Roy Spencer as a "credible scientist", David's favoured satellite data isn't Roy Spencer's UAH, it's Carl Mears' RSS. Carl Mears wrote that he considers surface temperature datasets "to be more reliable than satellite datasets (they certainly agree with each other better than the various satellite datasets do!)".

Thing is, satellites don't measure global temperatures directly. Temperature is calculated from analysis of data recorded by the satellites. Here is a description of how Carl Mears and colleagues determine atmospheric temperatures, using microwave sounders:
RSS upper air temperature products are based on measurements made by microwave sounders.  Microwave sounders are capable of retrieving vertical temperature profiles of the atmosphere by measuring the thermal emission from oxygen molecules at different frequencies.  These measurements are a crucial element in the development of an accurate system for long-term monitoring of atmospheric temperature, particularly in regions with large numbers of radiosonde measurements.  RSS air temperature products are assembled from measurements made by the MSU and AMSU instruments in polar orbiting satellites.  We are working toward the use of measurements from the most recent microwave sounder, ATMS.

And here is how RSS describes microwave sounders:
Microwave Sounders.  These are satellite-borne instruments that measure the radiance of Earth at microwave frequencies, which allows scientists to deduce the temperature of thick atmospheric layers.
  • Advantages - Global coverage at a high samplng rate
  • Disadvantages - Coarse vertical resolution. 

The way I read that is that the instruments measure frequencies of thermal radiation, not temperature as such. Those frequencies are then analysed and calculations performed, adjustments made etc, before they are converted into degrees of temperature. The downside is that the resolution is coarse. The results are good for thick layers of air, providing an averaged temperature. However they can't be resolved for thin segments of the atmosphere on a vertical profile.

Evidence trumps "beliefs"

DavidMHoffer's question about Roy Spencer is vague. It's non-specific. What he alleges is that Roy Spencer argues that there is more "hype than science" in "CAGW". Whether Roy Spencer has ever actually said that or not, I wouldn't know. David doesn't provide any evidence.

If Roy did say that, David asks why he would do so. The most obvious answer would be because of his beliefs, not because of any science. Roy Spencer is a Cornwall Alliance chap. (He believes in Intelligent Design, too. Does that mean that evolution is disproved?).

The Cornwall Alliance advocates various pseudo-religious "beliefs":
We believe that idea—we’ll call it “global warming alarmism”—fails the tests of theology, science, and economics. It rests on poor theology, with a worldview of the Earth and its climate system contrary to that taught in the Bible.

Cornwall Alliance people apparently think that their god will save the world from any harm we are causing to the environment. The Cornwall Alliance doesn't explain why their god allowed ice ages, or five major extinctions, or volcanic eruptions, or garbage islands in the oceans, or depletion or contamination of ground water supplies, or tsunamis, or deadly tropical cyclones. Nor does it explain why their god would save them from environmental disasters but not from economic disasters.

Still not a single paper produced, refuting AGW

I've since been back to WUWT to see if anyone has been able to help out John Franco/JohnnyCrash. John is out of luck. Not even one single paper has been suggested. Here are two subsequent comments. First a suggestion from john robertson
February 27, 2015 at 6:19 pm
Just pass on the IPCC FAR(4 or 5 does not matter)
This is the alarmed ones “credible source” ask him to find the science, supporting his belief.

JohnnyCrash could only point out the obvious:
February 27, 2015 at 6:29 pm
Unfortunately that has graphs that show the temperature increasing. The graphs came from scientists. If it is getting hotter it is because of CO2 because scientists said that. The CO2 comes only from burning fossil fuels because scientists said that.

Interestingly, DavidMHoffer promotes Roy Spencer as a credible rebuttal to AGW, but shies away from promoting his UAH data, preferring the RSS data from Carl Mears. Remember, Carl Mears wrote that he considers surface temperature data sets "to be more reliable than satellite datasets". Carl Mears also wrote:
Does this slow-down in the warming mean that the idea of anthropogenic global warming is no longer valid?  The short answer is ‘no’.  The denialists like to assume that the cause for the model/observation discrepancy is some kind of problem with the fundamental model physics, and they pooh-pooh any other sort of explanation.  This leads them to conclude, very likely erroneously, that the long-term sensitivity of the climate is much less than is currently thought.

Similarity of temperature anomalies - surface and lower troposphere

To round off this article. here is a plot of two surface temperature and two lower troposphere temperature data sets, all aligned to the 1981-2010 mean.

The lower troposphere has higher peaks and lower troughs in ENSO years. Other than that they are very closely aligned. The odd one out over the past couple of years is RSS - the denier's favourite.

The trend per decade for each over the period from 1979 to the present are:

  • GISTemp +0.157°C
  • HadCRUT +0.158°C
  • UAH +0.139°C
  • RSS +0.122°C

At the beginning of the time series - 1979 to 1981, the lower troposphere anomalies were higher than those of the surface temperature anomalies. This is the main source of the difference in the trend.

Sander L. van der Linden, Anthony A. Leiserowitz, Geoffrey D. Feinberg, Edward W. Maibach. (2015). The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change as a Gateway Belief: Experimental Evidence. PLoS ONE, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0118489 (open access)

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 (open access)


  1. Is JohnnyCrash a pro-science mole? Is his apparently innocent question the culmination of a long-laid plan? If so, it's rather neat. If not, maybe I've planted the suspicion with this speculation - WUWT is fertile ground for suspicion.

    And maybe I should quit this game before I lose my mind entirely ... ;)

    1. I checked (see the link in the article somewhere). He's been commenting at WUWT for quite some time. If it's a long-laid plan he's played the part to perfection. However, I doubt it. I think he's a genuine 8% dismissive.

      Maybe his engineering friend will be able to persuade him otherwise. That would almost constitute a miracle of rationality over emotion and world view.

  2. Captain FlashheartMarch 1, 2015 at 1:42 AM

    Great post sou

  3. AIUI, the microwave sounders weren't designed for absolute temperature measurements. They have instrumental drift but they don't have a reference for calibration of the drift, so the temperature analysis depends on complex calibrations across instruments and time. The result has been rather large systematic shifts between different versions of the analysis, far larger than surface station homogenization effects.

    There's also an obvious logical fallacy in supposing that expertise in a particular instrument implies a more general expertise.


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