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Feeling hot? Repeat after me: the death penalty deters murder...

Great study by Hank Jenkins-Smith & collaborators showing that (a) perceptions of recent local weather predict belief in climate change but that (b) cultural worldviews more powerfully predict individuals' perceptions of recent local weather than does the actual recent weather in their communities.

The basic lesson of cultural cognition is that one can't quiet public controversy over risk with "more evidence": people won't recognize the validity or probative weight of evidence that is contrary to their cultural predispostions.

Why should things be any different when the "evidence" involves "recent weather"? 

What will those who are pointing to the current (North American) heat wave say if it's cooler next summer (it almost certainly will be; regression to the mean), or the next time we get a frigid winter? Probably that it's a mistake for individuals to think that they are in a position to figure out if climate change is happening by looking at their own thermometers (it is).

There's really only one way to fix the climate change debate: fix the science communication climate so that people with opposing values are no longer motivated to fit the evidence to their cultural predispositions. 


Goebbert, K., Jenkins-Smith, H.C., Klockow, K., Nowlin, M.C. & Silva, C.L. Weather, Climate and Worldviews: The Sources and Consequences of Public Perceptions of Changes in Local Weather Patterns. Weather, Climate, and Society (2012), doi:






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Reader Comments (2)

That's a really interesting finding!

I'm curious, have you ever analyzed what happens in cases where beliefs do (eventually) yield to evidence? What does that process look like in the real world? I know you can get people to be more open using self-affirmation, but I'm thinking more about changes that happen "in the wild". So when allowing women to vote didn't destroy the entire moral fabric of society (leaving the opportunity to do so open to gay marriage), how did people's views change? Did they come to accept that they were wrong? Or did the people who believed it would just get replaced by new people who didn't believe it after they died? For a topic like climate change that's probably too slow a process.

July 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDave Nussbaum

darn good question. partial answer here

July 19, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

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