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Jul272013

Weekend update: The distracting, counterproductive "97% consensus" debate grinds on

I don’t want to go back there but since 10's of millions of people get all their news exclusively from this blog (oh, btw, there was a royal baby, everyone, in case any of you care) I felt that I ought to note that controversy continues to attend the Cook et al. study that, “97%” of climate scientists agree that human activity is contributing to climate change.

Studies making materially identical findings have been appearing at regular intervals for the better part of a decade. Every time, they are widely heralded; indeed, the media have been saturated with claims that there is “scientific consensus” on climate change since at least 2006, when Al Gore made that message the centerpiece of a $300-million effort to build public support for policies to reduce carbon emissions in the U.S.

But it is demonstrably the case (I'm talking real-world evidence here) that the regular issuance of these studies, and the steady drum beat of “climate skeptics are ignoring scientific consensus!” that accompany them, have had no—zero, zilch—net effect on professions of public “belief” in human-caused climate change in the U.S.

On the contrary, there’s good reason to believe that the self-righteous and contemptuous tone with which the “scientific consensus” point is typically advanced (“assault on reason,” “the debate is over” etc.) deepens polarization.  That's because "scientific consensus," when used as a rhetorical bludgeon, predictably excites reciprocally contemptuous and recriminatory responses by those who are being beaten about the head and neck with it.

Such a mode of discourse doesn't help the public to figure out what scientists believe. But it makes it as clear as day to them that climate change is an "us-vs.-them" cultural conflict, in which those who stray from the position that dominates in their group will be stigmatized as traitors within their communities.  

This is not a condition conducive to enlightened self-government.

Nevertheless, the authors of the most recent study announced (in a press release issued by the lead author’s university) that “when people understand that scientists agree on global warming, they’re more likely support politics that take action on it,” a conclusion from which the authors inferred that “making the results of our paper widely-known is an important step toward closing the consensus gap and increasing public support for meaningful climate change.”

Unsurprisingly, the study has in the months since its publication supplied a focal target for climate skeptics, who have challenged the methods the authors employ.

It’s silly to imagine that ordinary members of the public can be made familiar with results of particular studies like this.  

But it’s very predictable that they will get wind of continuing controversy over “what scientists believe” so long as advocates keep engaging in impassioned, bitter, acrimonious debates about the validity of studies like this one.

That’s too bad because, again, the best evidence on why the public remains divided on climate change is the surfeit of cues that the issue is one that culturally divides people.  Those cues motivate members of the public to reject any evidence of “scientific consensus” that suggests it is contrary to the position that predominates in their group. Under these circumstances, one can keep telling people that there is scientific consensus on issues of undeniable practical significance, and a substantial proportion of them just won’t believe what one is saying.

The debate over the latest “97%” paper multiplies the stock of cues that climate change is an issue that defines people as members of opposing cultural groups. It thus deepens the wellsprings of motivation that they have to engage evidence in a way that reinforces what they already believe. The recklessness  that the authors displayed in fanning the flames of unreason that fuels this dynamic is what motivated me to express dismay over the new study.

But look: Matters like these are admittedly complex and open to reasonable disagreement. I could be wrong, and I welcome evidence & reasoned argument that would give me reason to revise my views. In the best spirit of scholarly conversation, the lead author of the latest "97%" study, John Cook, penned a very perceptive, engaging, and gracious response--and I urge people to take a look at it & decide for themselves if my reaction was well-founded.

So what’s the new development?

Mike Hulme, a climate scientist who is famous for his own conjectures about public conflict over climate change has apparently added his voice to the chorus of critics.

I say apparently because the comments attributed to Hulme appear in a short on-line comment on a blog post that described an interview of the UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. I assume Hulme must be the actual author of the comment because no one seems to be challenging that and he hasn’t disavowed it. 

Anyway, in the comment, Hulme (assuming its him!) acidly states:

Needless to say, the comment—because it comes from a figure of significant stature among proponents of aggressive policy engagement with the risks posed by climate change—has lifted the frenzy surrounding the latest “97%” study to new heights (most noticeably in dueling twitter posts, a form of exchange more suited for playground-style taunting than serious discussion).

What to say?

First, what a sad spectacle.  Honestly, it’s hard for me to conceive of an issue that could be further removed from the important questions here—ones involving what the best empirical evidence reveals about climate change and about the pathologies that make public debate impervious to the same—than whether the latest “97%” study is “sound.”

Second, I think Hulme’s frustration, while probably well-founded, is not as well articulated as it should be.  What exactly does he mean, e.g., when he says “public understanding of the climate issue has moved on”?  The statement admits of myriad interpretations, many of which would be clearly false (such as that polarization in the U.S., e.g., has abated). 

Of course, it's not reasonable to expect perfect clarity or cogency in 5-sentence blog comment. Hulme has written a very thoughtful essay in which he presents an admirably clear and engaging case against trying to buy public consensus in the currency of appeals to the authority of "scientific consensus." His argument is founded on the manifestly true point that science's way of knowing consists neither in nose counting nor appeals to authority--and to proceed as if that weren't so demeans science and makes the source of the argument look like a fool.

My position is slightly different from his, I think.

I'd say it makes perfect sense for the public to try to give weight to what they perceive to be the dominant view on decision-relevant science. Indeed, it's a a form of charming but silly romanticism to think that ordinary members of the public should "take no one's word for it" (nullius in verba) but rather try to figure out for themselves who is right when there are (as is inevitably so) debates over decision-relevant science.

Members of the public are not experts on scientific matters. Rather they are experts in figuring out who the experts are, and in discerning what the practical importance of expert opinion is for the decisions they have to make as individuals and citizens.  

Ordinary citizens are amazingly good at this.  Their use of this ability, moreover, is not a substitute for rational thought; it is an exercise rational thought of the most impressive sort.

But in a science communication environment polluted with toxic partisan meanings, the faculties they use to discern what most scientists believe are impaired.

The problem with the suggestion of the authors' of the latest "97%" study that the key is to "mak[e] the results of [their] paper widely-known" is that it diverts serious, well-intentioned people from efforts to clear the air of the toxic meanings that impede the processes that usually result in public convergence on the best available (and of course always revisable!) scientific conclusions about people can protect themselves from serious risks.

Indeed, as I indicated, the particular manner in which the "scientific consensus" trope is used by partisan advocates tends only to deepen the toxic fog of cultural conflict that makes it impossible for ordinary citizens to figure out what the best scientific evidence is. 

Meanwhile, time is “running out.”  On what? Maybe on the opportunity to engage in constructive policies on climate change.

But more immediately, time is running out on the opportunity to formulate a set of genuinely evidence-based strategies for promoting constructive engagement with the IPC’s 5th Assessment, which will be issued in installments beginning this fall. It will offer an authoritative statement of best current evidence on climate change. 

Much of what it has to say, moreover, will consist in important revisions and reformulations of conclusions contained in the 4th Assessment.

That’s inevitable; it is in the nature of science for all conclusions to be provisional, and subject to revision with new evidence.

In the case of climate change, moreover, revised assessments and forecasts can be expected to occur with a high degree of frequency because the science involved consists in iterative modeling of complex, dynamic systems—a strategy for advancing knowledge that (as I’ve discussed before) self-consciously contemplates calibration through a process of prediction & error-correction carried out over time.

My perspective is limited, of course. But from what I see, it is becoming clearer and clearer that those who have dedicated themselves to promoting public engagement with the best available scientific evidence on climate change are not dealing with the admittedly sensitive and challenging task of explaining why it is normal, in this sort of process, to encounter discrepancies between forecasting models and subsequent observations and to adjust the models based on them.  And why such adjustment in the context of climate change is causefor concluding neither that “the science was flawed” nor that “there is in fact nothing for anyone to be concerned about.”

Part of the evidence, to me, that they aren’t preparing to do this is how much time they are wasting instead debating irrelevant things like whether “97%” of scientists believe a particular thing.

p.s. Please don’t waste your & readers’ time by posting comments saying (a) that I am arguing there isn’t scientific consensus on issues of practical significance on climate change (I believe there is); (b) that I think it is “unimportant” for the public to know that (it’s critical that that it be able to discern this); or (c) that I am offering up no “alternative” to continuing to rely on a strategy that I say doesn’t work (not true; but if it were-- then what? I should nod approvingly if you propose that we all resort to prayer, too?).  Not only are none of these things either stated or implied in what I’ve written. They are mistakes that I’ve corrected multiple times (e.g., here, here, here . . .).

 

 

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Reader Comments (66)

I would add that, for a problem like climate change that will takes decades to solve, the credibility of experts needs to be maintained over a long period of time.

Unfortunately, the conclusions of Cook et al. do not stand up to scrutiny, and the authors are trying to hide this by refusing to release their data (or indeed to engage in a discussion).

Cook et al. thus undermine the credibility of climate experts.

July 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

@Richard:

It is of course a service to point out any example one finds of an empirical researcher whose work one believes is not valid (btw,I haven't tried to figure out whether the methods here are are aren't).

But do you think it's plausible to belive that this one study has any net impact on the credibility of anyone?

Consider: even a *perfectly sound* study on any matter that seems to have significance for climate change policy will immediately provoke the perception on one side or the other (the one that doesn't like the conclusion!) that the researchers were biased, relying on faulty methods, etc. .

What's more, I am very confident that 97% (!) of the public hasn't even heard of this study. They've heard only the din of conflict; and even that hasn't really changed appreciably.

The most important audience here consists of people who want to promote constructive public engagement with climate science. *They* are paying attention. And *they* are the ones, I think, who are easily misled-- b/c the msg that the public just hasn't 'heard yet' is so comforting--into thinking the right *communication* strategy is just to "make the results of [this] paper widely-known" They'd be misled by this conclusoin -- which logically has zero connection to the findings -- no matter how sound the methods had been.

July 27, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Dan, it is telling that you try to understand Hulme's statements -- an agreement with my argument -- without regard for the post it was a response to.

This limits your attempt to understand Hulme.

You rightly point out that statements of the magnitude of the consensus aren't likely to be effective -- indeed, they may be counter-productive. But the phenomenon of attempts to use metrics of consensus in this way, and the problems in the design of such surveys tells us a great deal about the debate. For example, why did Ed Davey find it necessary to make that kind of claim in a discussion about how government policy had been informed by science?

You could of course say to Davey, 'No, Minister, that won't work...'. But meanwhile, he betrays the thinking of his government and the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Clearly they *do* think quoting the 97% figure is sufficient to respond to criticism. By implication, they don't perceive a need to respond to debates, or to changing science by recourse to science. So much for science, and for 'evidence-based policy-making', then; all we need to do to defend policies is commission a straw poll, founded on categories that suit our ends, rather than reflect scientific thinking.

You rightly observe that much cultural stuff sits in the way of a transparent debate about science and policy. Thus, political and scientific arguments are routinely confused. One important thing to note about the context of the climate debate -- especially in the UK -- is the recognition of, and dysphoria caused by a substantial democratic deficit. That Davey can wave away criticism of his policies by reference to Cook et al is a perfect demonstration of the objections raise by many sceptics: "science" is used to advance an agenda, but turns out not to be science at all, but some activists' rather shallow understanding of it.

July 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBen Pile

@Ben:

Thanks--especially for context on UK debate.

I don't mean to be criticizing Hulme for making the point he did.

Rather, I mean to be pointing out how filled w/ potential for distraction, & how productive of useless & needless conflict, a strategy that says "make sure everyone knows about consensus!" is. And isn't that what you help us to see was exactly what motivated Hulme to make the comment?

Hulme was irked that the Sec'y was using "97%* rather than addressing the issues in a way that will generate more constructive public engagement w/ decision-relevant science (which by itself doesn't uniquely determine a policy response, of course; that's where values *ought* to be coming in).

July 27, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

Dan, perhaps you aren't aware how successful the media outreach associated with our paper was.

http://www.skepticalscience.com/republishers.php?a=tcpmedia

July 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDana Nuccitelli

@Dana:

The metric of success is not media coverage. If it were, every one of the previous half-dozen studies published in the last 10 yrs -- all of which reached concludions identical to yours -- could be deemed "successful" even though none of them has succeeded in increasing the % of the public in the US that says it "believes" in AGW.

The test is in the impact on public opinion. You can say those studies were hemmed in by concentrated efforts to discredit them; same for yours, of course. If you can thik of a way to solve tha tproblem we can just "publicize" the previous studies.

Frankly, I believe your study & the way you have presnted it in press releases & on the web are the sorts of things very likely to polarize people. They exude very clear partisan meanings.

Have you tried an experiment where you show your paper, or your web site, or your press release to a nationally represeantive sample of members of the U.S. public?

If so, show us the results.

If not -- why did you decide to do a study like this & recommend publicizing your results as a communication strategy given how plauisble the prediction of it backfiring would be & given much is at stake here? Science communication should be evidence based -- just like everything else.

July 27, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Since people keep publishing the same "97%" survey/study over and over I'm going to re-use my standard comment on it....


Alright, I'm going to throw some facts at you so strap in:

Fact: 97% of scientists agree that we're going to die horrible weather related deaths. Those who survive will eat one another in a Mad Max style post-apocalyptic nightmare. This is a scientific FACT, 97% of scientists agree to this. Stop denying science, bumpkin.

Fact: 97% of scientists agree that if we don't subsidize solar panel companies you hate science and your brain is probably incapable of thinking scientifically at all (Lewandowsky 2009)

Fact: 97% of scientists agree that the main cause of continued growth in C02 emissions is Anthony Watts and not hundreds of millions of Chinese, Indians and others who stubbornly resist returning to subsistence farming.

July 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKuze

Hulme expanded on his comment in a followup at the same blog in response to Steve Bloom:

Steve – my point is that the Cook et al. study is hopelessly confused as well as being largely irrelevant to the complex questions that are raised by the idea of (human-caused) climate change. As to being confused, in one place the paper claims to be exploring “the level of scientific consensus that human activity is very likely causing most of the current GW” and yet the headline conclusion is based on rating abstracts according to whether “humans are causing global warming”. These are two entirely different judgements. The irrelevance is because none of the most contentious policy responses to climate change are resolved *even if* we accept that 97.1% of climate scientists believe that “human activity is very likely causing most of the current GW” (which of course is not what the study has shown). And more broadly, the sprawling scientific knowledge about climate and its changes cannot helpfully be reduced to a single consensus statement, however carefully worded. The various studies – such as Cook et al – that try to enumerate the climate change consensus pretend it can and that is why I find them unhelpful – and, in the sprit of this blog, I would suggest too that they are not helpful for our fellow citizens.

Mike

p.s. I’d be interested to know what Emeritus Chair I’m about to be offered!

July 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRog Tallbloke

"I am very confident that 97% (!) of the public hasn't even heard of this study"

Dan, President Obama and Energy Minister Davey have been touting it as justification for their policy on energy and climate!

Personally I think Dana and Cook are being set up as fall guys, but that's their look out.

July 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRog Tallbloke

@R0g--people have heard "scientific consensus" & "97%" for yrs. But President Obama's tweet of this study-- if they noticed that, I'll be truly shocked. Most people in the US can't name their Senators; they don't even know that the term of a US Senator is 6 yrs. The idea that they would draw a blank when I ask who their congressman is but then say -- "oh yeah-- Cook et al: 97%!" -- that seems, well, implausible to me.
Seriously, say "who is James Hansen?" to avg member of US public: 66% "wha?" 33% "invetned the muppets"

July 27, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@Rog-- thanks for the refernce to Hulme's elaboration. I was tryhing to find what I was told was an elaboration but found only something else that was only a couple sentences long. Poor "reasearch methods" on my part. I'll note the follow up comment he made in a "follow up" field for this post

July 27, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Presumably, the "public understanding of the climate change issue" moved on in 2009 after the publication of Hulme's book Why we disagree about climate change that year. If that is correct, Hulme's claim seems to me to be both rather immodest and not supported by the facts, since public opinion is still divided. Debate on effective science communication is hardly over in 2013, as this blog attests.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Why_We_Disagree_About_Climate_Change

July 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndy Skuce

@Andy S
I'm pretty sure Mike Hulme's 2009 refers to ClimateGate rather than the publication of his book.

July 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

The fuss over the study is only as worthy as how accurate and sound its analyses are. We can intuitively posit that lots of scientists agree to a consensus. The real problem lies in determining what this so-called consensus is, and how it was determined to be so, and quantified to be so.

The paper proclaims a 97% as its result. But has it arrived at this figure on a sound basis? It hasn't. The authors won't release their data.

Doesn't it strike you as odd that authors of a study such as this, would be reluctant to release their data?

July 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterShub Niggurath

Dan, my last comment was in response to you saying

"It’s silly to imagine that ordinary members of the public can be made familiar with results of particular studies like this."

And other similar statements. Quite a lot of people heard about our results.

As for why we approached the messaging the way we did, John Cook already explained that in the guest post here that you alluded to. The data in a number of studies show that people find the consensus convincing. I'm curious why you think those data are wrong.

July 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDana Nuccitelli

A number of studies found the 97% figure. Let's look at this claim.

The studies are:

1] Doran and Zimmerman 2009: The number comes from a sample of n = 79. 77/79 = ~97%

2] Anderegg et al 2010: The 97% refers to a specific question. It is 97% of top 50 active publishing scientists of a sample of n=908. The study draws no conclusions about consensus.

3] Cook et al: The 97% is the proportion of papers, the authors say, among those that "took a position" on anthropogenic global warming. It turns out more than 70% of these did not take a position. Surprised?

In reality, of the 4010 said to have taken a stand, 2986 were only inferred to take a stand and did not take a position on their own. Explicit support for the consensus position, in the end, comes from 999 out of 11,944 papers.

It appears climate communicators like the '97%' so much they see it in places where it doesn't exist.

July 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterShub Niggurath

Mike Hulme's valid criticisms of Cook et al should not be at all surprising. He burst this "consensus" bubble more than three years ago! Pls. see:

Honey, I shrunk the consensus!

I don't recall, offhand, the date of Doran & Zimmerman's introduction of the "97%", but it, too, has been shown to be riddled with problems, as was Anderegg et al's 2010 shoddy effort, from which my take-away (FWIW) was that:

In a nutshell, the authors contend that quantity trumps quality in determining the “credibility” and “expertise” of those whose voices should be heard on the subject of “climate change”

But, on a related note ... I noticed that in your earlier post on Cook et al, you had determined that it is:

an elegantly designed and executed empirical assessment

And I was wondering what might have led you to hold (what many might consider to be) a counter-factual view.

July 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHilary Ostrov

@Dana:

I see, in that case, about the media references. But it is still a huge mistake to infer from those stories that the public knows about your study. The coverge of the gay marriage decisions by the S Ct got orders of magnitude more coverage; but less than 1/2 of the US population can name a US Supreme Court Justice. It's a staple of political science that the public opinion on poitical matters reflects cues from elites, not details in media news stories.

As for the data: they are unmistakably clear. They come from the real world. They consist in 10 yrs of coverage of studies like this -- 1000's upon 1000's of stories in major media outlets -- & no impact.

To me, the only question worth invetigating experimetnally is why?

The studies JC cites include correlational ones, which of course are unhelfpul b/c the question is why so many who've been exposed to the msg (which is different form being familiar w/ partiular studies) that there is "scientific consensus" don't accept it.

There are very good experimetnal studies showing that members of the public selectively credit or discredit evidence based on whether it fits their cultural predispositions. This is a very well-established psychological dynamic; it does't just apply to climate change.

The only experimental study that doesn't fit this pattern is one by Lewendowski et al. I've explained why I don't find it persuasive: Whereas studies that find people selectively credit or discredit informatoin on scientific conensus used realistic communication materials -- the sorts people see in the world -- the Lewandowski study involved straightforward representations by the reearchers. I think the results likely reflected the disposition of the subjects (people who agreed when approeached on the street corner to participate in the study) to trust the word of the reasearchers.

I went through all this in commenting on your consensus study, and also explained that I thought it was a disservice that in that study you did not to advert to any work on public perceptions of scientific consensus except the correlational ones & Lewandowski. Sure, these matters are subject to debate. But when you made a recommendation to communicators w/o giving them all the evidence relevant to their decision, so they could make up their own minds on what it signifies.

I asked you whether you tested your study, your press release, and your web site materials before hand to see if they would generate the effect Lewandowski observed. Am I right that the answer is no?

If that is the case, then how about you & I & John Cook & Andy Skuce & Lewandowski et al show your study, your press release, and your web site materials to a nationally represenative sample & see if they disipate polarization. I predict they will in fact magnify it by arousing resistance among people culturally prediposed to be climate skpetical, b/c they will pick up the very culturally hostile meanings that the materials convey, ones that express contempt for people who share their values.

What do you say? Want to try the experiment?

July 27, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

"Am I right that the answer is no?"

Yes.

"If that is the case, then how about you & I & John Cook & Andy Skuce & Lewandowski et al show your study, your press release, and your web site materials to a nationally represenative sample & see if they disipate polarization"

Sure, I don't have a nationally representative sample at my fingertips, but I certainly don't object to the experiment.

July 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDana Nuccitelli

@Dana:

Great, I'll contact you off-line to discuss!

July 27, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@Hilary, & @Shub:

Do you read Hulme to be saying that he thinks there is a meaningful level of disagreement among climate scientists that human CO2 emissions have climate change impacts & that those impacts will, w/o appropriate policy responses of some sort, be detrimental to human welfare (at least in many many places)?

Isn't he just saying he thinks it is "not helpful" to try to quantify scientific consensus in discussions of how to address climate change? If that's the right way to read him, then my guess is that he'd find your arguments about the quality of the Cook et al study "unhelpful to citizens" too b/c he finds the whole issue "irrelevant" (boring even) -- as do I.

Actually, the samee issues that might cause a member of the public to be unsure what the weight of scientific opinion is on climate chanage will necessarily make him or her unsure how to assess surveys of scientific consensus, since how to "count" who is included in the study overlaps with the issue of what the "weight of the evidence" is.

For that reason, I've proposes a "market conensus" test as much more useful for anyone who really wants to help ordinary people figure out how to make sense of what the best evidence signifies.

July 27, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

In 2013, Mike Hulme wrote, on consensus in the IPCC: "By refusing to embrace and legitimise minority reporting, the IPCC has opened the way for powerful counter rhetoric to emerge around the idea of consensus". One might understand from this that established expert authorities should avoid making summary dismissals of work done by contrarians and citizen scientists.

I don't agree with that; nobody's views merit the legitimization or embrace of experts, without first surviving critical scrutiny. But I do note the irony of Professor Hulme's having just made rather caustic judgements on our work, which was, incidentally, performed entirely by students and non-specialists.

He appears to think that the views of climate-science contrarians should be treated with kid gloves, but anyone who strays from orthodoxy within Hulme's own sub-discipline merits a clip around the ear from the headmaster.

July 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndy Skuce

You find the quality of Cook et al 'irrelevant'?

Such issues may be 'irrelevant' or otherwise given the context of a specific discussion. But sooner or later, they have to be squared. The social scientists examining climate science have a challenge on their hands - demonstrating what everyone simply assumes exists, a consensus.

If it exists, it can be studied, captured and demonstrated. The Cook et al study has not done this. It is broken, though as I have repeated several times, not for the want of their trying. That no study has done this doesn't say anything about the existence, or otherwise, of a consensus.

The second aspect is, you assume supporters of climate orthodoxy want to communicate their findings, win friends, influence people and get them around their cause. They do not. The 'aims' are two-fold (a) incorporation of new support with the least possible exertion of effort, preferably by appeal to pre-existing prejudice, and/or fear, and (b) influence of key positions of power and provision of support for preferred policy/governmental action.

The Cook study has served the latter function. It may even eventually serve the former. But if its findings are not true, the influence won't last, but it would have misled everyone involved. Which is why is worthwhile examining whether the paper, and any similar efforts, are correct.

July 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterShub Niggurath

On the contrary, there’s good reason to believe that the self-righteous and contemptuous tone with which the “scientific consensus” point is typically advanced (“assault on reason,” “the debate is over” etc.) deepens polarization.
That's because "scientific consensus," when used as a rhetorical bludgeon, predictably excites reciprocally contemptuous and recriminatory responses by those who are being beaten about the head and neck with it.

Again, this a description of cause-and-effect that I think is not well conceived. The cause is not what the "realists" do or don't do, but the motivated reasoning of "skeptics" - who will seek to confirm their biases, effectively, no matter what "realists" do or don't do.

Such a mode of discourse doesn't help the public to figure out what scientists believe.

Agreed, It is one thing to say that the strategy of talking of a consensus is ineffective, but it is another entirely to say that it "deepens polarization."

But it makes it as clear as day to them that climate change is an "us-vs.-them" cultural conflict, in which those who stray from the position that dominates in their group will be stigmatized as traitors within their communities.

IMO, the group identifications are the antecedent, and they are what drive the identification of an "use-vs.-them" cultural conflict. Again, I think that you are not clearly identifying cause-and-effect, here.

July 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@dmk38 (a nym I'm assuming is an alternate for Dan Kahan)

@Hilary, & @Shub:

Do you read Hulme to be saying that he thinks there is a meaningful level of disagreement among climate scientists that human CO2 emissions have climate change impacts & that those impacts will, w/o appropriate policy responses of some sort, be detrimental to human welfare (at least in many many places)?

I wouldn't presume to speak for Shub. But, based on everything I've read from Hulme (and, as I believe Ben Pile might confirm, I do not count myself among his greatest fans - for a variety of reasons; not the least of which can be found in The climate consensus coordinators' cookbook) your somewhat narrow description is not the way I read any of Hulme's statements on the "consensus" or level of disagreement (meaningful or otherwise!)

In fact, to the best of my knowledge, the CO2 elephant in the climate change "debate" room has - far more often than not - been highly conspicuous by its absence in such "consensus" surveys/polls, declarations and/or Statements!

Do you happen to know of any (reputable as opposed to those of the Cook, D&Z or Anderegg meme-pushing variety) surveys/polls/studies that have actually posed any questions pertaining directly to the respondents' awareness/knowledge of the purported role of human-generated C02 in global warming aka climate change - and measured such responses against their knowledge of:

a) the total percentage of this alleged "primary culprit", i.e. CO2, in the atmosphere and/or greenhouse gases; and

b) the percentage of human-generated CO2 included in a); and

c) how successful scientists have been in distinguishing a) from b)

My guess is that at least 97% of respondents would be unable to answer a) or b) correctly [unless provided with multiple-guess choices, which could conceivably result in a somewhat lower percentage of incorrect answers than a question without any such cues] - and would not have a clue about c);-)

I know I certainly wouldn't have (with or without multiple-guess cues) prior to conducting my own due diligence when this issue first crossed my radar approx. ten days BC (Before Climategate).

@Andy Skuce

Is there any particular reason you did not link to the source of your Hulme quote?! It couldn't possibly be because you would prefer that readers not see this quote in context, could it?! Incidentally, here's another quote from the same essay:

Maybe the IPCC’s authority – in the eyes of critics and publics, if not also in the eyes of politicians – would therefore be enhanced if it acted on its own rules for minority reporting in the Summary for Policymakers (which it never has).

Second, the requirement of consensus is pernicious – in order to protect the authority of the group it encourages agreement in a group of experts where there is none. [...] (emphasis added -hro)

Both of which (and lots, lots more) can be found at Do scientific assessments need to be consensual to be authoritative?

July 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHilary Ostrov

Let's see, Dan, my specific claim was about Republicans in California having suffered. You said there's no evidence for that. I have an advantage in that I live in California and have followed politics here closely for many years, but even so I'm surprised you managed to miss stuff like this. Lots more where that came from.

I further stated my opinion that the more recent poll results I cited are an indication of something similar starting to happen nation-wide, but of course it hasn't happened yet so that's just an opinion. Plus of course there are lots of other reasons why Republicans aren't doing well with younger voters, so it's hard to single out climate change as a factor. That's a lot easier to do for California, especially in the instance of the pivotal 2010 election, since the Republicans made the truly world-class political error of putting an AB 32 repealer on the ballot along with all of their partisan candidates. Apparently their pollsters at the time agreed with you!

As for your broad analysis, it's pretty off the mark in various regards. I have some heavy oil to keep in the ground and promised to spend the evening working on that, and indeed I should probably be spending all of my spare time on that rather than debating on social science blogs, so I'll just close with pointing out that your assessment of Hulme as "a figure of significant stature among proponents of aggressive policy engagement with the risks posed by climate change" is perhaps less than accurate.

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Bloom

@Dan (2nd comment)
The "public" image (that is, the image among the few that pay attention) of climate research is not very positive: We hide data, are methodologically challenged, and play fast-and-loose with peer-review. A necessary step towards convincing the public otherwise, is to stop feeding that image.

Unfortunately, Cook et al. provide a recent example of a study that is not open about its data, where conclusions do not follow from the data available, and that should never have made it through peer-review.

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

Hilary Ostrov beat me to it with the Hulme quote on minority reporting. I'm amused to see Andy Skuce thinks

"nobody's views merit the legitimization or embrace of experts, without first surviving critical scrutiny"

By which he means the gatekeeping of onside Journal Editors and biased peer reviewers. The whole point of a minority report is that it comes from outside the framework which keeps the majority in the majority.

Andy goes on to complain that Hulme:

"appears to think that the views of climate-science contrarians should be treated with kid gloves, but anyone who strays from orthodoxy within Hulme's own sub-discipline merits a clip around the ear from the headmaster."

Hulme's complaint is not that Dana and Cook have strayed from orthodoxy. His complaint is that their paper is confused: ("in one place the paper claims to be exploring “the level of scientific consensus that human activity is very likely causing most of the current GW” and yet the headline conclusion is based on rating abstracts according to whether “humans are causing global warming”. These are two entirely different judgements."), and irrelevant: ("because none of the most contentious policy responses to climate change are resolved")

Personally I think he is being overly charitable with the 'confused' tag.

Dana and Cook exemplify the reasons the public no longer trust the 'orthodox' climate science community:

1) They overegg the pudding by bending the criteria midway
2) They fail to release the data when requested by another academic
3) They claim to engage while making up petty reasons for excluding their critics, deleting their comments on false pretexts, and dodging the questions put to them.

1) Hulme's astute summary above
2) Richard Tol will confirm
3) I have the screenshots

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRog Tallbloke

Dan - "I still don't know what he meant when he said public debate has "moved on" from the issue of scientific consensus"

I think he means the savvy public (particularly in the UK, where they are not fooled by whitewashing 'Inquiries' or manufactured 'scientific consensus') are now more interested in how much the proposed mitigation measures will cost (both financially and in terms of landscape impact) vs the benefit they will bring (cleaner air).

Both these issues are in large measure avoided by proponents, because they know they are on a loser while summers are cool and wet, and winters are claiming 25,000 'excess deaths' annually. A far higher toll than summer heatwaves exact.

So the 'orthodoxy' falls back on arguing for the scientific consensus, and the sceptics are happy to take the orthodoxy on in this area, because they can easily show that studies like Dana's don't demonstrate it.

The other point of note is that there is relatively little public debate anyway, because the primary state forum, the BBC's 'discussion' programming , was instructed by the BBC's controlling body to exclude sceptical voices, on the false basis of a 2006 meeting with 28 'climate experts' who turned out to be activists and lobbyists when their identities were finally revealed (in spite of the £27k spent on BBC lawyers to prevent it) this year.

The public is not stupid, and knows the 'debate' is one sided and suppressed. No wonder they distrust not just the scientific 'orthodoxy', but also the mainstream media and the politicians on the issue of climate science and energy policy.

Outside of the mainstream media, the 'debate' consists of unstructured mutual haranguing on the comment sections of newspaper websites, where there is much smoke and heat, but little light. The specialist blogs actually appraising scientific evidence long ago developed partisan audiences and moderation teams with censorious tendencies, with a very few notable exceptions on the sceptical side.

But there are better times ahead, with prominent mainstream current affairs anchors such as Andrew Neil now taking an interest in hearing both sides of the argument.

Debate didn't 'move on'. It hid in the ghettos, and is only now re-emerging into public view.

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRog Tallbloke

The Guardian giving Dana and John Abrahams a blog the 97% Consensus, on the back of this paper seems a little unwise. Dana in hid Reuters interview made it clear, to push the conesensus in all media.

Skeptical science pushes the 97% with Al Gore's Climate Reality project. They also have the website The Consensus Project.

Ed Davey was using this paper (as he had in speeches allready, whilstt calling sceptics cranks and conspuracy theorists. Cooks mate Lewandiwsky responsible for that? ) to wave away questions about policy,

Ed Davey is a very senior member of the UK government. Minister for the deoartment ofcENERGY and Climate Change. And the UK is facing very serious consequences about Energy Policy.

Then we find Dana given the space to attack the BBC and Andrew Neil (veteran bbc politicak journslist) for asking a Minister of State tough questions about UK energy policy

So of course this is going to get looked at....

Dan, diid you see the originall interview and Andrew Neils (and the BBC's ) response to Guardian
Some might cinsider telling Dana to butt out of uk politics.

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Sorry fir typos. On a smartphone earlier, being rushed by family.

In context. Dana's articles:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-centy

To make amends I'll link to a transcript of the original BBC Daily Politics interview between Andrew Neil and Minister Ed Davey.

https://sites.google.com/site/mytranscriptbox/home/20130714_sp

Whatever anyone might think of it. Prof Mike Hulme's comment has completely vindicated the BBC for challenging Ed Davey's incantation of 97% of scientists (specifically Cook's paper, which Ed Davey has previously quoted in speeches)

Also here is the BBC(Andrew) making a long response to tbe Guardians (Dana's )attacks on the BBC interview, this was written before Mike Hulme's comments were made.
http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-23405202

Media attacking media and all politics

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Dan,

Can I suggest a refinement to your experiment with Dana?

There's another study that I've mentioned to you previously, that has a much better design. (And reported only 83.5% of climate scientists supporting the position under dispute - Q21.) Although it too claimed that sceptics were in the minority, it evoked a lot less criticism of its methods, and does have some limited acceptance amongst the sceptical. I'd be interested to know if the reason for the difference, and the reason for sceptically-inclined rejecting Cook et al., is the conclusion or the method.

You seem to be claiming that sceptics have rejected it because they don't like the conclusion, as predicted by the 'motivated reasoning' thesis. The sceptics here are telling you that they rejected it because of the method, which was flawed in its design, execution, and analysis.

So I'd suggest something like dividing the group along the following lines:
C = only told the conclusions of the study, from a nominally authoritative source.
M = told about both the method and the conclusions, the criticisms voiced, and allowed to study the papers and publicly-available data themselves.
H = are told only about the controversy, perhaps a selection of blog posts from either side. (It would be interesting to know if one side or the other was more convincing, but that's a separate question.)

A = This is done for Cook's list of 7 categories on paper abstracts as judged by partisans for the consensus.
B = This is done for von Storch's list of 122 detailed and nuanced questions asked directly of the climate scientists.

And the respondents in each category should be asked:
1. What do they know about the actual popularity of the consensus position?
2. Do they think the consensus position is right? (You need to be specific about what aspect of the consensus is being referred to there. Try picking one of von Storch's questions, e.g. 21 or 22.)

My predictions would be:
1. Those shown only conclusions will not change their positions.
2. Those shown methods will be more influenced by the information, and will be influenced more by the appearance of a better quality study.
3. Those shown the controversy, from either side, will polarise more strongly.
4. Where people initially admit to not knowing, they will shift ground on their knowledge of the consensus, but far less so on its rightness. Where people already have strong opinions, it will not change their view on the rightness of the consensus at all.
5. They will be more likely to shift ground on its rightness with more information on the method, and with the better quality study.

What do you think? Would you make different predictions?

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

More Context (which I think shows the BBC was correct in questioning the minister that said it)

like Barack Obama - politician Ed Davey (his Department of State - DECC) was tweeting about Cook's paper (see his speech linked in the link):

https://twitter.com/DECCgovuk/status/341561549120471041

And speaking in the EU parliament about Crackpots and Conspiracy theorists:

"Of course there will always be those with a vested interest in the status quo.
Who seek to create doubt where there is certainty.
And you will always get crackpots and conspiracy theorists who will deny they have a nose on their face if it suits them." - Ed Davey

And he was making speeches attacking sceptics and the MEDIA that reported them... (in the levenson enquiry climate, this is of a serious concern)

BBC; Roger Harrabin:

"Energy Secretary Ed Davey is to make an unprecedented attack later on climate change sceptics.
In a speech, the Lib Dem minister will complain that right-wing newspapers are undermining science for political ends. He is set to accuses climate sceptics of nimbyism, publicity-seeking, and "blinkered... bloody-mindedness". - BBC

another BBC extract:
"The speech is an explosion of anger from a politician who has long been privately frustrated about the extent to which right-wing newspapers have swung Conservative back-benchers behind the climate sceptic cause.

He believes editors are corrupting public understanding of science and making it more difficult to impose measures to tackle the emissions that are disrupting the climate." - BBC
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22745578


and again citing Cook's 97% paper in the speech trailed in the above BBC report and made at the UK Met Office:


Minister for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) extract:

".....And how do we know all this to be true?

To coin a phrase, “it’s the science, stupid.”

It’s what the evidence tells us. As and example, a recent survey of over 12,000 peer-reviewed climate science papers provides a startling picture of the consensus that exists in our scientific community.

97% of the climate experts who expressed an opinion agree that human activity is driving global warming.
Just 3% question man’s contribution.

3%. Let me quantify that for you in a political way
If this was a general election vote, 97% of the vote would generate 630 MPs, the 3% just 20….. " - Ed Davey

https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/edward-davey-speech-climate-change-acting-on-the-science

and in the national media:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/10095188/Ed-Davey-attacks-papers-who-report-destructive-climate-sceptics.html

Lobbyists like Bob Ward are calling for the Levenson Enquiry to control the media, in reporting of climate change, and we see a minister of State attacking the medi for making people sceptical, parts the media that is in political opposition to Ed Davey's party.

this is politics, not science. and I think this is why Andrew Neil was right to challenge Ed Davey when he waved John Cook's 97% of scientist say..

because Cook and Dana, intended for politicians and scientists to use their paper in this way..

"Another co-author, Dana Nuccitelli of Skeptical Science, said she was encouraging scientists to stress the consensus "at every opportunity, particularly in media interviews". - Reuters
http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/16/us-climate-scientists-idUSBRE94F00020130516

Ben Pile sent an FOI request to the Department of Energy and Climate Change to see where the MInister (Ed) was getting his advice for conspiracy theorists and crackpots from
http://www.climate-resistance.org/2013/07/decc-distances-itself-from-davey.html

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Sorry, forgot to insert the link to the other study.

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

The "public" image (that is, the image among the few that pay attention) of climate research is not very positive: We hide data, are methodologically challenged, and play fast-and-loose with peer-review. A necessary step towards convincing the public otherwise, is to stop feeding that image.

This projection. There are many who are confident in the results of climate research. I'd say that the vast majority of those who aren't will find any number of reasons to not have confidence. They will find any flaws in the process of research (as there will inevitably be flaws) as confirming their perspective that the science is flawed, a "hoax," the product of eco-Nazis trying to impose a One World Government and destroy capitalism, etc.

Accusations of data-hiding, methodological challenges, and fast-and-loose peer-review will never disappear. Studies such as the one in question do not significantly alter the trajectory, and neither would their absence. The tribalism is deeper. As evidence is added to the picture it is divided up by the different tribes and then used to confirm biases on both sides, respectively.

One side looks at Cook and claims that it undermines the validity of climate science research (amusingly enough even though it isn't climate science). Those who say that already freakin' didn't have any confidence in climate science that supports conclusions that ACO2 is significantly altering the climate

The other side looks at Cook and claims that it further proves that skepticism about climate science research that supports conclusions that ACO2 is significantly altering the climate is unfounded, and the product of big oil, or "deniers," etc.

Cook et al. means nothing in the full scale of the debate.

We saw the same type of claims made about Climategate. "Skeptics" left and right claimed it was a "game-changer," the "last nail in the coffin," the "stake through the heart." How many times have you read such comments at "skeptical" websites? In point of fact, the validated data we've seen is that for the vast majority, the impact of Climategate was merely to confirm biases - on both sides. It didn't alter public opinion significantly.

It also didn't alter the propensity of those engaged with the climate science debate to make predictions about what will happen in the future with the debate, or to claim phenomena happening currently in the debate, which are not founded on validated evidence but which are primarily projections of their own viewpoints to a larger public - even though they share very few attributes with that larger public (at least relative to formulating opinions in the climate debate).

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

NiV,

2. Those shown methods will be more influenced by the information, and will be influenced more by the appearance of a better quality study.


If we took strongly identified "skeptics" (who actually have been following the discussion of the Cook study, who read climate blogs and write comments, etc. - in other words, in reality only a small % of "skeptics) who say that: (1) the Cook study is invalid and that (2) the Cook study has significance ---- and show them the different methodology of the study you point to......

What % of them would find significance to the other study w/r/t their views on climate change? What I find interesting is that the Cook study seems to be of such importance for many "skeptics" even though they say that determining the prevalence of opinion amongst "experts" is an inherently invalid goal.

What seems to be of great importance when discussing the Cook study (determining the prevalence of opinion among "experts" in a precise manner), drops to insignificance in discussions from "skeptics" when Cook et. al is not being discussed. In fact, the very notion of trying to determine the prevalence of opinion among "experts" becomes, in itself, an indication of a fundamentally flawed approach to science because, as many "skeptic" will tell us, "consensus has nothing to do with valid science."

And ballpark it for me, NiV - if you had to guess, what % of "skeptics" who are so focused on the 97% figure as being wrong would be likely to accept an 83.5% figure as being correct - as opposed to: (1) focusing on invalidating the methodology used to reach such a figure (e.g., questioning the definition of who is or isn't an "expert," questioning the value of credential "experts" versus the value of engineers who look at the science, etc.) or, (2) focusing on invalidating the very significance of determining the prevalence of opinion among "experts?"

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

I should correct this:

That is true for the vast majority of those that are already heavily engaged in the debate. For the vast majority of the public, Climategate had no significant impact on their opinions about climate change, not even in the sense of confirming biases.

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@ all of the folks blasting the method of Cook et al:

Am curious: what would you recommend to those who want to promote constructive public engagement with scientific evidence on climate change?

That's what this site is about-- science communication. Fine to talk about other things, I suppose, if you are getting value out of it.

But selfishly (on my behalf & ex officio on behalf of other regular readers), I want to know what *you* think those who actually want to promote constructive debate should focus on, both in substance and in form.

Many of you are from UK, and seem to be saying that "oh, things are't so conflictual here among the public."

Seriously?! I've collected data that suggest otherwise; that show, in fact, that members of the public in the UK are divided along lines similar to US *and* that they display the signature pattern of motivated reasoning, crediting or discrediting scientific evidence relating to climate change in response to extraneous cues that shape their perception that creiditing or discrediting will "fit" with their visions of the ideal society, defined in terms of values, not "truth" of the evidence in question.

Adam Corner also has a great study showing that UK public does this -- w/r/t evidence of what scientific consensus is!

But in any case, that's the sitaution we have in U.S. I think it is a consequence of a history of very poor "science communication hygiene" -- whose, exactly, I don't care, but surely there are people who have fouled up the science communication enviornment on both sides, often by misadventure or stupidity more than deliberate manipulation.

But if you like, pretend I'm asking how we in the US can get to where you are in UK.

So what to do? How to create a state of affairs in which citizens who will surely disagree about what to do -- since that depends on values, not facts -- will not be stuck in a perpetual cycle of disagreement about what the evidence is, the general morass of which "what % of scientists believe what" is a particular piece; what to do, in other words, so the public debate can genuinely, "move on" to more interesting but still very complicated things relating to the range of policy solutions that are all comptable w/ the best understanding of the evidence (including the understanding that it is in many respects characerized by uncertainty & the need for probabilistic estimates that might themselves later be adjusted in light of new evidence)?

July 28, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

"Am curious: what would you recommend to those who want to promote constructive public engagement with scientific evidence on climate change?"

Put simply, honesty.

We could give a list of specific suggestions - opening up the science, improving the quality, carrying out proper independent validation, conducting some proper non-whitewash enquiries, and sorting out which bits are backed by real evidence and which are opinion, conducting an actual conversation with the sceptics - but there's no point because nobody's listening.

The mainstream don't want to know how to promote constructive engagement with the evidence - they want to know how they can persuade everyone else that they're right so they can get their own way unopposed. Admitting they got it wrong wouldn't achieve that, so they're not going to do it. Taking sceptics seriously wouldn't achieve that, so they won't do that either, until they're forced to. And they're doomed because of it.

You keep talking as if we could clear out the polluted communication and the public would then open their eyes and turn trustingly to the scientific consensus - what you're not getting is that the consensus narrative of climate doom *is* the polluted communication. It *relies* on partisan meanings for its existence, and for its policy influence. This is therefore a 'problem' without a solution.

You earlier tried to measure the success of the science communication by looking at the effect on public opinion, and counted it a failure because opinion has not moved towards belief. But if belief is unjustified, that's the right answer, surely? Maybe it's actually working?
Well, OK, probably not, but did you even consider the possibility?

"Many of you are from UK, and seem to be saying that "oh, things are't so conflictual here among the public.""

On the contrary. All the comments above are saying that in the UK, unlike the US, the government has decided to embark on an expensive programme of mitigation and regulation, despite the fact that the public are no more convinced than they are in the US.

Up until recently, it hasn't been strongly identified with political parties because the leadership of all the political parties went down the same green line. But the population is starting to rebel against it - the anti-EU, anti-big government, and somewhat climate-sceptical party UKIP has been gaining strength in recent elections (in the context of American politics they're a little bit like the Tea Party, if that helps), and the Conservative backbenchers are starting to rebel against their own political leadership over the increasingly unpopular policy direction that is eroding their own support.

The situation is one of increasing conflict and cynicism, and an increasing unpopularity of and falling away from the big-government green consensus. The difference is that the politicians are ignoring the people and carrying on regardless.

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@NiV:

"Honesty" isn't sufficient. I think "dishnoesty" is inappropriate-- no matter what it's effect. But my point is that "honesty" doesn't dispel polarization. I can honestly show people valid informatoin & they'll accept or reject depending on whether it fits w/ the position that dominates in their group.

E.g.,if I show them-- honestly -- that someone like Richard Lindzen disputes the "doom" story as you describe it -- 1/2 the US population will conclude "he isn't a real expert," and 1/2 will conclude "now that's an expert!." If I show someone w/ same credentials who says opposite of what Lindzen said, the 1st half will now say, "now that's an expert," and the 2d 1/2, "he's no expert!"

Generalize from this: if this is how people process evidence of what "experts" believe, they will end up radically polarized on what the weight of expert opinion is even when they are exposed to the same valid evidence (b/c 1/2 will draw one inference, the other the opposite).

The science communication problme is the same no matter what "side" you are on on climate. Both have to figure out why 1/2 the public can't see evidence -- even when it is put in front of their noses.

And I don't care how we got here.

I want to know what to do at this point.

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

"The science communication problme is the same no matter what "side" you are on on climate. Both have to figure out why 1/2 the public can't see evidence -- even when it is put in front of their noses."

It's a good question, and I wish I knew. I don't think there's any one single answer, though.

"I want to know what to do at this point."

Just wait. It will sort itself out eventually on its own.

But in the meantime you can do whatever you can to promote good science, honest discussion, open communication, empirical testing, and studying the phenomenon while it lasts to try to figure it out. Because after it's all over, there will be another one along soon enough. It's the way people are.

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

"So what to do? How to create a state of affairs in which citizens who will surely disagree about what to do -- since that depends on values, not facts -- will not be stuck in a perpetual cycle of disagreement about what the evidence is"

Openness of data. Data standards organisations which are the custodians, but not the collectors, or manipulators of the data. Standardized procedures for the use of statistical techniques which are properly constructed by people who are actually specialist statisticians. You know, like the engineering industry does.
Until climatology moves out of its 'Wild West' phase, no-one in their right mind would trust it.

"the understanding that it [evidence about causes of climate change] is in many respects characerized by uncertainty & the need for probabilistic estimates that might themselves later be adjusted in light of new evidence"

The UK climate act has a provision for reassessing the scale of cutback of emissions required in the light of new scientific evidence. There is political pressur on those who take decisions about science funding streams to ensure it doesn't happen. We need to separate funding from politics before trust can be rebuilt in the institutions of science.

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRog Tallbloke

Hilary, Rog,

My apologies for not including the link to Hulme's quote. I meant to, but forgot. I plead incompetence.

Perhaps I could have chosen a better quote, maybe: "Not only must science concede some of its governance to wider society, it must also concede some ground to other ways of knowing." (Before I forget, that's in Chapter 3, on page 81 of Why we disagree about climate change)

My point only was that Hulme's plea for deference from scientists towards other ways of seeing things does not seem to extend to views that differ from his. He seems to feel that he is able to draw bright lines between right (eg, Hulme) and wrong (eg, Cook) in his corner of social science, while demanding that physical scientists defer, for example, to "indigenous or traditional knowledge" about climate change.

I might also comment that some of those who advocate for a more culturally respectful way of communicating information on climate change and who urge advocates to put down the bludgeon of facts and scientific consensus are not always consistent in the way that they argue their case on other matters.

For example, the journalist and blogger, Keith Kloor criticizes the use of the deficit model in communicating on climate and argues that communication needs to address and respect cultural barriers to understanding. Fair enough, and I agree with a lot of that. However, when writing about the non-existent health risks of GMO's , which he does frequently, Kloor berates greens for their irrational anti-science attitude and picks up the bludgeon of the scientific consensus on GMO's without apparent hesitation.

(With apologies to our host for drifting off the topic.)

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndy Skuce

It makes sense to note that the 'Cook et al' 97% study doesn't stand on itself. It is a complement to the very complete website at http://skepticalscience.com where an easy/middle/detailed answer is given to a long list of 'climate-skeptic' arguments of various kinds.

That website is a very honest attempt to inform, and engage the arguments of 'skeptics'. And if 'skeptics' are not so interested, at least part of the public is interested to become more informed.

It is clear that the '97%' paper will not immediately convince all hardened climate 'skeptics', but it is a clear refutation of the 'skeptic' claim that there is still a great controversy among climate scientists about this simple question. The fact that news media decided that this result was important shows that at least journalists find that the public will have some interest to hear about this result.

My feeling is that every communication method needs to be tried. This paper was an honest attempt to answer a certain claim. It was a serious effort of many people reading thousands of abstracts. And a check was made by asking the authors to rate their own papers. Journalists seem to agree, and they have given this paper ample attention.

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNichol

" He seems to feel that he is able to draw bright lines between right (eg, Hulme) and wrong (eg, Cook) in his corner of social science, while demanding that physical scientists defer, for example, to "indigenous or traditional knowledge" about climate change."

Thanks for the ref Andy.

Forgive me for reiterating the point, but Hulme makes a very, very specific criticism of the Cook/Nuccitelli paper:

" ...in one place the paper claims to be exploring “the level of scientific consensus that human activity is very likely causing most of the current GW” and yet the headline conclusion is based on rating abstracts according to whether “humans are causing global warming”. These are two entirely different judgements."

If this criticism wasn't correct, Nuccitelli would have rebutted here in this thread.

It reiterates the same sort of error (deliberate or otherwise) the original pusher of this type of study (Naomi Oreskes) tried on all those years ago when she claimed that the the overwhelming majority of climate papers supported the idea of catastrophic climate change. As Benny Peiser showed in his rebuttal, she didn't search the database for the phrase including the word 'catastrophic'.

Everyone accepts humans have *some effect* on surface temperature. Far fewer accept as proved that humans are "very likely causing most of the current GW". (Not that there has been any 'current GW' for 15 years)

And that's the reason there's such a fuss about this paper. It's yet another case where a stupid warmist lie is being rammed down peoples throats by politicians only too happy to turn a blind eye to the fact the paper they cite doesn't support the claim it makes. It's not social science either, it's anti-social non-science.

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRog Tallbloke

Dan, the idea of testing the efficacy of communicating consensus is appealing to me. However, I would like to see such a study try to measure not only the effect of this on the opinions of contrarians but also on the opinions of those who, strongly or weakly, already accept the general thrust of the IPCC position on climate change.

My hunch has always been that communicating the degree of agreement among scientists on the basic idea of significant human influence on the climate would never have much effect on those people who are firmly convinced that human influences are small or non-existent. However, as John Cook showed in the comment linked to at the top of this post, the perceived consensus on climate change is underestimated even by people who, to a varying degree, accept the mainstream science. I might expect those people to adjust their position as a result of being exposed to the results of our paper. But, of course, that remains to be demonstrated.

I can only speculate why this might be so. In Kari Norgaard's excellent book Living in Denial in Norway she outlines a number of strategies of what she calls "socially constructed denial", story lines that are broadly agreed upon within a community that justify why--even while accepting the science--action on climate change is something to be deferred to another time or place. So, perhaps, believing that scientists are more divided on the subject than they really are provides some people with an excuse to move action on climate change down their list of political priorities.

I am less concerned about the polarizing effect that consensus-pitching has on the fringes of the right wing. From my (non-American) standpoint it seems that some of these people are already about as intellectually dug-in as they could possibly be--and not just on climate change.

I should stress that I am not speaking here on behalf of my colleagues on the Cook et al paper.

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndy Skuce

"My hunch has always been that communicating the degree of agreement among scientists on the basic idea of significant human influence"

So now we have yet a third defintion of consensus.

That humans have *some* influence on climate
That humans have very likely caused the majority of warming in the C20th (IPCC position as of AR4)
and now:
"significant human influence"[On climate] - No definition offered.

How much more woolliness and goalpost shifting do we need in this debate?

Raise your game Andy Skuce and answer Mike Hulme's criticsim by either accepting it or rebutting it properly.

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRog Tallbloke

Nichol -

It is clear that the '97%' paper will not immediately convince all hardened climate 'skeptics', but it is a clear refutation of the 'skeptic' claim that there is still a great controversy among climate scientists about this simple question.

Who do you think will be the slightest bit influenced to alter their position on the basis of Cook et al? It is a clear refutation to those who are already convinced that there is no great controversy. "Skeptics" will be completely unmoved. Folks on either side of the debate will simply fit the paper into their preconceptions. Again, who do you think will be influenced, and what evidence do you have that it will have any real impact?

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"My point only was that Hulme's plea for deference from scientists towards other ways of seeing things does not seem to extend to views that differ from his."

I don't think anyone would argue that experts should not be allowed to criticise views they disagree with. The problem he was raising with the IPCC reports was that they didn't even mention or properly explain the views they disagreed with.

The ideal is that you present the arguments and evidence of both sides, the counter-arguments that explain why each thinks the other is wrong, and the reader can see for themselves which argument is better and why.

It is, of course, difficult to do that for a highly technical and convoluted argument in a way that lay policymakers can follow, so you also need to have some simplified summaries. But the summary still has to be a fair summary of the whole debate, not just the side that you think won.

Keith Kloor does indeed sometimes show an inconsistent attitude to cultural barriers. But one thing that he does get right is that he allows a real debate, with no holds barred. Both sides can present their position freely, even people he thinks of as being totally wrong, and readers can make their own mind up. He invites opposition, so that people can see if his ideas work for themselves. It's actually a pretty good way of doing it and although I don't agree with his views on a lot of stuff, I do have a lot of respect for the way he conducts the debate.

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

"It is a clear refutation to those who are already convinced that there is no great controversy."

There is no great controversy that CO2 affects climate. Most sceptics will be unmoved because they didn't disagree with that statement in the first place. The controversy is about how much, how it compares to the natural background variation, and what its impact might be.

July 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

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