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« So what is "the best available scientific evidence" anyway? | Main | Partisan Media Are Not Destroying America »
Sunday
Aug112013

What "climate skeptics" have in common with "believers": a stubborn attraction to evidence-free, just-so stories about the formation of public risk perceptions

My aim in studying the science of science communication is to advance practical understanding of how to promote constructive public engagement with the best available evidence—not to promote public acceptance of particular conclusions about what that evidence signifies or public support for any particular set of public policies.

When I address the sources of persistent public conflict over climate change, though, it seems pretty clear to me that those with a practical interest in using the best evidence on science communication are themselves predominantly focused on dispelling what they see as a failure on the part of the public to credit valid evidence on the extent, sources, and deleterious consequences of anthropogenic global warming.

I certainly have no problem with that! On the contrary, I'm eager to help them, both because I believe their efforts will promote more enlightened policymaking on climate change and because I believe their self-conscious use of evidence-based methods of science communication will itself enlarge knowledge on how to promote constructive public engagement with decision-relevant science generally. 

Indeed, I am generally willing and eager to counsel policy advocates no matter what their aim so long as they are seeking to achieve it by enhancing reasoned public engagement with valid scientific evidence (and am decidedly uninterested, and adamantly unwilling, to help anyone who wants to achieve a policy outcome, no matter how much I support the same, by means that involve misrepresenting evidence, manipulating the public, or otherwise bypassing ordinary citizens' use of their own reasoning powers to make up their own minds).

One thing that puzzles me, though, is why those who are skeptical about climate change don’t seem nearly as interested in practical science communication of this sort.

Actually, it’s clear enough that climate skeptics are interested in the sort of work that I and other researchers engaged in the empirical study of science communication do. I often observe them reflecting thoughtfully about that work, and I even engage them from time to time in interesting, informative discussion of these studies.

But I don’t see skeptics grappling in the earnest—even obsessive, anxious—way that climate-change policy advocates are with the task of how to promote better public understanding.

That seems weird to me. 

After all, there is a symmetry in the position of “believers” and “skeptics” in this regard. 

They disagree about what conclusion the best scientific evidence on climate change supports, obviously. But they both have to confront that approximately 50% of the U.S. public disagrees with their position on that.

The U.S. public has been and remains deeply divided on whether climate change is occurring, why, and what the impact of this will be (over this entire period, there’s also been a recurring, cyclical interest in proclaiming, on the basis of utterly inconclusive tib bits of information, that public conflict is dissipating and being superseded by an emerging popular demand for “decisive action” in response to the climate crisis; I’m not sure what explains this strange dynamic).

The obvious consequence of such confusion is divisive, disheartening conflict, and a disturbingly high likelihood that popularly accountable policymaking institutions will as a result fail to adopt policies consistent with the best available scientific evidence.

Don’t skeptics want to do something about this?

A great many of them honestly believe that the best available evidence supports their views (I really don’t doubt this is so). So why aren’t they holding conferences dedicated to making sense of the best available evidence on public science communication and how to use that evidence to guide the public toward a state of shared understanding more consistent with it?

I often ask skeptics who comment on blog posts here this question, and feel like I am yet to get a satisfying answer.

But maybe my mystification reflects biased sampling on my part.

Maybe, despite my desire to engage constructively with anyone whose own practical aims involve promoting constructive public engagement with scientific evidence, I am still being exposed to an unrepresentative segment of the population who fit that description, one over-representing climate-change believers.

I happened across something that made me think that might be so.

It consists of a blog post from a skeptic who is trying to explain to others who share the same orientation why it is that such a large fraction of the U.S. population believes that climate change resulting from fossil fuel consumption poses serious risks to human wellbeing.

As earnest and reflective as the account was, this climate skeptic’s account deployed exactly the same facile set of just-so tropes—constructed from the same evidence-free style of selective synthesizing of decision-science mechanisms—that continue to dominate, and distort, the thinking of climate change believers when they are addressing the “science communication problem.”

Consider:

Why do people believe that global warming has already created bigger storms? Because when "experts" repeatedly tell us that global warming will wreck the Earth, we start to fit each bad storm into the disaster narrative that's already in our heads.

Also, attention-seeking media wail about increased property damage from hurricanes. . . .

Also, thanks to modern media and camera phones, we hear more about storms, and see the damage. People think Hurricane Katrina, which killed 1,800 people, was the deadliest storm ever. But the 1900 Galveston hurricane killed 10,000 people. We just didn't have so much media then.

Here they are, all the usual “culprits”: a “boundedly rational” public, whose reliance on heuristic forms of information-processing are being exploited by strategic misinformers, systematically biased by “unbalanced” media coverage and amplified by social media.

Every single element of this account—while plausible on its own—is in fact contrary to the best available evidence on public risk perception and the dynamics of science communication. 

  • Blaming the media is also pretty weak. The claim that "unbalanced" media coverage causes public controversy on climate change science is incompatible with cross-cultural evidence, which shows that US coverage is no different from coverage in other nations in which the public isn't polarized (e.g., Sweden). Indeed, the "media misinformation" claim has causation upside down, as  Kevin Arceneaux’s recent post helps to show. The media covers competing claims about the evidence because climate change is entangled in culturally antagonistic meanings, which in turn create persistent public demand for information on the nature of the conflict and for evidence that the readers who hold the relevant cultural identities can use to satisfy their interest in persisting in beliefs consistent with their identities. 
  • The “internet echo chamber” hypothesis is similarly devoid of evidence. There are plenty of evidence-based sources that address and dispel the general claim that the internet reinforces partisan exposure to and processing of evidence (sources that apparently can’t penetrate the internet echo chamber, which continues to propagate the echo-chamber claim despite the absence of evidence).

But here's one really simple way to tell that the blog writer's explanation of why people are overestimating the risks of climate change is patent B.S.: it is constructed out of exactly the same mechanisms that so many theorists on the other side of the debate imaginatively combine to explain why people are underestimating exactly the same risks. 

This is the tell-tale signature of a just-so story: it can explain anything one sees and its opposite equally well!

So what to say?

Well, it turns out that despite their disagreement about what the best scientific evidence on climate change signifies--about what the facts are, and about what policy responses are appropriately responsive to them—advocates in the “believer” and “skeptic” camps have some important common science communication interests.

They both have an interest in understanding it and using it, as I indicated at the outset.

But beyond that, they both have a stake in freeing themselves from the temptation to be regaled by story tellers, who, despite the abundance of evidence that now exists, remain committed to perpetually recycling empirically discredited just-so stories rather than making use of and extending the best available evidence on what the science communication problem consists in and how to fix it.

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Reader Comments (117)

And Willis -

Because I suspect that you might go there.

When I said there was no deception, I meant in in the way that you described your impression of the events: that someone intended to fool you, that someone intended to deceive you, that there was any improper intent. Yes, you were "deceived" so to speak. You were "fooled" so to speak As a statement of fact that is absolutely fine. What is problematic is the way that you've conceptualized that turn of events.

Sorry for failing to introduce myself properly. I am dmk38. I operate the site and sometimes hop into the discussions. As you can see, I'm not so good at expressing myself.

The little self-deprecating joke at the end was not meant improperly as you interpreted it.

You interpreted Dan's informing you of the situation about which you were confused as Dan saying he was using a "sock puppet." You were wrong. You saw what you wanted to see. It was a classic case of confirmation bias, or "motivated reasoning," if you will. It happens to all of us. The best we can do is try to accept that natural tendency (because it is a function of fundamental building blocks in our cognition and reasoning) and control for its influence when it biases our reasoning.

August 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Willis-

Perhaps this will help.

When you first wrote that your interlocutor hadn't offered a critique, I assumed that it meant you were commenting without having read the post.

I was assuming that you knew that "dmk" was Dan. I was wrong. I saw what I wanted to see, and I didn't account for all the possible explanations for what was happening And I jumped to the explanation that located the failing in your thinking rather than that of my own.

This stuff happens all the time - with all of us. The best thing to do is own up to it, recognize it as a tendency in our own thinking process, and move forward with renewed commitment to being open-minded and preventing it from happening as much in the future (it will continue to happen, the best we can do is lessen the amount).

In the end, this is all a trivial matter, much ado about nothing and a tempest in a teapot if ever there was one - but I do think it is a very nice object lesson.

August 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

August 16, 2013 | Joshua

And Willis -

Because I suspect that you might go there.

When I said there was no deception, I meant in in the way that you described your impression of the events: that someone intended to fool you, that someone intended to deceive you, that there was any improper intent. Yes, you were "deceived" so to speak. You were "fooled" so to speak As a statement of fact that is absolutely fine.

Thanks, Joshua. I was not "fooled, so to speak". I was fooled, period. Not "fooled" in scare quotes, as if it were not real. I was fooled. And not once, but twice.

What is problematic is the way that you've conceptualized that turn of events.

["dmk38" said] --- "Sorry for failing to introduce myself properly. I am dmk38. I operate the site and sometimes hop into the discussions. As you can see, I'm not so good at expressing myself." ---

The little self-deprecating joke at the end was not meant improperly as you interpreted it.

Huh? "Meant improperly"? I flat out didn't understand it. How could I think it was "meant improperly" when I hadn't a clue what the comment meant?

If you mean "meant to fool someone" by "meant improperly", of course it was meant to fool someone. When a man uses an alias on his own blog, it may not be "improper".

It is, however, very strange, and more to the point, it is designed and guaranteed to fool people.

You interpreted Dan's informing you of the situation about which you were confused as Dan saying he was using a "sock puppet." You were wrong.

I wasn't "confused". I was fooled by Mr. Kahan speaking through an alias.

But subsequently, Mr. Kahan himself fooled me. He didn't say he was using a sock puppet as you allege.

Instead, he claimed to be as confused as me ... which was a flat-out lie, Joshua.

You go on to say:

You saw what you wanted to see. It was a classic case of confirmation bias, or "motivated reasoning," if you will. It happens to all of us. The best we can do is try to accept that natural tendency (because it is a function of fundamental building blocks in our cognition and reasoning) and control for its influence when it biases our reasoning.

OK, I get it. Mr. Kahan fooled me by first using an alias, and subsequently by lying to me to keep the deception going. But that's all on me, because in Joshuareality, I fooled myself—I just saw what I wanted to see ...

Joshua, using an alias on your own web site is an action which is guaranteed to fool some of the people some of the time. Thus, when Mr. Kahan does it, we can safely assume that is his intention. He is setting out to fool people by using an alias, and he is successful in his aim.

And when I questioned it, he lied to keep up the pretense. When I said that the dmk38 post was bizarre, he lied to my face, assuring me that yes, he thought it was strange as well.

And you claim that's all my fault, I got fooled twice, once by dmk38 and once by Mr. Kahan, because I "just saw what I wanted to see"??? Have you ever heard the phrase "blaming the victim"? HE lied to ME, Joshua, and that's on him, not me. I was fooled because he lied and he's good at it, not because I "saw what I wanted to see". That claim is as bizarre as Mr. Kahan using an alias on his own web site.

In any case, is he paying you to be his spin doctor? Has he retained you as a consultant for his legal defense team? In short, why are you acting as his lapdog and doing his growling for him? I'm sure he can growl for himself ...

To be fair, I'd never believe him, and I might believe you ... at least as far as I know you're not talking to me under some other alias.

And although I could be wrong and you could be sock-puppeting me at a rate of knots, I don't want to live my life like that, suspecting everyone of wrongdoing. That's too hard on the heart. I do my best to take people at face value ... not always successful, but it's so much better than assuming the worst.

Crazy part? Even if I had assumed the worst, I would never have imagined that someone would use an alias to post comments on their own blog. Until now, that thought had never once passed my mind, and I've seen no examples of it anywhere but here.

Regards, and thanks again,

w.

August 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterWillis Eschenbach

Thus, when Mr. Kahan does it, we can safely assume that is his intention.

Have it your way. He intended to deceive people - posting under a "sock puppet" to conceal his real identity, and using a screenname with his first and last initials.<


Well, I tried, Willis. If you want to insist on an obvious error, it is certainly your prerogative. And I have to admit, it is also quite amusing.

In any case, is he paying you to be his spin doctor? Has he retained you as a consultant for his legal defense team? In short, why are you acting as his lapdog and doing his growling for him? I'm sure he can growl for himself ...

Yes, you found me out. He does pay me to defend him, and quite handsomely, I might add. See how smart you are?

Or, you might consider that probably no one doubts his ability to "defend" himself, and that in fact he has no reason to "defend' himself, and that for that reason plus because I have no reason to want to defend him anyway, I wasn't "defending" him, but helping you to see your fallacious reasoning just as I stated.


Anyway, we've certainly extended discussion way past the point where it will return any value.

My best to you.

August 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

One rule of communication, science or otherwise is.

If you think the person you are talking to or debating is a fool, or that you have contempt for them, etc is don't ever let them know it.
Because the audience will judge you harshly, and you willl just anger the other person

Plus your responses were evidence light. Be specific with an exact example to back up any claim

I'm with Willis and Paul on this, snearing at people from academic or whstever hights diminishes your srgument snd any respect. And like Willis I also have apparently 'little brain' as I had no idea that dmk was just another name for Dan, nor would most casual visitors. I have little time to have to work out which commentators are actually other commentators under a different name.

Additionally I have never heard of the sceptical blogger quoted, nor I would suggest have say 97% plus of other sceptics. Cherry picking the sceptical fringe to fulfill personal confirmation bias?

August 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

It seems to me the best available evidence would be basic thermodynamics, radiation physics and paleoclimate studies. But I've seen all of these trashed and distorted in 'skeptic' posts- with no objections from any of those skeptics who do know that (for example) CO2 really is a greenhouse gas (and a non-condensing one to boot), that back-radiation from the atmosphere does increase surface warmth (and this is not a violation of the second law any more than evolution by natural selection is), and that isotope ratios in ice and sediment cores are reliable indicators of past temperatures. The repeated claims of conspiracy and malfeasance by climate scientists above are dubious, and intrinsically irrelevant to the core evidence-- yet I don't see self-styled 'skeptics' engaging seriously in the scientific debate over just what the (short-term) climate sensitivity to doubled CO2 is. At best I see them mention selected studies that might suggest a lower sensitivity. But that's a long way from strong evidence for low sensitivity when there are other significant studies (using a number of independent lines of evidence) suggesting higher sensitivity. To this point the few climate scientists who actually still do research and claim sensitivity is very low have a poor track record: their work hasn't survived critical examination, and they have failed to convince and recruit supporters to their research programs (despite the obvious fact that many who are now worried about GHG emissions would be nothing but happy and relieved to discover that they won't be such a big problem after all). Which brings me back to the conspiracy/ malfeasance claims above-- to be blunt, I don't see any evidence here (though I do see a lot of spittle flying). If you really want to claim the evidence is on your side, you need to do less PR and more actual science to back that claim up.

August 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBryson Brown

It seems to me the best available evidence would be basic thermodynamics, radiation physics and paleoclimate studies. But I've seen all of these trashed and distorted in 'skeptic' posts- with no objections from any of those skeptics who do know that (for example) CO2 really is a greenhouse gas (and a non-condensing one to boot), that back-radiation from the atmosphere does increase surface warmth (and this is not a violation of the second law any more than evolution by natural selection is), and that isotope ratios in ice and sediment cores are reliable indicators of past temperatures. The repeated claims of conspiracy and malfeasance by climate scientists above are dubious, and intrinsically irrelevant to the core evidence-- yet I don't see self-styled 'skeptics' engaging seriously in the scientific debate over just what the (short-term) climate sensitivity to doubled CO2 is. At best I see them mention selected studies that might suggest a lower sensitivity. But that's a long way from strong evidence for low sensitivity when there are other significant studies (using a number of independent lines of evidence) suggesting higher sensitivity. To this point the few climate scientists who actually still do research and claim sensitivity is very low have a poor track record: their work hasn't survived critical examination, and they have failed to convince and recruit supporters to their research programs (despite the obvious fact that many who are now worried about GHG emissions would be nothing but happy and relieved to discover that they won't be such a big problem after all). Which brings me back to the conspiracy/ malfeasance claims above-- to be blunt, I don't see any evidence here (though I do see a lot of spittle flying). If you really want to claim the evidence is on your side, you need to do less PR and more actual science to back that claim up.

August 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBryson Brown

Bryson Brown

But I've seen all of these trashed and distorted in 'skeptic' posts- with no objections from any of those skeptics who do know that (for example) CO2 really is a greenhouse gas (and a non-condensing one to boot), that back-radiation from the atmosphere does increase surface warmth (and this is not a violation of the second law any more than evolution by natural selection is),

Which skeptic blogs are you reading? The "Dragon Slayers" make these claims. Anthony Watts agrees CO2 is a non-condensing radiative gas. He's had guest posts by Roy Spencer explaining it and so on.

As for your argument about 'higher vs lower' sensitivity: it's a bit vague. You don't give any numbers so it's impossible to tell whether you are correct in your claims about whether "higher" or "lower" that some unstated number are more plausible.

August 19, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterlucia

@Bryson
Nicely stated

@Dan
I think this blog thing might be working! We are having a long and complex discussion on important topics. Thanks.

August 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEric Fairfield

@ lucia,
Good addition. I was in a hurry. I should have added that caveat.

August 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEric Fairfield

Bryson, you must have quit reading for awhile. Watts, McIntyre, Condon, and others have papers that do question the basic building blocks of climate scince as portrayed by the IPCC, and in other areas as well. I don't know of any posts by these persons that does not recognize basic physics. In terms of modelling, I don't think Jerry Browning with Kreiss can be considered as non-published. I have not read any of these persons make the "Sky Dragon" argument.

First to the dubious claims. It is good to see you skeptical of Her Majesty's government which issued that the prima facie evidence that a violation of law had occurred but could not be pursued due to, as was claimed above, a statue of limits. You state "The repeated claims of conspiracy and malfeasance by climate scientists above are dubious, and intrinsically irrelevant to the core evidence" then state "when there are other significant studies (using a number of independent lines of evidence) suggesting higher sensitivity". The problem as stated by the IPCC in AR4 is that paleo and models are not truly independent. Nor, does your statement reflect that the paleo studies use the same data and are not truly independent, since the number of series that meet the criteria for temperature sensitive are few, according to the authors in the IPCC AR4.

Your statement of "At best I see them mention selected studies that might suggest a lower sensitivity..." is also misinformation. Low sensitivity of about 1.7 C for doubling is in most papers. An example can be found here on this blog. The post was about Nuccutelli & Mann's response to some of the claims of low sensitivity. However, those who read would note that in the very likely range that all, but 3 of the 9, include 1.7 C. Thus what we see is disagreement about science. In fact, in that same article 2 of the 9 which use the last millenium and instrument data suggest about 2.3 C for doubling as the most likely, with ranges extending lower. Further, it should be noted that those sensitivities that used informative rather than uninformative have higher sensitivities. In other words, accepting expert opinion raised the sensitivity wrt using a more objective criteria.

Thus, IMO, your claims of what is going on and who is doing it, do not reflect what is known, but something else.

August 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Pittman

John:

My view is not that all the lines of evidence are utterly independent--but they do provide considerable opportunity for cross checking consistency. It's that sort of testing that underwrites the very strong consensus in the field that studies from Oreskes and Cook (more recently) have identified.

I have indeed stopped reading some sources (say, MacIntyre and Watt, except for very occasional looks) because of the ugly cacophony on Watt's site and the fact that multiple analyses and reviews of Mann's work, as well as similar paleo studies using other data, have reinforced its soundness, despite some subtle differences over exactly how the statistics should be done, not to mention the fundamental errors in M&M's attempt to show that Mann's methodology leads to illusory 'hockey sticks'.

As you say, sensitivity numbers do vary, and some studies do suggest lower figures-- but I don't find 2.3 degrees (or even 1.7) all that reassuring given where CO2 levels appear to be headed, and counting on it being still lower is a (very) high-risk policy. Worse, the existence of many studies suggesting higher ranges is also worrisome, unless you're simply prepared to dismiss them-- which is what 'skeptics' in our local press generally do: we get articles by Dr. Tim Ball and others of that ilk presented as one side of the climate debate, which is a pretty extreme form of 'skepticism' (too extreme for me to take seriously-- especially with the conspiracy theory add-ons). II don't think that reflects your perspective here. But I'm not all that clear what your perspective is, given your acknowledgement of the possibility or even probability of sensitivities higher than 2 degrees C... Isn't that enough to justify a serious policy response?

August 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBryson Brown

I am not sure about 2 C. Depending on how you treat the uncertainty in AR4, 2 C could be just fine. Thinking 3 C would be just fine requires belief in that the paleo are far off. It is known that the methodology tends to compress the variance, but I have not seen a demonstration that it compresses the signal to that extent. Though I would disagree with you about Mann since the paleo's have so few series that meet their criteria of temperature sensitive, they use many of the same series in each reconstruction and thus Mann's work has not been independently confirmed.

But my perspective is that I prefer uninformative priors with recorded temperature for reconstructions which tend to be in the 1.5 to 2.3 range. However, with their short data span, results have to be taken with a big grain of salt. But that is true to me for models and paleo. But then that is why the range is so large for very likely.

I do not dismiss the potential; I dismiss the policies offered to date. But in terms of potential, we know that it is limited if those same standard is applied to other paleo findings.

The problem with a policy with such a large range is that we will not know if we were fools or geniuses. If we mitigate, discussions will be based on counterfactuals and not measured. The victory of precautionary measures. I oppose not knowing. If it was a "train headed for us", it would be nice; but that simply is not the truth of our abilities at present. So, it is not the potential that I use to decide, but rather what has been demonstrated. At this point the range is wide enough to cover promoting fossil fuels to severe restricting. So, I oppose mitigating policies, at present.

August 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Pittman

Dan:

If public confusion over climate change was a consequence of over-reliance on heuristic reasoning, we’d expect the beliefs of those members of the population who are highest in science comprehension to be most in line with the best available evidence.

But they are, aren't they?

Didn't you discover that higher "science comprehension" scores go hand-in-hand with less fear of climate change, just as it goes hand-in-hand with less fear of nuclear energy? Sure, the effect is rather dilute, but that's because the benefits of greater "science comprehension" are far more pronounced on the cultural "right" (excuse the shorthand), whereas on the "left" some unknown factor is acting to suborn "science comprehension" and turn it against the individual's ability to gauge the threat—or lack thereof—posed by the sciencey entity in question. And that is a fascinating discovery in itself: that something is making most better-educated people on the "left" more, not less, vulnerable to unscientific fear-mongering on a small handful of science questions. Still, fortunately for the human race, this hijacking and perversion of the ratiocinative faculties of many egalitarian/communitarian-leaning citizens is not quite enough to cancel out the normal, healthy use of those faculties by the remaining majority of the population. For example, if you'll forgive the resort to anecdote, I personally belong to the cultural "left" yet am evidently immune to the mystery pathology: my high scientific literacy leads me directly to discount bogus threats. And this ability to use scientific education/literacy/information to "think straight" on climate change, nuclear energy etc. is happily shared by almost everyone on the other (hierarchical/individualist) side of the population, is it not? So there's no need to be quite so pessimistic about the human race, IMHO.

NiV, you pungently ask what many of us are thinking:

Why is it that you can put the ClimateGate evidence right under their noses, even other scientists like Dan here, and they can somehow fail to see in it what is so blindingly obvious to you?

Haven't you ever wondered what goes through their heads?

1. But actually, in my experience, there is a real and acute information/knowledge discrepancy at work. Most believers in dangerous climate change I've met honestly don't have any idea what the Climategate emails said, and a great many of them stare blankly at the word "Climategate" itself. Apparently their choice of media outlets and social/cultural contacts have succeeded in protecting them from any lasting awareness of the scandal ever since it broke in 2009. At most they might vaguely recall some news item that caused Jon Stewart to gently rebuke "The Scientists" for a lack of transparency, plus some subsequent urban factoid about nine or ten "independent inquiries" exonerating "The Scientists" of any wrongdoing, all of which seems to have laid to rest whatever reluctant curiosity they ever had about the details of the scandal. But my field-work is necessarily anecdotal; I think it would be very interesting if people who are funded to research public belief-formation—like our host—were to test subjects not (just) on their overall "scientific literacy" trivia skills but on their factual familiarity with the climate-change controversy itself, including the hidden declines, destroyed databases, censored data, doctored attribution statements, "consensuses" of one, intimidated editors, ostracised scientists, non-replicable papers, false IPCC marketing claims, etc.—and see whether (or not) this category of knowledge empowered citizens to converge on an accurate value for the seriousness of the supposed AGW problem. My hypothesis is that it would indeed be found to help them, and strongly.

2. Admittedly, however, you are quite right to note the existence of a type of person who seems to be immune to such information even when it's waved in his or her face. But I think Dan has already put his finger on the mechanism behind this kind of cognitive scotoma, without, perhaps, realizing it:

"... people, as a result of the ubiquity and intensity of cultural cognition, aggressively mislead themselves.  They aggressively seek out information that confirms and avoid information that challenges their predispositions. And when exposed to the same sources of valid information selectively credit and discredit it in patterns that amplify polarization."

Joshua:

Your cyber-harassment of Willis is the only thing that's "creepy". Your obsessive references to an off-topic historical encounter bring into sharp relief your inability to answer the points Willis has raised here and now. Lame.

September 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Keyes

Bryson:

It's that sort of testing that underwrites the very strong consensus in the field that studies from Oreskes and Cook (more recently) have identified.

If you think Oreskes found any evidence whatsoever of a "very strong consensus" you are misinformed. Please read her risible 2004 essay in Science and get back to us; if you still choose to insist that she "identified" any such thing, it will be clear to us all that you have evolved from victim to perpetrator of misinformation. Oreskes' two-page essay (which was not a study, an article, a paper, nor a piece of peer-reviewed scholarship of any genre known to mankind) draws its concluding insinuation from the very fact that almost nobody in climate science was talking about the topic in question! Silence equals consensus, if you buy into Oreskes' fallacious pseudo-scholarship. Tobacco-selling frauds like Al Gore claim to take such junk seriously. I don't.

September 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrad Keyes

Count me in among the low IQ folks who didn't catch the obvious.

Boy, do I ever feel silly and inadequate among my intellectual superiors.

September 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPolitical Junkie

I think I may have a partial explanation. And of course I can only speak for myself but I suspect others who would self-identify as "climate skeptics" may share this view.

I did a search on all three pages of comments for "energy policy." Not one instance found. "Climate policy," though, all over the place.

Here's the thing, at least to this skeptic, there is no such thing as "climate policy." What people mean by that term is an energy policy aimed to minimize/reduce/eliminate/etc CO2 emissions.

So you said:

"I am assuming (a) that there are among individuals and organizations who subscribe to a skeptical orientation a good many who harbor a good-faith, public-spirited motivation to contribute to informed public opinion and policies consistent with the best understanding of the data--just as there is such a motivation on the "believer" side; (b) that these groups of citizens communicate with one another and engage in some amount of organized activity to try to achieve that end--just as ones on the "believer" side do; and (c) that they form and act on the basis of theories, of a more or less systematically developed nature, about how members of the public form their perceptions of the best available evidence."

If instead of looking at things from the direction of climate science, look at things from the perspective of energy generation systems, subsidy policies and so on. I think there you will find a concerted effort to disseminate accurate information about say, the true market cost of solar power and wind power and the impact their forced incorporation into a grid has on consumer price and viability, and the economic impact on traditional providers.

October 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

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