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Wednesday
Jun112014

"Resolved: Climate change is not a 'crisis'": Using cultural cognition research in high school ecology class

[from Dan Kahan: The following is a guest post on a super important topic: teaching secondary-school students climate science in a polluted science communication environment. In today's society, opposing stances on climate change have taken on the character of badges of membership in, and loyalty to, competing cultural groups. No one should have to choose between knowing what's known to science and being who they are; certainly kids can't be expected to learn effectively when put in that position. But talented, dedicated science educators have faced the challenge of dispelling this conflict and have overcome it in other settings. It won't be easy to do here, but I'm confident they'll succeed--and that all of us will learn something in the process about how to disentangle the toxic knot between cultural identity and positions on climate change.  Read this--a report form a reflective and passionate science educator on his encounter with this dilemma--& you'll see why I'm so optimistic!]

By Peter Buckland

What do you do when you get an email from a parent who’s worried your teaching climate alarmism?

Peter Buckland, displaying the sense of wonder that he is dedicated to enabling his students to experienceIn my second year as Director of Sustainability at Kiski, I was tasked with teaching two sections of Ecology. I designed the course to merge ecological concept mastery, major human-environmental issues, a campus arboretum and organic gardens, and opportunities for reflection.  Given the world as it is, I had to do a fairly in-depth unit on the science of the climate and climate change.

When I was hired, I told my interviewers that I was likely to encounter some resistance to scientifically-based climate education. The national politics and the personal convictions of a sizable swath of conservative Americans and their vociferousness indicated we’d get a phone call, email, or some grousing. At Kiski, many of my students come from white middle- to upper-class conservative families whose political alliances virtually guarantee they will doubt anthropogenic global warming or outright deny it as liberal garbage. I knew my audience and the potential resistance and I also knew I had administrators and a science department chair who backed me up.

I focused on the scientific consensus and how it has been achieved. We did labs and activities using radiative forcing data from NOAA and historical regional land and ocean temperature maps from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. They read the most recent IPCC AR 5 “Headline Statement” and other current materials. One section got to Skype with Dr. Michael E. Mann, Director of Penn State’s Earth Systems Science Center and author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars who spoke about current findings in climate science and not much on politics or lawsuits. All in all, the unit was shaping up well.

Then, at the end of the unit, I received an email from a concerned parent. He was concerned that I was being imbalanced in my teaching and courting some kind of climate alarmism. As a geologist, he had done some personal research and discerned that our climate was changing, that there was some anthropogenic forcing, but that climate change was not as bad as some people were making it out to be and that it certainly wasn’t a catastrophe. He offered to come to my class to balance the scales with a presentation of his own.

I admit, I was initially insulted and started a keyboard barrage. Yes! Bludgeon him with scientific data, authoritative scientific organizations, and self-righteous ire. After a few minutes though, I realized my strategy would backfire. My awareness of research about motivated reasoning and identity protection overrode my impulses. The emailing parent seemed in the “Doubtful” or maybe “Dismissive” camp of the Yale Six Americas study. Working from Lewandowsky’s and Cook’s The Debunking Handbook, I knew I should avoid emphasizing falsehoods, prevent an overkill backfire from a barrage of information (so hard), and do what I can to stop a worldview backfire, Dan Kahan’s focus at Cultural Cognition. Caution was in order. This was an opportunity.

When I wrote back I thanked the parent for being interested in his son’s education, his interest in the topic, and then explained my course’s logic. First, I work to represent current science accurately. Second, I am not an arbiter of my students’ values. While I am pretty alarmed about climate change’s scale and pace, it is not my place to indoctrinate my students into a political or emotional faction but to invite them to reflect on the state of the world and their own lives and values (how American of me). Third, and most importantly, I would provide them with the opportunity to develop their own views on the matter by taking positions in a mock UNFCCC deliberation where they could determine their thresholds for risk or whether or not climate change is a catastrophe. I would end up changing that format, though, because I wanted to get around my students’ motivated reasoning and develop their scientific literacy, their moral literacy, and their communication and analytical skills.

I split my classes into small groups and had them take positions on the following proposition: “Climate change is not a crisis.” We followed the format of Intelligence Squared that airs on National Public Radio. I instructed my students’ to incorporate well-grounded scientific information that reflects current understanding and make a clear argument of definition about what does or does not constitute a crisis. I chose this format from among three options for a few strategic reasons. First, the debate was not “Climate change is real: yes or no.” We could not deal in disproven or junk science. Second, by debating the proposition in the negative – “not a crisis” – I avoided an alarmist’s position. Third, equal numbers of students would have to be on one side or the other in groups I created deliberately.  This way I could put very concerned or alarmed students for the proposition and dismissive or doubtful students against it, thereby inviting them to reason in ways that could counter their own motivated reasoning. Fourth, at no point did I tell my students to be “objective,” “unbiased,” “rational,” or “open-minded.” While I might like them to do that, entreating them to be so could backfire as research has indicated it does. We like to believe we are open-minded and those people over there are the close-minded unrealistic ones. My set-up could avert some of that problem.

This model has at least two potential flaws. Someone could accuse me of a certain kind of censorship or choice editing. I have to edit my students’ choices in class. All teachers are, to some extent, editors. To master trophic relationships in the soil I would not tell my students that it is okay to entertain the notion that the soil food web is a hoax because the first law of thermodynamics is wrong. Similarly, any responsible understanding of the science of climate change at this point will not entertain hoax arguments.

A second problem may be more insidious. Simply inviting group deliberation could entrench people even further. At Cultural Cognition, Dan Kahan writes, “Far from counteracting this effect, deliberation among diverse groups is likely to accentuate polarization.  By revealing the correlation between one or another position and one or another cultural style, public debate intensifies identity-protective pressure on individuals to conform to the views dominant within their group.” Earlier I wrote that I had initially conceived of this project using a mock UNFCCC framework. I decided not to use that format to skirt worldview-threatening messages. As Kahan et al show in some of their research, hierarchical individualists (who map fairly well onto American conservatives) doubt climate change science more if it’s couched in terms of carbon regulations. Because the UNFCCC deliberations focus so heavily on regulation of markets and perceived United Nations’ interference, I tried to dodge that landmine.

How did they debate? They crafted arguments around what constitutes a crisis. One group that agreed with the proposition – climate change is not a crisis – said that on the scale of crises there is only so much room for big crises; global poverty, AIDS, and wars held up that space. Climate change may be a problem but it is so slow that right now it is not urgent. But another group argued it is a crisis because of the enormous costs to disaster-prone areas, the cost to insure them, and the costs to reinsurance. Using MunichRe and SwissRe as sources they made a powerful argument against the proposition. Yet another used techno-optimism a la Ray Kurzweil to predict that solar power will eclipse fossil fuels in the next couple of decades, thereby eliminating the largest emissions sources. But those against the proposition showed that threats to the carbon cycle were so severe already that major disruptions in ecosystem services and extinction were real, present, and harming people. Sadly, one group did not follow directions and used thoroughly debunked and scientifically invalid arguments. A teacher can’t control everything.

The emailing parent’s son was a star too. He was placed on a team that argued that climate change is a crisis and he spoke for the group (each group had a designated speaker). During the question and answer session that followed each teams’ statement, he answered questions clearly and asked his opponents intelligent and pointed questions. At one point, after pointing out the denier groups’ inaccuracies, their leader looked red in the face and asked, Do you think it’s a crisis?

He said something to the effect of, No. But that’s not the point. I’m arguing a position and doing it the best I can. But there are facts and we shouldn’t be afraid of facts. I don’t have to think this is a crisis to believe it’s real.

I felt pretty satisfied as a teacher at that moment. He and his group had formulated a scientifically-informed and sensible argument with which he did not agree. And in so doing, he showed that he could master scientific information he might have rejected were it presented in a way that it would have threatened his and his family’s worldview.

Just last week, he graduated and I had the chance to talk to his dad, the emailing parent. He and his son had talked about the debate. I told him I had created it in part because of his email. And he was pleased with that and the experience it gave his son. He agreed that whatever we might think climate change’s status as crisis or not, that we should all master sound information and concepts and learn to place them into coherent messages. It was, once again, very satisfying to have some evidence that developing the assignment using my understanding of identity protection and motivated reasoning had worked with at least one student.

It seems to me that I might have made some educational errors had I not known and thoughtfully strategized from the cultural cognition and related research. I encourage others to craft similar strategies to develop their students and the public’s/publics’ climate literacy. By attending to who we are, we have better chances at dealing with reality together. With the world’s climate changing as rapidly as it is, we need to use the best strategies we can so that we can be better ecological citizens.

Peter Buckland is completing his two-year term as Director of Sustainability at the Kiski School. He has worked on energy, waste, land, and educational projects ranging from gardens and an arboretum to a comprehensive energy strategy and teacher development. He sees his purpose as making possibilities for all people to become better ecological citizens, people who “recognizes the importance and interconnectivity of all living beings, human and non-human…[who] understands that she or he is responsible to all beings and actively seeks sustainable futures for them” (Kissling and Barton, 2013). He is finishing his doctorate in Educational Theory and Policy at Penn State University.

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Reader Comments (51)

What a wonderful and effective lesson, Peter. I'm a new teacher and I wish I'd seen something like this before finishing the semester. But I'm also glad I didn't try such an activity before reading this. Your reflective practice and thoughtful observation were sadly a bit beyond my abilities this first year of teaching.

As I continue teaching I will strive to work to the standard you've modeled here.

Thank you and, I'm so stealing this activity!
Lynn

June 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLynn Wilhelm

Lewandows and Cook are perhaps not the most reliable sources

both have papers where errors have been claimed /identified. And both have refused to release the data for these papers.

additionally, they are percieved as a non neutral source on climate science and are percieved as political activist on the topic of climate change.Which is not just my view. They recently had a paper retracted, the founder of the journal renowned neuro scientist Professor Henry Markram, described it as activism using science as a weapon.

June 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Thanks for the compliment Lynn. I hope you find it effective.

Barry, note that the purpose of using the Debunking Handbook as a reference is to deal with good communication and avoid backfires. We could apply the same strategy to any of a number of forms of dealing with disinformation - could be about the rampant misinformation regarding condoms in sub-Saharan Africa or considerably more innocuous things like someone asserting Ser Jorah Mormont had decapitated Ned Stark on Game of Thrones when in fact it was Ser Ilyn Payne (but was it?). The strategy is what mattered to me, not Lewandowsky's and Cook's moral or political views about climate change (with which I agree for the most part).

Cheers.

June 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Buckland

Some images from Cook's private forum leaked a little while back. Admin failures. As even google and the wayback machine were able to cache them..

credibility matters.. imagine a parent of that child. Or the child in that debste bringing them to your classes attention. Cook has never explained why they were created. Or why he kept them on his private Skepticsl Science forum.. Do you know what those images were.? And how that parent might react to them?

You have not adressed my main criticism. Both of these authors have refused to provide the data for published research.. this goes to the very heart of science. Any member of the public will understand this..

June 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Peter,

An interesting approach, and an entertaining presentation! My compliments.

There are a few points I'm curious on.

"I have to edit my students’ choices in class. [...] Similarly, any responsible understanding of the science of climate change at this point will not entertain hoax arguments."

What criteria did you use to decide what to edit, and how in general do you identify "hoax arguments"? This is a difficult problem because it is possible even for scientists to disagree on the validity of an argument, and one of the big problems in this area is such differing interpretations. Did you cover that process and its potential implications, risks, and limitations in your lesson?

(By the sound of it, since one group went off track, it got covered anyway. But it would be nice to know a bit more about the process.)

"But another group argued it is a crisis because of the enormous costs to disaster-prone areas, the cost to insure them, and the costs to reinsurance."

What were the costs they identified? And did anyone also count up the benefits, and trade them off against one another?

"Sadly, one group did not follow directions and used thoroughly debunked and scientifically invalid arguments."

What were their arguments?

---

Barry,

The SkS images are ad hominem argument - not relevant to the validity of the science. And errors and ethics violations in some of their papers don't necessarily say anything about any of their other work. Each individual argument has to be judged on its own merits.

Although I'd agree that it's rather worrying that a teacher was seeking to avoid the use of "thoroughly debunked and scientifically invalid arguments" and yet cites Lewandowsky and Cook approvingly. (And even more so with Michael Mann.) Are they perhaps aware of the issues with some of the authors' other work but checked and came to their own judgement on the correctness of the particular document or information cited? Or are they perhaps not as expert at identifying "thoroughly debunked and scientifically invalid arguments" as they claim?

It's certainly not proof of a problem, nor even prima facie evidence of one, but it is I think a question well worth asking.

June 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV

I made the point what if the parent was aware of tbe images. And questioned the suitability of Cook as a resource to be used. I think that is relevant, especially as debunking handbook is supposedly about psychology

if ateacher used a resource. Whose author had leaked pictures of themselves photoshopped as Himmler. With swaztikas replaced with the Skeptical Science logo.. I would as a parent be questioning the teacher and the school about them.. ad hom or not

when 10:10 had that video released. The headteacher of the school pullex the school involvement with 10:10 completly.. they would have a very dim view of a resource whoe author. Also had a photoshop of tbe Nuremburg Rallies. Photo shopped with An arrow to John Cook. And the Nazi flags replaced with flags showing the SKS logo's

this is extremely relevant in the context of the article.. ie a concerned parent

June 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Meant to say headteacher of my childs school (ref 10:10)

June 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

@Niv & @Barry & @anyone else--

Here is a little exercise that I think goes to the heart of the problem.

Imagine (maybe this not an exercise in imagination at all for you, I have no idea) that you were going to design an assessment test for climate science comprehension.

For sure, you wouldn't want the assessment to comprise items for which the answers correlate highly with whether someone simply has the group affiliation that makes him or her reliably endorse "believer" propositions or "skeptic" ones. Right or wrong, such items woulnd't be measuring comprehension, for in that case, the members of one group would be likely to get the answers "correct" regardless of whether they actually understand anything, and members of the other would be likely to get it "wrong" no matter how much they know!

So please identify some test items that would validly, reliably measure climate science comprehension equally in members of the two groups. Ones that consistently right answers to would indicate genuine knowledge of a sort that a person could use to make sense of anything in particular about climate science that he or she was interested in.

At that point, you see, you will have identified the backbone of a course for someone in @Buckland's position to teach.

If you want to do this exercise--& I hope you do!-- then really really do try hard to come up with quesitons that you believe someone who *disagrees* with you on climate change wouldn't reject for that reason. Ones that a fair-minded person would not see as designed to start to maneuver someone toward a particular outcome on a culturally/politically disputed issue.

I bet both of you can do it!

June 11, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

I have little time..
But Exeter University recently ran a MOOC Climate Science course that I thought was excellent
Which would be an excellent course for any student. Real climate scientist, not sks

June 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

May I suggest something simpler for the author..

Last year the Royal Society head a 2 day event (the hash tag was #RSclimate) a literal who is who of climate science were in a attendance. The new director of NASA goddard was there, including Gavin Schmidt, and many leading IPCC scientists

There are about a 15 presentations (including Gavin) recorded on many climate science topics up to date with respect to IPCC AR5

Set the students an assignment to listen to them
Particularly the Q/A sessions at the end of each recording

Where climate scientists are robustly questioning and challenging and discussing the science

One notable point, the met office chief scientist suggesting that the pause in global surface temp might last 30 years due to the PDO, and others thinking that the late 80's90's warming may have had a larger contribution by natural causes than previously thought..

Perhaps that pause and natural variability is something the author above 'edited out' , perhaps not

That would give a very good grounding in absolute current climate science thinking, is the event was due to IPCC AR5 working group 1 report being published. The physical science

It also show the considerable debate in areas that are often portrayed as very certain, when in fact there are many competing hypothesis, lots of very robust discussion. Which is just normal

Maybe that would be a good grounding very accessible and a starting point for what Dan suggests..

Https://royalsociety.org/events/2013/climatescience-next-steps/

Click on each speaker profile to find a link to the audio

Maybe get the students to compare and contrast the science they hear beingg discussed by leading IPCC authors, and compare it to wharpt they hear about on the same subject matter via the media and from politicians, activists and even sceptics?

June 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Dan,

Sure.

1. Why are the tops of mountains colder than the their bottoms, when everyone knows that "hot air rises"?

2. Roughly how much does the average temperature change over the 6200 miles from equator to pole? Over how many miles on average does the average temperature change 1 C?

3. Describe what happened to the Earth's climate during any of the following events: the Younger Dryas, the Holocene Climate Optimum, the Dansgaard-Oeschger events, the Eemian.

4. The El Nino/La Nina cycle is the result of large scale movements of warm water in which ocean?

5. By how much, roughly, does the sea surface temperature vary between summer and winter?

6. Rossby waves are moving disturbances in the boundary between the cold polar convection cell and the warmer mid-latitude Ferrell cell, along which the jet stream flows. Sometimes weather systems cause these waves to slow down or stop, triggering long spells of either warm or cold weather over the latitudes below. What are these weather patterns called?

7. How does the global thermohaline circulation keep the deep ocean so cold?

8. Is the Earth closer to the sun in January or June?

9. Why does high pressure generally bring clear and sunny weather, while low pressure brings clouds and rain?

10. How do clouds stay up in the sky? How much more water is there in a cloud typically than in the surrounding clear air?

Those are a few examples picked at random. There's lots of interesting stuff to talk about in meteorology and climatology without getting into the global warming controversy. And it's all perfectly good stuff for a science lesson. But they probably wouldn't help all that much to understand the climate change debate, which would require a deeper knowledge on a narrower range of topics.

As a test of climate science literacy, I'd expect those questions to work for both sides. As a set of topics suitable for teaching children about climate science or science generally, they're fine.

But I'm hearing that teachers such as Peter Buckland aren't being required to teach climate science per se, they're required to teach about global warming as a scientifically-based political issue on which they're supposed to be 'informed citizens', so general meteorology probably wouldn't work as course material.

Nor do I necessarily disagree with them doing that. Making informed judgements in science-based political controversies is a useful skill for future citizens, and far more likely to be useful to them than a recital of a long list of scientific trivia they'll never have any need of again. But that's more about general research skills, general numeracy, an awareness of logical fallacies and all the many ways reasoning can go wrong. It's about the philosophy of Popper and Feynman and Galileo. It's about knowing how the scientific process works - grants and publication and peer review, and so on, and the career and financial pressures involved. Why replication and showing your working are important. It's about knowing why you should always seek out the best arguments *against* the standard position to judge their strength or weakness. Most of the science they see will likely be advertising - "Our shampoo contains pentapeptides to slow the 14 signs of aging" sort of stuff. Science is the art of Not Being Fooled.

But all of that is about general techniques applicable to any topic, not just climate. There probably ought to be a series of questions to test that, too.

Actually, Peter's approach sounds like a good one. It involved systematically seeking out the best arguments on *both* sides of the argument, and deliberately taking measures to challenge one's own beliefs and assumptions. You need to understand one's opponent's argument well enough to argue it if one is to argue convincingly against it. It's a very positive thing to see. But there are a few jarring notes about it, that make us wonder if this might be only part of the picture. There are lots of good climate scientists around who do a lot of good quality work that I'd trust, even in the mainstream, and that I'd be happy to see cited in class,, but Mann, Lewandowsky, and Cook are not among them. They're well-known to be activists, who... let us say... seem inclined towards one particular end of Schneider's choice between being honest and being effective. It's worrying to see them mentioned in the context of educating children, and it's worrying that a teacher aiming to teach a balanced view from both sides apparently can't spot it. But I might be misinterpreting what Peter did to check their material, of course, which is why I ask the question.

June 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

“It was, once again, very satisfying to have some evidence that developing the assignment using my understanding of identity protection and motivated reasoning had worked with at least one student.”

All you did was treat the, (perceived), evil denier and his father with a modicum of respect, even though it was fake respect, motivated by your psychobabble inspired strategy, like holding your left hand out to a wild animal to sniff before you can club him with the right. You demonstrated faux respect, you got respectful behavior in return.

You placed the son in the most challenging circumstance you could and he demonstrated greater knowledge and competence than you expected. It is likely, (although I am presuming) that he and his father have a much greater knowledge and understanding of the subject matter than you do, and likely any other of the students. This was demonstrated in his willingness and success in arguing for a proposition he completely disagreed with.

You are unable to see this. You feel avoidance of confronting the animus of the father was enough for a satisfactory outcome, but it is apparent that you never took the time to listen to the son or the father in an objective and critical way. To you they are just poor deluded souls suffering from motivated reasoning.

Dan Kahan,

Like NiV, I would suggest a test that is more about science literacy and numeracy and FAMILIARITY with subject matter.

A. Trick questions, such as: If we assume that CO2 from man’s activities is going to warm the surface of Earth significantly, does this endanger the populations of Polar Bears residing in the Antarctic.
B. Knowledge of pertinent acronyms: GISS, HADCRU, RSS, UAH, AMO, PDO, IPCC , SST, TOA, ETC.
C. Math test questions, including algebra, and statistics.
D. Vocabulary questions: Adiabatic, convection, radiative, feedback etc.

June 11, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjeez

jeez,

My favourite 'trick question' is to ask them to calculate/estimate for me the magnitude of the greenhouse effect at the bottom of a shallow pond.

(Water of course strongly absorbs and re-emits infra-red, which is the characteristic property of a 'greenhouse' material. It is so powerful a greenhouse agent that it absorbs all thermal IR emitted within about 20 microns. You can easily use this fact to calculate its greenhouse effect - it's a much easier calculation than the one for the atmosphere, and is a good test of whether a person really understand the physics.)

But that would fail Dan's test of "Ones that a fair-minded person would not see as designed to start to maneuver someone toward a particular outcome on a culturally/politically disputed issue". :-)

June 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@NiV

thanks.

You say that the test questions you propose "probably wouldn't help all that much to understand the climate change debate, which would require a deeper knowledge on a narrower range of topics."

As you know, I don't think the sort of assessment that would be of greatest use here needs to or even should focus on the 'climate change debate,' given the dilemma we are discussing. But it should measure a kind of apptitude-- some combination of basic knowledge & ability to draw valid inferences -- the possession of which would reliably equip someone to make critical assessments of the issues in the debate if such a person were to apply him- or herself to the task.

Do you think the sort of instruction that would generate knowledge of the things you identified wouldn't do that? or would you add other things?

I'm not sure what teachers are being instructed etc to teach about climate change. My sense from looking at the literature is that serious educators hold a veriety of views -- including that being able to engage refelectively with climate sicence issues is likely to be an important form of civic knowledge for democratic citizens, but also that climate science is generating interesting and innovative forms of inquiry (e.g., dynamic modeling) that its very appropriate to expose kids to & likely would serve to excite their appetite to know more.

But even if the mission is *entirely* about "civic science literacy" (let's say, using J. Miller's term), I think what I'm describing -- one that aims to equip students for indepedendent reflective engagement -- would likely be the optimal strategy, given the kinds of difficulties someone like @Buckland is describing.

June 11, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@jeez:

1. The idea that the best form of assessment for this purpose woudl be one that measures science comprehension generally does seem like the right answer. But as likely you realize, such measures are associated with greater degrees of cultural & political polarization over the evidence on human-caused climate change! Of course, science educators should be instilling numeracy, cogntivie reflection, knowledge of fundamental propositions of physical and biological sciences etc.; those qualities of mind are filled with value, intrinsic and instrumental. But b/c of the sad situation we are in, I think if someone's goal were to make critical engagement with climate science issues possible (the "civic science literacy" missione that NiV referred to, I guess), then he or she would conclude that this vital form of science education wouldn't by itself do the job (I imagine such a person, too, would be quite dismayed that the value of science comprehension or literacy has been put in such obvious jeopardy by our posioned science communication enviroment ....)

Do you think that any sort of "climate science" program that aimed to equip studnets in the way I'm describing would also have this polarization amplification effect? I'm really not sure, but I'm very interested in figuriong that out

2. NiV is right about the "trick" questions. I get the idea; actually, in my experience, it's people who don't really get the basics of test theory who describe as 'trick questions' ones that reliably provoke the wrong answer in those who don't know something. The probability that person will get the right answer should be *lower* than chance. So questions that pit attractive wrong answers against the right answer are *good*. Questions that people with a "pro-" or "con-" affective orientation can be flushed out w/ climate-science items that are wrong but appeal to one or the other of those orientations. But questions like that have the problem I mentioned before.

3. I think you are being unfair in your reading of @Buckland's account. I think he describes, honestly, an initial defensive sense when the father contacted him-- that's very natural and very understandable! What's important -- what testifies to @buckland's well-tuned 'educator situation sense' -- is that he quickly grasped the general difficulty that this was creating for his mission to teach. He shares the strategic frame of mind he adopted to try to solve the problem; but he adopted that essentially as a technician, a problem solver, not as a manipulator... I don't see where the disrespect is coming in -- in particular insofar as he says very clearly that it was important and gratifying to him that he generated something of value to people who didn't even "change their minds" on what they regarded as the key issues.

As I mentioned to @NiV, I've been looking through materials on 'teaching climate science" & "climate science literacy" recently. There is plenty of stuff out there that one can see is aimed at generating desired political orientations toward climate change; those materials are for the most part ones that are generated by advocacy groups. Maybe there is an interesting discussion to be had about the appropriateness & value of such materials, but they are not of interest to me, at least right now.

But there are also a lot of materials being generated, discussions taking place, among professional educators who see teaching in this sort of super-charged, hostile social state as a challenge for them to surmount. Like @Buckland, it's clear that the professionals in that discussion see special value in pedagogical strategies that they can see enable people to learn *even when they aren't* changing their "positions." I think they see evincing respect for kids regardless of views as a likely element of such a strategy. But their commitment to doing as good a job in imparting knowledge to someone who feels one was as who feels another *is* genuine respect, of the most important kind in their business

June 11, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

" I don't see where the disrespect is coming in -- in particular insofar as he says very clearly that it was important and gratifying to him that he generated something of value to people who didn't even "change their minds" on what they regarded as the key issues. "

Seriously?

He turns to the masters of ad hominem psychobabble and propaganda, Lewandowsky, Cook, and Mann, in order to find the means with which to communicate with the dangerous aboriginals, colloquially known as “Dismissives”, hopefully without provoking them, because of the known danger.
Thinking he has adopted a sophisticated communication and persuasion strategy, he simply appears to show respect. Unaware of the deceit behind the clenched smile, the aboriginals return the perceived respect with real respect.

In the end he feels good about their interaction and the mutual respect he experienced. Someday, the professor hopes, civilization may learn something from those barbarians. He feels really good, proud of his bridge-building.

~jeez

PS

Dr. Kahan, (is Dr. appropriate for a J.D.?)

I am lightly familiar with your work. I believe you are working to be open-minded and fair on these subjects, something that, logically, might not have occurred to you given my comments above.

June 12, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjeez

==> "Perhaps that pause and natural variability is something the author above 'edited out' , perhaps not"

Perhaps. But here's what the author said about what he edited.

"Similarly, any responsible understanding of the science of climate change at this point will not entertain hoax arguments."

So he says he edited "hoax" arguments and you wonder if he edited out arguments about the degree of natural versus anthropogenic forcing?

Interesting.

Personally, as a teacher, I don't see any particular need for him to have restricted the arguments. Better, IMO, to not only leave in the hoax arguments but also to introduce information about the polarizing political influences that are associated with "AGW is a hoax" arguments. I'd also include the "all climate scientists fabricate data so they can get grant money" arguments as well. The list goes on, of course, and there is a bag of arguments on the other side that parallel extreme views often found among "skeptics" - and you do have to limit the material at some point...but my point is that more important, IMO, than having the students simply evaluate evidence-based arguments to evaluate the proposition - they should also evaluate evidence related to why the proposition is so polarizing and why so many people have very extreme views related to the proposition.

June 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Jeez

I didn't infer that you thought I was being closed-minded.

But if I have missed something, logical or otherwise, it wouldn't be the first time, and if you helped me to see it, you wouldn't be the 1st person I thanked for doing so.

Now this business about "aborignals," "barbarians," "clenched smiles" ... *that* to me sounds like "psychobabble"!

I don't think you have enough evidence here to question @Buckland's motivations.

But if you do think he is a "bad guy" teacher-- fine: what would you advise a "good one" in his situation to do?

The problem he or she faces is *not* that students are "stupid." On the contrary, it's that they are extremely smart & can be expected, in an environment in which others will judge their character based on their political positions, to resourcefully use all the intelligence at their disposal to fit evidence they are shown to the position that is predominant in their group...

Whatever "side" they are on, they won't think critically, won't take on anything new, unless the teaching environment is one from which those sorts of dynamics have been removed.

If you accept this account of the problem (if not, how would you reformulate it), then what would you say(hypothesize) is the solution?

Also, *do* you think that a fair "climate science literacy" test would display the same maddening feature as a general science comprehension one in magnifying the sort of motivated reasoning that occurs on this issue?

PS Kahan

p.s. When I think of "Dr," I think of someone who writes prescriptions for antibiotics. I am a PS -- "professional student." How about you?

June 12, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

==> "As you know, I don't think the sort of assessment that would be of greatest use here needs to or even should focus on the 'climate change debate,' given the dilemma we are discussing."

I disagree. Because of the complexity of the technological issues at play, and the specific knowledge required, and the types of skills required to develop a deep understanding of the technological issues - it is unrealistic to think that a significant % of the students will really be able to fully evaluate all the scientific arguments on both sides of the climate wars. That doesn't mean that the shouldn't be a subject of study - they should. The more the students understand about the technical arguments, the better they are positioned to evaluate the effectiveness of various related policy options. But knowledge of the technical issues, even if the students were to understand them fully, would not be sufficient to understand why policy development is so complicated.

This is, indeed, like discussion of how to educate students about evolution. IMO, "teach the controversy" is vitally important to helping students develop as actualized learners. The notion that they should be shielded from vitally important, related information is rooted in the outdated "empty vessel" educational paradigm. Students are best educated, IMO, when they have practiced and exercised the skills of evaluating the validity of all kinds of evidence and understanding how human biases affect how they and others evaluate evidence. Meta-coginition, baby.

If you teach about climate change w/o having them evaluate why the issue is so polarized, and, for example, why so many skeptics argue that "AGW is a hoax," I think that your approach is sub-optimal for enhancing their ability to function within a society faced with leveraging science to develop societal policies.

June 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Peter -

Thanks for the post. I have used a somewhat similar approach in working with students to explore a variety of issues where we find such striking cultural polarization (ranging from "terrorist vs. freedom fighter" a variety of contexts to the OJ Simpson case). I have found that providing information on and having the students study a topics and then debate that topic from randomly assigned viewpoints to be a valuable tool for helping students to evaluate their own analytical processes. Along those lines, I think that you should rightfully feel some satisfaction that your one students said that he was trying to faithfully present an argument that he didn't agree with: That is such a powerful indication of success in your approach. On top of whatever technical understanding your students developed regarding the science of climate change, at least you know that (at least) one of your students was able to flourish as a self-actualized learner within the educational environment you created.

June 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"I don't think you have enough evidence here to question @Buckland's motivations. But if you do think he is a "bad guy" teacher-- fine: what would you advise a "good one" in his situation to do?"

I would imagine the speculation about motivations arose from where he says:

"I admit, I was initially insulted and started a keyboard barrage. Yes! Bludgeon him with scientific data, authoritative scientific organizations, and self-righteous ire. After a few minutes though, I realized my strategy would backfire. My awareness of research about motivated reasoning and identity protection overrode my impulses. The emailing parent seemed in the “Doubtful” or maybe “Dismissive” camp of the Yale Six Americas study. Working from Lewandowsky’s and Cook’s The Debunking Handbook, I knew I should avoid emphasizing falsehoods, prevent an overkill backfire from a barrage of information (so hard), and do what I can to stop a worldview backfire, Dan Kahan’s focus at Cultural Cognition. Caution was in order. This was an opportunity."

Insult? Self-righteous ire? Opportunity?

Opportunity to do what?

It would appear that the geologist parent didn't even dispute the mainstream science - there is warming and it's partly anthropogenic. The question was over whether it was a crisis, which is far more easily disputable. So how come our teacher got angry about it? Why was his response not to say - "I hadn't been telling them it was a crisis in the first place"?

But I think the strongest indication of Peter's motivations is what's missing from his narrative: - any mention at all of the cultural cognition, worldview backfire, or benefit of looking at alternative viewpoints for the believers in the climate crisis. The only danger he perceives is that the non-believers might be led by their worldview to reject the information. He doesn't appear to consider the implications of the effect being symmetric.

Thus, the perception is of somebody clearly on one side of the partisan divide, planning strategically for the best odds to persuade the other to their own point of view, without ever honestly considering changing his own. He consults the "debunking" handbook, presumably in the belief that that describes what he is doing. He "edits" the positions they're allowed to take to restrict them to positions he accepts as not "hoax arguments". He mentions how pleased he is that the boy in question was induced to present and argue a scientific position he didn't believe in, but how about himself?

I don't know. I don't think it is as clear as jeez does that this is what was intended. It might be that Peter was admitting his partisanship but setting up the debate as a genuine scientific and open-minded process, for which he is to be applauded for overcoming his own cultural motivations. That's why I was interested in the criteria by which positions were "edited", and what arguments were included or excluded.

I agree with Joshua - there should be no need to limit positions. If they're bad arguments, they'll lose in the debate anyway.

June 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV -

==> "I agree with Joshua - ..."


Well, after all this time, we finally find a point of agreement. :-)


But just so's we don't get all kumbya:

You say you agree about not limiting the positions examined, but you also said this:

==> " but Mann, Lewandowsky, and Cook are not among them. They're well-known to be activists, who... let us say... seem inclined towards one particular end of Schneider's choice between being honest and being effective. It's worrying to see them mentioned in the context of educating children,"

So you're disturbed that he would edit out the argument that "AGW is a hoax," but also find it disturbing that he'd mention Mann, Cook, and Lew in the context of teaching children? Imagine that someone might feel that it is "worrying" for someone to mention the "hoax theories" in the context of educating children.

I'll also comment on this:

==> "If they're bad arguments, they'll lose in the debate anyway."

For me, the point isn't whether bad arguments lose the debate. IMO, the outcome of the debate is secondary. What is important is the process of the debate, and that the goal of the educational process be shifted to one where students are empowered to, and build the skills to, evaluate the full context of the debate - which extends from the technical matters of the science into the roots and social ramifications of the polarization.

I suspect that you largely share that view of the goal - based on what you have said above and at other times, and I believe that you live by that standard, but I still think your statement kind of misses my point - which isn't so much that bad arguments will lose, but that if the goal is to help students become self-actualized learners and evaluators of evidence, the outcome of the debate is merely a vehicle to an end. The end goal, IMO, should be that students can do what the son of the protagonist of Peter's story did....

June 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Skeptical Science are known to dismiss the 'pause' - those the climate scientists I know are very happy to talk about it - ie it is interesting to them..!!

As Skeptical Science is a resource that the author uses, that is why i suggested 'perhaps' (please note the perhaps) that it was one of the 'hoax' arguments edited out..

we are in the dark..

Perhaps the author could list the 'hoax' arguments that were edited out..

I am sure that I would agree with him on many of them, there is an equally ill-informed sceptical members of the public, as there are 'climate concerned' members of the public..

Rather than speculate, could the author do this?

June 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Barry -

==> "Perhaps the author could list the 'hoax' arguments that were edited out.."

He said that he edited out hoax arguments. That could be taken two ways. One is that he edited out arguments that state that "AGW is a hoax." Such arguments are ubiquitous, and promoted by prominent and powerful "skeptics."

Another is that he edited out more well-accepted (and perhaps substantiated) arguments, such as that there is disagreement about the role of natural versus ACO2 forcing, and called referred to them as "hoaxes."

I'm betting on the former.

Perhaps he will clarify, but in case he doesn't, read again what he has already said:

I would not tell my students that it is okay to entertain the notion that the soil food web is a hoax because the first law of thermodynamics is wrong.

Seems to me that the parallel would be "AGW is a hoax" (for example, because the underlying physics show that ACO2 cannot warm the climate, or because all climate scientists are in cahoots to destroy capitalism, starve children, and establish a one-world government, and take us back to the Stone Age, etc.)

June 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Dan Kahan,

I think my strong metaphors have skewed my message a bit. I attribute no malicious intent to @Buckland in the slightest. He was doing his best in a trying circumstance, being methodical, and indeed relying on the the strategic frame of mind he adopted to try to solve the problem;

The disrespect enters when you realize the condescension inherent in this strategic frame. No, @Buckland was not trying to trick the father son team or manipulate them, but he was wary of them. Falling back on metaphor, he was hoping to save their souls. This is where NiV is dead on.

The only danger he perceives is that the non-believers might be led by their worldview to reject the information. He doesn't appear to consider the implications of the effect being symmetric.

This is the inherent problem with this Motivated Reasoning discussion. While research points to it being symmetric, in practice it is used overwhelmingly to try and solve or explain the problem AGW proponents face in trying to “communicate the science” (proselytize). Motivated Reasoning gets included in the arsenal to convert the unbelievers. I also believe Motivated Reasoning affects many of the researchers studying Motivated Reasoning, which makes your position rather tricky.

So no, I don’t think he is a bad guy teacher, but here is something he could have done which would have shown he was open to new ideas and critical analysis. He could have not reacted negatively to the father’s initial contact. He could have simply engaged in a conversation without feeling he was the deliverer of truth. Even after his condescending descent into a “strategic frame” the entire situation could have been salvaged if after the debate he said this: “OK everybody, second debate in two days. Same teams. Same issue, but switch sides this time. The son would have killed it and possibly convinced many in the class to his side. This result would either have been enlightening for @Buckland or caused him great distress.

I think much research on Motivated Reasoning misses the elephant in the room, Noble Cause Corruption. NCC makes cutting corners, logical, moral, ethical, and legal, easy, because the individual knows in his heart that in the end it’s for the good of [Humanity, Earth, Gaia, the oppressed…] and their conscience is clear. My earlier metaphors relied on a shared appreciation for Noble Cause Corruption, thus I never attributed any malice to @Buckland. I realize I should have communicated more clearly.

I will work on your other questions later, such as:

Also, *do* you think that a fair "climate science literacy" test would display the same maddening feature as a general science comprehension one in magnifying the sort of motivated reasoning that occurs on this issue?

I would like to ponder those for a while. I may answer here or contact you through email if this post gets too stale. Just don’t smile through clenched teeth. :)

June 12, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjeez

"So you're disturbed that he would edit out the argument that "AGW is a hoax," but also find it disturbing that he'd mention Mann, Cook, and Lew in the context of teaching children?"

Apologies. I wasn't clear.

Absolutely, Mann, Cook, and Lew should be mentioned and their arguments presented as one side in a debate. Although given that we ought to be seeking out the strongest arguments contrary to our position, I'd much prefer to see more serious people like Held and Ramanathan being cited.

What I meant was that I found it disturbing to see them apparently used as the sole guide on how to conduct the debate. It's not entirely clear that they were - hence my questions - but it seems likely in context.

I also wouldn't recommend that anyone listen solely to the sceptic side, and not see how the mainstream scientists answer them. Quite a few times I've been impressed by a sceptic point and then realised with the additional background information provided by a climate scientist's counter-argument that it's not valid, or at least, not so simple. Everyone is fallible.

Nor would I have a problem with someone being 'worried' about kids being presented with sceptic arguments. Worry is fine - it has no external effect how a person feels, and it not usually something they can do anything about. "Editing", on the other hand, might be a different matter.

Actually, I should make clear again - whether or not I agree with Peter, whether or not I think what he has done is ideal - I do still think it impressive that somebody who is so clearly a deep partisan for the ecological sustainability side has nevertheless hosted a debate in which students were required to research and present arguments contrary to it (to what degree is unclear, but to some degree at least). That's a lot better than you see in many places. And as heaven rejoices over the one sinner who repents, so sceptics should rejoice over the deep green partisan who nevertheless sets up a genuine scientific debate where both sides get a voice. It's so impressive because of what he is. I think it should be applauded. And even if it's not what we would like for our schools, it's still a step in that direction.

June 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@Jeez:

fair enough!

Whether it "disrespects" others to be "strategic" in anticipating & counteracting motivated reasoning is, I agree, complicated.

It's not complicated, of course, to see that it is disrespectful to use strategic thinking about dynamics of psychology or communication to bypass people's reason & induce them to believe or do the things that one has chosen for them.

But I don't think the *objective* of strategically using knowledge of how people come to know what's known to increase the likelihood they'll reliably apprehend what science knows & use it as *they* freely choose is disrespectful or necessarily is.

We might think about this in "social contract" terms. Imagine a group of people who are going to interact w/ each other & make decisions, individual & collective, & who recognizie that they face a common vulnerability to the identity-protective cognition form of motivated reasoning..

The vulnerability is actually built into what makes it possible for them to know so much--their freedom to decide for themselves both how to live & what to believe.

They might use the knowledge they already have, and make common provision to acquire more & make good use of it, about how to control the conditions in which identity-protective reasoning interferes w their faculties for knowing what's known. If there are procedures that reduce their vulnerability, they might agree to adopt them; if there are norms that steer them away from forms of interaction likely to provoke id-protective reasoning dynamics, they might see fostering those for their public life as part of the reciprocal accommodation that maximizes freedom of people to pursue happiness on terms of their own choosing.

They then wouldn't view the the maintenance and perfection of those procedures and norms as evincing disrespect for anyone . They would instead see them as grounds for being assured that they are getting all the benefits that their free way of life can confer on them.

By the same token, they wouldn't see those who are in professions dedicated to propagating knowledge (including the capacity to acquire knowledge) as being disrespectful in thinking strategically about these same things. They'd just see that as *being* committed to doing what that profession does; maybe even they'd be irritated at memebers of those profession who were inattentive to or reckless toward the harm that comes from permitting their particular 'science communication envioronment' to become polluted.

Well, we didn't enter into such an agreement at the outset of anything, of course. Not with other citizens. Not with "knowledge professionals." etc.

But if we can, in the middle of enduring the consequeuences of not having such procedures and norms, abstract away from the particulars of what we happen now to be disagreeing about at the moment (climate, or guns, or badgers or whatever) and agree that we all are less likely to get the the full measure of the benefits (both the immense knowledge & the immense space to figure out for ourselves how to live & what to believe) w/o them, then I think we can agree *now* that it would be useful to implement such proceures & create such norms.

In that situation, then, we wouldn't see those who are trying to implement such an agreement as being disrespectful in thinkinkg stratetically -- actively, practically -- about how to create the conditions in question.

But this is what I had in mind when I said things iinvolving strategic thinking & respect are filled w/ complication.

B/c it isn't respectful, as we agreed, to be strategic about how to bypass the reason of others & preempt their choosing what to do & believe. And people have very good reason to be on guard against such behavior.

Thus, those engaging in the strategic thinking about how to create science communication environments free of the sort of influences (pollutants) that interfere with with apprehension of collective knowledge in a pluralistic society have an obligation to figure out how to *show* clearly & convincingly to others that they are *not* trying to bypass their reason & their right to decide for themselves.

I think the most basic thing is only to do & say things that one is able & willing to explain openly as reflecting the sort of motivation I am describing. I think @Buckland was going about things in exactly that way.

But there's not an existing set of words to use or conventions to follow.

So it's complicated.

June 12, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

"& who recognize that they face a common vulnerability to the identity-protective cognition form of motivated reasoning.."

Yes. That's the question. Is it recognised by all to be common?

June 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

==> "Yes. That's the question. Is it recognised by all to be common?"

Clearly not.

For example, I have been talking about the influence of motivated reasoning with many "skeptics" for quite a while, and have I have found very few who recognize it as a vulnerability among "skeptics" although many seem more than willing to acknowledge it as a vulnerability among "realists." :-)

Of course, we could certainly expect a parallel dynamic on the other side of the great climate divide.

June 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"I have found very few who recognize it as a vulnerability among "skeptics" although many seem more than willing to acknowledge it as a vulnerability among "realists." :-)"

Quite so. And don't you find it interesting that your comment about it repeats the same pattern?

Why did you have to pick sceptics as your example, in particular, rather than just observe that it applied generally? Are you saying you've never seen it happen on the other side?

June 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV -

=>> "Why did you have to pick sceptics as your example, in particular, rather than just observe that it applied generally? Are you saying you've never seen it happen on the other side?"

Did you read my entire comment?

June 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Joshua,

Yes. And the specific example you gave was of sceptics doing this, while for the other side it was phrased as only a theoretical expectation. Why?

June 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV -

Here's why:

"While research points to it being symmetric, in practice it is used overwhelmingly to try and solve or explain the problem AGW proponents face in trying to “communicate the science” (proselytize). Motivated Reasoning gets included in the arsenal to convert the unbelievers.

I was tweaking you and jeez because of the delicious irony in jeez's statement.

In practice, a mainstay of "skeptic" argumentation is that cultural cognition (a direct outgrowth of motivated reasoning) explains why so many climate scientists, and so much of the public, are concerned that ACO2 poses a risk of significant climate change.

I have little doubt that you have read me say, many times, that a belief that there is a disproportionate ("overwhelming") manifestation of motivated reasoning (or tribalism) on either side of the great climate divide is exactly what a mechanism of motivated reasoning would predict.

I believe that motivated reasoning is a product of fundamental, underlying cognitive and psychological attributes (our reliance on pattern-finding to make sense of the world, and the need to protect out identities, respectively) of humans' reasoning process. There is no reason, that I can think of, why the existence of motivated reasoning would, in practice, be disproportionately ("overwhelmingly") distributed on the basis of something as arbitrary (IMO) as belief about the effects of ACO2 on the climate.

I agree with one of jeez's points, one that you have made many times,

I also believe Motivated Reasoning affects many of the researchers studying Motivated Reasoning, which makes your position rather tricky.

But as you know, Dan has acknowledged that many times, and it is naive, I would say, to believe that researchers studying motivated reasoning aren't aware of the reality of that point, and try to account for it, accordingly (not to say that they always are successful).

So what do you think that the implications are, of jeez making that point? What does it mean to say that researchers studying motivated reasoning are affected by motivated reasoning without being specific as to how that influence on the researchers is manifest and immediately after saying that "in practice" motivated reasoning is "overwhelmingly" used to.... "convince the unbelievers [skeptics]?"

On the one hand, jeez says that he agrees that motivated reasoning is symmetrical in its application, and on the other hand he says that "in practice" it is "overwhelmingly" used as an weapon in the arsenal to convince "skeptics."

That was my point. That's why I was tweaking you and jeez.

Of course I can give many examples of motivated reasoning among "realists." If you want me to, I will. But my point, which it seems to me that you never want to deal with, is that it can be found ubiquitously among "skeptics" who, IMO naively, believe that "skepticism" about climate change is predominantly rooted in an objective analysis of the science or a common sense reaction to the behavior, activities, poor scientific conduct, "cultism," dangerous economic theories, etc., on the part of "realists."

June 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

In addition to omitting the tag to close the italics, I also omitted the most important part of that last paragraph:

But my point, which it seems to me that you never want to deal with, is that it can be found ubiquitously among "skeptics" who, IMO naively, believe that "skepticism" about climate change is predominantly rooted in an objective analysis of the science or a common sense reaction to the behavior, activities, poor scientific conduct, "cultism," dangerous economic theories, etc., on the part of "realists," or that "in practice," motivated reasoning is use "overwhelmingly" as a weapon in an arsenal to "convert" "skeptics."

I also put "convince" in quotes above when it should have been "convert." Not a trivial mistake, as the use of the word "convert" is obviously deliberate to connote a religious fanaticism (as seen by the use of "unbelievers" as part of the collocation) on the part of "realists" - another commonly found line of argumentation among "skeptics," and one that, IMO, is a type of argumentation that, ironically, manifests motivated reasoning.

June 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Oy. Why do I ever bother to try to use HTML tags?!?!?!?!?

June 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"On the one hand, jeez says that he agrees that motivated reasoning is symmetrical in its application, and on the other hand he says that "in practice" it is "overwhelmingly" used as an weapon in the arsenal to convince "skeptics.""

Those statements are not in contradiction. The reason that it is predominantly used against sceptics is that it is mostly only a particular group of climate activists who are even aware of motivated reasoning as a possible mechanism, and who have seized on it as a means to better persuade. That is, it's not that the theory is considered more applicable to one side than the other, but that there is a larger population on one side than the other who are trying to apply it.

The two sides have different theories about what causes the disagreement. Believers tend to think it is a failure to communicate the science, and so look to communication science to address the problem. Sceptics tend to think it is noble-cause corruption, groupthink, confirmation bias, and blind trust in authority that is the issue, that 'communicating the science' isn't the problem, and motivated reasoning is therefore not a natural fit for their beliefs. If you bring the subject up, they'll likely agree that it's a possible reason why the left are more inclined to believe in climate catastrophe, but it's not normally raised as an option by sceptics discussing the matter on their own. Sceptics don't normally try to use it or theories like it to tailor their "communications". They don't see this as some sort of marketing campaign.

To be honest, I think a lot of sceptics are more than a little dubious about the theory. It sounds too much like the Marxist concept of 'class consciousness' - which has been widely seen as a cheap and tacky method for dismissing logical refutations of their theories. If reason and logic cannot be relied upon because what we perceive as reasonable is distorted by our cultural group or class, it makes it easier to dismiss any arguments against their beliefs. You don't have to worry then about explaining why so many otherwise-intelligent people reject your theories as bunk. It's a mainstay of academic post-modern pseudo-intellectual Marxism.

Libertarians and the right have long argued against the doctrine of 'false consciousness', even when they didn't know the tactic by that name - and they are, as you say, more inclined to think scepticism is "predominantly rooted in an objective analysis of the science or a common sense reaction to the behavior, activities, poor scientific conduct, "cultism," dangerous economic theories, etc., on the part of "realists."" Which is to say that, to the extent that they think about the motivations of "realists" at all, they assume that it is the result of poor scientific conduct, cultism, dangerous economic theories, and so on. And yes, the parallels to religion and puritan guilt are widely drawn, too.

I'm a little more open-minded. Dan's evidence is interesting, and I will grant you that I am genuinely puzzled as to why so many obviously intelligent people have come to believe in environmental millenarianism over recent decades, or to be so attracted to totalitarian solutions. Why are sensible people left-wing anyway? The above explanations don't entirely cover it, and there are a lot of things that don't quite fit. Dan's observations and hypothesis may go some way towards an answer, and I'd say are well worth looking in to.

But even supposing we assume it's all true, the "motivated reasoning" concept cannot be applied asymmetrically. This was always the fundamental logical flaw in the Marxist false consciousness doctrine - that it applied just as easily to their own beliefs, which also had to be rejected as unreliable for the same reasons. It is a rejection of rationalism; a universal solvent for reason. It is only by applying it selectively that it can be used.

So yes, I can certainly understand that you wanted to "tweak" us about our applying it selectively to believers, but of course we were already using it to tweak *you* (plural) about selectively applying it to sceptics.

The implications of this symmetry for the consensus position are probably the most glaring gap in Dan's exposition of the hypothesis - although I can quite understand his reasons for not wanting to discuss it, and his careful neutrality in this matter is appreciated. But it does lead to a lot of misunderstanding and bad science by others.

June 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

==> "The reason that it is predominantly used against sceptics is that it is mostly only a particular group of climate activists who are even aware of motivated reasoning as a possible mechanism, and who have seized on it as a means to better persuade."

You completely skipped over my point. I will say it again. The mechanism of cultural cognition - which is a basic element of motivated reasoning, is a main tenant of "skeptical" argumentation. I see it day in and day out on thread after thread.

Look at the latest thread over at Judith's. It is absolutely full of "skeptics" arguing that cultural cognition is predominantly characteristic of "liberals" and "climate cultists," blah, blah.

It's fascinating to me that it seems that you just can't accept that.

June 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

From the most recent thread at Judith's:


TJA | June 13, 2014 at 2:10 pm |

[...]

You guys are so deeply steeped in your own politically based view of economics that you can’t even comprehend that there might be valid objections to your belief.

and another:

" GaryM | June 13, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Reply

[...]

Critical analysis, progressives just can’t do it. To “try and figure out what people are actually saying” in the climate debate is to entertain arguments against the “consensus.” That means thinking about what they themselves believe critically, not just criticizing skeptics. And that progressives are loathe to do."

and another:

huxley | June 13, 2014 at 2:03 pm | Reply

[...]

The basic approach I see from liberals, which includes the climate orthodox, is to prevent civil rational debate on issues like climate change, Obama’s policies, same-s*x marriage, or the Iraq War by labeling opponents as deniers, racists, homophobes or warmongers.

There is no reason for liberals to debate such people and mostly liberals don’t. In climate change discussions they routinely censor and ban their opponents.

[...]

Further down:

" Wagathon | June 13, 2014 at 4:32 pm |


So, global warming has never been a scientific discussion except by skeptics. There are no skeptics among government scientists. Misleading the public with claims of a scientific consensus has actually been a big lie from the get-go."

let's carry on:


TJA | June 13, 2014 at 2:53 pm | Reply

I agree with you here. Conservatives are much better at summarizing the arguments of liberals accurately than vice versa. It’s “science” so don’t deny it. But you don’t even have to go the the study, just look at any thread and tell me how many times you have ever seen a liberal recapitulate a conservative argument before refuting it. They can’t. It’s “Reject first, ask rhetorical questions later!”"

How about this:

AK | June 14, 2014 at 10:45 am |

[...]

(Note the bait-and-switch: they’re talking about CO2, which arguably puts the world at risk from climate change (and other “dragon kings”), then all of a sudden “families living in their shadow continue to breathe toxic emissions.” (my bold) Toxic?!!? CO2? No, just a typical liberal bait-and-switch.)"

These are all arguments that feature an assertion that cultural cognition is a fundamental and disproportionate attribute of "realist" (either directly or as a proxy for "liberal" or "progressive" ) beliefs. These comments are not remotely uncharacteristic of what you generally find in "skeptic" argumentation. And ironically, each and every one reflects a clear manifestation of cultural cognition.

Your description of the "skeptic" vs. "realist" taxonomy of thinking and arguments, btwi, is IMO, a product of motivated reasoning.

June 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"These are all arguments that feature an assertion that cultural cognition is a fundamental and disproportionate attribute of "realist" (either directly or as a proxy for "liberal" or "progressive" ) beliefs."

Those appear to all be arguments that liberals/progressives are so certain that they are right and everyone else is wrong that they can't accept that any other point of view could be valid, and therefore try to shut them down. They're saying that liberals are wrong but believe themselves to be right. None of them are about cultural cognition, or motivated reasoning, or even identity protection. They're talking about a particular form of intellectual and moral arrogance.

Cultural cognition is a very specific hypothesis about one particular sort of behaviour. It's not a label that you can attach to any random form of irrationality, or belief about the irrationality of others. None of those you cited are claiming this to be a general human characteristic or applicable to cultures generally - they're attaching it purely and entirely asymmetrically to the left/progressive belief system itself.

They might possibly think so *because* of motivated reasoning, but they're definitely not expressing a *belief* in it.

June 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV -

They are all arguments that the outcomes of liberals' or progressives' reasoning is biased by a cultural identification.

Of course, for them, that argument is not mutually exclusive from one that liberals' and/or progressives' very ability to reason is crippled by their cultural identification and/or that a crippled ability to reason is why certain people have liberal or progressive ideology.

At any rate, embedded in their arguments is the belief that liberals and/or progressives or "climate cultists" if you prefer, form perceptions of risk and related facts that cohere with their self-defining values. I really can't understand why you don't agree that such a view of the climate wars is a fundamental tenant of "skeptic" beliefs (considered collectively).

==> "The implications of this symmetry for the consensus position are probably the most glaring gap in Dan's exposition of the hypothesis... "

I'm not exactly sure what you're referring to here.

Look - I am sympathetic to the view that at times, Dan's outline of motivated reasoning as it applies to the climate wars, rests upon a basic orientation towards the "truth" or the "authority" of the science.

But the implication of the symmetry are equally damaging to the arguments on both sides of the climate wars, because the arguments on both sides are being made by humans who are influences by motivated reasoning. My point is that, IMO, your view that the implications of motivated reasoning are more relevant to the views of "realists" than to "skeptics" is a product of motivated reasoning. Maybe I am wrong in that interpretation of your perspective, but I think that my interpretation is consistent with many of your arguments.

All that said, I firmly believe that the implications of the symmetry are as symmetrical as the phenomenon itself. I don't see how they couldn't be.

June 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

They are all arguments that the outcomes of liberals' or progressives' reasoning is biased by a cultural identification.

The first is a claim that "you guys" are biased by a politically based view of economics. That's not about culture, which is the context of shared beliefs in your community, it's about a specific piece of knowledge - the left-wing economic theory.

Now, it might be that this view of economics is culturally based, in which case the cultural cognition theory might offer an explanation or implications, but that wasn't said.

The second is a claim that progressives don't like thinking critically about their own beliefs, and therefore don't like to spend time trying to figure out what other people are really saying. The claim offers no reason for the progressive displike of self-criticism, and so we can't adduce it to cultural cognition or anything else. Knowing what we know about people generally, we can guess it might be identity-protective, but it could equally be part of the content of the belief, or some sort of "Democract Brain" hypotheses in reflection of the "Republican Brain" theory put forward by people like Mooney. The writer doesn't say, and I doubt he's interested. It's the consequence he's pointing out, not the cause.

The third is a description of a debating tactic - the ad hominem abusive, which leads to attempts to censor and ban. It says nothing at all about cognitive biases, irrationality, motivations or causes. Indeed, the tactic is perfectly rational if you just want to win the debate.

The fourth is a claim that the misleading "consensus" claims were deliberate from the first. It isn't a claim of biased or irrational reasoning. It offers no theories about their cause. I would assume the implicit assumption behind it is political calculation, rather than cultural cognition, but I don't know.

The fifth is a claim that conservatives understand and can summarise the arguments of liberals better than vice versa. Again, it doesn't say why. As I understand it, this phenomenon is commonly associated with social dominance - the subordinate in any power relationship or the underdog in any fight tends to pay more attention to what the other says or does, while the dominant figure is more likely to be blithely unaware of the details of what's going on around them. But whether that's the case here or not, it's not cultural cognition or a claim of it.

And the sixth is again a description of a debating tactic - of inserting irrelevant issues into a discussion in a way that makes it sound like a continuation of the same thing. In this case, the complaint is of an appeal to emotion talking about families breathing toxic emissions (i.e. stuff like particulates, not CO2) into a discussion about the dangers of CO2, to give the impression that if you're against limits on CO2 then you want to force families to breathe smoke. And again, there is absolutely no discussion of why liberals do this (and again, I'd assume the implication was political calculation) and no references at all to cultural cognition.

It's been noted about you before, I think, that you are like the man with a hammer who can see nothing but nails - that you identify "motivated reasoning" in everything everybody does. Humans are complicated, and do things for a multitude of reasons and motivations. There are hundreds, and probably thousands of such psychological mechanisms. I'm sure even Dan would agree, cultural cognition is not the one and only explanation for all human nature.

" I really can't understand why you don't agree that such a view of the climate wars is a fundamental tenant of "skeptic" beliefs (considered collectively)."

It is a tenet of many sceptics' beliefs that liberals preferentially form perceptions of risks and facts that cohere with their political aims. It's not generally assumed that this is a cognitive bias (unless they're feeling generous). In my experience, it's more likely assumed to be deliberate.

The proposed solutions - particularly of the "Climate Justice" sort - all involve the crippling of Western industry, the transfer of wealth and economic activity from the developed nations to the poor, a return to a simpler "sustainable" lifestyle which looks a lot like the romantic idealisation of the peasant life, and an increase in state control and centralised bureaucratic planning, in which the life of the people are ordered for the common good. As the old slogan goes - putting the common interest before self-interest.

At the same time, the people who are speaking loudest for this don't act as if they believe it, or as if these measures are supposed to apply to them. They own big houses - with swimming pools and air conditioning. They own boats and private airplanes and big, big SUVs. They fly out on fossil fuel-burning jets on holiday, or for work, or to climate conferences, or to lecture people for $100,000 an hour on why the little people shouldn't be allowed to buy incandescent lightbulbs because the world is coming to an end.

Likewise, the scientists don't act like it's safety-critical science aimed at saving the world - they act like it's one of their usual academic turf disputes. And the international negotiations all stumble on the same point that has been there from the beginning - that if the theory is true and CO2 emission cuts are needed to save the world, then they have to apply to the developing world too. The USA's position has always been that they're not going to take any of it seriously until it is agreed they do. The negotiators are adamant that they don't, that only the developed nations have to cut back, and that they have to pay the developing world the full costs of the transition to boot. It's not the USA that is blocking the deal to actually save the climate.

Since the liberal elite don't act like they believe it, it is widely assumed that they don't. And therefore, when all the measures they propose just happen to align perfectly with the left's political aims, that this is presumed to be the actual intention and motivation.

However, that's clearly a perfectly rational political calculation - it's not a subconscious bias that they're not even aware of. It's not a case of cultural cognition.

That's the favourite theory, when they're not being constrained by reality. The idea that ordinary man-on-the-street liberals might genuinely believe in it is usually only considered when talking to one who apparently does, and then there are other explanations. That they get their views from the liberal-biased media, or are too trusting of authority. Or information deficit models.

Cultural cognition has not yet achieved the level of world-wide public awareness and acceptance it deserves, and most people - even in this somewhat specialised debate - probably haven't even heard of it, let alone ascribe their political opponents' actions to it. It is, as I said, mainly popular with a small group of climate activists who are treating the whole thing as a marketing campaign and are looking to communication science for techniques to better convert the masses to the true faith.

"But the implication of the symmetry are equally damaging to the arguments on both sides of the climate wars, because the arguments on both sides are being made by humans who are influences by motivated reasoning."

Yes. It is.

"My point is that, IMO, your view that the implications of motivated reasoning are more relevant to the views of "realists" than to "skeptics" is a product of motivated reasoning."

That's not my view.

Motivated reasoning is an influence, but it's not the whole story. Yes, it applies equally to sceptics and believers. More to the point, it applies with greater force to the more scientifically literate, and there's nobody more scientifically literate than scientists. Like me. So it's something we have to be aware of and on guard against.

But I do not consider it the result of cognitive bias on my part to find it unacceptable for a scientist to perform a statistical test to see if the method on which their central result (a critical and politically influential result given global prominence) depends is valid, and then hide the fact that it failed the test. I likewise don't consider it to be bias on my part to say the same thing of other scientists who found out about it and then made excuses, or tried themselves to obfuscate the facts. Phrases like "It won't be easy to dismiss out of hand as the math appears to be correct theoretically," or "Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it" simply do not belong in science. I'm not saying so because I find the result of doing so conforms to my political/cultural beliefs. I'd find it just as unacceptable if someone on my side said so. (I might well, I confess, be somewhat more sympathetic and gentle about how I phrased my criticism to a friend, but I'd still say it.)

There are a lot of sceptics who don't hold to that principle, and who do tend to judge science on its political implications. I don't agree with it. I'll sometimes argue about it with them. But I don't think it's as significant a problem when it's a random Joe Citizen on the internet as when it's a lead chapter author for the IPCC. Or the President of the Royal Society, or whatever. The degree to which I care about it is, I admit, influenced by my politics. But science has to hold to its principles, or it's not science.

So while I do consider the influence of cultural cognition to be symmetric, I don't consider the positions of the two sides or the arguments for and against them to be symmetric. There are other factors at work here besides cultural cognition.

June 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV -

==> 'The first is a claim that "you guys" are biased by a politically based view of economics. That's not about culture,..."

Geebus. Each and every one is about a "climate cult." The entire article is about a "climate cult." They're discussing a cult but aren't discussing a culture? Huh?


Each and every argument is about how liberals/progressives/"climate cultists" preferentially form perceptions of risks and facts that cohere with their cultural identification and/or self-defining values.

In other words, each and every argument is about how liberals/progressives/"climate cultists" beliefs are the product of and/or influence by cultural cognition. I simply can't see how it could be argued otherwise. They don't have to use the term "cultural cognition" to be making the argument that liberal/progressive "climate cultist" views are biased by/rooted in cultural cognition.

The entire group of arguments is rooted in identity battle - a process of distilling the issue into a mechanism of identity-aggression and identity-protection. "They are a cult, so they think X, we are not in that cult, so we think Y."

And with that, given that is how you started out, I don't want to take the time to read the rest of your comment in detail. That first statement just reinforces that our disagreement is categorical, and isn't something to be resolved at the level of nuance or detail. There's no point in moving forward because we disagree on the most basic premise.

I think that your resistance is silly, that you're spinning your wheels to convince yourself that the obvious isn't true. I imagine that you must feel the same about my perspective, but either way we're clearly not going to make any progress here. Time to agree to disagree and move on. The proximal point of our disagreement here is to some extent a semantic disagreement anyway, although I think that at it's root, the (more distal point of) disagreement rests in your idealized view of the differences between "skeptics" and "realists" (i.e., an identity-protective/identity-aggressive mechanism). I suppose it could be said that my argument that there is no substantive difference between "skeptics" and "realists" is an identity-protective/identity-aggressive mechanism on my part. So be it.

June 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

SKS and Mann :-)

Even the SKS fan boys do not think much of Mann's methods on his "Hockey Stick"

http://climateaudit.org/2013/11/20/behind-the-sks-curtain/

"I was going to do #2 Climate’s changed before but have now decided I will stay away from it for now. I was wondering if you could remove my dibs. Also I have to tell you that you should warn those doing that particular one to stay away from Mann’s 2008 paper if they take this topic as it seems it has actually been invalidated by climate audit (as much as I hate to admit it they are right about the issue of the study failing verification statistics past 1500 for one)"
.
.
"So what this means is that Under either method (CPS or EIV) it is not possible to get a validated reconstruction to before 1500 without the use of tree rings, or the Tijlander sediments. The tijlander sediments were used incorrectly and upside down from the original published version and a corrigendum by Kaufmann et al. (who also used it upside down) was issued pertaining to this. http://climateaudit.org/2009/10/26/the-kaufman-corrigendum/
I’m not one of those climate audit junkees and I certainly disagree with how Mcintyre handles a lot of the stuff but I’ve been shown before by even climatology profs in my university time that it might be best to stick clear of Mann’s reconstructions until the dust settles (although this debate has been going on for 10 years)"

June 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

Ed,

Yes, indeed, but only in private! They'd have got a smidgeon of respect from me if they had said that in public, but as far as I'm concerned, to show that one knew and kept quiet is a lot worse than being merely mistaken, oblivious, or ignorant.

They're not the only ones! :-)
http://www.di2.nu/foia/1024334440.txt

June 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

very disappointing not to see Peter Buckland commenting and discussing the points and questions raised in the comments...

June 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

"Dr. Michael E. Mann, Director of Penn State’s Earth Systems Science Center and author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars "

I would also like Peter Buckland to comment on if he had done any research on why there is such controversy about Mann other than what Mann wrote. Bit one sided and not good teaching if he had not checked what his critics were saying.

Or would these critics just be "deniers" and their views would need to be suppressed?
One such critic of Mann, who Mann has repeateatly called "anti-science" is Judith Curry

Website: http://curry.eas.gatech.edu/

I am Professor and Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology and President (co-owner) of Climate Forecast Applications Network (CFAN). I received a Ph.D. in Geophysical Sciences from the University of Chicago in 1982. Prior to joining the faculty at Georgia Tech, I held faculty positions at the University of Colorado, Penn State University and Purdue University. I currently serve on the NASA Advisory Council Earth Science Subcommittee and the DOE Biological and Environmental Science Advisory Committee, and have recently served on the National Academies Climate Research Committee and the Space Studies Board, and the NOAA Climate Working Group. I am a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Geophysical Union.

June 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

Judith's take on the "hockey stick" and "hiding the decline" for a view from Mann's critics

http://judithcurry.com/2011/02/22/hiding-the-decline/

June 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

Barry,

It would have been nice, but it's not really surprising. To be honest, I thought there was only about a 10% chance that my questions would get a reply. From where Peter stands, I suspect there's no benefit and a whole lot of downside to interacting with those in the "Doubtful” or maybe “Dismissive” camp".

Ed,

I wouldn't waste your time. Read what Peter himself said in the reverse position, and consider whether it's not wise advice...

I admit, I was initially insulted and started a keyboard barrage. Yes! Bludgeon him with scientific data, authoritative scientific organizations, and self-righteous ire. After a few minutes though, I realized my strategy would backfire.

You're assuming that he believes as he does because he simply hasn't researched the sceptics arguments. This is what is commonly called the Information Deficit model - and the empirical evidence is strongly against it. It turns out that in these sorts of situations the more familiar people are with the opposing evidence, the less inclined they are to believe it. Consider how *you* would react if invited to research such excellent sources as the IPCC and SkS...

June 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV
I use the IPCC as a prime resource regularly. When arguing with warmists, it is always best to use a reference that they are uncomfortable dismissing out of hand. The science side of the IPCC is actually not all that alarmist. It is the summary for decision makers that goes off the rails. Though I am always amazed of the numbers of committed warmists who have never read the full IPPC reports and rely on the summary.

Now on SkS, the view from reading their internal discussions are a hoot. When one finds them saying one thing in private and 180d change in direction in public I find it hard that anyone payed them any attention at all. But I formed this opinion by actually studying them.

It comes down to "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer". If you are not full up on both sides of an argument, how can you hope to win an argument? Is not Debate Technique taught in school anymore?

June 16, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

I alro refer to IPCC science, if only to rebut the spin and caveat free prounouncements by ngo's politicians and the media.
The sks leaked forum. Is a future socialogists dream research material

June 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

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