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Jun202014

Response: An “externally-valid” approach to consensus messaging

John Cook, science communication scholar and co-author of Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature, Environmental Research Letters 8, 024024 (2013), has supplied this thoughtful response to the first of my posts on "messaging consensus." --dmk38

Over the last decade, public opinion about human-caused global warming has shown little change. Why? Dan Kahan suggests cultural cognition is the answer: 

When people are shown evidence relating to what scientists believe about a culturally disputed policy-relevant fact ... they selectively credit or dismiss that evidence depending on whether it is consistent with or inconsistent with their cultural group’s position. 

It’s certainly the case that cultural values influence attitudes towards climate. In fact, not only do cultural values play a large part in our existing beliefs, they also influence how we process new evidence about climate change. But this view is based on lab experiments. Does Kahan’s view that cultural cognition is the whole story work out in the real world? Is that view “externally valid”?

The evidence says no. A 2012 Pew surveys of the general public found that even among liberals, there is low perception of the scientific consensus on human-caused global warming. When Democrats are asked “Do scientists agree earth is getting warmer because of human activity?”, only 58% said yes. There’s a significant "consensus gap” even for those whose cultural values predispose them towards accepting the scientific consensus. A “liberal consensus gap”.

My own data, measuring climate perceptions amongst US representative samples, confirms the liberal consensus gap. The figure below shows what people said in 2013 when asked how many climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming. The x-axis is a measure of political ideology (specifically, support for free markets). For people on the political right (e.g., more politically conservative), perception of scientific consensus decreases, just as cultural cognition predicts. However, the most relevant feature for this discussion is the perceived consensus on the left.

At the left of the political spectrum, perceived consensus is below 70%. Even those at the far left are not close to correctly perceiving the 97% consensus. Obviously cultural cognition cannot explain the liberal consensus gap. So what can? There are two prime suspects. Information deficit and/or misinformation surplus. 

Kahan suggests that misinformation casting doubt on the consensus is ineffective on liberals. I tend to agree. Data I’ve collected in randomized experiments supports this view. If this is the case, then it would seem information deficit is the driving force behind the liberal consensus gap. It further follows that providing information about the consensus is necessary to close this gap. 

So cultural values and information deficit both contribute to the consensus gap. Kahan himself suggests that science communicators should consider two channels: information content and cultural meaning. Arguing that one must choose between the information deficit model or cultural cognition is a false dichotomy. Both are factors. Ignoring one or the other neglects the full picture. 

But how can there be an information deficit about the consensus? We’ve been communicating the consensus message for years! Experimental research by Stephan Lewandowsky, a recent study by George Mason University and my own research have found that presenting consensus information has a strong effect on perceived consensus. If you bring a participant into the lab, show them the 97% consensus then have them fill out a survey asking what the scientific consensus is, then lo and behold, perception of consensus shoots up dramatically. 

How does this “internally valid” lab research gel with the real-world observation that perceived consensus hasn’t shifted much over the last decade? A clue to the answer lies with a seasoned communicator whose focus is solely on “externally valid” approaches to messaging. To put past efforts at consensus messaging into perspective, reflect on these words of wisdom from Republican strategist and messaging expert Frank Luntz on how to successfully communicate a message: 

“You say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and then again and again and again and again, and about the time that you're absolutely sick of saying it is about the time that your target audience has heard it for the first time. And it is so hard, but you've just got to keep repeating, because we hear so many different things -- the noises from outside, the sounds, all the things that are coming into our head, the 200 cable channels and the satellite versus cable, and what we hear from our friends.” 

When it comes to disciplined, persistent messaging, scientists aren’t in the same league as strategists like Frank Luntz. And when it comes to consensus, this is a problem. Frank Luntz is also the guy who said: 

“Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming in the scientific community.  Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly.  Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate, and defer to scientists and other experts in the field.” 

Luntz advocated casting doubt on the consensus for one simple reason. When people understand that scientists agree that humans are causing global warming, then they’re more likely to support policies to mitigate climate change. Confuse people about consensus, and you delay climate action. 

This finding has subsequently been confirmed by studies in 2011 and 2013. But a decade before social scientists figured it out, Luntz was already putting into place strategies to drum home the “no consensus” myth, with the purpose of reducing public support for climate action. 

Reflecting on the disinformation campaign and the social science research into consensus messaging, Ed Maibach at George Mason University incorporates both the “internally valid” social science research and the “externally valid” approach of Frank Luntz:

We urge scientific organizations to patiently, yet assertively inform the public that, based on the evidence, more than 97% of climate experts are convinced that human-caused climate change is happening. Some scientific organizations may argue that they have already done this through official statements. We applaud them for their efforts to date, yet survey data clearly demonstrate that the message has not yet reached or engaged most Americans. Occasional statements and press releases about the reality of human-caused climate change are unfortunately not enough to cut through the fog—it will take a concerted, ongoing effort to inform Americans about the scientific consensus regarding the realities of climate change.

How do we achieve this? Maibach suggests climate scientists should team up with social scientists and communication professionals. What should scientists be telling the public? Maibach advises:

In media interviews, public presentations, and even neighborhood and family gatherings, climate scientists should remember that many people do not currently understand that there is an overwhelming scientific consensus about human-caused climate change. Tell them, and give them the numbers.

The book Made To Stick looks at “sticky” messages that have caught the attention in the public’s eyes. It runs through many real-world case studies (e.g., externally valid examples) to demonstrate that sticky ideas are simple, concrete, unexpected and tell a story. For a general public who think there is a 50:50 debate among climate scientists, learning that 97% of climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming ticks many of the sticky boxes.

 

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Reader Comments (82)

Well seeing that Cook's 97% agree paper has been debunked twice in peer review, I'd say there is no consensus to convince the public of CAGW.

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterClyde

This is a great response. I hope Cook is able to see comments and reply. I am left with a few questions after reading this post:

Kahan suggests that misinformation casting doubt on the consensus is ineffective on liberals. I tend to agree. Data I’ve collected in randomized experiments supports this view. If this is the case, then it would seem information deficit is the driving force behind the liberal consensus gap.

This makes sense, but,

It further follows that providing information about the consensus is necessary to close this gap.

This doesn't. Help me understand: Why is it necessary to close this gap? Aren't a good number of those people who think 70% of scientists agree on climate change already themselves in agreement that climate change poses a risk? Is there evidence that nudging liberals' consensus perception of 60-70% toward something closer to the 97% reality would have any effect on their perceptions or acceptance of climate change (if they don't already agree)?

Also on a somewhat separate note, even looking at the more conservative end of that graph, if we could again employ the "make it stick" strategies to get people to consciously acknowledge and accept the 97% consensus, (which I completely agree would not even in itself be futile) it doesn't seem to me like there is any guarantee that people accepting 97% acceptance ascribe credibility and trusthworthiness to it. From my understanding of cultural cognition, I wouldn't be surprised if conservatives who are made to successfully acknowledge and understand that 97% of scientists agree still find ways to rationalize a perception that most of "those scientists" are themselves not credible (because they appear to belong to a cultural in-group that holds values very different from their own). Won't these folks just say, "sure, 97% of scientists agree on climate change, but most of them are not experts and not necessarily taking the right measurements and I don't think they're lying but I'm not that confident in their expertise even if they DO agree..."

To me, and I may be muddling all of this so I appreciate any commentary to follow, this just strikes me as a confusion of two very different rhetorical stases, for lack of a better description. The arguement over whether something is happening or not is distinct from the argument over whether people agree that it's happening, (as well as different from the argument about whether it's good or bad that its happening, and the argument about what to do about it, etc etc). I have yet to see evidence that resolving the latter somehow also attends to the former in this context (but I'm happy to be proven wrong?)

To summarize,

For a general public who think there is a 50:50 debate among climate scientists, learning that 97% of climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming ticks many of the sticky boxes.

This may be true- it'll become sticky, people may generally accept that most scientists think X... but I'm still unconvinced that this alone will have any bearing on individuals themselves thinking X...

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJen

Jen, among liberals there isn't 100% acceptance of human-caused global warming or 100% support for addressing the climate problem. The liberal population outside the 60-70% probably has large overlap with the liberal population that doesn't accept the science and/or doesn't support climate policy. So yes, the liberal consensus gap is important.

But mostly it's an indicator that there is an information deficit problem. If the problem were purely one of cognitive biases, as Dan Kahan suggests, then liberal awareness of the expert consensus would be close to 100%. That's because liberals don't have a built-in bias against climate policies that would cause them to reject the consensus information, were they aware of its existence.

On a separate note, I don't buy the argument that hinges on public awareness of the consensus not increasing significantly over the past decade. For one thing, the 97% figure only originated in 2009 with Doran & Zimmerman, reinforced in 2010 by Anderegg et al., then in 2013 by Cook et al. Thus the 97% is a fairly new concrete message that hasn't been tested for a very long period of time. Moreover, we don't have a control planet to test against, where no '97% consensus' messaging has been tried. Public awareness of the consensus could very well have decreased rather than remaining fairly steady, were it not for the 97% messaging, given all the anti-consensus messaging from the denial movement.

As John Cook notes, consensus messaging alone is insufficient and we also have to address cognitive biases. But there's no solid evidence that consensus messaging is ineffective or counter-productive, and there is evidence that it's effective (expertiments by Lewandowsky and Cook).

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDana Nuccitelli

Hi Jen,

In answer to your questions:

This doesn't. Help me understand: Why is it necessary to close this gap? Aren't a good number of those people who think 70% of scientists agree on climate change already themselves in agreement that climate change poses a risk? Is there evidence that nudging liberals' consensus perception of 60-70% toward something closer to the 97% reality would have any effect on their perceptions or acceptance of climate change (if they don't already agree)?

Indeed, there is evidence that public perception of even a moderate amount of disagreement within the scientific community can have a profound impact, not just on the public's beliefs that policy is necessary to address the problem, but that the problem even exists in the first place. As hard as it is to believe, a public perception of ~70% consensus may actually decrease belief in the reality of a phenomenon.

I wouldn't be surprised if conservatives who are made to successfully acknowledge and understand that 97% of scientists agree still find ways to rationalize a perception that most of "those scientists" are themselves not credible (because they appear to belong to a cultural in-group that holds values very different from their own)

I think that is basically begging the question. There are plenty of conservatives who believe themselves to be pro-science. You seem to be assuming that people will assign primacy to their political in group orientation, when in fact they may place a higher priority on their self-image as pro science. There also seems to be a built-in assumption that conservatives cannot be exposed to a message that both nudges their perception of consensus and does not engage a defense of their worldview. My understanding of cultural cognition is that there is no reason to assume this is the case, and that with the proper framing, we could indeed emphasize the 97% message while affirming conservative worldviews/in-group values.

This may be true- it'll become sticky, people may generally accept that most scientists think X... but I'm still unconvinced that this alone will have any bearing on individuals themselves thinking X...

There is evidence that this is indeed the case from a number of studies, with more on the publication horizon. Perception of expert agreement does appear to influence key beliefs about a given phenomenon itself above and beyond the simple issue of acknowledging the consensus. A number of different research groups have reached this conclusion using a variety of methods.

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Jacobs

==> "If this is the case, then it would seem information deficit is the driving force behind the liberal consensus gap."

Seems that the way to test that would be to examine whether or not those liberals would say that they've never heard that an "overwhelming consensus" exists, or haven't heard that often.

That would seem unlikely to me. Seems to me that the message of an "overwhelming consensus" is ubiquitous.

Which would mean that something else, other than a lack of hearing that there is an overwhelming "consensus" would explain the "liberal consensus gap." Maybe they have heard that there is a near-uniform "consensus," and they've heard it often, but still underestimate the degree of the "consensus" Just because they hear that message more doesn't mean that they will, therefore, adopt a belief that there is an overwhelming "consensus."

In a real world setting, (1) they might have been hearing about the degree of consensus from a source they don't particularly trust and, (2) you can't control whether or not they hear a contrasting message. If the reason for the "liberal consensus gap" is the widespread publicity attacking the "consensus" notion, you may not move the needle significantly unless you somehow convince Fox News, Limbaugh, O'Reilly, and basically all Republican politicians to somehow stop attacking the "consensus." Good luck with that.

And this rests on top of Jen's point. Even if an underestimation of the uniformity of view among climate scientists could be addressed through "consensus" messaging, there is a long road between that change and a significant change in commitment to the development and implementation of mitigation (or even adaptation) policies (which are also subjected to relentless attack from those in opposition).

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

In a real world setting, (1) they might have been hearing about the degree of consensus from a source they don't particularly trust

Liberals are hearing about the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change from sources that liberals don't trust? Like who, George Will? ;)

I thought part of the supposed problem with the 97% consensus message was that it was being used too heavily by liberal groups and thus it was too polarizing?

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Jacobs

Joshua,

"Seems to me that the message of an "overwhelming consensus" is ubiquitous."

That's probably because you're the kind of person who comments on this blog! Go around asking random people if they've heard of the 97% expert consensus on human-caused global warming - not just 'consensus', which is vague, but 97% consensus. You'll get a lot of blank stares.

"there is a long road between that change and a significant change in commitment to the development and implementation of mitigation (or even adaptation) policies"

Of course. Consensus messaging isn't a silver bullet. But it does make the road shorter.

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDana Nuccitelli

Peter -

In reverse order:

==> "I thought part of the supposed problem with the 97% consensus message was that it was being used too heavily by liberal groups and thus it was too polarizing?"

I don't agree with that argument. I suspect it has little impact in either direction.


==> "Liberals are hearing about the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change from sources that liberals don't trust? Like who, George Will? ;)"

Heh. Obviously not. But I was referring not to outright distrust (as might be the case with George Will), but to a lack of "particular trust" - in other words a lack of trust to the point where someone would be persuaded merely because someone says that something is true.

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

The liberal population outside the 60-70% probably has large overlap with the liberal population that doesn't accept the science and/or doesn't support climate policy. So yes, the liberal consensus gap is important.

I'm not quite sure what you mean by "outside the 60-70%." The 60-70% is the amount of consensus the most liberal people in that chart (far left) think scientists have on climate change. Its not a percentage of liberals. I was just referring to that left-most group to illustrate my point. Anyway, I understand your general point- that there are liberals who don't think climate change is a real threat. What I would really like, from any of the other commenters, is some evidence- are there papers I could link to or look up? that making a group of people who thinks 70% of scientists agree and convincing them that 97% agree will actually change the number of people int hat group who think climate change is real. In other words, if I have a group of 100 people, 85 of whom like Crest toothpaste and on average, these people believe that 7 out of 10 dentists recommend Crest... if we actually tell this group that, no, 9 out of 10(!) dentists recommend Crest, will that 85/100 number increase? Will one of those 15 people using other toothpaste switch based on learning that 9 out of 10, rather than 7 out of 10, dentists agree? I don't deny that this is possible or plausible but I'm dying for some actual evidence.

If the problem were purely one of cognitive biases, as Dan Kahan suggests, then liberal awareness of the expert consensus would be close to 100%. That's because liberals don't have a built-in bias against climate policies that would cause them to reject the consensus information, were they aware of its existence.

I'm not so sure- although I'd like to see how Dan responds to this. I would not expect liberals, on average, to have increased awareness of the factual numbers. Sure, liberals don't have the built-in bias that would cause them to reject consensus, but just because you aren't culturally inclined to reject consensus doesn't mean you're necessarily are inclined to be well-informed and aware of the exact quality/data of that consensus.

There are plenty of conservatives who believe themselves to be pro-science. You seem to be assuming that people will assign primacy to their political in group orientation, when in fact they may place a higher priority on their self-image as pro science.

Not quite- but I understand your point. I think you are misinterpreting my question a bit? Also I understand cultural cognition to be not at all related to people's conscious decisions to prioritize self-image qualities (political affiliation, pro-science, whatever...) but rather a latent, innate tendency to believe information that affirms their values and dismiss information that draws conclusions that threaten those values. This isn't a conscious choice like 'I'm conservative, but it's more important that I be pro-science," it's more like, 'I am pro science but I just don't quite believe this expert." No person is every consciously going to say 'I don't think I am going to believe this expert because he looks and talks and makes statements that are associated with a cultural group I don't identify with" but everyone does it because it's innate and subconscious.

Also, I'm not sure I buy the "pro-science" as a self identification thing anyway. I don't think anyone thinks of themselves as not being pro-science.


There also seems to be a built-in assumption that conservatives cannot be exposed to a message that both nudges their perception of consensus and does not engage a defense of their worldview.

Not at all! I think well designed messaging can do both! That would be ideal. But I'm not convinced the aspect of the messaging that somehow nudges their perception of consensus will have a measurable effect, or that it would be very effective all on its own.

My understanding of cultural cognition is that there is no reason to assume this is the case, and that with the proper framing, we could indeed emphasize the 97% message while affirming conservative worldviews/in-group values.

Yes, I agree with this entirely!

There is evidence that this is indeed the case from a number of studies, with more on the publication horizon.

Could you share some or point me to where to find them? Do they speak specifically to the effect of the consensus messaging separately from the effects of framing to affirm cultural values?

Perception of expert agreement does appear to influence key beliefs about a given phenomenon itself above and beyond the simple issue of acknowledging the consensus. A number of different research groups have reached this conclusion using a variety of methods.

When you say "beliefs about a given phenomenon" what does that entail? Belief that X is is in fact real? Belief that X is real, and is a threat? Belief that X is real, a threat, and humans should do something about it? Again, would you be willing to share this evidence? I am very interested in it. Thanks!

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJen

And, oops, posted too soon, one last bit-

Perception of expert agreement does appear to influence key beliefs about a given phenomenon itself above and beyond the simple issue of acknowledging the consensus.

I also wonder what is meant by "expert" here. Are the experts in these studies perceived to share the values of the people being studied? Or..? Expert is itself slippery. People's perceptions of expertise in and of itself is highly value laden.

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJen

Dana -

==> "That's probably because you're the kind of person who comments on this blog! Go around asking random people if they've heard of the 97% expert consensus on human-caused global warming - not just 'consensus', which is vague, but 97% consensus. You'll get a lot of blank stares."

Seems to me that these questions would be relatively easy to subject to empirical study.

My point was not that liberals hear that there is a "97% consensus" per se - but that they have heard many times that there is an overwhelming % of (strong majority of, etc.) climate scientists who think that the anthropogenic contribution to climate change is greater than 50%, (and even further than an overwhelming majority think that the anthropogenic contribution poses a risk for dangerous climate change - which the Cook paper doesn't speak to directly).

So then the question would be whether hearing that it isn't an "overwhelming" or "strong majority" of climate scientist who share that opinion about the contribution of anthropogenic warming, but instead that it is 97%, would have a meaningful impact in the real world. I doubt it. Especially since the message will always be delivered in fora that are not free from the polarization over climate change, and it will always be attacked by "skeptics."

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Jen

Could you share some or point me to where to find them?

Sure. Ding et al., 2011; Lewandosky et al., 2012; McCright et al., 2013; Aklin and Urpelainen, 2014.

What I would really like, from any of the other commenters, is some evidence- are there papers I could link to or look up? that making a group of people who thinks 70% of scientists agree and convincing them that 97% agree will actually change the number of people int hat group who think climate change is real.

The last reference above, Aklin and Urpelainen, demonstrates this to be the case in a negative context. Reducing perception of scientific agreement to still high levels of 80%-90% significantly reduces belief that an environmental problem even exists, let alone requires policy effort to remedy.

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Jacobs

Thank you Peter. I will look those up. I'm fairly sure I've read the Ding and Lewandowsky papers and came away feeling unsure of the conclusions based on the old correlation/causation problem- i.e. just because people who thought consensus was lower were more likely to deny climate change doesn't mean the former caused the latter- but to be fair I haven't read them recently and was reading them in a different context for slightly different research goals so I will re-visit with a new eye for your comments.

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJen

Jen

I will look those up. I'm fairly sure I've read the Ding and Lewandowsky papers and came away feeling unsure of the conclusions based on the old correlation/causation problem

You might have come away with that impression due to our dear blog host! ;) In any event, the results have been confirmed by intervention experiments by others, though I don't know how far along these experimental data are in terms of the publications process. John Cook as well as some folks from the Yale/GMU Climate Communications group have tested and confirmed experimentally what others (Ding, McCright) have found by analyzing correlations in the polling data.

Full disclosure, in case it needs to be said (my email doesn't seem to show up to anyone else), I am a coauthor of the Cook et al. paper that is part of the current discussion.

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Jacobs

Dan Kahan has repeatedly claimed that the consensus message has been tried before and that it didn't work. Dan, do you have some evidence of this? I'm not aware of any peer-reviewed paper that has addressed this point, so would be appreciative of any literature you could direct me to.

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRob Painting

I'm fairly sure I've read the Ding and Lewandowsky papers and came away feeling unsure of the conclusions based on the old correlation/causation problem

The Lewandowsky study solves the correlation/causation problem by using a randomised experiment where one group receives consensus information while the other group is a control group. This means differences in climate attitudes between the two groups can be causally linked to the receiving of consensus information, which is the only difference between the two groups. What this study found was those who received consensus information had significantly higher acceptance of human-caused global warming than the control group.

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Cook

Another study that might be relevant to the issue is the famous Solomon Asch social conformity experiment. When a subject part of a group perceives a group consensus for one particular answer, they tend to report the 'expected' consensus answer, rather than the one they themselves believed. The presence of even a single dissenter cancels most of the effect.

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

More on the 97% "consensus" on such a "settled" topic :-)

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/health-science/earth-scientists-split-on-climate-change-statement/story-e6frg8y6-1226942126322?sv=be1dcfaa02d4346ce0ed662fdf01ddeb#
AUSTRALIA’S peak body of earth scientists has declared itself unable to publish a position statement on climate change due to the deep divisions within its membership on the issue.

After more than five years of debate and two false starts, Geological Society of Australia president Laurie Hutton said a statement on climate change was too difficult to achieve.
------

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

Ed - So a body whose membership includes many employed by fossil fuel interests finds itself deeply divided on the issue of global warming? I don't find that at all surprising.

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRob Painting

Rob,

Are you saying that scientists report what their employers tell them to? Does that apply to scientists employed by environmentalists and governments, too?

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

==> "Are you saying that scientists report what their employers tell them to?"

Clearly not the case for those private sector earth scientist. Everyone knows that only "consensus" scientists tailor their science to what is economically expedient.

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Rob, I take it you will now discount everything said by Dana Nuccitelli due to conflicts of interest by his employer? Does Dana Nuccitelli still work for Tetra Tech, a company that makes millions in the oil and energy business.

What is Tetra Tech?
It’s a consulting firm that got a $50 million contract from the EPA and a $100 million contract from the Navy It also does work for the wind, solar, and “emerging renewable” energy industries....
Ironically, Tetra Tech is also helping to develop fossil fuels in the Bakken shale play.

So what do you say we drop this nasty line of argument and play to the ball and not the man?

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

The Lewandowsky study solves the correlation/causation problem by using a randomised experiment where one group receives consensus information while the other group is a control group. This means differences in climate attitudes between the two groups can be causally linked to the receiving of consensus information, which is the only difference between the two groups. What this study found was those who received consensus information had significantly higher acceptance of human-caused global warming than the control group.

This still doesn't really assuage my concerns though. A) were both groups controlled for an equal distribution of ideological positions? Was the correlation broken out among different portions of the groups, based on the ideological position or etc? Was the effect the truly the same regardless of those other factors? And B) is there any other work to confirm that these participants' attitudes as expressed in the study were maintained for any period following? I .e. Does saying they now agree with climate scientists in the study hold true for real life outside the study- and if so are there studies to show this? I've seen studies that do demonstrate real and lasting changes in attitudes/perceptions based on certain messaging but have not seen any where the messaging consisted solely of consensus-awareness efforts...

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJen

Niv - "Rob,Are you saying that scientists report what their employers tell them to? Does that apply to scientists employed by environmentalists and governments, too?"

No, but your scenario does seem unlikely. Geologists employed in the fossil fuel, and extractive, industries in Australia make a good living - well into six figure salaries. A carbon tax and measures to dramatically wind-back fossil fuel use, would put most of these jobs at risk. It's not a stretch of the imagination to expect a knee-jerk resistance to the science behind global warming when ones earnings are put under threat.

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRob Painting

Rob,
Dana Nuccitelli income is directly tied to a firm making money on building windmills. [.It's not a stretch of the imagination to expect a knee-jerk resistance to the (actual) science behind global warming when ones earnings are put under threat] by calls to reduce green rent seeking supporting inefficient and expensive power generation.

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

Rob -

Do you see any similarities between your argument and the arguments of "skeptics" when they say that AGW is a hoax perpetrated by academics so they can get grant funding?

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Rob,

And has been often pointed out, debunking global warming alarm would terminate the careers of a lot of climate scientists, and others who have based a lot of their research record on it. It's an argument that tilts both ways.

Personally, I regard it as an example of ad hominem argument and usually dismiss it. Likewise, "consensus" is a form of argument ad populam, and likewise a logical fallacy. What matters in science is the content of the arguments and evidence, not who said so or how many voted for it. Those are the methods of politics, not science. But the question of what scientists believe and why is an interesting one from a sociological perspective, and I've always found it odd that so little good quality work has been done on it.

The one thing that strikes me about a lot of these surveys and studies is the way they all ask *what* people believe, but rarely ask the subjects *why* they believe it. Instead, an attempt is made to infer it indirectly based on the experimenter's own hypotheses and guesses. We're not dealing with lab rats here, where you have no choice. You can actually ask people.

So on hearing that the Geological Society of Australia was deeply divided, surely it would be an obvious next move to ask the members *why* they believe as they do. Have they looked into the evidence themselves, or are they trusting experts? If the former, what checks did they apply? If the latter, what did they do to check who was trustworthy?

That they might be biased by their employment is a speculation and a hypothesis - it's plausible, but it seems to me unjustifiable to draw such conclusions in a scientific context without evidence. Plenty of others can be constructed, such as that geologists are experts in the evidence for past climates, as well as related topics like glaciology or coastal geology. The other scientific group that Doran identified as notably sceptical were the meteorologists. Is it possible that they simply have more overlap with climatology than other sciences, and are therefore less likely to take the climatologists' word for it? It needs more study.

June 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Joshua - "Rob - Do you see any similarities between your argument and the arguments of "skeptics" when they say that AGW is a hoax perpetrated by academics so they can get grant funding?"

None that I can see. That some geologists employed by fossil fuel interests might be inclined to publicly dispute science (in which they are generally not experts) because it threatens their job security seems a reasonable claim to make.

On the other hand, that climate scientists can acidify the oceans, warm the planet, melt the polar ice sheets, raise sea level, increase the frequency and severity of wild fires, increase the severity and frequency of heatwaves (both on land and in the ocean), increase the frequency and severity of extreme precipitation events, and cause both animals and plants to migrate away from the equator, and up mountainsides - all in the interests of some grand hoax seems more than a little far-fetched.

There is no equivalence here that I can discern.

June 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRob Painting

Ed, can you please make up your mind whether I'm in the pocket of Big Oil or Big Green? For goodness sakes, this is like über trolling.

Yes, it's perfectly reasonable to think that mining geologists in coal-heavy Australia might be biased against human-caused global warming. We see the same thing with petroleum geologists in the USA.

June 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDana Nuccitelli

NiV, I have only anecdotal evidence on the thought processes of industry geologists, but having been one for most of my life, I can assure you that many of them arrive at their opinions on anthropogenic climate change influenced by feelings of loyalty to their peer group and its culture. Most of them know little of modern climatology and, although many are very well aware of past changes in climate and sea level, few could give a reasonable account of what drove those changes. I certainly couldn't until I started taking an amateur interest in climate science.

I differ with many activists who assume that the views of fossil-fuel employees are motivated mainly by money. That's not the case, I think; it's more a matter of adherence to the social group that they identify with. I sometimes get accused of hypocrisy because I am now convinced that fossil fuel emissions pose a serious threat to humanity, while having worked for a long time in oil exploration. I think that what my detractors really mean to accuse me of is disloyalty.

I have asked some industry geologists I know why they believe what they do about climate change. There is usually some point made about "climate has changed before" or an argument from incredulity such as "CO2 is just a trace gas", points which are not usually very well supported technically. Quite quickly the argument becomes "but we need the oil" or "we owe our standard of living to fossil fuels", which is true, but beside the point.

One further point: "Consensus" is not used in our paper as a "logical fallacy" to imply that the question of the anthropogenic influence on climate change is proven or settled. Our work is simply an analysis of what experts have written in the scientific literature, not a prescription for what anybody should be compelled to believe. The "argument ad populam" trope is a straw man, we never made that claim.

Yes, of course we know that people use the existence of an expert consensus as part of a shortcut process to decide what is and what is not likely to be reliable knowledge. I certainly do that in areas outside my own scientific expertise, as, for example, on the safety of GMO foods. But nobody is logically obligated to accept the consensus as truth, nor is anybody in our society forced to toe the consensus line against their better judgement. Lord knows, there are plenty of dissenters around for whom, as Dan keeps pointing out, other motivations for their beliefs loom larger than the opinion of scientists.

June 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAndy Skuce

Niv - "What matters in science is the content of the arguments and evidence, not who said so or how many voted for it"

Indeed. This why an overwhelming scientific consensus regarding global warming exists - that's just the result of multiple lines of evidence converging on the same answer.

As for Australian geologists, my claim is an unsubstantiated one. If one were genuinely interested in knowing why their scientific body was so divided on the issue of global warming it would make sense to do some actual research. I'm not really that interested. Ed brought it up hoping to prove some point.

June 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRob Painting

"On the other hand, that climate scientists can acidify the oceans, warm the planet, melt the polar ice sheets, raise sea level, increase the frequency and severity of wild fires, increase the severity and frequency of heatwaves (both on land and in the ocean), increase the frequency and severity of extreme precipitation events, and cause both animals and plants to migrate away from the equator, and up mountainsides - all in the interests of some grand hoax seems more than a little far-fetched."

That's not the only alternative, of course. It also may be that some or all of those might happen for unrelated reasons, and climate scientists seize on them for their own use.

But I'm sure you knew that.

"Ed, can you please make up your mind whether I'm in the pocket of Big Oil or Big Green? For goodness sakes, this is like über trolling."

Why not both? Their interests align, somewhat.

"I have only anecdotal evidence on the thought processes of industry geologists, ..."

Indeed.

"Most of them know little of modern climatology and, although many are very well aware of past changes in climate and sea level, few could give a reasonable account of what drove those changes."

"I have asked some industry geologists I know why they believe what they do about climate change. There is usually some point made about "climate has changed before" or an argument from incredulity such as "CO2 is just a trace gas", points which are not usually very well supported technically."

I have found the same sort of issue in scientists who support the consensus. They start off with some vague correlation-implies-causation or confirming-the-consequent arguments about polar ice and global temperatures, but quite quickly it becomes apparent that they don't understand the evidence or its limitations, they can't quantify the uncertainties, they don't understand the basic principles of statistics needed, like unit root tests and the effects of autocorrelation, and they usually can't even give a coherent account of the physics of how the greenhouse effect actually works, which constantly astonishes me.

And quite quickly, the argument devolves to "But 97%..." and "Experts say...", which for the vast majority of even scientists seems to be the basis of belief. They don't believe because they've checked the evidence for themselves, but out of a sort of group loyalty to science itself. They're supporting "Team Science" against the barbarians.

But as you say, our individual knowledge of people's reasoning is anecdotal and unsystematic. From the point of view of understanding how society comes to its judgements about scientific issues and controversies, we need a more systematic investigation. The percentage of scientists who believe observed global warming 1950-2000 is mostly anthropogenic is a bit of uninteresting and meaningless trivia, in comparison. Doran reports 82% of Earth scientists saying the rise in temperature is anthropogenic, but is that because they've heard that's what science says, as any man on the street might, or because they've checked? Doran also says 94.9% of the most highly-published climate scientists said so, but again, we don't know their reasoning. The number of publications is a poor proxy for expertise, or for the checks done. And in any case, the question is not whether it is anthropogenic, but whether it is catastrophic.


"One further point: "Consensus" is not used in our paper as a "logical fallacy" to imply that the question of the anthropogenic influence on climate change is proven or settled."

But that appears to be the use that is being made of it in its "messaging".

"Our work is simply an analysis of what experts have written in the scientific literature, not a prescription for what anybody should be compelled to believe."

But what is the purpose of the analysis? What does it tell you? For example, a large majority of papers expressed no position on AGW in their abstracts, but was that because the subject simply didn't come up, or because the scientists themselves held a neutral/undecided opinion? How many scientists made perfunctory genuflections towards the consensus as an aid to getting published/funded (and climate science is by no means alone in having these "buzz" topics), and how many were reporting new, real evidence towards it? How many scientists would have liked to have included sceptical statements, but didn't because they knew it would reduce their chances of being published/funded? How many wrote papers with such statements, but had them rejected at peer-review because of it? How many who might have done so were refused funding? Were the papers done correctly? Don't you get more papers published back and forth around new and controversial topics than well-established ones?

Without such context, the statistic is meaningless. It might be evidence of agreement, or of groupthink, or of publication bias, or of the influence of funders. The only use it appears to have as it is is as political ammunition.

"But nobody is logically obligated to accept the consensus as truth, nor is anybody in our society forced to toe the consensus line against their better judgement."

Good! That's what I'd like to hear!

"If one were genuinely interested in knowing why their scientific body was so divided on the issue of global warming it would make sense to do some actual research. I'm not really that interested."

Why not? Isn't that the point of this area of research?

June 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV -

==> "Likewise, "consensus" is a form of argument ad populam, and likewise a logical fallacy. What matters in science is the content of the arguments and evidence, not who said so or how many voted for it. "

It always interests me how "skeptics" can make that argument one minute, and then spend so much time researching and arguing about the precise quantification for the "consensus."

(of course, it also interests me how so many "skeptics" are selective in their views about the relevance of the prevalence of expert opinion, depending on the subject).


So why do you spend so much time thinking and arguing about the precise quantification underlying a fallacious argument?

June 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Gotta say, I do find it interesting just how many electrons have been devoted to discussing the "consensus" issue in so many comments in so many threads at so many websites.

IMO, it's like the arguments about whether Muller is a "skeptic" or a "realist" (which, of course, by comparison pale in number). It's about identifying group-mates and marking territory. It's about identity formation and defining who is the "other."

As Richard Tol said:

“Published papers that seek to test what caused the climate change over the last century and half, almost unanimously find that humans played a dominant role.”

What is it about that reality that stimulates so much identity aggression and identity defense?

June 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Rob -

==> "There is no equivalence here that I can discern."

My point wasn't really that it was equivalent, but that it is similar. Yes, there are differences. But there are also similarities. Specifically, in both cases, there is a bad-faith assumption being made about the motivations of large numbers of people without direct evidence.

It is also similar in that, at least as far as I can tell, making such an accusation does nothing of real informative value. It only serves to mark territory in a tribal battle. Is serves the function of identity protection and stimulates identity aggression.

June 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"So why do you spend so much time thinking and arguing about the precise quantification underlying a fallacious argument?"

1. Because accuracy and precision are important in science.

2. Because while it's irrelevant and ad populam to the scientific question of whether global warming will be catastrophic, it's separately an interesting question from the point of view of the psychology and sociology of science in society.

3. Because the fallacy is being used to persuade people to support a political cause, and to justify political action. It's an abuse of science, and of the public's respect and trust in it.

June 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV -

Do you think that with your fellow "skeptics" the same reasons apply?

June 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Joshua,

No. There is also political calculation (since the "consensus" claim is one of the big arguments for climate action, undermining it is politically advantageous), and I think there also a lot of scientist sceptics who are offended at the suggestion they're part of a tiny minority, whose views are unfounded and can be ignored.

The claims of consensus are particularly irritating, because a lot of sceptics are actually on the side of the consensus as it is defined in many of these surveys. Apart from the skydragons, who even the sceptics tend to push to the fringes, most sceptics are agreed that the world warmed 1950-2000, and that anthropogenic CO2 contributed to it. If you work out the implied sensitivity, it's within the bounds of many sceptics stated beliefs to claim that more than half of it is anthropogenic, too. So it's particularly annoying to be beaten over the head with something that you don't dispute anyway, and is misleading on so many different levels.

It's also an attractive topic for debate because it's relatively easy for sceptics to argue. It doesn't involve a lot of complicated physics or statistics. It's just a matter of reporting a percentage correctly. It's relatively easy to explain and demonstrate to newcomers to the debate or the less scientifically literate. To some degree, from the point of view of political tactics, sceptics love people like Cook and Co. doing this, because it gives them so many easy targets.

I personally don't bother very much about the politics any more, because I regard the scare as already dying anyway, and nothing sceptics say at this point is going to make much difference one way or the other. I do this for fun, or to pass the time, or as an exercise of understanding. But there are still plenty of sceptics interested in the politics, just as there are many climate activists who are more interested in the politics than the science. The fight will go on for a few more years yet.

June 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Joshua - "Specifically, in both cases, there is a bad-faith assumption being made about the motivations of large numbers of people without direct evidence."

Yes, I've already stated that I have no evidence to support my claim that job security, and thus financial concerns, may be a reason why Australian geologists are so divided about climate change. It's a plausible, but unproven, claim though.

By contrast, the hoax claim made my contrarians is utter nonsense and can be dismissed outright.

"..... making such an accusation does nothing of real informative value. It only serves to mark territory in a tribal battle. Is serves the function of identity protection and stimulates identity aggression."

The scientific facts are what they are. Those observations I mentioned in my earlier comment have no tribal identity. They cannot be stimulated aggressively or otherwise. If pointing out these facts stimulates an aggressive response in those predisposed to disbelieve science which disagrees with their world view, then so be it.

You appear to be trodding down the path some social scientists have taken - ".....if we can just all get along." This is not something I have been convinced of so far. Many profound changes in society have been effected without the necessity of winning over the other side. It wasn't necessary to win over slave owners to abolish slavery for instance - despite the slave owners claims of impending financial collapse upon abolition. There are numerous other examples throughout history. Eventually, however, societal norms morph and these outdated notions become socially unacceptable.

This is what may happen with climate science denial. The consequences of global warming and ocean acidification will only get worse from here on in and people are likely to demand action. So we can expect, in time, the voices of denial will grow weaker and rightfully retreat to the dim dark corners of public consciousness - where they belong. This hasn't happened yet, not only because a misinformation from the mainstream media, but because the really bad stuff lies up ahead.

The only question is how much harm is human civilization prepared to endure? Will it endure? That the surface oceans are on track to be corrosive to marine calcifiers before century's end, and the near-term threat posed to the rapidly dwindling coral reefs by too warm sea surface temperatures, things are not looking too rosy. We could choose to avoid globally corrosive oceans by limiting carbon emissions, but it's probably too late to save the coral reefs. This alone is going to have profound impacts on the world, especially the poor, many of whom directly depend upon coral reefs, and the fish life they support, for a source of protein. And that just for starters.

June 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRob Painting

Danna [ Yes, it's perfectly reasonable to think that mining geologists in coal-heavy Australia might be biased against human-caused global warming. We see the same thing with petroleum geologists in the USA. ]

Danna, you work for a company with a major stake in energy. Why should we not consider what you say might be biased and needs to be discarded? After all, your company makes millions on pushing the use of windmills.

Personally, my view is that if what you are writing is on your own time and not directly supported by your employer, your occupation should matter much less than what you write. Play the ball, not the man.

Now if your employer is paying you to write papers that will tend to bring the company more business, then I would consider you a paid hack as other such in product advertising. In this instance one does need to keep an eye on the man as, by definition, he is out to take money from you and give it to his firm.

I have not seen anything that suggests you are a paid hack, so I tend to consider your writings and views just due to personal biases, not employment biases.

June 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

NiV,

"For example, a large majority of papers expressed no position on AGW in their abstracts, but was that because the subject simply didn't come up, or because the scientists themselves held a neutral/undecided opinion?"

We checked that. About 5% of our original 'no position' category turned out to say the causes of global warming are uncertain. Also, only one-third of author self-rated papers fell in the 'no position' category. Moreover, our study isn't about opinions, it's about what the peer-reviewed research says.

Ed,

"Danna (sic), you work for a company with a major stake in energy. Why should we not consider what you say might be biased and needs to be discarded? After all, your company makes millions on pushing the use of windmills."

I'm not a petroleum geologist or a windmill engineer or anything of that nature. My job has absolutely nothing to do with any of the issues you raise. As far as I know we don't even build windmills, although to be honest I have no idea about 90% of what my company does, because it's so huge. Point being, there's a difference between a petroleum or mining geologist and a person who works for a company with many different divisions doing many different things, a couple of which are related to energy.

Andy makes a valid point that it probably has more to do with group cultural biases among industry geologists in any case. That doesn't apply to me either. There are actually lots of 'skeptics' in my office.

June 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDana Nuccitelli

http://science.time.com/2012/02/02/exclusive-how-the-sierra-club-took-millions-from-the-natural-gas-industry-and-why-they-stopped/

[ between 2007 and 2010 the Sierra Club accepted over $25 million in donations from the gas industry, mostly from Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy—one of the biggest gas drilling companies in the U.S. and a firm heavily involved in fracking—to help fund the Club’s Beyond Coal campaign ]

So what we have here is a fight for product placement between Big Oil and Big Coal, with Big Green racking it in supporting Big Oil. $25M pays for a lot of hacks to push the theme.

June 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

"Many profound changes in society have been effected without the necessity of winning over the other side."

That's scary. :-(

Yes. That's what seriously worries people. Not all of those changes have later been judged to be good. But it's universally the case that at the time, those who bring them about are convinced with *absolute* certainty that they are *right* and those who resist them are absolutely *wrong*, and immoral or deluded for opposing them, and that any methods are justified to bring about what any right-thinking person ought to want anyway. It's for their own good, after all.

Indeed, it's been common for *both* sides to be *equally* convinced of it.

History has taught us many bitter lessons about the long-term consequences of that sort of thinking. That's why we invented the principles of liberty and freedom - freedom of belief, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of trade, principles of ownership and autonomy that cannot be overridden by any state. You can, by all means, try to persuade one another. If your arguments are more compelling you should win out eventually. But "imposing changes on society without the requirement of winning people over"? That's something we have a lot of experience with, and is perceived by some as a more immediate and far more serious danger.

We *know* it can happen to societies, even ones like ours. Some of us still remember the last time it *did*.

So, if you don't mind, we'll wait and see who's right. When we know, and all agree, we'll take the appropriate action. As a strategy it has its risks, but as always it's a balance.

As we all know, the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. The accuracy record on "end-of-the-world" claims is historically not very good.

--

"We checked that. About 5% of our original 'no position' category turned out to say the causes of global warming are uncertain."

And the ones that didn't say, but thought it?

" Moreover, our study isn't about opinions, it's about what the peer-reviewed research says."

Shouldn't it instead be about what it provides solid evidence for?

June 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Dana, I have personally found, and have seen data supporting, that engineers in general are much more skeptical on CAGW than those with degrees in academic or soft fields. My field is in Civil engineering, road construction, so I have no dog in the fight professionally.

Engineering requires a fairly broad overview of many different fields of study. Being so broad based in education, and the requirement that what you build has to be right, engineers tend to be fairly pragmatic and detail orientated. It is the detail orientated part that, IMO, makes engineers so skeptical of CAGW. The details do not support CAWG. Now people may be responsible for some warming, but it is the C that causes all the fights.

I do find it amusing that warmists can write off entire fields such as Geologists as being unreliable, but fully support statements by firms that directly make money on building solar and wind farms without doing due diligence on what the effects and costs truly are.

June 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

Ed, as a petroleum geologist myself I certainly do not write off the entire field as being unreliable. We petroleum geologists are damned good at what we do. But when it comes to providing expert opinions on climate change, I would rather listen to people with real expertise.

Climate scientists don't have much expertise when it comes to petroleum geology either. For example the eminent climate scientist Ray Pierrehumbert wrote this piece in Slate on a session on Peak Oil at the AGU Fall meeting. I attended the same session as Pierrehumbert and thought, unlike him, that many of the talks were rubbish. I don't trust climate scientists any more than the next man on subjects outside their area of specialization. Similarly, I have huge respect for James Hansen as a climate scientist, but he has been wrong with his projections of emissions from the oil sands in Alberta.

Ed, let me ask you a question in your professional capacity as a civil engineer. Suppose that you are tasked with designing a seawall to protect coastal infrastructure, such as an airport or a town. The customer insists that this structure should last for at least a hundred years. In your design work, what assumptions would you make about future sea-level rise? Would you inform yourself with the range of expert opinion in the IPCC reports or would you instead rely on some alternative forecast?

June 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAndy Skuce

Dana – Moreover, our study isn't about opinions, it's about what the peer-reviewed research says.

No! Your study is about opinions. It’s the opinions of you & your comrade's at SS as to what the peer-review research says. I’d be willing to bet if a group of skeptics (wanted to waste their time on doing it) preformed the same process they would come up with something different than 97%.

Take the Gore vs Bush recount in Florida. The DNC & RNC do the counting. You think the DNC & RNC would have the same results? Instead of climate sensitivity it would be hanging chads being debated.

I don’t know anybody who disagrees with man has caused the earth to warm. It’s all about how much & what the effects will be. Even the IPCC doesn’t have a strong agreement on that.

June 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterClyde

NiV -

"No. There is also political calculation (since the "consensus" claim is one of the big arguments for climate action, undermining it is politically advantageous), and I think there also a lot of scientist sceptics who are offended at the suggestion they're part of a tiny minority, whose views are unfounded and can be ignored....

It is interesting that you agree that both sides are influenced by motivated reasoning, but with the discussion of the "consensus" food fight,: you haven't listed motivated reasoning as one of the factors underlying arguments from you or anyone else on the "skeptical" side.

I happen to think that it is quite obvious that motivated reasoning influences both sides w/r/t the discussion over the "consensus," just as does with most of the polarized issues related to climate change.

Of course, both sides say that what they're really focusing on is truth, justice, and the American way. An indeed, in a sense, I don't doubt that both sides truly believe that they are. Just because they are "motivated" by identity-related mechanisms does not mean that they aren't pursuing truth and justice.

'If you work out the implied sensitivity, it's within the bounds of many sceptics stated beliefs to claim that more than half of it is anthropogenic, too. So it's particularly annoying to be beaten over the head with something that you don't dispute anyway, and is misleading on so many different levels.

I read a lot of "skeptical" arguments in the interwebs. I'd say that a large % clearly dispute whether it is very/extremely likely that the ACO2 contribution to recent warming is greater than 50%. I see a lot of "skeptics" trying to establish wiggle room there (in essence) by saying something on the order of "But most 'skeptics' don't doubt that the earth is warming, and that ACO2 plays a role. We only question the magnitude of that role."

But in making that argument, they fail to account for: (1) the many "skeptics" who dispute any metric that shows warming (so then, how do they know that it has warmed?), (2) dispute whether global warming is even a meaningful concept, (3) argue that we are pumping ACO2 into the atmosphere, yet warming as "paused" or "stopped. (4) argue the physics itself (which is certainly not limited to "Sky Dragons," although some "skeptics" out of convenience argue that it is), (5) argue that ACO2 could not cause a measurable impact because is a "trace gas." .... etc.


"It's also an attractive topic for debate because it's relatively easy for sceptics to argue. It doesn't involve a lot of complicated physics or statistics. It's just a matter of reporting a percentage correctly. It's relatively easy to explain and demonstrate to newcomers to the debate or the less scientifically literate. To some degree, from the point of view of political tactics, sceptics love people like Cook and Co. doing this, because it gives them so many easy targets.

To that I agree. Many "skeptics" do love to argue about a point that they also argue is completely irrelevant to the science, and in fact, runs counter to valid mechanisms of the scientific process itself. That was, actually, exactly my point. Instead of focusing on the science, they focus on what is politically expedient - the reason being cultural cognition.


"I personally don't bother very much about the politics any more, because I regard the scare as already dying anyway, and nothing sceptics say at this point is going to make much difference one way or the other. I do this for fun, or to pass the time, or as an exercise of understanding. But there are still plenty of sceptics interested in the politics, just as there are many climate activists who are more interested in the politics than the science. The fight will go on for a few more years yet."

My guess is that it will on for at least 4-5 decades (unless completely unambiguous climate change occurs before them - something that according to my understanding of the "consensus" science is unlikely). Of course, it's an easy conjecture to make since I may well not be alive to get called on it, and even if I were I could probably just find some way to deny it after all those years.

June 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Rob -

The scientific facts are what they are. Those observations I mentioned in my earlier comment have no tribal identity. They cannot be stimulated aggressively or otherwise. If pointing out these facts stimulates an aggressive response in those predisposed to disbelieve science which disagrees with their world view, then so be it.

I disagree that your observations were not tribal (particularly in context) - but I don't think it's your responsibility if they generate identity aggressive or identity defensive behavior on the part of others. They can choose to respond in whatever way they might like. I consider the focus of establishing responsibility for the tribalism in the climate wars is just more motivated reasoning. It's an exercise in futility, IMO.

You appear to be trodding down the path some social scientists have taken - ".....if we can just all get along."

I can understand why you might feel that way but in fact, that is not my view. I don't agree with the approach of those like Tamsin Edwards and the like. From my experience, "skeptics" are fully identified with not "getting along."

Many profound changes in society have been effected without the necessity of winning over the other side.

This is certainly true - but I don't think that it follows logically that identity aggressive or identity defensive behaviors will obtain net benefit results. I don't think that it follows logically that making a judgement about the motivations of a large number of people w/o direct supportive evidence is likely to push the climate policies to be developed more quickly. I'm not saying that I think that such behaviors have a significantly negative impact. I don't think that they do. I just think that they are same ol' same ol.' I think that there may be an opportunity cost from not pursuing more advantageous actions, but I don't think that playing nice with "skeptic" is likely to achieve much either. IMO, what will achieve beneficial results is a paradigm shift towards stakeholder dialog. That isn't the same as saying that simply less aggressive behavior will achieve comparatively better results.


So we can expect, in time, the voices of denial will grow weaker and rightfully retreat ..because the really bad stuff lies up ahead.

Sorry for the ellipses, but I put them in because I wanted to say that I agree with you there, if I cut out some of what you wrote, and assuming that easily demonstrated, dangerous climate change becomes clearly manifest. I don't think that impugning the motives of "skeptics" will accelerate that process appreciably.

June 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Andy [Ed, let me ask you a question in your professional capacity as a civil engineer. Suppose that you are tasked with designing a seawall to protect coastal infrastructure, such as an airport or a town. The customer insists that this structure should last for at least a hundred years. In your design work, what assumptions would you make about future sea-level rise? Would you inform yourself with the range of expert opinion in the IPCC reports or would you instead rely on some alternative forecast? ]

short answer projected sea level rise would have almost no effect on the design

long answer:

IPCC sea level projections are in flux, but I will give you a steady 3mm year even though the 3mm / year is likely the top end of a 60 yr cycle.

http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/ch5s5-5-2-2.html
Since 1992, global mean sea level can be computed at 10-day intervals by averaging the altimetric measurements from the TOPEX/Poseidon (T/P) and Jason satellites over the area of coverage (66°S to 66°N) (Nerem and Mitchum, 2001). Each 10-day estimate of global mean sea level has an accuracy of approximately 5 mm. Numerous papers on the altimetry results (see Cazenave and Nerem, 2004, for a review) show a current rate of sea level rise of 3.1 ± 0.7 mm yr–1 over 1993 to 2003 (Cazenave and Nerem, 2004; Leuliette et al., 2004; Figure 5.14). A significant fraction of the 3 mm yr–1 rate of change has been shown to arise from changes in the Southern Ocean (Cabanes et al., 2001).


AR5 SPM
It is very likely that the mean rate of global averaged sea level rise was 1.7 [1.5 to 1.9] mm yr–1 between 1901 and 2010, 2.0 [1.7 to 2.3] mm yr–1 between 1971 and 2010 and 3.2 [2.8 to 3.6] mm yr–1 between 1993 and 2010. It is likely that similarly high rates occurred between 1920 and 1950.

Design of sea walls needs to be based on the life of the project and very few projects have a life of 100 yrs. Sea Walls would fall into the same category as a road, which have design life of about 25 yrs. Sea level change over 25ys is not significant. If the customer wanted 100 yr ( or more ) life of project, design would be for 25ys, a built in maintained schedule, and a rebuild to new conditions if/when needed.

Storm Surge is the main killer requiring sea walls, not sea level change.

Storm surge
http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/hurricane/resources/surge_intro.pdf
Hurricane Katrina, a category 3 at landfall in Louisiana, produced catastrophic damage with a 28-ft. storm surge.
Hurricane Irene, a category 1 hurricane at landfall in North Carolina, produced extensive damage with an 8 to 11 ft. storm surge.
Hurricane Charley, a category 4 hurricane at landfall in Florida, produced a storm surge of 6 to 8 ft.

June 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEd Forbes

Clyde - "No! Your study is about opinions. It’s the opinions of you & your comrade's at SS as to what the peer-review research says. I’d be willing to bet if a group of skeptics (wanted to waste their time on doing it) preformed the same process they would come up with something different than 97%.

Maybe. Or perhaps contrarians would find the scientific consensus overwhelming too. One suitable measure as to the worthiness of abstract ratings would be to compare the contrarian ratings to that of the authors of the papers. I suspect there would be a large discrepancy if they tried to corrupt the rating process.

Of course the thing about Cook et al that always get glossed over by contrarians, is that we got the authors of the peer-reviewed research to rate their own papers. They did this based upon their full paper, not on the abstract - as we did. They gave a consensus value of 97.2%, where our abstract ratings found it was 97.1%. Not that these two methods are measuring exactly the same thing of course, the full paper likely contains more information with which to make a determination.

Along with two previous research papers, Doran & Zimmerman [2009] and Anderegg et al [2010], that gives four approaches to estimating the scientific consensus with regard to global warming that give a value of around 97%. This suggests that our result is robust.

June 22, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRob Painting

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