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Jun232014

They've already gotten the memo! What the public (Rs & Ds) think "climate scientists believe"

I’ve explained in a couple of posts why I think experimental evidence in support of “messaging” scientific consensus is externally invalid and why real-world instances of this “messaging” strategy can be expected to reinforce polarization.

But here is some new evidence (from a new paper, which I'll post this week) that critically examines the premise of the “message 97%” strategy: namely, that political polarization over climate change is caused by a misapprehension of the weight of opinion among climate scientists.

It isn't.

Consider:

That’s what members of the U.S. general public, defined in terms of their political outlooks (based on their score in relation to the mean on a continuous scale running "left" to "right"), “believe” about human-caused global warming.

Old news.

But here are a set of items that indicate what they think “climate scientists believe” (each statement except the first was preceded with that clause):

 

Got it?

Overwhelming majorities of both Republicans and Democrats are convinced that “climate scientists believe" that  CO2 emissions cause the temperature of the atmosphere to go up—probably the most basic fact scientific proposition about climate change.

In addition, overwhelming majorities of both Republicans and think that “climate scientists believe” that human-caused climate change poses all manner of danger to people and the environment.

Thus, they correctly think that “climate scientists believe” that “human-caused global warming will result in flooding of many coastal regions.” 

But they also incorrectly think that "climate scientists believe" that the melting of the North Pole ice cap will cause flooding. 

Healthy majorities of both Republicans and Democrats correctly think that “climate scientists believe” that global warming increased in the first decade of this century—but mistakenly think that “climate scientists believe” that human-caused climate change “will increase the risk of skin cancer” as well.

Again, these are the responses of the same nationally representative sample of respondents who were highly polarized on the question whether human-caused climate change is happening.

Here’s what’s going on:

1.  Items measuring “belief in human caused global warming” & the equivalent do not measure perceptions of “what people know,” including what they think “climate scientists believe.”

“Belief in human-caused global  warming” items measure “who one is, what side one is on” in an ugly and highly illiberal form of cultural status competition, one being fueled by the idioms of contempt that the most conspicuous spokespeople on both sides use.

As I’ve explained, the responses that individuals give to such items in surveys are as strong an indicator of their political identity as items that solicit self-reported liberal-conservative ideology and political-party self-identification.

What individuals know—or think they know—about climate science is a different matter.  To measure it, one has to figure out how to ask a question that is not understood by survey respondents as “who are you, whose side are you on.”  

Consider, in this regard, the parallel with “belief” in evolution.  When asked whether they believe in evolution, members of the US general population split 50-50, based not on understanding of evolution or science comprehension generally but on the centrality of religion to their cultural identities.

But when one frames the question as what scientists understand the evidence to be on evolution, then the division disappears.  A question worded that way enables relatively religious individuals to indicate what they know about science without having to express a position that denigrates their identities.

Same here: ask “what do climate scientists believe,” and the parties who polarize on the identity-expressive question “do you believe in global warming? do you? do you?” and you can see that there is in fact bipartisan agreement about what climate scientists think!

2.  Different impressions of what “climate scientists believe” clearly aren’t the cause of polarization on global warming.

The differences between Republicans and Democrats on “what climate scientists believe” ‘is trivial.  It doesn’t come close to explaining the magnitude and depth of the division on “human-caused global warming.”

Otherwise, the debate between Democrats and Republicans would be only over how much to spend to develop new nanotechnology sun screens to protect Americans from the epidemic of skin cancer that all recognize is looming.

Why did anyone ever think otherwise -- that the problem was simply not enough people had been told yet that there is scientific consensus on human-caused climate change?

Because it was plausible to believe that, for a while, given the correlation between responses to  items asking survey respondents “do you believe in human-caused climate change” and ones asking them whether they believed“scientific consensus” was consistent or inconsistent with the position they held.

There was always a competing explanation: that survey items on “scientific consensus”—because they are not constructed to disentangle knowledge and identity—were in fact measuring the same thing as the “what do you believe about global warming” questions: namely, who are you, whose side are you on.

A decade’s worth of real-world evidence on the impact of “messaging” consensus has now rendered the former position wholly untenable.

And now here’s some new survey evidence—items constructed to separate the “who are you, whose side are you on” question from “what do you know” question—that is much more consistent with the alternative hypothesis, and with the real world and experimental data that support that explanation.

Climate scientists update their models after ten years of evidence suggest one or another parameter of their models was not right.

Climate science communicators must be willing to do the same—or else they are not genuinely being guided by science in their craft.

3.  Members of the public already get that climate scientists think that we face a huge problem.

The data I’ve presented obviously don't suggest that members of the public know very much about what scientists believe.  They are in fact as likely to be wrong about that as right.

However encouraging it is to see that they understand  CO2 is a “greenhouse gas,” it is painful to realize that they think  CO2 will kill the plants inside a greenhouse.

But the mistakes are all in the same direction: in favor of the answer that “climate scientists believe” global warming poses a huge risk for the environment and human beings in particular.

Basically, items like these are indicators of a latent (unobserved) disposition to attribute to climate scientists the position “we are screwed if we don’t do something.”

That might not be a nuanced and discerning enough view to get you an “A” on a high school “climate science” exam.

But if civic knowledge consists in recognizing the policy significance of what science knows (melting polar ice causes sea level rise) as opposed to various technical details (e.g., that the North Pole ice cap is a big ice cube floating in the Arctic sea & thus won’t displace ocean water when it melts), then there is already more than enough civic understanding to motivate political responsiveness

The problem—what’s blocking this civic knowledge from being translated into action—is something else.  That’s what science communicators and others need to work on.

4. Consensus “messaging” campaigns don’t address the problem—except to the extent that predictably partisan forms of them make things worse.

If there is already a strong, bi-partisan disposition to view climate science as saying “we are in deep shit trouble, folks,” then “messaging” that doesn’t tell people anything they don’t already know.

The reason that ordinary citizens are polarized on doing something about climate change is that such policies have become infused with cultural meanings that signify each group’s contempt for the other. 

Climate change, as Al Gore says, is a “struggle for the soul of America”—and as long as it remains so, people will resist an outcome that says they and people they look up to are “stupid and evil.

Disentangling climate science from cultural status conflict must be the key objective.

“Messaging” scientific consensus doesn’t do that. On the contrary, it just adds another assaultive idiom – “97% AGREEEEEEE, MORON!!!” –to the already abundant stock of tropes one side uses to express how much contempt it has for its opponent in an ugly, senseless cultural status competition.

5.  Is there any alternative interpretation of these data?

Sure!

Someone could say, reasonably, that asking people what they think “climate scientists believe” is different from measuring whether those people themselves believe what they climate scientists have concluded.

I don’t think that's a convincing explanation for the discrepancy between the bipartisan consensus on the “what do climate scientists believe?” items and the “do you believe in human-caused global warming?" items.

As I’ve explained, I think the two are measuring different things, and—sadly, the question that is posed by the “climate change debate” is measuring what the latter items do: who you are, what side are you on?

We need to change the way politics frames the question -- so that it measures what we know, including what we collectively are fully capable of recognizing as science's best understanding of the evidence.

But the point is that even if someone thinks the best explanation for the data is that "Republicans distrust scientists"--another issue that depends on making valid measurements of public opinion-- then obviously “messaging” consensus is a not a responsive strategy.

Of course, the even bigger point is this: climate-science communicators will get nowhere if they accept interpretations of bits and pieces of evidence that are manifestly inconsistent with the evidence as a whole.           

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Reader Comments (30)

"Basically, items like these are indicators of latent (unobserved) disposition to attribute to climate scientists the position “we are screwed if we don’t do something."

This might not be very nuanced, but I think this comes eerily close to what quite a few climate science communicators are actually communicating.

June 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMartin

We're mostly in agreement Dan, but you've got some strawman arguments in there.

Why did anyone ever think otherwise -- that the problem was simply not enough people had been told yet that there is scientific consensus on human-caused climate change?

Nobody ever did, as far as I know.

The differences between Republicans and Democrats on “what climate scientists believe” ‘is trivial. It doesn’t come close to explaining the magnitude and depth of the division on “human-caused global warming.”

Again, nobody argues otherwise. In John Cook's chart, posted on your blog a few days ago, 'cultural bias' is a bigger problem than 'information deficit/misinformation surplus'.

That said, the latter is clearly nevertheless a problem. For one thing, <100% of those on the left answer the 'what climate scientists think' about climate change answers correctly, and the left's perceived consensus on AGW of about 70% is 27% too low. That can't be explained by cultural bias.

Even in the charts you show here, the difference between left and right in every answer (after the first) is 10-20%. And of course we have experimental evidence showing that when people are told about the consensus, their acceptance of the science and support for policy goes up. It doesn't go up to 100% because information deficit/misinformation surplus isn't the whole story. Cultural biases are probably a bigger problem. But that just means we need to tackle both, which is what we've been saying all along. It is easier, however, to tackle the consensus gap.

June 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDana Nuccitelli

I also wanted to point out that this argument is incorrect:

"A decade’s worth of real-world evidence on the impact of “messaging” consensus has now rendered the former position wholly untenable."

Incorrect for two reasons, in fact. The more important one is that we don't have a control population to compare against. In the absence of consensus messaging, it's possible (I'd argue quite probable) that those trends you show would be even worse, with more people answering incorrectly (attributing global warming to nature) over time, in a world without consensus messaging. Remember it's not just an information deficit, there's also a misinformation surplus.

Second, the '97% consensus' message has only been around since 2009 (Doran & Zimmerman). Quantifying the consensus with a simple concrete number adds a 'sticky' factor. Orekes (2004) didn't quantify it this way, simply finding no rejection abstracts in her sample. She established the consensus in the peer-reviewed literature, but not the 97%.

In the data you plot, there has actually been a steady increasing trend in correct answers (humans are causing global warming) since 2009.

June 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDana Nuccitelli

Seems to me it is possible to think that "climate scientists believe X" without thinking that X is an overwhelming scientific consensus. If I think X is believed by 60% of scientists, it would be more accurate to answer yes than no to "Do climate scientists believe X?". So these surveys do not measure whether the public is aware that there is strong consensus - there should be an answer along the lines of "many/most scientists believe this, but it remains controversial".

June 23, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterkonrad

@Konrad:

Yes, but what's the question?

I am addressing whether all the evidence avaialble supports the inference that the reason climate change polarizes us is that the msg on scientific consesnus just hasn't gotten out there yet.

If so, then one would expect to see divergence in the polarized groups' assessments of what "climate scientists believe."

One doesn't.

So this adds to the already immense stock of evidence that the problem isn't connected to differences in knowledge.

At some point, the commitment to the position (not saying in your case but in the case of those who continue to pursue this & related "knowlegedge deficit" & "rationality deficit" theories) reveals itself to be strong enough to withstand any assault by contrary evidence (e.g., "wrong: there's no counterfactual world to compare, so my position cannot be deemed 'disproven' by anything that happened in this one")

June 23, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@Dana:

Do you see why a science communication enviornment polluted in the manner reflected in the OFA video (which is hardly the only example) affects how ordinary people respond to the *information* in your study.

There are two channels: content & meaning.

If the meaning signal interferes, then turning up the volume on content won't do any good.

You should not give those who do that kind of thing a pass.

June 23, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Dan Kahan - "But they also incorrectly think that "climate scientists believe" that the melting of the North Pole ice cap will cause flooding."

You can't blame the survey participants for being confused when you yourself are confused about this topic. An icecap is a mass of ice, below a defined surface area size, that sits atop land.

I think the question was supposed to be about the Arctic sea ice. The participants could have been responding to the question of ice sheet melt in the Arctic - which would encompass the Greenland ice sheet (ice cap and ice sheet are often confused too). The Greenland ice sheet contains 6-7 metres worth of global sea level rise.

The future loss of the Arctic sea ice won't flood land of course, but, counterintuitively, it will raise sea level a tiny tiny fraction - due to the effects of changing density when the (less dense) meltwater is added to the ocean.

Who wrote that icecap question?

June 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRob Painting

Dan, someone wise once said,

climate-science communicators will get nowhere if they accept interpretations of bits and pieces of evidence that are manifestly inconsistent with the evidence as a whole.

I'd prefer to discuss how the existence of the liberal consensus gap and the experimental evidence showing that consensus communication increases science acceptance and policy support jibe with your hypothesis, as opposed to focusing on one political group's video. Especially since, unless that video was aired on TV, few conservatives saw it anyway.

June 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDana Nuccitelli

Dan,

1) How do you get from >10% difference between the groups (pointed out above by Dana) to your claim that one sees no divergence?

2) Even if we did see no divergence, how would this refute the claim that the consensus msg hasn't gotten out there or the possible causal link between such failure and polarization?

June 23, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterkonrad

@Konrad:

2 things: 1. Members of both groups are well over 50% on every question. 2. The R-D variances in the answers to "scienitsts believe" is so massively out of line w/ variance on "believe in climate change" that's it is clear that the "believe in" is driven by something else.

& yes, if I have to conjure a counterfactual world, I can't do it. And I won't be able to do it if another 10 yr trial fails to "close the consensus gap" either. This is a style of argumentation -- invoking some "other factor" that can't be tested to explain a failed prediction -- that Popper identifies as classic pseudoscience.

Now, @Dana says "difference between left & right in every answer (after the first) is 10-20% pct point" The 1st, where difference is trivial "CO2 causes temperature to go up."

Are you & @Dana truly upset that Rs were 10 pct points less on skin cancer, photosynthesis & North pole?! Surely getting 100% bipartisan error is not what "messaging" consensus is supposed to do...

June 23, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

@Rob:

Got North Pole question here.

I didn't fault anyone. I said the mistake was trivial.

June 23, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

"I'd prefer to discuss how the existence of the liberal consensus gap and the experimental evidence showing that consensus communication increases science acceptance and policy support jibe with your hypothesis"

I'm sure. The diagram showing the "liberal consensus gap" was a bit vague about the details. What was the exact question asked? What statistic is being reported? I think this is the median, yes? So what does the underlying distribution look like?

And most importantly, when you asked the subjects afterwards why they answered as they did, where they got their information from - you did ask, didn't you? - what did they reply? Because there are lots of possibilities.

People get their information from lots of places, and by lots of means. The 97% figure is only one bit of information floating around out there. People can judge the consensus from the ferocity of the debate, the climate scientists for each side they see and hear, the arguments they hear about, the sceptic scientists cited by sceptics they argue with, and so on. The flip-flop of claims, where whatever weather happens - warm, cold, dry or wet - is said to be evidence for the coming catastrophe has an effect. There are other surveys and reports, giving different numbers. Even some proportion of liberals with technical backgrounds recognise some of the problems with particular climate science results. The correlation is only partial - while liberals have a greater tendency to belief, there are many exceptions. And recently, even climate scientists have increasingly emphasised the uncertainties and gaps in our knowledge, cautioned against some of the weather-is-climate alarmism, and discussed problems like the missing hotspot and the 'pause'.

People integrate all the sources of information available to come to an estimate. It may well be that while they have heard of the 97% claim, they don't necessarily take it as authoritative. Actually, I was impressed at how accurate they were - given the Bray 2010 survey (the best of a bad lot) gave about 80%.

Although, I find the result rather peculiar - particularly for the free-market end. People there think only 30% of climate scientists support the consensus? But the usual story is that climate scientists *do* believe, and have been pushing it on the rest of the world. Who do they think those people at the IPCC to be? While they might think they're wrong, and while they might think there's more dissent among them than commonly claimed, I don't think they think they're 70% sceptics. That's very surprising, if true.

June 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@Dana:

Only liberals *saw* Al Gore's movie. But everyone got the cultural-meaning memo.

Orders of magnitude more will hear "97%" in the form that OFA & Climate Reality are disseminating it than in any other. They get the funds from groups that care about global warming. That's really unfortunate.

As a science communicator, you inhabit the polluted science communication environment that gets created by videos like that. Don't be humpty dumpty.

You spend most of your waking hours arguing with skeptics on social media. Don't you think you'd be a little bit more likely to get somewhere if you addressed people who share your goals & convinced *them* to stop impediing your progress?

June 23, 2014 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

It seems to me that "human caused global warming" by itself is the strawman argument here.

The alarmists are pushing huge policy changes that will seriously impoverish the rich countries, by implying those policies are the only (or cheapest) way to avoid disaster. For this to be true, all of the following must also be true, and therefore the alarmists need to be called on to defend them all.

(1) The earth is warming long-term, or at least, the climate is changing.
(2) The policy changes, if implemented, will substantially reduce the warming (or climate change).
(3) The warming/change, if unabated, would seriously damage Earth's ecosystem, or at least make it more difficult to sustain human life.
(4) Cheap workarounds such as Gregory Benford's bargeload of iron filings wouldn't help.
(5) Delaying the policy changes even enough for reasonable debate would be fatal.

I believe I can make good cases against all five of these propositions. But the most dangerous part of the alarmist argument is that they demand the "precautionary principle." This principle in practice translates to a "heckler's veto" over all human progress, now and forever more.

Keep in mind that the entire 60+ year history of the environmental movement is of one false alarm after another -- whenever it's a slow news day, the greens and their biased media invent another phony emergency. So the way to bet is that this is just another one of those.

June 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohn David Galt

Dan -


"The differences between Republicans and Democrats on “what climate scientists believe” ‘is trivial. It doesn’t come close to explaining the magnitude and depth of the division on “human-caused global warming.”"


Do these data show a "trivial" difference?

http://tamino.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/q30.jpg

Some certainly some similarities, but I wouldn't call the differences trivial. How do you define trivial?

(From this blog post http://tamino.wordpress.com/2011/10/09/survey-says-2/)

June 23, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Dan,

"Orders of magnitude more will hear "97%" in the form that OFA & Climate Reality are disseminating it than in any other."

Orders of magnitude more than what? Evidence please. And what's your beef with Climate Reality? More precision in your criticisms would be very helpful. So far the only concrete thing we've seen is an OFA video that even I had never heard about before now, and I'm pretty darn plugged in to everything climate-related. Hence I'm very skeptical that many people are aware of it.

"You spend most of your waking hours arguing with skeptics on social media."

This is the second time you've said that. It leaves me wondering where you got such a strange idea. I almost never argue with 'skeptics' on social media. In fact I tend to block them on Twitter just so that I don't get sucked into arguing with them.

I'm trying to be polite but I really don't appreciate those sorts of comments about me. It's probably similar to how you'd feel if I said you spend most of your waking hours clicking on Buzzfeed stories.

June 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDana Nuccitelli

Joshua,

"Do these data show a "trivial" difference?"

What's the definition of "is global warming happening" used in that question? Over the last 15 years?

June 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Dan Kahan - "Got North Pole question here. I didn't fault anyone. I said the mistake was trivial."

What you wrote above was:

"But they also incorrectly think that "climate scientists believe" that the melting of the North Pole ice cap will cause flooding."

My point is that the question is poorly posed. If you're going to draw inferences from a question, or questions, they should be written in such a way as to not be ambiguous. Were the participants responding to the question as if you were asking about the Arctic ice as a whole - including ice caps and the Greenland ice sheet? Or were they responding to question as if it pertained only to Arctic sea ice? We don't know because the question itself is confused.

June 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRob Painting

Dana1981 has published over 13000 answers on Yahoo Answers. Pretty much all coubtering sceptics.. he has moved on to skeptic science in the guardian. Pretty much doing the same thing

meanwhile the general public do not know Dana,Dan and I (the climate blogosphere)exist
So I would agree with Dan

June 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

my point is, that social media, is not just twitter (where you can block) but blogs like here, Skeptical Science, WUWT and the Guardian blogs (just like the sceptical Telegraph blogs, )

https://uk.answers.yahoo.com/activity?show=CI6PKYCNZHSAWFAKNUSGLVD554&t=g

the 'public' ie those outside of the tiny subset of the public interested in climate change debate do not know sceptics exists, nor for tha matter are they aware of any of the climate blogs. be it Tamino, Realclimate, SkS, Hot Whopper or WUWT, Jo Nova, Climate Audit or Bishop Hill

Yet as Dan observes Dana and others spent a huge amount of time 'countering' sceptics..

June 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Dan - That's very interesting work - now that I've had a chance to read it at leisure.

I wonder whether, not only is self-identity not being threatened by posing the questions in that way, but that both groups are simply conforming too. This is suggested by the questions on the ice, photosynthesis and skin cancer - assuming all questions have been processed in the manner in which they were intended. The majority of the participants get the 'trick questions' wrong, which suggests they might have been attempting to appease the interviewer, rather than their answers reflecting their appreciation that climate change is bad. This could be tested for in follow-up research.

So it seems it bit presumptuous claiming that the participants are answering the 'trick questions' wrong because they appreciate that climate change is bad.

June 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRob Painting

NiV -

The data are imperfect. There is ambiguity in the question. The evidence is not precise. But the same questions were asked to everyone, and so the differences and similarities in how different groups answered the questions might be meaningful - if what you're discussing is the differences between different groups.

I suppose it is possible that one group of people (say Tea Partiers) on averaged interpreted the questions differently than another group of people - thus reducing the real evidence of differences and similarities and giving more of a random effect, but my guess is that's unlikely.

Keep in mind that in the same polling process, respondents were asked to distinguish between different causality behind "global warming," and asked whether it is happening at all:

http://tamino.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/q50.jpg

Similar patterns of difference and similarities in beliefs correlated with ideology across the different items on the survey.

One thing I notice from Tamino's graphs is how simply lumping people into the groups of Republican and Democrat, as Dan has done, tends to hide some interesting differences that show up when you use a finer-grained ideological filter. I mean look at the marked differences between the answers of Independent- and Tea Party-identified respondents.

One particularly interesting aspect along those lines is how Tea Partiers are are much more likely to say that they don't need more info, and that they are very well-informed, even as they are more likely to estimate the "consensus" of scientific opinion to be extremely low. \

Now I think that has interesting implications for Dan's thesis. I think that it undermines Dan's thesis to some extent, although I agree with Dan that "consensus messaging" will not move the meter on public opinion significantly. One counter argument to my view could be that "consensus messaging" might not alter opinions among Tea Partiers, who strongly imply that they aren't open to more information (because they don't need more information to decide), but it could close the "liberal consensus gap." I don't agree (the argument is complicated), but I should note that I have run across solid arguments to that effect.

June 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Rob -

==> "My point is that the question is poorly posed. If you're going to draw inferences from a question, or questions, they should be written in such a way as to not be ambiguous. Were the participants responding to the question as if you were asking about the Arctic ice as a whole - including ice caps and the Greenland ice sheet? "

My guess is that most respondents don't know that there is a difference between the North Pole and Arctic Glaciers, the Greenland Ice Sheet, etc. As much as I read stuff in the Interwebs about climate change, if I weren't paying close attention to that question (perhaps anticipating that there might be a "trick question" mixed in), I may well have gotten that question wrong and just conflated those different metrics of ice cover.

June 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

IMO, graph is very intereesting regarding differences and similarities among different ideologically-identified groups:

http://tamino.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/q50.jpg

Of course, the question is problematic as it suggests that ACO2-influenced and natural warming are mutually exclusive. But given the high level of trust among Americans for scientific expertise, as Dan often discusses, it is certainly interesting that some 20% of Tea Partiers say that "global warming isn't happening" (as compared to AC02- or naturally-cause).

Motivated reasoning is a mighty powerful force.

June 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"If you're going to draw inferences from a question, or questions, they should be written in such a way as to not be ambiguous."

Excellent point! I agree entirely! :-)

"but my guess is that's unlikely"

'Guess'?! :-)

If you don't like the obviously expected answer to a question, one way to circumvent it is to find a different interpretation that enables a different answer. Ambiguous questions allow that.

"One particularly interesting aspect along those lines is how Tea Partiers are are much more likely to say that they don't need more info, and that they are very well-informed, even as they are more likely to estimate the "consensus" of scientific opinion to be extremely low."

Yes. I wonder about that. As I said, I'd have made sure to ask them for their reasoning, to find out what was going on - rather than having to guess.

"One particularly interesting aspect along those lines is how Tea Partiers are are much more likely to say that they don't need more info, and that they are very well-informed, even as they are more likely to estimate the "consensus" of scientific opinion to be extremely low."

Consensus about what? Suppose for argument's sake we interpret the question "To the best of your knowledge, what proportion of climate scientists think that global warming is happening?" as a question about the "pause". Some might say global warming was happening 40-20 years ago but it is not currently happening. Some would say it's paused, some would say it's peaked, some would say it's stopped. Others would say it continues in the long-term trend. Yet others would say it continues in other variables, such as ocean heat content, while some insist that 'global warming' refers to surface temperatures as it has always done (as the variable of most relevance to human experience). There is some discussion and controversy over the question. Some climate scientists acknowledge the pause and seek to explain it. Others deny it.

So given this interpretation, what would you say the percentage of scientists was who think global warming is continuing? On what basis do you make your estimate?

Which side do you think, for this interpretation, is more right?

Given a choice of interpretations, what are the odds, do you think, that a Tea Partier will pick this interpreation - given that it allows them to give an answer to the question that they know will annoy you? Are they motivated by their worldview to do so?

Or might somebody having strong political views and knowing what political use their answer will be put to be motivated to lie? To give the answer that supports their politics rather than what they actually believe? Again, does one party have more motivation than the others to do so? (Or are people who are sceptical of the science but who want action to be taken equally motivated to lie in the other direction?) How can you tell?

Unfortunately, with humans, you can't always tell what they actually believe just by asking them.

June 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@ Dan:

Here's how to try to figure the answer to your ultimate question. Suppose there was no cultural dispute on climate change. Suppose all the right leaning folks in the surveys gave the same answer to the "believe" question as the left leaning folks. What, exactly, would be different? Obviously you think there is a cause/effect relationship between the cultural dispute and something, maybe "failure to act?"

Once you have at hand a concrete notion of whatever "act" means, ask yourself if there are reasons totally independent of public opinion which account for it not happening.

To further illustrate. There is no cultural dispute about heart disease. Everyone is of the opinion that it's a bad thing and we'd be best to do something about it. But all the things which cause heart disease still happen. The things which would prevent heart disease generally don't.

June 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

NiV -

==> "Given a choice of interpretations, what are the odds, do you think, that a Tea Partier will pick this interpreation "

Low. And I think that you're basically grasping at straws to dodge the obvious conclusions about the biases evident in how the Tea Partiers responded top the poll questions (from 2011 - well before the short-term decrease in the longer term significant trend of rising surface air temps that many people misleadingly refer to as "the pause.")

==> "Unfortunately, with humans, you can't always tell what they actually believe just by asking them."

I don't really consider that unfortunate. It is what it is.

And, of course, asking them is just as prone to the potential biases that you want to use to explain the findings of that poll. For example, when people inclined to be "skeptics" are asked how much Climategate affected their views, they might be very likely to say a great deal, and that it caused them to think that there is a sell-job at play. But just because they say that, it doesn't mean that it's true. It could simply be that pointing to Climategate is an easy way to score rhetorical points.

So it is interesting that you argue that the potential problems with the polling might somehow be mitigated simply by asking for explanations. Seems to me that you're more using that argument as a way to diminish the poll results than any valid suggestion for improved methodology.

Of course, social desirability bias is a real problem with self-report data. But the data are what they are, and it is easy to speculate about any number of ways that they might be biased. If you want to speculate that Tea Partiers are deliberately making themselves look ignorant and over-confident, you're entitled. :-)

That doesn't seem very plausible to me, but it is theoretically possible.

June 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Sorry - I should have said "well before the [relatively] short-term decrease in the longer term significant trend of rising surface air temps - that many people misleadingly refer to as "the pause." - became as common a topic of discussion as it is now."

June 24, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"Low. And I think that you're basically grasping at straws to dodge the obvious conclusions about the biases evident in how the Tea Partiers responded top the poll questions (from 2011 - well before the short-term decrease in the longer term significant trend of rising surface air temps that many people misleadingly refer to as "the pause.")"

The "pause" started in 1996. It was already an issue and a concern to climate scientists by the start of 2009.

"I hope you're not right about the lack of warming lasting till about 2020. I'd rather hoped to see the earlier Met Office press release with Doug's paper that said something like - half the years to 2014 would exceed the warmest year currently on record, 1998! Still a way to go before 2014. I seem to be getting an email a week from skeptics saying where's the warming gone. I know the warming is on the decadal scale, but it would be nice to wear their smug grins away."

An email a week sounds like a "common topic of discussion".

I will be interested to hear what evidence you have for thinking the probability "low".

I agree that asking them is not perfect, either. After they've told you, you still have to conduct further experiments to test whether they're right. But it seems to me better than nothing.

" Seems to me that you're more using that argument as a way to diminish the poll results than any valid suggestion for improved methodology."

Seems to me you're leaping to unjustified conclusions without evidence, based on guesses and speculations about the causes behind some badly designed and ambiguous poll results. And you're resisting any improvements in methodology because that might make it harder to do.

However, rather than conclude and rest satisfied with that speculation, I can ask you.

June 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

> “Belief in human-caused global warming” items measure “who one is, what side one is on” in an ugly and highly illiberal form of cultural status competition, one being fueled by the idioms of contempt that the most conspicuous spokespeople on both sides use.

The first part (not sure about the "illiberal", though) seems plausible, although we have to assume that political allegiance instills a form of cultural competition, as the data only shows political affiliation. The continuity of the variable may then be disputed, since one should be able to extract a form cultural competition from the categories offered by that variable. Alternatively, we could simply take that claim for granted, as it seems to follow from basic identity theory.

However, the second part of that claim is far from obvious. Do you have any empirical data that shows how idioms used by spokespeople fuel contempt? Considering that this is to be an example of an evidence-based argument against "consensus messaging" (whatever that means considering the claim under scrutinity), an empirical support might be needed.

As a starting point for evidence gathering, let it be noted that there are more than 50 hits for the word "consensus" on that page alone. It would be interesting to construct the frame that emerges from the different uses of this word. This may show how this editorial frames an adversarial in/group-out/group dynamics.

Erinyes prefer to be fed recursively.

July 8, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterwillard

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