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Wednesday
Jun102015

Against "consensus messaging" . . .

Post-debate press conference... did I mention my sore shoulder?This is more or less what I remember saying in my "opening statement" in the University of Bristol "debate" with Steve Lewandowsky over the utility of "consensus messaging." Obviously, I don't remember exactly what I said b/c Steve knocked me unconscious with a lightening-quick 1-6-3-2 (i.e., Jab-Right uppercut-Left hook-rt-hand) combination. But the exchange was fruitful, especially after we abandoned the pretense of being "opposed" to one another and entered into conversation about what we know, what we don't, and what sorts of empirical observations might help us all to learn more. 

 Slides here.

* * *

I want to start with what I am not against.

I’m not against the proposition that there is a scientific consensus that human activity is causing climate change. That to me is the plain inference to be drawn from the concurrence of expert sources such as U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society, and the IPCC.

I am also by no means against communicating scientific consensus on climate change. Indeed, both Steve and I have done studies that find that when there is cultural polarization over a societal risk, both sides always agree that scientific consensus should inform public policy.

What I am against is the proposition that the way to dispel polarization over global warming in the U.S. is to continue a decade’s long “social marketing campaign”—one on which literally hundreds of millions of dollars have already been spent—that features the claim that “97% [or 98% or 100% etc] of scientists accept human caused climate change.”

I am against that this "communication strategy"--

  • first, because it misunderstands the nature of the problem;
  • second, because it diverts resources from alternative approaches that have a much better prospect for success; and
  • third, because it predictably reinforces the toxicity of the climate chagne debate for our science communication environment.

1. Misunderstands the problem. The most logical place to start is with what members of the public actually think climate scientists believe about the causes and consequences of climate change.

About 75% of the individuals whose political outlooks are “liberal” (meaning to the “left” of the mean on a political outlook scale that aggregates their responses to items on partisan identification and liberal-conservative ideology) are able to correctly identify “carbon dioxide” as the “gas . . . most scientists believe causes temperatures in the atmosphere to rise.

That’s very close to the same percentage of “liberals” who agree that human activity is causing climate change.

But if you think that that's a causal relationship, think again: about 75% of “conservatives” (individuals with political outlooks to the “right” of the mean on the same scale) know that scientists believe CO2 emissions increase atmospheric temperatures, too.  Yet only 25% of them say they “believe in” human-caused climate change.

The vast majority of liberals and conservatives, despite being polarized on whether global warming is occurring, also have largely the same impression of what climate scientists' view of the risks that global warming poses.

Indeed, by a substantial majorities, members of the public on both the left and right agree that climate scientists attribute all manner of risk to global warming that in fact no climate scientists attribute to it.

Contrary to what the vast majority of “liberal” and “conservative” members of the public think, climate scientists do not believe that climate change will increase the incidence of skin cancer.

Contrary to what the vast majority of “liberal” and “conservative” members of the public think, climate scientists do not believe sea levels will rise if the north pole ice cap melts (unlike the south pole ice cap, which sits atop a land mass, the north pole “ice cap” is already floating in the sea, a point that various “climate science literacy” guides issued by scientific bodies like NASA and NOAA emphasize).

And contrary to what the vast majority of “liberal” and “conservative” members of the public think, climate scientists do not believe that “the increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide associated with the burning of fossil fuels will reduce photosynthesis by plants.”

They haven’t quite gotten the details straight, it’s true.

But both “liberals” and “conservatives” have “gotten the memo” that scientists think human activity is causing climate change and that we are in deep shit as a result. 

So why should we expect that telling them what they already know will dispel the controversy reflected in persisting poll results showing that they are polarized on global warming?

I know what you are thinking: maybe climate-consensus messaging would work better if the "message" actually helped educate people on climate change science.

Well, I can give you some relevant data on that, too.

The individuals who scored the highest on this climate-literacy assessment aren’t any less divided when asked if they “believe in” climate change.  On the contrary, the “liberals” and “conservatives” who score highest—the ones who consistently distinguish the positons that climate scienitists actually hold from the ones they do not—are the most polarized of all.

“Ah,” you are thinking.  “Then the problem must be that conservatives don’t trust climate scientists!”

I don’t think that’s right

But if one took that position, then one would presumably think “consensus messaging” is pointless. Why should right-leaning citizens care that “97% of scientists accept climate change” if they don’t trust a word they are saying?

That’s logical.  But it’s not the view of those who support “consensus messaging.”  Indeed, the researchers who purport to “prove” that conservatives “distrust” climate scientists are the very same ones who are publishing studies (or republishing the same study over and over) that they interpret as “proving” consensus-messaging will work (despite their remarkable but unremarked failure to report any evidence that being exposed to the message affected the proportion of people who "believe in" climate change).

These meticulous researchers are hedged: no matter what happens, they will have predicted it!

Here, though, is some evidence on whether those who “don’t believe” in climate change trust climate scientists.

Leaving partisanship aside, farmers are probably the most skeptical segment of the US population. But they are also the segment that makes the greatest use of climate science in their practical decisionmaking.

The same ones who say they don’t think climate change has been “scientifically proven” are already busily adapting—self-consciously so—to climate change by adopting practices like no-till farming.

They also anticipate buying more crop-failure insurance.  Which is why Monsanto, which is pretty good at figuring out what farmers believe, recently acquired an insurance operation.

Because Monsanto knows how farmers really feel about climate scientists, it also recently acquired a firm that specializes in synthesizing government and university climate-science data for the purpose of issuing made-to-order forecasts tailored to users’ locations.  It expects the consumption of this fine-grained, local forecasting data to be a $20 billion market. Because farmers, you see, really really really want to know what climate scientists think is going to happen.

I’ll tell you someone else who you can be sure knows what farmers really think about climate scientists: their representatives in Congress.

Conisder Congressman Frank Lucas, Republican, 3d district of Oklahoma.  He has been diagnosed, in the charming idiom of the “climate change debate,” as suffering from “climate denier disorder syndrome.”  He is the “vice-chair” of the House Committee on Science (sic), Space (sic) and Technology (sic), which recently proposed slashing NASA’s budget for climate change research.

I’m sure his skeptical farmer constituents appreciate all that.

But they also are very pleased that Lucas, as the chair of the House Agriculture Committee, sponsored the 2014 Agriculture bill, which appropriated over a billion dollars for scientific research on the impact of climate change on farming.  His skeptical farmer constituents know they need science’s help to protect their cattle from climate change.  They got it to the tune of $10 million, which is what the USDA awarded Oklahoma State University as Clearwater, which is in Lucas’s district!

But he’s not selfish. His bill enabled huge appropriations for the other skeptical-farmer-filled states, too!

You see, there are really two “climate changes” in America.

There’s the one people “believe in” or “disbelieve in” solely for the purpose of expressing their allegiance in a mean, ugly, illiberal status competition between opposing cultural groups.

Then there’s the one that people “believe in” in order to do things—like being a farmer—that depend on the best available scientific evidence.

As you can imagine, it’s a challenge for a legislator to keep all this straight. 

Bob Inglis, from the farming state of South Carolina, for example, announced that he “believed in” climate change and wanted Congress to address the issue.

Wrong climate change!  That’s the one his constituents don’t believe in.  

Didn’t you notice, they ask, how funny it was when Senator Inhofe (of Oklahoma, who for sure didn't oppose the appropriation of all that money in the farm bill to support scientific research to help farmers adapt to global warming) brought a snow ball onto the floor of the Senate to show Al Gore how stupid he is for thinking there is scientific evidence global warming?

"You're out of here!," Inglis’s constitutents said, retiring him in a primary against a climate-skeptical Republican opponent.

Some people say that Republicans members of Congress who reject climate change are stupid. But actually, it takes considerable mental dexterity not to get messed up on which “climate change” one’s farmer constituents don’t believe in and which they do.

2. Diversion of resources.  The only way to promote constructive collective decsionmaking on the climate change that ordinary people, left and right, are worried about,and that farmers and other practical individuals are taking steps to protect themselves from, is to protect our science communication enviornment from the toxic effects of the other climate change—the one that people believe or disbelieve in to express their tribal loyalties.

That’s the lesson of Southeast Florida climate political science.

Because people in that region are as diverse in their outlooks as the rest of the Nation, they are as polarized on the “whose side are you on” form of “climate change” as everyone else.

Nevertheless, the member counties of the Southeast Florida Climate Change Compact—Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Monroe—have approved a joint “Regional Climate Action Plan,” which consists of some 100 mitigation and adaptation items.

The leaders in these counties didn’t bombard their constituents with “consensus messaging.”  Instead they adopted a style of political discourse that disentangled the question of “who are you, whose side are you on” from the question of “what should we do with what we know?”

Because they have banished the former “climate change question”  from their political discourse, a Republican member of the House doesn’t bear the risk that he’ll be confused for a cultural traitor when he calls a press conference and says “I sure as hell do believe in climate change, and I am going to demand that Congress address the threat that it poses to my constituents.”

There are some really great organizations that are helping the members of the Southeast Florida Compact and other local governments to remove the toxic “whose side are you on” question from their science communication environments.

But they are not getting nearly the support that they need from those who care about climate change policymaking, because nearly all of that support—in the form of hundreds of millions of dollars—is going instead to groups that prefer to pound the other team’s members over the head with “consensus messaging.”

The 2013 Cook et al. study was not telling us anything new. There had already been six previous studies finding an overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, the first of which was published in Science, a genuinely signficant event, in 2004.

The people advocating “consensus messaging” aren’t advocating anything new either. Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection spent over $300 million to promote “consensus messaging,” which was featured in Gore’s 2006 movie Inconvenient Truth (no doubt the organization gave a $1 million to an advertising agency, which conducted a focus group to validate its seat-of-the-pants guess that “reframing” the organization’s name as “Climate Reality” would convince farmers to “believe in” climate change).

Public opinion on climate change—whether it is “happening,” is “human caused,” etc.—didn’t move an inch at all during that time.

But we are supposed to think that that’s irrelevant because immediately after experimenters told them “97% of scientists accept climate change,” a group of study subjects, while not changing their own positions on whether climate change is happening, increased by a very small amount their expressed estimate of the percentage of scientists who believe in climate change?   Seriously?

The willingness of people to continue “believe in” consensus messaging is itself a science communication problem.  That one will get solved only if researchers resolve to tell people what they need to know, and not simply what they want to hear.

3. Perpetuating a toxic discourse.  No doubt part of the appeal of “consensus messaging” is how well suited it is as an idiom for expressing contempt.  The kinds of real-world “messaging campaigns” that feature the “97% agree” slogan all say “you are an idiot” to those for whom not believing climate change has become identity defining.  It is exactly that social meaning that must be removed from the climate change question before people can answer it with what they know: that their well-being and the well-being of others they actually care about requires doing sensible things with the best available current evidence.

Did you ever notice how all of the “consensus messages” invoke NASA?  The reason is that poorly designed studies, using invalida measures, found that people say they “trust NASA” more than various other science entitities, the majority of whch they've never even heard of.

I don't doubt, though, that the US general public used to revere NASA. But now bashing NASA is seen as more effective than bringing a snowball onto the floor of the Senate as a way to signal to farmers and other groups whose cultural identity is associated with skepticism that one has the values that make him or her fit to represent them in Congress.

Did I say “consensus messaging” hadn’t achieved anyting?  If so, I spoke to soon.

Yay team.

* * *

Climate science models get updated after a decade of real-world observations.

The same is necessary for climate-science-communication models.

A decades’ experience shows that  “Consensus messaging” doesn’t work.  Our best lab and field studies, as well as a wealth of relevant experience by people who are doing meaningful communciation rather than continuously fielding surveys that don't even measure the right thing, tell us why: "consensus messaging" is unresponsive to the actual dynamics driving the climate change controversy.

So it is time to update our models.  Time to give alternative approaches--ones that reflect rather than ignore evidence of the mechanisms of cultural conflict over societal risks--a fair trial, during which we can observe and measure their effects, and after which we can revise our understandings once more, incorporate what we have learned into refined approaches, and repeat the process yet again.

Otherwise the “science of science communication” isn’t scientific at all.

 

 

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Reader Comments (47)

Well, I've seen it work lately on the GMO issues. I think that Pew poll really gave editorial boards the cover to come out with much better pieces on plant science than they used to.

It also put GMO-haters on the back foot. And we can use the consensus to make them look fringier and fringier all the time.

June 10, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMary Mangan

I agree with this overall conclusion from a slightly different perspective, which is that in conflicts with a high level of polarization, communicating consensus rather than diversity of thought just leads to further polarization. As I wrote in a blog post a while back: "in intractable conflicts, which I believe climate change has become, introducing nuance, shades of gray, and multiple perspectives is what leads to change." Full post on the topic here: http://scienceunicorn.blogspot.com/2015/02/the-problem-with-consensus.html

June 10, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterFaith Kearns

@Mary-

I don't see any connection between "97% messaging" on climate & anyt to protect science communication environment on GM foods. No one's doing such messaging for latter. Moreover, the arguments I made about "consensus messaging" on climate are all very specific to that controversy; I have zero idea what sorts of arguments someone would make about GM food science communication. based on them.

Just a few of the disconnects:

1. Americans aren't worried about GM foods. Pew's presentation of its results on GM foods was itself something that warrants being criticized for feeding the absurd claim otherwise.

2. Communicating scientific consensus on climate change & GM foods -- or anything else -- is perfectly appropriate. Communicating consensus, as I say at beginning of post, is not same thing as "social marketing campaign." A social marketing campaign on GM foods would in fact be pointless: & likely counterproductive -- more likely to *create* fear than calm the nonexistent ones that exist.

3. As you knnow, there No polarization over GMO. Activists are trying to create polarizabion by polluting science commuonication environment. Indeed, the tactics they are using are tribal in same way as "97% consensus" messaging.

4. Good for media to set record straight on GM foods. That has zero to do with any "social marketing campaign." It has to do with informed people persistently correcting and criticizing those who aren't. And thank goodness they are avoiding the polarizing, us-vs-them toxicity that has poisoned mainstream climate advocacy!

June 10, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

@Faith--

Interesting post, thanks.

I think public actually *does* perceive scientific consensus on climate change. But what they don't see is the diversity of ordinary sensible people who are in fact evincing confidence in that science by *using* it.

That's the primary way that all science is communicated. And that signal is not being drowned out by the noise of cultural antagonism. "97% consensus messaging" is exactly that: it says "your team is stupid"--nothing more

That's exactly the interference that the smart communicators in SE Fla have cleared away.

June 10, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Hi Dan

At one level 'consensus' messaging does work...

It chases out people that are not 100% on message.. and gives a clear message o younger researchers to stay on message (but that is just politics..)

"I am no longer conducting research or academic writing related to climate" Roger Pielke junior

https://theclimatefix.wordpress.com/2015/03/01/a-quick-guide-to-pielke-jr-on-climate/

Roger:

"The incessant attacks and smears are effective, no doubt, I have already shifted all of my academic work away from climate issues. I am simply not initiating any new research or papers on the topic and I have ring-fenced my slowly diminishing blogging on the subject. I am a full professor with tenure, so no one need worry about me — I’ll be just fine as there are plenty of interesting, research-able policy issues to occupy my time. But I can’t imagine the message being sent to younger scientists. Actually, I can: “when people are producing work in line with the scientific consensus there’s no reason to go on a witch hunt.

When “witch hunts” are deemed legitimate in the context of popular causes, we will have fully turned science into just another arena for the exercise of power politics. The result is a big loss for both science and politics.” Roger Pielke jnr

https://theclimatefix.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/i-am-under-investigation/

The consensus message doesn't work with the public, (just marketing/pr BS amongst a sea of it in the media) beyond the most superficial, answer a survey, and instantly forget about it..

but it works, in the political establishment, to keep policies on track, and shout down opponents.

Roger makes it very clear:

"So I know with complete certainty that this investigation is a politically-motivated “witch hunt” designed to intimidate me (and others) and to smear my name.

For instance, the Congressman and his staff, along with compliant journalists, are busy characterizing me in public as a “climate skeptic” opposed to action on climate change. This of course is a lie. I have written a book calling for a carbon tax, I have publicly supported President Obama’s proposed EPA carbon regulations, and I have just published another book strongly defending the scientific assessment of the IPCC with respect to disasters and climate change. All of this is public record, so the smears against me must be an intentional effort to delegitimize my academic research."

June 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Hi Dan,

Good post, sorry I could not make it to the event. This idea of 'two climate changes' is a very useful heuristic. There's lots of literature about how climate change has developed into a far more complex 'social problem/issue', as it's moved from scientific journals onto the policy agenda. Consensus messaging seems to be an attempt to re-simplify it, as if all the political and cultural factors can be beaten away with a science stick. The world would be simpler if they could...but they can't. Of course the scientific knowledge still exists on its own forensic terms. It's just that it has accrued social/cultural meanings too. So the idea of *two* climate changes is a nice way of encapsulating these dual realities (I'm guessing there's actually a lot more than two climate changes, but that's for another time).

June 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterWarren Pearce

Hey Dan -

Funny that Warren showed up here, because I was just stopping by the comment section to note that his paper demonstrates another manner in how people are confused about the mechanisms behind how the public formulates opinions (or gets confused about) climate change:

http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate2672.html

June 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

I agree with Barry in a sense. When he says that "consensus-messaging" may work, but not in the manner intended by the "consensus-messengers," I think he is correct - except I think it works in an different unintended manner than what he refers to.

I think that it "works" in a way that is similar to what you describe. "Consensus-messaging" works quite well for "anti-consensus" messengers, i.e., "skeptics" as a way to consolidate their sense of group identification through identity-aggressive and identity-defensive behaviors.

It's always amusing to read in the "skept-o-sphere," the thousands and thousands and thousands of comments on the subject of whether there is a "consensus" and even more interestingly, precisely how big that "consensus" is, from people who say that the noting the existence of a "consensus" is not only a fallacious argument, but that in fact noting that there is a "consensus" is antithetical to the valid practice of science.

But I disagree with you that "consensus" messaging creates antipathy among those who identify with an "I'm not concerned about climate change" perspective; IMO, to any significant degree, it only serves as an outlet for pre-existing perspectives. If "consensus-messaging" didn't exist, those opinions would simply get expressed in another manner.

June 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

By way of further explanation...Warren's paper seems to suggest that a significant % of the public formulate their views about climate change based on what climate scientists do or don't say about uncertainties in the science.

Unfortunately, that perspective fails to account for the mechanism by which motivated reasoning influences how the public interpret what climate scientists do and don't say and how motivated reasoning influences what the public think about the prevalence of shared view among climate scientists w/r/t the related uncertainties.

June 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Josh--
thanks for link to paper. I thought @Warren was drawing attention to awkward disconnect between the science informatoin being communicated and an independent public "message" that the spokespeople were trying to deliver.

June 11, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Dan -

I think that there's an interesting debate to be had as to whether the scientists were "inconsistent" in the message they were delivering in the press conference examined in Warren's paper (and other similar communicative efforts).

Then there's the debate as to whether non-scientists are likely to see an inconsistency where scientists see none - and whether/how scientists might be proactive in preventing such perceptions.

But part of that second discussion has to be some way of controlling for who it is that is perceiving which "inconsistencies" and for "motivated" perceptions of inconsistency. For example, David Rose seems to have a selective approach to the uncertainties related to climate change. On the one hand, he sees a failure to acknowledge uncertainty on the part of some climate scientists (an opinion that they disagree with on a technical basis) while on the other hand he fails himself to acknowledge significant uncertainties when writing articles about how "global warming has stopped" or "paused."

IMO, Warren's paper suggests a causality w/o sufficient control of potentially confounding variables.

==> "I thought @Warren was drawing attention to awkward disconnect between the science informatoin being communicated and an independent public "message" that the spokespeople were trying to deliver."

Well, sure. But what does "independent' mean in this situation? Who is "independent?" Who has "independent" perceptions? My guess is that we could very easily predict a very strong association between "world view" and perceptions of "inconsistency" on the part of what climate scientists have to say about "the pause." I'm not entirely sure what you mean by "independent" there, but I think that there is precious little "independence" when it comes to perceptions about climate change.

June 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Thanks for interest in the paper. Dan is accurate in identifying the point of the paper: that climate science is intrinsically hard to communicate because of the epic timescales involved in gathering evidence. This is a tension with attempts to 'make it real', as attempted in the press conference. There may be lots of ways of making climate change a more culturally and socially meaningful phenomenon, Angry Birds for example. What our paper suggests is that it is tricky for scientists to do that, as they risk losing the coherence and carefulness upon which their special reputation is built. I am not saying it's impossible for them to do it - this was just one case study - but there needs to be an awareness of the lines being crossed. This links to Tamsin Edwards' old article about advocacy. The reaction to that suggests that there may well be some public appetite for scientists to do this kind of work.

Linking back to what this thread should be about, the key people who have to make climate change meaningful are the politicians. My PhD was on local climate policy in the UK. I would attempt no read-across to the US (different systems, v different policy environment), but my observation is that the local authority which achieved the most on the climate agenda was the one which successfully linked it to local politics. This was done by focusing on 'kindred policies': policies related to carbon reduction but which did not prioritise it. For example, fitting solar panels and wall insulation in low-income social housing was a great policy, but the biggest effect was in making those houses more liveable rather than actually reducing emissions (which come out of the high income houses).

June 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterWarren Pearce

Warren -

Thanks for the response, but I think that you didn't address the points I raised.

==> "What our paper suggests is that it is tricky for scientists to do that, as they risk losing the coherence and carefulness upon which their special reputation is built. "

I think this is highly speculative. We might all speculate that communication about climate change is "tricky," but as you well know, at least in the U.S., there is a strong association between political identifications and interpretations of/reactions to what climate scientists say. Your assessment of the communicative "risks" may make logical sense, but in order to verify the cause-and-effect you are suggesting you need data that control for confounding variables, such as political identification. We can predict who will observe a lack of "coherence" merely by identifying ideological predisposition. How do you know that anything that climate scientists do or don't say will have any difference effect on who perceives their communication as "incoherent?"

Where is the evidence on which you base your speculation? Dan has a shit-ton of evidence that shows how people will respond to "expert" opinions in association with their group identifications

With whom are they risking their "coherence?" With David Rose, who clearly has an strong pre-existing orientation w/r/t what climate scientists have to say?

IMO, Tamsin's approach, similarly, operates from assumptions about cause-and-effect that are not grounded in an evidence-based argument. Perhaps I'm wrong about that, but I think that just as "realists" make assumptions about the effectiveness of "consensus-messaging" without a solid evidence-based foundation, so do those who make assumptions such as Tamsin's about the differential impact of "activism," or the negative impact of "consensus-messaging" w/r/t a goal of encouraging the development of policies to address the risks of climate change.

June 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

BTW - Warren

I'm not sure that I agree about the link to local politics, per se, as being key - because links to local politics is likely in turn be linked to political polarization....but I do think that identifying common interests (such as better living conditions) through stakeholder dialog is more likely to lead to effective policy development than trying to leverage expert opinion (which will most likely be linked to existing polarization) to convince people of the advisability of policies that address climate change.

I'm all in favor of distinguishing between locked in political "positions" and potentially shared non-political "interests," as the synergy in finding shared interests is the way to get past the kind of polarization we see with climate change.

The local part I agree with, not so much the politics part. Of course, that raises the question as to whether there aren't inherent inadequacies with a local focus if the goal is to address a global problem.

June 11, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Barry--

I'm even more confident that "consensus messaging" did not "cause" Pielke to stop studying science & climate change politics than that humans are causing climate change. Hell, I'm more confident that "consensus messaging" didn't "cause" Pielke to stop than that I am "consensus messaging" is a ridiculous & counterproductive endeavor.

If you take Pielke at his word, he stopped b/c he felt hounded. But the hounding was not caused by "consensus messaging"; it's possible what caused the hounding also is causing the persistent appeal of "consensus messaging" -- insofar as the one thing the latter clear does do in the real-world form is enable one side in a cultural status compeition to express contempt and derision for the other.

But honestly, I don't think we should take Pielke at his word here. I see him around a lot & he clearly still very much engaged in scholarly conversation about the interaction of science & politics -- a topic that necessarily brings him into contact w/ climate debate. I'm not sure why he said what he did in the quote you posted; perhaps he was trying to draw attention to what I'm sure is the case -- that he & others are being treated in a very inappropriate manner by many people.

Knowing him, too, it's hard for me to imagine he'd be cowed. I'd worry about that more for scholars who are much less advanced in their careers.

June 11, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

I'm not saying that pielke stopped because of consensus messaging..

Just that was just one of the tools used to hound anyone.
97% of scientists say, so you must be one of the fools,etc

June 12, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Joshua, thanks. You are correct that I can't offer experimental data of the type Dan has. However, at the *very* least we observed an interaction between certainty and meaning in the press conference which is worthy of further investigation. And yes it may well be worth thinking through how to do that experimentally. Regarding group association: yes I agree re Rose, which is why we note in the paper some of his previous articles (most notably the 'Great Green Con'). However, Alex Morales from Bloomberg was just as persistent regarding the 'pause', and is far more mainstream than Rose (at least, from a reading of his articles - I don't know him).

Re politics I don't think that it would necessarily lead to polarisation. In the UK generally, climate change is not a polarised issue across party boundaries as it is in the US. Within the local authority I highlighted, there was a level of certainty(!) afforded by the domination of one political party. However, this is only a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for effective policy implementation. Like I said, there are tons of differences between the US and UK around these areas so I wouldn't want to do much of a read-across.

Finally, I partly agree with your last comment about how useful a local approach is; it's dependent on how the problem is defined/structured. Climate change is typically defined as a global problem as it's flowed from the science, which is stronger on global circulation and averages than localised impacts. That's still a dominant view, echoed by UNFCCC etc. There are other views about 'breaking down' the issue of climate change into smaller issues e.g. Hartwell Paper

June 12, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterWarren Pearce

**just re-read my comment, I said that certainty of one party domination was a necessary condition for successfully implementation. That's not quite right - more accurate to say that it was *helpful* in some of the local authorities I researched.

June 12, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterWarren Pearce

@Barry--there are any number of tools. But actually the only thing that is effective is the resolve of the people who use or persuaded by them -- and w/ those, any tool will do.

But seriously, don't worry about Pielke. No one will stop him from speaking his mind on whatever he finds it interesting to say. If you have met him, you know what I'm saying is true.

June 12, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Warren -

Thanks again for the response:

==> "However, Alex Morales from Bloomberg was just as persistent regarding the 'pause', and is far more mainstream than Rose (at least, from a reading of his articles - I don't know him)."

But there is still largely the same problem here. Who is Alex Morales in the larger framework? What are his "priors" (with reference to Dan's post upstairs in this blog)? More importantly, is his engagement with the communication efforts from the climate scientists at the press conference representative of a generalizable phenomenon that plays out for a significant segment of the public? I would see reasons to think that you're trying to generalize from what is likely an unrepresentative sampling; and further, you're focusing on one influence among many influences, some of which seem very generalizable on a wide scale (again, look upstairs at this blog). That's not to say that it isn't interesting or meaningful to examine the issues you're examining - but that they should be viewed in the larger context. Given that practically everyone engaged in the public discussion of climate change has itchy trigger fingers, I think it is important to always stress the larger context. Again, with reference to Tamsin and many others who we might say fall into her camp - where is the evidence that shows the putative blowback effect within the public debate about climate change that underlies her criticism of "activism?" I haven't every actually seen any. We might easily say that based on outcomes, the existing communicative efforts are sub-optimal - but to assert a counterproductive outcome requires passing over a higher cause-and-effect standard.

==> "Like I said, there are tons of differences between the US and UK around these areas so I wouldn't want to do much of a read-across."

Indeed - one of the complications in understanding the influence of cultural cognition on views on climate change (or more generally for that matter) seem to be the differences that play out across national boundaries.

==> "Finally, I partly agree with your last comment about how useful a local approach is; it's dependent on how the problem is defined/structured. Climate change is typically defined as a global problem as it's flowed from the science, which is stronger on global circulation and averages than localised impacts. That's still a dominant view, echoed by UNFCCC etc. There are other views about 'breaking down' the issue of climate change into smaller issues e.g. Hartwell Paper.

Yes, as with the battles that take place where "mitigation" and "adaptation" are used more as identity markers than as subjects for meaningful, mutual exploration, the pitting of local and global as being somehow mutually exclusive is, IMO, just another indication of how far we need to go before we will see much in the way of tacking climate change f from within a paradigm of examining risk in the context of uncertainty where people take ownership over solutions as opposed to take ownership over polarized positions..

June 12, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@Joshua & @Warren:

Not to deny by any means the importace of thinking about the US vs. UK differences -- in public opinion & in how public opinion bears on political decisionmaking -- but we did use our framework to test how cultural cognition, measured w/ our scales, affects English (yes, English; not entire UK) public engagement with informaton on climate change.

Kahan, D.M., Hank, J.-S., Tarantola, T., Silva, C. & Braman, D. Geoengineering and Climate Change Polarization: Testing a Two-Channel Model of Science Communication. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 658, 192-222 (2015).

June 12, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

Interesting summary! It must have been an entertaining talk! It's probably a good job I wasn't there to ask awkward questions at the end, though... :-)

"First, I’m not against the proposition that there is a scientific consensus that human activity is causing climate change. That to me is the plain inference to be drawn from the concurrence of expert sources such as U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society, and the IPCC."

And which of those conducted the survey of scientists on which that "consensus" assertion is based? Reference?

"... features the claim that “97% [or 98% or 100% etc] of scientists accept human caused climate change.” ..."

You missed off the fourth objection: that the statement is not true.

Rather an important one, I feel!

Doran and Zimmerman, for example, give 82%. And other competent surveys give numbers in the same ballpark. I'm sure I must have mentioned this here before. Why do you continue to repeat the 97% myth?

"It expects the consumption of this fine-grained, local forecasting data to be a $20 billion market. Because farmers, you see, really really really want to know what climate scientists think is going to happen."

Fine-grained, local forecasts are provided by meteorologists, not climate scientists!

Interestingly, only 64% of meteorologists thought human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures! (Doran and Zimmerman 2009). I'll bet you that meteorologists are also well-aware of the "consensus" on the causes of climate change.

"His skeptical farmer constituents know they need science’s help to protect their cattle from climate change."

Natural climate change, yes.

"But actually, in fact, it takes considerable mental dexterity not to get messed up on which “climate change” one’s farmer constituents don’t believe in and which they do."

Not really. Farmers believe in natural climate change, not in man-made climate change. The distinction is clear. The political implications of the difference obvious. It's only the conflation of the terms by "climate change communicators" that has led to any difficulty understanding this.

"Nevertheless, the member counties of the Southeast Florida Climate Change Compact—Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Monroe—have approved a joint “Regional Climate Action Plan,” which consists of some 100 mitigation and adaptation items."

I suspect they put together a grab-bag of normal weather and coastal defence measures - the sort of stuff civil engineers have been doing for decades - and got it preferential funding by sticking a "Climate Change" label on it. Sceptics would see it as a cynical ploy to reduce the amount wasted by diverting some of it to something useful.

"The 2013 Cook et al. study was not telling us anything new. There had already been six previous studies finding an overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, the first of which was published in Science, a genuinely signficant event, in 2004."

1. The Cook study wasn't a survey of the scientific opinion, it was a literature survey of what gets published in climate science. Not an unbiased sample! The Cook study was also of extremely poor quality.

2. What six previous studies? Have you checked what they actually say? References please!

June 14, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@NiV:

Well, you've been MIA almost that long (so it seems to me) but we had this very discussion almost exactly one yr ago. About citiatins of the studies & what they "actually say."

And I still don't care about whether the study is right.

I will say that I think it is absurd to think that the way either to figure out scientific consensus or communicate it is to do an opinion survey!

June 14, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

I always defer to Richard Tol:

"“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.”

Say what you will about any divergence between prevalence of view as reflected in published papers and prevalence of "expert" views more broadly, but it is an endless source of amusement to me to read "skeptics" insisting over and over and over that noting the prevalence of view among experts is an "appeal to authority" even as they argue 'till the cows come home about the precise quantification of the prevalence of view among climate scientists about the role of humans in recent climate change.

June 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Dan,

"Well, you've been MIA almost that long (so it seems to me)"

Ahhh! It's so sweet that you care! :-)

I come. I go. Sometimes I have to do other things.

"but we had this very discussion almost exactly one yr ago."

I thought it seemed familiar! There's that feeling of deja vu again!

"And I still don't care about whether the study is right."

Cool! Can I quote you on that?

I was thinking of something along the lines of:
When challenged on the accuracy of the statistics and quotations in his recent presentation, Professor Kahan replied to the effect that he already knew the figures were incorrect, having been told so a year previously, and added "And I still don't care about whether the study is right." (!!!)

I assume you would have no objection to that?

"I will say that I think it is absurd to think that the way either to figure out scientific consensus or communicate it is to do an opinion survey!"

Umm. The statement I was pointing to was the bit where you said:
"...that features the claim that “97% [or 98% or 100% etc] of scientists accept human caused climate change.”"

How else would you determine whether 97%, 98%, or 100% of scientists accepted human-caused climate change other than by doing a survey?!

Can I quote your "Absurd!" statement on that one, too? :-)


Joshua,

"I always defer to Richard Tol"

:-)

Can I quote you on that?

"Say what you will about any divergence between prevalence of view as reflected in published papers and prevalence of "expert" views more broadly..."

Oh, I will. Even though I obviously don't have to, since you clearly already know you can't tell what percentage of scientists believe whatever by counting papers, and you clearly already know that the numbers are radically different.

"but it is an endless source of amusement to me to read "skeptics" insisting over and over and over that noting the prevalence of view among experts is an "appeal to authority""

As I think I've mentioned before (Hey! There's that deja vu again!) it depends what question you are inquiring into. On the atmospheric science question "Is most post-1865 climate change human-caused?" it is indeed an appeal to authority. On the social science question "Do 97% of scientists believe most post-1865 climate change is human-caused?" it is clearly not.

Dan professes not to be interested in the atmospheric science question, which is fair enough. I would have thought the social sciences question was more relevant to his work - does his political-polarisation-vs-scientific-literacy result extend all the way to the people with the highest possible science literacy? - but perhaps I'm wrong about that.

I think the real reason sceptics are interested in the question is the application of a "falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus" standard against climate communicators - which is also a logical fallacy if you like. Or a useful heuristic, depending on your point of view.

If science communicators claiming to base their climate science views on the percentage of scientists who hold an opinion can't even quote the percentage holding that opinion accurately, why should we believe them on anything else?

That's an argument than even deeply non-technical non-scientists of the general public (and Congress/Senate) can understand - part of their "figuring out who knows what about science" mental toolkit that Dan so admires - which is probably why climate science communicators on the sceptic side are so keen to communicate it.

Does it work? Evidently not. The experimental intervention was applied a year ago and opinions here apparently haven't budged an inch. QED, I'd say. Well done Dan!

June 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

==> "Oh, I will. Even though I obviously don't have to, since you clearly already know you can't tell what percentage of scientists believe whatever by counting papers, and you clearly already know that the numbers are radically different."

???

The one doesn't follow from the other. I don't know how valid a proxy for expert opinion is the prevalence of published papers, but not knowing that doesn't mean that I know that the numbers are radically different. In fact, although I wouldn't argue in using the first as a proxy for the second, I would guess that they aren't radically different.

I just think it's amusing to watch both sides waste so much time with the discussion. IMO,, there is a clearly strong prevalence of shared opinion. The fact of that relevance is somewhat informative but not dispositive. It would be nice to see the argument move forward from that framework, to do some win/win stakeholder dialog on scenario planning with an eye towards the implications of the range of sensitivity. But I don't see much of that taking place anytime soon. People seem far more interested in the identity-struggle.


==> "I think the real reason sceptics are interested in the question ..."

I think the real reason is because it fits so nicely into identity-battles about climate change.

==> " The experimental intervention was applied a year ago and opinions here apparently haven't budged an inch.."

Although it doesn't seem to have achieved the desired result, the experimental framework makes it impossible to determine whether it has any relative effect. Interesting that you would draw such a conclusion from an experimental condition that doesn't allow such a conclusion to be drawn. Hmmm. "falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus" :-)

June 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"The one doesn't follow from the other."

I didn't say it did.

"I don't know how valid a proxy for expert opinion is the prevalence of published papers,..."

That was my first point. Counting published papers can't be used as a proxy for scientific opinion if you don't know if there's a valid connection.

"... but not knowing that doesn't mean that I know that the numbers are radically different."

True. You know it because I just gave you the statistics. 82% of scientists believe, but 97% of published papers (if you're gullible enough to believe Cook's study) concur. That's a sixfold difference in the level of dissent, which I'd call wildly divergent.

My point was that you wouldn't have pre-empted my objections to your Tol quote by raising the subject of a "divergence" between paper counting (what Tol was doing) and scientific consensus (what we were supposed to be talking about) unless you already knew about it and had anticipated what my counter-argument would be.

"Although it doesn't seem to have achieved the desired result, the experimental framework makes it impossible to determine whether it has any relative effect."

It had no effect. There can't be a relative effect (or any other sort of effect) if there's *no* effect.
(And "relative" to what?)

I will grant you that it's not a particularly sensitive test of whether it changes the probability of an effect, with a sample size of 2, but we already had a pretty strong prior about how it would affect your opinions, so it doesn't take a lot of extra evidence to tip the balance.

Unless you're going to claim that maybe I did persuade you both that the "97% of scientists..." figure is bogus, and you're just hiding the fact...? :-)

June 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV -

==> "You know it because I just gave you the statistics. 82% of scientists believe, but 97% of published papers (if you're gullible enough to believe Cook's study) concur. That's a sixfold difference in the level of dissent, which I'd call wildly divergent."

Well, we can call the difference between 82% and 97% "radically different" or "wildly divergent," or we can call them significantly different but in the same ball park.... but no matter what terms we use, it doesn't mean that I accept the statistics that you gave as dispositive either. There are complicating factors with your statistics, as well. And the bottom line is that actually, I don't care. What I think is somewhat useful, as a window to look through from my seat as someone without the knowledge or skills to evaluate the science for myself, is what Tol describes. I'm not particularly interested in parsing out the difference between "almost unanimously" and a "strong majority," and.....

I was just reading the amusing history of Benny Peiser's focus on quantifying expert opinion by using abstracts as a proxy. Pretty funny how leading "skeptics" are completely inconsistent with your broad characterization of "skeptics," isn't it? "falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus"

Or maybe we should realize the problems of applying that maxim, let's go with what Benny has to say after all:

"Undoubtedly, sceptical scientists are a small minority"

That works for me.

==> "It had no effect. "

???

How do you know? Maybe the effect was to mitigate a counter-effect that was occurring from anti-consensus messaging. Perhaps things would have different, absent the "consensus messaging."

==> "Unless you're going to claim that maybe I did persuade you both that the "97% of scientists...""

I don't think it's likely that you could get 97% of any particular group to have near unanimity in opinions about anything terribly complex.

As far as I can tell, Richard and Benny are correct: A small minority of experts doubt that anthropogenic forcing dominates recent (multi-decadal) global temperature trends and accordingly, the views expressed in the related "expert" literature are almost unanimously in concordance.

I think the squabbling about the precise numbers is unimportant and uninteresting, except that it serves as a very nice example of how people on both sides are more focused on the identity politics than on the implications of the science.

June 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"Well, we can call the difference between 82% and 97% "radically different" or "wildly divergent," or we can call them significantly different but in the same ball park"

You mean, they're both between 0 and 100? :)

"And the bottom line is that actually, I don't care."

Indeed. And that may be the real reason why consensus messaging doesn't work: - everyone's bored of "global warming" and nobody cares any more. Most people are simply not interested in the subject.

"Undoubtedly, sceptical scientists are a small minority"

Yep. About 18%, which is less than one in five. No big surprise. (Not to me, anyway.)

"I think the squabbling about the precise numbers is unimportant and uninteresting, except that it serves as a very nice example of how people on both sides are more focused on the identity politics than on the implications of the science."

Scientists think that precision about numbers *is* important and interesting. It's part of what distinguishes science from the alternatives, and a large part of the reason it works.

The opinions of scientists are interesting for the same reason that the opinions of the general public are interesting - it tells us about how people exchange information, make judgements, filter out errors and misinformation; it tells us about how the human mind works, and how societies self-organise.

And the case study of the 97% propaganda is interesting for the way it shows these political and social forces at work. The theory is that if you tell a big enough lie and repeat it often enough, people will come to believe. As Dan points out, it doesn't work - but not in a simple way. Because in a sense it *does* work on *some* of the people, and only once you've saturated that subset does it stop working on persuading any more.

Personally, I find yours and Dan's reactions to this absolutely fascinating. How can a person deal with evidence that contradicts their deeply-held beliefs? Well, one mechanism is to dismiss it as unimportant, insignificant, ... boring. But if this had truly been a matter of indifference to you, you wouldn't have reacted as you had. You'd have (perhaps) checked the reference, noted that the number was indeed different to what you had thought, and politely thanked the informant for the correction. When the thing about floating Arctic ice not causing sea level rise was pointed out to Dan, that's exactly what he did! On topics like the correlation of guns with crime levels, as a scientist Dan put data ahead of political dogma. When challenged on GMO beliefs and fracking, he went out and got more data, and was gushingly enthusiastic about how interesting it all was! So why act so differently on this one? Obviously, because you *do* care about it, and the pretended indifference and uninterest is just an excuse not to have to address the issues its complete lack of factual truth raises.

It would be pretty simple to satisfy me. When debating the percentage of "consensus" scientists, use the right number, and point it out when someone else uses the wrong number. What would be so hard about doing that? Why the angry determination to avoid discussing the issue?

Fascinating, as I said!

June 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

@NiV:

Please don't misquote me--either by attributing words to me I didn't speak or depicting my words as responding to a question I wasn't asked.

The "study" the correctness of which "I don't care" about is the one you said is wrong: Cook et al.

Whether it is or isn't is not relevant to the point I'm making.

Have said that before too

June 16, 2015 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

==> "and nobody cares any more."

You seem to be mistaken as to what I was saying that I do and don't care about.

==> "You'd have (perhaps) checked the reference, noted that the number was indeed different to what you had thought,..."

Do you really think I haven't seen you reference the other analyses before, let alone others many times also?

==> "Obviously, because you *do* care about it,..."

Lol! OK. Have it your way. Lucia made the same argument also, that I cared about the precise number. Well, I guess it's just more evidence of what some people consider to be skepticism - that they know better what I do and don't care about than I do.

==> "Why the angry determination to avoid discussing the issue?"

Angry determination? Avoid discussing the issue? Heh.

NiV - you are just wrong about many things in that personal attack. Not much more I can say there. I have no need nor desire to defend Cook et. al as I see the discussions about it as petty squabbling and as just more of the same ol same ol identity politics on both sides. As I have said repeatedly, what I think is interesting, to a limited extent, (the extent is limited because it is only evidence that is somewhat useful as a guide but not something that is dispositive) is that there is such a strong agreement among "experts" on the topic. I don't care about efforts to quantify that agreement precisely because: (1) it isn't necessary to know the salient information on the topic and, (2) I doubt that any methodology, whether that which you trust or that which Cook et. al trust can quantify the agreement precisely. I also think it's interesting how worked up people get about the issue when the salient (and somewhat important) issue - that there is a strong majority of agreement - seems pretty obvious.

==> "It would be pretty simple to satisfy me. "

Satisfy you? Why do you think I have any wish to satisfy you?

==> "When debating the percentage of "consensus" scientists, use the right number

Right number? I don't know the "right number" and I don't think that anyone does. All these methods for quantifying the "right" number have flaws. I'm satisfied to have a general impression, which amusingly enouch coincides with that of Tol and Peiser.

I'll also not that you have mistakenly lumped me and Dan into the same category, as if we think the same or have the same reasoning behind our views. You talk about what Dan does and doesn't do as a way of explaining what is obvious to you about my beliefs?

Just another indication, IMO, of how you are hooked into the identity politics aspect.

==> "and the pretended indifference and uninterest is just an excuse not to have to address the issues its complete lack of factual truth raises..."

Wow. For all of our many differences on so many issues over the past couple of years, if I'm not mistaken that's the first time either of us has accused the other of acting in bad faith. Oh well.

June 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

"Right number? I don't know the "right number" and I don't think that anyone does."

And isn't that the point of the whole argument?

So much certainty over a number nobody knows...

June 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

==> "And isn't that the point of the whole argument?"

What do you think I'm arguing about? It's interesting that, IMO, and not entirely unlike Dan, you repeatedly misinterpret my perspective related to "consensus-messaging," because you (like him it seems to me) are seeing certain patterns and and cramming me into those patterns.

You don't seem to even know what I'm arguing about.

This:

==> "Obviously, because you *do* care about it, and the pretended indifference and uninterest is just an excuse not to have to address the issues its complete lack of factual truth raises."

Is evidence that you don't even know what I'm arguing about.

I've never expressed any confidence in Cook et.al. I've never read the paper because I think it's superfluous to anything other than continuing the existing tribalism. I skim over the many thousands of comments I've seen bickering about the methodological details because IMO, in reality, they're all about the same thing: personality politics and bickering about a subject that is superfluous because what is related and what might be of some importance is obvious: the scientific perspective is shared by all but a small minority. Although the bickering is a very good example of the identity-defensive and identity-aggressive behaviors that manifest because of cultural cognition, it's uninteresting w/r/t the science itself. I've no need to defend Cook et al. I've seen people that he's affiliated with make some arguments related to "consensus messaging" that I consider to be very poor arguments, and I've told them so.

For the umpteenth time, I think it's amusing/interesting that "skeptics" spend so much time arguing about the precise quantification of the prevalence of shared opinion at the same time as arguing that whether or not there is a "consensus" is irrelevant or worse, saying that arguing about the prevalence is antithetical to "true" science.

I think it's amusing/interesting that both sides are absolutely convinced about the "effect" of consensus messaging even though they lack evidence sufficient to actually prove anything about that.

It's all just sameolsameol. People caring passionately about something that makes so little difference. IMO, that's all the bickering over Cook et. al is about - passion (in a tribalistic form).

==> "So much certainty over a number nobody knows...

Certainty from who? From you? Yes. From Cook et al.? Yes. From me? No. I've never expressed any certainty about a number. Seeing people who are so certain about a number that I think they can't know, and that is superfluous anyway? Amusing and interesting even if it is sameolsameol.

June 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

> As you knnow, there No polarization over GMO.

That depends where you look, Dan:

In this article, the authors examine why member states of the EU-15 differ in their hostility with regards to genetically modified crops and food. The authors trace this variation to two variables. First, they examine the impact of the presence (or absence) of alternative food production regimes and food traditions. If a vigorous eco-farming or regional food specialties sector exists, environmental and consumer associations can cement a strategic alliance with small farmers' organizations. This green-green bloc generally manages to heighten public resistance to genetically modified crops and food and thereby to exert strong influence on national policy makers. The second variable is the biotech industry, which, if strong enough, can usually prevail against even a strong green-green bloc.

http://m.cps.sagepub.com/content/40/9/1035.short

There seems to be lots of research on the European communication (or is it pollution?) strategies. Generalizing from one culture to the next may pollute blog communication to a point it becomes toxic.

***

> When debating the percentage of "consensus" scientists, use the right number, and point it out when someone else uses the wrong number.

Assuming that we know such "right" number begs the wrong question. It is also an irrelevant question if we accept, like Nullius does, that science ain't about consensus anyway. This is another red herring, but one is enough for breakfast.

June 17, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterwillard

Aside from all the good points made in this post, isn't it relevant to mention that the 97% meme is _not true_? http://www.joseduarte.com/blog/the-climate-science-consensus-is-78-84-percent
We know the actual figures, because there have been actual surveys done. Quite a high percentage, but not 97%.

What is the difference between 80% and 97% - aren't they both very high percentages? Don't they both signal a solid consensus of climate scientists? So why not pick the true percentage, instead of one supported by bad methodology and silly questions?
The answer is that 80+% means that something like a fifth of climate scientists don't agree. We have a special name for that in science. We call it an _open question_. It means that there are real scientists on both sides.
97% is very different. There the impression they are trying to give is that everyone on the other side is a fraud or a clown.

June 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMIkeR

"Is evidence that you don't even know what I'm arguing about."

Hmm. Perhaps we're not arguing, but agreeing violently?

"For the umpteenth time, I think it's amusing/interesting that "skeptics" spend so much time arguing about the precise quantification of the prevalence of shared opinion at the same time as arguing that whether or not there is a "consensus" is irrelevant or worse, saying that arguing about the prevalence is antithetical to "true" science."

And for the umpteenth time, it depends what question you're inquiring into. It's not relevant to the atmospheric science question. It quite possibly is relevant to various social science questions, as well as to the politics. The biggest issue, I think, is that you've got people walking around claiming to be scientists/experts (and accepted as such!) still pushing a wrong number.

I assume what you're saying is that you don't care about that, because it's all identity politics to you. Although I don't know.

--

Willard! It's been a long time, hasn't it?

"Assuming that we know such "right" number begs the wrong question. It is also an irrelevant question if we accept, like Nullius does, that science ain't about consensus anyway. This is another red herring, but one is enough for breakfast."

Physics is not about consensus. Psychology and social sciences might be.

I approve when people totally ignore the question. I approve when people say they don't know the answer to the question, or harp on the complexities. I don't mind when they accurately cite the few surveys that have been done. And it's forgivable if they've been fooled. What gets my goat is when otherwise sensible people write stuff supportive of it like: "There had already been six previous studies finding an overwhelming scientific consensus", and strongly objecting to messaging on the basis that it was not effective, while apparently not caring that it was not true! Had it been effective but untrue, would that have been alright? Is this what scientific ethics has come to? Arguing about ways to make untruths more convincing?!

And my raising it as an issue is just evidence of my participation in identity politics? This is amusing?

I give up.

-

Anyway, Dan said above that it's not irrelevant: "Indeed, both Steve and I have done studies that find that when there is cultural polarization over a societal risk, both sides always agree that scientific consensus should inform public policy." Although he later said: "I will say that I think it is absurd to think that the way either to figure out scientific consensus or communicate it is to do an opinion survey!" which just confuses me. Is it relevant or isn't it? Do we agree or don't we?

--

MIkeR,

Thanks for the support. It's nice to know I'm not alone!

June 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

Here you go, NiV -

Why don't you step up to the plate to correct some of the leading lights among "skeptics" (Willis, Brandon, ,Matthew Marler) in their laughably unskeptical thinking where they have determined with complete certainty that Dan was using a "sockpuppet" to "con" and "fool" Willis, and then "confessed" that he did so just to screw with Willis' head?

http://judithcurry.com/2015/06/17/against-consensus-messaging/#comment-711121

To his credit, MikeR did step up to the plate. He could use some support.

I was surprised when you didn't correct Willis when he originally started insulting Dan based on unskeptical reasoning on his own part, but here's your chance to correct for that oversight.

I can't think of a better example, than that thread, of where "skeptics" band together to promote and accept at ace value foolish reasoning in a completely unskeptical maner.

June 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Yeah, well, Joshua, I happened to see it back when it was happening. It was so obvious what happened: Kahan had this second moniker, probably all the regulars at the site knew all about it, Willis presumably hadn't seen it before, didn't recognize it (just like me at the time) and said something a little silly. No biggie. But I assumed it would stop there! I was kind of taken aback that Willis seems to be stuck on his first mistake. Not only stuck, but using his mistake as proof about someone else's character.

June 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMIkeR

MikeR -

==> " Not only stuck, but using his mistake as proof about someone else's character."

But not only that. Also, people who self-identify as "skeptics" and who as "skeptics" are insulted that anyone would suggest that like "realists," "skeptics" are prone to motivated reasoning, are taking Willis' accusations as valid on face value,

I'm sure that Willis wasn't the first to be confused by the "dmk38" username. I remember that it took me a little while to figure it out.

It's understandable to have been confused by it. But Willis' reaction at the time was more than just "a little silly." It was an example of notably unskeptical reasoning. It was a clear example of a smart and knowledgeable person who self-identifies as a "skeptic" displaying "motivated reasoning."

June 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

MikeR -

Notice later in that thread - Willis address the following to me:

==> " Is he your sock-puppet or something, is that why you're defending him?"

Just can't slip anything by Willis, can I?

:-)

June 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

@MikeR

"The 97% meme isn't true" is relevant to some, even if not to me, for my purposes.

Certainly the issue of how to construct a sample for such a study independently of the study hypothesis (in other words to avoid selecting on the dependent variable" here) is difficult, maybe insoluble.

But I think the idea of "surveys" to determine what "scientists" think is ill-conceived. Identifying "consensus," if there is one, requires judgment; that's why NAS, Royal Society et al. don't do surveys but rather collect domain experts to do substantive analysies and deliberate when they issue "expert consensus" reports. Survey methods on this sort of thing efface judgment.

June 18, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

@MikeR

"The 97% meme isn't true" is relevant to some, even if not to me, for my purposes.

Certainly the issue of how to construct a sample for such a study independently of the study hypothesis (in other words to avoid selecting on the dependent variable" here) is difficult, maybe insoluble.

But I think the idea of "surveys" to determine what "scientists" think is ill-conceived. Identifying "consensus," if there is one, requires judgment; that's why NAS, Royal Society et al. don't do surveys but rather collect domain experts to do substantive analysies and deliberate when they issue "expert consensus" reports. Survey methods on this sort of thing efface judgment.

June 18, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

Nullius,

Nice seeing you too.

A consensus claim, even when made by scientific institutions, is a political speech act. Only scientific institutions can make such claim. I think this observation is rather mundane, and recalling it suffices to see that the claim that "physics is not about consensus" is irrelevant, as is the contrarian battle cry that "science ain't about consensus."

Were I to raise doubt about that battle cry, I'd start with something called the Hierarchical Model:

The three levels of agreement/disagreement in the Hierarchical Model (the hierarchies)
1. The Factual level: disputes over "matters of fact"
a) not only observational, but all claims about the world
b) disputes are settled by appeal to methodological level
c) at this level the rules are taken as given

2. The Methodological Level: disputes over the rules to settle factual disputes
a) are in effect "rules of evidence"
b) serve as a kind of "science court" in which a "verdict" on factual disputes is resolved by appeal to "evidence"
c) this reflects the empiricist's commitment to the "Leibnizean ideal"
d) explains how a "staggering proportion" of disputes are in fact resolved
e) however, occasional disputes over the methodological rules arise
3. The Axiological Level: the level of "shared values"
a) by appeal to shared values disputes over methodological rules are settled
b) methodological rules are "instrumental" in character
i) they are adopted as means to achieving certain ends
ii) those ends are the science's "values" or "aims"
iii) they have the forms of a "hypothetical imperative": If you desire Aim X, then follow methodological rule Y.
iv) rules are adopted because they are believed to be optimal technique for attain cognitive goals or "utilities"
v) choice of methodological rule is choice of most efficient means to the end of attaining our "cognitive values"
c) disputes at axiological level are either
i) thought to be nonexistent, or
ii) irresolvable

http://www.loyno.edu/~folse/Laudanoutline.html

(This stuff is older than Lady Gaga, BTW.)

There's a whole research programme paying due diligence to physics as the other science's superego. Nevertheless, chasing strawmen can get boring. I'm sure Dan would agree. The only reason I cite this here is to implore Dan to read on the Kuhnian tradition and revise his concept of paradigm accordingly. His pet concept belongs to a research programme at best.

***

I think you underestimate the power of corroboration when you deplore that people mention "previous studies finding an overwhelming scientific consensus." Intersubjectivity is the hallmark of science as we know it. That we can find the similar results using different tools tells us something that an experimentum crucis can't.

Also, this kind of corroboration is an argument that is being used by marketers every single hours (if not minutes) since the beginnings of broadcasting. This makes me wonder if Dan ever told the advertizing industry that they're creating toxic communication environments. I'm sure they'll appreciate the thought.

***

In any case, I blame leachate, which helps me characterize the smelly product of a lack of ClimateBall self-awareness, but enough corporatist know-how to play the publish or perish and the social pundit games:

http://neverendingaudit.tumblr.com/post/119782748664

If you want me to be clearer, Dan, I find your whole "toxic" rhetoric to be repulsive, on a par with Lew's seepage crap.

June 18, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterwillard

@Willard:

I find that very reassuring, actually.

June 18, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterdmk38

Joshua,

"in their laughably unskeptical thinking where they have determined with complete certainty that Dan was using a "sockpuppet" to "con" and "fool" Willis, and then "confessed" that he did so just to screw with Willis' head?"

I think it was the picture of the dog in fancy dress that persuaded them of that.

"To his credit, MikeR did step up to the plate. He could use some support."

I've defended Dan on many occasions - I even have vague recollections of defending him on this very topic, I don't remember where, I think it might have been WUWT. MIkeR doesn't need my help - he's said everything I would have said. (And I gave up commenting at Climate Etc. after the login requirements were introduced.)

You say "unskeptical" but at the same time note how MIkeR was there disagreeing, and there were a few others supporting him. That's the way it works. Everyone has biases and blindspots, and everyone is fallible. But you immerse yourself in a community where people have different blindspots, who will raise objections. MIkeR and others did. I don't think his arguments convinced everyone, largely because of that dog picture, but people did listen.

"I was surprised when you didn't correct Willis when he originally started insulting Dan based on unskeptical reasoning on his own part, but here's your chance to correct for that oversight."

Me too. I suspect it was because by the time I had got round to commenting again several other people had already explained, so there was no point in piling on. Some people get defensive and entrench their views when they come under attack.

--

Dan,

""The 97% meme isn't true" is relevant to some, even if not to me, for my purposes."

If you had not said anything about it, I wouldn't have objected. (Although personally I think other scientists should call out bad behaviour on the part of other scientists more often, I can understand that there are some valid arguments against doing so in particular cases.) It was you openly supporting its essential truth that irritated me.

If it's genuinely a matter of complete indifference to you, they you ought to be as happy saying it's not true as saying that it is, right?

"Certainly the issue of how to construct a sample for such a study independently of the study hypothesis (in other words to avoid selecting on the dependent variable" here) is difficult, maybe insoluble."

It's impossible to construct an unbiased sample of "scientists"? Why? And why is it any harder than for any other group?

"But I think the idea of "surveys" to determine what "scientists" think is ill-conceived."

Again, I don't see that there's any other way. "Consensus" is general agreement, group solidarity of belief or sentiment. I agree that it's not how science should be done, or scientific judgements and decisions should be made, but it's nevertheless a perfectly measurable quantity. To tell if there's "general agreement" you have to ask them what they think.

" if there is one, requires judgment; that's why NAS, Royal Society et al. don't do surveys but rather collect domain experts to do substantive analysies and deliberate when they issue "expert consensus" reports."

Actually, no. They don't do that.

What happens is that the board note that there's a lot of noise in the media on this "climate change" thing and figure they ought to make a statement. They appoint a committee of interested volunteers to write something, who come up with a brief summary of the perceived "consensus position". Mostly, they just cite the IPCC as an authority. The board then rubber-stamp it and issue it to the press. It's a bureaucratic, political process, not a scientific one. It's primary aim is to make the society look good - caring and responsible - not to do actual science.

The only scientific society I know of that actually made an attempt to consider and judge the evidence was the American Physical Society - I suspect as a result of intense lobbying by sceptics within the society who argued that the usual approach was unscientific and hurt their credibility. They issued a lengthy report on evidence submitted on it, but I don't recall what the outcome was.

The Royal Society in particular - with it's motto of 'Nullius in Verba', is particularly bad for doing this. When they were set up, they actually had an official policy *not* to make public pronouncements on scientific questions. That would be to set themselves up as precisely the sort of argument-ad-verecundiam "Authority" that they were set up to demolish, and would be contrary to their scientific principles. But in latter years science has become more dependent on government funding, and therefore the bodies have become more political. Principles have become more "flexible", and organisations like the Royal Society are now occupied by the sort of Establishment game-players who like running committees and holding meetings.

I agree with you that - setting asside the dangers of becoming an "Authority" - the sort of substantive analysis you describe *would* be a valuable service for scientific societies to offer. What non-specialists need is a rapid guide to the evidence, and the best arguments for and against. The technical literature is an argument in progress, an exploration with lots of dead ends and reversals. You need the experts to be able to pull out and organise the essentials, explain it systematically and comprehensibly to the non-specialist. I'd have really appreciated that when I was starting out - it took me years to disentangle any coherent story on what the actual state of evidence was. But it's hard.

--

Willard,

"That we can find the similar results using different tools tells us something that an experimentum crucis can't."

The issue was that they weren't "similar". People just claimed they were.

June 19, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNiV

NiV -


==> "I've defended Dan on many occasions"

I don't think it's a matter of "defending" Dan. Dan can take care of himself, and I imagine he doesn't particularly care if Willis does something exceedingly foolish and other "skeptics" line up to follow in the foolishness.

Here's what I said on the other thread:

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

I think that it's a matter of objecting to notably unskeptical behavior on the part of "skeptics" who pull a lot of weight in the "skeptical" blogosphere. You frequently make reference to "skeptics" as a group, portraying them with rose-colored glasses as a group of people who hold science and reasoning to a high standard. As such, it would seem to me that you would step forward to hold Willis et. al to that standard when it happens right here on your doorstep.

==> "I even have vague recollections of defending him on this very topic,""

Again, I don't think that "defending Dan" is particularly relevant, but if you have a link that would be nice.


==> "And I gave up commenting at Climate Etc. after the login requirements were introduced.)"

Just write something here. I'll be happy to link to it over at Climate Etc. You won't have to comment there.


==> "You say "unskeptical" but at the same time note how MIkeR was there disagreeing,"

I did note, just that. I've seen MikeR, in the past, make similar comments calling "skeptics" to task for unskeptical reasoning, and I have made it a point to acknowledge it when I've seen him do so. I can't say the same for you, at least as far as I've seen, and that's one of the reasons why I point it out when you put on your rose-colored glasses to characterize yourself within the group known as "skeptics" and then to turn a soft focus on your descriptions of that group.

==> "and there were a few others supporting him."

No doubt. Just as there were quite a few, some of whom carry a lot of weight in the "skept-o-sphere," who held on tight to lining up behind Willis' foolishness. I have never said that some "skeptics" don't, sometimes, display honest-to-god skeptical reasoning. I've seen you do it at times. The point that I'm making is that when I see "skeptics" distinguishing themselves as a group from "realists" as being dedicated to unbiased reasoning, it violates common sense with respect to motivated reasoning. Here's a great example:

http://quadrant.org.au/magazine/2015/06/climate-wars-done-science/

==> "Everyone has biases and blindspots, and everyone is fallible."

And what counts is how people show accountability for that obvious reality.

==> "Me too. I suspect it was because by the time I had got round to commenting again several other people had already explained, so there was no point in piling on. Some people get defensive and entrench their views when they come under attack."

I was the only one who was taking Willis to task for nonsense like this:

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

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

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

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

Instead, we got added nonsense like this:

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

August 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods


Another "skeptic" who carries weight in the blogosphere, adding to the foolishness.

--

June 19, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

> I find that very reassuring, actually.

Everything conspires to confirm what we knew all along, Dan.

Here’s how I understand your argument against consensus messaging as a communication strategy: it mistreats the nature of the problem, it diverts resources from your research programme and unspecified alternatives with better chances for success, and it predictably toxifies ClimateBall. That's almost verbatim, shortened for style and expendiency. In what follows, I will address the three arguments in reverse order.

***

I interpret your third argument that consensus messaging of climate change is “toxic” as a suggestion that it poisons the well. If correct, your argument relates to what you call elsewhere external validity, which I would call verification, i.e. in the communication environment. Here are some counterarguments:

(1) the well is already poisoned, as climate change has already become a wedge issue, and it's hard to believe it could get detoxified by any discrete set of communicative actions;

(2) the assumption that this predicament has been caused by consensus messaging lacks in historical details beyond "but Al Gore";

(3) the concept of "consensus messaging" may be kept indefinite to overcompensate for this lacuna, e.g. how is Al's messaging connected with Lew's exactly is not made clear;

(4) "but Al Gore" fails to mention dissensus messaging (defined here as "the opposite of consensus messaging, however you define it") as an active ingredient in well poisoning;

(5) the evidence basis for your own research programme has yet to be externally validated the same way Al Gore's weight has been celebrated, i.e. the national level;

(6) the potential for consensus messaging still needs to be acknowledged unless you wish to argue against the efficacy of the bandwagon effect in advertizing, e.g.:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/cherylsnappconner/2013/07/04/bandwagon-marketing-how-leading-brands-turn-perception-into-reality/

(7) your toxic rhetoric begs the question of real "toxicity" effects, besides being overly moralistic ClimateBall, and perhaps also having itself toxic effects.

***

The second argument only supports your position indirectly, by reinforcing its relevance. This relevance should go without saying: there are resources involved in communication strategies, so we ought to pay due diligence to them. Granted that "cultural cognition" and "consensus messaging" are two competing research programmes, how can we establish means of comparison? Here are two.

Since your main argument against consensus messaging is its impact on beliefs about climate change, we might ask you how your approach fares regarding climate change cognitions. I don't think your Florida experiment indicates any belief revision, nor does it argue in favor of dismissing the importance of changing attitudes and beliefs. Cultural cognitivists can’t claim being better at changing attitudes if they simply bypass that task. A case could be made that beliefs can be changed via through indirect means, say à la George Marshall. However, any such mean needs to be identified. While “consensus messaging” refers to something like an action, “cultural cognition” only posits something about cognition.

Belief revision also needs to operate at a specific level. As hard as one may try to go bottom-up, local, value-based, consensus-building, and whatnot, your argument against consensus messaging applies at a national level. How does your approach fare at that level? I don’t think we have external validation of this. This point is important, for this is where the “bottom-up” rubber meets the “political” road. This is when Fox News, CNN, and all the other media outlets transform stories into identity-based issues. At the national level, I don't think it's possible to extricate politics from science. Therefore, there’s no reason to expect that we can bypass the adversarial system with yet another paradigm shift.

***

Lastly, your first argument rests on your "two climate" story, or what Warren Pearce calls an "heuristic." I duly submit that this story may very well contain an equivocation. Take all your examples of conservatives doing things that affect crops and stuff. What you have shown is that people take weather forecasting seriously. This can be distinguished from climate science, which mostly deals with projections.

While there's a debate among scientists regarding where weather ends and climate begins (H/T Michael Tobis, pers. comm.), I think the distinction between weather and climate is quite robust. This distinction may also indicate something about the "nature" of the problem: weather is tangible, while climate is an abstracta. Let cognitive scientists explore that idea. They could for instance compare meteorologists’ and modellers’ beliefs. Even if that only leads to the rediscovery of the old divide between empiricists and rationalists, it might be worth a shot.

***

As far as I can see, the two research programmes are not incompatible. How could they be when “cultural cognition” and “consensus messaging” are two orthogonal concepts?
Moreover, assuming the two programmes prescribe two specific and comparable strategies, they need not be implemented at the same level. They may compete for the same research grants and Al's honey pot. While this may explain the need for your “toxic” rhetoric, there’s evidence it comes from elsewhere:

Studies of the phenomenon of cultural cognition, however, suggest that individuals naturally impute socially harmful consequences to behavior that defies their moral norms. As a result, they are impelled to suppress morally deviant behavior even when they honestly perceive themselves to be motivated only by the secular good of harm prevention. The paper identifies how this dynamic transforms seemingly instrumental debates over environmental regulation, public health, economic policy, and crime control into polarizing forms of illiberal status competition. It also proposes a counterintuitive remedy: rather than attempt to cleanse the law of culturally partisan meanings - the discourse strategy associated with the liberal norm of public reason - lawmakers should endeavor to infuse it with a surfeit of meanings capable of affirming a wide range of competing worldviews simultaneously.

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=963929

As far as I can see, you’re applying the good ol’ liberal argument to ClimateBall. The risk, it seems to me, is that your "toxic" rhetoric looks a lot like a polarizing form of illiberal status competition.

***

TL;DR -- the concepts of "climate," "consensus messaging" and toxicity need to be clarified if you want to build a more convincing argument for your approach.

June 27, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterwillard

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