So you want to meet the ‘Pakistani Dr’? Just pay a visit to the Kentucky Farmer

I now realize that a lot of people think that Hameed’s Pakistani Dr—who without apparent self-contradiction “disbelieves” in evolution “at home” but “believes” in it at work—is a mystery the solution to which must have something to do with his living in Pakistan (or at least having grown up and gone to school there before moving to the US to practice medicine (Everhart & Hameed (2013)).

That’s a big mistake!

Indeed, in my view it gets things exactly backwards: what makes the Pakistani Dr so intriguing, & important, is that he is the solution to mysteries about the psychology of a lot of people born & bred right here in the U.S. of A!

One place where you can find a lot of Pakistani Drs, e.g., is in the South & Midwest, where their occupation of choice is farming.

Public opinion studies consistently find that farmers are deeply skeptical of climate change (e.g., Prokopy et al. 2014).

Which is to say, when you ask them if they believe human fossil-fuel burning is heating up the planet, they say, “Heck no! Don’t give me that Al Gore bull shit!”

But that’s what happens, you see, if you ask them about what they believe “at home.”

If you ask them what they believe “at work,” where they must make practical decisions based on the best available evidence, then you are likely to get a completely different answer!

Or so a group of researchers recently reported in an amazingly cool study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics (Rejesus, Hensley, Mithcell, Coble & Knight 2013).

Analyzing the results of an N = 1380 USDA-conducted survey of farmers in Mississippi, North Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin, RHMCK reported that less than 50% in each state agreed with the statement, “I believe human activities are causing changes in the earth climate.”

Indeed, only a minority—around a quarter of the respondents in Mississippi, Texas, and Wisconsin; a bit over a third in North Carolina—indicated that they “believe climate change has been scientifically proven” at all.

But when these same respondents answered questions relating to how climate change would affect farmers, only a small minority expressed any doubt whatsoever that the impact would be considerable.

For example,

nearly 60% of producers in Mississippi and Texas, states where scientific proof of climate change is typically not agreed to, believe there will be some change in crop mix resulting from climate change.

Majorities in Mississippi (55%) and North Carolina (56%) also indicated that it was likely that, in response to climate change, farmers in their state would be buying more crop insurance to protect them from the increased variability in yields associated with a higher incidence of extreme weather events.

Of course, you can insure yourself from risks only if the benefits exceed the expected costs of enduring them. A lot of farmers think that farming won’t be profitable be in the future– thanks to climate change.

In North Carolina (57%) and Texas (51%), a majority of the respondents indicated that they thought it was either “likely” or “extremely likely” that climate change would force some farmers out of business.

In none of the states did anything even close to a majority indicate that they thought it was either “unlikely” or “extremely unlikely” that farmers would resort to greater crop rotation, increased insurance coverage, or simply quitting the business altogether in response to climate change.

Obviously, some fraction of the positive responses to these questions came from the minority of farmers in these states who indicated that they do believe climate change is “scientifically proven.”

But it turns out the views of “believers” and “disbelievers” on these matters didn’t vary by much.

  • Likely that farmers will resort to crop diversification as a result of climate change:
    Believers: 51% agree
    Disbelievers: 47% agree
  • Likely that farmers will be driven out of business by climate change:
    Believers: 50% agree
    Nobelievers: 47% agree
  • Likely that farmers will acquire greater crop insurance protection to deal with climate change:
    Believers: 56% agree
    Nonbelievers: 45%, agree

These self-report data, moreover, match  up quite well with behavioral data, which show that climate-skeptical farmers are already adopting practices (like no-till planting, new patterns of crop rotation, adjustments in growing season projections) in anticipation of climate impacts.

Business actors, moreover, are rushing in to profit from the willingness of farmers to pay for services and technologies that will help them weather climate change. Just ask Monsanto, which is perfectly happy to proclaim its belief in climate change, how excited farmers are about its climate-change resistant GM crops, as well as the company’s new business ventures in supplying climate data and climate-change crop insurance.

How to make sense of this?

The most straightforward answer is the one set forth in the Measurement Problem (Kahan in press): whether people say they “believe” or “disbelieve in” human-caused climate change is not a valid measure of what they know about climate science; rather it is simply an indicator ofidentity on a pa with people’s responses to items that solicit their cultural values, their right-left political outlooks, their religiosity or whathaveyou.

Farmers who express their cultural identity by saying they “disbelieve in” human-caused climate change actually do know a lot about it—much more, probably, than the average person who says he or she does “believe in” climate change but who it turns out is highly likely to think that global warming is caused by sulfur emissions and will stifle photosynthesis in plants.

What do “believers” & “nonbelievers” in human-caused climate change know about climate science? Not much! Click & see for self.In the Measurement Problem study, I used a climate-literacy assessment instrument the items of which were carefully calibrated to disentangle or unconfound “identity” and “knowledge.”

To me, the RHMCK results suggest that one can unconfounded “identity” and “knowledge” in an equivalent way with items that, unlike the cultural-identity-eliciting “do you believe in climate change” item, effectively assessed what farmers understood the evidence of climate change to signify for their vocation.

Cool, okay.

But the much more difficult question is—what exactly is going on in the heads of those farmers who clearly comprehend the evidence but who say they “don’t believe in” climate change?

This is exactly what the Pakistani Dr has been trying, so patiently, to help us figure out!

If he hadn’t been so persistent in trying to pierce through the dense armor of my incomprehension, I would have had nothing more to say than what I just did—viz., that what a farmer in Mississippi, Texas, North Carolina, or Wisconsin says he “believes” about climate change measures something entirely different from what he “knows” about it.

But now, thanks to what the Dr has taught me, I have a hunch that the “climate change” that that farmer doesn’t “believe in” & the “climate change” he does “believe in” are, as the Dr would say, “entirely different things!”

“Climate change,” certainly, can be defined with reference solely to a state of affairs, or the evidence for it.

But as an object of belief or knowledge, climate change can’t be defined that way.

It’s just plain weird, really, to imagine that if we could somehow take a person, unscrew the lid of his mind, turn him upside down, and shake him a bit, a bunch of discrete “beliefs” would fall onto the ground in front of us.

What we believe or know—the objects of those intentional states—don’t have any existence independently of what we do with them.  The kinds of things we do, moreover, are multiple and diverse—and correspond to the multiple and diverse roles our integrated identities comprise.

The Pakistani Dr is an oncologist and a proud member of a science-trained profession.  His belief in evolution enables him to be those things.

He is also a devout Muslim.  His disbelief of evolution enables him to be that—when being that is what he is doing.

There’s no conflict!, he keeps insisting. The evolution he “accepts” and the evolution he “rejects” are entirely different things—because the things he is doing with those intentional states are entirely different, and, fortunately for him, perfectly compatible with each other in the life he leads.

This is Scott Travis, the Kentucky farmer. Click to have a conversation. He can teach you something.Well, for the Kentucky (Mississippi/Texas/North Carolina/Wisconsin/Indiana  etc.) farmer, there are two climate changes: the one he rejects to protect his standing in a particular cultural community engaged in an ugly status competition with another whose members’ “belief in” climate change serves the same function; and the one the Kentucky farmer accepts in the course of using his reason to negotiate the challenges of his vocation.

Sadly, the Kentucky farmer lives in a society that makes reconciling the diverse roles that he occupies—the different things he is enabled to do—by “believing in” one “climate change” and “disbelieving in” another much less straightforward, routine–boring even–than what the Pakistani Dr does when he accepts one evolution and reject another.

This is a big problem.  Not just for the Kentucky farmer but for all those who live in the society so many of whose members find what the Kentucky farmer is doing with his reason not only incomprehensible but simply intolerable.


Everhart, D. & Hameed, S. Muslims and evolution: a study of Pakistani physicians in the United States. Evo Edu Outreach 6, 1-8 (2013).

Kahan, D. Climate Science Communication and the Measurement Problem. Advances in Pol. Psych (in press).

Prokopy, L.S., Morton, L.W., Arbuckle, J.G., Mase, A.S. & Wilke, A. Agricultural stakeholder views on climate change: Implications for conducting research and outreach. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society  (2014).

Rejesus, R.M., Mutuc-Hensley, M., Mitchell, P.D., Coble, K.H. & Knight, T.O. US Agricultural Producer Perceptions of Climate Change. Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics 45 (2013).

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