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« Tying the threads together | Main | Climategate and HADCRUT »
Monday
May282012

The logic at Yale

USA Today reports on a new paper in Nature Climate Change (and to slightly misquote Carl Wunsch, just because it's in Nature Climate Change, doesn't make it wrong). The paper in question reports the results of a survey into opinion on climate change.

Support for climate science doesn't increase with science literacy, a survey suggests. Rather, people with technical backgrounds just dig in harder on their views about global warming, finds the study in the Nature Climate Change journal.

There is, however, some rather hilarious logic involved in reaching this conclusion, as least as reported by USA Today.

The study sought to test two explanations for the split, said Yale's Dan Kahan, who led the study, in a statement: "The first attributes political controversy over climate change to the public's limited ability to comprehend science, and the second, to opposing sets of cultural values."

No doubt to their surprise, when the authors analysed the results, they discovered that the scientifically literate were more likely to be sceptical of global warming, finding "a small increase in the odds of folks seeing global warming as not too serious in the most science literate people in the survey".

As US Today tells it, this means that the scientific-literacy explanation can be entirely discounted (global warming is known to be serious, right?), which leaves the only the alternate cultural-value explanation.

Clever eh?

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Reader Comments (58)

Wonder if the obvious eg that the Theory of AGW is rubbish ever occured to them, or did the Team get to them and apply a Hockey Stick,

Support for climate science doesn't increase with science literacy, a survey suggests. Rather, people with technical backgrounds just dig in harder on their views about global warming,

May 28, 2012 at 3:30 PM | Registered CommenterBreath of Fresh Air

As US Today tells it, this means that the scientific-literacy explanation can be entirely discounted (global warming is known to be serious, right?), which leaves the only the alternate cultural-value explanation.

Clever eh?

Why won't you stop for a second, breathe a little and try to understand the data they provide?

While it's true they spin it for their purposes, it is also true that the "scientific literacy" correlation with "climate change denialism" is very small, while the correlation with "culture values" of individualism vs "group mentality" is very strong. This means the probability of one believing in CC is much more correlated with the political affilliation than with someone's smarts.

And this also means that while the leftists may be well eating their own propaganda, it is quite probable that the right wingers are also feeding their own denial echo chambers, polarizing an issue that is much more nuanced and ambiguous than both echo chambers make it to be.

May 28, 2012 at 3:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterLuis Dias

"people with technical backgrounds just dig in harder on their views about global warming"

Sounds like RealClimate.

May 28, 2012 at 3:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Maloney

What a shocker!
Scientists are sceptics.

Now who would have imagined....

May 28, 2012 at 3:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

Could anybody please remind me the name of a guy who hasn't found a way to deliver the message that won't turn off people on the other side of the cultural divide?

ps anybody has read the original paper? This smells like rubbish: the best explanation for the split came from looking at response differences between people with individualistic viewpoints, less concerned about the environment, and people with more community-focused ones, who are more concerned, says the study. Who knows the meaning of "best"?

pps Luis...how long have you been reading this blog? You don't seem to have understood anything about it.

May 28, 2012 at 3:41 PM | Registered Commenteromnologos

Clever. The paper can be downloaded at
http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/pdf/nclimate1547.pdf
I got it via Adam Corner’s talkingclimate.org
Adam Corner recently reported in the Guardian on research done by him and his colleagues at Cardiff University which reached very similar conclusions. In his Guardian report he failed to mention that, when exposed to pro-consensus and sceptical material written by the researchers, both “sceptics” and “believers” became more sceptical. This was discussed in some detail at
climate-resistance.org/2012/03/shrinking-the-sceptics.html

Corner, to his credit, proposed entering into discussion with sceptics. Perhaps he’ll be along later.

May 28, 2012 at 3:49 PM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

I have to say that those friends and colleagues that I find share my views on climate science are those with whom I have the largest disagreements on other 'cultural values'. A small sample, and hearsay of course, but I find this arbitrary allocation of people to 'right' or 'left' to be less than helpful.

May 28, 2012 at 3:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterCumbrian Lad

pps Luis...how long have you been reading this blog? You don't seem to have understood anything about it.

Oh come on. Tribalism really annoys me. In some places, it's enough to simply make me go away (like in RC, WUWT and I won't even have CP mentioned). In others, just enough to irritate me. Here, just sometimes. And right now, because the paper is filled with a political bigotry "If people do not accept GW as true, and if it is not true it is because they are stupid, it's because they are individualistic bastards", Montford points out that what we should probably be focusing is the literacy correlation.

But the paper makes it clear that this correlation is pretty weak, albeit positive for the skeptic's case. What's really dividing the public's opinion on the matter is politics. The paper talks about being selfish vs being altruistic, but that's merely a bigoted (left-wing) code for "right-wing" vs "left-wing". And that's what explains one's bias on the matter. And my observations on the debate agree with this finding. Left wingers will accept AGW-as-a-problem by fiat, while right wingers will accept AGW-as-an-Algorian-Hoax by fiat.

May 28, 2012 at 3:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterLuis Dias

Yet again the impression is that the CAGW believers support the theory not because of its rightness but because of its righteousness.

How do you have a rational debate on a subject when one side sees it as a scientific issue but the other side sees it as a moral issue?

May 28, 2012 at 3:58 PM | Unregistered Commenterstanj

There's a comment on that page that is really funny, in how it says that "physicists" and other abstract hard scientists are more skeptical than those of (what amounts to) soft scientists, because these are more "connected" or in tune with the real problems of our world. Couldn't it be because hard scientists are actually cleverer and see through the multiple lines of BS?. No. AGW is true, therefore string theorists are somehow stupid.... outside their field. Or something.

May 28, 2012 at 4:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterLuis Dias

This comes as no surprise to people here or to anyone who has looked at the Reader Background thread at the air vent.

Omnologos, the Nature paper is here.

Here is the result-

As respondents’ science-literacy scores increased, concern with climate change decreased (r=−0.05, P=0.05). There was also a negative correlation between numeracy and climate change risk (r=−0.09, P<0.01).


PS I thought this looked familiar. It was posted a year ago here.

May 28, 2012 at 4:01 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

My comment with the reference to the paper will be along in a minute when it gets out of moderation. Luis Dias is right about the relative importance of correlation with scientific literacy and what they call “cultural values”.
The very serious criticisms to be made of this kind of research (and it hurts my left-leaning values to say so) is that “cultural values” are being defined by left-leaning scientists to give a nice feel to the left-leaning cultural values. The very meaning of environmentalism has similarly been hijacked by the same social scientists, who have invented a thing called the New Ecological Paradigm whose weaselly loaded questions turn everybody who doesn’t tear the heads off squirrels into a Fotherington Thomas. It’s a big unscientific mess.

May 28, 2012 at 4:01 PM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

stanj,

How do you have a rational debate on a subject when one side sees it as a scientific issue but the other side sees it as a moral issue?

Al Gore was very blunt on that point. He said two things: "The science is settled" and "This is [not a scientific nor a political issue, but] a moral issue". That's your source of the righteousness.

I'm noticing I'm somewhat irritated today. Must be the coffee...

May 28, 2012 at 4:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterLuis Dias

Sorry that last link I posted doesn't seem to work. Try here for a longer preprint version of the paper with the same results.

May 28, 2012 at 4:22 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

I don't know who the USA Today reader is anymore. I know when it was first published it was called "Mac-Paper" as it was the fast food of the newspaper industry with short, shallow articles that were a quick read. I think today, the circulation relies on copies distributed at hotels free of charge so it is probably still considered light reading.
I bring this up because an academic paper that makes perfect sense in the ivory tower echo chamber of academic circles might be read quite differently by the general public who is more and more distrustful of the "elite" scientists. The fact that scientific disagreements are based more on political background will be interpreted by the average person that the science is not well understood. These average folks have probably got it right.

May 28, 2012 at 4:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterSean

I wanted to comment on thuis at WUWT, but am not registered.


What is also a wonderful little snippet from the research is contained in the following excerpt:

At least among ordinary members of the public, individuals with higher science comprehension are even better at fitting the evidence to their group commitments.”

Kahan said that the study supports no inferences about the reasoning of scientific experts in climate change.

In effect, the more mathematically or scientifically literate you are the more your cultural factors effect your thinking (i.e. to be scpetical of dangerous AGW).


EXCEPT, if you mathematical and scientific literacy extends to an academic level when this human factor seems to turn itself off.


It is like a sociological Laffer curve, with a sweet spot in the middle. How convenient.

May 28, 2012 at 4:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

The dodgy science is visible in the very first paragraph of the paper

Seeming public apathy over climate change is often attributed to a deficit in comprehension... We conducted a study to test this account and found no support for it. Members of the public with the highest degrees of science literacy and technical reasoning were not the most concerned about climate change.
Straight away, comprehension of climate change is assumed to be identical with concern about climate change. This circular reasoning runs through the social science like Brighton through a stick of rock. Let’s hope some proper social scientists will come along to disown this stuff - or do we have to assume that climatitis has rotted the whole of academia?

May 28, 2012 at 5:14 PM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

What about other possibilities? How about people on the Left being generally less scientifically literate, hence their predisposition to believing in AGW? Or perhaps another factor that drives both "Right-ness" and scientific literacy, such as intelligence?

...retires having lit blue touchpaper...

May 28, 2012 at 5:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Ward

Peter Ward
This non-scientific lefty sceptic is not biting.

These people are dangerous. The Kahans may be more influential than the Manns and Allens, since they talk a kind of science that journalists and politicians understand. The message they’re spreading (Corner quite overtly at the Guardian article I mentioned above) is that since climate attitudes are determined by political belief, there’s no point in discussing the science. Myles Allen in his talk to communicators came to the same conclusion from a different direction.
Montford and McIntyre are working on the rational assumption that the stronger their arguments, the more successful they will be in persuading the decision-making classes. What’s happened in fact is that the failure of the consensus to win the scientific argument has led to the goalposts being moved on to an entrely different pitch.

May 28, 2012 at 5:43 PM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

.....or do we have to assume that climatitis has rotted the whole of academia?

May 28, 2012 at 5:14 PM geoffchambers

I'm afraid you've put your finger on it.

The prime mover in this work appears to be a Yale law prof called Dan Kahan.

Although he seems to have excellent credentials in several fields of law (see Wiki) a quick Google reveals that he's been pushing this "egalitarian v hierarchical" line in the "Science Communication" field for a number of years.

Once you've stripped all the lego-sociological verbiage and psychobabble out of his numerous outpourings - the basic message is always the same -

The world is made up of "egalitarian" folk (like Dan & his buddies) who care about other people & stuff - and "hierarchical" types (like us) who are basically emotionally crippled, climate denying, gun-toting, race baiting, abortionist murdering fascists by psychological inclination - but, hey, it's not our fault so they've just got to find a way of re-programming us.

In an article for the University of Pennsylvania Law Review he said:-

The view that nuclear power is dangerous and that global warming is a serious threat is uniformly held by egalitarians, but almost uniformly rejected by hierarchs and individualists. Hierarchs have formed a perception that abortion is hazardous for women, but other groups have not.

There is a whole coterie of highly placed people in academia now who have tailored completely new fields of science - from the cloth of their own personal prejudices.

It's scary.

May 28, 2012 at 6:05 PM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

Support for climate science doesn't increase with science literacy, a survey suggests.

===========================

Yea, I fully agree, when one can see and understand a clear cut case of fraud it's difficult to buy into it.

May 28, 2012 at 7:05 PM | Unregistered Commentereyesonu

"Support for climate science doesn't increase with science literacy, a survey suggests."

What does that mean? Support for climate science? How can you support, or indeed, not support climate science? It's an activity, harmless in itself, except when the practioners decide that they can set the agenda for human development. No matter how scientifically literate you are, you'd have very little to say about climate science if it's output hadn't been used by the controlling classes as an excuse to give them control over the lives of countless numbers of people.

May 28, 2012 at 8:26 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

geoffchambers May 28, 2012 at 5:14 PM


'Straight away, comprehension of climate change is assumed to be identical with concern about climate change. This circular reasoning runs through the social science like Brighton through a stick of rock.'

Superb. You've sewn up this thread by teatime.

May 28, 2012 at 8:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

Foxgoose


The world is made up of "egalitarian" folk (like Dan & his buddies) who care about other people & stuff - and "hierarchical" types (like us) who are basically emotionally crippled, climate denying, gun-toting, race baiting, abortionist murdering fascists by psychological inclination

That sounds a fair enough summary of the political divide, as understood by Kahan. I’m in the enviable position of being both a nice egalitarian type and a free-thinking sceptic capable of independent thought. (I gave up psychology in the first year at UCL because in every experiment I was an outlier).
Hierarchs have formed a perception that abortion is hazardous for women
Kahanspeak for “Christians believe in the sanctity of human life”, I suppose.
No sooner have we lefties got rid of the bugbear of being associated with Stalin, Pol Pot and co, when along come the control freaks of Yale to ruin our reputation.

Pharos
Thanks, but there’s lots more to do. Adam Corner, who does the same sort of research at Cardiff and reports it at Guardian Environment and at talkingclimate.org, has offered to debate the psychological research into climate scepticism with a view to publishing an edited version at a sceptic blog. I pointed out that’s not the way that blogs work, and suggested he comment here, but he declined.
There’s an awful lot of this stuff going on, much of it with backing from the EU, government departments, exotic green trusts etc. If anyone with the requisite qualifications feels like debating Corner, I suggest they get in touch via his blog.

May 28, 2012 at 8:54 PM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

Looks as if the academic rot is spreading on our side of the pond as well.

This "Talking Climate" blog appears to be a publicly funded vanity project for Adam Corner & his buddies from Cardiff and Notts Uni's to discuss urgent topics like "How to engage with conservatives without actually throwing up all over them".

Quote from today's feature article:-

My ana­lysis found that con­ser­vative scep­ti­cism seemed to be over­whelm­ingly polit­ical in tone: the costs of cli­mate change policies are con­stantly used as an argu­ment against them, whether talking about the burden of green taxes, the high prices of renew­able energy invest­ment, fuel poverty from (sup­posedly) higher energy bills or the expensive aid that poorer coun­tries are receiving from Britain to help tackle cli­mate change. Articles on these topics were mostly one-sided, with little space given to voices who dis­pute these claims – espe­cially in the commentary-heavy ConservativeHome.

http://talkingclimate.org/british-conservative-media-climate-change-what-are-the-opportunities-for-engagement/

Remember - you're paying for this drivel.

May 28, 2012 at 9:04 PM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

Foxgoose

...a publicly funded vanity project for Adam Corner & his buddies from Cardiff and Notts Uni's to discuss urgent topics like "How to engage with conservatives without actually throwing up all over them".
As I said in a comment held up in moderation, Corner has very decently offered to debate, as long as we hold off on the rudeness. I’m all for polite discussion, but I’d hate to have to lose the kind of comment that Foxgoose does so well.

By the way, how do you do that thingy with “here” in blue so you don’t have to spell out the address and get captcha’d?

May 28, 2012 at 9:18 PM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

Geoff Chambers,

Just above tip jar in right hand column."Register, Login & Contact"

Regards,

Perry

May 28, 2012 at 9:33 PM | Registered Commenterperry

By the way, how do you do that thingy with “here” in blue so you don’t have to spell out the address and get captcha’d?
May 28, 2012 at 9:18 PM geoffchambers

If you register with Bish, nothing gets held up or captcha'd, Geoff.

I've given up on active links - my feeble old brain can't remember the right order for my <a href's etc.

I wish you luck in constructive debate with Corner - if you read his blog I think you'll find he's a total zealot.

Might be a shock for him to find he's up against a Guardian reader though - he believes we're all knuckle dragging, Daily Mail reading troglodytes (like me).

May 28, 2012 at 9:35 PM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

Might be a shock for him to find he's up against a Guardian reader though - he believes we're all knuckle dragging, Daily Mail reading troglodytes (like me).

May 28, 2012 at 9:35 PM | Foxgoose>>>>

And the ubiquitous ZDB of course!

May 28, 2012 at 10:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterRKS

I am amazed, on a fairly continuous basis, by the number of academics from the social sciences who demonstrate by their own utterances that they are, by the lights of anyone who has to earn their living outside the university walls, quite irrelevant to anything much, and how convinced said academics are of their own worth. The most puzzling to me are those academics who claim to be 'working class' - a 'working class' academic appears to me to be the most vivid of oxymorons.

May 28, 2012 at 10:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

According to Foxgoose (May 28, 2012 at 6:05 PM ), Dan Kahan divides people into two groups: egalitarians defined to be "folk (like Dan & his buddies) who care about other people & stuff" and hierarchicals defined to be "[people] who are basically emotionally crippled, climate denying, gun-toting, race baiting, abortionist murdering fascists by psychological inclination." If Foxgoose has characterized Kahan's position correctly, I believe most people who claim to be egalitarian do so because it lets them feel "superior" to us hierarchicals. I believe egalitarianism as defined above is in opposition to human nature and therefore won't work no matter how righteous it might seem. I believe it's human nature to place self interest above the interests of others. And when it comes to "others", immediate family has precedence over extended family, which has precedence over the local community, which has precedence over the global community. I believe people who claim to care more about the billions in China than they do about themselves far outnumber people who actually care more about the billions in China than themselves. If a piece of bread meant the difference between life and death, I believe most egalitarians will fight for the bread just as hard as us hierarchicals. IMO there's nothing inherently wrong with that--it's human nature. I also "care" about "other people", but my "caring" is indirect. I want a world where the large majority of people are happy and contented because such a world is conducive to my wellbeing. If (a) the Dan Kahans of the world truly care more about others than themselves, and (b) anthropogenic global warming is the catastrophe to end all catastrophes, then one option for Dan and his ilk is to reduce his/their carbon footprint to zero. Somehow I find it hard to believe that many egalitarians will elect this option.

May 28, 2012 at 10:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterReed Coray

May 28, 2012 at 3:56 PM | Luis Dias
"Left wingers will accept AGW-as-a-problem by fiat, while right wingers will accept AGW-as-an-Algorian-Hoax by fiat."
-------------------------------
And all the while the grubby politicians and their banker mates are fleecing the populace. The left/right skirmish masks the total occupation by the political class ... and it serves their purpose well.

Sorry scientists, you are merely useful pawns in a bigger crime.

May 29, 2012 at 2:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterStreetcred

"If Foxgoose has characterized Kahan's position correctly, I believe most people who claim to be egalitarian do so because it lets them feel "superior" to us hierarchicals."

Ask them if they've got any working class mates, you know, plumbers, bricklayers, check out girls etc. They never have and neither do those who pontificate on equality in the pages of the Guardian.

May 29, 2012 at 5:28 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Reed Coray

I believe egalitarianism as defined above is in opposition to human nature and therefore won't work no matter how righteous it might seem. I believe it's human nature to place self interest above the interests of others...
I thought there was nothing dafter than dividing humanity into two groups, and along comes someone who thinks it won’t work and we should all be divided into one group.
You’ve heard the sound of one hand clapping, now watch the spectacle of one class struggling.

May 29, 2012 at 5:36 AM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

I remember seeing a video of this guy Kahan. Bottom line is Kahan thinks conservatives will be impressed by a sober looking grey haired guy with a pipe calmly telling them that the climate is going to hell in a a hand cart, rather than a hippy telling them. Something like that, like Nixon telling the US that China is an OK place to deal with.

To my mind this study is the usual shonky -conclusion leading the effort- affair and hardly worth commenting on, but then I found the supplementary material and I now think it is rather (self?) deceptive little study.

If you look at the figures in the actual paper for climate perception, the hierarchical (read redneck) and egalitarian communitarian (read hippy) barely change their views when you control the science literacy element (science comprehension thesis SCT), and it seems you really should consider that the science itself may be shonky or at least too weak to effect views and that culture is a reasonable default heuristic for both groups to use.
However Kahan ignores this and for some strange reason rather points at the gap becoming larger between hippy and redneck; but it such a small gap that it seems surprising he makes so much of it.

Kahan et al seem to make an effort to control for this:

To test the generality of this conclusion, we also analysed subjects' perceptions of nuclear-power risks. Egalitarian communitarians and hierarchical individualists were again polarized. Moreover, here, too, the gap between subjects with these outlooks became larger, not smaller as scientific literacy and numeracy increased (Supplementary Table S5 and Fig. S3).


Again this seems to emphasise that the change in the gap between rednecks and hippys is the important thing. However if you look at the supplementary material you see a graph of the change in perception of Nuclear power risk for both hippys and rednecks and they *both* change their perception of risk in the same direction, and both to a markedly and noticeable degree - when you control the science literacy (SCT).

The only implication I think you could take from this study is that climate science is possibly a weak science when compared to nuclear technology since it seems that when the hippies and rednecks had more tangible evidence offered then both these two groups had more justification to change their opinion in the same direction.

This point seems to have been almost wilfully missed by this study.

May 29, 2012 at 9:19 AM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

I really should make my points more snappily ;)

But my bottom line is: look at the Supplementary for this paper and look at the Fig. S2. the graphical presentation of changes of Climate Change perception put up against Nuclear power perception changes.

I may have a too graphically orientated brain but this figure screams to me that this study is missing its real conclusions whilst pretending it can make another one.

Does supplememtary mean "this is where all the silent evidence is"?

Have I missed something?

May 29, 2012 at 9:57 AM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

Leopard
Many thanks and congratulations for linking and analysing this screamingly boring material.
I did something similar in comments at climate-resistance.org/2012/03/shrinking-the-sceptics.html on some research by psychologist Adam Corner which was written up at Guardian Environment by journalist Adam Corner, and publicised at talkingclimate.org by blogger Adam Corner.

As with Kahan, all the good stuff was in the supplementary information, including the fact that Green-leaning nineteen-year-old Welsh female psychology students are more sceptical of climate science than any other political grouping, and that after reading warmist propaganda written by a Guardian journalist, both sceptics and believers become more sceptical.

You couldn’t make it up, and I’m sure they didn’t, because if they had, they’d have told us about it.

May 29, 2012 at 10:34 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

geoffchambers

Thanks to you for the original paper. It is important to check as near the original source as possible to understand how the scientism brain works ;)

When I read it and saw that they had done a control for Nuclear power perception I was immediately hunting around for the graph and curious why they didn't show it. Their written description of the results of that control was clearly deceptive once I saw it.

I remember reading the CR thread you mention and I think that was one more contribution on the road to helping convince me that most of these studies are almost always about getting het up about marginal information - that could be almost called noise - and missing the mundane signal that threatens to lift it up and swamp it.

If I wanted to put a cod psyche spin on it ( and why not, climate posturing seems to attract this ;) ), I think there is wonderful meta study to made of all the coginitve bias and prior assumptions that are required *before* these studies get off the ground.

As you confirm it seems the up-front paper can say anything they want so long as the rest of the ice-berg is conveniently buried in the supplementary - makes 'em feel honest.

Sad really. How has it got to this?

May 29, 2012 at 11:11 AM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

Leopard
“How has it got to this?”
I don’t hold with the common explanation that social scientists are just a bunch of wammy conkers who can’t do hard sciency stuff and are growing fat on taxpayers handouts - not in so many words, anyway.

Part of the problem is in their desperate desire to be seen to be doing something serious. Look at Kahan’s tortuous teasing out of the hierarchical from the egalitarian, and you see he’s just talking about republicans v democrats, only he can’t say that, because he’d then be doing political polling instead of plumbing the depths of the human psyche.

There’s nothing wrong in principle with efforts to understand the beliefs underlying political attitudes, and the hierarchy:egalitarian and individual:communitarian dimensions are undoubtedly fruitful areas of exploration in political science. But you can’t delve very far into the human mind with questions like: “Do you agree a lot/ a little / not at all that it’s not the government’s business to protect people from themselves?” Let alone with questions on such time- and culturally-specific subjects as gun control and abortion.

When I worked in market research, an American colleague used to love to repeat the dictum: “Opinions are like *ssholes, everybody’s got one.”

But only social scientists have the skill to collect them up by the shovelful and apply significant tests to them.

May 29, 2012 at 12:25 PM | Unregistered Commentergeoff chambers

By the way, how do you do that thingy with “here” in blue so you don’t have to spell out the address and get captcha’d?
May 28, 2012 at 9:18 PM geoffchambers


Register for the site. No captcha after that.

May 29, 2012 at 12:52 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

"...a survey into opinion..." In British English we say "survey of" but perhaps that doesn't apply to climatology!

May 29, 2012 at 12:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterArthur Norton

@May 28, 2012 at 5:14 PM | geoffchambers

" Let’s hope some proper social scientists will come along to disown this stuff - or do we have to assume that climatitis has rotted the whole of academia?"

"Proper" social scientists?! There are those of us who would query the very title "social scientist". What science, pray, do these "social scientists" undertake? It's just another turd dropped on us from the 1960s. IMHO, of course

May 29, 2012 at 1:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Poynton

Jeremy Poynton

Social Sciences “... just another turd dropped on us from the 1960s”
They go back a bit further - to the German-speaking world of the late 19th/early 20th century, largely - one of the high points of civilisation IMHO, like Periclean Athens or Renaissance Florence.
We could play at “What have the Viennese ever done for us?” if you like, but it’s getting a bit off-topic already.
Society’s there, with it’s constituent members and whatever goes on in their tiny minds. You can hardly blame people for wanting to study it, or them, (though of course you can criticise the quality of their work).
Kahan’s statistics are science alright. It’s got means and standard deviations and significance tests. If he was comparing sperm counts or the thickness of the nasal hairs of conservatives and liberals you’d have to admit he had a point. What the point is is another question.

May 29, 2012 at 2:50 PM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

Social science isn't a science really at all - it's an "ology".

"Ologies", like psychology, economics and climatology differ from "hard sciences" in that they're basically opinions and theories wrapped up in all the statistical and linguistic wrapping paper of science - but nothing in them can ever be proved or falsified.

I suppose Geoff is right in assuming that they perform some useful functions - comfortable job creation for a certain type of middle class person of intellectual aspiration (rather than achievement) springs to mind.

The big failing of "ologies" is that they are doomed to wrestle forever with the unpredictability of chaotic systems like human behaviour and climate - which is presumably why they're so popular in the publicly funded sector, where the journey is often more rewarding than the destination.

I think the major failing of the human behavioural "ologies" is that it involves sticking people into neat categorical boxes - which effectively de-humanises them and removes the point of the experiment.

Did you ever meet anybody who could be neatly categorised? I didn't.

Every time you nail somebody down as a red-in-tooth-and-claw, fire breathing capitalist - you find their hobby is flower arranging or origami.

Whenever you think you've got a wimpy, limp wristed, vegan Guardianista in your sights - they turn out to be closet cage fighters.

Look at Geoff ;-)

"Ologies" are cat-herding IMHO.

May 29, 2012 at 3:25 PM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

Foxgoose

The big failing of "ologies" is that they are doomed to wrestle forever with the unpredictability of chaotic systems like human behaviour [...] where the journey is often more rewarding than the destination.
Quite. A bit like life, eh?
It’s precisely because I take the social sciences seriously that I get so mad about the Kahan stuff. And it’s precisely because I have some insight into areas of human activity far removed from climate science (art history’s my thing - not so far from flower-arranging when you think about it) that I get so depressed with the kind of a-historical naivety of so many here who think that once we’ve persuaded Myles Allen to say “sorry” we’ll have won and we can all go back to our origami.

May 29, 2012 at 4:04 PM | Unregistered Commentergeoff chambers

Leopard

"Again this seems to emphasise that the change in the gap between rednecks and hippys is the important thing. However if you look at the supplementary material you see a graph of the change in perception of Nuclear power risk for both hippys and rednecks and they *both* change their perception of risk in the same direction, and both to a markedly and noticeable degree - when you control the science literacy (SCT).

The only implication I think you could take from this study is that climate science is possibly a weak science when compared to nuclear technology since it seems that when the hippies and rednecks had more tangible evidence offered then both these two groups had more justification to change their opinion in the same direction.

This point seems to have been almost wilfully missed by this study."

There is an alternative take on this, which is perhaps is the point of the study. One hypothesis (what they
call SCT) is that greater knowledge should lead to greater convergence of views as those more
knowledgeable bas their views more on the evidence. Against that they are testing an alternative
hypothesis (CCT) which basically says that we evaluate the knowledge we have against its consequences
for our sense of identity and connectedness to similar people.

They express that in this paragraph
"For the ordinary individual, the most consequential effect of his beliefs about climate change is likely to be on his relations with his peers. A hierarchical individualist who expresses anxiety about climate change might well be shunned by his co-workers at an oil refinery in Oklahoma City. A similar fate will probably befall the egalitarian communitarian English professor who reveals to colleagues in Boston that she thinks the scientific consensus on climate change is a hoax. At the same time, neither the beliefs an ordinary person forms about scientific evidence nor any actions he takes—as a consumer, say, or democratic voter—will by itself aggravate or mitigate the dangers of climate change. On his own, he is just not consequential enough to matter. Given how much the ordinary individual depends on peers for support—material and emotional—and how little impact his beliefs have on the physical environment, he would probably be best off if he formed risk perceptions that minimized any danger of estrangement from his community."

That fitting in with the views of like minded folks to be able to connect into our community group is a stronger driver than accurately aligning our views with the evidence, particularly on a subject that doesn't impact our day to day lives.

Their results from the survey about AGW support this idea. The more knowledgeable one is, the stronger one is in support of the view of 'their community'.

However the results from the second survey, looking at Nuclear Power say the opposite. Although there is a predictable divergence of views about Nuclear Power, more knowledge/education leads both groups to move in the same direction! The opposite phenomenon from what was seen in the AGW survey.

This actually leads to 2 possible conclusions Leopard, not 1.

A. There is something weak about the science behind AGW that means that greater knowledge doesn't cause differing groups to move in the same directionbecause the evidence base is weak whereas the science behind Nuclear Power is strong enough cause that convergence.

B. The science behind AGW is just as strong as the science behind Nuclear Power and that therefore the differing reactions of the 2 groups in both scenarios is a reflection of the different ways the two groups react to information that is contrary to perceived group identity.

Simply. AGW is weak and there is no fundamental difference in how the two groups process information. It is just the quality of the information that drives it.

Or, AGW is strong, and differing groups, differing personality types, respond to information that challenge group identity in very differing ways.

So how to tell these two possible explanations apart.

Could Kahan have a bias in their views about the strength of AGW evidence and thus lean invalidly
towards B? Possibly.

Could readers here at BH have a bias in their views about AGW that leads them to invalidly discount the strength of the evidence for AGW and thus invalidly lean towards A? Possibly.

How then does one tell these two possible scenarios apart? And that is really hard.

Because the argument that folks here at BH might use, that we understand enough about AGW to know
the science is weak, isn't sufficient. If B is correct, and the readership of BH are predisposed to want to disbelieve AGW because it conflicts with their world-view and group identity, then they WILL think that the
evidence is weak. So intrinsically there is no solid way of distinguishing A & B just on what people think. A or B could be right, and our own internal mental processes aren't reliable enough to distinguish between the two cases.

So how to judge this?

Let me throw out a possible way of looking at this. Are you familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) system? It is a tool used in psychology that is used to classify individual's personality types by 4 characteristics, each of which can have 2 polar opposite values, producing 16 distinct personality types. These have been assessed across the population as to what percentage of the population falls into each category. And the proprtions aren't even. Some types are far more common than others. Wikipedia has an overview of this here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers-Briggs_Type_Indicator

What I find interesting in the context of AGW and papers like Kahan is the 4th charateristic.

Here is part of the wiki entry relating to this:

Lifestyle: judging/perception (J/P)

Myers and Briggs added another dimension to Jung's typological model by identifying that people also
have a preference for using either the judging function (thinking or feeling) or their perceiving function
(sensing or intuition) when relating to the outside world (extraversion).

Myers and Briggs held that types with a preference for judging show the world their preferred judging
function (thinking or feeling). So TJ types tend to appear to the world as logical, and FJ types as
empathetic. According to Myers,[1]:75 judging types like to "have matters settled".

Those types who prefer perception show the world their preferred perceiving function (sensing or intuition).
So SP types tend to appear to the world as concrete and NP types as abstract. According to Myers, perceptive types prefer to "keep decisions open".

What intrigues me is the extent to which our preference for Judging vs Perceiving might be related to things like our political orientation and the type of personality attributes Kaha talks about.

Ultimately are we someone who has an inner mental model of reality (our judgement) that is strong for us. And that evidence from the outside world gets filtered (judged) for how well it fits our inner mental world, our view of 'how things are'. And perhaps rejected if it doesn't fit and can't strongly enough command our attention. A 'J'.

Or are we someone who looks to information from the external world in order to build our mental model. So that external evidence (perception) then constitutes the strong basis for building our mental model of the
world. And new evidence will then change our mental model.

Two personality types that either defend the inner against the outer, or build the inner from the outer. Obviously this is a simplistic, black-and-white perspective and we are all some mix of both. But could our personal balance between these two traits have a big impact on how we interact with the world around us? Whether it be our views about AGW. Or our comfortableness with trying new, 'exotic' food.

And could these traits play an important part in forming our political views and allegiances? Who can forget George W Bush talking about 'alternate, faith based realities'. How can there be alternative realities?
Looked at as a distinction between 'P' and 'J' that is easy to understand. To a 'J' of religious persuasion,
their 'faith based' reality (the inner) might easily take precedence over an external reailty.

How much of the divides between views about AGW, Left vs Right, etc can actually be attributed to us
having brains wired up in different ways. Are we 'J' because we are Right-wing? Or are we Right-wing
because we are 'J'. And not just Right-wing. Equally that could apply to strong Left-wing folks.

Could it be that those on each outer-side of the political spectrum are more 'J'? Those who are politically centrist are 'P's?

So to bring this back to AGW and Kahan. Are you a P or a J? Until we can answer that confidently, until
we can understand the extent to which our thinking comes from the 'inner' as opposed to the 'outer', how much confidence can we put in our judgements on subjects like this?

May 30, 2012 at 10:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Tamblyn

I'm sorry Glenn, but that seems like the kind of unscientific gobbledegook which is obscuring rather than illuminating the debate.

All of this profiling and categorising of individuals misses the point that vast numbers of people change their political views and perceptions with life experience.

When I was young I marched with CND and organised for the Labour Party.

After working for a while in the old Soviet Bloc countries, I became totally disillusioned with collectivism.

After I'd built up my own business, become wealthy and started paying a lot of tax - I became remarkably right wing in my opinions.

I didn't need to have my brain wiring adjusted for these changes.

My scepticism of climate science is based on a professional life as an engineer and businessman - largely spent evaluating technology proposals before risking money on them.

That gives you quite a good nose for bullshit - I don't think being a "P", "J" or whatever comes into it.

May 30, 2012 at 12:10 PM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

May 30, 2012 at 10:11 AM | Glenn Tamblyn

This actually leads to 2 possible conclusions Leopard, not 1.

A. There is something weak about the science behind AGW that means that greater knowledge doesn't cause differing groups to move in the same directionbecause the evidence base is weak whereas the science behind Nuclear Power is strong enough cause that convergence.

B. The science behind AGW is just as strong as the science behind Nuclear Power and that therefore the differing reactions of the 2 groups in both scenarios is a reflection of the different ways the two groups react to information that is contrary to perceived group identity.

I think you are saying there is something more mysterious going here if you take (B) as an alternative answer/hypothesis. I don't think Kahan says this explicitly himself for a start. If so I would ask: How is Nuclear power to be fully excluded from this same group identity effect that effect climate perceptions? I think I have heard that there is some polarisation along political lines about Nuclear power too ;)

I would say there is a known difference between the two in that we have plenty of empirical evidence for Nuclear power -60 years of use for example- whereas climate doesn't have this same body or type of evidence : It is largely projection based (or worse).

That Kahan doesn't explore that clear difference (I may have missed it) only adds to my inference that he assumes that Climate and Nuclear power have a similar quality and body of evidence. If so this is a clear prior assumption that influences his study.

I understand the underlying premise that fitting in with your peers influences your thinking; It can happen even with strangers, I have read of studies that have people in rooms with stooges asked about things like the Müller-Lyer illusion and being willing to follow others and give incorrect answers - being misled by the consensus of these stooges. These situations are obviously dependent upon the stakes involved. Everyone would agree that a planet killing asteroid would be a problem.
Again that is why the climate result is surprisingly weak to my mind, you seem to be ignoring the level of change shown is small, like Kahan does, I still maintain it is not significant.

As for Myers Briggs I do realise you said that there could be more subtle blending between the P and J types you offer but I still feel unpersuaded to assess myself on that simple grade, especially coming from some fully formed hypothesis of human division which is mysterious to me and is full of acronyms and wiki references.

A typical attitude of my type of person I guess! ;)

If I grade myself I would prefer seeing categories emerging from clear empirical studies more along the lines used by Jonathan Haidt when he talks of moral (and therefore general personality and political) outlook, he uses 6 flavours of morality/outlook in his book The Righteous Mind, I highly recommend it, his explanations for their origin is clearly laid out and persuasive to me.

May 30, 2012 at 12:39 PM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

You’re definitely a “J” Foxgoose, possibly even a J minus.
It’s simple. You administer a battery of questions to people to find out whether they’re hippies or rednecks. Then another battery of questions to find out if they’re numerate, and a third battery to find out their scientific knowledge. Then you’re ready for the experiment, which is to administer a fifth battery to see what they think of climate, and a sixth to see what they think of nuclear energy. Glenn is saying that to interpret the answer, you need a seventh battery to discover whether they’re P or J. Even I can understand that, and I’m a P double plus.

What you’ve got here is a particularly pure example of modern academic psychology, which goes something like this:
1) Throw out every intellectual tool developed over the past three thousand years except the correlation coefficient
2) Ask a load of questions
3) If that doesn’t work, add some Jung

Has anyone done any research into the psychology of ticking boxes?
“Does my questionnaire make you feel like you’ve got your head stuck in a Tibetan prayer wheel while someone’s slowly inserting their rosary up your nether regions?”
strongly agree / disagree?

Leopard
I had a look at Haidt’s (pronounced height) site (pronounced sheight).

For the last 16 years I have been a Professor in the fabulous Department of Psychology at the University of Virginia.
He really likes it there. He’s leaving for New York.

May 30, 2012 at 2:30 PM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

Oh my dearie me, shades of Konrad Lorenz, Niko Tinbergen and BF Skinner from my undergraduate days, coming back to haunt me. At least they had some interesting things to say about human behaviour. Thanks but no thanks Glenn T, your relativistic mumbo jumbo isn't helpful in this debate. There is such a thing as objective scientific truth, which should persuade any honest and reasonably intelligent person regardless of their political views. The climate alarmists have traduced the truth. "Progressives" like Judith Curry and Pielke Jr have no problem acknowledging that obvious fact. Personality traits are irrelevant to this issue. On the other hand narcissistic and sociopathic personality disorders could well be relevant.

May 30, 2012 at 2:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterChris M

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