Are Americans Becoming More Distrustful of Science?

By Chris Mooney | January 28, 2010 11:04 am

Some alarming results just out from Yale and George Mason. Not only are Americans growing less convinced about global warming– either that it is happening or that it is human caused. We knew that already. But what’s more, Americans also appear less trusting of scientists in general, which is pretty alarming, as there have long been positive (if vague) sentiments towards the scientific community in this country:

The survey also found lower public trust in a variety of institutions and leaders, including scientists. For example, Americans’ trust in the mainstream news media as a reliable source of information about global warming declined by 11 percentage points, television weather reporters by 10 points and scientists by 8 points….

Finally, Americans who believe that most scientists think global warming is happening decreased 13 points, to 34 percent, while 40 percent of the public now believes there is a lot of disagreement among scientists over whether global warming is happening or not.

All of this amounts to nothing short of a complete PR nightmare. I am no public opinion specialist, but I wonder if we are seeing a trace of scandals like ClimateGate and GlacierGate in the data here. If so, it would be just more evidence (not that I needed it) that we are getting it handed to us by the skeptics, as never before….

Comments (52)

  1. Steve

    I think it does a disservice to actual skeptics when we label anti-science loons as skeptics. Is there slightly more respectful synonym for “crazies” that we could use instead?

  2. Jon

    I’d be interested in looking at the “cross tabs” (by party, by region, education, etc.).

  3. Clif

    Or maybe it’s just because they are finally hearing the scientific voices crying out in the wilderness. John Ioannidis (“Why Most Published Research Findings Are False”, PLos Medicine) and Deirdre McCloskey (“Size matters: the standard error of regressions . . .”, The Journal of Socio-Economics) come to mind.

  4. When Michael Specter’s Denialism came out, I my County Public Library System a request to order it. They did: 1 copy. Now, they have 11 copies and a wait list of 30 to read it.

    A similar story with UnScientific America.

    Maybe we are also becoming skeptical about the skeptics. At least, I think that there is an American trait to distrust authority in any form. Maybe it is Oedipal. I know that there is a large segment of the press who believes that their job is to challenge everyone in some position of authority. That is what provides the element of truth to every politician’s claim that the media is out to get them.

    Add to that the fact that those who understand the process of using public hearings to gather facts regarding an issue have become very skilled at getting their proponents onto the panel of “experts” that testify. This is happening right now with the challenge to a scientific finding regarding the Endangered Species Act and it’s affect on California water. The original finding has been reviewed twice, yet, when a major contributor to Sen. Feinstein complained about the finding, the senator asked the National Academy of Science (NAS) to review the findings. The initial public input has been going on at UC Davis this week. A good journalistic summary of the proceedings is provided by the Sacramento Bee’s Matt Weiser. At least, Weiser identifies the connection between those testifying and those who would benefit from having the scientific “finding” overturned.
    One can only hope that the panel has the integrity to not yield to political pressure.

    In any case, it does not help the image of science to has such a public hearing filled with a series of lobbyists in lab coats and economists being touted as expert witnesses on an ecological issue.

  5. Clif

    The angst about american opinion may be misplaced:

    “Do three errors mean breaking point for IPCC?”, Li Xing, China Daily
    http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/opinion/2010-01/28/content_9388032.htm

  6. There is also the case of breakthroughs in medical science not being as dramatic for Joe Public as they were in the last century.

    Each cured disease or vaccine created was an amazing achievement of science. People could literally see the effects of stopping smallpox, measles, and polio like a wave breaking across the nation.

    Even when it makes it into the news that a potential breakthrough has been made in treatment or curing of a disease, the same article will say that with testing it could be ready for human use in 10 to 20 years. Ho hum, says the public.

    People get complacent and think “What has science done for me lately?”

    We (or at least the media) put emphasis on the wrong things. Look at all the hype leading up to the Segway, the modern marvel which would change how cities are designed…

    And the journalists who cover science for the mainstream media have no clue about what they are writing about, often distorting reality or embellishing articles for the “newsiness” of them.

    Most people don’t read a newspaper or watch TV and think “Oh, the journalists are fibbing.” They look at the person being reported on and say “Why are they trying to correct that reporter? What do they have to hide?”

  7. Gus Snarp

    I think it’s more than just “a trace of scandals like ClimateGate and GlacierGate.”

  8. moptop

    If you haven’t gone through the climategate emails yourself, you really shouldn’t dismiss the damage they do to the credibility of science in general, but climate science in particular.

    the journalists who cover science for the mainstream media have no clue about what they are writing about, often distorting reality or embellishing articles for the “newsiness” of them.

    – bingo.

  9. Thomas L

    What do expect when you start mixing science, activism and politics? No one is going to make a distinction about where one area stops and the others begin, so they simply treat them all the same.

    The drug companies haven’t been helping with all the trial result issues and hidden data on serious side effects that get buried until the law suits happen after people die, so it isn’t just climate science that is causing it, though climate science is likely the highest profile issue right now.

    We are in the early stages of remembering why government isn’t ever an answer and why it is imperative to question everything. When science decided to play in areas outside its expertise it lost its ability to stand above the fray. Quite simply science decided to get political. Getting political means you all have lost your objectivity. These threads are full of such examples.

    When Dr. Murari Lal stated in an interview concerning his knowledge that the data was wrong when they put it in that “We thought that if we highlight it, it will impact policy-makers and politicians and encourage them to take some concrete action” (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1245636/Glacier-scientists-says-knew-data-verified.html#) he basically just acknowledged what many of us already knew – it is no longer about science.

    Then, when questions are asked, issues are pointed out and the response is we are stupid and no scientists disagree when we can see for ourselves such is not true (“Update: More Than 700 International Scientists Dissent Over Man-Made Global Warming Claims” : http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Files.View&FileStore_id=83947f5d-d84a-4a84-ad5d-6e2d71db52d9) the obvious result is that no, we don’t trust any of you much more than we trust any other activistpolitical group. Why should we, and why are you surprised?

  10. Michael

    Should people trust science?

  11. What a puerile defeatist post.

  12. GM

    As I am going to keep telling you, those polls that show the 80+% public “respect” for science, really don’t mean anything, because they way their are posed is usually something like:

    “Do you trust scientists?”, “Do you support science?” etc.

    But nowhere to be found in those polls are questions that clarify whether people actually know what science is, and given that half of them think the world is 6000 years old, that many more educated than that people also get it wrong, and that a lot of people have never had any contact with real scientists and science, it is not unreasonable to think that they don’t (in fact, those polls are garbage for other reasons too – I don’t understand why when 75% of the public got the “True or False” questions right, people get happy, if 75% of people got a “True or False” question right, this means that all you can say with confidence is that not more than 25% knew the answer, the rest probably random guessed; and 25% percent is abysmally low given the degree of “difficulty” of those questions). In other words, there is a big confusion between technology, i.e. the stuff that’s a byproduct of science and that people can actually relate to in their lives, and actual science, which is not even the accumulated knowledge about the surrounding world that we have generated over the centuries, but rather the set of epistemological rules for generating that knowledge.

    The vast majority of people are completely ignorant of that, and this completely invalidates your claim that they truly respect science. In fact, given how people who are not in science, and even people who work in science, but the system failed them with respect to teaching them how to think like scientists, react when you try to tell them the above, I think that the majority of people not only aren’t supporting, but are against science.

    The above is supported by the swing in opinions following “ClimateGate” and “GlacierGate” – public that actually understands what science is would never react the way it is reacting right now.

  13. Global Warming is Beneficial!
    For a 24 page document, in layman’s language
    Send ccifaldi@tampabay.rr.com an E Mail Address

  14. james wheaton

    It is my personal opinion, based not only on what has happened with the climate change debacle but other areas where “inconvenient” scientific findings have come to light, that those who oppose action taken to address these scientific findings have become very skilled at manipulating some basic characteristics of a large percentage of the American people (and their representatives in government). It’s called spin, and these days it’s spin on steroids.

    What are those characteristics – we are cowboys at heart (distrust of intellectuals and authority), and we are uneducated (unable to reason out the spinmeisters’ tactics for what they are). Add to that a resurgence in fundamentalist religion (stone age originated beliefs out of touch with reality as revealed by modern science), and perhaps a healty dose of plain old fashioned selfishness (I don’t want to give up my gas hog and my driving habits). Also, this segment of the population tends to be loud as compared with its more liberal counterpart.

    This is a combination that can be leveraged by crafty public relations firms, think tanks, corporations, lobbies, media people, etc. And it is working.

    I don’t have a solution. It’s a major bummer.

  15. GM

    What are those characteristics – we are cowboys at heart (distrust of intellectuals and authority), and we are uneducated (unable to reason out the spinmeisters’ tactics for what they are). Add to that a resurgence in fundamentalist religion (stone age originated beliefs out of touch with reality as revealed by modern science), and perhaps a healty dose of plain old fashioned selfishness (I don’t want to give up my gas hog and my driving habits).

    What you’re describing is well known to the experts who study the relationship between science and society, and they even have a name for it – the “deficit model”. Common opinion among them is that the “deficit model” is garbage and doesn’t reflect reality at all…

  16. james wheaton

    I don’t know about that GM – I live in the heart of red America and see what I described practically everyday.

  17. GM

    I don’t know about that GM – I live in the heart of red America and see what I described practically everyday.

    Given what I posted just above your comment, do you think I wasn’t sarcastic when I commented on your post ;)

  18. moptop

    So it is not possible that a “skeptic” is really interested in understanding the situation as it is? That is what I seem to be hearing from you guys. I don’t have the proper “respect for authority”?

  19. moptop

    I still can’t get over how hard it is for you guys to get the hint that the American people aren’t going to change, so maybe you should change your tactics? Instead, you handwave about sociological theories to explain why you can’t get through to them.

  20. Global warming is about science?? Since when? According to a *meteorologist* at Penn, we’ve been *deceived* to think this was about science. This was always about *ethics*.

    :quote:
    Kenneth Davis, meteorology professor and audience member, also agreed.

    “Focusing on the ethical aspect is critical,” Davis said. “We are continually deceived to think of this as a scientific debate.”
    :/quote:

    http://www.collegian.psu.edu/archive/2010/01/27/post_97.aspx

    Funny how when the science starts to fail them, the true believers insist that science is not so important. Apparently we have to deal with global warming because it’s the *right* thing to do, even if the science doesn’t support it. And the solution to this *ethical* problem? Oh, movement of billions of dollars from enfeebled West industrial democracies to Third World kleptocracies.

    Make sense? No, didn’t think so. Maybe the American people are ahead of the curve on this one. It’s not that they don’t trust science. It’s that they know science when they see it, and they ain’t seeing much science here.

  21. moptop

    Steve Janke,
    Didn’t you know that we will all be dead if we don’t decide to spend the trillions of dollars, and hand grand tranches of money over to third world kleptocrats because we can’t afford to wait until the science is settled?

  22. moptop

    Oh lookee, another article in nature that points out that the models seem to have got another feedback wrong…

    http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100128/full/news.2010.42.html

    Denialist rag!

  23. bilbo

    …and moptop just displayed the classic “if the science modifies and refines itself, it’s wrong” misconception of science.

    That’s an elementary slip-up even for you, moptop!

  24. GM

    I still can’t get over how hard it is for you guys to get the hint that the American people aren’t going to change, so maybe you should change your tactics? Instead, you handwave about sociological theories to explain why you can’t get through to them.

    See, the fact that “people won’t change” or that people like me who dare to say the truth sound like “Pol Pot and Stalin” has very little to do with what the reality is. The reality is determined by the laws of nature, the laws of nature don’t care at all about human opinion and sentiments (and human rights).

    People will either change or there will be a very ugly die off. I also lean towards the opinion that they can’t be changed (that’s why if anything is to be done about the crisis, it will have to involve a lot of repression). People can change if a strong enough message is sent and given sufficient media exposure. This can really only happen if the major scientific organization come out with that message because there is no one else who has the credibility and understanding (although I am not really sure about the latter) to do that. Which is exactly the opposite to what people like Mooney and Nisbet are aiming to do

  25. Oh lookee, another article in nature that points out that the models seem to have got another feedback wrong…

    And again, moptop doesn’t bother to read his own link:

    Jeff Knight, a climate modeller at the Met Office Hadley Centre in Exeter, UK, last year led an analysis of temperature trends from the year 2000 and found that current global climate models are able to reproduce such short-term events without a hitch.He says that the models produced an extended period of relatively flat temperatures in one out of every eight decades — although none of them produced a flat trend beyond 15 years

  26. John A. Jauregui

    This is MediaGate, not ClimateGate! Are you angry about this obvious RICO Act fraud and the national media’s complicity in the cover-up, misinformation, reframing and misdirection of the issue and the related “carbon derivatives” market Obama’s Administration is spinning up? Why pay for propaganda? Take responsibility and take action. STOP all donations to the political party(s) responsible for this fraud. STOP donations to all environmental groups which funded this Global Warming propaganda campaign with our money, especially The World Wildlife Fund. DEMAND they take you off their donors’ mailing list. They have violated the public trust. KEEP donations local, close to home. MAKE donations to Oklahoma’s Senator Inhofe, the only politician to stand firmly against this obvious government/media coordinated information operation (propaganda) targeted at its own people. Senator Inhofe, the only politician to refuse the GREEN KOOL AID. Senator Inhofe, the only senator to stand between us and the collective insanity of the ruling class of elitist hucksters led by Al Gore. WRITE your state and federal representatives demanding wall to wall investigations of government sponsored propaganda campaigns and demand indictments of those responsible. WRITE your state and federal Attorneys General demanding Al Gore and others conducting Global Warming/Climate Change racketeering and mail fraud operations be brought to justice, indicted, tried, convicted and jailed. Carbon is the stuff of life. He (Obama) who controls carbon, especially CO2, controls the world. Think of the consequences if you do nothing! For one, the UK is becoming the poster child for George Orwell’s “1984”. The mendacity of UK’s John Beddington, Robert Watson and Ed Miliband prove the point. The US government’s sponsorship of this worldwide Global Warming propaganda campaign puts it in a class with the failed Soviet Union’s relentless violation of the basic human right to truthful government generated information. Given ClimateGate’s burgeoning revelations of outrageous government misconduct and massive covert misinformation, what are the chances that this Administration’s National Health Care sales campaign is anywhere near the truth?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bdneX1djD

    http://www.kusi.com/weather/colemanscorner/81559212.html

  27. bilbo

    STOP donations to all environmental groups which funded this Global Warming propaganda campaign with our money, especially The World Wildlife Fund.

    YEAH!!!! F#$K THOSE ANIMALS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  28. From “The Science is Settled Debatable” department, here’s links describing two papers on climate sensitivity recently published in Nature, reaching opposite conclusions. I invite the resident AGW believers to harmonize the two.

    The first:
    Earth More Sensitive to Carbon Dioxide Than Previously Thought

    ScienceDaily (Dec. 7, 2009) — In the long term, the Earth’s temperature may be 30-50% more sensitive to atmospheric carbon dioxide than has previously been estimated, reports a new study published in Nature Geoscience.

    The results show that components of the Earth’s climate system that vary over long timescales — such as land-ice and vegetation — have an important effect on this temperature sensitivity, but these factors are often neglected in current climate models.

    The second:
    Amplification of Global Warming by Carbon-Cycle Feedback Significantly Less Than Thought, Study Suggests

    ScienceDaily (Jan. 28, 2010) — A new estimate of the feedback between temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration has been derived from a comprehensive comparison of temperature and CO2 records spanning the past millennium.

    The result, which is based on more than 200,000 individual comparisons, implies that the amplification of current global warming by carbon-cycle feedback will be significantly less than recent work has suggested.

  29. Sorry for the messed coding in the previous comment. Here is the link to the first paper.

  30. bilbo

    Welcome to science, Bradley Fikes the Cartoonishly Misinformed Science Denialist. Contradictory studies about one facet of a scientific topic don’t disprove the science of the whole topic. If we followed your stupid logic, cancer doesn’t exist. Neither does swine flu. In fact, the whole discipline of medical research is a flawed discipline. It’s funny though: I don’t see you ranting and raving about these kinds of contradictory research in the medical field, even when we funnel billions into it each year.

    Bradley J. Fikes: just another science denialist, full of inconsistent logic and clueless to the very field he’s trying to crtiique. Worthless, the lot of them!

  31. Alan

    You can huff and you can puff – but we’ve read the emails.

    It wasn’t science. Deal with it.

  32. Frederick

    My professor of geology also doubted the claims that human activities are the cause of global warming. He said that the most probable explanation is that we are still coming out of the Little Ice Age and that global warming is probably mostly a natural phenomenon.

  33. Alexander

    I really love it when AGW proponents demonstrate in public just how strong logical arguments they have on their side: hysterical name-calling and ear-plugging.

    Follow that trail, bilbo, you are doing a great service to the world demonstrating AGW crowd for what it really is. :-)

  34. bilbo,
    Contradictory studies about one facet of a scientific topic don’t disprove the science of the whole topic.

    But what about the science being “settled” part? How can AGW theory enable detailed temperature forecasts decades into the future when such a basic issue as carbon sensitivity isn’t nailed down?

  35. I wonder if I could get some advice from Chris or Sheril or commenters. I need to show a movie about climate change to a class (in a conservative part of the US). Considering that Al Gore may not be trusted by students, it might be best if I didn’t show An Inconvenient Truth. Can anybody suggest an alternative?

  36. Milton C.

    But what about the science being “settled” part? How can AGW theory enable detailed temperature forecasts decades into the future when such a basic issue as carbon sensitivity isn’t nailed down?

    A stunningly superficial question with an easy answer: when you have decades of research, all from thousands of independent authors and hundreds of datasets (from actual temperatures to proxy data to evolutionary trends to species ranges to phenology to ice cover, etc. etc. etc.) that ALL say similar things ove the long term, a scientist coming out and saying “hey, this one model dealing with one dataset from this one dimension of the body of theory needs to be readjusted” simply doesn’t disprove (or even call into question) it all. If that were the case, we’d be calling into question the entire body of cancer research, AIDS research, research on Parkinson’s disease, *insert medical field here* about once a month…because that’s about how often such readjustment and rebuttal papers come out. But since climate research has broad implications for the fossil fuel industry (which heavily funds a particular political party from which most skeptics come), we strangely only see these people crying foul over such papers in this one field of study – not the hundreds of other fields which use (shocker!) the same modeling methods and statistical analyses and publish papers that overturn old ones weekly. It’s a strawman that skeptics swing at when they have a major misunderstanding of how science works. Otherwise, I believe we’d be seeing it happen in all of these other fields – which have just as much money at stake as climate change.

    Second, whether or not climate scientists can forecast global temperatures decades into the future has little to do with whether or not glaciers are already melting and causing huge impacts on human populations (which they are), if ocean acidification due to CO2 is already causing coral bleaching (which it is), and whether or not a whole host of other impacts that were predicted years ago by climate scientists under the assumption of AGW are coming true. They already have, and already are – and as they do, skeptics have begun to hinge on more and more trivial parts of the theory (like the single feedback paper in this thread).

    10 years ago, I remember the skeptic crowd telling me that they’d be laughing in my face when, a decade down the road, it became known that the climate wasn’t even changing. Then it was established that the climate was changing, and the skeptics moved their argument to “well, ok. we were wrong. The climate is changing, but there’s no way humans have been involved.” Now we’re slowly starting to see that change, too, to where skeptics have changed their argument almost to wholly paranoid cries of global conspiracies and fighting against single-paper strawmen. I’ve watched the de-evolution of the skeptic crowd for 10 years, and it hasn’t been pretty.

    …and the entire time, I’ve yet to see a major part of climate change disproved by a skeptic using professional science. The proof is in the pudding for me.

  37. The people are not getting “distrustful of science” but “distrustful of particular political groups who were most eager in claiming to possess science”.

    Jean #36: a good alternative is The Great Global Warming Swindle.

  38. Milton C.

    Jean,

    I’d suggest Randy Olson’s “sizzle.” It’s a bit wacky, but I tihnk it does a good job of poking fun at how the left and right both take real, actual, important data confirming the science of climate change out of proportion. In my opinion, people need to understand that the data don’t change in light of how people spin it. That’s a big misunderstanding that’s fueling climate skepticism, and Olson does a good job of killing it.

  39. Ben

    I blame the media, which has blurred our understanding of what science is. Alt-medicine, astrology, and so forth have been given an equal voice despite there being no basis in fact for any of these. Of course there is also political activism point as given (IE, Al Gore), and the dangerous practice within mainstream society of turning science into a belief. It should just be about the science, let the chips fall where they may but people don’t leave well enough alone. As a result it can be very confusing for folks to cut through all the chatter, and understand anything.

    Worse, as the mainstream media gives an equal voice to anti-vaccine nuts like Jenny McCarthy they also do a horrible job of explaining science in general. It can all be somewhat depressing.

  40. CW

    That distrust will subside, when the US observes examples of significant innovation occurring in other countries. I have to believe this….

  41. james wheaton

    Once again I will make my point to the denier crowd – I sincerely hope you are right. Nobody wants what GM (#25) describes – potential ugly die-off and/or repression to enforce new regulations, etc. I would add anarchy world wide.

    Do you all actually think the odds are with you? Even if there’s a 75/25 chance the science is all wrong, it’s still a Russian roulette with a 4-round revolver.

    Add to that the benefits (albeit long term) of green energy for the planet, and to me it’s a slam dunk.

    I question your intellectual honesty.

  42. james wheaton,
    I question the intellectual honesty of AGW believers who fear-monger in what’s supposed to be a scientific discussion. Very much like Pascal’s Wager in its unscientific appeal to emotion.

  43. If a story really interests me, or if I’m wondering whether the writer might have gotten it wrong, I often try to read the original paper. Unfortunately, my mild interest usually doesn’t translate into willingness to pay. I understand why journals charge, but….

    Arguments about climate change always deteriorate into people shouting at each other, partly because they jump all over the place. It seems multiple threads– like a bulletin board — would work better. One thread could be whether global warming is occurring, another about increases in CO2. Why waste the time of people talking about possible correlation, causation and possible effects if you can’t even start with the same premises?

  44. sosaipan,

    Multiple threads is a good idea, but the main cause of the shouting is that many in the AGW crowd has framed this issue as good vs. evil (with themselves as the good guys, of course). So if one disagrees with the more radical AGW believers, you’re not only wrong, and a “denialist,” but evil.

    The best thing for the undecided to do is read a variety of Web sites on the subject. Real Climate is probably the best to learn about AGW theory. Watts Up With That? is probably the best for the skeptical view. These will often discuss papers and provide excerpts.

    I wish I could find a solution to your wish to see the full papers without paying an arm and a leg. One option is to become a science writer …

  45. Milton C.

    A stunningly superficial question with an easy answer: when you have decades of research, all from thousands of independent authors and hundreds of datasets (from actual temperatures to proxy data to evolutionary trends to species ranges to phenology to ice cover, etc. etc. etc.) that ALL say similar things ove the long term, a scientist coming out and saying “hey, this one model dealing with one dataset from this one dimension of the body of theory needs to be readjusted” simply doesn’t disprove (or even call into question) it all.</I.

    "Stunningly superficial" or "extremely basic," you still didn't my question. So I'll ask it again: Since carbon sensitivity has not been determined, how can detailed temperature forecasts be made decades into the future? Simply saying the answer is there is not the same as providing one.

    Second, whether or not climate scientists can forecast global temperatures decades into the future has little to do with whether or not glaciers are already melting and causing huge impacts on human populations (which they are), if ocean acidification due to CO2 is already causing coral bleaching (which it is), and whether or not a whole host of other impacts that were predicted years ago by climate scientists under the assumption of AGW are coming true. They already have, and already are – and as they do, skeptics have begun to hinge on more and more trivial parts of the theory (like the single feedback paper in this thread)..

    Glaciers aren’t the best example, since that howler of an error in the IPCC report was just about that. Instead of trying to scare people, maybe you’d be better off re-examining your scare scenarios to see if they don’t also have flaws.

    Calling carbon sensitivity “trivial” is just unbelievable. It’s the whole underpinning of the dire forecasts. If carbon sensitivity is very high, the more radical predictions of the AGW believers become credible. If sensitivity is low, those predictions are exaggerated. Do you really understand the theory you’re defending?

  46. That last comment got mangled, I’ll try again.

    Milton C.

    A stunningly superficial question with an easy answer: when you have decades of research, all from thousands of independent authors and hundreds of datasets (from actual temperatures to proxy data to evolutionary trends to species ranges to phenology to ice cover, etc. etc. etc.) that ALL say similar things ove the long term, a scientist coming out and saying “hey, this one model dealing with one dataset from this one dimension of the body of theory needs to be readjusted” simply doesn’t disprove (or even call into question) it all.

    “Stunningly superficial” or “extremely basic,” you still didn’t my question. So I’ll ask it again: Since carbon sensitivity has not been determined, how can detailed temperature forecasts be made decades into the future? Simply saying the answer is there is not the same as providing one.

    Second, whether or not climate scientists can forecast global temperatures decades into the future has little to do with whether or not glaciers are already melting and causing huge impacts on human populations (which they are), if ocean acidification due to CO2 is already causing coral bleaching (which it is), and whether or not a whole host of other impacts that were predicted years ago by climate scientists under the assumption of AGW are coming true. They already have, and already are – and as they do, skeptics have begun to hinge on more and more trivial parts of the theory (like the single feedback paper in this thread)..

    Glaciers aren’t the best example, since that howler of an error in the IPCC report was just about that. Instead of trying to scare people, maybe you’d be better off re-examining your scare scenarios to see if they don’t also have flaws.

    Calling carbon sensitivity “trivial” is just unbelievable. It’s the whole underpinning of the dire forecasts. If carbon sensitivity is very high, the more radical predictions of the AGW believers become credible. If sensitivity is low, those predictions are exaggerated. Do you really understand the theory you’re defending?

  47. Ron

    Of course the republicans have been horrible regarding science, but has anyone looked also at the demming (Democratic dumbing) down of science and science policy.
    1. Suddenly nuclear power is OK where dems had previously trashed it.
    2. Frankenfoods (dems would rather starve the third world)
    3. Biofuels (leading to destruction of forests and once again starvation of third world as more crop and forest land is converted to energy usage)
    4. Hollywood’s depiction of scientists over decades as evil and morally bankrupt
    5. Opposition to irradiation of food ( as an additional measure) to prevent 350,000 food-bourne illnesses a year
    6. claiming that “the debate is over” regarding global warming. In science, the debate is never over – no matter what side of an issue you’re on.
    Those who read this probably think I’m a republican, but I hate them as much as I do the dems. What I hate even more is a one-sided, holier than though, self-righteous viewpoint as expressed here that one party represents the enlightened side. It’s a joke.
    7. Shall we throw in the 5,000 gallons a day of apple juice needed to bring Alar to carcinogenic levels.

    Meanwhile, real problems like desertification and pH changes in the oceans are ignored by both parties. Enjoy your smug ignorance.

  48. I could be wrong, but it seems the question posed was not an invitation for yet another bicker fest over over global warming. If the question is whether Americans are becoming more distrustful of scientists, I think the answer is, sadly, Yes.

    “The survey also found lower public trust in a variety of institutions and leaders, including scientists.”

    HOWEVER, it is quite possible that the bigger picture here is not just about the latest hot science topic. Has anyone noticed a worldwide recession?? When the economy goes down, distrust goes up. I’m pretty sure it’s basic social psychology that as people feel more insecure they become less trusting of institutions, leaders, and basically everyone different and unknown and not within their ken. The current insecurity could include economically, physically (due to threat of terrorism and pandemics), and personally (due to increased divorce rates and the “threat” of gay marriage) and concern for one’s children due to lower funding for education and higher costs for college.

    I’m just suggesting that the “distrust of scientists” could actually mean that science is another victim of economic difficulties.

  49. Anonymous Coward

    Chris,

    On Friday, over at MoJo, Julia Whitty published a blog report about a study showing how people can detect by clothes and appearances who Democrats are and who Republicans are.

    I then went and read the study she linked to, and found it was a study of undergraduate students ability to detect the characteristics of undergraduates students.

    So what we had was:

    A) The authors of the study grossly overgeneralizing their results, and
    B) Julia Whitty, like you reporting blindly, and not questioning anything,

    I pointed that out, and Julia Whitty deleted all my comments.

    So as a layman with about 10 years of post high-school education in the sciences and three degrees, I’d say, good for the public to look at the man behind the curtain. And shame on you and Julia for waving the curtain like a red flag to scare us.

    I believe in global warming, what I don’t believe in is you or your methods.

    As usual, Kirk said it best:

    Nilz Baris (played by Chris Mooney): Captain Kirk, I consider your security measures a disgrace. In my opinion, you have taken this entire very important project far too lightly.

    Capt. Kirk (played by the American Public): On the contrary, sir. I think of this project as very important. It is you I take lightly.

  50. Isn’t an increase of distrust a side effect of scientific advocacy?

  51. Ted the Meteorologist

    Maybe it is because there is more and more evidence that Global warming or climate change is more of a natural event. Just this week, data from journal Science and posted on the NOAA website talks about how Water vapor in the upper atmosphere or ten miles above has decreased by 10% and may account for the slowing of warmer surface temperatures in the last few years. When the water vapor was higher in the ’80s and 90s and surface temperatures were warmer. This is yet another example of natural climate change. It is all a cycle and even cycles within cycles. Glaciers are growing in Norway and the Pacific Northwest. Now I know that you warmers will blog that I am an idiot, don’t know what I am talking about, a hick conservative, a Fox News viewer, crazy and probably many other names that I won’t mention on this blog. I am a meteorologist and I do know a bit about climate, climate variables, atmospheric physics, climate patterns and climate cycles. No, I am not being paid by big oil. I just see through the BS and it is just plain logical that Earth’s climate is always changing. We have very little to do with it. I ask for proof that the sea level is rising. Let me know if there are any countries or Island’s that are building sea walls to protect them from flooding(be careful, don’t tell me about eroding cliffs and houses falling into the sea. Erosion of a coastline is very natural. If you build a house on cliff, eventually it will fall into the sea). Have there been any Islands that have gone under water? Oh that open water in the Arctic during the summer. Natural. Hard to claim that as proof of global warming since the records only go back to 1979. 30 years of Ice data in the arctic is not a good source for climate change. Most of the ice that melted in the summer has to do with wind currents pushing the ice into warmer waters. There is much evidence right in front us that proves that climate change is natural.

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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