Do Scientific Literacy and Numeracy Worsen Climate Denial?

By Chris Mooney | June 24, 2011 10:04 am

Once again, Dan Kahan and his colleagues at Yale are out with a paper that dramatically challenges–using scientific data–much of what we would like to believe about the relationship between knowing more about science, and accepting science on contested issues. The paper is entitled “The Tragedy of the Risk-Perception Commons: Cultural Conflict, Rationality Conflict, and Climate Change.”

The brilliant maneuver in this study is to do a survey that not only measures whether people accept climate science, but correlates that with their scores on standard scientific literacy questions and tests of numeracy–the ability to think mathematically. Here’s the abstract:

The conventional explanation for controversy over climate change emphasizes impediments to public understanding: limited popular knowledge of science, the inability of ordinary citizens to assess technical information, and the resulting widespread use of unreliable cognitive heuristics to assess risk. A large survey of U.S. adults (N = 1540) found little support for this account. On the whole, the most scientifically literate and numerate subjects were slightly less likely, not more, to see climate change as a serious threat than the least scientifically literate and numerate ones. More importantly, greater scientific literacy and numeracy were associated with greater cultural polarization: respondents predisposed by their values to dismiss climate change evidence became more dismissive, and those predisposed by their values to credit such evidence more concerned, as science literacy and numeracy increased. We suggest that this evidence reflects a conflict between two levels of rationality: the individual level, which is characterized by citizens’ effective use of their knowledge and reasoning capacities to form risk perceptions that express their cultural commitments; and the collective level, which is characterized by citizens’ failure to converge on the best available scientific evidence on how to promote their common welfare. Dispelling this “tragedy of the risk-perception commons,” we argue, should be understood as the central aim of the science of science communication.

I plan to blog about several aspects of this paper, as its findings are so central to everything I’m trying to get across these days. For now, I’m just flagging it. I think it is an absolute must read.

Comments (53)

  1. Mike F

    Kahan’s survey would be of much more interest if it had tested a person’s understanding of basic scientific concepts. For instance, rather than asking whether antibiotics work against viruses as well as bacteria, they could have asked why antibiotics don’t work against viruses. As it is, this survey seems akin to trying determine how well someone understands the Constitution by asking who the Chief Justice is. It really doesn’t tell us anything about how well the subjects understand science or the scientific method.

  2. Chris Mooney

    Yes, but they are using some of the standard questions about scientific literacy that the National Science Foundation uses….I do not expect a different result if they’d used the ones you suggest

  3. Jonathan

    Leaving aside the questions asked, and just looking at the data, the scientific literacy effect is almost negligible, even when it’s just hierarchical individualists (authoritarians, presumably). Authoritarianism seems to be the main determinant.

  4. Chris Mooney

    Hierarchs might be presumed to be more authoritarian, but not individualists.

    The key finding is that in this group, if they rate higher on scientific literacy they are even *more* likely to reject the science. And of course, neither for the general public, nor for the hierarchical individualists, does the correlation between literacy and acceptance of the science run in the “right” direction….

  5. ken roberts

    In summary, “a little knowledge is dangerous.”

    I wish they would have listed the climate change risk distributions among the highly literate/numerate vs. the lowly literate/numerate. It’s common sense that people with a little knowledge would have stronger opinions than those who do not, which aligns with what the paper reported. If the tests were difficult enough to identify a class of elite, super-knowledgeable people, I suspect that their averages would rebound towards a higher risk…confirming studies about scientists attitudes towards climate risk.

    Likewise, I would have loved to see a demographic breakdown crossing income levels with scientific literacy and their answers to the climate risk factors. It seems like the most vigorous climate change deniers are reasonably affluent, pro-business folks who worry that addressing the environment will cost them money. Generally, these people graduated from college and would be more scientifically literate than the general population.

    Because the average rating was 5.7, the opinionated group is going to have a bias towards lowering the average. For instance, the apathetic, ignorant folk will just say eh, 5 or 6. However, the most polarized group will say 0 or 10, which averages to 5.0. Due to their methodology, those 0 rankings are going to have a bigger effect on the average than the 10 ratings will. I’m not quite numerate enough to know if that’s a significant factor or not. I suspect it’s a small one.

  6. Mike F

    You really think more difficult questions wouldn’t yield a different result Chris? I’m sorry but I’d have to strongly disagree with that. The eight questions used in the survey are incredibly easy and are as likely to yield correct answers from an English major as a Chemistry major. And none pertain to climate. Is knowing that the earth takes a year to orbit the sun even a matter of scientific literacy. I’d be interested to know how people with more than a superficial knowledge perceive the dangers of climate change.

  7. Chris Mooney

    @6 we know the answer at the extreme….if you are a climate scientist and publish frequently in the literature then you are overwhelmingly likely to accept it.

  8. Dan Kahan was kind enough to share a draft of this with me a few weeks ago, so I’m pleased that it is now out…totally agree..a must read…the data continues to pile on.

  9. Johnny

    Chris, isn’t this another of your one-sided-coin arguments?

    We’ve all heard this meme before, that more climate science makes a denier more in denial. More climate science makes an alarmist more alarmed.

    This paradox is always presented in the same manner. Smart Liberals hear the science and act rationally, where dumb Conservatives shut down and retreat into tribe-values.

    Why is it never presented in the opposite? Is it impossible that many of those smart liberals don’t actually understand the science, and are just retreating into their tribe-values?

    Is it impossible that the conservatives are right, and the more science their given, the more raw data made available, the more they see through the scam? Is it impossible that those troublesome human tribe values are just as responsible for Alarmists being Alarmed as they are for Deniers in Denial?

    I posit to you Chris, that there are just as many people who believe in AGW based on their tribe-values, as who do not believe based on tribe-values.

    The abstract said:
    the individual level, which is characterized by citizens’ effective use of their knowledge and reasoning capacities to form risk perceptions that express their cultural commitments;

    —-

    The “individual” is code for the scientists, science journalists, and politicians who support AGW.

    The Individual tells you what to think. Note how the “individual” isn’t expected to “converge on the best available science” as per the “collective” below. This is because the individual is the creator of the science. Only the “individual scientist” has legitimate “reasoning capacities to form risk perceptions”.

    —-

    The “collective” is code for the non-scientific public, specifically those who deny AGW.

    the collective level, which is characterized by citizens’ failure to converge on the best available scientific evidence on how to promote their common welfare.

    Note how the “collective” is not expected to posses “knowledge or reasoning capacity” and is instead expected “converge on the best available scientific evidence on how to promote their common welfare”

    —-

    Classic AGW Alarmism. We’re smart and understand the science, and you’re stupid and follow the stupid crowd. Please do a series of posts on this Chris. I find your self-blinders fascinating.

  10. Chris Mooney

    @9

    Johnny–if global warming is a bunch of hooey, your interpretation would certainly be correct. But wait for my next post, which I think complicates things, no matter what you think is ultimately true.

  11. Johnny

    Thanks for the response Chris, I look forward to your next post.

    For the record, I would never use the term “bunch of hooey“. I find it unusual and unlikely that its a term that you would use either, since you’re far more literate than that. Most likely its an unconscious attempt to portray me as an illiterate country bumpkin, chewing straw and denying gravity.

    My preferred term is “scam” or “fraud” when describing the theory of AGW and its proposed economic and political solutions. I find that these terms better illustrate the criminal nature of the proponents actions and propaganda.

  12. AGW Deniers seem to dislike the science because they reject the solution – admitting a failure of the markets, acknowledging the need for transnational regulation, and radical changes to the fossil fuel industrial complex.

    Do AGW Believers like the science because the science makes sense, or because they are not put off by the solution, or both?

  13. Chris Mooney
  14. RN

    Hmmm… Increased scientific knowledge means being more skeptical of bad science and bad scientists. Yup, sounds about right. When scientists have an incestuous peer-review process, hide original data from qualified questioners, cherry-pick data samples, use lousy (poorly written and documented) programming, keep reusing debunked and marginal data-series, use people with serious conflicts of interests in writing high profile papers, and treat skepticism with scorn and ridicule rather than sound scientific argument, I’d say those with more scientific knowledge are right to be skeptical of their results (especially when their predictions keep being wrong).

  15. Johnny

    @Micheal #13

    Do AGW Believers like the science because the science makes sense, or because they are not put off by the solution, or both?

    A third choice could be, “do they like the science because it supports a solution they already favored.”

    In other words, do AGW believers (who as we know tend to be liberal) like the progressive wealth-redistribution solutions and increased governmental regulations, even if the AGW problem didn’t exist?

    Remember all those sarcastic arguments that went:

    “What if we clean up the whole world and global warming turns out not to be true, that would be terrible, we’d have defeated big business and made the world a better place for nothing.”

  16. @Johnny … well “bunch of hooey” was actually Chris being charitable if you think it’s a scam. And, why? (Without claiming East Anglia showed scientists were conspiring to deceive the public or similar conspiracy theories.)

    @Chris, Johnny’s attempt to “glass half empty” this aside, doesn’t this indeed reflect the “arguing to the in-group” that you’ve talked about recently?

  17. Oh, and Kanen’s paper, judging by the abstract, misses three things:
    1. American exceptionalism .. i.e., in this case, “these things don’t happen to America.”

    2. Related, what I call “salvific techologism” on my blog, i.e., the technological cavalry *always* comes riding over the hill in the nick of time.

    3. The religious angle, or “if AGW is real, Jesus will save us.”

    No. 1 is moderately higher among conservatives, 2 is slightly higher and 3 is massively higher.

  18. Johnny

    @15 Gadfly

    You asked me:

    @Johnny … well “bunch of hooey” was actually Chris being charitable if you think it’s a scam.

    Chris is a great guy, but it wasn’t “charitable” of him to summarize my thoughtful, well written statement with the dismissive and glib “bunch of hooey” comment. I can only surmise he’s saving his real response to these issues for his next blog post.

    —-

    And, why? (Without claiming East Anglia showed scientists were conspiring to deceive the public or similar conspiracy theories.)

    So I may present a defense but am not allowed to present evidence. Sounds like a fair trial to me.

    Perhaps you or Chris can answer something for me, that illustrates perfectly the abstract from the scientific paper above.

    Here’s the question:

    “Why do AGW believers easily believe a big-oil conspiracy exists to suppress AGW, but are not ever willing to consider the opposite, that a big-green conspiracy exists to promote AGW?”

  19. Oh, per my second comment, because of this, I think Kanen’s ideas on addressing the “risk-perception commons probably aren’t realistic.

    When most people talk about trusting scientists, they’re likely actually talking about trusting applied science/technology, NOT research science. Sorry, Kanen, but that’s a swing and a miss.

    If the problem is very much in the listener’s world view and very little in the science communicators’ talk, then changing B won’t change A.

  20. No, Johnny, I said, present “rational” evidence. (FYI, I oppose conspiracy theories of the farther left about nuclear power and 9/11.)

    As for “Big Oil,” simple … because of “follow the money.” If you can show me anything from the mythical “Big Green” remotely like ExxonMobil spending millions upon millions on TV commercials to tell us “carbon dioxide = good!” I’ll eat my hat. Whereas, we’ve all seen those commercials. We know Exxon funds AGW denialist organizations. I don’t even have to name the rest of “Big Oil,” Exxon alone does the trick.

  21. Nullius in Verba

    #21,

    Al Gore’s $300m?

  22. Also, Johnny, on East Anglia, as short hand for larger climate science and communications issues, IMO, the biggest mistake was to underestimate the power that such money had already had on a readily-influenced audience. There’s a certain amount of overlap between AGW-deniers and Obama birthers, etc.

    Oh, Exxon? In 2002 alone, it spent more than $5 million on denialist-related think tanks, astroturf groups, etc: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Exxon

    There, there’s *fact.*

  23. Johnny

    @21 SocraticGadfly

    No, Johnny, I said, present “rational” evidence.

    I’m sorry SocraticGadfly, but the word you specifically emphasize here, “rational”, does not in fact appear in your previous posts. Traditionally if you’re going to quote something you said yourself, you should actually have said it.

    As for “Big Oil,” simple … because of “follow the money.” If you can show me anything from the mythical “Big Green” remotely like ExxonMobil spending millions upon millions on TV commercials to tell us “carbon dioxide = good!” I’ll eat my hat.

    I hope your hat tastes good.

    Warning Graphic Video. http://www.ebaumsworld.com/video/watch/81120580/

    That’s a video of an ad from Britian produced by 10:10, a government funded propaganda NGO advocating extreme measures against anyone who doubts AGW. In this video, children are seen having their heads exploded for not being a zealots for the AGW cause.

    —-

    I don’t even have to name the rest of “Big Oil,” Exxon alone does the trick.

    Actually it wouldn’t for the simple reason it requires two parties to form a conspiracy.

  24. Johnny

    #23 Socratic Gadfly

    Also, Johnny, on East Anglia, as short hand for larger climate science and communications issues, IMO, the biggest mistake was to underestimate the power that such money had already had on a readily-influenced audience. There’s a certain amount of overlap between AGW-deniers and Obama birthers, etc.

    My opinion of their biggest mistake, outside cybersecurity, was the UEA team’s overplaying the accuracy of their data in return for outrageously generous funding and fringe benefits, like free trips to Tahiti and Bali, prestigious appointments and media attention.

    Your birthers comment is very interesting. Do you realize that you are displaying the behaviors the scientists are studying?

    Without realizing it, your birthers comment is an attempt to affirm and establish your tribal values. You’re saying to the reader, “you’re in my tribe, the one that thinks birthers are crazy, this guy’s just like a birther, he’s crazy, he’s outside our tribal values.”

    As such I submit your comment as proof of my theory, that tribal values is the reason the AGW Alarmist are in fact, Alarmed, which is something neither Chris nor the Scientists in the Study could ever admit publicly.

  25. 1985

    7. Chris Mooney Says:
    June 24th, 2011 at 12:41 pm
    @6 we know the answer at the extreme….if you are a climate scientist and publish frequently in the literature then you are overwhelmingly likely to accept it.

    That’s completely irrelevant. Scientific literacy is not your ability to answer questions about science, it is your ability to think and reason like a scientist. They did not measured that at all in the study which means that they themselves, as is unfortunately the case with most people both in science and in the various fields that study science itself, have no clue what scientific literacy actually is. Very sad.

    Because of that alone, the whole study is completely invalid.

  26. 1985

    13. Michael Brady Says:
    June 24th, 2011 at 1:50 pm
    AGW Deniers seem to dislike the science because they reject the solution – admitting a failure of the markets, acknowledging the need for transnational regulation, and radical changes to the fossil fuel industrial complex.
    Do AGW Believers like the science because the science makes sense, or because they are not put off by the solution, or both?

    That’s a completely misguided way of looking at things.

    You can not let whether you like or dislike the solution to influence your understanding of the subject. If it has to be done in order to prevent even worse (much worse in fact) things from happening, then you accept that that’s what has to be done to solve the problem, you don’t decide that there is no problem.

    Everybody dislikes amputations, yet surgeons do them in order to save the life of the patient.

  27. Johnny

    @#27 – 1985

    One can acknowledge a problem entirely, yet still be opposed to the proposed solution because they believe its worse than the problem itself at best, and won’t solve the problem at worst.

    You said:
    Everybody dislikes amputations, yet surgeons do them in order to save the life of the patient.

    More tribal values are on display here.

    1985 is saying “the planet is like a person, it has climate change fevers. We need to give the climate its medicine, even if the people think it tastes bad, its for their own good. If you don’t believe in the climate sickness, then you don’t believe in medicine, so you’re in the other tribe, and outside our Tribal Values.

  28. Sean McCorkle

    @22
    Al Gore’s $300m?

    According to this that works out to be the equivalent of about 12 hours or so of advertising time on Fox. I think its probably fair to say that Fox has devoted far more time than that to anti-global-warming propaganda—posing it as news.

  29. Johnny

    @29 Sean McCorkle

    Fox also devoted more time to Climate Hawks than CNN, ABC, NBC, and CBS combined. Fox news has the same bias percentage as MSNBC, except in reverse.

    http://dropfox.com/blog/201106080017

  30. 1985

    28. Johnny Says:
    June 24th, 2011 at 5:44 pm
    @#27 – 1985
    One can acknowledge a problem entirely, yet still be opposed to the proposed solution because they believe its worse than the problem itself at best, and won’t solve the problem at worst.

    So you are basically saying that rethinking and redesigning the socioeconomic structure is worse than global civilizational collapse with the possibility of extinction of the human species thrown in. Which is absurd anyway you look at it

  31. Sean McCorkle

    @30
    Interesting bar graph. MSNBC looks pretty small compared to FNC, FBN and FOX combined.

  32. Mark

    Science is skepticism.
    Greater scientific education can help enable a more resilient suspension of belief.
    In a field where evidence is ambiguous at best, and where intellectual fraud appears not to be uncommon, suspension of (even tentative) belief is the prefereable option.
    Suspension of belief should not be a concern except in terms of framing an appropriate and timely policy response. One should not be pressured into belief, when skepticism appears to be a highly appropriate response, by the need to create policy. The need to create policy (whether it be to let things alone or engage in some action or other) is vitally important, but it does not trump the value of scientific skepticism.
    We are faced with a conundrum in which we are encouraged to abandon skepticism in order to advance policy in a particular direction. One possible resolution to the conundrum is a kind of Pascal’s wager. The problem is that there is no win win solution. Diversion of resources to ‘resolve climate change’ can destroy lives, just as non-diversion of resources, according to those who believe the climate change hypothesis proved, can destroy lives.
    My experience suggest that a part of the drive to encourage climate change belief is an urgent desire amongst some for political change in the direction of socialization of the economy. That desire for fundamental political change feeds back into a belief that will help enable the objective. Skepticism is unwanted. Belief is everything. ‘Science’ is merely the plaything.

  33. Also, as I noted above, Ifor many conservatives, this is about American exceptionalism, salvific technologism, fundamentalist Christianity or some combo of the above. As I noted there, 1 and 3 have a certain degree of linkage. If you believe Jesus is going to bail you out, or, like Michael Shermer, that technology is going to bail you out, it’s easier to claim that solutions to the problem are “amputations” at best.

    On 10:10 … the UK govt isn’t listed as a funder, per the website. http://www.1010global.org/uk/about/partners

    Per Wiki, many UK businesses support it. (I think a previous post got lost in moderation from posting multiple links, hence no Wikipedia link.) That said, 10:10 withdrew the commercial, which Exxon never did with its. And, I’ve never seen anything like that on US TV anyway.

    And, I can do the “tribal values” intellectual judo just as much as you can.

    If you believe people worried about AGW are thinking it’s a “climate sickness” for which Earth needs “medicine,” you’re just practicing tribal values.

    So, I can do that, and use teh Google.

    And, therefore, I don’t know how my hat tastes.

  34. maslar

    I find it interesting how articles like this really bring out the biases in people’s eyes. It shows that people will see the world the way they want to see the world, and not necessarily the way the world really is.

    For the record, I’m a skeptic that is looking for convincing evidence that AGW is real, and have yet to be convinced. And I resent Al Gore for saying that the debate is over, when the truth is much more complicated. Bloody politicians.

  35. Johan Fruh

    One thing I always find quite interesting in these climate debates, is that Deniers tend to argument that the Lefties created this hoax in a bid to control and regulate america….
    they seem to forget that the climate issue is actually backed by… the rest of the world?

    So either, there’s science out there that is backed by the world… and lefties merely follow the advice that comes from this science.
    OR
    It is infact the lefties who created this hoax, and they have the whole world eating out of their hands.

    Seems to me like being a lefty is win-win!

  36. Johnny

    @36 Johan Fruh & @34 Socratic

    You are both repeating a popular myth, that America is alone in denying climate change at a political level. You are both incorrect.

    There is only one national cap and trade system outside europe, and its little irrelevant New Zealand.

    Right now in Australia, they are at a near civil war over cap and trade. Their current Prime Minister was elected on a platform of “No Climate Taxes” and the moment she was elected, she stabbed her country in the back by announcing huge climate taxes.

    The Australian government, like the governments of Europe and America, is spending millions of taxpayer dollars in advertising campaigns to convince the people of the need for carbon taxes.

    The Australian government has already announced that the revenues from the carbon tax will be sent directly to the United Nations itself, for their part of the 100 Billion dollars in promised money from Copenhagen.

    In each of these countries, the IPCC a UN organization, is the host of the conferences, provides the organizational body to produce the IPCC Reports that are then used to justify the taxes.

    Meanwhile every other major economy of the world outside Europe has announced they are not joining Kyoto 2. The EU is further isolating itself with China declaring a trade war, and America suing over proposed illegal EU airline taxes on American and Chinese airlines.

    There is a world revolt against the carbon tax movement. There is no American exceptionalism here.

  37. Nullius in Verba

    “is that Deniers tend to argument that the Lefties created this hoax in a bid to control and regulate america….
    they seem to forget that the climate issue is actually backed by… the rest of the world?”

    Actually, in the most common theory I’ve seen the prime mover is thought to be the UN, the bureaucracy being dominated by left-leaning Europeans and a lot of small nations with strong anti-Western sentiments.

    The international support for climate change regulation is based on transferring wealth from the US to the rest of the world. That’s why, even though Kyoto was signed in 1997, emission levels are based on the 1990 level because during the 90s the US increased its emissions while Europe reduced them – partly due to the collapse/reintegration of the Soviet East Europe, partly because of the dash for gas. Thus, a 1990 baseline differentially hits the US, and transfers manufacturing and climate-related technology transfer and aid to the developing world, who are exempt from the emissions limits.

    Because this was recognised by Congress from the first, they clearly set out the bipartisan US policy which both parties have held to to this day. The Byrd-Hagel resolution declares that the US shall not be a signatory to any protocol that either mandates new commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the Annex I Parties, unless the protocol or other agreement also mandates new specific scheduled commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions for Developing Country Parties within the same compliance period, or would result in serious harm to the economy of the United States. That is to say – the US will sign up to carbon reductions only if these reductions are universal (on the basis that CO2 has the same effect wherever it comes from, and the limits have to be universal to be effective) or if it can be shown that it won’t seriously damage the US’s economy while everybody else profits.

    Kyoto of course was never intended to be either universal or effective. Essentially, Kyoto was designed as an economy-killing “poisoned chalice” that would have virtually no effect on climate change – even if you believed the IPCC’s science. The aim of the international negotiations was to get the honourable richer nations to sign up, avoid making any commitments oneself, and thereby bring about what they call “climate justice” – i.e. wealth redistribution from the rich US to the poorer nations.

    Unlike Socrates, the US refused to take the poison, and most of the other developed signatories (ex-Communist Bloc eastern Europe excepted) failed to meet the targets too. Nobody ever intended otherwise.

    An attempt to meet the US demands and bring them on board for the next round was negotiated at Bali, possibly in preparation for Obama’s election, in which China and India agreed to emission limits – and the US tentatively signed up. But then China announced they had meant only carbon intensity limits – i.e. they were going to carry on developing and emitting as normal – and the deal was off again.

    Many on the left have wondered why Obama dropped climate change so completely after all the election promises; this is why. He’s implementing the Byrd-Hagel policy, exactly as George Bush did. Only the rhetoric is different.

    That’s supposedly the main aim from an international politics viewpoint. It’s also a useful story to sell tax rises to local populations. They put tax on fuel up, and say it’s to encourage people to be green. Nobody can complain because that would be ungreen and not socially acceptable, so they get to charge higher taxes than would otherwise be tolerated. High-spending governments the world over love it.

    Personally, I’ve no idea if it’s true or not. I’m not a politician. It sounds plausible, but a lot of such claims often do.

  38. I don’t just have doubts about the integrity of the science involved. I have doubts about the solution.

    Take European Cap-and-Trade, for example. Currently, carbon credits are very cheap–and they are that way because they drove carbon-intensive business out of Europe, and into surrounding third-world countries. Thus, Europeans now import steel and concrete that would have otherwise been produced in-country…and it would seem to be that, at best, the solution had no effect on carbon reduction, and at worse, may have even increased it.

    This leaves me little confidence that politicians will be able to find solutions that work…and that’s even before we establish that the problems are going to be all that bad to begin with!

  39. Menth

    Are there skeptics that are ideologically driven into believing that it’s all a trick so the guvmint can hike taxes and thus believe talking points like “mars is warming too!” ? Yes.

    Are there believers that are ideologically driven into believing we’re all doomed due to our awful, awful human greed and consumption and thus believe things such as aersol spray cans are a significant contributor to global warming? Yes.

    Clearly there are ding dongs on both sides of this debate but I submit that on the whole people are not objective, reasoning entities that absorb information and then make moral judgments about it. In fact, they are the opposite; people imbibe information that confirms their intuitive moral framework and their ideological anti-bodies resist anything else.

  40. 1985

    39. Epsilon Given Says:
    June 25th, 2011 at 1:31 pm
    I don’t just have doubts about the integrity of the science involved. I have doubts about the solution.
    Take European Cap-and-Trade, for example. Currently, carbon credits are very cheap–and they are that way because they drove carbon-intensive business out of Europe, and into surrounding third-world countries. Thus, Europeans now import steel and concrete that would have otherwise been produced in-country…and it would seem to be that, at best, the solution had no effect on carbon reduction, and at worse, may have even increased it.

    It is both extremely hypocritical and logically nonsensical for people to cry out loud against alleged conspiracies to impose a “world government” and in the same time say that because the current system doesn’t work, nothing should be done.

    Well, yes, carbon credits are yet another greenwashing scam. But what your describing happened because most nations were not required to do anything so the export of manufacturing to third-world countries you’re talking about (which, BTW, can not be easily distinguished from the general trend of moving manufacturing to low-wage regions, a trend that is actually not due to overregulation but to lack of regulation) made sense. If the whole world was in it, then this would not have happened.

    It is also extremely hypocritical to claim that because so far nothing has been done, there is either no threat or there is no point to try to do anything. Of course nothing has been done. Given that even the kind of tiny, completely inadequate steps towards doing something meet such resistance, how would anyone expect the kind of radical change that is needed to happen?

    Finally, as far as the severity of the problem goes, everybody has to understand that there could have been absolutely no effect of CO2 on the climate and we would still have had to do precisely the drastic things that the ultra-right is so paranoid about ( of course, without the truly crazy stuff that’s just a product of the ultra right mind gone totally batshit crazy) and that the environmentalists actually very rarely even mention, because climate change is only one of close to a dozen issues each of which is more than capable of causing the collapse of civilization on its own, and none of which is even remotely as contentious as AGW is (as solid as AGW is on its own).

  41. “It is both extremely hypocritical and logically nonsensical for people to cry out loud against alleged conspiracies to impose a “world government” and in the same time say that because the current system doesn’t work, nothing should be done.”

    I have not cried out loud against a “world government” in my comment–although I would certainly oppose any action taken to create such a government. That is not the issue, though.

    The issue is the idea that we “just have to do something” and the alleged problems will naturally go away. You complain that the Europeans didn’t do enough–that production was outsourced–and that the outsourcing may or may not have had anything to do with the carbon credit system. So your solution is to pass laws that will “fix” the outsourcing.

    Yeah, sure. Like *that’s* going to work! No individual, no corporation, no government in the world is *ever* going to think of ways to either ignore the law, or find one of a dozen loopholes to work within the law, to really mess things up even more, all in the pursuit of just trying to get things done within their own lives.

    It is *this* that I despise. The delusion that, if only we can control the masses with laws and regulations, all our problems will go away. The problem is that we create a massive chaotic system of laws, regulations, lawyers and judges, to influence another chaotic system, that composed of individual initiative, corporations, and social institutions, to affect a third chaotic system, that of weather and climate. In each system, a tiny change can have profound and unexpected–sometimes severely negative–results in that system. Yet you would have me believe that we can control the environment, if only we pass the right laws!

    I would rather take my chances, keep my freedoms (I’m a migraine sufferer, so I want my incandescents, darnit! At least, until LEDs become affordable), and see what I’ll need to do to adapt to the changes in climate as they present themselves, thank you VERY MUCH.

    For that matter, I do not see the hypocrisy of my viewpoint, in distrusting politicians, who have flubbed their attempts to “fix” things so far, and who are in this game more for power and control than they are in it to make life better–and who are, as a whole, *far more clueless* in the issues of economics, sociology, climate science, and who knows what else–as I would like, in order for them to make the correct decisions to fix these things, if fixing them is even possible.

    (For the record, chalk me up as one of those with a scientific background–or rather, a background in mathematics–who distrusts the claims of climate alarmists.)

  42. Anna Haynes

    Threaded comments, please.

  43. Girma

    With out accelerated warming, AGW is without any scientific foundation.

    The global mean temperature data shows no accelerated warming due to increase in human emission of CO2 as shown in the following graph.

    http://bit.ly/lUQBhX

    The IPCC interpreted the data by comparing the global mean temperature trend for one period that has only one warming phase with the trend for a longer period that has both a warming and cooling phases, and it then declared accelerated warming. This is fraud.

    http://bit.ly/b9eKXz

    The AGW scare has no scientific foundation.

  44. @Johnny 37 … failure to join Kyoto 2 is not the same as AGW denialism. In many cases, it’s because China has exploited Kyoto’s simplistic developed/developing nations bifurcation. Really, all four BRIC nations, and a few top others, need to be put in a third category of “semi-developed.”

    @ Nullius 38 … that’s a more whackjob conspiracy theory than anything Johnny’s mentioned. But, thanks for saying that. Now I know how much to discount/ignore you on future posts on this subject.

    @ Epsilon 39 … Many of us who believe in the seriousness of the issue likewise know carbon cap-trade isn’t near the best solution, primarily because it’s too “gameable” by big biz. Carbon taxes are another issue. And, per Johnny, that’s part of why they’re getting such blowback. Businessness know they can’t be gamed,so they talk about passing all the costs on to John/Jane Q. Public, and ramp up the hysteria in the process. (Witness Eric Cantor walking out of debt negotiations in a snit when part of the terrible “tax hikes” proposed was to kill some Big Oil tax breaks.)

    @Menth 40 … you forgot the scare quotes around “skeptic,” or else forgot to distinguish between skeptic and pseudoskeptic. Just as PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne and other “Gnu Atheists’ make me less and less commonly calling myself an atheist, so Michael Shermer, Brian Dunning and other libertarian pseudoskeptics make me less likely to call myself a skeptic. And, really, that’s what this is all about. Libertarians opposing regulation.

    Otherwise, your observations are things Chris has written about in depth.

  45. @ 45. SocraticGadlfy: “Many of us who believe in the seriousness of the issue likewise know carbon cap-trade isn’t near the best solution, primarily because it’s too “gameable” by big biz.”

    The problem is that *every* law is “gameable”; this is one of the things that contributes to the unpredictability of the entire chaotic system. It’s why I have no confidence that we could just pass a “law” and fix everything.

  46. 1985

    42. Epsilon Given Says:
    June 25th, 2011 at 6:04 pm
    “It is both extremely hypocritical and logically nonsensical for people to cry out loud against alleged conspiracies to impose a “world government” and in the same time say that because the current system doesn’t work, nothing should be done.”
    I have not cried out loud against a “world government” in my comment–although I would certainly oppose any action taken to create such a government. That is not the issue, though.
    The issue is the idea that we “just have to do something” and the alleged problems will naturally go away. You complain that the Europeans didn’t do enough–that production was outsourced–and that the outsourcing may or may not have had anything to do with the carbon credit system. So your solution is to pass laws that will “fix” the outsourcing.
    Yeah, sure. Like *that’s* going to work! No individual, no corporation, no government in the world is *ever* going to think of ways to either ignore the law, or find one of a dozen loopholes to work within the law, to really mess things up even more, all in the pursuit of just trying to get things done within their own lives.

    My solution isn’t to pass laws against anything. You just have absolutely no clue about the situation and that’s why you think in terms of laws against things. That’s never going to be adequate.

    And I didn’t talk about world government, what I pointed out is that the whole world has to act in coordination. The deep problem is that even a world government of the brutally totalitarian type would never be able to implement the kind of changes that are needed. It simply isn’t going to last if it tried. On the other side, if the population had developed intellectually to the point where they would understand the need of the kind of measures that have to be taken, then there would be absolutely no need for any kind of government. But we don’t live in such a world, so nothing ever is going to be done.

    It is *this* that I despise. The delusion that, if only we can control the masses with laws and regulations, all our problems will go away. The problem is that we create a massive chaotic system of laws, regulations, lawyers and judges, to influence another chaotic system, that composed of individual initiative, corporations, and social institutions, to affect a third chaotic system, that of weather and climate. In each system, a tiny change can have profound and unexpected–sometimes severely negative–results in that system. Yet you would have me believe that we can control the environment, if only we pass the right laws!

    That’s once again completely missing the point. The whole system of heavy bureaucracy, lawyers, regulation, and everything else is itself a product of the kind of thinking that has to go away completely.

    I would rather take my chances, keep my freedoms (I’m a migraine sufferer, so I want my incandescents, darnit! At least, until LEDs become affordable), and see what I’ll need to do to adapt to the changes in climate as they present themselves, thank you VERY MUCH.

    You have a lot less freedom than you think you do, very little in fact. But if it makes you happy to think you’re free, so be it. However, you once again fail to understand the basics – dead people are not free people, and there can be no democracy and free markets on a dead planet. So why people would readily kill the planet to protect their imaginary democracy and free markets is beyond me.

  47. Nullius in Verba

    #45,

    Are you saying you weren’t ignoring/discounting me before?! I’m flattered!

    You evidently missed my last paragraph. And just calling anything you don’t like “whackjob” isn’t a rational argument. But I’m sure you knew that.

  48. @ Nullius … no … calling irrationality “whackjob” IS rational. And a time-saver rather than wasting more time on people like you.

    Besides, I’m not alone. Jamie Vernon “called you out” on the fracking post, even more than I did.

    See you in the funnies. Along with the Johnny who thinks you’re smarter than Vernon.

  49. Nullius in Verba

    #49,

    “no … calling irrationality “whackjob” IS rational.”

    Is it? Excellent! Then I can at last join the ranks of the rational!

    You’re argument is whackjob.

    There! An irrefutable demonstration that I’m right about everything. Case proved, and logically watertight, right?

    This is the standard of debate you guys consider polite and rational?!

    If this is how you want to portray liberal standards of logic and reason, and how you’re so superior to those nuke-supporting conservatives, then go ahead. You’re not fooling anybody, and neither is Jamie. It’s a shame – liberals are certainly capable of a higher standard, as this site has shown in the past. It’s a shame when some let them down.

    And you’re still not reading that last paragraph.

  50. Blair

    I would argue that the result of the study is consistent and utterly understandable. Those of us for whom science is a vocation are used to dealing with uncertainty. Our work requires us to establish the relative risks and propose approaches to either mitigate risk or address the root causes of the risk. Doing this for a living I find it incredibly hard to fathom the approach of those who espouse a level certainty that exceeds the methodology.

    For the scientifically literate the greenhouse effect is undeniable as is the logic behind the hypothesis that increased concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane etc… should enhance the effect with a commensurate effect on global climate. Unfortunately, the purveyors of CAGW don’t stop there. They insist that models with recognizable limitations will somehow produce nigh-irrefutable outputs and choose to omit serious considerations of uncertainty.

    For those of us used to seeing error bars; levels of significance based on testing; and qualifiers in reports the outputs from much of the field of climate science is frustrating to say the least. In the IPCC reports we are presented with levels of confidence which are nothing of the sort. They are unsupported by statistical rigour and while they may be correct are not in the least reproducible.

    Were I confident that the “confidence levels” were reliable I would argue that immediate responses were necessary and “damn the expense”. However even in the original version of the Precautionary Principal from Rio there is a qualifier for cost-effectiveness: “In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.”

    As a numerate and scientifically literate individual I am skeptical, not of the science, but of the purveyors of the message. I do not deny the plausibility of the results, but I do not believe the unsupported and unsupportable spin placed on those results. As a Canadian, I cannot approve of any plan where all the efforts and sacrifices of myself and my countrymen (and women) will be erased in less than a single month’s construction of Chinese power plants. I will not seek to beggar my neighbour when I have absolute certainty that it will have no net effect on the global picture. Until someone presents a plan that can be demonstrated to have a reasonable opportunity to have a significant effect I will not be pushing for immediate action on the climate change front. That doesn’t make me a denier it makes me a realist. Instead I will push for increased resources to be allocated to projects that have the potential of demonstrable and definable positive outcomes like ecosystem restoration and preservation.

  51. klem

    “On the whole, the most scientifically literate and numerate subjects were slightly less likely, not more, to see climate change as a serious threat than the least scientifically literate and numerate ones. ”

    I agree; the more you know about science and the world in which we live, the more you realize that science is still not ready to make reliable conclusions about it and especially to make predictions of future climate catastrophe. The less you know about science and the world around us, the more you must rely on intuition and on the authority of those who claim to be experts. Unfortunately many people consider the media to be that authority. The media of course, just wants to sell stories to make a buck.

  52. Mark

    It would be worth looking into the percentage of the scientifically and numerate subjects who read the Wall Street Journal. On its editorial pages, the Journal regularly prints articles doubting the idea that global warming is occurring.

    Even in its inferior condition, now that it is a Murdock newspaper, the non-editorial reporting in the Journal is excellent. And the editorial slants are somethings refreshing and challenging. But on issues relating to ecology, the Journal tends to “flat-earth” thinking.

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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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