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Earth Science

Strong Climate Change Opinions Are Self-Reinforcing 655

Posted by Soulskill
from the opinions-are-like-delusions dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A study recently published in Nature (abstract) looked at how personal beliefs altered a person's perception of climate change. Surveying a sample of people in 2008 and then the same people again in 2011, the study looked for 'motivated reasoning,' where 'high belief certainty influenced perceptions of personal experience,' and 'experiential learning,' where 'perceived personal experience of global warming led to increased belief certainty.' According to the article, 'When you categorize individuals by engagement — essentially how confident and knowledgeable they feel about the facts of the issue — differences are revealed. For the highly-engaged groups (on both sides), opinions about whether climate is warming appeared to drive reports of personal experience. That is, motivated reasoning was prevalent. On the other hand, experience really did change opinions for the less-engaged group, and motivated reasoning took a back seat.None of that is truly surprising, but it leads to a couple interesting points. First, the concrete here-and-now communication strategy is probably a good one for those whose opinions aren't firmly set — fully 75 percent of Americans, according to the polling. But second, that tack is unlikely to get anywhere with the 8 percent or so of highly-engaged Americans who reject the idea of a warming planet, and are highly motivated to disregard anything that says otherwise.'"
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Strong Climate Change Opinions Are Self-Reinforcing

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  • Obvious (Score:4, Funny)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Saturday December 08, 2012 @09:11PM (#42229607)

    Prof. Obvious of the Romero Institute noted today that people who already strongly believe something will continue to do so regardless of new evidence. In related news, the government edges closer to falling off the fiscal cliff, the totally solvable budget problem that we created to force our two political parties to play nice together. Both sides have recently stated they aren't open to negotiation, will not offer any concessions, and aren't talking to each other, however our correspondent on the scene reported recently that they have started writing numbers down on a sheet of paper. The sheet of paper was not immediately available for comment at the time of this post.

  • In other words... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by A bsd fool (2667567) on Saturday December 08, 2012 @09:11PM (#42229609)

    'motivated reasoning,' where 'high belief certainty influenced perceptions of personal experience,'

    "I believe GW is happening and that it causes bad things. Today bad weather happened, must be due to GW."

    or

    "I do not believe GW is happening or that it causes bad things. Today bad weather happened, as it does from time to time."

    'experiential learning,' where 'perceived personal experience of global warming led to increased belief certainty.'

    "I did not believe GW was happening, but did believe it would cause worse hurricane. Today a bad hurricane happened, so now I have more faith in GW."

    or

    "I did not believe GW was happening, but did believe it would cause hotter summers.. We had snowfall in June so, therefore, no GW.

    The far more interesting thing than the conclusion reached by the source is that none of these is a remotely scientific line of reasoning. Correlating personal experience (i.e., weather events) with climate is long acknowledged as foolish, just like jumping to the conclusion that you live in the most unsafe city in the world because you got mugged -- or that you live in the safest one because you've never been mugged.

    • Yeah, that's the first think that caught my eye. How do you personally experience global warming? A hot day?

      How can an individual's experiences ever rise above anecdote?

      • Motivated reasoning is the threshold for confusing anecdotes and data for a particular individual.
      • by dbIII (701233) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @12:15AM (#42230663)
        Farmers, ski lift operators etc can experience it over decades.
        After listening to some old radio programs from 1988 I'm astonished that the PR firms and merchants in the temple managed to bring this anti-science bullshit up from nowhere and convince so many people that scientists are lying to them. We're training a generation of fools and setting up our nations for decline.
    • by steelfood (895457) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @12:31AM (#42230749)

      Climate science is hard. It's so hard even the experts don't completely understand it. And to even become an expert relies on knowledge about hundreds, even thousands of otherwise independent systems, as well as how they tie in together on the planet to form climate.

      To expect Joe Sixpack to use climate science as the basis of their rationale behind whether to accept AGW is unreasonable. For the average person, there are only two ways to make up their mind: 1) trust other people or 2) trust their own observations.

      You can see the problem with #1 right off the back. Which "other people" should Joe Sixpack trust? Scientists are people. Their religious leader, or the local politician, or their next door neighbor are all people as well. What differentiates a scientist from all those other people? Well, a scientist has a degree certifying the person's knowledge in an area. Only, a certificate is merely a piece of paper. Accepting that the degree implies expertness is a matter of trust as well. But what about all those other people, i.e. religious leader, politician, or neighbor? Those people are closer to Joe Sixpack. They have a constant and direct influence on their lives, and have already gained some measure of trust.

      At this point, the more introspective and thoughtful Joe Sixpack would recognize that the latter group of people are not experts on the matter. So yeah, they might be trustworthy in the eyes of Joe Sixpack, but they probably know nothing about the climate and how it works (sure, if they're lucky, they live near a climate scientists, but that's rare). So they discard option #1, and go for option #2.

      The human mind is not very good at processing things as vast and as complex as the climate. They cannot memorize and graph even two years worth of data inside their heads, not to mention ten (some people cannot even add inside their heads, but they're a special breed). They cannot correlate a special event in California with a special event in Europe. But they are good at processing the current day's weather, and drawing simple patterns based on notable weather anomalies. So that's exactly what they do.

      So now that I've established the parameters of the problem, I leave everyone else to come up with solutions. No matter the solution, it involves at least interjecting into either the first or the second option. And to make things more complicated, there are big companies who are messing around with the first option already, and they have tons more money than most individuals to throw at the task.

      • by readin (838620) on Sunday December 09, 2012 @01:18AM (#42231017)

        You can see the problem with #1 right off the back. Which "other people" should Joe Sixpack trust? Scientists are people. Their religious leader, or the local politician, or their next door neighbor are all people as well. What differentiates a scientist from all those other people? Well, a scientist has a degree certifying the person's knowledge in an area. Only, a certificate is merely a piece of paper. Accepting that the degree implies expertness is a matter of trust as well. But what about all those other people, i.e. religious leader, politician, or neighbor? Those people are closer to Joe Sixpack. They have a constant and direct influence on their lives, and have already gained some measure of trust.

        At this point, the more introspective and thoughtful Joe Sixpack would recognize that the latter group of people are not experts on the matter. So yeah, they might be trustworthy in the eyes of Joe Sixpack, but they probably know nothing about the climate and how it works (sure, if they're lucky, they live near a climate scientists, but that's rare). So they discard option #1, and go for option #2.

        The trick then, for Joe Sixpack, is figuring out what the scientists believe because unfortunately Joe isn't personally aquanted with very many climate scientists, or weather scientiests, or maybe even scientists in general. So where does Joe get his information about the scientists from? Newspapers, magazines, the TV. Unfortunately Joe long ago learned that those sources are full of crap and will willingly attempt to mislead him, or maybe even lie to him, in order to push agendas that the journalists want to push. Joe has learned to be very skeptical of those news sources. So when those news sources tell him that a lot of scientists say global warming is real, Joe is skeptical. And when Joe sees that this is what the news sources are saying after Al Gore made a big deal out of it, and Joe knows how cozy journalists are with the Democratic party, Joe is even more skeptical.

        When Joe reads what newspapers say about topics he knows about, Joe sees how badly those newspapers spin things. So how do you expect Joe to trust the newspapers on topics he knows nothing about?

      • by bogjobber (880402)
        That is a good post, but I think there's a very significant distinction in #1 that you're missing. I do not trust "scientists" any more than I trust "clergy" or "politicians." Individual scientists, no matter how gifted or principled, are prone to the same flaws as very other human being: ignorance, hubris, greed, etc., etc.

        I do, however, trust the scientific process. I trust that over time, working as a community, we can use rigorous experiment and debate to establish a degree of certainty about how
  • by Press2ToContinue (2424598) * on Saturday December 08, 2012 @09:13PM (#42229621)

    Cognitive bias is nothing new; it is not specific to climate change.

    "A cognitive bias is a pattern of deviation in judgment that occurs in particular situations, which may sometimes lead to perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, illogical interpretation, or what is broadly called irrationality." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_bias [wikipedia.org]

  • by PPH (736903)

    How about just relying on the science to speak for itself?

    A figure of 75 percent unconvinced is encouraging in one sense. I means that the majority of the people aren't buying either argument yet. That's fine. We don't have anywhere near a clear understanding of how climate change is working (or not), who or what is responsible and what, if anything, we can do about it. The fact that the majority remains skeptical is a healthy sign.

    We can only hope that the group that actually does the science and gets i

  • Who do you trust more to give you the facts about this issue?

    1. The vast majority of scientists who have devoted their professional lives to the study of the earth's climate;

    2. Politicians.

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      According to the paper, most people trust their personal experience of the local weather. Sadly, this is one case where common sense like that doesn't really work.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by 0111 1110 (518466)

      1. The vast majority of scientists who have devoted their professional lives to the study of the earth's climate;

      I think you will find that the vast majority of so called climate scientists have believed in AGW from a very young age and are not attempting to disprove the theory (as you would normally do in science), but to reinforce it as much as possible so as to convince politicians to save the world from what they passionately believe will otherwise result in the extinction of our entire species and perhaps even all animal life on the planet.

      Imagine a mythical climate scientist who is not a true believer. Who didn'

      • by dbIII (701233)

        I think you will find that the vast majority of so called climate scientists have believed in AGW from a very young age and are not attempting to disprove the theory

        Since it's been considered obvious from about as long as plate tectonics that would be the case, but that doesn't make it wrong.
        Conversely, if somebody manages to truly disprove global warming there's a shitload of money in it for them from a pile of lobby groups and a Nobel prize to put on their mountain of money. Even an attempt or fabricatio

  • by Bruce Perens (3872) <bruce@perens.com> on Saturday December 08, 2012 @09:37PM (#42229775) Homepage Journal

    To show how these things work, I've been thinking about setting up a denial campaign for an obviously factual event: "Hurricane" Sandy.

    It wasn't really a hurricane. National weather service decided not to issue a warning. The roller coaster would not have landed in one piece as it is photographed. We could build a pretty solid case that it wasn't real. It would really piss off the people who were there :-)

    • Can I play?

      After all, where did people hear about it? The liberal media! Where did the "relief" money go? To wicked New York!

      The NOAA "forecasters" who said it was a hurricane all depend on government money!

      It's rained before, and nobody said it was a hurricane until the New World Order hurricane conspiracy came along!

      If it were a hurricane and not sabotage, how come none of the emergency generators worked?

      It's scary how easy and fun this is.

      • by Dwonis (52652)
        Great Scott! What's in New York? WALL STREET! They're afraid of higher taxes, so they pre-emptively orchestrated this FAKE "DISASTER" in order to get us to send MONEY their way!

        Sheeple! Wake up!

    • by jamesh (87723)

      To show how these things work, I've been thinking about setting up a denial campaign for an obviously factual event: "Hurricane" Sandy.

      It wasn't really a hurricane. National weather service decided not to issue a warning. The roller coaster would not have landed in one piece as it is photographed. We could build a pretty solid case that it wasn't real. It would really piss off the people who were there :-)

      Wish i hadn't responded to a troll then I would have modded you up.

      If you want a model on how this might work, have a look here [wikipedia.org]. And yes, people get really pissed off. For something a bit less touchy try this [wikipedia.org] too.

    • by tmosley (996283)
      I've got a better one. Let's pretend the Holocaust didn't happen, and then we can associate anyone who doesn't believe in the Holocaust with those who don't believe in climate change, thus totally discrediting them.
  • by gweihir (88907) on Saturday December 08, 2012 @09:47PM (#42229841)

    The time to do something effective about climate change was 20 years ago. And the scientific data was solid back then. It was ignored because it was too inconvenient. I guess that will make a nice inscription on the tomb-stone of the current civilization: "It died because saving itself was too inconvenient".

  • by rolfwind (528248) on Saturday December 08, 2012 @09:48PM (#42229843)

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/ [skepticalscience.com]

    A lot of the anti-globalwarming movement rely on classic FUD, throwing enough shit on the wall and counting on that something will stick.

    • A lot of the anti-globalwarming movement rely on classic FUD, throwing enough shit on the wall and counting on that something will stick.

      Just like creationists. There aren't any "creation scientists" trying to build a coherent theory of creationism. They're all just busy nit-picking something that they hope will cast doubt on some tiny aspect of the huge pile of evidence that supports a conclusion that they don't want to accept.

      And just like the anti-globalwarming movement, there are crowds of people standing by to gobble up any claim they make.

    • by khallow (566160)
      Indeed. They got this story [slashdot.org] on Slashdot even: "Ticking Arctic Carbon Bomb May Be Bigger Than Expected"

      The pro-AGW movement seems to make all these interesting claims: 6-10C rise by the end of the century and substantial rise in sea level, end of the human race, hidden tipping points that we could trigger any day now, AGW caused a huge list of bad things to happen (every bit of weather that is in any way remotely odd, species extinction, wildfires, etc), and the climate change deniers will be first agains
  • "But second, that tack is unlikely to get anywhere with the 17 percent or so of highly-engaged Americans who reject the idea of a *naturally* warming planet, and are highly motivated to disregard anything that says otherwise."

    There, fixed. Both sides apparently have highly motivated reasoning going on, no reason you can't turn the sentence around the other way.

    I'd suggest the way to discern between the motivated reasoning and the scientific truth requires ye good old falsifiable hypothesis statement as per

    • by PvtVoid (1252388)

      "But second, that tack is unlikely to get anywhere with the 17 percent or so of highly-engaged Americans who reject the idea of a *naturally* warming planet, and are highly motivated to disregard anything that says otherwise."

      There, fixed. Both sides apparently have highly motivated reasoning going on, no reason you can't turn the sentence around the other way

      No, there is a difference: one of them is actually true.

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