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Understanding climate scepticism: a ‘sceptic’ responds

Jun 15, 2012 by | 82 Comments

There is a growing body of academic literature that seeks to understand, explain – and even overcome – climate change scepticism. But is it getting to grips with scepticism, or missing the point? In this unusual exchange (we hope the first of many) between Adam Corner (Talking Climate) and Geoff Chambers – (a regular and prominent commenter at several climate sceptic blogs), they discuss research on the psychology of scepticism.

Comments are very welcome – but please be aware they will be tightly moderated to ensure all comments are on-topic. Is this kind of initiative useful? Should it happen more often? We look forward to hearing your thoughts.

ADAM:

In the last few months, two academic papers that make similar arguments about the nature and origins of climate change scepticism have been published. If there is one simple message to take from these two studies, it is that simply providing more information – or turning up the volume on the science – is unlikely to reduce scepticism about climate change. This is because scepticism about climate change is not primarily caused by a ‘misunderstanding’ of the science but by motivated reasoning processes – rooted in ideological differences – that mean that the ‘same’ evidence is not evaluated in the same way. Would you agree that scepticism about climate change has more to do with political views than an assessment of the science?

GEOFF:

Of course not. That would be to admit that my politics was overriding my reasoning capacities! The misunderstanding comes I think from confounding the tiny number of active sceptics, who’ve come to a reasoned conclusion, with the Jeremy Clarkson fans who show up in polls. You’re just not going to catch many of us in a survey of the general population. The “old white conservative male” label is no doubt true for the population at large, and can be easily explained, but it tells you nothing about the nature of reasoned scepticism.

I agree with you that turning up the volume on the science is unlikely to reduce scepticism about climate change, but not for the reason you give. The more people learn about the science, the more they see how dodgy is the climate science responsible for rising energy prices. One of the results of the Kahan study you refer to was that the more scientifically literate tend to be more sceptical.

ADAM:

What Kahan found was that being scientifically literate increased polarisation – that is, it amplified views on either side – but your instant equation of ‘the science’ with ‘rising energy prices’ illustrates an important point: climate science and climate policy get horribly confused. Rising energy prices are caused by political and economic choices: they have little if anything to do with climate science.

But things like rising energy prices, taxes, regulations, and restrictions on people’s behaviour have become synonymous with ‘climate change’. I believe – based on the available research – that this is why many people are sceptical. The answers to the problem of climate change look and feel like ‘left-wing’ solutions, and so the problem itself is downplayed or rejected.

GEOFF

I think we agree about the interpretation of Kahan. Belief / scepticism about climate change is strongly correlated with political views, but scepticism is also correlated with scientific literacy, though less strongly. This is what you’d expect. Conservatives are naturally suspicious of schemes which raise taxes, while environmentalism, sympathy for the third world, and Al Gore have got concern about climate change firmly identified as a left-wing cause.

I agree that “the answers to the problem of climate change look and feel like ‘left-wing’ solutions” – that is to say they look extremely expensive, and are therefore opposed most fervently by those who pay most taxes.
You say: “Rising energy prices are caused by political and economic choices: they have little if anything to do with climate science”. Renewables like wind and solar are more expensive than fossil fuels. If they ever account for a significant proportion of energy supply, they will cause prices to rise. The only reason for renewables is fear of the supposed danger of CO2, which is the central tenet of the climate science consensus.

ADAM:

I share your concerns about things like rising energy prices – although I don’t agree that renewables are to blame. However, your line of reasoning seems to conform what studies of scepticism are showing: your concerns about certain economic and political choices are driving you to question the ‘supposed danger’ of CO2. That suggests to me that if there were other policy options on the table – that didn’t involve rising energy prices – your doubts about the legitimacy of the underlying science would not be as strong. Would you agree?

There is some evidence that when people who are more sceptical about climate change are presented with other policy options – for example ‘geoengineering’ – their perception of the risks that climate change poses increases. Do you think that many sceptics would be less likely to doubt the reality or seriousness of climate change if tackling it had no impact on their lives, or could be shown to be ‘cost-free’?

GEOFF:

No I don’t think that many sceptics would be less likely to doubt the reality or seriousness of climate change if tackling it had no impact on their lives, or could be shown to be ‘cost-free’

I disagree most strongly that my concerns about certain economic and political choices are driving my climate scepticism. My scepticism is based on the same scientific grounds as that of other commenters on sceptic blogs, many of whom hold political opinions radically different from mine. We don’t deny that global temperatures have been rising irregularly for centuries, and that anthropogenic CO2 may be responsible for some of the recent rise.
Where we disagree with the consensus is on the higher estimates of climate sensitivity endorsed by the IPCC and the catastrophic effects which are supposed inevitably to follow.

However, I would agree that our political and cultural backgrounds strongly affect the way we express our scepticism. There are Tea Party types who think global warming is a commie plot to install global government; nimbys who don’t like windfarms; engineers scornful of the mathematical models used to generate temperature projections; scientists and academics fearful for the reputation of their professions; and Tories who don’t like hippy treehuggers. It takes all sorts.

Here are a couple of examples of culturally determined inputs to my own scepticism:

1) I was very impressed by reports by the institute of Forecasting suggesting that ordinary members of the public are often better at long-term forecasting that experts, since, in their ignorance, they tend to assume that things will go on much as before, whereas experts get carried away with every leap and bound on their graphs into predicting extreme outcomes. This appeals to my left-wing egalitarian instincts – an Orwell-type faith in the common sense of the common man, if you like.

2) My earliest research into the question of climate change was conducted in the pages of the Guardian, and I was shocked to see this once liberal broad-minded paper adopting a Pravda-like policy of news filtering and censorship, with George Monbiot, a journalist I’d admired, conducting petty vindictive campaigns against fellow-journalists and, after being the first journalist to acknowledge the seriousness of Climategate, making a Maoist-style confession of his error. I’m not personally the least interested in the science of climate change. I’m very interested in the existence of a rational left-of-centre press.

Unlike most sceptics, I think your project of exploring the socio-cultural roots of scepticism is a valid and interesting one. But I don’t think you’ll do it by getting members of the public to tick boxes on your batteries of yes/no questions.

ADAM:

So the biggest reasons for your scepticism are that you are disillusioned with the media and have, in your own words, an ‘instinct’ that the common man is often more trustworthy and reliable than the so-called ‘experts’? I share these concerns, although I don’t necessarily see how they detract from the seriousness of the underlying problem of climate change and what – on even conservative estimates – the negative effects are likely to be. But your explanation of your scepticism suggests that if proponents of climate change science – or policy – want to be taken seriously by sceptics, it will be by addressing social concerns like these, not by shouting the science louder.
So how would you say social scientists might get more enlightening answers about the socio-cultural roots of climate change scepticism? Do you think there is an argument for more direct engagement between sceptics and researchers?

GEOFF:

We’re arguing at cross-purposes here. My observations about the common man and forecasting and the Guardian are NOT the reasons I don’t believe in catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. I’ve offered them as possible contributory factors to my coming to these conclusions – a bit of auto-sociological analysis, if you like – as an antidote to the more common observations about conservative white males not wanting to pay taxes.
If proponents of climate change science – or policy – want to be taken seriously by informed sceptics, it will not be by addressing any particular socio-political concerns, but by persuading us that their science is right. In this I’m sure I speak for all sceptical bloggers, but, as I pointed out, we’re a tiny minority among the sceptic population at large, and possibly atypical.

You ask how social scientists might get more enlightening answers about the socio-cultural roots of climate change scepticism. Ask the sceptics is the short answer. We reveal an awful lot about ourselves in comments on blogs. Bishop Hill had a self-completion survey once of our demographics (age, sex, educational qualifications and geographical spread). However, I feel such a survey would only be enlightening if it covered activists or engaged participants on both sides of the divide.

Finally, do I think there is an argument for more direct engagement between sceptics and researchers? Certainly. Clearing up the misunderstandings as to the meaning of climate scepticism and the motivation of sceptics is the first necessary step in any dialogue.

82 Comments + Add Comment

  • Hi Adam

    i might agree and disagree with some of Geof’s thoughts.

    As I am actually a guest author at Watts Up With That, have my own blog. Perhaps you would like a chat.

    One reason sceptics are sceptical is they mainly see the media version,of climate science or a highly emotive greenpeace version. Which can be quite a long way from the actual science. And perhaps unfairly climste scientist get criticism, because of it.

    When I see greenpeace or 10:10 for example claiming there are 300,000 climate change deaths a year, and using this to lobby hard for action now.I become very sceptical, because I know that the report this comes from, is very dodgy,having read it for myself. Moreover climate scientist also knowhow shaky that report was, myself and professor R Betts persuading another prominent scientist, Dr Katie Hayhoe to drop this claim in her climate change slides. Richard is the Met office head of climate impacts and an IPCC lead author for AR4 and AR5.

    Yet. When I question this. I am labelled as a climate denier or worse by thise activists. An antiscience flatearther who hates science/scientists.
    Which just leads me to further question the rationality of these groups. As therecintent is to shut me out if any debate by name calling/ smearing. As I know I am not. Two sciencec degrees and a very good friend who edited IPCC’s TAR, i becime very concerned about there lobbying activities.

    Drop me an email. Maybe we could have a chat.

  • Hi adam
    Take a look at the Denizens thread at Prof Judith Curry’s blog Climate Etc.

    Which give backround of many readers. Including me
    this idea borrowed from a very sceptical blog. Jeff id’s The Air Vent blog. See reader background there.

    Of course so many activists that are also associated with anticapitalism. Anti gmo or anti nuclear does not help credibility.

    Ie let us assume. Low carbon energy sources are a prudent idea,regardless of climate science. The irrational respone my many groups. Forces many to question there judgement on science issues.
    People like Mark Lynas and George Monbiot being labelled chernobyl death deniers. By climate campaigners who think there were a million deaths. being an example. Giving the perception or irrationality.

  • Pls excuse typos. Attempting this on smartphone. With my 4 years old daughter jogging me. As we are watching cbeebies.

  • Thanks for the comments Barry – unfortunately I’m going to be away from the computer now for a few hours but will respond properly later in the day!

  • Hello Adam

    I think that the very fact that this is supposed to be a discussion about the psychology of scepticism says a great deal about the psychology of believers in CAGW. There is a built in assumption that scepticism is caused by some kind of psychological deviance rather than a study of the relevant science.
    Scepticism in its broadest sense is healthy, dont believe everything you are told (especially by governments), find out for yourself.
    My experience of sceptic blogs is that the bloggers did exactly that, they were not happy to take (for example) The Hockey Stick at face value and started to read around the subject.

  • I have a fundamental problem with the whole approach. What is the point of studying “the socio-cultural roots of cli­mate change scep­ti­cism”? Wouldn’t it make much more sense to study “the socio-cultural roots of cli­mate change activism” in general, skeptical or otherwise?

    That’s “how social sci­ent­ists might get more enlight­ening answers about the socio-cultural roots of cli­mate change scep­ti­cism” and more. Otherwise it’ll end up, as usual, in the equivalent of a Tory party analysis on Labour voters, or vice-versa…content-free, at best.

    And once that is done, it will even be possible for social scientists to listen to people interested in climate change, rather than obsess on how to find a socio-cultural explanation for their opinions.

  • Studying the reasons/basis for scepticism doesnt imply ‘psychological deviance’ – that’s definitely not what the research shows, or what I’m suggesting. But if scepticism is consistently and reliably associated with certain ideological beliefs or personal characteristics (being older/white/male/conservative), this requires an explanation, and that’s what this type of research is motivated by…

  • I think studying the psychology of activism (not just climate change activism) is a really interesting area, and I know that there is some more sociological and anthropological research that has done this…but I guess my interest in in understanding why there is a clash between a certain ‘group’ of people ( I dont mean a group that is all the same, or part of a network, but a group defined by sharing certain characteristics/social views) tend to express sceptical views about climate change, when others dont. I think the research that exists – which is not a definite answer but the beginning of a process – suggests that people who are sceptical about climate science are responding to things that have more to do with policy and economic choices, and that’s the argument I’m making here.

    If we can disentangle policy choices about how to respond to climate change from the underlying science that describes the problem/risks, then we’d make more progress I think.

  • Hi Barry – I guess your points strike me as similar to Geoff’s in some ways: you have concerns about ‘non-scientific’ things (the social views of activists, over-exaggeration in the claims of some NGOs etc) and work from those concerns to question the underlying science…I think that is making a straw man of the science (which is not unquestionable – it should be questioned – but it is questioned as part of the normal cut and thrust of academic publishing). So I guess I’m saying that if we can keep the (legitimate) concerns about the politics of climate change distinct from the science, we’d probably be making some progress. Scepticism about climate policies – and debate about what alternatives might be- seems much more important than a repeated doubting of well-established science.

  • An interesting discussion.

    Something that often gets overlooked or minimised is that ‘sceptic’ covers an enormous range of opinion, understanding and motivation. If the consensus is a reasonably coherent identifiable edifice [although with some variants] ‘scepticism ‘ of that edifice can take literally dozens of forms.

    One of the great misunderstandings of – or misrepresentations of – many sceptics is that they are somehow ‘deniers’ in disguise. Pretty much all sceptics that I know and communicate with are perfectly happy with the principle of AGW. All, though, have at least one (and often more than one) doubts about the certainty of –

    “AGW is a serious problem, potentially catastrophic. It’s going to get worse. Something should be done about it URGENTLY. Reducing emissions is critical; it is achievable, cost-effective and the most important thing society should be trying to do”

    There are obviously other components to this ‘consensus’ idea but it seems to me that to have doubts about ANY of these is enough for someone to be (and be labelled) as sceptical. Whereas I happen to think is an entirely reasonable thing to be, even though the appellation ‘climate-sceptic’ seems to carry for many people a wholly negative connotation.

    To turn the original question around – is it worth studying why more people are not sceptical? Why do so many people swallow whole and uncritically an ideology characterised by imagining a doom-laden future, when the history of worrying about the future has such a record of being misplaced? Would greater education lead to a better understanding of nuances involved in the whole subject of the climate and its relationship with life on earth? Is fear of climate change actually a simple manifestation of the fear of change itself?

    In other words, would our studies be not better devoted to understanding, explaining – and even ‘overcoming’ – climate change alarmism?

    That last question (a deliberate parody…..) leads to my one slight concern about this article – which I enjoyed reading. It is that it is only a couple of steps away from asserting that people who disagree with us are mentally ill, that the -ism which opposes us is a kind of insanity, if not a kind of evil. And the only way to come to that conclusion is to mistake our own beliefs for truth ie to become genuine fundamentalists.

    When we see people with a different view to our own as having something wrong with them, that we can correct or overcome, I think it says more about us than it does the people with a different view.

  • Hello Adam

    Your post at 1.28 pm says it all:
    Scepticism about cli­mate policies — and debate about what altern­at­ives might be– seems much more important than a repeated doubting of well-established science.
    Well established science points clearly to CO2 having a very minor role in warming the planet (at this particular time). I am not the slightest bit interested in the psychology of sceptic or warmist bloggers, I am only interested in the facts and I think I speak for most sceptics in that.

  • Maurizio Morabito:
    Reiner Grundmann, a sociologist at Aston University who has written a paper on climategate and science policy, makes this point very well in an interview with Hans von Storch at
    http://klimazwiebel.blogspot.fr/2012/05/interview-reiner-grundmann.html
    in which he insists on:

    “…a principle at the heart of science studies, the methodological rule of studying knowledge claims symmetrically. This means not to assume a priori that one side is right and the other wrong and that we only need to find explanations for the “wrong” position (because the truth will out in the end and is in no need for explanation). Instead, we should analyze both sides (or more sides, if there are more) without committing to one of them on the level of cognitive validity or authority.”

  • Hi Adam

    I’m sure there are some aspect of “socio-cultural roots” in cAGW scepticism and acceptance – you only have to look at some of the blogs where both sides will defend their position despite refusing to look at the opposing view. This is especially true of BBC and Guardian blogs and I am not just pointing the finger at believers.

    I did a naughty experiment on the BBC’s blog once and made a statement with a link to an article which was in support of cAGW. Not one person pointed out my “error” until I told them I’d deliberately put in a wrong link.

    As for myself, I was born a working class lad many years ago and opposed Thatcher and the poll tax. Years later, after learning to read, I realised crushing the unions was probably the right thing to do for the country.

    At first, I accepted cAGW, because that’s what we were told, but after hearing the stories about my university’s PhD’s, I started reading the papers for myself. I don’t accept the CO2 meme, because I’ve read enough to be unconvinced, not that I won’t change my mind. I was wrong about Thatcher, I could be wrong again.

    I still identify with my past and spent most of my life as a carpenter (now retired), the latter part working for a university where I had access to science papers. I strongly believe we need to look after the earth and conserve precious resources. I strongly believe we need to help the millions who die every year through lack of clean water and sanitation (at a fraction of the cost of the $$$$$ being spent on “combating climate change”, but I don’t accept the CO2 is evil meme.

    So I’m not sure where that leaves my socio-cultural roots. A (largely) self-educated, left wing Tory / right wing socialist / dry liberal (?), from a working class background who wants to save the rain forest and help those less fortunate than me, but doesn’t accept that CO2 is the dangerous driver behind the warming we have on record

  • Adam – June 15, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    First of all you’re not studying “people who are scep­tical about cli­mate sci­ence” but (obviously!) “people who are vocal about their scep­ticism about cli­mate sci­ence”. It’d be strange then not to connect the dots and find what makes those people similar/different from “people who are vocal about their belief in cli­mate sci­ence”.

    And that wouldn’t be enough either. I am sceptical about certain aspects of climate science, Geoff about certain others, Barry certain others more, and so on and so forth. How do you define “people who are scep­tical about cli­mate sci­ence”?

    Some reject it wholesale. I don’t. Some rubbish the IPCC reports. I don’t. Etc etc.

    Come to think, what is exactly the subject of your study, assuming I’m wrong in the lingering impression that your task be to demonstrate older white male conservatives should be looked at funny?

  • folks, thanks for all the comments and interesting points. Its a shame over at Bishop Hill there are people doing the usual name-calling (punching me on the nose as ‘direct engagement’; calling me a bigot) when clearly this is an attempt to have a civil conversation…but anyway, I’m not going to be on here again for pretty much the rest of the day so comments might not go straight through

  • geoff – i’m sorry if this went up a bit sooner than the publishing of the piece on your side, had thought you were ready to go on it, my apologies, would be great to see the comment thread on Harmless Sky too

  • Another point Adam. You write: “If we can dis­en­tangle policy choices about how to respond to cli­mate change from the under­lying sci­ence that describes the problem/risks, then we’d make more pro­gress I think.”

    You might have a point but not sure if it’s the one you’re thinking of having.

    Of course the lesser the pain in the policy, the fewer people will spend their time in speaking up against it. For example the science behind the Ozone Hole scare isn’t exactly rock-solid, yet the policy solution was so smooth and easily found, nobody made the effort to stop anything.

    Therefore all the trouble in implementing climate change mitigation policies might lie in the fact that all of the policies suggested so far imply wholesale changes to economies and societies. This tells us a lot about the policies, and about what makes people speak up against them, but still won’t tell us anything about the science side of scepticism.

    So we’re back to my comment…you’re not studing sceptics, you’re studying vocal sceptics. You won’t (can’t) ever find the socio-cultural roots of scepticism with your work: what you will find will be the socio-cultural roots of being vocal about one’s scepticism.

  • “Do you think that many sceptics would be less likely to doubt the reality or seriousness of climate change if tackling it had no impact on their lives, or could be shown to be ‘cost-free’?”

    If it had no impact on our lives then nobody would care. Scientists can argue as much as they like about the existence of dark matter. That’s entirely up to them. Why should I care? I’m not going to take the time to check the science out for myself. I have other things to do.

    But we’re told that AGW is going to cause serious problems to all of us. That’s why people are checking out the science, and it’s also why the subject is inherently political.

    When we check out the science we are appalled at how bad it is. Is the science in other areas this poor? I don’t know, and if it doesn’t affect me then I don’t much care. It’s not my business. If people want to do shoddy work, and it doesn’t affect me, then that’s just up to them.

    But AWG is my business, because the immediate question raised is “what should we do?” Which makes it political by definition, I would have thought.

  • adam –

    I agree with you about the Bishop Hill comments.

    I accept too your point about the fact that it’s an interesting fact that there are some obvious correlations between ideology and climate scepticism [and here I mean non-acceptance of reasonably basic science] I think it is perhaps inevitable that looking – however dispassionately – at the reasons behind those correlations is going to provoke some hasty and vehement ire from many others who also self-label as ‘sceptic’.

    As you say, there are also some interesting connections between ideology and activism and [I would suggest] between belief in the certainty of serious AGW with the propensity to imagine all change as a negative.

    If I can focus on just one aspect of your post that I disagree with, it is the implication that we KNOW that AGW is a serious problem. For me this raises the fact/value demarcation in that a characterisation of something as a serious problem is a subjective, non-scientific, value-laden view. It seems to me that when you talk about “How to respond to climate change” the option of not doing anything is logically available, but rhetorically dismissed. As if the acknowledgement of warming is an acknowledgement of danger and somehow a course of action is logically implied. I don’t think it is.

    I would side with Richard Betts of the met office who doesn’t agree with the “2 degrees is dangerous” meme. His reasoning, like mine, is that the characterisation of ‘dangerous’ is entirely subjective, and something about which science has (and can have) nothing to say.

    I suppose I’m just trying to place a tiny wedge between the acknowledgement of a certain amount of a warming and a subjective view of it as having some necessarily negative implication.

    The upshot of this is that statements such as “2 degrees of warming will be dangerous” are categorically not true. The subjectivity of ‘danger’ precludes the statement from having any truth-value.

    There, if you like, lies one of my own reasons to be sceptical of the edifice. My subjective view of how humanity will fare if global temperatures rise 2C or so over a century are ‘just fine’.

  • Adam, I am one of the great unwashed: a layman who has simply become interested in CAGW (Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming). Until 2-3 years ago, I never gave the topic a second thought, simply assuming that the experts must know what they’re doing. Then, for some reason, I started to read up on the evidence and evaluate it for myself. I was shocked. The experts do not agree, and there is hardly any aspect of the subject which is as I had been led to believe. I could write pages for you on what I discovered and why I became a sceptic but, in view of the topic of your blog, may I state that my scepticism is nothing to do with psychology or politics and everything to do with the scientific weaknesses of the consensus case.

    Would I feel differently if there were approaches which did not involve economic sacrifice? Well, if this were nothing more than a spat between scientists I might not be interested – I’m sure they happen all the time in different branches of science. But this isn’t just an academic argument. Policies to reduce CO2 emissions are wasting the wealth of nations, driving up energy prices and pushing people into energy poverty, jeopardising the continuity of energy supply, causing an increase in deaths due to starvation in the 3rd world because of the switch of arable land from food production to biofuels, and inhibiting efforts in developing countries to break out of poverty – something which can only be achieved if there is the provision of cheap and abundant electricity. For these reasons, I regard the current climate consensus as modern day Lysenkoism and it must be opposed.

    Does psychology extend to the study of logical thought processes and critical thinking? If so, you might like to investigate why pro-CAGW people believe the output of computer models even when it is contradicted by real world observations, why they are unable to recognise circular logic e.g. in the attribution of recent warming to human-produced CO2, and why they conflate climate change with man-made catastrophic climate change so that evidence for the former is taken as evidence for the latter.

  • Hi Adam,

    You may also find it useful to think about the context and content of the following statement made by one professional climate scientist to another:-

    http://allmodelsarewrong.com/limitless-possibilities/#comment-1238

    The tone of both scientists involved is broadly sceptical. The comment is critical of the IPCC’s attribution arguments and, since the writer has expressed similar criticism on numerous occasions, it represents a “repeated doubting of well-established science”.

    You started your post by stating that, “There is a growing body of academic literature that seeks to understand, explain – and even overcome – climate change scepticism”.

    Do you think that this statement also applies to the scepticism expressed in the comment? And if not, why?

  • Maurizio
    If you look at the discussion at
    http://www.climate-resistance.org/2012/03/shrinking-the-sceptics.html
    and the original Guardian article which is linked to from there, you’ll see that Corner is not really investigating scepticism as we understand it. He’s studying the psychology of belief, using scepticism as an example of an area of belief, and seeing how it’s influenced by information. He divides his highly unrepresentative sample of young Welsh female psychology students into two equal-sized groups according to a battery of questions, and goes from there. It’s valid enough within the limits of the kind of study he’s doing, but is of little interest outside, in my opinion. He’s never really got to grips with scepticism, which is why I offered myself as an “only specimen in captivity”, and why the discussion doesn’t advance very far.
    For me, the real problem comes not from his research, but from the use he wants to make of it in his subsequent Guardian article

  • Adam:
    I suspect that the polarization of viewpoints documented by Kahan has roots in whatever got individuals initially interested in the topic to begin with. For some, it may be purely ideological; for others, the perception that proponents proposed solutions mysteriously align with their preferred ideological positions (e.g., the Paul Ehrich gang from Berkeley); for others, it may be an intuitive sense of effect sizes and the general historical stability of the climate system; or it may be the perceived degree of alignment with the principles of the scientific method – openness, discussibility and replication (e.g., the hyper-reaction to Bjorn Lomborg is a good example not to mention the tone of many of the Climategate emails and the appalling behavior of moderators and principals at Real Climate towards among others Roger Pielke, Sr., Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick). Of course, it very likely could be all of the above. Whatever the initial trigger mechanisms, the next step is heightened awareness and critical thinking about proposed proof points and the identification of substantive problems. I suspect that most informed skeptics have their own stories about how they personally found significant flaws in what appears to be the catastrophic agw canon ranging from obvious hype about polar bears to the measurement of sea level rise and to the reason for increase frequency of glacier quakes in Greenland. This set off a reinforcement process largely because the research does have flaws and fairly broad bands of uncertainty – allowing confirmation bias to amplify whatever discrepancies and uncertainties exist.
    The same process operates for those who are advocates of CAGW.

  • adam –

    I’ve spent some time reading around your blog and the thing that stands out the most is that you use the word ‘sceptic’ in a different way to almost all the sceptics I know. It almost seems as if you would use the word ‘denier’ if it weren’t so politically charged.

    I’ll admit that there are some individuals at the extreme who simply don’t believe that adding Co2 to the atmosphere will increase temperatures. However, they are tiny in number and certainly aren’t apparent among the vocal sceptics in Britain and on climate blogs. They are not even prominent at the GWPF.

    All the world-renowned climate sceptics [Professors Lindzen, Christy, Spencer, Pielke, Curry etc etc] accept that GHG’s warm the climate. So do I and so do all the sceptics I know.

    Somehow, though, it is either politically or psychologically expedient to believe that ‘sceptics’ are people who simply don’t accept the ‘truth’ and are therefore just wrong. Rather than well-informed people who disagree with you.

    One of your ‘guides’ starts off –

    “Why are some people still scep­tical about the reality and ser­i­ous­ness of cli­mate change when the sci­entific evid­ence is so overwhelming?”

    This is the demarcation problem in an absolute nutshell. There is no scientific evidence for the “seriousness” of climate change nor will there ever be. The seriousness (or otherwise) of something is a subjective value-judgement.

    I think you’ll find that most of us who self-identify as climate sceptics are fundamentally sceptical about catastrophe. Inconvenient as it may be, there isn’t any scientific evidence one way or another for this which means a deficit model is irrelevant. It also means that if you would like a civil discussion it must start with the recognition of the validity of the views of those who DON’T believe in the seriousness of climate change.

    Otherwise I’m reminded the owners of my University bookshop who behind their SSPCK were happily propagating something they believed to be Christian Knowledge. Calling their beliefs ‘knowledge’ seems similar to those who would call their beliefs about climate change ‘scientifically proven’ even though science has nothing to say about those beliefs.

    If you believe climate change is serious, I’m happy to allow you your values, and if you allow me mine a discussion can ensue!

  • What’s interesting is the tendency of ‘sceptics’ — clearly illustrated in many comments here — to want to represent acceptance of the census view of climate change as support for ‘CAGW’. The fact is that neither I nor anybody I know of is a ‘believer’ or an ‘advocate’ of ‘Catastrophic AGW’.

    The scientific consensus is that climate change/global warming presents a range of possible outcomes; from the manageable through to the catastrophic. How it works out is down to many parameters — many of which cannot be predicted (like how much action humans will actually implement to reduce emissions and mitigate the worst effects). What is it about sceptics that they need to cast everyone who is not a climate sceptic as wishing for the worst outcome of AGW (the truth being exactly the opposite)? I wonder, do they need to hold this view to justify their extreme contrarian positions?

  • I think Geoff batted that well until he said this : “Where we dis­agree with the con­sensus is on the higher estim­ates of cli­mate sens­it­ivity endorsed by the IPCC and the cata­strophic effects which are sup­posed inev­it­ably to follow.” Geoff is suggesting that the sceptic view is narrowly aimed at a nuanced position in the science . And his use of the first person plural implies that is a common thread amongst all sceptics. This might be the image some want to project of climate scepticism, the reasoned examination (and maybe even promotion) of a counter-hypothesis. Ive glanced at one or two climate skeptic blogs and there is no common counter-hypothesis.

    If the more sophisticated sceptics, like Geoff, distanced themselves from the contradictory positions embraced by the ‘planet is cooling’ creed or the ‘AGW is a scam’ brigade they’d be more credible. But climate skepticism doesn’t work like that. I suggest that is because such arguments assist the cause of climate scepticism, rather than a reasoned search for truth.

  • My scepticism of alarmism is based entirely on my reading of the science. Like others, if there were not such heavy economic consequences being, and to to be, suffered from the politics (over)reacting to the CAGW consensus, I’m sure I wouldn’t be so concerned.

    How did I become interested in the science? About eight years ago my brother, Phil, started a charity, Campaign Against Climate Change (CACC). He is still there – check the website – but has now been taken over by the great and the good. At the time I accepted the general warmest view without having any particular interest. Having seen a few contrary articles in the press, when I saw him, I looked to him for the evidence to counter these contrary views. I had hardly mentioned this idea, when I was hit with a stream of invective, nothing positive at all. As it was a family gathering, I backed off – rapidly! However, it sowed a seed and, over time, I took more notice of climate related articles. So much so that I eventually decided to investigate the science. Having started by reading on the web, I moved on to do a short web based course on the basics of climate science run by Cambridge University. While learning a lot, the two professors were unable to show scientific evidence to support the CO2 CAGW theory. Since then I have followed the scientific debate closely. As a result I remain sceptical of alarmism.

    So, Adam (1.18), this has nothing to do with belief mechanisms – just a logical appreciation of the science.

  • Maurizio Morabito: “I have a fun­da­mental problem with the whole approach. What is the point of studying “the socio-cultural roots of cli­mate change scep­ti­cism”? Wouldn’t it make much more sense to study “the socio-cultural roots of cli­mate change act­ivism” in gen­eral, skep­tical or otherwise?”

    Maurizio, the climate “alarmist” view is not irrational. It is the methodology taught to most scientists (which is not the same as the scientific method). The method is to take a situation and deconstruct into it constituent parts, and then those into their, until there are a set of parts that can be understood using simple models (i.e. the climate model) and then the whole is assumed to be the sum of the parts.

    This works well when a situation is simple. When e.g. you are working out the projectile of a bullet. But when you get to real life situations, any engineer learns that real life often doesn’t work the way the science says it ought. In other words, we learn to distrust the simplistic “find the simple scientific model for the situation”.

    Engineers, doctors, politicians, and a whole load of other people learn a set of “rules of thumbs” by which they judge not only the direct symptom, but the reaction and truthfulness of others. E.g. having worked in a factory, I’ve seen the way temperature readings get fabricated by workers on the night shift, so I have no illusion about the accuracy and need to check the global temperature record. I can also know of instances where Met Readings have been made up.

    So, I’ve got the experience to know I can’t always trust the information I’m getting and I have to look at the motivation of those involved, I have to look not only at what the science says should happen but whether there is evidence that something is actually happening in the real world.

    But the real problem is very few people have actually looked at the data themselves. indeed, given that the data spreads across economics and disease and crops, it is highly unlikely there is anyone specialising in everything that constitutes the problem known as “global warming”.

    So, everyone to some extent or other relies on other people as sources of information. We all naturally tend to favour sources of information that match our own outlook. Some e.g. put a high value on “caring” … so they value those authority figures that appear to “care” like doctors, priests. Others value evidence, so value those authority figures that argue from the “evidence”. We also tend to favour certain types of politics, certain types of arguments. I’ve even seen people who reject work just because they don’t like the grammar or spelling.

    Some people see the world in graphs, others see it in prose. Some care almost nothing for “consensus” others are totally lost unless they are part of the “in-crowd”. … or to put that another way, some have no fashion sense whilst the others are .

    Now sociologists have an inherent belief that people or society matters. They therefore think that the kind of social network of personality type dictates how you view the facts. In part they are right, but like all professionals …. when you hold a spanner every problem looks like a nut.

  • The political correlation is clearly real, but it may be that it isn’t beliefs coming from ideology *instead of* science, but that ideology determines which aspects of the science people pay attention to.

    Confirmation bias is the human tendency to examine new information more closely when they contradict existing beliefs. Most people know relatively little about science, and conventional metrics of ‘scientific literacy’ does not measure their adherence to scientific principles, but simply their knowledge of what scientists say. For most people, for most of the science they know, they believe it because that is what ‘the experts’ told them, or that they have heard indirectly that that is what experts say. This approach is actually contrary to scientific principle – opposition to the argumentum ad verecundiam is at the very root of scientific philosophy – but practically it is unavoidable. *Nobody* checks everything, and most people take other people’s word for it.

    Unless of course it contradicts our prior beliefs, in which case we are motivated to seek out more information. How do the experts know? What is the evidence? What was the evidence for my prior belief? Are there alternative explanations? Is the evidence of sufficient quality, or might there be something wrong with it? Does this new information require me to change my mind?

    Whereas if it affirms our prior beliefs, we seek to defend it, and be similarly critical of contradictory information provided by sceptics of the claims. Science recognises this as a universal human tendency, and says that we therefore *require* motivated scepticism to test claims, and that it is only by surviving motivated criticism, in circumstances where we have reason to believe any flaws would be detected, that belief in scientific hypotheses can come to be justified. Even if the sceptics turn out to be wrong, they’re still necessary.

    Thus it can be that ideological motivation can lead to valid scientific scepticism. People were told things that did not accord well with their prior beliefs, examined matters in more detail, and found many genuine reasons for doubt. Sceptics can therefore have entirely *scientific* reasons for doubting the orthodoxy, because they were ideologically motivated to look into the science in more detail, and not simply accept the authority of experts.

    The Kahan result is interesting, but there is another similar result: on belief in the dangers of nuclear power. The scientifically orthodox position being that it is safe. On this one there is again a political divide, but this time the polarisation *reduces* and the left become *more* accepting of nuclear power the more scientifically knowledgeable they are (as did those on the right). I suspect they were likewise motivated to examine the evidence more closely, but in this case found the evidence was good. There are other plausible hypotheses, though. Still, the example does show that it isn’t a simple matter of ideology driving belief, and scientific knowledge driving polarisation.

  • I love nature, I am an outdoor sports freak, and I am forward-thinking. People who don’t know me very well assume I will be a climate “believer”.

    For several years I was a “believer”. What broke my faith was that the solutions seemed so pathetic: everything turning to custard in a few years and the answer was to change our light bulbs and recycle our bus tickets.

    This caused me to check the science and I was shocked at just how shoddy it all was. I am on the rebound now like an ex-smoker.

    A lot of people have followed a similar trajectory. But don’t try to lump us al together – we don’t all believe the same thing and we have no responsibility to forge a different belief. We are like people who are *not* Jehovah’s Witnesses – we do not have our own church or creed.

  • Geoff – what do you think has happened to Corner? It’s always been a given with non-skeptic types to avoid giving any platform to skeptics. the comments above clearly breach that tradition. Even accepting to interview you is kind of extraordinary.

    John – why don’t you try to post those non-CAGW thoughts of yours at the usual warmist places. Use a pseudonym, see how many will label you as a denier. In my experience, it’ll really be many.

    Hengist – what are you talking about? I’ve had my spats with people like O’Sullivan if that makes you feel better. And I’ve expressed my disgust at the HI billboard. And I don’t know how many times I’ve said I’m totally against the idea that AGW is a scam or a hoax. But we’re not talking here about an adult debate surrounded by fringe sites. If CiF or RC or the Bad Astronomer or SkS literally delete or destroy my contribution when I add my comment to them, of course I end up with the “fringe skeptics”. Whatever their opinion, they still allow me to speak. And that makes all the difference.

    I suspect it’s the same for Geoff and others.

  • Adam, the chief obstacle to your attempt to understand climate scepticism is your inability to believe in the remotest possibility that it may be scientifically correct. Until you can accomplish that modest feat of the imagination, you will always be talking in ravens, while they listen in writing desks.

    To pick but one of your many remarks that shed far more light on the psychology of believers than of sceptics:

    “That sug¬gests to me that if there were other policy options on the table – that didn’t involve rising energy prices – your doubts about the legit¬imacy of the under¬lying sci¬ence would not be as strong.”

    Only to a True Believer, it does. Try looking through the other end of the telescope, Adam. If there truly were no cost associated with mitigation policies (do you have any examples, by the way, or is your point entirely hypothetical?), there would be no point in anyone, sceptic or believer, picking arguments – the point about the science would be moot. We could go about our lives untroubled by needless acrimony.

    As a 60 year-old sceptic, I have become used to seeing a percentage of each generation grow to what passes for maturity gripped by the belief that it would be the last to walk the face of the earth unless everybody listened up and did as it told them. They do a lot of damage (Eugenics, DDT demonization come to mind) and waste a lot of money, but they seem to provide psychic diversion for a rather larger group of my fellow citizens, and their fads have generally been forgotten after a few years. A lot of wasteful, growth-inhibiting legislation remained festering on the statute books – but overall I have come to see this as a sort of tithe – an irksome but limited impost on the right to live a quiet life. People do not like being told that they are gullible, and the social cost of voicing scepticism over their pet scares outweighed the benefits. Quiescence, through gritted teeth, prevailed. This may have been a mistake, as Voltaire observed: “ Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

    When CAGW came along, I assumed that, coming almost comically soon after, and on the lips of the same ‘scientists’, as global cooling, it would enjoy a brief period of earnest hand-wringing, soak up a few $m in grants, and move on. My high school Physics master had predicted, c1969, that climate, a nonlinear, chaotic system, could never be skilfully predicted by computer modelling.

    But AGW struck it lucky in the real world, which warmed for 25 years. And I had underestimated the appetite among supposedly educated westerners for catastrophe narratives.
    It is precisely because I saw CAGW generate sufficient traction to occasion real and enduring wealth-destruction, particularly to the undeveloped world, that I decided to endure the pitying scorn or outright condemnation that, in 2009, came with expressing climate-scepticism anywhere that mattered.

    From your end of the telescope, I ‘became’ a sceptic. From my end, I was always one, but a mostly silent one.

    As I suggested to Geoff in another forum, a better question to ask, and one it would be fascinating to see you tackle, is “why has a large segment of the least threatened population in the history of humanity AGREED to concoct a misanthropic narrative about its own kind?”

  • Philip Richens,

    Re: the exchange between Judith Curry and myself at http://allmodelsarewrong.com.

    I’d just like to point out that I do not consider myself a “Sceptical” scientist in the sense I think you meant it. Of course I am sceptical with a small s, because I am a scientist :) But my views are pretty mainstream in the climate science community.

    The two points I would use to distinguish myself from others, and that may have led you to describe me as sceptical, are that (a) characterising uncertainty in these models is at the centre of my research and (b) I try quite hard to see other people’s point of view. Once I dropped the defensiveness and started listening, I found that the extremely diverse sceptical community had extremely diverse things to say, ranging from not so useful to perfectly valid criticisms. Sometimes the criticisms have alreay been addressed by climate scientists, but the information about this is not readily available or not clearly explained.

  • 1. Bad ideas are like viruses. They can spread quickly, and do harm to those that “catch” them.

    2. Nature provides us with the same solution to both problems – diversity. Genetic diversity ensure that those vulnerable to viruses are taken out of the gene pool, with the remainder safe. Similarly, people appraise ideas using a diversity of methods, so that a limited number of people get “duped” by any single bad idea.

    So, we have diversity of methods of thought, and it is a good thing we do.

    Applying this to the issue at hand, we can see that the climate change argument appeals to a narrow band of thought methods, but it is highly effective for these methods.

    The AGW movement probably has the support of everyone who is inclined to accept truth on the basis of “the majority of expert opinion”.

    People who find more nomological methods appealing were likely to be turned off by the “climategate” affair.

    The correlation with right wing leanings may well be due to the general preference for nomological methods amongst the right wing.

  • Should have included in my comment:

    I accept man has a role in climate change through deforestration, land change use etc

  • Hi Adam

    Really glad to see you are actually engaging in debate with climate skeptics. Sorry Bishop Hill comments have been rude. Scrolling down here shows me, however, that the length of comments indicates serious engagement, not rudeness.

    I was a warmist myself, and an activist too – until I started looking more closely at the science, the whole science, and nothing but the science.

    I was on sick leave at the time, so was able to devote all my time to studying the facts, as represented by both sides. Even so it too six weeks, during which time I ricocheted back and forth, not knowing who to “believe”. I ended up with a lot of dislike for anything to do with “believing”, and a lot of respect and enjoyment from digging deeper and deeper for “the truth”, the evidence. I believe, insofar as I now believe anything, that there is something in many of us that wants truth wherever it leads, for its own sake. This is in line with the Royal Society motto “Nullius In Verba” – “on the word of nobody” and also with the words of Jesus. From different corners of human reality, the same experience.

    I ended by writing up not just the science but also my own journey of transformation. This is excellent material for your study IMHO. Click my name. From my account, you can see that even if you change “sides” in your own journey, you can still have an interesting story, a valuable psychological / social study, and a focus for your own future interests, at the end of the day.

    Good luck.

  • Hi Tamsim,

    I do understand that yours is scepticism with a small s, and the reasons for it. My comment, “The tone of both scientists involved is broadly sceptical. The comment is critical of the IPCC’s attribution arguments”, I’d hoped makes it clear that it is the comment I linked that is critical, rather than your post.

    The point I was trying hard to make to Adam is that all good scientists, including yourself, are sceptical, and that scientifically based criticisms of the IPCC’s position should be welcomed. I think Adam misses this point.

    I remain interested to know how Adam characterises scepticism of aspects of global warming science amongst scientists, including climate scientists such as yourself and Curry, as well as scientists from related disciplines.

  • Tamsin,

    PS: If you have read the Lovejoy and Schertzer paper referenced in Curry’s comment, I would be very interested to hear your reactions to the points it makes, which were echoed in Curry’s comment to you.

  • “What’s inter­esting is the tend­ency of ‘scep­tics’ … to want to rep­resent accept­ance of the census (sic) view of cli­mate change as sup­port for ‘CAGW’.”

    If AGW is not going to be catastrophic, why do we need to spend a trillion dollars fixing it?

    Maybe the psychology you should be investigating is the cognitive dissonance on the part of the believers?

  • I am sure that there is a correlation between views about climate change and political views. But it is far from perfect. I am a 67 year old life long guardian reading white male. I have never voted conservative in my l
    life, though I once was foolish enough to vote for the Lib Dems. I would class myself as a climate sceptic in the sense that, while there is good evidence that adding CO2 to the atmosphere will, other things being equal, raise global temperature, there is little convincing evidence that that rise will be substantial or that the rise we have seen is unprecedented. Perhaps my views are influenced by the fact that I am an economist (I used to lecture in the economics department at Cardiff!). But i have no problem with a carbon tax if there is good evidence that emissions are a problem. The crude Malthusianism of much environmental thinking annoys me and the associated anti-humanitarian views seem anything but left-wing (witness the Goldsmith family). But what made me particularly sceptical about the claims of climate science was the whole hockey-stick controversy. It was the failure of what was apparently the climate science mainstream to call out what was clearly poor science or to address the entirely legitimate questions raised honestly and openly in the journal literature that really made me sceptical. The statistical issues were in areas I knew a reasonable amount about and the climate scientists seemed to have got it wrong. Being told that my reasoned conclusions were because of my political views then just annoys me,

  • OK, Can we look at the other side of this,
    So there are some reasonable scientific types who believe that the world is warming.. But what about all the nutcases who think it? I’ve never hears the climate scientists say to them – yes you believe the same as us but for the wrong reasons!

  • Tamsin, per your discussion with Judith Curry, I presume you are referring to:
    http://allmodelsarewrong.com/limitless-possibilities/#comment-1238
    (No hits for “Judith Curry”).

  • Adam

    You have a goldmine of responses here. Please cherish them. Please, also, give us a chance to say whether you’ve represented us fairly, if you are going to use material here as evidence for your own work.

    I of course hope that you, like many of us, will at some point allow the contrary and unfamiliar evidence to speak for itself… and that you too may do a U-turn and “change sides”… but be warned. I was warned by a fellow Transition-Towner (yes I was high up that network) that I would lose all my friends… I lost many friends and contacts that way, but I kept my soul and my integrity. I would pay that price again any time.

    For professional climate scientists, this situation is harder. Most have their whole livelihood to lose, if they speak out when they discover the corruption that has happened in Climate Science. Many of us skeptics are retired and don’t have that problem. Many climate skeptics who are active professional scientists post in the blogs under pseudonyms.

    S**t Happens. It would not be the first time in history that “bad science” has overtaken the whole of society. Examine Tulipmania. South Sea Bubble. The Crusades. And of course Godwins Law – what lies behind that one.

    Whatever happens, keep your integrity. Loss of a job can be remedied; but loss of integrity… passes on problems to the next generation.

  • Hi Adam,

    In your first contribution here, you say: “…scepticism about climate change is not primarily caused by a ‘misunderstanding’ of the science but by motivated reasoning processes – rooted in ideological differences – that mean that the ‘same’ evidence is not evaluated in the same way.”

    Narrowing one’s focus too closely, or too quickly, onto ‘climate change’ in an exchange about psychology and scepticism may result in a failure to find usable answers. When stepping back to take a broader psychological view of the problems you identify, a ‘rooted ideology’ may be seen as an expression of (and a self-justification for) a ‘clung-to behavioural pattern’.

    I’m sure your expertise in psychology will include a knowledge of such patterns of behaviour – how they commonly reveal themselves and how, once ‘rooted’, an individual can carry them through life. You must also know it’s a psychological given that such patterns can become an obstacle to an individual’s ability to form fulfilling relationships in society (a process which involves accepting ideological, sexual, cultural differences etc).

    From a psychological perspective, a formative example of such behaviour might be that of an exchange with a parent in which a wilful child seeks to exclude any considerations beyond how much ice cream he can have immediate access to. The parent, on the other hand, might insist that such a limited exchange is irrelevant because she has already determined the child will have none. Any parent will recognise that children often attempt overturn a ‘no’ by claiming that the quality of his/her life somehow depended upon gaining access to the desired object. The less able a child is to take ‘no’ for an answer, the greater effort (and drama) he is likely to invest in ‘proving’ life depended upon getting his own way. It is also a psychological given that, in such scenarios, when the parent repeatedly submits to such demands (in order to avoid the child’s tantrum, or to be seen as ‘loving’), she is in fact validating and cementing a pattern of behaviour which he will find it very difficult to emancipate himself from later in life (although, by then, its expression will have become a lot more sophisticated and elusive).

    Being so rooted, we may wonder if and how this behavioural pattern might emerge and express itself in the ‘climate change’ debate? Such an enquiry would be useful (especially for psychologists) as it could contribute to placing the claims made in the debate into a context which could help us better understand them. For example, if an adult is demanding access to a desired object (or to a desired political rearrangement of his surroundings), how might he (re)introduce a more sophisticated claim that life depended upon his getting his own way? And, being adult, how might he exploit the network of like-minded adults he has established to collaborate in ‘authenticating’ and validating his demand (along with providing elusive evidence to support it)? What replaces parental authority in adult life – if not democratic authority?.. and how might an adult rooted in a psychologically identifiable behavioural pattern transfer a rejection of (or an ambivalence towards) one to the other?

    Rather than searching for the ‘roots of scepticism’, any psychologist worth his salt might search instead for the roots of a rejection of scepticism. In other words, what patterns emerge when an adult, or child, is faced with an authority unconvinced by the extremism of its demands?

  • Adam,

    If you’d be interested in another sceptic story, here’s mine. I had no interest in the global warming narrative and accepted what I read in the newspapers until I saw the word ‘deniers’ being used. Immediately a red flag was raised in my brain – how could anyone be a ‘denier’ of a scientific hypothesis? Using such an emotionally freighted word was the biggest mistake of the Global Warming lobby in this debate, I believe. It was obvious that the debate was being framed as a conflict between the ‘powers of light’ and the ‘powers of darkness’, and the implicit aim of this seemed to be to shut down legitimate questioning. Subsequently, I did a great deal of reading around the subject, attended debates, questioned climate activists that I knew, and became increasingly convinced of what a shaky edifice the whole climate change narrative was. As others have observed, most sceptics will accept that the earth is warming and that man has some responsibility for this, but cannot accept the assumptions of catastrophe and the proposed solutions that come as part of the whole package. Climate has never been unchanging nor sea level/ ice cover etc etc been constant – why do we seem to assume constancy as a baseline now? And why do we assume that by bankrupting ourselves, throwing pensioners into fuel povery, increasing starvation in third world countries, we can mitigate the situation, especially when developing countries are exponentially increasing their fossil fuel use at the same time? The expected consequences and proposed solutions are fraught with uncertainty, and the cure seems worse than the disease.

    The correlation between climate scepticism and right-wing thinking is interesting. Of course, correlation is not causation – and there was an apposite study given some publicity in the media a year or two back. Unfortunately, I can’t remember who was responsible for the research, possibly a London university – but they had scanned the brains of people who self-identified as Left or Right, and found some interesting variations. If I recall correctly, Left-wing brains were more empathetic and concerned with fairness, while Right-wing brains were more likely to be autonomous in their thinking and less likely to follow the herd. Could this provide some illumination on the question?

  • Perhaps the owners of this site respond on a strict Mon-Fri schedule.

  • […] a recent conversation (HERE) between Adam Corner, a psychologist, and  Geoff Chambers a noted AGW-skeptic about […]

  • I wonder if Adam pauses to think about the historical company he’s keeping in trying to pathologise dissent? And can AGW really be considered so well-supported by data that “skepticism” can be safely regarded as some form of aberration?

    I’ve added some thoughts about this on my blog

  • Adam,

    Interesting discussion. I agree with the comments made by Maurizio. I personally find it off-putting when attempts are made to rationalise skepticism from a socio-cultural perspective. I understand why debates are framed this way – in the mind of the enquirer the science is already settled and unarguable and therefore this becomes an exercise in exploring skepticism as a social deviation.

    I cannot speak for anyone else but I do know the origins of my own skepticism and I must tell you that it is genuine skepticism. I am a real believer in facts, logic and science – evidence based arguments will always sway my opinion. However since my skepticism began in 2002 the scientific evidence for catastrophic anthropogenic climate change has weakened and my skepticism has strengthened. The word catastrophic is important because there are many dangers facing society and we really do need to ensure that todays limited resources are directed at the most urgent issues.

    As I recall my first concerns probably arose because of the type of person I am. I have an enquiring mind, I do not often accept things because I have been told to accept them. I want to know, as far as my intellect will allow, why I am being told things. In this sense there might be a social sciences angle, I am not a person who takes the word of higher authority blindly, I am not religious in any way.

    I was told about the greenhouse gas effect – I understood that – it made sense. I was shown the chart which seemed to confirm a temperature relationship between CO2 and global temperature. I was told by the IPCC that practically all scientists were 90% certain that man was accelerating global warming, that this was dangerous and that we all had to change the way we lived. We were facing global catastrophe of biblical proportions with 90% certainty. These last two sentences are important to my skepticism because they are essentially political. Science is one thing but politics is another, when science has become political it requires deeper understanding.

    My first thoughts were – how can scientists be so certain? Climate on earth has been changing for billions of years and the temperature record goes back 100+ years. Is such a small period of time viable to make such a bold statement? Surely the first thing to do is put recent warming in context with natural temperature variables? I found very little in the mainstream media that challenged the warming orthodoxy or examined the natural baseline, I had to find out for myself. What I found made me deeply concerned, not about a warming planet but about how so few could alter the lives of so many. I am not sure that this is a grand conspiracy either, more like a cabal of scientists with deeply held beliefs stumbling into the creation of a new global scientific religion where they became the equivalent of high priests. They were the initiators of an unstoppable movement that, like most religions, has to eventually suppress dissent as a necessity of self-preservation.

    I think I understand why the science was quickly politicised and widely accepted. This small band of earnest scientists knew that the certainty was overstated but given the complexity of the science they couldn’t afford time for debate – they believed they were running out of time for action. They really believed that they were right, that there would be a disaster and they staked their reputations on it. They had to fast-track the science by dubiously claiming consensus and by feeding alarm to the media. The media, who love catastrophe, were unquestioning, hungry for the images of disaster being painted by the high priests of climate hell. The politicians and the public had no chance. The corporations saw it first as a threat then as an opportunity as the subsidies to incentivise change were rolled out.

    At the heart of the climate religion is reliance on complex climate modelling. I have some experience of using complex models. Simple models are great – because you cannot hide behind a simple model, anyone can see your assumptions and either agree or easily pull them a part. A modeller of complex models has great power, very few people can challenge the output of your magnificent machine – especially if you are keen not to share your data. Modellers protected by authority have the ability to make a model perform in any desired way. Transparency is the biggest clue when judging whether a model or a modeller is trustworthy. My sceptical enquiries found that climate modelling was far from transparent and that the certainty of the model output was controlled by a clique who were reluctant to allow access to data and source code. I also found that the greenhouse effect is largely undisputed in models which contributes around 0.8c of warming (a good cross check agains reality). The real scientific concern is not the physics of the greenhouse effect but the modelling of the warming feedback assumed in models. There is great uncertainty in this area and yet it is this feedback which determines whether climate is catastrophic or not and whether resources and action are required or not. The certainty of catastrophic warming seems to have been oversold.

    The reason I am a skeptic is because I have considered what I have been told on CAGW and found that there are a multitude of alternative, plausible scientific challenges which are being prevented from being properly debated. There is now too much at stake, too many careers, too much money and time invested in a theory which cannot be allowed to fail. The sometimes frantic desire to suppress scientific dissent through the manipulation of the peer-review process or through placement of lead authors in the IPCC is frankly astonishing.

    Before we spend a penny more on mitigation we really need to tackle the uncertainty question and look carefully at :

    . The bias of the models and respect their limitations
    . The bias in the scientific community – IPCC processes, leadership, peer review etc
    . The bias in the temperature record – the limitations, the inaccuracy
    . The natural cycle and alternative theories for recent warming

    The measures that have already been taken to mitigate climate temperatures are enormous and even if CAGW is real I think the challenge to change is beyond the agreement of all of humanity. We are potentially wasting our precious resources and progress on world health and development on a bet that we are unlikely to win.

    The world is in financial crisis. It is time to pause, draw a breath and re-assess the path we are on. There are many other pressing environment issues we can spend our valuable time and trillions of pounds/euros on.

    With deepest concern.

    @ChairmanAl (Climate Chimp)

  • Everyone – thanks for your comments. I am away and only have intermittent internet access – please dont be offended if you dont get a reply or your comments sit in moderation for ages. ALSO (and I should have been more clear about this at the outset) this post is about research on the psychology of scepticism, what it can and cannot show etc, and so ANY POST GOING INTO A DISCUSSION OF THE SCIENCE WILL NOT GET THROUGH (or going off topic in other ways).

    Thanks for your understanding.

  • So – you feel you can discuss “the psychology” of skepticism” without discussing whether skepticism is rational or not first?

    This isn’t some brilliant satire is it?

  • It says there are 51 comments but I can only see the last one (using Chrome 19.0.1084.56 on a Mac OS X 10.6.8).

    Is there a bug in the blogging software?

  • oops…by posting a comment, all other comments popped up.

  • can only see 3 comments, need to to adjust a setting somewhere (50 related)?

  • when public see scientists in the media (usually the same few faces) that apear to them or percieved to them as more activist than scientist, I do think this is valid reason that is directly relevant on the phsycology of scepticism.

    A perfect example, is of course James Hansen.

    I asked Prof Arnell at the Walker institue about this, he has a slide about over the top hypeing of science, etc, and he agrred with me thgat certain actions like Hansens were an example of alamist rhetoric and not helping the communication of climate science. When the public, or ‘sceptics’ see scientists in the media, I do think they feel this reflects on climate science as a whole, and then it is the vast majority of climate scientists that then get critisicm (unfairly because of it)

    Most climate scientists I know distance themselves from envrionmental groups, merely because of the just the possible perception of being seen as actvist and not neutral on the subject.

    Thus, I suggest this is a factor that needs to be looked at in the ‘phsycology of scepticism’.

    I would love to chat Adam ( I don’t bite – Mark Lynas and Leo Hickman can testify to that – I even ‘know here Mark Lives’ !! – no worries – I gave him a lift to lunch at Brasenose college with Jonathan Jones and I’m really ever so nice.

    you have my number.

  • You ask “Should this happen more often”. No.
    Are you naive? Have you succumbed to a sudden journalistic whim to rustle up more readers with spurious controversy? Is it some starry-eyed faith in “the internet” as a source of reasoned debate? (I stopped reading after the words “Jeremy Clarkson” as, tbh, this probably signals a rapid downhill trundle).

  • Mr. Chambers, please consider pursuing your skepticism in venues that scientists value. As I am sure you are aware, blogs, media sources, etc. are meaningless in the world of publishing scientists. Have you considered attending a major scientific conference, like the American Geophysical Union, where you can voice your concerns directly and personally with publishing climate scientists? Do you study the research published in peer-reviewed journals? Have you submitted a manuscript to such journals, one that outlines your skepticism in scientific terms?

    I am a publishing scientist myself (though not in climate science), and I find very solid support for the fundamentals of anthropogenic climate change in these venues. Not that there are no scientific uncertainties–there are, and they form the basis of current research. However, I can find no meaningful debate in the peer-reviewed literature on the notion that the climate is changing and that human activity is the primary cause. If you doubt these points and represent yourself publicly as a skeptic, then please challenge the science in primary venues of scientific information.

  • Martin P – if you’ve stopped after seeing “Jeremy Clarkson” you’re devoid of humor or unable to read.

    Paul – is that the same AGU where a member of the board has a B.A. in English? Oh please grow out of logical fallacies and read instead Alexander Kohn’s ”FALSE PROPHETS“ ISBN-10: 0760704074 ISBN-13: 978-0760704073.

  • “Paul Vincelli June 18, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Mr. Chambers, please con­sider pur­suing your skep­ti­cism in venues that sci­ent­ists value. … Do you study the research pub­lished in peer-reviewed journals? …
    I am a pub­lishing sci­entist myself (though not in cli­mate sci­ence), and I find very solid sup­port for the fun­da­mentals of anthro­po­genic cli­mate change in these venues”

    Are you the Paul Vincelli of Kentucky University who presents a program called “Climate Change Extension: Presenting the Science Is Necessary but Insufficient”

    http://c12.cgpublisher.com/proposals/259/index_html

    Are you also a co-author of “Climate Change: A Brief Summary for Kentucky Extension Agents.”

    http://www.ca.uky.edu/agcollege/plantpathology/people/vincelli.htm

    Are you therefore telling the truth above – or are you really another of the “scientactivist” community posing as a neutral commentator?

  • Sorry I haven’t participated more in this debate. I was busy fielding a lot of “no balls” (no, really) at Bishop Hill, and even on the original article at Climate Resistance. A new article at Bishop Hill on the Bain Nature Letter is going over much of the same ground, and this article is now up at Harmless Sky, where those who feel they’ve been unfairly censored here can express themselves.
    Adam warned me that moderation would be erratic, and that he would be away for a period. Not being sure of being able to reply in real time, I preferred to reply at the above mentioned threads.
    As I’ve said elsewhere, I think it was a big mistake not to announce the criteria for moderation at the beginning. This would have avoided a lot of frustration and anger. As it is, biasses have been confirmed (Well, that’s what Adam’s research said would happen, isn’t it? :-) Sceptics appear as ranters, and warmists as censoring opposing views. In addition, any boring off-topic stuff which was censored here ended up at BishopHill, so reinforcing the impression of reasoned discourse on the warmist side, and angry emoting on the other.
    One commenter at Bishop Hill (Ecclesiastical Uncle) picked up what I consider the most telling criticism of our exchange when he said that we were like “ships that pass in the night”. That was inevitable in a first exchange, I think. I hope in later exchanges we’ll manage to engage on serious topics, (It won’t be on the science of climate change, of course, but only on the social science surrounding it).
    Looking at recent comments, I see many that are critical, so accusations of censorship (including accusations which I’ve made on other blogs) are unfair. It looks like inexperienced moderation to me, of the kind which occurs at the Guardian on CommentisFree.

    TomFP (June 16, 2012 at 3:39 am)
    makes some interesting socio-historical obervations which deserve answers from social scientists, and asks: “why has a large segment of the least threatened population in the history of humanity AGREED to concoct a misanthropic narrative about its own kind?”
    There’s a lot of work done by computer scientists and others modelling opinion formation. A paper by Szymanski discussed recently at WUWT suggested that 10% of the population with an unshakeable belief were enough to sway public opinion.
    And look at this from the abstract of a paper by Serge Galam: ”Public debates driven by incomplete scientific data: the cases of evolution theory, global warming and H1N1 pandemic influenza”:
    “To adopt a cautious balanced attitude based on clear but inconclusive data appears to be a lose-out strategy. In contrast overstating arguments with wrong claims which cannot be scientifically refuted appear to be necessary but not sufficient to eventually win a public debate”.
    I’d be very interested to hear the opinions of those like Tamsin Edwards who understand mathematical models on the credibility of this kind of research.

  • Adam – hi

    We talked on Twitter remember. I suggested a reciprocal discussion in which you and a prominent proponent of AGW discuss the Psychology of Belief.

    You said you might be interested but were worried about it becoming too “personal”.

    I’m sorry if my use of the word “smug” contributed to your sense of alarm. i certainly didn’t intend it in any deeply personal way. At least no more personally than your assumption of the right to diagnose shades of opinion as more or less symptomatic of illness.But I think anyone you debated with would be happy to remain as impersonal as would be commensurate with “understanding” your deeper reasons for feeling the need to bellieve.

    With that in mind, have you had any more thoughts on the suggestion I made?

    Let me explain more about why I’m here asking you that.

    See, from my POV, I feel as if the most important thing we have as human beings is not faith or Belief and all the pretence we use to defend those things, but the preparedness – always – to accept we may be wrong and the willingness to embrace the massive importance of Uncertainty. I think we all agree if we could all do that then there’d be no more insane ideologues, drunk on certitude, persecuting the Different. No more hubristic claims of Absolute Truth. Ad indeed no more insidious attempts to reclassify unpopular opinions as a basis for psychoanalysis.

    I don’t think you intended what you’re doing to be an open invitation to bigotry – but that really makes no difference. And even if you’re not aware of the uses that such casual denigration can be put to, you can rest assured there are others who are.

    So, that’s why I think it’s important you acknowledge the full ramifications of the position you’re taking and that you deal responsibly with the urgent need to reassert Uncertainty. To remind yourself and everyone else that being absolutely damn sure you’re right is not a guarantee of anything but a degree of estrangement from reality.

    The best way to do that reasserting would – IMO – be that reciprocal analysis of the psychology of belief we talked about.

    So – how about it?

    Perhaps you and Geoff could meet up again with roles reversed?

    If you did that it would show that even though you have equated dissent with sickness and even though you’ve effectively censored defence of skepticism from your website – you can still see the need for balance.

    Hope you don’t censor this – because that *would* be ironic wouldn’t it

  • Thanks for all your comments. I cant respond to every remark, comment and insult thrown my way on the various blogs that the original post has been discussed on. I’ve almost enjoyed some of the more pointed take-downs – so I hope everyone doesn’t find my ‘youthful naivety’ too grating and I can manage to hold my own against all these ‘big game hunters’ (?!)…

    But I will make one more plea for a civil tone. Calling me smug, patronising, a bigot, posting up photos of me to try and question my credibility etc really doesn’t make me want to speak to anyone (why make it personal? I’m not commenting on any individual in particular, I’m talking about research findings).

    However, the majority of comments I let through on Talking Climate have not been like this, and so I feel like there is still some value in trying to pursue this exchange and so that its not a ‘warmist driveby’ (to quote another comment on bishop hill).

    1. ‘Censoring’ comments. I should have put up moderation criteria at the outset. I’m not used to such an avalanche of responses. I moderated imperfectly I’m sure, but not in a biased way – almost every comment is critical of me, my research, or the enterprise of trying to understand scepticism. I did not let comments that were predominantly about specific criticisms of ‘the science’ in, although I tried to still let through those that made general points about why they were sceptical. Some were a mix, some got through some didn’t, I’ve not had endless time to spend on it. In general, comments that the science is all made up/the hockey stick is rigged/climategte proved its all a fraud etc didn’t get through – I’m afraid you’ll have to debate that somewhere else, I can only talk about social science research.

    2. Am I just displaying my own biased/motivated reasoning? A great question. Everyone – including me – reasons according to their prior beliefs. If I think someone is a racist, and they make an ambiguous remark, I’m more likely to construe this as racist than someone I didn’t have that prior belief about. So in our everyday lives, we are all as potentially susceptible to motivated reasoning as each other. But that leaves two questions:

    A) Is the reason that ‘warmists’ believe in climate change just because they want to, and does that mean CC is just made up?
    B) Are my views/beliefs biasing my own interpretation of the social science evidence?

    Here’s my thoughts on A: Broadly – and there is a longer version of this answer – you can draw a pretty clean distinction between ‘everyday reasoning’ and ‘the scientific method’. If you think all scientists are corrupt/lying etc, then I don’t expect you to think that the scientific method IS different. But for the vast majority of people who don’t think like this, the scientific method – through which we can measure temperature, observe the effect of CO2, conduct model runs etc – is pretty much insulated from motivated reasoning. Without wishing to be too reductionist, ‘the data are the data’.

    So no, the reality of climate change is not some by-product of lefty wishes for a world government – although you can’t be surprised that if someone wants (for example) a world government, that they wouldn’t use every bit of evidence available to support this. So climate science can be used in support of political ends, of course – but that doesn’t mean it is not real. If the argument is that certain organisations/campaigners/whoever have over-egged the risks, then that is also undoubtedly true – but again, this doesn’t mean the actual, non-exaggerated, underlying science isn’t real (and plenty are under-egging it).

    So my main point is there are real scientific ‘facts’ (which have been compiled using pretty much bias-free scientific reasoning), but that these facts get fed into everyone’s everyday reasoning filter as soon as we move from a systematic assessment of the science base, and start asking ‘so what does it mean, and what should we do about it’.

    Here’s my thoughts on B: This one is much easier to answer I think. Am I ignoring any counter-evidence? No. Am I influencing the outcome of research or selectively reporting certain things? No.

    Here’s some findings from the literature: Climate scepticism is statistically associated with a certain set of social views. Belief in climate change fell between 2008-2010. Concern about climate change also fell during this time. Older, white men tend to be more sceptical, on average. People are about as concerned about energy security as they are about climate change. The more people know about ‘solar radiation management’ geoengineering, the less they like it.

    I personally agree with some of those statements, disagree with others. But what I think has no bearing on whether they are true of not. Just like the various scientific findings that comprise ‘climate change’, these various findings comprise ‘public perceptions of climate change’.

    These are other people’s opinons, not mine, I’m just reporting them – although of course (and I believe this is the SMOKING GUN often alluded to in comments) I do have an interest beyond that, in that I hold the mildly, unremarkably normative view that there should more public engagement with climate change.

    3. So this leads on to the big question – what do I mean by that? Again, a reasonable question, and one which needs a proper answer. You don’t have to agree with it, but it’s the way I see things, and its not an especially contentious position I don’t think.

    Look at the history of how social science interacts with the world around it. It has rarely been some purely observational endeavour – there is an entire mega-field of psychology that goes under the heading of ‘persuasion’, which stretched back to the 50s at least, and which has variously spawned off shoots such as THE ENTIRE MARKETING INDUSTRY, all health campaigns (smoking/obesity etc), and for at least the last 15 years or so, has included research that has sought to measure – and at time provide tools for influencing – attitudes and behaviours around the environment and climate change. It is certainly not just me and my mates in a room – there are dozens of journals that have published this stuff for years, search through the database on Talking Climate and you’ll find hundreds of papers. This is an established field of academic study.

    So is this an appropriate thing for (often publically funded) researchers to be studying? I obviously think it is, and so do the funders of the research, and the universities where the researchers work – but only because the underlying knowledge base on climate change and the need to move (somehow – I’m not advocating a particular policy) to a more sustainable society is considered to be so un-contentious (in terms of the basic questions – I am well aware that there is a great deal that is unknown etc etc, and there always will be – but the basic issues – is it warming, does this pose us threats – are not controversial).

    Psychologists ask questions like ‘how can we increase the chance that people will recycle/drive less/eat more healthily/smoke less/be happier’ all the time. It is praised and respected as ‘applied’ research, it is routinely funded, and it is published in a wide variety of academic journals. You may think that this violates a line between ‘objective’ research and ‘activism’, but few people seem to consider this to be the case, and neither do I.

    The rule of thumb here I suppose is: if the underlying issue (smoking/obesity/climate change) is not contentious, then there is no issue in asking how we can address that issue through social scientific research.

    If you do find the underlying issue contentious, then I see why you wouldn’t agree with me. But I’m explaining my position.

    One more thing – I probably wont be able to moderate comments for about 24 hours, I am on the move, and wont have access to internet, so please be patient if you want to reply

  • Older, white men tend to be more scep­tical, on average.

    You keep trotting this one out in your Guardian pieces as well Adam.

    As an old, white man, I find it irritating – and a bit, you know, “personal”.

    It’s probably true though – but do bear in mind that, whether you like the fact or not, in the UK between 70 and 80% of MP’s, Company Directors, University Professors and The Judiciary are “older, white men”.

    Perhaps a more accurate way of putting it might be – “Women and young people are convinced by climate change but most of society’s leaders remain sceptical”.

  • You refer to “climate science” as if it were a single entity with a single POV and as if it were a synonym for “science that supports the theory of AGW”?

    Does this mean you don’t know of and haven’t read any of the science that contradicts the theory, or that you don’t consider anything that contradicts the theory to be science?

    And the suggestion of a reciprocal analysis of AGW-believer psychology? You said you were supportive of the idea, why not so now?

    I am having a bet with myself about how likely it is you will answer these direct questions with direct answers. What do you think the odds are?

  • Hi Adam

    May I ask a few of questions, to clarify your thoughts, please (ie us proponents/opponents of an issue need to talk to understand each other)

    1) I earlier mentioned a phsycological reason for scepticism, when the public (including conservatives 😉 ) might percieve a scientist to be activist with respect to a cause (I don’t mean signing a direct debit for RSBP, Greenpeace, etc) ie very publically with a media profile and this raises a concern.

    The most well know example I gave was James Hansen, being arrested, etc,etc coal trains death trains, etc.. (and of course the other example I gave, many others are also available)

    Would you agree that for the public (or a subset conservative) this might be a reason to doubt? ie perceptions perhaps of objectivity lost for the ’cause’ amongst conservatives or the wider public

    2) this is my opinion, but PIRC, COIN would by many I think be percieved as activist and/or lobbying organisations for ‘climate change’ (nothing wrong with that in itself) do you understand why the general public may percieve this and have a doubt or 2?

    3) I do not mean to be personal, but I think the wider general public would see it as relevant. similar to question 1) do you percive yourself as an activist or campaigner (I understand this maybe compartmentalised into personal) and you belive you can seperate this from your work, which is of course possible)

    a) But the question is with respect to phsycology, I’m asking about the publics perception how do you think the public (or conservative subset ) would percieve this? ie like with James Hansen who does actually not disgaree that he is an activist?

    b) again how we percive ourselves and others percieve us can be very different and lead to confuson/doubt. If a scientist (or professional) is also an activist or campaigner, when it directly related to subject of their professional field.

    Do you think the ‘sceptic’, public or conservative subest potetial reason for scepticism?
    LIke with Hansesn do you agree that the public might percieve yourself as a campaigner?

    An analogy being an economic academic researcher,who also writes/has a column for say the BBC? 😉 ! /Daily Mail /Times that writes publically, about the EU, etc. Who is also say a UKIP candidate, and a policy advisor to a think tank that is eurosceptic.

    4) I would be very interested in your thoughts from a phsycological perspective, as I do believe both examples (economic/climate) would be at least amongst the general public be a reason (small perhaps) for a degree of scepticismm would you agree that this might be a likley public response? (amongst which groups)

    I would very much like to hear/discuss your answers to those questions. As I intend to write a blog article myself, and I thought, (with some advice – not from my ‘side’) that it would only be fair to give you an oportunity to respond.

    Thanks

    Barry

    ps please note, I’m NOT saying professional objectivity IS lost for a cause (though it is a recognised risk) but amongst those groups that you describe, it is merely the ‘perceptions’ of objectivity lost for a cause, that cause a degree of scepticism.

    Hence a non ideological reason (ie with my example, a labour or of the left grouping of people, AND wider general public, I would think would ALL be sceptical to various degrees of the economic analogy)

  • I am in principle up for what you suggest…and of course I dont think there is some monolithic thing called climate science that stands and fals as one, but I am using shorthand (because otherwise everything you ever write turns into a very unweildy clause-within-clause explanation) for the basic issues and the fact that they pose risks that need to be addressed…let´s see how this second round of discussion goes down, if it doesnt feel like i am personally being pounced on too much, i am probably up for taking part in your idea, so long as we are very clear at the outset what the terms and conditions are (I was with Geoff and we quickly got to a co-operative situation, which was great)

  • I guess you could flip that question around and ask why more people who work in climate change don´’t do more to spread awareness about climate change (I don’t mean through direct action like Hansen, but just in general), and I suppose that is what I see myself doing. I see no controversy in the basic issues of climate change – that it poses a range of risks to human and natural systems, and that additionally these risks will be distributed unequally – and I see my area of academic study as having something to contribute to addressing this, by communicating climate change more effectively…in my personal time, when I represent no-one but myself, I have all sorts of views about all sorts of things, and I have been to – and plan to continue to go to – events that involve campaigning of some kind, sometimes on climate change, but on a range of other issues too (I dont feel like I need to go into detail here), and I see no contradiction or conflict because as I said in my long post earlier, I dont think the basic, underlying issue is contentious, so my position is not extreme or unusual. But I understand that if you dont accept that climate change poses risks to society, engaging in any kind of campaigning to address these risks would seem strange. But then if you didnt think that smoking increased the risk of lung cancer, doing research and designing campaigns on how to deal with this problem would seem strange too.

    right, i really am going to be gone most of the day now with no access to internet, sorry!

  • Adam – I’m confused. You wrote: “ANY POST GOING INTO A DISCUSSION OF THE SCIENCE WILL NOT GET THROUGH” and then went yourself into discussing the science. Please clarify.

    Also you haven’t had time as yet to respond to one of my original contentions, namely that it’s not “older white men” who are more skeptical, rather that they are more vocal about their skepticism, that is, they find it worthwhile to speak up their minds. Could it be that you’re simply studying why “older white men” spend time on the internet??

    Another thing I have noticed is that you’re stuck in absolutes. You believe the only alternatives are, total belief in upcoming catastrophes, or total belief in a worldwide conspiracy of evil scientists pushing AGW. This indicates you have got very little from Geoff, whose views are much more nuanced than that (likewise regarding me, Barry, Foxgoose and many others).

    Along the same lines you refer to “if you dont accept that cli­mate change poses risks to society”: again, it’s not an either-or situation, it is possible to accept that climate change poses risk WITHOUT accepting that climate change poses risks that are big and certain enough to warrant the wholesale destruction of modern society.

    You might not know it, but the debate has matured into “is there a catastrophe going to befall upon us or not”. Answering “no” or “not likely” is the mark of 2012 climate change skepticism.

    I would have a lot to say about those statements of yours. But for now…please stick to your field of expertise, or allow your commenters to enter the topics you are introducing yourself.

    Hopefully you’ll agree that I, like many others, have not been insulting in any way at all.

    thanks in anticipation

  • really short on time – i have not once said I think CC is question of absolutes, I have stated clearly that I think its about the risks it poses, where am I advocating ‘catastrophic’ climate change? On the issue of trying to keep the distinction between ‘discussing the science’ – I am struggling to keep an absolute line in comments (including my own), please dont get too caught up on moderation policy (which I am just trying to do in a reasonable way)…

    Your point about whether scepticism is ‘old white men’ I’ll come back to properly, but its going to take me another few days to sit down and write another long response. no you havent been insulting at all – your points are really valuable I think

  • And before anyone else asks (BarryW,, Foxgoose comments not getting through) no I dont think the case for climate change is built on Doran & Zimmerman, its built on hundreds of scientific papers (see IPCC etc etc)

  • Hi,

    Philip Richens June 16, 2012 at 8:42 am – sorry, I’m quite behind on my reading list! I’m trying to work my way through comments at AMAW while my code runs :) Please look out there for my replies to Judith – thanks.

    David L. Hagen June 16, 2012 at 12:56 pm – yes, that’s the conversation.

    geoffchambers June 19, 2012 at 9:45 am – thanks for asking for my opinion…sorry to be a pain but do you have a link to the paper you’d like me to comment on please?

    I haven’t read this whole thread but I’d like to say that moderation is difficult! I choose to let everything through, but with the occasional snip or (added within the comment) a request to stay on topic and polite. However, I appreciate that I’ve been lucky with my commenters largely toeing the line, and that not everyone agrees that my open policy works.

  • Adam

    I think you assumed what I was asking, and answered your own question, not mine.
    (I was quite, specific, why not publish my actual question?)

    For avoidance of doubt. I am NOT saying the case for climate change is built on Doran/Zimmermann!! . it was just an opinion survey. not atmospheric physics!

    Though a lot of politicians misquote it

    I have some concerns about it. please a simple question, have you read Zimmermann for yourself Yes/No

    As it goes to my point, I became very sceptical at hearing this 97% stated in ways when the survey did not justify statements linked to it. ie things like 97% of scientists say, future impact will be dangerous, that sort of thing (and the person making this statement citing/referencing when asked Doran and/or Anderegg, ie these surversy make no claims on the thoughts of the scientist with respect to dangerous future climate change)

    I’m NOT questioning the whole of climate science because of it, just saying that to the public this survey gets misused, in a way that sound like a soundbite.

    And so the public,it just sounds like yet another soundbite/political rhetoric not just climate realted) which they hear all the time and have started to tune out, which goes to the heart of what you are looking into, ie public more sceptical despiute the scientists views (the Carbon Brief touched on this recently) that over hyping of the science findings (going beyond the science) is not helping and cause climate fatigue amongst the public.

    http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2012/05/overstating-climate-findings-its-just-not-helpful

    I am just curious to know if you have read Zimmermann yet, no more no less (the fate of climate) science does not rest on this answer)

    please just Yes/No

  • yes i have read zimmerman!!!

  • Adam said:
    “I am in prin­ciple up for what you suggest……let´s see how this second round of dis­cus­sion goes down, if it doesnt feel like i am per­son­ally being pounced on too much, i am prob­ably up for taking part in your idea, so long as we are very clear at the outset what the terms and con­di­tions are (I was with Geoff and we quickly got to a co-operative situ­ation, which was great)”

    Excellent. I think you’re completely right that we need to agree on terms and conditions. What rules did you and Geoff follow? If they were reasonable (and I’m sure they were) why not just adopt those for the follow-up?

  • […] http://talkingclimate.org/understanding-climate-scepticism-a-sceptic-responds/ I am in prin­ciple up for what you suggest……let´s see how this second round of dis­cus­sion goes down, if it doesnt feel like I am per­son­ally being pounced on too much, i am prob­ably up for taking part in your idea […]

  • OK – last comment before I close them as we seem to have reached the point where no more discussion is occuring, but I will try and reply to some of the major points that I havent yet resonded to soon, possibly in a follow-up blog…but first i need to read through them all properly, there is a huge amount of info and points here!

    Barry I have read Doran & Zimmerman not the entire masters thesis you link to

  • I do hope you have a numbe of other such discussions.

    one potential problem is the blog owner (‘either side’), also being party to the discussion.

    I have asked neither , but why not ask someone like Dr Tamsin Edwards to host the the next discussion.. http://www.allmodelsarewrong.com

    As this would resolve the potential problem of one of the parties of the discussion being percieved as controlling the discussion/moderation.

    I would be completely happy for Tamsin for example to moderate (and also some agreed framework, before it starts), or as extra reinsurrance for some, perhaps Tamsin and Andrew Montford could co-moderate (not taking part themselves in the debate) and discussing any really contentious comments amongst themselves and making a joint decision.

    For my part, I would more than happy to just let Tamsin moderate.

    Or another person, could be Mark Lynas, who is obvioulsy on the consensus agw side of the debate. I’d be happy commenting there.

    Need to ask them first though!

    I don’t tknow if you are aware of this, but Tamsin had a little problem with Dr Peter Gleick with just the name of the blog, because he thought ‘sceptics’ might use it.

    http://allmodelsarewrong.com/all-blog-names-are-wrong/

    Tamsin ending up writing to Peter, giving him a ticking off, about how to communicate science. As a phsycologist I’m sure you will find Peter Gleick ‘s actions/behaviour interesting.

    http://www.realclimategate.org/2012/02/clarifications-and-how-better-to-communicate-science/

    Dr Tamsin Edwards adressing Peter Gleick:

    “I would personally be infuriated if I was dismissed on account of the behaviour of a group of people I talk with. Every single person I talk with has a different viewpoint, and I learn a lot about how better to communicate climate science by listening to them.

    If we dismiss swathes of people by association then our attempts at communication become futile: we end up only ‘preaching to the converted from an ‘ivory tower’, as it were”.

    Of course, if communication of climate science is not your aim, then it is your choice if you prefer to communicate with nobody! – Tamsin Edwards

    (this did NOT go down well)

    Tamsin and I were both quite concerned about this event (see email exchanges in the second url (PeterGleick, myself, Tamsin, Katie Hayhoe) because less than 24 hours later, Peter sent his first phising email to the Heartland Institute.

    If you read both url’s bruised ego may have been a factor. ie a junior ‘relatively’ scientist telling a senior scientist what to think. The fact that other UK senior scientist supported Tamsin (see her link) I think really annoyed him.

  • yes the dust has settled.

    May I just ask you to clarify one of your comments above and twitter comments

    I do not believe I have ever been personally critical of you, or tried to make you lose credibility! Perhaps I’m over sensitive to being accused of uncivil behaviour, etc
    (you need to read the realclimategate link to understand why (Peter Gleick publically calling me ‘incredibly offensive’), it took three climate scientists to get him to publically apologise.

    http://www.realclimategate.org/2012/02/clarifications-and-how-better-to-communicate-science/

    The photo that was linked is publically available, (in a political party publically newsletter) and is another example of why people are sceptical, a photo that would give the perception of an ‘activist’ scientist. I could have also posted an example of James Hansen in Handcuffs!! to make the point.

    In fact this is almost exactly similar to when Dr Tamsin Edwards first made a comment at Bishop Hill, Andrew Montford had been chatting, tweeting elsewhere for quite a while allready, the regular commentors were interested(and did not know her), then someone found a publically available article where she was talking casually about climate ‘denier’s

    http://highheelsinthelab.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/real-deal-tamsin-edwards-climate_17.html

    and shall we say the tone changed towards her a bit..

    Tamsin, tweeted to Andrew and myself to come to her rescue in the comments!!

    (Tamsin went and clarified that comment in the URL above)

    Andrew and I came to her defence in the comments of Andrews OWN blog here,
    Andrew whilst trying to allow all voices was having to intervene rather more than usual:
    http://www.bishop-hill.net/blog/2011/9/11/whats-all-this-then.html?currentPage=3#comments

    So I have asked a few people if that was fair to publish a photo here (they said yes), that was allready published photo on twitter, which was then added at B Hill and had been discussed widely at Bishop Hill and the reactions of people did harden to you because of it – ie perceived ‘sins of ommission’

    I’m sure you will understand in a public audience – perceptions can be critical in a debate.

    It is very important to, Do you accept my intent was not to personally criticise you!

    I have no doubt you recieved some abrubt, frank, critical, even rude, etc comments from indiviuals (just because anyone in the world can read a blog, does not make an blog owner responsible for the commenst, this equally appliies to this blog) .

    please don’t lump all those people together into one amorphous group. Judith Curry described different blogs as having various different signal to noise ratios in the comments and to concentrate on the above the line stuff.

    ie please don’t ignore Bishop hill because of a few people, focus on the signal. I would include people like Paul Matthews, Jonathan Jones, Don Keiller, Ricahrd Betts who all comment there. ALL UK professors (only one on the ‘consensus’ side)

    As a comparison, As an example of rudeness, I have all sorts of comments,made about me, rude critical, and t told to stfu a number of times or to hang out with my environmentalist friends, in the comments at both WUWT and Bishop Hill. (there are of course rather rude emails to me from Peter Gleick)

    And I’m a Guest Author at BOTH!

    so please don’t get hung up on individuals. (even the lady that said bigot, I think meant in a physcological sense, much like denial used in a strict definition.. but wise to avoid phrases like thes because of other implications, interpretations of intent.

    As I mentioned, seen a cambridge professor in a Deniars disinformation databse, would make many people quite concerend about it..

    ———————–
    So please allow this comment up to this point.

    And cut the following if you wish – I hope you don’t (you can delete this bit as well if you want, but keep the next bit.
    ————————–

    I genuinely wanted to chat with you, as I have with Mark Lynas, Roger Harrabin, I chat far to much with Leo. this doesn’t mean that we are not critical of each other ideas (but not the person) I have interviewed BOTH JAmes Delinpole AND Leo Hickman for articles at WUWT, I disagree with both of them on a number of issues, but I’m sure you will realise it takes trust and goodwill and respect for this to have happened, and that only comes by getting to know each other personally.

    As this whole article came about because of the panel debate with Peter Lilley, Tim Yeo, Damian Carrington, etc, which was analysed by Ben PIle at Climate Resistance, where he says you nearly get it.

    Days ago, I could also have quite fairly bought some other public information into these comments (and at Bishop Hill) . ie like someone who had looked up Tamsin on google..

    The dust has settled how would it have gone.

    If I tweeted a picture of you from the Friends of theEarth website, and your write up of a climate march at the House of commons, with links to activist marching, and their banners, this would have had an impact.

    I also could have ‘selectively’ quoted anything form your public blog (which you state in the Guardain,is where you blog at!) thus VERY publically allowable.

    And Finally, I could have pointed out on twitter and at Bishop Hill, in that debate, you were introduced just as Dr Adam Corner, Cardiff Uni. (ie audence perception – scientist)

    And you state, to the public and Peter Lilley (on the opposing side of the debate), with Lord Lawson, Benny Peiser GWPF in the audience and it sounded like one or 2 sceptics as well

    you started with:(my caps)

    “I’m a researcher, I’m NOT a Campaigner, I study public attitudes of climate change”

    Now I very nearly went to that debate, and I would just have just looked everybody up on google on my tablet, and then asked the panel a questionin the Q/A session

    “For Peter Lilley, Dr adam Corner says that he is not a campaigner… … ”

    and introduced all of the above.

    It would have annoyed me then. Fortuanately, Ben wrote those artciles, Geof tried to enage with you, and this article came about. I’m still probably going to write an article, but it will be in a very different tone, than If I had been there, and just googled at the time.

    “Adam Corner” climate

    and found all the publically available information above..

  • Not sure why the impression is that no more discussion is occurring. In the meanwhile, here’s an article from the Boston Globe about the problem of old, white men appearing more vocal than everybody else on a certain kind of issues:

    http://articles.boston.com/2012-06-04/opinion/31988309_1_powerful-women-opinion-columns-women-writers

    “For every 100 opinion columns published about security issues, only 15 were written by women”

  • I just thought I had to close comments at some point Maurizio…and take stock of all the points that have been made, which is a huge amount of material! but I havent quite closed them yet, so if there are still points to be made, go ahead…

  • “take stock of all the points that have been made”

    Including the ones that have been removed, I hope. I didn’t think I’d said anything that rude or controversial!

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