Wish I could re-write one sentence in this…

Nice lead story on Huff Post Green by Lynne Peeples. I did say everything she attributed to me, but one sentence of hers describing my aproach to these issues is the opposite of what I was trying to communicate.  The sentence is “In a way, the whole discussion is beside the point, according to Brophy. The question we should be asking, he said: “What are the policies we should adopt?”

True enough, but I did not mean to imply that Krosnick and Leiserowitz’s work is not central to understanding why that’s not happening. Take Krosnick’s work, for example. His fabulously designed polls and insightful analyses go to the heart of what puzzles me: There is a huge gap between what American actually believe, and how salient the issue actually is among the general public (and the subset of it for whom environmental issues especially important), on the one hand, and our policy makers on the other.  So I am also puzzled about why Bob Doppelt would say  “Krosnick is not addressing the nature of our political decision-making process, which is not driven by majority rule.”

Krosnick is providing exactly the data needed to see whether our representatives are, well not representing; Leiserowit’z “Six Americas” research and Dan Kahan’s Cultural Cognition Project are helping us understand how much and why climate change actually matters to Americans.

So, yes, in a way it is nuts that when the science has been settled, we are talking about whether people believe the basic facts of human caused global warming, and how much those beliefs matters. But it is surely needed and hardly beside the point at which we should already have arrived long ago: discussing policy alternatives for mitigation and adaptation and holding legislators accountable for not doing so.

February 17, 2012, re-posted from:

The Huffington Post

Lynne Peeples

Why Global Warming Still Considered Target Of Skepticism For Americans

Climate Change Denial

First Posted: 02/17/2012 7:20 pm Updated: 02/17/2012 8:48 pm

If you follow the popular polls, you might think that Americans are growing ever more skeptical about man-made climate change — despite the consensus among published climate scientists.

That’s simply not true, Jon Krosnick of Stanford University told an audience of social scientists and cognitive researchers Wednesday, in Garrison, N.Y. He maintained that most Americans do, in fact, believe.

The problem, Krosnick said during his talk at the Garrison Institute’s annual Climate, Mind and Behavior symposium, is that we haven’t been asking the public the right questions. The other problem: Legislators are reading their misleading answers and hearing from a vocal minority of constituents.

“Public opinion has the potential to move legislators,” he said. “But methods that political scientists are using to document the public will are going at a snail’s pace.”

With funding from major news outlets such as Reuters and ABC News, Krosnick’s team has been conducting its own national surveys over the last several years. Since 2009, their findings have diverged from those of other survey organizations.

Gallup and Pew polls show that the percentage of Americans that believe in climate change now hovers around 50 percent, but Krosnick’s latest poll — which asked the question in a more detailed way — suggests the figure is 83 percent — up from 79 percent in 1997. Of the global warming believers, the majority also reported thinking that the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities play a role. The trend held after the researchers broke the data down by political party: 66 percent of Republicans said climate change is happening.

Further, not a single U.S. state had a majority opinion on the skeptical side, noted Krosnick. Even in Oklahoma, the home of one of the country’s most outspoken skeptics, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a large majority of the people polled agreed with the scientific consensus.

Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, doesn’t share the same optimism. Combining various public opinion polls, including Krosnick’s, he sees a downward trend in the percentage of Americans believing in global warming since 2007. Further, in a new open-ended poll, he’s found that the first thing that came to the minds of 23 percent of people when they thought about climate change was a naysayer thought, such as a recent record snowstorm or a conspiracy theory. This is up from 7 percent in 2003, he told The Huffington Post.

Krosnick and his colleagues also looked at two ways of framing a question about the public’s ranking of issues. In response to “What is the most important problem facing this country today?,” the economy ranked at the top with global warming dead last. When this question was reworded to ask, “What will be the most important problem facing the world in the future if nothing is done to stop it?,” the results were reversed: Global warming ranked No. 1.

“This message is not getting across to Washington,” said Krosnick.

Scott Brophy, a philosophy professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, agreed that politicians are “out of touch” with the thinking of their constituents. Yet the problem remains, he said, that “1 in every 3 or 4 Americans doesn’t believe in a basic fact.”

For democracy to work, according to Brophy, we need to understand how and why people don’t trust the scientific facts.

Research has shown that people are motivated to find information that supports their beliefs. “Encountering counterarguments causes us to marshal forces like an army of white blood cells to defend against them,” said Brophy.

He pointed to the influence of massive disinformation campaigns such as the recently outed Heartland Institute. “This is a real threat to democracy,” he told HuffPost.

“Krosnick is not addressing the nature of our political decision-making process, which is not driven by majority rule,” added Bob Doppelt, executive director of The Resource Innovation Group, a non-profit organization affiliated with Willamette University. “It’s driven by elites that paid for, fund and have the most access and, therefore, the most influence over officials …”

In a way, the whole discussion is beside the point, according to Brophy. The question we should be asking, he said: “What are the policies we should adopt?”

“There, reasonable people can disagree. Policy doesn’t automatically follow from the facts,” added Brophy. “Yet we continue arguing about whether the Earth is round. This is crazy.”


A Message to Anti-Science Global Warming Deniers About a Diamond Planet, Science, and Climate Change

Astrophysicist Mathew Bailes has written a fabulous short piece, posted on an interesting site I have only just discovered.

Thanks to Scott Mandia for the pointer to:

The ConversationBETA

If you are curious about the connection between the planet made out of diamond that he recently discovered and the idiocy climate science denial, this is really worth reading.

Science follows certain procedures, but does the media get the signal? CSIRO

Diamond planets, climate change and the scientific method

Mathew Bailes, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research) at Swinburne University of Technology (13 September 2011, 6.40am AEST)

Recently my colleagues and I announced the discovery of a remarkable planet orbiting a special kind of star known as a pulsar.

Based on the planet’s density, and the likely history of its system, we concluded that it was certain to be crystalline. In other words, we had discovered a planet made of diamond.

Following the publication of our finding in the journal Science, our research received amazing attention from the world’s media.

The diamond planet was featured in Time Magazine, the BBC and China Daily, to name but a few.

I was asked by many journalists about the significance of the discovery. If I were honest, I’d have to concede that, although worthy of publication in Science, in the field of astrophysics it isn’t that significant.

Sure, there are probably somewhere between six and a dozen quite important theoretical astrophysicists around the world who would have been thrilled at the news (after all, the diamond planet fills a gap in the binary pulsar family).

But in the overall scheme of things, it isn’t that important.

And yet the diamond planet has been hugely successful in igniting public curiosity about the universe in which we live.

In that sense, for myself and my co-authors, I suspect it will be among the greatest discoveries of our careers.

Our host institutions were thrilled with the publicity and most of us enjoyed our 15 minutes of fame. The attention we received was 100% positive, but how different that could have been.

How so? Well, we could have been climate scientists.

Imagine for a minute that, instead of discovering a diamond planet, we’d made a breakthrough in global temperature projections.

Let’s say we studied computer models of the influence of excessive greenhouse gases, verified them through observations, then had them peer-reviewed and published in Science.

Instead of sitting back and basking in the glory, I suspect we’d find a lot of commentators, many with no scientific qualifications, pouring scorn on our findings.

People on the fringe of science would be quoted as opponents of our work, arguing that it was nothing more than a theory yet to be conclusively proven.

There would be doubt cast on the interpretation of our data and conjecture about whether we were “buddies” with the journal referees.

If our opponents dug really deep they might even find that I’d once written a paper on a similar topic that had to be retracted.

Before long our credibility and findings would be under serious question.

But luckily we’re not climate scientists.

Our work is part of the astonishing growth in our knowledge of the universe, made possible by huge leaps forward in instrumentation and telescope technology.


It may come as a big surprise to many, but there is actually no difference between how science works in astronomy and climate change – or any other scientific discipline for that matter.

We make observations, run simulations, test and propose hypotheses, and undergo peer review of our findings.

We get together (usually in nice locations around the world) and discuss and debate our own pet theories, become friends and form a worldwide community.

If you are a solid state physicist, an astronomer, or doing laser optics, the world is happy to celebrate your discoveries, use them in new products such as WiFi, and wonder about the growth in knowledge and technology.

Of course we all make mistakes. But eventually the prevailing wisdom of the community triumphs and the field advances.

It’s wonderful to be a part of that process.

But on occasion those from the fringe of the scientific community will push a position that is simply not credible against the weight of evidence.

This occurs within any discipline. But it seems it’s only in the field of climate science that such people are given airtime and column inches to espouse their views.

Those who want to ignore what’s happening to Earth feel they need to be able to quote “alternative studies”, regardless of the scientific merit of those studies.

In all fields of science, papers are challenged and statistics are debated. If there is any basis to these challenges they stand, but if not they fall by the wayside and the field continues to advance.

When big theories fall, it isn’t because of business or political pressures – it’s because of the scientific process.

Sadly, the same media commentators who celebrate diamond planets without question are all too quick to dismiss the latest peer-reviewed evidence that suggests man-made activities are responsible for changes in concentrations of CO2 in our atmosphere.

The scientific method is universal. If we selectively ignore it in certain disciplines, we do so at our peril.

Let’s Raise a Generation of Morons

The teaching of the science necessary for understanding climate issues is now coming under attack in schools, and joining the attacks on teaching of basic biology (the parts related to evolution, of course) in a way that will continue to make Americans more scientifically illiterate than almost any developed country in the world. Way to go!

On the academic side of what I work on as a philosophy professor, I have been trying to understand this parallel distrust of science education. Both are leading the way to increasingly irrational environmental policy. Evolutionary theory is central to understanding what to do about biodiversity, and basic earth and atmospheric processes are at the core of climate science. Why the selective distrust of science? Big, complicated question.

Related to this: Merchants of Doubt, by Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway, is a good book about “how a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming.” The Amazon crowd-sourced reviews are interesting, especially the vitriolic one-star posts.


Click here for a nice blog post about the current attack on climate science in schools here.  This is another blog that is new to me. Thanks to Brad Johnson at ClimateProgress for bringing it to my attention in his post.

The full article in Science that prompted these posts requires a subscription. (Science 5 August 2011: Vol. 333 no. 6043 pp. 688-689), but here is a quick summary is available here:

Science Education: Climate Change Sparks Battles in Classroom, by Sarah Reardon

An informal survey this spring of 800 members of the National Earth Science Teachers Association (NESTA) found that climate change was second only to evolution in triggering protests from parents and school administrators. Online message boards for science teachers tell similar tales. Unlike biology teachers defending the teaching of evolution, however, earth science teachers don’t have the protection of the First Amendment’s language about religion. But the teachers feel their arguments are equally compelling: Science courses should reflect the best scientific knowledge of the day, and offering opposing views amounts to teaching poor science. Most science teachers don’t relish having to engage this latest threat to their profession and resent devoting precious classroom time to a discussion of an alleged “controversy.” And they believe that politics has no place in a science classroom. Even so, some are being dragged against their will into a conflict they fear could turn ugly.


Science is published by The American Association for the Advancement of Science. Founded in 1848, Triple A-S (AAAS), is “an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing science around the world by serving as an educator, leader, spokesperson and professional association. In addition to organizing membership activities, AAAS publishes the journal Science, as well as many scientific newsletters, books and reports, and spearheads programs that raise the bar of understanding for science worldwide.”



Senator Jim Inhofe Expressing Current GOP Orthodoxy: The Science is Just Not There. And Even If It Were…

Unlike almost all climatologists, Sen. Inhofe just does not believe there is an overwhelming consensus among scientists about climate change.  And, says Inhofe, even if there were overwhelming scientific evidence of a long-term global catastrophe, it would be a distraction from what really matters: short term local economics.


Special Interests? View Oil and Gas $ to Jim Inhofe


The Cold Winter in Oklahoma: A British Parody Apropos of Sen. Inhofe’s Confusion About Weather and Climate



For a more serious piece by David Jenkins on David Frum’s blog about why conservatives should reject the wave of GOP science denial, click here.


What Me Worry? No Fear Here. God Has It Covered

Influential Rep. John Shimkus told the Energy and Environment Subcommittee in 2009 that he is not worried about global warming because Chapter 8, Verse 22 of the Book of Genesis says that “As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, will never cease.” There was a Biblical promise that the earth would not be destroyed again after the flood.  Shimkus added, for emphasis, “‘I believe that is the infallible word of God, and that’s the way it is going to be for his creation.” So lighten up climate scientists — we’ll be fine.

One of my favorite features of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce website is the regularly posted inspirational Scripture Tweets from Rep. Shimkus.


Special Interests? Oil and Gas $ to John Shimkus


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