How do people reject climate science?
September 13th 2012
In an article on the 9 Billion website, John Cook of the University of Queensland, takes a slightly different angle from a previous article by Stephan Lewandowsky on the Australian website, The Conversation, about why do people reject science, and considers how people are able to reject climate science in the face of strong evidence.
A growing body of research has found that when a person’s worldview is threatened by scientific evidence, they interpret the science in a biased manner. One issue where this influence is strongest is climate change. For supporters of an unregulated free market, regulating polluting industries to reduce global warming is so unpalatable that they are far more likely to reject that climate change is happening. The mechanism by which ideology such as this influences our scientific views is confirmation bias. We place greater weight on evidence that confirms our beliefs, while ignoring or resisting conflicting evidence. This can be a challenge when confronted with a convergence of evidence and a scientific consensus, but confirmation bias is up to the task. Let’s look at some examples.
The most common manifestation of confirmation bias is cherry picking, where one carefully selects a small piece of data that paints a friendly picture and overlooks any inconvenient evidence. How do we spot cherry picking? It’s important to remember that there is no “their evidence” versus “our evidence”. There is only the full body of evidence. If someone arrives at a conclusion from carefully selected evidence that contradicts the conclusion drawn from the full body of evidence, that’s cherry picking. Cherry pickers ignore the fact that our planet is currently building up heat at the stunning rate of around 3 Hiroshima bombs per second. Instead, they focus on short periods of the surface temperature record. This record bounces up and down from year to year as the ocean exchanges heat with the atmosphere, meaning that it’s possible to find any short period during a long-term warming trend where temperatures fall briefly. Meanwhile the planet continues to build up heat – around 250 Hiroshima bombs worth since you started reading this article.
Confirmation bias also influences which sources of information we put our trust in. People tend to attribute greater expertise to people who share their values and beliefs. We’re drawn to those who tell us what we want to hear. So what happens when 97 out of 100 of climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming? Those who reject the scientific consensus lavish their attention on the 3% minority, magnifying their significance and turning a blind eye to the 97% of scientific experts.
Read the full article: The 9 Billion
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