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Researchers discover climate change skeptics aren’t ignorant

Posted by Richard on June 4, 2012

Everyone knows — at least among the liberal elite — that the people who question or reject the “settled science” of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) are ignorant yahoos, right? Well, no. Not according to Yale University researchers who examined the “science literacy” and “numeracy” of climate change skeptics and true believers. It turns out that climate change skeptics are pretty scientifically literate and able to understand quantitative information.

The published information doesn’t reveal just how skeptics and true believers compare in their knowledge of science and ability to reason with numbers (a telling omission), but it’s clear that the results don’t conform to the prejudices of the cognoscenti. And the statements of one of the researchers suggest that (oh, the horror!) the skeptics may be more scientifically literate than the true believers (emphasis added):

“The aim of the study was to test two hypotheses,” said Dan Kahan, Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology at Yale Law School and a member of the study team. “The first attributes political controversy over climate change to the public’s limited ability to comprehend science, and the second, to opposing sets of cultural values. The findings supported the second hypothesis and not the first,” he said.

… The results of the study were consistent with previous studies that show that individuals with more egalitarian values disagree sharply with individuals who have more individualistic ones on the risks associated with nuclear power, gun possession, and the HPV vaccine for school girls.

“In effect,” Kahan said, “ordinary members of the public credit or dismiss scientific information on disputed issues based on whether the information strengthens or weakens their ties to others who share their values. At least among ordinary members of the public, individuals with higher science comprehension are even better at fitting the evidence to their group commitments.”

So does the same reasoning apply to the scientists who’ve created the “consensus” about AGW — could they also be “fitting the evidence to their group commitments”? Could that explain the faking of the hockey stick and the fudging of data revealed in the leaked Hadley CRU emails? Of course not:

Kahan said that the study supports no inferences about the reasoning of scientific experts in climate change.

As for us “ordinary members of the public,” the “consensus” scientists have an explanation for our troubling insistence on doubting the “scientific consensus” despite our scientific literacy and numeracy (emphasis added):

Researcher Ellen Peters of Ohio State University said that people who are higher in numeracy and science literacy usually make better decisions in complex technical situations, but the study clearly casts doubt on the notion that the more you understand science and math, the better decisions you’ll make in complex and technical situations. “What this study shows is that people with high science and math comprehension can think their way to conclusions that are better for them as individuals but are not necessarily better for society.”

So if you’re scientifically literate and numerate and you accept the “consensus” view of AGW, it’s because that’s what’s best for society. But if you’re scientifically literate and numerate and you reject the “consensus” view of AGW, it’s because you’re a selfish bastard.

Glad we got that straightened out. I thought I was just an ignorant yahoo.

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