Dan Kahan of the Cultural Cognitive Project at Yale is getting very meta about the proper evidence-based approach to persuading the public that AGW-ist scientists’ conclusions are evidence-based:
Scientists and science communicators have appropriately turned to the science of science communication for guidance in overcoming public conflict over climate change. The value of the knowledge that this science can impart, however, depends on it being used scientifically. It is a mistake to believe that either social scientists or science communicators can intuit effective communication strategies by simply consulting compendiums of psychological mechanisms. Social scientists have used empirical methods to identify which of the myriad mechanisms that could plausibly be responsible for public conflict over climate change actually are. Science communicators should now use valid empirical methods to identify which plausible real-world strategies for counteracting those mechanisms actually work. Collaboration between social scientists and communicators on evidence-based field experiments is the best means of using and expanding our knowledge of how to communicate climate science.
Whew. I can’t help thinking if they put that much effort into ensuring that the climate science that is reaching the public is evidence-based, there wouldn’t be so much public controversy requiring a science-based approach to persuasion techniques. In a related paper, although he makes hard work of it, Kahan admits that empirical data do not support the conclusion that conservatives are less cognitively sophisticated than liberals. Instead, he makes the interesting finding that high cognitive scores are associated with the fervency of ideological beliefs on both sides of the political spectrum:
Seeming public apathy over climate change is often attributed to a deficit in comprehension. The public knows too little science, it is claimed, to understand the evidence or avoid being misled. Widespread limits on technical reasoning aggravate the problem by forcing citizens to use unreliable cognitive heuristics to assess risk. A study conducted by the Cultural Cognition Project and published in the Journal Nature Climate Change found no support for this position. Members of the public with the highest degrees of science literacy and technical reasoning capacity were not the most concerned about climate change. Rather, they were the ones among whom cultural polarization was greatest.
Kahan tries hard to figure out how this could possibly mean that AGW makes the most sense, but can’t get there. He fears that ideologues on both sides of the fence are more concerned with fitting in with their tribes than with arriving at truth; he worries about “the tragedy of the risk-taking commons” and the proper “communication” strategies that must be employed by people who know the real score. He reluctantly concludes that no amount of “clarification” of the AGW position will bring the public around “so long as the climate-change debate continues to feature cultural meanings that divide citizens of opposing worldviews.” He recommends, therefore, that
communicators should endeavor to create a deliberative climate in which accepting the best available science does not threaten any group’s values. Effective strategies include use of culturally diverse communicators, whose affinity with different communities enhances their credibility, and information-framing techniques that invest policy solutions with resonances congenial to diverse groups.
And from there he’s back to the need for a “new science of science communication.”
Myself, I hypothesize that AGW science is too weak to win committed converts except among people with a strong social-justice worldview, who are drawn to the most common AGW amelioration schemes, and whose enthusiasm grows the more familiar they are with the schemes. The suspicion that AGW is junk science in service of a social-justice political agenda, in turn, tends to turn conservatives more rabidly against the AGW hypothesis the more they investigate it. It’s not necessarily a difference in an approach to pure science at all. The portion of the public paying the most attention, and best equipped to evaluate the evidence, knows that the science is far from definitive, especially when you consider not only the fact that it is based on predictions generated by emerging models, but also the need to assign definitive blame to human activity and to evaluate a cost-benefit analysis of proposed remediation that itself must be based on highly speculative information. Given that murky picture, why should it be surprising that the most educated part of the public polarizes primarily around its reaction to the proposed solutions?Loading Likes...