Monday, April 29, 2013

Motivated Reasoning and Climate Change Denial

More depressing evidence that people pay no attention to evidence comes from an online survey given to people who visited climate change blogs. There were questions about science, politics, and economics, and also some about famous conspiracy theories, viz, the moon landing was faked, or Princess Diana was assassinated. The result:
The more people believed in free-market ideology, the less they believed in climate science; the more they accepted science in general, the more they accepted the conclusions of climate science; and the more likely they were to be conspiracy theorists, the less likely they were to believe in climate science.

These results fit in with a longer literature on what has come to be known as “motivated reasoning.” Other things being equal, people tend to believe what they want to believe, and to disbelieve new information that might challenge them.
And there you have it.

I will say that one reason people feel entitled to ignore scientific findings is that so much garbage has been trumpeted as scientific certainty. Behavioral psychology, for example, or the magical health effects of antioxidants. There is a real difference between worries about human-created climate change and fad diets, in terms of the quality and quantity of the evidence, but from watching television you might have trouble telling this. You have to know quite a bit to understand that whereas behavioral psychology turned out to be mostly bunk, it is unlikely that the link between atmospheric CO2 and temperature will suffer the same fate, and close to impossible that evolution by natural selection will. Scientists need to take the lead in helping people distinguish between bad science, good science, and science that approaches certainty, and we have been very bad at this.

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