I'm getting dizzy

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.  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?


E Hines said...

...the proper evidence-based approach to persuading the public that AGW-ist scientists' conclusions are evidence-based....

As you intimate, a part of this evidence-based approach for supporting the meme of the AGW-ists (I like that term--probably I'll steal it) would include using actual evidence, publicly available evidence, proper models, and so on.

Instead, we have cherry-picked Siberian tree ring data; models (at least at East Anglia) that are withheld from peer review outside the then climate "science" community, that when finally outed are found to require a tremendous lot of input parameters each finely tuned and which models still have a great deal of trouble simultaneously modeling the past and predicting the present; an apparent failure to correct for decades-old data collection stations that started out in rural areas that have had urban areas develop around them; openly falsified data such as substituting data from a Darwin station for a failed station in the interior of Queensland and NASA's openly reducing old temperature records ("recording" lower temps than were recorded in real time) so as to emphasize the current record of temperatures; ignoring recent CO2 data that shows higher concentrations of atmospheric CO2 in pre-industrial times as well as pre-human times and that show that atmospheric CO2 is, in fact, a trailing indicator indicating increasing health of the planet through increasing life; ignoring a growing body of evidence that indicates that while the earth may, indeed, be warming, solar and cosmic radiation seem to be the dominant warming inputs; attempts to deny that either the Little Ice Age and/or the following warming period actually occurred; etc.

Add to this that the worthies of East Anglia were caught actively trying to suppress science and scientific reports that contradicted their meme. This last has little to do with the legitimacy of the data, but it casts grave doubts on the legitimacy of the analyses of those...data.

Aside from that, what's not to like about the ADW-ists' position?

Eric Hines

Grim said...

It's not odd to ask for a science of communication -- even a "science of science communication" -- if you mean by "science" something like what Aristotle meant. We would normally think of this as an art, not a science, but you can talk about it as a science in theancient way. Except, of course, that Aristotle did not use the word "science," which derives from the Latin. He used the Greek "episteme," a kind of knowledge different from other kinds of knowledge like "techne" (a knowledge about how to make things) or "gnosis" (a kind of intuition).

What defines a science, as opposed to these other forms, is that the whole field should be defined and guided by a principle that transcends the field (i.e., is not part of it). This is a real problem for metaphysics, as Aristotle notes at the beginning of that book: how do you have a science of being, given that you don't have access to what "can't be"? Everything you can even think of to talk about has at least some sort of existence, at least as an idea: so how do you come to a principle above and beyond being?

A science of rhetoric is easier. Aristotle treats this in the "Rhetoric." The idea is that you should be persuasive. Here your author is saying that this principle includes not being anti-persuasive, by bringing in things that people must naturally oppose. Presumably determining what kinds of things those are would even be scientific on the modern meaning, because we could replicate and test the problem with different focus groups.

But I wonder if this is a real problem. Generally physics does not have a strong ideological component, nor does chemistry. There are exceptions -- our reasons for belief in free will are good grounds for prima facie rejecting deterministic physics, even if it happens to be currently the best model.

In general, though, you come into trouble when you make predictions you can't bear out. The problem with climate science is that it is making predictions about a highly complex system that does not exist in laboratory conditions, and which predictions cannot be replicated nor even tested in hard scientific ways. The strength of "water melts at a certain temperature, given a certain pressure" is that you can test it. The weakness of "the climate will rise in ambient temperature by 1 degree over a certain period of time" is that you can't test it: even if it proved to be true over time, you couldn't establish that it happened exactly and only because of the factors you cited.

Eric Blair said...

Meh. It's a bunch of crap.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

"communicators should endeavor to create a deliberative climate in which accepting the best available science does not threaten any group’s values." Hmm. My thought is: great idea, you AGW-ist guys go first. I think I've been doing that all along, myself.

There is now a cultural inertia on both sides to defend a position and be proven right. Unfortunate, but that's human nature. With some advocates you can sense that they are taking it pretty personally at this point.

There is a darker underside to the social-justice attraction, however. I don't want to oversell it and claim that self-interest is the entire motive for any AGW-ist. All humans have mixed motives, right or wrong. But beyond the obvious interests of grant money and career enhancement, the types of solutions recommended to combat climate change are heavily weighted toward creating a world in which the Arts & Humanities Tribe has enhanced status. There have long been condescending essays about Americas love affair with the car (and all those icky people who work on them), and evil manufacturers with their dark, Satanic mills. These long predate any suggestion of a warming climate. These are cultural wars. Hell, it's my culture of bookish, non-jetski, walk-in-the-woods entertainment they are advocating.

I think it would be great to burn less fossil fuel. I also think air quality is a great thing to improve. Keep at it. Keep turning that dial back. it's just not the only value out there.

And Bill McKibben shouldn't be pretending that he doesn't benefit greatly from every move to that type of status hierarchy.

Texan99 said...

I worry about global warming, in case I'm wrong. But lately I worry less and less, as it looks more and more like one of those periodic paroxysms in science where seemingly sensible people lose their grip on the scientific method.

I guess what it comes down to for me is that, considering the doubtfulness not only of the warming but even more of the human agency and most of all of the efficacy (and possible catastrophic harm) of the proposed solution, I'm prepared to wait and see if the evidence gets clearer. In the meantime, I'm much, much more concerned about other environmental issues concerning which I think the evidence is quite clear and the solutions more manageable. What's more, I'm sorry to see the entire environmental movement lose credibility because of this debacle. There's such a thing as crying wolf.

douglas said...

I'm no longer surprised at stories that show a scientists lack of understanding of what can be known of cause and effect (which is which, and to what extent). In a world where the purpose of studies is to provide political and social ammunition for debate and policy making, it's no wonder they fail to be able to properly assess what might be cause and what might be affect.

As for AGW, I've gone from didn't care, to maybe there is GW but not A, to I don't think there is GW, and don't care (other than that the AGW alarmists that want to restructure civilization need to be stopped). Even if it were true, the money we'd need to spend could be much better spent on other problems and simpler adjustments (Bjorn Lomborg's film 'Cool It' is pretty good on this point- a good one to point AGW believers to as it's not an oppositional film, exactly).

Texan99 said...

Obviously you're engaging in unreliable cognitive heuristics.

MikeD said...

My problem with the AGW crowd is specifically that they do NOT use the scientific method as I was taught it. It is NOT enough to run your experiment, claim it fits your hypothesis, then deny anyone else access to your data. For a conclusion to be made that your hypothesis was correct, it must be repeatable by anyone, not just those you trust. And furthermore, a computer model (which is what all this is based upon) is NOT the same thing as an experiment. They cannot correctly model the past nor present, yet we are supposed to ignore that and believe that the model is correct in its predictive capabilities. This is NOT science.

And when the reality does not match up with their model, they change the terms. Because there has been no warming since... 1998 is it? We're now no longer talking about "Global Warming" but "Global Climate Change", and no one on their side sees a problem with this? It's bunk, and until they can honestly address the fact that their models created in the 1990's were wrong, and that the warming they predicted DID NOT HAPPEN, they will continue to be producing bunk. And I for one refuse to accept "consensus" over repeatable, verifiable experimentation.

Texan99 said...

The Guild cannot be expected to reveal its secrets to unbelievers who might use their power for evil.

Elise said...

I read most of the "related paper" and found it admirable in its valiant effort to be even-handed. At the same time, it was clear what a much better piece of work it could be if it did not begin with the idea that AGW is a scientific fact as incontrovertible as the Earth going around the Sun.

There was one thing that made me laugh, however (emphasis mine):

... persons who subscribe to a “hierarchical, individualistic” worldview—one that ties authority to conspicuous social rankings and eschews collective interference with the decisions of individuals possessing such authority—tend to be skeptical of environmental risks. Such people intuitively perceive that widespread acceptance of such risks would license restrictions on commerce and industry, forms of behavior that Hierarchical Individualists value.

It doesn't require intuition to see that the commonly presented solution to AGW would license such restrictions. It just requires the ability to read.

The paper also reports that:

For Hierarchical Individualists, the mean [Numeracy] score was 8.0 (SEM = 0.15), and for Egalitarian Communitarians 7.5 (SEM = 0.18). [snip]
The mean Sci[ience] literacy score was 6.3 (SEM = 0.09) for Hierarchical Individualists, and 6.0 (SEM = 0.10) for Egalitarian Communitarians.

I don't have much to say about that - I just liked it.

Texan99 said...

Say what you will about us knuckledraggers, our intuitive scam radar operates brilliantly! But only where our moneygrubbing bourgeois self-interest is concerned. In every other way, we rely on unreliable cognitive heuristics. I just love that phrase. Does it mean anything at all? I plan to get enormous use out of it.

Grim said...

It means that you rely on something like a rule of thumb, rather than on precise measurement. Such rules are imprecise, but work well enough most of the time, so people tend not to question them rigorously. That's all he means by it.

My least favorite academic word is "hermeneutic." It means 'a method of interpreting a given text, or set of texts.' Instead of saying, "The way I prefer to interpret the Bible is to interpret everything in light of a loving God," they will write, "This leads to a hermeneuetics of Divine Love." It means the same thing, except that it's opaque to the general reader.

Texan99 said...

Oh, I know the definition of the word, I just think the phrase is a pompous and obtuse way of saying "non-rigorous thinking" or, probably more accurately, "thinking that doesn't lead to the conclusion that I know in my heart is the smart one." That particular academic style really gets up my nose.

Grim said...

It's so hard to avoid, too. Even people who really want to speak clearly are, after a while, unable to avoid dropping into the jargon. If you don't use the terminology, people assume you can't use it, rather than that you consciously prefer to sound like a human being. (As opposed, I suppose, to a machine based on cognitive heuristics!)

E Hines said...

Rules of thumb are quite useful, though, for all their imprecision. The problem arises when the users lose track of the "thumb" part and focus on the "rule." Treating, now, the general idea as though it were the epitome of precision causes...trouble.

And sometimes the jargon term really is the more precise one--just as sometimes a word in a different language conveys a concept more precisely/economically. The problem is the same though--losing sight of why this word was chosen over that one, or as Grim said, because the cool factor is greater. Or because the user is too lazy to think about what he's saying.

Eric Hines

Texan99 said...

Re jargon: it's hard to avoid in every profession. The way lawyers write makes me crazy, and some of them will try to argue that it's necessary for clarity. In fact, it's the source of most litigation over contracts.

Eschew obfuscation!

douglas said...

"Unreliable cognitive heuristics"- key word in his use- "unreliable". That, in this case, seems to me subjective, as I fail to see the 'reliability' of his measure of what is reliable.

Newtonian physics is a rule of thumb- we know it's wrong, but it's a good modeler. It's pretty reliable at almost all scales, except the very high extremes of speed or gravity. Some rules of thumb work great.