Climate change denial and its effect on the scientific community
Stephan Lewandowsky , Naomi Oreskes, James S. Risbey, Ben R. Newell, Michael Smithson - Global Environmental Change - Elsevier Ltd 2015
SummaryAppeals to scientific uncertainty are often used to forestall action on climate change:*We examine the seepage of this contrarian discourse into the scientific community. *We highlight psychological reasons for scientists’ susceptibility to seepage. *We use the global warming ‘‘hiatus’’ as an example of the consequences of seepage. *We offer ways in which the scientific community can detect and avoid such seepage.
From the abstractWe show that although scientists are trained in dealing with uncertainty, there are several psychological reasons why scientists may nevertheless be susceptible to uncertainty-based argumentation, even when scientists recognize those arguments as false and are actively rebutting them.
Specifically, we show that prolonged stereotype threat, pluralistic ignorance, and a form of projection (the third-person effect) may cause scientists to take positions that they would be less likely to take in the absence of outspoken public opposition.We illustrate the consequences of seepage from public debate into the scientific process…"
Voices from the climate community on "seepage"
Seepage: Some FAQs
- The inadvertent intrusion of memes that arose outside the scientific community into scientific discourse and thinking. There are two criteria for the detection of seepage: First, the scientific community has adopted assumptions or language that originated outside the scientific community or in a small set of dissenting scientific voices. Second, these assumptions depart from earlier norms and scientific conventions.
- Although scientific conventions may occasionally change as theorizing evolves, in the case of seepage explicit conceptual rationale or empirical support for a departure from previous norms is lacking or weak.
- There are a number of known psychological and cognitive variables that provide the opportunity for seepage. We focus on three: Stereotype threat, pluralistic ignorance, and the third-person effect.
- At a minimum, seepage arises when scientists adapt linguistic frames that were created outside the scientific community for political purposes. We use the case of the so-called “pause” in global warming, which should not be called a pause or hiatus given that global warming continues unabated. Ironically, seepage can arise even when scientists are rebutting a contrarian meme but are nonetheless framing the problem in a way that is inappropriate or misleading.
- At worst, seepage may alter the way in which scientists interpret data. This arises when they depart from long-standing and long-accepted practice in response to contrarian memes (for example, by entertaining the possibility that a short period of a reduced rate of warming presents a challenge to the fundamentals of greenhouse warming.)
- No. On the contrary, irrespective of the framing chosen by their authors, all articles on the pause have reinforced the reality of global warming from greenhouse gas emissions, and this body of work has yielded more knowledge of the processes underlying decadal variation. None of this work has come to the conclusion that the physical processes underlying global warming are somehow in abeyance or that prevailing scientific conceptions of them are incorrect.
- However, by accepting the framing of a recent fluctuation as a ‘pause’ or ‘hiatus’, research on the pause has, ironically and unwittingly, entrenched the notion of a ‘pause’ (with all the connotations of that term) in the literature as well as in the public's mind. Some of that research may therefore have inadvertently misdirected public attention.
- There is abundant evidence that climate science is subject to intense scrutiny and hostility from vested interests. Much is known about how those attacks on climate science take place and the funding that is devoted to those attempts to undermine science.
- There is also evidence that media coverage surrounding climate change is often misleading and that some media organs disseminate falsehoods routinely, thereby denying the public the right to be accurately informed about risks from climate change.
- Climate scientists have devoted much time and energy to rebutting those contrarian arguments (often called “zombie” arguments because of the number of times they have already been rebutted).
- For the reasons outlined in our paper, climate scientists may nonetheless not be immune to (unwittingly) adapting to contrarian framing, for example by talking about a “pause” when there is none.
- Knowing about the potential for seepage is half the battle. For example, there is evidence that merely being aware of the operation of stereotype threat is sufficient to limit its adverse consequences. Our paper lists a few further factors that may be helpful.
- In addition, scientists need to remember that the purpose of contrarian memes is to keep the controversy alive. While it is a scientist's job to answer genuine scientific questions, getting pulled into contrarian linguistic frames helps maintain the fiction that the science is still riven with fundamental equivocations and therefore too uncertain to form a reliable basis for public policy. Awareness of this fact is crucial for scientists to resist seepage.
Professor Betts disagrees with the study in this two thousand plus word post.
When Professor Lewandowsky responded to my request to copy and paste off his website, he added that he would be responding to Betts critiques by tomorrow.