Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Anti-Luntz Effect

Stephan Lewandowsky, Gilles Gignac and Samuel Vaughan take another small step towards Hammer Fest with a new paper on how the perception of scientific consensus plays a role in peoples' attitudes toward scientific issues. Based on surveys in Australia, not surprisingly, free market orientation was associated with rejection of the idea of human climate change.  However, when in a companion survey, people were first told of the existence of a strong consensus among climate scientists on the issues opinions changed. 

Highlighting the consensus within the relevant scientific community increased people's acceptance of science: People were more willing to attribute long-term climatic trends to human causes when they had been informed of the scientific AGW consensus, and they were more likely to accept as true the statement that human CO2 emissions cause climate change. Notably this manipulation attenuated the effect of free-market worldview on acceptance of AGW, because its role which was strongly negative in the control condition was eliminated on provision of the consensus information. This meshes well with previous research which likewise found that even among Republicans, perceived scientific consensus was by far the strongest predictor (from among a set of 24 variables) of acceptance of climate change.
This should not be a secret, it was, after all the strategy recommended by Frank Luntz, who, in a strategy memo for the Republican party wrote
"Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly.
"Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate."
and indeed, they and their camp followers (hi Judy, hi Roger) follow the script. 

Lewandowsky,  Gignac and Vaughn provide an important clue.  The answer is not to pretend that meeting the challenge of climate change requires discussing policies that are needed without uttering the words climate change, nor is it a matter of "framing" whatever that is, but rather discussions with others who are not obsessed by climate blogs need to start by establishing the actual consensus and reinforcing the authority of the IPCC on climate science.


watchingthedeniers said...

Potentially a very useful insight. I say this half-jokingly, but I'd stamp this at the top of every article/IPCC report/press release related to climate change communication.

david lewis said...

The fact there was an overwhelming consensus has been the selling point since I first became aware of climate change in 1988. Organizers of the 1988 Toronto Changing Atmosphere conference said 95% of climatologists then alive would agree with the conference statement, i.e. this. There certainly was little disagreement when it came time to approve the wording of the first two paragraphs. I was there.

Good luck on the telling the dubious general public there is a consensus thing. Its only been the main strategy since before 1988, i.e. Villach 1985.

Anonymous said...

"discussions with others who are not obsessed by climate blogs"

Does that exclude Lewandowsky?