Paper on climate scepticism published

A little over a year ago I noticed a call from the journal Environmental Communication for a special issue of articles on “Climate change communication and the internet”.  For some time I had been thinking vaguely about writing something about the interesting Reader Background thread at Jeff Condon’s Air Vent blog, so I wrote a paper on this and sent it to the journal.

The paper was handled very well by the journal.  It was reviewed ‘double-blind’, i.e. both the author and reviewers were anonymous. This isn’t usually done in my field but apparently it’s quite common in social science.  The reviewers were clearly experts in the field; they read the paper very carefully and made a lot of comments, criticisms and constructive suggestions for improvement. I revised the paper and then there was another round of quite detailed comments, but after that the paper was accepted.

The published paper is here, paywalled because I did not pay Taylor & Francis the Open Access fee.  However, apparently I can give 50 people access to the paper – let me know if you’d like this (in the olden days, you used to get a bundle of 50 paper reprints to mail out).  Alternatively there is a draft preprint version of the paper, before the review comments, with a few very minor changes. It contains a bit more discussion and opinion, fewer up-to-date references, and more mistakes, than the final version.

Below is a brief summary of the main points of the paper.

Why are people sceptical about climate change?

Surveys show that a significant minority of the population are sceptical about climate change and that there has been a modest increase in scepticism over the last few years. Some research has considered why this may be, but surveys do not usually ask people exactly what it is that makes them sceptical. There is some useful information on this question in comments on climate sceptic blogs, but this has not been studied in the literature. However, it should be kept in mind that these views expressed in blog comments are probably not representative of the general public.

In April 2010, Jeff Condon launched a “Reader Background” post, proposing “a discussion of our various backgrounds and how we came to be interested in climate science”. I count that there are 154 people on that thread who express some degree of scepticism about climate change. 17 of these explicitly call themselves lukewarmers, and at least 8 others express lukewarm opinions, so about 1/6 can be regarded as lukewarmers – though this is probably an underestimate. At the other end of the spectrum, about 1 in 10 are what might be called “hardcore sceptics”, using language like “scam” in relation to climate change.  Over 1/4 of the responders say they have a PhD, and a further 1/3 have some form of degree.  More than 1/4 say they switched from being concerned about climate change to being sceptical.

Reasons given for scepticism include

  • Hype and alarmism, either in the media or from climate scientists. 32 people give this as a reason.
  • Memories of previous scares, such as the 1970s ice age scare, mentioned by 15.
  • Politics – some say  the climate story seems politically motivated, others say  it does not fit with their own views, which often lean more towards libertarianism than conservatism.
  • Climategate is mentioned by 30 people, but only seems to have been a major influencing factor for 13. The survey was only 5 months after climategate, so most had probably already formed their view.
  • Poor science is mentioned by about 60, with the hockeystick most common issue.
  • Blogs – Climate Audit is most cited (57 times), followed by RealClimate (42 times) with many negative comments about their attitude and apparent failure to answer questions satisfactorily.
  • Other minor factors include books, newspapers and films.

Two other blogs have carried out similar exercises, see Judith Curry’s Denizens thread (Nov 2010) and My personal path to Catastrophic AGW skepticism at WUWT (July 2013). These show a similar picture – though there is some overlap in the contributors.


61 thoughts on “Paper on climate scepticism published

  1. Hi Paul, just to say that your bullet point on Climate Audit and Real Climate reads as though both received “many negative comments about their attitude and apparent failure to answer questions satisfactorily.” I think that may be more true of one rather than the other.

  2. You say “However, it should be kept in mind that these views expressed in blog comments are probably not representative of the general public”, which is an understatement. I am curious that a mathematician who campaigns as a self-proclaimed ‘sceptic’ on AGW segways into the sociology of sceptical opinion in an academic journal. Was their a disclaimer, regarding your own opinions (maybe I missed it), so that the reader could at least take that into account when reading the paper?

  3. Great news. Do peer-reviewed journals often tout for business like this?
    Before reading the article, I’d just note that sceptic blog commenters in general, and readers of Jeff Id’s excellent blog in particular, are completely unrepresentative of the population at large, so it’s not possible to generalise results from this survey of informed sceptics to the mass of people who are sceptical of global warming.
    There’s another survey to be done of the 20,000+ commenters at Chris Booker’s recent article at the Sunday Telegraph. My quick survey of comments there suggest that 97% of my fellow climate sceptics (or rather skeptics) are subnormal racist bigots.
    This is likely to become a problem the day that the media start to take notice of our views.

  4. I see that my point about the unrepresentativeness of commenters on sceptic blogs has already been made by Richard in the first sentence of his comment above. He rather spoils the effect by going on to suggest that mathematicians shouldn’t “segway” (is that Cotswold dialect?) into matters that don’t concern them, and that articles of sociological analysis by climate sceptics should be accompanied by a disclaimer. What, just climate sceptics? What about Freemasons or Mormons or Socialists? Do you want us to sew some distinctive insignia on our sleeves, or what?

  5. I cannot fail to notice Richard’s comment is accompanied by no disclaimer.
    I wonder what unspeakable secrets we ought consider when reading his comment

  6. I put a ‘robust’ comment at Richard’s blog, so it’s fair enough that he’s returning the compliment here.

    The point raised by Richard & Geoff was also brought up by the reviewers, with the result that it’s now said about five times in the paper! Clearly some of the factors, like the technical science details, won’t apply to the general public, but others, such as overhyping the message or memories of earlier exaggerated scares may.

  7. Sorry, I should have noted, as Richard very decently did, that Paul had made the same point in the paper. It can’t be pointed out too often that we sceptical activists are a near invisible speck on the Venn Diagram of public opinion – barely a pimple on Al Gore’s bottom.
    This simple fact has apparently escaped the notice of social scientists such as the Great Lewandowsky, who has claimed that his third paper – exploring the opinions of 300 million Americans, confirms his first, which requested the opinion of a few hundred readers of rabidly biassed blogs (and this despite the fact that the percentage responses to the two surveys differ by a magnitude or two).
    Paul’s paper tells it like it is for 150 well-defined (and often identifiable) respondents. This is social science as it should be done. Let others do it their way, and we’ll compare the results.

  8. …Surveys show that a significant minority of the population are sceptical about climate change and that there has been a modest increase in scepticism over the last few years. Some research has considered why this may be, but surveys do not usually ask people exactly what it is that makes them sceptical….

    One of the major problems with this kind of research is that ‘climate change’ can mean anything you want it to mean. It is often claimed to mean that: “The climate is changing and Man is responsible”.

    No one really believes that the climate does not change (unless you swallow the hockey-stick maths describing the handle!). And Man obviously has SOME effect – lighting one match would have SOME effect, though not a measurable one.

    My guess is that many skeptics would say that when they ‘do not believe in climate change’, what they mean is: “a major alteration of the Earth’s climate is currently under way caused by humans that will cause major damage in a short space of time”. But even that is full of qualifiers. A large number of ‘deniers’ actually hold that much of the IPCC report data is true, but that the bits that are true are no cause for alarm. They would hold that the CO2 climate sensitivity is lower than most of the models claim. I suppose that I am an extremist, in that I hold that, since a tropospheric hot-spot has not been found, there is a fundamental problem with the proposed heating mechanism (probably involving negative feedbacks from clouds and thunderstorms), such that no heating due to increased CO2 concentrations will actually occur at all.

    There are a host of positions between these two sets of beliefs, and, of course, many people changing their minds all the time as new data comes in. And now everything is politicised, there is little hope of examining things dispassionately, let alone trying to find out why people are sceptical…

  9. I am not a great believer in opinion polls. However, this paper provides a very useful counter to those who claim that sceptics have a very narrow range of opinions, are blinkered (through errant political views or conspiracist ideation) and do not understand science.
    Thank you Paul for your work.

  10. Like Geoff Chambers, I appreciate when people like Richard try to engage. Showing different perspectives is very useful as an aid to understanding. Any such diagram will inevitably by limited, but a diagram with deficiencies is far better than none at all, as understanding those deficiencies can be as important as understanding the positives. Any diagram on climate belief should try to engage with all the richness and diversity of perspectives – as Paul’s paper has done with sceptic opinion. It does not quite achieve that, as my submitted comment below indicates.

    I very much like these sort type of diagrams, as they help people to understand various issues. However, there are limitations with any diagram. The differences in opinion I would suggest are not either/or but a broad spectrum. They go from those who believe more than 100% of the warming since 1950 was human caused to those who believe none at all. Logically, there is a huge middle ground.
    Greg Craven in his book “What’s the Worst That Could Happen?”, looks into the dimension of trusting expert opinion, against those of a some minor bloggers.
    However, there are other ways of evaluating scientific evidence. “Philosophy of science” provides many interesting examples. The logical positivists said that ever-stronger verification was important. (The rigorous testing of new drugs by independent standards has this idea). Popper said that predictive ability was important (as against the ex-poste justifications of Marxism and Freudianism). Kuhn looked at scientific research programmes, at whether they were progressing, or just infilling. Paul K Feyeraband has a more anarchic view of scientific progress. There are no rules. Galileo, Darwin and Einstein succeeded as outsiders with revolutionary ideas, busting open the established consensus.
    Failing to get the message across is always a problem. Consider other forms of persuasion, such as hard-selling techniques. Rather than concentrate on the negatives (there are these nasty people against us) boast of the positives. Look back at the previous IPCC reports. Find the headline short-term signposts of climate change that have come true and proclaim them as successes. Forget the failures, as there will be some, or say we have strongly beaten the odds.

  11. I think it’s wrong to assume the public are very much different from internet sceptics and warmists. They’re just paler copies with a lot less information. I know loads of people who think that AGW is yet another over blown problem. They accept it’s something to be watched but aren’t about to sign that blank cheque on CO2 reduction. Scientists in general are now looked upon with little of the trust they used to enjoy. The media is full of scientists saying one thing one day and the complete opposite the next. Somebody has been declaring the end of the world for as long as there have been people to listen. Climageddon is sooo 2007.

    A lot of people look upon climate scientists as glorified weather men. When they cheerfully ask ‘how’s the global warming’ when it snows, they’re not mistaking weather for climate, they mocking the scientists’ certainty. Anyone who understands computers has a chance of being dubious over the claims about climate modelling. While some may not have all the threads of a full blown sceptic, they’ve got enough to start.

    The warmists in the wider public are just the same as bloggers. They have almost no arguments except ‘the scientists say’ and ‘it’s worse than we thought’. They all assume that there’s a magic solution to reducing CO2 that the deniers are hiding. They don’t think their CO2 is part of the problem and are prepared to lecture others with much smaller footprints. Most amusing of all, they think that just agreeing in the consensus (whatever it is) is the goal. If only all those world leaders would sign on the dotted line, there’d be low CO2, food for all and world peace. Perhaps if we expressed the problem through the medium of dance?

  12. “Surveys show that a significant minority of the population are sceptical about climate change and that there has been a modest increase in scepticism over the last few years. ”
    Easy to say but Can someone quickly tell me what surveys ?
    .. and are the they proper surveys or weak surveys with fuzzily defined terms ?
    – I am not aware of any proper surveys, (other that “how worried are you ?” type), and my impression is that surveys are not done as activosts fear a result which shows most of the public are not at the alarmist end.

  13. Stewgreen:

    DECC surveys UK citizens 4 times a year, mostly on energy matters. About once a year they ask about climate change. Of course this is just UK data but is the one I have to hand.

    Q21) How concerned, if at all, are you about current climate change, sometimes referred to as ‘global warming’?

    Very or fairly concerned: 2012 65% 2013 66% 2014 68%
    Not very or not at all concerned: 2012 35% 2013 33% 2014 31%

    Q22) Thinking about the causes of climate change, which, if any, of the following best describes your opinion?
    (Possible answers range from ‘all caused by human activity’ to ‘all caused by natural processes’ and includes the response ‘I don’t think there is such a thing as climate change’)

    The answer that has shown a rise is:
    Climate change is partly caused by natural processes and partly caused by human activity 2012: 42%, 2013: 42%, 2014: 47%

    While ‘all human’ and ‘all natural’ have both shown modest falls (38 to 35% and 15 to 13% respectively). Only 3-4% ‘don’t believe’ in climate change at all.

    Data in spreadsheet here

  14. Hi Paul,

    I look forward to finding time to read the paper very soon. If possible, I would really appreciate one of the 50 copies.

    After my article about becoming a sceptic was posted on WUWT, one of the things I noticed about the responses is that a lot of people jumped straight into attacking exactly the sort of sceptic I’m not. I have since started my own blog, and a good starting point is probably here:

  15. Ruth Dixon.

    The kind of surveys done on AGW are pointless for determining actual opinion. Are the public concerned about climate change? Sure they are. They’re vaguely concerned about loads of things, especially when the media, and the BBC specifically, push it on a very regular basis. When you ask people to place it on a list of concerns it invariably comes in last.

    Concern peaks after some severe weather event that even climate scientists admit isn’t climate. However they never miss an opportunity to say that [insert event] is the sort of thing that we can expect to see from climate change.

    The weird thing is not that people are concerned but that they’re so unconcerned.

  16. When someone answers with checkable data, I’m inclined to believe them. When they abuse and bluster, I don’t. Old fashioned common sense.

  17. That’s very true, TinyCO2, ‘concern’ is widespread but not deep. I thought the more interesting question in the DECC survey was q22 ‘what do you think is the cause of climate change?’ which I also put in my comment above.

    BTW I thought your comment at 1.27am was excellent.

  18. What the hell is a climate sceptic.
    Someone who doesn’t believe that there is a climate.

    What is a climate change sceptic.
    Someone who believes that the climate changed for the first time when man lit his first fire.

    It’s catastrophic man made global warming that will destroy a 4 billion years old planet and robbing trillions of dollars from the poor is the only way to ” SAVE IT” that makes people curious.

    It’s where the money goes that makes us sceptical.

  19. February 11, 2015 at 9:27 pm Geoff Chambers:

    Active ‘science aware skeptics’ may be a pimple, but there’s evidence that a sizeable majority of the public are ‘innately skeptical’. E.g. for the US, including several surveys in Appendix 1, see my post at Climate Etc here:

    ‘Innate skepticism’ is a generic defense against misinformation or cultural takeover.

    In order to figure out what folks really think one has to (as Dan Kahan has explored) take steps to avoid or subtract identity defense. In doing so, it can be seen in the above post that the majority of Dem/Libs in the US don’t actually believe in CAGW. They are merely ‘in alliance’ with climate culture for political purposes, and when identity issues are avoided they no more believe the scare stories than most of the Rep/Cons do. This ‘shifting position’ of a majority of Dem/Libs is why climate change tends to come near bottom or dead last on many surveys of priorities for the President or US national issues.

  20. Hi Ruth
    even that survey is misleading (being spun by those who should know better, Cardiff crew)

    note how very and fairly concerned is lumped together to give a biggish number..

    why not lump fairly and not very concerned together, and you will get an equally big number… I’m sure, fairly and not very, will have very different thoughts on policy that the ‘very’

    and again, Corner and Pidgeon highlight the 68% very and fairly concerned, THIS breaks down into only 18% are Very concerned… which has fallen from 44% in 2005!!!

    does that get a mention in the press releases/media/lobbying

    these surveys are spun to death, to wave at policymakers, see look public still sceptical, take policy action..

    and of course nobody ever asks the public, Why are you concerned, what do you think should be done, how much are you prepared to pay, or ask anything useful..

    it is all about influencing policymakers.

  21. As ever in this area the starting point is that AGW sceptics need some form of analysis , because clearly the ideas pushed by the IPCC ‘must be true’ therefore any who do not share it must have something wrong with them. The idea that the AGW sceptics area right, even if only partly and that is AGW supporters who have got it wrong is never even consider . However, does reality actually support this notion? Well no it does not, the very reason for the ‘missing heat ‘ and 101 one other excuses is that the claims made by the IPCC and the climate ‘science community of ‘settled science’ and well defined link between the levels of CO2 and temperature have failed in practice . While concern over the standards and behaviour of climate ‘scientists’ has come about because their standards are so often low , if we expect them to meet the scientific norms at the level they are working , and their behaviour poor , seeking to control peer review and lying to the public being merely part of way they seem to normally work.

    So there is good cause to be ‘sceptical’ indeed science at its heart is supposed to be ‘sceptical’ which is why ‘critical review ‘ lies at its heart . So when you see climate ‘scientists ‘ expressing the view that do not wish to release their data because ‘people want to find something wrong with it ‘ you really do get a heads up has to how much they practicing science and how much they are pushing an ideologically position which of quite a few has been both professionally and personally rewarding no matter what the real data is.

    In the end the fault remains the same, a failure to understand that it is not the manner in which you’re trying to sell ‘snake oil’ that means you’re not succeeding but the fact your selling ‘snake oil’ in the first place. And no amount of pop psychology is going to change that .

    Perhaps the area needs to consider a little history

    You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

    Abraham Lincoln

  22. “….In order to figure out what folks really think one has to…”

    how about the really novel idea of asking them, why do you think that, etc, etc.
    not just by reading the tea leaves and trying to infer, the cultural cognition (USA centric) one trick pony.

  23. Wave 2 Wave 5 Wave 9
    % % %
    Very concerned 20 20 22
    Fairly concerned 45 46 47
    Not very concerned 23 23 22
    Not at all concerned 11 10 9
    Don’t know 1 1 1

    TOTAL CONCERNED 65 66 68

    look how it is spun… DECC data

    Total CONCERNED (therefore we have the public concerned about doing something!!!)

    why not add up the fairly concerned and not very concerned and fairly concerned, and get exactly the same number… 71%

    and label it bit concerned not that bothered..

    either way, you spin it – how many of the 47% fairly concerned (~half uk public) would want/support drastic policy action…or unilateral policy action, or?

    but no, nobody ever asks those questions.

  24. Old Ranga, just because something is checkable, doesn’t make it useful. Paul’s deconstruction of the Air Vent comments is probably better for understanding opinion than any survey. Those people weren’t on their guard and tried to convey their thoughts honestly.

    I can’t prove my theories other than with examples. Is Pharell Williams really concerned about AGW as he commutes in his personal jet to perform? Is CO2 at the top of Obama’s mind when he flits off to Hawaii for a game of golf? Was climate uppermost in Dr Chris Turney’s mind when he organised what was essentially an Antarctic cruise? Climate concern is something people take out and wear like a hat.

    Sorry Ruth, I wasn’t criticising you quoting the survey data, I just have a personal grudge against surveys full stop. Whenever I complete one I usually find myself wanting to write ‘it depends’ against the questions. Loads of things skew the answers people give. From their interpretation of the question to mood to what was on the news last night. The questions often reflect what the survey designer wants to say, not what might be a true reflection of a person’s viewpoint. Dr Lew tried very hard to get sceptics to say they were bonkers and yet said far more about his own grasp on reality.

    I think that much of what people express in climate change surveys and even in Paul’s assessment is a lack of knowledge. Belief is a poor substitute for understanding, and yes that applies to my theories too. But who would disagree that there are very few people who know what’s fact and what’s opinion in the whole climate change bandwagon?

  25. February 12, 2015 at 11:26 am Barry Woods

    Most of the surveys do ‘just ask’. However, unsurprisingly it turns out that precisely how you ask and the context of other questions in the survey etc. dramatically affects the answers, due to identity and other issues. The cognition thing is not a one-trick US pony, it works everywhere. The tribalness of the US is just easier territory for seeing emphasized effects. While Dan Kahan thinks orthodox climate science is essentially an absolute truth, hence is blind to the explanation for the effects he uncovers (such as increased polarization for the science aware), his evidence is actually really great for helping to see what is really going on. For instance that the the climate Consensus is a culturally enforced one and so not a scientific truth, and that a majority of Dem/Libs in the US don’t truly believe in CAGW. The understanding that CAGW is a culture works for any country, this culture just has different strengths of alliance with particular local political parties.

  26. Andy West, for some years I followed the science of pandemics and one of the sayings from there was ‘watch what they do, not what they say’. They were talking about governments but it’s relevant to everyone. What it won’t tell you is why.

  27. Ruth, Thanks for that DECC survey ..of course I was already aware of it ..and it was as I mentioned a “how worried are you ?” type survey.
    – If one wants proper results you shouldn’t be trying to extrapolate vague proxies, you should just go and do proper surveys.
    ..but Barry, it looks like policy based evidence manufacturing
    (see 1. The actual questionaire & interviewewers instructions PDF
    2. a PR DECC compiled from a similar survey

    Ruth, Barry I am a bit concerned here that US science seems to be a but rubbish. It is absolutely possible to do science, but there are proper procedures, like you define your terms and work out the logic of the arguments etc. OK, someone like Lewandowsky is malicious so you don’t expect much, but with the other psychologists I do. Surely one gets as much info as possible and then you step way way back and go into zen. But with these guys it’s like they can’t see the wood for the trees. Instead of unpicking the entire system it’s like they are just staring at a mangled up ball of string and trying to make cast iron affirmations about it.
    – It’s like they haven’t been taught to think simply.Then it a pain in the neck for us to deconstruct their work.

  28. Thanks for all the comments. Clearly the question of opinion polls and their validity is of interest. Perhaps because it’s the first sentence of the paper 🙂 . I have a collation of some of the surveys, so I think I will make that the subject of the next blog post.

  29. February 12, 2015 at 12:31 pm Stewgreen:

    Yeah Stew, it was Judith Curry’s interest that first pointed me to Kahan. And yes I agree he can’t see the wood for the trees; effectively pinning climate orthodoxy to an absolute truth instead of letting the truth ‘float’ within his analysis, means he has to essentially work backwards from that fixed point and ends up with the psychological case pretty much upside-down. In other words, he is blinded by CAGW bias. But there is some good technique there which is not related to the climate domain, and despite inherent bias within the questions some good data too. The subsequent analysis is where the main problem creeps in.

  30. We have had several ice-ages, and then the ice has melted again. And now we have to get our knickers in a twist because some people have made a couple of computer models that don’t represent reality? This whole global warming hoax is just magic thinking that is making some people very rich!

  31. FYI Richard’s dialogue window has closed already. When I pointed out people might suffer from scare fatigue, the silly sod has accused me of being a conspiracy theorist, and banned me without a chance to clarify what I meant.

    There’s got to be a way to check if climate change alarmism is correlated to Holier Than Thou mindsets and ease of indignation.

  32. Thank you, Matthew, for the paper.

    The more these AGW promoters talk, the more obvious are the battle lines being drawn between:

    1. Consensus “scientists” that adjust data to fit UN’s Agenda 21 for worldwide totalitarian communism.

    2. Truth of a benevolent reality that makes, sustains and destroys every atom, life and world.

    Camp #1 has the political power.

    Camp #2 will not be defeated.

    PS – I have a PhD in nuclear chemistry with Paul K. Kuroda, a postdoc in space physics with John H. Reynolds, and served as a Principal Investigator for NASA’s Apollo Program.

  33. Another connection : Jose Duarte is livid “there is likely nothing happening in science right now that is of lower quality than climate consensus research” , he references Verheggen’s rubbish reply to his criticsms and the way people like AAAS hyped up the weak Oreskes and Lewandowsky studies and ignored 2 far more professional later studies.
    All in his latest blog post
    (See ! people are not just moaning for proper standards and definitions in analysing skeptics)

  34. how about the really novel idea of asking them, why do you think that, etc, etc.
    not just by reading the tea leaves and trying to infer, the cultural cognition (USA centric) one trick pony.

    Asking people is a good way of wasting your money, assuming you want the actual truth, on anything remotely governed by peer pressure.

    If you ask people “Are you racist”, you will get an answer grossly underestimates the number of racist people. People will answer with the “correct” answer. They may even believe that they are not racist, even though they are, because they want to think well of themselves. It is by their actions that you know people, not how they talk.

    A political party that talks about getting rid of fossil fuel electrical generation will gain some moral support. The first that actually shuts down any such stations — so that the electricity stops to homes and workplaces — will find that their support withers rather fast. The number of people who think they believe in dangerous climate change would plummet if any serious action was ever taken on it.

    We could de-carbonise our economies tomorrow, if the will was there. It isn’t.

  35. Mooloo, Yes these effects are well known. Which is why experiments to determine peoples real opinions are usually of somewhat sophisticated design in order to control for such effects.
    – I wonder if more experienced researchers have had a go at surveying skeptics and scientist opinions, but haven’t got the “right” results, so their experiments have been buried and these more amateur studies which get the “right” results are hyped instead.

  36. Stewgreen, bear in mind that Kahan’s results were NOT the ‘right’ results, which is one reason why I consider his work to be honest, despite his analysis is also flawed by bias. He (and I think most of the climate establishment) expected folks on the skeptical side to become *less* skeptical as they became more science aware. But the opposite turned out to be true, they became *more* skeptical. With science awareness polarization increases almost as far as it can go; skeptics get more emphatically skeptical and loose believers get more emphatically supportive of CAGW orthodoxy.

    This surprised Kahan, and while his own bias prevents him from seeing the answer to this ‘puzzle’, he did not attempt to bury the problem. Indeed his whole investigation is extremely public at the Cultural Cognition Project online. I believe Kahan has built a house of cards on top of an obscure psychological effect to try and explain his result; i.e. ‘knowing disbelief’ and ‘duality’. But much more common effects, ubiquitous in fact, explain what is really going on. Polarizations such as Kahan has detected are caused by cultures; part of the ‘job’ of a culture is to maintain a consensus about the unknowable. Hence the climate consensus must be a culturally enforced one, and so not a scientific truth. The same happens with religions: the more literate and educated believers are, typically the stronger their belief. Their investigatory path is culturally steered from the outset. Whereas the more literate and educated the religious skeptics are, the stronger is their disbelief (they come to know about evolution and the wonders physics unearths and not least the cultural evolutionary myths that form the heart of religions).

    From the PoV of a skeptic there is nothing disappointing in what Kahan has uncovered. It supports the position that climate orthodoxy cannot be a scientific truth. However Kahan’s analysis is disappointing; ‘duality’ for millions of US science aware skeptics is a dangerous step along the path of calling all these folks crazy.

  37. Congratulations Paul: your excellent paper has attracted a lot of well-deserved interest. Have you seen for example that it has just now motivated Judith Curry to start another ‘Denizens’ thread? (

    As I think you know, I was the founder Chairman of an online research business ( specialising in healthcare related matters. Much of our work involves surveys of doctors’ opinion. Doctors do not take kindly to surveys that, for example, are vague or ambiguous, make unwarranted assumptions or provide inadequate definition of terms used. As a result, we learned the hard way how to devise and draft a questionnaire and how to ensure that the survey was properly conducted (sample size, anonymity, non duplication of respondents etc.). Based on this experience, I’ve thought for some time that it might be interesting to design and commission a survey that properly examined people’s views about climate change. Inspired by your paper, it might be particularly interesting to survey a sample of people in, say, the UK and, having defined terms, to use the first question to identify respondents who were sceptical of the orthodox position (this would require careful drafting) – then, focusing on these respondents, to determine why and of what they were sceptical and how they came to that position. It would also be useful to find out something about their educational background etc.

    Do you think there would be any interest in this? There are various businesses that provide survey services – although it specialises in healthcare, the business I founded (I’m now a non executive director) might be able to help. The problem I think would be accessing a good current sample of the public. Some expense would be unavoidable. Your thoughts?

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