Your Climate Beliefs Are About to be Nudged

Social psychologists are coming to the fore as the mad scientists of our age. Case in point is a recently published guide for intervening in public discourse regarding global warming/climate change. The title is a link to the paper Leveraging cognitive consistency to nudge conservative climate change beliefs by Gehlbach et al. December 12, 2018. Excerpts below with my bolds, followed by my modest suggestion for improvement.

The Rationale (Abstract)

People feel motivated to maintain consistency across many domains in life. When it
comes to climate change, many find themselves motivated to maintain consistency with others,
e.g., by doubting climate change to cohere with friends’ and neighbors’ beliefs. The resulting
climate skepticism has derailed discussions to address the issue collectively in the United States.
To counteract these social consistency pressures, we developed a cognitive consistency
intervention for climate skeptics. We first demonstrated that most people share substantial faith
in a variety of scientific findings, across disciplines ranging from medicine to astronomy. Next,
we show that conservative participants who first acknowledge several general contributions of
science subsequently report significantly stronger beliefs in climate science (as compared to
conservatives who are asked only about their climate science beliefs). These findings provide an
encouraging proof-of-concept for how an inclusive climate conversation might be initiated
across the political divide.

The Methodology

Below are the two sets of questions put to participants, firstly on mainstream fields of science, and secondly on assertions from climate scientists.

Instructions: Please give us your opinions and thoughts about the contributions of different branches of science. (Responses on a scale of 1 to 7: 1 meaning Not at all, 7 meaning Extremely or Completely)

To what degree do you think the science of astronomy has helped us identify what other planets exist in our solar system?

How helpful do you think medical science is in advancing society’s understanding of what makes people sick?

How confident are you that the field of engineering is advanced enough to keep you safe when traveling on bridges?

How certain are you that physicists’ theory of gravity accurately explains why objects fall when dropped?

How useful is neuroscience in helping understand the role of different areas of the brain?

To what degree do you agree with public health experts that smoking causes cancer?

How credible is the medical data that germs are a primary cause of disease?

Instructions: Please give us your opinions regarding different aspects of what scientists have concluded about climate change and global warming. (Responses on a scale of 1 to 7: 1 meaning Not at all, 7 meaning Extremely or Completely)

With how much precision has the science of climate change been able to identify the causes behind rising sea levels?

How helpful do you think climate science is in advancing society’s understanding of why the earth is getting hotter?

How confident are you that climate science is right in their theory of how greenhouse gases
trap heat?

How certain are you that global warming explains many of the new weather patterns we are seeing today?

To what extent do you agree with climate experts that humans burning fossil fuels is the major cause of our changing climate?

How useful are climate models in helping to predict how many species are likely to go extinct in the coming years?

How accurately do you think climate scientists will predict the exact number of degrees the average global temperature will change between now and the year 2050?*

How credible is the climate science data that ocean temperatures are rising?

(*Note. Questioners put the next to last question as a trap. They expected people answering honestly to be skeptical on that one.)

Results

Researchers found that regardless of social attitudes and self-identifying along a liberal/conservative axis, people of all stripes averaged about 6 on the 7 point scale. In other words, generally people expressed “very much” or “a great deal” of confidence or certainty in the assertions. When people were presented only the questions on global warming/climate change, the responses differed accordingly to social/political leanings:

A spotlight analysis (Spiller, Fitzsimons, Lynch, & McClelland, 2013)—with 95% confidence intervals—examining each possible political orientation shows that the treatment had a small effect on politically moderate participants’ climate science beliefs; the impact was larger formore conservative participants.

They found that liberals were accepting of global warming assertions at the same level as other scientific fields, 6 out of 7, meaning “very much” or “a great deal” of conviction. While conservatives averaged 4 out of 7, a so-so response meaning “somewhat” credible or helpful.

The big news was that conservatives could be nudged toward greater acceptance of climate assertions if they were first questioned about other science fields (where they accept at a 6 level, followed by the climate questions. In that process, they become more certain about climate, the theory being cognitive dissonance between being accepting in many fields, but skeptical in one.

Nudging is a Two-Way Street

Armed with these insights, let’s see if we can nudge people toward using their critical intelligence on scientific matters. All we need are some slight improvements in the questions. Below are my proposed questionnaires to help the public with these issues are below.

Instructions: Please give us your opinions and thoughts about the contributions of different branches of science. (Responses on a scale of 1 to 7: 1 meaning Not at all, 7 meaning Extremely or Completely)

To what degree do you think that astrology has helped us identify how other planets affect our lives?

How helpful do you think nutritional science is in advancing society’s understanding of what are healthy and unhealthy foods?

How confident are you that the field of engineering is advanced enough to keep you safe riding in a driverless car?

How certain are you that physicists’ big bang theory accurately explains the origins of the universe?

How useful is neuroscience in helping understand human consciousness and autonomy?

To what degree do you agree with public health experts that smoking causes cancer in non-smokers?

How credible is the medical data that genes are a primary cause of disease?

Instructions: Please give us your opinions regarding different aspects of what scientists have concluded about climate change and global warming. (Responses on a scale of 1 to 7: 1 meaning Not at all, 7 meaning Extremely or Completely)

With how much precision has the science of climate change been able to identify the causes behind rising sea levels?

How helpful do you think climate science is in advancing society’s understanding of why the earth got hotter for awhile and then stopped?

How confident are you that climate science is right in their theory of how greenhouse gases
trap heat?

How certain are you that global warming explains many of the new weather patterns we are seeing today?

To what extent do you agree with climate experts that humans burning fossil fuels is the major cause of our changing climate?

How useful are climate models in helping to predict how many species are likely to go extinct in the coming years?

How accurately do you think climate scientists have measured the degrees of warming since 1850, the end of the Little Ice Age?*

How credible is the climate science data that ocean temperatures are rising?

(*Note. Questioners put the next to last question as a trap. They expect people to be fairly certain on that one.)

Summary

Note that none of this is about scientific reasoning. It is all about adding climate assertions into a broader set of beliefs engendered by scientists. In other words, this is not an attempt to factually prove global warming/climate change, but rather an exercise in social manipulation. As I have remarked before, Leonard Cohen explains poetically why social proof is an uncertain guide to the truth.

Lyrics:

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
Thats how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died
Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long stem rose
Everybody knows

Everybody knows that you love me baby
Everybody knows that you really do
Everybody knows that you’ve been faithful
Ah give or take a night or two
Everybody knows you’ve been discreet
But there were so many people you just had to meet
Without your clothes
And everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows
Thats how it goes
Everybody knows

And everybody knows that its now or never
Everybody knows that its me or you
And everybody knows that you live forever
Ah when you’ve done a line or two
Everybody knows the deal is rotten
Old black joe’s still pickin’ cotton
For your ribbons and bows
And everybody knows

And everybody knows that the plague is coming
Everybody knows that its moving fast
Everybody knows that the naked man and woman
Are just a shining artifact of the past
Everybody knows the scene is dead
But there’s gonna be a meter on your bed
That will disclose
What everybody knows

And everybody knows that you’re in trouble
Everybody knows what you’ve been through
From the bloody cross on top of calvary
To the beach of Malibu
Everybody knows its coming apart
Take one last look at this sacred heart
Before it blows
And everybody knows

Everybody knows, everybody knows
Thats how it goes
Everybody knows

Footnote:

I doubt Leonard Cohen had climate change in mind when he wrote this masterpiece. But he did have a pertinent poetic insight; namely, that social proof is an unreliable guide to the truth.

via Science Matters

http://bit.ly/2Cqfnep

January 17, 2019 at 10:12AM

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