Thursday, June 30, 2011

More Information Increases Global Warming Skepticism

There is a Yale University survey which finds that the more people know about the climate, the more skeptical they become. They sampled 1,540 people on the following different types of information: how much scientific literacy they possessed (e.g., how well they answered questions about things like the time it takes for the Earth to circle the sun and the relative sizes of electrons and atoms), how numerate they were (e.g., their ability to engage in mathematical reasoning), what their cultural values were, and their thoughts on the risks of global warming and nuclear power. Overall, the more knowledge lowered the global warming concern (p-value around 6%).

The cultural value groupings were 'individualism and hierarchy' who believe industry and technology have low risk and restricting gun ownership is bad, vs. 'egalitarian and communitarian', who believe industry and technology have a high risk and restricting gun ownership is good. I'm clearly a 'individualism-hierarchy' guy on that score, and can see why it dominated the explanation of the results, because if you are afraid of industry and technology, you probably love the Global Warming solutions to regulate technology and industry more. It would have been better to merely ask if they were Democrats or Republicans, because that would be less obviously correlated with the survey on nuclear power and global warming.

Chris Mooney in DeSmogBlog has a post on this paper that neglects the overall correlation on knowledge and climate worry. He didn't mention that for both groups more knowledge was significantly associated with lower nuclear risk concern, or that for the 'individualism-hierarchy' group more knowledge was significantly different than zero. Most importantly, he neglected to note that the 'higher knowledge-higher global warming' correlation within the those +1 standard deviation in the 'egalitarian and communitarian' camp was not statistically different than zero (I'm eyeballing it at around 12% p-value, these are psychologists so they do numbers reluctantly, it seems). Mooney is a professional pundit who lectures everyone on how to do science, which I guess involves ignoring standard errors and burying the lede when it hurts your point.

As Chris Mooney wrote The Republican War on Science, this is contrary to his thesis that we had more scientific candidates we would all agree with the progressive agenda to eliminate a missile defense system, not mention risks of abortions, and fight global warming (presumably with ethanol subsidies and bans on nuclear power). So he spun the survey to focus on the fact that the disagreement polarized the hierarchical-individualists and communitarian-egalitarians alone, and concludes that 'a little knowledge is a dangerous thing'. Yes, Mr. tendentious English major without an understanding of standard errors, it is.


  1. Mercury10:39 PM

    What kills me about global warming pushers is their eagerness to apply the straight-edged ruler method of extrapolation to the mother of all non-linear, dynamic systems and their almost hubristic insistence that human activity always matters most.

    Solar activity, Milankovitch cycles, the ebb and flow of ice ages and the possibility that we may be overdue for one are somehow beyond the narrow scope of their supposedly unfettered scientific inquiry.

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  3. Regarding Global Warming, my fundamental question is simply: how many other 100-year forecasts of human events have come true?

  4. On one hand I think the data is pretty conclusive that there is something warming. On the other hand the Anthropomorphic Global Warming theory is just such a good story - it is bound to spread. There is such a simple physical effect, one that everyone is more or less familiar with (if ever has seen a greenhouse), and apparently this has such a profound effect - it is very satisfying thought to think.

    In other words - the Anthropomorphic Global Warming theory is a very strong meme.

  5. stephen10:07 AM

    My favorite part is when he laments skeptics using their increased power of numeracy to run-the-numbers in order to disprove climate studies. As if doing the math yourself necessarily leads to finding rubbish.

    I guess “checking the work” is nothing more than a dirty trick in the War on Science. As opposed to science.

  6. David Gillies10:28 AM

    The relative sizes of electrons and atoms? Electrons are point particles as far as we can tell (there is a quantity called the Lorentz radius which is about 3 fm, but from a pure physical standpoint the electron has no discernible substructure.)

    I've noted on many occasions how numeracy and scientific knowledge tend to propel one away from the Just-So stories of which Leftism is so fond.

  7. well ... here in the UK many species of butterfly and dragonflies have shown a marked northern shift in population, and birds arrive for the summer on average 2 weeks earlier than they did 50 years ago. Both these populations have been studied heavily for over a century, so the results are quite robust.

    Of course its just one country on the edge of Europe, and there are lots of potential explanations. But these observations are consistent with this corner of the planet getting warmer.

  8. Dorset: most global warming skeptics, like me, agree that the planet has warmed about 0.6 C over the past 100 years, and that humans have increased CO2 concentrations significantly. The skepticism is over how these data are correlated and what they portend.

  9. understood Eric.

    I quite like the sunspot theory for global warming. Given that it now seems sunspot activity is entering a quiet phase, then we may see temperatures stabilising or dropping. A key decade for the warming debate coming up.

  10. Anonymous12:05 AM

    Eric, I think you misdiagnose Mr. Mooney's error.

    It seems to me the simplest explanation is that the complete truth of CAGW is a fixed concept in Mr. Mooney's mind, and that other concepts and perceptions align themselves to maintain it. (Consider how in relativistic physics space, time, energy, and matter all change and adapt to accommodate the constancy of the speed of light.) The fixed concept cannot be moved by any appeal to logic because it is independent of it.

    Many of us believe we somehow choose the better path (or at least the most polite one) when we take obviously suspect arguments at face value, but that seldom does anyone any good. When two cars meet at an intersection, it is usually clear which is required to yield the right-of-way. It is not a courtesy for the other driver to halt and wait, that's merely moral laziness, a reluctance to take responsible action.

    We would serve ourselves and each other better by running over Mr. Mooney. There's gotta be a small-pedestrian-mind loophole somewhere ...

  11. Ive read the abstact and your article and I'd like to ask how do you substantiate this argument in your first sentence 'the more people know about the climate' ? Respondents were scored by their scientific literacy not specifically climate.