Politics

Everyone Who Knows What They're Talking About Agrees with Me

And everyone who doesn't wears a tin foil hat

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Is man-made global warming happening? Can nuclear waste be stored safely? Do concealed handguns reduce violence? Think about those questions for a minute. Then think about your thinking: Why do you hold those particular views on these controversial issues? And do scientific experts agree with you?

The Yale Cultural Cognition Project has been probing the question of cultural polarization over scientific risk issues for a number of years. The project's latest working paper, "Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus," analyzes the question: "Why do members of the public disagree—sharply and persistently—about facts on which expert scientists largely agree?" As examples of strong expert scientific consensus, researchers led by Yale University law professor Daniel Kahan selected three recent National Academy of Sciences (NAS) reports dealing with climate change, nuclear waste, and gun possession.

To get at what Americans think about each of these three issues, the Yale researchers conducted a poll of 1,500 Americans in July 2009. But first the pollsters asked questions designed to elicit each respondent's cultural worldview. The project uses a modified version of a typology devised in the 1980s by brilliant University of California-Berkeley sociologist Aaron Wildavsky which divides Americans into four cultural groups: Individualists, Communitarians, Hierarchicalists, and Egalitarians.

Hierarchicalists prefer a social order where people have clearly defined roles based on stable characteristics such as class, race, or gender. Egalitarians want to reduce racial, gender, and income inequalities. Individualists expect people to succeed or fail on their own, while Communitarians believe that society is obligated to take care of everyone. Generally speaking, Individualists tend to dismiss claims of environmental risks because they fear such claims will be used to fetter markets and other arenas of individual achievement. Hierarchicalists tend to see claims of environmental risk as a subversive tactic aiming to undermine a stable social order. In contrast, Egalitarians and Communitarians dislike markets and industry for creating disparities in wealth and power. In fact, they readily believe that such disparities generate environmental risks that must be regulated.

Once poll participants were sorted into cultural value groups, they were asked a series of questions about what experts think about global warming, nuclear waste disposal, and the risks of concealed carry gun laws. Of course, regular citizens do not have the time or inclination to investigate the technical details of such issues, so they turn to experts to sort out the issues. "One might thus expect (or at least hope) that regardless of the tendency of predispositions and biased information processing to push people of opposing cultural outlooks apart, the need of all of them for expert guidance would cause them to gravitate toward the consensus positions among scientists," write the Yale researchers. The fond hope is that more information will tend to cause public opinions on scientific risk issues to converge. But, as the researchers show, that doesn't happen. It turns out that people don't agree on what scientific consensus is.

The Yale study conducted two kinds of surveys on their culturally-typed population. In the first one, they asked poll respondents what the majority of experts thought about global warming, nuclear waste disposal, and the risks of concealed carry gun laws. In the second survey, respondents were asked to imagine that a friend was seeking their advice about which book by an expert to read on each of the issues. The respondents were supplied with alleged summaries of each book. On each issue, one summary argued that the activity was very risky while another asserted that it was relatively harmless. The statements were assigned randomly to the pictures of older be-suited white guys with elite academic credentials as the putative authors of the books. The respondents read the summaries and were then asked if they thought each depicted author was a "trustworthy and knowledgeable expert." Remember that each author was randomly assigned to either the high- or low-risk arguments.

Depressingly, the Yale project study finds that people "more readily count someone as an expert when that person endorses a conclusion that fits their cultural predispositions." On global warming, the NAS clearly asserts that "most scientists" agree that the earth is warming and that humans are the chief cause of recent warming. According to the Yale survey, 77 percent of Egalitarian Communitarians (henceforth Egalitarians) believe that most scientists agree that the global warming is occurring, while only 24 percent of Hierarchical Individualists (henceforth Individualists) thought so. On the other hand, 55 percent of Individualists thought that scientists were divided on whether or not the earth is warming while only 20 percent of Egalitarians did. In addition, 67 percent of Egalitarians thought most scientists agreed that humans are causing the warming, while 55 percent of Individualists believe that most scientists disagree that humans are the source of warming.

On burying nuclear waste, the NAS studies maintain that there is a "strong worldwide consensus" on its safety. According to the survey, similar percentages of Egalitarians (43 percent) and Individualists (44 percent) believe that experts are divided on the issue. Nevertheless, 37 percent of Individualists believe that experts think it's safe to bury nuclear wastes, while only 21 percent of Egalitarians do. On the other hand, 18 percent of Individualists believe that most experts think it's dangerous to bury nuclear wastes, while 36 percent of Egalitarians do.

With regard to the risks of violence posed by concealed carry gun laws, the cited NAS study finds no consensus among experts. Interestingly, a plurality of both Individualists and Egalitarians believe that most experts are divided on the issue, 40 percent and 41 percent respectively. Still, 47 percent of Individualists think that most experts agree that concealed carry laws prevent violence, while 48 percent of Egalitarians believe that the expert consensus is that concealed carry laws promote violence.

Parenthetically, the Yale project doesn't look at how cultural cognition shapes the values of the researchers who construct various scientific consensuses. For example, last July, a Pew Research Center for People & the Press survey found that 52 percent of scientists described themselves as liberal while only 20 percent of the public did. Conversely, 37 percent of the public called themselves conservative while only 9 percent of scientists did. So it's not too surprising that scientists have a more positive view of the efficacy of government action than does the public. Among scientists, 58 percent disagree with the statement that "when something is run by the government it is usually inefficient and wasteful" whereas only 39 percent of the public disagree with it. Both the public and scientists are suspicious of business, believing that business does not generally strike a fair balance between profits and the public interest, 58 percent and 77 percent, respectively.

So how did the poll respondents assess the trustworthiness of the putative experts in the survey? When the depicted expert declared global warming to be risky, 89 percent of Egalitarians found him trustworthy and knowledgeable while only 23 percent of Individualists did. On the other hand, when the putative expert suggested that the dangers posed by global warming were highly uncertain, 86 percent of Individualists found him credible, while 51 percent of Egalitarians did. Division over the trustworthiness of the nuclear waste experts was not nearly as stark. When the supposed expert asserted it was dangerous to bury nuclear waste, 63 percent of Individualists found him credible, while 85 percent of Egalitarians did. And when the expert claimed it was safe to bury wastes, 78 percent of Individualists trusted him, while only 60 percent of Egalitarians did. Concealed carry brought out deep differences between Individualists and Egalitarians. When the expert in the survey declared concealed carry was risky, only 25 percent of Individualists thought him trustworthy and knowledgeable, while 78 percent of Egalitarians did. When the expert asserted that legally concealed handguns prevented crime, 83 percent of Individualists trusted him, while only 51 percent of Egalitarians did.

So how can scientific information about risks be effectively communicated to the public and policymakers? To increase the chances of securing open-minded consideration of scientific findings, the Yale researchers argue that risk communicators "must strive to present it in a way that avoids making it needlessly threatening to the identities of one or another group of culturally diverse citizens." In other research the Yale team found that Hierarchical Individualists were more open to scientific evidence of man-made global warming when coupled with the suggestion that nuclear power might be a way to address the problem.

In another study on cultural reactions to vaccinating adolescent girls against human papillomavirus (HPV), the Yale researchers used putative experts that reflected Hierarchical Individualist values (grey-haired suited men) and Egalitarian Communitarian values (denim-shirted and bearded men). When the grey-hairs opposed the vaccine, Hierarchical Individualists increased their opposition, and when the denim-shirts favored the vaccine, Egalitarian Communitarians increased their support. Then the researchers inverted the expert-argument pairing, and they found that vaccine polarization disappeared. The messengers mattered. In other words, trotting out Al Gore to argue that global warming is a crisis will do nothing to convince doubters, nor will citing Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) persuade believers that it's a hoax. In fact, opinions harden, argues Yale project researcher Kahan, when advocates clearly identified with particular cultural outlooks indulge in partisan rhetoric and ridicule opponents as corrupt or devoid of reason. "This approach encourages citizens to experience scientific debates as contests between warring cultural factions—and to pick sides accordingly," he notes.

Back in December 2008, President-elect Barack Obama declared that science is "about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology." In their latest working paper, the Yale Cultural Cognition project researchers conclude, "We believe it is more plausible to infer that both hierarchical individualists and egalitarian communitarians are fitting their perceptions of scientific consensus to their predispositions than that either has some advantage over the other in discerning what 'most expert scientists' really believe." At least we can all agree it is the other guys' politics and ideologies that are twisting facts and obscuring evidence.

Ronald Bailey is Reason's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is available from Prometheus Books.

NEXT: Global Biotech Crop Acreage Increases Again

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  1. Interesting stuff, but I would have liked to have seen some of the actual contents of studies to bounce the beliefs chosen against, to see how close or far off the effect might be driving people’s conclusions.

    1. Actually, it was extremely boring.

      1. Pipe down, you two! I had just fallen asleep.

  2. You mean people, er, don’t wear tin-foil hats?

    Either do I, either do I. But the CIA knows that I know they did 9/11.

  3. To increase the chances of securing open-minded consideration of scientific findings, the Yale researchers argue that risk communicators “must strive to present it in a way that avoids making it needlessly threatening to the identities of one or another group of culturally diverse citizens.”

    *sigh* Good luck with that.

  4. Of course, regular citizens do not have the time or inclination to investigate the technical details of such issues, so they turn to experts to sort out the issues.

    Of course, this (emphasis on *inclination*) is no small part of the problem.

  5. ‘The project uses a modified version of a typology devised in the 1980s by brilliant University of California-Berkeley sociologist Aaron Wildavsky which divides Americans into four cultural groups: Individualists, Communitarians, Hierarchicalists, and Egalitarians.’

    Wrong – these are the four groups of people:

    (a) Those who divide people into only one group

    (b) Those who divide people into two groups

    (c) Those who divide people into three groups; and finally

    (d) Those who divide people into some other number of groups.

    Stop arguing against my science, you ignoramuses!

    1. Your division does have completeness on its side.

    2. How can you divide people into only one group?

    3. There are only two groups of people:

      – ones who divide all other into two groups, and

      – ones who don’t.

      🙂

      1. There are 10 types of people, actually.

        Those who understand binary, and those who don’t.

    4. it’s ignorami, ignoramus.

    5. There are three kinds of people–those who can count and those who can’t.

  6. Do concealed handguns reduce violence?

    That’s a stupid question. It is like asking “Does having a screwdriver in my pocket reduce the event of screws getting loose?”

    Better to ask: “Does the knowledge that potential victims could be armed significantly change the mind of a perpetrator to not commit a crime against a person or property?”

    1. It’s always interesting when a vaguely worded question is asked of people who have been classified according to some vaguely defined categories and the answers used to propose some vague scheme for affecting public policy. “Social Science” is totally awesome.

    2. The question isn’t stupid, but your logic is.

      Displaying a screwdriver is generally not a deterrent to a screw coming loose, but I can assure you that a handgun, once displayed, does discourage violence.

      Of this I speak firsthand, though it’s not unreasonable to say that the question you criticize, and the question you ask are both valid questions.

    3. From a public policy perspective (i.e., laws), isn’t your question epiphenomenal to the first one? I.e., it would be an outcome of the first from the legal perspective? If you have a law that permits conceal carry, it accomplishes the latter. Therefor the first question is relevant since you cannot assess (from a policy framework) the likelihood of the “mind of a [particular] perpetrator” knowing any particular items, but you can ask what the impact of a specific policy would be. In other words, you ask about the policy (the part that you can control), not the part you cannot control.

  7. I thought it was interesting too. I wondered if the experts (grey-haired suited men and denim-shirted/bearded men) reflected age bias/preference. It would have been fascinating to see the test repeated with women experts.

    1. The more important question is why Egalitarians are drawn to Billy Mays as the expert on scientific matters. Sure, OxyClean is great, but can it reduce carbon emissions?

    2. “Women experts”

      Hah! Good one!

      ***I keed, I keed!!**

  8. I’m an individualist who believes CO2 in the atmosphere has greenhouse effects. Does this mean my head will soon explode?

    1. No, it just means that you really dont grasp the problem.

    2. no, it just means that you will come up with the correct solution to the problem.

    3. No. CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Changing the concentration will have effects.

      The arguments are about how much of an effect, and whether the effects are linear or not, and whether water vapor massively amplifies this effect as one theory suggests, and whether the computer models come even close to modeling reality, and whether the effects are good or bad, and whether government can or should intervene, and …

      1. Prolefeed, good comment on computer models. GIGO.
        I had the opportunity to work with a computer simulation at Texas Instruments and it was amazing how out of wack the results would be with just a slight adjustment of the input data.

  9. I am pretty sure that most scientific experts disagree with me about global warming to at least some extent, agree with me on nuclear power and that it is totally irrelevant what they think about gun control so I don’t care what they think.

  10. Wasn’t there a scientifict consensus about the earth being the center of the universe? And the earth being flat? And the earth riding on theback of a giant turtle? (OK i admit, i’m still not convinced it isn’t) In few years we’ll have different scientists and different conclusions.

    1. I hate this line of argument. Science didn’t really exist back then. What we understand as science really wasn’t invented until the 16th century, if not later.

      Still, doesn’t mean scientists can’t be wrong in large numbers. A lot of scientists used to believe in Phrenology and think that eugenics was a good idea.

      1. So science wasn’t science because we didn’t call it that? So experts weren’t experts because they were called priests, or magicians, or kings, or fred, or barney?

        1. i think he means the scientific method type of direction, not “scientist” as a moving goalpost of definition, rather in how said scientist would go about problem investigation

          1. I got that. Didn’t relalize smart assery was taken so seriously. Really need a special sarcasm button, or font, or color. Is there an eye roll emote icon?

      2. and phlogeston.

      3. A lot of scientists still do believe in eugenics. They study “public health”.

      4. So Libertarians are now post modernists. Not really a good development.

    2. Wasn’t there a scientifict consensus about the earth being the center of the universe?

      Yes, until Copernicus.

      And the earth being flat?

      Not for 2400 years or so.

      1. How dare yuo question the Flat Earth Society. You will be marched to the edge and pushed over the side as punishment.

    3. But feel free to trot this argument out any time you don’t like the scientific consensus about something.

      1. I will Tony. Thank you for your kind permission to do so.

        1. But you see where this is going right?

          I don’t believe in plate tectonics because at one point in time most people thought the earth was flat.

          I believe rainbows are made of skittles because at one point in time most people thought the earth was flat.

          Etc…

          1. That’s impossible – rainbows existed before Skittles were invented. Also blue Skittles didn’t exist until after 1989, whereas I remember blue in my rainbows from before then. This further illustrates my point – a rainbow, ipso facto contains all the colors of the spectrum (that is rainbow to you laypeople) while Skittles obviously do not.

            1. You mean rainbows aren’t made when God spills his RIT dye? So my mom’s been lying to me all these years?

            2. But if you include Tropical skittles and Wild Berry skittles, not to mention those atrocious Chocolate skittles, how do you account for the fact that skittles variety far surpass the colors of the rainbow? Therefore it’s obvious that with our advanced science (the ability to make skittles) the spectrum is a rudimentary display of light, and skittles are actually superior.

      2. Shut the hell up Tony.

    4. Of course the scientific consensus changes over time– science wouldn’t be science if that were not the case. But the point is that, like it or not, there’s just no rational basis on which laypeople can disagree with the current scientific consensus. That is to say, our collective best understanding of the nature of reality may be and probably is wrong in many respects, but that doesn’t mean you’re rationally justified in rejecting it.

      1. Unless it’s Settled Science TM, in which case it never changes because all the facts are in, and we have to act NOW NOW NOW …

        And there’s a rational basis for disagreeing with the current scientific concensus … say, if your BS detector is going off like crazy, and the leaders of that concensus are caught being liars and frauds, and …

        But hey, keep on deferring to authority, dude.

        1. +2

      2. “no rational basis…”

        That’s just plain silly. The idea that scientific principles are settled based on consensus is simply wrong. Of course there are reasons for laypeople to disagree with the consensus. That would be like saying that lay opponents to eugenics had no rational basis for doing so. Of *course* they did. Science isn’t democratic. You don’t get to claima scientific theory is correct merely because of a consensus. That’s not how things work. Any scientific theory is going to have its detractors. What makes a scientific theory solid is evidence and repetition, not numbers of adherents. What you’re suggesting is that political considerations are preeminent in deciding scientific issues. For practical purposes, yes, scientists might resort to consensus in order to decide future research goals. But you should not confuse that practicality with the scientific method.

    5. Oversimplifications like yours of the scientific consensus are part of the problem.

      The earth is riding on the backs of 4 elephants that are standing on the turtle that is swimming through space.

  11. Isn’t the assumption that an “expert” is both correct and honest, the latter being less likely than the former, a little problematic?

  12. “But first the pollsters asked questions designed to elicit each respondent’s cultural worldview. ” Did the pollsters ask the respondents how much knowledge they have about anything in the real world, or only questions about their “internal” world? When one is without any clear and reasoned ideas of how the world works, one would tend to choose a position based upon “consensus” and “authority” rather than upon science and rationality.

    “…they were asked a series of questions about what experts think about global warming, nuclear waste disposal, and the risks of concealed carry gun laws. Of course, regular citizens do not have the time or inclination to investigate the technical details of such issues, so they turn to experts to sort out the issues.” I am always warmed and charmed by the readiness of folks who patronize me in public discourse to do so in no uncertain terms. Oh, of course “regular citizens” don’t have the time or inclination to investigate anything technical; do we? To quote an expression in Thai, “Stick your head up a dog’s arse and die!”, damned arrogant elitists.

    “… last July, a Pew Research Center for People & the Press survey found that 52 percent of scientists described themselves as liberal while only 20 percent of the public did. Conversely, 37 percent of the public called themselves conservative while only 9 percent of scientists did. So it’s not too surprising that scientists have a more positive view of the efficacy of government action than does the public.” And since, more likely than the general public, those scientists are funded by the government that wouldn’t affect their view on the efficacy of government action, now, would it?

    And there are only two groups of people: those who classify other people into groups and those who don’t.

  13. there is no such thing as nuclear waste. its only waste when they don’t reprocess it for reuse or use the “waste” as fuel for RTGs (radioisotope thermoelectric generators).

  14. So, Yale scientists showed that humans have a confirmation bias?

    That’s so true and I totally agree!

  15. There are two kinds of people in the world. Me and everyone else.

    1. There are 10 kinds of people in the world. Those who know binary and those who do not.

      1. Hey, I know 11 kinds of people: Those that know how to count in binary, those that don’t . . .

  16. As Ike notes, such research throws away golden opportunities to actually test people’s scientific knowledge.

    Such surveys should determine the participants’ understanding of utterly uncontroversial facts both in science and in politics. That would provide so much more useful data than correlating solely with their worldview.

    A great many people don’t even know what causes seasons, or know what century the Civil War was in. These people are expected to competently judge scientific experts?

    1. There are uncontroversial facts in politics?

      1. What is the minimum age of the president?

        Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?

        Was Michael Douglas or Harrison Ford a better president?

        1. What is the minimum age of the president? – 0

          Who wrote the Declaration of Independence? – You just did

          Was Michael Douglas or Harrison Ford a better president? Which one was Republican?

          1. I guess there are!

      2. Who is the current President, Speaker of the House, and Senate President? How many amendments to the Constitution are in the Bill of Rights? How many congressional districts are there? What is the exact wording of the Second Amendment?

        And so on …

  17. When I see scientists on both sides of an issue, then there is no consensus. Science is not something you put to a vote. Neither should it be a platform for issuing public policy statements.

    1. No consensus even with a 90%-10% spread?

      1. Science is binary; right or wrong. How many people believe what has nothing to do with the true behavior of the universe.

        1. Facts might be binary but science tends to express things in terms of level of certainty.

          When more than 90% of relevant experts say something, what reason do you have not to believe them? Because you’re smarter than them and have studied all the facts? I doubt it.

          1. 90% of people are retarded , like you.

          2. That may be so, but certainty is supposed to be a function of stuff like data sets, not a function of counting the scientists themselves.

          3. Additionally – when 90% of scientists are all basing their conclusions on flawed data & even more flawed assumptions, that I have a problem with.

            Of course, for people like Tony, logical consistency isn’t even on the list of things to care about.

          4. “When more than 90% of relevant experts say something, what reason do you have not to believe them?”

            Do you believe everything that the experts say?

            No matter if it contradicts your own experience and common sense?

            Big brother lovers you Tony,
            You statist tool.

          5. Science has been corrupted by the funding process. Most reseach will come to the conclusions reflected by the sponsor.

          6. There is a moment when 99.9% of the scientist believe one way and all of them are proven wrong by the 0.1%. How does this theory of “Follow the consensus” work then?

        2. Science is binary; right or wrong

          Nope, science is a process that results in statements of probability and likelihood, and repeatability and replicability, and that can be challenged and modified based on observed results.

          As my first Chem prof told us, “In science, you can never be 100% sure. Just 99 point some number of 9’s sure. In religion people are often 100% sure. Not in Chemistry.” Wise man. Very good scientist.

        3. Brett, you’re confusing science with the behavior of the universe. They are two different things. Never thought I’d agree with Tony, but you’re wrong (binary wrong here, not even the “mostly wrong” sort of wrong).

      2. Are you talking about a consensus due to falsifiable data (HIV leads to AIDS), or consensus on projection models?

        Considering the current state of academia, there’s a definite danger in seeking consensus.

        1. Agreed. Academics love models, they’re nice and clean unlike the real world. Models are tools, not accurate representations of reality. Pretending that they are the latter is the sort of thinking that almost destroyed economics. AGW is the Phillips Curve of climatology.

      3. Sorry, but I’m just not seeing 90%. Except of course, from politically funded political institutions.

  18. “Is man-made global warming happening?”
    “Can nuclear waste be stored safely?”
    “Do concealed handguns reduce violence?”

    There’s a reason why questions like these are popular with debate clubs, and why absolute knowledge of their truth — and falsehood — is claimed by millions — on either side — simultaneously.

    And why studies like this are a complete waste of time.

  19. Don’t confuse me with facts. I’m sure that I am right.

  20. Interesting. Instead of arguing about the low level of education and critical thinking in the survey respondents the survey worries about what they believe absent information.

    Why didn’t they ask if they thought that the Pope was infallible, if UFOs were real and if drunk driving is caused by hands-free cell phones?

    What a dumb study.

    1. JV: Do you always learn everything about everything or do you sometimes trust experts, e.g., your physician, auto mechnanic, IT guy?

      1. Obviously Ron you have never heard the old adage: “Chemists defer to physicists, physicists defer to mathematicians, mathematicians defer only to god.” My experience is that mathematicians don’t even do that anymore. So the short answer to your question is, only half facetiously, yes I do learn everything about everything.

        1. physicists defer to mathematicians

          Don’t kid yourself. If we find that dividing both sides by zero (or by the same infinity, or what ever abomination seem necessary today) we just do it and thumb our noses in your direction.

          1. Sadly this is true. I feel that we mathematicians, as keepers of the eternal truths, have failed our grubby handed colleagues in physics by not treating such transgressions with sufficient severity.

            1. It’s ’cause we have access to fissile materials.

  21. Old Mexican has it right about concealed carry.

    1. Old Mexican has it right about most everything!

      1. I consider him to be the old wise man in Reason’s fucked-up village known as the comment sections. I should ask him for advice one day.

        1. Second!

          Back to LOST…:)

  22. People can believe what they want.My personal belief is the climate has been changing since GOD SAID LET THERE BE LIGHT and it is nothing new under the sun.But as far as the government trying to tax us to death with this hoax of GLOBAL WARMING is not going to fly.All these things have been happening for millions of years we just weren’t here to see it and GOD HAS A SENSE OF HUMOR AS DC CAUGHT SOME OF IT.

  23. Just a point, Ron. The Pew study you cited used American Associated for the Advancement of Science members as its pool of scientists. While this does imply a broad swathe of scientific fields were covered, AAAS is largely composed of academic and government, not industrial, scientists. I don’t know the exact numbers off-hand, but I am certain the solid majority of AAAS members are academics and government employees make up a disproportionate share as well. In contrast, the majority of actual scientists, like myself, work in industry.

    I think the somewhat leftward tilt of the scientists surveyed may in part be an artifact of questioning a disprortionate share of academics and government workers. From personal experience, the political opinions ofindustrial scientists seem to match that of the general population on the standard right/left dynamic.

    1. Chad said”I wish Tony was my real mom.”

    2. Wow, Chad, you’ve turned over a new leaf. That was insightful.

  24. Uhhh Ron.

    “Scientific Consensus” is a false concept. “Consensus” is a political, not a scientific construct.

    The ability to predict physical reality consistently is a result of the scientific method. F=mA is a good example of this. It’s not that every one thinks Newton was a great guy and all – simply, it’s that F=mA works, period.

    Once the clowns at IPCC / CRU / etc can produce testable, clear, falsifiable predictions, and they consistently come to pass at appropriate time scales, THEN I’ll believe that they actually understand climate. Until then, it’s a bunch of vodoo, guessing game bullshit with cooked “models” that spit out what ever the programmers preconceived notion of what the ‘right’ answer is.

    “Climate science” is an oxymoron.

  25. I thought confidence intervals were a statistical construct?

  26. When close to 50% of people answer a binary question any given way, that’s generally a sign that the question is bullshit.

    1. “Would you describe yourself as male or female?”

      51% of Respondents to Binary Question: “Female”
      49% of Respondents to Binary Question: “Male”

      Statistician: “Hah! See what a bullshit question THAT was!”

      1. 1001011101100010100101011101010010110010010010010111001001110100001011000000111100110010001

        LOL!

      2. He said, “generally.”

  27. Marginalized again, dammit!

  28. It would be nice if handgun permits lower crime but even if they don’t I still support citizen rights to own them as part of a free society. My stepmom has a concealed carry and she was at Woodstock and used to volunteer for rape hot-lines. It was weird answering the home phone as a kid.

    When legally owned guns in the hands of permit holders start killing more innocents then cars then I’ll be open to increased regulation.

    Having lived in both very rural areas and in metro areas of Chicago and Seattle I do understand where people are coming from.

    If you live in a metro area a policeman and dozens of backups is always within a few blocks. When you live rural there may not be a local policeman at all or maybe on weekdays 8-5. Also he will typically be 30-60 minutes from reaching you. Then hoping whatever your problem is he alone with no backup can handle it.

    If citizens want to locally ban legal gun ownership. Let them do or undo it by their own votes. Just some thoughts.

    1. It would be nice if handgun permits lower crime but even if they don’t I still support citizen rights to own them as part of a free society.

      I agree, it would be nice. The actual evidence is a wash, in which case I think we can agree that freedom should win out.

      But here is a question: What if there WERE strong evidence that handgun permits increased crime? Would there ever be a large enough increase such that you would agree that this freedom should be curtailed? How would you determine that level?

      1. Cars I think are an excellent metric for perspective of risk/reward. Cars are necessary for economics but are not necessary for Freedom. Guns however are necessary for freedom from the state. Unless you think if the founding Fathers should have gone hand to hand against British guns.

        Here comes a rant…

        But then I also think state laws should make revoking peoples licenses easier. And Voting should involve basic tests. Like:

        -Which party controls the White House?
        -The Senate?
        -The House?
        -What is the name of our current president?
        -Do you have any bumper stickers on your car?
        -Do people not call you back after you go out with them once?
        -Are most people out to get you?
        -Has the current president been abducted and replaced by a look alike alien?
        -Have you ever eaten a dog?
        -Do you own more then 2 cats
        -What is a Hemi?
        -Fireworks fun or a dangerous?
        -Taxes, For thee but not for me?
        -Welfare lifestyle choice or temporary assistance for people in need?
        -subsidies, Rich Farmers/Bankers/Non-workers or hand up for working poor?
        -Military, Police the world or protect America?
        -Cat Food, “tastes good after crack” or “I hate cats”?
        -Hippies keep the pot smoking crappy music playing ones or exterminate the hippies that became lawyers and politicians?

        The founding fathers had it right not everyone should vote but dividing it by wealth/gender/race was terrible. I mean come on no good safety net lets a Joe Biden through.

        1. How exactly does dog-eating relate to my vote? And does it matter if it was intentional or not?

  29. 1- I am stunned when people refute global warming.

    2- I am well aware of the fact that deep burying of nuclear waste is extremely safe for all time.

    3- It is indisputable that crime is reduced when people are allowed to arm themselves. It only makes sense.

    I have examined both sides of these questions over many years of extensive reading.

    The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity.

    1. “…it only makes total sense.”

      I think this attitude is very common among laypeople. That is, that if something makes sense, it must be true. It’s a very Aristotelian way of looking at the world, back before the scientific method. They came up with well constructed arguments for why something should happen, and left it at that. Of course, they were quite often wrong, because the world doesn’t always conform to the way we think it should.

      That’s why we have the scientific method. Unfortunately for climate science, there’s a lot of this pseudo-Aristotelianism floating around. “The models we created tell us that there will be warming.” And, of course, the models prove to be wrong. Because the world doesn’t work the way they think it does. The same goes for any question. We cannot allow ourselves to be swayed by confirmation bias. We must rely on scientific data, all the while recognizing that there are some questions science isn’t capable of answering with a high degree of specificity.

      1. “Because the world doesn’t work the way they think it does.”

        Here’s an experiment you can try at home. 1) Get a helium-filled balloon on a string. 2) Get into a car with someone with the balloon. 3) The passenger holds the string so the balloon floats in the air without being near any part of the car. (Do your best with this, and give ample length to the string.) 4) Stomp on the gas. Question: Which way will the balloon move? (Hint: It’s exactly the opposite of what you think.)

        1. Ah, but my mind isn’t thinking the way you think it is. I think.

    2. “I am stunned when people refute global warming.”

      So am I, especially when they’re lay-people. But after the first few, it becomes less impressive.

      Now, if they were to refute Beelzy …

  30. This reinforces what Nozik said about not trying to create a one size government that fits all. Individuals should be able to join the type of government that fits them best, to each his own. How to do that he never said but I’m surprised that more Libertarians haven’t expanded on his work. By the way, tin foil is old school, I’m switching to full metal pot or colander headgear. Having a hard time though, when I try on pots at the store people yell at me.

  31. Is this a Baileython or something?

  32. I don’t need a study to tell me people are biased by their personality profile.

    What I want to know is, are the SCIENTISTS biased by their peronsality profiles?

  33. This is not news, but it brings up an important point.
    When public scientists say we need gov to take care of AGW, they are treated as unbiased. When private scientists (usually from energy backgrounds) show doubt for the extent of, or how to deal with AGW, they are considered “bought off”. It would seem more likely that both sides are, in general, being honest, but are susceptible to the same confirmation biases as other people. The vitriol and ridicule from both sides would seem to implicate that this is part of the story.

    Of course, this is no help for the science behind AGW, but appears to be a prime mover in public policy.

    1. Even 47% percent of *petroleum* geologists agree.

      http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/…..index.html

      Of course, asking a petroleum geologist about this matter is kind of like asking your plumber about the wiring in your bedroom.

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  35. There’s a lot of whiffiness about this study. I mean, they are asking people what other people (scientists) think about something when the study already admits that those people don’t know. So obviously in the absence of knowledge, they’re assuming that their own opinions are either dominant or the most reasonable. It’s called human nature. We didn’t need a study to figure that out. The other problem is simply that in any field there is controversy, and this is certainly true of science (particularly the social sciences). Consensus in science is inherently unstable. People are increasingly sensitive to the politicization of science on topics like the environment and guns. Studies in social science are often far less than definitive.

    This study seems predicated on the notion that people put credence in science. Many certainly do, but many do not. There are deeper cultural currents here that make this sort of study interesting, but essentially pointless.

  36. It seems to me that the problem is not limited to members of the public who do not have the time or inclination to master the details, but goes all the way to the top of the various fields. Surely in any contentious issue there are “experts” who stake out one side of an issue based on their emotional or political preconceptions. And it seems to be worse recently. Personally I believe it is the fault of self-righteous, bearded, denim-wearing baby-boomers. 🙂

  37. “Why do members of the public disagree?sharply and persistently?about facts on which expert scientists largely agree?”

    That’s easy: scientific opinion may be good advice, but turning its recommendations into law is more often tyranny than not. That merits resistance.

    In addition, the assumption that scientific opinion should become law corrupts the research.

    Average people know that being smart has never made anyone either right or good.

  38. I could have saved them a lot of time and money by telling them their conclusion ahead of time.

    1. That’s what I generally do, but some people Just. Don’t. Listen. They bleat on about wanting evidence and such. Don’t they realize that time is running out?!

  39. One problem with “scientific studies” is the issue of hidden biases. Harvard and Yale themselves have cultural perspectives which can easily be projected on the research subjects. Comments in the above article identify “brilliant” researchers and other supporting scientists almost as if they are truly invisible, and as ubiquitous as the truth.

    Breaking the groups down into “categories” in and of itself injects biases into the sampled community. And then lining the opinions up along the preconceived “categories” only turns it all into a self fulfilling prophecy. Especially where those “categories” appear to mirror society as viewed through the eyes of a “brilliant” academic .

    I am inclined to dismiss the whole exercise as just the sort of thing people do to get their PhD dissertation completed without ruffling the feathers of their colleagues and others in the “settled science” categories.

    Good science there! NOT

    1. Spot on Big Al!
      The dialectic bullshit that passes for science these days is incredible. I blame Marx and Engels.

      I’m going to break down those ‘scientist’ into two categories. Those who stopped beating their wife and those who still beat their wives.

      The question:
      Have you stopped beating your wife?

      A. Yes
      B. No
      C. Only when I’m working

      The conclusion of this study is that all social ‘scientist’ are wife beaters but some only beat their wives when they’re out of work.

      My next study will find out how many social ‘scientist’ masturbate while looking in the mirror.

      1. Oh, believe me, it’s hard work!

        1. Then you’re doing it wrong.

  40. “Science” determined by “consensus” is as valid a world-view as is “reality” shaped by “belief.”

  41. Sadly, to some tide-pools within the scientific community, the god-complex dominates and (usually) aetheistic, highly educated liberal scientists (without any inkling of what real life is all about) push their theories not because they have been rigorously validated but because “it is MY theory”. Questioning this then is an attack on the person which usually deteriorates into name-calling.
    Most of this group seem to me at least to be composed of the spoiled only-children of science-based families who have been ‘groomed for success’ by their parents and the institutions they attend. In more ways than one this mirror-images the politicians of today.

    What the study hints at is that the average person does not have a lot of faith in “scientific experts” and for good reasons. Like the weatherman, those experts are usually wrong and even with long dissertations about “yes it looks wrong but let me explain why it is actually right” they remain unwilling to buy into it.

  42. Whatever the topic, whatever the discipline, the title says all that needs to be said.

    Once you understand that society has always told us what to think, and not how to think, life gets easier.

  43. Repeat after me: “Scientific consensus is an oxymoron. Scientific consensus is an oxymoron. Scientif…………”

    1. Nine out of ten scientist agree.

    2. Consensus != Truth

  44. “There is no opinion, however absurd, which men will not readily embrace as soon as they can be brought to the conviction that it is generally adopted.” – Arthur Schopenhauer

  45. It would take far more than a comment here to address all the the questionable assumptions that shaped the design of these tests!

    In any case, it seems to me from your analysis that people were not actually divided into four groups, but two, as either Hierarchical Individualists (who apparently trust guys in suits) or Egalitarian Communitarians (who trust guys in jeans). Is there any reason to believe that predisposition is confined to the realm of science? Do the former tend to be guys in suits, and the latter guys in jeans?

    The phenomenon of conservatives buying books by conservatives and liberals buying books by liberal authors seems to have been pretty well documented. If, as I believe has been suggested, such highly polarized reading habits are more pervasive than they used to be, the very novelty of that one phenomenon would have serious implications when it comes to drawing conclusions from the Yale studies.

    In the end, how much do the Yale projects actually tell us much when it comes to the real world politics of science (which is really what’s being studied here)? Contra the underlying construct, the public generally has no idea what the scientists being used to sell consensus look like at all.

    On the global warming front, Al Gore, the white guy in a suit, has had little trouble selling AGW to Egalitarian Communtarians. It’s the fundamentally redistributive solutions he’s touting and the unexplained anomalies in the science itself which have engendered opposition — regardless of what the putative experts have been wearing. It’s not exactly a revelation that positions harden when dissenters from the conventional wisdom are called non-compliant idiots. Do we really need Yale to tell us that?

  46. “Why do members of the public disagree?sharply and persistently?about facts on which expert scientists largely agree?”
    Well, I really don’t know if there is global warming or not, but as someone in a field somewhat analogous (medicine), I can’t tell you how many times things that all doctors knew to be true …weren’t.

    http://www.courses.ahc.umn.edu…..udies.html

    http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/whi/estro_pro.htm

    In many cases, people were so cock sure of themselves that they asserted that anybody who wanted to do a study was simply evil or stupid.
    The real question is, when issues are very complex with million(s) of variables, measurement error can be an order of magnitude(s) – why do people believe they know sometime when it is evident that they know so little???

    1. From a John Tierney post a couple of days ago, regarding efforts to sharply reduce salt consumption:

      Before changing public policy, Dr. Alderman and Dr. McCarron suggest trying something new: a rigorous test of the low-salt diet in a randomized clinical trial. That proposal is rejected by the salt reformers as too time-consuming and expensive.

      As is being revealed by one experiment after another, some people just never learn.
      These people sometimes call themselves “reality-based.”

  47. You know, you could have saved all the time of writing the article by just saying, “People hear what they want to hear.”

    1. Free sex? Where?!

  48. “What Science Knows: And How It Knows It”
    James Franklin (Author)

    http://www.amazon.com/What-Sci…..amp;sr=8-1

  49. People disregard facts because so many ‘scientists’ and ‘experts’ have proven to be in the pocket of special interests. Consider tobacco, nutritional therapies, and economics as examples.

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