Understanding Climate Denial

denial

This is a great piece by John Cook of Skeptical Science that I thought I should share (especially after going back & forth with a confused denier on email this week):

by John Cook

There are a number of areas of science where the evidence has become so overwhelming that a scientific consensus forms. For example, the consensus on the link between smoking and cancer, that HIV causes AIDS or that humans are causing global warming. Where there is a scientific consensus, there are often movements that deny the scientific evidence. All of these denialist movements have been found to share 5 common characteristics, including cherry pickingconspiracy theories and fake experts.

Understanding the denial of scientific evidence is a crucial element to putting the climate controversy into proper context. The first step is recognizing that the process of denial is to be distinguished from cases where the title ‘denier’ is used derogatorily. Complaining about the word ‘denier’ can be a form of denial itself, using concern trolling to avoid a serious discussion of the scientific evidence.

Certain defence mechanisms are tell-tale signs of denial. In one experiment, people were asked if they believed there was a link between Saddam Hussein and the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Those who answered yes were shown evidence that there was no such link, including a direct quote from President Bush. Despite the overwhelming evidence, only 2% of participants consciously changed their mind (although interestingly, 14% denied they ever believed in the link despite indicating so in the initial survey).

The most common response was attitude bolstering. This involves bringing to mind arguments that support pre-existing views while denying any counter evidence. The process is reflexive and almost sub-conscious. Attitude bolstering has an unexpected and unfortunate consequence. When one encounters threatening evidence, the cognitive process of bringing supporting arguments to the fore results in a strengthening of one’s views. This is known as the backfire effect, where debunking a myth can paradoxically end up reinforcing the myth. The effect is strongest among those whose views are already quite strong.

Is it any wonder that so few who deny scientific evidence change their mind? But don’t forget that 2%. The rare person who was “skeptical” about climate change but then considered the full body of evidence is the exception that proves the rule. In Confessions of a Climate Change Convert, D.R. Tucker perused all the scientific evidence, became convinced that humans are causing global warming and uttered the famous pronouncement, “I was defeated by facts”.

Craig Good from Skeptoid, describes how he came to be convinced of the evidence in I, Global Warming Skeptic:

Since [Peter Gleick’s] talk I have spent a lot of time on a site he recommended, skepticalscience.com. There they have taken each of the most common science questions, numbered them, and carefully addressed them with the current science. The answers are even presented in basic, intermediate, and advanced formats so that there’s likely to be one matching the reader’s level of scientific knowledge.

With the caveat that a few of the questions don’t belong on their list (42, 63, 105 and 165, at least) because they are economic and/or political rather than scientific, I highly recommend the site.

So, yes, I am now persuaded that anthropogenic global warming is real. That’s because I’m a skeptic.

I recently received an email from a blogger Nathan McKaskle who informed me:

“You changed my mind about global warming. Up until today I was a big time skeptic for a number of reasons. Great site with a wealth of information that addressed most of my concerns.”

Unfortunately Nathan closed his blog down (otherwise I would’ve linked to his blog post on this subject). Ironically, he closed down his site due to discouragement, not knowing whether he’d changed a single mind through his blogging. It’s a sentiment many of us bloggers can relate to, I’m sure.

These examples of minds being changed by the evidence reaffirms Skeptical Science’s key mission of presenting the many lines of evidence for man-made global warming. Another key to putting the climate controversy into proper context is understanding the phenomenon of denial. Skeptical Science will continue to examine the 5 characteristics of science denial and how they manifest in many climate myths. It is by understanding how some deny the evidence that we are able to point to the scientific evidence.

Image Credit: AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by cesarastudillo

 









About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he's the founder and director of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.
  • Don’t forget deniers noticing the obvious political motivations. You can scream “flynn effect” all you want, but Americans are extremely intelligent and can see something fishy in a scientific theory that just so happens to support every position of the environmental movement.

  • LOL
    For example, the consensus on the link between smoking and cancer, that HIV causes AIDS or that humans are causing global warming.
    Source: Planetsave (http://s.tt/13maB)
    You people are retarrrrdssssssss…….
    Cancer is epidemiology, try and learn it.
    HIV the virus was isolated, biology.
    climate change, is the earth temp rising, maybe but only a fraction and only in certain parts. Is man the cause? I don’t know, but neither do you, and you are too stupid to realize you don’t know. Ever wonder why where there use to be water there is now deserts? You think the earth is static. You are stupid.

    • mark, i’m sorry this seems to threaten you. the consequences are no fun for anyone to think about.

      i haven’t really wondered why there used to be water in the deserts. it is clear. nothing confusing about it.

      and there is nothing confusing about the fact that we are inducing accelerated climate change that could be (well, that already is, but could be much more) catastrophic, once you look into the science a bit.

      humans are clearly the cause (see: http://www.skepticalscience.com/empirical-evidence-for-global-warming.htm ; http://planetsave.com/2010/08/18/humans-cause-global-warming-10-indicators/).

      Climate science is extremely robust, has decades upon decades of research and empirical evidence, and global warming has been proven not based on one line of evidence but over 10. (The findings are sound and, together, tell us very clearly what is happening, despite what some industry leaders and politicians tell us.) The science is anything but unclear… (i also recommend this piece for just SOME of the many considerations that have been thoroughly reviewed by scientists: http://planetsave.com/2010/08/13/119-one-liners-to-respond-to-climate-science-myths/)

      And it is for exactly this reason (that the science is so robust) that the following organizations have declared that the world is warming due to human causes:

      U.S. Agency for International Development
      United States Department of Agriculture
      National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration
      National Institute of Standards and Technology
      United States Department of Defense
      United States Department of Energy
      National Institutes of Health
      United States Department of State
      United States Department of Transportation
      U.S. Geological Survey
      U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
      University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
      National Center for Atmospheric Research
      National Aeronautics & Space Administration
      National Science Foundation
      Smithsonian Institution
      International Arctic Science Committee
      Arctic Council
      African Academy of Sciences
      Australian Academy of Sciences
      Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Sciences and the Arts
      Academia Brasileira de Ciéncias
      Cameroon Academy of Sciences
      Royal Society of Canada
      Caribbean Academy of Sciences
      Chinese Academy of Sciences
      Académie des Sciences, France
      Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences
      Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina of Germany
      Indonesian Academy of Sciences
      Royal Irish Academy
      Accademia nazionale delle scienze of Italy
      Indian National Science Academy
      Science Council of Japan
      Kenya National Academy of Sciences
      Madagascar’s National Academy of Arts, Letters and Sciences
      Academy of Sciences Malaysia
      Academia Mexicana de Ciencias
      Nigerian Academy of Sciences
      Royal Society of New Zealand
      Polish Academy of Sciences
      Russian Academy of Sciences
      l’Académie des Sciences et Techniques du Sénégal
      Academy of Science of South Africa
      Sudan Academy of Sciences
      Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
      Tanzania Academy of Sciences
      Turkish Academy of Sciences
      Uganda National Academy of Sciences
      The Royal Society of the United Kingdom
      National Academy of Sciences, United States
      Zambia Academy of Sciences
      Zimbabwe Academy of Science
      American Academy of Pediatrics
      American Association for the Advancement of Science
      American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians
      American Astronomical Society
      American Chemical Society
      American College of Preventive Medicine
      American Geophysical Union
      American Institute of Physics
      American Medical Association
      American Meteorological Society
      American Physical Society
      American Public Health Association
      American Quaternary Association
      American Institute of Biological Sciences
      American Society of Agronomy
      American Society for Microbiology
      American Society of Plant Biologists
      American Statistical Association
      Association of Ecosystem Research Centers
      Botanical Society of America
      Crop Science Society of America
      Ecological Society of America
      Federation of American Scientists
      Geological Society of America
      National Association of Geoscience Teachers
      Natural Science Collections Alliance
      Organization of Biological Field Stations
      Society of American Foresters
      Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics
      Society of Systematic Biologists
      Soil Science Society of America
      Australian Coral Reef Society
      Australian Medical Association
      Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
      Engineers Australia
      Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies
      Geological Society of Australia
      British Antarctic Survey
      Institute of Biology, UK
      Royal Meteorological Society, UK
      Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences
      Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
      European Federation of Geologists
      European Geosciences Union
      European Physical Society
      European Science Foundation
      International Association for Great Lakes Research
      International Union for Quaternary Research
      International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics
      Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
      World Federation of Public Health Associations
      World Health Organization
      World Meteorological Organization
      Source: Planetsave (http://s.tt/13m7y)

      There are no longer debates on the existence of gravity, or on heliocentrism, or on the fact that smoking can cause cancer. Why? Is it because of a lack of facts?

      No, it is because of the clear evidence…

    • You’re right Mark.

      And the first thing alarmists do when they haven’t got a clue is say something like “I’m sorry this seems to threaten you..blah blah…”, then they make gernal references to authority like listing all of the smart organizations which disagree with you. I’ve seen this so many times now that I’ve become a climate skeptic, it amazes me how I missed it before.

      cheers.

      • klem,

        if 98% of climate scientists agree that the world is warming considerably due to humans, and nearly every overarching scientific body in the world also agrees with them, is it not on the onus of someone who doesn’t agree to prove these thousands upon thousands of experts on the subject wrong?

        i’ve also delved into the science, and it is completely clear. the only way one could think it is not clear, is if they are only getting their information cherry-picked and warped from special interests opposed to the world using solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources instead of fossil fuels.

        if you can give me proof i’m wrong, i’d be happy. but the truth is, all of these scientists and scientific organizations have not come to this conclusion for no reason. and, no, scientists around the world in all of these organizations and universities are not in collusion to take over the world or get rich. i think you’d have to be doing some pretty serious drugs to believe that is what’s going on

        • klem

          “is it not on the onus of someone who doesn’t disagree to prove these thousands upon thousands of experts on the subject wrong?”

          Absolutly not. The onus is on those who are making the claims. It is the alarmists who are making the claims, the onus is on the alarmists to prove the claims. It is up the the skeptics to refute or pick apart the claims, and that is what the skeptics are doing..
          It is surprisingly easy to do, and fun.

          • Sorry, klem, that was apparently a rushed comment — should have been “doesn’t agree” (now corrected).

            The scientists have proved the claims, which is why nearly every scientific body in the world has spoken out in support of their findings. i have seen hundreds upon hundreds of deniers claims that have not stood up to scientific scrutiny.

            perhaps it is so easy to deny the scientists’ findings because of how poorly you are doing it 😀

  • In 1939, time magazine published an article that the consensus of all climate experts that world was melting. In 1973, the same publication reported that the consensus of all climate experts that world was entering an ice age. Now in the early part of the 21st century Time again reports that the consensus of all climate experts that world was warming and we are all to blame…..hmmm, so much for consensus and Time.

    Our current weather patterns match the weather of the 1930’s which. many of us know were years of drought and “dust bowl”. A category 3 hurricane hit NYC in the late 30’s. Funny how that has gone unnoticed in the media and climate experts.

    Our weather patterns are cyclical as determined by the multi-decadel oscillations of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the SUN! Get over it…in 40 years you’ll want to take credit for the “cooling” of the earth.

  • Interesting analysis, thank you for posting it.

    However, I would add more to this analysis; there is a fundamental perception underlying much (if not most) skepticism (or denialism) towards human-induced climate change: call it the ‘Just World’ hypothesis.

    Psychologists Feinberg and Willer conducted a study in which they found that “grin warnings” about climate change were often met with skepticism because these claims contradicted a person’s belief in a “just world” (note: this is often buttressed by a religious belief, such as the belief that there’s a god who permits/orchestrates all events for a reason, including acts of Nature).

    Dire climate change scenarios (reported often on PS) directly challenge peoples’ (perhaps natural) views that life/the world is ultimately just (‘ye reap what ye sow’).

    The researchers found that the stronger one’s belief in a just world, the stronger one’s skepticism to a grim global warming article (interestingly, not towards an optimistic one, that also offered solutions).

    The researchers found that by slightly modifying claims about the world (like “Sometimes, justice does not prevail.”), they reduced peoples’ skepticism and increased their willingness to take action.

    Something to think about,as we tend to be strident in our values and knowledge claims about the world, without considering the fundamental, human desire/belief (that the world is just) that often determines how we act within it.

    The paper: ‘Apocalypse Soon? Dire messages reduce belief in global warming by contradicting just world beliefs’, was published in the journal Psychological Science (on-line, Dec. 8 2011)

    • Very interesting. If this is the study I’m thinking of, I saw some criticisms of its methodology and the general conclusions people were making of it (didn’t look at the original myself). But your summary of it seems clear and seems to make some very good points. I have started including the fact that we can address this problem in nearly every article on it (maybe every), but maybe not enough and, also, looks like there are some important, other things to consider.

      Another interesting point: http://thinkprogress.org/yglesias/2011/04/18/200639/chris-mooney-on-motivated-reasoning/

      And this one! http://desmogblog.com/want-sway-climate-change-skeptics-ask-about-their-personal-strengths-and-show-pictures (A few interesting points here, but especially the bit about affirming the person’s good qualities:

      “But I think the finding about self-affirmation is even more important. Because what this shows is that people are clearly resisting facts because these threaten their identities—which means that arguing back at them factually will only make them more defensive and engender a backfire effect. By contrast, approaching them in an emotionally sensitive and aware manner, and making them feel less threatened, will open them up. (Sometimes, at least.)”

      But really, the whole piece is worth a read.)

  • Ah, Scientific Consensus. That generally occurs just before a revolutionary new concept comes to light or is discovered.
    Read The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn. The whole point of science is that it’s never finished, it’s only reached a temporarily best approximation of the truth. Think of Newton and Einstein.

    It is appreciated that the writer took some care to distinguish between those who deny that there has been some warming of the general climate and those who dispute the assertion that this cycle of warming has been caused by human activity. However, that distinction was not actually addressed, and that is the real source of the conflict.

    • I’m sorry, but there are things about which a consensus forms based on the clear evidence. Think gravity. Think heliocentricism. Think smoking causes cancer.

      Human-caused global warming is one of those things

      http://planetsave.com/2010/08/18/humans-cause-global-warming-10-indicators/

      http://www.skepticalscience.com/empirical-evidence-for-global-warming.htm

      which is why nearly the entire scientific community has supported climate scientists conclusions, including:

      These Groups Say The Danger Of Manmade Global Warming Is A . . .
      FACT
      U.S. Agency for International Development
      United States Department of Agriculture
      National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration
      National Institute of Standards and Technology
      United States Department of Defense
      United States Department of Energy
      National Institutes of Health
      United States Department of State
      United States Department of Transportation
      U.S. Geological Survey
      U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
      University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
      National Center for Atmospheric Research
      National Aeronautics & Space Administration
      National Science Foundation
      Smithsonian Institution
      International Arctic Science Committee
      Arctic Council
      African Academy of Sciences
      Australian Academy of Sciences
      Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Sciences and the Arts
      Academia Brasileira de Ciéncias
      Cameroon Academy of Sciences
      Royal Society of Canada
      Caribbean Academy of Sciences
      Chinese Academy of Sciences
      Académie des Sciences, France
      Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences
      Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina of Germany
      Indonesian Academy of Sciences
      Royal Irish Academy
      Accademia nazionale delle scienze of Italy
      Indian National Science Academy
      Science Council of Japan
      Kenya National Academy of Sciences
      Madagascar’s National Academy of Arts, Letters and Sciences
      Academy of Sciences Malaysia
      Academia Mexicana de Ciencias
      Nigerian Academy of Sciences
      Royal Society of New Zealand
      Polish Academy of Sciences
      Russian Academy of Sciences
      l’Académie des Sciences et Techniques du Sénégal
      Academy of Science of South Africa
      Sudan Academy of Sciences
      Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
      Tanzania Academy of Sciences
      Turkish Academy of Sciences
      Uganda National Academy of Sciences
      The Royal Society of the United Kingdom
      National Academy of Sciences, United States
      Zambia Academy of Sciences
      Zimbabwe Academy of Science
      American Academy of Pediatrics
      American Association for the Advancement of Science
      American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians
      American Astronomical Society
      American Chemical Society
      American College of Preventive Medicine
      American Geophysical Union
      American Institute of Physics
      American Medical Association
      American Meteorological Society
      American Physical Society
      American Public Health Association
      American Quaternary Association
      American Institute of Biological Sciences
      American Society of Agronomy
      American Society for Microbiology
      American Society of Plant Biologists
      American Statistical Association
      Association of Ecosystem Research Centers
      Botanical Society of America
      Crop Science Society of America
      Ecological Society of America
      Federation of American Scientists
      Geological Society of America
      National Association of Geoscience Teachers
      Natural Science Collections Alliance
      Organization of Biological Field Stations
      Society of American Foresters
      Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics
      Society of Systematic Biologists
      Soil Science Society of America
      Australian Coral Reef Society
      Australian Medical Association
      Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
      Engineers Australia
      Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies
      Geological Society of Australia
      British Antarctic Survey
      Institute of Biology, UK
      Royal Meteorological Society, UK
      Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences
      Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
      European Federation of Geologists
      European Geosciences Union
      European Physical Society
      European Science Foundation
      International Association for Great Lakes Research
      International Union for Quaternary Research
      International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics
      Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
      World Federation of Public Health Associations
      World Health Organization
      World Meteorological Organization
      Source: Planetsave (http://s.tt/13m7y)

      This consensus is not because someone could easily come along and knock the conclusions down. This consensus is based on decades of research, empirical evidence, and clean cause & effect with regards to this topic.

  • we think we know so much but in reality we only think it.

  • This article is entirely political… which also, by the way, is why global warming has such devoted detractors; it has become wholly politicized.

    Instead of being left to scientists and laboratories and universities and meteorologists and such, the whole thing was served up by a very polarizing political figure call Al Gore. So… as you may guess without the benefit of a degree in any science at all, the nation and the world was immediately split asunder.

    And judging from this article, it is still political. This isn’t about saving the planet. This is about winning a political war for the hearts and minds of the masses… and right now, the whole thing has melted down into a gelatinous mass of divisive goo.

    If you want a burger, you don’t go to Red Lobster. If you want your car fixed, you don’t go to Walgreens. If you want to save the planet, you don’t go to the politicians.

    It’s not that hard to understand, guys.

    • Mike, this is actually about trying to understand how people could deny the clear science.

      On who politicized the topic, I have to disagree with you. The Bush Administration was forced to admit the science was sound (despite its ties to the fossil fuel industry). It wasn’t until a science-denying Tea Party came along, funded by the fossil fuel industry of course, that it became so political again.

      Now that they feel like saying crazy things that aren’t true about climate science, those who know the facts should sit back and let them? How would that help?

      The masses trust the scientists, but political leaders on the right still deny their conclusions. What do you suggest doing about that? Ignoring the topic isn’t going to solve this problem..

      (I’m earnestly asking you for your opinion)