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Earth Education Science Politics

Scientific Literacy vs. Concern Over Climate Change 545

New submitter gmfeier writes "An interesting study reported in Nature Climate Change indicates that concern over climate change did not correlate with scientific literacy nearly as much as with cultural polarization. Quoting: 'For ordinary citizens, the reward for acquiring greater scientific knowledge and more reliable technical-reasoning capacities is a greater facility to discover and use—or explain away—evidence relating to their groups’ positions. Even if cultural cognition serves the personal interests of individuals, this form of reasoning can have a highly negative impact on collective decision making. What guides individual risk perception, on this account, is not the truth of those beliefs but rather their congruence with individuals’ cultural commitments. As a result, if beliefs about a societal risk such as climate change come to bear meanings congenial to some cultural outlooks but hostile to others, individuals motivated to adopt culturally congruent risk perceptions will fail to converge, or at least fail to converge as rapidly as they should, on scientific information essential to their common interests in health and prosperity. Although it is effectively costless for any individual to form a perception of climate-change risk that is wrong but culturally congenial, it is very harmful to collective welfare for individuals in aggregate to form beliefs this way.'"
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Scientific Literacy vs. Concern Over Climate Change

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  • by crazyjj (2598719) * on Tuesday May 29, 2012 @02:15PM (#40146563)

    I'm pretty well educated, and all that jargon gave even me a fucking headache. Here is a much better summary, FTFA:

    A US government-funded survey has found that Americans with higher levels of scientific and mathematical knowledge are more sceptical regarding the dangers of climate change than their more poorly educated fellow citizens. . . .

    According to the [authors], this is not because the idea of imminent carbon-driven catastrophe is perhaps a bit scientifically suspect. Rather it is because people classed as "egalitarian communitarians" (roughly speaking, left-wingers) are always highly concerned about climate change, and become slightly more so as they acquire more science and numeracy. Unfortunately, however, "hierarchical individualists" (basically, right-wingers) are quite concerned about climate change when they're ignorant: but if they have any scientific, mathematic or technical education this causes them to become strongly sceptical.

    And here's a news-flash for whoever wrote that summary: Terms like "Culturally congruent risk perception" have no obvious meaning for the general reader. Field-specific jargon is just annoying to everyone who doesn't happen to be in your field (i.e., almost everyone else on the planet).

    And could you say "culturally" a few more dozen times in your next summary? It really makes you sound smart, and not full of shit at all.

  • by MyLongNickName (822545) on Tuesday May 29, 2012 @02:18PM (#40146609) Journal

    Here's the translation: "People are more apt to be influenced by their peers than by science". This is not new; it has been known for decades. The best way to influence someone is to use those around them. This is why you see petitions. The petitions themselves are crap, but if five of your friends send you a petition, you are more likely to think about the subject the same way as your friends.

  • by Chris Mattern (191822) on Tuesday May 29, 2012 @02:37PM (#40146923)

    Not quite. They were confirming that point, but that's already been shown. What they showed is that *people with higher levels of education are *more* influenced by their poitical leanings* because they use their additional knowledge to justify those leanings.

  • by riverat1 (1048260) on Tuesday May 29, 2012 @03:56PM (#40148177)

    Here are a couple of FAQ's on the big General Circulation Models (aka Global Climate Models) from the guys who actually write them. They should give you a good idea about what they are all about.

    FAQ on Climate Models []

    FAQ on Climate Models, Part II []

  • by Genda (560240) <<ten.tog> <ta> <teiram>> on Tuesday May 29, 2012 @05:16PM (#40149135) Journal

    See that's the problem of if I can't see it, its not happening. Or worse, if I don't understand it, its not a problem. There are a million things that depend on precise balance and happen in infinitesimal quantities. NO2 happens in the junctions of your synapses in mind numbingly small quantities and lasts as NO2 for only nanoseconds. However, without that happening you cease to function. 1 pound of botulina toxic properly distributed is enough to kill the entire human population several times. You haven't the foggiest clue which species or processes are critical to the continued function of our ecosphere, how can you begin to measure what is or isn't significant without understanding that living things have indirect and profound impacts and implications.

    Our planet functions on virtually countless feedback cycles, so when something over here shifts another system over there picks up the slack and tends to recenter the system. Increase the heat, more clouds and earth reflects more sunlight. Up to a point. Once you exceed the normal capacity for the "Global System" to absorb more energy/ CO2/ heavy metals/ plastic... whatever, then old systems breakdown and subtle but significant shifts begin to make themselves evident as fundamental perturbations in the existing system.

    The change in carbonate vs carbonic acid in the ocean is telling (and making life for carbonaceous shelled sea life growingly more difficult.) The loss of glaciers and polar marine ice while possibly enhancing navigation, is already having significant impact both in rising sea levels and changes in ocean salinity. In fact a recent report suggests that as much as 40% of the increased sea level and reduced salinity is directly attributable to human enterprises over the last 2 centuries.

    CO2 is in fact toxic, but not in the quantities one is likely to see on an earth that isn't in catastrophic environmental meltdown. I don't see such a meltdown happening in my lifetime of that of my grand children's. However there is a potential avalanche of greenhouse gases soon coming where the warming caused by CO2 triggers a sudden explosion of methane from decaying permafrost in the high latitudes and potential release of massive methane ice seeps in the ocean. Its all tied together. Its a little like someone saying I need some wire while driving a truck, and having your passenger go under the dashboard and cut you some. You might get away with that for a little while, but sooner or later something really nasty will happen. Why would anyone, keep cutting. Its silly. There's no need. The only folks who would truly suffer are the incredibly rich executives at companies that sell us our fossil fuel fix (and by the way the warnings of jobs are coming from the folks who I would suggest are far more worried about their golden parachutes and fat campaign contributions.) Let's simply make the move to saner energy sources, by all means nuclear, solar, wind, geothermal, add OTECs, Tidal hydro generation, new hydrogen technologies. Nobody can tell me that it would be more difficult to build a sustainable energy economy than to send a man to the moon 1960. We actually have sufficient technology to resolve our own problem today, all we lack is the leadership and will to implement it.

  • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Tuesday May 29, 2012 @05:50PM (#40149631) Journal

    The simplest answer is that people who learn more about how science works question the AGW agenda which early on stopped being science.

    If you RTFA, the effect was only observed in right-wingers. Left-wingers become more concerned about AGW as they get educated, not less.

    I'm sure you would be willing to write that off as a clear indication that left-wingers are inherently brain-damaged and are therefore unable to apply their education correctly. Just for that occasion, the study also asked a different question with "reversed polarity" - i.e. a touchy topic for left-wingers to which they tend to react very emotionally and negatively. Namely, nuclear power. And here's the thing: while uneducated left-wingers were highly negative towards it, higher education level was correlated to stronger acceptance of nuclear power among left-wingers.

    TL;DR version: educated left-wingers are more willing to veer off from the "party line" on touchy topics than educated right-wingers.

  • by microbox (704317) on Tuesday May 29, 2012 @07:40PM (#40150641)


    Well, scientists have been sidelined by a sustained multi-decade propaganda effort. Frank Luntz was the (modern) author of the war on climate science, but he comes at a long list of propagandists who have a well-oiled machine. (See Merchants of Doubt [] for a jumping off point on a stupendous amount of evidence for this point.)

    The extensive social psychology research on belief and the transmission of information has been used by marketing and political institutions -- but not by scientists. Given the extra-ordinarily bizarre quality of the public discourse on the topic, scientists are finally warming to the idea of making use of science in science communication [].

    What the scientists are proposing is not really propaganda, but trying to find ways to transmit information that actually work. Frank Luntz and his cohort are going more for the Noble Lie, which /is/ really propaganda.

  • by oiron (697563) on Tuesday May 29, 2012 @09:24PM (#40151425) Homepage

    If I may be permitted to make an analogy:

    There's a certain chemical, (6aR,9R)- N,N- diethyl- 7-methyl- 4,6,6a,7,8,9- hexahydroindolo- [4,3-fg] quinoline- 9-carboxamide [], which some claim produces hallucinations and other related physical and psychological effects in large mammals.

    Others claim that the amount of this toxin ingested - a few micrograms - is insufficient to make any difference to such large mammals that usually weigh upto 100 kilos and beyond.

    Think of EVERY SINGLE medicine or drug in the world! Your dosage is usually in exactly the same ratio to your body mass as CO2 in the atmosphere - that is to say, it's in parts per million. Yet, they produce powerful, often fast-acting effects in the body.

    The climate system is similarly complex. A "small" change in one of its components can produce powerful, fast-acting feedbacks. I think that should be fairly obvious!

    The point is that a change in composition of 0.01% is actually quite high for CO2. What you should be looking at is the amount of forcing it introduces into the system per unit of change, not how big or small the change is. Take a look here []. Your intuition is irrelevant. Model and actual results matter.

365 Days of drinking Lo-Cal beer. = 1 Lite-year