Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed


Forgot your password?
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.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Scientific Literacy vs. Concern Over Climate Change

Comments Filter:
  • by gmfeier ( 1474997 ) on Tuesday May 29, 2012 @03:26PM (#40146719)
    It just magically appeared. I am no more fond of it than you are.
  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Tuesday May 29, 2012 @03:31PM (#40146833) Homepage

    Well, the translation of the TFA (as opposed to the bizzarro summary) is that climate models are very difficult to parse and so it's easier to talk about pretty much anything else. Even the culturally congruent lefties don't use modeling much.

    Doesn't surprise me. I'm a biologist by training, grew up in the era of quantitative biology and still find the reporting on the models pretty much useless. I don't really have a good feel for exactly how good the models are, how fast they change, what their strong points are, what their weak points are.

    I could spend the time to read the literature, except that I really can't. That would involve hundreds of hours of skull sweat that frankly I don't have even if I do have the background to assimilate it. And most people don't have that background.

    So, for the vast majority of humans, it does boil down to a leap of faith. I have more faith in dedicated scientists from multiple disciplines and localities working with inadequate, but nonetheless rather powerful, tools and concepts than in governmental / religious / financial institutions with a really narrow financial / social viewpoint.

    But that's just me.

  • by spiralx ( 97066 ) * on Tuesday May 29, 2012 @03:41PM (#40146995)

    Ah, this ties into this article [] someone posted here earlier, which describes how increasing levels of education make conservatives less likely to believe in factual positions that contradict their world-view. Something which dominates the discussion here in any number of stories that involve economics, psychology, climatology or morality. As much as I enjoy reading the debates these stories engender, it's mostly in a car-crash fashion; the increasingly labyrinthian arguments really do defy any kind of rational explaination.

  • Re:well ... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by vlm ( 69642 ) on Tuesday May 29, 2012 @03:43PM (#40147021)

    Also, the current western model of government is not a true democracy, but rather a representative democracy, which is quite different. People do not vote for things, they vote for people.

    You have one party, the rich guys party, and two competing PR firms with totally different ad campaigns. Oligarchy not representative democracy or democracy.

    Technically I do get to vote locally on local govt education bonds, true, although very limited, direct democracy. I'm told some states sometimes have binding referendums, but I've never experienced that.

    Also when I was a kid, we had theoretically non political party local judicial elections, which is true representative democracy, but that was done away with a decade or two ago, and in practice the R's shilled for their candidate and the D's shilled for their candidate anyway. There is no longer a representative democracy where I live.

  • by Kozz ( 7764 ) on Tuesday May 29, 2012 @04:05PM (#40147329)

    There is too much stuff being quoted and claimed from both sides, often seemingly backed up.

    What we need is a nice, easy summary page, summarizing all the relevant studies so far, and what they imply or mean when it comes to climate page. AN overall summary taking every study into account, giving a good indication, meaning to oppose it is to go against peer reviewed studies or to speculate without a firm basis.

    THIS! Yes. I'm left-leaning, politically speaking. A very good friend of mine is right-leaning. Though we both have some Libertarian tendencies, we have very different ideas. And we're both college-educated, smart people who enjoy (friendly) battles of wits with one another on a variety of topics, and we are big fans of using facts and truth, not propaganda. It's a rare situation where people with differing political views can have constructive arguments and inform one another and learn (unlike much of American politics).

    And yet when he and I come to the climate "debate" (my scare-quotes tell you which side I'm on), we carried it to its logical conclusion which resulted in a war of links backing up our claims. It was almost the equivalent of a schoolyard taunt, "my scientists can beat up your scientists!" because neither of us are specialists in the field. I think we were probably both quite frustrated -- and we actually were interested in getting to the real facts, not just name-calling, generalizations and ad hominems (though we employ those just for fun).

  • by lessthan ( 977374 ) on Tuesday May 29, 2012 @05:33PM (#40148621)

    Okay, here it is. In and around 1800, CO2 was about 0.028% of the Earth's atmosphere. It is currently around 0.0395%. This data comes from the ice core from Law Dome, Antarctica and current observation.
    Have you ever played with a scale? The old-timey ones with the scale on one side and the counter-weights on the other? It doesn't take much to cause a huge imbalance, and if you are going to argue that the world is a little more robust than that, I would refer you to the 150 acres per minute of rainforest lost, the 30 mile per year that the Sahara desert's border is moving south, and the more than 700 documented animals that humanity has caused to go extinct (since the 1600s). CO2 is one facet in a larger, we-are-changing-the-whole-of-the-earth problem.

  • by 0111 1110 ( 518466 ) on Tuesday May 29, 2012 @07:14PM (#40149893)

    See that's the problem of if I can't see it, its not happening.

    Well that's how science works. Sorry about that. Either a theory/hypothesis has evidence to support it or it doesn't.

    Or worse, if I don't understand it, its not a problem.

    If you don't understand it then you cannot do anything. Then you cannot draw any rational conclusions about what should be done. You cannot know that there is even a problem. You think it is more rational/logical to just assume there is a problem without evidence?

    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.

    Indeed. An entire planet, especially a water planet like ours is an immensely complex system. Believing we can write a mere computer program to act just like the real thing with sufficient accuracy that we can predict exactly what a 0.01% increase in CO2 will do to global temperatures is the height of hubris. It certainly is not science, which is based on direct experiment and direct observation. Of course you could just start out by assuming that our data on global temperature since the 19th century is 100% infallible and believing that 100% of the change implied by the data is caused by combustion and then attempt to extrapolate from there, but that is not science. It's nothing more than a wild-assed guess, possibly one motivated by emotion and politics and faith.

    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.

    You were just going on about how complex a system the planet is and now you believe you understand precisely what has caused these alleged changes?

    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.

    So is oxygen and nitrogen. I haven't noticed anyone worried about a .01% change in either of those gases.

    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.

    I certainly believe that the greenhouse gas theory is real and compelling. If humans do eventually increase the percentage of CO2 to a high enough level it may even have precisely the effect you describe. The problem is we don't really know how high we can go with the gas before we notice a significant effect. And, no, I don't consider the less than 1 degree change in over a centure to be significant. We don't even really know if we are even capable of increasing the percentage high enough to cause a noticeable effect. As a skeptic (denier/heretic) all I ask is that we admit what we do not know. Admitting what we truly do not know is the start of all genuine science and all true knowledge.

    Is it possible that human beings may be able to increase the percentage of CO2 to a high enough level to cause problems before we run out of stuff to burn? Maybe, but there is ins

The unfacts, did we have them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude.