The Hook

The Hook Blog

Political News. Freshly caught. A Tyee Blog


Climate skeptics often highly rational, survey finds

Knowing lots about science doesn't make you any more likely to support the scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming, suggests a new survey in Nature Climate Change.

In fact, it finds, scientifically literate people are better able to rationalize the position that humankind is not to blame for rising global temperatures.

"Everyone tries to fit the evidence to positions that predominate in his or her group," writes Yale psychology professor and study co-author Dan Kahan. "And those who know a lot of science and are good at technical reasoning do an even better job."

Kahan and his colleagues set out to explain a trend that has long baffled scientific observers: Despite the fact that climate researchers are nearly unanimous in their belief that human pollution is accelerating global temperatures, only about half of Americans agree, according to a recent Gallup poll.

The researchers surveyed 1,540 people across the U.S. to determine what causes so many to question this mainstream science.

One commonly-held assumption is that people lacking scientific knowledge rely more on emotions than logic to guide them through complex issues, increasing the likelihood they'd be sceptical of manmade climate change.

The survey found instead that highly rational, technically literate people were most polarized on the issue. This may have something to do with the fact that most people, regardless of political background or eduction, tend to espouse views that align with those of their peers.

And as Kahan noted in an email to USA Today: "It can really ruin your life to hold a position that is at odds with your peers on a controversial issue."

Within a social group that holds strong views on global warming, then, those capable of technical reasoning, Kahan added, "can do an even better job finding support for his or her group's position and rationalizing away evidence that challenges that position."

The study authors deem this "a tragedy of the risk perception commons", and argue that future communication on climate change should take this into consideration.

Geoff Dembicki reports on energy and climate issues for The Tyee.


The Tyee Most Recent