Naomi Klein's Inconvenient Climate Conclusions - NYTimes.com ⇢
Our willingness to accept the scientific consensus on climate change is strongly influenced by our cognitive worldview:
Naomi Klein in Naomi Klein’s Inconvenient Climate Conclusions
[…] The research coming out of Yale’s Cultural Cognition Project, […] has found that the major determinant of whether a person rejects the scientific consensus on climate change is whether they have a strongly “hierarchical” or “individualistic” worldview. One set of stats that didn’t make it into my piece: 78 per cent of subjects who display an “egalitarian” and “communitarian” worldview believe that most scientists agree climate change is happening (which is true) – compared with only 19 per cent of those with a “hierarchical” and “individualist” worldview.
The study cited is The Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus, by Dan Kahan, Hank Jenkins-Smith, and Donald Braman, and it paints a pretty bleak picture for convincing hierarchichal/individualist types about science, when they start with culturally-grounded ideological opposition to the suggested response to major issues, like climate change.
The authors’ analysis is weighty, but I will summarize by saying that the mind operates like a serial algorithm (Bayesian, for the science nerds). As new evidence is offered, it is weighed relative to existing beliefs, and for a person of the hierarchical/individualist mindset, the new evidence is adversely affected by that person’s inclination to doubt the consensus of scientists because they are considered as not agreeing with that person’s cultural norms. And this is after working to avoid evidence that doesn’t match preconceptions, and doubting the credentials of those offering the evidence.
The authors suggest that the only option to change the minds of such people is to shift the marketing of the science, like an advertising campaign designed to get around bad press:
This conclusion does not imply, however, that there is no prospect for rational public deliberations informed by the best scientific evidence on global warming, nuclear waste disposal, handguns, and like issues. But because the source of the enfeebled power of scientific opinion is different from what is normally thought, the treatment must be something other than what is normally prescribed. It is not enough to assure that scientifically sound information—including evidence of what scientists themselves believe—is widely disseminated: cultural cognition strongly motivates individuals—of all worldviews— to recognize such information as sound in a selective pattern that reinforces their cultural predispositions. To overcome this effect, communicators must attend to the cultural meaning as well as the scientific content of information.
Research informed by cultural cognition and related theories is making progress in identifying communication strategies that possess this quality. One is identity affirmation. When shown risk information (e.g., global temperatures are increasing) that they associate with a conclusion threatening to their cultural values (commerce must be constrained), individuals tend to react dismissively toward that information; however, when shown that the information in fact supports or is consistent with a conclusion that affirms their cultural values (society should rely more on nuclear power), such individuals are more likely to consider the information open-mindedly (Kahan 2010; Cohen, Bastardi, Sherman, Hsu, McGoey, 2007; Cohen, Aronson & Steele, 2000).
Another is pluralistic advocacy. Individuals reflexively reject information inconsistent with their predispositions when they perceive that it is being advocated by experts whose values they reject and opposed by ones whose values they share. In contrast, they attend more open-mindedly to such information, and are much more likely to accept it, if they perceive that there are experts of diverse values on both sides of the debate (Earle & Cvetkovich 1995; Kahan et al. in press).
Finally, there is narrative framing. Individuals tend to assimilate information by fitting it to pre-existing narrative templates or schemes that invest the information with meaning. The elements of these narrative templates—the identity of the stock heroes and villains, the nature of their dramatic struggles, and the moral stakes of their engagement with one another—vary in identifiable and recurring ways across cultural groups. By crafting messages to evoke narrative templates that are culturally congenial to target audiences, risk communicators can help to assure that the content of the information they are im- parting receives considered attention across diverse cultural groups (Earle & Cvetckovich 1995; Jones & McBeth 2010).
Research on these and related strategies for dispelling the tendency of cultural cognition to generate conflict in public deliberations about risk are at an early stage. Further development of this aspect of science communication, we believe, is critical to enlightened democratic policymaking.
One outcome, then, would be to stop believing that full-page ads in the NY Times, signed by three thousand scientists, asserting that global climate change is caused by people, would have any effect on changing the minds of hierarchic/individualist people. They will chuckle, and turn the page.
And who is to mount such a marketing campaign? What body of environmentalists? What group has the power to reshape the debate about climate change — and the impending doom it will lead to — so that cognitively bone-headed naysayers can be gently persuaded to accept the scientific evidence? We haven’t gotten them to accept the theory of evolution, and that battle’s been going on for over 100 years.
For me, this is just a more well argued reason to despair about the likelihood of the world’s ability to do anything about climate change.
Plus the stark realpolitik of Tony Blair:
The blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge.