When Americans understand how much scientists agree on climate change they want to do something about it
- 21 Nov 2011, 11:00
- Bárbara Mendes-Jorge
Well, that's according to a
new study [£] published in the journal Nature
Climate Change titled 'Support for climate policy and
societal action are linked to perceptions about scientific
Ding and colleagues wanted to look at people's beliefs about
scientists' views, and how these are linked to support for climate
change policies. They conducted an online survey of a nationally
representative sample of 751 US adults. Only 34% of respondents
believed that there was a consensus (i.e. when asked about
perceived consensus, they answered 'most scientists think global
warming is happening').
The authors found that people who believed in the consensus were
more likely to agree strongly with four statements - that it is
real, human caused, serious and solvable - and were more likely to
support climate change mitigation policies and believe that society
needs to do more to address global warming.
The researchers argue that their findings suggest US citizens do
not process information in accordance with pre-existing beliefs.
Such 'Motivated Reasoning' can influence people's rejection or
acceptance of scientific evidence, but the researchers suggest that
people's beliefs about climate change are strongly based on what
they perceive to be scientists' views.
This conclusion echoes
a previous information processing study which found that
people's levels of concern about global warming increased after
they were told that scientists had definite evidence on its
impacts. There is a
near-unanimity amongst climate scientists that global average
temperature has increased since pre-industrial times, with the vast
majority agreeing that human activity been a significant causal
The study's authors suggest:
"The myth of widespread disagreement
among climate scientists over whether global warming is happening
has little to no basis in the truth, and it emerged, at least in
part, as the result of a concerted effort to deceive the
Ding and colleagues argue that the best way to correct this
misperception is to repeatedly assert the correct information,
because in time repeated assertions become more familiar and
therefore more likely to be true.
They also caution on the 'familiarity backfire effect' whereby
repeating a myth actually reinforces it. Skeptical
Science blogged about this last week, offering the following
advice for debunkers of bad scientific arguments:
"Communicate your core fact in the
headline. Your debunking should begin with emphasis on the facts,
not the myth. Your goal is to increase people's familiarity with
Skeptical Science also note that "
there is no consensus" is one of the arguments used by climate
change skeptics in order to skew the debate, and there are
examples of broadcasters with significant reach who promote
uncertainty and inaccurate scientific information. This is an
interesting paper, but tackling misperceptions may be far more
difficult than suggested by the authors.