Politics, not ignorance, may pollute support for pro-science solutions

June 1, 2016

Mentioning politics in a message about an environmental issue may turn people—even people informed about the issue—away from supporting a pro-science solution, according to a team of researchers.

In a study, conservative participants who were asked to react to a message about excess showed lower support for an environmental science improvement project when the message was framed around terminology, according to Lee Ahern, associate professor of advertising and , Penn State. The effect was even stronger among those conservatives with more knowledge about the issue, he added.

"It's the framing of the issue that's really important," said Ahern. "This is really a message for scientists and science communicators: don't pollute and politicize the information environment around the issue, because once you do that, people's political identities are going to get engaged."

This study, along with others, has established that having more knowledge about science does not necessarily translate into more support for pro-science policies, according to Ahern, who added that, in this case, the environmental solution was to add more green surface infrastructure, such as green roofs.

The researchers, who report their findings in a recent issue of Science Communication, suggest that a reader's political and social identities can be activated when politicized terms or concepts are used in a message. This activation may then cause people to withdraw support from solutions they may have backed.

"The issue with the public's support for pro-science solutions for things like global warming, in particular, as well as other environmental issues that have socially contested policy solutions, is that the political identity of the people who are thinking about these issues often becomes activated," said Ahern, who worked with Colleen Connolly-Ahern, associate professor of advertising and public relations, Penn State and Jennifer Hoewe, assistant professor of journalism, University of Alabama.

Ahern said that all political ideologies, not just conservatives, are susceptible to this type of motivated reasoning.

"This is not unique to conservatives," said Ahern. "It works both ways. Studies have been done on other issues, for example, nuclear power and genetically modified organisms, that have shown similar effects among liberals."

The researchers suggest that scientists hoping to reach consensus on solutions should avoid political rhetoric in their communication.

"This is really a message for the scientists, not necessarily the public," said Ahern. "It's interesting for people to understand what's happening, but the people who really need to change what they are doing are the scientists and science communicators."

The researchers recruited 964 participants to take an online survey on local water quality in the Philadelphia area. The participants were asked what political party they supported and how strongly they supported the party. They were also asked to respond to questions that would group them into a range of egalitarian-hierarchical or individualist-collectivist worldviews.

The researchers measured the participants' knowledge of storm water runoff issues in Philadelphia and also used a quiz from the National Science Foundation to test their general science knowledge.

The study had two conditions. A normal condition attributed the water runoff problem to excess rain, while the global warming condition framed the problems around climate change. Statements and phrases, such as "stopping global warming will require international agreements" and "human-caused global warming," were used to frame the subject around climate issues.

Among solid or strong Democrats in the global warming condition, participants with high knowledge reported stronger willingness to pay for environmental solutions, such as adding . Solid or strong Republicans with high knowledge, on the other hand, reported stronger support in the normal condition for the environmental solutions, but not in the global warming condition. They were even more resistant to the solutions than low-knowledge Republicans.

"In fact, support among the low-knowledge Republicans increased in the global warming condition," said Ahern.

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21 comments

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gkam
1.9 / 5 (9) Jun 01, 2016
Many of us have been saying this for years, that the Deniers are only motivated by politics, having been manipulated just like they were with "WMD!".

They are emotionally vulnerable to manipulation by the nasty folk who essentially control them through propaganda calculated to elicit nasty emotions.
Guy_Underbridge
3.2 / 5 (9) Jun 01, 2016
"I love the poorly educated..."
gkam
1.5 / 5 (8) Jun 01, 2016
"I love the poorly educated..."
----------------------------

So, apparently, does Kim Jong Un.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (5) Jun 01, 2016
Say "nuclear" and watch gkam jump.

This paper is correct; the solutions are chosen to fit the political position of the chooser, not the facts. And it's evident on both sides.
antigoracle
2 / 5 (4) Jun 01, 2016
showed lower support for an environmental science improvement project when the message was framed around global warming terminology,.......... The effect was even stronger among those ..... with MORE KNOWLEDGE about the issue

If only science could help the Chicken Littles grow a brain, they just might be able to join us and see right through the globull warming lies.
Eikka
3.3 / 5 (4) Jun 01, 2016
This paper is correct; the solutions are chosen to fit the political position of the chooser, not the facts. And it's evident on both sides.


When the facts are presented alongside with an identifiable political agenda, a doubt immediately rises that something is left unsaid because drawing politics from scientific facts is properly known as the naturalistic fallacy - an error of argumentation. It's an indication of an attempt at propaganda, and a rational listener would rightfully get suspicious.

Science describes what is happening - not what we're supposed to do about it, if anything at all. You need more justification than "the earth is warming up" to support things like drastic social engineering projects that strips power and self-determination off of millions and sends yet more millions into poverty.

Da Schneib
5 / 5 (6) Jun 01, 2016
When the facts are presented alongside with an identifiable political agenda, a doubt immediately rises that something is left unsaid because drawing politics from scientific facts is properly known as the naturalistic fallacy - an error of argumentation. It's an indication of an attempt at propaganda, and a rational listener would rightfully get suspicious.
So the same facts are correct in one argument and incorrect in another?

Really?
Eikka
3 / 5 (1) Jun 01, 2016
So the same facts are correct in one argument and incorrect in another?

Really?


It would be more appropriate to say that the facts are wrong FOR the argument.

The facts are either in support of the argument, against the argument, or irrelevant to the argument.

If the argument is over a policy which fundamentally comes down to issues of morality such as what we ought to do about a thing like climate change, pointing out that there exists such climate change doesn't advance the debate - it's just repeating the obvious.

Trying to appeal to the existence of the problem to support one policy over another is making the naturalistic fallacy, because it begs the question that only that solution is available or desirable.
Eikka
2 / 5 (1) Jun 01, 2016
In fact the problem is in the framing of the article itself, in posing that there exists a thing called "a pro-science solution".

What is a "pro-science solution"? Handing out more research funds?

No, what they imply is that there exists a scientifically sound solution, or a solution backed by science which is being pushed down by some sort of irrational bias at the mention of a politically loaded topic.

But that is exactly the false argument. No solution is backed by science, there's no "pro-science" solution, because science cannot tell you what you ought to do - it can only tell you the consequences of what each solution is likely to have, and then you select one which you prefer.

Labeling something as a "pro-science solution" is a rhetorical dick move that attempts to hide the other solutions by implying they're "non-scientific" or irrational, kinda like how the communist intelligentsia self-defined everything they did or thought "rational" to dismiss other ideas.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (5) Jun 01, 2016
So the same facts are correct in one argument and incorrect in another?
It would be more appropriate to say that the facts are wrong FOR the argument.

The facts are either in support of the argument, against the argument, or irrelevant to the argument.
But the argument is about whether AGW exists or not. I would say that the political positions are irrelevant in that case, but right here on this forum we have people who seem to think that they trump the facts.

We're not arguing here about what to do about it; we're arguing about whether it's really happening or not, and that depends only on the facts. And the point of the article is, most people don't seem to think so.
Da Schneib
4.6 / 5 (5) Jun 01, 2016
In fact the problem is in the framing of the article itself, in posing that there exists a thing called "a pro-science solution".

What is a "pro-science solution"? Handing out more research funds?
Seems pretty obvious that the only solutions available are either to reduce our emissions or find a way to remove the CO2; the first seems a great deal more practical. And that's pretty much how it is. If some people don't want to accept that because of their politics, they're just wrong, that's all there is to it.

The facts are always more important than the politics; reality is defined by facts, not politics. Anybody who's choosing their facts based on their politics has already blown it. Choosing one's politics based on the facts, however, is a much more successful strategy.
Maggnus
4.4 / 5 (7) Jun 01, 2016
Science describes what is happening - not what we're supposed to do about it, if anything at all. You need more justification than "the earth is warming up" to support things like drastic social engineering projects that strips power and self-determination off of millions and sends yet more millions into poverty.
How much more justification I wonder? Is it better to let nature take it's course, and and so instead of humans trying to stop the warming, we instead watch the death of millions? Is it better to be poor or dead Eikka?
Science says the "earth is warming up", and yes that justifies our taking actions to reduce the impact of that warming. Why do you think taking such action requires social engineering? Is it social engineering to demand that those most responsible (coal, oil interests for eg) also pay the biggest share of the cleanup/mitigation costs?
leetennant
4.5 / 5 (8) Jun 01, 2016
Sometimes I think comment sections deserve a study in and of themselves
Eikka
3 / 5 (2) Jun 01, 2016
But the argument is about whether AGW exists or not.

No it isn't: "In a study, conservative participants who were asked to react to a message about excess water runoff"

Water runoff is a specific problem, and trying to frame it in terms of AGW just smacks of purposeful propaganda.

Is it better to be poor or dead Eikka?


That depends on what will actually happen. Again, the AWG issue has two parts: the part that we know because it has been observed, and the part which we are speculating.

Science says the "earth is warming up", and yes that justifies our taking actions to reduce the impact of that warming.


Not if the impact of that action is worse than of the warming itself.

Why do you think taking such action requires social engineering?


I don't. There are people who do, and are more than happy to retcon the whole issue to support the argument, which is what makes people suspicious whenever policy is being justified by AGW.
Eikka
3 / 5 (2) Jun 01, 2016
Is it social engineering to demand that those most responsible (coal, oil interests for eg) also pay the biggest share of the cleanup/mitigation costs?


https://en.wikipe...ience%29

Social engineering is a discipline in social science that refers to efforts to influence particular attitudes and social behaviors on a large scale, whether by governments, media or private groups in order to produce desired characteristics in a target population.


Social engineering is basically the attempt to force a pattern of behaviour on the people, typically against their will, because what you're trying to do goes against the interest of the people. Advertising is one example of social engineering, where companies try to use psychological means to engineer a need for a particular product in the society to make a profit.

When politicians do social engineering, they're usually trying to upend the social order to benefit themselves.
Da Schneib
4.3 / 5 (6) Jun 01, 2016
So, any suggestions besides either slowing emissions or finding some pie-in-the-sky geoengineering method of getting CO2 out of the atmosphere, @Eikka?

As usual you're obfuscating because you don't like the answers. And proving the point of the article, incidentally. Just sayin'.
leetennant
4.2 / 5 (5) Jun 01, 2016
So, any suggestions besides either slowing emissions or finding some pie-in-the-sky geoengineering method of getting CO2 out of the atmosphere, @Eikka?

As usual you're obfuscating because you don't like the answers. And proving the point of the article, incidentally. Just sayin'.


"I want to get your opinion on water runoff. This is becoming a more serious issue because of climate change".

"Climate change, there's no thing." *shuts discussion down*

Write it up in article.
Half the comments section does *exactly the same thing*.

Admit it - you secretly work for the authors, don't you?
Da Schneib
4 / 5 (4) Jun 01, 2016
I wish- it would probably be easier than my job is right now! Wouldn't make as much money though...
antigoracle
2 / 5 (4) Jun 01, 2016
Social engineering is basically the attempt to force a pattern of behaviour on the people, typically against their will, because what you're trying to do goes against the interest of the people.

It's the instrument of cults.
This study confirms, that you can fool the ignorant Chicken Littles, all the time.
Captain Stumpy
3.9 / 5 (7) Jun 02, 2016
Sometimes I think comment sections deserve a study in and of themselves
They do get studied... more than you know

not joking, either
gkam
1 / 5 (7) Jun 02, 2016
"Social engineering" is finding he best way to construct a civilization for the most people.

Your view of Humanity seems to be clouded by selfishness.

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