Presenting facts as 'consensus' bridges conservative-liberal divide over climate change

December 11, 2017, University of Cambridge
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

In the murk of post-truth public debate, facts can polarise. Scientific evidence triggers reaction and spin that ends up entrenching the attitudes of opposing political tribes.

Recent research suggests this phenomenon is actually stronger among the more educated, through what psychologists call 'motived reasoning': where data is rejected or twisted - consciously or otherwise - to prop up a particular worldview.

However, a new study in the journal Nature Human Behaviour finds that one type of fact can bridge the chasm between conservative and liberal, and pull people's opinions closer to the truth on one of the most polarising issues in US politics: change.

Previous research has broadly found US conservatives to be most sceptical of climate change. Yet by presenting a fact in the form of a - "97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused global warming is happening" - researchers have now discovered that conservatives shift their perceptions significantly towards the scientific 'norm'.

In an experiment involving over 6,000 US citizens, psychologists found that introducing people to this consensus fact reduced polarisation between higher educated liberals and conservatives by roughly 50%, and increased conservative belief in a scientific accord on climate change by 20 percentage points.

Moreover, the latest research confirms the prior finding that climate change scepticism is indeed more deeply rooted among highly educated conservatives. Yet exposure to the simple fact of a neutralises the "negative interaction" between higher education and conservatism that strongly embeds these beliefs.

"The vast majority of people want to conform to societal standards, it's innate in us as a highly social species," says Dr Sander van der Linden, study lead author from the University of Cambridge's Department of Psychology.

"People often misperceive social norms, and seek to adjust once they are exposed to evidence of a group consensus," he says, pointing to the example that college students always think their friends drink more than they actually do.

"Our findings suggest that presenting people with a social fact, a consensus of opinion among experts, rather than challenging them with blunt scientific data, encourages a shift towards mainstream scientific belief - particularly among conservatives."

For van der Linden and his co-authors Drs Anthony Leiserowitz and Edward Maibach from Yale and George Mason universities in the US, social facts such as demonstrating a consensus can act as a "gateway belief": allowing a gradual recalibration of private attitudes.

"Information that directly threatens people's worldview can cause them to react negatively and become further entrenched in their beliefs. This 'backfire effect' appears to be particularly strong among highly educated US conservatives when it comes to contested issues such as manmade climate change," says van der Linden.

"It is more acceptable for people to change their perceptions of what is normative in science and society. Previous research has shown that people will then adjust their core beliefs over time to match. This is a less threatening way to change attitudes, avoiding the 'backfire effect' that can occur when someone's worldview is directly challenged."

For the study, researchers conducted online surveys of 6,301 US citizens that adhered to nationally representative quotas of gender, age, education, ethnicity, region and political ideology.

The nature of the study was hidden by claims of testing random media messages, with the climate change perception tests sandwiched between questions on consumer technology and popular culture messaging.

Half the sample were randomly assigned to receive the 'treatment' of exposure to the fact of scientific consensus, while the other half, the control group, did not.

Researchers found that attitudes towards scientific belief on climate change among self-declared conservatives were, on average, 35 percentage points lower (64%) than the actual scientific consensus of 97%. Among liberals it was 20 percentage points lower.

They also found a small additional negative effect: when someone is highly educated and conservative they judge scientific agreement to be even lower.

However, once the treatment group were exposed to the 'social fact' of overwhelming scientific agreement, higher-educated conservatives shifted their perception of the scientific norm by 20 percentage points to 83% - almost in line with post-treatment liberals.

The added negative effect of conservatism plus high education was completely neutralised through exposure to the truth on scientific agreement around manmade .

"Scientists as a group are still viewed as trustworthy and non-partisan across the political spectrum in the US, despite frequent attempts to discredit their work through 'fake news' denunciations and underhand lobbying techniques deployed by some on the right," says van der Linden.

"Our study suggests that even in our so-called post-truth environment, hope is not lost for the fact. By presenting scientific facts in a socialised form, such as highlighting consensus, we can still shift opinion across political divides on some of the most pressing issues of our time."

Explore further: Psychological 'vaccine' could help immunize public against 'fake news' on climate change

More information: Sander van der Linden et al, Scientific agreement can neutralize politicization of facts, Nature Human Behaviour (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41562-017-0259-2

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knutsonp
1 / 5 (7) Dec 11, 2017
A "social fact?" How can you qualify an absolute? "Social justice" leads to injustice in the same way that "social facts" lead to lies or false ideas?
julianpenrod
1.7 / 5 (11) Dec 11, 2017
Note this is not an article about "climate change" but subtle, subconscious tactics to try to convince people to believe in it. Propagandistic indoctrination. In general, articles are about linking "climate change" to dramatic weather, making dire predictions, and speculating on how to control people's thinking into believing "climate change". But no real proof it's occurring.
For example, for all the talk about "facts", it's never mentioned anywhere why a segment of climatologists still are skeptical. They don't want people to know what facts contradict "climate change".
"Climate" is a self regulating combinations of factors, including land, sea, air, solar radiation, life. Only the atmosphere is changing. It's not changing itself, but other factors of climate are not changing it. It's chemtrails that are changing the air. If they stopped, the climate would swiftly go back to what it was fifty years ago.
snoosebaum
3 / 5 (8) Dec 11, 2017
another paper form the 'ministry of truth '
rrwillsj
3.9 / 5 (7) Dec 11, 2017
This paper should be side-by-side with the one from a few months ago. Which showed how the alt-rights delude themselves that they are competent to judge any empirical evidence.

The existence of material proof against their innate ideological bias is the only proof they need that reality is conspiring against them.

I ran into this at Sad Puppy carnival. When asked why, in their books, they confused the Balkan States with the Baltic States? Why do they write discribing "twinkling stars" from a POV above the Earth's atmosphere?

Their immediate tantrum is how dare I point out they were mistaken, about anything. Cause they keep reassuring one another that they are incapable of error. I think that's called a feedback loop?

Pretty soon, forgetting the subject of discussion. They start boasting, that their petty mistakes at geography and science are "Proof of their ideological purity!"

"The worst lies a man can tell, are the lies a man tells himself!" Robert A Heinlein
Chris_Reeve
Dec 11, 2017
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691Boat
4.3 / 5 (7) Dec 11, 2017
What is relevant is reproducible results.

@CR, how's that working out for your EU beliefs?
marcush
4.2 / 5 (5) Dec 11, 2017
Of course the fact that there is a scientific consensus doesn't help with internet trolls because their identity is built on being contrary to the consensus.
MR166
1.7 / 5 (6) Dec 11, 2017
I see it is all one big Public Relations problem. Don't try to present better data but try to intimidate them by making the erroneous claim that 97% of all scientists agree with AGW.
snoosebaum
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 11, 2017
don't argue with mathematicians , they have equations !
Chris_Reeve
Dec 11, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Dec 11, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Dec 11, 2017
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tblakely1357
2.1 / 5 (7) Dec 12, 2017
GW is just another watermelon scam. Strangely every eco-disaster in the past, including GW, required the same solutions: massive transfers of wealth to unelected, unaccountable international elites to dispense as they see fit, major reduction of prols lifestyle in the west and subordinating our freedoms and rights to the aforementioned elites. Of course if we don't immediately implement those solution were all gonna die.... for sure.... trust us.
howhot3
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 12, 2017
Of course consensus agrees that all GW deniers are mostly rightwing flakes and nuts that have no care whatever for humanity or the fate of life on earth. I hate to be that blunt, but that is what it is. Any deniers what to disagree?

Parsec
4.3 / 5 (6) Dec 12, 2017
If climate change were a textbook villain he would have committed the murder in broad daylight with hundreds of eyewitnesses. The entire scene was recorded in every frequency video from every angle. Plus the satellite coverage. Plus every witness had their camera and microphone wide open. And that would be only 10% of the proof of guilt.

And deniers wonder why those with scientific literacy roll their eyes when they start talking about dairy cows in greenland in the middle ages to prove that its all natural variability. Or how non-existent alien fairy dust is the real culprit.
Eikka
2.5 / 5 (6) Dec 12, 2017
The issue isn't with the science, but the political conclusion to the science.

When politicians talk about climate change, they don't talk about only climate change - they talk about climate change AND specific economic policies that should be implemented in response to it. Now the problem becomes, while climate science may have solid foundations, economics does not - none of its theories on any side actually work worth a damn, and some of them work a damn lot worse than others, and some of them aren't even theories but simply pork barrel spending and political power grabs.

But, you are required to take the whole deal, and while most people aren't economists and can't argue against the finer points of say, carbon tax - as you can't prove it doesn't work without trying it, where, if you try it the damage is already done -- they still smell the dead dog and respond by rejecting the other half of the claim: climate change.

Eikka
2 / 5 (5) Dec 12, 2017
Which is to say: it's a good thing that some people reject climate change - it actually keeps the crazy at bay - because there are no politically neutral claims on climate change that everybody could agree with. Everybody's playing a game where, if you accept climate change, then they automatically count you in their cohorts.

"But can't you see, we have to implement X or we will all be dead in 50 years".

Well, no. I can't see that.

"You're just a denier then! 97% of scientists agree with ME!"
MR166
2 / 5 (4) Dec 12, 2017
The grant system encourages biased research where particular outcomes insure future grants. This is very obvious because of the narrow range of study results. It appears as pretty much every evil in the world is due to CO2 emissions and or private industry. Bigger and more centralized government is always the answer to most problems. Political bias in the educational system has poisoned it. When too many people think the same way one can be sure that the herd will be culled.
MR166
2 / 5 (4) Dec 12, 2017
It is apparent that while ethnic and cultural diversity are of paramount importance in the educational system intellectual diversity is frowned upon. Only a certain set of beliefs are tolerated.
Lino235
2.6 / 5 (5) Dec 12, 2017
If there's such a "consensus" about climate change, then why did they change the name from "global warming" to "climate change"?

Fake news. Now, fake science.
Chris_Reeve
Dec 12, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Dec 12, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Dec 12, 2017
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Chris_Reeve
Dec 12, 2017
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BeLikeColumbo
2.1 / 5 (7) Dec 12, 2017
97% Study Falsely Classifies Scientists' Papers, according to the scientists that published them

"The paper, Cook et al. (2013) 'Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature' searched the Web of Science for the phrases "global warming" and "global climate change" then categorizing these results to their alleged level of endorsement of AGW. These results were then used to allege a 97% consensus on human-caused global warming.

To get to the truth, I emailed a sample of scientists whose papers were used in the study and asked them if the categorization by Cook et al. (2013) is an accurate representation of their paper. Their responses are eye opening and evidence that the Cook et al. (2013) team falsely classified scientists' papers as "endorsing AGW", apparently believing to know more about the papers than their authors."

populartechnology.net/2013/05/97-study-falsely-classifies-scientists.html
Maggnus
5 / 5 (4) Dec 13, 2017
97% Study Falsely Classifies Scientists' Papers, according to the scientists that published them

To get to the truth, I emailed a sample of scientists whose papers were used in the study and asked them if the categorization by Cook et al. (2013) is an accurate representation of their paper. Their responses are eye opening and evidence that the Cook et al. (2013) team falsely classified scientists' papers as "endorsing AGW", apparently believing to know more about the papers than their authors."


Want to share those responses? I think you are lying and I do not believe that you ahve any such responses from anyone.
rrwillsj
3 / 5 (2) Dec 15, 2017
In my opinion, the electric eoopie gang and those seeking to suppress evidence for the human destruction of our biosphere, are proof that evolution has failed. No wonder the theocracy embrace them.
rhugh1066
1 / 5 (3) Dec 15, 2017
Meanwhile, a constant stream of discoveries add an ever-increasing number of variables to the natural climate mix:
Environmental scientists from The Open University (OU) have discovered that trees growing in the Amazon floodplains surrounding the Amazon River emit as much methane (CH4) into the atmosphere as all of the world's oceans.
And yet, AGW continues to hang it's hat on a trace gas that always follows any temp increase but never leads it.
Da Schneib
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 15, 2017
But, you are required to take the whole deal
If you're gonna lie, @Eikka, try to make it a bit more credible than this.

At this point on this forum this is a plain and simple lie. These people (and you-- you're still making excuses I note) won't even admit it's getting warmer or even that CO2 is climbing.

Making up excuses for stupidity is stupidity. And you are stupid.
Eikka
2.7 / 5 (3) Dec 16, 2017
These people (and you-- you're still making excuses I note) won't even admit it's getting warmer or even that CO2 is climbing.


I find that to be a blatant lie.

Making up opinions and projecting them onto the people who you dislike is called intellectual dishonesty - though primarily you're lying to yourself.
MR166
2 / 5 (4) Dec 16, 2017


Over the last 20 years the rate of temperature rise has decreased while the rate of increase in CO2 levels has remained constant. This fact alone indicates that there is a problem with the models. There are plenty of papers linking temps to various other cycles that have nothing to do with CO2 levels.
rrwillsj
3 / 5 (2) Dec 16, 2017
As the Tobacco Lobby morphed into the Carbon Lobby, one sees the same agitprop techniques in use.

The correct terms are Climate Change and Degradation of the Biosphere to epic level catastrophe. I call it the Matricide.

Here in Southern California, we are setting new records for heatwaves. This Thanksgiving, you didn't need to cook your turkey in the oven. Out on the sidewalk was adequate.

Meanwhile both the Arctic and Antarctic regions are hitting high temperatures. While there will be record snow and blizzards for once temperate regions. And those cyclonic storms keep getting more powerful.

Climate Change means deadly inconvenient weather for societies not prepared to deal with violently drastic changes.

Yes, there are natural causes underlying all these chaotic occurrences. And then, on top of all that, the greed and stupidity of the Human Race piles on. Cause no natural disaster is so bad, that we witless monkeys cannot make a bad situation worse!
Maggnus
4 / 5 (4) Dec 18, 2017
In my opinion, the electric eoopie gang and those seeking to suppress evidence for the human destruction of our biosphere, are proof that evolution has failed. No wonder the theocracy embrace them
Both sides have their bit of truth (and also large bit of demagogy) - but both the laymen people both the experts who are capable of black or white vision only (due to their limited or overly specialized education) cannot distinguish the rational core of both sides of arguments and to achieve properly weighted decision. We must develop the strategy how to avoid systematical biasing of answers of complex multidimensional questions. One way how to achieve the ideal solution is to look, how the Universe achieves the steady state mass/energy balance within complex/hyperdimensional systems, where multiple forces get involved.

**coughBULLSHITcough***
snoosebaum
1 / 5 (1) Dec 18, 2017
glad to see the handfull of remaining AGW believers r all here . OT Any of u physics experts know about the relation between entropy and self organizing systems ?
howhot3
5 / 5 (1) Dec 21, 2017
Both sides have their bit of truth (and also large bit of demagogy) - but both the laymen people both the experts who are capable of black or white vision only (due to their limited or overly specialized education) cannot distinguish the rational core of both sides of arguments and to achieve properly weighted decision. We must develop the strategy how to avoid systematical biasing of answers of complex multidimensional questions. One way how to achieve the ideal solution is to look, how the Universe achieves the steady state mass/energy balance within complex/hyperdimensional systems, where multiple forces get involved


One word; "PLASTICS". Seriously go find a shrink. You can find great ones in the "MULTIVERSE".

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