There was an interesting article from Paul Voosen in Greenwire the other day: Climate: Scientists struggle with limits — and risks — of advocacy. I came across it on Judith Curry’s blog (Just the facts, please). Voosen talks about a not-yet-published study by Stanford psychologist Jon Krosnick:
Krosnick’s team hunted down video of climate scientists first discussing the science of climate change and then, in the same interview, calling for viewers to pressure the government to act on global warming. (Out of fears of bruised feelings, Krosnick won’t disclose the specific scientists cited.) They cut the video in two edits: one showing only the science, and one showing the science and then the call to arms.
Krosnick then showed a nationally representative sample of 793 Americans one of three videos: the science-only cut, the science and political cut, and a control video about baking meatloaf (The latter being closer to politics than Krosnick might admit). The viewers were then asked a series of questions both about their opinion of the scientist’s credibility and their overall beliefs on global warming.
For a cohort of 548 respondents who either had a household income under $50,000 or no more than a high school diploma, the results were stunning and statistically significant. Across the board, the move into politics undermined the science.
The viewers’ trust in the scientist dropped 16 percentage points, from 48 to 32 percent. Their belief in the scientist’s accuracy fell from 47 to 36 percent. Their overall trust in all scientists went from 60 to 52 percent. Their belief that government should “do a lot” to stop warming fell from 62 to 49 percent. And their belief that humans have caused climate change fell 14 percentage points, from 81 to 67 percent.
Krosnick is quick to note the study’s caveats. First, educated or wealthy viewers had no significant reaction to the political call and seemed able to parse the difference between science and a personal political view. The underlying reasons for the drop are far from clear, as well — it could simply be a function of climate change’s politicization. And far more testing needs to be done to see whether this applies in other contexts.
I was glad to see Voosen go on to discuss the study’s implications with Dan Kahan of the Cultural Cognition Project. As a Kahan fanboy, I was already saying, “yeah, but…” as I read the interpretation Krosnick appears to be applying to his study’s results, and it was good to see Kahan’s perspective represented in Voosen’s article, even if he (Kahan) was characteristically circumspect about getting into a detailed criticism of a study that he hasn’t seen (since it hasn’t actually been published yet).
We’re still arguing about whether the elephant is more like a writhing snake or a solid tree trunk or a flapping sail (No! It’s like an elephant!), but it’s good to get some data to help us focus on the elephant’s actual characteristics.