The “consensus message” in communicating science

Here is an interesting talk by John Cook from the University of Queensland. He is presenting results from his PhD research on the effect of consensus information on public attitudes towards climate science. He surveyed representative samples of Australians and Americans about their political ideologies and the effect of consensus on their acceptance of human-caused global warming. After being shown evidence of the consensus on human-caused global warming, Australian acceptance of this scientific reality grew across the political spectrum, but especially among conservatives.

I found his debunking of several myths about the negative role of consensus information valuable.

Cook is the founder of the climate science blog Skeptical Science will be a red flag to some of the conservative commenters here  who will no doubt lauch into personal attacks on him. But his message is valuable. And, I think, worth extrapolating (intelligently) to other areas where scientific consensus gets attacked.

AGU Chapman Conference — Climate Science: John Cook.

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8 responses to “The “consensus message” in communicating science

  1. After being shown evidence of the consensus on human-caused global warming, Australian acceptance of this scientific reality grew across the political spectrum, but especially among conservatives.

    This is a very good reason to mention NASA every chance you get.
    Too many people don’t know that NASA is a leader and pioneer in climate research and that they have satellites and survey teams completely devoted to the issue of climate change.
    Conservatives don’t know that and they are not going to find out about it from places like FoxNews.

    The reason why they don’t know that is because they are told that it’s all about Al Gore…somehow. Of course, it’s easy to dismiss Al Gore.
    Greenies and the hippies? Yep, easy to dismiss them.
    The leftists and the Marxists and the Eco-fascists etc? Yep, that easy.
    Which is why denier propoganda is always using those kinds of vague, wispy oogity-boogity terms. It’s all about perjorative framing.

    Only there’s NASA.
    Big, bold, beautiful NASA.
    NASA and every single scientific community on the planet.
    NASA completely wrecks that narrative. It’s not part of the script that they’ve been taught and it throws them off.
    It’s reasonable to pay attention to NASA and the scientific communtities around the planet. It’s impossible to find a good reason not to.
    Even conservatives will think twice before ignoring NASA.

    Oh, you don’t want me to get my cancer risk information from the NIH or the Surgeon General?
    Why is that?
    Oh, you don’t want me to get my fluoride information from the Health Dept?
    Why is that?
    I shouldn’t listen to the CDC about the H7N9 Virus? Really?
    Ok….um….why?

    From the link…The media has assisted in this public misconception, with most climate stories “balanced” with a “skeptic” perspective. However, this results in making the 2–3% seem like 50%. In trying to achieve “balance”, the media has actually created a very unbalanced perception of reality. As a result, people believe scientists are still split about what’s causing global warming…

    False balance is rife in the media. This is how science denialism spreads on all sorts of issues. People pick up on it and then feel justified getting their science information from some op-ed in a newspaper or some derper blog somewhere. Happens with climate denialism, HIV denialism and vaccine denialism and all the others. There’s no practical difference in the way they lay their eggs and buzz around.

    ABC Media Watch – WIN News ACMA breach over vaccination false

  2. There are apparently stats on the whole obsession with Al Gore thing.

    http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/04/al-gore-fat-global-warming

    It really does come across as an effort to nail people down into their camp based on political affiliation.

  3. Cool article.

    They found that by far the most popular claim was denying that there is a scientific “consensus” on global warming.

    Yep, this is a standard.
    It’s either deny there’s a scientific consensus or insist that the consensus somehow doesn’t count.
    Trouble is, logically, you can’t do both at the same time.
    Either there is or there is not a scientific consensus.

    Trevor Nutter :“Without exception everything I have learned on this subject came out of the scientific community, a community that is deeply divided on fluoride.” July 19, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    Dan Germouse: “The idea that “the planet’s scientific establishment” supports water fluoridation is nonsense.” July 17, 2013 at 7:47 pm.

    In this particular case, the issue is fluoride. Yet with a simple label switch, Trevor or Dan could be talking about anything. Evolution, climate change, vaccines etc. Science deniers always lay the same eggs and buzz around. They have no real choice. They never do anything different.

    Claim CA110:
    Evolution is a theory in crisis; it will soon be widely rejected.
    Source: (See Morton 2002a.)

    Claim CA111:
    Many scientists reject evolution and support creationism.
    Source:
    Morris, Henry. 1980. The ICR scientists. Impact 86 (Aug.).

    Then what mainstream scientific communities reject it?
    It’s the same question I ask about global warming or the theory of evolution. Hardly a trick question, either.
    If the idea that “the planet’s scientific establishment” supports climate change is nonsense, then where are the scientific communities that are the exceptions?
    If the idea that “the planet’s scientific establishment” supports the theory of evolution is nonsense, then where are the scientific communities that are the exceptions? Name them.

    I label someone a denier according to a strict criteria.
    They have to fit a well-established pattern. One that is repeated by any number of garden-variety science deniers out there.
    The topic itself is not important at all. Only the methodology.
    Don’t want to be labeled as a denier?
    Then don’t act like one.
    Duh!

    Don’t use their arguments. Don’t use their sources of information. Have standards that are poles apart from the “other” deniers out there.
    Not that hard to do.

    It really does come across as an effort to nail people down into their camp based on political affiliation.

    Yep. I have never said anything nice about Al Gore.
    Never watched his video.
    Never even voted for him (which would be a neat trick given that I’m not an American.)

    Climate Denier “But blah, blah Al Gore something….”

    So what? I don’t care. What has that got to do with the price of eggs in China? Wake up. You are not commenting on your little echo-chamber blog now.

    There were also overwhelming patterns in what types of topics the conservatives focused on. As mentioned, they were utterly obsessed with Al Gore: 93 of the 203 columns discussed him.

    Colour me unsurprised. The instant someone blurts out Al Gore out of the blue, I’m very confident that I’m dealing with an idiot. It’s not a winning argument. Yet it’s such an enduring cliche.

    Global Warming Panic Explained

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  5. I label someone a denier according to a strict criteria.

    which are?

  6. Colour me unsurprised. The instant someone blurts out Al Gore out of the blue, I’m very confident that I’m dealing with an idiot.

    Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize, in conjunction with the IPCC, for his role in communicating the dangers of GHG emissions

    His movie An Inconvenient Truth is used is used as part of the school curriculum in Canada and other countries

    His education programme is designed to train presenters to show his AIT slide deck.

    Yes, all idiots.

  7. Cedric: Colour me unsurprised. The instant someone blurts out Al Gore out of the blue, I’m very confident that I’m dealing with an idiot.

    Andy :Al Gore won…

    What part of someone blurting out Al Gore out of the blue confuses you?
    What part of “So what? I don’t care. What has that got to do with the price of eggs in China? etc..” confuses you?
    Wake up.
    (…facepalm…)

    Cedric: I label someone a denier according to a strict criteria.

    Andy: which are?

    Science deniers do the same thing.
    The same thing.
    They make the same arguments. The same rationializations. Only the labels change.
    With you it happens to be climate change.
    With someone else it’s creationism.
    With others it’s fluoride or vaccines or HIV or whatever.

    I’ve read them all. Been there, done that and bought the t-shirt.
    They are all equally worthless and contemptible.

    If you say something that an anti-vaxxer could say, then you are doing it wrong. If the sources of information you are using are the same standards as the creationists out there, then you are doing it wrong.
    Look carefully at the arguments that they use and how they pat each other on the back to re-inforce their presuppositions and then….DON’T DO THAT.

    Focus on your methodology. When you enter the ring to fight the good fight, what are you actually doing?
    Think about it.
    Are you going to cherry-pick a study again? Did the study come to you by itself or was it spoon-fed to you by a blog again? Do you use a blog on a regular basis for your science information or do you use a mainstream scientific community like NASA or the NIH? Do you focus on individual scientists (either pro or con) as opposed to the overall body of scientific literature? Do the individual scientists you trust continually keep being re-cycled and wheeled out from the retirement village or are there always fresh, new, young faces? How about “institutes” and “think tanks”? Do you get your info from them? Do these “institutes” and “think tanks” happen to all get the same funding by any chance?

    Don’t want to be labeled as a denier?
    Then don’t act like one.
    Don’t just whine and bitch that you are labeled a denier.
    Just stop acting like one. Do the opposite of what a typical denier would do. Do that and then you can’t be labeled a denier. Lift your game.

    Denial is a real thing.
    Science denialism is a real thing.
    If you use an argument or a method then you tacitly endorse and promote that argument or method.
    My criteria for labeling someone a denier?
    Same as everyone elses’.

    The 5 characteristics of scientific denialism

  8. Here’s a fresh example right from this very blog.
    In this case, the topic is fluoride. Yet, of course, it could just be about anything else.

    Jwillie6 “Medical professionals should be ashamed to blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah..and other serious health problems.”
    (Deniers don’t seem to understand that nobody gives a toss about their own opinions. Keep your opining and your assertions and your grandiose weeping and wailing about how the medical establishment is all wrong to yourself. You are just some nobody on the internet. Shut your pie-hole, Mr Dunning-Kruger Effect.)

    See “Health Effects” at http://www.blahblahaert.org/issues/health/

    (Oh, wonders. This particular idiot has gotten his information from some no-name blog. What were the chances of that happening? Gosh, never seen anyone do that before!)

    Ken: jwillie6, Fluoride Alert is a very unreliable source. If that is all you read no wonder you are so confused.

    And we’re done.
    Show’s over. It’s not the conclusions or the beliefs of the poster that’s important. It’s the methodology. If you are getting your science information from some blog or other…then it’s all downhill from there on in.
    You are toast.
    Nobody has any reason to take you seriously.

    Does it matter who’s running the blog?
    No.
    Does it matter that they have all these super-duper graphs and papers and whatnot?
    No.

    It’s a blog, dummy. Why are you going shopping for your science information from a blog in the first place?
    Ken runs a blog.
    Do I get my science information from Ken? No.
    He’d be surprised if I did.
    If I found out something that Ken was going on about that simply didn’t gel with the mainstream, then I’d let Ken know about it in no uncertain terms. He’d probably thank me for it.

    Same diff getting your science info from an op-ed in a newspaper.
    Bad idea.
    How about some book?
    No. Anybody can write a book. Bill Kaysing wrote a book. Erich von Daniken wrote a book. Even Ray (Banana Man) Comfort wrote a book.

    So what do you do? You go to the work. In science, only the work counts.
    You go to the vast body of scientific literature and if you can’t do that yourself then you smarten up and you pay careful attention to the communities of scientists who contribute to it.

    Science denialism doesn’t change. Only the labels are different.
    I’ve said that plenty of times but, somehow, people seem to skip over it.
    It’s the same. It’s always the same.
    It’s always the same flawed methodology.
    That’s why “you” get put in the same box as “those others” that you can’t stand yourself.
    Don’t want to be put in that box? Fine. Take a good, hard look at what they do and then…don’t do that.
    The following is an open letter from a scientist to her father on the subject of science denial. She’s talking about vaccines but she could be just as easily be talking about climate denialism or creationism etc.

    An open letter to my dad on the occasion of his recent anti-vax Facebook postings

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