15 September 2010

It is Not About Science, but Values

A really interesting new study is published this week in the Journal of Risk Research that seeks to explain why it is that on highly politicized issues the public does not uniformly defer to the views of scientific experts, even when those experts are largely in consensus.  The answer is not that one group in society is "anti-science," but rather that people tend to weight evidence and experts differently based on cultural considerations.  This is a line of argument that I and various colleagues (such as Dan Sarewitz, Mike Hulme, Steve Rayner and others) have advanced for a while, so it is exciting to see empirical evidence that back up these claims.  

Here is how a pre-publication version of the paper explained its hypothesis:
Kahan, Dan M., Jenkins-Smith, Hank and Braman, Donald, Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus (February 7, 2010). Journal of Risk Research, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1549444

The goal of the study was to examine a distinctive explanation for the failure of members of the public to form beliefs consistent with apparent scientific consensus on climate change and other issues of risk. We hypothesized that scientific opinion fails to quiet societal dispute on such issues not because members of the public are unwilling to defer to experts but because culturally diverse persons tend to form opposing perceptions of what experts believe. Individuals systematically overestimate the degree of scientific support for positions they are culturally predisposed to accept as a result of a cultural availability effect that influences how readily they can recall instances of expert endorsement of those positions.
The paper used an experimental methodology in the sense that it actually looked at how individuals characterized various experts.  The paper explains its findings:
The study furnished two forms of evidence in support of this basic hypothesis. The first was the existence of a strong correlation between individuals’ cultural values and their perceptions of scientific consensus on risks known to divide persons of opposing worldviews. Subjects holding hierarchical and individualistic outlooks, on the one hand, and ones holding egalitarian and communitarian outlooks, on the other, significantly disagreed about the state of expert opinion on climate change, nuclear waste dis-posal, and handgun regulation. It is possible, of course, that one or the other of these groups is better at discerning scientific consensus than the other. But because the impressions of both groups converged and diverged from positions endorsed in NAS “expert consensus” in a pattern reflective of their respective predispositions, it seems more likely that both hierarchical individualists and egalitarian communitarians are fitting their perceptions of scientific consensus to their values.

The second finding identified a mechanism that could explain this effect. When asked to evaluate whether an individual of elite academic credentials, including membership in the NAS, was a “knowl-edgeable and trustworthy expert,” subjects’ answers proved conditional on the fit between the position the putative expert was depicted as adopting (on climate change, on nuclear waste disposal, or on handgun regulation) and the position associated with the subjects’ cultural outlooks.
A press release from NSF that accompanied the paper, explains,
. . . the study also found that the American public in general is culturally divided on what "scientific consensus" is on climate change, nuclear waste disposal, and concealed-handgun laws.

"The problem isn't that one side 'believes' science and another side 'distrusts' it," said [lead author Dan] Kahan referring to an alternate theory of why there is political conflict on matters that have been extensively researched by scientists.

He said the more likely reason for the disparity, as supported by the research results, "is that people tend to keep a biased score of what experts believe, counting a scientist as an 'expert' only when that scientist agrees with the position they find culturally congenial."
These empirical findings help to explain why there are obvious contradictions in what areas of science different groups tend to accept and reject, with no apparent systematic explanation.  For instance, many more Europeans than Americans think that GMOs are unsafe, yet many more Europeans than Americans are worried about climate change.  Similarly, US conservatives are opposed to stem cell research while the left does not, and opposition to geoengineering is generally found on the political left and its supporters on the right.

The paper explains the significance of its findings for the communication of scientific information:
This conclusion does not imply, however, that there is no prospect for rational public delibera-tions informed by the best scientific evidence on global warming, nuclear waste disposal, handguns, and like issues. But because the source of the enfeebled power of scientific opinion is different from what is normally thought, the treatment must be something other than what is normally prescribed. It is not enough to assure that scientifically sound information—including evidence of what scientists themselves believe—is widely disseminated: cultural cognition strongly motivates individuals—of all worldviews— to recognize such information as sound in a selective pattern that reinforces their cultural predispositions. To overcome this effect, communicators must attend to the cultural meaning as well as the scientific content of information.
The authors suggest that attending to the cultural meaning of science entails three tasks, first:
When shown risk information (e.g., global temperatures are increasing) that they associate with a conclusion threatening to their cultural values (commerce must be constrained), individuals tend to react dismissively toward that information; however, when shown that the information in fact supports or is consistent with a conclusion that affirms their cultural values (society should rely more on nuclear power), such individuals are more likely to consider the information open-mindedly . . .
This is why expanding the scope of policy options in highly politicized contexts can be politically important, as it gives people an opportunity to interpret science in a manner consistent with their cultural values.  Efforts to focus on green jobs or the security implications of climate policies reflect such an awareness.

Individuals reflexively reject information inconsistent with their predispositions when they perceive that it is being advocated by experts whose values they reject and opposed by ones whose values they share. In contrast, they attend more open-mindedly to such information, and are much more likely to accept it, if they perceive that there are experts of diverse values on both sides of the debate . . .
This helps to explain why efforts to enforce a rigid consensus of views in climate policy have back-fired so strongly among many in the so-called skeptical community.  The more that a consensus is invoked and the narrower it is defined, the more it puts off the very people that those seeking to share scientific knowledge should be trying to communicate with, the unconvinced.  Denigrating one's cultural or political opponents may feel satisfying, but it is not a good strategy for getting them to accept that your views are sound.  Thus, open, transparent and diverse expert advisory processes are more likely to be generally viewed as legitimate and robust.

Individuals tend to assimilate information by fitting it to pre-existing narrative templates or schemes that invest the information with meaning. The elements of these narrative templates—the identity of the stock heroes and villains, the nature of their dramatic struggles, and the moral stakes of their engagement with one another—vary in identifiable and recurring ways across cultural groups. By crafting messages to evoke narrative templates that are culturally congenial to target audiences, risk communicators can help to assure that the content of the information they are im-parting receives considered attention across diverse cultural groups . . .
Again ironically, efforts to identify or label those who are skeptical of certain expert views as "anti-science" or "deniers" are like to become self-fulfilling in the sense that they reinforce the rejection of expert views as they play directly to a narrative conditioned on cultural considerations.  Consequently, breaking down, rather than reinforcing differences across cultural groups would this seem key to broader acceptance of certain scientific findings.  Building bridges is harder work than tearing them down.

In many respects, the advice given here is exactly the opposite of that of some of the more ardent advocates for action on climate change in the scientific community (and their allies).  (The same could be said as well as nuclear power and gun control, the two other issues that the paper looked at).  Much of this just sounds like common sense, but given the state of the debate over climate, apparently it is not.

But there is a final irony here.  The advice of this paper is likely to be dismissed by those practicing such strategies for exactly the reasons described in the paper.  Experts in climate science are not experts in the science of judgment and decision making.  Thus, they will interpret the findings of this research through their own cultural lenses.  And more likely than not, that probably means giving far less weight to these findings than they deserve.


  1. Given how incompetent most experts are, a healthly distrust of ALL so-called experts would be the only empirically supported position for a wise person to take.

    As for climate science, what exactly qualifies a person as an expert? How badly does one have to embarass himself before he forfeits the public trust as a so-called "expert".

    For scientists to qualify, do they have to adhere to the scientific method? Do they have to allow replication of their studies? Do they have to calibrate their instruments and site them in accordance with basic scientific standards? Do they need to avoid butchering their statistical work on their studies?

    If they fail to do any of this, can we revoke their "expert" status?

  2. Fascinating paper, but I think the conclusions are overoptimistic.

    Strategy 1 (pair risk information with a culturally preferred conclusion) hasn't worked all that well. 'Market-like' climate change solutions, which might appeal to the individualists, have so far been ineffective (as you've occasionally noted :-)) while more 'hierarchical' ones, like nuclear power, are often unacceptable to the people who believe in climate change. In other words, it may not be so easy to disentangle conclusions from risk-assessments.

    'Pluralistic advocacy' has been so overused already by political operatives it almost instantly evinces skepticism among all but the most naive. Typical planted letter to the editor from 2008: "As a lifelong, pro-life Republican gun-owner, I've decided to vote for Senator Obama because...". Usually I take such advocacy as a challenge to prove via Google in 5 minutes or less that the writer is actually a dope-smoking hippy. And I'm sure the other side does the same.

    'Narrative framing'....lets see, "AGW is a serious problem and it's primarily the fault of socialist governments, the aforesaid dope-smoking hippies, and illegal immigrants". Nah. Not even worth trying.

    So I entirely believe the observations (no doubt because they confirm some odd cultural predilections of my own). In fact, I know more than one libertarian who is 'skeptical' about AGW simply because the proffered solutions are usually statist. I just don't think the suggested solutions are very promising.

  3. Let me just add one more comment, if I may. If one needs even more grounds for pessimism about the solubility of this problem, it's the history of popular belief in the Theory of Evolution in the US. That's a battle that's been going on for nearly 100 years in the US, and we scientists, by most polling data, are still losing it. We've tried the three approaches suggested in the paper. Various pro-evolution people have framed evolution in the context of theists: e.g. 'evolution is the means by which God created the species'; they've tried pluralistic advocacy -- scientists who are committed Christians have been outspoken defenders of evolution. And they've tried framing evolution within a theistic narrative. It hasn't worked particularly well in convincing the majority in the US. And societies where evolution is better accepted are generally those societies which are higher on the egalitarian/communitarian scale.

    So why is evolution taught in public schools in the US? Basically, because of the anti-democratic use of raw political power by an elite. I'm one of that elite, and although I thoroughly approve of the end, I'm not at all happy about the means we have used.

  4. "US conservatives are opposed to stem cell research" is an incorrect statement.

    There are Catholics and others who are opposed to creating embryos to harvest their cells. However, I don't know of any group that is opposed to all stem cell research.

  5. climate science ≠ climate policy.

    What a revelation. Could it be that it's possible to have a carbon policy or an energy policy, but climate policy is beyond our grasp?

  6. Cultural bias, what a revelation !

    Americans are very deliberately culturally divided by the media, so you can expect knee jerk responses. I have already seen Republican friendly propaganda.

    In Britain, the last time the BBC asked, it was 26% who believed in AGW, the fact they haven't published another survey suggests to me there would be even less now.

    The reason was the witless, dishonest and increasingly pathetic advertising campaign telling us we are going to die. The British are much less likely to trust authority and the climategate revelations probably ended AGW belief for a generation.

    I have never believed in a climate consensus any more than I assume all pastors hear the voice of God, or that bus drivers love their destinations.

    I fundamentally believe climate scientists who advocate AGW are being very economical with the truth.

  7. Roger - have you read Gary Taubes' book, "Good Calories, Bad Calories"?

    In it, he examines the history behind the government making nutritional recommendations and finds that the science was lacking, but at the time, powerful figures helped to create a consensus view that was not well supported by the data.

    He documents similarities in the 1970s to today's climate research community. The consensus at the time, using a organizational structure much like the IPCC today, had much uncertainty (and parts were seriously wrong). Powerful scientists controlled who received research grants and who got published. Research that did not fit the consensus view on nutrition was not funded and was not published leading to a false sense of certainty in results that went unchallenged.

    Dr. Bill Hersh of OHSU documents numerous problems with the peer review system in Chapter 2 of his text "Information Retrieval". The sorts of issues he documented in the health sciences reared their head in the climategate emails and subsequent IPCC controversies.

    I grew up worshiping science. But over the past 18 months, I no longer grant science a free pass on trust. I went through sloppy CRU source code myself and found obvious errors, as well as in other related subjects that I reviewed. (I am a computer engineer, now working on my 2nd grad degree in the field, and am qualified to review their source code.)

    The above paper misses these real world issues - some of us have lost confidence in sloppy science as sloppy organizational procedures have become public. The science community might restore trust by providing transparency, not losing their data, not being so sloppy, and not being quite as arrogant and insulting as some have been. Judith Curry seems to "get it" and is very brave for publicly acknowledging the challenges.

    (Oh, by the way, thanks for your great blog. I learn a lot from your writing.)

  8. From the article:

    "[...] people tend to keep a biased score of what experts believe, counting a scientist as an 'expert' only when that scientist agrees with the position they find culturally congenial."

    Looks to me as though they missed another possible explanation: the biased score might well be a function of the extent to which common sense (the exercise of which they don't seem to teach in these post-normal times) is reflected in the position of the 'expert'.

    But then I see that you've covered this point, yourself (somewhat) in the penultimate paragraph of your post!

    As for your conclusion:

    "Experts in climate science are not experts in the science of judgment and decision making. Thus, they will interpret the findings of this research through their own cultural lenses".

    Hmmm ... maybe it's time to consider some strategies for the reducing the impact of "cultural lenses"? ;-)

  9. I would need to spend more time with this study to fully understand the experimental conditions and manipulation. My fear is that with such "widely discussed" topics individuals will already have pretty clear positions. Unless the design eliminated those who expressed clear views on the topics it is unclear to me what non-obvious findings are being presented.

  10. There is a fundamental issue of credibility here. Lord Oxborough had numerous conflicts of interest, yet he chaired that committee like the most brazen mugger. The very raison d'etre of Realclimate is is intellectually abhorrent and crass.

    Budget airline owner Michael O'Leary called AGW horsesh* the other day. Having heard him interviewed I believe he is more intelligent and credible than any academic. I also think that is the perfect description of any CO2 based policy.

    The fundamental issue is that academics are lying through their teeth, and now they have produced another piece of patronising idiocy to explain away why no one believes them. The distinguished and esteemed history of the Royal Society was put on the line for global warming and the public reaction was "you are lying". Lordships and knighthoods were no protection.

    The debate between Professor Watson of the UAE and Marc Morano on the BBC not only revealed that Watson was lying like an infant, but also that Morano is noticably more intelligent than he is. Academics will not believed on AGW until they stop lying. It's a simple solution.

    The reaction to climategate has been 'ignore that man behind the curtain'. We saw the naughty little man and we haven't forgotten him. Academics are no more intelligent than the average Guardian or NY Times reader. Psychology research amongst Harvard academics has shown that mathematical ability is no advantage in language based logic.

  11. Excellent stuff, and for those of us who like to believe that we are at least conscious of some of our biases, welcome reinforcement to be even more rigorous and self-aware.

    I saw myself in the "it's warming so we must restrain commerce" vs "it's warming so we must switch to nuclear" example.

    I'd written your last paragraph in my head by the time I got there! And it's worse than that - the paper appears from your precis to confirm that sceptics are white middle-aged conservative men. Oh dear.

    Edward #7 does however touch on an area I also feel strongly about - when I am told by the UK health minister that eggs are dangerous because of salmonella, or beef because of cjd, or swine because of flu, or birds because of flu, or heterosexual sex because of hiv, I do not react to these warnings as a libertarian or communitarian, do I? I react to them with decreasing attention because I have observed what actually happened.

    So I react to them as one who has learned via induction. Hence why the young are more likely to etc etc, you all know where I'm going.

  12. The reason the Guardian has to use American caroon characters like Beck, Palin, Limbaugh etc. is that we simply don't have that WWF wrestling level politics.

    I have a musician colleague who is a tabloid reader. That is every bit as nasty and virulent as any American media, but it isn't defined in simple left/right terms because the average British voter would laugh at Palin/Bush/Beck.

    Even Obama is far too pro gun, pro Jesus, pro death penalty, pro drone, pro torture, pro war, pro Wall Street and anti voter for British tastes. Yes, far too right wing.

    Conservative vs liberal is divide and rule. Plain and simple. It means you only have to advertise to the middle 30% or so to get your guy elected. Obama had 4-5 times as much TV money than Mccain.

  13. Hi Roger,

    But what of Bayesian arguments instead of cultural ones? That it is not how people weigh the evidence, but the weight of evidence needed?

    Some people's prior belief is that it is very unlikely that human actions could affect the entire planet. Thus, the evidence for AGW must be overwhelming to overcome this prior. Other people's prior belief is that human actions are likely ruining the planet for all time. Thus, the evidence against AGW must be overwhelming to overcome this prior.

    There is nothing irrational or "biased" about Bayesian priors. Not that that stops us from calling each other idiots.


  14. In regard to evolution and the mistrust of the scientific consensus, I watched the PBS documentary on the Dover Pennsylvania evolution trial (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitzmiller_v._Dover_Area_School_District). One of the scientific experts interviewed commented extensively on the fact that humans were simply a species just like any other and that there was no scientific basis for human exceptionalism. He seemed completely unaware that this was not statement in science. It was a statement of his moral world view and a political principle by which he proposed that human society be guided. He gave no indication that he was aware that there were other moral views and that it could be that the clash of these moral views might be the basis for the cultural controversy. Each side was taking the mantle of "science" to promote their own moral view. The evolutionists as well as the creationists taking part in this. In that sense, both sides are anti-science and the same anti-science attitudes can be seen on all sides of the AGW debate.

  15. Roger,

    nice post, good summary. It does make me wonder about how the suggested presentation styles for scientific consensus impact being an honest broker. It seems that the fundamental idea is to wrap the scientific conclusions in potential policies that appeal to particular cultural constituencies. That seems OK on the face of it, but isn't the honest broker's job to simply lay out the science and let the creative policy-makers come up with potential solutions? If the honest broker/expert is in the business of proposing potential solutions, does she not then have the responsibility of estimating the relative effectiveness of the solutions, potentially alienating some cultural groups? How far does an honest broker go in making scientific results appealing to diverse cultural constituencies before they are not being truly honest, but manipulative?

    This was a very interesting post, thanks.

  16. Maybe a better question would be to ask why some people trip over themselves to accept the policy advice of someone who claims to have discovered something new?
    As example: Hansen claims to have discovered strong feedbacks from CO2. Why is his opinion on energy generation more valid than, say, someone who actually works in energy generation?
    Or his opinion on weather and what sea levels should be at Manhattan by now?

  17. Given how incompetent most experts are

    I'm sorry, I can't let this go by. Most experts are not incompetent in their fields. I work with hundreds of people who are considered experts in their fields, and the vast majority of them extremely competent; well-trained, well-versed in all the background they need to do the work they do, and fully capable of carrying out good scientific research in their area of specialty. They've generally dedicated a substantial fraction of their lives to achieving such a level of competence.

    Roger's point, I believe, relates to their competence in an area distant from their field of specialization.

  18. -15-Sam

    The honest broker -- which I argue is best thought of as a diverse committee of experts (and to use the language of Kahan et al,, with "cultural diversity") and their job is indeed to consider policy options. The "science arbiter" is the role of just focusing on the facts. The latter works best under conditions of manageable uncertainties and greater values consensus and the HB under opposite conditions.

    The strength of the HB is that they can present a range of options, any one of which might appeal to a particualr cultural group. It is the job of politicians to decide among the options. This helps to separate advice from advocacy.

    Consider a practical example, the recent GWPF critique of the various investigations of the East Anglia emails was critical because the investigations included no one from their perspective. This suggests that the reviews might have been viewed as more legitimate if they had. (I haven't read it closely but I am aware of this critique.)

  19. Roger (#18):
    Do you have a suggestion as to who that person might be that could have worked on the report with Andrew Montford?

  20. -19-bernie

    Sorry for the confusion, I was referring to the reports that Montford has criticized.

  21. It is precisely my science education that has made me skeptical of the global warming orthodoxy. Throughout history, scientists have made claims that were clearly based on social prejudice, while claiming the mantle of objective science. Steven J. Gould made a minor career out of pointing out examples. It was when I began seeing news story after story about apocalyptic threats that I first became suspicious of this new orthodoxy. If temperatures were actually to rise, certainly it would be good news in at least some cases. Where I see no balance, I start to smell a rat.

    So you could say that I'm a skeptic precisely because I have more faith in science than in scientists.

  22. Well said Mark B.

    How come those clever scientists accept Realclimate - Fox News for Dummies - in their midst ? Why does no one complain about the balance ?

    Is James Hansen the Karl Rove of climate science ? Does no one notice that Gavin Schmidt works under him at NASA ? How many government computer programmers spend half their day abusing opponents on the internet ?

    Realclimate was set up to defend the hockey stick. Does the United States government have web sites defending Newton's Laws of Motion, the existence of dark matter, the science of cellular respiration ?

    Apparently not, it's only the medieval warm period that casts an ominous shadow over carbon trading science.

  23. the premise of the study is flawed. What does policy or politics have to do with science? Science may tell us something is a problem, but science can't tell us how to choose among a variety of options. Those are value propositions.

    I guess only among scientists would they wonder why folks wouldn't defer to scientists to be the arbiters of everyone's values. And only scientists would try to find some scientifically valid way to explain how flawed people must be not to defer to them (scientists).

    It's also amazing that these very same scientists fail to see how they themselves are subjected to the same flawed reasoning as any human being. As if scientists are somehow immune and don't "reflexively reject information inconsistent with their predispositions" or don't "assimilate information by fitting it to pre-existing narrative templates or schemes that invest the information with meaning."

    What's funny is that they are essentially using a logical fallacy (appeal to authority) to put themselves in the pre-eminent position in the debate.

    Using flawed logic to show how logical it is for scientists to be the deciders. LOL.

    The biggest problem that scientists have is that while they are extremely good at figuring out "what is", they are incredibly bad at imagining "what could be". Scientists are not known to be humanity's great visionaries.

  24. Follow up to #17 above... I also think that it's unfair to say the experts are incompetent. It is, however, well known that experts tend to be overly sure of themselves. I'm not all that knowledgeable about expert elicitation, but I've been through the process a couple of times, and the first thing they do is spend quite a bit of time giving the experts being elicited examples of unwarranted confidence and trying to convince everybody that there's usually more uncertainty about things than people realize, so they should increase their confidence intervals, so to speak. It's been clear for a long time that most of the really vocal people on both sides of the climate-change issue are way too sure of themselves.

  25. Roger,

    I largely agree with you here.

    This paper actually confirms what many mainstream scientists and their supporters have long suspected: "Skepticism" of climate science has often not so much to do with the actual science, but with the friction caused by the perceived policy consequences of that science in combination with their values/worldview.

    A consequence of this though is that people of certain cultural/ideological stripes are more prone to distrust science than others. So an "anti-scientific" attitude may not be a root cause, but a consequence of this ideological filtering of information.

    And of course, some activist types have been a bit overeager in filtering so that only the worst case scenario's are heard. Same psychological principle.


  26. -25-ourchangingclimate

    Bart, Thanks for stopping by ... however your comment that:

    "people of certain cultural/ideological stripes are more prone to distrust science than others"

    is actually the opposite of what the paper says.

    Distrust of science is not a function of particular ideologies, but is a characteristic observed across ideological views and which varies depending upon context.

  27. ourchangingclimate said... 25

    "A consequence of this though is that people of certain cultural/ideological stripes are more prone to distrust science than others."

    We all have friend or foe and fight or flight mechanisms built in. In order for our species to survive there is great variation in those mechanisms across humanity.

    Otherwise the first wolf that came along that looked like a cute puppy would end up eating us all.
    In the real world some mistake the wolf as 'friend' and get eaten, the rest of us survive.

    The inverse is also true, some folks mistake cute harmless puppies as 'foe'.

  28. There is an important difference between what scientists have done in the climate change debate and the use of science in the areas of nuclear waste disposal and handgun regulation. Only in climate science have the researchers broken so completely from research and ventured into advocating public policy. Moreover, they commonly fudge the data, or worse, to make their policy prescriptions palatable to an increasingly unreceptive public. Experts in a particular corner of the scientific landscape have no special understanding of politics, or even people.

    In handgun control, there is no controversy over the FBI crime reports and the number of handgun-involved shootings. There is no controversy on the effects of radioactive isotope decay. There the debate is about how society should deal with these uncontroverted facts. In the AGW debate there is a lot of disagreement on many important details of how, or even if, carbon affects planetary climate, whether heat would even be a net negative for humanity, and most stark and important, is there any solution within reach of our species that would actually reduce atmospheric CO2.

    Cultural and political differences may mold our opinions on what we as a species should do, but, as we have seen, more and more people on both sides of the ideological divide have begun to believe that there is no use impoverishing ourselves if it will bear no fruit. The utility of AGW to the political class as a means of advancing their political power is diminishing. They should have acted faster, now it may be too late.

  29. Roger,
    The study is quite interesting and persuading. It may also have a particular cultural bias.
    Of course, it “helps to explain why efforts to enforce a rigid consensus of views in climate policy have back-fired so strongly among many in the so-called sceptical community.”
    From a comparative perspective, however, this is only the case for the US and other Anglo-Saxonian countries. There is also a lot of empirical evidence that the backlash in the US and UK was/ is much stronger than in European countries, like in Germany for instance. Comparative research also demonstrates cultural variations in terms of national policy styles and political cultures (styles of reasoning and decision making). According to this body of research, open, transparent and diverse expert advisory processes are more likely to be generally viewed as legitimate and robust - in the UK and the US, but not necessarily in all other countries over the world. In a different context, the plurality of expert opinions and open resistance against “expert consensus” can also indicate a loss of scientific credibility and thus political “authority.”
    These differences suggest to also opening up the category of “value” and contexts in which they are embedded – even in a globalizing world, there are cultural differences inside particular contexts such as nation states and differences between cultures … I guess a survey on national response(s) to the IAC review could provide compelling case for existence of these national/ cultural differences….

  30. -29-Silke

    Yes, agreed very much.

    To use another jargon, it seems possible that climate is post-normal (abortion politics) in the US and normal (tornado politics) in Germany.

    The UK is interesting because climate has arguably gone from tornado to abortion politics in recent years. Maybe Australia is seeing the same. I'd hypothesize that Germany might also move in this direction if policy proposals force open values disputes, such as nuclear vs. coal vs. renewables.

  31. from comment 25

    equence of this though is that people of certain cultural/ideological stripes are more prone to distrust science than others. So an "anti-scientific" attitude may not be a root cause, but a consequence of this ideological filtering of information

    How would one describe the case in which paid and recognized scientists publish statements that cannot be supported by scientific evidence or use their positions to suppress the influence of contrary views? How would one describe a recognized scientist who publishes as scientific conclusions, statements about issues that are outside of his/her field of expertise?

    Would the scientists described in these examples be considered to be "anti-scientific"?

    Would someone who distrusts documents that have been shown to be subject to the above practices be considered to be "anti-scientific"?

  32. Sounds right to me. The simple version is that people believe what they want to believe. This should be the first lesson in any marketing or sales course.

    I would like to see this type of study applied to the scientific community. My guess is that their conclusions as well as their level of certainty on many of these issues depends heavily on which worldview they fall into.

  33. re 32

    I would like to see this type of study applied to the scientific community. My guess is that their conclusions as well as their level of certainty on many of these issues depends heavily on which worldview they fall into.

    Do a significant number of scientists confuse their own personal views and preferences as scientific facts and therefore the "truth"?

  34. Nicolas:
    That is essentially my feeling. The discovered effect is not so much a function of scientific literacy but of initial value set. Joe Romm and Naomi Oreskes are examples that immediately come to mind.

  35. Roger said:
    ¨Similarly, US conservatives are opposed to stem cell research while the left does {sic} not,...¨ and
    ¨...climate is post-normal (abortion politics) in the US...¨
    I turn to your blog for discussion of a field in which you have demonstrated competence. Your politics add little and are often merely wrong. For example, most US citizens oppose government funding of embryonic stem cell research AND join conservatives in supporting all humane research.
    Please explain the second statement.

  36. -35-John

    As Mike Smith commented above (-4-) I should have qualified "stem cell" with "embryonic" -- see:


    For plain vanilla stem cell research it is probably more accurate to say that more on the right oppose it than on the left.

    Thanks for the chance to clarify.

  37. The anti science accusation should be levelled at anyone technological progress, and that includes environmentalists who work as scientists. Like James Hansen, the endorser of eco fascist books and John Houghton who thinks global warming is God's punishment for the science Tower of Babel.

    Here (again) is a hilarious article from Spiked about George Monbiot. It applies to any environmentalist, scientist or not.

    "George Monbiot, the Guardian columnist and predictor of the world’s end, has undergone a metamorphosis of Kafkaesque proportions in recent years. Never mind poor Gregor Samsa, who awoke one morning to find himself transmogrified into a monstrous insect; Monbiot has made an even more remarkable cross-species leap. Some time during the past five years he went to bed an hysteric, the closest thing Britain had to a nutty Nostradamus, and awoke to find himself labelled a man of reason, a ‘defender of truth’ no less, who is praised on the dust-jacket of his latest book for possessing a ‘dazzling command of science’ (only by Naomi Klein, admittedly, but still).

    How has this happened? How is it that Monbiot, who still writes the same old apocalyptic nonsense (think Book of Revelations but without the hot pokers or sex), can now pose – more than that, be hailed – as a scientific visionary? His metamorphosis from green-tinted despiser of all things modern to man with a dazzling command of science reveals a great deal about the politics of environmentalism, and how it has added a gloss of ‘scientific fact’ to long-standing middle-class prejudices against mass modern society. "


    My summary of global warming science.

    Can a man fly ?

    Can a computer model the earth's climate ?

    Only at NASA Simulations Inc.

  38. You are welcome, Roger.

    However, the operative qualifier continues to be ´government,´ that is, paxpayer paid/sponsored embryonic stem cell research. I know many conservatives in favor of all research, except public-funded embryonic.

    Governments know not how to choose winners in any field. Allowing grant-chasers access to public funds AND, in this instance, encouraging harvesting of human tissue, almost guarantees that everyone loses.

    best regards, John