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The Asymmetric War on Climate Change: No Cause for Alarmism?

Posted on 27 September 2010 by gpwayne

Asymmetry of Scientific Challenge is a theory that attempts to quantify bias in media reporting, and the effect it has on the science itself as well as public opinion. Freudenburg and Muselli 2010 examines this phenomena and finds that far from the predictions of climate science being exaggerated, there is a systematic bias that may diminish or conceal the true potential dangers we all face, and that this bias may seriously affect the work of bodies such as the IPCC. This is an analysis of the paper (the abstract is here).

The epithet ‘alarmist’ is often used by climate contrarians to describe those who support the findings of climate science and the IPCC sythesis reports that summarise those findings. Contrarians claim that the findings of climate science are exaggerated and dramatised. Some go so far as to suggest the science itself is faulty, displaying confirmation bias or methodologies that favour ‘warmist’ outcomes to the exclusion of competing theories. It is equally common to hear claims that ‘non-conformist’ science is suppressed, that the mainstream media systematically excludes dissenting voices, that the reporting of climate change is not ‘balanced’ because one side of the argument (Anthropogenic Global Warming, or AGW) is being favoured while ‘other explanations’ are ignored.

Two accusations then: the future implications of climate science, both cause and effect, are exaggerated, and media coverage of climate change is biased, in favour of the AGW theory. Both claims are testable, and falsifiable. There is also a third hypothesis; if the media displays a bias, what effect might this bias have, if any, on the science itself. Could media coverage influence the work of a body set to study and report on that science, like the IPCC?

The Asymmetry of Scientific Challenge

We are all aware that the media reports overwhelmingly in favour of bad news in current affairs. There is no attempt at balance e.g. a nice story for every horrid one. Over time, the public perception may change, unduly influenced by the unremitting tide of bad news with little or nothing to balance its depressing implications. The same may be true in the context of scientific enquiry; the potential for influence on the science itself has been considered in light of a theory called Asymmetry of Scientific Challenge (ASC). In a 2010 paper by William Freudenburg and Violetta Muselli at the Environmental Studies Program, University of California, they explain ASC in terms of potential bias :

"The bias that is expected by the ASC perspective... involves systematic error, rather than individual prejudice. [The] Asymmetry of Scientific Challenge — attacks on new findings or hypotheses that might push scientific consensus in one direction [‘alarmist’], combined with an absence of comparably vigorous challenges to new findings or hypotheses that might have the opposite effect [‘contrarian’] — can lead to an initially imperceptible but cumulatively significant bias in what comes to be taken as the prevailing scientific consensus".

‘What comes to be taken as the prevailing scientific consensus...’ – that’s what the IPCC were formed to report on. If the theory of ASC could be shown to apply, this would have profound implications on the IPCC reports, because it would suggest that far from exaggerating the effects of climate change, it becomes entirely possible they’ve been severely underestimating the dangers. It is this possibility that Freudenburg and Muselli set out to investigate, by comparing the conclusions of scientific papers with media coverage of them. 

To avoid any taint in their own work, the authors chose to study four newspapers "...whose work consistently displayed bias against the findings of climate change science, usually expressed by repeated claims that findings are ‘in dispute’".

After analysing two discrete time periods, this is what they found:

"During both periods, new scientific findings were more than twenty times as likely to support the ASC perspective than the usual framing of the issue in the U.S. mass media".

By ‘usual framing’ they mean the way that the papers in question claim findings are ‘in dispute’, when in fact there is little or no dispute at all (Boykoff and Boykoff, 2004; Boykoff, 2008). This artefact in the reporting may be claimed to represent ‘balance’, a notion of ethical journalism normally applied to adversarial arenas such as politics and that has only a rather tentative role in science journalism. (A frequent comparison for context is evolution, where the media would find it necessary to give creationism equal space for reasons of ‘balance’, where in fact the two views are not comparable and cannot be debated under the same terms). The authors comment on this supposed ‘balance’: 

"The findings indicate that supposed challenges to the scientific consensus on global warming need to be subjected to greater scrutiny, as well as showing that, if reporters wish to discuss ‘‘both sides’’ of the climate issue, the scientifically legitimate ‘‘other side’’ is that, if anything, global climate disruption may prove to be significantly worse than has been suggested in scientific consensus estimates to date..."   "Precisely because of the ongoing pattern of criticisms toward climate science in general, and the IPCC in particular, work on the Asymmetry of Scientific Challenge (ASC) predicts that the overall effect on science will be precisely the opposite of the usual charges in the U.S. mass media—that is, that scientific consensus estimates such as those from the IPCC should be expected to underestimate the severity of climate disruption taking place".

But the authors note the effects of ASC are not confined to media reporting   of science, but may actually affect the interpretation of results:

"The ASC expectation, more specifically, is that the scientific outcome is likely to be precisely the opposite of the one that is most often feared — in the case of global climate disruptions, a bias toward underestimating rather than overestimating likely climate disruptions — precisely because so much of the prevailing pattern of scientific challenge has had the opposite focus and concern".

By way of example, the authors considered the difference between the IPCC assessments of putative disruption and the more recent 2009 UNEP report:

"The expectations for global climate disruption in the UNEP Climate Change Compendium (2009) are noticeably more grave than those presented in earlier IPCC assessments. That Compendium analyzed more than 400 major studies that were published after the IPCC’s most recent Assessment Report (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007), and as noted earlier, it concluded that climate disruption appears more severe than would have been expected on the basis of the earlier appraisals from the IPCC. Particularly in the U.S., however, IPCC assessments have been portrayed, repeatedly, as having overstated the scientific evidence on climate disruption".

The  authors also referred to previous  research supporting the assertion that there  was a consistent and deliberate  reframing of climate science to suit contrarian  agendas:

"Investigative journalists (see e.g. Harkinson, 2009) have noted the potential for contrarian attacks to be seen in a wider range of countries in the future, due to ‘‘a loose network of some 500 organizations in dozens of countries,’’ bankrolled by organizations such as the Atlas Economic Research Foundation — a ‘‘thinktank incubator’’ that receives financial support from fossil-fuel corporations such as ExxonMobil. "Other research has focused on the contrarian literature, in particular. The most careful study of this research, to date, found that almost all of the English-language books expressing environmental skepticism have come directly from a small number of what Jaques et al. (2008) characterize as ideological, ‘‘conservative think tanks.’’ Of the 141 books they identified, 130, or 92%, came directly from a handful of ‘‘conservative think tanks’’ such as the Heartland Institute. The criteria of Jaques et al., moreover, were unambiguous — the books’ authors worked at those think tanks, the books were published by those think tanks, or both (see also Dunlap and McCright, 2010)."

Unequal and Opposite Reactions

While media bias and pressure groups may affect the public perception, how can ASC affect the science itself? The authors ascribe the possibility to the traditional scepticism of the scientific method, which demands constant re-evaluation and open-mindedness – qualities again said by its detractors to be lacking in climate science: 

"Mainstream scientists are strongly motivated by norms of ‘‘being fair,’’ even to points of view with which they personally disagree. Ironically, if such individual commitments to ‘‘fairness’’ are exercised within a broader context where views on one side of an issue have been subjected to substantially greater challenges than those on the opposing side, the net result may well be a collective bias — an excessive readiness to accept the views that have not been examined as carefully. The bias that is expected by the ASC perspective, accordingly, relates to one typical dictionary definition of the term, but not to another — it involves systematic error, rather than individual prejudice".

Another form of bias is the ‘old news’ effect, where results confirming the consensus receive little or no attention since they are not topical:

"An additional, potentially complicating factor is that scientific journals prefer to report ‘‘findings,’’ rather than ‘‘non-findings,’’ and that new evidence on any issue may be more likely to receive attention if it indicates that the problem is ‘‘worse than previously thought,’’ or ‘‘not as bad as previously thought,’’ rather than simply concluding that ‘‘past estimates were roughly correct.’’ 


Real World Results

If ASC was distorting the popular understanding of climate change, and the widespread bias had an element that was clearly deliberate, what purpose would be served by, for example, paying lobbyists to promote an anti-science agenda? The answer, the authors suggest, is likely found in the murky corners of commercial interest:

"If most scientific articles end by concluding that ‘‘further research is necessary,’’ and if regulatory action can be delayed until there is no longer any need for further research, then it may well prove possible for an industry to delay effective regulation for years, or even indefinitely, while waiting for research findings to become definitive. One article has even concluded that such a pattern is so widespread that it deserves its own name — ‘‘Scientific Certainty’’ Argumentation Methods, or SCAMs — and it is clear that U.S. policy regarding the regulation of global warming gases has been consistent with the expectation for effective regulations to be delayed (Freudenburg et al., 2008; see also Michaels, 2008; Dietz and Rycroft, 1987; McCright and Dunlap, 2000, 2003)."

Conclusions

The authors identify clear indications of Asymmetric Challenge to Science, but they also caution against over-interpretation. None the less, the last line of the conclusions presented here is emboldened to highlight the implication:

"Overall, it would be premature to consider the present study’s findings to be definitive. It is not too soon, however, to conclude that, based on the best evidence available to date, consensus statements such as those from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are highly unlikely to represent the kind of ‘‘exaggerated fears’’ often claimed by those who deny the reality or scientific credibility of findings on global climate disruption. There is significantly stronger support for the testable prediction from work on the Asymmetry of Scientific Challenge — namely that, far from overstating the degree of change that is likely, scientific consensus statements such as those provided by the IPCC are more likely to understate the actual degree of climate disruption taking place. "These findings need to be considered in conjunction with other recent findings in the peer-reviewed literature. Particularly noteworthy are two sets of findings — those of Oreskes (2004), showing that any supposed ‘‘debates’’ among scientists were remarkable mainly for their absence from leading peer-reviewed scientific journals, and those of Jaques et al. (2008), demonstrating that almost the entire English-language literature expressing climate denialism was produced by a small number of ideologically oriented ‘‘think tanks’’ that in many cases received significant fractions of their funding from fossil-fuel companies. When considered in conjunction with one another, the accumulated findings in this paper and in the broader peer-reviewed literature have clear implications, as well, for credible reporting on ‘‘climate debates.’’

"If the intention is to offer true balance in reporting, the scientifically credible ‘‘other side’’ is that, if the consensus estimates such as those from the IPCC are wrong, it is because the physical reality is significantly more ominous than has been widely recognized to date".

Freudenburg, W.R., Muselli, V., Global warming estimates, media expectations, and the asymmetry of scientific challenge. Global Environ. Change (2010), doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2010.04.003

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 53:

  1. The assumption that the IPCC process is overly cautious is difficult to sustain given the multiplicity of reservations properly expressed in the primary scientific literature. Surely we shouldn't expect the IPCC to go down the alarmist path.

    I think examining four papers known to be consistently contrarian and finding that they are very likely to dismiss AGW is akin to taking a sampling of German newspapers between 1933 and 1945 and finding that they are twenty times more likely to carry anti-Semitic articles than their British equivalents in the same era.

    For my part, I'm more surprised by the relative lack of traction of contrarian arguments given the vast investment allegedly underpinning their emergence and propagation. For example, here in Australia we have the Treasury advice to the opposition (prepared in case they got into government) spelling out firmly the need to embrace a Carbon tax (contrary to their election platform). While the Treasury's arguments would have been essentially economic, such advice coming from an essentially conservative bunch of bureaucrats suggests a strong perception in favour of the AGW consensus.
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  2. Why is it assumed that conservatives would not be concerned with the environment when they basically own it and have a lot more time to enjoy it?
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  3. RSVP @ 2

    Fair point - the more economically developed and prosperous the country, the better the state of its environment.

    Witness by contrast the environmental catastrophe still dogging vast tracts of the former Soviet bloc and its rustbelt industries where no one 'owned' anything and thus felt no sense of responsibility for the world around them.
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  4. I'm not so sure about that, chris. "No sense of responsibility for the world around them" is hardly a rare failing.

    Ancient herders, modern farmers seem equally willing to wreck rivers and underground water storages, clear totally unsuitable land, discharge filth, fertiliser and garbage into any land or water they see as not immediately useful to themselves. The fact that it might kill the livelihoods of the oyster farmers a few kms downriver is ignored until a government or community or producer group gets together and tells them to cut it out. Surprise, surprise, it needs laws and inspectors to enforce those laws to get everyone into line.

    America, Russia and Australia managed to produce unprecedented dustbowls at almost the same time due to foolish land clearing and cultivation practices. Anyone with any respect for the land they were using would have done a whole heap better. I don't know what it's like around you, but Australian farmers still have an obsession with clearing land without much regard to objective best use of that land and its water and nutrient status. Irrigation and fertiliser should 'take care' of all that.

    Considering our record of idiotic overuse of our major food bowl river system, I'm half inclined to the view that a command and control system might have done better. Except when you look at how badly the USSR mucked up some even bigger water resources. Mis-management of natural resources is a pretty universal thing.
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  5. RSVP, the Koch brothers are a fact, not an assumption. One sample of many and where are the progressive analogues to the Koch brothers?

    But perhaps "conservative" is another term akin to "skeptic," where original meaning has lost all relationship with our parlance.

    As to prosperity and environmentally-sound behavior, a clean environment does not equate axiomatically with an intact ecology, unless one considers homo sapiens as a force of nature. Think of Belgium.

    We don't like 'em, but this thread of comments may turn out to be ineluctably political in tone.
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  6. The bigest criticism of the IPCC reports that has been substantiated is that it grossly underestimates sea level rise. The estimates in the next report will have to be at least doubled, if not quadrupled. The errors were systematic and all drove the estimate down. People like RSVP and Chris need to point to a specific error in the IPCC report that they can criticize. This underestimation is exactly what the article is describing.
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  7. @RSVP: why do you assume conservatives own most of the environment? That seems like an overly broad statement. First, you have to define "conservative" - considering that the US is to the right when compared to the rest of the world.

    Next, you have to define how one can own the environment. Owning a piece of land doesn't mean you own the environment, as many environmental phenomena travel across territories.

    I think it's safer to refrain from making such sweeping generalization, as they rarely turn out to be accurate.
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  8. Speaking of David Koch…

    If you have not already checked out:

    “Is Nova Catering to Its Anti-Science Sugar Daddy?”

    I highly recommend that you do so.

    To access it, go to:

    http://www.fair.org/blog/2010/09/08/is-nova-catering-to-its-anti-science-sugar-daddy/

    BTW: Is NOVA broadcast in Australia and the UK?
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  9. There is some support for the idea that if people are given ownership of a natural resource they will be less inclined to exploit it unsustainably.

    I'm not sure how this is supposed to give us comfort when talking about climate change. There's no way to give everybody "ownership" of the atmosphere or the climate.

    The closest approach to this is marketizing emissions, as in "cap and trade". This approach has worked pretty well for dealing with acid rain. In the US, I do not see a large groundswell of support in favor of "cap and trade" or carbon taxes, or other market-based approaches to emissions reduction. In the absence of such a market-based approach, emissions reductions in the US will probably be driven by regulation, as we now see happening with the EPA. This is, IMHO, a decidedly more inefficient and undesirable approach to reducing emissions.

    I'm reluctant to contribute to the politicization of threads here on Skeptical Science, so I'm not going to ascribe blame for this shortsightedness.

    The other problem with RSVP's suggestion that "ownership of the environment" will solve our problems is that, in this case, the benefits of burning fossil fuels occur now while the climate impacts are spread out over future generations. It's hard enough figuring out how to give everyone alive today "ownership" of the climate, without even considering how to extend that "ownership" to people in 2050 or 2100!
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  10. The four newspapers are: The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal.
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  11. Much better with graphics:



    I'll be even more interested in how 2010 would look like.
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  12. There is an important article in Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty about how the Russian energy companies are projecting their political power into Europe and "cultivating" politicians who will serve them.

    It is noted that Russia's LUKoil paid for the translation of Vaclav Klaus's book against climate science and Al Gore.

    Those Russian energy companies also own a lot of media, and they cooperate with their government's foreign policy.

    Here is the article, but I would say that this process of "cultivating" politicians is underway not only in Europe, but in the US.

    http://www.rferl.org/content/Czech_Mate_How_Russia_Is_Rebuilding_Influence_In_The_Former_Soviet_Bloc/2168090.html
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  13. RSVP:

    Why is it assumed that conservatives would not be concerned with the environment when they basically own it and have a lot more time to enjoy it?

    I think people assume that conservatives tend not to be concerned with the environment because that's the impression that their real-world actions convey (e.g., hostility to environmental regulation; hostility to the ESA; hostility to the concept of public lands; a tendency not only to oppose climate action, but also to deny warming; and so forth). It's not clear to me why an imaginary paradox should trump decades of clear evidence.

    If you have a cornucopian or eschatological outlook, and little interest in or understanding of environmental science, then there's not necessarily any contradiction between "enjoying" the environment and despoiling it; it's simply a matter of denying that you're despoiling it, or that it matters.

    Faced with your alleged paradox, the conservatives of my acquaintance would simply a) deny that pollution and exploitation are occurring; b) deny that pollution and exploitation have negative effects; c) deny that pollution and exploitation have lasting negative effects; d) deny that the negative effects of pollution and exploitation outweigh the economic benefits of growth; e) call me a communist; or f) all of the above.
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  14. chriscanaris

    Witness by contrast the environmental catastrophe still dogging vast tracts of the former Soviet bloc and its rustbelt industries where no one 'owned' anything and thus felt no sense of responsibility for the world around them.

    I'd never dream of defending the USSR's environmental practices, but projecting your own assumptions about the value of private ownership onto their society is ahistorical and unreasonable. The statement that people in the USSR "felt no sense of responsibility for the world around them" is an astonishing claim--astonishing mostly because it's so casual. I'd love to know what hard evidence or research it's based on.

    Anyway, the problem isn't owning or not owning land; the problem is scientifically and ethically comprehending one's place within a larger system. And as adelady notes, the failure to reach that understanding has been pretty universal.

    I know it's fashionable in libertarian circles to claim that lack of private ownership ruined the USSR's environment--especially among the crowd that argues for selling off our national parks to the highest bidder--but the larger problems, IMO, were ignorance, arrogance, nationalism, quasi-worship of industry, greed, paranoia, and an economic orthodoxy that encouraged magical thinking. (The usual, in other words.)

    Also: one thing we had, and the USSR didn't, was an environmental movement going back over 100 years (cf. David Stradling's Smokestacks and Progressives: Environmentalists, Engineers and Air Quality in America, 1881-1951). Perhaps that had some bearing on our respective outcomes, too.
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  15. doug_bostrom
    "But perhaps "conservative" is another term akin to "skeptic," where original meaning has lost all relationship with our parlance..."

    Another way to look at it is that conservative is another term for "practical" and liberal "idealist". Since liberals have few opportunities to exert power, they are seen to mess things up less, but given the chance as chriscanaris points out, they do an even worse job. Just a theory of course. There is still hope, I hope.
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  16. Phila, further to your remarks what we also have enjoyed here (U.S.) versus the Russian Tsarist/PseudoCommmunist/Oligarchy continuum is a system of law favorable to successfully addressing disparities in political power. The rule of law is something many self-professed conservatives here in the United States despise in terms of its outcomes, oddly enough. "Those faceless bureaucrats and their environmental takings," etc.
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  17. Conservatives are "practical," liberals are "idealists?" Here's a short checklist, see how "conservatives" perform in terms of letting the ideal infect the real:

    - Chlorofluorocarbons
    - Tetraethyl lead
    - Abstinence education
    - Tobacco policy

    Just to keep things on topic:

    - Carbon emissions mitigation
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  18. I'm concerned that this thread is rapidly approaching the danger zone.
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  19. Why is it assumed that conservatives would not be concerned with the environment when they basically own it and have a lot more time to enjoy it?
    The short answer is that AGW, along with much of the environmental degradation we see in the world, is a tragedy of the commons.
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  20. I'm concerned that this thread is rapidly approaching the danger zone.

    The ice is pretty thin, but I think doug_bostrom @17 makes an excellent point about what's "practical." Getting back to the topic of the post, "scientific certainty" arguments are obviously not practical, because we're obviously going to have a very long wait before we achieve "scientific certainty" on this question or any other. I fail to see anything "practical" in postponing the possibility of taking action until some imaginary future arrives.

    The fact that some "skeptics" also supported the invasion of Iraq, or abstinence education, explains why some of us are irked by their demands for scientific certainty, as does the fact that these demands never seem to extend to "alarmist" theories on the effects of climate legislation. But really, all of that's a distraction. Politics aside, it's logically incoherent to demand scientific certainty before action, and to assume that uncertainty about AGW means it'll be much better than we expect, rather than much worse. As such, these stances are inherently impractical. Arguing over politics obscures that point, IMO.
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  21. "if anything, global climate disruption may prove to be significantly worse than has been suggested in scientific consensus estimates to date..."

    That is completely contradicted by the IPCC.

    The IPCC AR4:

    1. "Low scenario" refers to B1, the most
    optimistic scenario family."

    2. "Best estimate for a 'low scenario' is 1.8 °C" ( per century )

    3. 1979 through Aug 2010 least squares fit
    ( deg C per century to the nearest tenth):

    1.0 RSS MT
    0.5 UAH MT
    1.6 RSS LT
    1.4 UAH LT
    1.6 CRU
    1.7 GISS
    1.4 Hadley SST


    All temperature trends are below the 1.8
    best estimate for the "most optimistic scenario"

    Where else has anyone read that
    global warming is less than even the
    most optimistic scenario?
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    Moderator Response: You are simultaneously posting virtually identical comments in another thread (The Phony War: Lies, Damn Lies and the IPCC). Please try to avoid starting duplicate versions of the same discussion in multiple threads.
  22. This is one of those papers that is best read backwards. Look at the results first to better understand what is being argued. The paper itself:

    http://www.allacademic.com//meta/p_mla_apa_research_citation/3/0/9/1/9/pages309195/p309195-1.php

    The Asymmetry of Scientific Challenge argument uses an empirical assessment of new scientific findings to show that the climatological consensus is insufficiently pessimistic.

    The empirical assessment by the four newspapers (despite a bias in general articles and editorials) is that new scientific findings are 'worse than expected'.
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  23. "assessment of new scientific findings to show that the climatological consensus is insufficiently pessimistic."

    I'm not sure that pessimism ( or optimism
    for that matter ) are at all part of the
    scientific method.
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  24. ClimateWatcher - That's the entire point of this topic. Asymmetric societal forcings and media representation tend to dumb down the science.
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  25. Chriscanaris "For my part, I'm more surprised by the relative lack of traction of contrarian arguments..."

    It is not surprising at all that they are almost absent from the litterature, considering that these arguments' grounding in reality ranges from tenuous to non existent. They do, however, enjoy a traction in the media that is out of proportion with their validity.
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  26. Adelady @ 4

    The USA produced dust bowls - the YSSR several famines which killed many millions.

    Phila @ 14:

    The saying in Soviet era Poland was, 'We pretend to work, they pretend to pay us.' Not much responsibility for anything there. Yes there were some idealists but the society was deeply permeated by cynicism.

    Doug; Abstinence education - a touch off topic - yet I never cease to be amazed at the casual way in which people will entrust their safety to a thin rubber sheath which slips off eveer so easy and carries a 10% failure rate in field conditions.
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  27. One of those early USSR famines was the result of dustbowl conditions very like the USA and Australian dustbowls. And for the same agriculturally idiotic reasons. As for the famines. The comparison there would be with the Chinese who also had lunatic plans and devastating outcomes. And I'm personally convinced that North Korea's continuing failure to produce or acquire sufficient food for its population is similarly based on ideas that are so foolish that they are wicked.
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  28. I for one am perfectly happy to agree that the USSR's environmental (and agricultural) policies were a disaster.

    If we were talking about whaling, I suppose we could all criticize Japan. For women's rights, we can point to Saudi Arabia (and unfortunately dozens of other nations where misogyny is the norm). And so on.

    Unfortunately, on the issue at hand for this website (climate change) the USA is the worst offender, with a number of other Western countries vying for second place.

    If people are convinced that the free market will solve all environmental problems, then they should get on board with the market-based proposals for emissions reduction (cap-and-trade, or carbon taxes). Those are more closely compatible with a "small-government" worldview than the alternative approaches to dealing with climate change (complex and unpredictable regulatory oversight, or massive government-directed geoengineering schemes).
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  29. It's funny to read that some ascribe the pollution in the USSR to a lack of private ownership when the problem was a government that was not accountable to its people. Here in the US, private companies were rampant polluters in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s until they poisoned enough of the landscape (and the people who lived there) that people demanded protection via government regulation, and they got it. It had nothing whatsoever to do with who owned what, and everything to do with a accountable government. Unfortunately, in the case of climate change, by the time the people are up in arms enough to demand action, it will be too late to fix the things they are up in arms about.
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  30. Adelady @ 27: One of those early USSR famines was the result of dustbowl conditions very like the USA and Australian dustbowls. And for the same agriculturally idiotic reasons.

    More like war communism and deliberate forced requisitions of grain and produce coupled with forced collectivisation. The famines affected the 'black soil' regions of the Ukraine - arguably the world's richest agricultural land.
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  31. Getting back to the topic at hand, I find it really interesting that all of this meta-science is being done these days. The climate change "debate" has gotten so off kilter that it is actually a sociological/psychological phenomenon worth studying in its own right. That anti-science denialists have gained so much power in a civilization built upon science is a remarkable thing. That ideology now trumps reality is utterly bizarre. I will leave you with a quote from the patron saint of the conservatives, Ayn Rand:

    "We can evade reality, but we cannot evade the consequences of evading reality."
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  32. CBW @ 31

    That anti-science denialists have gained so much power in a civilization built upon science is a remarkable thing.

    Actually, the notion of a civilisation built on 'science' worries me deeply. Science has its rightful and important place but I don't go for 'Scientism.'

    I would far rather a civilisation based on love and respect for one's fellow human beings preferably grounded in humble acknowledgment of our dependence on a loving God 'in whom we live and move and have our being' as the Greek poet Menander famously put it.
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  33. CBW, I'm not so sure. I think it's a continuing anti-elite (or something) strand in society. The Nobel Prize granted to Einstein was specifically chosen to avoid the controversy over relativity. People in cafes would challenge him over this stuff - people who had much less chance of understanding relativity at all than people have now of understanding the generalities of climate science.

    The sociological project would probably be more along the lines of delineating which particular kinds of ideas people find uncomfortable and how that affects them personally and their interactions with the wider society. (Why do people who live on the sides of volcanoes resist the idea that they'd be better off moving somewhere safer? And a million other topics.)

    As for the 'alarmist' stuff on climate disruption, I'm really interested in why this is so much harder than dealing with acid rain or the hole in the ozone layer. Those ideas and eventual solutions took some time, but raised nothing like this level of antagonism and resistance. What's so different with this issue?
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  34. What's so different with this issue?

    Maybe some positive feedback? Maybe these examples are all positively correlated w/revenue under threat?

    $2.2 trillion per year for the top eight petroleum extraction/refining/marketing firms alone.

    Concerted public relations efforts along these lines:

    "For everyone who has voiced a 2050 greenhouse gas goal, we need 10 people and policy bodies working toward the goal of broad energy access. Only once we have a growing, vibrant, global economy providing energy access and an improved human condition for billions of the energy impoverished can we accelerate progress on environmental issues such as a reduction in greenhouse gases."

    Peabody Energy Chairman Greg Boyce

    Important shareholder value trends:

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  35. Revenue under threat? That's where I get flummoxed.

    Revenue comes from profitable activity - any profitable activity. I just don't see why a large organisation wouldn't grab with both hands at new opportunities to make money hand over fist. They're very good at extracting subsidies from governments for their current activities, what's to stop them arm-twisting for even more subsidies for newer activities?

    I have a suspicion that for all their money, glamour and presumed sophistication, these leaders of industry are much like peasants who won't move from the sides of a seething volcano. They just can't see the opportunity for a better, more profitable, life with less danger.
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  36. This is not really a significant physical sciences mystery, it's now a behavioral puzzle.

    When I was in high school there was a fellow I think would've been unanimously elected as a model of responsibility and maturity for his age group, a person who not only got straight A grades in what was then the equivalent of AP physics and maths but also seemed to -understand- physics, was not just regurgitating his lessons. Did that stop him from rolling over his brand-new VW Thing at the gates of the school, ejecting 5 occupants who despite all of their intellectual wisdom did not have the visceral, animal connection to facts necessary for their seatbelts to have been fastened? Did this boy stop and check those belts, were his high spirits overridden by his cold facts? No, and no.

    We've got some growing up to do.
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  37. chriscanaris:

    I would far rather a civilisation based on love and respect for one's fellow human beings preferably grounded in humble acknowledgment of our dependence on a loving God 'in whom we live and move and have our being' as the Greek poet Menander famously put it.

    Presumably, if you believe in "a loving God," you also believe in a God who gave us the ability to make intelligent decisions based on what science tells us about the world, and to take responsibility for our actions.

    What "scientism" is telling us, again and again, is that what we choose to do affects people and the environment in ways that are potentially irrevocable. I can't respect any ethics, let alone any religion, that ignores these facts, or posits some sort of supernatural "Get Out of Jail Free" card that will save us from the logical consequences of keeping our heads in the sand, and I hope you can't either.

    At this point in human history, it's very hard to see how one could "love and respect one's fellow human beings" without understanding, in scientific terms, how our actions are likely to affect them. Echoing Doug @36, we've got some growing up to do.
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  38. Chrisc at @32:

    "I would far rather a civilisation based on love and respect for one's fellow human beings preferably grounded in humble acknowledgment of our dependence on a loving God 'in whom we live and move and have our being' "

    And I would far rather a civilization based on friendly fairies, dancing elves, and happy talking bunnies, but that has no more to do with reality than your fantasy. The fact is that our unprecedented standard of living, our ability to determine our future, and even our ability to feed the billions of people on the planet are due to the relentless honesty of the scientific method (no matter how hard some individuals try to subvert it).

    adelady @33:

    "What's so different with this issue?"

    This issue has a multi-trillion dollar industry fighting tooth and nail to prevent any action, and they've allied themselves with people who think that if they "win" the argument, physical reality will somehow be forced to conform to their beliefs.
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  39. Phila @ 37:

    'Presumably, if you believe in "a loving God," you also believe in a God who gave us the ability to make intelligent decisions based on what science tells us about the world, and to take responsibility for our actions.'

    I absolutely concur. And 'scientism' represents human pride and its refusal to acknowledge our limitations as a species to which so many readers have eloquently alluded on this thread.

    'Scientism' is not science any more than religiosity is religion.
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  40. snapple #12

    "There is an important article in Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty about how the Russian energy companies are projecting their political power into Europe and "cultivating" politicians who will serve them. "

    What is the difference between that and multi-national oil companies (like BP) buying support in the US Congress?
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  41. Re: chriscanaris (39)

    I believe in a loving God who made creation according to ordered principles and logic; a God who also endowed us with the free will to choose to overcome His creation and subdue it. However, that does not preclude our being able to destroy the creation in the act of subduing it. Which we are busily engaged in doing.

    The dark side of the free will thingy: You can't always get what you want.

    The Yooper
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  42. Daniel Bailey @ 41

    '...that does not preclude our being able to destroy the creation in the act of subduing it. Which we are busily engaged in doing.'

    As we have also been doing to one another since we first arrived on this planet.

    I've no argument on that one with you, Daniel.
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  43. The world needs fixing fast, and God isn't helping.
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  44. Roger A. Wehage #43

    God gave us our intelligence. It's up to us to use it.
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  45. RSVP@44:

    The people referred to in Roger@43 use their intelligence, but for their own personal gain. The news media is controlled by oil companies and big businesses, and the news media controls conservative actions. Climate change mitigation will cost oil companies and big businesses "trillions of dollars," and no one wants to see their taxes and prices increased to pay for that. Even though several recent surveys have shown that the majority of people in the United States and the world believe global warming is serious and something should be done about it, very little is being done. I guess the intelligent thinking is, "God made the world, let Him fix it."
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  46. No Roger, I'm very much afraid the 'intelligent' thinking is I'm all right, Jack. Someone else can clean up my mess.

    Attitude much like the 14 yr old kid in the bathroom and the scattered wet towels. More money, more power, more mess. Same attitude.
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  47. Before going on, it might be of interest to baseline what would be considered an acceptable public reaction to global warming.

    Assume a hypothetical situation where "the public" got a perfectly accurate account of global warming with timetables for temperature increase in every location on Earth for the next century including an exact description of how the coastlines will be affected, etc.

    Currently, people have to pay to dredge boat harbors. I am sure some people would be happy about knowing such details. What would be the best real estate options, etc. But, you need details, not some blank statement about how the "planet" is warming. At any rate, all this points to being in control, which is what its all about.
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  48. RSVP here's an example of the output of the kind of thinking you mention:

    Climate Change in Coastal Areas in Florida: Sea Level Rise Estimation and Economic Analysis to Year 2080

    The bulge of our wallets is a constant fascination. The study above takes a stab at looking at effects of climate change on individual taxpayer wallets as opposed to corporate balance sheets, seems down the alley you speak of.
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  49. doug_bostrom...
    That is pretty close, in which case, what was the public reaction to this report? Could this have anything to do with the real estate crisis? (Imagine a scam based on something this.) On the other hand, I remember hearing about the old man that lived on Mt. St. Helens, who just stayed there till it blew, and others that did not abandon the area until the very last minute, exhibiting how truely optimistic people can be, even with all kinds of warnings from scientists.

    Speaking of down the alley... you wouldnt be from the South Bay? Only asking per description of tragic accident you describe above...sounds very familiar.
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  50. The link to the abstract doesn't work so I googled the authors. Violeta Mueselli has this in her resume:
    Congressional Intern – Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Washington D.C Sept – Dec 2008
    • Assisted Speaker’s staff with the planning, preparation, and implementation of major Capitol events
    • Researched policy issues for Legislative Aides on topics ranging from health care to immigration
    • Drafted concise and professional responses to constituent mail

    She is more of an activist and PR person than a scholar. Most of her accomplishments are in PR. See Violleta Freudenberg is an environmental scientist. I was expecting a paper by people who's primary occupation was in analysis of media bias.
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