If you try really really hard to ask questions a certain way, then you’ll get the answers you want. ~ charles the moderator
By Dan Vergano, USA TODAY
Well-publicized troubles have mounted for those forecasting global warming. First, there was last year’s release of hacked e-mails from the United Kingdom’s University of East Anglia, showing some climate scientists really dislike their critics (investigations are still ongoing). Then there was the recent discovery of a botched prediction that all Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035 in one of the Nobel-Prize-winning 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports. Instead, the glaciers are only shrinking about as much as glaciers everywhere, twice as fast as they did 40 years ago, suggest results from NASA‘s GRACE gravity-measuring orbiter.
The recent controversies “have really shaken the confidence of the public in the conduct of science,” according to atmospheric scientist Ralph Cicerone, head of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Cicerone was speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting last month on a panel calling for more communication and release of data to rebuild lost trust for scientists. IPCC chiefs have made similar calls in the handling of their reports.
Scientists see reason for worry in polls like one released in December by Fox News that found 23% of respondents saw global warming as “not a problem,” up from 12% in 2005. Also at the AAAS meeting, Yale, American University and George Mason University released a survey of 978 people challenging the notion that people 18 to 35 were any more engaged than their elders on climate change. Statistically, 44% in that age range — matching the national average — found global warming as either “not too important” or “not at all important,” even though they grew up in an era when climate scientists had found it very likely that temperatures had increased over the last century due to fossil fuel emissions of greenhouse gases.
But what “if” (apologies to Kipling again) scientists are misreading those poll results and conflating them with news coverage of the recent public-relations black eyes from e-mails and the glacier mistake? What’s really happening, suggests polling expert Jon Krosnick of Stanford University, is “scientists are over-reacting. It’s another funny instance of scientists ignoring science.”
Krosnick and his colleagues argue that polling suggesting less interest in fixing climate change might indicate the public has its mind on more immediate problems in the midst of a global economic downturn, with the U.S. unemployment rate stuck at 9.7%. The AAAS-released survey of young people, for example, finds that 82% of them trust scientists for information on global warming and the national average is 74%.
“Very few professions enjoy the level of confidence from the public that scientists do, and those numbers haven’t changed much in a decade,” he says. “We don’t see a lot of evidence that the general public in the United States is picking up on the (University of East Anglia) e-mails. It’s too inside baseball.”