Social science provides a lot of useful insight as to why logic and data rarely convince warmists.
Guest essay by Matt Manos
Many of the posters and readers at WUWT have expressed frustration at convincing warmists. Using facts and logic seem to fall on deaf ears. There are some interesting social sciences theories on why warmist are unresponsive. I know the social sciences aren’t a favored science with this group but if you’ll bear with me, you’ll hopefully see how social science can be useful in describing why warmists are unreachable. And possibly, what to do about it.
In their latest speeches on global warming, Obama and the Pope weren’t trying to convince skeptics that CAGW is real. Instead, they were sending signals to their supporters on what “all right thinking people” should be saying. This is classic in-group/out-group communication. Obama and the Pope were setting up the talking points for their in-group members to use to determine who can be considered part of the tribe and who should be rejected for being outside of it. This is a process called Othering. Othering turns political foes into non-beings. Others have no value. Others can be discounted and ignored. Others can be mocked.
Obama and the Pope are examples of bellwethers; the sheep with the bell that the other sheep follow. Bellwether is not a derogatory term, it’s a descriptive term. The job of a political bellwether is to indicate the position that their followers should take in their everyday conversations. Obama and the Pope’s latest speeches function as position papers for the delegates of all right thinking people. You meet these people at work, church, school, at the coffee house, etc. The delegates will mirror the words that the President or the Pope used to identify other in-group members, normalize beliefs and mock out-group members. One of the main themes of both speeches was shame. Shame on those who aren’t right thinking people. Shame that they aren’t as intelligent and capable as “us.”
That type of smugness is almost impossible to penetrate. When a skeptic questions a warmist’s view on global warming/climate change, the warmist hears something vastly different than what the skeptic is saying. A skeptic might say, “The models don’t match the actual measured results.” What the warmist hears is how stupid deniers are because that’s what John Stewart told him he should think. If the warmist doesn’t prove that he thinks skeptics are stupid then he might be confused for a denier! And no one wants to be identified with being a denier because they’re mocked, don’t get tenure and don’t get invited to the right parties. No amount of science can penetrate the ROI the warmist has internalized in believing in CAGW.
Many of the warmist are running on pure rational ignorance. Rational ignorance is a belief that the cost/benefit to researching every issue is so low as to be a net negative in time utilization. Thus the ignorance is rational and everyone utilizes this mental process on certain topics. People who are rationally ignorant about global warming look to bellwethers that support their gut stance. Rationally ignorant warmists would look to world leaders, mockutainers and warmist scientists for guidance on how to communicate their position on global warming.
Penetrating rational ignorance is tough because the position warmists have taken isn’t based on logic. Their position is actually based on an appeal to authority. To question the rationally ignorant warmist is to question the field of science as a whole (to be a science denier) or to question the leadership of their favorite bellwether personalities. This will cause the rationally ignorant warmist to become defensive and try to stand up for their favorite bellwether. The rationally ignorant will also point to their favorite bellwethers and say, “Who am I to doubt all these intelligent people?” It’s intellectually offshoring. It’s lazy. It’s human nature.
The scientific method rejects outright in-group/out groups, Othering, bellwethers and rational ignorance. A scientist is supposed to follow the results on an experiment even if the results don’t support his hypothesis. The scientist is clearly not supposed to rig the data to ensure he gets invited to a party with the right people or continued funding. But science has a poor track record on controversial topics. It often takes decades to accept new theories that are clear winners (e.g., continental drift).
Scientists are still social animals. Social animals follow hierarchy and incentives. If you really want to win the debate on global warming, change the opinions of the bellwethers. Change the economic incentives for the global warming scientific paper mill. Otherwise you’re stuck debating only the people who are unable to change their minds because it would cost them personally to do so. Rare is the person intellectually honest enough to bite the hand that feeds or is willing to violate social norms to speak the truth.