Being inactive for the last couple of years I still read about denialism being mentioned in some interesting places. Two in particular I thought I share.

Peter Gleick in Forbes write on “The Rise and Fall of Climate Change Denial is interesting largely because it’s in Forbes. And predictably, for publishing in a right-wing magazine, the comments are basically 100% against Gleick, a national academy member, accusing him of everything from incompetence to dishonesty. It’s actually pretty remarkable. But at least the scientific viewpoint is starting to infiltrate the literature of the right wing. Now only if we can get the WSJ to place a scientifically accurate article on global warming on their editorial pages. It would likely snow in hell first.

The other is an interesting look at Denial from United Academics called Why We Deny including an article evaluating Michael Shermer’s latest work on the pscyhology of denial.

In it I think a very good point is raised by Shermer (who I’ve been known to disagree with for his own cranky outlook on global warming), we actually shouldn’t expect people to be rational and accept science easily. Too much of the way we think is irrational, and too much of our psychology is based upon making the world conform to the way we view it, rather than conforming our belief to the way the world is. He points out that we tend to come to have beliefs first, often inculcated by family, religion, culture, or tradition, then spend a great deal of effort to rationalize those beliefs and selectively believe evidence that confirms it. After all, when beliefs are tied to such powerful emotive forces to change belief or confront evidence contrary to such belief can be emotionally devastating. The notion that humans are rational and believe things based on evidence or will even act in their own best interest based on logic and evidence is simply not supported by the evidence of how we behave. I find it still amazing that he can have such an insight about the fundamental irrationality of humans and still have a libertarian worldview, which I feel is critically dependent on treating humans as rational actors in an economy, either as individuals or groups. Clearly this is not the case.

In it I think a very good point is raised by Shermer (who I’ve been known to disagree with for his own cranky outlook on global warming), we actually shouldn’t expect people to be rational and accept science easily. Too much of the way we think is irrational, and too much of our psychology is based upon making the world conform to the way we view it, rather than conforming our belief to the way the world is. He points out that we tend to come to have beliefs first, often inculcated by family, religion, culture, or tradition, then spend a great deal of effort to rationalize those beliefs and selectively believe evidence that confirms it. After all, when beliefs are tied to such powerful emotive forces to change belief or confront evidence contrary to such belief can be emotionally devastating. The notion that humans are rational and believe things based on evidence or will even act in their own best interest based on logic and evidence is simply not supported by the evidence of how we behave. I find it still amazing that he can have such an insight about the fundamental irrationality of humans and still have a libertarian worldview, which I feel is critically dependent on treating humans as rational actors in an economy, either as individuals or groups. Clearly this is not the case.

Comments

  1. #1 Laura
    January 14, 2012

    I am interested in scientific evidence. I am much less interested in opinions even if they are opinions of scientists. Is there a meta-analysis or a systematic review about the relationship between human activity and climate change?

    It would seem like people should be citing this and not mentioning the ‘consensus’. Voting is not a scientific method. I don’t care if they have all voted one way or the other.

    I’m skeptical not because of my politics but because I can’t find the meta-analysis myself.

  2. #2 boot
    January 14, 2012

    a coffee snortingly good start to the crank “i’m a sceptic not a denialist” comments

  3. #3 MikeB
    January 14, 2012

    Laura, the ‘opinions’ of hundreds of scientists are based on evidence. For a systematic review of the data (one of many), have a look at the most recent IPCC report. Its the work of hundreds of scientists, building on the research of thousands more.

    If you want to see ‘real scientists’ in action, head over to RealClimate, or a better starter, see ‘SkepticalScience.com’ – which is a fantastic website. If you have a question, the chances are they have already answered it – all backed up by peer-reviewed data.

    Your right that voting isn’t science, but there is truth in the old Irish saying, ‘when six people tell you your drunk, lie down’. When enough people come up with the same answer, then its a good idea to listen. The number of scientific organisations are so huge who support action about climate change, the rest of us really should be listening.

  4. #4 Laura
    January 14, 2012

    Thanks. I have asked this question before and I received no answer … unless you consider smugness and insults an answer. I truly appreciate it.

  5. #5 blueshift
    January 15, 2012

    Hi Laura,

    Last year Coby Beck created a list of scientific organizations that have reviewed the literature on climate change.

    http://scienceblogs.com/illconsidered/2010/05/judith_curry_advocates_for_a_c.php

  6. #6 Laura
    January 15, 2012

    That one looks really cool.

    Thanks.

  7. #7 Wow
    January 17, 2012

    “Is there a meta-analysis or a systematic review about the relationship between human activity and climate change?”

    Yes. You can go to http://www.ipcc.ch and download the summaries and complete reports of the IPCC which was specifically set up to do a meta-analysis of exactly this.

    You may find the summary for policy makers a good start, since it assumes little scientific background.

  8. #8 ColinATL
    January 17, 2012

    Mark, your embedded documents are showing as “not found.” Don’t think it’s a browser/user specific issue…

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