3 Ways Climate Denial Gets in the Way of Good Science
There is nearly unanimous consensus among climate scientists that climate change is happening and that human activity is the cause. Yet there is still widespread belief among Americans that climate change is under debate. One reason might be the media’s tendency to treat both sides of the question equally – a practice memorably skewered on the HBO comedy show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Unfortunately, the media’s treatment of the issue (along with corporate disinformation campaigns) doesn’t just create doubt among citizens – it can also cause scientists to be less forceful when talking about their findings.
A new study from the University of Bristol, UK, examines how contrarian arguments can seep into scientific work. As this Care2 article points out, climate denial affects scientists in three ways: they start believing they are part of a minority rather than a majority, they develop a fear of being labeled an “alarmist,” and they become vulnerable to messages that they know to be false.
But knowledge is power – and being conscious of this susceptibility to contrarian arguments can help scientists fight against it. Climate communicators can also help keep denial from clouding the truth. We need to continue showcasing reliable scientific findings, making climate science easy to understand, debunking myths, and pointing out efforts at disinformation. And since people are more accepting of climate change when they realize there is a consensus among experts, we need to keep making it clear that there really is no “climate debate.”
by Kevin Mathews, contributor to Care2
It’s unfortunate yet not surprising that the current corporate-led disinformation campaign on climate change is convincing a large segment of the population that global warming is a bunch of hooey. What is surprising, though – and perhaps even more unfortunate – is that even scientists can fall victim to these same propaganda tactics.
The University of Bristol’s Professor Stephan Lewandowsky examined how scientists are impacted by the climate change pushback and found three ways in which they’re susceptible. As Lewandowsky discovered, even if scientists don’t actually change their opinions on climate change, the climate change denial backlash is often enough to scare them out of talking about the subject as thoroughly.
Here are the three main ways some scientists are influenced by the opposition:
1. “Pluralistic Ignorance”
When a small group of people speak loudly enough or receive equal credibility from the media, those in the majority can be fooled into thinking that they are actually part of the minority. This pluralistic ignorance then influences majority opinion holders from speaking out as much, assuming their opinion is somehow less valid.
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