Saturday, November 21, 2009

Public confusion about scientific consensus

The Globe and Mail reports that a new poll from Hoggan & Associates found Canadians are embarrassed over the lack of Canadian action on climate change. Now it is possible that readers will dismiss that finding because the pollsters are connected with a number of environmental organization (an observation, not a judgment), but I encourage people to think about the following:

There was also strong support for the view that “most scientists agree that human activity is the primary cause of climate change,” a position held by 62 per cent of the public, compared to the 38 per cent who felt there was “still much debate” among researchers.

The key "accomplishment" of the movement to question the science of climate change is seeding doubt among the public. There is widespread agreement that human activity is causing climate change among scientists who actually study the issue. But poll the public on whether scientists agree and you get a different answer.

The results at right, which I've used to spur discussion in class, are from work in the U.S. by Jon Krosnick at Stanford University, who has done some terrific research on public perceptions of climate change.

The irony is that many of the people being polled think climate change is happening and caused by humans, yet also think scientists are not sure. This clear contradiction - people learned of climate change from scientists, after all - shows just how effective the lobbying and disinformation campaigns have been.

1 comment:

Steve Bloom said...

Are scientists seen as argumentative sorts enough to result in that discrepancy? We'd want to compare parallel results from other fields (evolution?) to try to get some sense of that. Opinion research is a tricky business.