Vinny Burgoo, in a comment on the previous post, mentioned a BBC Radio4 programme, The Human Zoo, about the psychology of attitudes to climate change.
You can listen to it here
for a limited period.
I said I’d transcribe it, but I won’t. It’s too depressing. It’s worth listening to, for interviews with Tamsin Edwards and Daniel Kahan, who are significant people in the debate, but who are not allowed to say anything interesting here.
It’s called: “Climate Change – Is your view unbiased?”
Here’s an extract by presenter Michael Blastland. There’s a long quote from Hard Times: the famous speech of Gradgrind on facts: after which Blastland, in conversation with professor of psychology Nick Chater, says:
“…Facts on our side? And in contrast, the other side, whichever it is, well, fast and loose with the evidence, obviously. That’s what Ed Davey the Environment Secretary said the other week about climate change scepticism: ‘Born of vested interest, nimbyism, publiicity seeking controversialism or sheer blinkered dogmatic political bloody-mindedness’. Ouch. Still, Im sure they’re equally nice about him. Nick, all this makes psychology sound like an accusation, an insult: ‘Me, I do facts. You you’re all full of biases and other perceptual tosh’. Is that… how do you respond to that as a psychologist?”
Nick Chater: “Well I think we should be more respectful in a way of… “
[Here my ears pricked up. An academic was going to stick up for respecting the opinions of others – in this case, us climate sceptics so gratuitously insulted by a government minister. But Nick continued:]
…of the miracle that is the human brain”.
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That’s the problem you see. We sceptics have these miraculous things called human brains that permit us to think a dozen mad thoughts before breakfast. And you can’t stop us, because this is the BBC and you have to be respectful of all sides of the question, whatever Professor Steve Jones says.
Chater didn’t actually mention the Kunning-Bugger Effect, but you feel it was on the tip of his tongue.
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This following section was entitled on the Radio 4 website:
Michael Blastland conducts an experiment which shows how people’s prior knowledge of climate change can influence the way they interpret climate change data.
MB: Nick, we promised another experiment. What tricks have you been playing to discover how people tick about climate change?
NC: Yes, this week we thought we’d have a go at trying to understand how people’s views about climate change affect how they look at climate data. So this was based on an experiment by Stephen (sic) Lewandowsky at Bristol University, and we thought we’d give it a try with the Warwick students:
NC: (to students):So what you’ll see in front of you is a wiggly line, and we want you just to continue the wiggly line in the way that seems the most natural. There’s no right or wrong answer to this question, it’s just a wiggly line.
Question from student: Do you have any indication what this might be?
NC: No. No, no, just an abstract task.
NC: Now after they’ve done this we’re going to get them to do some other experiments, just to distract them a bit, and then we’ll give them another wiggly line, but this time we’ll tell them what the wiggly line is really about.
NC: (to students) .. wiggly line, as you’ll see. And this wiggly line is real data, it is in fact average global temperatures from 1880 to 2010, so this is a climate change prediction task now. So you need to make your guess about how that graph is going to continue.
NC: ..then a final little question..
NC: (to students)..just says, “on a scale of 1 to 7, “How worried are you about climate change?”
NC: (to students, after the experiment): ..climate change graph, what made you complete it in the way that you did?
Student: The temperature can’t go up at the same rate for ever.
Student: So I tried to slow down the rate a bit
Student: …it was still increasing
2nd Student: Mine was a bit apocalyptic actually. I thought of , while you know obviously it’s been rising a lot since the industrial revolution and things like that, there’s a definite pattern of like, plateaux and then going up, so I assumed there would still be sort of a plateau around now when the graph ended, and then it would go up more, and I don’t know if it’s going to make the earth explode or whatever, but..
NC: You’ve got a pretty serious, serious..
2nd Student: That’s what I thought
NC: ..scenario heading our way
MB: So, Nick, what were the results, and what do they tell us?
NC: If somebody thinks that climate change is real and present, then they tend to extrapolate upwards in temperature more than people who have the opposite view, and that’s true when they think of the data as about climate, but of course it isn’t true when they just see this very same wiggly pattern as mere random noise. What it seems to indicate is that it’s very hard for us to look at data in a dispassionate way. And in a way, quite rationally, when we’re considering how a set of data are going to continue, we think both about what the data show so far, but also we think about what our general knowledge or general beliefs tell us. But there is a danger to this, because it can mean that the data itself, as it were, seems different, looks different, depending on your perspective. So if I am a climate sceptic, I might look at the same data as a non-climate sceptic, and I might think: “That doesn’t really show much of a trend upwards, it might show a little trend upwards”. Someone who’s got great faith in the reality of climate change might look at that very same data and see in the data a much more alarming trend.
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Why do I hate this kind of programme? It’s the BBC leaning over backwards to be fair to all sides of the question. It’s right-on Guardian-reading lefty academics explaining that even climate sceptics, however repellent their views, have their reasons for thinking as they do. (There’s a surrealist interview with a couple of journalists at the end where a young (?) Australian woman hints heavily at the fact that sceptics might be – you know – dare I say it? (No, she doesn’t dare – but hints heavily, like some Southern Belle unable to pronounce the word “negro”) – older white males).
The BBC is a caste. Everything the elderly white right-wing males at Bishop Hill say about it is true; but it’s still better than any other media in the world. I’ve seen and listened to a fair amount of TV and radio in France, Italy, and Germany. The BBC is better in ways I can’t even begin to explain to a Frenchman.
But still, this is the BBC, and climate sceptics are a bit like, you know, a bit like Jews in a prewar poem by T.S.Eliot or a novel by Wyndham Lewis – frightfully clever chaps and all that, but, you know …what?
I may change this post tomorrow when I’m sober, but at the moment I despise Michael Blastland and Professor Nick Chater more than I can say.
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In the sidebar of the page linking to the podcast there’s a list of links to the blogs of the participants, and also this one:
An article about a controversial psychological study into climate change beliefs. (www.npr.org)
which goes here
Which as you can see, is an article about Lewandowsky’s research into us sceptics. Lewandowsky is mentioned as the source of the “experiment” quoted above. His toehold in Auntie’s door so soon after arriving in the country is interesting, I think. Closing the door firmly on his foot is my current quixotic project.