Thursday, April 20, 2017

Why scientific literacy does not help the Left

Tim Requarth writes in Slate:
Finally, he asked them about climate change. If the deficit model were correct, Kahan reasoned, then people with increased scientific literacy, regardless of worldview, should agree with scientists that climate change poses a serious risk to humanity.

That’s not what he found. Instead, Kahan found that increased scientific literacy actually had a small negative effect: The conservative-leaning respondents who knew the most about science thought climate change posed the least risk. Scientific literacy, it seemed, increased polarization. In a later study, Kahan added a twist: He asked respondents what climate scientists believed. Respondents who knew more about science generally, regardless of political leaning, were better able to identify the scientific consensus — in other words, the polarization disappeared. Yet, when the same people were asked for their own opinions about climate change, the polarization returned. It showed that even when people understand the scientific consensus, they may not accept it.

The takeaway is clear: Increasing science literacy alone won’t change minds. In fact, well-meaning attempts by scientists to inform the public might even backfire.
This seems reasonable to me. The risks of climate change are grossly distorted in the popular press. If you don't know much about it, then you are likely to accept the warnings about catastrophic change that get the most press.

After I learned more about the science, I discovered that the leading models only show a 2-3 feet sea level increase over the next century. In terms of economic effects, there is no consensus, and it appears that global warming is doing more good than harm. Those predicting catastrophes of various sorts do not do so purely on the basis on human-induced CO2 emissions, but on dubious feedback effects.

I am not sure many people really believe those catastrophic predictions. If they did, then they would favor: (1) building many new nuclear power plants; (2) stopping all Third World immigration into Europe and N. America; and (3) stopping all aid to Third World development.

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