Chris Mooney's blog

Mon, 2011-09-19 08:12Chris Mooney
Chris Mooney's picture

New Record or Not, the Arctic Sea Ice Alarm Bells Keep Ringing

Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center

Last week, the National Snow and Ice Data Center came out with the estimate that we did not quite ​set a record for the minimum extent of Arctic sea this year. Rather, 2011 seems to have come in a slight second to 2007.

However, another scientific group does claim that we've hit a new record. Who's right?

I don't know, but I don't think either bit of news is the most important thing to focus on. For as Skeptical Science points out, we also just learned that total sea ice volume reached a new low in 2010 (wonky hide-the-punchline paper here). And that is, to my mind, a much bigger deal than what total sea ice extent is doing on a year by year basis.

Remember, extent is a measure of area covered, and volume is a measure of total ice mass. (More clarification here.)

There is a strong case that volume matters more, because extent can be misleading. Why?

Wed, 2011-09-14 06:32Chris Mooney
Chris Mooney's picture

Want to Sway Climate Change Skeptics? Ask About Their Personal Strengths (And Show Pictures!)

Readers of my posts over the last half year will be familiar with the phenomenon of motivated reasoning, in which people’s subconscious emotional impulses lead them to respond, in a biased way, to information that challenges their deeply held beliefs and worldviews. We’ve been focusing on this so much because I believe it explains a great deal of what we here call climate change denial, and the resistance to inconvenient science (and inconvenient facts) in general.

One important researcher on motivated reasoning is Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan. In Mother Jones, I described one of his previous studies, demonstrating how motivated reasoning can lead to a “backfire effect” when people are confronted with politically inconvenient information:

Take, for instance, the question of whether Saddam Hussein possessed hidden weapons of mass destruction just before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. When political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler showed subjects fake newspaper articles (PDF) in which this was first suggested (in a 2004 quote from President Bush) and then refuted (with the findings of the Bush-commissioned Iraq Survey Group report, which found no evidence of active WMD programs in pre-invasion Iraq), they found that conservatives were more likely than before to believe the claim. (The researchers also tested how liberals responded when shown that Bush did not actually “ban” embryonic stem-cell research. Liberals weren't particularly amenable to persuasion, either, but no backfire effect was observed.)

So how do you persuade people, if not with factual corrections of the sort run by newspapers? That’s what a new paper by Nyhan and Reifler has undertaken to study.

Mon, 2011-09-12 11:27Chris Mooney
Chris Mooney's picture

Memo to Rick Perry: Galileo Was a Liberal

Ever since the Republican presidential debate last week, science watchers have been shaking their heads over Rick Perry’s ridiculous invocation of Galileo Galilei to defend his denialist position on climate change.

Galileo got outvoted for a spell,” Perry said–presumably meaning to suggest that climate “skeptics,” too, will have their day in the sun (the sun that, thanks to Galileo, we know lies at the center of the solar system).

Not only is this junk history on Perry’s part. A more accurate analogy would liken today’s climate researchers to Galileo—delivering an inconvenient truth that some right wing ideologues (then and now) just can’t handle—and Perry to the Inquisition.

Let’s face it: In the context of his times, Galileo was a liberal. He was a fearless explorer of new knowledge, as well as a puckish challenger of assumed wisdom. He famously argued that science and religion don’t have to be in conflict—so long as religionists don’t insist on reading Scripture literally (as so many of Perry’s anti-evolutionist supporters today do).

So to find a conservative Texas governor, backed by the religious right, invoking this canonical questioner of authority is really precious.

But forget historical accuracy for a moment. Climate “skeptics” have long been invoking Galileo as their mascot, and the interesting question is why.

Wed, 2011-09-07 09:49Chris Mooney
Chris Mooney's picture

On Global Warming, the Tea Party is Worse than the GOP

There’s a fascinating new public opinion analysis out today from Anthony Leiserowitz and the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. It looks at political divides and how they impact one’s views of the science, but with this new twist—Tea Partiers and Republicans are treated differently.

And look what results:

  • 53 percent of Republicans believe global warming is happening, but just 34 % of Tea Partiers.
  • 56 percent of Republicans, but 69 % of Tea Party members, say there is “a lot of disagreement” among scientists about whether global warming is happening.
  • Tea Party members are much more likely than Republicans (45 % to 20 %) to have heard of “ClimateGate.”
  • Staggering, but not surprising if you’ve been following my posts: “Tea Party members are much more likely to say that they are ‘very well informed’ about global warming than the other groups,” according to the Yale study. “Likewise, they are also much more likely to say they ‘do not need any more information’ about global warming to make up their mind.”

In other words, Tea Party members are more extreme than Republicans in their rejection of the scientific consensus on global warming—simultaneously more wrong, and also more sure of themselves.

What’s up with that?

Tue, 2011-09-06 07:42Chris Mooney
Chris Mooney's picture

Why Questionable "Science" Gets Published, Pounced On in the Media, Retracted, Causes Resignations…Rinse and Repeat

An editor resigns after a journal publishes a paper that seems to trash the scientific consensus on climate change—but is heavily criticized by top scientists. Where have we heard this kind of story before?

From my book The Republican War on Science, reporting on a 2003 hearing held by Senator James Inhofe designed to bash climate science:

The very day before Inhofe’s hearing, the editor in chief of Climate Research, the small journal where the Soon and Baliunas paper originally appeared, had resigned to protest deficiencies in the review process leading up to the paper’s publication. Several other editors also subsequently resigned…

Where else have we heard this kind of story before?

Thu, 2011-09-01 07:35Chris Mooney
Chris Mooney's picture

Communication Fail: Why the IPCC Must Do a Heck of a Lot Better in 2013

Regular readers know I’m pretty critical of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change–particularly when it comes to how this expert body communicates climate science. Basically, my view is that any organization that holds a key climate meeting in Copenhagen in winter is pretty clueless about the politics and public perception of this issue. [See Correction Below.] But even worse is that IPCC has shown far too little investment in communication or public outreach (although lately that is beginning to change), and has handled crisis communication moments—like the Himalayan glaciers flap—terribly.

Now, before I get too many ticked off emails: I know the IPCC is the leading expert source for climate science assessments, and deservedly so. I know that the scientists who volunteer to work on its reports do a heroic job. I recognize and commend all of this. But it simply isn’t enough in this day and age—and it is in the communications sphere where the IPCC’s scientific excellence simply has not been matched.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Chris Mooney's blog