Friday, September 09, 2011

Disagreeing with Chris Mooney on handling the need for closure

I'll follow the now-universal practice of recopying comments I left elsewhere, in this case at Chris Mooney's Intersection site. I think in the climate communication field we have not done enough to highlight how skeptics/denialists/lukewarmists rely on multiple massive coincidences to explain why climate change is behaving as mainstream science has predicted since CO2 was identified as a greenhouse gas in the 19th Century. The non-scientist public doesn't generally like reliance on coincidence.

Chris wrote about how anti-evolutionists show a strong need for closure and intolerance of ambiguity. I suggested in the comments that at least in the field of climate communication, we have an advantage over denialists when appealing to fence-sitters with a desire for closure. Chris disagreed. Perhaps Chris may have just needed closure on the idea that we have little we can do with people who need closure.

Anyway, my final comment in that thread:

1. On evolution/creationism, I agree that closure favors denial for those who believe in the inerrant Bible. Evolution isn’t compatible with the Bible being literally true.

2. Climate theory doesn’t have the same trouble with Christianity (edit: Christian literalists). A few climate denialists have tried to use Christian determinist arguments, but they’re pretty weak even from that perspective.

3. On climate, if you accept that temps are warming, as many denialists (and more important, the fence sitters) do, then you have uncertainty and ambiguity. What explains the increase?

4. Climate realists have a theory that eliminates ambiguity – it’s warming because we’re messing up and warming the planet. This theory, btw, is compatible with a Christian frame of humans as immoral screwups who do a bad job as stewards of God’s creation.

5. Denialists who accept warming don’t really have an explanation – they have to rely on coincidence. It’s just coincidence, they say, that we happen to be in a time when temps are rising as part of a natural cycle. It’s just coincidence that Tyndall, Fourier, and Arrhenius more or less predicted what would happen long before it became politicized. It’s just coincidence that Hansen said in 1988 that temps would keep rising, and they’ve risen at the rate he predicted.

6. Some denialists resort to lies to deny their need to argue based on coincidences, but that opens them up to vulnerability when trying to persuade fence-sitters.

7. If denialists fall in the set that deny warming at all, then they have another group of coincidences that they have to explain away (edit: relating to multiple sets of ground/ocean/satellite obs).

8. I agree that some with a strong need for closure and who have already strongly settled on a denialist frame will be very difficult to bring around, but it’s not the committed denialists that we’re concerned about.

9. People who haven’t yet thought much about climate issues are the target. Some of them will have strong need for closure. We have a better story for them by pointing out the other side’s reliance on coincidences.

10. I can be proven wrong. I don’t know this psychological field. If it’s shown that people with a strong need for closure are also strongly tolerant of explanation via coincidence, then I’m wrong.

11. I suspect the opposite is true, that many people are intolerant of explanation through coincidence. It’s kind of an intuitive Occam’s Razor – it’s not science, but it’s not wrong, either. We should use it more – we have an explanation, denialists have coincidences. We have a solution, denialists want to sit there. Who do you trust?