[Vision2020] System Justification, the Denial of Global Warming, and the Possibility of “System-Sanctioned Change”

Ted Moffett starbliss at gmail.com
Mon Dec 13 11:07:00 PST 2010

I'm not sure how many climate scientists (the definition of which is
critical to evaluating this issue), who indicate they do not think
anthropogenic climate warming to be a critical problem that indicates
major action to lower CO2 emissions, are connected somehow to fossil
fuel corporations.

But the following research, published in the Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences in 2010 (thus very recent research,
though sent for review Dec. 22, 2009), indicates a higher percentage
of climate scientists than 95% indicate we have a "serious problem,"
as you phrased it.

Reading the paper in depth would be required to fully understand how
they arrived at this result, but they indicate, and I quote:
"...97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the
field surveyed here support the tenets of ACC outlined by the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change..."  This is a very specific
claim, indicating very broad scientific validation of IPCC climate
science analysis, not merely for a scientific basis that humans are
having some impact on climate, which might be small in magnitude.

The research in question was criticised, of course, and these
criticisms were answered with extensive public input at the climate
science website Realclimate.org.

Given the importance of this issue, I am pasting in first the authors
response on Realclimate.org to the criticisms of their research (the
public input which follows their response can be read at the
Realclimate.org link given), followed by the abstract on this research
from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences website:


Expert Credibility in Climate Change – Responses to Comments
Filed under: Climate Science skeptics— group @ 3 August 2010
Guest commentary by William R. L. Anderegg, Jim Prall, Jacob Harold,
Stephen H. Schneider

Note: Before Stephen Schneider’s untimely passing, he and his
co-authors were working on a response to the conversation sparked by
their recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences on climate change expertise. One of Dr. Schneider’s final
interviews also addresses and discusses many of the issues covered

We accept and rely upon the judgment and opinions of experts in many
areas of our lives. We seek out lawyers with specific expertise
relevant to the situation; we trust the pronouncement of well-trained
airplane mechanics that the plane is fit to fly. Indeed, the more
technical the subject area, the more we rely on experts. Very few of
us have the technical ability or time to read all of the primary
literature on each cancer treatment’s biology, outcome probabilities,
side-effects, interactions with other treatments, and thus we follow
the advice of oncologists. We trust the aggregate knowledge of experts
– what do 97% of oncologists think about this cancer treatment – more
than that of any single expert. And we recognize the importance of
relevant expertise – the opinion of vocal cardiologists matters much
less in picking a cancer treatment than does that of oncologists.

Our paper Expert Credibility in Climate Change is predicated on this
idea. It presents a broad picture of the landscape of expertise in
climate science as a way to synthesize expert opinion for the broader
discourse. It is, of course, only a first contribution and, as such,
we hope motivates discussion and future research. We encourage
follow-up peer-reviewed research, as this is the mark of scientific
progress. Nonetheless, some researchers have offered thoughtful
critiques about our study and others have grossly mischaracterized the
work. Thus, here we provide responses to salient comments raised.

Definition of groups: The first of four broad comments about our study
examines the relevancy of our two studied groups – those Convinced of
the Evidence that much of the warming of the last half century is due
in large part to human emissions of greenhouse gases, as assessed by
the IPCC, which we term “CE,” and those who are Unconvinced of the
Evidence (“UE”). Some have claimed that such groups do not adequately
capture the complexity of expert opinion and therefore lose meaning.
To be sure, anthropogenic climate change (ACC) is an immensely
multi-faceted and complex area and expert opinion mirrors this
complexity. Nonetheless, society uses simplifications of complex
opinion landscapes all the time (e.g. Democrat versus Republican for
political views) that don’t “lose their meaning” by ignoring the
complexity of nuanced differences on specific topics within these
broad groups.

The central questions at hand are: are these groups (1) clearly
defined, (2) different in views of ACC, (3) reasonably discrete, and
(4) in the main mutually exclusive? Our definition of groups, based
entirely in the case of the UE group on their self-selected,
voluntarily signed statements and petitions expressing various
versions of skepticism about ACC, is clearly defined in the published
paper. The strongest evidence indicating that our CE and UE groups
satisfy the second and third criteria is that only three of 1,372
researchers fell into both groups—and in two of those cases, the
researcher unwittingly added themselves to a statement they did not in
fact support. Thus, if only one researcher of 1,372, or 0.07%,
legitimately falls into both of our groups, this suggests that the two
groups both differ starkly and are discrete. Any statistical analysis
would be only trivially altered by having three redundant members of
the cohort. Furthermore, the CE and UE groups are coherent, as around
35% of signers in each group also signed another statement in that

Another researcher suggests that his views have been “misclassified”
by our inclusion of older public statements, as he signed a 1992
statement. Using a sweeping set of public statements that cover a
broad time period to define the UE group allows us to compile an
extensive (e.g. make an effort to be as comprehensive as possible)
dataset and to categorize a researcher’s opinion objectively. However,
were we to reclassify this researcher, it would only strengthen our
results as then none of the top fifty researchers (rather than one
researcher, or 2%) would fall in the UE camp.

Others have contended that the only experts we should have analyzed
were those researchers involved specifically in detection and
attribution of human-caused climate change. Importantly, much of the
most convincing evidence for ACC comes from our understanding of the
underlying physics of the greenhouse effect, illuminated long before
the first detection/attribution studies, and these studies provide
only one statistical line of evidence. The study could have been done
in this manner but let us follow that logic to its conclusion.
Applying this stricter criterion to the CE list does cause it to
dwindle substantially…but applying it to the UE list causes it to
approach close to zero researchers. To our knowledge, there are
virtually no UE researchers by this logic who publish research on
detection and attribution. Following this logic one would have to
conclude that the UE group has functionally no credibility as experts
on ACC. We would, however, argue that even this premise is suspect, as
ecologists in IPCC have done detection and attribution studies using
plants and animals (e.g. Root et al. 2005). Finally, applying a
criterion such as this would require subjective judgments of a
researcher’s focus area. Our study quite purposefully avoids making
such subjective determinations and uses only objective lists of
researchers who are self-defined. They were not chosen by our
assessment as to which groups they may or may not belong in.

Some have taken issue with our inclusion of IPCC AR4 WGI authors in
with the CE group, in that the IPCC Reports are explicitly
policy-neutral while the four other CE policy statements/petitions are
policy prescriptive. However, we believe our definition of the CE
group is scientifically sound. Do IPCC AR4 WGI authors subscribe to
the basic tenets of ACC? We acknowledge that this is an assumption,
but we believe it is very reasonable one, given the strength of the
ultimate findings of the IPCC AR4 WGI report. We classify the AR4 WGI
authors as CE because they authored a report in which they show that
the evidence is convincing. Naturally, authors may not agree with
everything in the report, but those who disagreed with the most
fundamental conclusions of the report would likely have stepped down
and not signed their names. The presence of only one of 619 WGI
contributors on a UE statement or petition, compared to 117 that
signed a CE statement, provides further evidence to support this
assumption. Furthermore, repeating our analysis relying only on those
who signed at least one of the four CE letters/petitions and not on
IPCC authorship yields similar results to those published.

No grouping of scientists is perfect. We contend that ours is clear,
meaningful, defensible, and scientifically sound. More importantly, it
is based on the public behavior of the scientists involved, and not
our subjective assignments based on our reading of individuals’ works.
We believe it is far more objective for us to use choices by
scientists (over which we have no influence) for our data instead of
our subjective assessment of their opinions.

Scientists not counted: What about those scientists who have not been
involved with the IPCC or signed a public statement? What is their
opinion? Would this influence our finding that 97% of the leading
researchers we studied endorse the broad consensus regarding ACC
expressed in IPCC’s AR4? We openly acknowledge in the paper that this
is a “credibility” study and only captures those researchers who have
expressed their opinions explicitly by signing letters/petitions or by
signing their names as authors of the IPCC AR4 WGI report. Some
employers explicitly preclude their employees from signing public
statements of this sort, and some individuals may self-limit in the
same way on principle apart from employer rules. However, the
undeclared are not necessarily undecided. Two recent studies tackle
the same question with direct survey methods and arrive at the same
conclusion as reached in our study. First, Doran and Kendall-Zimmerman
(2009) surveyed 3,146 AGU members and found that 97% of actively
publishing climate researchers believe that “human activity is a
significant factor in changing mean global temperatures.” A recently
published study, Rosenberg et al (2010), finds similar levels of
support when surveying authors who have published during 1995-2004 in
peer-reviewed journals highlighting climate research. Yes, our study
cannot answer for – and does not claim to – those who have not
publically expressed their opinions or worked with the IPCC, but other
studies have and their results indicate that our findings that an
overwhelming percentage of publishing scientists agree with the
consensus are robust. Perfection is not possible in such analyses, but
we believe that the level of agreement across studies indicates a high
degree of robustness.

Publication bias: A frequent response to our paper’s analysis consists
of attributing the patterns we found to a systematic, potentially
conspiratorial suppression of peer-reviewed research from the UE
group. As of yet, this is a totally unsupported assertion backed by no
data, and appears untenable given the vast range of journals which
publish climate-related studies. Notably, our publication and citation
figures were taken from Google Scholar, which is one of the broadest
academic databases and includes in its indexing journals openly
receptive to papers taking a different view from the mainstream on
climate. Furthermore, recently published analysis (Anderegg 2010)
examines the PhD and research focus of a subsample of the UE group,
compared to data collected by Rosenberg et al. 2010 for a portion of
the climate science community publishing in peer-reviewed journals. If
the two groups had similar background credentials and expertise (PhD
topic and research focus – both non-publishing metrics), it might
indicate a suppression of the UE group’s research. They don’t. The
background credentials of the UE group differ starkly from that of the
“mainstream” community. Thirty percent of the UE group sample either
do not have a documented PhD or do not have a PhD in the natural
sciences, as compared to an estimated 5% of the sample from Rosenberg
et al; and nearly half of the remaining sample have a research focus
in geology (see the interview by Schneider as well).

“Blacklist”: The idea that our grouping of researchers comprises some
sort of “blacklist” is the most absurd and tragic misframing of our
study. Our response is two-fold:

Our study did not create any list. We simply compiled lists that were
publicly available and created by people who voluntarily
self-identified with the pronouncements on the statements/letters. We
did not single out researchers, add researchers, drop researchers; we
have only compiled individuals from a number of prominent and public
lists and petitions that they themselves signed, and then used
standard social science procedure to objectively test their relative
credibility in the field of climate science.

No names were used in our study nor listed in any attachments. We were
very aware of the pressure that would be on us to provide the raw data
used in our study. In fact, many journalists we spoke with beforehand
asked for the list of names and for specific names, which we did not
provide. We decided to compromise by posting only the links to the
source documents – the ‘raw data’ in effect (the broader website is
not the paper data), where interested parties can examine the
publically available statements and petitions themselves. It is ironic
that many of those now complaining about the list of names are
generally the same people that have claimed that scientists do not
release their data. Implying that our list is comparable to that
created by Mark Morano when he worked for Senator Inhofe is decidedly
unconvincing and irresponsible, given that he selected individuals
based on his subjective reading and misreading of their work. See here
for a full discussion of this problematic claim or read Schneider’s
interview above.

In sum, the various comments and mischaracterizations discussed above
do not in any way undermine the robust findings of our study.
Furthermore, the vast majority of comments pertain to how the study
could have been done differently. To the authors of such comments, we
offer two words – do so! That’s the hallmark of science. We look
forward to your scientific contributions – if and when they are
peer-reviewed and published – and will be open to any such studies. In
our study we were subjected to two rounds of reviews by three social
scientists and in addition comments from the PNAS Board, causing us to
prepare three drafts in response to those valuable peer comments that
greatly improved the paper. We hope that this response further
advances the conversation.

Anderegg, W.R.L. (2010) Moving Beyond Scientific Agreement. Climatic
Change, 101 (3) 331-337.
Doran PT, Zimmerman MK (2009) Examining the Scientific Consensus on
Climate Change. Eos Trans. AGU 90.
Root, T.L. et al. (2005) Human-modified temperatures induce species
changes: Joint attribution. PNAS May 24, 2005 vol. 102 no. 21
Rosenberg, S. et al (2010) Climate Change: A Profile of U.S. Climate
Scientists’ Perspectives. Climatic Change, 101 (3) 311-329.

Expert credibility in climate change
William R. L. Anderegga,1, James W. Prallb, Jacob Haroldc, and Stephen
H. Schneidera,d,1
+ Author Affiliations

aDepartment of Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305;
bElectrical and Computer Engineering, University of Toronto, Toronto,
ON, Canada M5S 3G4;
cWilliam and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Palo Alto, CA 94025; and
dWoods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305
Contributed by Stephen H. Schneider, April 9, 2010 (sent for review
December 22, 2009)


Although preliminary estimates from published literature and expert
surveys suggest striking agreement among climate scientists on the
tenets of anthropogenic climate change (ACC), the American public
expresses substantial doubt about both the anthropogenic cause and the
level of scientific agreement underpinning ACC. A broad analysis of
the climate scientist community itself, the distribution of
credibility of dissenting researchers relative to agreeing
researchers, and the level of agreement among top climate experts has
not been conducted and would inform future ACC discussions. Here, we
use an extensive dataset of 1,372 climate researchers and their
publication and citation data to show that (i) 97–98% of the climate
researchers most actively publishing in the field surveyed here
support the tenets of ACC outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change, and (ii) the relative climate expertise and scientific
prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially
below that of the convinced researchers.
Vision2020 Post: Ted Moffett

On 12/12/10, Dave <tiedye at turbonet.com> wrote:
> I would like to deny the law of gravity, but something keeps weighing me
> down.
> But seriously, 95% of climate scientists say we have a serious problem.
> 5% say we don't, but they are mostly employed by the oil companies!
> I mean come on WTF?
> "Because we don't think about future generations, they will never forget
> us."
> --Henrik Tikkanen (1924-1984)
> Dave
> On 12/12/2010 04:25 PM, Paul Rumelhart wrote:
>> The whole underlying assumption that global warming or whatever they are
>> calling it these days is some sort of universal truth and that anyone
>> who disagrees must be denying that truth is indicative of just how
>> politicized this topic has become.
>> There are a set of hypotheses having to do with changes in climate, CO2,
>> and future consequences that have been proposed.  The onus is on them to
>> convince us that they are correct.  By not being convinced, I'm not
>> denying some universal truth, I'm just not convinced.  I have real
>> problems with how they have modeled feedbacks, for example.  It's up to
>> them to convince me that they have indeed handled them correctly,
>> preferably by showing how well their models have fit observations.
>> The fact that the authors put the phrase "denial of global warming" in
>> the title of their paper makes me shake my head at how the science has
>> been flushed down the toilet.  Analyzing why people don't believe your
>> hypothesis is not the way to convince other scientists that it is
>> correct.  Neither is gaming the peer review system or making it
>> career-damaging to support other hypotheses, but that's an argument for
>> another day.
>> Paul
>> Ted Moffett wrote:
>>> http://psp.sagepub.com/content/36/3/326.abstract
>>> System Justification, the Denial of Global Warming, and the
>>> Possibility of “System-Sanctioned Change”
>>> Irina Feygina
>>> New York University, New York, NY, irina.feygina at nyu.edu
>>> John T. Jost
>>> New York University, New York, NY
>>> Rachel E. Goldsmith
>>> Reed College, Portland, Oregon
>>> Abstract
>>> Despite extensive evidence of climate change and environmental
>>> destruction, polls continue to reveal widespread denial and resistance
>>> to helping the environment. It is posited here that these responses
>>> are linked to the motivational tendency to defend and justify the
>>> societal status quo in the face of the threat posed by environmental
>>> problems. The present research finds that system justification
>>> tendencies are associated with greater denial of environmental
>>> realities and less commitment to pro-environmental action. Moreover,
>>> the effects of political conservatism, national identification, and
>>> gender on denial of environmental problems are explained by
>>> variability in system justification tendencies. However, this research
>>> finds that it is possible to eliminate the negative effect of system
>>> justification on environmentalism by encouraging people to regard
>>> pro-environmental change as patriotic and consistent with protecting
>>> the status quo (i.e., as a case of “system-sanctioned change”).
>>> Theoretical and practical implications of these findings are
>>> discussed.
>>> ------------------------------------------
>>> Vision2020 Post: Ted Moffett
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