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Climate change scientists: why and when we believe them

07 November, 2012

Whatever their political persuasion, people are more likely to believe that global warming is caused by humans if they find out that most climate change scientists believe this is the case.

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, of The University of Western Australia's School of Psychology, was the team leader of a study to determine whether people's belief in anthropogenic global warming (AGW), was different if they thought there was consensus on the issue among climate change scientists.
For the study, "The Pivotal Role of Perceived Scientific Consensus in Acceptance of Science", published in Nature Climate Change earlier this month, the researchers recruited members of the public to find out if the way they thought about scientific issues was consistent with their personal ideology or worldview.
Half the participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups: a control group in which no consensus information was provided; and a second group in which participants were told that 97 per cent of climate change scientists agreed that AGW was happening.

When asked afterwards to express their opinions about AGW, and to attribute recent trends in temperature or sea level to human CO2 emissions, people who had received the consensus information were more likely to accept the scientific evidence than the control group.
"Clearly, the presentation of the consensus amongst climate scientists has a powerful effect on people's beliefs," Professor Lewandowsky said.
Participants were also asked to respond to a series of statements to assess their worldview, for example their opinion of the free market, and the researchers found (as in previous studies) that those who endorsed a fundamentalist view of the free market leaned towards a rejection of AGW.  However, in this investigation, the researchers found that highlighting the consensus amongst climate scientists could be a powerful interacting factor.
"For me, the most interesting aspect of the study was that the strong correlation between belief in free-market ideology and lack of belief in AGW was attenuated for people who were told that 97 per cent of climate scientists agree that the global atmosphere is warning, and it is very likely to due to the burning of fossil fuels," Professor Lewandowsky said.
"This is important, because it highlights the potentially crucial role that underscoring the scientific consensus can play on beliefs in members of the general public, irrespective of their political persuasion."

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Bert Stahr | Thursday, November 15, 2012, 9:48 AM
"Tell a lie long enough and loud enough and enough people will believe it" is as true today as it was when Goebbels said it.
Trev | Thursday, November 15, 2012, 11:45 AM
This is a very interesting finding. If you get rid of those disagreeing with the scientific concensus, then it is much easier to sell your message and have people believe you without having to supply objective proof !! Rather Machiavellian isn't it !! Shows people wont bother looking at evidence to convince themselves if all the 'experts' agree with each other. This could easily apply to other matters in life e.g. religion. This is a good article and should act as a wake-up call for everyone not to go along with the herd and always question things, especially when there is concensus.
Graeme "Frustrated Taxpayer" | Thursday, November 15, 2012, 9:20 PM
I agree gentelmen, Gillard and Combet have been getting away with this crap for the last 6 years and their team of "Climate Scientists"( I use that term very loosely)have played the Australian public for fools. After exhaustive readings on this subject over the past 10 years, my opinion hasn't changed but, unfortunately none of us will be around to get the facts about this subject, because Planet Earth will continue to do what it has done for millions of years... our climate and weather will be influenced by the sun and if mankind thinks they have a bigger influence than the sun's energy on our climate, then these "climate alarmist sheep" are bigger dopes than I thought they were.
Colin Spencer | Friday, November 30, 2012, 3:58 PM
Knowing that 90% of the world's population is in the northern hemisphere makes the issue a non-event to Australians. Environmental drama queens insist on trotting out the statistic of Australians having one of the highest per capita emissions. A senseless fact when you realise that only 22 million people live here. Similar reality in most countries in the southern hemisphere. Why do the climate change people become hysterical when Australians reject their nonsense? If the population explosion in the northern hemisphere was recognised as a threat to our environment, the matter would be worthy of consideration to Australians.
Graeme "Frustrated Taxpayer" | Friday, November 30, 2012, 5:03 PM
I agree Colin, over population and consumption are far greater threats to planet earth than climate change, as sustainability and adaptation become increasingly more difficult... food, water, resources etc. The degregation of rain forests for palm oil, over-fishing of the oceans, oil/gas exploration to name a few, are critical issues that are rarely debated by governments around the world. The Gillard Government would rather impose constraints on taxpayers and businesses, through an unjustifiable carbon dioxide tax, while the largest economies continue to grow out of control, with little or no thought to their future.