Monday, January 17, 2011

Why you can't convince global warming deniers

I came across a long comment thread on Amazon.com that was a running battle between anthropogenic climate change (AGW) acceptors and deniers. It was pretty much the same as all similar threads everywhere., You can read it here.  And you can read the response I posted to that thread here:

There are two fundamental types of misunderstanding in this thread:

1. Science deniers (and make no mistake--AGW deniers are all science deniers) honestly don't understand why their individual observations and opinions don't trump the consensus of the world's scientists, as documented by TruthSeeker in his Dec. 31, 2010 8:55 AM PST post.l

2. Science accepters don't understand why their lengthy, detailed, scientific postings fail to convince the science deniers.

I can explain both.

1. Science deniers don't get it because our species' minds evolved with a number of irrational "skews" built in as heuristics--one of which is irrational self-trust. This is the primitive trait these science deniers are exhibiting. And which, for example, President Bush II exhibited by his own admission that he "went with his gut" in the face of knowledgeable information to the contrary, time after time. A related heuristic is a skewed perception of statistical probability--we think it favors us more than it does. Hence Las Vegas.

These skews helped our species for our first 100,000 years on this planet because it enabled the tribe's warriors to go into battle with each warrior believing that he'd survive, even when the odds were stacked against him.

Plus our instincts evolved in a radically different environment--one in which one person could pretty much learn everything there was to know (in the understanding of people then). And if anyone got too cocky, living in close quarters with a few dozen other people your whole life kept anyone from getting too far out there on a mental limb. That is, people got constant feedback from reality and fellow tribesmen, keeping divergent ideas in check. But now people can isolate themselves from countervailing information, dwelling in an Intrernet community that reinforces their skewed ideas, with no reality check such as what our hunting and gathering forbears had (i.e. wrong theories about reality produced starvation/death; now they do much less often). People read only right wing books or only left wing books if they read political books, by and large. They only listen to like-minded media.

And they venture forth into open forums like this, not for feedback, but Only to attack. For them this is exactly like a raid on an enemy tribe. They don't come here to information or even to argue. They come to count coup.

Remember, 20,000 years ago when our minds more or less stopped evolving, one of these science deniers, despite his intellectual limitations, could be a valuable member of the tribe, since he really could know what was needed to be known--food-finding tactics, how to fight in a raid, courtship practices, whatever form of magical beliefs the tribe had, etc.

Now these people are lost, like paper boats in a maelstrom. Even those of us with high IQs can only know a tiny portion of what the human race knows. We expect people with IQs of 100 to vote about complex governmental and scientific issues when their understand of such stuff is at a 6th grade level.

Even the liberal arts BA in this bunch, often with IQs in the 120s or even higher, know more or less nothing about scientific method and are close to innumerate. They dozed through their undergrad science survey classes, which generally asked little more of them than to memorize some facts long enough to take a test and pass it--after which they flush their caches. Yet their BAs give them the delusion that they're competent to talk about science when they so often simply aren't.

I'm not saying you need to be a scientist to talk about science. I'm a sociology BA myself with only precalculus under my belt. But I understand scientific method and have subscribed to Scientific American for decades in order to keep up. In my experience very few liberal arts BAs do even this, while retaining their ancient self-confidence about their ability to understand their environment.

And running under all these discussions is testosterone poisoning. From the science deniers' viewpoint, accepting scientific refutation of their cartoonish beliefs would be the equivalent of being gelded. You're wielding scissors, trying to emasculate them, from their perspective. Is it any wonder they react so primitively?

The human race hasn't evolved far enough to cope with the amount of information and information processing skills needed to make educated judgments about public policy, and the average person cannot and never will accept his inadequacy. It goes against his instincts (no longer adaptive for this environment), it goes against his hormonal drives, and it goes against his human pride.

And our cold, relentless logic and barely concealed scorn for them doesn't make it any easier for them to accept the truth. They never learned that science is far from polite. The scientific community tears the weaker ideas to bloody shreds, along with any who cling to them.

Consider how often you hear the plea to keep "an open mind" about their crackpot theories--they have no idea what the war of ideas is like in the scientific community.

2. Science accepters generally don't know enough about anthropology to realize what I just said. They come to these forums to reason, so they reason that the others came for that reason as well. But it's irrational to treat everyone as if they're rational. If you want to read more about this, try "Inevitable Illusions: How mistakes of reason rule our minds" by MIT cognitive psychologist Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini.

I've visited innumerable forums like this, and time after time after time after time ad nauseum, scientifically trained people will every battle and lose every war, because they fail to understand that the science deniers aren't actually making arguments. They're parroting stuff fed them by intellectual traitors paid by the sorts of knuckle-dragging billionaires who fund the Discovery Institute and its ilk.

So not only do they not understand what they're saying, they don't understand your answers. Nothing is processed in the cerebral cortex--all the processing goes on in the amygdala, in which everything you say is dismissed as enemy tricks, everything they say is enshrined as Holy Writ, and then their brain gets a flush of endorphins as a reward for rationalizing away everything you just said to them.

That's why your explanations don't work on them. And because they're so profoundly threatened by them, these primitives are often willing to go down in flames rather than surrender--to die, or to doom their loved ones to death by their denial and their wrong-headedness.

Maybe our Founding Fathers were right--that you needed to be a person of some substance in order to vote. People should have to pass a basic exam at least, roughly comparable to a high school-leve understanding of civics and science.

Fat chance.

2 comments:

n1ck said...

I'd say it's even less complicated than that.

People who "deny" global warming do so because their political leaders have told them to.

My stance on global warming (climate change):

The earth is absolutely becoming warmer. 2010 is the warmest year on record. To deny that the average temperature of the earth is increasing makes you an idiot to be ignored.

But...

I still think there is a disconnect between the actual causes of global warming, and that is why so many people are willing to "deny" science.

Here are three examples of Human impact on global warming.

1. Humans are causing global warming 100%

2. Humans are contributing to global warming, but there are other factors.

3. Humans are not contributing to it at all, or only nominally.

My opinion is that humans are likely contributing to global warming. I'm not sure I believe scientists have enough data to say for sure that humans are 100% causing it, simply because

a. while their data is extensive, to claim they have ALL the data, or even a majority of data that involves global temperature change, is ridiculous

b. the earth has been much warmer in the past, and while this isn't "proof", it does show that ultimately the earth isn't naturally warmer or cooler than it is now.

And of course, ultimately, it doesn't matter whether humans are causing 100%, 77%, or 22%. Any change could have drastic, negative impacts on life on the planet. So, yes, it should be addressed.

But that is where the disconnect is. Scientists don't necessarily explain to laymen in a clear, concise manner, and it becomes easy to mock.

Scientists have an agenda, because they're claiming that humans are terrible and ruining the earth, and want to tax businesses and individuals. Scientists are perpetuating a hoax so that they can keep their jobs and collect government grants. Scientists claim the end of the world, even though with warmer temperatures, more land will become arable.

While I'm not delusional, I can understand how people can buy into the "its a hoax" argument, simply because they aren't adapted to looking at something bigger than they are.

If global warming isn't going to cause drastic effects for another 50+ years, most people lack the mental comprehension of 50 years. Look how many people knowingly eat poorly, smoke, and let themselves fall apart.

In both situations, why change something, when it feels alright now?

n1ck said...

I agree.

One more reason, that I believe you touched on, but that I feel is important.

Most people are so used to looking at whether something is the same or different in small periods of time, that saying something will change in 100 years, and will only change by increments is akin to saying it isn't changing at all, or substantially.

Not to mention, anymore, if you are on the "right" of the political spectrum, (or left, for that matter), you kinda need to adopt the doctrine and talking points so you can be on the same page as everyone else in your clique....which you covered.