Changes in perceived scientific consensus shift beliefs about climate change and GM food safety.
ABSTRACT: Despite an overwhelming scientific consensus, a sizable minority of people doubt that human activity is causing climate change. Communicating the existence of a scientific consensus has been suggested as a way to correct individuals' misperceptions about human-caused climate change and other scientific issues, though empirical support is mixed. We report an experiment in which psychology students were presented with consensus information about two issues, and subsequently reported their perception of the level of consensus and extent of their endorsement of those issues. We find that messages about scientific consensus on the reality of anthropogenic climate change and the safety of genetically modified food shift perceptions of scientific consensus. Using mediation models we also show that, for both these issues, high consensus messages also increase reported personal agreement with the scientific consensus, mediated by changes in perceptions of a scientific consensus. This confirms the role of perceived consensus in informing personal beliefs about climate change, though results indicate the impact of single, one-off messages may be limited.
Project description:There is currently widespread public misunderstanding about the degree of scientific consensus on human-caused climate change, both in the US as well as internationally. Moreover, previous research has identified important associations between public perceptions of the scientific consensus, belief in climate change and support for climate policy. This paper extends this line of research by advancing and providing experimental evidence for a "gateway belief model" (GBM). Using national data (N = 1104) from a consensus-message experiment, we find that increasing public perceptions of the scientific consensus is significantly and causally associated with an increase in the belief that climate change is happening, human-caused and a worrisome threat. In turn, changes in these key beliefs are predictive of increased support for public action. In short, we find that perceived scientific agreement is an important gateway belief, ultimately influencing public responses to climate change.
Project description:Human-caused climate change is happening; nearly all climate scientists are convinced of this basic fact according to surveys of experts and reviews of the peer-reviewed literature. Yet, among the American public, there is widespread misunderstanding of this scientific consensus. In this paper, we report results from two experiments, conducted with national samples of American adults, that tested messages designed to convey the high level of agreement in the climate science community about human-caused climate change. The first experiment tested hypotheses about providing numeric versus non-numeric assertions concerning the level of scientific agreement. We found that numeric statements resulted in higher estimates of the scientific agreement. The second experiment tested the effect of eliciting respondents' estimates of scientific agreement prior to presenting them with a statement about the level of scientific agreement. Participants who estimated the level of agreement prior to being shown the corrective statement gave higher estimates of the scientific consensus than respondents who were not asked to estimate in advance, indicating that incorporating an "estimation and reveal" technique into public communication about scientific consensus may be effective. The interaction of messages with political ideology was also tested, and demonstrated that messages were approximately equally effective among liberals and conservatives. Implications for theory and practice are discussed.
Project description:Misinformation can undermine a well-functioning democracy. For example, public misconceptions about climate change can lead to lowered acceptance of the reality of climate change and lowered support for mitigation policies. This study experimentally explored the impact of misinformation about climate change and tested several pre-emptive interventions designed to reduce the influence of misinformation. We found that false-balance media coverage (giving contrarian views equal voice with climate scientists) lowered perceived consensus overall, although the effect was greater among free-market supporters. Likewise, misinformation that confuses people about the level of scientific agreement regarding anthropogenic global warming (AGW) had a polarizing effect, with free-market supporters reducing their acceptance of AGW and those with low free-market support increasing their acceptance of AGW. However, we found that inoculating messages that (1) explain the flawed argumentation technique used in the misinformation or that (2) highlight the scientific consensus on climate change were effective in neutralizing those adverse effects of misinformation. We recommend that climate communication messages should take into account ways in which scientific content can be distorted, and include pre-emptive inoculation messages.
Project description:Distinct perceptions of the global climate is one of the factors preventing society from achieving consensus or taking collaborative actions on this issue. The public has not even reached an agreement on the naming of the global concern, showing preference for either "climate change" or "global warming", and few previous studies have addressed these two competing discourses resulting from distinct climate concerns by differently linking numerous climate concepts. Based on the 6,662,478 tweets containing #climatechange or #globalwarming generated between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2018, we constructed the semantic networks of the two discourses and examined their evolution over the decade. The findings indicate that climate change demonstrated a more scientific perspective and showed an attempt to condense climate discussions rather than diffuse the topic by frequently addressing sub-topics simultaneously. Global warming triggered more political responses and showed a greater connection with phenomena. Temporal analysis suggests that traditional political discussions were gradually fading in both discourses but more recently started to revive in the form of discourse alliance in the climate change discourse. The associations between global warming and weather abnormalitiessuddenly strengthened around 2012. Climate change is becoming more dominant than global warming in public discussions. Although two discourses have shown more similarities in the rank order of important climate concepts, apparent disagreements continue about how these concepts are associated. These findings lay the groundwork for researchers and communicators to narrow the discrepancy between diverse climate perceptions.
Project description:Whose voices are most likely to receive news coverage in the US debate about climate change? Elite cues embedded in mainstream media can influence public opinion on climate change, so it is important to understand whose perspectives are most likely to be represented. Here, I use plagiarism-detection software to analyze the media coverage of a large random sample of business, government, and social advocacy organizations' press releases about climate change (<i>n</i> = 1,768), examining which messages are cited in all articles published about climate change in <i>The New York Times</i>, <i>The Wall Street Journal</i>, and <i>USA Today</i> from 1985 to 2014 (<i>n</i> = 34,948). I find that press releases opposing action to address climate change are about twice as likely to be cited in national newspapers as are press releases advocating for climate action. In addition, messages from business coalitions and very large businesses are more likely than those from other types of organizations to receive coverage. Surprisingly, press releases from organizations providing scientific and technical services are less likely to receive news coverage than are other press releases in my sample, suggesting that messages from organizations with greater scientific expertise receive less media attention. These findings support previous scholars' claims that journalistic norms of balance and objectivity have distorted the public debate around climate change, while providing evidence that the structural power of business interests lends them heightened visibility in policy debates.
Project description:Do forest owners' levels of education or value profiles explain their responses to climate change? The cultural cognition thesis (CCT) has cast serious doubt on the familiar and often criticized "knowledge deficit" model, which says that laypeople are less concerned about climate change because they lack scientific knowledge. Advocates of CCT maintain that citizens with the highest degrees of scientific literacy and numeracy are not the most concerned about climate change. Rather, this is the group in which cultural polarization is greatest, and thus individuals with more limited scientific literacy and numeracy are more concerned about climate change under certain circumstances than those with higher scientific literacy and numeracy. The CCT predicts that cultural and other values will trump the positive effects of education on some forest owners' attitudes to climate change. Here, using survey data collected in 2010 from 766 private forest owners in Sweden and Germany, we provide the first evidence that perceptions of climate change risk are uncorrelated with, or sometimes positively correlated with, education level and can be explained without reference to cultural or other values. We conclude that the recent claim that advanced scientific literacy and numeracy polarizes perceptions of climate change risk is unsupported by the forest owner data. In neither of the two countries was university education found to reduce the perception of risk from climate change. Indeed in most cases university education increased the perception of risk. Even more importantly, the effect of university education was not dependent on the individuals' value profile.
Project description:Indigenous societies hold a great deal of ethnoclimatological knowledge that could potentially be of key importance for both climate change science and local adaptation; yet, we lack studies examining how such knowledge might be shaped by media communication. This study systematically investigates the interplay between local observations of climate change and the reception of media information amongst the Tsimane', an indigenous society of Bolivian Amazonia where the scientific discourse of anthropogenic climate change has barely reached. Specifically, we conducted a Randomized Evaluation with a sample of 424 household heads in 12 villages to test to what degree local accounts of climate change are influenced by externally influenced awareness. We randomly assigned villages to a treatment and control group, conducted workshops on climate change with villages in the treatment group, and evaluated the effects of information dissemination on individual climate change perceptions. Results of this work suggest that providing climate change information through participatory workshops does not noticeably influence individual perceptions of climate change. Such findings stress the challenges involved in translating between local and scientific framings of climate change, and gives cause for concern about how to integrate indigenous peoples and local knowledge with global climate change policy debates.
Project description:A simple question about climate change, with one choice designed to match consensus statements by scientists, was asked on 35 US nationwide, single-state or regional surveys from 2010 to 2015. Analysis of these data (over 28,000 interviews) yields robust and exceptionally well replicated findings on public beliefs about anthropogenic climate change, including regional variations, change over time, demographic bases, and the interacting effects of respondent education and political views. We find that more than half of the US public accepts the scientific consensus that climate change is happening now, caused mainly by human activities. A sizable, politically opposite minority (about 30 to 40%) concede the fact of climate change, but believe it has mainly natural causes. Few (about 10 to 15%) say they believe climate is not changing, or express no opinion. The overall proportions appear relatively stable nationwide, but exhibit place-to-place variations. Detailed analysis of 21 consecutive surveys within one fairly representative state (New Hampshire) finds a mild but statistically significant rise in agreement with the scientific consensus over 2010-2015. Effects from daily temperature are detectable but minor. Hurricane Sandy, which brushed New Hampshire but caused no disaster there, shows no lasting impact on that state's time series-suggesting that non-immediate weather disasters have limited effects. In all datasets political orientation dominates among individual-level predictors of climate beliefs, moderating the otherwise positive effects from education. Acceptance of anthropogenic climate change rises with education among Democrats and Independents, but not so among Republicans. The continuing series of surveys provides a baseline for tracking how future scientific, political, socioeconomic or climate developments impact public acceptance of the scientific consensus.
Project description:Despite an overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change poses severe risks to human and natural systems, many young Canadian adults do not view it as a major issue. We analyzed secondary science curricula in each province for their coverage of climate change according to six core topics: physical climate mechanisms ("It's climate"), observed increase in temperature ("It's warming"), anthropogenic causes of warming ("It's us"), scientific consensus ("Experts agree"), negative consequences associated with warming ("It's bad"), and the possibility for avoiding the worst effects ("We can fix it"). We found that learning objectives tend to focus on knowledge of the first three elements, with little or no emphasis on scientific consensus, climate change impacts, or ways to address the issue. The provinces of Saskatchewan and Ontario provide the most comprehensive standards for climate change education, while Nova Scotia and New Brunswick provide the least. We conducted interviews with individuals responsible for curriculum design in six different provinces to understand how curriculum documents are developed and whether political controversies influence the writing process. Interviewees described a process relying on input from professionals, institutions, and members of the public where curriculum developers made decisions independent of political concerns. In some cases, efforts to provide balance may have led to a focus on social controversy, contrary to overwhelming scientific consensus. Curriculum documents are the basis for teacher instruction and textbook content; aligning these documents with the best possible evidence can improve student learning and engage the next generation of Canadians on the critical issue of climate change.
Project description:Over the past decade, pastoralists in Kunene Region, Namibia, have endured recurrent drought and flood events that have culminated in the loss of their primary form of livelihood-pastoralism. Most pastoralists are finding it difficult to sustain their livelihoods, and their communities have fallen into extreme poverty. Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) approaches are increasingly acknowledged as having the potential to enhance the adaptive capacity of vulnerable communities. The first step is to develop an understanding of how affected communities live, their perceptions of and how they respond to climate change and the biophysical impacts of climate change in their communities. This study aims to collect this information in order to explore the use of EbA to help pastoralists adapt to climate change. We examined an isolated pastoral Himba community, to understand their perceptions, experiences and understanding of climate change and its related impacts on their livelihoods. A nested mixed-methods approach using structured interviews was employed to address the study objectives. Interview results revealed that pastoralists lack scientific knowledge of climate change, and they have no access to climate change information. Though pastoralists have coping and adaptation approaches at the community level (such as making gardens, fishing, etc.), these have become ineffective as climatic uncertainty and change persist. Furthermore, pastoralists no longer get benefits from the environment, such as food and fodder. Despite this, there are currently no biodiversity interventions at the community level to address the impacts of climate change. Pastoralists have indicated their adaptation needs, particularly the provision of water supply to grow food. This is an open avenue to explore EbA approaches, specifically ecological restoration, while still addressing the need of the pastoralists. There is an urgent need to develop new practical adaptation strategies, including restoration options that will strengthen their adaptive capacity.