perceived scientific agreement is an important gateway belief, ultimately influencing public responses to climate change.
Dan Kahan, however, has apparently found a serious problem with this paper and has pronounced that
There are indications that Dan Kahan may well have found a genuine issue with this paper. However, he appears to have been rather critical of this work, and of the authors, for quite some time. In the latter of his posts, though, it took me a while to – I think – convince Dan that he was misrepresenting what they had asked in their survey. It’s maybe good that he might now have found a genuine issue; if you look hard enough…..
As far as I can tell Dan Kahan particularly dislikes consensus messaging. The reason seems to be that it is polarizing and toxic and aims to make certain groups seem stupid. Consequently he seems to regard it as ineffective and, quite possibly, doing more harm than good. On the other hand, if trying to make others seem stupid is an ineffective way to convince them of your position, then – based on my brief interactions with Dan – he clearly has no interest in convincing me of his position.
I don’t really know if consensus messaging is effective, or not, but there are others – such as Lawrence Hamilton – who seem to indicate that it might be effective in certain circumstances. I also might take Dan Kahan’s criticism of consensus messaging more seriously, if didn’t appear as though he was desperately keen to find problems with studies that do indicate an effectiveness, and wasn’t so openly insulting of those who undertake this work. I’d also take it more seriously if those who latched onto his claims weren’t also those who seem to most dispute the consensus position with respect to AGW.
The latter point is one reason I’m not convinced that consensus messaging is so ineffective. If it is so ineffective, why do those who seem to most dispute the consensus position seem so gleeful whenever anyone criticises consensus messaging. Surely if it is ineffective, those who don’t want the public to accept the consensus would want it to continue being used? Okay, that’s maybe not a very good argument, but it does seem strange.
My own position is really quite simple, as might be expected of a physicist who doesn’t claim to understand what might, or might not, work.
- If one considers relevant experts, or the relevant literature, there is clearly a strong consensus with respect to anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Essentially, that there is a consensus is true.
- If one is going to undertake some kind of messaging, it should be based on something that is true.
- Arguing against a messaging strategy that is based on something true, seems – to me – a little odd. Maybe those who do so should be doing so in a constructive manner and be presenting a viable alternative that is also based on a truth?
- If a messaging strategy based on a truth is indeed polarising and toxic, maybe this is – in itself – interesting; why does promoting a truth end up being divisive?
- How do we get people to accept the reality of AGW if we shouldn’t highlight the level of agreement amongst relevant experts and within the literature?
- If we do downplay, or ignore, the existence of a consensus, won’t that allow minority views, that are not regarded as credible, to be given more credence than is warranted?
To be clear, I don’t know if consensus messaging is effective, or not, but people I respect argue that there is evidence for its effectiveness. Also, I’m certainly not suggesting that consensus messaging should be the be all, and end all, of how we communicate this topic; my own preference would be to try and explain the science more thoroughly, but that’s apparently failed too. My basic issue is with the idea that we should avoid a strategy that is based on something that is true.