Although nearly all domain experts agree that carbon dioxide emissions are altering the world’s climate, segments of the public remain unconvinced by the scientific evidence. Internet blogs have become a platform for denial of climate change, and bloggers have taken a prominent role in questioning climate science. We report a survey of climate-blog visitors to identify the variables underlying acceptance and rejection of climate science. Our findings parallel those of previous work and show that endorsement of free-market economics predicted rejection of climate science. Endorsement of free markets also predicted the rejection of other established scientific findings, such as the facts that HIV causes AIDS and that smoking causes lung cancer. We additionally show that, above and beyond endorsement of free markets, endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories (e.g., that the Federal Bureau of Investigation killed Martin Luther King, Jr.) predicted rejection of climate science as well as other scientific findings. Our results provide empirical support for previous suggestions that conspiratorial thinking contributes to the rejection of science. Acceptance of science, by contrast, was strongly associated with the perception of a consensus among scientists.
Love the title. What the paper suggests is that providing scientific facts to people may not change their minds if those facts make them uncomfortable. They just create a conspiracy to deal with that discomfort.
A pre-publication form of the paper is available. Previous studies have shown that people’s personal world view correlated with their rejection of climate change and that this was strongly associated with strong free-market capitalism.
This survey of 1100 people gave a similar result. The people who strongly agreed with this statement describing capitalism
“An economic system based on free markets .802 unrestrained by government interference automatically works best to meet human needs.”
also generally agreed with this one
“The claim that the climate is changing due to emissions from fossil fuels is a hoax perpetrated by corrupt scientists who wish to spend more taxpayer money on climate research,”
The correlation was quite strong with something like 80% of those picking the first one also picked the the second.
But the study also put in a lot of other conspiracy theories, including aliens at Roswell, Princess Di’s death was an assassination ordered by the British royal family, the US allowed the 9/11 attacks to happen, the moon landings were faked, the New World Order is planning to take over the planet. They also asked about specific science statements about HIV/AIDS and lung cancer.
What they found was that there was not only a strong correlation between those who were free market capitalists and rejection of climate change, They also saw correlations with rejecting other science facts. Not only did they reject climate change but they also rejected HIV as the cause of AIDS and smoking as the cause of lung cancer.
The researchers also found that those who accepted one conspiracy theory – that scientists are perpetrating a hoax– were much more likely to accept other conspiracy theories. .
This is the first report of a correlation between conspiracy ideas and a rejection of science. The report suggests that people do not just ascribe to conspiracy theories because they are a convenient explanation for facts that they do not want to believe.
It suggests that conspiracy theories are actually a basic approach to dealing with the world and that people who accept one conspiracy theory are much likelier to accept more, all the time rejecting facts science presents, even if these facts have no relevance to any of their theories.
That is, creating conspiracy theories is a way of thinking, not just a way to deal with inconvenient facts. And that way of thinking also includes rejecting scientific facts.
Now this is an initial study and there will need to be some further investigation. But it demonstrates that single conspiracy theories do not appear to operate in isolation but become part of a multitude of conspiracy theories that weave together to create a world view.
And that world view tends to reject science. As new but uncomfortable scientific facts arise, these people simply create a new conspiracy, rather than dealing with the discomfort.
Hiding from facts actually requires the creation of conspiracies for which there are no facts. Interesting. But it begins to make sense.
So they are willing to believe in facts that do not exist in order to not believe in facts that do exist.
Denying inconvenient facts by creating conspiracy theories seems to make it easier to deny other inconvenient facts by constructing other conspiracy theories.
Hiding from reality in a Cargo Cult World requires continuing construction of new conspiracies. Rejecting facts requires new conspiracies to be created even if there is no evidence for those new conspiracies at all.
I guess we will have to see how well this holds up. It suggests that presenting people facts will do little to change their views. If they have decided that climate change is a hoax, then scientific facts will do little good.
Maybe the best thing is to come up with counter conspiracy theories.