Posted by: Tony Carson | 23 November, 2009

Why are the climate change deniers winning?

Here’s a good explanation of why the climate deniers are winning.

The Importance and fragility of Trust.

The lay public, when presented with confusing data and competing arguments about climate change deploy the heuristic (a fancy word for a mentalof short cut) of believing the people they most trust. Trust in the communicator is therefore a crucial precondition for belief in climate change.

Unfortunately the three main climate change communicators: politicians, journalists and environmental campaigners, are among the least trusted people in society- fighting it out for bottom place in the ranking with lawyers and car salesmen. No one would pay any attention to them at all if they were not drawing on the aquifer of public trust in scientists.

Climate scientists have always misunderstood the dynamic of public belief and trust. They assume that belief will be built on their data and that public trust is merited by their authority. With the exception of a few outstanding communicators, they often make no attempt to speak to deeper values or make an emotional connection with the public – indeed they see that as contrary to their professional independence.

However, whilst it is true that there is an underlying respect for scientific expertise, there are many other more emotional and contextual components to real trust. We tend to trust people we know, who seem to be like us, who speak to our values and life experience, who appear to have integrity or- that most intangible quality- people whom we seem to like.

The Deniers have always understood this. They use language that is designed to appeal to deeper values (such as freedom, independence, progress). The narrative they tell of being determined (and even persecuted) free thinkers standing against the tide of oppressive and self-interested conformity is designed to create an aura of integrity and trustworthiness.

Scientists often seek public anonymity. The only person portrayed the front page of the IPCC’s website is the long dead Alfred Nobel on the side of a gold medal. Deniers by comparison realise that trust (and distrust) is all about personalities. They promote themselves (and their personal backstories) constantly. They are not a pleasant bunch, but they get lots of practice in creating a good impression and some (such as Lomborg and Stott) can be charming in person.

For more on the Swiftboating the climate scientists.

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