Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Psychologists have known for years that people respond to scientific or technical evidence in ways that justify their pre-existing beliefs. Studies show the rejection of evidence contradicting strong beliefs happens in milliseconds and usually beneath our conscious awareness.
We’ve seen some local examples of what psychologists call “motivated reasoning” when it comes to the abundant evidence that our climate is changing.
Jim Robles seems to have convinced himself there’s a contradiction between two recent articles in The New York Times. In January, the newspaper reported 2012 was the hottest year recorded in U.S. history, according to weather reports going back to 1895.
In March, The Times reported a new analysis of global temperature history, analyzing microscopic ocean creatures, shows current temperatures are the hottest in 4,000 years.
It’s hard to believe Mr. Robles even read the articles in question.
One article says clearly scientists “doubt that such a striking new (U.S.) record would have been set without the backdrop of global warming caused by the human release of greenhouse gases. And they warned that 2012 was probably a foretaste of things to come, as continuing warming makes heat extremes more likely.”
But that’s the power of our unconscious evidence filtering.
There’s another form of grasping at straws to maintain existing beliefs, persistent claims that “the science isn’t settled.” This tactic was pioneered by the tobacco industry, which hired a formerly reputable head of the National Academy of Sciences to direct $45 million in “research” on the health effects of tobacco.
That worked so well in maintaining cigarette sales for a couple of decades it became the tool of choice for any industry or group wanting to prevent or delay regulations that might crimp its profit margins.
Does lead in gasoline end up in children’s bloodstream? Do CFCs in refrigerants damage the ozone layer? Does sulfur dioxide from coal-burning power plants cause acid rain? Sorry, the science just isn’t settled yet. Check back later.
Anyone interested in learning more about how “the science isn’t settled” has been used repeatedly as a corporate-profit smoke screen should read “Merchants of Doubt” by Naomi Oreskes.
For a quick introduction to the real science of climate change, read “A World Without Ice,” by a University of Michigan geophysicist with decades of field experience in Antarctica. Both are available at the Walla Walla Public Library.