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A new way to settle old climate arguments

Climate denial is primarily an article of faith that boils down to “don’t take my privilege away!”  Indeed, it is no accident that climate change denial is most prominent among rich old white men (step forward Donald Trump).  However, the task of calling out the deniers is hampered by their own selective use of climate date to imply that there is still genuine doubt as to whether man-made climate change is real.  This is usually done by selective use of data – for example, taking a time series that shows global temperatures rising in line with CO2 emissions, but choosing a particularly warm starting year to “prove” that temperatures were stable.

Chelsea Harvey at the Washington Post reports on a new approach that might resolve these data disputes once and for all:

“Researchers have designed an inventive test suggesting that the arguments commonly used by climate change contrarians don’t add up, not only according to climate scientists (we know what they think already) but also in the view of unbiased experts from other fields.

“The trick? Disguising the data — and its interpretation — as if it was part of an argument about something else entirely.”

Psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky from the University of Bristol presented climate data as if it were related to something much less likely to raise an emotional response.  The data was then given to independent experts from a range of academic disciplines together with the conclusions of climate deniers and climate scientists, and they were asked to decide whether the conclusions were correct.  For example, data about the volume of ice lost from glaciers was presented as if it was data on population loss from a rural village.  They were then asked whether the data supported the conclusion that there had been no loss of population; and:

“As an added test, the researchers asked the participants to predict what the masked data should look like in the future — and in general, the experts made predictions in line with what’s been projected by mainstream climate scientists.”

Of course, it is possible to criticise the experiment on the basis of the data Lewandowsky chose to use.  But, as Harvey notes:

“Those remaining skeptical of the science of climate change, then, will likely object to the experimental design. But the researchers say the findings strip away preconceptions to prove a basic point: that across disciplines, experts know good science when they see it.”

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