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Fri, 2013-01-11 05:00Chris Mooney
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The Science of Why Comment Trolls Suck

This piece originally appeared on Mother Jones as part of Climate Desk. 

Everybody who's written or blogged about climate change on a prominent website (or, even worse, spoken about it on YouTube) knows the drill. Shortly after you post, the menagerie of trolls arrives. They're predominantly climate deniers, and they start in immediately arguing over the content and attacking the science—sometimes by slinging insults and even occasional obscenities. To cite a recent example:

What part of “we haven't warmed any in 16 years” don't you understand? Heh. “Cherry-picking” as defined by you alarmists: any time period selected containing data that refutes your hysterical hypothesis. Can be any length of time from 4 billion years to one hour. Fuck off, little man!

It was reasonably obvious already that these folks were doing nothing good for the public's understanding of the science of climate change (to say nothing of their own comprehension). But now there's actual evidence to back this idea up.

Thu, 2012-08-02 05:36Chris Mooney
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Are Conservatives Inherently More Biased than Liberals? The Scientific Debate Rages On

In the first round of critical reactions to my book The Republican Brain, there wasn’t much to impress. As I related at AlterNet, the general conservative response to the book was to misrepresent its arguments, rather than to engage them seriously. (The book predicted this, incidentally.)

But now that some researchers have been able to read and process the book, some highly intellectually serious criticism arrives courtesy of Yale’s Dan Kahan, of whose work I’ve written a great deal in the past. You can see Kahan’s first two responses to the book here and here—the latter includes new experimental data. You can see my roadmap for how I plan to respond to Kahan here.

This is the first post of my response, and it is solely dedicated to clarifying my position in this debate. You see, while many people will read this exchange as though I am claiming that conservatives are inherently more biased than liberals—or in other words, claiming that they engage in more or stronger motivated reasoning—it isn’t actually that simple.

The closing words of The Republican Brain are these:

I believe that I am right, but I know that I could be wrong. Truth is something that I am driven to search for. Nuance is something I can handle. And uncertainty is something I know I’ll never fully dispel.

These are not the words of someone who is certain in his beliefs—much less certain of the conclusion that Dan Kahan calls the “asymmetry thesis.”

Mon, 2012-07-30 07:56Chris Mooney
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Conversion Fever! Why The Media Adores Former Climate Skeptics

If you’ve been following the science of global warming for over a decade—as I have—you might find the recent conversion of Berkeley physicist Richard Muller into a climate believer kind of underwhelming. That’s certainly the reaction of many longtime climate scientists, with whom Muller now, finally, agrees.

At this rate, Muller should be caught up to the current state of climate science within a matter of just a few years!” climatologist Michael Mann tweeted. Climate scientist Ken Caldeira also had an amusing take, as quoted by Joe Romm: “I am glad that Muller et al have taken a look at the data and have come to essentially the same conclusion that nearly everyone else had come to more than a decade ago.”

Why, then, does Muller draw New York Times op-ed attention for his conversion? Is it really news that one individual physicist has finally come to agree that the science of climate change is very solid?

Wed, 2012-07-25 07:19Chris Mooney
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If Conservatives Were Really “Conservative,” They Would Want to Do Something About Global Warming

Originally, when I asked MIT atmospheric scientist Kerry Emanuel to be a guest on the Point of Inquiry podcast, my goal was simple. I wanted someone who could give an expert take on the relationship between climate change and all the freakish weather we’ve been seeing. As for having this individual also be a self-described conservative and onetime voting Republican, and someone who fell under attack from Tea Party types because of his stance on climate change…well, that it was kind of icing on the cake.

As the interview progressed, though, I came to feel something quite different. I felt, ever so tentatively at least, that there is a real persuasive case to be made by conservatives to other conservatives about climate change, one that just might help bring them around to seeing the need for real policy solutions. What’s more, such a case might even prevail if conservatives in the U.S. today truly embraced the principles of their Burkean intellectual forefathers—which one can conclude almost by definition that they don’t, since they largely deny the science of global warming.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Mon, 2012-07-23 06:01Chris Mooney
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It’s the Weather, Stupid: Slowly Re-Awakening the Public About Climate Change

The Yale and George Mason Centers on Climate Change Communication, collaborators on the well-known “Six Americas” studies of how the public views global warming, are out with their latest report, the fifth in the series. And it hints at an underlying theme discernible in many of these surveys: On climate change, the U.S. public is a lot like a weather vane. When there’s freaky weather—like now–people increasingly worry about global warming. When the weather is what they’re used to and expect, not so much.

Let’s start with some background on the “Six Americas” study: It began in the fall of 2008, that hopeful time when Barack Obama was soon to win the U.S. presidency and many thought he’d address the global warming problem within the short space of a year. In those days, fully half of the public fell into the two “Six Americas” audience segments that evince the most worry about global warming—the “Alarmed” and the “Concerned.” Yet by January of 2010–following “ClimateGate” and the failed Copenhagen summit–the number of Americans falling into these two segments had tumbled by 11 percentage points. Meanwhile, the denialist segment of the public—the “Dismissive” category—had ballooned dramatically, from 7 percent to 16 percent.

Those were sad and depressing days for science and environment advocates; and when it comes to public opinion, we have not yet clawed back to where we were in the fall of 2008. But what the latest survey hints at is that the public is growing more concerned again—a finding that is particularly noteworthy in that these data only run through March of 2012, and thus really only take into account the freakily warm winter (not, you know, the summer heat waves, wildfires, and drought).

I’m betting that since March 2012, Americans have gotten even more alarmed over global warming–perhaps moving all the way back to where they were in fall 2008.

Mon, 2012-07-16 06:58Chris Mooney
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After All That, The Himalayan Glaciers are Indeed Shrinking

Remember the Himalayan glaciers?

They were at the root of the most deserved black-eye to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change during the intensely politicized period of 2009-2010. In so-called “GlacierGate,” it was revealed that the IPCC had published, in one of its reports, a truly bogus assertion that the Himalayan glaciers would be gone by the year 2035. As I reported at the time:

Not only is this business about 2035 an exceedingly dubious assertion, but part of the error seems traceable to a simple typo—an original source made predictions for the year 2350, not 2035.  When doubts were raised about the passage, however, the IPCC failed to respond either quickly or well. IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri even reportedly referred to a November Indian government report that questioned the IPCC’s findings about the glaciers’ vulnerability as “voodoo science.” Actually, the voodoo was all the IPCC’s, but the U.N. body only acknowledged its error several months after questions were first raised in the Indian report. “In drafting the paragraph in question, the clear and well-established standards of evidence, required by the IPCC procedures, were not applied properly,” the IPCC coughed out on January 20.

Climate skeptics and deniers of course seized on “GlacierGate” to try to discredit the IPCC. In reality, while the group did indeed make an error, a little perspective is required–this is one mistake in a vast 938 page report! What would be truly amazing would be for the IPCC not to make any mistakes when dealing with such a vast volume of scientific material.

And anyways, while the IPCC did itself no credit with how it handled “GlacierGate,” the fact remains that the error was acknowledged, period. The story is over.

In fact—and most important—most Himalayan glaciers are indeed retreating in a manner consistent with climate change (although certainly not at a rate suggesting they’ll be gone by 2035).

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