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Mon, 2011-07-18 07:32Chris Mooney
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Say Brother, Can You Share My Logic? The Climate Debate and “Talking Past Each Other”

I’ve previously written about University of Michigan business professor Andrew Hoffman’s insightful work on the underlying motivations behind climate skepticism. Now, I’ve come across a more detailed recent paper, in Organization and Environment, that advances the case.

Hoffman’s strategy this time is to examine newspaper editorials, op-eds, and letters to the editor from both sides of the issue—795 of them, published between September of 2007 and September of 2009. Hoffman combines a look at these opinion pieces with an examination of the rhetoric at last year’s Heartland Institute climate denial conference.

His conclusion is that the two sides of the debate simply argue past each other. The Heartland folks, of course, think climate science is ideological and corrupt, and action on this non-existent problem will hurt the economy—and that, basically, it’s all an environmentalist power grab. They even detect hints of socialism or communism at the root of the movement for climate action.

But this we know already. What’s more interesting is the newspaper writings.

Wed, 2011-07-13 08:06Chris Mooney
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Watts Up With the Internet? Motivated Bias on Climate Skeptic Blogs

Recently, I’ve become aware that the prominent climate science skeptic blogger Anthony Watts has been challenging a number of my posts. Maybe it’s because in my most recent book Unscientific America, I made a big deal about a site that attacks climate science, like his, winning a “Best Science Blog” award.

Anyways, Watts has gotten me back. Based upon my photo, he has taken to calling me a “kid blogger”  (see here and here). And it’s true: I’m 33, obviously too young to be fooling around on the Internet.

The attention is flattering—but I’ve also grown intrigued by what happens on Watts’ blog when he criticizes something or someone and his many commenters then follow suit. Because it does indeed show what a dangerous place the Internet is for kids like me.

Mon, 2011-07-11 08:08Chris Mooney
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The Science of Astroturfing

Here at DeSmogBlog, and around the environmental and liberal political blogosphere, there is great concern about “Astroturf” organizations—groups that pose as real citizen movements or organizations, but in fact are closely tied to corporations or special interests. The “fake grassroots” has been a major issue in the climate debate in particular, where groups like Americans for Prosperity, closely tied to the billionaire Koch Brothers, have sought to mobilize opposition to cap-and-trade legislation.

One obvious goal of astroturfing is to shape public policy, and public opinion, in a manner congenial to corporate interests. And indeed, the outrage over astroturfing in a sense presumes that this activity actually works (or else, why oppose it).

Yet there have been few scientific tests of whether the strategy does indeed move people—in part, presumably, because doing a controlled experiment might be hard to pull off. That’s why I was so intrigued by a new study in the Journal of Business Ethics, which attempts to do just that.

Wed, 2011-07-06 07:57Chris Mooney
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Climate Skeptics Misunderstand Us, Too

So recently, I’ve watched a few videos from the Heartland Institute conference on “Restoring the Scientific Method”—and it has been a fascinating experience.

I point you, for instance, to this session on public policy, and especially the Q&A starting at minute 56. (Also watch Marc Morano from minute 38 to minute 56, the dude is nothing if not entertaining.) Once the audience questions start coming for the panel, I was rather surprised to hear that most were basically about…uh, communism. And in response, the panelists—and especially Christopher Horner—were quite affirmative that the real reason that we, the “left,” want to restrict greenhouse gas emissions is that we want to hobble economies, redistribute wealth, and restrict individual freedoms.

You can believe this is about the climate, and many people do,” said Horner. “But it’s not a reasonable belief.” Horner went on to argue that “it’s probably about what they’ve claimed they really want.” For many “luminaries” of the environment movement, Horner continued, “economic growth is not the cure, it’s the disease.”

Wed, 2011-06-29 06:19Chris Mooney
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When Facts Don’t Matter: Proving The Problem With Fox News

My two posts about Fox News and misinformation are probably the most popular items I’ve contributed here. They’ve been widely linked, Tweeted and Facebooked hundreds of times, and viewed well over ten thousand times. That’s because they perform a simple task that, at least as far as I had seen when I wrote the first one, hadn’t been done elsewhere: They list studies (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) showing that Fox News viewers are the most misinformed about an array of factual—but politicized—issues.

In these posts, I’ve tried to be as dispassionate as one can be on such a matter. I’ve repeatedly said that the studies don’t prove that Fox causes people to be misinformed; they just show a correlation, but the causal arrow could run in either direction (or both). I’ve also said that there may well be other studies out there than the 6 that I’ve found; and there may even be studies out there showing some cases where Fox News viewers are not the most misinformed. Indeed, I could design such a study myself–though it would have to be politically skewed by only asking about topics where liberals and Democrats are likely to be misinformed.

It is interesting, though, that no contrary studies have yet been produced.

Mon, 2011-06-27 05:53Chris Mooney
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“A Little Knowledge”: Why The Biggest Problem With Climate “Skeptics” May Be Their Confidence

Last week, an intriguing study emerged from Dan Kahan and his colleagues at Yale and elsewhere–finding that knowing more about science, and being better at mathematical reasoning, was related to more climate science skepticism and denial–rather than less.

Kahan’s team simply structured a survey in a way that no one—to my knowledge, at least—has done before. In a sample of over 1,500 people, they gathered at least four different types of information: how much scientific literacy they possessed (e.g., how well they answered questions about things like the time it takes for the Earth to circle the sun and the relative sizes of electrons and atoms), how “numerate” they were (e.g., their ability to engage in mathematical reasoning),  what their cultural values were (how much they favored individualism and hierarch in the ordering of society, as opposed to being egalitarian and communitarian), and what their views were on how serious a risk global warming is.

The surprise—for some out there, anyway—lay in how the ingredients of this stew mix together.


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