Lawrence Hamilton

The Polarizing Poles: Yet Another Study Shows That More Knowledgeable Conservatives Are *Worse* on Global Warming

Bloggers and commentators have been talking a lot lately about a recent study, by Dan Kahan and colleagues in Nature Climate Change, capturing what I call the “smart idiot” effect: Conservatives who are more educated, or have a higher degree of scientific literacy, are more strongly in denial (or less worried) about global warming.

In this post, I want to underscore the robustness of this finding, by showing that it has also turned up in a study just out in the journal Polar Geography.

The paper (citation below; abstract here; author’s draft here) is by Lawrence Hamilton and his colleagues at the University of New Hampshire. In it, the researchers examine a wealth of survey data about people’s knowledge of (and concern about) global warming in the polar regions—data collected by the General Social Survey in 2006 and 2010. Then, they cross-reference these results with measurements of general scientific literacy and political ideology…and, well, that’s when the smart idiots show up to be counted. As we’ll see.

First, though, some background.

Polar warming is, as Laurel Whitney recently explained here, an extremely big deal. This isn’t just about what happens to the polar bears. The growing potential for exploitation of oil and gas in the Arctic, made accessible by ongoing sea ice and permafrost melting, adds a new variable to the global energy economy and also further amps up our potential carbon dioxide contributions to the atmosphere.

Perhaps even more important, however, is the risk–if global warming advances far enough—of destabilizing the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets.

New Proof: Republicans Really Are Anti-Science

As readers know, I’m a regular monitor of polls capturing various aspects of the public’s views on science. These polls consistently show that for the most part, even if people don’t know a ton about it, they basically think science rocks. Americans know very well that science has made their lives immeasurably better, and they show high levels of trust in the scientific community.

There are, however, a few caveats.

Although people like science in general, they’re more than willing to spike it in any particular instance, on any particular pet issue. Evolution, global warming, vaccines—otherwise “pro-science” people will happily deny reality on these subjects, and not necessarily even experience any cognitive dissonance in doing so.

For the most part, I have tended to feel it is unfair to call such individuals “anti-science.” If someone denies science on one particular topic, but nevertheless thinks science is a groovy thing in general, I figure they’re not being anti-science, so much as just being human.

However, new polling data from Lawrence Hamilton, of the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, suggests that the “anti-science” epithet really does apply to many U.S. Republicans—at least on environmental issues.

“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.

Climate Change and Well-Informed Denial

On climate change, we’re politically polarized—which would be bad enough, but that’s not all. The hole we’ve dug is even deeper—as new research clearly suggests.

There’s yet another study out on Democrats, Republicans, and climate change, this time from Lawrence Hamilton of the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire. Over the last two years, in a series of regional surveys, Hamilton asked nearly 9,500 people questions about climate change—from Appalachia to the Gulf Coast, and from New Hampshire to Alaska. 

Across all these regions, he consistently found the following phenomenon:

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