I worry that climate scientists think the skeptics are just dumb. I’m sure there are plenty of dumb people on every topic, but I’m here to suggest that the bigger problem might be a form of pattern recognition. I’ll take you through that thought.
I’ll start by displaying my own pattern-based starting point for the climate change issue. I don’t present my opinion as truth or fact. This is a description of my biases, a result of all the patterns I have observed over my lifetime. If you have observed different patterns, I would expect you to have different biases. Here’s a whiteboard graphic of my starting biases on climate change.
I’m not a scientist, but it seems to me that the chemistry and physics parts of climate science are probably pretty locked down. I give that stuff full credibility.
The measurements of temperature, ice, and sea levels over time are probably fairly good, but I observe disagreements among scientists on how best to measure. I’ll give the measurements an 85% credibility.
When it comes to the complex climate models, I’ve never seen a complex, iterative model – of the type that includes human assumptions and human measurements – reliably predict the future multiple years out. I don’t think it has ever been done, and perhaps it never will be. I give the complex climate models a 10% credibility rating. And I am only that generous because perhaps this is the exception to the pattern I observe that says complexity always hides the future, as opposed to predicting it.
This is a good time to remind you that I have neither the qualifications nor the time to evaluate the climate science models on my own. So I’m stuck with using pattern recognition – which is not science, and it is not reason. And my pattern recognizer says humans use complexity of this sort to hide the truth, not to reveal it. If scientists want to change my mind, they need to show me historical examples in which things “like this” did a good job of predicting the future. You have to work on my pattern memory to change my mind, not my knowledge of climate science.
The last box in my graph, the economic models, have no predictive power for this topic, or any other. Long term economic models are like astrology with good manners. I have a degree in economics, and an MBA, and I spent years in corporate America making financial projections. My experience tells me that the people creating the models can get any result they want. None of that looks like science to me. I give the economic models zero credibility, just like every other economic model that pretends to see the future.
When I talk to people who believe the climate change models and the economic models are accurate, I observe another pattern. The people who have the least real-world business experience think the experts probably know how to do this sort of thing. That observation might be nothing but confirmation bias on my part, but if you want to change my mind, that’s part of your challenge.
This brings us to the famous-but-questionable statistic that 98% of climate scientists have the same view. If you have a degree in art history, for example, you might find it compelling that so many scientific experts are on one side. How could so many experts be wrong??? But if you are a student of persuasion, as I am, you see a world in which mass delusion is the rule, not the exception.
Consider all the people who have a different religious belief than you. According to you, all of those people are living a mass delusion. Consider the people on the other side of the political divide from you; those people are in a mass delusion too. In fact, most of our experience of life is informed by one kind of mass delusion or another. So when I see a statistic that says 98% of experts are on the same side, based on climate and economic models, it could mean one of two things: 1) They are right, or 2) It is just another routine mass delusion, and one of many.
My point is that the 98% of scientists claim has a lot of persuasive power if you are not a trained persuader. But it means far less if you understand how common it is for smart people to be sharing a mass delusion. Remember that every religion and every political party has smart people in it. Being smart doesn’t protect you from delusions as much as you might think.
If you want to convince me that climate change is a clear and present danger, you need to change my biases on three things:
1. Convince me that complex models such as the climate science models have done good jobs in other fields in the past. And the examples have to involve human judgement in the inputs, and lots of iterations. And those models have to have succeeded in predicting the future five years out, or better. If such things exist in other fields, I can be persuaded that climate scientists can do it too. (No fair picking physics models. Those are not filled with human assumptions.)
2. Convince me that economic models of this complexity have done a good job predicting the future in other areas.
3. Erase my memory of all the times mass delusions looked totally real to smart people.
If you want to make me worry about climate change, working on my biases by changing my pattern memory has a better chance of persuading me than the current method of calling me an idiot.
You might enjoy reading my book because of all the reasons.
I’m also on…
Twitter (includes Periscope): @scottadamssays
YouTube: At this link.