Before getting stuck into things, here’s a link to one of my favourites from The Onion – which captures the spirit of this post nicely.
Tim Lambert has reported on the findings of a recent survey of earth scientists. The key question in the survey asked whether the respondent thinks “human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures.” The results of a corresponding Gallup survey of the general public were included in the analysis as well.
The figure in Tim’s post (NB: Graham Readfearn has a link to the paper in his post) displays a clear trend – those who are most actively and closely involved in climate change research give the strongest endorsement to human activity contributing to global warming. As you move into categories of scientists who are more removed from climate change research, endorsement goes down. And, based on the Gallup poll, the general public’s acceptance of AGW is lowest of all.
This is a disheartening finding – although experts within the field demonstrate close to unanimous agreement, the public is in two minds. But it is perhaps not surprising – on the one hand, you have a field of experts whose primary focus is on advancing knowledge even further. By and large, they accept the current body of knowledge and are trying to refine our understanding of the areas that remain unsettled. Yet in the meanwhile, there are the pundits who actively argue against the evidence, distorting and distracting the public’s attention from what the expert consensus tells us. And there is the seemingly inevitable trend in reporting to ensure “balance” by reporting conflicting views – even when the numbers on each side of those views are vastly different.
It’s an interesting phenomenon – the scientists are busy with the science, leaving the opinion-makers to sow uncertainty and feed it with their intellectual dishonesty. But it highlights something important – that, setting aside the hardcore denialists who are never going to be swayed by evidence or argument, there is a substantial proportion of the public who are not aware of the level of certainty and unanimity among the experts in this field. There needs to be a concerted push back against the misinformation that focuses not on the disciples of Bolt, Blair, Akerman and Marohasy, but on this more general audience who may not be actively involved in the debate around these issues.