Amelia Sharman and Candice Howarth have a new paper out, Climate stories: Why do climate scientists and sceptical voices participate in the climate debate?
It’s in a journal called Public Understanding of Science, but ironically, as Ben Pile remarked, it’s paywalled. It might be possible to find it on the Russian pirate site Scihub, but of course if you download it from there you’ll be breaking copyright law. There is a short commentary How to make the climate change debate more productive on the paper at LSE, and there was also a draft working paper posted at LSE almost a year ago, which is similar to the final version.
The introduction discusses the polarisation of the climate debate between climate scientists and those they call “sceptical voices” (SVs). They say that they are interested in finding common ground between the two groups. In this context they mention the meeting that took place between climate scientists and sceptics in 2014, and they cite the WUWT blog post about it, which must be a rarity in the academic literature.
The content of the paper is based on interviews with 11 climate scientists and 11 sceptics — who are not named but are either people mentioned in newspapers, bloggers or people associated with GWPF. They asked them how they saw themselves, how they saw the other lot, and how useful it was taking part in the public debate. Apparently the main self-perception of climate scientists was “a youth-driven aspiration to contribute positively to the environment” along with “a heroic desire to do good”. The sceptics saw themselves as “crusaders for truth”.
Participants were asked to place themselves in a grid to indicate their position regarding the science of climate change and support for policy. Not surprisingly, the climate scientists were all in the upper right quadrant (see figure 1), but the sceptics were all over the place, with some fully accepting climate science, some accepting none of it, and widely varying views on policy:
When they got this interesting result, perhaps the authors should have stopped and thought about the wisdom of putting these 11 people all in one box and labelling it “sceptical voices”, particularly since they themselves wrote an article previously about exactly this problem of putting people into boxes and labelling them. The paper notes that “Many SVs railed against the public perception of the debate as ‘black and white, yes/no'”.
But apart from that criticism, most of the paper is quite good in comparison with some of the social science literature on the climate debate. The comments of participants on both sides are reported, I presume accurately, and presented in a fair way without any spin.
The section on the views of the other side suggests that climate scientists are correctly aware that there’s a wide range of sceptical views, but at least one of them thought that sceptics feel threatened and look for “ways to justify not accepting it”. Hmmm. Unsurprisingly, each side thought the other was politically motivated.
Perhaps the most interesting section is the one on participating in the debate. Apparently both sides feel a “sense of duty” to communicate, while another common theme was, again, the disapproval of labelling. Reported comments from the sceptics on why they joined the debate were varied, covering “passion for science”, “justice and poverty”, the “politicised” climate debate and the “rubbish” of green energy policies.
In the conclusions they note the overlap in the themes “expressed by both actor groups”, such as the sense of duty and the fact that “both groups explicitly self-identify as moral actors acting upon deeply held convictions”. There also seemed to be common ground over the question of uncertainty. They say that these common factors aren’t generally acknowledged. The paper ends with the suggestion that these overlaps could lead to constructive dialogue and conflict reduction.
Please keep comments in that spirit!