Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Are we Scienceblind?

The book Scienceblind is about the intuitive theories we have about the world, why they're often wrong, and why we sometimes hold on to them despite overwhelming scientific evidence.

You might imagine I headed straight for the climate change chapter. Actually, I read the introduction first. But then straight to Chapter 7.

Climate and weather

Turns out that we really do confuse weather and climate. In surveys done on hot days, people are far more likely to agree that climate change is happening.

Should one day's weather in one tiny speck of the planet really change our mind about whether the entire planet is warming year after year, decade after decade? Probably not. But it does.

What can we feel?

The thing about intuitive theories is that they are based on what we perceive. We can't perceive this month's global average temperature and compare it to similar months over the last 3 decades. We sense today's temperature - right here, right now. So that's the data we use. Not very scientific.

Another thing we perceive is that serious climate change must lead to serious behavioural changes. The more fearful we are of such changes the more we are inclined to deny that climate change exists, or deny that it is serious.

So what's the solution

Often people don't know what it is they a rejecting. A study in which people were given the following description were found to be more accepting of global warming.

Earth transforms sunlight’s visible light energy into infrared light energy, which leaves Earth slowly because it is absorbed by greenhouse gases. When people produce greenhouse gases, energy leaves Earth even more slowly - raising Earth’s temperature.

A second solution is to inform people that 97% of scientists agree that human carbon emissions are causing climate change. People tend to think this figure is around 60-70%.

Finding out that the science community is practically unanimous resulted in people being more accepting of the reality of climate change and also more willing to take action.

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