Predictors of climate alarmism and scepticism

A year ago when the results of the survey were coming in, I started preparing to write a paper by doing a literature search to see what comparable research had been done. It was not a pleasant experience. The academic literature on sceptics (almost none of alarmists) was some of the most hate filled, dishonest garbage it has ever been my misfortune to read.
For example, in one paper alone I counted around 100 intentional insults about sceptics. That in a peer reviewed paper. It was what might best be described as “climate porn” not academic literature. However, just because a lot of the views are not credible, that did not mean that those papers did not have some information material to this survey and its analysis.
I forced myself to read these studies and as such I was able to tease out a few facts that do help draw some wider conclusions from the survey data which I would now like to present in a summarised form:
Terminology
The term “sceptic” is a very apt name for those sceptical of the claim of catastrophic global warming. However, from previous efforts to find an acceptable term for those on “the other side” I know there is extreme resistance to any group name. I suspect this in itself says something important about this group but I do not know what. But any categorisation however well intentioned appears to cause offence. So, as offence will be taken whatever term I use, I will use that which I believe to be most accurate which is “alarmist”. This refers to those participants on line who are alarmed by the prospect of catastrophic warming. And in this article I am not suggesting that alarm is unwarranted.
However, please note, whilst some academics such as Michael Mann make colourful contributions online, due to the anonymity of contributions no inference can be drawn from this work regarding other climate academics.
1. Suggestibility is linked to alarmism.

Perhaps the one  significant finding from the survey is that sceptics are very confident data analysts:  by education, by training and by experience.
In contrast, research by of all people, Lewandowsky (who is notorious for his attacks on sceptics) shows that alarmists were suggestible.
A graph was shown to two groups of people. One group was told the graph showed stock market prices, the other group was told that the same graph was global temperature. Participants were then asked to predict the future trend.  As the same graph was shown to both groups a bias in expected future trend would indicate a bias stemming only what was perceived to have been shown on the graph rather that the actual graph itself. Their prediction of the future trend was then compared to their views on climate.
It was very clear from the project proposal that Lewandowsky undertook this research intending to find evidence proving that sceptics’ perception of the graph was “motivated”. He expected sceptics to perceive the graph labelled as global temperature as having a trend cooler than it should be. However, from careful reading of the paper and analysis of the available data, it is clear this is the opposite of what Lewandowsky found.
Those sceptical of climate alarmism, showed very little change in the predicted future trend between those told the graph was stock market prices and those told it was global temperature. This was in sharp contrast to believers in climate alarmism who dramatically changed their estimated trend with twice the rate of rise for the group told the graph was global temperature compared to the group told it was a stock market price.
This clearly shows that views of perceived warming and climate alarmism are very likely strongly influenced by suggestion and social pressure.
Combining the evidence from Lewandowsky’s research and the the survey, we have very clear evidence that climate alarmism is highest in those who are most susceptible to “suggestion” and lowest in those who concentrate on the data and ignore social suggestion. This suggests that global warming alarmism amongst the public is stems from social influence not scientific understanding.
2. Public v. Private sector 
R2015aAnother key predictor of alarmist views appears to be the work background. Other research shows Alarmism is highest in the public sector. The survey shows that 23% of survey participants were from the public sector meaning that overwhelmingly sceptics come from the private sector.
In part this difference might be driven by the perceived social focus of the public sector (see below), however whilst it has not been tested, given the clear difference in background, I feel it is very likely that global warming alarmism and anti-CO2 views are a proxy for anti industry views. This is because anti-industry and anti-commerce views are most likely to be favoured in the public sector and least likely to be prevalent in the private sector. This appears to be supported by the language and forms of attacks and insults used by alarmists.
3. Lack of knowledge
Another key finding of the survey was that sceptics are very well educated, particularly in climate and energy related subjects. Around half having post graduate qualifications. In contrast, research by Stevenson shows that those with least knowledge had the strongest belief in climate alarmism. Or as Stevenson contorts his results: “The effect of world views[resistance to climate alarmism] seems to go away with kids instead of becom[ing] stronger as knowledge increases.
So, scepticism “goes away” in those with least knowledge so grows with knowledge. And in contrast to the “kids” sceptics are predominantly older, highly educated and very experienced. This shows that lack of knowledge seems to cause or at least coincide with alarmist beliefs.
4. Young and Female
From the survey of on line sceptics, most were older males. The older age group can be explained by the above finding that gullibility reduces and scepticism grows with knowledge & experience. This is born out by anecdotal accounts of emeritus academics seeming to be more inclined to be sceptical.
However, the strong gender slant is less easy to explain directly from the survey results. (But see below)
5. High value on social consensus & social constructed status.
There is clearly a very high value placed on “consensus” within the alarmist community to such extent that the mere presence of a high consensus is often asserting on line as conclusive proof climate alarmism is true irrespective of any other evidence.
Also from personal experience I can testify that alarmist attacks appear to be most strongly motivated and hostile when an individuals from their own social group (academic) disagrees with them or “steps out of line”. The content and form of these attacks strongly suggest a social rather than scientific motivation for these attacks. Various such attacks have been recorded but most notable was the vitriolic attack on Prof Salby after his presentation to the Scottish parliament.
Another similar strand of evidence indicating a social motivation for alarmists is the  prevalence of ad hominem attacks on sceptics. The survey showed that sceptics focus on data analysis and this is born out by the language and topics on sceptic blogs. However when sceptics and alarmists meet on line, whilst sceptics tend to use impersonal language focussing on the facts or data supporting particular arguments, alarmists will often respond to these impersonal arguments with ad hominen attacks against the person them self. These attacks tend to be of a social nature attacking a person’s social character, their qualifications and so social status, and their morals or motivation.
In particular the status as a “scientist” appears to be very important to alarmists and many broadcasters like the BBC. This is so important to alarmists that for example, an academic who is a geneticist is deemed more credible than the vast bulk of sceptics. Note genetics is not a science with any relevance to climate physics and the particular individuals had never studied the climate physics. In contrast sceptics predominantly have climate or energy relevant degrees and have spent many many hours (years in many cases) studying the climate. This shows that the perceived social status as a “scientist” is far more important to alarmist than relevant scientific knowledge or experience.
This shows that attacks on sceptics are often socially motivated focussing on group identity, social status and social “consensus”. In contrast sceptics tend to ignore social status & social consensus, use impersonal language and focus of the scientific data and theory.
Whilst I did not research this area in depth, I believe it is commonly accepted that women tend to be more social in their outlook with more in “caring” professions such as teaching and nursing whereas men tend to dominate in areas focussing on systems and machinery like Engineering. This may in part explain the lack of female sceptics reported in the survey. Alternatively it may be a social phenomenon such as older retired men finding social groups on line.
6. Sceptic Political views and relationship to views on climate.
As several other surveys had found that scepticism was highest amongst those that tended to vote right of centre, the survey did not repeat this question. However an attempt was made to ascertain whether political outlook might be driving views. This was inconclusive, but the survey showed that almost all sceptics tended to be analytical in their outlook. So, whilst many were interested in politics, no self-reported accounts of the reasons why people became sceptics refer to anything political so political view does not seem to be causal in forming a sceptical view.
The very strong value placed on sceptics own analysis linked to their very high education and experience in this area showed that political outlook was unlikely to be a major factor in the formation of a sceptical view point. Indeed “viewpoint” may be entirely the wrong word. It implies that sceptics have free choice on the matter when in reality, the educational background, the resistance to social suggestion of this group and the importance placed on data analysis might suggest sceptics have very little choice regarding what they deem to be “true” about the climate.
So, whilst political outlook has been shown to be a predictor of sceptical views, it appears from this survey that political view does not drive views on climate but rather political view and sceptics are both independently related to the age, education and thus higher social background and employment outside the public sector.
7. Alarmist Political views and relationship to views on climate.
However, whilst sceptics perception of the climate issue does not appear to be influenced by political view the same cannot be said for those who are alarmists. Here the value placed on consensus and social status which seem to be instrumental in forming views on climate are inherently political in nature. The connection is very close between political views based on society and social influence that appears to a large part drive views on climate. So it appears reasonable to say that alarmist views on climate are part of their political views.  This is further reinforced by the suggestibility & consensus seeking nature of alarmists which must make them much more susceptible to persuasion from political pressure and less willing to form views based solely on the data.
Therefore previous papers linking views on climate to political outlook are wrong to suggest sceptic views are driven by their political views as these appear to be at best coincidental and not causal. In contrast the “socialist” or social consensus political viewpoint appears to be instrumental in the formation of alarmist views through social and political pressure.
7. Autonomous viewpoint
The main hypothesis when the survey was created was that sceptics tend to be “self-reliant” in their work and views. The questions intended to distinguish various attributes of “self reliance” did not appear to distinguish clearly between the two groups. Therefore the hypothesis was not proven. However, the importance of sceptic on their own data analysis does in some part suggest sceptics are independently minded.
This again would fit the right of centre political view of many sceptics as “independence” and “self reliance” are valued by the right.
Conclusion
The worst that can be said about climate sceptics in terms of the science is that they may be too reliant on their own analysis and therefore fail to make use of other arguably better expertise. However this is a not an easy argument to sustain given the high qualifications, long experience, and climate and energy relevant degrees in science and engineering.  However, whilst sceptics may be superb data analysts their relative lack of interest in social constructs and status can make them ineffective communicators lacking the necessary social empathy and interest to build coalitions and develop a social consensus supporting their views.
In contrast, alarmists appear to lack most of the necessary skills that sceptics consider important. They appear to be unduly susceptible to social pressure, they appear to lack key knowledge and appear to be socially and politically motivated. The result is that alarmists lack credibility amongst the sceptic community. But whilst alarmists are not seen as credible by sceptics, their superior social acumen and organisational skills means they can be effective communicators with other groups, who are able and willing to build social alliances with disparate groups within society. Thus despite their almost complete failure to provide the factual basis to make their views credible with sceptics, they have been far more effective than sceptics in terms of persuading external groups.
Further research
This research highlights a very worrying facet of climate alarmism which strongly suggests many contributing on line do not come to their views through understanding or analysis of the data, but instead through social influence. This does not in itself mean that the views of some supporting a catastrophic view such as those like the IPCC are incorrect as they were not the subject of this research. However, neither is there any evidence to suggest that groups like the IPCC are not subject to same social and political influence in forming their views.
It is therefore strongly recommended that research is conducted into those academics and other public sector groups working in this area to determine whether the problems highlighted with the alarmist on line community are present, or not.
About the author
Mike Haseler has a degree in Physics and Electronics from St.Andrews University, an MBA from Strathclyde University and undertook a two year part time archaeology course at Glasgow University. He has worked predominantly in various industries including textiles, electronics and the wind and renewable sector (including Timex and Xerox). However Mike also has close family who work(ed) in the public sector and has known and been friends with several University academics throughout his life.
He has stood for council elections as a Liberal Democrat. As a member of the Green party he was selected to stand in 2003 (but stood down as a candidate when the first candidate refused to support a local NHS hospital). He was also briefly the Scottish Energy spokesman for UKIP (until the Scottish Chairman was forced to resign and party elections suspended.  So he left the party).
He has recently been a high profile environmentalist in his local area working to save the local nature reserve from housing. (However he was unable to save it from environmentalists in the local council who have cut down areas of woodland over 100 years old)
Mike has campaigned both for local wind manufacture and latterly for higher quality science, notably creating the petition asking for the Climategate inquiries. However he has also carried out personal research into climate science and as a result recently published a new theory on the progression and causes of the ice age which includes the “Caterpillar theory of plate tectonics” attributing at least part tectonic plate movement to the heating and cooling effects of the ice-ages.
Mike also founded, ran and worked for free in the Scottish Climate and Energy Forum for around a year.
Mike does not receive any funding (so please donate above)

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8 Responses to Predictors of climate alarmism and scepticism

  1. Mike Mangan says:

    Great article, Mike.

  2. TinyCO2 says:

    I don’t think that there were any surprises in the results from what you’ve written. Some thoughts on the findings about male/female responses:-
    Women tend to think differently from men as a result of both genetics and upbringing. Women are often the worrier in the family. They’re built to be extra cautious while men would have needed to be bolder to tackle hunting. Women are also more prone to self deprecation which makes them more vulnerable to the guilt message from authority in AGW and less likely to believe in their ability to question it. These things partly explain the male/female divide but not all.
    When it comes to the technical side, I think the divide is as much nurture as nature. Very technical subjects require people to be highly focussed and somewhat obsessed. Women are naturally less inclined to this so while they are equally intelligent they are less likely to be obsessive about their work. Women don’t just multitask, they multi issue, they’re not designed to concentrate on one thing to the detriment of all others. Men more often are. It’s why many of the very successful IT people, scientists and nerds are men. (We’ll ignore the polymaths as a rare anomaly). However, I don’t think climate falls into the same elite category as maths and physics, which is why there are a lot more women involved. If pure science is the avenue for the focussed, engineering is that of those who look across many issues. By rights there should be a lot of women in engineering and that’s where nurture comes in.
    Except from the uni focus types, most people don’t like working hard at one thing. They can and do, but only if they drive themselves or someone does it for them. As children, both sexes have the same opportunity to do maths and sciences instead of arts and humanities. Traditionally only boys were pushed to do the harder subjects, so girls were allowed to opt for the easier route. And did. We saw an overall fall in kids taking the hard subjects when schools wanted high grades in any subject rather than poor grades in good subjects. Kids and teachers were happy to take the easy options.
    Unfortunately, we have built a society where non academic achievers (tv stars and pop idols) actively promote their lack of application to the young, making it harder and harder to instil in them the desire to work hard and gain the skills for adulthood. Kids are particularly vulnerable to the drum beat message ‘don’t work, just play’.
    Historically women have been dissuaded from using their brains and abilities even into adulthood and in my parents’ generation it was standard for the woman to hand all difficult and/or technical decisions over to her husband. Thankfully the worm is turning and women are discovering that not only can they do those things but, due to their ability to think across multiple issues, they can be very good at them. If schools get back to getting the best out of kids, we might see an explosion of girls going into engineering.
    Sceptics are typified by being technical but wide focus, so while women are capable of scepticism, because of nature and nurture, they’re particularly vulnerable to climate change propaganda.

    • Scottish-Sceptic says:

      Dangerous topic. I personally try not to make any distinction so I did not intentionally look into gender. But it is very clear from the result that gender plays a role.
      So you’ve raised another interesting possibility which I didn’t consider which is that the gender imbalance could be because historically or culturally women do not go into certain professions.

      • TinyCO2 says:

        It is a dangerous subject 😀 but it shouldn’t be. Men and women are generally different and only now cultures are beginning to treat their children more equally can we see if those differences are genetic or not. It may be many more years before we know for sure because gender ‘training’ starts very early and is all pervasive.
        Some cultures only push boys, some push neither sex and a very few push both sexes equally hard. You see from those differences that what matters is the push. It’s not the fault of the female sex that many men have not considered their daughters worthy of a career or in many cases, education at all. There are exceptions.There’s a big influx of female engineers from abroad at the moment, as both China and India recognise the power of a technical education for both sexes.
        In recent years in the UK, it has become a positive thing to encourage girls in the caring sciences like medicine and the results speak for themselves. At the same time we have been pushing girls harder, there has been a ‘boys will be boys’ attitude and they’ve been allowed to mess about. To everyone’s detriment, especially their own.
        However, engineering is still seen as an male career so men predominate. Like I wrote, due to the female ability to work at many issues at once, they would be well suited to engineering. It’s the men who go into engineering that are using their feminine side. In my experience engineers find it easy to get on with both sexes. Unlike pure science, engineering is much more about people, negotiation, timing, quality and many other skills that are more akin to the abilities of the cave woman than the cave man.

        • TinyCO2 says:

          I’ve been exploring the idea that the difference between sceptic and warmist is wide versus narrow focus.

          • Scottish-Sceptic says:

            That sounds interesting. I’ve certainly never been able to fully explain why the academics in this area who appear to have all the necessary skills to be a sceptic, seem incapable of being sceptical in their outlook. And I have noticed that the compartmentalisation of academia does seem to mean that one academic will only know one area and will rely on the work of colleagues. So, I know academics who are perfectly reasonable people and doing perfectly good work, who are ardent zealots on warming even though they personally haven’t ever looked at the science.
            They do seem to apply an entirely different standard to work they are doing to work done by others.
            In contrast sceptics seem to ignore pigeonholes and dot from one subject to another with ease.

        • Scottish-Sceptic says:

          The danger of recent trends is that it is also to socially nurture sexes to be the same when they are in fact different. And children should be allowed to be different.

      • ianl8888 says:

        > the gender imbalance could be because historically or culturally women do not go into certain professions
        Heavens above, that never occurred to you ?!
        Using the term “science” somewhat broadly, about 10% of scientists are women. About 90% of that 10% are in health-related professions (doctors, nurses, pathology and so on – branches of Applied Science, if you will)
        One does not need to analyse too deeply to understand why this is so. Women choose professions wherein they are more likely to use emotive intuition and empathy

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