Wednesday, May 27, 2015

If You’ve Wondered Why So Many Politicians Deny Climate Change, Science Has Your Answer

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., one of the Senate’s most high-profile deniers of climate science. (Credit: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Click to Enlarge.
According to new research published in Nature Climate Change, there’s at least one statistically proven reason why more than 56 percent of Congressional Republicans deny climate change:  echo chambers.

The term “echo chambers” traditionally refers to situations where people surround themselves with information they want to hear, and block out the rest.  We’ve known for a while that these present themselves in climate politics; a 2014 study suggested that the reason Americans haven’t fully accepted the scientific consensus on climate change is because of echo chambers like Fox News, where conservative viewers are “exposed only to content consistent with their opinions, while shielded from dissenting views.”

The study published Monday, however, looked at how echo chambers specifically affected members of Congress and the people who influenced them during the 2010 debate over cap-and-trade.  And what it found was that the presence of echo chambers only impeded scientific debate when they appeared on the side that denied the science of human-caused climate change.  That’s because those echo chambers relied on significantly fewer pieces of peer-reviewed science to make their claims that carbon emissions were not worth limiting.

“Echo chambers themselves are not a terrible thing,” Dana Fisher, the director of the University of Maryland’s Program for Society and the Environment and co-author of the study, told ThinkProgress.  “But because of the way some echo chambers form, minority opinions can be repeated and repeated, so it amplifies their perspective.”
Ego networks coloured by degree of agreement with ‘There should be an international binding commitment on all nations to reduce GHG emissions’. (Credit: Nature Climate Change) Click to Enlarge.
To see how this looks, it’s useful to look at the data visualization in the study, which plotted the respective echo chambers of Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), and two scientists.  Both lawmakers agreed that there should be an “international binding commitment” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but Markey accepted that humans cause climate change while Inhofe — now one of the most famed climate deniers in Congress — did not.

... actual echo chambers were present in most of the prominent political actors denying climate change, and those chambers were based on far less peer-reviewed work than the chambers of their ideological opposites.

The reason this is harmful, according to the researchers, is that both ideologies’ echo chambers had a similar amount of political influence in the 2010 debate.  In other words, the echo chambers distorted the state of science by making it seem like there was equal weight to both sides.

Read more at If You’ve Wondered Why So Many Politicians Deny Climate Change, Science Has Your Answer

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