Motivated Rejection of Science

Our friend and contributor Stephan Lewandowsky has an interesting study in press in a psychology journal called Motivated Rejection of Science.

The researchers, led by UWA School of Psychology Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, found that free-market ideology was an overwhelmingly strong determinant of the rejection of climate science. It also predicted the rejection of the link between tobacco and lung cancer and between HIV and AIDS. Conspiratorial thinking was a lesser but still significant determinant of the rejection of all scientific propositions examined, from climate to lung cancer.

By contrast, a major determinant of the acceptance of science was the perceived consensus among scientists. The more agreement among scientists, the more people were likely to accept the scientific findings. “It is important to understand the role of perceived consensus because it highlights how damaging the media’s handling of climate issues can be when they create the appearance of a scientific debate where there is none.

Unspoken because not scientifically relevant is that the press allows political partisans to influence them to create that appearance.

Comments moderated out of this thread


  1. Interesting, though there's more than a hint of "Man Bites Dog" to it.

    What's not entirely clear is whether the "free market ideology"/"conspiracy theorist" determinant is completely separate from the "perceived consensus" determinant. In other words, would a person already disposed to be free marketeer be any less likely to reject the science if she knew about the agreement among scientists? And one wonders if there would be any correlation between belief in more "liberal" pseudoscience (I don't know, maybe vaccines cause cancer, Bush caused 9/11 etc.) and acceptance of the consensus.

    Also: I had to take the batteries out of my hyperbole detector when I hit "Blogs have a huge impact on society."

  2. Pingback: Conspircism and climate scepticism: empirical research confrims what we all know (and some predictions) « Watching the Deniers

  3. This comment from Andy Skuce is particularly appropriate right now:

    A 2011 survey by Leiserowitz et al revealed (Q31) that only 15% believed that a large majority (>81%) of climate scientists think that global warming is caused mostly by human activities. That statistic, more than any other, shows how successful the forces of confusion have been: 85% of Americans, apparently, can console themselves with the thought that a substantial minority of climate scientists doubts anthropogenic climate change.

  4. What we need is a better analysis of *why* free-market implies rejection of GW, etc.. Because in reality there is no good reason for the link. You can be perfectly well in favour of free markets (I am) and still "believe in" GW (I do).

    I haven't read your source article. Possibly they don't mean the same thing by "free market" that I do.

    My own best-guess would be that "free market" implies "pro business" (again, this doesn't really have to be true either) and libertarian, and anti-govt-getting-in-peoples-way and so on.

    Suppose we accept that everyone wants to rule the world; or reshape it in their image (or prevent others doing the same); or not the world, but only their local bit. And there are two (broadly) ways of doing this: (M) you go out and do it yourself, or you acquire position and influence to do it yourself (the free-market, business way). Or (G) you work to give govt control over whatever the aspect is you care about, either because you trust the govt to do what you want, or because you think you can lobby the govt, or because you trust govt inertia to make nothing happen, or because you know you're too useless to actually do anything yourself.

    In this case, your "free marketer rejects climate science" link is really your free marketer rejecting what he thinks will flow from accepting climate science: viz, govt (and/or env org) interference. And such people do indeed have good cause for fear, because there are a lot of people proposing govt interference.

    And if you believe that, then one possible response (other than the brute-force "yes GW is occurring, here is yet another report that you won't read telling you so") is "yes GW is occurring and we'll address it in a free-market manner". Cue (you were waiting for this weren't you?) me pushing carbon taxes yet again (

    And if your response to that is horror - good grief, no way are we going to solve this in a free-market way - then you've proved your free marketer's fears correct. You're using GW to push your politics.

  5. WMC, (sorry, forgot you prefer to be addressed)

    On this side of the pond, carbon taxes are regarded part of the crypto-fascisto-watermelonist agenda along with windmills and Chevy Volts. Probably why cap-and-trade was the talk of the town, and no that doesn't make sense. The people we're talking about reliably think the same way about CFCs and O3.

  6. Of course, William, carbon taxes use the market, but are by no means "free," so no free marketeer you according to one common definition.

    I suppose there's some solace in the fact that most free marketeers (the other sort, not William) feel the need to resort to denialiism rather than pretending that an unfettered free market would solve the climate problem. That said, I've heard some argue that if climate really did become a problem then the free market would solve it, more or less definitionally, and the fact that we don't see large-scale free market action to that end is itself proof that there can't be a problem. Lots of these people really do think that the free market trumps physics.

  7. The idea that most large enterprises, and especially the existing fossil fuel interests, are not to a very large extent artifacts of past governmental decisions, is myth. Like all other successful regulation, will look like a "market mechanism" after the market adjusts to it.

    I think a carbon tax has serious problems though, in spread out places like the US West, Canada, Australia, which it would not if there were less wealth inequality. As things stand in those places it is very regressive and especially damaging to rural residents. And those are crucial places.

  8. The authors refer to laissez-faire free market fantasies, er, economics.

    Their data set were 1,000+ nuts who frequent climate blogs, er, subjects, not a single apologist.

    The idea that market voices & solutions were excluded from the Waxman-Markey process & climate bill is simply daft.

  9. The problem with a carbon tax is that it has to be very big. Or at least it has to get big over time. This makes it a difficult proposition to make politically even once you get the simplistic and wrong tax = bad view that many people have.

    I still think it represents the best (and most right wing compatible) policy option available to us, but we aren't even close to having a political environment where it is a realistic possibility.

  10. I think a carbon tax has serious problems though, in spread out places like the US West, Canada, Australia

    One potential solution to this problem that has been talked about here in BC is giving a tax credit to everyone in rural areas. This is to acknowledge that someone living in a small town doesn't have as many transportation options as someone living in a large city.

    In the short term this would mean more people driving in rural areas since they have more money in their pockets to spend on the now more expensive gas, but in the long term, as alternative fuels become cheaper than gas, the effect of such a tax rebate should be minimal.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.