John Cook of Oz has an interesting study:
Conservatives are less likely to accept the reality of human-caused climate science when presented with supporting scientific evidence. But tell them that 99 out of 100 climate scientists agree on the subject, and conservatives will be more likely to accept that humans are altering the climate, according to a new pilot study.
The findings, presented today (Dec. 7) at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, suggest that scientists shouldn’t break out the graphs and tables when talking climate with conservatives. Instead, climate advocates should emphasize how much of the scientific community agrees on the subject.
I find this result as expected – people already disposed to disbelieve the climate consensus will not be swayed by evidence any more than people already disposed to believe will be swayed by cherry-picked evidence. The point is that nobody but a professional has the time to really examine the balance of the evidence.
Anyone who doesn’t have the time resorts to “fast thinking” which is to look for proxy evidence. The most important such evidence is the balance of opinion of those who do have the time and motivation to examine the evidence.
As I quoted some years ago:
A Slashdot reader summarizes neatly: “when deep quality metrics are unavailable, customers will base their decisions on shallow metrics instead.”
As a proxy, consensus of expert opinion is really more than a shallow metric, actually. Though it is not as deep a measure as the real balance of evidence, it is a sensible way to proceed on matters on which one is inexpert.
I think that various cynical political groups understood this long ago.
The existence or otherwise of a consensus is therefore far more important in this debate (and others where science impinges on policy) than a presentation of evidence. This isn’t exactly rational, but it’s the next best thing when we don’t have the resources to examine a matter rationally. That’s why direct attacks on the consensus measures are crucial.
And if you look at all the other attacks on climate science, they are not substantive at all. It is a key weakness of science in these debates that it is obligated to look at every potentially serious challenge. But the challenges are not challenges to science or the authority of science. The challenges are directed specifically at muddling the public perception of consensus.