Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Moving the Overton Window

Eli may have been the first to gaze out the Overton Window to a fine game of Climate Ball, and indeed he formulated the problem in terms of consensus messaging even in 2007

 There has been a great deal of discussion about why the Republicans in the US reject climate science (ear tip to Chris Mooney's Republican War on Science) and a lot of other science. If one thinks of their tactics as a struggle for the Overton Window it makes sense
Overton (who was pretty far to the right) saw staking out extreme positions as the best way to move his window because of the natural tendency to middle.  Eli, at least in the title of his post suggested another tactic, consensus messaging.

This might be described as how to deal with the crazy uncle at the family dinner tactic. Given a consensus in the family, even the most spit flecked will, sometime, not bring up his nuttiness and if he does the ladies at the table will stick their elbows into the gentlebunnies and quickly change the subject.  Some things are not fit for discussion.  The Bunny has pointed out in the past that one of the problems with the web is that it lets the Sky Dragons, the Flat Earthers, the Relativity, Quantum Mechanics and whatever else is totally wrong guys find others of their ilk.

Which brings Rabett Run to the issue of consensus messaging.  While for a long time those who accepted the scientific consensus about climate change allowed themselves to be bullied by a false narrative that "science is not about a consensus" (Readers of Rabett Run, know this for the claptrap it is.  As Kuhn pointed out the existence of a strong consensus is what allows scientists in a field to have meaningful discussions and collaborate with each other),  the push back from the know littles starting with the three minute hate against Naomi Oreskes has slowed public acceptance of the problems associated with our changing the climate.

Cook, et al brought this to a boil.  Not only by showing that there is a ~97% consensus supporting the proposition that climate change caused by humans is significant and underway as judged from abstracts of a huge number of papers in the last couple of decades, but they got an almost matching percentage of the authors to agree that they supported the proposition.

This, of course, raised the furries, amongst them Dan Kahan whose theory is that you will never convince a denialist by reminding said creature that almost all of those who know anything about the Earth system believe in the consensus.  It, according to Kahan, makes them feel stupid and therefore they reject the consensus.

ATTP has been kicking this down the road with numerous comments,
I don’t really know how best to interpret what is being suggested here. So, consensus messaging is somehow toxic and damages other attempts at science communication? Well, that there is a strong consensus with respect to AGW is essentially true. If consensus messaging is toxic, then that seems to suggest that some respond poorly to being made aware of something true, which is – in itself – interesting. There may well be better ways in which to use consensus messaging, but to suggest not using it at all would seem to imply avoiding saying something that is true. I find that mildly disturbing.
At about the same time, van der Linden, Leiserwitz and Maibach published the results of an experiment on consensus measurement
This experimental study evaluated whether communicating the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change is likely to be effective with the American public. Drawing on a large national sample (N = 6,301), we set out to replicate and extend the findings of van der Linden et al. (2015). Consistent with the original study, we find robust and replicated evidence that communicating the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change leads to significant and substantial changes in perceived scientific agreement among conservatives, moderates, and liberals alike. These findings prove robust, even among those predisposed to receive counter-attitudinal information (e.g., Fox-news watchers, global warming skeptics). Further, among conservatives, we find the greatest change in perceived consensus among the subset whose own friends and family are least likely to believe in human-caused global warming. In short, we find little evidence of identity-protective cognition and no evidence of belief polarization across these groups.
This did not sit well with said Dan Kahan who proceeded to do the whole Tol Niggle Routine in the course of which Eli wandered over and commented
Dan K says: 
So give me a prediction: what is the probability a conservative republican who doesn't believe in global warming says that he believes in AGW after AAAS msg?
And again misses the point which is that consensus messaging shifts the Overton window for everyone, which is the point of consensus messaging and the fantasy camp message that there is a significant number of those who study climate and closely related matters that oppose the consensus.

So the real question is what is the probability that a conservative republican who doesn't believe in global warming would loudly say that in an audience that does accept the scientific consensus on global warming?

Planck was more right than you know.
This second method, using consensus messaging to move the Overton Window shall henceforth be known as the Rabett Shift. 
Dan K being a sucker for punishment replies

So your prediction about how likely a conservative who doesn't believe in climate change is to change his or her mind in response to the "97% msg" is, "Who cares."
To be honest in the Planck sense Eli only cares as denial wastes time and time is valuable, but, otoh, in terms of getting to action denial is an issue that consensus messaging deals with, just not in the brain cases of the truly committed who will never be reached and so the Bunny continued
Now some, not Eli to be sure, might think this simply Dan's plea for mercy to avoid having to confront a serious problem with his thesis about consensus messaging. Messaging does not only have to convince, it can limit the response of opponents. In the case of the spherical earth consensus, there is little purpose in claiming the Earth is flat. We have fine evidence that it is not and given the consensus on that, this moves those who claim it is flat to the kook korner.

Time need not be wasted proving to the flat enders that the world is spherical (actually a bit pear shaped, somewhat like Eli), they can simply be dismissed while the rest of us get busy constructing GPS systems. Oh, GPS you say, well, if you use a GPS system you believe in both flavors of relativity, although there are some dead enders there too, but they can simply be dismissed or giggled at.

Climate change is real and carries with it potential serious problems. We need to get past denial to start dealing with the problems and if consensus messaging moves the Overton window, well goody.


KAP said...

I'm totally on board with this, and I've had some success at getting the not-rabidly-nutters to, well, not change their opinions, but simply to shut up, which is (as you rightly point out) at least half the ball game.

For example, with those who maintain that yeah, OK, it's warming, but
"the science isn't settled" about what's causing it, I post a dozen (or two!) links to peer-reviewed attribution papers and say, "This is what I've been reading -- what papers have YOU been reading, to claim that the science isn't settled?". And that will nicely end the conversation, and (one hopes) inhibit the other guy from making a similar claim in the future, lest he is shown up with equal alacrity.

Tom said...

If you actually think that you are shifting anything you have a really over-inflated idea of your influence on the climate conversation. What you say is heavily discounted because of how you say it.

People refer to other writers about climate change, much as you have referred to Kahan here. People don't refer to you. There's a reason for that.

JohnMashey said...

Eli: there is certainly anecdotal data, some from personal experience, that at least in person (as opposed to safety of the net), people are less willing to express climate denial claims in public, especially in front of neighbors, or to challenge expert speakers.
Of course, afterwards they blog...

Susan Anderson said...

Since people occasionally say rude things in here, I'm going sideways to the subject matter, but not entirely so.

Lovely comment at the NYTimes:

"Considering which republican you might want to win is analogous to choosing which venereal disease you might choose to live with.
So abstain from voting R."

If one were able to make it clear that intentional disunderstanding of climate dynamics is immediately toxic, one might make it worthy to avoid climate pariahs.

andthentheresphysics said...

It's been quite interesting interacting with Dan Kahan. I've had more constructive discussions on science denial sites. I'm guessing that's a feature rather than a bug.

Bryson said...

I've used history of science in these contexts to some effect (anecdotal evidence warning), in particular in a course on geology and evolution. It seems that understanding where the components of the current consensus came from can help the uninformed understand why scientists are convinced (it doesn't hurt that the fairy tales of creationism don't just conflict with today's geology and biology, but also with the geology and biology of the 18th and 19th centuries).

BBD said...


It's been quite interesting interacting with Dan Kahan. I've had more constructive discussions on science denial sites. I'm guessing that's a feature rather than a bug.

You will have noticed how I periodically go toe to toe with DK #1 fan Joshua. IMO some cultural commentators do far more harm than good.

Howard said...

Consensus messaging is a 20th Century concept for those still viewing the world through their own Overton Peephole.

Fife, just kicked the Overton window far enough to the denier side of the court to put Jim Inhofe in the frame. With Michael Mann on the laundry list of consensus-choppers on the playbill, it has sent the deniers into a spastic tizzy.

Russell Seitz said...

Who'd waste three minutes hating Naomi ?

It's hard to muster a two minute yawn for a Former Next Presidential court historian.

andthentheresphysics said...

As much as I agree with the latter part of your comment, I'm not sure Joshua is necessarily a fan of DK. Also, Joshua - from what I've seen - is actually capable of having an actual discussion and rarely - if ever - seems to rely on insults and misrepresentations.

BBD said...


As much as I agree with the latter part of your comment, I'm not sure Joshua is necessarily a fan of DK.

Well, he has referenced him an awful lot in our previous discussions about denialism.

Also, Joshua - from what I've seen - is actually capable of having an actual discussion and rarely - if ever - seems to rely on insults and misrepresentations.

Certainly true, which is why I didn't intend to even imply otherwise.

skylanetc said...

RS: "Who'd waste three minutes hating Naomi ?"

Hah! Why, you would, of course, Russell. You've wasted many a minute posting your nicotine-addled mal mots about her in this very blog.

Brian said...

To respond to Kahan, there are few Road to Damascus moments. Silence and changing the subject is the best most people can do (probably me too, changing my position on something I previously believed is more of a process than an instantaneous shift).

Republican leaders used to care about flag burning, then stopping the gays from serving in the military, and now they've moved to preventing health care and non-existent Mexican immigration. Silence about their previous positions represents progress, at least as to those previous issues.

Hank Roberts said...