Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How Cognative Bias Works in Global Warming Denial

Another follow up on the psychology of global warming denial and why deniers are not sceptics. A sceptic is somebody who is sceptical of all data sources and conclusion - and a really good sceptic knows that worst of all, we can be our own worst enemies. We have inbuilt a system of cognitive bias that not only seeks out information to confirm an existing prejudice, but also edits what we remember we have been to remove information that counters our prejudices. We call this process (broadly) cognitive bias (there is a great article on this in the UK Wired feb issue).

We all have it - me too. So what's the best way to stop it impacting on a judgement? To be aware it exists and account for it. Science is an inherently sceptical approach to a subject that demands findings be transparent and checked over by others (peer review). Science also spends time researching that bias to better understand it and then re-designing it's methods to account better for it. I've gone into more detail of the scientific process here.

Put simply, the key to accounting for cognitive bias is to have a rigorous and accountable system. Science has it; it's not perfect, but no human-run system will be. But it is there and is accountable. Global warming denial does not. It has zero accountability, is tainted thought and though with corporate cash and riddled with chancers, lies and errors. But it also panders to the worst of cogitative bias. Here's a example how. This is a quote from an article by rabid denier Andrew Bolt - who writes prolifically on the subject of global warming and the science behind it. In this instance he is commenting on the debate between Monkton and Lambert and confesses that on the technical details of who is right or wrong;

Don’t ask me to adjudicate on the Lambert-Monckton stoush. Many of these issues are over my head...

A tacit admission that he does not understand the workings of the science means that it is impossible for him to make his mind up on the basis of logic and facts; because he is ill equipped to understand them. No shame there, I'm not much better. That means he is making his mind up only on the basis of 'truthiness' - what he'd like to be true rather than what is true. However I don't then call out people as frauds who's work I don't understand simply because it does not accord with my bias. I do critique the work of denailists because it is written by fellow amateurs using simple tricks that even a basic bullshit detector will spot.

Again to put this simply; people like Andrew Bolt are simply blowing the trumpets of people who confirm their existing prejudice - that that in no guarantee of truth - indeed it is a logical gap that means you wont see the wood for the trees.

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