Friday, July 08, 2016

Study disguises climate change in different terms for scrutiny by economists

Amy Mitchell-Whittington
A climate-change study disguised with economic terms such as profits and trade surplus has had analysts agreeing that statements from climate-change deniers were "overwhelmingly" misleading.
Data from six climate change trends such as rising sea levels was relabelled with terms relating to trade surplus, business profits or population trends.
The study was taken up to show the facts of each climate change trend, without the politics.  
Graphs were then presented to 22 economists and 30 statisticians to review the data and determine if a statement that was related to each graph was accurate.
The study was conducted in England in 2014 and has been published in the journal Global Environmental Change.
University of Queensland School of Psychology researcher Timothy Ballard said each statement was either from those who agreed with climate change or those who didn't.

"We found that those in the survey who were exposed to these denier statements, even when translated into another context, people overwhelmingly rated them as misleading," he said.

"The other thing we did, half the time above the graph they were exposed to these translated denier statements, the other half the time they were translated into statements that accurately reflected the scientific consensus.
"When exposed to those statements, they rated the statements as accurate."

Data was sourced relating to the reduction in arctic ice, glacier mass, rising sea levels and rising global temperatures and was put into various economic contexts, Dr Ballard said.

"For example, we have a graph that shows the arctic ice decrease over the last 30 years and we basically just changed the labels on the graphs so that instead of the viewer thinking it was arctic ice, they think it is profits for this fictitious company," he said.

"The actual data and the trends they are seeing is exactly the same. The individual glacier mass was translated into a population for individuals or villages, sea level was translated into a daily currency trade volume. There was nothing particularly special about these new contexts, they just had trends that resembled the overall trends or, in this case, sea level."

Dr Ballard said the study was taken up to show the facts of each climate change trend, without the politics.
"The background is that climate change has gotten so politicised and particularly those who are not believing in climate change, the deniers or whatever you want to call them, their arguments were that you can't take anything that climate scientists are saying because they are trying to push their political agenda," he said.

"If you can separate the data from the political context then it might help to get a clearer picture of the merits of each of the arguments.

"We used economists and statisticians in our sample, the logic was that these people are very well trained in evaluating data and they should be well equipped to whether these particular claims about the data are accurate."
Dr Ballard said inaccessibility to climate science left a lot of people unaware of the facts.
"You see a lot of climate deniers painting the picture of uncertainty and using it is as a reason to cast out on the climate-change people," he said.
"They don't know either way and so they are potentially susceptible to weak arguments. The arguments that have led scientists to conclude that climate change is existing and is going to get worse, they are very complex ... these arguments are not easily accessible.  The whole idea of decontextualisation, of not only understanding the merits but as a way of presenting it, is certainly an interesting idea."

A species that evolved to prioritize short-term threats is pretty much doomed to ignore a long-term threat until it is too late.

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

"...and I'm just gettin warmed up!" -- Mother Nature

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