“Scientists and scientific studies have a minimal effect on public opinion” about global warming

While one might think that scientific data and reports are convincing, a sociologist argues that these matter little in the debate over global warming:

“Scientists and scientific studies have a minimal effect on public opinion,” says Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle, lead author of a new climate attitude study in the Climatic Change journal. “What really drives public opinion on climate change are the ways that political elites describe the science.”…

In the current Climatic Change journal, Brulle and colleagues looked at 74 public opinion surveys from 2002 to 2010, in a bid to figure out the contradiction in opinions between experts and everyone else…

“The science doesn’t matter because the science isn’t the real issue,” Brulle adds. “It’s about politics and money.” All we have with climate change, he suggests, is politicians taking sides in an economic debate over whether we should spend money to address climate change, or not (with one side very strongly opposed), and hiding behind a smokescreen of debate about settled science to avoid making those issues clear.

Brulle is suggesting that instead of debating how much we should respond to global warming (which seems like an interesting debate to have in itself), the debate has turned to the credibility of the actual science. So if conservatives admit that there is warming, then they would have to admit that money needs to be spent on fighting it and they don’t want to do that? There seem to be two issues here: the actual data and then the value judgments about what should be done.

I’ve been seeing reports on Brulle’s findings for several months now. If he is correct, are politicians taking notes about how to change public debates? At the same time, I imagine it is more difficult to make the case for spending money on environmental concerns with such economic issues (see the Keystone pipeline debate).

I wonder if there are other areas where there is something similar going on and scientific studies have little impact. If there is a common view that science is the province of liberals and elitists, how many people will trust what it has to say?

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