Seepage: Climate change denial and its effect on the scientific community

Stephan Lewandowsky*, Naomi Oreskes, James S. Risbey, Ben R. Newell, Michael Smithson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

84 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Vested interests and political agents have long opposed political or regulatory action in response to climate change by appealing to scientific uncertainty. Here we examine the effect of such contrarian talking points on the scientific community itself. We show that although scientists are trained in dealing with uncertainty, there are several psychological reasons why scientists may nevertheless be susceptible to uncertainty-based argumentation, even when scientists recognize those arguments as false and are actively rebutting them. Specifically, we show that prolonged stereotype threat, pluralistic ignorance, and a form of projection (the third-person effect) may cause scientists to take positions that they would be less likely to take in the absence of outspoken public opposition. We illustrate the consequences of seepage from public debate into the scientific process with a case study involving the interpretation of temperature trends from the last 15 years. We offer ways in which the scientific community can detect and avoid such inadvertent seepage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Volume33
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2015

Structured keywords

  • Memory

Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Climate change denial
  • Global warming "hiatus"
  • Scientific assessment
  • Scientific norms

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