8 September 2011
Science, The Tea Party and The Dunning-Kruger Effect.
Posted by Dan Satterfield
Ed Maibach and Anthony Leiserowitz at GMU, and the Yale Center for Climate Change Communication have released a fascinating study of the opinions of different political party members on climate change. This is all the more fascinating because it defines the Tea Party as a separate group and asks some interesting questions about climate science. Take a look at the highlights from the survey below and see if you notice what stood out glaringly to me.
GLOBAL WARMING BELIEFS
- Majorities of Democrats (78%), Independents (71%) and Republicans (53%) believe that global warming is happening. By contrast, only 34 percent of Tea Party members believe global warming is happening, while 53 percent say it is not happening.
- A majority of Democrats (55%) say that most scientists think global warming is happening, while majorities of Republicans (56%) and Tea Party members (69%) say that there is a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether or not global warming is happening.
- Tea Party members are much more likely to say that they are “very well informed” about global warming than the other groups. Likewise, they are also much more likely to say they “do not need any more information” about global warming to make up their mind.
- Tea Party members are more than twice as likely than any other group to say they don’t want to change the light bulbs in their house to energy-efficient compact fluorescent lights (CFLs).
- Tea Party members are far more likely to have heard about the “climategate” email controversy (45%) than Republicans (20%), Independents (27%), or Democrats (16%).
- Democrats are more likely to believe that human beings evolved from earlier species of animals (62%), compared to Independents (57%), Republicans (51%), and Tea Party members (34%).
The one that stood out like a sore thumb was the response from the Tea Party segment that said they did not need any more information to make up their mind. Here is the exact question and the responses:
I’ve Made Up My Mind and Nothing You Say Will Change It
In other words, they know all they need to know, and they are very certain of their position. It’s also noteworthy that only 34% of tea party members believe global warming is happening. This is perhaps the most amazing result when you consider the absolute mountain of scientific evidence that indicates their position is dead wrong.
I could fill ten pages here talking about nearly every glacier on the planet is retreating, and the close match between the satellite measured temps and the thermometer record, and so on. Not to mention ice cores, sea level rise, species moving toward the poles, sediment cores and the rising number of record highs vs record lows. In reality there is a mountain of evidence that these 66% of tea partiers are wrong, and a paucity of reliable observations that one could claim as evidence that the planet is not warming!
There is a name for the feeling I had when I read this and it’s called Fremdschämen. Daniel Hawes at Psychology today explains:
“Fremdschämen describes embarrassment which is experienced in response to someone else’s actions, but it is markedly different from simply being embarrassed for someone else. ..
Instead, Fremdscham (the noun) describes the almost-horror you feel when you notice that somebody is oblivious to how embarrassing they truly are. Fremdscham occurs when someone who should feel embarrassed for themselves simply is not, and you start feeling embarrassment in their place…Besides the emotional response, Fremdscham-inducing events and items (such as this creationist video) also usually cause one to ask this question: “how on earth can these people be unaware of how stupid they are being right now?”.
As Hawes points out ,this is called the Dunning-Kruger effect. Here is a brief definition from Wikipedia:
The Dunning–Kruger effect
“..is a cognitive bias in which unskilled people make poor decisions and reach erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the metacognitive ability to recognize their mistakes. The unskilled therefore suffer from ..rating their ability as above average, much higher than it actually is, while the highly skilled underrate their own abilities, suffering from illusory inferiority.”
To put this in plain language, you feel Fremdscham when that distant cousin launches into a speech on how aliens are visiting Earth at the family reunion. The reason he cannot see how silly he looks is because of the Dunning-Kruger effect. In other words, (to be blunt) he is too ignorant of his ignorance to realize he is making a fool of himself.
According to Psychologist Bob Altemeyer this is classic authoritarian behavior. Altemeyer’s book is a fun (albeit rather scary) and eye-opening read, and he has a comment on his website about the tea party. If Altemeyer is correct about authoritarian behavior, then there is no amount of evidence, no matter how solid and convincing that will sway tea partiers from their belief that the planet is not warming and that scientists are manipulating data etc. They will accept claims that agree with their view without any pre-qualifications, and they have no idea how silly they look to others outside their very tight circle.
When it comes to issues surrounding their world view, authoritarians show almost no critical thinking skills. You could say these people have a much stronger force field around their idea of reality than other people do and It’s nearly shatter proof. Authoritarians can easily dismiss and minimize the overwhelming evidence on climate and replace it with global conspiracy theories, involving thousands of researchers, that to most people are obviously downright silly.
Thomas Friedman, the author of Hot, Flat and Crowded explains just how much you have to rearrange reality to believe that scientists are doing this for the money, and all that evidence for evolution and the age of the Earth is suspect. He was on CNN on Wednesday.
Scientists and Dunning-Kruger
The media is often frustrated by scientists who are reluctant to plainly state an opinion or make a concrete prediction about something. They are always qualifying their answers and for a reporter looking for a good solid sound bite, this can be maddening and puzzling. i.e. if the expert doesn’t know, who does! The Dunning-Kruger effect explains this as well, and in their original paper Dunning and Kruger ( you expected someone else??) quoted Thomas Jefferson in explaining it:
Thomas Jefferson once said, “he who knows best, knows how little he knows.”
It is always a matter of getting out the vote, the midterms had a low turnout and look what got voted into the House. No thinking person can afford to sit on their hands anymore, the risk is too great.
Reactionary politics has its draw, always has, it is a matter of education to combat that draw.
To be fair, I don’t feel I need any more information to make up my mind about whether AGW is real and is a serious problem…. Not that new information couldn’t change my mind, but the consensus seems pretty freakin’ clear and I don’t feel I need more information to be pretty confident that it’s real.
[…] Satterfield at AGU (whom I hadn’t read before: thanks Greg Laden) connects the epistemology of the Tea Party (or rather of Tea Partiers) with the Dunning-Kruger effec…. Ed Maibach and Anthony Leiserowitz at GMU, and the Yale Center for Climate Change Communication […]
[…] hat tip to Greg Laden’s X-Blog for this: AGU Blogosphere | Dan’s Wild Wild Science Journal | Science, The Tea Party and The Dunning-Kru… Share and Enjoy:Written by: Jerrald Hayes on September 9, […]
Yeah..the party of less government is real authoritarian. Mind your trans fats kiddies….
Read history. Under the Cotton Era slaveowners government in the southern states was very limited, and completely under the slave-owning oligarchy’s thumb. The Bill of Rights was largely ignored: no free speech, no free press, searches of homes and the mail without warrant, lynchings instead of trials. Any criticism of slavery or the slave-owning oligarchy was deemed promoting slave rebellion – “the murder of our innocent wives and babes.”
Not every libertarian is an authoritarian wolf in libertarian sheep’s clothing but quite a few are. Their “limited” government is government under the thumb of an oligarchy holding the real power, without accountability, transparency or a voice for the people.
Of course Tea Party members aren’t as smart as you.
“The word ‘incontrovertible’ … is rarely used in science because by its very nature, science questions prevailing ideas. The observational data indicate a global surface warming of 0.74 °C (+/- 0.18 °C) since the late 19th century.”
Dr. Ivar Giaever, a former professor with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the 1973 winner of the Nobel Prize in physics, he was one of more than 100 co-signers of a 2009 letter to President Obama critical of his position on climate change.
Retired physicist (almost always a conservative white male) with no papers in the climate field thinks AGW is not real but has never submitted a paper showing why. A bit of an old argument. I can find physicists who think the moon landing was a hoax as well.
I guess Brian is the example of Dunning Kruger- there ALWAYS have to be some around! Why can’t they just shut up already?
This post seems a bit ironic.
The Dunning-Kruger (DK) effect states that incompetent individuals lack the understanding to accurately evaluate themselves. It does not, however, establish that incompetent individuals are more self confident than competent individuals or that all those who claim self confidence are actually incompetent. In fact, distinguishing between competence and incompetence without an ACCURATE assessment of an individual’s knowledge is impossible.
We like to use phrases like “mountain of scientific evidence” and “fill ten pages” when deep down, we know that science is an ever changing field.
For example, the most glaring example of the DK effect is the near-universal belief that “scientific studies” are sacrosanct. As frustrating as it is to accept, two groups can perform honest studies, without guile, and obtain conflicting results. A good example is the emergence of astronomical findings that cast doubt on the accuracy of correlating the red-shift to distance (yeah…that would be HUGE). Science all about accepting one’s own ignorance.
CONSENSUS has no place in honest science. Just like in mathematics, only one exception changes everything! We are fools if, with all our learning, we lack the wisdom to see truth.
Here is the truth. Lots of conservatives are very smart. The studies that contradict many aspects of the global-warming theory are actually legitimate.
Instead of ostracizing those that disagree with us, let’s cut the crap, stop being offended, and seek truth.
Science ALWAYS seeks the truth. The DK affect however says nothing about belief in “scientific studies”. As for climate science, there will always be uncertainties, but liberal or conservative has nothing at all to do with them. Science is also not likely to pay much attention to someone trying to disprove a theory because it does not fit well into their political world view. The facts are all that matter.
Good points Kyle and Dan, not sure if ‘science always seeks the truth’ as most scientific research is funded by vested interests, political/economic etc.
Most??? Cite on that, or an opinion?? Am actually curious.