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Climate change: Scientific agreement can neutralise politicisation of facts – Study

The Centre for Climate Change Communication in the George Mason University, USA on Monday, December 11, 2017 announced the publication of a new article titled: “Scientific agreement can neutralise the politicisation of facts” in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

Several recent studies have found that the more education conservatives have, the less likely they are to accept scientific findings about climate change, suggesting a motivated reasoning effect. This has led to the concern that attempts to increase public knowledge might exacerbate political polarisation on the issue. Yet, most prior studies have been correlational, which leaves the most important question unanswered: Does communicating climate change facts cause issue polarisation?

The centre sought to answer the question with a large nationally representative experiment involving 6,301 Americans.

The centre disclosed in a statement: “Consistent with the motivated reasoning account, before we provided respondents with any information, we found evidence that higher educated conservatives were more likely than higher educated liberals to underestimate the scientific consensus on climate change. However, as part of a randomised experiment, we exposed half of the sample to a simple scientific fact – ‘97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused global warming is happening’.

“We found that both groups who read the ‘consensus message,’ i.e. higher educated liberals and conservatives, adjusted their estimates of the consensus upward in the direction of the actual scientific norm (97%). Moreover, the consensus message reduced polarisation between higher educated liberals and conservatives by nearly 50%: the gap between higher educated liberals and conservatives shrank from about 16 percentage points before exposure to the consensus message, to only about 8 percentage points after exposure.”

The findings are visualised in the figure below:

Scientific agreement
Study findings

The centre continued: “In other words, we found that communicating a simple fact about the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change did not reinforce political polarisation. Quite the opposite: communicating the scientific consensus helped neutralise partisan motivated reasoning and bridge the conservative-liberal divide, at least on this key fact.

“These findings proved robust across ideology and education levels and build on our prior work illustrating that perceived scientific consensus acts as a ‘gateway’ to other key beliefs about climate change.”

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