Cognition & climate science

Date & time

3–4pm 25 March 2013




Winthrop Professor Stephen Lewandowsky, School of Psychology, University of Western Australia

Although nearly all domain experts agree that human CO2 emissions are altering the world’s climate, a notable segment of the public appears to reject the scientific evidence. What are the reasons underlying this disparity between scientific reality and public perception? Why do people reject scientific evidence? To what extent do people understand the basic physical principles underlying climate change?

I review some of the cognitive and psychological variables that determine people’s responses to climate science and other scientific propositions (e.g., the fact that HIV causes AIDS or that smoking causes lung cancer). The data show that (a) while people are capable of understanding climate data at a simple level, they do not comprehend the relationship between emissions and global temperature. (b) Although processing of climate data does not appear to be influenced by people’s personal worldviews or ideology, the rejection of climate science is largely a matter of ideology, with proponents of a laissez-faire free market being most likely to reject climate science, as well as other scientific propositions. A further factor that appears to be involved in the rejection of science is conspiracist ideation. There are numerous ways in which conspiratorial thinking differs from conventional scientific thinking.

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