Look out for that turbine! Climate sceptics are the real Chicken Littles
Published in The Conversation by Stephan Lewandowsky, a cognitive scientist and Chair of Cognitive Psychology at the University of Bristol. These views are his own. View original article.
The sky is falling! Oh wait, no: it’s just the clouds moving… Sarah Smith
Several Australian corporate figures have recently disparaged climate scientists.
First, former banker David Murray questioned the integrity of climate scientists on national TV. Casting such aspersions on scientists follows the precedent set by the tobacco industry, which referred to medical researchers as an “oligopolistic cartel” that “manufactures alleged evidence.”
Attacks on scientists proceed according to the same playbook and regardless of discipline. If there is any novelty in Murray’s slur, it is that until recently he led the Future Fund, a body that is legally tasked with delivering risk-adjusted returns on the Australian Government’s budget surpluses. The adjustment of a risk by denying or ignoring it is arguably not without precedent; see the 2007 financial crisis, for example.
More recently, mining figure Hugh Morgan confronted the issue of risk head-on and declared the world’s climate body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to be “Chicken Littles” whose dire predictions would soon be cast aside, in the same way that the apocalyptic warnings of the Club of Rome from 40 years ago turned out to be false. (Except that when a CSIRO scientist reviewed those 40-year old projections, he found them to be remarkably accurate.)
Much is known in cognitive science about how people judge risks. It is now commonly accepted that those judgements are inherently subjective and subject to cultural biases, such as one’s attitudes towards the free market.
Thus, whereas the medical community lives up to its reputation as Chicken Littles by claiming that tobacco has adverse health effects, other institutions that arise from a different cultural background, such as Morgan’s Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), take a more heroic approach by chastising such “corrupt science” as overly alarmist. The trade-off between free-market fundamentalism and lung cancer is a matter of cultural preferences. Continue reading “Look out for that turbine! Climate sceptics are the real Chicken Littles”