Why Don’t Americans Trust Scientists? Or Do They? And Why This Matters

Yves here. KLG finds inconsistencies between the abstract and the actual paper in an article on trust in scientists. Per KLG’s cover note: “A good lesson in reading the paper and studying the data rather than accepting the Introduction/Abstract/Conclusion.”

By KLG, who has held research and academic positions in three US medical schools since 1995 and is currently Professor of Biochemistry and Associate Dean. He has performed and directed research on protein structure, function, and evolution; cell adhesion and motility; the mechanism of viral fusion proteins; and assembly of the vertebrate heart. He has served on national review panels of both public and private funding agencies, and his research and that of his students has been funded by the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, and National Institutes of Health.

Perhaps a better question is why is it that Americans don’t trust each other.  That is probably an unanswerable question, especially in this format.  Unanswerable questions are often the most important, but we must start somewhere.  A paper in PLOS Climate published in September 2023 by researchers at Cambridge and Caltech asks the question: Why don’t Americans trust university researchers and why it matters for climate change.  As such papers go, this one lays out the problem well, beginning with a standard summary of climate science leading to the consensus that anthropogenic climate change/global warming is real.  The question is whether this kind of analysis brings us any closer to scientific, political, and cultural consensus on  anthropogenic climate change and what we can do about it.

That humans are causing global warming by burning fossil fuels has been widely recognized in the scientific community since the 1980s.  Perhaps the first mainstream treatment was The End of Nature by Bill McKibben, which I read shortly after it was published during a stretch of hot weather in North Georgia that felt unprecedented.  It wasn’t, of course, but looking back this was when the average temperature had doubled the pre-industrial revolution norm.  Following Wendell Berry and a few others such as Herman Daly, McKibben called for a way of more “humble” way of life that will allow us to live better, if not “richer” in a full world.  Growth in a full world is not the answer to our problems.  Nor are electric cars, which mean more growth, more mining, more pollution, and more dislocation (see this link from October 5th).  One pathway forward allows us to live better with less.  In the other we will live meanly with less.  Our choice.

Current scientists were not the first to raise the question of greenhouse gases and climate change.  This is taken from a previous post on how scientists and engineers working for Big Oil knew exactly what fossil fuel use would lead to: From On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures (1832), by Charles Babbage, the polymath who, along with Ada Lovelace, invented the first computer: “The chemical changes which thus take place are constantly increasing the atmosphere by large quantities of carbonic acid (i.e., carbon dioxide) and other gases noxious to animal life.  The means by which nature decomposes these elements, or reconverts them into a solid form, are not sufficiently known.”  This is now “sufficiently known.”

Svante Arrhenius, a founder of the discipline of physical chemistry who was awarded the third Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1903, published “On the influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air Upon the Temperature of the Ground(1896, pdf; that title is wonderfully descriptive).  His temporal predictions were wrong because he underestimated the extent of fossil fuel use in the 20th century.  His logical predictions were correct.  Carl Sagan as a leading planetary astronomer who proposed the greenhouse effect was responsible for the most inhospitable climate on Venus before he became an indispensable scientific communicator (worth the 16:53).  The science of climate change really is simple: “We are releasing carbon that was sequestered over a few hundred million years in a few hundred years.  Thus, the effects of this are likely to be serious.”  These include global warming, ocean acidification, disruption of the water cycle leading to severe weather as a symptom of a climate out of balance.  I have never gotten very far using this argument with the true disbelievers.  Nevertheless, the science in this case is undoubtedly true, and both the mechanisms and consequences are widely understood [1].

Upton Sinclair described why scientists from Big Oil would deny the validity of their own very good research [2].  The current paper confirms that “segments of the American electorate do not “believe” climate change is a problem for the United States and that climate change is not a consequence of human activities.  But we also show that part of the problem regarding climate denialism is a lack of trust in university research.”  I confess, as someone who has been “in” university research for his entire professional life, this bothers me.  Where did we go wrong?

The beginnings of a conventional academic answer from this paper are summarized as follows: “Climate change is a global challenge and needs an interdisciplinary collaborative approach to understand and address this ‘wicked problem’.  Climate science provides a crucial intersectional example for examining public trust in science (and research).  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emphasizes that public confidence in climate science is needed to ensure that the public and governments that receive their mandates from the public implement consensual mitigation and adaptation policies to prevent the predicted devastation from further global warming.”  Intersectional?  Wicked?  Words.

As are these “from a recent meta-narrative literature review” of the meaning of trust in climate science: attitudinal, cognitive, affective, contextual, communicated, and contingent.  Attitudes, where do they come from?  Not directly from science, but from science-adjacent advocates have been at work saving the “Market” scientistically from scientific results for a long time.  Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway have analyzed this very well since they published Merchants of Doubt.  This has been covered at Naked Capitalism here and here.  The other words are for another time, perhaps in a series of posts on Ian McGilchrist’s work in The Master and His Emissary, originally published in 2009 and updated in 2019, and his two-volume magnum opus The Matter with Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions, and the Unmaking of the World (2021).

The present paper concentrates on attitudes, what they are and who has them regarding trust in university research centers.  In general, Americans’ trust in scientists has historically been high, mostly for good reasons [3].  What happened?  The short answer is that scientific research ran up against the Market, and science-adjacent market advocates struck back very effectively.  Scientists, in their proud obliviousness to anything that was “just politics” paid no attention until it was too late.  Which it has been for a while.

As expected, the authors of the present paper repeat the PMC trope, which is nevertheless true, that “conservatives” are less likely to trust university research on climate science than their more liberal fellow citizens.  One of the more interesting notions of these critics of climate science is that the scientists “pushing” anthropogenic global warming tend to do this because they will “get rich” from the grant money that comes their way.  Not exactly.  It just does not work that way, especially in universities and nonprofit organizations.  Yes, having a grant with which to run a laboratory is necessary to even have that research program.  But the personal “return on investment” in writing grants is generally negative for all but a very few in each discipline, and I am not speaking only from personal experience.  My success rate, which comes in below the Mendoza Line is actually not so bad.  But that is no way to live, for very long.

So, what did the authors of Why don’t Americans trust university researchers and why it matters for climate change find in their survey of 2,096 American citizens?  Figure 2 (rather than insert the figures into the text, I will use links which are legible, even on a phone) shows the results of the question “How much of a problem is climate change?”  Note that the authors had to use logistic regression to show differences among groups.  This is certainly standard procedure, but the nature of such statistics often conflates “statistically significant” with “meaningfully different.” [4]. As expected, Democrats, Moderates, and Liberals are “significantly” in the affirmative, while older people are on the other side.  That is about it, though, except for those with “low trust.”  Figure 3 shows the result of “Is climate change caused by humans or nature?” The answers are the same, with few exceptions (an answer of +1 is “humans”; –1 is “nature”).  Black respondents and those who attend church regularly were more on the “nature” side of the divide.

Figure 4 addresses “Who trusts university research centers?”  Democrats, Moderates, Liberals; those who get their news from TV and print, but not online (as I smile while typing this); Catholics, Jews, Others; often/sometimes but not frequent churchgoers; postgraduates.  I will not attempt to interpret these results.  But they could be interesting at this point in a “just so” manner.  Instead, I want to return to Figure 1 (Distribution of Dependent Measures, in %, n = 2,096), the top half of which is inserted here.

My simple (perhaps simple minded) interpretation of these data is that 68% of the participants in this survey view climate change as at least a “somewhat important problem,” 18% view climate change as a “not very important problem” but a problem nevertheless, while 14% view climate change as “not a problem at all.”  Moreover, 59% of the participants view climate change as “caused by human activities.”  In addition, although 24% are on the “Don’t Trust” (0 – 4) side of the “Trust in University Research Centers,” 60% (6 – 10) are on the “Trust Completely” side of the spectrum.  16% are in the middle at “5” on the 0 – 10 scale.  See the complete Figure 1 at the link for the latter data.  Note that the numbers are different and presumably correct, in that that they add up to 100% in Table A of the Supplementary Information (click on Supporting Information at the left of the text in the landing page of the link if you are so inclined, but I did it, so you don’t necessarily have to).

I will also add here that while “conservative” and “Republican” appear in the text of the article, they are nowhere to be found in the primary results presented.  Democrat, Independent, Moderate, Liberal – yes.  Republican, Conservative, Libertarian – no.  Odd, that, but I could have missed something.

This all leads me back to the title of this post: Why don’t Americans trust scientists?  Or do they?  And why this matters.  It would seem, based on the results presented here that most Americans do view climate change as a problem and that more than half tend to trust university research centers.  So, what is a take-home message from this paper?  According to the authors (formatted slightly differently here):

Our results confirm that segments of the American electorate do not believe climate change is a problem for the United States and that climate change is not a consequence of human activities.  But we also show that part of the problem regarding climate denialism is a lack of trust in university research.  We argue for a comprehensive four-stage research strategy based on the empirical results.

  • First, more research must be done to understand who trusts or distrusts university research on climate change and who is persuadable.
  • Second, more research is needed on climate communication framing and messaging.
  • Third, additional research on appropriate messaging is necessary.
  • Finally, we need to develop a culture of trust in climate research and how it is communicated across society.

In response to these bullet points, I can only reply that distrust in institutions has never been total nor will it ever be.  Institutions and bureaucracies develop imperatives that prevent them from “doing their duty.”  The solution to this problem is to remove the imperatives.  Removing maladaptive imperatives from universities and research institutions has been a common theme here, but Neoliberal Market Fundamentalism gets in the way.  Until it doesn’t.

The only way to persuade the skeptical segment, hostile or not, is to be transparent, which means scientific, at all times.  Academic ivory towers can be comfortable, but we scientists cannot afford this luxury in the Anthropocene.  It is entirely too late for that.  Nor do we need more research on “climate communication framing and messaging.”  We do need scientists to engage the public seriously, however.  Since the deaths of Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould, the communication of science has languished, despite the prominence of so many TED Talk mavens.  More’s the pity.

Appropriate messaging is simply the provisional truth as clearly as one can present it, with all the relevant assumptions and caveats attached.  These are always present.  The data in this paper show that trust in climate research is already present, but that political and cultural factors make this less than obvious.  Still, the people have reason to distrust scientists.  An everchanging scientific “food pyramid” has since the late-1960s done nothing except change the American diet for the worse, with epidemic obesity accompanied with metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes as the result.  Statins are supposed to be the “cure” for much of our burden of heart disease, but cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States.  Polypharmacy has become the American Way of Medicine: “Yes, we have a pill for that.”  Confined Animal Feeding Operations (i.e., industrial livestock production) require the misuse of antibiotics, which contributes to the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria.  All science.  The list goes on.

Such is the way of our world, and it will be the death of us.  Unless we do something about it.  And that something is not meta-analysis of any problem.  We need more genuine understanding from every direction, with scientists asking and answering questions appropriate to their discipline.  The people, all of us, scientist and layperson alike, will listen.  Particularly when scientists abandon the PMC – Professional Managerial Class – for their original vocation.  It could happen.


I thank LS for sending me this paper, which became something much different on a second, more considered reading.

[1]  Michael Mann has recently published Our Fragile Moment, which I have not read but promises to be a good summary of the many arguments on global warming.  Professor Mann was the first to popularize the “hockey stick graph” (Wikipedia but a good description of the controversy) that illustrated the recent acceleration in global temperature.  As has been noted before, change is often manageable.  But exponential change in any living system leads to collapse.  The hockey stick graph was used initially as a cudgel by critics of anthropogenic global warming, but the validity of the observation has been confirmed in multiple complementary analyses.

[2]  “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”  But this could be too harsh.  The eminently qualified scientists and engineers in Big Oil undoubtedly knew what their results were likely to show.  For one thing, most of them had mastered the relevant chemistry and physics, which was not at all esoteric.  But how those results were reported, or not, was up to management.  Heroes are rare when their livelihoods are threatened by something that has been insensible, until now, 40-50 years after the original research.

[3]  Not that the research establishment has been blameless by any stretch of the imagination.  The entire “science” of eugenics, which was in full flower 100 years ago, comes to mind.  It has been largely forgotten that conventional statistics was largely developed to “make eugenics true.”  And the Tuskegee Experiment, which still baffles every sentient human being.  Feel free to add your own examples.

[4]  In a recent analysis of a significant question in medical education, I have found that something widely, essentially universally, accepted as “statistically significant” has no legitimate predictive utility.  More on this later.

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  1. John R Moffett

    When the government and their minions in the Corporate Owned News spend most of their time either lying, dissembling, omitting key facts or throwing up smoke screens, it is a wonder that anyone believes anything anymore. We are swimming in official lies and fabrications, and they come in two flavors, Red and Blue. For me, the way the public is split and distrustful is the obvious outcome of an untrustworthy government. Scientists can add to the problem when they push a corporate or government agenda rather than sticking to science. Until someone figures out how to get everyone to stop watching or reading the Red and Blue news, the distrust will only grow over time.

    1. j

      We are in an age of distrust. Sometimes even comments on this site are disallowed. I was under the impression NC encouraged having opinions challenged. Perhaps less so now.

  2. Arizona Slim

    Key point from the post: Still, the people have reason to distrust scientists. An everchanging scientific “food pyramid” has since the late-1960s done nothing except change the American diet for the worse, with epidemic obesity accompanied with metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes as the result. Statins are supposed to be the “cure” for much of our burden of heart disease, but cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States. Polypharmacy has become the American Way of Medicine: “Yes, we have a pill for that.” Confined Animal Feeding Operations (i.e., industrial livestock production) require the misuse of antibiotics, which contributes to the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria. All science. The list goes on.

    1. Grumpy Engineer

      Yep. All you have to do is walk down the salad dressing aisle at the grocery to see evidence of “food pyramid” sins of the past. Probably half the offerings are “low-fat” dressings that are packed with sugar or (even worse) high-fructose corn syrup.

      1. Arizona Slim

        Personally, I’m partial to the Primal Kitchen brand, which omits the sugar, HFCS, and the seed oils. Works for me.

  3. steven t johnson

    The PMC is not a thing. It is exceedingly difficult to take seriously an analysis premised on an acronym instead of reality. Since the PMC is not a class in any meaningful sense, it certainly is not the ruling class. And endorsing anti-intellectualism in the name of tilting at this windmill will not break the golden chains of the real ruling class on academia and the media and the political system.

    By the way…Halal/kosher/Kellogg’s corn flakes and Sylvester Graham’s crackers/fish on Fridays/fasting/sacred cows….Is it any wonder that food pyramids and other dietary schemes are rampant? The notion that a pure diet will give you indefinite good health is very much a survival of religious thinking I believe. It’s not just exorcism or twelve-step programs for mental disorders. Of course “science” is widely agreed to be entirely compatible with religion, so what’s the beef?

    1. eg

      Can you say more about how John and Barbara Ehrenreich’s work on the Professional Managerial Class is invalid?

      1. steven t johnson

        PMC is all superficialities. Consider college professors. PMC can’t tell the difference between an adjunct and a tenured professor. Amongst the tenured it can’t tell the difference between a professor who holds copyrights on books or one who holds an endowed chair (especially when the donor is a still living rich looking to do good) or one who heads a policy institute funded by rich people or one who is connected to get grants and those who aren’t.

        It doesn’t distinguish between professors at universities with giant endowments and public universities and struggling institutions with crap reputations. So far as reproducing social relations and capitalist culture go, there is a better case that elementary and secondary school teachers do more. Except the PMC concept can’t tell the difference between school teachers who can’t negotiate a personal contract, just sign the one offered or not. The PMC concept can’t distinguish a contract negotiated by a union and the boiler plate put in front of a new hire. The PMC contract doesn’t understand that social reproduction includes nursery/day care workers, and amateur coaches, and clergy, as well as the TV set. It doesn’t distinguish public and private schools.

        PMC can’t tell the difference between a freely reproducible good—which is by the way the claim some “mental” workers are implicitly making, that they are smart enough to do something novel where someone else is not, that their work is not freely reproducible—and fairly routine tasks that still require education. PMC either can’t tell if the mental work is making a profit for the capitalists or it somehow thinks (sic?) *it doesn’t make a difference!* I get confused if PMC considers for some reason that a professional mental worker who makes a medical diagnosis (aka, physician) is a professional, the P in PMC, or if not, why aren’t they? Technological innovation is characteristic of most societies to some degree, barring collapse.

        In addition to being blind to forms of property like copyright and patent, or legal privileges like licensing and guild associations, PMC doesn’t seem to get that the value of the family house, if they have one, makes a difference in class status. By the way, the very distinction between petty and haute bourgeois is quantitative. Nothing Ehrenreich says about orthodox Marxism means anything but a sneer.

        PMC doesn’t consider whether withholding labor in mental services will cause any bourgeois to go broke. This is essential to all strategies in class struggle! Instead PMC seems to imagine some sort of “objective” class struggle with the proletariat who apparently have naturally given—-or maybe it’s divinely endowed—“property” in the form of culture. When the PMC expropriates the proletarian culture, the PMC profits somehow.

        In practice, the PMC seems to be identified solely by its degree and it is defined as parasitic because it is ultimately paid by…taxes. I think the belief we are all oppressed by taxes, instead of most of us being under paid, is pure right-wing ideology cunningly disguised as fake left.

        And by the way so far as I can make out part of the inseparability of the PMC from the old petty bourgeois comes from so many of them being the old petty bourgeois.

        No doubt this is too long in one sense, yet far too short in another. No one wants to read my detailed analysis of the Radical America essay. This is triply true, because PMC is just a right wing buzz phrase, useful precisely because it doesn’t haven’t any real meaning and makes a gesture at true agreement. It just means I think a faux-populist anti-intellectualism.

        1. lambert strether

          Karl Marx, Capital, Volume III, Chapter 52, “Classes”:

          The first question to he answered is this: What constitutes a class? — and the reply to this follows naturally from the reply to another question, namely: What makes wage-labourers, capitalists and landlords constitute the three great social classes?

          At first glance — the identity of revenues and sources of revenue. There are three great social groups whose members, the individuals forming them, live on wages, profit and ground-rent respectively, on the realisation of their labour-power, their capital, and their landed property.

          However, from this standpoint, physicians and officials, e.g., would also constitute two classes, for they belong to two distinct social groups, the members of each of these groups receiving their revenue from one and the same source. The same would also be true of the infinite fragmentation of interest and rank into which the division of social labour splits labourers as well as capitalists and landlords-the latter, e.g., into owners of vineyards, farm owners, owners of forests, mine owners and owners of fisheries.

          Followed by one of the more frustrating sentences in the literature:

          [Here the manuscript breaks off.]

          I underlined where Marx is pointing to what some would label the PMC, or a fraction thereof, which surely have also an “infinite fragmentation of interest and rank.” Which goes to show that class analysis is hard, then and now.

          Personally, I regard PMC as a useful placeholder. It will do till something better comes along. Also, like pr0n, I know PMC when I see it. If you have better references in the literature, do feel free to share.

          Also, I don’t know where this “paid by taxes” thing comes from. Certainly not from Ehrenreich. Needs a link.

        2. rob

          Do you think “PMC” stands for “professional Mental Class”?

          I hate to break it to you, but elementary school teachers aren’t “PMC”.
          The mind set of those who manage people from a comfy office somewhere else…. where reality doesn’t need to interfere with their decision making process, or their pay scale; is more the “type” of person /job that fits that description. The self described “important people”.
          The term is Professional Managerial Class.

          1. steven t johnson

            Ehrenreich defined the PMC as the class of mental workers engaged in reproducing capitalist society. So, yeah, the definition includes elementary school teachers. Private definitions held by each person is nonsense politics, but that’s why the PMC nonsense is so popular, as a swindle.

  4. Louis Fyne

    Scientists (as a profession) has become divorced from the scientific method.

    See replication crisis, see also non-scientific activists putting on the “science shield” which hurts the credibility of good faith scientists

    And unfairly, scientists have become a punching bag for political decisions made in DC

    1. Grumpy Engineer

      And particularly at the university level, we’ve seen scientists (and engineers) advocating solutions that are wildly impractical. Like the 100% WWS “solution” by Stanford’s Mark Jacobson, which proposed a 10X expansion of US hydro facilities (which would shred our river ecosystems if ever used at that 10X level) and required a mind-blowing 546 TWh of energy storage (the US currently has about one-thousandth of that amount).

      Or the “concrete supercapacitor” being developed at MIT. The key quote is as follows:

      Two electrodes made of this material, separated by a thin space or an insulating layer, form a very powerful supercapacitor, the researchers found. The two plates of the capacitor function just like the two poles of a rechargeable battery of equivalent voltage: When connected to a source of electricity, as with a battery, energy gets stored in the plates, and then when connected to a load, the electrical current flows back out to provide power.

      This relays a fundamental misunderstanding of capacitors. In a capacitor, the energy is stored in the “insulating layer” (i.e., the dielectric material), not the electrodes that conduct electricity to and from that layer. Using massive electrodes made of concrete doesn’t result in any more energy storage capability. But it greatly increases the risk of the insulation layer being penetrated by a non-uniformity in the electrode. If you punch even one hole in the insulation layer, the capacitor shorts out and is ruined.

      And your criticism of “non-scientific activists putting on the ‘science shield’” (while botching the science) also applies to government leaders. For example, AOC and Ed Markey recently re-introduced the Green New Deal. Their implementation document repeatedly calls for subsidies like “$0.03/kW”, which is the wrong unit of measure. It’s supposed to be “$0.03/kWh”, unless they truly do plan to give the operator of a 3MW wind turbine a one-time check for ninety bucks.

    2. Carolinian

      Isn’t the role of science to distrust science? It’s not some kind of dogma although the propagandists of one side or the other always want to turn it into that. These popular media uses of science have of course bred skepticism.

      I do think most people now accept that AGW is real and they do so because increasingly odd weather events give them the evidence of their senses. On the other hand when “science” says Covid vaccines are safe, just trust us, then look out.

      Science has given the modern world great power so of course it is going to be used and misused by the powerful. The real question is why “scientists” are doing a paper about the public’s doubts. Don’t they have better things to do?

      1. Mikel

        “The real question is why “scientists” are doing a paper about the public’s doubts. Don’t they have better things to do?”

        Scientists could be out there explaining the effects of all of these wars on the climate.
        Just for a start…

    1. Tim

      It is interesting and sheds more light on the assertion that “There are lies, damned lies, then there are statistics.”

  5. ISL

    Two of the solutions:
    “Second, more research is needed on climate communication framing and messaging.
    Third, additional research on appropriate messaging is necessary.”

    Sounds like: we need better propaganda. Which is not. going. to restore. trust.

    In fact, when I see the messaging morphing I personally become suspicious that truth is NOT being disseminated. Makes me search for where they are hiding the y=x, z=y, I discovered that “z=x”, i.e., showing the hypothesis is correct based on assuming the hypothesis is correct as the foundation, in the research.

    For a scientist there is only one solution. More data, better data, clearer analysis, (and honest) clear explanations of the data and analysis.

    Its really not complicated.

    1. TimH

      Also the statistics are often misused. Any scientific article that uses the word ‘average’ instead of median or mean (never seen anyone use mode) is pushing an outcome.

      I wish basic statistics, including p, were taught better to allow readers to analyse publications.

      1. Phil R

        It’s because of the “wee-p” or p-hacking that a lot of statistical studies are wrong. Also using incorrect statistical methods or “homegrown” methods that haven’t been checked or validated by statisticians.

  6. PlutoniumKun

    One problem I think is that scientists are too polite to each other. In my professional life I’ve multiple times seen scientists strongly disagree with each other, but I’ve never seen one say ‘you are only arguing this because your client/employer is paying you to say it’, even when its quite obviously true (sometimes I’ve had it whispered to me in private, but never openly). I’m not suggesting that every scientific disagreement should be a slagging match, but scientists need sometimes to call out other scientists who wave their PhD’s in the media making arguments they would never dare set out in a proper peer reviewed paper, because they know they’d be called out and humiliated. Richard Dawkins once semi-jokingly suggested that universities should have formal de-frocking ceremonies for PhD’s who say stupid things (it was in reference to a physics professor who claimed that he could prove the existence of God mathematically), its not actually a bad idea.

    On the subject of climate change, we must accept that there are some very sophisticated and well funded groups deliberately spreading doubt and misinformation – you can see this constantly pop up in debates over EV’s, renewable energy and farming. They are often deliberately hijacking other agendas – for example, they’ve been very successful in Europe in persuading people that reducing nitrate use in farms is some sort of weird Green plot against honest small farmers. This isn’t just a matter of spreading misinformation or pushing some crackpot scientist – its a sophisticated multi level project deliberately aimed at undermining faith in that remaining small core of independent scientists.

    1. eg

      The “well funded groups” you reference are following the well-worn path of those who broke the trail in the service of Big Tobacco and Big Sugar — they’re just working for Big Oil and Big Pharma now …

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I actually don’t think that its ‘Big…’ who are doing the majority of the funding now – its not good PR for them. My suspicion is that most money comes from shadowy groups with a primarily ideological objective – mostly Libertarians (many of whom of course are obscenely rich). There is a certain breed of libertarian who sees environmentalism as the greatest enemy, even more than socialism, as its scientific grounding is so solid and it is seen as a direct challenge to the idea of leaving the ‘commons’ to the free market – even more so than conventional left wing thought. So they are intent on undermining it in every way possible.

        In many ways they are far more dangerous than Big Capitalism as their influence is much harder to identify. They are, it should be said, particularly good at injecting ideas into the mainstream in such a manner as to seem entirely natural, so much so that I’ve seen many times people here on NC repeat ‘facts’ which have actually originated from these groups. This is particularly obvious in discussions on things like wind energy or EV’s or most recently in farming groups opposition to nitrate controls, which some of the dimmer left wing parties have adopted as a cause celebre.

  7. Ethan Hays

    First comment here, since this post has walked into my wheelhouse: I studied Material Science in school, Physics, Chemistry, and Electrical Engineering, intending to research advanced solar panels, but left after doing a literature review on the systematic impact of various energy sources, because solar lost pretty badly.

    I contend that I am qualified to speak on the topic with some degree of authority.

    “Why Don’t Americans Trust Scientists?”

    They do, what they don’t trust are the media and politicians trying to use science as a wedge to enforce their own agendas.

    “As such papers go, this one lays out the problem well, beginning with a standard summary of climate science leading to the consensus that anthropogenic climate change/global warming is real. The question is whether this kind of analysis brings us any closer to scientific, political, and cultural consensus on anthropogenic climate change and what we can do about it.

    No, because that is not the problem; once you strip away the nonsense, you can get most people to agree on the fundamentals of the issue (“Burning lots of stuff is probably bad for the air”), where they get off the bus is on the media- and politician-recommended “solutions.”

    Solar panels and wind turbines are not the answer; they don’t solve anything. Neither do Electric Vehicles, not eating meat, or planting random trees in places they probably should not be.

    The actual solutions, according to science:

    1. Massive investment in nuclear power; not only does this displace coal and gas, advanced nuclear plants run hot enough to use the waste heat for industrial processes, which can include Carbon capture and water desalination. Already the cleanest and safest energy source (including solar and wind), in the long term (20+ years), it becomes the cheapest, as well.

    2. Ocean pollution regulation and remediation, and I mean NOW! You could cut down every tree on the planet, and we would still be able to live, but if we screw up the cyanobacteria in the oceans, we all die, period. Trees are great Carbon sinks, but it is the blue-green algae that make our Oxygen.

    3. More GMO crops; agriculture produces far more greenhouse gases than transport (and a lot of transport is related to agriculture), so higher yields for less input of fertilizer, water, and pesticides make a big difference.

    4. Anti-recycling regulation; no, not against recycling itself, but against disposable items that require recycling. Cars designed to fail and be unrepairable after 7 years, disposable cell phones and TVs, everything coming in single-use plastic wrap…

    5. Efficiency: Remote work, for those who can, should be a no-brainer; funding to improve insulation and use more efficient heating and cooling systems (e.g. heat pumps) are obvious; mass transit, ride sharing, co-op kitchens, local and urban farming…

    So, who is out there advocating for these things?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      While we do like new commentors, please be warned that appeals to authority, particularly one’s own, don’t get a lot of deference here. And strong claims call for strong evidence, which I don’t see here. We usually want to see links too.

      The only solution is radical conservation and we won’t get there.

      1. It will take too long to get nuclear capacity meaningfully increased to stop the climate train wreck. It takes five years to site, design, and get approvals. Then it takes five to seven years to build the plant. Then it has to be tested and pass those tests. See: http://large.stanford.edu/courses/2017/ph241/park-k2/

      2. Yes, and I would like to have a pony. How do you get rid of all the plastic?

      3. We’ve posted extensively on how traditional farming methods produce higher yields and use less fertilizer. See for instance:

      Despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase U.S. crop yields.

      Failure to Yield is the first report to closely evaluate the overall effect genetic engineering has had on crop yields in relation to other agricultural technologies. It reviewed two dozen academic studies of corn and soybeans, the two primary genetically engineered food and feed crops grown in the United States. Based on those studies, the UCS report concludes that genetically engineering herbicide-tolerant soybeans and herbicide-tolerant corn has not increased yields. Insect-resistant corn, meanwhile, has improved yields only marginally. The increase in yields for both crops over the last 13 years, the report finds, was largely due to traditional breeding or improvements in agricultural practices.

      The UCS report comes at a time when food price spikes and localized shortages worldwide have prompted calls to boost agricultural productivity, or yield — the amount of a crop produced per unit of land over a specified amount of time. Biotechnology companies maintain that genetic engineering is essential to meeting this goal. Monsanto, for example, was running an advertising campaign at the time of the report release warning of an exploding world population and claiming that its “advanced seeds… significantly increase crop yields…” The report debunks that claim, concluding that genetic engineering is unlikely to play a significant role in increasing food production in the foreseeable future.

      The biotechnology industry has been promising better yields since the mid-1990s, but Failure to Yield documents that the industry has been carrying out gene field trials to increase yields for 20 years without significant results.

      Failure to Yield makes a critical distinction between potential—or intrinsic—yield and operational yield, concepts that are often conflated by the industry and misunderstood by others. Intrinsic yield refers to a crop’s ultimate production potential under the best possible conditions. Operational yield refers to production levels after losses due to pests, drought and other environmental factors.

      The study reviewed the intrinsic and operational yield achievements of the three most common genetically altered food and feed crops in the United States: herbicide-tolerant soybeans, herbicide-tolerant corn, and insect-resistant corn (known as Bt corn, after the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, whose genes enable the corn to resist several kinds of insects).

      Herbicide-tolerant soybeans, herbicide-tolerant corn, and Bt corn have failed to increase intrinsic yields, the report found. Herbicide-tolerant soybeans and herbicide-tolerant corn also have failed to increase operational yields, compared with conventional methods.

      Meanwhile, the report found that Bt corn likely provides a marginal operational yield advantage of 3 to 4 percent over typical conventional practices. Since Bt corn became commercially available in 1996, its yield advantage averages out to a 0.2 to 0.3 percent yield increase per year. To put that figure in context, overall U.S. corn yields over the last several decades have annually averaged an increase of approximately one percent, which is considerably more than what Bt traits have provided.

      In addition to evaluating genetic engineering’s record, Failure to Yield considers the technology’s potential role in increasing food production over the next few decades. The report does not discount the possibility of genetic engineering eventually contributing to increase crop yields. It does, however, suggest that it makes little sense to support genetic engineering at the expense of technologies that have proven to substantially increase yields, especially in many developing countries. In addition, recent studies have shown that organic and similar farming methods that minimize the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers can more than double crop yields at little cost to poor farmers in such developing regions as Sub-Saharan Africa…

      “If we are going to make headway in combating hunger due to overpopulation and climate change, we will need to increase crop yields,” said Gurian-Sherman. “Traditional breeding outperforms genetic engineering hands down.”


      We have similarly posted and linked to articles confirming this general finding and explaining how poor countries would do better to ditch industrial agriculture, including GMO seeds.

      I’ll let readers address the rest.

      1. dave -- just dave

        Yves says

        The only solution is radical conservation and we won’t get there.

        Well, we won’t get there from here, as the Mainer said – we will have to go somewhere else first. Just where we will go, and how the bumpy the ride may be, is probably not determined yet.

        2/KLG says

        perhaps in a series of posts on Ian McGilchrist’s work in The Master and His Emissary

        I would be interested in seeing these posts, if they happen. McGilchrist is interviewed by Nate Hagens, formerly of The Oil Drum

        Aug 23, 2023 The Great Simplification – with Nate Hagens

        On this episode, literary scholar and psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist joins Nate to discuss the way modern culture teaches and encourages us to use – and not use – the two lobes of our brains. While most functions require the use of both sides of our brains, each side is specially attuned to see and interact with the world in certain ways: the left side acts as a narrow problem solving executor, while the right side is a broadly open contextualizer. What happens when we humans – in aggregate – become imbalanced in our use of these two critical functions? Have we divided the Earth into pieces to be optimized rather than a whole (which we’re a part of) to be stewarded? Can we learn to bring these two components of our brains back into balance and in turn heal fractures in ourselves, and ultimately in our communities, Earth, and her ecosystems?


        1. thousand points of green

          ” We can’t get there from here”.

          The “here” we are at could be called radical waste. Could we get from radical waste to moderate conservation?

          If we could get to moderate conservation, would such moderate conservation become the “here”? A “here” from which we could get to the “there” of radical conservation?

      2. Greg

        Fantastically interesting report, thanks for the link.

        I could see a reasonable argument for using GMO exclusively as a mechanism for accelerating the traditional plant breeding practice (copy and insert is faster than hybridise and backcross by 5ish years). Provided the methods used are proven safe enough (even crispr-cas9 has a bit too much off-target risk for widespread production use afaik).

        Not surprised to find that single trait GMO lines haven’t done much, most of the plant genetics research I’ve read can be summed up as “it turns out its quite a bit more complicated than we’d hoped”. Part of what makes Mendel’s work so amazing is that he really, really lucked out with the particular traits he focused on in peas.

      3. Ethan Hays

        I’ll let readers address the rest.

        But not let me respond?

        Interesting tactic; it makes me curious why I should bother to post here ever again, if my support for my comment is not going to be allowed.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Had you read our site Policies, they state it may take as long as 24 hours for us to free a comment that hits our moderation tripwires. Your comment that you are complaining about is now only about 8 hours old, so your expectation is not reasonable.

          In addition, a second reason it has not been freed is it is chock full of bad faith argumentation, as in multiple instances of straw manning what I said and making a citation that is irrelevant to the issues at hand. That means it’s a lot of work for me to shellack it and I am not sure it is worth the bother, given that you don’t seem willing or able to adhere to house rules. Commenting here is a privilege, not a right.

          1. Ethan Hays

            Well, I apologize.

            I had assumed that this forum was intended for honest debate.

            My mistake, I will not bother (or refer to… or read) you in the future.

    2. Tony Gaggiotti

      Anyone who still believes the CAGW hypothesis needs to answer the following questions:
      1) How did the last ice age end, given that there was no human industry 15,000 years ago?
      2) How do you explain the “pause” in warming from ca. 2000-2016, which Kevin Trenberth descibed as a “travesty” for the “hockey team”?
      3) Speaking of the Hockey Stick, how do you account for the fact that literally ANY data fed into Mann’s algo produces a hockey stick? (Steve McIntyre’s https://climateaudit.org/ site is an invaluable resource for Mann’s numerous spurious claims.)
      4) Finally, and perhaps most important, why is warming a BAD THING? Far more people die from extreme cold than extreme heat.

      1. John R Moffett

        There are many books written on the ice ages, just look them up. The Milankovitch cycles are one of the main drivers of ice ages and interglacial periods. Look that up too. Plus there are periodic massive volcanic eruptions which tilt the balance toward cooling at first, and warming after. So to ask these questions means you have not looked into it as thoroughly as you should have.

        Warming is a bad thing due to coastal flooding, droughts, mega-storms and the end results which include crop failures and starvation. Again, all of this is well documented if you cared to look any of it up. Some of the most interesting non-fiction books I have read are about ice ages and interglacials.

      2. LY

        1. Can deniers learn basic climatology, greenhouse effect, and ice age history? Do deniers understand rate of change? How many acknowledge that the planet is more than a few thousand years old?

        2. What pause? Zoom out on the graph. What happens when comparing 2000-2016 to 2006-2022?

        3. The hockey stick isn’t an algorithm, it’s a historical plot of temperatures. “literally ANY data”, if it’s real data, just reflects the underlying stuff. Decades of research have happened since the original plot. If the hockey stick is spurious, where’s the non-spurious plot?

        4. Must be nice to be disconnected from nature, and be privileged and wealthy to ignore extreme cold and extreme heat. What’s wet bulb temperature? Daily life won’t be affected by droughts, crop failures, rising sea levels, disappearing glaciers, infectious diseases, etc.

        1. Jams O'Donnell

          Not to mention the current mass extinctions. There is an old expression – the ‘Great Chain of Being’ – no-one knows which links in the chain are indispensable for the continuance of large-animal life, but the chain is now being broken at random.

        2. Phil R

          No matter what one thinks of global warming/climate change, trust (or lack of) in scientists or whatever, the hock is absolutely NOT a “historical plot of temperatures.”

          It is mostly a mash-up of proxy data including tree rings, lake sediments, etc. for most of the historical data with a recent temperature series from thermometers spliced on to the end. Whether it means anything or not is another discussion, but it is NOT a historical plot of temperatures.

          1. LY

            It’s a historical plot of temperatures, using methods to reconstruct them from real data. Feel free to present an alternative plot. In climate denial you CAN beat something with nothing.

            1. Phil R

              Q: How many legs does a dog have if you call a tail a leg?
              A: Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.

              One can claim that it’s a historical plot of temperatures as much as they want. That doesn’t make it so. An estimated temperature reconstructed from proxy data is NOT real temperature data.

      3. Ethan Hays

        How did the last ice age end

        Um, the “last” ice age was 260 million years ago; the current ice age has been going on for about 2.5 million years.

        ~13,000 years ago was the end of the last glacial maximum, which appears to follow the Milankovitch Cycle, a combination of orbital precession, solar maxima/minima, the eccentricity of Earth’s orbit, etc.

        How do you explain the “pause” in warming from ca. 2000-2016, which Kevin Trenberth descibed as a “travesty” for the “hockey team”?

        They had added more tracking locations, which was skewing the results, and when they removed the data new stations, the “pause” disappeared.

        >Speaking of the Hockey Stick, how do you account for the fact that literally ANY data fed into Mann’s algo produces a hockey stick?

        This is why Caltech Berkeley Physics professor started a project to completely rebuild the algorithm from scratch using verified data and accounting for all suggested problems:


        And he came up with exactly the same result.

        Finally, and perhaps most important, why is warming a BAD THING? Far more people die from extreme cold than extreme heat.

        …even allowing that, which I’m not sure of, “Global Warming,” is not the problem, it is the mechanism; “Climate change,” is the problem, and the reason that it is a bad thing is that we have spent the last 5,000 years adapting to our environment and relying upon the weather and climate patterns which have persisted for most of that time, and almost any change, in any direction, is likely to have a sum negative effect on the ability of the human race to survive on this planet.

      4. steppenwolf fetchit

        I am just a layman, but before I accepted that there was a pause in surfacespheric heat buildup, I would have to know what the ice caps, glaciers, snowfields, sea ice, permafrost and other surface ice features were doing between 2000-2016. If all those ice features and freeze-features were also remaining exactly the same from 2000-2016 then we could say that there was no warming from 2000-2016, at least from an ice feature’s point of view. But if one or more of these ice features was/were warming up, melting back, shrinking, thawing, etc. between 2000-2016, then warming did not even pause between 2000-2016 anyway. Because it takes heat to melt ice and thaw permafrost, so if those things were melting and thawing from 2000-2016, it means that the heat buildup was rising right along during those years, and was going into the ice and permafrost.

        So . . . what were the snow, ice and permafrost features doing during those 16 years?

  8. GC54

    Not what you meant to say I bet

    “but looking back this was when the average temperature had doubled the pre-industrial revolution norm.”

  9. voislav

    I think that lack of trust is a general problem that goes back to corruption of the society in general, which has led to corruption of science as well. Europe has far fewer problems with trust in science because it has not allowed the society to be corrupted by money to the same level as US.

    It’s foolish to think that science can somehow be above the rest of the society in preserving high ideals and intellectual purity, scientists are part of the society and are subjected to same pressures (financial, political, etc.) as the rest of the people.

    Like the rest of the society, large majority of scientists are intellectually honest and do genuinely good work, but the funding mechanism are increasingly tied to commercialization and politicization of science, and are promoting the unscrupulous minority, giving them prominence and clout in the scientific community.

    I’ve joked with a friend of mine who is a university professor in Canada that it was easier for me to start a successful start-up company than for him to get tenure because of all the political bullshit that is involved in academia today. And this has nothing to do with liberal/conservative politics, it’s basically the office politics at universities, where scientific contributions are irrelevant compared to how much money does one bring in grants and in positions on various committees and in professional societies that control the distribution of academic grants.

    So, university professors spend most of their time not doing science, but playing political games, while research is done by underpaid post-docs and grad students. But, all the decision making is still done by the professors, who are now mostly detached from their research and only have a rough idea of how things work. One professor I know made a conscious decision not to spend 8 hours a year going through safety training, denying him access to his own labs. The reason was that he never spends any time in the lab anyways, so why waste time on safety training.

    /Rant over :)

    1. Phil R

      Not that this means a lot, but we (my wife and I) have a very close friend who is the head of the history department at a fairly well known university (we met when our kids played Little League Baseball together many years ago). We are not academics and the person comes over at times to talk and just to vent. I can more than vouch for how nasty and time-consuming academic office politics can be. I actually told the person one time that academia is past its use-by date. they still talk to us.

    2. Jams O'Donnell

      “Europe has far fewer problems with trust in science because it has not allowed the society to be corrupted by money to the same level as US.”

      It would be nice to think so, but going by the behaviour of such ‘people’ as von der Leyen, Scholz, Sunak, Johnstone, Macron and the deservedly little known leaders of Italy, Holland, Belgium, NATO etc. I think that that assumption would be mistaken.

  10. Lefty Godot

    A good read is the book Science Fictions by Stuart Ritchie, which addresses how pernicious incentives have led to a lot of scientific “research” that is meaningless, overhyped, or outright fraudulent. And much of this is the headline grabbing stuff that makes it to popular science news stories. The dietary nonsense that is promulgated now is one example that is perhaps more subtle than some of the others you see in areas like psychology and sociology, where replications often fail in the rare cases where they’re attempted. (Ritchie explains why there are many career disincentives for replication studies). The really tragic part is all the horrific animal torture that goes on to support the alleged research for life sciences.

    If your exposure to science is via popular science headlines, at some point you get jaded about all the constant “could”, “may” and “might” assertions; and clearly anything that talks about “lifestyle” while ignoring toxic environmental chemicals, poverty, and the unhealthy-by-design food industry (whose products occupy 90% of the typical grocery store) is junk science. A kind of Gresham’s Law makes this dodgy stuff drive the real science out of the public’s consciousness and make the whole enterprise questionable, and that’s even before you get to the disinformation of fossil fuel companies, agribusiness, Big Pharma, and assorted think tanks funded by politically motivated wealthy people.

  11. New Okie

    I recently went to a renewables fair in a small, rural town. It featured everything from aircrete to midwifery to tarot reading. 350 showed up and gave a talk about climate change. I was one of the few people attending. It was very basic and the basic info was not bad, but it had a Potempkin village feel to it. The presenters were kids from big city colleges with seemingly little understanding of rural life, or any ability to imagine what happens to a farmer when diesel gets expensive. When asked about what individuals could do their only idea was “electric vehicles”, which they admitted not everyone could afford (as this blog has mentioned in the past, there is currently a limited supply of lithium so this strikes me as puchasing indulgences in any case). No mention of solar panels on roofs, which actually is a solution that is doable here.

    They do want to build more solar farms, presumably on existing farmland. I have heard locals grumble that it is just the latest attempt to steal our water. (A solar farm would have rights to the water under it but no use for it, so conceivably that might mean that the water would be pumped elsewhere). Wind was also mentioned, as though it was a viable option here (there are maybe two windy months per year here–with limited rare earth metals for the magnets this does not strike me as a brilliant plan even if money was no issue).

    In short, their solutions are the kind that appeal to college students and the PMC. They think we need only clap and the renewables fairy will fix everything. But as Yves has said so often, sacrifices will be required if we are going to reduce emissions. And as I see it, if we don’t talk about those sacrifices they will, by default, be largely borne by the poor in the form of price inflation. Perhaps some of the poor know this, and that explains some amount of the distrust we see in regards to climate change. They regard the whole thing like a game of three card monte; one is fairly sure one is being cheated even if it isn’t clear exactly how.

    If it becomes clear that a green transition will materially benefit a climate change denialist in the short or medium term I suspect they will become much more inclined to listen to “the science”.

  12. Phil R

    I think the title of this post could also be, Why don’t we trust government scientists.

    For those who remember Eisenhower’s fairwell address in which he warned about unwarranted influence by the military-industrial complex he also warned about government influence in science:

    The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocation, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.

    Yet in holding scientific discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

    Trust is earned, not demanded.

    1. steppenwolf fetchit

      How about ” Why don’t we trust corporate scientists”? What kind of article could be written from that title?

  13. dirke

    Here’s some additional links on the problems with agriculture.


    I trying to undone forty years of petrol-chemical farming my 40+ acres. In my wooed area, I’ve restored ponds that 100 years ago were beaver. I’m putting areas that will increase bird and populations. What’s interesting, is that you would not believe the number of university Ag scientists and researchers that are going against the corporate agriculture monopolies. They have to end run the university they work at, fight the establishment and find there own funding to do independent research. The same is happening in biology, forestry and wildlife. The are economically profitable methods to sustainability and environmentally sound agriculture. The problem is getting the ignorant farmers to do it. Maybe we are seeing the return off real environmentalism that flourished in the 60-70s and crushed in the 80’s.

  14. MT_Wild

    From my cheap seat in the field of Wildlife Biology, some of our own issues with public trust has been when state and federal scientists stray from reporting the science into outright advocacy.

    I was educated at a point in time when outright advocacy was left to NGOs and University types and openly discouraged as a gov scientist. This has completely gone by the wayside, and it appears that advocacy is now seen as a role in those same gov positions. I think it has cost us a lot.of credibility.

    IMHO, outright advocacy leads one to emphasize the science (and certainty) of results that support your position and de-emphasizing results that don’t. Personally I try to be incredibly skeptical when the results line up with what I expected.

  15. MS

    The author needs to clearly distinguish between classical science (i.e. the application of scientific methods to get to the truth) and Science (TM) (as defined here – https://sciencetm.substack.com/).

    Classical science is not based on trust, and it has no room for “scientific consensus” or democracy. It celebrates the cases, where a lone scientist disagreed with the consensus of the day and later turned out to be correct.

    Science (TM), on the other hand, is a political activity, and its practitioners are politicians in disguise. They should be happy that people trust them more than the other politicians.

    I wrote a blog post explaining how classical science turned into Science (TM) –

  16. Retired Carpenter

    re: “Why Don’t Americans Trust Scientists

    Might it be that the terms “science” and scientist have lost their meaning through misapplication and overuse by folks who should know better?
    Retired Carpenter

    1. MS

      Bingo !! That is why I came up with the terms classical scientists and Scientists (TM).

      Someone listening to Mozart is not anti-music, when he complains about the soft-porn from Nicki Minaj. Thankfully the musicians had the good sense to classify those two types differently, but Scientists (TM) want to make us think that their contributions to humanity is a giant monolith.

  17. Rob Urie

    The political premise here is unclear. Say that 100% of the American people could be convinced that Climate Change is an urgent threat that needs to be resolved.

    Per the work of Thomas Ferguson and others, the donor classes control what legislation gets passed irrespective of the popular will.

    In practical terms, Joe Biden was claimed to be the best chance of getting solid environmental regulations passed, and his underwhelming program is structured as tax incentives, which have had very little success in achieving the goals they have been applied to.

    With respect to science, which science?

    Alan Sokol, physicist at NYU, argued for years that a human skull found in the Pacific Northwest should be taken from the indigenous folk who found it because only anthropologists had the skill set needed to determine its genesis.

    The anthropologists to a person claimed the skull was Anglo-Eurasian as they refused burial.

    DNA testing subsequently found that the skull was exactly as the indigenous claimed it was, indigenous.

    So, which is the ‘real’ science, anthropology of genetic tracing?

    How would you prove such a claim?

  18. David

    Significant market research background here; I am wondering about the PLOS article’s assumed model of change. I suspect that many Americans do not start to build their understanding of climate issues with input from scientists. They *start* with the “OK, what exactly do you want me to do?” question, the answer to which is either unclear or inconsistent or unacceptable or some combo. This internal process is not too dissimilar – or so I’ve heard – with the way some management consulting firms frontload their analysis plans with possible actions. Or even Marx’s comment about the philosophers and changing the world. It’s a legit way to look at it, IMHO.

    For citizen/consumers, the assumed science-first alternative may appear as a poor negotiation strategy, as it leaves them bound to an uncertainty. The way to get past this concern is for “leaders” to come up with a single, clear, acceptable solution and sell it.

    BTW I agree about radical conservation but it is hard for me, mired in the deep south, to imagine that it will ever be voluntary. I’d support a gradually increasing carbon tax; there may be a way to trade other taxes for it.

    1. Grumpy Engineer

      Oh, wow. You make some excellent points here. I think that your assessment is correct, and that for most people, the starting question is “What do we do about it?“. That’s certainly been my response, though that was likely influenced by my background in the power generation business. And indeed, the answers people have received are “unclear or inconsistent or unacceptable or some combo.” I’ve seen far too many proposed solutions that are deeply inadequate or would cause tremendous human suffering.

      Personally, I’ve been very frustrated with the emphasis on “belief.” If people simply “believe the science,” nothing changes. Their cars still burn as much gasoline as before. Their heat pumps (and other appliances) still use as much electricity as before. Until people replace (or abandon) equipment, their CO2 footprints will remain unchanged. “How do we change things?” is the true question that needs a true answer.

    2. Reply

      You introduced a great topic.

      Identifying the hidden structure(s) behind the processes and the presentations.

      Making that more explicit, or demystifying it, could help people re-examine their decisions and make them more informed consumers humans.

  19. Sub-Boreal

    Since Arrhenius is mentioned in connection with his 1896 paper on the greenhouse effect, there’s an interesting historical footnote to his work which I ran across three years ago when I was developing a course on the Anthropocene.

    Arrhenius cited John Tyndall (1820-1893), who is probably best known for his 1861 paper “On the Absorption and Radiation of Heat by Gases and Vapours, and on the Physical Connexion of Radiation, Absorption, and Conduction” in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (open access). These findings provided the physical basis on which Arrhenius built.

    But it turns out that Tyndall was actually scooped by an American woman, Eunice Foot, whose 1856 paper presented the results of her experiments which demonstrated the heating that occurred when carbon dioxide was exposed to sunlight.

    Foote’s contribution was overlooked for many decades, but there has been a flurry of recent writing which has tried to correct the record and give her the recognition that she never received during her lifetime, for example here, and here.

  20. Val

    Maladaptive imperatives indeed, very useful concept there. A long anti-human list of maladaptivity. War among other franchises, cough.

    Trust is earned and does not compound annually. Dogma propagates readily in any intellectual vacuum, academic or not. Mood music and data useful for scientific inference are non-overlapping magisteria. Marketing dressed in a lab coat and purple bow tie is still psychological warfare, though the credulous will be “skeptical” of that.

    In any case all the authors submitting to PLoS Climate should be required to include an estimate of emissions generated by their publication.
    Academic-associated emissions are surely increasing, higher than ever. So irresponsible. Sauce for goose and gander.

  21. Dave

    It is a very general statement.

    There are lots of scientists, in a wide range of disciplines e.g. in academia, industry, etc.

    From a general perspective the title of the article suggests that there are a lot of sensible people in America, e.g.

    Dr. Richard Horton, the current editor-in-chief of the Lancet

    Offline: What is medicine’s 5 sigma?

    “‘A lot of what is published is incorrect.’ I’m not allowed to say who made this remark because we were asked to observe Chatham House rules.”

    Dr Marcia Angell, a physician and longtime Editor-in-Chief of the New England Medical Journal

    Drug Companies & Doctors: A Story of Corruption

    “It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published or to rely on the judgement of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines.
    I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of the New England Journal of Medicine.”

    Why don’t the scientists in the oil and gas sector play a more active role in constructive engagements with the public?

    Internal Documents Show Big Oil PR Messages Still ‘Mislead’ Public on Climate

    French Oil Company Total ‘Knew About Global Warming Impact in 1971’, Study Finds

    Campaigners say the research shows Total and other oil and gas majors have “stolen the precious time of a generation to stem the climate crisis”.

    In Their Own Words: The Dirty Dozen Documents of Big Oil’s Secret Climate Knowledge

    Science historian Ben Franta unpacks some of the most critical documents exposing what the fossil fuel industry knew and when they knew it.

    Would you naive faith in the scientists and engineers at Volkswagen and more broadly the car industry to make reliable measurements?

    ‘Dieselgate’, its tremors and the role of car industry lobbying

    The science behind the Volkswagen emissions scandal

    If sceintists are interested in interacting with the general public they should make an effort to develop inclusive and accessible mechansims to disseminate their work.

  22. Mikel

    The public has been trying to draw attention to the environmental degradation that affects their health, in the past and IN THE NOW. If any number of issues had been addressed sufficiently, it would have gone along way in mitigating the negative climate effects.
    They’ve been told over and over by corporate lawyers and their scientists that this level of pollution or that level of waste is “safe.”
    Now all of a sudden, the corporations want to keep doing what they do and tell everybody else they change everything about their lives and be monitored every minute of the day in some way along with it, because why not find a way to get more control for profit.
    They couldn’t care less about lives today and we’re supposed to think they have the best interest of humunity in mind for the future. They’re worried about the “future” most of the presented models. And the damage being done to people in the present is always hidden, denied, litigated out of existence, you name it. Quarterly profits is the concern.
    It doesn’t add up.

  23. Icudock

    I second the thought that scientific method application is more rare in this era.

    In medicine I think most of the good research began to die a slow death in the late 90’s.

    Economic incentives whether big pharma sponsored research or people clawing for grant money has skewed results. The replication crisis confirms this.

    The current environment of incentives and disincentives in modern academia and corporate focus on profit restrict and taint much of the research published today.

    Science is not ever “right”. It is ever changing with each paradigm offered being subject to review and challenge. Only after a great amount of time and verification do theories become laws. Even after that time, they are still subject to revision if new data and new theories supplant the explanations of the prior laws. Science is NEVER settled. Period. Full stop. Ever.

    People who assume so were never correctly trained in the scientific method.

    The very nature of the process of scientific theory involves questioning, doubting, evaluating and re-evaluating. To suppress debate around a theory terribly impairs the process of perfecting the model which best explains a thing. There is a probability field around truth. If you can’t recognize that, then you can’t gainfully engage in the perfection of a model. Discourse and debate, questions and answers, thesis diathesis are axiomatic to the process of finding the correct answer.

    To assume that current consensus of thought on Any issue is the end all of truth is huge mistake and logical fallacy.

    This presumption that the science is settled is a logical error that leads to inaccurate decision making in policy formation.

    People work with the current information that we have at the time that we have it. Corruption that which has suffused institutions , and I mean both economic and sociopolitical pressure, skew results. Skewed results lead to bad policy.

    The Hawthorn effect is quite real, and in this context, the observer is the phalanx of bean counters, financial people, administrators and cheerleaders which influence things by proxy. If not directly, then indirectly. The current information is suspect. It always should be suspect. It always should be read with a jaundiced eye.

    The cultural appropriation of the garavitas of science by politicians is used to promote policies which comport with their world views.

    We see this in the climate wars.

    Not to demean the good intentions of people trying to do the right thing. Im all for renewable energy. I wish I had my house set up to not excrete a milligram of CO2.

    It is a matter simply that people are mistrustful of decrees from on high with settled science being the clarion call to comply. Why?

    Science is never settled. Ever.

    I think covid broke the bond of trust.

    Political activism cloaked in the mein of scientific certitude is being used to promote agendas. People sense this, even if they can’t precisely articulate what they object to.

    It has damaged the brand, if you will.

    Having suffered through a two year period of taking care of patients in an ICU environment during covid has changed my perspectives significantly.

    I used to trust the CDC, FDA and NAID. Great institutions. Awesome research. Good and timely advice on a huge range disease conditions.

    Then covid happened.

    Hundred hour work weeks and death all about me with no really effective tools to alter the course of that illness. I looked at what data was available. It wasn’t much initially.

    I obsessively read every paper I could get ahold of to more effectively fight this thing. Thousands of them. No good data. No cure. No really effective therapies. A few survivors with chloroquine.

    Then remdesivir came out. Then the UK paper on dexamethasone. The Kaplan-Meir curves looked promising.

    Then the decrees went out. Here is the protocol. You will apply it. You will not discuss other potential therapies. If you do, we will screw with you.

    You will mask with a paper mask. N95 in close contact. You will ignore particle science data. Ignore Bourbolini and Bush and Byzant and (now) the Cochran reviews. You are not allowed to think or question the logic of our masking policy.

    Non sterilizing pre disease immunotherapy was conflated with sterilizing vaccination through re-definition and semantic twisting. You will not question vaccine efficacy. You will recommend vaccination to everyone.

    If you do not comply, Your board certification and hospital privileges will be revoked. You will be isolated and silenced. You will likely not find gainful employment.

    You will apply the protocol to everyone. You cannot think or question. You cannot use off label medication. You will comply or else.

    And people died. Hundreds of them. And I could do nothing to steer that ship away from the rocks.

    The clinical course was quite predictable. Remdesiver and Dex would functionally arrest the course of the disease for about ten days. On day 12 they would spike a fever. Cultures would confirm a secondary pneumonia. Broad spectrum antibiotics would be given.

    On day 14 their kidneys would fail. They would get a pneumothorax around this time. Chest tubes would be inserted. They would bleed due to the protocol driven anticoagulation, either from the chest tube site or the GI tract They would expire on days 16-21.

    Nothing altered that course. Sporadic survivors were seen who didn’t succumb to the primary lung injury, secondary ventilator injury or other secondary injuries of thrombosis, anticoagulant complications, GI bleeding and subacute kidney injury.

    My agency as a physician was entirely removed. I had to turn away family begging to try something else. We know it might not work but please try anything else. Anything.

    If it was a glioblastoma, you could try anything, and no one would object or notice. Want to try some off label use of a medicine which might have some good effect for comfort? Sure. Well the Swedes are trying this new antineoplastic agent for rapidly dividing tumors. Want to get involved in a study? Sure. Not so with covid.

    You are on the reservation. You will stay on the reservation. If you go off the reservation the consequences are severe. No thinking allowed.

    This experience left me doubting the veracity of information derived from settled science. It led me to recognize the differences between political activism cloaked in scientific certainty, and real science.

    It was soul destroying. It was terrible. I’m not sure I’ll ever recover from it.

    I think history will be unkind to people who made policy during this period of time. Science will eventually find the answers to questions around treatment, vaccine and mask efficacy and quarantine effectiveness. It will eventually explain the excess mortality noted in young people after vaccine mandates.

    If you want answers to why people are suspicious of science , look no further than the recent politicization of the pandemic we just lived through.

    The climate wars are no exception. AGW probably has validity. Renewable energy is the future. In 500 years we better have a system up and running or we will be back to the 1800’s. AGW is also perfect political cover for the harsh fact that we are running out of oil.

    But, as one respondent noted, framing and messaging as outcomes have zero to do with the real scientific issue, real scientific inquiry. They are related to techniques of persuasion.

    That they have to persuade at all speaks volumes.

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