B. The Dunning–Kruger effect
We have always known the adage “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”. Well, according to a highly credible scientific paper published by David Dunning and Justin Kruger (Cornell University) conclude that people tend to hold overly favourable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. The authors suggest that this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it. Across 4 studies, the authors found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humour, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. Although their test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd. Several analyses linked this miscalibration to deficits in metacognitive skill, or the capacity to distinguish accuracy from error. Paradoxically, improving the skills of the participants, and thus increasing their metacognitive competence, helped them recognize the limitations of their abilities.
I can’t help but to attribute the ‘disbelief’ of climate change science by many sceptics to this effect. I have on numerous occasions been confronted by people who say to me “I don’t believe in climate change”, and when I ask them how they came to this ‘belief’, and whether they have special expertise in the field of climate change science, they admit that they are not experts, and generally can’t explain where the basis of their conviction comes from.
Monthly Archives: May 2013
B. The Dunning–Kruger effect
Another well written article for the Guardian by George Monbiot:
A: The need to belong
This is what normally happens to me. I’m at a private or public function and after I’m introduced to someone and asked what I do, and I explain that I’m an environmental management consultant and a specialist in climate change and energy efficiency. Almost before I finish my sentence, my listener who is a invariably male and over 50, interrupts me to say something like “I don’t believe in climate change”. Most go beyond that and say something like “I think it’s a rort, a sham” or words to that effect. I’m so used to this that I don’t react and without changing my tone or show any emotion, I ask the person “and what expertise in climate change do you have?” Without exception, the response is “I actually don’t have any expertise, I just don’t believe it”. Again, I don’t react, I stay calm and ask for further clarification saying “is it the science that you don’t believe? and if it is, what would it take for you to be convinced?”. Invariably, I’m told “I just don’t think climate change is happening, and even if it is, I don’t think humans are responsible for it”.
The above conversation, or similar, has taken so many times, that I am astounded by the consistency and regularity of it. It is this consistency that has made me investigate and research the reasons, and the psychology behind it. Here is my explaining of it in terms of branding, of identity and belonging. Humans are essentially and necessarily social animals and the need for belonging to a mob or a tribe is vital for identity and our instincts for survival dating back to the time when we lived in caves. This instinct appears more prevalent in males and particularly those with some sense of responsibility – the ‘baby boomers’. There are many badges we all wear to belong to a group or mob; the football team we follow; the religious group we belong to; where we live; even the type of food we eat. I cannot find any other reason why a polite, intelligent stranger, having just met me, and even after knowing that I have spent my adult life pursuing sustainability and have considerable understanding of climate change, would hasten to tell me that it’s a sham, and does not exist. This is in modern terms a branding exercise on a personal level.
The psychology of climate change science rejection
As an environmental management consultant over the past 30 years or so, and a practitioner in energy efficiency, climate change risk management, greenhouse gas management and sustainability, I, like so many others, have been frustrated by the lack of global action and agreement on greenhouse gas abatement mechanisms and policy. Even more than frustration, I have been fascinated and intrigued by a number of behavioural patterns in those who reject climate change and the recurring questions in my mind: Why do some people reject the science of climate change?
It is important to analyse the global community’s (and in particular, the leaders’ responses) to the threats of climate change as it may teach us a few lessons, and tell us how we should in future address such major global policy issues. The context of my analysis is this: many studies have shown that the demographic of climate change denial has a significant peak for the ‘white, male, and over 50’ group. As this group dominates those in power, those making decisions on climate change policy, it is well worth looking at.
I have come up with a number of thoughts and theories, some quite unusual. These will be presented over a number of posts.