Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Base Motives

The Age has an interesting piece of pop psychology about why 'sceptics', in the face of all argument to the contrary, continue to follow the road paved with gold, arguing that...

Climate sceptics might just be captive to basic emotions

Paul Biegler
December 20, 2011

Instant gratification is a powerful, but flawed, human motivator.

If you are down a blind alley searching for that perfect Christmas gift for your climate sceptic friend, you could do worse than slinging them a book on Emotional Intelligence. Why? Research is mounting that your friend is the victim of one of the brain's many computing glitches. More particularly, [they have] been derailed by an emotional response that is at best unhelpful and at worst catastrophic. [They have] capitulated to the pleasure of the here and now.

In his recent book Brain Bugs, psychology professor Dean Buonomano summarises a wealth of evidence that when it comes to putting off rewards, many of us suck. In the most famous study, back in the 1960s, Walter Mischel sat unsuspecting toddlers at tables laid with a single marshmallow. They could eat it now or receive an extra one if they waited a short time. Some rug rats unceremoniously demolished the treat without delay, while others exercised supreme self-control and resisted temptation until the appointed moment. Follow-up of the youngsters two decades later found those who showed restraint had better college admission scores. Other studies have linked weakness of will with obesity and addiction.

This is an example of temporal discounting, where greater rewards in the future are tagged with lesser value in virtue of their temporal distance.

Adults remain prone to temporal discounting. Given the choice of $100 now or $120 in a month, most take the money and run, sacrificing what amounts to an annual return on their one-month investment of 240 per cent. How could we be so dumb?

Climate scepticism is a strong candidate example of temporal discounting. A truckload of science supports global warming and its attendant perils. Yet, addressing this temporally far-flung threat, while generating distant benefit for our planet's inheritors, will cost us real pleasure now.

The task is difficult, not least because many of our emotional decisions are backed by post hoc - but aberrant - rationalisation.

In the climate realm, fabrication is also rife. Enthralled by their emotional biases, sceptics mouth desperate appeals to the corruptibility of scientists, or to the fallibility of climate prediction models.

It's one thing to claim that the work of an individual scientist or even a team is wrong. But so called sceptics essentially make the amazing claim that ALL climate scientists are wrong.

Comment section after comment section of newspapers and blogs are filled with poorly researched (I'm being generous) claims asserting that this or that aspect of climate change has been overlooked.

Are all scientists so dumb? Not in my personal experience.

To cover this obvious rebuttal, 'sceptics' make a further assertion - climate scientists have become trapped in so called 'group think'. No evidence for this is provided other than the fact that climate science (and science in general) disagrees with the sceptic position.

Imagine the accused standing up in court and stating "Obviously, Your Honour, the verdict of the Jury can not be trusted as they have become trapped by group think".

Pop psychology is perhaps just slightly more informative than pop stupidity - as de-constructed here.

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