Advise Requested for Survey Analysis

September 7th, 2007

Posted by: admin

Guest Submission by Hans von Storch and Dennis Bray

In the following we outline a research strategy to characterize sub-groups of climate scientists; the idea is to first propose a short operational list of certain interesting, mostly exclusive but not complete subgroups; these are related to three general criteria.

At this time we ask for comments on both the list of the four categories and on the three general criteria. When we have come to a conclusion with regard to the list and to these criteria, we will try to map the responses collected in our surveys of climate scientists to these groups and criteria – with the idea that in this way we may describe the a host of views , conceptions and perceptions held by these different groups.

We begin with operational definitions of the categories. They are:

1. Advocate Pro.

Scientists in this category are those who are convinced of the reality on ongoing and future anthropogenic climate change. It is the contention of these scientists that climate change will have catastrophic impacts if left unmitigated. This category of scientists perceive it as a moral and professional obligation to alert the public to the impending dangers of climate change and to lobby for political resolve in terms of significant reductions of GHG emissions and the necessary changes in lifestyle and global economy.

2. Advocate Con

Scientists in this category consider the concept of anthropogenic climate change as either insignificant or outright false. They consider the drive towards climate change policy as ill conceived and, sometimes, as a tool to push for a broader environmentalist agenda. Similar to the “advocate pro”, this groups sees lobbying as a necessity, but it is lobbying for goals that stand in opposition to the “advocate pro”.

3. Concerned Pro

Scientists in this category, like those in the “advocate pro” category, are convinced of ongoing and future anthropogenic climate change. They also contend that climate change will have significant impacts. This category differs, however, from the “advocate pro” in as much as these scientists, while accepting as a professional responsibility the undertaking of informing the public to possible dangers, do so without pushing for specific policy choices. In other words, they are information, not solution brokers.

4. Doubters

This category of scientists holds no strong conviction concerning anthropogenic climate change or its potential impacts. In this category, climate change is perceived of as a relevant scientific issue but the challenge is to generate more knowledge. Until further knowledge is available they consider anthropogenic climate change to be a significant, but albeit not dominant, issue.

We want to characterize these four categories by employing three dimensions of scientific perceptions. These dimensions are interpretation, consequence and action. Before providing dimensions we again provide operational definitions of these terms. They are:

1. Interpretation. By interpretation we mean an individual representation of the explanation and signification of climate change. This can range from denial of anthropogenic climate change to being fully convinced of man-made climate change.

2. Consequence. Consequence refers to the perception of climate change impacts. In this dimension, response can range from no or marginal impact through to disaster.

3. Action. This dimension refers to the political including medial engagement deemed appropriate in light of anthropogenic climate change. The range of this dimension is from puzzle solver to activist, with the puzzle solver content to remain within the context of science without public communication.

We would appreciate to hear comments and receive advice on our concepts and definitions.

4 Responses to “Advise Requested for Survey Analysis”

  1. Tom Fiddaman Says:

    I pondered the 4 categories in light of the three dimensions, because I was at first puzzled that there weren’t eight (from a 2×2x2 division of the dimensions).

    Set aside the action dimension for the moment (which I think is orthogonal, having more to do with perceptions of the appropriate role of science). Arrange the other two (denial/belief and hi/lo consequence) in quadrants. If you’re in the upper-right quadrant (belief in AGW, high consequence) then you’d tend to be Pro (concerned or advocate). Anywhere else, you’d tend to be Con, because the impetus for policy is essentially multiplicative (i.e. needs both significant climate sensitivity and significant impacts). You could label the other quadrants (e.g., belief in AGW but lo consequence = greening earth?) but I think it’s reasonable to use this as a way of reducing the number of categories.

    I had a little trouble placing doubters because in my mind, doubt does not translate to inaction, unless perhaps your priors are symmetric and zero mean (i.e. cooling and warming, good and bad impacts equally likely). Armstrong & Green appear to hold that view, but I suspect it’s not common.

    I think what is missing is one more dimension: cost of mitigation (hi/lo). That’s a question that’s traditionally in the realm of economics, but I suspect that most scientists have an opinion about it (much as they do about economic impacts, where they may also have little formal expertise). Presumably views on mitigation cost color judgements about what to do when in doubt and whether to be a puzzle solver or activist.

    I’d hate to add mitigation as a 4th dimension. A solution might be to collapse the interpretation and consequence dimensions into one (I’ll call it significance for want of a better word, with values low – no AGW or no impacts or both, and high – AGW exists and matters). Then (still ignoring action) you have quadrants defined by mitigation cost (low/high) and significance (also low/high) – essentially two sides of the cost benefit equation. High significance, low cost favors a pro stance. Low significance, high cost favors a con stance. Low significance (or doubt as to significance) and low cost favors a “no regrets” stance. High significance, high cost might favor a “wait for technology” approach.

    With this revised approach to the dimensions, I think you’d still end up with a similar set of categories, but you might have a clearer separation of certain motivations – particularly whether positions of “doubter”, “advocate” or “concerned” arise from a sense of one’s role as a scientist or from mitigation cost considerations.

    On another note, in the survey paper I was struck by the juxtaposition of Figs 35 & 45. They seem to suggest that scientists have become less confident that they understand climate impacts on human systems, but also less concerned that those impacts will require much change.

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  3. Russell Seitz Says:

    This time addition to the anthropology of science merits extension- here are some other familiar categories:

    Performance Artists

    Scientific or engineering knowledge secondary to communications skills ; may have undergone professional training as actors as media presenters. examples are TV weathermen and some NOVA and NGSTV hosts.


    Cold War veterans from both sides translating skills gained in lying for their countries into the service of private sector clients. E.G.: former Nuclear Winter advocates who have graduated from advocacy on behalf of the Politburo to the advertising apparatus of energy companies in the CIS.

    Televangelists and Author/Producers

    Primary training in homiletics , apologetics and politics ; relative amatuers appear widely at revival meetings , more politically accomplished examples servicable as Hollywood , or at least Indy talent . Type specimens Al Gore, Bill Moyers and Martin Durkin.

    Professional Dystopians

    Carrying the Precautionary Principle to its exponential limits , they promote worst-case modeling as prudential, and endeavor to see to it that outlier scenarios are well represented in the peer-reviewed literature. Examples: Paul Ehrlich and Donald Kennedy.

    Pure Opportunists

    Focused on commoditizing policy debates regardless of their scientific outcome or resolution. Examples : Carbon derivative traders , wind farm tax shelters, and high latitude and present marine CO2 offset schemes. Many operators have boiler shop experience , and some have been subject to SEC and IRS code sanctions.

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  5. Steve Reynolds Says:

    Two questions that I think would be valuable in a survey:

    1. What do you think is the likely range of equilibrium climate sensitivity for 2xCO2 equivalent in degrees C? (IPCC definition of likely)

    2. What do you think is the temperature increase at which mitigation costs equal benefits of mitigation (assume the year is 2100 if that affects your answer)?

    Answers to these two questions could be used to place the respondent on a 2D map with believed severity of climate effects as one axis and of economic effects as the other.

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  7. Hans von Storch Says:

    Thanks, folks, for your comments, which have been helpful in defining our next steps. In response to some questions raised:

    >>>This reminds me that I was very struck by your survey results regarding this question. For 1996, if I remember accurately, 50% of those surveyed cited ‘population pressure’ as the most serious problem facing the world – to be honest I found this result staggering. The 2003 result was far lower but still large and the largest result – 22% I think? Any views on 1) why the result changed so much? (could it be partly the different cohorts – I seem to remember there were far more Germans in the 1996 survey?) … ?

    Why the result changed so much (and these are possible reasons, not empirically backed statements, in other words, at this point, pure speculation)?

    In 1996 population growth was a ‘popular’ item. Increased population meant increased consumption, meant increased CO2, and got a lot of media attention. Oddly enough the economic fear of declining western populations (those who consume the most) was not given much thought. Today, population growth has come to mean population growth in rising economic powers and population decline (in the European media at least) has been seen as a problem for western economies.

    The 2003 survey was taken post 9/11/2001. In 1996 only 4 respondents wrote ‘war’ as a response and only 2 respondents wrote ‘terrorism’. In 2003, 28 provided the response of terrorism and 21 ‘war’. In the 2003 survey ‘global inequality’ was the response of 29 respondents (maybe to do with the publicity of things like Darfur) while in 1996 only 8 respondents reported ‘global inequality’ This suggests the influence of competing issues.

    The German participation – in 2003 we sent the survey to web-lists such as CLIMLIST, so that we addressed an international group; in contrast, in 1996, we sent the survey to members of the German Meteorological Society and members of the Max-Planck Institute in Hamburg, which resulted in many more returns form German scientists.

    >>>>and 2) Why climate scientists are so pessimistic about population growth?
    – we do not know, but they may have the same concerns as all other people.

    >>>>On another note, in the survey paper I was struck by the juxtaposition of Figs 35 & 45. They seem to suggest that scientists have become less confident that they understand climate impacts on human systems, but also less concerned that those impacts will require much change.”

    Figure 35, on the question “To what degree do you think it would be possible for most societies to adapt to change without having to make any substantial changes to current societal practices?” did contain a coding error and has since been corrected. It was a case of the labels being reversed in the 2003 survey, as compared to the 1996 survey. The corrected frequencies are presented below. There was indeed some change in the perceived need for substantial changes to current societal practices – categories 1-3, pointing to such a need, went down from almost 72% in 1996 to about 57% in 2003, while categories 5-7, showing doubt in such a need, went up from 15% in 1996 to about 26% in 2003.

    Revised %-frequencies for Figure 35: “To what degree do you think it would be possible for most societies to adapt to change without having to make any substantial changes to current societal practices?”

    ___________________1996 2003
    there is a need_______12.0 9.5
    for many changes
    2 _________________29.9 25.9
    3 _________________29.9 21.2
    4 _________________11.9 12.6
    5 _________________9.9 14.0
    6 _________________4.2 8.4
    no substantial________1.3 3.4
    change necessary

    Figure 45 accurately reflects the data. Again, one can only speculate as to the reason for change. It might simply be the case of a greater involvement of social scientists in the climate change issue bringing to light the complexity of the relationship between things social and things natural, that had previously remained unquestioned.

    Dennis Bray and Hans von Storch