Even truth-seekers can become climate change skeptics, article says


Daily file photo by Noah-Frick Alofs

A wind farm. Political science professors published an article saying even those who seek accuracy can be susie-able to “bad information” about climate change.

Joshua Irvine, Reporter

Students should be more sympathetic to their climate change-denier relatives, an article from two Northwestern political science professors suggests.

Even those who seek accuracy can become skeptics of climate change, said the article, a review of several studies written by political science Profs. James Druckman and Mary McGrath. Popular sentiment holds that climate change deniers engage in higher levels of directionally-motivated reasoning — wherein individuals select information that reinforces their beliefs instead of seeking the truth. However, the article said that climate change skeptics were not any more likely to use directionally-motivated reasoning than reasoning motivated by accuracy.

The article — published in Nature Climate Change on Jan. 21 — disputes the notion that conservatives, who are more likely to hold beliefs skeptical of climate change, engage in higher levels of directionally-motivated reasoning than liberals.

The article said that even truth-seeking, accuracy motivated individuals were susceptible to “bad information” that presented incorrect or misleading information about climate change –– regardless of if those individuals were liberals or conservatives. In addition, the study showed that there was no provable difference between the number of accuracy-seeking liberals and accuracy-seeking conservatives.

Instead, a past predisposition toward that “bad information” could lead one group towards higher levels of climate change skepticism, as is seen in conservatives. The article further pointed out that behaviors like these could be misconstrued as directionally-motivated reasoning.

“When individuals seek advice from sources that share their views, it could be to achieve a directional processing goal,” the article said, “or it could be because they believe that source to be the most credible, regardless of their views on the issue at hand.”

To change accuracy-motivated skeptics’ behavior, the study suggested using “educational efforts” to alter what they believe to be credible sources of information. However, this is difficult to achieve, the article said.

“People form their views about science at a young age, so it is difficult to change them,” Druckman wrote in an email to The Daily. “To the extent that they do change, it is often through politicized means that undermines science. Thus it is a challenge to build a trust in science.”

The article also suggested that evidence in support of climate change could be presented through different avenues that skeptics are less likely to dismiss –– such as science-focused TV shows, museums or even religious authorities.

Changing the minds of directionally-motivated skeptics is a different story, the article said. Those who are directionally-motivated to protect their beliefs need to have their motivation changed toward seeking accuracy, the article said, although it isn’t clear how.

In the case of individuals who engage in directionally-motivated reasoning to protect their identities, the article suggested reframing evidence supporting climate change in a manner that appeals to an aspect of one’s identity, such as “race, ethnicity, partisanship or other group connection.”

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