Al Gore Seeks to Re-Energize His Base with The Climate Reality Project
Building on the themes he emphasized in an article last month at Rolling Stone magazine, Al Gore has announced a September event to launch The Climate Reality Project. The 24 hour event features a day of multi-media presentations linking climate catastrophe to the efforts of Big Oil, Big Coal, and climate deniers. Watch the video announcement below of the event.
The initiative brandishes the same lead frames of catastrophe and accountability featured in An Inconvenient Truth and uses the We campaign's online opinion-leader model to engage audiences. Billed as a global event, the initiative appears primarily aimed at mobilizing progressive donors and activists in advance of the 2012 election.
Here is a round-up of past studies and papers that provide some context for understanding the likely impact of the Climate Reality Project.
Longitudinal cross-sectional survey finds that one week before the event, 62% of Americans had not heard of the concert and the Americans who did tune into the concert and rally were already strongly concerned about global warming and leaned overwhelmingly Democrat. The survey found no aggregate impact on public opinion for the event.
From the paper:
With strong selectivity bias online, digital interaction might simply result in ideological reinforcement and intensification of beliefs about climate change, which may eventually limit the willingness of recruited opinion leaders to compromise on pragmatic policy solutions (a typical social movement problem perhaps amplified by the Web).
Moreover, if the weak ties of digital interactions lack the strength of traditional opinion-leader influence, then time and effort spent online by digital opinion leaders may be far less effective than traditional face-to-face influence. The danger of relying too heavily on digital organizing is that it might create a false senseof efficacy among participants, with activists believing they are making a difference on climate change, when impact may be limited at best.
From the paper:
...former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, many environmentalists, and even some scientists have attempted to counter the scientific uncertainty and economic consequences frames [of climate skeptics] by emphasizing a Pandora’s Box of looming “climate crisis.” To instantly translate their preferred interpretation, these advocates have relied on depictions of specific climate impacts, including hurricane devastation, polar bears perched precariously on shrinking ice floes, scorched, drought-stricken earth, blazing wild fires, or famous cities or landmarks under water due to future sea-level rise.
Publicity for Gore’s documentary on climate change’s effects, An Inconvenient Truth, dramatized climate change as an environmental Frankenstein’s monster, including a hurricane-shaped plume spewing from a smoke stack on its movie poster and a trailer telling audiences to expect “the most terrifying film you will ever see.” With an accent on visual and dramatic effects, the catastrophe strategy triggered similarly framed news coverage. For example, a 2006 Time magazine cover featured a polar bear on melting ice with the headline, “Global Warming: Be Worried, Be VERY Worried.”31
One of the unintended consequences of this line of communication is that it plays into the hands of climate skeptics and further reinforces the partisan divide in climate change perceptions. Andrew Revkin, who has covered climate change for nearly 20 years for the New York Times, argues these claims are effectively countered by critics, such as Inhofe, as liberal “alarmism,” since the error bars of uncertainty for each of the climate impacts are much wider than the general link between human activities and global warming.32
These challenges, which are easier when the target of ridicule is a former political figure such as Gore, quickly reactivate a focus on scientific uncertainty and the heuristic of partisanship. In addition, the public is likely to translate these appeals to fear into a sense of fatalism, especially if this information is not accompanied by specific recommendations about how they can respond to the threats.33
Revkin and others worry that the news media has moved from an earlier era of false balance to a new phase of overdramatization, one that skeptics can easily exploit to dismiss climate change as a problem.34 Polls suggest that the public has picked up on critiques of the media by conservatives, likely filtering this information through their preferred partisan lens and their belief in liberal media bias. Such filtering results in Republicans who not only discount the climate change problem but who also agree that the mainstream news media is exaggerating its severity.35
Many environmental advocates and scientists have focused on public accountability as an additional call-to-arms on climate change. These advocates accuse the George W. Bush administration of putting politics ahead of science and expertise on a number of issues, including climate change. For example, in the 2004 election, Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) made strategic use of the public accountability frame, comparing distortions on climate change to the administration’s use of intelligence to invade Iraq.36
In 2005, journalist Chris Mooney’s best-selling The Republican War on Science helped crystallize the public accountability train of thought, turning the “war on science” into a partisan rallying cry.37 In 2007, Hillary Clinton, in a speech marking the 50th anniversary of Sputnik, promised to end the “war on science” in American politics, highlighting the prominence of this frame device.
In a late 2008 transition speech, President Obama similarly invoked the public accountability frame and Gore’s film while announcing his science policy advisers: "Because the truth is that promoting science isn’t just about providing resources—it’s about protecting free and open inquiry. It’s about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology. It’s about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it’s inconvenient—especially when it’s inconvenient."38
The public accountability frame has outraged and intensified the commitment of scientists, environmental advocates, and many Democrats, motivating them to label climate skeptics as “deniers” and to engage in sharp rhetorical attacks on political opponents. Yet for other members of the public, “war on science” claims are likely ignored as just more elite rancor or only further alienate Republicans on the issue.
Justifiable blame has been attributed to the George W. Bush administration and conservatives who through their policy positions and message strategies have reinforced the gap in perceptions between Republicans and Democrats on the issue. Largely overlooked, however, is the role that Democratic leaders, most notably Gore, have played in contributing to the polarization that exists today...
...Over the past decade, the propensity for Gore and conservatives to use climate change to mobilize their respective bases has intensified the polarization that began with the 1997 Clinton Kyoto campaign. As Gore has worked tirelessly to translate climate science for the public, he has also consistently sought to mobilize progressives politically.
Following his loss in 2000, as Gore returned to delivering his slideshow on climate change, he began in 2002 to partner with MoveOn.org delivering speeches critical of the Bush administration’s policies on Iraq, the economy, terrorism and climate change.13 In May 2004, with the release of the blockbuster film The Day After Tomorrow, Gore joined with MoveOn.org and environmental groups in an effort to use the film as a “teachable moment” with the summer blockbuster billed as the environmental movement’s equivalent to The Passion of the Christ.14
“The Bush administration is in some ways even more fictional than the movie in trying to convince people that there is no real problem, no degree of certainty from scientists about the issue,” Gore told reporters at a MoveOn.org event that also featured scientists.15 Though receiving far less attention than The Passion, the climate disaster film generated 10 times as much coverage as the 2001 IPCC report, with political stories comprising 37 percent of this coverage.16
In 2007, boosted by the media attention generated by An Inconvenient Truth and his receipt of the Nobel prize, Gore’s popularity crested at 58 percent (see Figure 4.2). In contrast, Bush’s favorability had hit an all-time low the same year, with public esteem eroded by the war in Iraq and reinforced by his handling of Hurricane Katrina. As mentioned at the outset of this chapter, the media widely speculated as to whether the “Goracle” would run for president. In April 2008, as his WE campaign began its bipartisan advertising campaign (see Chapter 1), Gore continued his prominent role as a partisan leader, appearing at Democratic fundraisers, endorsing Obama in June and delivering a primetime speech at the Democratic National Convention in August.
The six years of Gore’s political campaigning on climate change had mobilized a base of concern among Democrats but reinforced disbelief among Republicans. In 2002, according to Gallup trends analyzed by sociologists Riley Dunlap and Aaron McCright, 56 percent of Democrats thought the effects of global warming already had begun, compared with 46 percent of Republicans. By 2008, Bush’s last year in office, Gore’s efforts had helped boost belief among Democrats to 76 percent, while belief among Republicans remained virtually unchanged at 41 percent.17 Survey research conducted by Stanford’s Krosnick finds a similar pattern across the same period. Additionally, he reports that even though they viewed the issue very differently, strong Democrats and Republicans each held similar levels of knowledge and were equally certain of their opinions.18
By 2010, the country’s political mood had shifted right of center. This new political mood, combined with Gore’s separation and news stories alleging sexual misconduct, likely contributed to a 14 percent drop in his favorability (see Figure 4.2). Gore remains the public figure most closely associated with climate change—both the science and the policy—and yet in 2010 only 44 percent of Americans had a favorable impression of Gore, a level equivalent to that of George W. Bush (45 percent) and Sarah Palin (44 percent).19
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It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?
- Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
- Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
- Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.
The Oedipal complex, repressed memories, penis envy? Sigmund Freud's ideas are far-reaching, but few have withstood the onslaught of empirical evidence.
- Sigmund Freud stands alongside Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein as one of history's best-known scientists.
- Despite his claim of creating a new science, Freud's psychoanalysis is unfalsifiable and based on scant empirical evidence.
- Studies continue to show that Freud's ideas are unfounded, and Freud has come under scrutiny for fabricating his most famous case studies.
Few thinkers are as celebrated as Sigmund Freud, a figure as well-known as Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein. Neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, Freud's ideas didn't simply shift the paradigms in academia and psychotherapy. They indelibly disseminated into our cultural consciousness. Ideas like transference, repression, the unconscious iceberg, and the superego are ubiquitous in today's popular discourse.
Despite this renown, Freud's ideas have proven to be ill-substantiated. Worse, it is now believed that Freud himself may have fabricated many of his results, opportunistically disregarding evidence with the conscious aim of promoting preferred beliefs.
"[Freud] really didn't test his ideas," Harold Takooshian, professor of psychology at Fordham University, told ATI. "He was just very persuasive. He said things no one said before, and said them in such a way that people actually moved from their homes to Vienna and study with him."
Unlike Darwin and Einstein, Freud's brand of psychology presents the impression of a scientific endeavor but ultimately lack two of vital scientific components: falsification and empirical evidence.
Freud's therapeutic approach may be unfounded, but at least it was more humane than other therapies of the day. In 1903, this patient is being treated in "auto-conduction cage" as a part of his electrotherapy. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The discipline of psychotherapy is arguably Freud's greatest contribution to psychology. In the post-World War II era, psychoanalysis spread through Western academia, influencing not only psychotherapy but even fields such as literary criticism in profound ways.
The aim of psychoanalysis is to treat mental disorders housed in the patient's psyche. Proponents believe that such conflicts arise between conscious thoughts and unconscious drives and manifest as dreams, blunders, anxiety, depression, or neurosis. To help, therapists attempt to unearth unconscious desires that have been blocked by the mind's defense mechanisms. By raising repressed emotions and memories to the conscious fore, the therapist can liberate and help the patient heal.
That's the idea at least, but the psychoanalytic technique stands on shaky empirical ground. Data leans heavily on a therapist's arbitrary interpretations, offering no safe guards against presuppositions and implicit biases. And the free association method offers not buttress to the idea of unconscious motivation.
Don't get us wrong. Patients have improved and even claimed to be cured thanks to psychoanalytic therapy. However, the lack of methodological rigor means the division between effective treatment and placebo effect is ill-defined.
Sigmund Freud, circa 1921. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Nor has Freud's concept of repressed memories held up. Many papers and articles have been written to dispel the confusion surrounding repressed (aka dissociated) memories. Their arguments center on two facts of the mind neurologists have become better acquainted with since Freud's day.
First, our memories are malleable, not perfect recordings of events stored on a biological hard drive. People forget things. Childhood memories fade or are revised to suit a preferred narrative. We recall blurry gists rather than clean, sharp images. Physical changes to the brain can result in loss of memory. These realities of our mental slipperiness can easily be misinterpreted under Freud's model as repression of trauma.
Second, people who face trauma and abuse often remember it. The release of stress hormones imprints the experience, strengthening neural connections and rendering it difficult to forget. It's one of the reasons victims continue to suffer long after. As the American Psychological Association points out, there is "little or no empirical support" for dissociated memory theory, and potential occurrences are a rarity, not the norm.
More worryingly, there is evidence that people are vulnerable to constructing false memories (aka pseudomemories). A 1996 study found it could use suggestion to make one-fifth of participants believe in a fictitious childhood memory in which they were lost in a mall. And a 2007 study found that a therapy-based recollection of childhood abuse "was less likely to be corroborated by other evidence than when the memories came without help."
This has led many to wonder if the expectations of psychoanalytic therapy may inadvertently become a self-fulfilling prophecy with some patients.
"The use of various dubious techniques by therapists and counselors aimed at recovering allegedly repressed memories of [trauma] can often produce detailed and horrific false memories," writes Chris French, a professor of psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London. "In fact, there is a consensus among scientists studying memory that traumatic events are more likely to be remembered than forgotten, often leading to post-traumatic stress disorder."
The Oedipal complex
The Blind Oedipus Commending His Children to the Gods by Benigne Gagneraux. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
During the phallic stage, children develop fierce erotic feelings for their opposite-sex parent. This desire, in turn, leads them to hate their same-sex parent. Boys wish to replace their father and possess their mother; girls become jealous of their mothers and desire their fathers. Since they can do neither, they repress those feelings for fear of reprisal. If unresolved, the complex can result in neurosis later in life.
That's the Oedipal complex in a nutshell. You'd think such a counterintuitive theory would require strong evidence to back it up, but that isn't the case.
Studies claiming to prove the Oedipal complex look to positive sexual imprinting — that is, the phenomenon in which people choose partners with physical characteristics matching their same-sex parent. For example, a man's wife and mother have the same eye color, or woman's husband and father sport a similar nose.
But such studies don't often show strong correlation. One study reporting "a correction of 92.8 percent between the relative jaw width of a man's mother and that of [his] mates" had to be retracted for factual errors and incorrect analysis. Studies showing causation seem absent from the literature, and as we'll see, the veracity of Freud's own case studies supporting the complex is openly questioned today.
Better supported, yet still hypothetical, is the Westermarck effect. Also called reverse sexual imprinting, the effect predicts that people develop a sexual aversion to those they grow up in close proximity with, as a mean to avoid inbreeding. The effect isn't just shown in parents and siblings; even step-siblings will grow sexual averse to each other if they grow up from early childhood.
An analysis published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology evaluated the literature on human mate choice. The analysis found little evidence for positive imprinting, citing study design flaws and an unwillingness of researchers to seek alternative explanations. In contrast, it found better support for negative sexual imprinting, though it did note the need for further research.
The Freudian slip
Mark notices Deborah enter the office whistling an upbeat tune. He turns to his coworker to say, "Deborah's pretty cheery this morning," but accidentally blunders, "Deborah's pretty cherry this morning." Simple slip up? Not according to Freud, who would label this a parapraxis. Today, it's colloquially known as a "Freudian slip."
"Almost invariably I discover a disturbing influence from something outside of the intended speech," Freud wrote in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. "The disturbing element is a single unconscious thought, which comes to light through the special blunder."
In the Freudian view, Mark's mistaken word choice resulted from his unconscious desire for Deborah, as evident by the sexually-charged meanings of the word "cherry." But Rob Hartsuiker, a psycholinguist from Ghent University, says that such inferences miss the mark by ignoring how our brains process language.
According to Hartsuiker, our brains organize words by similarity and meaning. First, we must select the word in that network and then process the word's sounds. In this interplay, all sorts of conditions can prevent us from grasping the proper phonemes: inattention, sleepiness, recent activation, and even age. In a study co-authored by Hartsuiker, brain scans showed our minds can recognize and correct for taboo utterances internally.
"This is very typical, and it's also something Freud rather ignored," Hartsuiker told BBC. He added that evidence for true Freudian slips is scant.
Freud's case studies
Sergej Pankejeff, known as the "Wolf Man" in Freud's case study, claimed that Freud's analysis of his condition was "propaganda."
It's worth noting that there is much debate as to the extent that Freud falsified his own case studies. One famous example is the case of the "Wolf Man," real name Sergej Pankejeff. During their sessions, Pankejeff told Freud about a dream in which he was lying in bed and saw white wolves through an open window. Freud interpreted the dream as the manifestation of a repressed trauma. Specifically, he claimed that Pankejeff must have witnessed his parents in coitus.
For Freud this was case closed. He claimed Pankejeff successfully cured and his case as evidence for psychoanalysis's merit. Pankejeff disagreed. He found Freud's interpretation implausible and said that Freud's handling of his story was "propaganda." He remained in therapy on and off for over 60 years.
Many of Freud's other case studies, such "Dora" and "the Rat Man" cases, have come under similar scrutiny.
Sigmund Freud and his legacy
Freud's ideas may not live up to scientific inquiry, but their long shelf-life in film, literature, and criticism has created some fun readings of popular stories. Sometimes a face is just a face, but that face is a murderous phallic symbol. (Photo: Flickr)
Of course, there are many ideas we've left out. Homosexuality originating from arrested sexual development in anal phase? No way. Freudian psychosexual development theory? Unfalsifiable. Women's penis envy? Unfounded and insulting. Men's castration anxiety? Not in the way Freud meant it.
If Freud's legacy is so ill-informed, so unfounded, how did he and his cigars cast such a long shadow over the 20th century? Because there was nothing better to offer at the time.
When Freud came onto the scene, neurology was engaged in a giddy free-for-all. As New Yorker writer Louis Menand points out, the era's treatments included hypnosis, cocaine, hydrotherapy, female castration, and institutionalization. By contemporary standards, it was a horror show (as evident by these "treatments" featuring so prominently in our horror movies).
Psychoanalysis offered a comparably clement and humane alternative. "Freud's theories were like a flashlight in a candle factory," anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann told Menand.
But Freud and his advocates triumph his techniques as a science, and this is wrong. The empirical evidence for his ideas is limited and arbitrary, and his conclusions are unfalsifiable. The theory that explains every possible outcome explains none of them.
With that said, one might consider Freud's ideas to be a proto-science. As astrology heralded astronomy, and alchemy preceded chemistry, so to did Freud's psychoanalysis popularize psychology, paving the way for its more rapid development as a scientific discipline. But like astrology and alchemy, we should recognize Freud's ideas as the historic artifacts they are.
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