Gallup: Belief in Climate Change Exaggeration at Record High
A Gallup survey report released yesterday finds that a record 41% of Americans--and 66% of Republicans--now say that news reports of climate change are exaggerated. I first spotted this troubling trend in a 2007 paper analyzing twenty years of public opinion about climate change. This latest survey reinforces my fear that climate advocates have fallen into a dangerous communication trap.
At the root of this growing perception is something I blogged about earlier this week: As long as science is communicated as the principal reason compelling policy action--and this "compelling" science dramatized by a focus on severe environmental impacts such as hurricanes--the message will either fall on passive ears and/or be easily countered as "global warming alarmism."
Here's how I describe the communication trap in a recent paper published at the journal Environment, using Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and similarly framed news coverage as a lead example:
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
This of course was the central argument that Revkin made two weeks ago in his news analysis headlined: "In Climate Debate, Exaggeration Is a Pitfall." Literal minded bloggers and Gore enthusiasts attacked Revkin for engaging in "false balance," but they appeared to miss the focus of his analysis, which he succinctly re-stated in a blog post titled "Gore, Will, Climate and Complexity":
With the battle shifting again to Congress -- where arguments will include a combination of uncertain science and subjective economics -- the potential for hyperbole is rising. Every time an overstatement is exposed, it threatens to further disengage people who are already either doubtful or misinformed.
So just how easy is it for disengaged audiences to re-interpret the science-compels-action message, especially when it is framed in the context of looming environmental catastrophe? Watch the clip below from Glen Beck's program formerly on CNN's Headline News, a segment that ran during last year's Heartland Institute "climate swindle" conference in New York.
This same script continues to play out over and over again on talk radio, conservative cable news, and among respected Republican opinion leaders. Notice the anger and the humor that Beck expertly conveys to open his segment. Then notice the narrative he weaves together with this emotion: The UN, liberals, and the elite media are censoring rival scientific evidence on climate change. In fact, to lend further ideological resonance to his narrative, Beck portrays Gore as the figurehead and lead voice of scientific consensus. He then compares Gore's claims to the opinions of two distinguished sounding contrarians, a Harvard physicist and British-accented scientist no less!
If science, as a "first premise," continues to be the focal point of calls to action on climate change, the public will remain immobilized. There needs to be a second premise effectively communicated, a values-based and normative frame that is adapted to the background of different segments of the public--especially the Republican base. These frames as I describe in the Environment paper include a focus on energy innovation, the shared values between Evangelicals and environmental advocates, and the public health implications of climate change.
Upvote/downvote each of the videos below!
As you vote, keep in mind that we are looking for a winner with the most engaging social venture pitch - an idea you would want to invest in.
A new method promises to capture an elusive dark world particle.
- Scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) devised a method for trapping dark matter particles.
- Dark matter is estimated to take up 26.8% of all matter in the Universe.
- The researchers will be able to try their approach in 2021, when the LHC goes back online.
Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.
- Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
- They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
- The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?
But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.
What's dead may never die, it seems
The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.
BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.
The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.
As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.
The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.
"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.
An ethical gray matter
Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.
The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.
Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.
Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?
"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."
One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.
The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.
"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.
It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.
Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?
The dilemma is unprecedented.
Setting new boundaries
Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."
She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.
- As a stand-up comedian, Pete Holmes knows how words can manipulate audiences — for good and bad.
- Words aren't just words. They stich together our social fabric, helping establish and maintain relationships.
- Holmes has a clever linguistic exercise meant to bring you closer to the people around you.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.