Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bad climate policy, ctd: that unshakable 10%

Commentators on the Yale study (which we highlighted here and started to discuss here) have totally misread the findings as they apply to cognitive research. The meme:

Yet even though climate skeptics constitute a minority of the population, they can still have a disproportionate impact. Researchers on cognitive social networks at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute recently found that “when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society.” It’s easy to think of counterexamples here (did the small core of birthers really win majority support?), but there does seem to be a tipping point at which a minority idea catches on broadly. The minority just has to believe what it believes with a fervent intensity.

Guess who likes that idea. Others spread the message. Bloggers take up the quote.

Just a sec, guys. Did anyone actually read the poll?

Respondents identifying with the Tea Party: 12%
Of those 12%,  those that say global warming is not happening: 50% (half)

Half of 12% is 6%, which, last time I checked, was less than ten percent.

Sixty-five percent of the public think global warming is happening (more than 10%). Thirty-one percent of respondents think Americas are being hurt by global warming now (more than 10%). Twenty-three percent of the public (versus 6% of the Tea Party) rated the problem of global warming as "extremely" or "very" important to them personally.

About half the Tea Party or 6% of the public are hard-core climate deniers. They miss the 10% cutoff by a fair margin. People who think AGW is proven science and a very important problem number more than twice that. So the research on the 10% cutoff implies exactly the opposite of what the  thought it did: eventually, the science on global warming will win out over the ideological holdouts.


  1. Don't forget the Ron Paul followers. All the ones I've met are climate change deniers.

  2. The libertarian-denier link is strong, very strong. This one is particularly bemusing to me because I was once a libertarian -- everyone should be a libertarian in their twenties, right, didn't Twain say something about that?

    A good libertarian should immediately recognize that you violate my property rights as well as my personal liberty by heating up my environment without my consent. They ought to recognize a carbon tax reflecting the negative externality as the last-invasive, most-just solution.

    Obviously that's now how it goes down. Probably could do a post about that in itself -- why do libertarians fear acknowledging climate change?