A Skeptical Response to Science Denial

So, study after study confirms an overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change. But what does the average person think about the consensus? A Yale survey of Americans found that on average, people think that 67 percent of climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming. That already sounds disturbingly low, but it’s even worse when you consider that only 12 percent of Americans are aware that the consensus is over 90 percent. There is a gaping chasm between public perception of consensus and the actual 97 percent consensus.

How do we explain this “consensus gap”? One contributor is misinformation. An analysis of opinion pieces about climate change by conservative columnists found that their most common argument was “there is no scientific consensus” (Elsasser and Dunlap 2012). Long before social scientists had identified perceived consensus as a gateway belief, opponents of climate action had pinpointed consensus as a key target of attack. A 2002 memo by Frank Luntz recommended that Republican politicians cast doubt on the scientific consensus in order to win the public debate on climate change.

Politicians follow this advice to this day. Former presidential hopeful Senator Ted Cruz argues that there is no consensus on climate change, claiming that the 97 percent consensus is based on “one bogus study.” He ignores, of course, that the 97 percent consensus is in fact based on a multitude of independent studies.

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