Climate misinformation having little or no effect on liberals?

It has been a while since last post. I am learning new skills and this has a negative effect on the post frequency. I am still in the learning process, but I couldn’t resist when I saw this list of quotes in a tweet from John Cook (my emphasis):

Twieet John Cook 20200724

These quotes are a collection extracted from an Independent article on “The spread of climate denial on Facebook”, which contained some quotes from John Cook. These are all interesting quotes, but I will limit myself in this post to the first quote (yellow marking):

Through his research, Dr Cook has found that climate misinformation that is spread on social media disproportionately affects conservatives and has little impact on liberals.

I can understand that conservatives and liberals have different worldviews, therefor react differently to the same information, but there is much more nuance to it than that.

Okay, it is not a direct quote, it is a paraphrase by the journalist of the Independent, but Cook put it on his twitter timeline without correction and he said similar things in the past. For example in the Handbook of Research on Deception, Fake News, and Misinformation Online. to which John Cook contributed pages 281-306 (my emphasis):

Misinformation about climate change also has a polarizing effect, disproportionately influencing political conservatives while having little to no effect on political liberals (Cook, Lewandowsky, & Ecker, 2017; van der Linden, Leiserowitz, Feinberg, & Maibach, 2015).

The Cook, Lewandowsky & Ecker, 2017 paper that was referred to, investigated two types of misinformation (false balance and fake experts) and how to counter (inoculate) it. In experiment 1 (false balance), the authors compared their results with that of another paper (my emphasis):

McCright et al. also found that climate misinformation was most effective on conservatives, while having no effect on liberals.

Let’s now look at the claim itself. Cook describes two political groups: conservatives and liberals. According to him, the conservatives are particularly vulnerable to “climate misinformation”, while liberals are apparently (almost) free of ideological bias on this issue.

Both the paper and the book chapter have one thing in common: they only look at one side. Liberals don’t have a problem with accepting the consensus because climate change is -by its very nature and by its proposed solution- perfectly aligned with the liberal values. It is much more difficult for conservatives who have not much affinity with the nature of climate change and the solution that is proposed by the liberals sits uncomfortably with their conservatives values. This may lead to the (wrong) conclusion that only conservatives struggle with “climate misinformation”. That is a very liberal view on the issue.

Misinformation about climate change is not the exclusive domain of only one political viewpoint. Let’s look at the definition of “misinformation”. This is how the 2017 paper defines it:

Misinformation, that is, information that people accept as true despite it being false

Climate change misinformation is therefor information on climate change that people accept as true despite it being false. In that case, liberals are affected by “climate misinformation” too. The first example that comes to mind is the claim that we “only have 12 years left…”. This claim is not based on the evidence or on the science, yet it has spread around like a wildfire and is still alive and well today. There are many others, like “x months to save the world”, based on a misreading of the science. Or polar bears that are getting extinct, although their numbers are rising. Or the claims attributing specific weather events to climate change, although scientists trying to explain that this is not possible to do. Or polar ice gone in x years, although it was expected not likely to happen. Or glaciers gone in x years, although this was not supported by the science. This is only a small selection of climate change misinformation that is poured out on the (social) media.

This form of misinformation surely has its effects and will mostly affect liberals. For example, this barrage of misinformation may lead to eco-anxiety and now liberals are, ahem, disproportionately affected by this type of climate misinformation.

Climate misinformation having little or no effect on liberals? You must be kidding…


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