Thursday, December 6, 2012

Why are they talking past each other?

Andrew Hoffman has an excellent article on the issue polarization observed by many in the climate change debate. He distinguishes between 'convinced' and 'skeptical' logics which are represented by various actors, organizations, and social movements. Both sides demonize each other, exhibiting deeply held, but opposing values. His data comes from two sources, interviews and participant observation at the Heartland Institute conference in 2010, and an analysis of over 800 U.S. newspaper editorials and letters to the editor from September 2007 to September 2009.

I reproduce the abstract and conclusion below but recommend you read the whole article here.


This article analyzes the extent to which two institutional logics around climate change—the  climate change “convinced” and the climate change “skeptical” logics—are truly competing or  talking past each other in a way that can be described as a logic schism. Drawing on the concept  of framing from social movement theory, it uses qualitative field observations from the largest climate deniers conference in the United States and a data set of almost 800 op-eds from  major news outlets over a 2-year period to examine how convinced and skeptical arguments of  opposing logics employ frames and issue categories to make arguments about climate change.  This article finds that the two logics are engaging in different debates on similar issues with the  former focusing on solutions while the latter debates the definition of the problem. It concludes  that the debate appears to be reaching a level of polarization where one might begin to question  whether meaningful dialogue and problem solving has become unavailable to participants. The  implications of such a logic schism is a shift from an integrative debate focused on addressing  interests, to a distributive battle over concessionary agreements with each side pursuing its  goals by demonizing the other. Avoiding such an outcome requires the activation of, as yet,  dormant “broker” categories (technology, religion, and national security), the redefinition of  existing ones (science, economics, risk, ideology), and the engagement of effective “climate  brokers” to deliver them. 


This article has analyzed the extent to which the logic and cultural debate around climate change  represents a logic schism. This is an area that social sciences can add a great deal to further  understanding in the social and policy arena. Unfortunately, the contemporary presentation of  academic scholarship in the climate change debate is largely dominated by the fields of economics, engineering, and law. If social scientists that focus on cultural and social phenomenon want  to engage as well, they must bring their academic tools to bear on problem domains such as  climate change. It is not enough to say the science is decided if the skepticism countermovement  remains active and public uncertainty increases. Organizational researchers and social theorists  have unique theories and methods at their disposal to explain why climate change is a polarizing  issue in some settings and not in others and why some organizations support or resist efforts to  mitigate GHG emissions (Hoffman, in press). If successful in spurring greater scholarly interest in the cultural, ideological, and institutional  elements undergirding the climate debate, research in this area—similar to all contentious social  problems—will be undertaken by social science scholars using a variety of different theoretical approaches. Scholars who are more comfortable with normative research may take a critical theory  stance toward climate skepticism, but others will approach the issue through the lenses of rational  choice theory, game theory, organizational theory, economic sociology, and so on. I remain agnostic  about which of these approaches will be the most successful at explaining the drivers behind and  ultimately the outcomes of—the climate debate and believe this is best sorted out in robust academic as well as public debate.  


Doug Cotton said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mark B. said...

" Scholars who are more comfortable with normative research may take a critical theory stance toward climate skepticism, but others will approach the issue through the lenses of rational choice theory, game theory, organizational theory, economic sociology, and so on"

Here we go again. One side needs research, the other doesn't. No need to explain why people with no science education accept - and swear by - one particular scientific pronouncement, while often rejecting others - see GMOs. Are we to believe that acceptance of the apocalyptic climate consensus is so common among the left purely as a matter of rational choice, when virtually every prescription for action comes straight out of leftist ideology? Come now. The same people who demonize corporations in pro-climate change advocacy demonize corporations in anti-GMO advocacy. Is it really so difficult to understand that science has nothing to do with either position? The prescriptions to fight climate change existed without exception before climate change ever became an issue in public forums. Climate change is just the hook that green leftists hang their hat on today. In fact, one could say that if climate change didn't exist, the green left would have had to invent it.

@ReinerGrundmann said...


I think you misread the sequence. Hoffman says that scholars following critical theory might want to focus on exposing 'skeptics activities' but this is not his cup of tea.

Anonymous said...

Is this a joke?
The author talks in the abstract about polarization and each side demonizing the other. He laments (p4) that much of social science takes a dismissive attitude to skeptics.
He then goes on to use the ignorant, abusive and completely meaningless term 'climate denier' 50 times in his article.
If Hoffmann wants to increase polarization and avoid constructive debate, he is going about it the right way.

Anonymous said...

Creationists are not markedly bothered by the attitude they get from scientists? Why should climate deniers be?

Anonymous said...

Indeed, some 'climate deniers' are not too bothered, because the pathetic attempt by activists to try to associate skeptics with holocaust deniers is so transparent that it usually backfires.

Most intelligent contributors to the climate debate have realised this, even left-wing Guardian journalists, but apparently the message hasn't got through to activists masquerading as academics in the field of 'social science'.

My point was more to illustrate the comedy of Hoffmann calling for engagement and 'climate brokers' (p 20-21) while at the same time alienating people with his inflammatory choice of language.

Anonymous #4

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Anonymous #4 (can't you be bothered to use an alias, see our rules of blogging?)

Hoffman uses "deniers" between inverted commas, but is not consistent. He does the same with "believers" (I would imagine some scientists feeling offended by being described this way). Let's assume Hoffman was consistent in his use of terms and quotation marks. My question then is: how good is his analysis?

ob said...

yes hoffman clearly defines his four or five categories. he might have used something different from "deniers" but ... ah whatever.

Anonymous said...

Three of about 50 uses of the word denier are in quotes. And he does not define his terms. What is a climate denier? Am I a climate denier? Stephen McIntyre attended and spoke at that conference. Is he a climate denier? According to the text on p 11, he is. I wonder if the poor brainwashed sociology student who was sent to attend the Heartland conference understood a word of his talk.

In science, a high degree of objectivity is required for any meaningful analysis. It seems that this does not apply in social "science". It would also be usual for the PhD student who did a major part of the work collecting the data to be an author on the paper.

ob said...

it's interesting how the content of the paper is ignored and the focus is on a (semi-honest) outrage over one word. Kind of proves Hoffman's points.

John M said...

"Kind of proves Hoffman's points."

Assuming his points included that a scholar can write a scholarly article on polarization while at the same time being sloppy about the use of inflammatory and insulting language.

@ReinerGrundmann said...

John M

I would agree that the choice of terms is not unproblematic -- but then not everyone feels insulted by the term denier. Richard Lindzen famously said "I actually like the term denier, realist is also quite good".

Leiserowitz et al on which Hoffman builds his typology distinguish six categories: Alarmed, Concerned, Cautious, Disengaged, Doubtful, Dismissive.

I wonder if you can manage to read Hoffman's piece with imagined quotation marks around the D-word and get back to us, with some insights about the content of the paper.

John M said...


A reasonable request, although a quick peruse doesn't make me optimistic.

I note a heavy reliance in the introduction on Oreske's Google Search, a Guardian newspaper article "exonerating" the Climate-Gate conspirators, and a Pew poll implying all was right with the world until those evil "deniers" gained traction. A careful scholar might have noted that even in "the good old days", the Pew poll never showed a majority believing in human-caused global warming. Even though I do believe in "human-cause global warming", I consider myself a skeptic of catastrophic global warming. I'm afraid such a nuance is beyond the careful scholar's ability to capture, despite all the scholarly words and carefull selected references.

The anecdotal quotations seem a little one-sided as well.

(No Hansen death trains? No gleeful joy by "believers" that conservative US Southerners suffered in last year's tornadoes? No accusations that only one side cares about "the grandchildren?")

I'll read more later.

John M said...

Well, I just spent the better part of my Saturday night reading this thicket of words. And, I can add more to my previous comment about the Pew poll. Pew found that in the good old days (pre-climategate) a majority felt there was "solid evidence the Earth has warmed", but fewer than 50 percent combined this believe with human causation. The author interprets this as "belief in the science of climate". It doesn't give much confidence that he's very skilled at understanding other's points of view.

Most of the conclusions of this article can be summed up very easily:

Deniers and skeptics aren't convinced, believers and the convinced are...well...convinced and insist something be done. Those that are convinced focus on "doing something" while those that aren't convinced don't see a need to do so, and make arguments along those lines. They don't see eye-to-eye. For some reason, it took the author 31 pages to state this.

Here's another subject for him: A spouse wants to put an addition on the house because the house is "unlivable" as is. The other spouse thinks the house is fine and doesn't think they can afford it. The second spouse spends time looking at the bank account and arguing they can't afford it. The first spouse ignores the second, finds support among friends that a house must be "livable" and spends time dreaming up plans and designs (in the parlance of the article...spouse 2 is diagnostic, spouse 1 is prognostic...or better "concentrates on solutions".) They don't see eye-to-eye. Quick, apply for a grant and hire another anonymous assistant.

Anonymous said...

You must be kidding guys?! Who is the creationist in this story, only future will tell....

I'm not pretending that every "alarmist" is a bloody moron or a creationist.

I'm not even judging people who believe for what they believe.

This kind of behaviour is the very characteristic of a belief system.

Everybody who has any kind of doubts is a renegade. He must not be treated with respect.

THAT's religion, not science, brother.

Know thyself.


@ReinerGrundmann said...


Of course you can pick this paper apart but I wonder why you feel the urge to do so? Why not think for a moment that this could contain some valuable insight?

I found it interesting that - contrary to what many people seem to believe - the US press is dominated by supporters of the theory of AGW.

He also criticises much of social science which is dismissive of skeptical trends, explaining them through 'evil motives'.

And you accept the stalemate between the two main camps as something problematic, referring to some private quarrels about house extension and how solve them.

There are many ways of solving such deadlocks, forgetting the issue, emphasizing other aspects (re-framing), bringing in new actors with fresh proposals, to name a few. In the climate debate each side just wants to win, and defeat the opponent. This war logic is brutal but also very crude (and often does not work).

Here is Hoffman's take on brokering:

"Similarly, individuals with credibility on both sides of the debate would be necessary to act as
“climate brokers” in this realm. People are more likely to feel open to consider evidence when it
is accepted or, ideally, presented by a knowledgeable member of their cultural community (Fisher & Shapiro, 2006; Kahan et al., 2010). Conversely, they will dismiss information that is inconsistent with their cultural values when they perceive that it is being advocated by experts whose
values they reject. Given that only 35% of Republicans believe there is solid evidence of global
warming compared with 75% of Democrats (Pew Research Center, 2009), the most effective
broker would best come from the political right. At present, no one is playing this role."

eduardo said...

I found the article a bit acritical to the positions of the 'convinced', as if the obstacles to convince the general population of the necessity of a climate policy was solely due to misinformation by the organized 'deniers'. The 'convinced' also have incurred serious strategic blunders, such as presenting the hockey stick as the sole incontrovertible proof of anthropogenic global warming or linking the mid-2000's hurricane season with anthropogenic climate change. Both turned out to be incorrect, but they disclosed a very easy bull's eye for the sceptics' darts. Now it is virtually impossible to turn the time back and correct those errors. It is not all Singer's fault, die Zeit has also contributed and still does.

John M said...

"Of course you can pick this paper apart but I wonder why you feel the urge to do so?"

You asked me to read and comment on the paper.

I didn't realize you were asking me to read and interpret it in the same way you do.

@ReinerGrundmann said...

I did not expect you to interpret something the same way I do. But I thought you would offer more than a few snide remarks.

The quarrel among spouses indicates that you can see the point of his paper and I have tried to take this further.

Of course it is up to you what you make of it. Feel free to ignore it - no offence taken!

@ReinerGrundmann said...


I am not sure Hoffman sees the remedy to the situation in "convincing" one side. There are clear signs that he is more leaning towards the convinced, no doubt about that. But he does not see the problem as one of "eliminating" the skeptical presence.

Thanks for linking Die ZEIT article, it is the worst kind of good v bad I have read in a long time.

John M said...


You are a gentleman and a gentle soul, but if you took my opinion that Hoffman over-itellectualized and obvious point as "snide", no offence intendend.

But speaking of obvious:

"I found it interesting that - contrary to what many people seem to believe - the US press is dominated by supporters of the theory of AGW."


Freddy Schenk said...

@Climate Warriors in "Die ZEIT":

The article in Die ZEIT is a well written story indicating also that the author gained some deeper knowledge about the topic. The latter makes it a sad story - albeit not surprising for Die ZEIT. It’s hard to believe that the author has overseen that Mann et al. or the IPCC are no saints and that the climate gate was in the end about gate keeping regarding the review process and retention of data and information. It’s a petty that the magazine is usually among those with the best investigations for complex topics while only providing imbalanced views on green energy and climate change topics.

Anonymous said...

@Eduardo & Co

Maybe you are too much focused on science and how scientists interact with society?

90% or probably much more of what we see on TV is pro-alarmism. There is not one single movie about nature, animals, arctic regions, weather extremes, mountaineering, skiing etc... that doesn't talk about climate change and about mankind as the culprit.

Only comedians like Dieter Nuhr an some incurable climate sceptics dare to speak out what they really think about the doomsayings. Most scientific shows tell a few words about sceptics an immediately explain how wrong, dumb etc. they are.

Last week somebody explained that lightnings have doubled the last few years (in Germany??, nobody will ever know) due to manmade climate change. The topic was about lightning arresters.

Everytime there are storms, floodings etc. on TV it's manmade climate change.

German TV-shows clearly and honestly explaining the sceptics viewpoint can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

You climate scientists have done a VERY good job. Maybe to much?

Best regards


jk said...

Just my 2 cents on this paper:
Hoffman's approach is certainly interesting - both theoretically and empirically. The findings, too, are interesting but not really that surprising, as they are more or less coherent with the current research. In particular the part about diagnostic skeptical frames and prognostic convinced frames were interesting to me and are also a good way to differentiate frames in general.

But Hoffman's paper also had some shortcomings: it was already mentioned, but in my opinion it has not become clear what makes a skeptical or convinced position (e.g. just because it was a skeptic conference does not automatically imply that all statements were skeptical and the attached codebook does not really help). This is not only important for the readers but essential for the empirical part.

Moreover the conference part is methodically weird, but on the other hand very interesting (note also how the conference is in 2010, but the articles are from 2007-2009). The analysis of the newspapers, however, is lacking. He does not say which newspapers he used (or how many) or whether they were conservative, liberal, rural, urban, national or regional. These factors are very important, as they contextualize the findings. It very well may be, that all the letters to the editor were directed at conservative newspapers and the editorials were from liberal newspapers. That's probably not the case but that's information you have to give. And when Hoffman states "Interestingly, this
analysis shows first that academic scientists are relatively absent from this social debate, comprising less than 5% of article authors" (p. 20) that's just wrong. Sure, less than 5% wrote an article but that does not mean that scientists were absent from the debate. He has no way of knowing that as he didn't look for it. Scientists seldom write articles in newspapers but more often so are quoted in them. Hoffman, however, chose not to look at the actors.
In general, I thought the article was a good read with interesting findings, several shot-comings and thus I wouldn't come to the same conclusion as Reiner, when he wrote it was excellent.


ob said...

just quickly

1. @jk Hoffman writes "The second source of data comes from an analysis of all U.S. newspaper editorials in the Lexis-
Nexis database from September 2007 to September 2009 that included the keywords “climate
change” or “global warming.”"

I have no idea what the Lexis-Nexis database is, but I guess that makes the analysis reproducible? And it allows the field to evaluate whether his data is biased?

And re:scientists. While it is true that he didn't really look for it, the conclusion remains - from my point of view - valid for the level of the debate he's referring to (that is, those participants who do write in and to newspapers).

2. @yeph: I'm not quite sure what you aim at. Would you prefer if the topic would be presented as an open scientific debate? That is: both "sides" get equal air-time? (then I wouldn't agree.) Or do you just criticise that German TV is over-alarmistic? (Then I do agree.) Or do you really think it would help if every station would produce a documentation "what climate sceptics think ... pt 1 on the scientific basis of climate change, pt 2 on the impacts of climate change, pt 3 on the effects of mitigation & adaptation on economy and society". Then I agree but wonder whether anybody would be satisfied by the product.

And, I would be interested to learn what you understand under the "sceptics viewpoint".

3. @freddy. yes, the sanctification-aspect of the article was ... disturbing. (Mann provides an English-translation via his Facebook-profile). Nevertheless, I do wonder whether your interpretation (the Klimazwiebel-interpretation?) of climategate is really as definite as you suggest.

jk said...

1.) I just had a look at the US press database of Lexis Nexis (it was missing prominent papers like the Financial Times or The Wall Street Journal but it includes e.g. the Environment and Energy Daily or the Associated Press) which is not a complete database of the US's press. I do not really know what papers Hoffman included or excluded but I tried several times and always had more than 3000 results - however I have no idea how to only look for editorials and letters to the editor. Hoffman found 885. This - of course - may be a fault on my part. Nevertheless Hoffman should have made it clearer which papers he used, because as of now we have no idea whether there may be a bias in his findings or not.

2.) Yeah, I know what you are saying. I believe, however, that if you want to talk about actors you should look for them and not just look at the authors names. Of course you will find that most editorials will be written by journalists and most letters to the editor by citizens. That's a no-brainer. Occasionally, of course, a scientist will write an editorial, but most of the time scientists will be quoted in the articles or editorials. Hence the statement that scientists are absent from the discussion is just wrong. If you are looking for a scientist's participation in a discourse in the sense that he or she should be an article's author, it would probably be best to then include scientific journals.


@ReinerGrundmann said...


thanks for your detailed comment on Hoffman's methodology. As someone who has done newspaper analyses based on Nexis database I know the problems. It is a service that is used by many media scholars as it allows to get a lot of data from many sources and countries quickly. But the acquisition policies are such that includes only some papers, not all. There are many US and UK papers, fewer in non English countries. Worst of all, the corpus may change over time as their subscription contracts change.
That said, you can do quite a good job without paying huge sums for access.
If you wanted to analyse the type of paper and type of item (comment, letter, news article) you would need to write a program. I have papers in print using such methodology which I will post here soon.

and yes, I was too enthusiastic in my characterisation of Hoffman's paper as excellent. Let's say: very interesting?

jk said...

@ Reiner: Yeah, I'm familiar with Lexis Nexis research. My problem with the methodology is, that without any specification or clarification on why the whole database was chosen, Hoffman is really only able to say something about the Lexis Nexis sample, but nothing on the US press or specific news outlets.

Also I'm skeptical w/r/t to the specific selection of editorials and letters to the editor. But that's really due to the fact that I suppose that there are way more skeptical or convinced undertones in the actual reporting than just the opinion pieces.

But I don't wanna sound too overly negative. It is still a very interesting paper, indeed. Just wanted to point out some aspects from a communication scientist's point of view :) Looking forward to your paper, Reiner!


Dennis Bray said...

I must admit, I have only skimmed the article so may have missed something. But it seem to me the paper could benefit by the addition of a few more dimension:

convinced/skeptical of anthro attribution

convinced/skeptical that GW is happening

convinced/skeptical that GW is dangerous

convinced/skeptical that we should do something about it

convinced/skeptical that we can do something about it


Anonymous said...


Yes I criticise that German TV is over-alarmistic and I criticise Klimazwiebel-readers to think, that climate science is not well communicated or under-represented.

In my opinion it's over-represented and missused by politics and the green movement.

Not the sceptics convice other people to be sceptic but climate science itself and the weather.

And I dont't criticise the blog owners.

Extremely warm summers, one very warm winter and temperatures increasing worldwide made us less sceptic. Now the lack of all these things make us more sceptic.

And this is my sceptic viewpoint. What Eduardo wrote is the truth and people out there believe we are liars. The most famous sceptic who is closest to my viewpoint is perhaps Lucia and her friends.

Best regards