The most important thing about this graph (source) is that it signifies not an increase in the general public’s understanding of climate science, but a trend toward greater trust in science and scientists as a whole. The former is not vital but the latter clearly is.
This is good news, but — and forgive me for my glass-half-shattered outlook here — it only further exposes just how foolish the many remaining holdouts are.
I have a degree in a physical science, and I try to keep current on important (or sometimes simply interesting) scientific issues. But I don’t pretend to have more than a passing knowledge of what climate scientists do in terms of information gathering and data analysis and computer modeling. What I do know for certain is that their conclusions are not whimsical or capricious or, worse yet, products of influence-peddling or part of a conspiracy aimed at making a few climate scientists rich. Yet we live in a country rife with “bloggers” who apparently think that climate-change data is the result of a few guys from NCAR sticking a ruler and a thermometer into the Antarctic ice shelf once a year and bleating “Owned, Inhofe!” as they scribble bullshit into their little notebooks. They are the ones who aren’t joking when they point at May snowfall in Colorado or a sub-freezing day in Tallahassee as proof that human-caused climate change — or hell, global warming, period — is an elaborate hoax.
That people think in such conspiratorial terms at all about climate change can be explained simply, on the basis that old psychological standby: classic projection. True right-wingers operate from a platform of ideological rigidity, where what is true lags far, far behind what is politically expedient or necessary on the importance scale. So a lot of them really do believe that scientists have knowingly united around a false conclusion, and in an extraordinary coup, have also somehow managed to suppress then scientific facts about global non-warming. Scientists can and will do this, the ding-dongs complain, as long as whatever false conclusion they aim to serve up suits a sufficiently liberal cause.
Now, I suspect that among even the most ardent anthropogenic-global-warming (AGW) scoffers, there are plenty of people who do understand, at some glum Elmer Fudd level, that the whole AGW scheme indeed reflects reality, but believe that it is nevertheless critical to go along with the deniers who yammer to the contrary. So these people are distinct from true denialists in that their denial is entirely for show. Then there are the transitional-species dummies: Genuine old-fashioned ignorance does a great job of fighting off facts on its own — many denialists’ climate-change vocabularies don’t extend beyond the terms “greenhouse gas” and “hockey stick” — but it also serves as an ideal accelerant for contrived denialism, because when you’re already not very bright, convincing folks that you’re an abject moron is trivially easy.
The shit-icing on this anti-scientific turdcake is, as usual, hypocrisy. Many of the same people who dismiss the evidence for AGW out of hand, or claim that the data are wildly insufficient to establish anything meaningful (even if they have never actually seen these data), are eager to trumpet “counter-evidence” ostensibly collected using the same tools but circulated by non-scientists — for example, the gleefully stupid canard that the planet hasn’t warmed in 15 or more years, or the trope about natural warming-cooling cycles. Moreover, they simultaneously demonstrate a commitment to believing in things for which there is no evidence whatsoever and against which counter-evidence exists in abundance; AGW deniers are often fundamentalist Christians who blithely ignore the countless internal inconsistencies, contradictions, and grotesque absurdities in the Bible and claim that God is everything the Bible says He is, because, well Bible, Bible and God.
This is why I have been happy to embrace the relatively recent proposition that such claimed beliefs are far more about values signaling than about genuine beliefs. This is something of a relief, because I would rather ascribe unruly statements and behaviors to ulterior social motives than to rank, intractable cognitive impairment. For more on what I am getting at, try this Sam Harris-Jonathan Haidt podcast.