Trust in Scientists

EFFORTS TO DISCREDIT SCIENTISTS

People who are skeptical about global warming have cited two 2009  controversies to question the credibility of scientists who contributed to IPCC reports: the so-called “Climategate” controversy, and report errors found in the fourth IPCC assessment report.

But public trust in scientists studying the environment has not changed meaningfully over the years. In 2006, 72% of Americans had at least moderate trust in what scientists said about the environment. In 2018, that number was 70%.  This level of trust in scientists is high and did not waver after the 2009 controversies broke.


Question wording: How much do you trust the things that scientists say about the environment – completely, a lot, a moderate amount, a little, or not at all?


Climategate involved a hack into the computer system of the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia: more than 1,000 emails and many other documents were made public. Some observers alleged that the leak showed climate scientists conspiring to manipulate data for the IPCC’s report. Several investigations, including by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, found no substantiation for those claims and said the materials did not undermine the IPCC’s findings that anthropogenic global warming is happening.(1)

In December 2009, accounts of errors in the fourth assessment report of the IPCC emerged.  The report mistakenly projected the date for Himalayan glacial melting to be 2035 instead of 2050. (2)

Did these two widely reported events dampen public confidence in the scientific community?

A June 2010 survey assessed whether the public knew details of these events and whether people believed that the events had impacted public confidence in scientists.  About one-third of Americans remembered hearing or reading something about Climategate, yet 71% of those people don’t remember any specifics about the emails.  And one in four remembered hearing or reading something about mistakes in the IPCC report, yet 81% said they didn’t recall any details.

Slide20


Question wording: During the last six months, do you remember hearing or reading anything in the news about emails that were sent by scientists that study the world’s climate, or do you not remember hearing or reading anything in the news about that?

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Question wording: What do you remember reading or hearing about that?

Slide22


Question wording: During the last six months, do you remember hearing or reading anything in the news about mistakes in scientific reports that were written by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, or do you not remember hearing or reading anything in the news about that?

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Question wording: What do you remember reading or hearing about that?

A small portion of people said Climategate showed that climate scientists should not be trusted (9%), or stated that IPCC report errors implied scientific misconduct (13%).

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Question wording: Do these emails indicate to you that scientists who study the world’s climate should be trusted, indicate to you that these scientists should not be trusted, or do they not indicate anything about whether these scientists should be trusted?

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Question wording: Does what you read or heard about mistakes in these reports indicate to you that reports written by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change should be trusted, indicate to you that these reports should not be trusted, or do not indicate anything to you about whether these reports should be trusted?

SCIENTISTS’ MOTIVATIONS

Skeptics have also questioned the motives of natural scientists who draw conclusions about climate change.  If natural scientists claim that global warming will lead to dire consequences, are they simply in on a hoax to garner more research funding? Or if scientists refute those findings, are they simply doing so under the influence of the oil and gas industries?

In June 2012, Americans had more confidence in the scientists whose research documents the existence of anthropogenic climate change than in that that does not take that view. Just over half of the nation believed that conclusions are based on scientific evidence when scientists say global warming has been happening and has been human-caused. Only 35% thought that scientists reached those conclusions dishonestly for economic or political reasons.

People have been less likely to see scientific soundness in the findings of scientists who say global warming is not happening or not human-caused. Forty-four percent said that those skeptics based their conclusions on scientific evidence, and 49% thought that the motivation was economic or political.

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Question wording: [random half of respondents] Do you think scientists who report that global warming is happening AND is caused by human activity make conclusions mainly on the basis of scientific evidence or mainly on the basis of their own economic or political interests?

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Question wording: [random half of respondents] Do you think scientists who report that global warming is NOT happening OR NOT caused by human activity make conclusions mainly on the basis of scientific evidence or mainly on the basis of their own economic or political interests?

References

  1. No Author. (n.d.). Myths vs. Facts: Denial of Petitions for Reconsideration of the Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings for Greenhouse Gases under Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act. The United States Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved from http://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/endangerment/myths-facts.html
  2. No Author. (n.d.). Denial of Petitions for Reconsideration of the Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings for Greenhouse Gases under Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act. The United States Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved from http://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/endangerment/petitions.html