Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Interesting Correlation

I'll have to run the numbers to see if these percentage differences are statistically significant or not, but either way I don't see them as practically significant.  Still, it's funny to give this information to the adherents of the Church of Global Warming:
Are global warming skeptics anti-science? Or just ignorant about science?

Maybe neither. A study published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change finds that people who are not that worried about the effects of global warming tend to have a slightly higher level of scientific knowledge than those who are worried, as determined by their answers to questions like:

"Electrons are smaller than atoms -- true or false?”
"How long does it take the Earth to go around the Sun? One day, one month, or one year?"
“Lasers work by focusing sound waves -- true or false?”

The quiz, containing 22 questions about both science and statistics, was given to 1,540 representative Americans. Respondents who were relatively less worried about global warming got 57 percent of them right, on average, just barely outscoring those whose who saw global warming as a bigger threat. They got 56 percent of the questions correct.

"As respondents’ science literacy scores increased, their concern with climate change decreased," the paper, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, notes.
Huh.  You don't say.  Hmmm, very interesting.
Dr. Richard Lindzen, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at MIT, was one skeptical scientist who signed the letter (titled No Need to Panic About Global Warming). He said that the finding that skeptics know as much or more about science surprised him "not at all."

"MIT alumni are among my most receptive audiences," he added.


Steve USMA '85 said...

Darren, with those numbers, I can pretty much guarantee you that they are statistically insignificant.

57% vs. 56% on a sample size of 1,540? No way that can be found to be significant.

Steve USMA '85 said...

Found the original study at:


They claim to have shown statistically significant results at the .95 level of confidence. Interesting. Still, the values are so close, I would not use it as solid evidence that folks who worry less about climate change are definitely more knowledgeable about science.

Anonymous said...

"57% vs. 56% on a sample size of 1,540? No way that can be found to be significant."

First, thanks for the link in your second post to the actual paper. I looked for the paper yesterday and all my search results were seriously paywalled.

So ... onward.

The 56% vs 57% is misleading. I think.

The data is kinda bi-modal, and the result is that one group (the egalitarian communitarians):
(a) Is much more likely in general to believe global warming is a risk, and
(b) Are more likely to believe this as their scientific literacy/numeracy goes up.

For these folks, more science education will increase their belief that global warming is a problem.

But these folks (on average) already believe that, so we don't need to design an education/propaganda/whatever campaign for them.

The second group of folks (the hierarchical individualists) are different. They:
(a) Are less likely to believe global warming is a problem, and
(b) As their scientific literacy/numeracy goes up are even *LESS* likely to believe that global warming is a problem.

Averaging the two groups together gets you the 56% vs 57%. I think.

But what the paper cares most about is persuading the hierarchical individualists to worry about global warming. The other folks already believe, so they can be ignored.

The problem here is that more scientific education for the hierarchical individualists makes them more skeptical of the seriousness of global warming rather than more concerned.

This is a problem because the belief up to now has been that more education would cause these folks to come around to the correct beliefs.

If the paper is correct, then more scientific education for the hierarchical individualists actually makes things worse, not better (from the view point of the folks who feel strongly that everyone should be concerned about global warming).

But the 56% vs 57% number seems to be irrelevant to the point of the paper because it averages two groups together and the paper mostly only cares about one of those groups.

I think :-)

FYI: Figure 2 shows the population split.

-Mark Roulo

Steve USMA '85 said...

Mark R., I think you hit the nail on the head with your analysis. Don't have anything to add because I think you said it all.

And yes, it took some serious searching to find a non-pay version of the article. Glad you found it worth it.