Purdue Study Airbrushes Out Underlying Differences on “Climate Change”

Opinion polls such as this are political tools of the trade for academics (a paper can be published). Differences in views on an issue (e.g. climate change) are highlighted to marginalize one side or the other. In this case (here), the “farmers” get the slap down when compared to the “scientists”.  The findings are interesting and the paper reads very well. But there is no reason to believe that those respondents placed in the “scientist” category used in this study are any more or better qualified to judge “climate change” than the “farmer” (many of whom are also well-educated). 

Lastly, [Further,] as a along-time observer of the “agricultural community”, I must point out that the paper air brushes out the differences that already exist between individuals and subgroups (aka “stakeholders”) within rural areas. There are those in rural America who are socially liberal politically, like being dependent on big government and/or  being dependent on government funding of their organization, business, or agency (e.g. Solyndra), and see government regulation primarily as a means of driving social change (e.g. a Marixst approach to government). And there are those who have the opposite views – who desire limited government within the US Constitution, have and live by “conservative” values and “religious” convictions, and value independence and freedom. And then there are others (perhaps the majority) who are somewhere in between or a mixture of the two. It is that way now and always will be.

Scientific evidence is not neutral. It must be interpreted. The interpretation is guided if not determined by a person’s presuppositions. (This is not necessarily negative if the presuppositions are reliable.) Equally qualified scientists can make the same observations and collect the same data but have different explanations and come to different conclusions. And this reality will affect if not determine what actions a person or group is willing to accept or actively promote to adapt or mitigate the effects of “climate change.”

We’ve seen in the past the same effort to bifurcate society into “stakeholders” on other federal regulatory issues. (The term “denier” is also fits in here.) An effort might be attempted to bring “stakeholders” together through a regulatory negotiation, FACA committee, or some such dispute resolution effort to negotiate a course of action on mitigation and adaptation. In such a process political “stakeholders” get together (formally or informally) to negotiate what will be. But negotiating science, regulation, and courses of action within such a political environment is, in reality, no better than the approach used by the IPCC, just on a smaller scale.

Lastly, to select and use words without clear definition and meaning to convey or imply a message or argument is simply unintentional manipulation at best, and more often just plain propaganda. Equivocation on key terms such as “climate change” is counter productive. Unfortunately, even this paper suffers from this deficiency.

Linda Stalker Prokopy, Lois Wright Morton, J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr., Amber Saylor Mase, Adam Wilke. Agricultural stakeholder views on climate change: Implications for conducting research and outreach. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society doi: 10.1175/BAMS-D-13-00172.1

Understanding U.S. agricultural stakeholder views about the existence of climate change and its causes is central to developing interventions in support of adaptation and mitigation. Results from surveys conducted with six Midwestern stakeholder groups (corn producers, agricultural advisors, climatologists, Extension educators, and two different cross-disciplinary teams of scientists funded by USDA-NIFA) reveal striking differences. Individuals representing these groups were asked in 2011-2012 to “select the statement that best reflects your beliefs about climate change.” Three of five answer options included the notion that climate change is occurring but for different reasons (mostly human activities; mostly natural; more or less equally by natural and human activities). The last two options were “there is not sufficient evidence to know with certainty whether climate change is occurring or not” and “climate change is not occurring.” Results reveal that agricultural and climate scientists are more likely to believe that climate change is mostly due to human activities (50 to 67%) than farmers and advisors (8 – 31 12%). Almost a quarter of farmers and agricultural advisors believe the source of climate change is mostly natural causes; and 22-31% state there is not sufficient evidence to know with certainty whether it is occurring or not. This discrepancy in beliefs creates challenges for communicating climate science to agricultural stakeholders in ways that encourage adaptation and mitigation. Results suggest that engagement strategies that reduce threats to worldviews and increase public dialogue could make climate information more relevant to stakeholder groups with different belief structures.


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