Is there a global warming pause — or not?

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A new study examines the language and psychology of climate science and the idea of a global warming pause.

Are climate scientists psyching themselves out?

Staff Report

FRISCO — Talk of a global warming pause, or hiatus, has been widespread the past few years, as the rate of increasing temperature slowed slightly since the 1990s.

But multiple lines of evidence show that global warming hasn’t paused at all, which means that talk of a pause is misleading. Recent warming has been slower than the long term trend, but this fluctuation differs little from past fluctuations in warming rate, including past periods of more rapid than average warming.

So how did the idea of a global warming pause slip into mainstream science? A team of scientists from Bristol University, Harvard and three Australian research institutions decided to try and answer that question, and found that the high-pitched level of climate science denialism may be affecting how scientists speak, and maybe even think, about their own work.

The researchers pointed out that, when warming on a decadal scale was especially fast, scientists didn’t give short-term climate variability the attention it has received during the recent slowdown. During earlier rapid warming there was no additional research effort directed at explaining ‘catastrophic’ warming.

By contrast, the recent modest decrease in the rate of warming has elicited numerous articles and special issues of leading journals. This asymmetry in response to fluctuations in the decadal warming trend likely reflects what the study’s authors call the ‘seepage’ of contrarian claims into scientific work.

“It seems reasonable to conclude that the pressure of climate contrarians has contributed, at least to some degree, to scientists re-examining their own theory, data and models, even though all of them permit — indeed, expect — changes in the rate of warming over any arbitrarily chosen period.”

The study  three recognized psychological mechanisms are involved: The ‘stereotype threat’, ‘pluralistic ignorance’ and the ‘third-person effect’.

‘Stereotype threat’ refers to the emotional and behaviour responses when a person is reminded of an adverse stereotype against a group to which they belong. Thus, when scientists are stereotyped as ‘alarmists’, a predicted response would be for them to try to avoid seeming alarmist by downplaying the degree of threat. Several studies have indeed shown that scientists tend to avoid highlighting risks, lest they be seen as ‘alarmist’.

‘Pluralistic ignorance’ describes the phenomenon which arises when a minority opinion is given disproportionate prominence in public debate, resulting in the majority of people incorrectly assuming their opinion is marginalized.

Thus, a public discourse that asserts that the IPCC has exaggerated the threat of climate change may cause scientists who disagree to think their views are in the minority, and they may therefore feel inhibited from speaking out in public.

Research shows that people generally believe that persuasive communications exert a stronger effect on others than on themselves: this is known as the ‘third-person effect’. However, in actual fact, people tend to be more affected by persuasive messages than they think. This suggests the scientific community may be susceptible to arguments against climate change even when they know them to be false.

“We scientists have a unique and crucial role in public policy: to communicate clearly and accurately the entire range of risks that we know about. The public has a right to be informed about risks, even if they are alarming,” Lewandowsky said.

“Climate scientists have done a great job pursuing their science under great political pressure and they have tirelessly rebutted pseudoscientific arguments against their work. However, sometimes scientists have inadvertently allowed contrarian claims to frame the language of their scientific thinking, leading us to overstate uncertainty and under-communicate knowledge.

“Knowing about one’s own susceptibility to outside pressure is half the battle: our research may therefore enable scientists to recognize the potential for this seepage of contrarian arguments into their own language and thinking,” Lewandowsky concluded.

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11 thoughts on “Is there a global warming pause — or not?

  1. The pause was invented by sceptics as a way to describe the discrepancy between academic assertions that the globe was warming and what the actual climate was doing.

    So, the correct definition of the pause would be that the global temperature is not warming as predicted. In 2001 the IPCC predicted a minimum of 1.4C warming over the next century. Not even one of the dataset (with their heavy adjustments) shows even this lowest level of warming.

    This shows the pause is real. (It’s as much a statement about the credibility of the forecasters as about the global temperature)

    1. Actually, one global dataset shows close to 1.4 C/century during the last 15 years, that is Nick Stokes TempLSmesh (1.345 C), an index using kriging-like procedures and unadjusted GHCN data.
      GHCN adjustments would actually lower this trend with 0.3, probably by punishing the “suspiciously” high warming rates in the Arctic.

    2. In 2001 the IPCC predicted a minimum of 1.4C warming over the next century. Not even one of the dataset (with their heavy adjustments) shows even this lowest level of warming.

      Now that the “pause” has ended (there is now statistically significant warming since 1998), the goal posts have been moved to 1.4C/century.

      Out of the 4 global surface temperature compilations at the calculator http://www.skepticalscience.com/trend.php , only Berkeley shows anything less than 1.4C/century since 1998.

      I wonder where the global warming denialists will move the goal posts to next?

  2. The core of the issue remains. We are in fact the cause of global warming. It is expected to disrupt climate patterns we have come to depend on and will only worsen unless we reduce our emissions. Among the informed there’s no reasonable doubt. The problem is that most of the republicans prefer to cater to fossil fuel interests or some political agenda rather that deal with a problem that will put our future generations at risk.

    Too many in Congress deny the reality. A recent vote in the Senate proved it. We need to unseat those unwilling to think critically and do what’s in the best interests of our societies to come. Without a healthy habitat to sustain them, nothing, literally nothing else matters.

    1. Phil. ”global” warming doesn’t exist b] H2O changes the climate on many different ways, not CO2! Why do you need corrupt politicians that will follow the Marxist extremist, to destroy the western economies?! Read my post, every sentence, and see what the truth is. the link is on the comment below. Don’t be scared from the truth

  3. Ah, the purveyors of ignorance is bliss. The Republican fantasy world of denial, delusion, and ignorance. Fortunately for those of us that have an above 3rd grade level education the influence of these nitwits is self limiting. They won’t travel out farther than the horizon to spread their childish lunacy for fear of falling off the edge of earth.

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