56 Per Cent of You Are STUPID (Or is it Just Ipsos MORI?)

by | Jul 4, 2007

Ipsos Mori are about to publish some research they’ve done, Tipping Point Or Turning Point? Social Marketing & Climate Change

Phil Downing, head of environmental research at the company, and one of the report’s authors appeared on yesterday’s Today program on BBC Radio 4 to discuss the findings.

I think there are two key headlines that we’ve found. The first is that concern about climate change on the whole is rising. And we find that very few people, only a very small minority, actually reject out of hand the idea that it is actually changing the climate, that humans have at least some part to play in that. 

So what’s the problem?

The more disturbing trend is there’s still undecided or a large proportion who are ambivalent about the issue. And we see this filtering through to the number who say that they’re not convinced that scientists can successfully model the climate. More frighteningly still that they believe the scientific debate is still raging, err, and the jury is still out. 

But you don’t need to be a global warming denialist, or even a sceptic to be part of the 56% of us who are unconvinced of science’s current ability to successfully model the climate. Take for example, Kevin E. Trenberth’s recent article on Nature’s Climate Feedback blog:

There is no estimate, even probabilistically, as to the likelihood of any emissions scenario and no best guess. … Even if there were, the projections are based on model results that provide differences of the future climate relative to that today. None of the models used byIPCC are initialized to the observed state and none of the climate states in the models correspond even remotely to the current observed climate. In particular, the state of the oceans, sea ice, and soil moisture has no relationship to the observed state at any recent time in any of theIPCC models. 

And Trenberth is no ‘sceptic’. He maintains that global warming is happening, and humans are causing it. He concludes,

… the science is not done because we do not have reliable or regional predictions of climate. But we need them. Indeed it is an imperative! So the science is just beginning. Beginning, that is, to face up to the challenge of building a climate information system that tracks the current climate and the agents of change, that initializes models and makes predictions, and that provides useful climate information on many time scales regionally and tailored to many sectoral needs. 

Downing’s research apparently fails to accommodate the complex and nuanced debate that evidently does exist. Furthermore, it seems that the public are far more sophisticated than he gives them credit for. Worse still, however, it is his own ignorance of the science, the debate, and his underestimation of the public that causes him to be ‘disturbed’ and ‘frightened’. He then needs to invent reasons as to why the public don’t see things the way he wants them to:

Given the actual consensus and the reality if the situation, it is a particularly disturbing statistic and does suggest one or two things. Firstly the impact of contrarian and negative messages, for example, Channel 4’s great Global Warming Swindle are having an impact. Secondly, if the public is ambivalent, and you have a disconnect between what you believe on the one hand, and how you act on the other. The easiest thing is to change what you believe, rather than how you act. 

If Ipsos Mori want to become opinion formers rather opinion pollsters, they’ll need to be rather more persuasive than that. This ‘research’ only reveals the public opinion pollsters’ low opinion of the public.


  1. Rupert

    From Downing what a truly fatuous and dishonest contribution!

    Rupert Wyndham

  2. Andrew

    I think that you completely misrepresent Trenberth’s opinions in your article. He states unequivically:

    “So if the science is settled, then what are we planning for and adapting to? A consensus has emerged that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal” to quote the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Working Group I Summary for Policy Makers (pdf) and the science is convincing that humans are the cause. Hence mitigation of the problem: stopping or slowing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere is essential. The science is clear in this respect.”

    In other words, he agrees with the basic tenets of climate change and that we must do something about it.

    Where he doesn’t think there is agreement is in the details, as he says in the next paragraph:

    “However, the science is not done because we do not have reliable or regional predictions of climate.”

    Note that he isn’t saying that we’re on the wrong path, or that there’s anything wrong with the (mostly) consensus view, but simply that there’s a lot more work to do.

    So, don’t go implying that there’s some trouble brewing in science-land. Of course, there’s talk and there’s disagreement and infighting, but almost all climate scientists agree that it is a crisis. To imply otherwise is misleading at best.

  3. Editors

    Andrew complains that we have misrepresented Trenberth. But Trenberth’s comments are incompatible with Downing’s.

    Downing says ‘we see this filtering through to the number who say that they’re not convinced that scientists can successfully model the climate.`

    We then point out that it is not just sceptics who are ‘[un]convinced that scientists can successfully model the climate’. Trenberth says, ‘There is no estimate, even probabilistically, as to the likelihood of any emissions scenario and no best guess…’

    Andrew then tells us that ‘but almost all climate scientists agree that it is a crisis’.

    Whatever the truth of that, it does nothing to justify Downing’s remarks. A crisis doesn’t let anybody say what they want about climate science. As Andrew says ‘To imply otherwise is misleading at best’.

    Andrew mentions ‘basic tenets of climate change’. Like Downing, he seems to confuse the tenets with the science.

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