New Data: 81 Percent of Climate Deniers Think Scientists Are In It “For Their Own Interests"

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The Brookings Institution has a new report out on the public’s views about global warming, and most commentators are going for the predictable headline. It’s this: Following the post-ClimateGate decline in belief that global warming is happening, we’re now seeing a bit of a rebound. More people believe the planet is warming than they did in early 2010—probably in part due to warm weather.

That is good news—not great news by any means, but surely something. People certainly seem remarkably fickle and malleable on this topic, but then, they always are in polls.

To me, though, what you’ve just read is not really the headline. I dug into the Brookings data, and found something much juicier (and newer).

In the poll, 42 percent of Republicans say there isn’t solid evidence that the Earth is warming, and another 11 percent say they are unsure. In contrast, only 15 % of Democrats are out and out deniers. (Note: People were not being asked whether humans are causing global warming, which would have made these numbers much worse.) 

And here’s the thing: Of the deniers–Democrat or Republican, but mostly Republican–81 percent also think that “scientists are overstating evidence about global warming for their own interests.” That’s a finding I’ve never seen before–and a very disturbing one.

Granted, in one sense this is not so terribly surprising. If you don’t agree with scientists about global warming, you are probably naturally inclined to impute nefarious motives to them—assuming there’s a self-interested reason why they’re wrong, and you’re right.

On the other hand, to find that 80 plus percent of deniers think so poorly of climate scientists is just plain alarming. What kind of “interests” must they think these scientists are pursuing?

Some deniers, surely, are going all in for the global warming conspiracy theory. They think scientists and NGOs are colluding to pull the wool over our eyes and advance a socialist, constrictive economic agenda on the global scale.

But let’s assume most of the deniers are more reasonable, and not so far gone. Nonetheless, they might be thinking that scientists are interested in getting government research grants, and know that they have to kowtow to global warming dogma to keep the money flowing.

That’s no conspiracy theory, but it sure shows an awful lot of disdain for the integrity of climate scientists–as well as for the peer review process and the norms of the scientific community.

In my opinion, anyone who thinks such things can be fairly called “anti-science,” in the sense of having a deep distrust of the scientific process and the capacity of scientists to produce reliable and trustworthy findings. Thus, these new data go hand in hand with other recent evidence suggesting that Republicans distrust environmental science across the board.

There was a time when I could argue that everybody’s basically pro-science–it’s just that Republicans reject it on a few pet issues. Now, though, I’m not so sure. The kinds of sentiments being expressed in these surveys suggest that trust in science itself is becoming partisan.

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