Four ways to assemble the evidence on climate change

How it is possible to persuade people who just don’t want to be persuaded?

The answer, from a Cultural Theory perspective, is fairly straightforward. People and institutions with different cultural biases create, fund, support and pay attention to four very different types of evidence. What matters then, if you want to persuade large numbers of people, is to produce and shape a variety of evidence. Here are some suggestions for what climate change might look like, viewed four different ways.

Just before we begin, note that science communicators seem to be ridiculously bad at doing this. Their so-called evidence and so-called solutions are almost always heavily weighted towards the Egalitarian version of climate change alone, which is why their views are contested. As we’re about to show, there’s much more to life than egalitarianism, but since that’s how much of the climate discourse is presented, that’s where we’ll start.

Egalitarian Climate Change:

On this view you should demonstrate with science and/or emotive rhetoric (whichever appeals best to hearts and minds, the Elephant and the rider as Jonathan Haidt would say) that our very civilization is in danger unless we change our profligate ways. Changing our energy sources is to be depicted as only a preliminary step to changing our values. Peter Preston said we need an ‘eco-prophet’ to show us how to believe but this is emphatically wrong. Such Egalitarian eco-prophets as have arisen – Al Gore in the US, George Monbiot in the UK, and many others – have been shot down in flames, derided as extremists.

Egalitarian authority comes most authentically not from prophets but from the masses. Common sense, what everyone knows, is what is true. That’s why ‘scientific consensus’ is so much more important to Egalitarians than it is to scientists themselves (scientists themselves rather like arguing and starting feuds).

Individualist Climate Change:

From an Individualist perspective you should provide information and examples on how to make a profit from climate change, appealing all the while to visceral self-interest. If it turns out you actually can make a profit from climate change, and do so better than your competitors, then climate change must surely exist.

Alternatively, and inversely, demonstrate concrete (not hypothetical or future) impacts on the bottom line of those institutions that have ignored Climate Change.

On this view scientists who make photovoltaics competitive with coal fired power stations are doing more to combat climate change than any amount of hand-wringing by the likes of James Hanson, who is simply discounted as a crypto-religious or crypto-communist ‘fanatical environmentalist’. A figurehead Individualist expert would be someone like Shi Zhengrong, China’s first solar billionaire. Money doesn’t lie.

Hierarchical Climate Change

Paying attention to the Hierarchical perspective you should develop and promote management theories of climate change. If you can reconfigure governance to take account of climate change in ways that enhance management functions, and if it makes evident sense to have a Minister for Climate Change, then climate change must certainly exist.

Alternatively, demonstrate (perhaps by means of case study) real and damaging governance failures of those institutions that have ignored Climate Change in their management structure. What risks demonstrably increase when you don’t have a Minister for Climate Change or a framework for global climate change governance? Ideal Hierarchical experts will be at or near the top of the tree. It will be their status that speaks loudest. If Prince Charles and the Pope both worry about climate change, who are we to argue? Failing the biggest guns, the Head of the Royal Society will do at a pinch, unless you can find someone more senior.

Fatalist Climate Change

With reference to the Fatalist perspective you should demonstrate the randomizing impact of climate change on the status quo. Fatalism thrives by enhancing and systematizing the luck of the draw and turning it into policy (explicit or, more often than not, tacit), or reward (the lottery). Fatalists tend to say ‘climates change!’ with the twin implications that it was always like this and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Fatalist institutions tend to make a virtue of doing nothing about it, and try to make sure no one else does anything about it either.

What not to do

If you keep using only one of the four perspectives described by Cultural Theory, your message will appeal to some people but deeply antagonise many others. It will be welcomed in some social settings but shunned in others. Don’t keep doing this, because so far it hasn’t worked.

There is nothing wrong with professing the view that in light of dangerous climate change problems what the world needs now is global governance. But to expect that this will not be seen as politically inflammatory is to be naive in the extreme. The global governance line works well before Hierarchical audiences (bureaucrats and some heads of state, for instance), but really badly before audiences with the other three cultural biases.

Simply put, any media release about a new piece of climate research could do with not one but four different versions, each targeted at a different cultural bias. A more sophisticated version of this would be to develop a communications strategy which includes interaction with all four cultural world views, not just with one or two, as at present.

A little help from Aristotle

But that’s not quite enough. Prof Dan Kahn at the Cultural Cognition Project has suggested that any message about science really has two channels: the content itself, and the cultural meaning attached to that content. He rightly suggests communicators need to be aware of both. But his model reminded me of Aristotle, who thought there were three, not just two, channels of communication.

In presenting an argument, Aristotle’s classic rhetorical concepts of ethos, pathos and logos still have a great deal to contribute (Gottweis in Fisher, Miller and Sidney, 2007: 237-250). Too many presentations rely almost exclusively on logos, the actual ideas and concepts, the contents of the presentation. This is certainly important but in some ways overshadowed by the other two. Pathos refers to the emotions evoked and ethos refers to the character of the person delivering the message. These are both highly important but often underused. The implication of Cultural Theory is that all three, ethos, pathos and logos, are configured according to the main cultural biases. An egalitarian logos, for example, may work best when it is supported by Egalitarian pathos and Egalitarian ethos. On the other hand, a speaker trying to appeal to an Individualist audience may keep some of the Egalitarian logos, while appealing to an Individualist pathos and using an Individualist ethos.

More reading:

The dark side of Cultural Theory

Edit: changed the title of this post from ‘make up’ to ‘assemble’. See the discussion in the comments.

Bias: it’s not a bug, it’s a feature

“Kahan’s argument about the woman who does not believe in global warming is a surprising and persuasive example of a general principle: if we want to understand others, we can always ask what is making their behaviour ‘rational’ from their point of view. If, on the other hand, we just assume they are irrational, no further conversation can take place.”
http://aeon.co/magazine/psychology/we-are-more-rational-than-those-who-nudge-us/

How to inspire people with prize money

trophies

Would you put in more effort if you thought you could win a large cash prize?

What about if that prize was broken up into a series of smaller prizes – how hard would you work then?

‘In praise of big prizes’ at the Freakonomics site, had some advice for a professor at the University of Texas who changed his practice of handing out cash prizes to students in favour of a more level system.

http://freakonomics.com/2013/10/28/in-praise-of-big-prizes/

The author writes that actually,

“larger top prizes and a steeper prize gradient will elicit more effort than a flatter gradient, one with more prizes of smaller amounts (Lazear and Rosen, 1981).”

He suggests that a large amount of prize money is what motivates top sports people such as Tiger Woods, and that perhaps the professor could adapt and use this approach in an educational setting:

“he would get better written work if he went back to the old system, just as Tiger Woods is better motivated by a big winning prize for a whole tournament than he would be by small prizes for having the best score in a particular round.”

In a previous post on Fourcultures about Fatalist development aid I noted how schemes to randomly assign cash handouts to poor people seem to work quite well. According to the Economist, though, there are situations in which conditional handouts work better. In one example, would-be aid recipients were required to submit a business plan before going into the lottery.

Perhaps these schemes using contrived randomness, a Fatalist strategy, would be better if they used high value tournaments instead – a very Individualist strategy.

One small problem is that the prize money that seems to motivate Tiger Woods to get out of bed is slightly higher than that available in college classes or in development aid programmes.

First prize for the 2013 US Masters  tournament was $1,440,000. That’s quite a lot of money. Even the 50th placed golfer still won $20,160.

In contrast, the top University of Texas student paper won $1,500. In even starker contrast, Kenyan villagers identified by the charity Give Directly receive $200.

“We send each recipient household a total of $1,000 over one to two years, or $200 per household member for the average household. Our analysis suggests that this amount is fair, well-understood, and potentially transformative.”

When Individualism can provide a US Masters level of money to colleges and to poor villages in Africa, maybe then its policy prescriptions will be more credible.

See also: Fatalist development aid

[image credit: public domain, pixabay]

Fatalist development aid

The Economist evaluates a scheme to give poor people cash handouts at random, instead of through traditional aid programmes. Mixed results…

http://www.economist.com/news/international/21588385-giving-money-directly-poor-people-works-surprisingly-well-it-cannot-deal

Fatalism, as described by Grid-Group Cultural theory, is more than merely the worldview that blind fate rules our lives. It takes this as a given and then seeks to make the world even more random. This has been termed ‘contrived randomness’. It has a strong pedigree as a tool for public policy (for example, random assignment of jury service, random alcohol checks on drivers, etc.) Taken to further lengths it can be used in ‘aleatory democracy’ – harnessing contrived randomness to benefit democratic organisation.

See also: How to be a fatalist

A Simple Primer on Cultural Cognition

A Simple Primer on Cultural Cognition

The New Republic has a short summary of the cultural cognition project: how to talk to climate change deniers.

Those who ‘deny’ climate change aren’t mad, deluded or evil – they’re just paying close attention to the community to which they owe allegiance. Various groups make use of publicly held views to create a kind of ‘badge of membership’. That’s why, for example, conservatives rarely wax enthusiastic about climate change policy. The issue has been polarised. The communal viewpoint is strong, which means that for individuals there’s little to be gained and much to be lost in opposing it. It’s all-important, in Margaret Thatcher’s timeless phrase, to remain ‘one of us’.

A great example of this is the case of former Congressman Bob Inglis. He’s a bona fide conservative who came unstuck in 2010 when the Tea Party decided it didn’t like his stance on climate change. Since losing his seat, far from giving up and toeing the line, he’s set up an initiative that aims to construct a conservative dialogue on climate and energy policy: ‘Putting free enterprise to work on energy and climate’. He’s proof that there’s little or nothing inherently liberal about climate change. Imaginative policy makers should be able to work with almost any kind of raw material. This American Life had a great piece on the issue.

Ignorance may be bliss but it’s not democracy

Ignorance may be bliss but it’s not democracy

The basis of democracy is an informed public. Voters don’t have to be clever or well-meaning for this to work – but ensuring they are duped amounts to breaking the system and replacing it with something else. 

Jay Rosen asks:

Can there even be an informed public and consent-of-the-governed for decisions about electronic surveillance, or have we put those principles aside so that the state can have its freedom to maneuver? 

The really real reason why banks have so many scandals

“Since we have not more power of knowing the future than any other men, we have made many mistakes (who has not during the past five years?), but our mistakes have been errors of judgment and not of principle.” J.P. Morgan Jnr, 1933
A couple of months ago I was toying with the idea of writing a post about how the commercial finance sector in the UK and the US seems to be incorrigably broken as a result of the dominant sentiment that it’s only a crime if you get found out. I saw this as evidence of an over-reliance on the Individualist cultural worldview.
But it seemed too extreme. I didn’t want to promote a sweeping  “indictment of banking as an inherently evil industry filled with shysters that are intent on fleecing anyone they can.” Surely they weren’t all corrupt. All generalizations are wrong, (especially this one, as the saying goes). Surely I was over reacting. So the post never got written.
Then the Barclays Libor scandal broke in London…

More on Questions about Grid-Group Theory

So Y asked three interesting questions regarding Grid-Group Cultural Theory. This is a line of thought, a method of inquiry, developed by the British social anthropologist Mary Douglas, along with numerous collaboraters, and more recently numerous younger adopters who never actually worked with Douglas. Its early presentation was in the influential book Natural Symbols.

DMK has already given a response to this in the original comments (many thanks!), and here’s my additions.

1. is the theory considered to be a post modern one?

Quick answer: no. Slightly longer answer: The theory was developed on the cusp of the rise of the postmodern as a dominant category of analysis. Neither Mary Douglas nor Aaron Wildavsky were involved with anything that would be recognisable as explicitly ‘postmodern’. Like Derrida, Douglas was strongly influenced by the work of Claude Lévi-Strauss. But whereas Derrida subverted structuralism, Douglas extended it. In particular they each took quite different approaches to Levi-Strauss’s methodological use of the distinction between nature and culture. In many ways Cultural theory might appear to advocates of the postmodern as hopelessly compromised by the ‘grand narrative’ that there are four and only four cultural worldviews. That’s what I like about it. On the other hand, there are many, I think, who see the ‘constrained relativism’ (Marco Verweij) of Cultural Theory as being too relativist for comfort. I like that too.

For more context, Richard Fardon’s book is invaluable: Mary Douglas: An Intellectual Biography.

2. does it have prestige in the academic world or is considered niche theory?

I think it has some prestige, but precisely as a niche theory. For example, in the study of risk, CT is one of three main approaches to the subject, but only one. In social anthropology it would probably be seen as obsolete.  Fardon’s book has a section entitled ‘Theoretical Marginality”. However, it’s quite possible to make an academic career out of Cultural Theory (or a re-branding of it) and a number of highly respected academics have adopted or adapted a CT approach for at least some of their work. But there is no large movement or institution that has adopted it as a significant approach. CT’s strength/weakness lies in that fact that it has been applied piecemeal in a large number of different disciplines. It appears to have an explanatory power as yet not fully realised.  I think the conceptual strengths of Cultural Theory have not really been matched by its methodological capacity. There is potential to further develop rigorous methodologies that develop some of the concerns of Cultural Theory.

3. do you think that online/virtual communities on the internet can also be classified according to the grid group (like wikipedia, linkedin etc)?

Yes. Prof Sun-Ki Chai, at the University of Hawaii is a very rare individual in that he has both published on Cultural Theory (he edited a book of essays by Aaron Wildavsky, I believe) and patented a web crawler that can analyse web data according to several social science approaches. His work shows a way to do what you suggest, from a predictive social science angle.