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How Not To Design A Poll On Global Warming

Paul Matthews, The IPCC Report blog

Every month or so there is a new opinion poll saying that more people are getting more sceptical about global warming.

The latest survey from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication continues the trend, the headline being that “Number of Americans who don’t believe in climate change rises“.  The survey report itself says “the proportion who do not believe global warming is happening has increased 7 percentage points since Spring 2013″.  This is an increase from 16% to 23%.  If we wanted to cherry-pick our start dates, we could say that the proportion has virtually doubled (from 12% to 23%) since September 2012 (see graph on page 8, shown below). There has been a corresponding decrease in the number of ‘don’t knows’,  and people seem to be more sure of their opinions, suggesting that the issue is becoming increasingly polarised.


But what exactly does “believe global warming is happening” mean? Here is the actual question asked, see page 33 of the report:

Recently, you may have noticed that global warming has been getting some attention in the news. Global warming refers to the idea that the world’s average temperature has been increasing over the past 150 years, may be increasing more in the future, and that the world’s climate may change as a result.

What do you think: Do you think that global warming is happening?

The poor survey participant is faced with three very different statements, and is asked to respond to all three of them with a single answer, ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘don’t know’.  I have no idea how to answer this question. I’d like to answer ‘yes’ to the first, and ‘probably not much’ to the second and third.

The press release, here at WUWT, shows that the Yale researchers are not exactly approaching the work with objectivity:  “Our findings show that the public’s understanding of global warming’s reality, causes, and risks has not improved and has, in at least one important respect, gone in the wrong direction over the past year,” said researcher Ed Maibach.

On his university web page he says “His research currently focuses exclusively on how to mobilize populations to adopt behaviors and support public policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help communities adapt to the unavoidable consequences of climate change.”  Perhaps most remarkable is Maibach’s belief (see press release) that it’s all just a communication problem. “Better public communication about global warming is needed now more than ever.” 

Will they never learn? Clearly, Maibach and his colleagues at Yale and all the other organisations devoted to promoting climate activism to the public have just been doing something slightly wrong, and if they just increase their efforts and change their message slightly, all will be well and public opinion will start to move in the ‘right’ direction.

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