Global Warming Groupthink

Judith Shulevitz psychoanalyzes climate change deniers:

Risk assessment by groupthink is reasonable, if not rational, because, at the personal level, it costs nothing. If you misconstrue the nature of a global threat, your mistake won’t hurt you much, because you can’t save yourself anyway. But if you contradict your friends or powerful members of your group—that could cost you dearly. (Incidentally, Kahan sees evidence of scientific groupthink on both sides of the ideological spectrum.) [Yale psychology professor Dan] Kahan’s most provocative finding, though, is that people better at “cognitive reflection,” or slow, probing thought, are actually more likely to arrive at predetermined conclusions about risk, not less. The urge to maintain status within one’s social network is so powerful, Kahan told me, that well-educated people will use their information-gathering and computational skills to marshal a more impressive body of evidence in support of whatever identity it is (freethinking skeptic, caring mother hen) that earns them brownie points in their troop. On his blog, he once called these strong in-group effects “tapeworms of cognitive illiberalism” and a dispiriting omen for democracy.