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Survey: "Climate Skeptics" More Likely to Embrace "Free Market" Ideology, Conspiracy Theories

New study shows correlation between so-called "skeptics" and tendency towards "conspiracist ideation"

Common Dreams staff

Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and 'Buzz' Aldrin. (Photograph: NASA/AP)

A new survey of so-called "climate skeptics" -- those who reject the global scientific community's broad consensus that global warming and climate change are being driven by modern society's emission of greenhouse gasses -- concludes that individuals who hold such views are also much more likely to believe in outlandish conspiracy theories and hold favorable views of the "free market" theory of the economy.

The new research, which The Guardian reports will be published in the forthcoming issue of Psychological Science, surveyed more than 1,000 readers of websites related to climate change and found that people who agreed with free market economic principles and endorsed conspiracy theories were more likely to dispute that human-caused climate change was a reality.

In addition to rejecting the findings of climate science, the survey found that "endorsement of the free market [...] predicted the rejection of other established scientific findings, such as the facts that HIV causes AIDS and that smoking causes lung cancer."

The findings also showed that endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories (e.g., that 9/11 was an "inside job" or that NASA faked the moon landing) predicts rejection of climate science as well as the rejection of other scientific findings, above and beyond endorsement of laissez-faire free markets. According to the researchers, "this provides empirical confirmation of previous suggestions that conspiracist ideation contributes to the rejection of science."

According to the methodology of the survey, the researchers focused on "climate skeptic" blogs, both because of the inherent target group found there and to highlight the enormous power that the culture of "climate change denial" has been able to wield in the internet age.  Researchers surveyed over 1,000 users of these blogs on (a) their views on climate science and a range of other scientific propositions; (b) two constructs that the researchers hypothesized to be associated with rejection of science (free-market ideology and a range of conspiracy theories); (c) a construct targeting people’s sensitivity to environmental problems (e.g., whether previous concerns about acid rain have been addressed); (d) and the perceived consensus among scientists, which has been repeatedly linked to acceptance of science.

The researchers found that those with a "libertarian streak" are more likely to dabble in conspiracies and to deny widely accepted scientific findings.

"The link between endorsing conspiracy theories and rejecting climate science facts suggests that it is the libertarian instinct to stick two fingers up at the mainstream – whatever the issue – that is important," writes The Guardian's James Corner. "Because a radical libertarian streak is the hallmark of free-market economics, and because free market views are popular on the political right, this is where climate change skepticism is most likely to be found."

And Corner concludes: "All of this suggests that the battle to overcome climate scepticism – if that is even a useful way of thinking about it – will not be won by simply restating the scientific facts. The problem is that "the facts" are not "the facts" for a small proportion of people – and the noise made by this minority group dilutes the otherwise clear signal about climate change received by the wider population."

The researchers offered no simple solution on how to counter the trend of climate change denial. "Conspiracist ideation is, by definition," they write, "difficult to correct because any evidence contrary to the conspiracy is itself considered evidence of its existence."

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