Research highlight

Misperceptions that matter

Nature Climate Change

November 21, 2011

Individuals who believe that there is broad scientific disagreement about climate change tend to feel less certain that global warming is occurring and show less support for climate policy. These findings, published online this week in Nature Climate Change, could have important ramifications for public dissemination of climate science. A significant proportion of the US public believe that climate scientists widely disagree about climate change — a perception that differs widely from that of the scientific community. Edward Maibach and co-workers undertook a nationally representative survey to investigate whether this misperception has important implications for beliefs about climate change and levels of climate-policy support. The strong association between misperception of scientific agreement and climate-policy support is consistent with the idea that many US citizens base their beliefs about climate change on their perceptions of scientists’ views, rather than processing information so that it conforms to their pre-existing beliefs. These findings suggest efforts to improve public understanding of the scientific position may be warranted.

doi: 10.1038/nclimate1295

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