Science explains Donald Trump: Why cold weather makes people doubt global warming

Even when they should know better, the weather influences people's beliefs about climate change


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Lindsay Abrams
January 14, 2014 8:24PM (UTC)

Seriously, though: how is it still possible that, every time it snows or gets unusually cold, people are so eager to make the inane argument that global warming is a hoax?

The assumption would be that they were just looking for any justification, no matter how baseless, for their politically motivated insistence that 97 percent of scientists are wrong about climate change. That, or they're just trolls.

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While that's all probably true, researchers at Columbia University also found that people just aren't too great at processing complex issues. And when faced with something as complex as climate change, they tend to turn not to the most relevant source -- the science behind Earth's rising temperatures -- but to the one that's most easily accessible: the weather.

In a series of surveys, each involving over 650 participants, the researchers tested out different ways of presenting the issue of climate change, trying, as best they could, to control for political affiliation. On unusually cold days, it turned out, the participants were far less likely to say they were concerned about climate change, or even that they believed it was happening. Simply priming the participants to think about heat-related words, on the other hand, was enough to raise their level of concern. And their perception of the current weather colored their perception of everything: those who believed it was an unusually warm day outside also believed that a greater percentage of days over the previous year had been hotter than average, as well.

None of that is particularly surprising, but it's certainly frustrating. Even worse, for those of us who insist, over and over, that local weather and global climate patterns are not the same thing, the researchers found that teaching participants about the scientific distinction between the two did nothing to eliminate their bias. So we can expect to see more of this:

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Lindsay Abrams

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Climate Change Climate Skeptics Global Warming

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