Recent advancements on the “consensus” science front

Real good news from the world of science, just last week. Science as we all know, is all about “pushing the envelope”, about stretching the frontiers of knowledge, about intrepid explorations right on that knife-edged ridge that typically divides brilliance from ignorance and ineptitude. Science–let’s cut to the chase here–is all about putting it all out there on the line, in the quest for deep truths that affect us all.

Just last week, Climatic Change pushed on that envelope big time, with a fabulous discovery. A team of four researchers have discovered that, in situations where you’re having trouble getting people to buy in on a supposed “consensus” on some topic, such as say the 97 percent consensus regarding human effects on climate change, what you want to do there is to use either “simple text” or a “pie chart”. For the unfamiliar, pie charts are round, graphical devices in which a portion, p, of the round image is shaded one color and the remaining portion, 1-p, is shaded a different color altogether. [For sake of simplicity I have limited our hypothetical chart to two colors; advanced pie charts will sometimes use more than two colors, but we can simplify here without loss of generality]. “Simple text” is just what it says, sometimes even simpler.

When the human eye/brain/sensory system views said chart, an impression in the mind is created in which the two (or more) color shadings approximate actual fractional values of 1.0. Some refer to this as the theoretical/neurological basis of the pie chart. [Others do not; there is no consensus on that issue]. The point is, the pie chart can approximate an actual number!** This makes all the difference when trying to get a point across to the random ignoramus on the street.

I should caution the amateur scientists out there to please not try this at home. This type of research involves heavy duty online questioning* following, strict survey science guidelines, as informed by “metaphor meta-reviews for optimal persuasiveness”. It can involve the random insertion of questions involving “Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy” so as not to divulge one’s true intentions. Not divulging one’s true intentions is a highly refined skill in consensus science–not just anybody can do it. This stuff takes training.

Well we’re out of time now but we can probably expect many future breakthroughs in the exciting world of “consensus” science studies as they relate to climate, and hopefully can investigate these as they occur, should we have the necessary chops and patience.

* The authors note: “All treatments contained the following message; ‘97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening’. To enhance the credibility of the treatment, the logo of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) was visible on every message.”. Not that the credibility of the “treatment” needs enhancing mind you, nor that AAAS partially funding the study has any relevance here; let’s not jump to any conclusions.

** This process can be enhanced by what professional pie chart communicators term “overlaying” the actual numerical number right on the pie chart itself, viz:
vanderlinden etal SM figure 2


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