In climate debate, science is no match for politics

As if the world needed more evidence that the climate debate is more about politics than science, one only needed to hear last night’s report on All Things Considered about the climate scientist who leaked the memos from a think tank purporting to show the Heartland Institute to hired someone to write school curricula diminishing the science of climate change.

Ironically, Peter Gleick, who leaked the documents, succeeded only in providing yet another distraction to the evidence of climate change.

You’ll note that not one sentence in the NPR report dealt with the science of climate change. Even more significant: The story wasn’t about the legitimacy and meaning of the memos, but the manner in which they were obtained. Give credit to those on the political side of the issue: They’re good at this.

Today,’s Stephanie Pappas considers whether it matters anymore:

Scandals may have a limited impact in part because of a psychological phenomenon called “motivated reasoning,” which simply means that people focus on evidence that confirms what they already believe and ignore evidence that doesn’t fit their worldview. The Yale group’s surveys have found that seemingly irrelevant factors have much more to do with people’s acceptance of climate change. [10 Surprising Results of Global Warming]

One of these factors is “the economy, the economy, the economy,” Leiserowitz said. Climate change concern was at a peak in 2007 and 2008, but when the recession hit, that concern plummeted like a stone. People can only worry about so many things at a time, Leiserowitz said. Media coverage of climate issues is also down by at least two-thirds in newspapers and 80 percent on the nightly news since 2007, another factor that drives public interest, their surveys have shown.

Translation: People will work hard to find evidence of that which they already believe, and work even harder to ignore that which might undermine their beliefs.

In that phenomenon, science has no chance.