In a 2006 New York Times Op-ed, Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert offers insights into how people perceive information.
Gilbert explores the human bias for sympathetic information – comparing it to stepping on the bathroom scale in the morning. If we’re happy with the results we go on our merry way. If we are unhappy we step on the scale again (and maybe again) adjusting our weight, placing our feet just right, and / or removing articles of clothing that might skew the results. His studies conclude that people are prone to search for good information – or information that proves their assumptions / biases.
This plays out in the debate over whether we should do anything about climate change. Does it exist? What constitutes proof positive – how many hurricanes, droughts, deaths?
Economist Mark Kleiman compares climate change to standing in the path of an oncoming car. We are not 100% sure that the car is going to hit us – it might swerve. We are also not 100% certain that if we jump out of the car’s way something else won’t kill us anyway.
Lastly, Robert Frank puts the current climate debate in perspective in his February 20, 2010 New York Times Op-ed here. Abating climate change might be easier than we think but our psychological biases stand in the way.
Originally posted: 2/26/10