Divergent Perspectives on Expert Disagreement: Preliminary Evidence from
Climate Science, Climate Policy, Astrophysics, and Public


We report the results of an exploratory study that examines the reactions of climate scientists, climate policy experts, astrophysicists, and non-experts (N = 3,367) to instances of disagreement within climate science and astrophysics. The study explores respondents’ judgments about the factors that contribute to the creation and persistence of those disagreements and how one should respond to disagreements among experts. We found that, as compared to educated non-experts, climate experts believe (i) that there is less disagreement within climate science about climate change, (ii) that more of the disagreement that does exist concerns public policy questions rather than the science itself, (iii) that methodological factors play less of a role in generating existing disagreement among experts about climate science, (iv) that fewer personal and institutional biases influence the nature and direction of climate science research, (v) that there is more agreement among scientists about which methods or theoretical perspectives should be used to examine and explain the relevant phenomena, (vi) that disagreements about climate change should not lead people to conclude that the scientific methods being employed today are unreliable or incapable of revealing the truth, and (vii) that climate science is more settled than ideological pundits would have us believe and settled enough to base public policy on it. In addition, we observed that the uniquely American political context predicted participants’ judgments about many of these factors. We also found that, commensurate with the greater inherent uncertainty and data lacunae in their field, astrophysicists working on cosmic rays were generally more willing to acknowledge expert disagreement, more open to the idea that a set of data can have multiple valid interpretations, and generally less quick to dismiss someone articulating a non-standard view as non-expert, than climate scientists.

Authors: James R. Beebe (University at Buffalo), Maria Baghramian (University College Dublin),
Luke Drury (Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies), Finnur Dellsén (Inland
Norway University of Applied Sciences)

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Divergent Perspectives on Expert Disagreement: Preliminary Evidence from
Climate Science, Climate Policy, Astrophysics, and Public

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