This article is eight years old, but it was just called to my attention. It does not once mention climate, and it is in fact about people flying flags after 9/11. But those involved with climate issues may well recognize the situation immediately:
The muting of open patriotism after the Vietnam era may have been a case of what social scientists call “preference falsification”: One in which social pressures cause people to express sentiments that differ from those they really feel. As social scientist Timur Kuran noted in his 1995 book Private Truths, Public Lies, there are all sorts of reasons, good and bad, that lead people not to show how they truly feel. People tend to read social signals about what is approved and what is disapproved behavior and, in general, to modify their conduct accordingly. Others then rely on this behavior to draw wrong conclusions about what people think, and allow those conclusions to shape their own actions.
Oh, not always – and there are always rebels (though often social “rebels” are really just conforming to a different standard). But when patriotism began to be treated as uncool, people who wanted to be cool, or at least to seem cool, stopped demonstrating patriotism, even if they felt it.
When this happened, other people were influenced by the example. In what’s known as a “preference cascade,” the vanishing of flags and other signs of patriotism from the homes, cars and businesses of the style-setters caused a lot of other people to go along with the trend, perhaps without even fully realizing it, a trend that only strengthened with the politicization of flag displays in several 1980s political campaigns.
The result was a situation in which a lot of people’s behavior didn’t really match their beliefs, but merely their beliefs about what was considered acceptable. Such situations are unstable, since a variety of shocks can cause people to realize the difference and to suddenly feel comfortable about closing the gap.
That’s what the September 11 attacks did. This time last year, you didn’t see many American flags on cars in my faculty parking garage. The people who didn’t have them on their cars weren’t necessarily unpatriotic – but displaying a flag on one’s car was associated with particular political and social categories that aren’t especially popular on campuses. After 9/11,enough people started flying flags to make other people feel safe about doing it too. Now you can see a lot of flags on the cars in that garage. Have people become more patriotic? Maybe. But more likely they’ve just become more willing to show it.
Though it does not mention climate at all, it is the best explanation I have yet seen on why Climategate got so much run. After all, the actual science addressed in the Climategate emails mostly was about the hockey stick, which even if you ignore how bad the science is in the analysis, really does not prove anything about the effects of anthropogenic CO2 even if it were correct. And few of the things that were revealed in the emails about alarmist scientific practices and resistance to replication came as much as a surprise to those of us who have been following climate issues for a while. So at the time, I thought it was no big deal.
In retrospect, what Climategate did was to give the media a story that it was socially OK to run with. The social pressures against running an article about problems with alarmist science were enormous, but a scandal allowed them to make an end run around these social norms. Scandals and meat and potatoes for the news media, and they could run with the scandal story without feeling like they were getting a huge social black mark from their peers. And once the scandal story ran, it was the shock that allowed many silent doubters to see that in fact they were not alone and marginalized (as they have been told time and time again in the media) but actually a sizeable population.
To this end, the Hal Lewis letter may be even more important.
Of course, none of this solves the problem of determining the Earth’s true temperature sensitivity to CO2 concentration, but it has opened the door for a freer debate.