So, you know that famous study that found that 97% of climate scientists are convinced that human-induced global warming is for real? It turns out it's famous only among a select few, which we might just label "us"-- and "we" are the the 1% on this one, or maybe the 5% or so: polling shows that there's little public perception of this scientific consensus. John Cook-- who worked on that 97% study-- wrote about this problem as the "consensus gap" back in 2013: Closing the Climage Change Consensus Gap
Interestingly, even among the liberal/left, there's very little grasp of how strong the scientific consensus actually is, as John Cook wrote recently over at his "Skeptical Science" site: An Externally Valid Approach to Consensus Messaging
If you look at the graph he presents there, it appears that even among the hard-left they tend to assume that the consensus is only as strong as 70% or so.
There's been quite a bit of discussion about this and it's implications over at culturalcognition.net, between Dan Kahan, John Cook, and others: ... Communicating "scientific consensus"
This is what I think this all means...
I submit that even liberals don't really trust the left to get the facts right: what's expected is that the left is sincere, and that they really care about the issues involved-- but that's almost the precise opposite of what you'd hope for in a reliable source, where something like independant neutrality (if not quite "objectivity") is the frequently sought ideal.
Every activist is directly engaged with trying to steer the public in the right direction, so the activist press always has an eye toward spinning things just right-- excuse me, framing the issue correctly-- even if we do often just look at this as correcting for the other side's spin.
The left does not really inspire confidence in it's ability to ferret out facts-- rather I fear we tend to parrot the things we hear that support our conclusions. And yes, I know that the Right is far worse at this point, but that just highlights how bad the problem is: the Right is so obviously full of shit, why doesn't everyone get it at this point?
The public is effectively adrift without any reliable source of information, and without the time, energy, (and perhaps intellectual resources) it would take to evaluate what they hear. Instead they fall back things like the rules-of-thumb that "the truth must be somewhere in between", though obviously it can fail badly-- it's hardly a logical impossiblity for the truth to be close to one of the extremes: sometimes one side side is really wrong.
And perhaps worse, a faction interested in gaming public opinion can take advantage of this flawed heuristic: they can put out a story to make sure it looks like there's some sort of controversy, and use that to move the public perception of the middle.
Given this analysis, there are different directions you might go. I'll make two points and stop:
(1) If you're going to speak out on an issue, it's not enough to just be on the right side, you really need to make sure that what you're saying is well supported, and that it looks like it's well supported. What's at stake is not just the immediate issue, but the credibility of your side, on the problem at hand and all future problems.
(2) I think there's a missing, badly needed institution, though I'm not sure what form it should take precisely-- how do we bridge that gap between reality and perception? What sort of information source might be created that would be trusted by the distracted and only partially engaged public mind?