Global Warming and Cognitive Avoidance

Global Warming and Cognitive Avoidance August 26, 2013

I don’t know whether cognitive avoidance is a real thing, but I’m going to invent the term and explain what I mean by it in the context of this statement from Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) about global warming. He has a convenient explanation for why the overwhelming consensus of scientists in the field should be ignored:

One thing that I certainly read in, from, viable sources is that a lot of the research that’s being done, if you don’t, when you put your application in to get a grant, if you don’t submit to the, you know, orthodoxy of climate change by the radical environmentalists you’re not going to get a grant.

What do I mean by cognitive avoidance? I mean that he is inventing an excuse for not even attempting to engage the question of global warming on a substantive level. He isn’t making any statement at all about whether the evidence supports global warming because, frankly, he can’t. He almost certainly knows next to nothing about the subject. It’s very unlikely that he’s ever read a single thing on the subject other than similar attempts at cognitive avoidance, certainly no studies that look at the data. And if he did read such a study, he’d almost certainly be unable to understand it (this is a specialized field of science and it requires real training).

But remember, his political position depends on the entire idea of global warming not only being false, but being a vast conspiracy, probably a communist one at that. So he casually throws out this attempt to dismiss the science behind global warming rather than engage it. He has no evidence for it, of course, only these vague, unspecified “viable sources.” But that doesn’t really matter to those his argument is aimed at, which is people just like him — people who are completely ignorant on the subject but nonetheless want to convince themselves that they have good reason to dismiss the overwhelming consensus of climate scientists.

This is, quite literally, an irrational argument. It actively seeks to avoid having to consider evidence and use reason to analyze it. And it does so because it is a convenient way to maintain one’s baseless beliefs and immunize the target audience from having to ever give any actual thought to the subject.

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