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Margaret Harris: November 2009 Archives

By Margaret Harris

As the person who (with editor Matin Durrani) compiles letters and web comments for the “Feedback” section of Physics World, I’ve been paying close attention to the flood of comments on’s various climate-change articles.

A majority of the comments have been negative, as many readers will have noticed, and the same has been true for feedback in the form of letters and emails. On the face of it, this is pretty typical, even for a good magazine: angry readers write letters, while happy readers, by and large, do not.

But I have to wonder what else might be going on that is specific to the issue of climate change. Most people who make negative comments have not read an enormous number of peer-reviewed publications on the subject; at best, they seem to have read an enormous number of websites set up by avowed climate-change sceptics. However, neither do they appear to be in the pay of the fossil-fuel industry, as some environmentalists have charged. So why is there such a huge amount of vitriol out there against the idea that the climate is changing, and humans are (at least partly) responsible?

The answer, it seems, may be partly down to human psychology — at least according to a report from the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) at Columbia University. Liz Kalaugher, editor of (one of’s sister websites within the Institute of Physics Publishing) has written a very good summary of the report here . Alternatively, you can download a guide to the CRED report here.