The accuracy of German citizens’ confidence in their climate change knowledge

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Abstract

Accurate confidence—confidence that reflects the accuracy of knowledge—can be relevant for decision-making in areas of high uncertainty. Accuracy of confidence is of particular importance in the area of climate change where scientifically correct information exists alongside misinformation in the public discourse and media. Here we assess the accuracy of confidence in climate change knowledge in a national German sample (n = 509). The accuracy of the confidence of the citizens in their climate change knowledge was only around half of what it could be based on the accuracy of their knowledge. Moreover, the accuracy of confidence controlling for knowledge accuracy was lower for climate change than for two benchmark comparisons: general science knowledge in another national German sample (n = 588), and climate change knowledge in a scientist sample (n = 207). Although these results cannot necessarily be generalized to the population of all indicators of climate change knowledge, the results suggest that the confidence of citizens in their climate change knowledge is unnecessarily fuzzy given their actual knowledge.

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Fig. 1: Calibration curves for confidence judgements.
Fig. 2: Distributions of confidence judgements.
Fig. 3: Relative confidence sensitivity.

Data availability

The data that support the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available at https://osf.io/z53m7/.

Code availability

The analysis code (in R) that produces all results and plots of this study is available at https://osf.io/zdaqw/.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge support by the Excellence Initiative, Institutional Strategy ZUK 5.4 (Scientific Computing in the Social and Behavioral Sciences), Heidelberg University, and support of the Heidelberg Center for the Environment, Heidelberg University.

Author information

H.F., D.A. and N.S. designed the study for the knowledge of climate change in citizens. H.F. designed the study for the knowledge of climate change in scientists and general science knowledge in citizens. H.F. and N.S. analysed the data. H.F. wrote the paper. All authors edited and approved the manuscript.

Correspondence to Helen Fischer.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information: Nature Climate Change thanks Sander van der Linden and other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1, 2, Supplementary Note 1, Supplementary Table 1.

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