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Sceptic priors and climate consensus

This repository contains code and data for replicating my working paper, "Sceptic priors and climate consensus".

Abstract: How much evidence would it take to convince sceptics that they are wrong about climate change? I explore this question within a Bayesian framework. I consider a group of stylised sceptics and examine how these individuals update their beliefs in the face of current and continuing climate change. I find that available evidence in the form of instrumental climate data tends to overwhelm all but the most extreme priors. Most sceptics form updated beliefs about climate sensitivity that correspond closely to estimates from the scientific literature. However, belief convergence is a non-linear function of prior strength. It becomes increasingly difficult to convince the remaining pool of sceptics that they are wrong. I discuss the necessary conditions for consensus formation under Bayesian learning and show how apparent deviations from the Bayesian ideal still be accommodated within the same conceptual framework. I argue that a generalized Bayesian model thus provides a bridge between competing theories of climate scepticism as a social phenomenon.

Click on the "fork" button at the very top right of the page to create an independent copy of the repo within your own GitHub account. Alternately, click on the green "clone or download" button just below that to download the repo to your local computer.

The scripts for running the analysis can be found in the R/ sub-directory. Click on this directory to see more details in the accompanying README file. However, first you need to make sure that you have completed the necessary software installation (below).

Software requirements

Step 1. Install R (and RStudio)

All of the analysis is conducted in the R programming environment. R is free, open-source and available for download here.

Optional: I normally recommend running R in the RStudio IDE, which you can also download for free here. However, note that the most computationally-intensive model runs should be called directly from the terminal (e.g. using Rscript), since they employ a parallel forking process that, while very efficient, can cause problems if run through an IDE like RStudio. More details are provided in the relevant README files (e.g. here).

Step 2. Install JAGS

In addition, you will need to install JAGS ("Just Another Gibbs Sampler"), which is the underlying program used for running the Bayesian regressions. JAGS too is free and open-source, and is available for download here.

Step 3. Install R packages

Once R and JAGS are successfully set up on your system, you will need to install a number of external R packages. These are listed at the top of the R/sceptic_funcs.R script. However, a convenient way to ensure that you have the correct versions of all these packages is to simply run the following code chunk in your R console:

if (!require("pacman")) install.packages("pacman")
pacman::p_install(c(LearnBayes, rjags, R2jags, dclone, snow, grid, gridExtra, tidyverse, devtools, hrbrthemes, ggridges, RColorBrewer, stargazer, xtable, pbapply, tictoc, extrafont, R.cache, here, RhpcBLASctl))

The extrafont package is used to embed Fira Sans fonts in the figures. Please note that the Fira Sans font family must be installed separately on your system (e.g. from here) and also requires some minor setup before R recognizes it (instructions here). However, you can also skip this setup if you want; the code is written in such a way that it will revert to R's default Arial font if Fira Sans is unavailable.


If you have any trouble running the code, or find any errors, please file an issue on this repo and I'll look into it.


The software code contained within this repository is made available under the MIT license. The data and figures are made available under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.


Code and data for "Sceptic priors and climate policy" paper




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