Image above from a paper by Dan Kahan, titled "The Polarizing Impact of Science Literacy and Numeracy on Perceived Climate Risks"
In Shakespeare's play "Othello", Desdemona tries to help her friend Cassius, succeeding only in reinforcing the suspicion of her husband, Othello, that she is betraying him with Cassius. Accordingly, I proposed the name of "Desdemona's trap" (or also "Desdemona effect") to the phenomenon that occurs when arguing in favor of something leads to the opposite effect, that is reinforces the negative opinion of the target. It happens all the time with climate change.
Now, I found that a paper by Dan Kahan (see also here) shows exactly this effect and measures it experimentally. As you can see in the figure above, there exists a consistent fraction of people for whom increased scientific literacy; e.g. having heard more about the problem of climate change, makes them become more skeptical and tend to dismiss the whole idea as a hoax.
It is the Desdemona trap clearly identified: the more these people know, the less they understand. It is an effect that agrees with the well known say "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing". They are not knowledgeable enough to understand the science of climate change, but they are knowledgeable enough to understand the denialist arguments about climate change. That makes them able to indulge in one of the most cultivated arts in the human discourse: that of deceiving oneself.
That is not the case for everyone and Kahan identifies those who are most likely to fall into to the Desdemona trap as people having a "hierarchical" vision of life,. In this, Kahan seems to agree with the findings by Lewandowsky indicating that deniers exist mostly within a mindset that can be defined as "conspiratorial". As I argued in a previous post, there is nothing fundamentally wrong in suspecting the worse, but it is an attitude that may well backfire (as in another common say, "too much of a good thing").
In the end, anyway, the problem is not so much the individual vision: "hierarchical" or "egalitarian" attitudes are just triggers that, as Kahan himself says in his talk, start a self-reinforcing loop that makes individuals conform to the ideas of the group they feel they belong to. So, the Desdemona trap eventually evolves into the "Desdemona groupthink trap" - more difficult and more stubborn than the same problem at the individual level. Once a group has evolved into accepting a certain idea, it is impossible to change that idea by facts and logic. Attempts of doing so will only reinforce the group's attitude by making them suspicious that their opponents are their enemies, or anyway perpetrating a hoax on them.
You see? The problem is wholly described in a sentence by Pogo that has become another common say: "we have found the enemy and he are us". We have to beat the "Desdemona groupthink trap." Not easy. Ideas, anyone?