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Are climate sceptics more likely to be conspiracy theorists?

Aug 2, 2012 by | 45 Comments

This was first pub­lished by the Guardian Environment sec­tion on 27.07.12.

Its time to come clean: cli­mate change is a hoax. And the moon land­ings were faked, 9/11 was an inside job, and the CIA is hiding the iden­tity of the gunman on the grassy knoll.

It might seem odd to lump cli­mate change – a sci­entific theory sup­ported by thou­sands of peer reviewed papers and hun­dreds of inde­pendent lines of evid­ence – with con­spiracy the­ories like these. But new research pub­lished in a forth­coming issue of Psychological Science has found a link between the endorse­ment of con­spiracy the­ories and the rejec­tion of estab­lished facts about cli­mate science.

In a survey of more than 1000 readers of web­sites related to cli­mate change, people who agreed with free-market eco­nomic prin­ciples and endorsed con­spiracy the­ories were more likely to dis­pute that human-caused cli­mate change was a reality.

Stephen Lewandowsky and his col­leagues at the University of Western Australia posted a link to an online ques­tion­naire on 8 climate-related blogs with a diverse read­er­ship, in order to cap­ture people’s views about eco­nomics, sci­ence and con­spiracy the­ories. 5 ‘sceptic’ (or ‘sceptic-leaning’) blogs were also approached but declined to post the link – inter­esting in and of itself, given the fre­quent claim that scep­tical views are excluded from main­stream debates.

What they found was remark­able: people who endorsed con­spiracy the­ories such as ‘9÷11 was an inside job’ and ‘the moon land­ings were faked’, were also more likely to reject estab­lished sci­entific facts about cli­mate change, such as ‘I believe that the burning of fossil fuels on the scale observed over the last 50 years has increased atmo­spheric tem­per­at­ures to an appre­ciable degree’.

Clearly, a self-selecting sample of blog users is not rep­res­ent­ative of the wider pop­u­la­tion. But this is pre­cisely why the researchers tar­geted this group: in the cut-throat world of cli­mate change scep­ti­cism, this is undoubtedly where the action is.

Lewandowsky’s research poses dif­fi­cult ques­tions for the cli­mate sceptic com­munity. Although they are not a homo­genous group, they tend to coalesce around common themes relating to the reality and ser­i­ous­ness of cli­mate change. The find­ings sug­gest that at least some pro­por­tion of the people who con­sider them­selves ‘scep­tical’ about cli­mate change are also willing to enter­tain con­spiracy the­ories that are simply not taken ser­i­ously in main­stream society.

All sci­ent­ists are scep­tics: it is a healthy, everyday part of the pro­cess of sys­tem­at­ic­ally weighing up evid­ence and reaching a con­sidered con­clu­sion. But if vocal online oppon­ents of cli­mate change sci­ence also do not accept basic his­tor­ical truths about society, can their pos­i­tion really be described as ‘scep­ti­cism’ at all?

The find­ings provide yet more evid­ence that a rejec­tion of cli­mate sci­ence has more to with ideo­lo­gical views than sci­entific lit­eracy, bol­stering the well-supported finding that cli­mate change scep­ti­cism is more likely to be found on the right, than on the left of politics. But they also go a step fur­ther, adding an important layer of detail to this rather crude char­ac­ter­isa­tion of cli­mate change scep­ti­cism as a ‘con­ser­vative’ issue.

The link between endorsing con­spiracy the­ories and rejecting cli­mate sci­ence facts sug­gests that it is the liber­tarian instinct to stick two fin­gers up at the main­stream – whatever the issue – that is important. Because a rad­ical liber­tarian streak is the hall­mark of free-market eco­nomics, and because free-market views are pop­ular on the polit­ical right, this is where cli­mate change scep­ti­cism is most likely to be found.

The find­ings also sug­gest that talk of a ‘con­sensus’ on cli­mate change is a double-edged sword: on the one hand, the weight of sci­entific evid­ence showing that humans are chan­ging the cli­mate is a powerful argu­ment for taking action to pre­vent its dan­gerous effects. But the very notion of con­sen­sual agree­ment is also a red flag to liber­tarians, who dis-trust state­ments about con­sensus on principle.

All of this sug­gests that the battle to over­come cli­mate scep­ti­cism – if that is even a useful way of thinking about it – will not be won by simply re-stating the sci­entific facts. The problem is that ‘the facts’ are not ‘the facts’ for a small pro­por­tion of people – and the noise made by this minority group dilutes the oth­er­wise clear signal about cli­mate change received by the wider population.

Climate change is a sci­entific entity, but one given meaning through the social, polit­ical and eco­nomic lenses we view it through. The chal­lenge of enga­ging with cli­mate change scep­tics is finding the lens that better fits their ideo­lo­gical views – not just shouting the sci­ence more loudly.

45 Comments + Add Comment

  • How many ‘actual’ scep­tics will have seen these survey, or answered them..

    as this paper based its research only from 8 ‘anti-sceptic’ blogs.

    They asked 5 skep­tical blogs to post a link…
    Who refused. (sus­pecting motives?, like those that com­mented below did)

    The 8 blogs actu­ally sur­veyed were so called ‘pro-science’ blogs ! (who are all very anti-sceptic, with a lot of very derog­atory lan­guage & rhet­oric about deniers.

    The blogs who posted the links are claimedto be:

    http://www.skepticalscience.com

    http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/

    http://tamino.wordpress.com

    http://bbickmore.wordpress.com

    http://www.trunity.net/uuuno/blogs/

    http://scienceblogs.com/illconsidered/

    http://profmandia.wordpress.com/

    http://hot-topic.co.nz/

    even the locals didn’t think the ‘den­iers’ would fall for such a trans­parent survey…

    http://tamino.wordpress.com/2010/08/28/survey-says/#comment-44097

    Yeah, those con­spiracy theory ques­tions were pretty funny, but does anyone think that hard­core den­iers are going to be fooled by such a trans­parent attempt to paint them as paranoids?”

    Actual links to the ori­ginal art­icles.. these were the links I found:

    http://scienceblogs.com/illconsidered/2010/08/counting-your-attitudes/
    http://profmandia.wordpress.com/2010/08/29/opinion-survey-regarding-climate-change/
    http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2010/08/29/survey-on-attitudes-towards-cl/
    http://hot-topic.co.nz/questionnaire/
    http://tamino.wordpress.com/2010/08/28/survey-says/
    http://bbickmore.wordpress.com/2010/08/28/take-a-survey/

    I haven’t found the links yet to:

    http://www.skepticalscience.com
    http://www.trunity.net/uuuno/blogs/

    where even the locals thought it was a trans­parent and poor survey, an attempt to try to describe scep­tics as para­noids or nut.. ie. very likley, by the com­ments that the ‘anti-sceptic’ locals had some fun with it..

    As no data is avail­able yet, it would be very inter­esting to see a break­down based on refer­ring URL’s as the blogs men­tioned some are MUCH more high traffic than others, which begs the ques­tion. did most of the survey res­ults come from just a few of these blogs (who detest sceptics) —

    The per­centage of actual scep­tics taking this survey must be tiny…

    making the Guardain art­icle con­clu­sions and claims rather laughable.

  • It is inter­esting that you, a pro­fes­sional aca­demic in the field, are unable to spot the obvious flaws and omis­sions in this so-called research. Perhaps this is because the result fits so well with your own prejudices.

    The most obvious omis­sion is that there is no men­tion of the number of par­ti­cipants that were scep­tical of cli­mate change. The paper claims that links were placed on 8 ‘pro-science’ blogs that attract a diverse audi­ence. This is untrue. One of the blogs used is notorious for ban­ning scep­tics and even ‘luke­warmers’. One of the others had 11 posts during the month of August 2010 when the survey was posted, of which 8 con­sist of attacking Monckton and insisting that he should be sent to prison. So very few scep­tics will have taken the survey, inval­id­ating the conclusions.

    The other obvious point is that the agenda of the survey is so trans­parent. This was spotted by sev­eral of the com­menters on the blogs used, eg
    “These sur­veys are designed for an out­come“
    “does anyone think that hard­core den­iers are going to be fooled by such a trans­parent attempt to paint them as paranoids?”

    You con­tinue to per­sist with your delu­sion that “rejec­tion of cli­mate sci­ence has more to with ideo­lo­gical views than sci­entific lit­eracy” which was thor­oughly dis­posed of in your recent dis­cus­sion with Geoff. The cor­rel­a­tion could equally be inter­preted as “enthu­si­astic embra­cing of action to mit­igate cli­mate change has more to with ideo­lo­gical views than sci­entific literacy”.

  • the rela­tion­ship is not, as I under­stand it, between a cat­egor­ical vari­able of ‘sceptic/denier’ and ‘non-sceptic/believer’ or whatever you might want to label them, and endorse­ment of con­spiracy the­ories, it is a con­tinuous vari­able that meas­ures the extent of scep­ti­cism against extent of con­spiracy theory endorse­ment. I got stick for arti­fi­cially cre­ating cat­egories in the exper­i­ment i dis­cussed with Geoff — but here you are claiming there are no scep­tics. the study shows that the more people were scep­tical, the more they endorsed con­spiracy the­ories. Either you create the cat­egories, or you use a con­tinuous vari­able — either way it attracts cri­ti­cism and the claim that this is not ‘true’ scep­ti­cism. Again we see the sys­tem­atic, stat­ist­ic­ally sig­ni­ficant link between beliefs about eco­nomics and rejec­tion of facts about cli­mate change, and yet you seem to think that com­pletely unsys­tem­atic ana­lysis of blog com­ments dis­proves that. That is also inter­esting, given your pro­fes­sional expertise, which I believe is in mathematics.

  • It seems extraordinary that someone who attempts to por­tray him­self as an aca­demic researcher would base a ser­ious art­icle on the work of Stephan Lewandowsky — who has long been recog­nised in his own country as an out & out polit­ical activist.

    His last vestiges of cred­ib­ility finally dis­ap­peared when he wrote this art­icle, attempting to jus­tify the illegal actions of renegade cli­mate sci­entist Peter Gleick — who used a false iden­tity to steal con­fid­en­tial doc­u­ments from a registered US charity.

    http://theconversation.edu.au/the-morality-of-unmasking-heartland-5494

    If sci­ent­ists want to be taken ser­i­ously in the cli­mate debate — they need to dis­so­ciate them­selves com­pletely from the polit­ical act­ivism which has come to char­ac­terise their science.

  • Today’s Guardian fea­tures an art­icle which appears to be in the most part premised on a con­spiracy theory:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/georgemonbiot/2012/aug/02/climate-change-political-funding-us

    The same view is expressed often in the cli­mate debate: that a small but wealthy group of cor­porate interests has suc­cess­fully manip­u­lated public opinion, the media, and politi­cians throughout the world. Yet evid­ence of this con­spiracy is scant, con­sisting of no more than details of accounts flowing between organ­isa­tions and indi­viduals amounting to a frac­tion (typ­ic­ally in the order of $10s of mil­lions over the course of dec­ades) of the budgets avail­able to gov­ern­ments and their depart­ments, non-statutory public bodies, NGOs, com­panies, uni­ver­sities and research organ­isa­tions, schools, hos­pitals, churches, and other groups, for PR, ‘out­reach’, ‘cli­mate change com­mu­nic­a­tion’ (this blog being one such example), media cam­paigns, and so on.

    The lack of evid­ence per­taining to this theory has not impeded its pro­gress in the cli­mate change debate, where it has become a core argu­ment amongst one vocal, high pro­file, and influ­en­tial camp, even amongst those with the benefit of sci­entific and aca­demic expertise, and an under­standing of the polit­ical pro­cess and its fail­ures (e.g. erstwhile pres­id­ents of the UK Royal Society and their press officers). Yet the adher­ents to this con­spiracy theory would, it seems, hold views which are con­sistent with main­stream cli­mate science.

    However, it would also seem obvious that one can hold with a cer­tain view of cli­mate sci­ence which is out-of-kilter with the main­stream, but which would seem­ingly gen­erate the same moral imper­at­ives non­ethe­less. For instance, a respondent to the survey could express a high level of agree­ment with the state­ment that “the burning of fossil fuels on the scale observed over the last 50 years has caused ser­ious neg­ative changes to the planet’s cli­mate”, but also believe that sea level rise of 20 meters is likely within the next decade, or that Arctic ice and gla­ciers had dis­ap­peared, and that this was attrib­ut­able to cli­mate change.

    It is not clear from the study how it makes a dis­tinc­tion between con­spiracy the­ories which res­on­ated with the authors’ pre­ju­dices and con­spiracy the­ories that the authors’ have identified.

    Clearly, it is pos­sible to hold with a con­spiracy theory and main­stream cli­mate sci­ence, and it is pos­sible to hold with a con­spiracy theory and views which con­tra­dict main­stream cli­mate sci­ence but which do not chal­lenge the imper­at­ives it gen­er­ates. The paper does not test for an adequate under­standing of cli­mate change, merely cer­tain ‘eth­ical’ pro­pos­i­tions, which are only equi­valent to a sci­entific per­spective on the authors’ per­spective. Moreover, it seems obvious that there is no adequate test of spoof responses to the ques­tion­naire, while its inten­tions are made plain to an audi­ence which has an interest (and pos­sibly an inclin­a­tion) to influ­ence the out­come of the analysis.

    It is things like this which make ‘cli­mate change psy­cho­logy’ and ‘cli­mate change com­mu­nic­a­tion’ harder to take ser­i­ously. And from a broader per­spective, the fact of publicly-funded research agendas of this kind, which receive budgets (pre­sum­ably) on the basis of their rel­ev­ance to policy makes people sus­pi­cious. Whilst such rela­tion­ships between research insti­tu­tions and policy agendas might not amount to a ‘con­spiracy’ in fact, the low quality of research and its uncrit­ical dis­sem­in­a­tion in the public sphere might well appear to some as pro­pa­ganda, rather than as value-free research. A more char­it­able view might be that these efforts are incred­ibly poorly-conceived.

  • Ben, that’s a very good point, and would form the basis for a fas­cin­ating study in itself. The “oil-funded cli­mate deni­alist con­spiracy theory” (for want of a better and more suc­cinct name) appears to be a variant of the crop of ideas that were rampant about Jewish plu­to­crats a cen­tury ago, but with Exxon and the Koch brothers standing in for the Elders of Zion.

    One of the reasons I find this phe­nomenon inter­esting is that it is not lim­ited to below-the-line com­ment­ators at, for example, the Guardian, but mani­fests above the line, in art­icles such as the George Monbiot piece you men­tion. There’s a sim­ilar art­icle from the Independent in 2010, where the writers mutter darkly about Exxon-funded “free-market, anti-climate change think-tanks” who organise “inter­na­tional sem­inars pulling together cli­mate change den­iers from across the globe.”

    Like most good con­spiracy the­ories, it has a grain of truth buried within it, upon which a plausible-seeming world view can be con­structed, but again like the Zionist theory-mongers before them, believers go way beyond the paltry facts, ascribing the increasing indif­fer­ence of the British public to cli­mate change alarm, for example, to shadowy lob­bying by U.S. based cor­por­a­tions. In my opinion, this looks like prom­ising thesis material for someone, per­haps in the not-so-distant future.

  • You make a good point, Alex — but I sus­pect hell will freeze over before researchers like Alex, with a back­ground of Green Party act­ivism, will begin to explore the mass delu­sions of cli­mate change “believers”.

  • When the Guardian art­icle was written, was the author aware of which blogs had been sur­veyed (listed in the 1st com­ment) it has been sug­gested these have a very low % scep­tical read­er­ship. (des­pite claims to a diverse readership)

    one blog was men­tioned above, as having a number of neg­ative art­icle about Monkcton..
    it is quite clear to any reader by those that are com­menting, that the scep­tical read­er­ship place of this blog (as the others) is min­imal, using one mon­ckton art­icle as an example, from the month before the survey.

    ie the read­er­ship apear to be very much on the ‘strong con­sensus’ anti-sceptic’ side.
    a real who’s who (amongst very many more)

    Gavin Schmitt (Real Climate),
    Raymond T. Pierrehumbert (Real Climate)
    John Cook (Skeptical Sci)
    Prof Scot Mandia, Mandia blog)
    Ray Ladbury,
    Tim Lambert (Deltoid),
    William Connolley, (Realclimate, Stoat, wiki),
    Josh Halpern (Rabbet Run blog)
    A Corner (COIN, PIRC)
    James Annan,
    Tenney Naumer,
    Michael Tobis,
    Dana Nuccitelli (Skeptical Sci),
    Anna Hayes (har­rased A Watts),

    http://hot-topic.co.nz/support-john-abraham/

    I’m abso­lutely NOT a fan of Monckton (Ben can testify to that ! ) but I merely think this shows that the read­er­ship of that blog, is very much a strong con­sensus one. (ie also includes the owners of three other blogs in the survey)

    I’d never even heard of this blog!

  • Visiting Barry Wood’s links to the Climate Activist blogs Lewandowsky amus­ingly describes as “pro-science” (no bias there of course!) provides some inter­esting results.

    It turns out that Lewandowsky him­self is a reg­ular con­trib­utor to some of these blogs — and a bit of a hero to their pro­pri­etors and contributors.

    Here is one of his his art­icles in the rabidly act­ivist Desmog Blog:-

    http://www.desmogblog.com/australia-s-climate-scientists-expose-shock-jock-distortion-tactics

    Here he is get­ting a plug from his bud­dies at Tim Lambert’s even more hys­ter­ical Deltoid blog:-

    http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2011/11/22/stolen-cru-emails-the-rejects/

    .… and best of all here is Desmog Blog hyping the “Debunking Handbook” co-authored by Lewandowsky and John Cook — ex-cartoonist pro­pri­etor of the (extremely unscep­tical) Skeptical Science Blog:-

    http://www.desmogblog.com/directory/vocabulary/7823

    So when Adam says -

    “Stephen Lewandowsky and his col­leagues at the University of Western Australia posted a link to an online ques­tion­naire on 8 climate-related blogs with a diverse read­er­ship, in order to cap­ture people’s views about eco­nomics, sci­ence and con­spiracy theories.”

    … the truth is -

    Stephan had a word with his col­lab­or­ators & fan club at the cli­mate act­ivist blogs where he hangs out and authors — to see if they would agree with him that people who don’t share their their mutual act­ivist obses­sion are a bit weird”.

    I think it’s what our US cousins would call — a bit of a circle jerk.

    Science it def­in­itely isn’t.

  • Foxgoose:
    It turns out that Lewandowsky him­self is a reg­ular con­trib­utor to some of these blogs — and a bit of a hero to their pro­pri­etors and con­trib­utors.
    Lew’s biggest fan must be John Cook at Skeptical Science, which was listed (appar­ently in error) by Lewandowski as a con­trib­uting blog to his survey.
    Here are some of his com­ments to fellow authors at Skeptical Science: (dates are US style)
    2010–10-3
    then I got involved with Steve Lewandowsky and some of his cog­nitive col­leagues who is very inter­ested in the phe­nomena of sci­ence blog­ging and they’re plan­ning to do some research into the sub­ject that I’m going to help them with. In November,
    2010–10-1
    I must be spending too much time con­versing with Steve Lewandowsky (cog­nitive sci­entist)…
    2010–10-8
    a while ago, I added a bias field to the user data­base and a bit of code so as com­ments came in, I could spe­cify whether the user was skep­tics or warmest/proAGW/mainstream (still haven’t found a sat­is­factory term for our side). I only assign bias if its obvious from the com­ment. I haven’t done any­thing with that data yet, I’m not even sure why I’m doing it other than my obsessive com­pul­sion to col­lect data. The other day, Steve Lewandowsky (cog­nitive sci­entist) asked if I had any num­bers on the ratio of skep­tics to warm­ists so I dove into the data­base and counted up around 100 assigned skep­tics and around 400 assigned warm­ists.
    2010–10-6
    I’ve been having some intriguing con­ver­sa­tions with Steve Lewandowsky who’s throwing cog­nitive exper­i­ment ideas at me to see what’s tech­nic­ally pos­sible. Having a sig­ni­fic­antly sized group of people clas­si­fied as skeptic or proAGW makes all sorts of inter­esting exper­i­ments pos­sible.
    2010-11-25
    First up, I met with Steve Lewandowsky and some other cog­nitive sci­ent­ists who are inter­ested in the phe­nomenon of sci­ence blog­ging and how it’s being used to edu­cate and com­mu­nicate sci­ence. In par­tic­ular, they wanted to test the impact of blog com­ments on how people pro­cessed inform­a­tion. Did a blog post with all neg­ative com­ments have a dif­ferent impact on how people retain inform­a­tion com­pared to a blog post with all pos­itive com­ments? So we sat down and designed an exper­i­ment to run on SkS to see if this has a dis­cern­ible effect on blogs…
    2011–6-2
    What’s inter­esting is Steve Lewandowsky has done some research showing there is a high cor­rel­a­tion between con­spiracy the­or­ists and cli­mate den­iers. This is a theme that could be explored fur­ther.
    2012–3-7
    Man, I’ve been spending too much time with Steve Lewandowsky, I see everything now as a poten­tial social exper­i­ment.
    2012–2-8
    I must be hanging around Steve Lewandowsky too much, he loves poking ants nests with a stick…

  • Fascinating Geoff.

    It seems more and more that a familiar pic­ture is emer­ging, of uni­ver­sity aca­demics who use their pub­licly funded roles to con­duct appar­ently impar­tial sci­entific “research” on various aspects of the cli­mate debate — while con­cealing par­allel roles as polit­ical act­iv­ists on one side of the argument.

    On that sub­ject, I appre­ciate that Adam Corner has been very fair and open in allowing so many crit­ical com­ments here and I think it would be very useful for him to make a clear state­ment on an aspect of his per­sonal pos­i­tion which has caused a lot of concern.

    At the Policy Exchange “Communicating Climate Change on the Right” Symposium on May 1st this year, Adam addressed a group including senior par­lia­ment­arians and the chairman of an HOC com­mittee, pre­fa­cing his state­ment with the words “I am a researcher not a campaigner”.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLPpOS2BpH0&feature=player_embedded#t=819s

    Many of us on this side of the argu­ment are quite aware of Adam’s activ­ities as a par­ti­cipant in cli­mate act­ivist street demon­stra­tions, a one time Green Party pro­spective par­lia­mentary can­didate and a dir­ector and adviser of sev­eral cli­mate cam­paigning groups including COIN and PIRC.

    On the face of it, Adam would appear to have told a direct untruth and mis­rep­res­ented him­self to an important group of decision makers and I think, if we are to con­tinue con­structive dia­logue here between the opposing sides of the cli­mate debate, he should explain his position.

  • Adam:
    You say: “I got stick for arti­fi­cially cre­ating cat­egories in the exper­i­ment I dis­cussed with Geoff — but here you are claiming there are no scep­tics. the study shows that the more people were scep­tical, the more they endorsed con­spiracy the­ories. Either you create the cat­egories, or you use a con­tinuous vari­able — either way it attracts cri­ti­cism and the claim that this is not ‘true’ scepticism.”

    I think you’re con­founding two cri­ti­cisms here. I cri­ti­cised your use of a con­tinuous vari­able (con­structed from the Whitmarsh Scale) in you research because it wasn’t clear how scep­tical your scep­tics are and how warmist your warm­ists. It doesn’t in any way inval­idate your research, but it does affect the inter­pret­a­tion you place on it.

    The other cri­ti­cism involves the con­flating of scep­ti­cism in the gen­eral public with the tiny group of “active scep­tics”. Time and again we see social sci­ent­ists taking res­ults of research into scep­ti­cism among the former and applying it to the latter. I get a lot of stick from scep­tics for making this point, because it sounds as if I’m being élitist when I point out that most “scep­tics”, like most “warm­ists” are extremely ignorant. It’s a fact well known to polit­ical act­iv­ists (but never openly admitted) that most people are pretty ignorant about (and indif­ferent to) most things. Activists have to pre­tend oth­er­wise, in order to activate them­selves and others, but social sci­ent­ists should recog­nise the fact.

    My big cri­ti­cism of a scale like Lorraine Whitmarsh’s has to do with the pos­sible effect it may have on respond­ents. The advantage of asking a dozen dif­ferent ques­tions is that it enables you to con­struct a con­tinuous scale of “strength of scep­ti­cism” and avoids the problem that any one ques­tion is not going to cap­ture pre­cisely the meaning of scep­ti­cism / warmism. My fear is that in the con­text of a very short ques­tion­naire, having to answer ten or a dozen times what looks like the same ques­tion risks raising ques­tions in the minds of respond­ents about the survey itself. Intelligent respond­ents will likely be the most crit­ical, and this may lead to non-response by pre­cisely the most motiv­ated and well-informed respond­ents (very dan­gerous in a self-completion survey like Lewandowsky’s). Ask a stupid ques­tion , and you may get a stupid answer. Ask the same ques­tion a dozen times, those who know the answer will prob­ably refuse to play.

  • Geoff and Foxgoose’s posts reveal some­thing about cer­tain researchers’ pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the blogosphere.

    The public seem largely indif­ferent, but weakly green on the cli­mate issue — they are not moved by the stories cre­ated by either envir­on­ment­al­ists or scep­tics. Hence, pop­ular mobil­isa­tion on the cli­mate issue and there­fore decisive polit­ical action have been dif­fi­cult to achieve. Meanwhile, the media is broadly sym­path­etic to the green agenda and gives rel­at­ively little air­time to scep­tics. But scep­ti­cism has thrived in the blog­ging world, away from edit­orial agendas.

    It seems obvious there­fore that these researchers are simply joining the dots, to con­nect the failure of envir­on­mental politics at the domestic and inter­na­tional level with the blo­go­sphere — it being home to the most vis­ible expres­sion of cli­mate scep­ti­cism. The implic­a­tion being that the failure of the envir­on­mental agenda is the suc­cess of the scep­tical blog network.

    This mis­ap­pre­hen­sion of the cli­mate debate has per­sisted for some time, with the more extreme con­spiracy theory holding that ‘paid shills’ dom­inate the blog­ging and com­menting world. For eg:

    »Scrambled up in these com­ment threads are the memes planted in the public mind by the pro­fes­sional den­iers employed by fossil fuel com­panies. On the Guardian’s forums, you’ll find end­less claims that the­hock­ey­stick graph of global tem­per­at­ures has been debunked; that sun­spots are largely respons­ible for cur­rent tem­per­ature changes; that the world’s gla­ciers are advan­cing; that global warming theory depends entirely on com­puter models; that most cli­mate sci­ent­ists in the 1970s were pre­dicting a new ice age. None of this is true, but it doesn’t matter. The pro­fes­sional den­iers are paid not to win the argu­ment but to cause as much con­fu­sion and delay as pos­sible. To judge by the Comment threads, they have suc­ceeded mag­ni­fi­cently. — George Monbiot, The Guardian 2008. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/dec/09/climate-change-science-environment?commentpage=2<&lt;

    What this highly reductive and determ­in­istic view fails to con­sider is that the envir­on­mental agenda has mostly failed all by itself. For instance, the UNFCCC/COP pro­cess is well beyond the reach of blog­gers, as such global insti­tu­tions are not sub­ject to the kind of forces of public opinion as are domestic gov­ern­ments and policy-making pro­cesses. Bloggers have no reach there.

    A better explan­a­tion for the failure of domestic envir­on­mental agendas may be closer to home than the researchers seem to think. That same reductive and determ­in­istic under­standing of the public might be one way of accounting for public dis­en­gage­ment with the cli­mate issue, it appearing to indi­viduals as a cyn­ical and self-serving politics of fear. At the inter­na­tional level, the inco­her­ence of the attempt to make cli­mate change the basis of far-reaching agree­ments has festered as a con­sequence of it’s expan­sion — ‘mis­sion creep’, so to speak — which has been unim­peded by cri­ti­cism from without. The attempt to for­mu­late global policy on the basis of sci­entific con­sensus — and the belief that this was pos­sible — failed, iron­ic­ally, pre­cisely because cri­ti­cism of it has been largely con­fined to the blo­go­sphere. Meanwhile, the inten­tion to pre­vent cli­mate change has turned into an encom­passing nar­rative, that could seem­ingly explain and con­nect everything from the exist­ence of poverty to the dis­ap­pear­ance of cer­tain spe­cies of frogs.

    That nar­rative is simply too unwieldy, and its pro­ject simply too ambi­tious. Once its rectitude is pre­sup­posed, how­ever, and its adher­ents make them­selves immune to cri­ti­cism, it can only move *itself* towards its own demise — as unwit­ting acts of self-parody, comedy, tragedy, melo­drama and farce. The attempt to isolate the putative mech­an­isms of scep­ti­cism and ‘denial’ only serve to demon­strate the authors’ own detach­ment from reality. Their hos­tility to scep­ti­cism only demon­strates their own estrange­ment from the wider public.

  • @foxgoose and everyone else who has made the ‘Adam is a secret cam­paigner’ argument:

    1) In my per­sonal time — when I do not rep­resent anyone but myself — I have taken part in many cam­paigning activ­ities, and I plan on con­tinuing to do so. You will no doubt be able to find pic­tures of me holding various plac­ards about various issues for many years to come. I do not only — or even mostly — cam­paign on envir­on­mental issue, although clearly that is what you are inter­ested in. I don’t see any con­flict in what I do in my per­sonal time and what I do at work. You don’t have to agree with me — but I am com­fort­able defending that pos­i­tion, and aca­demics are not expected to have no polit­ical views or to be polit­ic­ally neutral. My research is not MY views — it is the views of others! So unless you are sug­gesting that I have fiddled my res­ults to suit my polit­ical views, I can’t see the issue with this.

    2) I stand by my opening com­ment at the Policy Exchange event — because all I was intending to convey was that I am not, and have never been to the best of my know­ledge, a paid cam­paigner. I do research work for COIN, not cam­paigning. The inform­a­tion in my opening talk was about research find­ings, I hadnt just made it up, and so I wanted to get that across.

    I appre­ciate you see COIN as some kind of rad­ical organ­isa­tion, but to me — and I would argue to the vast majority of people — it is only a cam­paigning organ­isa­tion in the very mildest sense of the word. In any case, i don’t do any camapig­ning for them — we have no lob­bying pos­i­tions, no demands — it just aims to com­mu­nicate cli­mate change better, and works with a wide range of groups (char­ities, local gov­ern­ment, national gov­ern­ment, trade unions, busi­nesses) to do this. COIN is a cam­paign group for cli­mate change only in the way that the Science Media Centre is a cam­paign group for sci­ence. Only if you think that pro­moting public engage­ment with cli­mate change, and encour­aging people/organisations to con­sider what steps they could take to reduce their carbon foot­prints is con­tro­ver­sial, would you think that there is any­thing even vaguely con­ten­tious in the work I do for COIN.

    3) I will con­tinue to asso­ciate with all sorts of people — PIRC, ex-employees of Greenpeace etc — who you no doubt dont like. I also asso­ciate and work with all sorts of other people — for example Policy Exchange — who the ex-employees of Greenpeace prob­ably don’t like. I’m not really sure there is any­thing else to say on this — unless you have some kind of spe­cific issue that goes beyond ‘these people all know each other and work together’ I don’t really know what else to say.

    I am not asking you to agree with me — we clearly are coming from such dif­ferent places that we prob­ably never will. I’m not a paid cam­paigner, I’m a researcher (some of which is for a very mildly cam­paigning organ­isa­tion), and I act­ively try to pro­mote public engage­ment with cli­mate change, through dis­sem­in­ating and applying psy­cho­lo­gical research with whichever groups I think it could best be used.

  • @Ben Pile

    very inter­esting points Ben — espe­cially re: the nar­rative being too unwieldy and ambi­tious. It does some­times seem that way — and no doubt there has been a great deal of band­wagon jumping. My pos­i­tion, I guess, is that while the band­wagon may be over-flowing with spurious bag­gage, it is non­eth­less trucking towards a land of sig­ni­fic­antly enhanced danger (not cata­strophe, or apo­ca­lypse), where the most vul­ner­able (i.e. the poor) in par­tic­ular are likely to suffer the most.

    Anyway, I am get­ting off topic on my own thread…I will try to add any more com­ments that come through today, and pos­sibly tomorrow, but I am then away for a bout a week, so please (all) be patient if com­ments are not mod­er­ated quickly

  • Adam
    I’ve been as cyn­ical as anyone else here about your reasons for enga­ging with us, but I think your con­sidered reply to Foxgoose puts you in a dif­ferent cat­egory to anyone else in the warmist camp, and more par­tic­u­larly, anyone else at Guardian Environment.
    It’s worth reflecting that most of us com­menting here are banned from com­menting on your art­icle at the Guardian. My own sin was described by the Commentisfree editor as “per­sistent cri­ti­cism”, mainly of Monbiot for refusing to engage with critics as you are doing.
    All this has nothing to do with your uncrit­ical sup­port of Lewandowsky of course. Expect a heap of ques­tions on your return.

  • Adam, your reply demon­strates the problem, which I hope you will allow me to explain. The ‘bag­gage’ and band­wagons are now as much of the policy agenda, and the envir­on­mental out­look as is, for instance, the issue of cli­mate change. In your research, you seem to aim to detect dif­fer­ences in the way people adhering to dif­ferent ‘ideo­lo­gical’* per­spect­ives treat or under­stand cli­mate sci­ence. The research which is the sub­ject of this blog post is sim­ilar. My cri­ti­cism of your research has been that you forget this bag­gage, yet it clearly col­ours your research focus.

    * — ‘ideo­logy’ is an extremely tricky concept, which has no con­crete meaning inside polit­ical sci­ence. I don’t believe that it can have any more robust a meaning in psy­cho­logy, and there is a danger, which I don’t feel is addressed in your research, and clearly isn’t addressed by Lewandowsky, that ‘ideo­logy’, or ideo­lo­gical con­cepts, are seen through ideo­logy. But we can’t take cat­egories like ‘left’ and ‘right’ at face value; they each mean some­thing dif­ferent to the other, even if the words are the same. They do not even serve as useful coordin­ates to the debate, being such inad­equate approx­im­a­tions of a great many argu­ments, many of which are too com­plex to be reduced to simple objects of psychology.

    Leaving aside the hard, material facts of cli­mate sci­ence, there are very good reasons why people of dif­ferent polit­ical per­spect­ives would treat them dif­fer­ently. On the issue of poverty, and it being exacer­bated by cli­mate change, the maxim ‘cli­mate change will be worse for the poor’ can gen­erate two, coun­ter­posed moral imper­at­ives. To you, no doubt it says that we must do everything to stop cli­mate change. But reading the maxim care­fully, it would seem that it might also sug­gest that wealth is an answer to the problem of a chan­ging cli­mate. And if you take a broader look at the ‘ideo­lo­gical’ argu­ments in cur­rency, it would seem that there is a great deal of scep­ti­cism about the poten­tial of wealth to change human cir­cum­stances. Not just in the green move­ment, either.

    Some might say that cor­porate profits have caused harm to the envir­on­ment, and there­fore to people. But the rapid devel­op­ment seen in the last few dec­ades, espe­cially in India and China, has seen an unpre­ced­ented change of cir­cum­stances for hun­dreds of mil­lions of people. The devel­op­ment of this wealth has done more for people, and removed them from danger, far more than a stable cli­mate and the West’s com­plete eschewing of carbon-emitting industry ever could.

    So if you see some diver­gence in the debate in the treat­ment of ‘cli­mate sci­ence’*, roughly approx­imate to left/right lines, it might be because the con­tem­porary left — to the extent that it is green — has lost con­fid­ence in the poten­tial of wealth: ‘bread for all’, rather than ‘steak for all’. Whereas, the right — to the extent that it cor­res­ponds to cli­mate scep­ti­cism, which is not very much at all in fact — has not had such a pro­nounced break with its his­tory. Psychology tells you nothing about the his­tor­ical changes which have led to that situ­ation. It tells you nothing about the way in which polit­ical ideas meet seem­ingly sci­entific ideas. And it tells you nothing about how cli­mate sci­ence becomes the ground on which a proxy battle of politics is fought. You might say here that the (nom­in­ative) right can’t deny that tem­per­at­ures have risen. But by the same token, you can’t deny that estim­ates of impacts of cli­mate change have been col­oured by the ‘bag­gage’ and ‘band­wagons’, rather than simply informed by science.

    * — I put ‘cli­mate sci­ence’ in scare quotes, because when we’re talking about impacts of cli­mate change, par­tic­u­larly on the social world, we’re no longer talking about objects of cli­mate sci­ence. We’re talking about highly con­tin­gent effects on the social world, of material effects, the mech­an­isms of which are poorly under­stood, and con­sensus not­with­standing, con­tested. It fol­lows that if you hold with a determ­in­istic view of humanity’s rela­tion­ship with the nat­ural envir­on­ment, you will emphasise the neces­sity of a ‘stable’ cli­mate. And it fol­lows that if you take a more robust and self-dependent view of human society, you will put so much less emphasis on the nat­ural world’s provid­ence. The appear­ance and sig­ni­fic­ance of a sci­entific con­sensus might be owed to a pre­dom­in­ance of, and pref­er­ence for determ­in­istic accounts of the world. The para­meters of cli­mate sci­ence seem as good as any other objective fun­da­mentals around which society should be organ­ised, per­haps. But for people who have studied polit­ical his­tory, this is nothing new in it at all, and the mis­takes of nat­ural determ­inism and pos­it­ivism seem to have been repeated.

    There’s a great deal more that could be said here. Suffice it to say that when I see attempts to approx­imate polit­ical ideas with stat­istics from opinion polls, and to estab­lish a cor­rel­a­tion between those ideas and self-evidently daft ideas, I know that I’m reading work that fails to get over its own bag­gage and band­wagons: it starts with its own ignor­ance and gets worse. If you want to take the debate ser­i­ously, and to make a ser­ious attempt to under­stand it, you need to take the per­spect­ives within that debate ser­i­ously. That means treating them on their own terms, not lumping them in with whichever unpop­ular, nasty or silly ideas come to mind. It means reflecting on your own per­spective, pre­ju­dices, and motiv­a­tions. It means cred­iting people with the fac­ulty of thought and reason, rather than treating them as uncon­scious, unthinking auto­mata who merely respond to ideas that can be easily digested by stat­ist­ical ana­lyses. Failing to take the debate ser­i­ously, as research like the above does, merely makes is authors’ own pre­ju­dices and ‘ideo­logy’ plain to see.

  • One thing that I notice about all these sur­veys and studies, and that was alluded to above by Geoff, is they way they ask ques­tions about beliefs, but not about the reasons for holding those beliefs. Is a person who believes in global warming because it was endorsed by their favourite pop stars more sci­entific in their thinking than someone who is agnostic because they haven’t per­son­ally examined and tested the evid­ence? Or even because they read Harry’s readme?

    Surely, in any sort of research about social atti­tudes and beliefs, the reasons for those beliefs ought to be of primary interest? You need to know whether people are influ­enced by the media, or gov­ern­ment, or sci­ent­ists, or the internet. You need to know whether they’re more influ­enced by qual­i­fic­a­tions and authority, or tech­nical details and evid­ence, or ideo­lo­gical loy­al­ties. Have they been exposed to only one point of view, or many? Of what quality and quantity? You need to know whether they take others’ word for it, or whether they like to check things for them­selves. And you need to know what checks they did, and where it went wrong if they came to what you con­sider to be the wrong conclusion.

    Your spec­u­la­tion, that con­spiracy the­or­ists and liber­tarians are inher­ently less likely to accept argu­ment from authority, prob­ably does have some plaus­ib­ility. But without asking the ques­tions and testing their reas­oning you’ll never know.

    Such studies seemed aimed more at devel­oping ammuni­tion for the cli­mate wars, so maybe that isn’t a draw­back as far as the more act­ivist authors are con­cerned. But it still sur­prises me that there is so little interest in the ques­tion from other researchers.

  • Adam, thank you for taking the time to respond to my earlier post.

    I’m afraid how­ever that your response seems to raise more ques­tions than answers.

    The point at issue is your clear and unam­biguous state­ment to the politi­cians and policy makers at the PE forum that — “I am a researcher not a campaigner”.

    You now state — “In my per­sonal time — when I do not rep­resent anyone but myself — I have taken part in many cam­paigning activ­ities, and I plan on con­tinuing to do so”

    So you are, and intend to remain, a campaigner.

    You follow this by — “I stand by my opening com­ment at the Policy Exchange event — because all I was intending to convey was that I am not, and have never been to the best of my know­ledge, a paid campaigner.”

    I think we all under­stand that the vast majority of polit­ical cam­paigners are not paid and, as far as I’m aware, no one has ever alleged that you were a “paid cam­paigner”. What you are doing here is simply trying to soften your admis­sion by using a rather obvious “straw man” argument.

    You say on COIN — “I appre­ciate you see COIN as some kind of rad­ical organ­isa­tion, but to me.. it is only a cam­paigning organ­isa­tion in the very mildest sense of the word. In any case, i don’t do any campaig­ning for them … it just aims to com­mu­nicate cli­mate change better… COIN is a cam­paign group for cli­mate change only in the way that the Science Media Centre is a cam­paign group for sci­ence. Only if you think that pro­moting public engage­ment with cli­mate change, and encour­aging people/organisations to con­sider what steps they could take to reduce their carbon foot­prints is con­tro­ver­sial, would you think that there is any­thing even vaguely con­ten­tious in the work I do for COIN.”

    Again, no one ever sug­gested that COIN was par­tic­u­larly rad­ical or con­ten­tious — simply that it was a cam­paigning organisation.

    I’ve had another look at their web­site & clearly IS a cam­paigning organ­isa­tion — run by a guy who cheer­fully boasts — “George has twenty years exper­i­ence in research and cam­paigning and out­reach for envir­on­mental and indi­genous rights organ­isa­tions. He has worked as a senior cam­paigner for Greenpeace and the Rainforest Foundation…….Before joining COIN George was one of the founders and co-ordinators of Rising Tide, a national net­work of grass­roots cli­mate change cam­paign groups.”

    So, in sum­mary, you have told us that you are and intend to remain, a cam­paigner both per­son­ally and as a dir­ector of a cam­paign group — but you “stand by” your state­ment that “I am not a campaigner”.

    I’ll leave it to others to draw their own con­clu­sions from that.

    On the sub­ject of your Guardian art­icle, repeated above — per­haps you could cla­rify for us whether you regard this as part of your cam­paigning activ­ities or your research work.

    If the former — well I guess it’s about par for the course in the Graun.

    If the latter — I’m frankly mys­ti­fied by the basic concept.

    I’m a reg­ular vis­itor at most of the “pro-science” blogs Lewandowsky used and, as Barry has remarked, genuine sceptic posters are rel­at­ively rare there.

    The oddest thing, though, is that I have never seen anyone on the scep­tical side of the argu­ment make any ref­er­ence at all to any of the classic “con­spiracy” issues Lewandowsky and your­self have chosen to high­light in your “research”. I’ve lit­er­ally never hear a scep­tical com­ment­ator on any blog com­ment on the Apollo moon land­ings, Kennedy’s assas­sin­a­tion or 9/11 con­spiracy theories.

    I have, how­ever, reg­u­larly heard com­ment­ators of a cli­mate act­ivist per­sua­sion accusing scep­tics of being “believers in con­spiracy the­ories”. The alleged belief is usu­ally por­trayed as “why would all the world’s sci­ent­ists ganging up to invent a scare story”.

    I’ve haven’t ever actu­ally heard that argu­ment employed by a sceptic — but it’s a “straw man” argu­ment much used by cli­mate activists.

    Most psy­cho­lo­gical and soci­olo­gical research on the nature of cli­mate “den­iers” has tended to identify them as middle aged to older white males, often with higher than average tech­nical edu­ca­tion, retired from pro­fes­sions involving busi­ness and engin­eering and with strong con­ser­vative and free market views. I wouldn’t argue with much of that since it fits my own pro­file — but I’m mys­ti­fied by the intel­lec­tual leap that assumes that this demo­graphic includes those prone to con­spiracy theories.

    In my exper­i­ence con­spiracy the­ories usu­ally flourish among rad­ical extreme left and anarchist groups. The com­monest place to find them in the UK is among the CIF com­ment­ators at your own dear Guardian where the belief that George Bush got his busi­ness bud­dies to wire the WTC with explos­ives, stopped the CIA from invest­ig­ating known ter­ror­ists and stood down the air force inter­ceptors is common currency.

    Taking note of what Barry Woods and Geoff Chambers have dis­covered above — it’s pretty obvious that the gen­esis of Lewandowsky’s “research” was as follows:-

    He and his buddy & co-author John Cook, who hap­pens to run Australia’s main cli­mate act­ivist blog, started dis­cussing “cog­nitive work” on “den­iers” in 2010. John offered to help by “coding” his “denier” con­trib­utors in some unspe­cified way.

    Quote -
    “I only assign bias if its obvious from the com­ment. I haven’t done any­thing with that data yet, I’m not even sure why I’m doing it other than my obsessive com­pul­sion to col­lect data. The other day, Steve Lewandowsky (cog­nitive sci­entist) asked if I had any num­bers on the ratio of skep­tics to warm­ists so I dove into the data­base and counted up around 100 assigned skep­tics and around 400 assigned warmists.”

    and -
    “I’ve been having some intriguing con­ver­sa­tions with Steve Lewandowsky who’s throwing cog­nitive exper­i­ment ideas at me to see what’s tech­nic­ally pos­sible. Having a sig­ni­fic­antly sized group of people clas­si­fied as skeptic or proAGW makes all sorts of inter­esting exper­i­ments possible.”

    Followed by -
    “What’s inter­esting is Steve Lewandowsky has done some research showing there is a high cor­rel­a­tion between con­spiracy the­or­ists and cli­mate den­iers. This is a theme that could be explored further.”

    So, Steve designs an “exper­i­ment” whereby he sticks a ques­tion­naire, with loaded ques­tions of his own devising, exclus­ively on blogs con­trolled and pop­u­lated by his co-activists — and even they are incred­u­lous — “Yeah, those con­spiracy theory ques­tions were pretty funny, but does anyone think that hard­core den­iers are going to be fooled by such a trans­parent attempt to paint them as paranoids?”

    Steve makes no attempt to con­trol or identify responses — other than excluding duplicate IP’s and the most obvious jokers (age 95).

    These uncon­trolled responses to his arbit­rar­ilyy loaded ques­tions, from anonymous posters, exclus­ively on 8 fan­at­ic­ally anti-sceptic blogs — con­vince Steve that cli­mate scep­tics gen­er­ally believe that the CIA shot Kennedy, Bush blew up the WTC and NASA never got to the moon.

    As I said above, Adam — if you wrote this in your act­ivist role we can all shrug and move on.

    If you’re put­ting it for­ward as the fruits of ser­ious sci­entific research — you’re in danger of making your­self a laughing stock.

  • Conspiracy the­or­ists abound on both sides of the cli­mate and enviro fight. A number of sci­entist policy advoc­ates have long claimed that a con­spiracy of “dirty fossil fuel interests” oppose action on cli­mate change, des­pite obvious evid­ence to the contrary.

    In fact, almost every sci­entific idea that may be prof­it­able is lam­pooned by envir­on­ment­al­ists as a con­spiracy of “cor­porate interests” seeking to exploit the unwashed masses for per­sonal gain. GM foods, coal export ter­minals and the Keystone XL pipelines are great ongoing examples. Opposition to Keystone and oil sands devel­op­ments often uses the same lan­guage as the Old Testament prophets. It’s asso­ci­ated with ideas like the end of the world as we know it, envir­on­mental col­lapse as retri­bu­tion for humanity’s arrog­ance (sins), etc.

    Far and away, the weight of con­spiracy the­ories lies most heavily on the Green Mob, which is driven by apo­cryphal fear of tech­no­logy and of social and envir­on­mental collapse.

  • There is a a timely art­icle about polit­ical bias in psy­cho­logy, “Political Diversity in Social and Personality Psychology” at
    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2002636&amp;
    As well as finding that con­ser­vat­ives are in a minority, it also showed that they are act­ively dis­crim­in­ated against.

    I wonder, what are the odds of Adam writing an art­icle about this in his Guardian Column?

  • What a piece of “aca­demic” garbage.

    endorse­ment of a laissez-faire con­cep­tion of free-market eco­nomics pre­dicts rejec­tion of cli­mate science”

    AND

    endorse­ment of a cluster of con­spiracy the­ories (e.g., that the CIA killed Martin-Luther King or that NASA faked the moon landing) pre­dicts rejec­tion of cli­mate sci­ence as well as the rejec­tion of other sci­entific find­ings, above and beyond endorse­ment of laissez-faire free markets”

    Does not lead to the con­clu­sions drawn (i.e. that cli­mate scep­tics, cos­piracy the­or­ists and other forms of extremist thought are one of a kind, or that cli­mate scep­tics are cos­piracy the­or­ists, or that free market thinkers are con­spiracy theorists).

    Try this:

    free market thinkers are more likely to believe in strong border controls”

    AND

    mur­dering ras­cist extrem­ists are more likely to believe in strong border controls”

    Do you want to con­clude that ““free market thinkers are closely linked to mur­dering ras­cist extremists”?

    I ima­gine some com­ment­ators here might like to try, but it would reamin a grossly abhorant manip­u­la­tion of facts.

  • The damn astro­nauts who faked those moon land­ings are now also bashing estab­lished cli­mate sci­ence? How dare they!

    http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5182/5793914205_77d27c69cc_b.jpg

  • Warmists could fill this in a skeptic to defeat the object. They clearly did. I don’t know a single skeptic who is a con­spiracy theorist.

  • It’s obvious that Lewandowsky and Adam believe in CAGW. So the ques­tion then arises, why is someone who has an obvious self-declared bias attempting to con­duct a research pole to study opposing views. Surely such a study is doomed to be biased. If any­thing the study should have been farmed out to a third party inde­pendent com­pany who con­ducts polls on a pro­fes­sional level. Then you can study the res­ults and every­body can come to their own conclusions.

    Which is another thing which really bugs me. Sceptics are told “this is what you must think; else you’re a weirdo/conspiracy theorist/flat earther”. How about put the sci­ence on the table and let every­body come to their own con­clu­sions. And they don’t have to all be the same, damn it.

  • Greg Cavanagh August 29, 2012 at 10:51 pm
    How about put the sci­ence on the table and let every­body come to their own con­clu­sions. And they don’t have to all be the same, damn it.

    Sounds like an excel­lent idea until you read.……

    Dr Phil Jones — Senior CRU cli­mate scientist

  • Greg Cavanagh August 29, 2012 at 10:51 pm
    How about put the sci­ence on the table and let every­body come to their own con­clu­sions. And they don’t have to all be the same, damn it.

    Sounds like an excel­lent idea until you read.……

    Dr Phil Jones — Senior CRU cli­mate scientist

    “Why should I make the data avail­able to you, when your aim is to try and find some­thing wrong with it. “

    Kind of defeats the object doesn’t it?

  • Adam

    Have you been mon­it­oring the dis­cus­sion on Lewandowsky’s paper at Skeptical Science and various other sites?

    If so, you will be aware that sev­eral ser­ious flaws have been found in both the meth­od­o­logy and the con­clu­sions drawn from the data.

    In par­tic­ular, it would appear that ana­lysis of the data provides no sup­port at all for the head­line con­clu­sion pro­moted by your­self and others that cli­mate scep­tics are likely to be con­spiracy theorists.

    Tom Curtis of Skeptical Science, who have col­lab­or­ated with Lewandowsky in the past and are cer­tainly no friends of genuine cli­mate scep­tics, has now called for the paper to be with­drawn — quote:-

    Given the low number of “skep­tical” respond­ents overall; these two scammed responses sig­ni­fic­antly affect the res­ults regarding con­spiracy theory ideation. Indeed, given the dubious inter­pret­a­tion of weakly agreed responses (see pre­vious post), this paper has no data worth inter­preting with regard to con­spiracy theory ideation. It is my strong opinion that the paper should be have its pub­lic­a­tion delayed while under­going a sub­stan­tial rewrite. The rewrite should indicate expli­citly why the responses regarding con­spiracy theory ideation are in fact worth­less, and con­cen­trate solely on the result regarding free market beliefs (which has a strong enough a response to be sal­vage­able). If this is not pos­sible, it should simply be withdrawn.

    Since you were the earliest and most enthu­si­astic pro­moter of this paper in your Guardian art­icle and here — would you be pre­pared to review it in the light of these cri­ti­cisms and state whether you agree or dis­agree with them?

  • […] And finally, if you don’t want to deal with the issue of sci­entific integ­rity, you can always call your oppon­ents con­spiracy the­or­ists.  From a post on the talkink­ingcli­mate blog: […]

  • Adam

    Many of us who are inter­ested in the cli­mate debate are puzzled and dis­ap­pointed that you have not responded to the ques­tion I posted at your Talking Climate blog almost a week ago — asking you to com­ment on the Lewandowsky paper you launched into the world ‚with such enthu­siasm, in the Guardian and this blog.

    You have told me on Twitter that you are busy and have more important things to do — but this seems odd when the paper is so central to your field of study and you had no dif­fi­culty in finding the time to pro­mote it.

    Since my last com­ment, the dis­cus­sion of this paper has rever­ber­ated around the blo­go­sphere and attracted huge atten­tion. It has now prob­ably had more public exposure than any pub­lished work on the psy­cho­logy of cli­mate change “denial” — a field where you seem to be the most prom­inent UK practitioner.

    It’s a bit like God appearing in St Peter’s Square, sur­rounded by a choir of angels — and the Pope lurking in the Vatican and refusing to comment.

    In the expect­a­tion that you will, even­tu­ally, find time to com­ment on this important con­tro­versy, there are a couple of sup­ple­mentary ques­tions I would like to add to my ori­ginal request — in order to better under­stand the ori­gins of the controversy.

    1. When you first reported on this paper here, I pointed out to you that it seemed to me more like act­ivism than sci­ence. You have stated here that you see no problem in pur­suing your cli­mate act­ivism in your spare time as long as you keep it sep­arate from your work as a pub­licly funded aca­demic and occa­sional gov­ern­ment adviser.

    It there­fore becomes very important for people to know whether par­tic­ular state­ments by you are delivered in your aca­demic role or as a cli­mate act­ivist. Since the Guardian is the UK forum of choice for fringe polit­ical act­ivism — I think you should cla­rify for us whether your art­icle on the Lewandowsky paper was written as part of your aca­demic work or as an act­ivist statement.

    2. Assuming that the art­icle was pro­duced as part of your offi­cial aca­demic work — many of us are puzzled by the fact that it pre-dated the offi­cial UWA press release of the paper by almost a month.

    Would you mind explaining how you came across the advance copy of the paper and the asso­ci­ated pro­mo­tional material? Did it arrive at your uni­ver­sity as part of an aca­demic col­lab­or­a­tion — or did the Guardian receive a copy direct and ask you to write a com­ment on it?

    Whichever route the paper arrived, was it direct from UWA itself or via an inter­me­diary organisation?

    3. When you wrote about the paper, had you been sup­plied with the actual data in order to be able to judge whether or not it sup­ported the head­line conclusions?

    4. Your Guardian art­icle, in par­tic­ular, put a lot of emphasis in the “fake moon land­ings” con­spiracy theory. When you wrote it, were you aware that only ten valid respond­ents out of around 1,100 had sup­ported that theory and, of those, only three iden­ti­fied as cli­mate sceptics?

    Do you now think that this data sup­ports the paper title and the sub-headline of your article?

    I, and I think many others, would be most grateful if you could find time to answer these simple questions.

    Your con­tinued silence is begin­ning to look like hiding from a con­tro­versy of which you were a key instigator.

  • Answers for now:

    1) You say: ” Since the Guardian is the UK forum of choice for fringe polit­ical act­ivism — I think you should cla­rify for us whether your art­icle on the Lewandowsky paper was written as part of your aca­demic work or as an act­ivist statement.”

    Given that — as you well know — the Guardian is one of the most pop­ular English lan­guage news web­sites in the world, describing it as ‘the forum of choice for fringe polit­ical act­ivism’ only serves to high­light the extremity of your own views. But there is nothing remotely ‘act­ivist’ about com­menting on the res­ults of a new aca­demic paper, which as you know, I do all the time.

    2) Once an aca­demic paper is ‘in press’, this means the journal has accepted it, at the end of a pro­cess of peer review. At this point, the author can — and often does — let other people in their field know about it. Stephan told me his paper was forth­coming and sent me a copy of it. I wrote about it, unprompted. I guessed that cli­mate scep­tics would have at least two issues with it, the stat­ist­ical method employed to reach the con­clu­sions (factor ana­lysis) and the un-named sceptic blogs, but in 700 words or whatever Gdn columns are, there simply isnt space for much more than the gen­eral gist.

    3) I read the paper not the raw data. I dont expect to check raw data against the paper’s con­clu­sions for any aca­demic art­icle that I read, that is the whole point of peer review.

    4) The moon land­ings focus came from the sub-editors at the Guardian, writers do not choose their head­lines or sub-headlines. But the end of your ques­tions smuggles in the only point which I think bears some scru­tiny, and which I will not spec­u­late on (because it would only be that — spec­u­la­tion) until Stephan Lewandowsky has responded on it, which are the ques­tions around the inclusion/exclusion of data based on whether they were ‘valid’ or not. These are legit­imate ques­tions — but that doesnt mean that there are not answers to them, and I’ll look for­ward to hearing them from the author in due course.

  • I dont expect to check raw data against the paper’s con­clu­sions for any aca­demic art­icle that I read, that is the whole point of peer review.”

    Wasn’t it Phil Jones who told the House of Commons that no reviewer had ever asked to see the data when reviewing his sub­mitted papers?

    I’ve done my share of reviewing aca­demic papers in the gen­eral field of stat­ist­ical com­mu­nic­a­tion system engin­eering. In fields cov­ering tra­di­tional phys­ical sci­ence, a reviewer checks for ori­gin­ality, sig­ni­fic­ance, com­pre­hens­ib­ility and rel­ev­ance to the read­er­ship of the journal.

    The idea that “peer review” val­id­ates a paper’s con­clu­sions seems to have ori­gin­ated in the last twenty years with cli­mate sci­ence and the IPCC — not­with­standing Phil Jones’s admission.

  • My exper­i­ence of peer review is that reviewers usu­ally do not check con­clu­sions against raw data. Moreover it is clear that in some cases it would be impossible for them to so — not­ably the Mann et al 1998 Nature paper on the hockey stick. But in this case there is an obvious and major problem, namely that there is no prin­cipled sampling frame. I fail to see how you can draw any sens­ible con­clu­sions from invited responses from an obvi­ously biased (in the stat­ist­ical sense) sampling base.

  • […] but he is neither “fea­tured” nor men­tioned in HTD. Corner’s uncon­scion­able flog­ging of Lewandowsky’s pseudo-academic “find­ings” last July did little, if any­thing, to […]

  • Several years ago I heard a sci­entist on the radio who fore­told all that would happen with the climate.…he has been proved 100% right. The alarm­ists are in a corner of their own making and are listed as “abso­lutely des­perate. The MET Office coming clean over the 15 year temps showing no increase but with CO2 having risen is a mortal blow and only the media are saving them.
    As regards 9/11…just curious. Somehow the worlds fore­most mil­itary power not being able to defend itself against four unarmed pas­senger planes that flew around col­lect­ively for 90 mins was frankly pathetic. So you peep behind the cur­tain and the rest of the non­sense falls apart.
    In the his­tory of high rise con­struc­tion no steel framed build­ings have ever col­lapsed to a fire yet three came down in one day.
    Reason given was jet fuel…kerosene…similar to paraffin…a hydro­carbon that in a con­trolled state burns at a max of 1800f. Steel melts at 2500f.…Houston we have a problem. Houston we have a bigger problem…all the fire­fighters point out that the thick black smoke that envel­oped the twin towers indic­ated an inef­fi­cient fire starved of oxygen so not even burning at 1800f.
    I could go on and on but you get the pic­ture.
    If sci­ence and physics are at odds with the offi­cial ver­sion of events then people will ques­tion it.

  • fred holby– ter­ror­ists had usu­ally hijacked planes and pas­sen­gers and demanded ransoms..

    so nobody was going to shoot them down.. (at that time, and in the confusion)

    Even now, same happened again over London, would UK gov­ern­ment shoot down a jumbo with 400 people aboard? espe­cially if flying over London.. would they dither?

    Why 911 becomes a con­spiracy I think, because to so many people, they just can’t com­pre­hend how a super power or the west could be vul­ner­able, to a bunch of highly motiv­ated indi­viduals, with a very low tech, but dev­ast­ating plan (dependent on their sui­cide) it is out­side of most Western exper­i­ences.. In the wider would sui­cide bombing is sadly not uncommon.

    So at a level, I ima­gine the 911 con­spiracy the­or­ists find it bizar­rely (to me and you) more com­forting to ima­gine some sort of big gov­ern­ment con­spiracy, rather than con­front how vul­ner­able their life’s are, in the face of extrem­ists, with no wish to live, and a simple (rel­at­ively) plan.

    And 911 con­spir­acies are just as pre­valent on the left, if the Guardian com­ments sec­tion are any­thing to go by. (and in the USA, extreme right as well, those that dis­trust the state)

  • This is really the third art­icle, of yours I checked out.
    Still I really enjoy this spe­cific 1, “Are cli­mate scep­tics more
    likely to be con­spiracy the­or­ists? | Talking Climate” the
    very best. Thank you –Marina

  • Excellent web site. Lots of helpful info here. I’m sending it to a few friends ans addi­tion­ally sharing in deli­cious. And obvi­ously, thank you on your sweat!

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