The elephant in the room with Lewandowsky

This post is based on something I wrote for Paul Handover’s Learning from Dogs website, which was published there earlier this month.

Stephan Lewandowsky

As originally conceived, I gave it the title ‘Libertarian ideology is the real road block’. Having had a few more weeks to think about it, I remain convinced that a great many people overlook the most basic finding of the recent research of Professor Stephan Lewandowsky (et al): As Lewandowsky and his co-authors put it, “adherence to free market economics predicts…” the denial of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD). In plain English, the main reason people reject science is to preserve the integrity of their ideological and/or theological prejudice. As I have recently had to point out to Roger Helmer MEP (on his blog and in my previous posts here), this is what Young Earth (YE) Creationists do. Whilst completely understandable from an emotional perspective, both YE Creationism and the denial of ACD are utterly irrational positions that can only be maintained by willful ignorance and by the automatic rejection of any conflicting evidence. However, unlike YE Creationism, the denial of ACD is intrinsically dangerous (in the same way that it would be to deny you are being chased by a tiger). Without further ado, in a form slightly amended from that in which it appeared on Learning from Dogs, here is my summary of the recent work of Stephan Lewandowsky (et al). ——— I have recently been catching up on a bit of reading – focusing on the recent work of Professor Stephan Lewandowsky (and others). Following in the wake of James Hansen, Ben Santer and Michael Mann, Lewandowsky has recently been the target of hate-mail campaigns by climate change sceptics. Unlike all the others, however, Lewandowsky (formerly at the University of Western Australia but now at Bristol University in the UK) is not a climate scientist. This is how Bristol University announced his recent appointment.

Steve is an internationally renowned cognitive scientist who has joined us from the University of Western Australia. His research has already revolutionised our understanding of human memory and cognition, and he now stands poised to build upon his impressive body of work with a project as ambitious as it is timely. In particular, Steve’s intention to improve our understanding of how people choose to acquire information, and to use this understanding to help create a more informed populace, is a unique and much needed undertaking. Thus, this research offers enormous benefits in the fields of experimental psychology, climate research and the wider public engagement with and understanding of scientific research.

I must admit that, until recently, I had not sat down to read either of the papers by Lewandowsky et al ( ‘Motivated Rejection of Science’ [PDF] or ‘Recursive Fury: Conspiracy Ideation in the Blogosphere’ [PDF] ) – I had only read about them. However, now that I have read them, the thing that strikes me most forcefully is not the stupidity of conspiracy “ideation”, the invocation of conspiracy theories, it is the fact that, as Lewandowsky et al acknowledge, their work confirms the findings of many previous studies; that climate change scepticism is associated with prejudicial adherence to libertarian ideology. Also key is that climate change scepticism can be predicted by that prejudicial adherence to libertarian ideology. Amongst many other things, this explains why EU sceptics are climate sceptics and why the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) do not like Wind Farms. I had understood this for some time. However, I had not fully realised its importance; it was just one theme among others. Anyone who has read my blog recently will probably have noticed my post about New World Order (NWO) conspiracy theory, in which I acknowledged that I had not realised just how significant such thinking is, and how subliminal and subconscious it may be. Although adherence to free-market economics and libertarian ideology were themes I highlighted in my MA dissertation and in my subsequent book, and mentioned on my blog numerous times, everything I have read in the last few days points to one conclusion: We will not succeed in communicating the urgency of the need for radical changes in energy policy until we can convince people that climate scientists are not trying to perpetuate their research funding or halt human progress. Professor Lewandowsky’s research shows that little can be achieved by simply telling people they are wrong. Far better is pointing out to people that Limits to Growth and Peak Oil have already halted the progress of globalised Capitalism, as recent times prove dramatically. In other words conveying facts to people rather than ideology. I must admit that this has been a tough pill to swallow. I am not naturally progressive and certainly not naturally “liberal”. On the contrary, I am socially and politically conservative. However, the reality of anthropogenic climate disruption is a game-changer. Therefore, unlike members of the Flat Earth Society or Young Earth Creationists (YECs), I do not refuse to accept what scientists tell me simply because I don’t like the message. We cannot defeat such obscurantism by telling people they are irrational; we can only defeat it by focusing on the evidence that suggests strongly that they are mistaken. To this end, I think the words of St Augustine of Hippo are an important consideration; words going back over 1,400 years before anyone started to question the Age of the Earth or the Origin of Species! Words echoed by Thomas Aquinas:

… since Holy Scripture can be explained in a multiplicity of senses, one should adhere to a particular explanation only in such measure as to be ready to abandon it if it be proved with certainty to be false, lest Holy Scripture be exposed to the ridicule of unbelievers, and obstacles be placed to their believing. – Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica (1273).

In the last 150 years or so, most Christians have now come to reject conspiracy theory explanations for fossils, for example, and have realised that it is inappropriate to treat the Bible as a scientific text book. Regretably, the main source of ideological blindness today is not conventional religion; it is adherence to free-market economics. Therefore, it is important that we acknowledge the ideological nature of the communication problem we face: The research by Prof Lewandowsky and others has discovered a tendency for libertarians to prefer conspiracy theories to reality. Perhaps, therefore, it is not surprising that it has been attacked; as no-one likes to be told they are deluding themselves. However, roadblocks to policy change will not be cleared by social and political scientists telling libertarians that they are deluded. All that will do is confirm their suspicions and reinforce their prejudices! No, what is needed is for climate scientists to be bolder in stating the facts. However, sadly, the majority of climate scientists seem content to continue to soft-soap the issue; afraid of “telling it to people straight” because it may induce despair. No, it is not too late to prevent an ecological catastrophe. However, I am certain that we are now very short of time and – as everyone from the International Energy Agency, the Pentagon and the IMF agree – further delay will not be cost-effective. At the same time, I think social and political scientists need to focus on debunking the ‘New World Order’ conspiracy myth and pointing out the logical fallacy in the idea that all Greens are Communists in disguise (the so-called ‘Watermelons’). The environment has become a political football when it is nothing of the kind. It is our life support system and we have pushed it near to the point of collapse – as E.F. Schumacher once said – by mistaking Nature’s capital for a form of income. Therefore, if we do not change course, bankruptcy would seem inevitable.

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About Rick Altman

Possibly just another 'Climate Cassandra' crying 'Wolf' in cyberspace. However, the moral of the old children's story is that the Wolf eventually turned up!
This entry was posted in Climate Science, Cognitive Dissonance, Denial, Economics, Environment, Liberalism, Politics, Psychology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

48 Responses to The elephant in the room with Lewandowsky

  1. catweazle666 says:

    >>However, it may be achieved by pointing out to people that Limits to Growth and Peak Oil have halted the progress of globalised Capitalism already<< I'm afraid not, Rick. "Peak Oil" is a bust, so one of the major "Limits to Growth" has ceased to exist. UK Shale Gas Numbers Could Be Stratospheric For the second time in the last couple of months, the London Times reports industry sources as claiming the upcoming British Geological Survey’s (BGS) official assessment of UK shale reserves, due next month, will be “increased dramatically”. If the report is to be believed, the figures being touted for domestic reserves could well prove to be a dazzling “200 times greater than experts previously believed”. The Times suggests that the BGS’s previous estimate of 5.3 trillion cubic feet is likely to be increased to a huge 1,300 to 1,700 trillion cubic feet. And that would be “enough shale gas to heat every home in Britain for 1,500 years.” http://www.energytribune.com/73234/uk-shale-gas-numbers-could-be-stratospheric#sthash.9FeyWoK3.Sz4fM41I.dpuf Using the Fischer-Tropsch process to convert that gas to liquid petroleum products, that gives quite a few years before we run out of fossil fuels. Meanwhile, the Chinese – who as you know have LOTS of coal, are building a big coal-to-oil plant…

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    • Rick Altman says:

      The Chinese do not dispute climate science or the nature of reality. Please read Patrice’s response to your remarks regarding Peak Oil (i.e. below). Regarding shale gas and fracking: Just because we can do something does not mean we should do it. The future habitability of planet Earth will depend on humans being able to take CO2 out of the atmosphere faster than we are putting it there. Even some advocates of fracking (e.g. Professor Peter Styles at Keele) admit we are unlikely to ever be able to do this unless we get drastically reduce global emissions. Therefore, rather than subsidising the exploitation of unconventional fossil fuels, we should be pursuing any and all measures to reduce emissions (including subsidising investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy).

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    • ScaredAmoeba says:

      ‘”Peak Oil” is a bust, so one of the major “Limits to Growth” has ceased to exist.’ – This appears to be an argument for an infinite Earth. Because in the real world, finite resources and indefinite exponential growth are utterly incompatible… Except, perhaps, in a Carrollian world that can only be viewed through a looking-glass, by a person called Alice. I call it BS.

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      • Rick Altman says:

        …and I would not disagree with you.

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      • Schlomo Wahl says:

        The science is based on the flimsiest of movements in the data. Climate models project catastrophe. Whole Green-Industrial-Political Complex is being build around our ears. Upon the most superficial of examinations, none of this adds up. Upon much closer scrutiny it positively stinks. All this business is very disconcerting and you wander why there is ‘Deniers’.

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      • Rick Altman says:

        Hi Schlomo. If by ‘science’ you mean climate – I am not going to repeat myself further, but would refer you to the words of Barack Obama: https://anthropocenereality.wordpress.com/2013/06/26/obama-climate-change-sceptics-flat-earth-society/ However, if you are referring to the concept of ‘peak oil’, I think you forget this was predicted by one of your own – M King Hubbert; and that resource depletion is not a Communist conspiracy: https://anthropocenereality.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/how-can-resource-depletion-be-sustainable/

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      • Schlomo Wahl says:

        Hi Again Rick, Don’t worry, I’ve been on top of Barak Obama’s proclamations. To you it is good news, to me it is very worrying further development. http://nationalreview.com/article/352690/obamas-global-warming-folly-charles-krauthammer

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      • Rick Altman says:

        Dear Schlomo, Barack Obama is almost certainly just setting himself up with a pre-text to permit the Keystone XL Pipeline (based on the argument that we will eventually find a way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere). I therefore see nothing in his speech that should alarm you (apart from the fact that he is willing to accept that anthropogenic CO2 is the primary cause of the changes we are now witnessing). I think you and I have pretty much exhausted the potential for a constructive exchange of views. However, in a final attempt to help you appreciate the ideological filter through which you are viewing recent history, can I suggest you read this PDF of a thirteen year old article by Aaron McCright and Riley Dunlap: ‘Challenging Global Warming as a Social Problem: An Analysis of the Conservative Movement’s Counter-Claims’, Social Problems 47(4) pp. 499-522. Yours very sincerely, Rick Altman.

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      • Schlomo Wahl says:

        Hi Rick, Long time no speak. I had a look at the pdf you directed me to and of course it is too long to read fully but I got the jist. Same bollocks over and over for 13 years (or more). huh ? What do you think will settle the issue ? Perhaps time. My take is that at the moment the results of ‘the science’ are not on your side i.e. atmospheric temperatures steady for a decade and half while CO2 increase on the up – models fail to predict. But policy is on your side. Ie: ‘mitigation’ policies are somehow going full throttle (somewhat constrained by democracy). I am sensing another barrier to your ideology coming up. I wonder what you think of this. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2362762/The-dirty-secret-Britains-power-madness-Polluting-diesel-generators-built-secret-foreign-companies-kick-theres-wind-turbines–insane-true-eco-scandals.html Speak soon, Schlomo

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      • Rick Altman says:

        You are just repeating yourself, Schlomo: The 15 year hiatus in land surface warming does not invalidate anything; as most of the excess heat trapped by GHGs is accumulating in the oceans that cover much of the Earth’s surface (melting the ice floating in it). Alternatively, if you choose to believe that warming has stopped, you are choosing to believe that our basic understanding of the underlying science is completely wrong; and that the vast majority of experts are fools or liars. This is called conspiracy theory; and it is not credible. However, I admit that, if I relied upon the Daily Mail to educate me regarding climate science, I would not think like this.

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    • ScaredAmoeba says:

      Whenever I read about shale-gas and fracking, it’s sold as the best thing since sliced-bread. It’s cheap, clean, safe and abundant. Which reminds me of NASA under Dubya Bush, the new NASA was going to be faster, better, cheaper – except it wasn’t. Hydraulic-fracturing would likewise seem to be too good to be true. And we know what almost always happens when that is the case. There are a number of serious questions about fracking and shale-gas, and I’m not aware they have been adequately answered. The aspect of fugitive methane is particularly worrying. Meanwhile, it’s a fossil-fuel industry delaying tactic and a distraction from what we should be doing, investing, developing and rolling-out sustainable zero-carbon technologies – renewables, energy efficiency, incrementing exponential carbon taxes and probably nuclear power too. I believe the Chinese are investing heavily in sustainable technologies.

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  2. Patrice Ayme says:

    Mr.666 above does not seem to have acquired the notion of CHEAP peak oil. That’s passed and done with. Peak cheap oil is definitively passed, even with the Faustian pact with the Saudi plutocratic family dripping with blood: http://patriceayme.wordpress.com/2012/01/01/peak-cheap-oil-passed/ Watch Learning From Dogs today/tomorrow for my main plutocratic theory. BTW, it’s compatible with Chrsitianity’s Dark Vision… And science? Well, that’s what we know. But we have to distinguish thoroughly established science (say basic chemistry), and tentative science (say the Standard Model of particle physics, or the Big Bang). PA

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  3. Now that you’ve read Lewandowsky’s first paper you will know that its full title is “NASA faked the moon landing – Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science”. You may not know (since it’s not in the paper) how many respondents thought that NASA faked the moon landing (ten out of 1154 – less than 1%) or how many of those were climate sceptics (four out of ten, two of whom were almost certainly fake responses). It was the connection between conspiracy theory and climate scepticism which got Lewandowsky a mass of favourable publicity at the New Yorker, Scientific American, Huffington Post, Guardian, etc. None of the articles pointed out that the paper was riddled with errors and absurdities. Neither the methodology nor the results are accurately described in the paper. Besides the hate mail, Lewandowsky also got a lot of critical comments at various websites. This criticism formed the data for the second paper “Recursive Fury” which was twice corrected as a result of threats of legal action, and has now been removed from the site of the publishers “Frontiers in Personality Science” pending an enquiry. The abstract is still available at http://www.frontiersin.org/Personality_Science_and_Individual_Differences/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00073/abstract together with an erratum correcting one of the errors. The comments under the abstract and the erratum will give you a taste of some of the problems with the paper. As a left-wing climate sceptic, I agree entirely with you about the hollowness of the “watermelon” analysis.

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    • Rick Altman says:

      Thanks for taking the time to visit and comment, Geoff. Since this post could have been seen as proof of the validity of the ‘Watermelon’ meme, I am glad to hear you accept it does not prove anything of the kind: Just because I point out that antecedent adherence to libertarian ideology is the main thing preventing ACD mitigation does not make me (or anyone else) a Communist. However, I am completely bemused by your claim to be a “left-wing sceptic” because the whole point of this post (and the two that preceded it) was to demonstrate that – apart from such antecedent ideological prejudice – the only other justification for being sceptical about ACD is belief in either a scientific or political conspiracy to foist environmental alarmism upon a credulous public. If, however, you feel you have an alternative justification, I would love to hear it. For the record, the deliberately provocative title of Lewandowsky’s first paper does not invalidate the analysis it contains. Furthermore, since Stephan Lewandowsky has given me PDFs of both papers, I am well aware of the threats of legal action (very reminiscent of Cuccinelli vs Mann) that has spooked the owners of the Psychology (as opposed to Climatology) website. Presumably, any genuine flaws in the research contained in either paper will be discussed in the academic literature in the future (unless, of course, there is a conspiracy of silence amongst academics).

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      • I don’t know where you get the idea that: “the only other justification for being sceptical about ACD (anthropogenic climate disruption) is belief in either a scientific or political conspiracy to foist environmental alarmism upon a credulous public.” The only scientific theory in town is that of anthropogenic global warming. Along with 97% of sceptics, I don’t reject it, which is why the papers by Lewandowsky, Anderegg, Doran, Oreskes, Cook and dozens of others are entirely beside the point. What we sceptics reject is the confident prediction of high climate sensitivity (the warming to be expected from a doubling of CO2) of 4 C or more. Recent scientific estimates based on empirical evidence, as opposed to mathematical models, suggest a figure of around 1.5 C, as opposed to the 3 C estimated by the IPCC in their last (2007) report. Since the IPCC agrees that a rise of up to 2 C is likely to be beneficial overall, there seems to be little to worry about for the next 50-100 years or so. As to the connection between libertarianism, conspiracist ideation and climate scepticism, it seems to me obvious that those who reject big government, or who don’t believe the official version of events like 9/11, are more likely to be sceptical of other official theories, such as global warming. The problem with Lewandowsky lies not in the hypothesis he aims to test, but in the fact that his research is rubbish from beginning to end. I used to work in market research, and if I’d conducted a survey like that I’d have been thrown out of the Market Research Society. For more detailed criticisms, see my blog http://geoffchambers.wordpress.com/category/stephan-lewandowsky/ On libertarianism, please note that there is a leftwing version, as well as a rightwing version. I’ve always thought of myself as a leftwing authoritarian (Old Labour, in British terms). But what does it matter, since what the climate does over the next hundred years is entirely independent of your politics or mine. Note: both your links in the article go to the first “Moon Hoax” paper. I give a link to the second paper in my previous comment.

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      • Rick Altman says:

        Thanks for alerting me to the duplication of my own links to the two articles (now corrected using yours). I should like to acknowledge the things on which we agree: Namely (1) that beliefs in conspiracy theories tend to be habit-forming and (2) that nature of scientific reality is not affected by our prejudices. However, I am once again bemused by your describing yourself a left-wing authoritarian as I think the World’s most famous one of those is buried in Highgate Cemetery in north London. Unlike the research that suggests 97% of relevant researchers accept the view that climate change is primarily being driven by human activity, I have never seen any surveys supporting your assertion that 97% of sceptics do so (although I agree that this will happen eventually because, one-by-one, the six pillars of climate change denial are being knocked down). With regard to your assertions about climate sensitivity, you are either woefully misinformed (at worst) or out-of-date (at best). If the consensus view was that climate sensitivity was low, organisations such as the IEA, Pentagon and IMF would not have concluded (as they have done) that the longer we now take to minimise CO2 emissions the more expensive it will become to deal with the adverse consequences. Seen in this light, and that of all the other increasingly alarming projections of temperature rise that have emerged since 2007, your reference to IPCC AR4 is ridiculous. Furthermore, it is even more unwise, when you consider that the IPCC has always underestimated the scale and urgency of the problem (as indeed it continues to do by ignoring positive feedback mechanisms). I would therefore recommend that you read the IIED report in 2009 entitled, ‘Assessing the costs of adaptation to climate change: A review of the UNFCCC and other recent estimates’ (PDF here). If Lewandowsky’s research is as bad as you say, can I suggest you get your criticisms published in the same journal he did.

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      • ScaredAmoeba says:

        “Since the IPCC agrees that a rise of up to 2 C is likely to be beneficial overall,” Would you care to provide a source for this claim? Because I believe this is a mischaracterisation of the IPCC’s position.

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      • Rick Altman says:

        As I have said to Geoff, for this to be true, the IPCC would have had to conclude that benefits will outweigh disadvantages. Although many have criticised the IPCC for underestimating the costs, I am not aware of anyone criticising the IPCC for claiming there will be a net benefit (which they would have done if the IPCC had ever said it). This really is the most bizarre inversion of reality I have ever seen. On this evidence alone, Geoff appears to be so far down the rabbit hole that I do not think anyone will be able to reach him (so I think he will just have to climb out by himself).

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  4. Good news. Lewandowsky’s second paper though not the supplementary material) is available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3600613/ In the all-important table 3 you can see how four of us are accused by name of “conspiracist ideation” and its constituent parts “accusations of nefarious intent”, “counterfactual thinking”, “persecuted victim” etc. This concept is something Lewandowsky has cobbled together with reference to peer-reviewed papers on anti-semitism in Malaysia, the Iran Contra scandal, homophobia among men who have sex with men, etc. It all fits. And it’s all used to fit up four named individuals as paranoid fruitcakes. The problem is, it doesn’t. Quotes are truncated, mangled, and attributed to the wrong person. Irony is ignored, and all the time that we were pointing out the errors in Lewandwsky’s first paper, he was refusing to answer valid questions and publishing bitchy articles about us (about ten in a fortnight, I believe) on an official site of the University of Western Australia. It’s a fascinating story. I urge you to explore it before these two papers disappear down the memory hole.

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    • Rick Altman says:

      As I have said in response to your other comment, Geoff, I already have complete PDFs of both articles. I am also in contact with some of the people tasked with reviewing and validating the research. Apart from the point made here in this particular blog posting, Lewandowsky et al have highlighted the fact that the majority of people who dispute climate science on the grounds that it is either a scientific or political conspiracy* also tend to invoke conspiracy theory explanations for other things as well. This is not really that surprising because, as David Aaronovitch pointed out in his book ‘Voodoo Histories: How Conspiracy Theory Shaped Modern History’, conspiracy theories are generally ‘bedtime stories’ and/or ‘history written by the losers’. * As opposed to a genuine scientific consensus founded on 150 years of scientific theory testing and computer modelling, the validation of which can only be disputed by cherry-picking the minority of data that appears to contradict it. Further reading: https://anthropocenereality.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/all-that-is-wrong-with-the-market-place-of-ideas/ https://anthropocenereality.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/a-conspiracy-theory-of-my-own/ https://anthropocenereality.wordpress.com/2011/09/08/conspiracy-theory-history-for-losers/ https://anthropocenereality.wordpress.com/2011/09/10/agw-denial-possibly-the-greatest-false-flag-operation-in-human-history/ https://anthropocenereality.wordpress.com/2012/02/27/climategate-2-0-the-final-nail-in-the-coffin-of-climate-change-denial/

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      • I haven’t read Aaronovitch’s book, but I recently read an interesting account of the seventies by Francis Wheen “Strange Days Indeed: The Golden Age of Paranoia (2009)”. He deals at length with many of the conspiracy theories used in Lewandowsky’s survey (the Kennedy assassination, etc) but points out that there really were conspiracies (see e.g. the Church Commission, which revealed conspiracies by the CIA to murder Castro). It’s generally accepted that the National Socialists were probably responsible for the Reichstag fire, though the evidence is no stronger than that suggesting that Johnson killed Kennedy. Sometimes winners get to impose their conspiracy theory too. On your main point, it is simply not true that: “Lewandowsky et al have highlighted the fact that the majority of people who dispute climate science on the grounds that it is either a scientific or political conspiracy also tend to invoke conspiracy theory explanations for other things as well.” Look at the figures. Very few of the sceptics that he picked up in his on-line survey conducted at anti-sceptic blogs believed that lady Di was assassinated by the Royal Family, etc. We pointed this out on numerous blog threads. Lewandowsky et al compiled our criticisms in their second paper and accused us of being counterfactual conspiracist nefarious fruitcakes, just like the Malaysian anti-semites and South African homosexual homophobics cited in their bibliography. Four of us are named in the paper, dozens more in the supplementary information. Sorry, we’re not taking it lying down. Professor Richard Betts of the British Meteorological Office and IPCC Lead Author, who is one of the subjects of this survey, has described Lewandowsky as “delusional”. I have gone somewhat further in my comments at my blog.

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      • Rick Altman says:

        I agree that there were and are conspiracies. Indeed, I believe that the movie ‘Greedy Lying Bastards’ exposes the most insidious one today. In that, just as the tobacco industry did, the fossil fuel industry is spending billions of USD paying people like Richard Lindzen, Pat Michaels and Roy Spencer to perpetuate a spurious debate about science we have well understood since at least the time that JFK was assassinated (by a lone gunman). In complete contrast to this conspiracy (for which there is a great deal of documentary evidence and – as just noted – an historical precedent), there is no evidence of a scientific conspiracy (to perpetuate research funding) or a political conspiracy (to justify higher levels of overall taxation). On the contrary, all the evidence suggests that, because of the way it was set up, the IPCC has consistently under-estimated or under-reported the nature, scale and urgency of the ACD problem. In focussing on the research methods Lewandowsky et al used, I think you have failed to understand (or chosen to ignore) the basics of the statistical techniques used to analyse the significance of the data collected. However, as I said, I suggest you take your criticism to a peer reviewed journal and, if you think you have been defamed, take someone to Court. Personally-speaking, since you appear to accept the premise that libertarianism and conspiracy theory ideation can be used to predict the disputation of climate science – at a time where positive feedback mechanisms are producing increasingly dire predictions for the consequences of not rapidly reducing CO2 emissions – both courses of action would seem to me to be absurd.

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  5. To the left of centre says:

    Reblogged this on To the left of centre and commented: I haven’t been posting much lately as I’ve been busy with other things. I, however, have recently come across this article about the work of Stephan Lewandowsky. He is a cognitive scientist in the School of Experimental Psychology at the University of Bristol. He has published a couple about why some people seem to reject (deny?) many of the findings of climate science. The post that I’m reblogging is reporting on a couple of his papers and suggesting that there is a link between having a libertarian (free-market) ideology and rejecting climate science. If you’ve read any of my other posts, you’ll know I have real issues with the basic tenets of free-market thinking and with those who reject climate science, so this post certainly gels with my thinking and it is interesting that it is based on published work in cognitive science. Doesn’t make it right, I guess, but I would recommend giving it a reading.

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  6. This is a reply to your 10.44 29 May message above: There is no research that suggests 97% of relevant researchers accept the view that climate change is primarily being driven by human activity. The only research which questioned “relevant researchers” is Doran and Zimmerman, and they didn’t ask about “primarily driven”. They sent out a 30-second on-line questionnaire to 30,000 scientists and based their 97% response on the 75 out of 77 relevant respondents who answered yes to their two questions. Even the IPCC won’t commit themselves to saying that climate change is primarily being driven by human activity. The other source of the “97% agreement” meme is the recent paper by John Cook et al. His method was to get together with his mates and discuss what they thought 13,000 climate papers were about, judging by the abstracts. They also got to 97% by chucking out all the ones they didn’t like. John Cook is Lewandowsky’s co-author on the “Recursive Fury” paper – the one that accuses me of counterfactual thinking and of making accusations of nefarious intent against Lewandowsky. The problem is, he told Lewandowsky he’d advertise the first “Moon landing Hoax” survey at his blog “SkepticalScience”, but he didn’t. Then he lied to me about it, and Lewandowsky repeated the lie in his paper. The methodology of both papers is therefore false, which is why the second one has been removed from the site and enquiries are being conducted at both journals. I was being facetious when I mentioned “97% of climate sceptics..”. In fact most of us accept the probability that man-made greenhouse gases are heating the atmosphere. The crucial question is: “How much?” Observed temperature rises over the 60-odd years in which we have been emitting significant quantities of CO2 suggest that the answer is “not much”. So “Anthropogenic Climate Disruption” remains an unproved hypothesis. [Nonsense: If you accept there is an energy imbalance at the top of the atmosphere you should accept that the excess heat is still going somewhere and it is – it is being absorbed by the oceans that cover most of the planet’s surface. – ML] No, I’m not woefully misinformed about climate sensitivity. A number of recent papers based on empirical data (the most recent by Nic Lewis) suggest a climate sensitivity (and a transient temperature response, which is apparently the more relevant figure) around 1.5 C, whereas the computer models favoured by the IPCC put it in the range of 2-4.5 C. [Nonsense: See http://www.skepticalscience.com/climate-sensitivity.htm – ML] I don’t think New Frontiers would publish any paper I sent them. They’d probably send it for peer-review to the same guy who peer-reviewed Lewandowsky’s paper, Dr Viren Swami. I was rather rude in a recent post about Dr Swami’s paper: “Perception of Female Buttocks and Breast Size in Profile”. [I was being sarcastic. You have more chance of being awarded a Nobel Prize for English Literature. – ML]

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    • Rick Altman says:

      Perhaps I am not being direct enough with you, Geoff. Or maybe I credit you with too much intelligence and am being too brief. Either way, if you want me to stop snipping large chunks out of your comments, please stop telling me or explaining to me things I already know and stay on topic (your grievances against Lewandowsky being off-topic). For the record, to me, you clearly are guilty of counter-factual thinking (or at least spending too much time reading junk on WUWT). This is because, having reviewed all the scientific research: 1. The IPCC have most definitely not concluded that 2C will be beneficial (i.e. which would require the benefits to be greater than the costs – see also my post today); whereas 2. They have concluded that humans are almost certainly the main cause of climate change (i.e. because 800k years of CO2 data indicates we are not just coming out of the LIA). In both cases, you are trying to argue that black is white. I was not born yesterday, and I did not just wake up one day and decide to uncritically accept what climate scientists tell me. I looked at the arguments of those that dispute it and realised that they are not consistent with the vast majority of the evidence. Therefore, with the greatest of respect, please go and read some of the things to which I referred you above (especially the introduction to IIED’s 2009 report on the under-estimation of adaptation costs) or, if you are not willing to look at all the evidence that is incompatible with your assertions, please just go away.

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      • You’re quite right about the IPCC. What I should have said is that the IPCC accepts that any rise of up to 2 C will have some beneficial effects (e.g. longer growing seasons in temperate regions – a pretty uncontroversial claim). I was therefore wrong to claim that the IPCC “agrees that a rise of up to 2 C is likely to be beneficial overall”. But describing my poor wording as “the most bizarre inversion of reality I have ever seen” does seem a little over the top. On climate sensitivity, I mentioned “a number of recent studies”. At the Skepticalscience article you refer me to, the latest study is dated 2007. On your point (2), the IPCC have never “concluded that humans are almost certainly the main cause of climate change”. They are 90% certain that man is having some unquantified effect. That’s all. But that’s enough about climate change. Your article isn’t about climate change, after all, but about Professof Lewandowsky’s theories about people like me. I’m therefore a little surprised that my grievances against Lewandowsky should be considered off-topic.

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      • Rick Altman says:

        This post is focussed on the fact that the research of Lewandowsky et al confirmed the finding of many other previous studies – that libertarian ideology prejudices people against accepting scientific facts that challenge the wisdom of burning all the Earths fossil fuels simply because they are there.

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  7. The hubris of deniers who also have huge expectations of fracking and the future of oil may just have their brains wired up in a different way. I’ve mentioned stupid white men in the past and, despite their wilful ignorance, some held good jobs and did them well. Not all those who deny AGW are active spamming, denier trolls. In the most part people don’t have much of an opinion, they have other things on their minds. The deniers we talk of are a minority. My partner’s Uncle came and stayed for a few days: I was warned but, despite having autistic or aspergers tendencies, he was interesting to talk to and bright. What he could not get his head around was that living in east mid Wales most people are similar in accent and language to English county neighbours yet we had dual language [Welsh/English] road signs- information etc. Surely because few people used Welsh and were more ‘English’ there would be no need for dual language- I tried explaining but gave up. Another anecdote is psychopathy among CEOs being four times what it is in the population at large. The commonality is that people think differently, their minds are wired up in a different way: I think it took till my 30s to realise that people don’t think like me and another decade to realise that humans occupy different points on the wide spectrum what we call normal. Each mindset has a value- I want my surgeon to be cold and indifferent but take huge pride in their work, and there are lots of areas where a degree of objectivity is appropriate. I wonder about hubris- if someone points out a flaw in something I have done or wrote, I would stand corrected: I don’t want to come across as stupid. If I make a poor judgement at work it may be sometime before I reconsider my actions and in the meantime I will make excuses to justify my judgement. It is very difficult to pin down deniers why and when they became skeptics. I get the impression they have always taken that stance. You can correct them on obvious flaws in their argument- hide the decline- being an obvious quote mine or the 70s ice age which is easily debunked. If they are unable to be wrong then the only step is to concoct a conspiracy theory. If it is about having different brains then some brain scan research might identify what is going on in the same way we are exploring the minds of teenagers. If a tiny number of CEOs [5%] who are psychopaths are directly influencing how everyone does business then a tiny number of denialist are able to poison the debate.

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    • Rick Altman says:

      Jules, Jules, Jules. When will you learn. Deniers are not skeptics. This is tautological nonsense. As I pointed out to Oakwood on LfD yesterday:

      Despite the claims of a handful of fossil fuel industry-funded contrarians (like Richard Lindzen, Pat Michaels, and Roy Spencer), the consensus regarding climate science today is not an irrational construct designed to protect an obscurantist Establishment. Therefore, far from being like Galileo, people who continue to dispute this consensus are comparable to those who insist that the Earth was created in 6 days about 6000 years ago. Yes, it is possible to believe that if you want to, but, to do so, you must reject all the evidence that conflicts with your beliefs (because you have already decided what the truth is). This is not scepticism, it is willful blindness. (emphasis added)

      Thanks for the rest of the comments, BTW.

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      • scientists are sceptics, fake sceptics are skeptics hence the spelling. But using the word sceptics just adds variety to terms for deniers but you know what I mean. The sad thing thing is that is possible to be a genuine AGW sceptic- Richard North [not Booker’s mate- the other one] is one. And it is very possible to have an open mind on consequences- the danger is labelling anyone who’s opinion is ‘sceptical’ of AGW a denier- I think only a few are deniers and the rest follow the trend and calling the vast bulk of ‘sceptics’ deniers is counter productive. They are most likely just ordinary people who don’t want to be told they are stupid. The 3 or 5% who are spamming, trolling deniers are they powerhouse of denial- they are the ones I think have very different mindsets. [and invoking the Nazis at this point the evil was powered by a tiny group and most people were no-doubt decent but disillusioned] The issue is how to deal with this influence – if we attack everyone with the same brush [!] then I think we will fail. The trick will be to single out the ring leaders and ignore, yet be polite to the masses.

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      • Rick Altman says:

        Is this anything more than your own personal opinion, Jules? …As far as I am concerned, ‘skeptic’ is just the phonetic way that Americans spell ‘sceptic’. If you want to distinguish between scepticism and fake- or pseudo-scepticism, I think it would be best to use the terms “fake scepticism” or “pseudo-scepticism”… Mind you, that’s just my personal opinion! 😉

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      • I am trying to make [what I think] is an important point which is the distinction between the core looney deniers and members of the public who are AGW sceptics. The latter should not be attacked or branded looney or called deniers- it is their opinion that will eventually determine the political actions of change. If they are alienated they will adopt Galileo Complex and be happily led by the real loons. The rise of fascism/populist right uses the same tactics of getting public support to feel they are being attacked when it is the organisers of denial who are really being challenged. It happens all the time and it works. If Farage is outed as a loony UKIP respond by saying the voters have been attacked, the voters feel they are being attacked and become even more entrenched in delusion.

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      • Rick Altman says:

        Yes, Jules, and I generally agree with the point you have been trying to make. Barry Woods (guest author on WUWT and persistent agnostic) has made the same point to me very forcefully many times. However, the fact remains that the disputation of climate science today is irrational and counter-factual and it is being driven by a handful of ideologically if not theologically prejudiced contrarian scientists (who are therefore incapable of being rational). As you say, all the other ‘sceptics’ are adamant that they are being rational (when they are simply being misled or misinformed). I know this runs the risk of alienating people but I am just highlighting the reality of the situation. Thanks again for being tenacious enough to make sure your point was understood. I did understand it and I apologise if my attempt at humour was in danger of obscuring it.

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      • I don’t have the answers- but we are moving into a vital end game concerning public support. It is so bad that I think many will be relieved when the Arctic is ice free in the next 5 years which is terrible however this extraordinary milestone will dismiss much nonsense. Awful but true [IMO]. ps the humour is fine.

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      • Rick Altman says:

        Apart from members of the VHEMT, no-one actively looks forward to an unfolding catastrophe. However, sadly, I think it will take something like Hurricane Sandy becoming an annual occurrence to make a lot of people wake up… 1 in 100 year events becoming annual events has the kind of statistical significance that even Classics graduates from Cambridge* should be able to grasp. * Like Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount of Brenchley.

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    • Barry Woods says:

      ‘Hide the Decline’ ? Try mentioning your theory to Prof Jonathan Jones (Quantum Physics, Oxford Uni) J Jones: “However, “hide the decline” is an entirely different matter. This is not a complicated technical matter on which reasonable people can disagree: it is a straightforward and blatant breach of the fundamental principles of honesty and self-criticism that lie at the heart of all true science. The significance of the divergence problem is immediately obvious, and seeking to hide it is quite simply wrong. The recent public statements by supposed leaders of UK science, declaring that hiding the decline is standard scientific practice are on a par with declarations that black is white and up is down. I don’t know who they think they are speaking for, but they certainly aren’t speaking for me……” Jonathan Jones http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/02/25/currys-2000-comment-question-can-anyone-defend-%E2%80%9Chide-the-decline%E2%80%9D/ same guy FOI’d CRU for their data (on principle)… and won

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      • yawn… create doubt spread fear exaggerate uncertainty

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      • Rick Altman says:

        The “hide the decline” comment was either completely innocent or else the MBH98 graph (and all others that have followed it) is a piece of science fiction. The truth is, of course, the former. As numerous inquiries established when they looked at the context, this comment was a reference to the decision to splice the instrumental data onto the end of proxy data at the point where the two data sets diverge. Although the reason for this divergence is not clear, it would not make sense to use proxy data when you have instrumental data. Even Richard Muller (BEST) has conceded that the late 20th Century instrumental warming is real (i.e. that the MBH98 hockey Stick graph is real) and, in so doing, unwittingly conceded that the “hide the decline” controversy was entirely bogus. I think it is about time that you did too. https://anthropocenereality.wordpress.com/2011/10/26/questions-for-dr-richard-a-muller/

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  8. Barry Woods says:

    As Rick has missed me, (just a little?) Here is Watts Up With That taking apart the ‘slayers’ who are the only small group that might be described as the ‘deniers’ of physics… http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/05/28/slaying-the-slayers-with-watts-part-2/ Like with Geoff, (or Anthony Watts) I have absolutely no issue with the earth has warmed, a contribution human, the issue is how much and how much more. Then we get into the policy debate, which should be separate from the science. Like Geoff, I made it into the Lewandowsky, Cook et al ‘Recursive Fury’ paper, but had a good laugh. As so did ‘Richard Betts’ (who the researchers did not know was Prof Richard Betts, Met Office, Head of Climate Impacts, and IPCC AR4, AR5 lead author). Richard, it might be worth noting, described this paper and the authors as ‘deluded’.

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  9. [This is my reply to Rick Altman 2 June 2013 at 19:16, but there’s no reply button below your comment so I’m putting it here] Really? I know of no other such papers. Lewandowsky certainly doesn’t quote any. If I remember rightly, he laments the fact there are few papers connecting libertarian thought with catastrophic anthropogenic warming, let alone the more specific question of what to do with unmined fossil fuels. It would of course be absurd for someone calling themselves libertarian, whether of the left or of the right, to try and dictate to a poor country like China or South Africa (or Poland or Britain, for that matter) what they should do with their fossil fuel deposits. Your position, as a conservative “warmist”, is the mirror image of mine, as a leftwing climate denier. This intrigues me. Last year I had a public discussion with Dr Adam Corner, psychologist, climate activist, and promoter of Professor Lewandowsky, at http://talkingclimate.org/understanding-climate-scepticism-a-sceptic-responds/ The discussion was civilised, though hardly conclusive, and was picked up by a number of blogs, including Climate Etc., the blog of climate scientist Judith Curry of Georgia Tech, and provoked a lot of discussion. Would you be interested in a similar discussion on our different points of view, to be published on both our blogs simultaneously? The fact that we both hold political views at variance with our views on climate change would add interest to our discussion. You can choose your specific subjects for discussion. In the meantime, I’m about to download your book and read it, if I can get the Kindle thingy to work.

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    • Rick Altman says:

      If there is no reply button (i.e. because there is a 3-tier limit to the nesting of comments) you should scroll upwards until you find a reply button (in the previous comment or tier). Yes, Geoff, I would very much like to investigate why you don’t accept the reality, reliability, or reasonability of the modern-day consensus regarding climate science. However, I am not sure how you can publish an online discussion in two places simultaneously? Thanks for you interest in reading my book. If you are open-minded enough to read it, I would also recommend that you read the books that compelled me to publish the research it contains, as detailed here.

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      • I’ll start with your book, if you don’t mind, and leave the others for the moment. The way it worked with Corner was like this: you contact me via my email, propose a subject and a first comment. I reply, and once we’ve formed an interesting dialogue privately (at least three POVs each, I’d say) we agree to publish simultaneously on our two blogs. Someone who was a bit computer-savvy could probably propose a simple way for commenters to comment on both blogs simultaneously. Otherwise, I suggest we propose commenting on one blog only, to simplify things.Contact me via my email for further discussion.

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      • Rick Altman says:

        Dear Geoff, I want to be sure you do not buy my book under false pretences (and then complain it was misrepresented to you). It is not a book about climate science (as I am not a climate scientist), it is a summary of my analysis of things said or written by people in the UK who dispute the reality, reliability and/or reasonableness of the scientific consensus. Therefore, it barely mentions conspiracy theories; and does not mention Stephan Lewandowsky at all. Given the way in which you appear to be cyber-stalking Lewandowsky, I am not sure I want to disclose my email address to you. However, leaving aside my possible paranoia over being subject to an email hate campaign by people like you, I also think that I have already said as much as I can say or, at least, I have directed you to where I have said it. For example:

        There is simply no evidence for [a] left-wing conspiracy to over-tax and over-regulate people (so as to make everyone poorer). Whereas, there is a great deal of evidence for a right-wing conspiracy to under-tax and under-regulate industry (so as to make a few people richer). — To all who say AGW is junk science (4 October 2011).

        See also Most scientists don’t believe AGW is happening(?) (22 September 2011). Having said that, I can only repeat that I see the whole left-right dichotomy thing as a massive distraction from addressing the reality of the science (see also my responses to Barry Woods on this page). Contrary to what you (and Barry) claim, all the evidence suggests that climate science has nothing to do with politics. People who want to exercise power go into politics not climate science and, sadly, people who understand climate science generally do not go into politics. Having read Aaronovitch’s Voodoo Histories, I am a big fan of Occam’s Razor and – if the simplest explanation fits all the facts (i.e. most climate scientists have been concerned about ACD for decades) – I have no need of much more complex explanations (i.e. most climate scientists are attempting some kind of right-wing coup d’etat) that do not fit all the facts. http://whowhatwhy.com/2012/02/18/which-is-more-likely-a-conspiracy-of-millions-or-oil-companies-doing-what-they-do/

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  10. Pingback: Guy McPherson and the Nemesis Effect at the ‘Age of Limits’ Conference, Part One | Collapse of Industrial Civilization

  11. Pingback: Altman of perspective | Anthropocene Reality

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