Blognitive Dissonance

Posted by Ben Pile on February 5, 2013
Feb 052013

Readers will no doubt remember climate change psychologist, Stephan Lewandowsky and his attempt to connect climate change denial and scepticism to conspiracy theories.

Lewandowsky et al’s paper, NASA faked the moon landing|Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science was published on the author’s university web site, though it was presented as ‘in press’, shortly to be published by the Journal of Psychological Science. However, in spite of being ‘in press’, the article never made it to hard copy.

We might reasonably be allowed to speculate what the reasons for the paper not making it to print were. One reason may be that it was, as has been widely observed, utter BS. Even Lewandowsky’s own colleagues pointed out its many flaws in methodology, and its naked attempt to diminish Lewandowsky’s opposites in the climate debate — climate bloggers.

Lewandowsky has returned, apparently with an analysis of the reactions to his unpublished, non-peer-reviewed paper. And it is published, in an ‘open-access’ journal,

Recursive fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation
Stephan Lewandowsky1*, John Cook1, 2, Klaus Oberauer1, 3 and Michael Hubble4
1 Psychology, University of Western Australia, Australia
2 Global Change Institute, The University of Queensland, Australia
3 Psychology, University of Zurich, Switzerland
4 Climate Realities Research, Australia
Conspiracist ideation has been repeatedly implicated in the rejection of scientific propositions, although empirical evidence to date has been sparse. A recent study involving visitors to climate blogs found that conspiracist ideation was associated with the rejection of climate science and the rejection of other scientific propositions such as the link between lung cancer and smoking, and between HIV and AIDS (Lewandowsky, Oberauer, & Gignac, in press; LOG12 from here on). This article analyzes the response of the climate blogosphere to the publication of LOG12. We identify and trace the hypotheses that emerged in response to LOG12 and that questioned the validity of the paper’s conclusions. Using established criteria to identify conspiracist ideation, we show that many of the hypotheses exhibited conspiratorial content and counterfactual thinking. For example, whereas hypotheses were initially narrowly focused on LOG12, some ultimately grew in scope to include actors beyond the authors of LOG12, such as university executives, a media organization, and the Australian government. The overall pattern of the blogosphere’s response to LOG12 illustrates the possible role of conspiracist ideation in the rejection of science, although alternative scholarly interpretations may be advanced in the future

It’s all the more remarkable that the reaction to the first, unpublished paper (referred to in the new paper as ‘LOG12′) should be the subject of a second paper, published in a journal with arguably far less credibility. Indeed, there is not even a link to LOG12 in the new paper, other than the citation:

Lewandowsky, S., Oberauer, K., & Gignac, G. E. (in press). NASA faked the moon landing|therefore (climate) science is a hoax: An anatomy of the motivated rejection of science. Psychological Science.

Still ‘in press’. Or is it? Perhaps the journal has decided, wisely, not to let themselves get dragged into Lewandowsky’s political war. Either way, readers of the new journal don’t get to see the substance of Lewandowsky’s earlier paper, nor the substantive criticisms of it — merely those which, on Lewandowsky et al’s view, demonstrate conspiracy theory ‘ideation’.

It’s a bit like comprehensively losing a football match 7-nil, but to only include in your retelling of the game one successful tackle. And that’s being generous to Lewandowsky. Because, not only does his new paper deny its readers a précis of his previous paper, he frames responses to it as ‘conspiracy ideation’, whereas in fact they were largely trying to establish exactly what it was he had done.

For instance, the new paper presents an unfolding story of sceptic’s reactions to the original paper:

“Skeptic” blogs not contacted (2). Initial attention of the blogosphere also focused on the method reported by LOG12, which stated: “Links were posted on 8 blogs (with a pro-science science stance but with a diverse audience); a further 5 `skeptic’ (or`skeptic’-leaning) blogs were approached but none posted the link.” Speculation immediately focused on the identity of the 5 “skeptic” bloggers. Within short order, 25 “skeptical” bloggers had come publicly forward (http://www.webcitation.org/6APs1GdzO) to state that they had not been approached by the researchers. Of those 25 public declarations, 5 were by individuals who were invited to post links to the study by LOG12 in 2010. Two of these bloggers had engaged in correspondence with the research assistant for further clarification.

This apparent failure to locate the “skeptic” bloggers led to allegations of research misconduct by LOG12 in blog posts and comments. Those suspicions were sometimes asserted with considerably {sic} confidence; “Lew made up the `5 skeptical blogs’ bit. That much we know” (http://www.bishop-hill.net/blog/2012/8/31/lewandowskys-data.html?currentPage=2#comments). One blog comment airing the suspicion that “skeptic” bloggers had not been contacted also provided the email address to which allegations of research misconduct could be directed at the host institution of LOG12′s first author. This comment was posted by an individual (SMcI; see Table 3) who had been contacted twice by the researchers’ assistant.

But self-evidently, it was the opacity of the first paper (LOG12) and its method that led to the bloggers’ speculation. Had Lewandowsky and his researchers been upfront about which blogs they had approached and when and by whom, there would have been no confusion. But on Lewandowsky’s view, speculation about his methodology counts as ‘conspiracy ideation’, which is to say that wondering out loud about whether or not Lewandowsky had done what he had claimed to have done betrays a similar mode of thought that convinces people that the CIA organised the assassination of JFK.

Blog comments, like blogs, vary in their quality. They can be breath-takingly bad, or conversely, knock you out with insight. But it would be impossible to claim that any ‘side’ of any debate on any subject had the monopoly on low quality conspiracy theories. Indeed, the conspiracy theorising by ‘warmists’ in the climate debate isn’t confined to the blogosphere. You may remember George’ Monbiot’s belief, published in The Guardian that oil interests pay for armies of sceptic drones to undermine his arguments. And respectability and scientific expertise is no barrier to bad ideas, either. The Royal Society itself published an argument in its guide to climate change that,

There are some individuals and organisations, some of which are funded by the US oil industry, that seek to undermine the science of climate change and the work of the IPCC. They appear motivated in their arguments by opposition to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol, which seek urgent action to tackle climate change through a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions… Often all these individuals and organisations have in common is their opposition to the growing consensus of the scientific community that urgent action is required through a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. But the opponents are well-organised and well-funded…

I have little interest in parsing the 57 pages of the new paper, to get the measure of the remainder of what Lewandowsky believes are conspiracy theories. It seems sufficient to say that, whether or not the comments in question do betray a tendency of the authors towards conspiracy theorising, they were a response to a poorly-conceived research exercise which was transparently intended to frame the debate as one between science on the one hand, and idology/conspiracy theorists on the other. If the internet has a gutter, in which thrive conspiracy theories and pointless interminable flame wars between people who have little grasp on the real world, Lewandowsky’s work is amongst it.

But what is remarkable, however, is that seemingly academic research should have fallen to this level. Lewandowsky reduces academia to a silly blog comment war. He drags journals, and research organisations into this war, undermining the value of research in general and trust in it. The thrust of Lewandowsky’s paper is ‘I picked a fight on the Internet, and this is what people said about me’, which, of course, omits any criticism of his work that may enable him to develop a better argument.

And that’s the point. Lewandowsky’s research is intended to reduce the phenomenon of ‘scepticism’ and ‘denial’ without taking any notice of what sceptics say, except when it confirms to the stereotype Lewandowsky wants to demonstrate the existence of. No doubt that’s a ‘conspiracy theory’ on his view, but the truth is much simpler: either his mediocre talents aren’t sufficient for the critical self-reflection necessary to produce robust research, or an inflated ego precludes critical self-reflection.

There might well be some value — though I doubt it very much — in seeing what motivates online discussion. But this would involve a far less partisan, nudge-nudge-wink-wink smear on the researcher’s own enemies. Ultimately, ‘research’ of this kind will bring the academy down with it, because drawing attention to, and publishing Lewandowsky’s work means demonstrating to the world the fact that quite often, academic researchers are as petty-minded, ‘idologically-motivated’, and pig ignorant as the worst of online commentary. That was something that Academia could exclude. But no longer. It is as if research departments — especially those that have made a name for themselves by emphasising climate — have opened their doors to an army of pub bores, never mind climate activists. Half-baked, and cock-eyed theories about society, individuals, politics and economics and so on proliferate, and don’t do anything like as much to advance their own arguments as they do diminish the faculties of those outwith the faculty. It backfires, to take the university with them. Picture this…

  40 Responses to “Blognitive Dissonance”

  1. Ahah never seen that sketch! Thanks for it and, obviously, for your insightful post.

  2. If the internet has a gutter, in which thrive conspiracy theories and pointless interminable flame wars between people who have little grasp on the real world, Lewandowsky’s work is amongst it.

    That sums it up really. This “meta” analysis is looking ever more obvious as an absurd attempt to put an academic sheen on the continuation of one side of a flame war.

    I’m looking forward to reading it in depth. I find Lewandowsky and his work fascinating. :)

  3. [...] Climate Resistance has a pretty good summary of the issue But self-evidently, it was the opacity of the first paper [...]

  4. Do read the whole thing. I actually get a mention in table 3 as the originator of one of his conspiracy theories, though, as I mention in a comment which has been allowed, not my favourite one, which he doesn’t deal with, and which still stands.

  5. Given a lot of time and effort Lewandowsky’s work my get up-to the level of being a ‘waste of time ‘
    Still the good news is, his students will have lots of examples of why poor acedmic work should be acceptable so can look forward to an easy time on their courses.

  6. If we are going to have You Tube links it has to be
    3:50
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krb2OdQksMc

    “Only the true messiah denies his own divinity.”

    Which seems to be how Lewandowsky actual does his ‘research’ in the first place

  7. I had an idea of what counterfactual thinking was but I had a look it up anyways. In my search, the most interesting article is one that states such thinking may actually be a good thing! http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100209100800.htm

    Of course, that study as done by those also in Lewandowsky’s profession so who really knows.

  8. ‘And that’s the point. Lewandowsky’s research is intended to reduce the phenomenon of ‘scepticism’ and ‘denial’ without taking any notice of what sceptics say, except when it confirms to the stereotype’

    You said it Ben.

    I just spent some time over at the Deltoid blog. where after about a thousand interactions spread over ten days, it became apparent by their own admission that the denizens there – having decided that I was a ‘denier’ for questioning some aspect of ocean chemistry – were no longer capable of reading what I actually argued, but only of responding to what they thought a ‘denier’ should argue.

    Since Deltoid is based in Australia, as is Lewandowsky, I wonder if this is some purely Antipodean affliction? But sadly I fear it may not be……..

  9. As Lewandowsky cites the original ‘moon’ conspiracy papaer in his new paper (describing it as in press)

    Is it not worth asking the Journal of Pschological Science, the exact status of that paper. (now in press 6 months)

    unless Lewandowsky brings the journal into disrepute

  10. Latimer: Since Deltoid is based in Australia, as is Lewandowsky, I wonder if this is some purely Antipodean affliction? But sadly I fear it may not be……

    I used to think that the USA divided much more on the climate issue than the UK, but from what I see of the debate in Australia, it seems far more hostile even than there. I can’t help thinking that the fortunes of the Australian experiment in pursuing environmental policy without a mandate to do (and lying in the process) so has been an object lesson for politicians in other counties, though the same desire wasn’t actually what brought the likes of Huhne down. But if Lambert is typical, the last people to accept responsibility for the failure of environmentalism will be those who tried to shove it down everyone else’s throats. I wonder if we’re doomed to repeat the experiment with PM Miliband come the next election.

  11. Lewandowsky has another paper citing “Nasa faked the moon landing” at Nature Climate Change: http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/extref/nclimate1720-s1.pdf

    Seems to find “free market orientation” a key marker of “wrongthink” disease. Well…..

    Although his UWA 31page Vita proudly lists over $4.4 million in external grants he has scored..
    http://websites.psychology.uwa.edu.au/labs/cogscience/documents/SLvita.pdf

    …he disclaims any “financial interest” benefit from the Nature paper.

  12. Ben:
    “I can’t help thinking that the fortunes of the Australian experiment in pursuing environmental policy without a mandate to do (and lying in the process) so has been an object lesson for politicians in other countries … I wonder if we’re doomed to repeat the experiment with PM Miliband come the next election.”
    No, we’re not doomed. Some of us (including Ben) have been commenting vigorously on green questions at the New Statesman and the New Left Review. The intellectual left is a tiny world. We’re certainly being heard, even if our comments are met with a deafening silence from the green left activists.
    My guess is that the first to pick up our message (that environmentalism hits the poor, and is electoral suicide for the Labour Party) will be picked up first by the marketing men and focus groupies who infest the left. Having been one myself, I know that one of the few pleasures in this slightly sordid profession is being the bearer of bad tidings to the people who are paying you.

  13. you can’t polish a turd

  14. but from what I see of the debate in Australia, it seems far more hostile even than there.

    It’s a very different battle though.

    In Australia you have two very different camps. Those that revel in the “new frontier” approach that tore up Broken Hill and covered the country in cows and sheep. For them the land is an opportunity. This attitude has made Australia a wealthy country.

    Opposing them is a faction which feels guilty about disposing the Aborigines, and wants to return as much as possible of the country to (an entirely artificial) “natural”. Climate change is a godsend, because it is a stick to beat the other side.

    People die as a result. They drown when people are assured that rainfall is dropping, so do not build proper flood defences. They burn to death because people are prohibited from clearing bush from around their properties. No matter, the intellectual left, like Lewandowsky, know that nature is more important than people.

  15. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8wVfxoPqPA

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTNUm-pIFmQ

    From these 2 clips which one is a famous TV comedian and the other is Rowan Atkinson

  16. The comments attached to the “Recursive fury” abstract are themselves a sort of microcosm of the Lew paper debates:
    http://www.frontiersin.org/Personality_Science_and_Individual_Differences/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00073/abstract

    There’s some puerile sniggering from a couple of hoons purporting to be Ove Hoegh-Guldberg and Michael Ashley (possibly a case of nicked identities, as real university professors would surely have a bit more gravitas than that. Or would they?)

    There are some splendidly rational comments from Geoff and from A.Scott, putting the lie to Lewandowsky’s fatuous “fury” thesis.

    And there’s this one from Anders Milano, which has to be tongue-in-cheek!

    Conspiracy theories are really the mark of irrationality. Good that some serious research is done to expose climate deniers and their ridiculous lies at the service of Big Oil and its stealth, powerful propaganda organizations. Keep up the good science!

  17. Too much blether on all sides. All this this boils down to is that Lewandosky is an obsessive sicko. End of. Leave him to his own turd-snuffling pursuits, and ignore him.

  18. What does “ideation” say that “thinking” doesn’t? “I am an academic and therefore smarter than you” perhaps?

    Me, I’m parsing it as “I am a prat”.

  19. Jeremy – Too much blether on all sides. All this this boils down to is that Lewandosky is an obsessive sicko. End of. Leave him to his own turd-snuffling pursuits, and ignore him.

    I have some sympathy with your point. And I’ve made similar arguments in the past, reflecting on my over emphasis on the Guardian, and Monbiot in particular, at the expense of criticism on the real power-brokers in the climate debate.

    However, it is a messy debate, and the forces at work come from many directions, with different motivations, and inside even more complex broader debates. One of the arguments made here is that the climate debate is like the wider world, in microcosm. The most interesting thing about the climate debate for me, then, is not the minutia, such as hockey sticks, (though that is not to disparage those who do emphasise the science), but to see what the climate debate says about everything else — i.e. to see what is not unique to the climate debate.

    One of those trends is the denial of subjectivity and agency of ordinary people. This happens in two main ways. First, the construction of political institutions above democratic control. Second, the basis on which these political changes occur is in some way motivated by this political need, and provided by the Academy in no small way. (This is the reality of ‘evidence-based policy-making’).

    I don’t think it’s as simple as Lewandowsky being an obsessive sicko. There is a broader phenomenon of psychologists taking a role in the coercion of the public, and the academy providing the expertise for the projects the state wants to realise. For example, the UK government has created a ‘behavioural insights team‘:

    The Behavioural Insights Team was set up in July 2010 with a remit to find innovative ways of encouraging, enabling and supporting people to make better choices for themselves[...].

    The Behavioural Insights Team

    The Behavioural Insights Team was set up in July 2010 with a remit to find innovative ways of encouraging, enabling and supporting people to make better choices for themselves[...].

    The Team’s work draws on insights from the growing body of academic research in the fields of behavioural economics and psychology which show how often subtle changes to the way in which decisions are framed can have big impacts on how people respond to them.

    This is itself part of a much broader transformation of the relationship between the state and the public. And it needs some examination. Looking at the work of people such as Lewandowsky helps to explain that transformation, though the observation that he’s a bullshitter producing bullshit is completely understandable — and correct.

  20. Hi Ben. As usual, you make some lucid and coherent arguments. You have developed a critique of environmentalism (and the reciprocal relationships it has with various other facets of civic life – the academy, politics etc) that while I do not agree with, I understand. I imagine UKIP are very grateful for the work you do for them.

    The difficulty is – and I speculate, why the work of people like Steve and me wind you up so much – is that you are not typical of your fellow blog-posters (and neither is Geoff, not a small handful of others that you know as well as I do who they are)

    There may be no ‘sceptic movement’ or ideology, but there are definitely themes and trends in the way that the blogosphere challenges either the reality, seriousness or answers to climate change. Your comments typically refer to more conceptual aspects of how ‘action’ on climate change is inherently political, and as I said, while I don’t share your views, I understand them.

    However, a lot of your fellow blog commentators write things that are unambiguously conspiratorial, and Lewandowsky has picked up on this and shone a light into it. It is confrontational and provocative – but it is not an inappropriate topic of study.

    I also think you let your hatred of environmentalism – as something that has historically been associated with the left – cloud your judgment of how serious a threat climate change is. If you don’t like the proposed answers, then propose different ones – but don’t claim the problem isnt as bad as the science shows (the problem, not the solutions – i know science can’t determine those!!)

    Are you not also making a rod for your own back suggesting that the blogosphere is not worthy of serious academic attention? Isn’t that exactly what you are always castigating ‘the establishement’ for: excluding you?

  21. @Dr. Adam Corner,

    Are you an activist or an objective scientist? Do you think one can be both at the same time? The reason I ask is because I just read this: http://www.coinet.org.uk/sites/coinet.org.uk/files/A%20practioner%27s%20guide%20to%20the%20psychology%20of%20sustainable%20behaviour,%20Oct%2009_0.pdf

    I have to say there’s very interesting stuff in there like comparing littering to driving a large car. But regardless of that my curiosity was peaked when I read this: “The language that you use to talk about climate change and promote sustainable behaviour has to engage people, not make them switch off.”

    You can see just by some comments here and perhaps Ben’s roundabout commentary that indeed Lewandowsky is causing people to switch off. So why the apparent support for this? Do you think his latest papers follow your practitioner’s guide?

  22. Adam, unless you know what work you’re referring to when you mention my clients, I would suggest you don’t.

    You discuss your confusion about why your work and Lewandowsky’s work should cause me (and also Geoff) concern. I outline my objections to Lewandowsky above, and to your and his work in previous posts that I’m sure you’ve seen. You say that Geoff and I are not like ‘fellow blog-posters’ involved in the debate, the implication being that we are not the subject (or objects) of Lewandowsky’s or your works. This evidently isn’t the case, as Geoff is mentioned by name on page 53, for instance, of Lewandowsky’s article in Frontier.

    Having seen criticism, I think it most remarkable that you, like many other academics involved in the debate have not ventured a defence of your work.

    All the more surprising, then, that you say ‘Your comments typically refer to more conceptual aspects of how ‘action’ on climate change is inherently political, and as I said, while I don’t share your views, I understand them.’

    I understand your work. And I don’t share your views. It is through coming to that understanding that I think your analysis is wrong, and seems to be working towards either directly or indirectly making interventions in the public sphere that I do not believe are legitimate, and may be dangerous.

    Suffice it to say then, that no matter our differences — indeed, they can be taken for granted — there is a debate to be had.

    That debate has not been forthcoming. Not from you, not from Lewandowsky, not from the wider academic sphere, be it psychology, ethics, sociology, and of course, climate science. And not between us, and not in the wider public sphere.

    Thus, the only thing Lewandowsky has shone a light on is himself and his field, situated on the wrong side of a widening and deepening democratic deficit. He makes objects of those individuals who find themselves on the other side.

    The way to understand another’s perspective, you see, is to explore differences, rather than treat them as barriers. As is discussed above, you and many of your colleagues refuse to do so. Instead, you develop hypotheses about what ‘motivates’ reasoning, and how the correct behaviour, if not the change of mind, can be elicited from those who might otherwise refuse to see things as you do. As Geoff, I, and others have pointed out, your hypotheses completely fail to understand the arguments put forward by your critics, much less the wider public’s indifference.

    So I suggest that, contra your claim that you understand my argument, you don’t at all. And you don’t understand anyone else’s motivations either. This is the consequence of your refusal to engage. In other words, it is by isolating yourselves from criticism that your perspectives have become narrow, and the terms on which you understand differences of perspective have become hollow.

    Here’s Lewandowsky…

    One contributor to the pages of The Australian also recently stated on a New Zealand website and I quote, ‘to win the political aspect of the climate debate we have to lower the Western climate establishment’s credibility with the layperson’. The strategy is to undermine the credibility of the establishment climate scientists. That’s all. There’s nothing special science-wise. In other words, they know what they’re doing. And it’s not science.

    Lewandowsky offers no account of where this opinion came from, nor any argument about how it represents the entire spectrum of opinions in the ‘sceptical’ category. It seems pretty safe to me to say that it is yet another attempt to frame the debate as one between science and anti-science forces, yet without regard for what it is that science is supposed to have said, which sceptics deny.

    This problem is brought into sharper relief when we look through some of yours and Lewandowsky’s work, surveying opinions that either assent or dissent to the scientific consensus. Almost routinely, you would count assent to the consensus as being in accordance with the consensus, no matter how far away it was from the actual substance of consensus. Meanwhile, dissent from the consensus which may be far closer to the consensus than the counterposed view, is recorded as being out of kilter with the consensus. Thus we can see that the ‘scientific consensus’ has been removed from its scientific context, and is in fact entirely political when it is in the hands of climate change psychologists.

    This can be unpacked further. It’s possible to form a perspective based on a climate sensitivity of 3 degrees, which is well within the range of views represented by the scientific consensus, but which doesn’t accord with the political consensus, because it doesn’t believe that this generates an imperative for immediate and far reaching policy.

    By reducing a complex debate, and by underestimating the public’s capacity, you not only polarise the debate into two camps, you sustain this polarisation for transparently political ends. That’s not to say you do it on purpose, but that your work is inadequate to take account of what’s actually going on, even to the extent that you fail to form a critical understanding of the basis from which your own work proceeds.

    Proceeding from your own prejudices may not make it, per your argument, ‘an inappropriate topic of study’; but what it does make it is bad science, or bad social science. To make it worse, the political nature of that work makes it actually dangerous.

    You continue:

    I also think you let your hatred of environmentalism – as something that has historically been associated with the left – cloud your judgment of how serious a threat climate change is.

    You make my ‘hatred of environmentalism’ sound arbitrary, or emotional rather than considered. As I explained to you on Twitter, I started out as an environmentalist, at a very young age. It was only through discussion with environmentalism’s critics that I formed a broader view.

    The actual danger of climate change is not something than can be understood independently of an understanding of society’s relationship to climate. This is principally a political matter, rather than, as is widely (mis)understood, a matter for material science. The misconception environmentalists make is that the sensitivity of climate to CO2 is equivalent to society’s sensitivity to climate, such that ‘what to do about climate change’ can be easily read off from science. We know this is true, because we can see climatic phenomena of the same magnitude having very different consequences where it occurs in different economies.

    I have never said that climate change is not a problem, but that the degree to which it is a problem depends on how we understand our relationship with the climate. Thus, I have argued that framing the climate debate as one between ‘science’ and ‘deniers’ (or whatever) is a deeply political act, for it denies that the ‘science’ camp is as vulnerable to ideology as the other putative camp. Instead, I have argued that nobody should be afraid of bringing their ‘ideology’ to the debate, since everyone is motivated, and informed by theirs. What is a problem is people hiding their ‘ideology’ behind ‘science’.

    And we see plenty of that. Moreover, we see a remarkable over-statement of society’s sensitivity to climate, and to the environment. Yet we see environmentalists failing to reflect on the failure to develop a sense of proportion about the risks of climate change. And we see that failure continue, into policy, and into politics and economics.

    Are you not also making a rod for your own back suggesting that the blogosphere is not worthy of serious academic attention?

    I don’t see where I have said the blogosphere doesn’t deserve attention. I have agreed that the blogosphere is heated, and contains good and bad quality commentary. My point was that when academics mirror a petty squabble on the internet, and indeed, merely extend internet squabbles, that’s a real problem for the academy and its credibility.

    And I’m quite clear about it above — I suggest that there may well be good research to be done on what drives and colours debate on the internet. But I suggest that Lewandowsky doesn’t take the blogosphere as a whole; he takes only a partial view, and those parts of it that help him make the point he wanted to make, not about bloggers, bloogging, or comments and commenting, but about the phenomenon of ‘scepticism’. He finds a weak correlation between the twin baddies of ‘right wing’ economic thought and conspiracy theories. That correlation, as has been widely demonstrated, was weak, was likely the consequence of fraudulent responses, and is hidden behind questionable statistical methods.

    If you’re at all interested, I have written about what may produce a statistical correlation between free-market thought and degrees of climate change scepticism, if it really exists, and why this is an artefact of the historical context. And again, it involves a comparison with perspectives which are more prone to concern that climate change is a problem of the magnitude you suggest it is. I believe that this offers us much more insight into how people understand the climate debate and develop perspectives than can be formed by cod research that intends to promote an agenda, which ultimately depends on the view that people do not make decisions or form an understanding of the world rationally.

  23. Dr. Corner, after a careful reading of the following two articles, one after the other, can you really claim that Stephan Lewandowsky has “shone a light” into anything, in any shape or form?

    http://climateaudit.org/2012/09/08/lewandowsky-scam/
    http://www.shapingtomorrowsworld.org/news.php?p=2&t=140&&n=159

  24. [...] ACM was mentioned, by the way), it's so laughable. I'll leave it to the incomparable Ben Pile at Climate Resistance to eviscerate this latest steaming heap of 'research': I have little interest in parsing the 57 [...]

  25. I also think you let your hatred of environmentalism – as something that has historically been associated with the left

    This says, to me, that Corner hasn’t the foggiest idea where you come from Ben. He hasn’t taken time to actually read what you say, because anyone who did would know how foolish that statement is.

    Why can these people really not get a grip on the fact that opposition to environmentalism is not generated by some tribal hatred of the left?

    (I would guess that most of the regular readers of this blog have been “historically associated with the left”. I have never voted “right” in 8 elections. I suppose Geoff might now out himself as a former Young Tory, just to prove me wrong.)

  26. Mooloo
    Sorry, I’ve never been a young Tory, and it’s too late now, I’m afraid. Even when I was a middle-aged pale green, I was aware of the fact that my opinions were illogical or governed by self-interest. Research papers claiming to show that public transport cuts CO2 emissions are clearly rubbish from the Lew school of statistics-bending. I like subsidised public transport because I can’t drive. Spending money saving a rare newt or a Titian for the nation is morally unjustifiable while people are dying of curable diseases. Still, that’s what I’d vote for.
    I really appreciate Adam Corner’s attempts to open a discussion here, and Ben’s assertion that discussion is possible. Of course, Adam’s raising the spectre of Ben’s supposed hatred for environmentalism is no place to start.
    I’d probably start by trying to place environmentalism politically with respect to the left-right spectrum. Is it one or the other or neither or a bit of both? Some of us tried to open up this discussion under Alice Bell’s wing at New Left Project, but we didn’t get very far.

  27. I think everyone has noted the obvious similarity with Soviet Psychiatry but all, I think, have had the good taste not to mention it. But I have no taste, but, also, some personal, second hand experience, so I will. It was actually Khrushchev, or his regime, who really institutionalized the idea, as an alternative to the more extreme methods of Stalin. But it was always there, one finds it in the writings of Lenin and Trotsky, that to disagree with them est une nervrose. And earlier, much earlier, with the invention of madness itself. I think, sometimes, of Shelley’s beautiful poem Julian and Modalo and that ‘madmen’ out their on the Island whose ‘brain fever’ came from knowing ‘too much’. But it was only, I think, with the Soviets, the KGB that the truly sinister enactment began to happen and became a habit. To be diagnosed for thinking the wrong thoughts. The Victorians did that, we do that. But to be diagnosed for thinking, expressing or writing what are normally, societally, expressions of rational discourse or critique, to psycho-pathologize debate itself, that was the real ‘innovation’. Of course, all it meant was that the other side of the ‘debate’, the ‘truth’ had lost all coherence, had already lost the debate. Australia is like the Sweden of the south, another ‘matriarchy’, where being ‘wrong’ on certain issues is being quite mad!

    Adam Corner, An abuse of Academia, no matter how you parse, is still an abuse. We know who Ben Pile and Geoff Chamber are and are quite comfortable with this knowladge. And do you know why? We pay attention to their words, their arguments, and forget the man. Ad hominem and all that. To normal, democratic people, your methodology is quite sinister and, yes, may I say it, fascist. Or Communist or whatever you wish. It is a method that speaks of its own intellectual bankruptcy. Not, not a ‘conspiracy’ but rather a ‘confederacy of dunces’. Quite inane.

    Yeah, Geoff, I once stumbled, when I was 16, across a meeting of the Socialist Workers crew (in Lewisham!) and was sorely tempted, to ‘political action’ and all that, having read my surfeit of Marx (Das Capital, including Theories of Surplus Value – what a brag but true!), but the other Marx taught me better! We are all on the ‘left’, far, far to left for the old tyrants of the past. But we are also adults and deadly serious about our politics and our futures. We know to much of history, you see Adam and we can now smell a rat from much more than a thousand paces!

  28. Adam Corner, An abuse of Academia, no matter how you parse, is still an abuse. We know who Ben Pile and Geoff Chamber are and are quite comfortable with this knowladge. And do you know why? We pay attention to their words, their arguments, and forget the man. Ad hominem and all that. To normal, democratic people, your methodology is quite sinister and, yes, may I say it, fascist. Or Communist or whatever you wish. It is a method that speaks of its own intellectual bankruptcy. Not, not a ‘conspiracy’ but rather a ‘confederacy of dunces’. Quite inane.

  29. Apparently, the new paper is now off the web site. Jeff Condon explains why. The best part about his story is that he believes he was misrepresented on purpose which would make Lewandowsky a…??

    http://noconsensus.wordpress.com/2013/02/06/lewandowsky-strike-two/

  30. Lewis Deane:
    Comparisons with Soviet psychiatry usully sound overdone, but this time they ring true. In Figure 3 of the paper I’m found guilty of: “Accusing the authors of the paper of Nefarious Intent”; “Nihilistic Skepticism”; “Must be Wrongism”; “No Accidentism”; and “Unreflexive Counterfactual Thinking.”
    Nobody’s made this point anywhere yet, I think. The paper describes itself as an exercise in “Content Analysis”, or as we Humanities types call it “reading something and making stuff up about it”.

  31. Geoff, ha ha! I like to be proved right

    At least it’s not ‘premature anti-fascim’!

    A final point – I like ‘nihilistic skeptism’ since nihilism is exactly what Lewandowsky is about. An attempt to dissolve in acid, however clumsily (but what establishment needs ‘good’ intellectuals? Lewandowsky will fit right in, indeed, does), the best that we have achieved and the attempt at the best. The attempt at the best. May I say, that is what is best about us. My 11 year old son and I laugh, looking to the future (his imagination is great – everything is robots and flying in the air!)

  32. I, for one, would be interested in hearing more from Adam Corner about the unconscious. After all, he and his fellow psychologists keep referring to it as the place where people kick unacceptable realities – as a mechanism they identify as ‘denial’.

    If it exists – as Adam et al repeatedly claim – it certainly has a lot to answer for. If there was no such thing as the unconscious (as a sort of psychic dustbin), denial would be impossible and I guess Adam and his friends would be out of a job. Having insisted upon the unconscious though – and giving it pride of place on the pantheon of obstacles to ‘fighting climate change’ – Adam might let us know if he accepts its more complete topography in classical psychology as the place where unacceptable motives are also kept hidden from view?

    Of course, it may be that Adam believes the general public have unconsciouses, but he somehow doesn’t (and his output so far suggests this to be his view). But if he is able to recognise it as a part of being human from which no one is excluded, and then manage to reflect on what might be dumped into his own, his project may well propel itself greatly (in one direction or another). Until that happy event, he and his accomplices will continue to dismiss as ‘conspiracy theories’ what are, in fact, a mindful public’s perception of ulterior motives.

  33. Adam Corner
    You say:
    “a lot of your fellow blog commentators write things that are unambiguously conspiratorial, and Lewandowsky has picked up on this and shone a light into it. It is confrontational and provocative – but it is not an inappropriate topic of study.”
    I can agree with that, except for the ambiguity of the expression “unambiguously conspiratorial”. “Being conspiratorial” to me means “conspiring”, while Levandowsky uses to to mean “accusing others of conspiring”.
    I conspire – doesn’t everyone? The point is, how nefarious is the intent? You and I discussing privately where and when to post a blog discussion in order to have the maximum effect might be considered “conspiring”.
    There’s an article at news.com.au today headlined “Sandy Hook massacre a ‘hoax’, say conspiracy theorists” which gives great prominence to “conspiracy theory expert” Lewandowsky, who gives a detailed analysis of the psychology of the people who believe this. The article ends with a reflection which can only come from the journalist’s interview with Lewandowsky:
    “So do we ignore them? The problem is, once these ideas gain traction, they can influence more people and ultimately influence public policy. Prof Lewandowsky says conspiracy theories – and he counts climate change denial among them – are ‘extremely concerning’”.
    Bringing climate scepticism into a discussion about people who think that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax – now that’s what I call “nefarious intent”.

  34. “Pursue this investigation further and you will see that science has now become as oppressive as the ideologies it had once to fight. Do not be misled by the fact that today hardly anyone gets killed for joining a scientific heresy. This has nothing to do with science. It has something to do with the general quality of our civilization. Heretics in science are still made to suffer from the most severe sanctions this relatively tolerant civilization has to offer.” – Paul Feyerabend’s 1975 essay How To Defend Society Against Science

  35. Thanks for the edit, Ben. Rather humiliating but necessary. Sorry for being a bore at times. Though I rather liked the poem, op and melodramatic as it was. It just make mean cynicism is a disease which seems to me becoming endemic. Forget about to bal warming, one to many Lewandowsky and we are truly lost.

  36. Blame my phone for the spelling. Sorry

  37. [...] a bit of trouble, even having a paper pulled from a reputable journals site! Why? This quote from Climate Resistance (via Australian Climate [...]

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