The Lewandowsky Papers

by | May 21, 2013

This essay was written for Spiked-Online, and will be published on Spiked at some point.

As the influence of environmental thinking has increased its hold over the political establishment, the failure to win the public support that might create the basis for decisive action to save the planet has also increasingly been blamed on climate sceptics operating on the internet. On this view, bloggers have thwarted international and domestic action to prevent climate change. Accordingly, the nature of the blogosphere and the workings of the minds of climate sceptics have become the focus of academic research, just as the mechanics of the climate system have been the subject of climate scientists. But this attempt to form a pathological view of a complex debate says much more about the researchers than the objects of their study.

A recent study by academic psychologist, Stephan Lewandowsky at the University of Western Australia aimed to identify climate change sceptics’ tendency towards conspiracy theories. According to Lewandowsky’s paper published in Psychological Science, links were placed on climate blogs, inviting readers to take part in a survey that measured each respondents’ political orientation, attitude to climate change science, and adherence to popular conspiracy theories such as those about the deaths of JFK, Martin Luther King and Diana, the 911 attacks, aliens in Roswell, and the 1969 moon landing. Hence, the title of the paper NASA faked the moon landing — Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science, which claimed to find a correlation between belief in the principle of a free-market, rejection of climate change science and ‘conspiracy ideation’.

However, in spite of the title of the paper linking the idea that the moon landings were faked with scepticism of climate science, just 10 of 1145 respondents either ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ with the statement ‘The Apollo moon landings never happened and were staged in a Hollywood film studio’. Of those 10, six of them either ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ with statements representing the scientific consensus on climate change. Of the remaining four who disagreed with the climate consensus, two ‘strongly agreed’ with every conspiracy theory, another agreed either ‘strongly’ or ‘very strongly’ with each of the 14 conspiracy theories listed in survey. The single remaining climate sceptic either genuinely believed that the moon landings were faked, or was another person seeking to game the survey’s results with a more sophisticated approach than his colleagues’.

A title that better reflected the survey’s results, then, might have been NASA faked the moon landing — Therefore (Climate) Science is Real. But the problems with the study don’t stop with the researcher’s haste to give his work a compelling name.

The paper, now known as LOG12, was published on Lewandowsky’s website last July, well ahead of its publication in the journal Psychological Science in March. In spite of not yet having been published,  a ‘pre-press’ version drew a great deal of attention from people across the climate debate. For environmentalists it was proof that their counterparts were textbook nut-jobs. For sceptics, it was a poorly-conceived and improperly-executed smear job with only superficial academic credibility. The paper was circulated by the green media and blogosphere and taken apart by sceptics on the web.

Many problems with the paper emerged. The authors had claimed to have asked the operators of blogs popular with people at different ends of the climate debate to invite their readers to take part in the survey. As the research admits, none of the sceptic blogs responded, leading to the criticism that sceptics had not in fact been asked to participate. More fatally for the paper, it seemed that the researchers had let slip their intention to link climate scepticism with a tendency to produce conspiracy theories, and some blog commenters openly discussed their intentions to respond as sceptics to influence the outcome. Even worse, the paper drew criticism from Lewandowsky’s own colleagues.

Lewandowsky amplified these problems by refusing to answer questions about the survey, choosing instead to write a series of blog posts attacking his critics who were trying to understand his method and analysis. Through the acrimony, it emerged that Lewandowsky had anticipated that as he was well known for his own hostility to climate scepticism, sceptical bloggers would not be willing to participate in his survey. In order to overcome the problem, he asked the University’s ethics committee for permission to send the invitation from other researchers. However, though these emails were found, they had been ignored by the blog owners as the kind of spam bloggers often get, and were discarded, meaning that, nonetheless, sceptics hadn’t really been invited to participate.

Consequently, only 127 people that could be described as sceptics of climate science responded to the survey against the 1018 respondents that Lewandowsky categorises as ‘pro-science’. This should strike us immediately as a ridiculous starting point for an investigation. We would not survey the users of a Star Wars fan website to find out why some people don’t like science fiction movies. Nonetheless, from just 127 suspect responses, Lewandowsky proceeded to make statements about the phenomenon of climate scepticism.

But worse than Lewandowsky’s approach to gathering data is his method for analysing it. Whereas most surveys give results than can be understood fairly simply — eight out of ten cats prefer… — Lewandowsky’s approach was more complicated than his task warranted. And whereas we might expect significant differences between different groups of people to show up when their responses to questions are averaged, in fact few differences between the groups emerge when the data from the surveys is analysed through simpler methods than those deployed by Lewandowsky.

For instance, if we divide the respondents into ‘sceptics’ and ‘warmists’ on the basis of their assent to/dissent from the statement, ‘I believe that burning fossil fuels increases atmospheric temperature to some measurable degree’, and then compare those groups’ assent to/dissent from popular conspiracy theories, we get the following result:

As this table demonstrates, the average (and on this test, it must be noted, fairly militant) sceptic is not much more prone towards conspiracy theories than his putatively ‘pro-science’ counterpart. In fact, the ‘warmist’ is more likely (though only just) to buy into conspiracy theories relating to the 911 and Oklahoma attacks and the assassination of Martin Luther King. Both groups are broadly inclined away from conspiracy theories, with the exception being the only positive assent to the conspiracy theory that — ‘The claim that the climate is changing due to emissions from fossil fuels is a hoax perpetrated by corrupt scientists who wish to spend more taxpayer money on climate research’.

Similarly, a graph showing sceptics’ attitudes to consensus science reveals that not much separates the two groups.

As we can see, and as we might expect, sceptics and warmists only really disagree on matters relating to climate science.

The third variable that Lewandowsky sought to relate to sceptics’ attitude to climate science and conspiracy theories was their views on the economy. (In some of these statements, the scoring was reversed, so that 1 = agreement, 4 = disagreement, denoted by ‘R’.) Here we see slightly more disagreement.

However, this part of the survey asks questions that, in the main, in fact ask the respondent to prioritise the economy versus the environment, rather than to express his views on the economy independently of his views on the environment. This is a problem for Lewandowsky’s subsequent claim that a person’s views on the economy can ‘predict’ his view on the environment. Yet nonetheless, the survey results simply do not suggest that a big difference exists between sceptics and warmists. The average sceptic is, after all, with a score of 2.51, precisely undecided about whether or not ‘I support the free market system but not at the expense of the environmental quality’. Meanwhile, if these statements really reflect opposite ends of some kind of eco-economic axis, we would expect people who are ‘pro-science’ (i.e. ‘warmists’) to dissent more strongly from the statement ‘Free and unregulated markets pose important threats to sustainable development’.

Across these three groups of statements, there is very little disagreement on much other than on the environment. Yet Lewandowsky claimed that ‘Rejection of climate science was strongly associated with endorsement of a laissez-faire view of unregulated free markets‘, and that ‘A second variable that was associated with rejection of climate science as well as other scientific propositions was conspiracist ideation‘.

It seems fairly obvious that Lewandowsky was at best mistaken. The data simply do not support his conclusions. His claims differ remarkably from what the difference between an averaged profile of a ‘sceptic’ and his counterpart look like.

What produced Lewandowsky’s result is a statistical technique called structural-equation modelling (SEM). SEM is a complex process used mainly in the social and behavioural sciences to test and explore assumptions about relationships in observational data. Though this may be an appropriate tool in some cases, its usefulness to the job of shedding light on what people think about complex political and scientific issues is debateable, and may in fact reveal more about Lewandowsky than sceptics. First, there is the problem of Lewandowsky’s assumptions: he confuses categories of economic and environmental ideas; he fails to test for conspiracy theories that might be more coincident with environmentalism than the ones he chose, (for example the idea that climate scepticism is a phenomenon produced by covert PR operations, paid for by fossil fuel companies); and he fails to achieve a robust definition of climate scepticism. Second, a much more simple method — averaging — show that, no matter what the slight statistical tendency of sceptics is, on aggregate, there is no clear line dividing lunatic sceptics from the enlightened climate scientists and their disciples. The more complex method, though, has the virtue of being a larger fig leaf for Lewandowsky’s bad faith.

This would not have been Lewandowsky’s only experiment with statistics-abuse. In June last year, using what he called ‘simple mathematics’, but which in fact depended on Bayesian statistical methods, he made a series of extraordinary claims, concluding that, ‘greater uncertainty about the evolution of the climate should give us even greater cause for concern‘, that ‘greater uncertainty means that things could be worse than we thought’ and that ‘greater uncertainty means that the expected damages from climate change will necessarily be greater than anticipated’. This astonishing claim barely needs unpacking to demonstrate as so much nonsense cloaked in mathematical jargon.

This should raise questions about exactly what it is that Lewandowsky is trying to achieve through the use of dubious statistical methods, and his attempt to understand the minds of climate sceptics: is the point to advance understanding and knowledge, or is it a strategic move in a political battle that there can be no doubt he has taken a stand in.

But to suggest that either bad faith or incompetence has driven Lewandowsky would be, on his view, a conspiracy theory. This was his claim in a subsequent paper published in March by open access journal, Frontiers in Personality Science and Individual Differences, in which Lewandowsky and colleagues attempted to draw conclusions about responses from the climate sceptic blogosphere to his previous paper, LOG12.

In the paper, Recursive fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation, Lewandowsky claimed to, ‘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.’

This involved compiling a database of the criticisms made against the first paper and categorising them. For example, one such comment posted by Richard Betts at the Bishop Hill website run by author of the Hockey Stick Illusion, Andrew Montford read as follows:

The thing I don’t understand is, why didn’t they just make a post on sceptic blogs themselves, rather than approaching blog owners. They could have posted as a Discussion topic here at Bishop Hill without even asking the host, and I very much doubt that [Montford] would have removed it. Climate Audit also has very light-touch moderation and I doubt whether Steve McIntyre would have removed such an unsolicited post. Same probably goes for many of the sceptic blogs, in my experience. So it does appear to that they didn’t try very hard to solicit views from the climate sceptic community.

This comment was put into a table with about 110 others that Lewandowsky et al reckoned to be evidence that their authors ‘Espouse conspiracy theories’. Each of the comments were put under different category of ‘conspiracy theory’, such as ‘didn’t email deniers’, ‘Warmists faked data’, and ‘Emailed warmists before deniers’. However, this raises the problem, much as with the previous study, in the way categories are defined before they are tabulated and analysed.

If Betts’s comment is evidence of climate sceptics doing ‘conspiracy theory ideation’, then the test for it is set very low indeed — the comment was a straightforward criticism of Lewandowsky’s attempt to gather data, not speculation about why he had taken such liberties. Saying that Lewandowsky’s attempts to get responses from sceptics was inadequate is nothing like saying that the CIA killed Martin Luther King. Bogus categories and a seemingly objective method allowed Lewandowsky’s prejudices to prevail — a statistical technique serving as a fig leaf, again.

Even more unfortunate for Lewandowsky, however, the comment in question did not belong to a climate change sceptic at all. Richard Betts is a climate scientist, an IPCC lead author, and head of climate impacts research at the UK Meteorological Office.

The fact that Lewandowsky could put Betts into a category of ‘climate sceptic’, and his comment into a category of ‘conspiracy theory’ should be an object lesson about letting prejudice influence research for those seeking to understand and explain the climate debate. Lewandowsky’s confusion is owed to the fact of Betts’s very different and unusual approach to overcoming the climate debate: actually having the debate. Betts was able to criticise Lewandowsky after taking the opinions and discussion between climate sceptics seriously, rather than by taking it for granted that they were wrong.

Lewandowsky worked from his prejudice — that all sceptics are, a priori, wrong. His objective was to expose the ‘motivated reasoning’ that lies behind climate scepticism. But in doing so, he managed only to expose his own bad faith. This raises serious questions, not only about the categories and perceptions of ‘climate scepticism’ that dominate the language of anti-scepticism, but also broader questions about how such naked politicking can be passed off as academic research.

Across three papers based on the same data (a third appearing in the journal, Nature Climate Change), Lewandowsky, either unwittingly or deliberately allowed his prejudices to form the basis from which his study proceeded. On his view, climate scepticism is a ‘rejection of climate science’, which sits in contrast to ‘pro science’ opinion. But debunking this claim is easy. We can find climate scientists who give lower estimates of climate’s sensitivity to CO2 whose arguments are better grounded in science than any number of eco-warriors whose arguments are irrational, emotional, and lack any sense of proportion. One can either believe or disbelieve in the idea of anthropogenic climate change independently of science.

Second, Lewandowsky wanted to claim that this rejection of science is ‘motivated reasoning’ — that something else prefigures in the minds of sceptics, that causes them to reject climate science. This too, is easily countered, not just with a more straightforward analysis of Lewandowsky’s own data, which shows otherwise, but also by questioning this conception of ‘motivated reasoning’ itself.

All reasoning is, to a greater or lesser extent, ‘motivated’ — why would we reason, were it not as a means to some ends or other? However, the implication of Lewandowsky’s claim is that those who believe in climate change have transcended such human faults. Yet we can see that a great deal of presupposition and ‘ideology’ exists prior to the science in the arguments put forward in the debate about the environment. As I have argued previously on Spiked, in order to make the claim that climate change is dangerous, many environmentalists have to presuppose that society’s sensitivity to climate is equivalent to climate’s sensitivity to CO2 — a highly deterministic claim which is not borne out by history, let alone has any grounding in science, and which necessarily precludes the possibility of development mediating the vulnerability of society to climate.

Environmentalism’s presuppositions prefigure much more in Lewandowsky’s analyses than anything he can identify working in the minds of sceptics. This calls into question the ability of psychology to offer insight into the climate debate. For instance, much is made of the scientific consensus on climate change by researchers hoping to understand the phenomenon of climate scepticism, for example by asking whether or not respondents agree or disagree with positions that are assumed to represent the consensus position. However, this method is highly sensitive to the researcher’s ability to accurately represent the consensus, and to elicit from the respondent an accurate picture of his opinion. But as we have already seen, psychologists can quite easily put climate scientists into the category of climate sceptics. Researchers with misconceived ideas about what the science pertains to at best measures the public’s agreement with their own misconceptions. Unfortunately for Lewandowsky and others engaged in the same attempts to form an understanding of climate scepticism from the psychological perspective, the objects of their study may well have a much better understanding of climate science and its problems than they possess. In this way, complex arguments and nuances are lost in the researcher’s desire to reduce multi-dimensional arguments into categories of right and wrong, good and bad, pro-science and anti-science.

Thus, the consensus on climate science is removed from its scientific context, and becomes a consensus without an object: it can mean whatever climate change psychologists want it to mean. Research into the public understanding of science, where that science has implications for public policy, becomes a vehicle for researchers to manifest their own prejudices as policy.

So what might appear at first pass as an inconsequential squabble on the internet between an arrogant researcher and recalcitrant bloggers in fact has significance for the debate about science’s role in public life. How was it that such shoddy, prejudiced, and partial research passed the seemingly objective tests of peer-review, and that such errors of category, method and analysis were nonetheless deemed worthy of publication by editors of scientific publications?

The answer here is twofold. First, there is the insidiousness of the objectless consensus: the mythology of the climate debate precedes the climate debate. The idea of there being scientists on the one hand, opposed by irrational sceptics on the other has been established so concretely that few editors, peer-reviewers or journalists even bother to ask questions about the content of the consensus, much less about how it is contradicted by the substance of climate sceptics’ arguments. Climate change orthodoxy allowed Lewandowsky’s work to go unchallenged by the checks and balances we might expect to catch out, or at least, criticise, such bare-faced framing of the debate.

Second, there is the political utility of the scientific consensus. The desire for policies to have a grounding in science is ubiquitous amongst a class of ‘policymakers’ (PKA politicians) and institutional science. Research such as Lewandowsky’s would not be significant, were it not for the (wrong) belief that climate scepticism’s influence over public opinion is the chief impediment to climate policies. For instance, in February, Parliament’s Science and Technology Select Committee called for submissions to an inquiry into the public’s understanding of climate change, following a report that had advised that ‘should scepticism continue to increase, democratic governments are likely to find it harder to convince voters to support costly environmental policies aimed at mitigation of, or adaptation to, climate change.’

In the era of ‘evidence-based policy-making’, public opinion is an afterthought rather than the measure of a democratic mandate. Only once a political consensus has been achieved between political parties do today’s ‘policymakers’ seek ways of convincing the public that their policies are a good idea. The extent of this upside-down form of politics is revealed by one of the questions asked by the select committee: ‘Does the Government have sufficient expertise in social and behavioural sciences to understand the relationship between public understanding of climate science and the feasibility of relevant public policies?

The academy increasingly replaces the ballot box in public affairs. And in particular, the science academy. On the face of it, it looks like a good idea. Expertise, is of course, almost always better placed to answer technical questions than is the man-on-the-street. But when the man-on-the-street becomes the object of the ‘social and behavioural sciences’, which are, in turn, employed to elicit his obedience, politics undergoes a radical transformation.

Material and social scientists have not been forthcoming in their criticism of the growing compact between the academy and the state. Indeed it much better serves those who we might expect to be the best critics of power to serve it instead. Lewandowsky, who has now moved from Australia to be the Chair in Cognitive Psychology in the School of Experimental Psychology, at the University of Bristol, has been given the Royal Society’s Wolfson Research Merit Award — a scheme designed ‘for outstanding scientists who would benefit from a five year salary enhancement to help recruit them to or retain them in the UK’. Says the university:

‘Professor Lewandowsky receives the award for his project entitled ‘The (mis)information revolution: information seeking and knowledge transmission’, which addresses how people navigate the blizzard of information with which we are faced on a daily basis, not all of which is accurate or truthful. The project emphasises how people update their memories and under what conditions they are able to discount information that turns out to be false. The project also examines how people interact with, and influence, each other to understand how information spreads through a society.’

Lewandowsky is well placed to speak about filling the public sphere with information ‘not all of which is accurate or truthful’. But what contribution to either science, or society has he really made that is worthy of such an award? And why would the Royal Society be so keen to chuck £tens of thousands at what can be called at best, cod psychology? If this award reflects the Royal Society’s priorities, it says a great deal about them.

As I’ve reported previously on Spiked, the Royal Society has sought an ever expanding role in policy-making, mostly in environmental matters. In particular, the academy published the results of a two year study into population and the environment last year, which coincided with their award to another researcher notable for his failures — population environmentalist and neo-malthusian doomsayer, Paul Ehrlich. It would seem that the closer the Royal Society get to policy-making, the more distance is put between itself and science. In spite of the failures of Ehrlich and Lewandowsky, their claims still have political utility.

It follows that the science academy’s growing desire for influence in the public sphere causes it to seek evidence that the public aren’t capable of managing their own affairs without it. The premise of a technocracy is, after all, the inadequacies of democracy. Thus we see in the Apocalyptic rants of the likes of Paul Ehrlich FRS and Lewandowsky the beneficiary of their generosity not simply claims about the material world, but claims about the shortcomings of human faculties. Between them, these men paint a picture, from the psychology of the individual, through to the functioning of the planet’s natural processes, in which humanity simply cannot help but steer a course for catastrophe without their intervention.

To point this out, though — to point to the problems with the science, or to ask questions about the political assumptions and consequences of these arguments — is to seem to be ‘anti-science’, or to betray a mindset that is preoccupied with conspiracy theories. To point out that the science is, in fact, groundless and speculative crap, and that it is intended, not to advance knowledge, but to serve a political function is to seem to stand out as a denier of science.

Scientists such as Lewandowsky are better at self-justification than scientific research. Rather than being an investigation into the workings of the material world, Lewandosky’s ‘research’ — a poorly executed and error-prone online survey, seen through dodgy statistical methods and bogus categories — is a naked attempt to explain why people dare challenge scientific authority. But there are good reasons for challenging it. Science has turned its gaze on the public as politicians have sought to remedy their diminishing public support by recruiting the academy. It is not a coincidence that the scientific agenda increasingly reflects the prejudices and problems of elite politics.

This would be an anti-science conspiracy theory if it were a claim that Lewandowsky and the Royal Society were engaged in science proper, and were aware of what they were doing. But what Lewandowsky reveals is the consequence of confusing science as a process — a method — and science as an institution. A shonky web survey is given respectability by its author’s professorship and tenure at a university, by peer-review, and by publication. The institutional apparatus of science allowed prejudice and politics to be passed off as objective study. Criticism of the survey — i.e. about the research’s adherence to (or departure from) the scientific method —  was defended on the basis that it challenged, not the scientific argument (i.e. science as a process), but scientific authority (i.e institutional science).

A culture of intransigence has developed in the shadow of the compact between politics and science, which can be seen in the Lewandowsky affair in microcosm. Lewandowsky’s work unwittingly demonstrates that what is passed off as peer-reviewed and published ‘science’, even in today’s world, is no more scientific than the worst ramblings of the least qualified and nuttiest climate change denier on the internet. It looks like science, certainly, but the product only survives a superficial inspection. The only difference being the institutional muscle that Lewandowsky has access to, but which unhinged climate change deniers do not. The object of the Professor’s study is really his own refusal to debate with his lessers.

The consequence of this should be alarming to everyone who takes an interest in the climate and other scientific debates, no matter what their view on climate change. Lewandowsky demonstrates that the academic institutions do not produce dialogue that has any more merit than the petty exchanges — flame wars –that the internet is famous for. Dressing political arguments up in scientific terminology risks the value of science being lost to society — its potential squandered for an edge in a political fight. After all, if Lewandowsky’s work is representative of the quality of scientific research in general and the standards the academy expects of academics, what does that say about climate science and the quality of the scientific consensus on climate change? If the scientific argument about the link between anthropogenic CO2 and climate change is only as good as Lewandowsky’s claim that ‘Rejection of climate science [is] strongly associated with endorsement of a laissez-faire view of unregulated free markets’, then perhaps climate sceptics should be taken more seriously.


  1. MikeC

    Your able description of the “work” of Lewandowsky reminds me a Tolstoy quote:

    “I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.” – Leo Tolstoy

  2. geoff Chambers

    Thanks Ben for putting into a social and political perspective what those of us like myself, Barry Woods, and Foxgoose, who have been combatting Lewandowsky “at the front” have been too involved with to analyse with such finesse.
    I’d take exception with one statement though, where you’re far too kind to the social science community. You say:

    “most surveys give results than can be understood fairly simply”.

    That’s what I imagined, from my experience in market research, where you had to put your results in terms that could be understood or you didn’t get paid. But looking at standard peer-reviewed psychology papers by Dr Swami of the University of Westminster (who reviewed and edited Lewandowsky’s paper) or Dr Corner of the University of Cardiff (who publicised Lewandowsky’s work at the Guardian and at suppressing percentages in favour of beta values seems to be common practice. This way, a result based on a couple of dozen informants can get scientific credence, while your average Fleet Street hack won’t quote a survey result unless a thousand people or so are interviewed. Standards of truth and objectivity are higher at the Sun or the Daily Mail than at Psychological Science or at Frontiers in Personality Science. And the papers are cheaper too.

  3. Richard Drake


    Standards of truth and objectivity are higher at the Sun or the Daily Mail than at Psychological Science or at Frontiers in Personality Science. And the papers are cheaper too.

    Not good enough to be tomorrow’s fish ‘n chip paper? Thanks for doing the frying.

  4. Paul Matthews

    Nice overview. There’s a lot more detail that could be added, at the risk of missing the wood for the trees. It’s worth noting that the second paper has been pulled fom the journal website, with a message from the journal protesting that “The article has not been retracted or withdrawn”. It’s been down for almost 2 months now.

    At some stage it might be good to write a longer joint paper. Suggested title something like
    “You question me – therefore you’re a conspiracy theorist”

  5. D Cotton


  6. Rog Tallbloke

    Thanks Ben, for taking the trouble to demolish this nonsense. I found it so Lewdicrous that I just wrote a short parody piece and left it at that.

    But since then, the Royal Society and Bristol University have degraded their credibility by endorsing Lewandowsky’s mendacious crap with generous tenure. That takes l’affaire Lew-paper to a new and disturbing level. Institutional science is adopting the modern political technique of ramming ideologically motivated junk down the public throat regardless of its blatant falsehood. A worrying trend which threatens to undermine public trust in science as a knowledge building enterprise.

  7. Simon

    Ben, you say ” perhaps climate sceptics should be taken more seriously.”, so please do take a fresh look at what the PSI scientists are saying (albeit reading past Joe Postma’s ‘anger’, which while understandable, should be left out), i.e. the core scientific arguments, backed by experimental & observational data. To reject them based on ‘belief’ iserffectively doing the same as Lewandowsky, dressing up subjective belief as objective.

    [I find PSI just as arrogant and intolerant as the worst of the warmers, frankly. Here for example, was a comment from DC, where s/he ignored all of the preceding discussion in the belief that the PSI’s alternative physics seemingly made it redundant. In the same way, green zealots seem to believe that since the truth of a’genic warming has been established, so they have won the political argument. Sceptics are not worth listening to if they’re just going to mirror the excesses of the environmental movement. – Ben]

  8. Rog Tallbloke

    By the way Ben, two minor typos. Penultimate para “is his really his” and the preceding para “was defended against on” could lose ‘against’. Cheers – Rog

    [Thanks Rog — sorted now. Ben.]

  9. Rog Tallbloke

    Simon, please could you point me to the experimental data supporting Claes Johnson’s ideas about radiative energy transfer. Thanks.

    [Simon, please respond to Rog elsewhere, I don’t want this to turn into another discussion about PSI.]

  10. Pointman

    There’s nothing new about the likes of Lew.

    “All these crimes against humanity were facilitated and made possible, because of the cooperation of the more educated and professional segments of the populace. The authority figures. They helpfully produced studies and research on minorities, which the state was determined to eliminate.”


  11. Manicbeancounter


    You have covered a huge amount of ground here, so there are a bound to be a couple of issues that I believe require a bit of more emphasis.
    First is on the conspiracy theory questions. There were fifteen, with five potential categories
    – Neutral to the climate change question. (12)
    – Related to the climate change question, the pro-consensus types might believe in. (0)
    – Related to the climate change question, the sceptics types might believe in. (1)
    – Unrelated to the climate change question, the pro-consensus types might believe in. (1 – but results not reported)
    – Unrelated to the climate change question, the sceptics types might believe in. (1)
    The question that results were not reported was “7. The Iraq War in 2003 was launched for reasons other than to remove WMD from Iraq”. Simon Turnbull of Australian Climate Madness I believe put in a FOI request for these results. See

    A second area is looking at alternative hypotheses for the mistrust of science. My own conclusion is far more important that the “conspiracist ideation” idea. In personal or business relationships, if someone betrays your trust; gives misleading statements; makes prophesies that turn out to be incorrect; or fails to appreciate that you may have a valid point of view even if they feel it inferior to their own – then you are likely to lose trust in anything that they say.. The climatologist community employs these tactics all the time, alienating their own followers. See

  12. geoff Chambers

    Lewandowsky’s two papers have been the subject of complaints to the journals concerned, Psychological Science and Frontiers in Personality Science.
    Shoddy methodology and unwarranted conclusions are not accepted as reasons for withdrawing papers. The specific complaint made is that Lewandowsky and his co-authors deliberately lied when they claimed in their two papers that the survey was publicised at the “pro-science” website, SkepticalScience.
    A second lie by Lewandowsky has recently been uncovered, this time at the university-sponsored website Expect an announcement soon at the usual blogs.
    The second paper was revised twice on-line following complaints of possible defamation before being temporarily removed from the journal’s website (though not retracted or withdrawn, they point out). Three different versions of this paper, which clearly defames dozens of named individuals, are now floating around in cyberspace. The first paper, though it mentions no sceptics by name, clearly indicates Steve McIntyre and Anthony Watts as typical sceptics of the kind it links with conspiracist ideation.
    As Ben’s article implies, science is quite inadequate as a tool for analysing what Lewandowsky, his colleagues, the scientific journals, the Universities of Western Australia and Bristol, and the Royal Society are up to. Only the revelation of Lewandowsky’s lies and libellous statements in the media or in the courts will clear up this matter.

  13. tlitb1

    Fig leaf for bad faith is an excellent summation of what is going on with this kind of science. The “objectless consensus” is a nice phrase too. It does indeed seem that “consensus” and “denier” really can only have a utility when properly left unexamined;) The over-elaborate SEM sound and fury signifies nothing as you say. Anyone really can look at this and see the lack of diligence of the sampling technique and then see the numbers have nothing to say.

    It is pitifully obvious that motivated reasoning cries out from every utterance of Lewandowsky’s poorly executed, over-elaborate, over interpreted mess. The Journals and commentators who give it lip service today have no way to make it look good in the future and I really want to be there to rub it in their faces.

    I can get a bit pissed off with the way that climate science does seem to be a dreary nexus and supporting framework of the worst pious offensive drivel like this study and I could weep that it is passed it off as science.

    I remember a time when a “science story” often promised something interesting and sometimes uplifting, nowadays science so often means piety, posturing lecturing and misery. So it is nice to see pieces like this article patiently documenting the inanity and insanity that sometimes passes for intellectual discourse today. Thanks. :)

  14. tlitb1

    Thanks for the reference Geoff but that article basically starts with a barely supported cynically shoehorned reference to a current hot name in stats, Nate Silver, (gets those hits up!) and then really has nothing more to say that is new by the standards of psyche climate idiocracy. Basically he says that anyone pointing out there is dissent amongst climate scientists (on unspecified points) is enough for to say you are a sceptic and part of a pathological mindset. That is “cognitive science” Ph. D talk by the numbers crap really, he could probably get his pet tortoise to write it – I am not sure why you would want to bother Geoff since you are really only left with the commentators below and frankly they are piss poor even by CiF standards – My summary: Scientists should stop offering caveats and state the certainty of doom – bye, bye Popper ;)

    Suits their prejudice and as Ben says there pretty much is no telling them. By definition if you are criticising it you are showing yourself up to be part of the subject matter that is problematic. A nice simple discourse beginning and ending as follows i.e. “Lew has you pegged – so I am not listening to you, you denier”.

    That is why the problem really lies within the alarmist mind set and not the sceptic/denier. The alarmist has a large supporting framework to occupy and work in that leaves them unchallenged and comfortable. Piss poor work like Lews gives it a scientific patina that justifies it. It is a race to the bottom that cannot get better. I am often wary of the passive argument that history will eventually tell, but in this case I feel confiden that there really is nowhere for it to go.

    In fact I think you see it surfacing now with some commentators accepting the arguments now being heard from Roger Pielke Jr that the obsession with scepticism holding back action is a real waste of time that seems only designed to both give excuses for the failures, and sense of purpose to alarmists. I noticed (and favourited) when Ben Pile tweeted he had been making that point for years ;)
    I guess it doesn’t matter who makes the point, and RPJ is good person to make it and get it heard, but I really want to guard against the weaselling repositioning that is inevitable when people want to start claim they were always interested in debating. I notice some others repositioning their stance too. With a lot of them I think we will follow then in good faith and let them change, but with many others we will have still stay around and remind them they are the ones who gave lip service to pseudo-scientific efforts at psychologically pathologising and silencing debate.

    I want it at least to have the change of resonance of the eugenics movement pre – and then after – WW2, you know? All those greats that you could admire from history that when you later hear their words supporting sterilising the underclass leaves a bad taste a dubious patina that should make you wary of the puffed up experts.

    Take away the shine from their vanity. I feel confident that there are many, many, of the great and good today who will need reminding how nasty, unctuous, pious and petty was their need for making their life easy and increasing their standing within a piss poor guarded framework of their own making.

  15. Alex Cull

    tlitb1: “I feel confident that there are many, many, of the great and good today who will need reminding…”

    That’s one of the reasons I started doing transcripts, especially from some of the older audio material. These may prove interesting in the years to come.

    It’s also why online newspaper archives from the mid to late 20th century are important, with their stories featuring the likes of Paul R Ehrlich and Lester R Brown promoting the idea of mass sterilisation in the Third World to prevent the great global famines of the 1980s.

  16. geoff Chambers

    tlitb1 (formerly known as Leopard)
    That’s a very well-argued comment. But while we’re waiting for CAGW to go the way of the eugenics movement it’s still getting good play in all the mainstream media. Lewandowsky’s contribution may seem minor – until you start seeing comments like: “Climate sceptic eh? I bet you believe the moon landing was a hoax as well”. (it’s already happening).

    This has nothing to do with the quality of the science and everything to do with its getting an airing at places like the New Yorker and Huffington Post. Sneering about the quality of their journalism here achieves nothing. Commenting there just might.

    Huffington has let me make clearly libellous comments about Lewandowsky. While I agree that in the long run it’s more important that intellectual justice be done, in the short run I’ll be very happy to start a little bush fire in the great flame war, and would appreciate some help. Cheers.

  17. tlitb1

    Alex, I for one appreciate the work you do documenting their silly words in black and white. :)

    Geoff, Yes I agree it is worth leaving sharp salient comments like that so at least any third party reading can see and notice they just otherwise sit strangely ignored in preference for rote lame responses with no inquiry.

  18. Jeremy Poynton

    Thanks Ben,

    I have emailed his boss at the Dept. Of Witchcraft (Experimental Psychology) at Bristol to suggest he reads your article. I have also pointed him to Steve McIntyre’s comprehensive destruction of Lewy’s statistical “methods”. No rude words, rather an expression of dismay that such a fraud should be being supported by UK taxpayer funding. if anyone is interested…



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