The GWPF, Crok & Lewis, and Positioning Sceptics

by | Mar 8, 2014

As we all now know, Marcel Crok and Nicholas Lewis have written a report on the IPCC’s treatment of climate sensitivity, published by the GWPF. The GWPF’s press release is here, the long version of the report is here, and the short version is here.

Andrew Orlowski has a nice piece on the report comprising a Q&A with Lewis at the Register.

The nuts and bolts of the science have never been of interest to this blog — that is for other blogs. But what is interesting about challenges to putative mainstream climate science is the responses that they generate. The scientific controversy isn’t generally very interesting, except to those who already take a particular interest in climate science’s debates. What this blog argues is that the treatment of scientific debates often reveal much more about the prevailing politics — the context of the climate debate — than a narrow treatment of scientific questions can reveal.

To take one crude example, Exactly seven years ago today, Martin Durkins’ film, The Great Global Warming Swindle (aka TGGWS) was broadcast on Channel 4. TGGWS rightly or wrongly suggested that variations in solar output might be indirectly driving changes in the planet’s temperature. This may or may not have advanced science or the public’s understanding of the scientific arguments. But what it did reveal was the uglier side of the argument in favour of action to mitigate climate change. The climate change establishment mobilised against the film, calling for its censorship. “Free speech does not extend to misleading the public by making factually inaccurate statements”, complained Bob Ward, the charmless leader of this new inquisition.

But free speech means nothing if it does not mean the freedom to make misleading statements, either in good faith or bad. My claim here might raise eyebrows. But the obvious problem with Ward’s claim is that individuals like him will shut down any reasonable debate on the basis of ‘factual accuracy’ once the state has determined it knows best what is or isn’t ‘factually accurate’. And as this blog has argued, the political utility of a scientific consensus was understood before the consensus was formed. Indeed, there is a good argument, whether or not ‘climate change is happening’, that a consensus was sought on climate change precisely because of its political utility, other consensuses in society being so hard to achieve in the current political environment. Politics has colonised science, whether or not climate science has understood the object of its study. The point, then, is not to say that people should be free to lie, but that it is an unfortunate consequence of saying that people should be free to speak the truth to the authoritarian impulses of lunatics like Robert Ward of the Grantham Institute at the London School of Economics. And it’s not just journalists and the free press that Ward has his sights on — he also wants to prevent academics producing research that might slow the progress of the climate agenda, and to prevent academic journals from publishing that research.

Similarly, and as discussed here, Matthew England’s recent discovery of the ‘missing heat’ — right or wrong — in the oceans followed years of his somewhat angry criticisms of climate sceptics rightly pointing out the missing heat, leading to their claims, rightly or wrongly that climate science had erred. Once it became obvious that the heat was missing, England decided to go find it. Sceptics, far from distorting the scientific debate, had in fact, driven scientific discovery, whether or not they had been right about any aspect of climate science. Had Matt England’s ire been unbridled by such vulgar preoccupations as free speech, democracy, and academic independence — the sort of thing he and Ward seem hostile to — science may not have made the discovery he now claims as his own (if it is indeed a discovery). Moreover, anyone suggesting that the missing heat had found its way to the oceans might have found themselves thrown out of the academy for suggesting such a thing.

Time will tell whether Ward and England have accurately represented the science. Meanwhile, we can see their politics in its bright livery and shiny boots. So let’s get back to the current story, which is Lewis and Crok’s paper, published by the GWPF. What does the response to the report tell us about the politics of today’s climate debate?

There were some rapid replies from science. Notably, Piers Foster at Ed Hawkins’ Climate Lab Book, set out his own analysis of the Lewis & Crok paper, without — as far as I can tell — any obvious ideological baggage, though some sceptics pointed out that the reply was obfuscation, rather than a serious rejoinder. The consensus police arrived, as they are inclined to, to manage the situation in the way only they know how.

[‘And Then There’s Physics’ and ‘BBD’ visit the Climate Lab Book]

The Science Media Centre soon followed with an attempt at ‘expert reaction to new report on climate sensitivity published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation‘. The SMC’s approach to climate is less about getting clear scientific advice to the public debate than it is about getting rehearsed soundbytes from scientists into the press as quickly as possible. This is PR. And so it is no surprise that Bob Ward (him again!) sits on the organisation’s advisory committee. Readers of Bishop Hill blog will already know that Chief Executive of the SMC, Fiona Fox, is chairing a ‘debate’ about the question ‘Are there really two sides to every science story?‘ later this month, apparently in the wake of Lord Lawson’s appearance on Radio 4’s Today programme opposite Hoskins, which caused so much ire. Notably, the panellists do not include anyone from the side which might claim there is more than one story to the climate debate. It is populated, however, by Bob Ward (him again), and Steve Jones, whose views on sceptics on the BBC is not so different, as reported here, back in 2011.

Says Fox:

“I think many now agree that the hallowed principle of ‘journalistic balance’ is problematic when it comes to science and no one has made that point more than me. But I also think we have to be careful about where lines are drawn. Reporting climate change or GM crops as if there is a 50/50 split in science is misleading, inaccurate and poor journalism. But that does not mean that media debates about these controversies should be monopolised by scientists to the exclusion of other voices. I have agreed to chair this debate because I genuinely sit somewhere in the middle and think this panel guarantees a thoughtful, grown up discussion between speakers who care passionately about getting this right.”

Fox’s claim that she sits ‘somewhere in the middle’ is unconvincing. Notice that the SMC did not canvass anyone who welcomed the report, whether they agreed with it or not, as a contribution to the debate. Instead, the SMC’s correspondents belittled it. The SMC trades on the view that ‘science’ produces single answers to simple questions, whereas in reality, science — especially climate science — is a messy process, which investigates poorly understood, and even less clearly defined problems. (If it were otherwise, there would be no need for science). Being ‘half way’ on the question about the appropriate balance of opinion (yes, opinion) in the media is not ‘half way’ between censorship and editorial freedom. The idea that one can be half way on such a question is almost as absurd as the idea that Bob Ward can contribute to a ‘a thoughtful, grown up discussion’, much less guarantee one.

The SMC has not challenged Ward’s particular form of emphasis on the science — and it couldn’t. And it has not challenged the nonsense emerging from environmental psychology, such as that coming from Cardiff University (about which more follows) and Stephan Lewandowsky. It has not challenged the tone or the content of the UK’s Chief Scientific Advisers’ comments on climate change, nor the Royal Society’s presidents, even where they have been entirely unscientific. And it couldn’t. What use is science to society, if its advocates are not brave enough to point out the nonsense that is produced in the name of the scientific consensus?

Ward now represents an extreme position in the climate debate, which, it seems clear, organisations and individuals will want to move away from in the near future. But for now, the division that Ward wants to maintain between the orthodox position and its critics is sustained, not by clearly articulated scientific dispute, but by a single, entrenched — although perhaps unconscious — political perspective. It emerges under Foster’s attempt to define the scientific disagreement, and it is perpetuated by SMC’s attempt to control the narrative in the wider sphere. The SMC’s emphasis on ‘expert opinion’, reflects the ‘values’ recently evinced by Lewandowsky, that debate about the climate and criticism of his own work is valid only when ‘addressed through proper channels’ — it ‘should take place in the scientific literature’. Lewandowsky is a demonstration of the academy’s failure, and the SMC a demonstration of the need for climate scepticism, right or wrong.

The BBC’s Environment Correspondent, Matt McGrath, then suggested that the report might in fact represent the ‘foremost bastions of contrariness when it comes to man-made climate change, admitting that temperatures were actually rising in response to human emissions of greenhouse gases’. It’s the sort of thing we probably expect from the BBC. But it was more surprising from Reiner Grundmann, who, following McGrath, noted,

‘This raises the interesting question how much of the Lewis/Crok paper is actually endorsed by the GWPF. Providing a platform for an IPCC critical analysis does not mean the organisation shares the details, or the broader message of the paper. Maybe the motivation was to undermine the IPCC’s authority.

I’ve always found Grundmann’s writing interesting, there being a strong indication in his work that there’s more going on than the idea that environmentalism is a straightforward response to science. But the lack of sophistication in this analysis was disappointing, to say the least. Further noting Ed Hawkins’s comment that ‘if we broadly agree on this, the debate can crucially move on to what action is needed to deal with a warming planet‘, Grundmann goes on to claim,

If my reading is correct that the GWPF does not commit to this implication but is mainly interested in IPCC bashing, the invitation to Lewis and Crok may have led to a new dynamic. Commentators read this as a sign that there is some agreement emerging, despite the appearance to the contrary (because the GWPF emphasises that the sensitivity analysis is different between Lewis/Crok and IPCC).

And concludes,

It is now up to the GWPF to re-state their position with regard to climate policies: is there reason to act or to bury the head in the sand?

This seems to be the reasoning:

1. Lewis and Crok assess the IPCC’s assessment of the science on climate sensitivity.
2. Lewis and Crok determine that the IPCC over-estimates climate sensitivity.
3. But Lewis and Crock’s estimate is not radically different to the IPCC’s.
4. The GWPF published Lewis and Crock’s report.
5. But the GWPF are deniers of climate change.
6. The GWPF is must commit to the implications of Lewis and Crok’s proximity to the IPCC estimate.
7. The implications are still that a lower estimate of climate sensitivity means ‘there is a reason to act’.

It seems that many are surprised that the GWPF seem to have published a report that doesn’t say that ‘there is no such thing as climate change’. Yet of all the reports published by them, not one expresses a view of the debate as has been portrayed.

Jonathan Jones from the University of Oxford was the first to point out the obvious problem, in this superb comment:

It has been amusing to watch the apparent surprise of many climate scientists at their discovery that many “climate sceptics” are actually lukewarmers. Taking a rough and ready definition, that lukewarmers believe in AGW but doubt catastrophic AGW, one could reasonably place many of the more famous sceptics (Liljegren, McIntyre implicitly, Montford, Watts explicitly) in that camp, together with a number of “maverick” climate scientists (Curry, Lewis, Lindzen). Indeed it has long seemed to me that the unspoken position of Klimazwiebel itself has sympathy for lukewarmerdom.

What does not follow from this, however, is Ed’s suggestion that “the debate can crucially move on to what action is needed to deal with a warming planet”. Or to be more precise that is, as it always has been, a reasonable question, but a perfectly reasonable answer at the moment would be “little or nothing”. Many lukewarmers are also “policy sceptics”, and their view that current policy responses are hopelessly ineffective, with costs far exceeding any conceivable benefits, remains unchanged.

And straying briefly into more dangerous territory, lukewarmers can and do remain highly critical of the IPCC, the hockey stick, the climategate fiasco, the Lewandowsky nonsense, and the bizarre idea that sceptics are a bunch of “fossil fuel funded deniers”. True peace in our time requires mainstream climate science to acknowledge a few uncomfortable truths.

Similarly, Benny Peiser responded,

I’m afraid both Matt McGrath and Reiner Grundmann misunderstand the GWPF and our work. They should know better.

Our mission statement and philosophy has been known ever since we launched the GWPF in 2009 and is prominently posted on our website:

* We have developed a distinct set of principles that set us apart from most other stakeholders in the climate debates:
* The GWPF does not have an official or shared view about the science of global warming – although we are of course aware that this issue is not yet settled.
* On climate science, our members and supporters cover a broad range of different views, from the IPCC position through agnosticism to outright scepticism.

As a matter of fact, we don’t even have a collective view on the excellent new report by Nic Lewis and Marcel Crok.

We are promoting an open debate, our opponents are trying to close it down.

And reiterated the point later:

GWPF members have different views on most subject matters. The only issue we all agree upon: that there is a manifest lack of an open, frank and critical climate debate.

To encourage open discussion and critical assessment is the main raison d’être of our work and existence.

Which was denied by Grundmann:

You are trying to paint the GWPF as a group without clear direction as every member has different views. I think this is misleading. The GWPF occupies a well defined space in the ecosystem of climate change discourse.

I took the issue up with Grundmann, who tweeted, “Has the GWPF become lukewarm?”

I asked, “You say GWPF may have ‘become’ something. What was it before? Perhaps it is only prejudices that have changed.”

Grundmann didn’t want to dwell on the question. But I think it is the most interesting question in the entire debate. Grundmann claims that the GWPF can be easily defined. But it would seem he has much trouble defining it, to the point that he couldn’t answer a question about its putative transformation, reflected in the publication of Lewis and Crok.

As is discussed here often, the most powerful misconception of the climate debate is that is divides on the proposition ‘climate change is happening’. This is presented as a scientific claim, though when one tries to understand what it means, and what its consequences are, unpacking it reveals that it means precisely nothing, and the consequences might mean anything between a trivial change in the weather, through to the collapse of civilisation and the end of all life on Earth. This ambiguity turns nuanced arguments and analyses into cartoons, and would seem to put Lewis and Crok opposite the GWPF, who have published broad criticism of climate policy and also of some particular scientific questions. Worse, this tendency allows politics or ‘ideology’ to be presented as ‘science’, and so to preclude debate. All Ed Davey has to do, for instance, to wave away criticism of his energy policy is claim that it is the expression of denial of climate science. Grundmann’s thinking is no more sophisticated.

Yet Grundmann’s academic profile claims that his interests are,

Sociotechnical Systems, Social Philosophy, Power (social), Political Science, Economic Sociology, Political Sociology, Pure Sociology, Social Theory, Comparative Politics, Climate Change, Sustainable Transportation, Sociology, Sociology of Knowledge, Global Environmental Governance, Science and technology studies, and Environmental Sustainability

How do political sociologists develop such blind spots in the climate debate, such that publishing a “lukewarm” report means a tiny organisation with few resources has radically altered its presumed position? The presumption is the key. If the GWPF had stated a position on the necessity of political action with respect to the magnitude of climate sensitivity prior to Lewis and Crok, Grundmann would be right to demand some revision of it, or remain ‘IPCC-bashers’. But I’m fairly sure that what concerns the GWPF’s members is the same as what has concerned this blog over the last seven years:

1. That climate’s sensitivity to CO2 is not equivalent to society’s sensitivity to climate.
2. That political and scientific arguments are routinely confused.
3. That scientific expertise is used to prevent political debate about important questions.
4. That institutional science has allowed itself to be colonised by political agendas.

This blog has never taken a particular view on climate science. The criticism here is of environmentalism, broadly defined as a political phenomenon, in which the above problems (1-4) are epitomised. Yet it finds itself categorised as a blog for ‘scepticism’ or ‘denial’. This is all anyone seems to need to know.

The blind spot is a phenomenon that political sociologists ought to be conscious of, and to make an object of their study. I pointed out the problem to Grundmann on twitter, passing him a link to a new study coming out of the Tyndall Centre:

What is climate change scepticism? Examination of the concept using a mixed methods study of the UK public
Capstick, S., and N. Pidgeon

The holding of doubts about climate change is often referred to as ‘scepticism’. However, there has been a lack of clarity in previous work as to what exactly this scepticism comprises. We integrate data obtained from discussion groups and a nationally representative survey, to interrogate and refine the concept of climate change scepticism with respect to the views of members of the public. We argue that two main types should be distinguished: epistemic scepticism, relating to doubts about the status of climate change as a scientific and physical phenomenon; and response scepticism, relating to doubts about the efficacy of action taken to address climate change. Whilst each type is independently associated by people themselves with climate change scepticism, we find that the latter is more strongly associated with a lack of concern about climate change. As such, additional effort should be directed towards addressing and engaging with people’s doubts concerning attempts to address climate change. © 2013 The Authors.

What is much more interesting to this “climate sceptic” than any claims about whether or not ‘climate change is happening’ is the implication of Capstic and Pidgeon’s abstract, that it is their role, as academics, to direct ‘additional effort … towards addressing and engaging with people’s doubts concerning attempts to address climate change’.

Imagine, for example, that researchers at a school of psychology at a university had authored a paper that aimed to understand why people voted for a particular mainstream political party, which then suggested ways that interventions might be made to encourage them to vote for another. NB, I am not suggesting here that researchers should not be allowed to have such biases, or even that the academy should not be a place where people are able to develop persuasive political ideas — on the contrary. But there is something weird about this form of ‘research’ which aims to change the dynamics of debates about public policy in this way.

Capstic and Pidgeon’s paper, like many investigations into climate scepticism — Lewandowsky’s, for instance — makes it an object of study rather than the ground of a debate. In table two, for example, they identify a list of 20 expressions of scepticism:

* There is too much conflicting evidence about climate change to know whether it is actually happening
* Current climate change is part of a pattern that has been going on for millions of years
* Climate change is just a natural fluctuation in Earth’s temperatures
* Even if we do experience some consequences from climate change, we will be able to cope with them
* The effects of climate change are likely to be catastrophic
* The evidence for climate change is unreliable
* There are a lot of very different theories about climate change<comma> and little agreement about which is right
* Scientists have in the past changed their results to make climate change appear worse than it is
* Scientists have hidden research that shows climate change is not serious
* Climate change is a scam
* Social/behavioural scepticism measures
* Climate change is so complicated, that there is very little politicians can do about it
* There is no point in me doing anything about climate change because no-one else is
* The actions of a single person doesn’t make any difference in tackling climate change
* People are too selfish to do anything about climate change
* Not much will be done about climate change, because it is not in human nature to respond to problems that won’t happen for many years
* It is already too late to do anything about climate change
* The media is often too alarmist about climate change
* Environmentalists do their best to emphasise the worst possible effects of climate change
* Climate change has now become a bit of an outdated issue
* Whether it is important or not, on a day-to-day basis I am bored of hearing about climate change

There’s plenty of material coming out of Cardiff to occupy political sociologists. But they seem more interested in the putative transformation in the GWPF than in reflecting critically on the new role of academics, and the diminished understanding of the public.Rather than positions to be argued with, the entries on this table are taken as merely arbitrary expressions of some kind of irrational motivation. But the consequence of this is that, far from developing an understanding of ‘what scepticism is’, the researchers only engage with their own prejudices. There is no dialogue. They aim to sample scepticism, by analysing sceptics (which ones?) comments, but only end up sampling their own heads, rather than testing the categories and ideas they have developed. Thus, Capstic and Pidegon tell us more about themselves than about sceptics.

Grundmann, Capstic, Pidgeon, Lewandowsky, The SMC, McGrath, and Ward, although their tones and their general approaches to the climate debate differ, cannot help but merely reproduce their own ignorance of their subjects. The GWPF’s position is a mystery to them. So when it becomes obvious that there is lukewarmism amongst the GWPF fold, the coordinates on which that ignorance rested are disturbed. Rather than seeing the ignorance as the cause of that disturbance, it appears as a radical shift in the position of the GWPF. In the same way, a dizzy person sees the world spinning. If sceptics were taken more seriously, if there was a debate… if there was a political, or academic culture which accepted debate… Cardiff wouldn’t produce such rank pseudo-science, and social scientists in Nottingham could be more confident about the definition of ‘space in the ecosystem of climate change discourse’, but probably would chose his words — and his coordinates — more carefully.

What space?

What ecosystem?

What discourse?

What bullshit!


  1. hunter

    Excellent, as always. One thing I do notice across the AGW true believer spectrum is a shift towards ending all debate, and ending it as soon as possible by way of silencing skeptics.
    This is in the context, in my observation, of a simultaneous increase in the irrationality of how AGW believers seem to see the world.
    Here in the US our Sec. of State seriously pushes the idea that not only is ‘climate change’ the deadliest thing facing world governance, skeptics are ‘flat earthers’ making this most terrible danger worse somehow. The answer to the Ukranian crisis, is according to Tom Friedman, editorial writer for the New York Times, to increase carbon tax, increase gasoline taxes in particular, and to build more windmills. And he wrote this seriously. That somehow if we tax carbon and gasoline we will get more of it, not less. In other words, the climate obsessed have a world view that is so climate-centric that climate policies are the cure for every problem, and those who disagree on climate issues are the enemy, in the sense of the boogeyman is the enemy.

  2. Don B

    A poll of people who frequent “sceptical” blogs revealed what I believe is the true position of those people, which includes me.

    “A recent survey of those participating in online forums showed that most of the 5,000 respondents were experienced engineers, scientists and IT professionals, most degree-qualified and around a third with post-graduate qualifications.

    “The survey, carried out by the Scottish Climate and Energy Forum, asked respondents for their views on CO² and the effect it might have on global temperatures.

    “The results were surprising: 96 per cent of respondents said that atmospheric CO² levels are increasing, with 79 per cent attributing the increase to man-made sources. Eighty-one per cent agreed global temperatures had increased over the 20th century and 81 per cent also agreed that CO² is a warming gas. But only 2 per cent believed that increases in CO² would cause catastrophic global warming.”

  3. Ben Pile

    Don – A poll of people who frequent “sceptical” blogs revealed what I believe is the true position of those people.

    That’s all well and good, for specific ends, which, in my understanding, is to answer the claims that emerged after other polls clumsily attempted to diminish sceptics.

    Polls are very blunt instruments indeed, and so only seem any good for smacking heads with, rather than shedding light on what it is that goes on inside them.

    We should stick our noses and fingers up at polls, except elections.

  4. RichieRich

    Agree with the broad thrust of your piece but a few comments/questions.

    But free speech means nothing if it does not mean the freedom to make misleading statements, either in good faith or bad. My claim here might raise eyebrows.

    My eyebrows raised! I’m not sure that what you say can be quite right as, arguably, libel is an instance of making misleading statements in bad faith. And libel is an offence under the law.

    The point, then, is not to say that people should be free to lie…

    Doe this contradict your earlier statement?

    The consensus police arrived, as they are inclined to, to manage the situation in the way only they know how. [Amusing ref to ATTP and BBD.]

    What leads you to believe that ATTP and BBD were commenting in bad faith as opposed to genuinely disagreeing with Lewis and Crok?

  5. Doug Cotton

    All that the world needs to understand is why it’s not carbon dioxide after all. The reasons are in my comments starting here and similar have been posted on several blogs, but the blog owners delete them, probably because they feel threatened by them and that is because they cannot rebut the truth of physics.

    I make no bones about the fact that I am determined to stamp out the hoax about carbon dioxide having any warming effect, because it is a travesty of physics, a huge cost to society and, indirectly, causes thousands of deaths. Think on that and dare to debate the physics with me.


    Doug Cotton, I imagine that your posts have been removed from those blogs, and this, because you want to dominate discussions with your own version of physics. This is

    i) off topic.
    ii) boring.

    What makes it worse is that it is obvious that you have not read the post above the comments, viz,


    Please take it elsewhere.

  6. RichardLH

    “Climate change is just a natural fluctuation in Earth’s temperatures”

    The main problem is that, despite all of the clamour, this still remains a very possible reason for what we have observed.

    The fact that models seemed to indicate otherwise is not proof that they are correct, as the latest measurements can be interpreted to show.

    New data will decide this once and for all, the only question is how long any new data takes to make one position or the other indisputable.

  7. Ben Pile

    Richie Rich – And libel is an offence under the law.

    Libel is not a crime, as far as I am aware, but the law allows legal persons to seek damages. Either way, I wasn’t talking about making statements about people, but claims about the material world.

    Doe this contradict your earlier statement?

    No. I think people should be free to lie (including about people, but that s by-the-by) because stopping people from lying means also stopping people from telling the truth. Many true things are not reported for fear of facing expensive litigation.

    What leads you to believe that ATTP and BBD were commenting in bad faith…

    I made no such judgement.

  8. michael hart

    Thanks, Ben.
    Masterful use of English.

  9. Mooloo

    And libel is an offence under the law.

    Well, since that is how the law defines “libel”, then obviously. But there is no offence for “telling lies” in general. In particular the moment a person dies, even the most libelous statement becomes allowable.

    One of my strong objections to the likes of Ward is that they are so patently not symmetric in their interest in protecting consensus science. He argues for a polite discussion on GM crops, even though there is a scientific consensus that they are safe. But he waxes indignant if anyone challenges the slightest detail of climate alarmism.

  10. RichieRich

    I wrote

    I’m not sure that what you say can be quite right as, arguably, libel is an instance of making misleading statements in bad faith. And libel is an offence under the law.

    You replied

    Libel is not a crime, as far as I am aware, but the law allows legal persons to seek damages. Either way, I wasn’t talking about making statements about people, but claims about the material world.

    My use of “offence” was misleading here as it suggests libel is a crime when I meant that it’s a civil wrong. (Equally it might be misleading to suggest people aren’t part of the material world!) And – interestingly – your position seems to be that libel should not, in fact, be a civil wrong.

    Many true things are not reported for fear of facing expensive litigation.

    The “chilling effect” is usually discussed with respect to libel. But if we’re not talking about statements about persons, what sort of expensive litigation do you have in mind?

    You wrote

    The consensus police arrived, as they are inclined to, to manage the situation in the way only they know how

    Given the following video clip, it seemed to me that you had to be making some sort of negative judgement about ATTP and BBD. If it wasn’t a judgement of bad faith, was it some other form of negative judgement? Or was no judgement implied?

  11. Karl Kuhn


    I think you are a bit harsh with Grundmann. With his Klimazwiebel question re the GWPF, he wanted to provoke a bit. The direct replies by Benny Peiser are not very convincing. The GWPF may write into its ‘Who We Are’ whatever they like … their Website – despite being one of the most valuable resources for links – is still pretty one-sided. There is, for instance, the category ‘Pros & Cons’, where you may expect debate of competing views … but nothing of the like, as only views are displayed that are critical of AGW and environmentalism. So poking them a bit about their own viewpoint is not off the mark.

  12. Mooloo

    One troll technique is to derail the conversation into irrelevancies. Like say quibbling over the differences between torts and offences. Another is to defend the indefensible knowing that people will bite back. Like, say, claiming BBD may look like a troll, but that doesn’t mean that he is one.

    Richie, could you please do us a favour and stick to critiques of the important matters?

    BTW: is this you?

  13. Ben Pile

    Karl Kuhn – he wanted to provoke a bit. The direct replies by Benny Peiser are not very convincing. The GWPF may write into its ‘Who We Are’ whatever they like … their Website – despite being one of the most valuable resources for links – is still pretty one-sided. There is, for instance, the category ‘Pros & Cons’, where you may expect debate of competing views … but nothing of the like, as only views are displayed that are critical of AGW and environmentalism.

    Provocative pieces at klimazwiebel, good; predominantly sceptic links at , bad?

    I really don’t care for this idea that the only way GWPF can demonstrate that their membership encompasses a range of views is by linking to WWF/FOE/Greenpeace analyses.

    As for Grundmann, I asked him to precise about what he meant. He wasn’t able or willing to be. And didn’t seem to think he needed to be, when positioning the GWPF.

    The bullshit geometry in RG’s analysis seems to be shared by the others discussed in the post. It seems to preclude taking the substance of any arguments from the wrong end of the axes seriously, much less at face value. Your own comment here, for instance, seems to suggest that the GWPF should somehow prove itself before the Lewis and Crok paper can be seen, in its own right, as a contribution to the debate.

    I don’t think I am too harsh. Grundmann should know better.

  14. Ben Pile

    Mooloo – One of my strong objections to the likes of Ward is that they are so patently not symmetric in their interest in protecting consensus science. He argues for a polite discussion on GM crops, even though there is a scientific consensus that they are safe.

    There’s an interesting historical angle to this. The RS, where I think Bob was at the time, went to war with Greenpeace and Monbiot on the issue of GM. My attempt to sum it up is at A more recent discussion on new environmentalists pro-GM stance is at

    As you say, establishment environmentalists are promiscuous with facts when it comes to the precautionary principle. The likes of Greenpeace are at least consistently terrified of GM, nuclear energy and CO2.

  15. Robert Jason

    The efforts of these socio-political researches appear to be like the chatter of the clique of the ‘cool’ kids at a schoolroom lunch table. The aim seems to be to prove those who think like the group are cool, those who don’t aren’t. Plain, simple and unadulterated peer group pressure.

    As William Penn observed ‘Force makes hypocrites not converts’.

  16. Paul Matthews

    Another very good article Ben, though the effort is probably wasted as it will fall on deaf ears. If someone like Reiner Grundmann, who has written some pretty good articles on climate opinion, scepticism and policy, still has such a poor understanding of climate scepticism and the GWPF as to write things like “A new consensus” and “It is now up to the GWPF to re-state their position”, then there is little hope for a more informed debate.

  17. Ed Hadcock

    When my brother was doing his Classics undergrad, his tutor half-jokingly provided the following tip for what to do when flummoxed by an exam question: “if you can’t think of anything to write, invent an early-20th century German scholar called ‘Müller’, assign to him the most extreme point of view you can think of, and argue tooth and nail against it”.

    Firstly, please note that this is merely a useful academic ‘trick’ to hide a lack of exam-preparation.

    Nevertheless it provides the basis for a comparison, as the mainstream outlets, in searching for an argument, have invented their ‘Müller’ in the form of ‘climate change deniers’ – and they’re determined to argue against them tooth and nail. Rather than engaging with the material, they ignore the whole range of sceptical voices in favour of their ‘Müller’.

    These investigative journalists, establishment spokesmen, politicians and academics end up looking like undergrads who either can’t understand the material or haven’t been bothered to put the work in.

  18. Craig Loehle

    Some commentators and the people like Ward being critiqued here seem to think there is a bright line separating truth from falsehood, and that falsehood should not be allowed in the public sphere. Laws have gotten through in several US states making it a crime to lie about politicians during elections (since politicians can’t sue for libel except under extreme conditions), and these statutes are being challenged currently in court. The problem here of course that any time a scandal is breaking (phone tapping in England, sexual scandals too numerous to count) it is ALWAYS called a lie by the politician. There are also domains where no one knows the correct answer (is preschool beneficial? what causes autism? did the stimulus work?) but many have strong opinions and would like to silence their opponents. Finally, we have both the ill-informed (most politicians talking about science) and the looney, who say things that are simply wrong or irrational. Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel frequently make hay interviewing the man on the street who think the civil war happened 50 years ago or that the sun goes around the earth. Should these people go to jail? That Ward and many academics push censorship is simply horrifying. They seem to naively assume that censorship would happen with themselves in charge, but in many countries you can go to jail for trying to publicize the true inflation rate or reporting on a massacre by the army–absolutely true statements that brutal dictators don’t want publicized.

  19. Ben

    free speech means nothing if it does not mean the freedom to make misleading statements, either in good faith or bad.

    See also Breyer’s concurrence is excellent.

    erroneous statement is inevitable in free debate, and . . . it must be protected if the freedoms of expression are to have the ‘breathing space’ that they need to survive

    Even better, previously Chief Judge KOZINSKI of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, concurring in the denial of rehearing en banc:

    Saints may always tell the truth, but for mortals living
    means lying. We lie to protect our privacy (“No, I don’t live
    around here”); to avoid hurt feelings (“Friday is my study
    night”); to make others feel better (“Gee you’ve gotten skinny”);
    to avoid recriminations (“I only lost $10 at poker”); to
    prevent grief (“The doc says you’re getting better”); to maintain
    domestic tranquility (“She’s just a friend”); to avoid
    social stigma (“I just haven’t met the right woman”); for
    career advancement (“I’m sooo lucky to have a smart boss
    like you”); to avoid being lonely (“I love opera”); to eliminate
    a rival (“He has a boyfriend”); to achieve an objective (“But
    I love you so much”); to defeat an objective (“I’m allergic to
    latex”); to make an exit (“It’s not you, it’s me”); to delay the
    inevitable (“The check is in the mail”); to communicate displeasure
    (“There’s nothing wrong”); to get someone off your
    back (“I’ll call you about lunch”); to escape a nudnik (“My
    mother’s on the other line”); to namedrop (“We go way
    back”); to set up a surprise party (“I need help moving the
    piano”); to buy time (“I’m on my way”); to keep up appearances
    (“We’re not talking divorce”); to avoid taking out the
    trash (“My back hurts”); to duck an obligation (“I’ve got a
    headache”); to maintain a public image (“I go to church every
    Sunday”); to make a point (“Ich bin ein Berliner”); to save
    face (“I had too much to drink”); to humor (“Correct as usual,
    King Friday”); to avoid embarrassment (“That wasn’t me”);
    to curry favor (“I’ve read all your books”); to get a clerkship
    (“You’re the greatest living jurist”); to save a dollar (“I gave
    at the office”); or to maintain innocence (“There are eight tiny
    reindeer on the rooftop”).

    And we don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk, as
    reflected by the popularity of plastic surgery, elevator shoes,
    wood veneer paneling, cubic zirconia, toupees, artificial turf
    and cross-dressing. Last year, Americans spent $40 billion on
    cosmetics—an industry devoted almost entirely to helping
    people deceive each other about their appearance. It doesn’t
    matter whether we think that such lies are despicable or cause
    more harm than good. An important aspect of personal autonomy
    is the right to shape one’s public and private persona by
    choosing when to tell the truth about oneself, when to conceal
    and when to deceive. Of course, lies are often disbelieved or
    discovered, and that too is part of the pull and tug of social
    intercourse. But it’s critical to leave such interactions in private
    hands, so that we can make choices about who we are.
    How can you develop a reputation as a straight shooter if
    lying is not an option?

    Even if untruthful speech were not valuable for its own
    sake, its protection is clearly required to give breathing room
    to truthful self-expression, which is unequivocally protected
    by the First Amendment. See New York Times Co. v. Sullivan,
    376 U.S. 254, 271-72 (1964). Americans tell somewhere
    between two and fifty lies each day. See Jochen Mecke, Cultures
    of Lying 8 (2007). If all untruthful speech is unprotected,
    as the dissenters claim, we could all be made into criminals,
    depending on which lies those making the laws find offensive.
    And we would have to censor our speech to avoid the risk of
    prosecution for saying something that turns out to be false.
    The First Amendment does not tolerate giving the government
    such power.

    Judge O’Scannlain tells us not to worry, because to say
    “[t]hat false statements of fact are always unprotected in
    themselves is not to say that such statements are always subject
    to prohibition.” O’Scannlain dissent at 3779. This is double talk.
    If a statement is “always unprotected” by the First
    Amendment then it’s presumptively subject to regulation.
    That it may enjoy derivative protection by osmosis from
    “other speech that matters” is cold comfort to those who have
    no way of knowing in advance whether two judges of this
    court will recognize that relationship in any particular

    But it gets worse. Confronted with some of the many ways
    in which false speech permeates our discourse, Judge
    O’Scannlain comes up with new categories of exceptions to
    his regime—“expressions of emotion or sensation,” “predictions
    or plans,” “exaggerations” and “playful fancy.” Id. at
    3778-79. “Such statements,” we are told, “are not even implicated”
    by the dissenters’ analysis because they are not “falsifiable.”
    Id. But this is patently not true. If you tell a girl you
    love her in the evening and then tell your roommate she’s a
    bimbo the next morning, and the two compare notes, someone’s
    going to call you a liar. And if you tell the Social Security
    Commissioner, “I have disabling back pain,” and are then
    discovered jogging, golfing and jet-skiing, it will be no
    defense that you were merely expressing a “sensation” that is
    “non-falsifiable.” Judge O’Scannlain also turns a tin ear to the
    complexity of human communication. “I just haven’t met the
    right woman,” could be a statement of opinion, as my colleague
    suggests, but more likely is a false affirmation of
    heterosexuality. And where, exactly, is the dividing line
    between an “exaggeration”—which Judge O’Scannlain seems
    to think always gets constitutional protection—and a lie,
    which never does?

    The dissent dismisses these difficulties by creating a doctrine
    that is so complex, ad hoc and subjective that no one but
    the author can say with assurance what side of the line particular
    speech falls on. This not only runs smack up against the
    Supreme Court’s admonition against taking an “ ‘ad hoc,’
    ‘freewheeling,’ ‘case-by-case’ approach” in the First Amendment
    area, Smith concurrence at 3755, but results in the
    “courts themselves . . . becom[ing] inadvertent censors.” Snyder
    v. Phelps, No. 09-751, 2011 WL 709517, at *6 (U.S. Mar.
    2, 2011). And, as Judge Smith elegantly demonstrates, Judge
    O’Scannlain’s approach compounds the danger of arbitrariness
    by “invert[ing] the ordinary First Amendment burden” in
    requiring the speaker—even in the case of a criminal
    defendant—to prove that his speech deserves protection.
    Smith concurrence at 3746. Free speech simply cannot survive
    the kind of subjective and unpredictable regime envisioned
    by the dissenters.

    Judge O’Scannlain is right that the scenario I describe is
    “far removed from the one in which we actually live,”
    O’Scannlain dissent at 3780, but only because the dissenters
    didn’t prevail. Had they done so, we may very well have
    come to live in a world more like a Hollywood horror film
    than the country we know and adore.

  20. hunter

    There is a popular classic detective mystery denouement where the detective gets the suspects in a locked room and then proceeds to narrow it down to the actual culprit.
    The problem is when the detective messes up and all the suspects in the locked room are in on it together.
    Then you end up with a very powerful group bonding exercise and a dead detective.
    As I see the rumblings of the AGW extremist community devolving, they are after a point where to disagree with their latest version of the apocalyptic claptrap is in itself evidence of a crime against the climate.
    In effect they are bonding by metaphorically “killing” the inquirer who dares point out the inconsistencies in their AGW narrative.

  21. Andy West

    “In the same way, a dizzy person sees the world spinning.”

    Deep immersion in a memeplex, such as a religion or a secular memeplex like CAGW, alters perceptions, values, even morals. This is neither a delusion nor is there an implied dysfunction; we have evolved with memeplexes since before homo-sapiens-sapiens and so this is ‘normal’. Likely, they are essential; civilisation may not have arisen without religions, for instance. But the benefits are *net* benefits and there are downsides too; some memeplexes may be essentially parasitical and CAGW is looking rather like that. At any rate, this perspective holds a plausible answer to your ‘blindspots’ , and also to the Consensus attempts to avoid debate. As narrative success trumps verifiability (factual content), then narrratives that discourage (harmful) questioning will eventually prosper, and arrive at whatever justifications (demonisation included) of their stance are most often selected. This process is not too hard to see in religions and many are familiar with it (albeit v vague on the detail), but it’s much harder to get one’s head around the fact that this can occur for secular memeplexes too, especially those spawned by science. It’s helpful to realise that immersion is domain orientated; someone can be perfectly objective and logical in a domain where they are not influenced, while being apparantly very illogical and ‘blind’ in a domain where they are. And it’s likely that no-one is completely free of memetic influence.

    While memetics is only one within a range of (weak to strong) Darwinian theories in cultural evolution; a lot of bright folks in that discipline have been studying the behaviour of similar cultural entities for decades before CAGW started. Seems to me we should make good use of their very profitable progress, but most debate around the sociology of CAGW seems to me to try and start rather hopelessly from scratch. I guess a significant snag is that one needs professionals in the field of cultural evolution, sociology, neuroscience etc, who are not immersed in CAGW!

  22. Ben Pile

    Andy – … one needs professionals in the field of cultural evolution, sociology, neuroscience etc, who are not immersed in CAGW!

    I see memetics as being on the same tree as CAGW. Worse, perhaps, as has been discussed on this blog a few times.

    I’d also leave out the cultural evolutionists and neuroscientists. They have nothing to say here.

  23. Andy West

    Goodness. There seems to be great misunderstanding indeed of memetics and its implications on those threads you linked. There is no implication at all that it leaves folks as unthinking automata. There is an implication, as per neuro-scientist Michael Gazzaniger’s theory, that our minds are to a significant extent a ‘social mind’. And leaving out whole disciplines who have accumulated a great deal of knowledge on the type of phenomenon you are seeking to understand, is rather like climate scientists choosing to try and re-invent statistics from scratch rather than seek the help of those who practice that field. It would be a shame to rule out very helpful insights based on misunderstanding. More and more folks, both notables and not, are pointing to the similarity between religion and CAGW; a similarity driven by the same mechanics beneath. Religions are memeplexes.

  24. RichardLH

    I think that the biggest and most obviously overlooked part of current climate science is the denial that there are short term cyclic factors in the recent (since 1850) temperature record.

    All of the temperature records show a ~60 year pattern but no-one seems to be prepared to describe why that pattern is there.

    This is NOT curve drawing, this is just a low pass filter summary of the data to date. But current thinking is that a cycle cannot be there!

    Without at least explaining that, calculations of any underlying causes are always going to be less than accurate IMHO.

  25. Sundance

    When the denial of free speech starts is when the shooting starts in the USA.

  26. Ben Pile

    Andy West – “There seems to be great misunderstanding indeed of memetics and its implications on those threads you linked. There is no implication at all that it leaves folks as unthinking automata.”

    There is, and it is explicit in, for example, Dennett’s work on memes, and also Blackmore’s. (Though she’s not of the same profile. Having said that, there’s no reason why Dennett should have the profile he enjoys, either.)

    … all human actions, whether conscious or not, come from complex interactions between memes, genes, and their products, in complicated environments. The self is not the initiator of actions, it does not ‘have’ consciousness, and it does not ‘do’ the deliberating. There is no truth to the idea of an inner self inside my body that controls the body and is conscious. Since this is false, so is the idea of my conscious self having free will. – Blackmore

    But if I am nothing over and above some complex system of interactions between my body and the memes that infest it, what happens to personal responsibility? How could I be accountable for my misdeeds, or honoured for my triumphs, if I am not captain of my vessel? Where is the autonomy I need to act with free will? – Dennett

    NB that Dennett does not answer these questions. They are rhetorical.

    It you don’t think there are consequences for human agency and subjectivity created by the theory of memes, “cultural evolution” and some of the extremely premature claims made from neuroscience, you can’t be reading widely or critically enough on those subjects.

    I found the quote below, from the final edition of the Journal of Memetics, the most powerful reason not to take memetics at all seriously.


    The fact is that the closer work has been to the core of memetics, the less successful it has been. The central core, the meme-gene analogy, has not been a wellspring of models and studies which have provided “explanatory leverage” upon observed phenomena. Rather, it has been a short-lived fad whose effect has been to obscure more than it has been to enlighten. I am afraid that memetics, as an identifiable discipline, will not be widely missed. — Bruce Edmonds. 1997. Journal of Memetics.


    I’m all up for the discussion of encompassing theories in general. But this not the place for Doug Cotton’s new physics, or your theory of memetics. Please take it to a relevant post, or wait until the subject comes up.

  27. hunter

    The study of memes seems very distinct to the magical thinking of the Monbiot’s of the world. There are clear similarities, it seems to me, in how fanatical/social dysfunction groups behave. This has been written about in many ways. People like Jay Newman and Erich Hoffer wrote about this idea long ago.
    Searching for why these behaviors are so ingrained in us is far different from the points you were making in your essays on Monbiot, at least in my opinion.

  28. Ben Pile

    Hunter –“There are clear similarities, it seems to me, in how fanatical/social dysfunction groups behave.”

    Studies of these similarities turn out to only produce trivialities, rather than insight. We don’t need some analogue of biological science to understand Monbiot’s disorientation, for instance.

    In fact I think the biological determinism he shares with the likes of Dawkins (‘memes’, for e.g), and the corrosive effect it has on the understanding of humanity, does help to explain the ascendency of environmentalism, especially its disregard to humanity.

  29. Andy West

    27.Ben Pile says: March 11, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    I have no intent whatsoever to deflect your most excellent article and discussion with ‘encompassing theories’. I merely intended to point to a direction, an insight, which addresses your own expressed issues around ‘blindspots’ and ‘dizzy persons’ regarding those immersed in the culture of CAGW. Plus that we may benefit from the work of various other disciplines in seeking to understand CAGW.

    However, I’m familiar with Dennet and Blackmore, and nor is it the case that I ‘don’t think there are consequences’ to our understanding of ‘self’ coming out of the discipline of cultural evolution and the sub-topic of memetics. Just as there were consequences to our understanding of self as creations of God that were challenged by the theories of biological evolution. But the former is very far indeed to reducing folks to unthinking automatons. While I don’t agree with Blackmore’s statement, I think that’s more about semantics regarding where the self lives, i.e. it’s not entirely an ‘inner’ self. Dennet’s questions are indeed rhetorical because there is no definitive answer at this time regarding the ratio of self, ‘inner’ to ‘social’. Nevertheless, where theories seem to explain generic behaviour, just as Darwin’s did for about a century before the mechanisms of DNA were uncovered, then good progress can potentially be made. I agree with Hunter at 12:42 that there are indeed ingrained behaviours for certain cultural entities including fanatical groups, and these are what cultural evolution seeks to uncover. Monbiot’s magical thinking (regarding skeptics and much else) appears to be way way off course at the best, and he appears to grab / employ anything he can to try and justify why sceptics may be sceptic, rather than address the genuine scientific questions they raise. But I would say that ironically this is precisely because he *is* immersed ;)

    The Doug Cotton card was really rather unfair play imho, especially for your first ever response to me ):

  30. RichardLH

    Ben: I suspect that the main problem in Climate Science is that most of the debate is driven by statisticians rather than engineers. In the world of Statistics very little is fully proved or disproved, only more or less likely.

    Any natural occurrences are treated as noise rather than observations and to be certain of anything takes hundreds of years (samples). A perfect place to be to decide nothing but suspect everything, and once a meme gets top slot it can be very difficult to dislodge.

  31. Andy West

    P.S. and I’m more than happy to stop here if you don’t want to clutter the thread. I admire your strong stance and clear head in combatting the excesses of CAGW, even if we disagree to some extent what precisely is the beast that needs taming.

  32. Ben Pile

    Andy, apologies if you thought I put it too strongly — I’d seen two posts of yours on memetics here, and thought that was perhaps what you were more interested in discussing.

    This blog began life very much with the idea in mind that the Cartesian subject was worth defending, though it has not been the main topic of discussion here.

    With respect to the question about people’s immersion in narratives, I think Adam Curtis and Zizek have shed more light on the phenomenon than have Dawkins and the memeticians, and have done so without losing the subject, or the concept of agency.

    Dawkins’ attempts to explain extreme sects have been spectacularly cack-handed, as is briefly discussed in Curtis’ film The Trap, and AWOBMOLG, alongside discussion about the failures of naturalist (anti) metaphysics and the reason for their predominance. The genetic analogy may be worse than useless — it’s quite probably dangerous. You can talk about the narratives on their own, it gets boring when the narratives are credited with intentionality.

  33. Andy West

    Ben Pile says: March 11, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    Okay, understood. The first post on another thread was only a one-liner with link, simply because I noticed Hunter had mentioned me here in relation to a memetic perspective of CAGW, so I thought given this ‘introducttion’, it would be not be at all impolite or against etiquette to put my hand up and say ‘this is me’ on that thread, in case anyone wanted to follow up Hunter’s lead.

    On this thread I did think to provide a plausible (and I thought on-topic) mechanism for CAGW ‘blind-spots’ and ‘dizzy persons’; but I get that you don’t subscribe to anything in this direction at all, and I fully respect that position so won’t raise it here again.

    To tie-up on your latest; despite coining the term ‘meme’ Dawkins is fortunately a much littler wheel in cultural evolution than the biological version, and I’m inclined to a not disimilar view as yours re his rough treatment of cults. I wish he was a smaller wheel in biology too; despite providing a useful insight, overall ‘the selfish gene’ approach has overwhelmingly and innappropiately dominated other aspects that should have equal weight, though fortunately this situation seems at last to be righting itself more recently. Incidentally, I find it rather ironic that he’s a firm ‘believer’ in CAGW.

    I don’t credit narratives with intentionality. I really don’t believe this is what anyone in the field proposes either, at least that I know of. This is just a language problem I think; it’s hard in English to describe certain processes without using agential language (that can so easily be misinterpreted), at least without having incredibly clumsy sentences indeed. So when one says for instance that a narrative is ‘exploiting folks’, it doesn’t mean it is even agential let alone sentient, it merely means that as a result of iterative *selection only* it has ended up with algorithms that are good at hitting certain psychological (emotive) hot-buttons inside us. This is analagous to saying that prions (e.g. mad cow disease) are exploiting cattle, despite prions are not alive by almost every definition and so similarly can be neither agential or sentient. The ‘exploitation’ is over many prion generations, not executed within a single generation by some agential means. Various other words like ‘agenda’ and so on get caught up in this language trap, but folks inside cultural evolution rarely caveat their phrases (it’s assumed that everyone knows), and folks outside seem invariably to read them wrong (well, why wouldn’t they!)

    Anyhow, thanks, and I’ll gracefully exit your thread…

  34. hunter

    I agree with the stance against determinism, to an extent. In a real sense biology is destiny, however. So those large limits that are out there do, in a sense ‘determine’ a lot of what we do. I think the challenge is to manage the ‘flow’ so as to search out those bright stars of truth and explore them. Which is I find myself railing against the consensus of things like AGW. It is tough to put these ideas down in writing, so I hope it does not come across totally saccharine.
    As far as this blog site is concerned, I think you do provide a very eloquent and compelling description of what I call the social dysfunction of AGW. It is far too large a movement to be a mere cult, sadly.
    I find Andy’s view on the meme concept to be interesting and that it could be useful, if for nothing else than a way to orient one’s self in watching herds of people go off a probable cliff.
    But I would join Andy in stating that in no way am I trying to derail your points or this topic.
    Keep up the good work. And do check out Ken McLeod’s writing. You both see eye to eye on the dangers of the greens.

  35. johanna

    I was interested in your comments about social research about science and science communication.

    It is indeed remarkable how often this kind of research is not about true science communication (e.g. how to improve the teaching of science in schools and universities, or how to get the general public more interested and informed) – but about how to proselytise more effectively for some preferred viewpoint.

    And it extends into similar research about people’s political views – the agenda seems to be about finding ways to rewire people’s thinking, or trying to develop models of thought processes that can be linked with politican orientation.

    This sort of stuff, as well as being junk academically, has rather sinister overtones, IMO. Instead of using transparent and accountable techniques like open public debate to try to shape public opinion, they are seeking underhand and unethical techniques via fake psychology and neurobiology. Fortunately, I am pretty sure that they’re digging a dry hole, but that universities consider this kind of work appropriate in the first place is disturbing and rather dispiriting.

  36. Richard Drake

    Thanks. Liked what you said about memeplexes for as long as I understood it!

  37. hunter

    Does Ken have an opinion on your meme ideas?
    His background might provide some interesting perspective on that.
    I noticed that book when I was looking for current links to him.
    It certainly looks like a good read. I will check out its availability on this side of the ocean.
    I see meme study as likely not very productive as a way to actually control people at all.
    For me it is an interesting way to help account for the similarities in the behaviors of otherwise very different groups of people. I think using the idea of memes o *control* social outcomes would be as big a waste as was eugenics. But eugenics did not invalidate evolution, upon which it was based. Universities research a great many things that are destructive and dangerous, from the technical to the ideological. So do think tanks, commercial and government labs, authors of books, blogs, plays and movies. It is interesting that you see memes as particularly dangerous.

  38. johanna

    hunter, I wasn’t referring to meme studies, but to the remarks in the head post about Lewandowsky, Capstick & Pidgeon et al.

    However, since you mention it, I am furiously in agreement with Ben Pile about “meme studies” as discussed in the comments. Indeed, he was politer than I would have been. I note that the person who introduced this topic pops up in threads all over the blogs promoting himself and his pseudoscience.

  39. Andy West

    hunter says: March 13, 2014 at 4:09 am

    I met Ken and once sat on an SF panel with him, but there was not enough time to discuss more than some thoughts on the anthology and the topic of the panel. I’m happy to discuss stuff elsewhere, but per my undertaking to Ben above, this thread is not the place for wandering further into memes or indeed SF, so I’d respectfully ask that you don’t ask any more questions on those here, which I’d have to stay silent upon anyhow.

    Back on topic, Johanna I lean a long way towards agreement with your comment 37 at 1.55 about these topics in academia. Except that (statistically speaking, there are always some bad apples, and still more when grant futures are at stake) I think this is more about a bias so widespread and so deep they can’t see out of it, a ‘belief’ if you will, rather than more deliberate (and so ‘underhand’) attempts to manipulate. I had a guest post at WUWT about bias in academia on 27th Jan this year; given as the post says ‘no memetic insight is invoked and none is needed to see how the authors of this paper have fallen to bias’, then it might interest you.

  40. j------


  41. johanna

    Apologies. I usually inhabit blogs with a more robust culture.

    Forgot that I was in the Senior Common Room. :)



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