No Mrs Nova, you are not a sceptic.

Perth’s resident science (mis)communicator and climate change denier, Jo Nova, continues to display a complete lack of self-awareness by confusing “denial” with “scepticism”.

Recently she has developed a real dislike for academic Stephan Lewandowksy. In her latest venom filled post, she attacks him by cherry picking facts from his work:

This is too rich. Baa Humbug has found scientific peer-reviewed research that skeptics are more attuned to reality and better able to discount misinformation (!) but, oh the irony, which researcher makes this claim? The man with the fairy dust logic, Stephan Lewandowsky. It’s just a shame he wouldn’t know a skeptic if one sat on him.

I can see why she would find Lewandowsky’s work confronting, as his work looks at the psychological basis of denial and how people commit “misinformation” to memory as facts:

We draw three pragmatic conclusions: First, the repetition of tentative news stories, even if they are subsequently disconfirmed, can assist in the creation of false memories in a substantial proportion of people. Second, once information is published, its subsequent correction does not alter people’s beliefs unless they are suspicious about the motives underlying the events the news stories are about.  Third, when people ignore corrections, they do so irrespective of how certain they are that the corrections occurred.

Lewandowsky called out the denial movement on the ABC’s Drum Unleashed few weeks back, pointing out the paranoid style of their thinking. This prompted Nova to attack Lewandowsky in her usual style of half-truths, barely concealed ad hominem attacks and by reproducing a picture of a submarine. She also attempted to thread the needle of not offending the committed conspiracy theorists that frequent her blog by referring to 9/11 as a “building accident”.

Nova: classic example of quote mining

This week she continues her personal vendetta against Lewandoskwy by quote mining some of Lewandowksy’s writings in an attempt to undermine his credibility (see first link above). First she launches into an ad hominem attack:

Get ready, Lewandowsky has written the Guide to being a Skeptic and it has all the value of any guide written by The Gullible.

Take that pointy headed professor! Zing! What a wit that Nova is!

Nova does not need facts when her repertoire of one liners can easily dismiss her opponents.

Next she fundamentally misrepresents key points in an opinion piece by Lewandowsky on the site Online Opinion, in an article titled “A sceptics guide to politics“.

First, she distorts the point Lewandowky makes by selectively quoting [I’ll mark his text in blue, Nova’s in grey]:

Third, being sceptical means to consider the track record of politicians and specific media outlets. If their record turns out to be patchy, should you continue to trust them? [Lewandowksy]

The first rule in the Good Guide to Get Confused is to mix up the message with the messenger. You can spend hours going through someone’s CV, or their “track record” on unrelated topics, and never learn anything about the actual topic that matters. (This is the point that blows him away as a fake skeptic. This is Argument  from Authority — judge the person not the particulars. The first requirement of any skeptic is surely to look at the evidence, not the character of the messenger.) [Nova]

Actually Jo, he is saying use the media as one means to track their performance as a piece of evidence. Let’s look at the whole passage:

Third, being sceptical means to consider the track record of politicians and specific media outlets. If their record turns out to be patchy, should you continue to trust them? For example; then British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Howard thoroughly and rather glibly dismissed the famous 2006 Lancet study which estimated that more than 600,000 Iraqis had died as a result of the invasion.

Yet we now know that Blair’s own scientific advisers had informed him that the Lancet methodology was scientifically sound and the best technique available. Howard received similar advice from prominent Australian physicians. Does this indicate a good track record?

This is not an argument from authority.

I’m not sure Nova actually knows what an argument from authority is: it means do not accept the views of someone based on their position or status alone. She likes to talk about logical fallacies, and yet (a) does not appear to understand what they are and (b) can’t seem to properly identify them.

Logic sounds good doesn’t it Jo, but for fraks sake learn to use it. Please?

Lewandowksy argues that we not simply accept the word of Blair/Howard unless we measure it against other sources of information:

Yet we now know that Blair’s own scientific advisers had informed him that the Lancet methodology was scientifically sound and the best technique available. Howard received similar advice from prominent Australian physicians. Does this indicate a good track record?

Yet more quote mining and framing by the denial movement. A few paragraphs before, Lewandowsky actually says this:

Indeed, if there is anything positive to be rescued from the Iraq fiasco, it is the reaffirmation of the intelligence of common citizens who disbelieved their leaders’ statements and showed more common sense than their governments.

The entire article is about weighing up the track record of politicians against evidence presented in a variety of sources.

I’m not sure *how* Nova arrives at her conclusion, but it is a strange and twisted path.

A denier, is a denier by any other name…

Nova prides herself on being a sceptic, when in fact what she practices is denial.

When called on it she gets rather touchy. As we’ve said before, her thin veneer of light heartedness masks a very brittle personality. It’s worth remembering what Michael Shermer, one of the world’s leading sceptics has to say about Jo’s brand of scepticism:

WHAT is the difference between a sceptic and a denier? When I call myself a sceptic, I mean that I take a scientific approach to the evaluation of claims. A climate sceptic, for example, examines specific claims one by one, carefully considers the evidence for each, and is willing to follow the facts wherever they lead.

A climate denier has a position staked out in advance, and sorts through the data employing “confirmation bias” – the tendency to look for and find confirmatory evidence for pre-existing beliefs and ignore or dismiss the rest.

Let’s be honest Jo, I think this best describes your world view:

What sometimes happens is that people confuse these two types of questions – scientific and ideological. Sometimes the confusion is deliberate. Denial is one outcome. Thus, one practical way to distinguish between a sceptic and a denier is the extent to which they are willing to update their positions in response to new information. Sceptics change their minds. Deniers just keep on denying.

What evidence would change Nova’s mind that AGW is real?

None I suspect, as she repeatedly waves away evidence presented to her.

How do we know Nova is a denier, and not a sceptic: polar bears

We know Nova is a denier, and not a sceptic because she keeps using the same discredited “facts” that circulate in the denial blog-o-sphere and that have been debunked repeatedly. In the same post she peddles the old “polar bear populations are growing” argument:

Polar bears are dying out? (Even though there are five times as many bears as there were 50 years ago.

For the last time Ms. Nova, that is not true. Here’s the Sceptical Science article on the issue:

While there is some uncertainty on current polar bear population trends, one thing is certain. No sea ice means no seals which means no polar bears. With Arctic sea ice retreating at an accelerating rate, the polar bear is at grave risk of extinction…

A study conducted by the U.S. Geologic Survey (USGS 2006) studied polar bear populations in 4 Arctic regions. Currently, populations were stable in two of the regions while numbers were declining in the other two regions. The decline was linked to a fall in sea ice. Based on the projections of diminishing Arctic ice, polar habitat is expected to decrease by 42% by 2050.

Studies have shown declining populations of the polar bear. The United States Geologic survey has been monitoring polar bear populations in different areas and notes the following:

“It is very difficult to quantify demographic trends on the basis of only 5 data points (i.e., vital rates for the 5 yearly intervals from 2001-2006), especially for a species with a multiyear reproductive cycle that lives in a complex and dynamic ecosystem. Nonetheless, the intensive capture-recapture study in the SB region from 2001-2006 established a relationship between declining sea ice and decreased survival..”

The article from Wikipedia sums up a range of research:

“The effects of global warming are most profound in the southern part of the polar bear’s range, and this is indeed where significant degradation of local populations has been observed.[115] The Western Hudson Bay subpopulation, in a southern part of the range, also happens to be one of the best-studied polar bear subpopulations. This subpopulation feeds heavily on ringed seals in late spring, when newly weaned and easily hunted seal pups are abundant.[106] The late spring hunting season ends for polar bears when the ice begins to melt and break up, and they fast or eat little during the summer until the sea freezes again.[106]

Due to warming air temperatures, ice-floe breakup in western Hudson Bay is currently occurring three weeks earlier than it did 30 years ago, reducing the duration of the polar bear feeding season.[106] The body condition of polar bears has declined during this period; the average weight of lone (and likely pregnant) female polar bears was approximately 290 kg (640 lb) in 1980 and 230 kg (510 lb) in 2004.[106] Between 1987 and 2004, the Western Hudson Bay population declined by 22%…”

I’d recommend you go to primary resources as well, and not take Wikipedia at face value. However it is an accurate summary of the research.

Polar Bears International, a group dedicated to the study and conservation of polar bears has this to say about their numbers:

In 2006, scientists reported clear signs of stress in the southern Beaufort Sea polar bears compared with 20 years ago, including:

  • A drop in the survival rate of cubs.
  • Lower body weight and smaller skull sizes in adult male polar bears.

The western Hudson Bay population showed the same signs of stress before its numbers crashed, dropping from about 1200 bears in 1987 to about 950 bears in 2004.

But really, what would scientists studying these animals in the wild know?

Polar bear populations are not exploding. If anything this magnificent animal is at risk.

Nova: a critical lack of self-awareness

You’ve heard a fact, an incorrect one at that Ms. Nova, and you’ve continued to believe polar bear numbers are growing despite the most authoritative source stating otherwise.

This is exactly what Lewandowsky was talking about Ms. Nova. That little factoid is lodged in your brain and refuses to budge. You won’t let it budge. You don’t want to let it go.

“But there are more polar bears! I read it once!”

Your’s is a perfect text-book example of Lewandowsky’s research.

It explains why we know you’re a denier, and not a true sceptic.

7 thoughts on “No Mrs Nova, you are not a sceptic.

  1. Sou says:

    I confess to viewing Jo Nova as not simply a denier, but an ugly denier. Her post and follow up comments on the ABC Unleashed site were arguably libellous. I know she is driven by money (she keeps talking about it) and probably wants to sell her denial screed. The only other motive I can think of is political. I’ve noticed she even has to put up with people like G Bird because few others, apart from the Sept 11 truthers, have any time for her.

    I admire you for visiting her blog. It makes me feel nauseous and a bit grubby, so I don’t frequent the site.

    (By the way, I think you are being kind to her. I believe she knows full well that she is promulgating lies. I’d put her in the same camp as Monckton, except he is a more talented entertainer and has on at least one occasion been reported admitting that he’s spouting nonsense.)

  2. […] Jo’s site lets all forms of absurdity float through that one can only conclude that when she refers to herself as a science communicator, she really means science fiction communicator. I’d like to point out that, although she illustrates clever use of the English language, Arthur C. Clark was more so and he also used tid-bits of scientific understanding and imagination to elaborate ideas and construct his work. Although his work of this nature was placed under the heading of fiction; he never illustrated such illusions of truth. Mike makes a great point about Jo here). […]

  3. Hammiesink says:

    Whew! I just did a little round at Nova’s site for the heck of it. Wow! Those people are exhausting! No matter what evidence you offer, how many scientific studies you cite, those people think they know more about climate science than climate scientists. They are true ideologues. Impenetrable wall built up around their worldview, protecting it from anything getting in.

    Pretty amazing, actually.

    • Watching the Deniers says:

      Indeed, it’s a solid wall of denial. Did all your posts get through? I’ve noted Jo is very selective in what she approves.

      It’s a perfect example of what one (conservative) commentator called “epistemic closure”. A sealed information bubble which they work very, very hard to keep closed.

      The reason I pay close attention is that Nova comes under very little scrutiny. Some of the most outrageous claims are made by her and posters there. A little fact checking does not hurt.

      Good effort though 😉

  4. Ross Brisbane says:

    In researching how bloggers make money from Web sites the number one goal score is to get their traffic up. It would then appear that Jo Nova actually panders to this audience and walks a fine line between gutter journalism and being highly libellous.

    Her contentious attitude is a trap for any one who dares to venture into this viper’s nest. The louder she shouts, even here there is great cleverness and slight of hand into appearing to be harmless. Look out when her attacks dogs move in for the kill. It is quite spectacular. Folk get torn to threads and often escape with their clothes on the back in tatters quite literally.

    It is very true after reading nearly all the commentary there – I feel seriously sickened in the pit of my stomach by this travesty of any justice that may exist on that site. Truth is well and truly crucified on that site daily by the group think tightly monitored and developed over time.

    And it’s not getting any better – it is getting worse. Seriously I don’t know whether she is making any money but I do know from my research that any apparent look alike social justice cause blog no matter how conspiracy based and biased are quite successful. The traffic to such sites is high with a Pal Pal system of donation usually in place.

    Stop being nice to those you think you can reason with. The time for niceties and pleasantness is over. It died when Fizzlegate came along. Now everything concerning data is tarred with Hansen, Mann and Gore. What utter rot has set into their minds.

    It is a trap – the process of their logic has changed – key words set them off and no amount of reasonable debate will get anywhere. There dictionary has been rewritten with mumbled phrases and slogans like Third Reich of Hitler’s Germany.

    A denier for me is a “victim” – they play this game very well. Meanwhile where is the money ending up in the donation stakes?

    Because it is irrefutable when it comes to blogging, when your traffic is high you do make money from blogging and that applies to folk who have created sites with very poor business models as well.

    No – I will not take back the Hitler statement – I have been on those sites and when you feel the steel of the attack dogs cutting into your flesh – you know the Internet is not a safe place. “Sticks and stones will break your bones but names will never hurt you”.

    Being on the receiving end, try the statement and see whether it is true.

    Ross Brisbane

    • Watching the Deniers says:

      I spent a few weeks on the Nova site earlier this year. I noted the following:

      – Nova heavily censures what comments go through
      – Visiting her site resulted in a stream of insulting emails and comments on this blog
      – Nasty, personal attacks

      Some of the Nova community were civil, but all in all I found it a distasteful experience. They’re committed conspiracy theorists out of touch with reality.

  5. Steve says:

    The more ‘amusing’ human subject’s in this debate i find, are the ones that have been propagandized and don’t realize it. Goebbels would be proud! Forget the ‘hater’s, Jo and keep up the good work. Lot’s of Love – From 95% of the non brainwashed population!

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