Recursive Fury: the involvement of conspiracist ideation in rejection of science

An interesting paper has just been published further examining the connection between climate scepticism and “conspiracy ideation” (see title above): 

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

The paper explores the sceptic response to research suggesting there is a link between climate scepticism and conspiracy ideation (i.e. conspiracy theory making). For those who may recall, I’m referring to the 2012 Stephen Lewandowsky paper NASA faked the moon landing: therefore climate change is a hoax (NASA paper):

Although nearly all domain experts agree that human CO2 emissions are altering the world’s climate, segments of the public remain unconvinced by the scientific c evidence. Internet blogs have become a vocal platform for climate denial, and bloggers have taken a prominent and influential role in questioning climate science. We report a survey (N> 1100) of climate blog users to identify the variables underlying acceptance and rejection of climate science. Paralleling previous work, we find that endorsement of a laissez-faire conception of free-market economics predicts rejection of climate science (r ‘ :80 between latent constructs). Endorsement of the free market also predicted the rejection of other established scientific findings, such as the facts that HIV causes AIDS and that smoking causes lung cancer. We additionally show that endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories (e.g., that the CIA killed Martin-Luther King or that NASA faked the moon landing) predicts rejection of climate science as well as the rejection of other scientific c findings, above and beyond endorsement of laissez-faire free markets. This provides empirical confirmation of previous suggestions that conspiracist ideation contributes to the rejection of science. Acceptance of science, by contrast, was strongly associated with the perception of a consensus among scientists.

No one expected the level of interest the NASA paper generated within the sceptic blogosphere.

Indeed, it seemed to have struck a chord (or nerve) within the sceptic movement as a kind of “recursive fury” dominated the pages of their blogs for several weeks. Sceptic bloggers engaged in (what appeared to be) a rash of conspiracy theory making.

There was wide-ranging speculation about the intentions of the NASA paper authors , attempts to undermine the methodology of the research and Stephen was subjected to FOI requests.

In the weeks following the publication of the original paper I was invited to participate in a study of the  sceptic response. To have had the opportunity to work with people such as Stephen Lewandowsky, John Cook and  Klaus Oberauer was a real privilege. My gratitude towards these individuals is enormous. 

I’ll be doing a series of posts on the paper and some of its conclusions – and some of my own thoughts about conspiracy culture and its influence on the sceptic movement. As long time readers of the blog appreciate, understanding what drives individuals to accept and promulgate conspiracy theories is one my main areas of interest.

It is a topic I hope to explore more fully this year, and will be the focus of my research and writing efforts.

Questions and comments can be made on the blog or directed to

Mike – “Watching the Deniers”

See also:

The sceptic response

I’ll also track and make note of the claims of sceptic bloggers in response to this paper:

  • Skeptic baiting and academic misconduct, The Lukewarmers way: “As a non-skeptic I feel the strong desires to a) defend skeptics as not fitting Lewandowsky’s description and b) slap him across the face for contributing to the cheapening of the already debased nature of climate conversations.”
  • More shameless conspiracy theory from the ‘Skeptical Science’ smear quest team, Watts Up With That: “The cartoonist (John Cook, purveyor of the laughably named “Skeptical Science”) and the psychologist (Stephan Lewandowsky), the two rightmost people in the photo above, are working together again to smear anyone who has doubts about the severity of the global warming.”
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81 thoughts on “Recursive Fury: the involvement of conspiracist ideation in rejection of science

  1. eworrall1 says:

    Lewandoesky’s flawed methodology and underhand manipulation of data has yielded an aberrant conclusion. He then follows with a suggestion that anyone who criticises his method or conclusion has psychiatric problems.

    You guys are really scraping the bottom of the barrel on this one.

  2. Thank you for linking to my blog post. Lewandowsky’s definition of recursion seems to be as follows:

    Lewandowsky: 2 + 2 + 5

    Skeptic. That’s incorrect

    Lewandowsky: You’re a denier and conspiracy theorist.

    Skeptic: That’s not correct, either.

    Lewandowsky: You are now engaged in recursive conspiracist ideation.

    • john byatt says:

      This blog will attempt to put forward the case for a Lukewarm view of climate change–that we should prepare for global warming of about two degrees Celsius over the course of this century. This warming will have a negative impact on parts of the planet and it is worth doing what we can to stop it or slow it down. Failing that, it is worth spending money and effort to make communities and regions better prepared to cope with the effects of this climate change.

      In order to populate this blog with content more quickly, I will be re-posting some articles or comments I have written in the past. I will then begin postin

      So we are at 0.8 degc have about another 0.5degc in the ocean intertia pipeline and you think that radiative forcing will only produce another 0.7degc in the next 90 years? any science to back up this nonsense ?

      You also appear to have no understanding of what even a 2degC rise would mean in any case,

      lets not mention ocean acidification or SLR.

      what is the science which supports your view?

      • john byatt says:

        In the two-degree world, nobody will think of taking Mediterranean holidays. The movement of people from northern Europe to the Mediterranean is likely to reverse, switching eventually into a mass scramble as Saharan heatwaves sweep across the Med. People everywhere will think twice about moving to the coast. When temperatures were last between 1 and 2C higher than they are now, 125,000 years ago, sea levels were five or six metres higher too. All this “lost” water is in the polar ice that is now melting. Forecasters predict that the “tipping point” for Greenland won’t arrive until average temperatures have risen by 2.7C. The snag is that Greenland is warming much faster than the rest of the world – 2.2 times the global average. “Divide one figure by the other,” says Lynas, “and the result should ring alarm bells across the world. Greenland will tip into irreversible melt once global temperatures rise past a mere 1.2C. The ensuing sea-level ?rise will be far more than the half-metre that ?the IPCC has predicted for the end of the century. Scientists point out that sea levels at the end of the last ice age shot up by a metre every 20 years for four centuries, and that Greenland’s ice, in the words of one glaciologist, is now thinning like mad and flowing much faster than it ought to. Its biggest outflow glacier, Jakobshavn Isbrae, has thinned by 15 metres every year since 1997, and its speed of flow has doubled. At this rate the whole Greenland ice sheet would vanish within 140 years. Miami would disappear, as would most of Manhattan. Central London would be flooded. Bangkok, Bombay and Shanghai would lose most of their area. In all, half of humanity would have to move to higher ground.

        Not only coastal communities will suffer. As mountains lose their glaciers, so people will lose their water supplies. The entire Indian subcontinent will be fighting for survival. As the glaciers disappear from all but the highest peaks, their runoff will cease to power the massive rivers that deliver vital freshwater to hundreds of millions. Water shortages and famine will be the result, destabilising the entire region. And this time the epicentre of the disaster won’t be India, Nepal or Bangladesh, but nuclear-armed Pakistan.

        Everywhere, ecosystems will unravel as species either migrate or fall out of synch with each other. By the time global temperatures reach two degrees of warming in 2050, more than a third of all living species will face extinction.

      • Gee John,you’re not keeping up in your reading, much are you?

      • john byatt says:

        You also appear to have no understanding of what even a 2degC rise would mean in any case,

        lets not mention ocean acidification or SLR.

        what is the science which supports your view?

    • Lewandowsky states 2+2=4. The American National Academies states AGW is a “settled fact” – that’s 4 in your terms. But if you squeeze your eyes really hard until stars from you can almost see a 5. You’re just providing Stephan with more data for this third paper. 🙂

      • Gee, where is that paper now?

        His bio states that he has ‘published nearly 140 papers.’ Perhaps it should read instead that he has nearly published 140 papers…

        • snerkersnark says:

          thomaswfuller2 keeps on trollin’. At the same time, he bans people from his own blog and heavily censors anyone who does not deny the science, and who he thinks uses derogatory words.


      • Gosh, Thomas, do you think it could be a conspiracy?

      • john byatt says:

        He seems to fall into the category of the creationist site The Climate Sceptics and the blogger and moderator there geoff brown

        Geoff is pure troll in the comments section.

        Tom appears to be similar in that he has nothing worth debating so butts in with childish crap,

    • snerkersnerk says:

      Why are you calling deniers skeptics, thomaswfuller2? It doesn’t make sense.

    • bratisla says:

      For the second time, you did not read correctly a Lewandowsky paper.

      The mere fact that some people went into a fury (and this is a litote) of conspiracy-finding after the first article is ample proof that, among the “skeptics”, some were attracted to global warming conspiracy thinking because they were conspiracy theorists. And this is this phenomenon that the paper analyses.

      Once again, this is a warning in good faith : get the facts straight and do not bait. You know that there is another paper with a different sampling in the pipes, right ?

      • john byatt says:

        Deniers. the gift that keeps on giving according to john cook.

        Agree that Wally Fuller should stop baiting, i have the baiting concession .

        suspected that Stephen would be keeping his eye on the reaction to the first paper.

        A trilogy in the pipeline?

      • bratisla says:

        In fact, Pr. Lewandowsky added a footnote in the second paper : another paper *was* submitted on the same topic with the same authors of the first one, but apparently with another test population. And it was submitted very quickly after the first one, meaning that they were working on these two paper (LOG12 and the one submitted) in parallel – maybe by contacting directly the people answering to the first questionnaire.
        And my little finger says that the first author wouldn’t have made such a gigantic bait to the “skeptic” shark without having a good Harpoon ready. So I bet on a 4 parts movie with a synthesis paper, or even a 5 parts if they collect the “reactions” to the second and third paper.
        Therefore my advice (in good faith, I insist) to Mr Fuller to take some distance in order to protect himself from the Flak and from the crackpots lurking his site, the kind of people saying “hurr durr this is a liberal communist conspiracy greenhouse effect violates the second principle”. It can only increase his credibility.

        And it was “take the bait”, my apologies for that blatant lack of English skills.

    • Nick says:

      Fuller,you’re an idiot. Why you bothered offering that ‘comment’,I’ll never know!

    • says:

      It’s hilarious that so many “skeptics” seem to think that bashing Lewandowsky helps prove their point about climate change. I think Lewandowsky is right on and the more “skeptics” respond, the more evidence they provide that his hypothesis is correct.

      His article isn’t really even about climate change. It’s an article on cognitive psychology, examining why “skeptics” (conspiracy theorists) are so bloody close-minded.

      The skeptics here are totally engaging in the whole perceived victim thing.

      Also, just saying that someone’s methodology is flawed doesn’t make it flawed nor does it mean that the entire hypothesis should be dismissed. It amazes me how many “skeptics” use simplistic rhetoric with the expectation that it would have the same effect of logical criticism.

  3. john byatt says:

    Thomaswfuller2 comes here and implies that he knows more about climatology than the majority of those scientists, then claims to know more than a professor of psychology.

    not a great start there thomas , a bit DK and all.

  4. john byatt says:

    Thomas is a bit thick

    “Scientists have admitted manipulating data presented to policy makers in AR4. Specifically they hid the decline in tree ring data to allow them to claim confidence in their statistical findings. This confidence was unwarranted. They discussed this openly in the revealed Climategate emails.”

    just another denier

  5. zoot says:

    Better trolls please.

  6. john byatt says:

    thomaswfuller2 says:
    February 6, 2013 at 2:06 am
    Thank you for linking to my blog post. Lewandowsky’s definition of recursion seems to be as follows:

    Lewandowsky: 2 + 2 + 5

    Skeptic. That’s incorrect

    Lewandowsky: You’re a denier and conspiracy theorist.

    Skeptic: That’s not correct, either.

    Lewandowsky: You are now engaged in recursive conspiracist ideation….

    Going to write up a paper thomas?

    let us know when you have

  7. john byatt says:


    “Because we don’t know at all what the sensitivity of the atmosphere is to a doubling of the concentrations of CO2, we cannot show Mr. Ridley a mathematical proof, a historical record or even accurate model outputs. So far we express our estimates of sensitivity as a range–the IPCC sets the parameters of this range at between 1.5C and 4.5C. If Mr. Ridley insists on one certain value we should just say frankly that we cannot persuade him and wish him well going forward.

    well if you spent a bit of time studying the literature you could give plenty of evidence.
    that the likely value is about 3DegC ., you imply that you are up with the literature” but cannot quote it?

  8. john byatt says:


    thomaswfuller2 | December 4, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Reply
    Frank, you leave me wondering why I wrote this post. My whole point is that what you call positive feedbacks and I call sensitivity are called into question by the lack of response to our increased emissions. Was I not clear?

    another member of the denier movement posing as a lukewarmer, I suppose he believes that it gives him some cred, all rhetoric, no science.

    Not even wrong thomas, what lack of response, for a start?

    • You really should read before you write. Saves those ‘oops moments’ and red faces later.

      • snerkersnerk says:

        Why are you denying scientific facts, thomaswfuller2?

      • john byatt says:

        Are you ever going to actually justify your crap or just continue in this vein of nonsense?

      • snerkersnerk says:

        thomaswfuller2 is going to keep parroting denialist crap, and he will keep censoring his blog and being a hypocrite (allowing climate deniers to viciously attack non-deniers, while non-deniers are banned if they respond in kind).

        When thomaswfuller2 does not get to dictate the terms, he goes nuts and starts banning people.

      • john byatt says:

        Agree Snerk, he has not got an effin clue

        thomaswfuller2 says:
        February 5, 2013 at 1:36 pm
        Hi Philip

        What they were trying to distort was statistical confidence in their findings. They used a trick to hide the decline in modern tree ring temperature recordings that were lower than temps measured with thermometers and satellite readings. They did this to preserve the notion that the tree ring records were reliable.

        However, as many have pointed out, there are other records that roughly coincide with the tree ring records.

        Their sin was claiming ‘certainty’, not (necessarily) being wrong about past temperatures.

      • Nick says:

        Thanks,John,for providing that insight into how seriously dishonest Fuller is willing to be. And how utterly incorrigible folk like him are. They are truly zombie-like.

  9. john byatt says:

    love it

    THOMAS ” As a professional market researcher my objections were to sloppy work, ill-conceived design choices and blatant confirmation bias’

  10. Skeptikal says:

    Rejection of the science… rejection of the science…

    Like a broken record that keeps playing the same 3 seconds over and over.

    Why don’t you spend a bit of time showing proof of the global warming theory?

    Oh wait, how silly of me… you can’t show any proof. All you have is some computer models based on flawed assumptions that just don’t work.

    Okay then… how about pointing to every weather event as proof of global warming? No, even Nature magazine is getting sick and tired of that. Read here

    Well, I guess all you can do is what you are already doing… hide the decline by making skeptics out to be conspiracy theorists.

    Rejection of the science… rejection of the science… rejection of the science…

    • Watching the Deniers says:

      I believe the science community has demonstrated the evidence for global warming. That only leaves, as you say, a possible rejection of science.

      • Skeptikal says:

        I haven’t seen any evidence demonstrated. All I’ve seen from the science community is “I’m right because I say so” and all I’ve seen from sites like this is you choose to constantly appeal to this supposed authority.

        If you really believe that the science community has demonstrated any evidence at all, why not cite that evidence? Give us a tangible reason to consider the AGW theory.

        The real authority is the evidence, not some activist with a science background.

        Man up and show us the evidence, instead of just acting like a child… pointing your finger and repeating the tired old line “Rejection of the science”

        • snerkersnerk says:

          All I’ve seen from the science community is “I’m right because I say so”

          Then you have evidently not seen much. So it is no surprise that you are a science denier. Science deniers are ignorant and bigoted, and will make up shit as they go along.

          Hint: You may want to look up something called “scientific research” when you mature beyond the mental level of a toddler.

      • zoot says:

        I haven’t seen any evidence demonstrated.

        You didn’t look hard enough.

      • Nick says:

        ‘All I’ve seen from the science community is “I’m right because I say so”…’

        Can you believe someone is blitheringly stupid enough to write that ??!!

    • Anthropogenic climate change (ACC)/anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is not a hypothesis. It is a robust theory, referred to as “settled fact” by scientists.

      Per the National Academies of Science, in their 2010 publication Advancing The Science Of Climate Change (pp 44-45):
      “Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small.

      Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts.

      This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.”

      And note that the above National Academies paper is available for free download after a free registration. No purchase necessary. And the quote is from pages 44 & 45.

      • Eric Worrall says:

        Catastrophist Eugenics used to be settled science as well – for decades it had a major influence on public policy. Critics were shouted down as being out of touch with reality.

        And there were a handful of critics, many who went on to leave a lasting legacy of scientific progress. But at the height of the Eugenics craze, the biggest distinguishing feature of critics was their rarity.

        But their steadfast attacks on catastrophist Eugenics eventually led to the downfall of their influence on public policy – a collapse of influence we can clearly see echoed in today’s decline in the political influence of catastrophist climate change orthodoxy.

      • Ah, that wonderful false equivalence. Climate change is eugenics. No, right wing governments is eugenics. Don’t elect the blighters. Fixed.

        Yup, all those scientists are wrong. Go on, Eric, without recourse to a conspiracy theory, how do you explain that they’re all wrong and you’re not.

      • john byatt says:

        Good find john

        Abbott declares that some of the issues republicans take exception to – little things like the monarchical system being hierarchical, foreign and shared with other countries – are in fact positives. Sharing a head of state with 15 other countries is efficient, according to Abbott.

        As for the fact the monarch is selected according to the ancient system of primogeniture, Abbott says: that’s okay, the crown is “…hereditary…like looks, intelligence, aptitudes and even property”.

        In other words, when it comes to selecting our head of state, Abbott ascribes to the discredited principles of eugenics. It’s nonsense. Further than this, it says that Abbott has an elitist, hierarchical, view of society. Workers will stay workers and bosses will stay bosses, because genetics has got us to where we are today. This is not a vision of an egalitarian society where any child could rise to the top through hard work. It is no vision at all, worth mentioning.

      • zoot says:

        What on earth is/was “Catastrophist Eugenics”?
        When I Google the term the only hits are comments by Eric Worrall.

      • john byatt says:

        That made me laugh

  11. sailrick says:


    If only you actually were a skeptic.

    “you can’t show any proof. All you have is some computer models based on flawed assumptions that just don’t work.”

    Science does not “prove” theories. They are more like living things that evolve as evidence is collected and analyzed and as hypotheses that are not supported by the evidence are rejected.

    It is not all based on models. that is false. There are 10 independent lines of empirical evidence for AGW and there are numerous observed fingerprints or signatures of enhanced greenhouse warming.

    • john byatt says:

      D1 “models are crap”

      D2 “yer that is right, did you see the new as yet to be peer reviewed paper that models the CS at about 1.2 to 1.9 based on the last decade”

      D1 ” finally a good model”

      .and so it went

  12. john byatt says:

    Thomas wally fuller

    ” The Cs is 2DegC therefore the 2100 temperature is 2DegC”

    how often do they get this confused?


  13. john byatt says:

    Science ” over comming decades the far north will experience stronger cyclones, higher temperatures and humidtiy”

    coalition “lets move everyone up there then”

  14. john byatt says:

    TWally Fuller

    ” the climate sensitivity is low”
    “The MWP was warmer”

    too stupid to see the contradiction

  15. Bernard J. says:

    The Lewandowsky papers are fascinating, and raise so many points and questions about the psychology of denialism and conservatism that I almost wish that I’d studied more psychology rather than specialising in ecology. The potential for serious academic investigation only grows with each paper.

    And the tomfullery on this thread is only adding to it.

    I often refer to the cognitive scotoma that is required to hold to climate change denialism. The profound lack of self-awareness that is necessitated, if the views and ideologies peripheral to the central climate change denialism are to be sustained, seems to be indicating a separate and distinct pathology of self-perception scotoma – perhaps an inapproprioception as it were…

  16. john byatt says:

    Just re-read wally the fuller’s post on Annan

    “Annan backs the lukewarmers”

    James Annan said…
    Yeah, I should probably have had a tl;dr version, which is that sensitivity is still about 3C.

    The discerning reader will already have noted that my previous posts on the matter actually point to a value more likely on the low side of this rather than higher, and were I pressed for a more precise value, 2.5 might have been a better choice even then. But I’d rather be a little conservative than risk being too Pollyanna-ish about it.
    2/2/13 12:36 pm

  17. john byatt says:

    wally the fuller’s post on Annan

    “Annan backs the lukewarmers”

    James Annan said…
    Yeah, I should probably have had a tl;dr version, which is that sensitivity is still about 3C.

    The discerning reader will already have noted that my previous posts on the matter actually point to a value more likely on the low side of this rather than higher, and were I pressed for a more precise value, 2.5 might have been a better choice even then. But I’d rather be a little conservative than risk being too Pollyanna-ish about it.
    2/2/13 12:36 pm

    • john byatt says:

      sorry for the double, wordpress is playing up

      • Nick says:

        It’s worth reading twice as it’s illustrative of Fuller’s ‘contribution’ to discussion of climate science. He is motivated to misrepresent researchers at every opportunity,no matter how transparent and obvious his actions. Why? I can only assume he is somehow paid to do so: no-one could possibly wish to be unrewarded for trashing their own credibility.

        Or he is simply stupid…

  18. […] Recursive Fury: the involvement of conspiracist ideation in rejection of science ( […]

  19. Mike can you tell me how to access the whole article. I have looked and looked at Frontier’s page and can’t see any way to get more than the abstract.

  20. […] claims the Met Office’s Richard Betts was a labelled a “conspiracy theorist” in Recursive Fury. Like Betts I was bemused by such […]

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