Category Archives: Dunning-Kruger

Watch out TMZ, “Watts up with that?” is the new celebrity gossip site

In March 2012, the Skeptical Science (SkS)was “hacked” by persons unknown. John Cook provided context in a post shortly after the hack:

Sometime over the last few days, the Skeptical Science website has been hacked. The hacker has taken much or all of the Skeptical Science database, zipped various excerpts into a single file, uploaded the file onto a Russian website then linked to the zip file from various blogs. While we are still attempting to verify the authenticity of the file, initial scans seem to indicate the hacker has included the entire database of Skeptical Science users. Access to the full database (which includes private details) is restricted only to myself and I am the only one with access to all of the raw data – this fact alone indicates that this breach of privacy came in the form of an external hack rather than from within Skeptical Science itself.

While the content was made available on the Internet, Anthony Watts was notable in his refusal to exploit this content stating he respected the privacy of the individual:

Rest assured, we are working hard to upgrade Skeptical Science’s security in order to more robustly protect users’ private details. We are also in the process of soliciting legal advice on these matters and contacting the appropriate authorities. We would like to thank those who have come to us with information about this potential hack and those who have decided against spreading the aforementioned files (e.g. Anthony Watts). We all believe that protecting the privacy of individuals is of the utmost importance and we would hope that all illegally obtained documents and files are removed from uploaded servers and disposed of.

However it would now appear the “gloves are off” for Anthony, as he is now frequently reposting snippets of the SkS forum, disregarding the once principled stand he took back in March:

Skeptical Science gets Romm-Bombed 

Posted on September 25, 2012by Anthony Watts 

Reposted from Popular Technology with permission 

Skeptical Science: Too Inaccurate for Joe Romm 

In March of 2012, the climate alarmist website Skeptical Science had their forums “hacked” and the contents posted online. In these it was revealed that Skeptical Science was found to be even too inaccurate for fellow alarmist Joe Romm of Climate Progress…

And so on.

Perhaps it was the Lewandowsky paper which demonstrated a clear link between conspiracy ideation and climate scepticism that literally enraged sceptic bloggers around the world. Perhaps it was his astonishment at the fact that nearly 20,000 people signed a petition in opposition to his appearance on PBS News Hour.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are clearly seeing Anthony Watts switching strategies: having failed to undermine the science of climate change he is switching to celebrity gossip.

Tales of “warmist” bloggers and climate scientists behaving badly will soon dominate the headlines of WUWT: perhaps we’ll get some grainy shots of topless “warmists” at the beach? Or fussy iPhone pictures of scientists stumbling drunkenly out of night clubs?

Watch out TMZ, there’s a new kid on town.

As a pro-tip Anthony, I’d create a signature tagline – something like “A Watts XOXO”

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Climate deniers: making the world safe from bankers? (guest post)

Tim at New Anthropocene has posted an article exploring the strange nexus between conspiracy culture, belief and climate change denial. It is a good extension of some of the conversation that has been focussed on conspiracy ideation.  It is part of the growing awareness that parts of the climate change “sceptic” movement employ motifs and tropes typical of conspiracy culture, some of which extend back decades. Enjoy, Mike @ WtD.

In rejecting evidence contrary to ones values we’re left with an obvious question; what is it about the value that leaves it immune to reasoning?

In The Moral Landscape, Sam Harris provides such an answer to religious conviction with a fear of death. As discussed in my previous post, this clearly spills into other subjects, such as evolution and climate change, which ultimately question a given doctrine adhered to by an individual. Without meaning to, by challenging the creation myth or omnipotence of a super being (in controlling our climate), we bring the theology into question and with it, one’s immortality. It’s simply unquestionable to such people.

On the other hand, what can we make of the mantra of people like Dr David Evans and Christopher Monckton (associated and apparently shared views with The Galileo Movement)? An outline of this was spotted by Mike at WtD and highlighted in the post, A cabal of bankers and Sister Souljah: Lewandowsky versus the extreme sceptic fringe. I suggest you read through the full article, but for the sake of this post, I’ll mention a few key features.

Basically, dating back to the Middle Ages, there has been a developing class of invisible people growing rich on making money out of thin air, leading us down a path of endless debt to this secret group, siphoned from communities via taxes and interest (bared on, money imagined into existence). It gets weirder in that this invisible enemy is working to develop a single world government that one gets the impression would be oppressive.

Even involuntary commitments, such as only being able to purchase high-efficiency light globes (I suspect fluoridation of drinking water as well – especially if it’s deemed to be costing us) are taken as evidence of the build-up to this new government. Nova provides a caricature of these fears (which she obviously shares).

It reads like Hubbard’s Dianetics.

This doctrine, like its religious counterparts, is far older than the “debate” over climate change and is not really focused on the science of climate change at all (ie. it’s more about the use of fuel to power their dreams and taxes that propose to restrict climate change – the scientific evidence is just a victim to all this). It is an extremely conservative ideology, manifesting its own boogiemen to drawn the necessary conclusions. It justifies (and indeed, exaggerates) a core conservative value: individualism. As Sam Harris puts it in Free Will;

“Liberals tend to understand that a person can be lucky or unlucky in all matters relevant to his success. Conservatives, however, often make a religious fetish of individualism. Many seem to have absolutely no awareness of how fortunate one must be to succeed at anything in life, no matter how hard one works. One must be lucky to be able to work. One must be lucky to be intelligent, physically healthy, and not bankrupted in middle age by the illness of a spouse…

“And yet, living in America, one gets the distinct sense that if certain conservatives were asked why they weren’t born with club feet or orphaned before the age of five, they would not hesitate to take credit for these accomplishments.”

Now, to bring this back to the opening point; what is it about this ideology that leads one to reject compelling contrary evidence? I suspect the principles of individualism ultimately let such people down and they need a scapegoat.

To return to the Harris quote, such individuals believe beyond all doubt, that it is the individual alone that is responsible for their successes and failures in life. We of course tend to far more easily acknowledge our personal successes than the shortcomings of our actions. In the case of extreme conservatives, the only thing that ought to stand between themselves and the riches they can obtain (or deserve) is, well, themself. Why then, are they not rich/powerful/etc?

It is those who “steal” their money – the banks and governments. It is the “powerful” (which, in most cases, doesn’t seem to stretch to the CEO’s and players on Wall Street within this ideologies – rather, such people are the example they wish to emulate) to blame.

Accepting the compelling evidence against reckless resource exploitation and climate change leads to changes in behaviour necessary to ensure increased sustainability into the distant future (and look how this is portrayed in Nova’s caricature). This ignores the core principles of individualism while amplifying the fears that governments and bankers are out to take your hard-earned money.

Just as with the religiously minded who hears you challenge their doctrine when confronted with conflicting evidence, these extreme conservatives hear mindless puppets to a secret world order, threatening their way of life; their pursuit of personal wealth. It also touches on a sensitive nerve already imbedded to explain their failed attempts to emulate their heroes of success.

It would explain the venomous behaviour we encounter in such “debates” and the overall tone of works, such as Nova’s second handbook.

The only course of action, I suspect is, firstly, keep your distance. Secondly, ask questions (as mentioned in the previous post). Questions such as, “Who is behind the multigenerational “hoax” of climate change?” or “What hard evidence do you have of this secret banker society, their desire for a new world government and involvement with climate change?” or “Why have they been hiding for more than 500 years, waiting to take over – surely they could have in the great depression or at countless other times in history – why wait so long in hiding?”

Nut it out – dig into the rabbit whole. By exposing it to the light, one would hope they would start to see the many unanswerable questions to their ideology – the great lengths they go to make it fit reality. They may start to feel a little silly with the increasingly odd conclusions they have to draw (again, I direct you back to the post at WtD for a more detailed look at it).

The thing to remember is that you’re not arguing with such people over the validity of the scientific evidence regarding climate change. You’re nowhere near it. For that reason, you need to aim the conversation instead to what it really in question; how valid is the idea of hidden bankers out to take over the world?

A house divided, or a clean house? Anthony Watts proscribes what topics can be discussed on WUWT: no more Bigfoot or UFOs. World’s conspiracy theorists disappointed

Climate sceptics, our operators are standing by

While the world’s most prominent climate sceptics have been adamantly denying (tee hee) they’re not conspiracy theorists (“No truly, we’re not!”), over at “Watts up with that?” they’ve announced new they have specified guidelines for what people can – and more importantly – can’t discuss:

“Certain topics are not welcome here and comments concerning them will be deleted. This includes topics on religion, discussions of barycentrism, astrology, aliens, bigfoot, chemtrails, 911 Truthers, Obama’s Birth Certificate, HAARP, UFO’s, mysticism, and other topics not directly related to the thread. A Tips & Notes sections exists for  bringing items of interest to attention…” (Note: see below)

I’m bitterly disappointed.

What am I going to for my morning laughs now that the “We’re not crazy, but….” crowd can no longer post at that venerable institution of science, reason and logic WUWT?

What, a spark of self-awareness? Dare I say it – a belated recognition there is a grain of truth in what Lewandowsky et.al have to say? 

Well, colour me surprised!

The question is when did this policy come into place?

Still – I was just starting to have fun… 

/sigh

UPDATE Some readers have provided a full history of Watts evolving comments policy, and the growing list of cospiracy theories the WUWT have had to exclude:

As it stood in November 2010  :

Certain topics are not welcome here and comments concerning them will be deleted. This includes topics on religion, discussions of barycentrism, astrology, chemtrails, and topics not directly related to the thread.

As it stood in July 2011:

Certain topics are not welcome here and comments concerning them will be deleted. This includes topics on religion, discussions of barycentrism, astrology, chemtrails, 911 Truthers, HAARP, UFO’s, mysticism, and topics not directly related to the thread.

Anatomy of motivated self-importance: too much of me just isn’t enough (guest post)

Too much of me just isn’t enough: an anatomy of motivated inflation of self-importance.

A controversial recent study has shown that prominent climate sceptics are six times more likely to show narcissistic characteristics than the rest of the community. The tendency is highest amongst those who maintain their own blogs, and especially those with blogs carrying their own names.

Said researcher, “At first I was blown away by this result…, I mean, when you get people responding to surveys and their collective answers are such strong outliers, you question whether you have made a mistake.”

But it seems that careful rechecking of the results has only confirmed the analysis.

“Those that run anti-science climate ‘sceptic’ blogs are simply much, much more into themselves than pretty much anyone else we have ever studied. And by ever, I mean in the entire literature up until this point”.

Respondents scored highly on metrics such as;

  1. How often they refer to themselves.
  2. How eager they were for others to share their high opinion of themselves.
  3. The high negative rating they gave to being personally ignored.

The results pretty much show that the need for ‘reinforcement of self’ is almost constant in this group; it is likely that they run their blogs as a self-validation exercise.

“Failure to have their ‘followers’ reinforce their sense of importance likely leads to an impotent rage. As psychologists, we can only say this seems unhealthy.”

But one blogger is incensed at the results and claims that they are not worth the paper they are written on. Australian blogger Nova Cane (an alias) believes the results are invalid because she wasn’t surveyed.

“How can any conclusion be drawn from a survey about climate sceptic bloggers being narcissistic when that survey does not take in me? It beggars belief that I could have been overlooked for this survey. Its clear what warmists are up to, they want to paint us as self-obsessed nutters, and they must underestimate our collective intelligence if they think we would fall for that trap”

The researchers themselves reveal that, while Nova was originally overlooked due to a simple oversight — “…ironically, we had never heard of her” — inspection of her blog provided reason for caution on her participation in the survey.

“We were initially worried about sample sizes, and hence questioned whether the inclusion of McIntyre and Watts might, by themselves, skew the results toward findings of overt self-obsession. When we saw Nova’s chin-down-eyes-up self-portrait on her blog (entitled, as it happens NovaCane), we wondered whether we could ever get a sample size large enough to accommodate her.”

“She is basically an outlier, even amongst this group of arch narcissists, we felt we would have had to throw her results away to be honest.”

The researchers do believe that there might be promise in developing a narcissistic index based on Nova Cane.

“Since it is doubtful we would find a subject more into themselves than Nova, we thought we might usefully scale future responses against that.”

We believe most people would fit on a scale of narcissism that ranked from 1-10 Novas. The scale is exponential, so we have coined 10 Novas as the ‘Super Nova’ rating for egocentricity. Psychologists can be corny at times.”

But the sceptics aren’t done with yet, with Nova herself firing the warning shots.

“If they thought our attempts at amateur climate science were the end of things, then they are mistaken. We will attempt amateur psychology as well, and then, well, who knows?”

Tagged , , , , , ,

ToD: If Galileo was alive today, would he blog his results on WUWT?


… or publish them in the peer review literature? Just saying.

(Thought of the day: ToD)

Versiongate, inboxgate and now NIWAgate!: or when denial echo chambers implode

Climate sceptics, our operators are standing by…

Since the release of the Lewandowsky paper – “NASA faked the moon landing – Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science” –  we have witnessed a wonderful demonstration of conspiracy ideation, the very thing the paper predicts. As the paper notes:

“…Another variable that has been associated with the rejection of science is conspiratorial thinking, or conspiracist ideation, defined here as the attempt to explain a significant political or social event as a secret plot by powerful individuals or organizations…” (Lewandowsky et.al pg. 4)

At last count we’ve seen at least three conspiracy theories explode in the face of the once-mighty denial machine.

Conspiracy #1 “inboxgate” – or when sceptics fail to check email inboxes

Graham Readfearn on Think Progress gives some the details:

Among the conspiracy theories tested, were the faking of Apollo moon landings, US government agencies plotting to assassinate Martin Luther King, Princess Diana’s death being organised by members of the British Royal family and the US military covering up the recovery of an alien spacecraft that crashed in Roswell, New Mexico.

In the paper, Lewandowsky concludes that “endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories… predicts rejection of climate science”. The research also claims a correlation between people who endorse free-market economics and the ”rejection of climate science”.

Much outrage from climate sceptics that “sceptic” blogs hadn’t been invited to participate – but in fact they had. That’s right folks, in attempting to refute a paper that implied climate sceptics had a tendency to engage in conspiracy making they responded with, er, conspiracy making:

Not content to wait, Australian skeptic blogger Simon Turnill has sent a Freedom of Information request to UWA asking for Lewandowsky’s emails. Lewandowsky told DeSmogBlog: 

So now there’s a conspiracy theory going around that I didn’t contact them. It’s a perfect, perfect illustration of conspiratorial thinking. It’s illustrative of exactly the process I was analysing. People jump to conclusions on the basis of no evidence. I would love to be able to release those emails if given permission, because it means four more people will have egg on their faces. I’m anxiously waiting the permission to release this crucial information because it helps to identify people who engage in conspiratorial thinking rather than just searching their inboxes. 

Lewandowsky revealed that two of the five skeptic blogs approached even replied to the email they were sent.

One stated “Thanks. I will take a look” and another asked “Can you tell me a bit more about the study and the research design?”

Conspiracy theory #2 “Versiongate” – in which basic methodology is not understood

Among the various conspiracies suggested by climate sceptics was the involvement of this blog. Indeed, Watts up with that? put a post in which the following claim was made:

Anthony, there was recently another survey (longer, and with a 1-5 scale) put out by Lewandowsky’s research assistant, Charles Hanich, on June 4, 2012. It seems that the link for this survey was only posted on two blogs: Watching the Deniers and Skeptical Science. Charles Hanich was also responsible for creating Lewandowsky’s 2010 survey, as mentioned in the comments here.

Anthony Watts then made the following claim:

I believe that Dr. Lewandowsky set out to show the world that through a faulty, perhaps even fraudulent, smear campaign disguised as peer reviewed science, that climate skeptics were, as Jo Nova puts it, “nutters”. Worse, peer review failed to catch any of the problems now in the open thanks to the work of climate skeptics.

Oh really?

I got a scattering of hits from WUWT, but I wasn’t at all phased by the attention from Mr. Watts & Crew.

But what of the claims being made?

Well it seems the big secret has been revealed!

It would seem Lewandowsky engaged in the shameful practice sometimes referred to as “basic methodology”.

In what I’m assuming is a tongue-in-check post titled “An update on my birth certificates” Lewandowsky writes:

I laud the stirring dedication to investigative Googling. Alas, this highly relevant detective work is far from perfect.

If I am not mistaken, I can indeed confirm that there were 4—not 3—versions of the survey (unless that was the number of my birth certificates, I am never quite sure, so many numbers to keep track of… Mr. McIntyre’s dog misplaced an email under a pastrami sandwich a mere 8.9253077595543363 days ago, and I have grown at least one tail and several new horns over the last few days, all of which are frightfully independent and hard to keep track of).

Versiongate!

Finally this new friend from Conspirania is getting some legs.

About time, too, I was getting lonely.

Astute readers will have noted that if the Survey ID’s from above are vertically concatenated and then viewed backwards at 33 rpm, they read “Mitt Romney was born in North Korea.”

To understand the relevance of Mr Romney’s place of birth requires a secret code word. This code word, provided below, ought to be committed to memory before burning this post.

So here it is, the secret code. Read it backwards:  gnicnalabretnuoc

Translations are available in any textbook for Methodology 101.

No really.

It’s that funny.

But would you believe the laughs keep coming?

Conspiracy theory #3 “NIWAgate” – in which Jo Nova claims courts controlled by government

As noted earlier today (see also Hot-topic) the climate sceptic movement suffered a major defeat in New Zealand in its attempt to undermine the temperature records. As Gareth @ Hot Topic notes:

The attempt by NZ’s merry little band of climate cranks to have the NZ temperature record declared invalid has ended in ignominious defeat. In his ruling [PDF], handed down today, Justice Venning finds: 

The plaintiff does not succeed on any of its challenges to the three decisions of NIWA in issue. The application for judicial review is dismissed and judgment entered for the defendant. [and] The defendant is entitled to costs. 

It will be interesting to see whether the NZ Climate Science Education Trust, which was established purely to bring this action, is able to stump up to cover NIWA’s costs. If it doesn’t, the NZ taxpayer will be left to pick up the bill for this absurd bit of political grandstanding by the Climate “Science” Coalition.

Astute reader of this blog uknowispeaksense  made the following prediction:

My prediction Mike and its a no-brainer. They will either pretend it didn’t happen or claim the courts are in on the scam.

And then BAM!

Jo Nova goes and claims a conspiracy theory!

Apparently since the judges are employed by the government they “must” be following whatever directives they are given:

The courts are supposed to be independent of the government. When these two institutions are effectively working together we lose one of the major safeguards of democracy. All the more reason to fight to keep the free press, free. What else is left?

No not a conspiracy theory at all…

I’ve worked in-and-out of the legal industry for almost two decades, so I think I can say with some authority Jo Nova has no f*cking clue how the court system works.

Now I admit I’m not across the NZ legal system but I assume they share a similar common law tradition devolved from the British system like Australia.

I’m going to assume that the separation between the judicial, legislative and executive branches is going to be robust and protected by constitutional or legislative safeguards.

Unless of course…

It’s a conspiracy!

But nooooooooooooooooooo, sceptics aren’t “nutters” at all.

BREAKING: Epic fail for deniers in New Zealand NIWA climate record challenge

Just picked this up from Ken @OpenParachute – a humiliating defeat for the climate sceptic movement:

The High Court decision on the Judicial Review of NIWA’s New Zealand temperature record was issued today. I will comment in more depth next week but interested readers can read the judgement themselves at http://www.courtsofnz.govt.nz/cases/nz-climate-science-education-trust-v-niwa-ltd/at_download/fileDecision 

In short – the arguments made by the climate change denial/sceptics/ contrarian groups were tossed out and costs will be awarded against them.

Ouch! And costs awarded against them? That’s the equivalent to a judicial back hand…

See also here for a range of expert opinion:

A group of leading New Zealand climate scientists (listed below) welcomed Justice Geoffrey Venning’s ruling to throw out the claim by the New Zealand Climate Science Education Trust (CSET, a small group of climate change “sceptics”) that NIWA had acted fraudulently in putting together its ‘7-station’ temperature series.

Spokesperson for the group, Associate Professor James Renwick of Victoria University said he was pleased that the court had respected and reaffirmed the credibility of the scientific process. It was a strong message to those wanting to challenge widely-agreed scientific findings to do so honestly and openly in scientific forums.

Dr Renwick went on to say “Scientific analysis and discussion is carried out through the peer-reviewed literature. The basic science of climate change (global warming) has been established for well over a century, and almost all scientists active in climate research agree that human activity is causing the climate to change. For a small group of scientists to appeal to a court of law to find otherwise is bizarre.”

New Zealand temperatures have warmed by about 1°C in the last 100 years, associated with loss of glacier ice in the Southern Alps, reduced frost occurrence, and other changes. Globally, evidence of climate change includes sea-level rise, melting glaciers, and rapidly diminishing arctic sea ice. 

The court case has helped raise the profile of the claimants. Much more importantly, the case represents a massive waste of New Zealand tax payer’s funds. In defending the claim, NIWA has spent a huge amount (estimated at well over $100,000) and has diverted a number of its scientists away from their research. The country can ill afford to waste such an amount. “This misguided action of a small group adds confusion to a simple issue – the world is warming and future generations of New Zealanders will have to deal with the consequences” Dr Renwick said.

Decision is here: http://www.courtsofnz.govt.nz/cases/nz-climate-science-education-trust-v-niwa-ltd/at_download/fileDecision

 

Denial 101: the academic study of climate scepticism as diagnostic and risk management tool (FIRST DRAFT)

Note: As I’ve stated for some time, I’m planning on posting more detailed pieces on climate change scepticism based upon the last several years observations, research and interaction with commentators. 

This first piece sets out to explain “why” I believe a formal, multidisciplinary approach to studying the phenomenon of climate change scepticism is vital. It is not merely a question of politics: but risk management. Commentators are free to suggest changes, refute and debate. This is not an academic piece – so the views are my own. Potential flaws in analysis thus very much my own.

The value of good intelligence can never be underestimated (RAF war room 1941)

Introduction: it was never a debate 

The recent paper by Lewandowsky et.al (NASA faked the moon landing: therefore (climate) science is a hoax) that demonstrated a clear link between “denial” and free market fundamentalism is evidence of the growing appreciation that the climate change debate is not really a debate at all.

Rather we are now beginning to appreciate “climate scepticism” as the by-product of an individual’s values (and ideology) informing and shaping their cognition.

The clash is not over opposing facts: the issue pertains to the individual, how they wish to “see” the world and if those views are somehow contradicted – or challenged – by real world data.

A recent article by John Cook (How do people reject science, The Conversation 2012) provides further insight into climate change scepticism beyond the “why”, and suggests “how” an individual can come to deny scientific facts.

As Cook notes, confirmation bias is the most common mechanism for denying well attested scientific facts. Indeed, he asks the reader to watch the comments section of his article for examples:

To reduce the influence of those who reject the science, confirmation bias and misleading rhetorical arguments need to be exposed. Now is as good a time as any to start practising so I recommend beginning with the inevitable deluge of comments to this article. Look for cherry picking, conspiracy theories, comments magnifying the significance of dissenters (or non-experts) and logical fallacies such as non sequiturs

As predicted by Cook, climate sceptics began refuting the article upon publication – unintentionally and somewhat amusingly – utilising all the methods Cook outlines.

However it is important to remember that this pattern of behaviour and value-driven cognition is not isolated to the climate debate. Because this is not a unique phenomenon, there is a surprisingly large technical literature for academics and scholars to draw upon.

Indeed, when one views climate scepticism not through the Manichean framing device of “Sceptics versus Warmists” (fighting over the contested middle ground of public opinion), but as an example of a social and cultural phenomenon we gain not only fresh insight, but potentially the tools to mitigate the effectiveness of the denial “machine”.

The Windschuttle Affair as dress rehearsal for climate change denial; yes denial is more pervasive than one imagines, but shares common attributes

One can readily find examples of those who deny not only well-tested and supported scientific theories – climate change, evolution, the effectiveness of vaccines – but well documented and witnessed historical events. Indeed, there is a burgeoning and quite prolific community of those who deny historical events – 9/11, The Holocaust, Stalinist atrocities and The Stolen Generations in Australia.

For further exploration of the denial of these historical events, I would refer readers to Denial: history betrayed (2008) by Tony Taylor which discusses ideological driven historical revisionism in detail.

Taylor’s work foreshadows the Lewandowsky paper in surprising ways, but is based upon his personal observations and not the sophisticated use of statistical survey data employed by the authors of “NASA faked the moon landing”.

The common link between many of these incidents of “denial” is what Lewandowsky terms “conspiracy ideation”:

“…Another variable that has been associated with the rejection of science is conspiratorial thinking, or conspiracist ideation, defined here as the attempt to explain a significant political or social event as a secret plot by powerful individuals or organizations…” (Lewandowsky et.al pg. 4)

Indeed, when I read Taylor’s book I noted the mechanisms employed by revisionist “historians” mimic those of climate sceptics:

“…deniers will commonly accuse their opponents of a conspiracy against the denialist position when, as it happens, the deniers themselves are involved in a conspiracy or cover up of their own.” (Taylor, pg. XIII)

And that:

“…The key to historical denial lies in its self-deception transformed into an attempted deception of others, and this process tends to follow certain behavioural patterns.” (Taylor, pg. IX)

Taylor’s text is well worth reading; in particular how the “debate” over historical facts mimics debate over scientific facts.

It is worth noting that prior to the intensity of the present climate change debate (notably in response to the publication of IPCCs Fourth Assessment Report in 2007, the release and success of Al Gore’s An inconvenient truth and global negotiations at the Conference of All Parties (COP15) at Copenhagen in 2009) a very similar debate had already played itself out within the Australian political and cultural scene: the so called “History Wars“.

I would suggest that scholars examine the “Windschuttle affair” as a “dress rehearsal” for the climate change debate in Australia, and draw lessons from that. Keith Windschuttle was the historian who denied the sufferings of Australian Aborigines at the hands of the early settlers in his deeply flawed and debunked Fabrication of Aboriginal History (2002)..

Windschuttle’s writings kicked of a national debate – which continues in a more muted form today – and provoked considerable controversy. It is worth highlighting that Windschuttle received powerful patronage from the likes of the Herald Sun’s Andrew Bolt, the editors of the News Limited daily “The Australian” and then Prime Minister John Howard – all of who whom have featured heavily in the climate change debate as outright sceptics or enablers of the sceptical point of view.

When one looks back at the “culture wars” that have raged in Australia, one notes those who have denied the suffering of Australia’s first people also deny the science of climate change.

Strikingly, the same cognitive mechanisms and rhetorical deceits outlined in Cook’s How do people reject science were employed in this earlier History War.

The explanation for this is straight forward: the advocates for historical revisionism and climate change scepticism share a cluster of similar values – social conservatism, free market ideology and a disdain for “progressive” values.

I would suggest the same clustering of the values and world views (free markets, limited government) linked to scepticism in Lewandowsky et.al could be matched to the conservative “culture warriors” listed above.

We may be fighting a very different war, but it is being fought with the same weapons of previous conflicts.

The antecedents for today’s debate are there for study.

Actually, I want to understand…

Climate denial as area of academic study: from confusion to understanding

This growing literature on climate scepticism – such as the Lewandowsky paper – indicates the emergence of a new area of academic study.

Cognitive scientists, historians, sociologists and the broader scientific community are now gaining a better appreciation of the underlying motives for climate change scepticism. I would also refer the reader to the most recent edition of Nature: Climate Change (August 2012, Vol.2 No. 8) for a very useful collection of articles on the “human factor” in the climate change debate.

Indeed, a recent editorial in that journal called for greater engagement from the academic community on the climate change issue titled Clarion Call” (September 2012, Vol 2 No. 9):

Today’s mitigation efforts are widely regarded within the research community as woefully inadequate. With this in mind, Anderson and Bows urge scientists to overcome their natural reluctance to offer academic judgements — “Liberate the science from the economics, finance and astrology, stand by the conclusions however uncomfortable” — is their clarion call.

This broader approach does not refute the work of scholars such as Oreskes & Conway (The Merchants of Doubt) who have detailed the long running campaign of disinformation practised by conservative think tanks and a tiny cadre of ‘sceptical” scientists.

The evidence that demonstrates how both the tobacco and fossil fuel industries “planted the seeds” of doubt about climate change is well documented and conclusive.

But we must move past the formulation “funds from big oil = climate change denial”.

As others have noted, climate change is now part of the “culture wars” (A. Hoffman in Climate Science as Culture War, Stanford Social Innovation Review, 2012).

“Big Oil” and “Big Tobacco” may have nurtured climate change scepticism into being, but it has now spread well beyond its initial staging areas within conservative think tanks. It has been adopted by segments of the general public and conservative politicians as fundamental to their world view.

One needs only to look at the stated positions of Republican Presidential candidates on global warming in the lead up to the next US Presidential election: nearly all of them rejected the science (National Public Radio, In their own words: GOP Candidates and science, Corey Dade, September 2011).

I would argue such developments should spur greater efforts to both study and understand climate scepticism. And like any discipline, we can build and expand upon the original insights and work of many scholars.

Victory to these guys?

Stepping outside the narrative frame and ending our transfixed stasis

For over two decades we have been bewitched by the sceptic’s seemingly unstoppable ability to confuse the general public and “defeat” climate science (Robert Manne in A dark victory: how vested interests defeated climate science, The Monthly, 2012).

Indeed, in a recent talk in Melbourne Manne noted “He did not know how to win a “culture war” (Watching the Deniers – Question to readers: how would you counter the denial movement, 2012)

While such definitive victories may elude us, it is the opinion of this author that we can a) understand the “why” and “how” of anti-science movements and b) gain insight into how such culture wars are fought.

Indeed it may be possible – as in the case of climate change scepticism – to develop strategies to counter the effectiveness of such anti-reality movements.

While some would see this as a partisan approach to a “scientific” debate, there is ample historical precedence.

One need only look at the academic response to the “militia movement” in the United States, and the urgent desire to understand the culture and forces that created the likes of Timothy McVeigh and the Branch Davidians under David Koresh.

Learning from academic studies of American militia movement and the Southern Poverty Law Centre

The “Waco” incident of 1993 and the bombing of the Alfred P Murrah building in 1995 were traumatic events for American’s, and profoundly influenced politics and culture at the time.

In response – indeed with a surprising sense of urgency – academic scholars began an intense scholarly study of the various militia movements in the United States.

The demographic, sociological and ideological drivers for the formation militia groups were subject to intense study: indeed, the technical literature is quite large. Many of the reference texts I’ve read stem from the late 1990s and early 2000s when it was rightly thought an understanding of such groups was paramount.

Thus, we see a rush of works at that time: A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America (2003) by Michael Barkun; Enemies Within: The Culture of Conspiracy in Modern America (2001) by Robert Alan Goldberg; and Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture (1999) by Mark Fenster.

Militia groups sprung up across the US in the 1980s and 1990s, proclaiming (very loudly) an eclectic mix of beliefs including; a severely limited or non-existent Federal government, fears about a “New World Order” conspiracy, paranoia over gun control, millenarianism, Christian eschatology and racism.

It was from this “culture” that sprung the likes of Timothy McVeigh who bombed the Alfred P. Murrah building in 1995. In 1993, a combustible mix of extreme religiosity, millennialism and militia culture fed the stand-off at Waco between the followers of David Koresh and agents of US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

In addition to the work of these academics, there are other organisations we can learn from.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in the United States has a deep understanding of militia and hate groups – indeed, their website is a rich source of information on such groups. For many years activists from the SPLC and scholars have paid close attention to the writings and activities of the various militia groups still in operation in order to a) understand their formation and operation and b) watch out for “early warning” signs of violence.

One could also argue that studies in “terrorism” have grown since 9/11 as the need to both understand and foresee risk is eminently sensible.

By shedding ourselves of the narrative “frame” we are stuck in of (“Sceptic versus Warmist”), and approaching this as simply one further area of study – requiring  a multidisciplinary approach – we can “break the spell” of climate change denial.

There is nothing unique or special about the climate sceptic community. We need only see them for what they are.

Scholarship as a diagnostic and early warning tool

Firstly, let me state I am not directly equating climate sceptics with the likes of McVeigh or extreme militia groups.

However: the “hacking” of the Climate Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia (UAE) that feed the “Climategate” scandal was an act of cyber terrorism.

It was a deliberate act intended to not merely undermine the reputation of climate scientists and the science, but obviously designed to undermine negotiations at the 2009 Copenhagen Conference of All Parties (COP15).

The examples of death threats made against scientists are numerous; incidents such as the hacking of Real Climate (November 2009) and Skeptical Science (March 2012) also point to patterns of behaviour.

We ignore the climate sceptic movement – which is admittedly diverse, heterogeneous and fractious as any culture of conspiracy minded individuals – at our own risk. The historcical antecedents mentioned above should provide renewed imputeus in understanding climate change scepticism.

Conclusions: evaluating risk and the “hacktivist” nature of the climate sceptic movement

I believe there is a genuine risk that there may be fringe elements of the sceptic community who are disposed to fantasies of a coming New World Order etc. and who may fantasize about acts of retribution.

The CRU/Climategate “hack” offers compelling reason for such concerns. Should greater numbers of individuals take the claims of prominent sceptic arguments at face value – and act on these paranoid world views – it is probable we will see further incidents such as the “Climategate”.

There are antecedents for this diffusion of paranoia and conspiracy making witnessed in the militia movement in the United States. Indeed, not only should the science community be paying far closer attention to the sceptic “movement”, it may even be an issue for law enforcement agencies to monitor.

Many of the motifs of conspiracy culture – especially New World Order fantasies and fears of government control – have been “mainstreamed” by the prominence the media gives to sceptic voices and narratives.

In turn, the risk that less stable individuals or groups with less “mainstream” political agendas will adopt some of these views has been considerably heightened.

For the risks of such stochastic processes see Dances with Devils: How Apocalyptic and Millennialist Themes Influence Right Wing Scapegoating and Conspiracism by Chip Berlet and Talking points ammo: The use of neoliberal think tank fantasy themes to delegitimise scientific knowledge of climate change in Australian newspapers, Elaine McKewon for the dissemination of such fantasies in the Australian media.

In this regard, study of the climate sceptic community becomes both a diagnostic and risk management tool.

Such a tool may alert the world’s scientific community and government agencies to possible threats: i.e. cybercrimes such as hacking and tracking “grouping” behaviour on social media platforms that may lead to FOI “assaults” or targeted email campaigns against individual scientists.

Indeed, in the next piece I will explore how the climate sceptic movement is a heterogeneous virtual community composed of “core members” who provide both overt and implied cues for behaviours and norms for a much larger number of loosely aligned “associates”.

Similar patterns of behaviour can be seen with “hacktivist” groups such as Anonymous and LulzSec (though the political aims of sceptics and the “pranksters” of Anonymous are widely divergent, if not antithetical to each other).

The same pattern of recruitment by prominent voices on social media platforms – and the fractious “voting up” of “operations” by a greater collective swayed by rhetoric and exhortation – can be also be seen in way the climate sceptic community operates (see LulzSec: How A Handful Of Hackers Brought The US Government To Its Knees, Kyle Schurman and Anonymous Attack Anatomy Hacker Intelligence Report, Darshan Joshi et.al)

Again, the tools to study such communities are readily available: we should but merely “take them off the shelf” and employ them in our study of what is – in reality – a subgroup of a broader based conspiracy culture that finds its loci predominately in the United States (and to a lesser extent Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom).

There really is no need to reinvent the wheel.

I fully acknowledge each incidence of denial (of climate change, evolution and the Stolen Generations) is often a unique expression of the politics and culture of the time: however the tools for understanding are readily available.

Conspiracy culture: how the Australian media overlooked the paranoid politics of the deniers

“….[it] would appear to be the Rothschild plan: to create an international authority on the pretext of saving the world from global warming, this salvation being somehow achievable by creating a “carbon exchange” as another source of speculative profit for the Rothschilds, et al. The international authority leading towards a “new world order” would have The City of London as its world capital…   – NWO Observer

Yesterday Ben Cubby of The Age wrote a brief article on the response of the Australian denial movement to Richard Muller’s BEST study and his conversion from scepticism to acceptance of climate change.

What immediately caught my attention was the quotes by Malcom Roberts, a prominent member of the Galileo movement:

A prominent Australian sceptics’ group, the Galileo Movement, said its views would not change at all because of Professor Muller’s study. The group features broadcaster Alan Jones as its patron and lists prominent sceptics Ian Plimer and Bob Carter and blogger Andrew Bolt as advisers.

“We’ve based our views on empirical science, and there’s nothing in the Muller study to undercut that,” said the Galileo Movement’s manager, Malcolm Roberts, a former mining engineer and company director.

Mr Roberts said climate change science had been captured by “some of the major banking families in the world” who form a “tight-knit cabal”.

Mr Roberts said he understood that the group’s views might sound strange, but claimed they were increasingly popular. “It does sound outlandish,” he said. “I, like you, was reluctant to believe it [but] there are significant things going on in Australia that people are waking up to”.

This is a claim I’ve familiar with, and is common currency amongst climate sceptics across the globe.

I noted some time ago some of Australia’s most prominent climate sceptics were proponents of this conspiracy. Jo Nova and her husband David Evans are perhaps the main proponents of this conspiracy in Australia.

It was very much on display during the protests last year in front of Parliament house, with cranks and conspiracy theorists painting their beliefs on signs and waving them in front of the media.

The mainstream Australian media have failed to appreciate that climate denial in is an example of conspiracy culture.

I’d strongly urge journalists and the media to note Roberts claims about cabals, international bankers and the conspiracy theories pushed by the Australian climate “sceptics” and review the world view of the sceptic movement.

This feature of the movement has been overlooked in an attempt to provide (false) balance in reporting on the climate change “debate”.

Indeed, the media have rushed to publish the views of sceptics such as Nova, Monckton and Roberts without checking their statements on “international bankers” and NWO/socialist conspiracies. Climate denial has all the hallmarks of conspiracy culture that holds the following beliefs:

  • a conspiracy of individuals and groups whose powers and reach is all-pervasive
  • history is a product of these forces, there is no such thing as chance
  • the conspiracy acts covertly to achieve a malevolent end/s

So why do the sceptics get so much play? The fossil fuel industry disinformation campaign promoted via think tanks is a factor.

But there is more to this story.

Due to the challenge climate change prompts (and the attendant anxieties), the intensity of the sceptics disinformation campaign and the willingness of some parts of the media fully embrace climate scepticism, conspiracy theorists have been given a major platform to espouse they’re all too frequently unchallenged views.

Conspiracy theories, to quote Christopher Hitchens, are the exhaust fumes of democracy. We see the anxieties and fears of our society expressed. They serve as a soothing and comforting narrative for individuals trying to make sense of the world.

The true story here is the one about human psychology and how global warming forces us to question the core values and infrastructure of our society: what does AGW mean for energy use, justice and sustainability?

Since the 1990s conspiracy theories have gained in popularity, due to the internet and the media embracing it as a genre:

Climate change denial is both an anti-science movement and a form of popular entertainment. Through its various blogs, YouTube videos, Op-Ed pieces and think tank studies it delivers a steady diet of counter knowledge in perfectly packaged sound bites and memes…

…In this it mimics other pop-cultural phenomena as “The Secret” and “The Da Vinci” code. It’s slickly produced, packaged and marketed counter knowledge.

And our mainstream media is complicit in its dissemination; either actively through the work of journalists as the HUN’s Andrew Bolt, or by attempting to be balanced and giving credibility to the movement in interviews and guest spots in the opinion pages of major dailies.

Over the next two weeks I’m going to focus on highlighting the culture of conspiracy that infects the Australian climate sceptics movement.

For too long there views have recieved scant critical attention. So get ready to learn about post-normal science, the coming general economic collapse, international bankers, socialist plots to take over the world…

Get ready for some fun.

Here we go again: “Watts up with that?” pushing the no consensus myth

The denial movement, particularly in the United States is in a bit of a head spin. With record temperatures, a drought that is extending over a sizable part of the nation and devastated food crops, public acceptance of climate change has shot up to 70%.

In response, the denial machine has been paddling hard against the stream of public opinion and evidence. The team over at “Watt’s up with that?” have been working furiously to question the temperature record, tell everyone this is all just a “normal summer” and hey isn’t all really a conspiracy?

It must be hard toiling away on you climate denial blog when the power goes due to storm induced black outs or when the temperature is consistently over 100F. Cognitive dissonance can be a powerful tool to shelter ones shelf from reality.

The latest piece of denial to ping around the echo chamber comes courtesy of Mr Watt’s blog and is titled “What else did the ’97% of scientists’ say?” As you may have guessed it is the there is no consensus myth/meme/lie.

This post is authored by well-known climate “sceptic” Barry Woods:

I wonder just how many politicians, environmentalists or scientists who use the phrase ’97% of scientists’ (or those who more carefully use ‘active climate scientists’) to give weight to their arguments regarding climate change to the public, have any idea of the actual source of this soundbite.

I wonder, I really do.

Actually, I really do know where that figure comes from because I took the time to check all the facts. But let’s continue down the tortuous, twisting and amusing path of denial as an illustrative example in creating denier memes.

Woods is attempting to discredit the methodology and results of the paper “”Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?” by Doran and Zimmerman.

Wood starts to frame the issue nicely:

In a world where politicians (UK) went to war in Iraq based on a ‘sexed’ up dodgy dossier plagiarised from a 12 year old PhD thesis. I wonder how confident they would be lecturing the public about the need for radical decarbonising economic climate polices, if they were aware that the ’97% of active climate scientists’ quote/soundbite actually comes from a students MSc thesis, that the Doran EoS paper cites?

Yes, the WMD scandal and climate science are the same. How? I don’t know, but it must involve a conspiracy. My money is on the Illuminati. Or the socialists. Or both.

Skeptical Science has a good summary of the Doran survey here

A survey of 3146 earth scientists asked the question “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?” (Doran 2009). More than 90% of participants had Ph.D.s, and 7% had master’s degrees. Overall, 82% of the scientists answered yes. However, what are most interesting are responses compared to the level of expertise in climate science. Of scientists who were non-climatologists and didn’t publish research, 77% answered yes…

Which of coursed has outraged sceptics such as Woods, because the answer they want is “no”.

However in order to turn a positive response into a negative – or at least uncertain – Wood has fished out the original Masters of Science thesis by Zimmerman and cherry picked some of the respondents answers:

As this MSc thesis was the original source of the oft cited Doran paper 97% quote, I tracked it down (sometime ago now) and discovered in the appendi that there was a great deal of email feedback and answers to write in questions from the scientists that actually participated in the survey, much of it critical and sceptical of the survey itself, the methodology and the questions asked. Additionally, amongst those environmental scientists that responded, were some very sceptical sounding scientists with respect to man made climate change being the dominant driver of climate change. 

“..Science is based on scepticism and experimental proof. Whereas human GHG emissions certainly have a warming effect, the breakdown between natural and anthropogenic contributions to warming is poorly constrained.

Remember that the warming since 1650 AD (not 1900) is part of a real ‘millennial cycle’ whose amplitude cannot yet be explained by any quantitative theory. 

Also, the computer climate models are both too complex to be readily understood and too simple to describe reality. 

Believing their results is an act of faith…”

I’m shocked!

Should I question the science, and revise my entire “faith” in “catastrophic anthropogenic global warming”?

Actually I’m not all shocked, nor surprised that Wood managed to cherry pick a few choice quotes. Wood’s has simply zeroed in on the tiny minority of quotes that are dismissive of the science and ignored the vast majority other respondents.

[Note: see Six Aspects of Denial tactic number 3: Magnify disagreements among scientists and cite gadflies]

Now if our entire “belief” that 97% of scientists accept the science is based one supposedly flawed study it might give us pause. But of course, just like the science of climate change there are multiple lines of evidence supporting this statement:

  • The 2004 study by Noami Oreskes, “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change” surveyed all peer-reviewed papers on global warming between 1993 and 2003 found not one disputed the consensus. 75% where in agreement and 25% made no statement because those papers focused on methodology
  • The more recent 2010 paper by Anderegg, “Expert credibility in climate change” went beyond surveys and reviewed the actual published work of over 1300 climatologists and found 97-98% in agreement that climate change is real

Let’s not forget there is not a single national scientific academy on the planet who question the science. However, former mining executives, bloggers funded by think tanks and swarms of angry online trolls do.

Knowing who the expert is can sometimes be challenging.

Here’s an analogy: if I was on an operating table and the person standing next to me in hospital garb was holding a scalpel – surrounded by nurses and medical equipment – in what looked like an operating theater….

Well I’m going to make the leap of faith and consider them some sort of expert.

Or, I could go on the internet, Google my malady and place my trust on “Thegreatbigdoctorconspiracy.com”.

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