Tag Archives: climate science

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 et.al 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 watchthedeniers_@_gmail.com

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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