Don't confuse conspiracy theorists' obsessions with general public interest
Professor Lewandowsky's article is a perspective piece about a paper published in ERL earlier this year by William R L Anderegg and Gregory R Goldsmith. The abstract:
Anderegg and Goldsmith (2014 Environ. Res. Lett. 9 054005) use Google Trends to examine the impact of specific media events - the so-called "climategate" imbroglio and the glacial-melt error in the IPCC's 2007 report - on public opinion regarding climate change. There has been an overall decline of public interest in climate change after 2007, accompanied by spikes of interest with a half-life of six days for these two media events. The brevity of public interest in "climategate" stands in contrast to the continued and growing fascination of the "skeptic" blogosphere with that event. These results document the assertion that conspiratory obsession by a small number of people should not be mistaken for general public interest.
Indeed. It would be hard to mistake the conspiratory obsession by the small number of people at WUWT with general public interest about anything. For example, is the general public really interested in fake skeptic allegations that climate science is a hoax because climate scientists use email? And is the general public really interested in Tim Ball and his theories about how Tom Wigley has become the ruler of the world? Is the general public really interested in the WUWT paranoid conspiracy theories about the IPCC?
Who's the wackadoodle?
Although he probably hasn't read the paper, Anthony Watts doesn't seem to like what Professor Lewandowsky wrote, and said:
A new paper by Stephan Lewandowsky once again projects his own conspiracy ideation onto skeptics...
One known element of conspiratorial thinking is its ‘self-sealing’ quality (Keeley 1999, Bale 2007, Sunstein and Vermeule 2009), whereby evidence against a conspiratorial belief is re-interpreted as evidence for that belief. In the case of ‘climategate’, this self-sealing nature of conspiratorial belief became evident after the scientists in question were exonerated by nine investigations in two countries (including various parliamentary and government committees in the U.S. and U.K.; see table 1), when those exonerations were re-branded as a ‘whitewash.’ This ‘whitewash’ response can be illustrated by U.S. Representative Sensenbrennerʼs published response to the EPAʼs endangerment finding.
...Basically, the gist of it is that being interested in Climategate, makes you a conspiracy theorist.
What a wackadoodle.
h/t to Barry Wood.
Which is funny on a few counts. First of all, there's no hint of any conspiratorial thinking on the part of Professor Lewandowsky in his article. Anthony is just trying to be "clever" and failing. And yeah, being consumed by a desire to find something, anything in the stolen emails that will "prove" that climate science is a hoax - is a prominent sign of conspiracy ideation. Finally - h/t Barry Wood. Of course!
The Lewandowsky paper closes by observing that the empty vessel effect is evident. People think there are more deniers than there actually are, because they make so much noise. He writes:
It is known that the perception of the prevalence of ‘skeptic’ opinions is grossly over-estimated compared to the actual extent of ‘skepticism.’ In a representative Australian sample, (Leviston et al 2013b) found that only around 6% of respondents denied that climate change was happening, whereas the publicʼs estimate of the prevalence of that opinion was in excess of 20%—more than three times greater.
He then discusses the miconceptions about scientific consensus and how that can shape people's attitudes. He wrote:
Given the well-known linkage between the perception of a consensus and actual opinion (e.g., Lewandowsky et al 2013b), peopleʼs mis-calibration of the perceived public-opinion landscape—in particular the inflation of a small minority into 1/5 of the population—raises the possibility that peopleʼs attitudes are disproportionately shaped by a small but very vocal minority.
And he notes that scientists themselves are not immune to the influence of the empty vessels, writing:
It must be of particular concern that the scientific community does not appear to be immune to such misperceptions. There is some evidence that ‘skeptical’ voices are affecting—and arguably distorting—the course of climate science and the communication of its findings (Freudenburg and Muselli 2010, Brysse et al 2013).
Stephan Lewandowsky rounds off the article cautioning people not to confuse the obsessions of the small number of fake sceptics with the wider public interest. And refers again to the Anderegg & Goldsmith paper, which showed that:
... the wider public astutely lost interest in ‘climategate’ long ago.Not being as astute as the wider public, Anthony Watts and his fake sceptics at WUWT are still obsessed, turning innocent conversations from innocuous fifteen year old emails into grand conspiracies of climate hoaxes.
Self-sealing conspiracy theories from the WUWT comments
If you go to the WUWT comments, you'll find confirmation of what Professor Lewandowsky wrote in his paper, which Anthony Watts quoted above, about the "self-sealing" quality of conspiracy theory advocates.
...whereby evidence against a conspiratorial belief is reinterpreted as evidence for that belief. ...WUWT readers decided to prove the points made in the paper. I saw scant evidence of self awareness in the comments. See the self-sealing in action, from Anna Keppa, who wrote:
November 12, 2014 at 6:29 pm
What a crock. It isn’t a case of evidence of a conspiratorial **belief** that matters, it’s evidence of the conspiracy itself. In the case of climategate, there were no independent or disinterested investigations, just parties either invested with stakes in the outcome or on record as having held the same position of the warmistas.
Will Nitschke tries to fudge, but fails to hide his self-sealed conspiracy theory:
November 12, 2014 at 6:42 pm
People don’t trust “internal” police investigations because of the obvious conflict of interest. That’s why police are usually investigated by special and separate branches of the police, or in some cases anti-corruption special judicial appointments.
The issue needs to be correctly framed. Not, that ‘conspiracy’ or more correctly, ‘self interest’ is impossible or highly unlikely, but rather, with any group behaviour, can one expect it to NOT operate? It seems like a rather absurd proposition. It’s rather self evident that conflict of interest is normative in any field of human endeavour.
Malcolm is another self-sealer and says:
November 12, 2014 at 8:21 pm
The primary purpose of these ‘investigations’ was to exonerate the scientists. This point is completely lost on most people.
Chip Javert decides that Professor Lewandowsky is part of a conspiracy to curtail his freedom to indulge in conspiracy thinking:
November 12, 2014 at 6:54 pm
Oh good. Some witch doctor climbs out from under the psychology rock to defame a community attempting to conduct a legitimate science discussion.
He easily demonstrates a firm grasp on bovine excrement, but how much math & physics does he understand?
ossqss says he knows from experience that psychologists are nuts. He's married to one, he said, so he knows!
November 12, 2014 at 7:01 pm
Mr. Lew’s continued behavior speaks to psychological issues of his own. I am not a psychologist, but I married one. I have viewed this type of behavior through studies helping my better half get that credential. Just sayin, fixation through facination can lead to strange things. Perhaps one of our credentialed viewers could comment further, but he seems to have a serious internal problem with no known way out of it now. A plateau has been reached in more ways than one for him.
Konrad. agrees with ossqss and says that because he analyses the fake sceptic psyche he must be nuts, and maybe he's right :)
November 12, 2014 at 7:46 pm
Yes, strange isn’t it? Every time complete foamer Lewandowsky goes to write another of his turgid psychology papers, he keeps coming back to his own crazed conspiracy ideation about sceptics. It’s like a dog returning to its vomit.
I fear there is no hope for a “physician heal thyself” solution. For Lewandowsky it may be time for the quiet clinic in the country where all the nurses speak softly, the furnishings are padded and all the utensils are plastic…
Anderegg, William RL, and Gregory R. Goldsmith. "Public interest in climate change over the past decade and the effects of the ‘climategate’media event." Environmental Research Letters 9, no. 5 (2014): 054005. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/9/5/054005
Stephan Lewandowsky. "Conspiratory fascination versus public interest: the case of 'climategate'" Environ. Res. Lett. 9, no. 11 (2014): 111004 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/9/11/111004