Climate science denial is therefore perhaps best understood as a rational activity that replaces a coherent body of science with an incoherent and conspiracist body of pseudo-science for political reasons and with considerable political coherence and effectiveness.
That is the closing sentence of a new paper called: "The ‘Alice in Wonderland’ mechanics of the rejection of (climate) science: simulating coherence by conspiracism". Great title! The work is by Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, Dr John Cook and Professor Elisabeth Lloyd. It's another wonderful read about the lack of coherence in the arguments put forward by climate science deniers as their reasons for rejecting mainstream science.
"Something must be wrong". Four words. "Something is wrong". Three words.
Do either of the above have any meaning on their own? Not really. However they do invite questions.
Do they mean the same thing? No. The first sentence with the "must be" is merely an expression of disbelief. The person saying it might look further to see if they can find if something is wrong, and if so, what is wrong, but may not. The second gives the impression that something is definitely wrong and the person saying it knows what is wrong - and will be able to tell you what it is.
"Something must be wrong" is number 5 of seven characteristics of conspiracist ideation of from the paper, Recurrent Fury. The authors demonstrated how conspiracy theories evolve in the climate conspiracy blogosphere. (I've written a lengthy article about the even more lengthy paper here.)
The seven characteristics used as criteria for assessing climate conspiracy theorisation were:
- Nefarious Intent or Questionable Motives (QM): Assuming that the presumed conspirators have nefarious, or at least questionable, intentions.
- Persecuted Victim (PV): Self-identifying as the victim of an organised persecution.
- Nihilistic Skepticism or Over-riding Suspicion (OS): Refusing to believe anything that doesn't fit into the conspiracy theory, which in turn can be any hypothesis that can be described as conspiracy ideation. It doesn't have to be a grand conspiracy theory.
- Nothing occurs by Accident (NoA): Weaving any small random event into the conspiracy narrative.
- Something Must be Wrong (MbW): Switching liberally between different, even contradictory conspiracy theories that have in common only the presumption that there is something wrong in the official account by the alleged conspirators.
- Self-Sealing Reasoning (SS): Interpreting any evidence against the conspiracy as evidence for (or of) the conspiracy.
- Unreflexive Counterfactual Thinking: These included several hypotheses that were "built on a non-existent, counterfactual state of the world, even though knowledge about the true state of the world was demonstrably available at the time".
The incoherence of climate science denial and the simulation of coherence
Eric Worrall was writing about this new paper but was compelled to misrepresent it, maybe to get past the gatekeepers at WUWT. (Do you like that conspiracy theory?) The paper wouldn't be at all palatable to science denying conspiracy theorists:
In this article, we broaden the enquiry of conspiracist ideation to an analysis of the (pseudo-) scientific arguments that are advanced against the scientific consensus on climate change, and how they contrast with the positions of the scientific mainstream.As the authors wrote in the abstract (which Eric posted at WUWT in full, the bolding is from Eric):
...people who reject the fact that the Earth’s climate is changing due to greenhouse gas emissions (or any other body of well-established scientific knowledge) oppose whatever inconvenient finding they are confronting in piece-meal fashion, rather than systematically, and without considering the implications of this rejection to the rest of the relevant scientific theory and findings. Hence, claims that the globe “is cooling” can coexist with claims that the “observed warming is natural” and that “the human influence does not matter because warming is good for us.” Coherence between these mutually contradictory opinions can only be achieved at a highly abstract level, namely that “something must be wrong” with the scientific evidence in order to justify a political position against climate change mitigation. This high-level coherence accompanied by contradictory subordinate propositions is a known attribute of conspiracist ideation, and conspiracism may be implicated when people reject well-established scientific propositions.The paper was about how science deniers oppose climate science in a piecemeal fashion. They aren't systematic and don't consider what their bits and pieces mean for other knowledge - scientific or just plain fact. Take these typical denier claims, for example (not from the paper):
- Saying that CO2 hasn't increased flies in the face of observations taken all around the world that show that atmospheric CO2 has risen by more than 40% in the past 150 years.
- Saying that atmospheric CO2 has increased but "it's natural" means that the person rejects basic chemistry (burning hydrocarbons produces CO2). It also requires identification of a source for all that CO2, and why it suddenly started being emitted from that source.
- Saying that atmospheric CO2 has increased but it comes from ocean outgassing ignores the chemical reaction of burning hydrocarbons, and ignores the huge body of evidence that the oceans are absorbing way more CO2 than they are releasing. It also neglects to explain why the oceans would have suddenly started to emit all that CO2.
- Saying that the oceans are emitting more CO2 because they got warmer brings the denier back full circle. They need to explain what caused the oceans to suddenly heat up. They also need to explain how this can be, when the measurements clearly show that oceans have been absorbing more CO2 than releasing it.
Eric clearly took issue with the statement in the abstract that it is only at a highly abstract level that one can hope to achieve any coherence between mutually contradictory notions. For example (not from the paper), "it's not warming" may be rationalised by deniers arguing that:
- the data is faked (on no evidence except they read it somewhere on a denier blog), and
- urban heat island (the data cannot be assumed as faked if it is argued that it is showing the urban heat island effect), and
- it's El Nino (again, the data cannot be assumed as fake if it is argued that it is showing warming from El Nino).
- “CO2 keeps our planet warm ....” p. 411
- “Temperature and CO2 are not connected.” p. 278
Eric Worrall's straw man
Instead of exploring what was in the paper and in the abstract that he quoted, Eric Worrall decided to build a straw man. (Logical fallacies are Telltale Technique No. 2 of climate science denial.) Let's put the statement that Eric bolded on top of what Eric wrote beneath (my bold):
Lewandowsky16 said nothing about the need for a settled alternative theory being required to demonstrate that another theory is useless at prediction. That was Eric building a straw man. What the authors did point out was (my emphasis):
People who oppose this scientific body of knowledge because the implications of cutting GHG emissions—such as regulation or increased taxation—threaten their worldview or livelihood cannot provide an alternative view that is coherent by the standards of conventional scientific thinking.This is not the same as demonstrating that a particular theory is useless at prediction. For example:
- The greenhouse effect predicts that if greenhouse gases are increased in the atmosphere, and all else is equal, then the planet will warm. They have increased and the planet is warming as a consequence. The evidence is consistent with physics.
- The hypothesis that atmospheric CO2 is increasing from ocean outgassing, and not from burning fossil fuels, is useless for prediction because the two premises are wrong. Neither of them is supported by evidence.
So, empty words and armwaving from Eric Worrall. Either he didn't understand what he copied and pasted, or he did and his logical fallacy was the best he could come up with as a rejoinder.
Eric as the persecuted victim
There's more. Eric took it on himself to imply that this paper was a psychiatric assessment of science deniers. It wasn't. That's just Eric playing the "persecuted victim". He wrote:
The increasingly frantic efforts to “medicalise” criticism of climate orthodoxy has taken a new turn, with a claim that theories cannot be disproven in of themselves. Theories can only be disputed by people who can provide a settled alternative theory.Again, there are two things wrong with this paragraph. First, as I said, the paper is not a psychiatric assessment. (Is Eric projecting his personal fears?) There is no effort to "medicalise". It's essentially a paper about logic and reason and their corollaries (and was published in a philosophy of science journal, Synthese).
The second thing wrong is the same as before. Eric misrepresented the argument about the incoherence of arguments put forward by science deniers, claiming that it was something else. Eric claimed, wrongly, that the authors were arguing that theories can only be disproven by people who can provide a settled alternative theory. They didn't. The word "settled" does not appear in Lewandowsky16. The authors do give several examples of contradictory arguments put forward by deniers, as examples of the lack of coherence.
Eric's argument is wrong because his depiction of what the authors wrote is way off beam. It's also wrong because, despite Eric playing the "persecuted victim", the paper isn't a medical paper and advances no medical theories.
From the WUWT comments
What about the WUWT comments? Well, as you'd expect with the comments under any article at WUWT, but especially an article about a paper by Professor Lewandowsky, there was oodles of conspiracist ideation and incoherence. What is telling is that so far I've not seen anyone comment on the paper itself. The comments are mostly about Eric's straw man and declarations of climate science denial. Avoiding the research is understandable. The paper would pose a serious threat to the world view of most readers of WUWT.
SMC got the ball rolling with this gem:
September 23, 2016 at 6:07 pmLet's look at that in the context of conspiracy ideation in general and this new paper:
This sounds like somebody trying to deflect and pin the blame for their failures on their opponents. Pretty standard stuff for socialists. It’s always somebody else’s fault. It never works, for very long, unless you have an oppressed populace. Even then, the populace knows the accusers are full of fecal matter, they just aren’t willing or are unable to do anything about it. Why do the socialists always think people are too stupid to think for themselves (other than it helps them to gain or keep power)?
- It starts with an unsubstantiated claim about "failures". This claim flies in the face of all the evidence. The authors are each highly respected in their fields, very successful in their careers, and have won awards and recognition in their own fields and beyond. Thus this is probably a good example of "unreflexive counterfactual thinking".
- "Pretty standard stuff for socialists" reeks of the "nefarious intent" characteristic of conspiracy ideation.
- The question about people being too stupid to think for themselves is another case of "persecuted victim". First of all, that claim is nowhere in the paper. Secondly, some people do seem to be unable to think rationally when it comes to anything related to climate science - the evidence is there in the comment.
September 23, 2016 at 6:08 pmIn this case:
Lewandowsky is now ensconced in a sinecure in the British city built on wealth from slaves and tobacco, Bristol, and now with the full weight of Britain’s academic Marxist and ecofasc1st establishment elite behind him, makes his announcement with creamy smugness that the laws of logic and epistemology have just changed at his imperial command.
- "Nefarious intent" is imbued in this "thought". What a dastardly fellow is Professor Lewandowsky to work at Bristol University, a den of tobacco-smoking slave-traders who are at the same time Marxists, ecofascists, and royalty (imperial) with the backing of the "establishment elite" in Britain (who are generally considered to be ideologically conservative).
- Apart from this being irrelevant, the big logic fail is the implication that everyone who lives in Bristol supports slavery and tobacco, and therefore the lead author is supported by Marxist and the conservative (ecofascist) British establishment elite. Plus he has the characteristics of royalty. I'll leave you to ponder the incoherence of these juxtapositions.
September 23, 2016 at 6:19 pmIn this comment,
Let’s extrapolate their suggestion… say the police have a theory that a person committed a crime. Their supposition rules out the possibility of reasonable doubt. Interesting that they suggest insane acceptance over rules reasonable doubt. Anyone with reasonable doubt must be pathological.
- Jeff's argument is built on a wrong premise and is a logical fallacy. The authors didn't claim that insane acceptance overrules reasonable doubt. That's a straw man built on top of Eric Worral's straw man and the opposite of what the paper was about. (One of the points is that denier arguments are contradictory, conspiratorial, incoherent, and without facts to support them. To believe the body of denier memes isn't a sign of insanity - it's a sign of human fallibility.)
- Nor does the paper discuss pathology or even hint at it. That part shows signs of the "persecuted victim" (anyone with reasonable doubt must be pathological).
September 23, 2016 at 6:22 pmI can't make head or tail of what David is thinking. The comment does reek of "nihilistic skepticism or over-riding suspicion".
So their position is that the world must comply with demands because the world doesn’t think it’s even an issue worth wasting time on….
Good lord these (((leftists))) are stupid…
September 23, 2016 at 6:31 pmI'm guessing that CheshireRed's T&C's means "terms and conditions". He or she is also building a strawman based on a position that the authors are motivated by "nefarious intent" (of setting rules). To interpret a logically laid out argument supported by evidence as setting rules for what is or is not allowed suggests a distinct lack of confidence in one's own position. It suggests that CheshireRed regards these authors as authorities on the subject. It brings to mind Bob Altemeyer's The Authoritarians, in which he describes right wing authoritarian followers as being distrustful of any normal authority to an almost paranoid extent.
When that pair of clowns try to project their own T&C’s into the debate in order to fix what is or is not ‘allowed’ then it’s abundantly clear they’ve strayed a long way from neutral science and straight into politically-motivated activism. Point, laugh, ignore.
buckwheaton describes his dilemma, with his ideology conflicting with what he regards as one of the main policy solutions to climate change. His solution is to reject the science. He seems to prefer that to coming up with solutions that are not in conflict with his ideology.
September 23, 2016 at 6:31 pmIn this "thought" there is:
“…namely that “something must be wrong” with the scientific evidence in order to justify a political position against climate change mitigation….”
How am I to react when the net result of the policy changes that advocates of “climate change” demand all converge on socialistic solutions? That these solutions all have the effect of reducing liberty, suppressing prosperity and justifying vastly increased government powers? It is no surprise when what passes for “science” always justifies this course of action and none of it calls this direction into question.
As for something being wrong, where I presently sit while I write this reply was under more than 1000 feet of glacial ice in the recent past. That ice melted. So, of course the climate is changing. It is continually changing. So what am I denying? I am denying that human activity has changed the climate in a harmful and material way.
- "nefarious intent" - climate scientists and the people who accept it are are motivated by a desire to impose socialism, reduce liberty, suppress prosperity and increase the power of government. No mention of a desire to protect humanity and all life on the planet, or the fact that people and governments of all political persuasions accept mainstream science.
- a logically fallacious argument. The fact that climate changed in the past is not evidence that humans are not causing climate change in the present.
September 23, 2016 at 6:41 pm
Perhaps Lewandowsky and Cook are fearing political change, and doing their best try at a new career as trolls.
Bob decides to attack the premise that one of the important aims of scientific research is to develop a coherent body of knowledge that gives a robust explanation of how the universe works and is consistent (not having contradictory explanations):
September 23, 2016 at 7:21 pmThis seems to be to be an example of incoherence. First of all Bob seems to be arguing that coherence isn't an aim of scientific research. Then he hints at a contradiction, arguing that multiple theories aren't necessary implying that coherence in scientific theories is important. At the same time he is saying that multiple experiments pointing to different (and contradictory?) explanations can each determine scientific (presumably different or contradictory) truths. And in the next sentence he argues that a theory or hypothesis must be validated with real world data "not yet seen". If you can see any coherence in Bob's argument, do tell.
Low: “Science strives for coherence”.
Where is this man’s head? Science does not strive for anything. Science is not a thing, or a goal. Science is a process designed to reveal physical truth. Period. Coherence has nothing to do with anything, unless you are in laser science. There is no need to have multiple theories, or even multiple experiments to be the same to determine scientific truth. There is only one standard, and that is your theory/hypothesis/experiment must be validated with real world data not yet seen, or used to construct the experiment.
Add to dictionary [Lewindowsky (sic)] self-serving contradictions explain why over 80% of psychology studies are wrong. Psychology as represented by Lewindowsky is not science, and, indeed, seems to be the hangout for present day phrenologists.
Next, without any further explanation, Bob decides that the statement "Science strives for coherence" is a self-contradictory explanation. Perhaps he thinks he's shown that science doesn't strives for coherence.
Then there's "something must be wrong". He concludes arguing (illogically) that this paper is wrong because he read somewhere on the internet that "over 80% of psychology studies are wrong". The paper is not a psychology paper, it is in a science philosophy journal.
In short, Bob shows no sign of having read the paper, and no explanation other than arguing that it is not an aim of science to develop coherent theories of how the universe works. (He doesn't say what he thinks scientists aim for except for (an incoherent?) scientific truth.)
Nick Stokes comments on Eric Worrall's strawman argument, pointing out that no-one at WUWT has yet demonstrated that any of the theories underpinning climate science are wrong:
September 23, 2016 at 7:40 pm
” A demonstration that a theory is useless at prediction does not have to be accompanied by a settled alternative theory – simply demonstrating that the current theory is wrong is enough.”
Yes, if you can do it. But despite almost daily claims here of nails in coffin etc, that hasn’t happened. And despite the pronoucements here that “the burden of proof is on…”, it isn’t. People want to know what is happening. They don’t impose any particular burden of proof – it’s just an issue to be understood. And there the rule is – it’s hard to beat something with nothing. People are looking for the best available explanation.
davidmhoffer doesn't see a need for any scientific research into climate, from the look of this "thought". Does he think the world knows all there is to know, or does he not place any value on knowledge at all? (Does he look up weather forecasts?):
September 23, 2016 at 8:21 pm
People are looking for the best available explanation.
What needs explaining Nick? What is happening on planet earth from a climate perspective that needs explaining?
BallBounces can't figure out why coherence is important in science. He probably would be quite content to simultaneously entertain notions like "the world is flat" and "the world is round"; and "gravity exists" and "people float up into space all the time, there's no force binding them to earth". (Does he know the paper was published in a science philosophy journal?):
September 23, 2016 at 7:41 pm
An assumption of coherence sounds more like philosophy than science. Why assume coherence?
Leo Smith picks on a notion that he thinks was "proved" based on something he read on a climate conspiracy blog, not in any scientific publication.
September 23, 2016 at 7:56 pmHere are some points about Leo's incoherent comment:
high-level coherence accompanied by contradictory subordinate propositions = a theory of positive feedback and no predicted hotspot found.
Ergo, by Lewandowsky, AGW shows clear signs of being loaded with ‘attributes of conspiracist ideation’
Lord, but the boy does bullshit most bafflingly
Never in the field of pseudo scientific pretension has so much polysyllabic piety been presented by such a precious little prick
- His first sentence is a muddle and wrong. The "predicted hotspot" is about how the rate of warming in the upper troposphere increases more than warming at the surface, when there is warming at the surface (from any cause, not just greenhouse warming). It's related to the moist adiabatic lapse rate when the surface warms (read about it).
- His second sentence does not follow. Even if his denier website was right about the lack of evidence of his "predicted hotspot" (he's not), that result on its own wouldn't constitute a conspiracy theory.
- The rest is mere name-calling. I guess he couldn't think of anything else to write.
J.H. sets out what he or she regards as a "coherent world view". That is quite simply expressed as "it's natural". Personal incredulity is an argument from ignorance. It is a logical fallacy and does not disprove the mountains of evidence that humans are causing global warming. It would appear that explaining the "natural" is not something that J.H. is interested in. Nor has J.H. show any indication that he or she knows the first thing about climate science (like the greenhouse effect). Signs of a scientific illiterati.
September 23, 2016 at 8:21 pm
Excuse me, but climate skeptics do “Provide a coherent Worldview”.
The variations of the Climate are Natural. That’s our “Coherent Worldview”. What part of that don’t they understand?
That is the Skeptical standpoint. It’s up to the “Warmists” to show that there is an Anthropogenic effect significant enough to be called “Climate Changing”….. So far they haven’t, nor have they even come close to showing that they understand the climate system in all its complexity, let alone how humans can “Change” it.
Chuck Dolci also didn't bother with what the paper said, and took at face value Eric's strawman. Is Chris blind to words in italics? Incapable of critical reading?
September 23, 2016 at 8:22 pmThis shows some incoherence. What Chuck is suggesting is that the argument appears sound (dazzle them with your footwork), but he doesn't understand it (academic gibberish) and yet implies he does understand it by saying "their argument is nonsense". There's more. He's attacking Eric Worrall's misinterpretation of the paper (aka Eric's straw man), not the paper itself.
What the heck did he say? When you don’t have anything intelligent to say dazzle them with your footwork. In this case, with your academic gibberish. BTW, their argument is nonsense. If you are charged with a crime all you have to show is that you didn’t do the crime. You don’t have to show who actually did it, you just need to show that it wasn’t you.
References and further reading
Lewandowsky, Stephan, John Cook, and Elisabeth Lloyd. "The ‘Alice in Wonderland’ mechanics of the rejection of (climate) science: simulating coherence by conspiracism." Synthese (2016): 1-22. doi:10.1007/s11229-016-1198-6 (open access)
Lewandowsky, Stephan, John Cook, Klaus Oberauer, Scott Brophy, Elisabeth A. Lloyd, and Michael Marriott. (2015). "Recurrent fury: Conspiratorial discourse in the blogosphere triggered by research on the role of conspiracist ideation in climate denial." Journal of Social and Political Psychology, 3 (1). doi: 10.5964/jspp.v3i1.443. (open access)
The Authoritarians - by Bob Altemeyer
Plimer vs Plimer - chart at SkepticalScience.com (h/t BaerbelW)
From the HotWhopper archives
- Curses! It's a conspiracy! The Fury is Back Thrice Over - July 2015, about the Recurrent Fury paper.
- About that tropical "hot spot" - May 2015
- Telegraphing climate facts is unhelpful to Eric Worrall at WUWT - January 2016
- Eric Worrall and WUWT with telltale techniques - No. 3: Impossible expectations No: 2 Logical Fallacy - November 2015
- Circulating ocean waters of the past confuse Eric Worrall in the present, at WUWT - July 2016
- and many more.