Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What makes fake skeptics tell such Whoppers?

MobyT | 10:18 PM Go to the first of 12 comments. Add a comment
A body of research is building to try to determine what it is that motivates some people to make stuff up, particularly about topics like climate science.

A lie is different to a mistake.  Mistakes can be corrected.  When people deliberately tell lies they generally have to dig deeper holes for themselves as aspects of the lie are revealed. (In a similar vein, later in this post I make reference to a paper that deals with attempts to construct fantasy conspiracy theories, and how the theories are altered as facts become too obvious or contradictory.)

For example, what drives someone to tell a whopper as blatantly false as this, referring to global surface temperatures and claiming they aren't rising :


Source: HotCopper.com S&M forum

Does he even know he is telling fibs or is he lying to himself as well as to everyone else?  It can't be called a simple mistake.  The youngster has to be aware that the science shows that global temperatures are rising.  Even though he has often boasted (on a science forum!) that he refuses to read science from scientific sources (eg Nature, CSIRO etc), he can't help but have seen one of the dozens of global temperature charts posted on HotCopper similar to this one from NASA (with my markings showing the temperatures of 100 years ago).

Incidentally the lad's promise to not post as much in the future may or may not be a lie.  It might be classed as a broken promise or might even be true.  He still seems to be posting an awful (sic) lot, but the posts are not worth counting (or reading, except for entertainment value.  They are of similar caliber to the above (and these).)

Stephan Lewandowsky and colleagues have been doing some related research, particularly on how some people have a tendency to lie to themselves; and how they find comfort and support in building on each other's lies - a group approach to fabricating Whoppers.  This paper on motivated reasoning drew considerable attention from fake skeptics, many of whom manufactured complex conspiracy theories in an attempt to reject the findings.  In doing so they helped prove them.  So much so that it spawned a follow-up paper (by Lewandowsky and different colleagues), which has just been accepted for publication.

There are some revealing comments on related articles on Shaping Tomorrow's World and elsewhere.  (Unfortunately many of the silliest responses to those articles were removed.)

The recent Lewandowsky paper proposes conspiracist ideation may go some way to explaining how people kid themselves and others and includes some interesting analyses, using the examples in the blogosphere to break down the processes involved in developing conspiracies.  It reveals how those conspiracies change shape (or not) when irrefutable contradictory evidence emerges.  The authors also include some provisos, such as:
Although there appears to be ample evidence to classify the response to LOG12 at least in part as conspiracist, one must guard against overextending this conclusion: There are other streams of science denial that are detectable in the response to LOG12. For example, the repeated re-analysis of data, involving the elimination of \inconvenient" subsets of data points based on fairly fluid criteria, has a long-standing history in other contentious arenas.
Fake skeptics often lack self awareness.  Ironically, a blogger called Watts last week posted an article about the Lewandowsky follow up paper on conspiracy ideation immediately after posting an article about the attempts by ATI to uncover what they believe to be a fantastic conspiracy (which they 'believe' will be uncovered in scientists' emails).

Watts is not quite as bad a conspiracist as Jo Nova and her partner David Evans, who subscribe to anti-semitic conspiracies involving gold and fiat money among other weird ideas.  Or the peer Monckton, who is a self-confessed 'birther' (and who has such 'batshit crazy' ideas that even the hard-boiled science denier, Andrew Bolt, distances himself).  However Watts continues to publish articles by the mad monk and supports Jo Nova.

Many people who reject climate science will try to tell you about the giant world-wide conspiracy that presumably began about 200 years ago.  According to them, scientists are perpetrating a 'hoax'.  This 'hoax' must involve not only thousands of scientists throughout the world, past and present, but engineers, manufacturers and all humankind who make use of or benefit from the knowledge that CO2 absorbs radiation of particular wavelengths.

Humans as a species are quirky.

(To whom it may concern - that is, anyone who might have been too scared to post a comment: I expect to rarely have to resort to deleting comments from this blog. Nor would I expect to ever 'disappear' entire threads, especially not ones in my honour :D. The blog doesn't attract many comments.  It's mainly just a bit of fun.  So far some comments have been remarkably revealing, others comical, others informative, others correcting my errors (both real and imagined) and some - thanks people - personally supportive; and some all of the above.)


  1. Hanrahan has already come to a conclusion. Well that settles that then. We are all wasting our time.

  2. Firstly mobyt, thanks for running this blog. It is great entertainment.

    I confess I notified HotCopyrighted name regarding hanrahan's vent of spleen. I can't do the TOU thing but I did email them....

    and here it is:

    You might want to check this thread. It relates to another site HotCopper disapproves of


    Kind regards


  3. Hi MobyT,

    I miss you on Hotcopper. Your explanations were always polite and articulate and often in the most trying circumstances. I'm a bloke but rest assured most of us are nothing like those rude, vile, greedy, intellectually chanllenged deniers on the Hotcopper Science and Medicine forum section.

    Your right about them removing any references to you. I saw a reference to this blog posted on HC a couple of days ago and now its gone.

  4. Thanks, Opaline and Anonymouses (Anomymice?).

    It's lovely to (cyber)-see you guys again :)

  5. Bit of a busy old boy atm but I do want to add my reason for dobbing dear old hanrahan in to HC admin. The HC site is privately owned and the owners clearly do not want links to what they seem to imagine as being some kind of opposition. I disagree. I believe this site adds rather than subtracts from HC and that is why I plan to write a few pieces for publication here. As many readers know, I am a geologist by profession and over the years have been more than happy to post the occasional professional opinion on HC.

    I am a little disappointed HC has chosen to cut off two way communication with me because it was good to be able to give something back occasionally. However, I recognise they are entitled set their own rules, even weird ones like ignoring mining industry professionals.

    As readers of this blog know there is a great deal of confusion regarding the science underlying climate change but many people find aspects of geology confusing as well. For example some investors imagine some kind of commercial competition between industries extracting two of the iron ore minerals, magnetite and haematite. This is not the case. With mobyt's permission, I might write a little about this issue on this blog over the next week or two.

    kind regards to all,


    1. Delighted you are willing to contribute, Opaline. You'll add a bit of tone to the joint :D.

      I enjoyed studying geology - all two terms of it! (I even won/fluked the geology prize that year!) Needless to say, I've forgotten almost everything I learned.

      A lot of the science would have changed since way back then (the fact that Bachelor degrees were arranged in terms rather than semesters gives a clue to how long ago it was).

      Looking forward to becoming re-introduced to rocks, minerals, earth's ancient structures and more.

  6. To Anonymous whose post I just deleted. You may try posting again without the crude sexist language. That's something I don't tolerate. (Refer Comment Policy for guidance.)

  7. Hi MobyT, I also read that abusive post before it was deleted. The poster obviously felt threatened, but was so gutless he had hide behind an anonymous posting.

    Congratulations and good luck on your blog and website.

    I am also disappointed with the school head-master mentality towards moderation and censorship and suspension at the H.C. site, as evidenced by the fact that so many have been suspended.

    And H.C. is the only place in Australia (maybe the world) where obviously offensive racist, sexist, misogynist, homophobic and brain-dead science posts would be allowed to remain.

    I too am sharpening my pencil and hope to contribute with an article or 2 (maybe) and comments. I also have professional specialist qualifications and experience in computer science and high speed accelerated multi CPU/GPU computing.

    all the best,


    1. Hi Dogby, great to see you.

      There are some pretty dodgy sites on the internet and HC isn't the worst by a long shot.

      On the other hand, if you only count popular mainstream sites and discussion boards (computer sites like OCAU, Whirlpool, hardforums; other share trading sites; photography boards; even WUWT) then, yeah, IMO most of them set the bar quite a few notches higher...

      And yet IMO HC has improved since its earlier years, believe it or not :(

      Look forward to your contributions.

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Thanks Anonymous but I kind of agree with you. It's a fine line but I reckon it's probably best to stick to specific examples (or generalise or anonymise).

      Appreciate the sentiments and hope to see you back here.


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