Friday, July 26, 2013

Self portrait of a typical science denier on WUWT

Sou | 6:48 PM Go to the first of 10 comments. Add a comment

A science denier called Jonathan Abbott has written an article on WUWT about his discovery of and entrance to of the blessed community of the scientific illiterati.  He's fair game, given that he posted this not as a comment but as a full blown article.  So here is my take.  Not a pretty picture but typical of the educated conservative science denier who feels the need to rationalise his denial.  In this case in public.  Kind of like public baptisms into a quasi-religious cult.  It probably gives him a feeling of belonging to boast on WUWT about his conspiracy ideation and science denial.

Some items stand out and will interest people who are fascinated by the psychology of denialism:

  • Jonathan says what stuck in his mind as a little boy was someone (he doesn't say who), long after all speculation had ceased, talking about an impending ice age.  He says this took place in "the early 80s", which was long after all but the most unrealistic scientists entertained any notion that pollution would lead to global cooling.  Particularly since clean air legislation had already been introduced in most developed nations in the late sixties and seventies.  So even as a small child his mind was primed to latch onto quack science.
  • He studied engineering (sorry engineers, but your profession seems to attract people of certain mental inagility).  He says he read texts by Bertrand Russell and some science writers and he thinks that helped him in critical thinking.  It didn't.  As he demonstrates later, he didn't ever get past the notion of only accepting what suited him to "believe" and discarding any facts that he didn't like. That's not critical thinking, that's confirmation bias and lack of ability to think critically.
  • He reacted against and was unable to distinguish between what is well-accepted science and what areas are at the frontiers of new knowledge (a similar disability to that referred to above).  He demonstrates this with emotive language.  He also exhibits a tendency towards conspiracy ideation as shown by his distrust of authority.  For example, he writes: "I first noticed predictions of global warming and the associated dire warnings of calamities to come. Some of these emanated from the Met Office and so I knew should be treated with a pinch of salt but other sources included NASA, which I then personally still very much respected; despite the space shuttle evidently being the wrong concept poorly executed, their basic scientific expertise seemed unquestionable.
  • He demonstrated zilch understanding of science, comparing the earth system, which is described by scientists in terms of known physics, chemistry and biology with the stock market, which is influenced as much by human emotions as economics.
  • For no reason at all except he presumably didn't like it, he discounted the greenhouse effect and the impact of increasing greenhouse gases as being "implausible" "on the grounds of common sense".  Oh, and his conspiracy ideation comes to the fore again in his references to "charities", "pressure groups" and "the UN". 
  • He expressed a concern for the environment, writing: "So I was quite passionate about the environment, but my focus was on keeping it clean and safe for all life to live in."  However that concern didn't extend to him educating himself about it.  It probably gave him a warm and fuzzy feeling but he refused to learn what keeping the world clean and safe for all entailed.  He scorned science.  Instead of reading it he mocked it and doubted it, especially as he seems to have got his science from the BBC.  Jonathan is a conspiracy nutter of the right wing authoritarian type, and is suspicious of organisations like the BBC. He made no mention of ever reading any scientific journals.  One can speculate that such an exercise would be too challenging.  Not intellectually challenging (he said he was an engineering graduate) but emotionally challenging.  Challenging of his world view.
  • Jonathan got excited by the The Great Swindle and the release of decades of private emails of a handful of climate scientists.  Being of a conspiracising bent and combined with his world view he was a sitting duck for the disinformation brigade.  He was pining for someone to  tell him that climate science is all wrong and the scientists are all crooks (fitting his conspiracy mentality), so he fell for the big con hook, line and sinker - expressing no scepticism whatsoever.
  • One thing, he is aware that he's a conspiracy nutter, writing: "Now at this point, I am sure some (perhaps many?) readers are thinking, ‘Great, an inside view of how someone becomes a believer in a conspiracy theory, perhaps I’ll base a research paper on this idiot’. My response is that like most people I have at times stumbled upon the real conspiracy theory nuts lurking on the internet." So he doesn't believe in the lizard men, isn't a birther or a truther, nor that NASA faked the moon landing - or maybe he does.  But he does believe in arguably the biggest paranoid conspiracy ever conceived.  One of incredible longevity and scope, involving all the major national scientific institutions, virtually all the scientific journals and their staff, virtually every scientific researcher in the fields relating to the study of earth systems, ranging from atmospheric physicists through to marine biologists, glaciologists, geologists and ocean chemists and everyone in between, governments of every nation in the world and most people who represent them, the media and probably 70% of the general public.  And all these people have kept up the hoax for decades!  If only a fake sceptic could prove them wrong or find a way into the secret cult.  (Kenji hasn't done much good spying for Anthony!)
  • Jonathan then writes this: "But on WUWT and other CAGW-sceptic sites criticism of the position of the website founder isn’t just tolerated but often encouraged. "  What a joke!  Jonathan gives no hint that he's aware of Anthony's general rule of banning any and every one who accepts science from posting or deleting comments about actual science, even innocuous comments   This is particularly odd given that Anthony deleted comments to Jonathan's previous article just a few days ago, including comments about science and a comment that could be interpreted as being critical of him.  It just goes to show how people ignore facts.  You only have to see the demographics of WUWT readers to know the extent to which Anthony bans or otherwise discourages normal people to comment.  WUWT is 98% science deniers - almost the complete opposite of the real world.

Anyway, Jonathan indicates he is finally at peace, finding an chamber that echos what he wants to "believe".  He is relaxed, waiting for the coming ice age or, as he puts it: "I tend to expect some cooling I am pretty agnostic about it. Nature will assuredly do its own thing."  His cognitive dissonance quieted by lies and disinformation that suit  his world view, allowing him peace by denying reality.  Maybe something like this:

From the WUWT comments

Nope, nothing here this time.  Maybe later if I feel inclined.  So far there are 153 comments mostly of the 'rah 'rah type or "me too".  As everyone knows, WUWT is 98% science deniers - so it's much what you'd expect from the scientific illiterati.  Most seem to reject climate science because of their world view, distrust of authority, tendency to attribute any reputable source as having nefarious intent.  In other words, they view themselves as suckers and therefore have become suckers.  Classic expectations theory stuff.

PS I might later do a categorisation of responses.  For example, there appear to be a disproportionate number from engineers, some physicists.  A lot who reject science on ideological grounds (lots of words like "socialism").  I haven't yet read any that refer to any valid scientific basis for their rejection, which isn't a surprise.  A few emotional responses from people who expressed much comfort in knowing there are other science deniers out there in cyberspace.

I've written more about this here and here.


  1. I was going to write about this myself, but I found this post and the one about his daughter just a little sad and ironic. Someone who clearly does not understand the science they're judging, thinks they're doing something right and will probably look back with regret. In a sense, I hope he doesn't because that would mean that those of us on this side of the debate would have been wrong, which is actually preferable to us being right.

  2. Have you seen the valiant Jai Mitchell fighting the good fight?

    Have you seen dbstealey (Smokey)'s attempt to refute, amongst other things, the idea that the climategate mails revealed no material wrongdoing by climate scientists?

    Have you seen the article Stealey/Smokey links to in support?

    Its by John Costella, who when he is not seeing conspiracies amongst climate scientists documents the conspiracy around JFK's assassination.

    In the attempt to demonstrate that deniers are not nutty conspiracy theorists, something of an own goal.


  3. He studied engineering (sorry engineers, but your profession seems to attract people of certain mental inagility).

    Many engineers are of the "plug and chug" rote-memorization variety, where they've acquired their expertise via "brute force repetition". Set them outside of their narrow fields of expertise and they'll be as "lost at sea" as almost anyone else.

    If you were to, say, hand them a CD of GHCN temperature data and ask them to roll their own global-temperature solutions, very few of them would know how to go about doing it. Not that they couldn't learn, mind you. But they'd have to spend time climbing a learning-curve before they were able to tackle such a project (i.e. studying up on how to handle real-world temperature data with all of its warts, learning to program if they don't have coding skills, etc..)

    The bottom line is, engineers (and scientists, too!) are simply not able to weigh in constructively on subjects outside their often very narrow fields of expertise without investing some real time and effort to climb up the learning-curve. And people who are driven by ideology are simply unwilling to do that. Come to think of it, that's what makes ideology so attractive. Relying on political ideology is a heck of a lot less work than the alternative, which is rolling up one's sleeves and actually writing code / crunching data.


  4. Engineers also often engage in black and white thinking, where a test passes or fails, a thing works or it does not. They often tinker at the margins to make things "better." (The most frustrating engineers are those who are never satisfied with the way it is, if it accomplishes the mission.) The worst trait, however, are those engineers who refuse to accept that what they have engineered is obsolete because of new data, tools, methods or products. I suspect a lot of that type make up the denier community. Having said all that, I thank engineers for making our lives much easier! -- Dennis

  5. "A microbial cyst is a resting or dormant stage of a microorganism ... that helps the organism to survive in unfavorable environmental conditions." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Encystment

    Denialism is well into the encystment phase, seeking now merely to survive until better times. Within the cyst it will remain forever 2011 while beyond the protective shell we mere mortals age and die. To all appearances dead, the encysted movement will one day surprise everyone when a single green shoot of "no warming for five years ..." makes a tentative appearance (only to be snuffed out by drought).

  6. It's classic support for the Salem Hypothesis.

    Bernard J.

    1. I'd never come across that notion before Bernard. Most interesting. See my latest article - there are around 60 people who claim to be engineers and reject science in that discussion so far.

    2. Wow! It took me years to list 48 examples of what I call the "modified Salem hypothesis". Finding 60 examples in a single page is a historian's (and a sociologist's) gold mine.

      Barring any duplications we have over 100 examples between us. Perhaps it's time to call it the modified Salem theory?


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