Tuesday, November 14, 2017

"Climate hoax" conspiracy theorists don't value logic or evidence - who knew :)

Sou | 11:14 PM Go to the first of 14 comments. Add a comment
In a copy and paste at WUWT, Anthony Watts highlights a paper with research suggesting why WUWT-ers are so willing to adopt their "climate hoax" conspiracy theories. The researchers, Tomas Ståhl and Jan-Willem van Prooijen argue that people holding irrational beliefs (such as Anthony Watts and his ragtag mob of climate hoax conspiracy theorists) lack analytical skills and/or don't value logic or evidence.

Even if one or two WUWT deniers were endowed with reasonably high cognitive skills, evidence suggests they wouldn't value these skills and therefore don't use them. When it comes to climate science, they discard those skills in favour of one of the myriad conspiracies Anthony touts.

In the abstract of the paper itself, the authors write about how both analytical skills and motivation to be rational are required if one is to avoid adopting silly and unfounded beliefs:
We propose that part of the reason why unfounded beliefs are so widespread is because skepticism requires both sufficient analytic skills, and the motivation to form beliefs on rational grounds. 
It's immediately obvious to anyone who reads the articles and comments at WUWT that the bulk of Anthony's commenters lack a lot more than the motivation to be rational. Most of them lack analytical skills. Oh, there are still a few WUWT fans who can string words together to form whole sentences, but they are few and far between.

The authors continue, saying how one must not only have the ability to think analytically, one must also value that ability if one is to avoid falling for wacky conspiracy theories and ghost stories.
In Study 1 we show that analytic thinking is associated with a lower inclination to believe various conspiracy theories, and paranormal phenomena, but only among individuals who strongly value epistemic rationality. We replicate this effect on paranormal belief, but not conspiracy beliefs, in Study 2.
Furthermore, their research suggested that cognitive ability is more important than cognitive style when it comes to cognition :)
We also provide evidence suggesting that general cognitive ability, rather than analytic cognitive style, is the underlying facet of analytic thinking that is responsible for these effects.
I couldn't help but think of WUWT's pseudoscience ≡ style, and real research science ≡ ability.

Upside down thinking

The odd thing, and I've noticed this has been happening quite a bit at WUWT, is that Anthony Watts presents the findings of this study as being the opposite of what they are. Is his cognitive ability non-existent, or is just that he's accepted that his readers lack any analytical skill?

Anthony put forward the study as a vindication of WUWT's many and varied versions of the "climate hoax" conspiracy theory. He seems to be portraying his "climate hoax" conspiracy theory as being somehow different from the conspiracy theories that "NASA faked the moon landing", the Roswell UFO "theory", and other "theories" that have no empirical basis. This is despite the fact that the first words in Anthony's copy and pasted article were (my emphasis):
The moon landing and global warming are hoaxes. The U.S. government had advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks. A UFO crashed in Roswell, New Mexico.

Is skepticism toward these kinds of unfounded beliefs just a matter of cognitive ability? Not according to new research by a University of Illinois at Chicago social psychologist.
Toward the end of the press release, climate hoax conspiracy theories were mentioned again (my emphasis):
From linking vaccines with autism to climate change skepticism, these widespread conspiracy theories and other unfounded beliefs can lead to harmful behavior, according to Ståhl.

“Many of these beliefs can, unfortunately, have detrimental consequences for individuals’ health choices, as well as for society as a whole,” he said.

Anthony Watts 'looks stupid' all by himself

Demonstrating that he doesn't value evidence, this is how Anthony headed his introduction to the press release he copied:
Skepticism ‘requires high cognitive ability, strong motivation to be rational’
Anthony Watts / 22 mins ago November 14, 2017

Stephan Lewandowsky tried to make climate skeptics look stupid (by not even bothering to sample them, but impugning their beliefs as irrational from out of population samples), this study turns the tables on his execrable work and suggests that climate skeptics are both analytical and rational.
It doesn't take a cognitive psychologist to make fake sceptics look stupid. They do that all by themselves, just as Anthony has done today. (When Anthony writes "climate skeptics", he's referring to the hodge podge of climate science deniers who congregate at conspiracy blogs such as WUWT and Climate etc, etc.)

Anthony Watts, demonstrating his irrationality, thinks that research indicating conspiracy theorists don't value reason or evidence, supports some fantasy that fake sceptics are analytical and rational.

Mind you, this latest article appears just above one by Anthony's resident conspiracy theorist supreme - Tim Ball. How's that for evidence of the irrational :)

From the WUWT comments

There's more, to come. I've got to wait a bit because, once I stopped groaning, I was prompted to respond to this WUWT article before anyone at WUWT had done so.

HotScot blames it all on the company he or she keeps:
November 14, 2017 at 1:44 am
Some of the most intelligent, cognitive, analytical people I know believe in God.
Some even believe in ghosts, because they believe they have seen one.

Kurt has a sharper eye than Anthony Watts, though it may have a conspiratorial glint :)
November 14, 2017 at 1:54 am
I’d be interested to know whether the editorializing about climate change skepticism as an “unfounded belief” was in the study itself or whether it was just something added in the press release. 

Eoin mac provides an illustration of someone who lacks cognitive ability (he didn't understand what the scientists found)
November 14, 2017 at 2:04 am
Perfect example of eco activists being embedded in the view that to be sceptical of junk climate science is a result of an inability to be analytical. Ironic. 
Eyal Porat points to WUWT where almost everyone disdains data and "proof", and presents it as the opposite - (deniers are weird)
November 14, 2017 at 2:09 am
Sorry, nothing new here.
It only takes a look at comments here to realize most people require data and proof to scientific claims. 

If Jarryd Beck has any cognitive ability he isn't motivated to use it at WUWT:
November 14, 2017 at 2:11 am
Did I misread something here? This seems to say that people don’t care about logic and rational thinking. That’s the exact opposite of why most people are skeptical of agw in my opinion. 

AndyG55 has been taking up a lot of space at WUWT lately, mostly shouting that climate science is a hoax or similar (and flaming Nick Stokes).
November 14, 2017 at 2:21 am
I think its more that GULLIBILITY requires a lack of cognitive ability, and zero motivation to think rationally. 

This comment is typical, and further illustration of the cognitive ability of AndyG55
November 14, 2017 at 2:40 am
“Can you see a pattern yet?”
Yep, I think just about everyone can now see the COOLING pattern starting to emerge.
Not you though…. that would require some cognitive ability.

(In the thread, there were a lot of similar empty protests from AndyG55.)

References and further reading

Ståhl, T, and Van Prooijen, J.-W. (2018). "Epistemic rationality: Skepticism toward unfounded beliefs requires sufficient cognitive ability and motivation to be rational." Personality and Individual Differences, 122, 155-163. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2017.10.026 (subs req'd)

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)


  1. The size of president's inauguration crowds comes to mind. I wonder where the Trump fans at WUWT stand on that.

  2. "Upside down thinking"

    Yes, I have noticed this. To the point I am confused what side they are arguing sometimes. This is quite noticeable in this recent article at WUWT - "Something else the climate scientists missed: outgassing due to continental drift"

    Now, I have to admit I get quite bored trying to follow the tortuous thinking of deniers. But I think Watts is arguing that the paper supports his contention that scientists do not know what they are talking about and have missed a whole lot of CO2 that is, of course, not human-made. But look at the comments. Almost universally they are attacking, undermining and mocking the paper - thus nullifying what Watts is trying to say. Did any of them actually read the article before commenting? Pavlovian describes this I think.

    1. "Upside down thinking"

      michael shermer makes this point when debating "deniers" in "Merchants of Doubt"

      he says he puts up a graph showing ever rising temperatures, they then put up the SAME graph and argue the earth is cooling

    2. Hah. Perhaps the graph was literally upside down!

    3. lol, yes maybe - like the famous Nils-Axel Mörner "slanted" graph to show sea level

      they have no shame

  3. Quoting a bit from their conclusions:

    "Building on previous work linking cognitive ability to skepticism, we demonstrate that this link is primarily there among people who view it as important that their beliefs are epistemically rational. The present findings thus illustrate that a high cognitive ability does not inoculate people against irrational beliefs in and of itself; they must also be dedicated to use their cognitive ability in pursuit of the truth."

    I personally know WUWT fans with very high cognitive and analytical abilities. Consistent with the research the paper cites, those people also tend to rely more on intuitive thinking and, in my experience, are much more committed to the belief that they are right than they are to actually being right. This makes them highly resistant to updating their beliefs to account for contrary evidence, where a commitment to epistemic rationality requires a willingness to account for whatever the evidence shows.

    The WUWT fans I know best are also prone to skimming content looking for the bits they find interesting, resisting reading carefully and engaging with arguments they find disagreeable. Intuitive thinking favors short, simple arguments that sound reasonable (e.g., "CO2 is plant food", a gross simplification). Watts, AFAICT, considers himself a true skeptic, and picked out just enough of the article to think it supports him.

    1. Too true. It's been obvious for quite a while now that the vast majority of Watts' readers only read his skewed/dog whistle analysis of a paper, and then jump straight to the comment section to have a go at the scientists.

      The chances of any of them taking the time to even read the summary of a paper is approaching zero.

    2. I know a few contrarians who hold MSc or PhDs in the physical sciences, or undergraduate/graduate degrees in engineering. The one common feature they share, more so than their political leanings or their economic self-interest, is a sort of lazy, self-satisfied picture of themselves as being far more competent and more knowledgeable about areas of climate science than they actually are.

      This group also includes several older tenured professors of Earth Science who have taught undergraduate courses in climate change, and possess shocking ignorance of even basic aspects of AGW.

  4. The Wattites' reactions are amusing, but all too predictable. Robert Burns put it one way:

    O wad some Power the giftie gie us
    To see oursels as ithers see us!
    It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
    An' foolish notion

    and Richard Feynman another: "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool."

    Although to be clear, Feynman was cautioning young scientists to keep an open mind, to critically examine every aspect of their experiments and hypotheses, and never to fall in love with their ideas. It's a stretch to put Wattites in that class.

  5. magma said:
    " a sort of lazy, self-satisfied picture of themselves as being far more competent and more knowledgeable about areas of climate science than they actually are."

    It seems to me that you are describing Richard Lindzen. The shorter descriptive term: smugness

  6. We've been at this for decades, and making no substantive progress in that time. As stupid, ignorant, and/or mendacious as the deniers are, they're winning if winning means that we're not addressing the root cause. And we're not making a dent in it...


    Yes, I know what you're thinking - "there goes Bernard J, harping on again about the ecological apocalypse." Well, yes, I am, but so are 15,000 of my colleagues:


    It's done and dusted people, and even the choice that we had as to how bad it will be is rapidly shrinking in its alternative options. Especially for those who were born after the Rio Earth Summit back in 1992 - for folk in that demographic the choice in the future will not be whether they live the ends of their lives well, but whether they live them badly or die prematurely.

    The chance for a happy ending passed years ago, and probably before any of us even started blogging about it. But give the denialists their due - they've succeeded spectacularly in robbing the future in order to indulge their transient aspirations.


  7. It seems that, over at WUWT's favourite news organisation, viewers are demanding that Shep Smith be fired. This is because he pointed out to them that Hilary Clinton was not in a position to sell uranium to the Russians. Apparently, Faux News viewers prefer to be lied to.

  8. "outgassing due to continental drift" Hmmm. you must admit outgassing during continental drift has been major problem in Earth's past. Just need to go back to the formation of the Deccan Traps some 66 million years ago , or the Siberian Traps 500 million years ago, to see the truth in that.

    Oh the great irony, at least from an Earth-centrist perspective.

    ..., When tectonic plates collide and continents erupt with volcanism which fills the air with GHGs, among other goodies, it always has radically decimated, sometimes annihilated impacts of the populations and species that inhabited the Earth at that moment because much couldn’t cope with the new conditions.

    When humans come along and do what continent wide volcanism has done,
    perhaps much clearer and more processed than those sloppy volcanoes,
    but also much much faster.

    The incipient damaging disruptions are everywhere to be seen, and each impacts other situations, one thing leads to another. People who can only imagine the next financial statement or election cycle don’t have the prerequisites to understand this stuff and that has made all this so tragic ...


  9. It is reported that aides are concerned over Trump's mental health. I think he's merely showing the standard traits of climate change deniers: traits we have been observing for years now.


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