“Conceptual Structure of Social Disputes” – worse than we thought

In the previous post I commented on a paper “The Conceptual Structure of Social Disputes”, by Thomas Homer-Dixon, Manjana Milkoreit, Steven J. Mock, Tobias Schröder and Paul Thagard. The paper claimed to present an understanding of climate skepticism (among other topics) but seemed instead to show the prejudiced and ill-informed view that is wide-spread among social scientists. One further misrepresentation and smear that I didn’t notice yesterday is the claim of “absence of concerns about environmental issues”, dropped into the paper with no evidence.

It turns out that things are worse than we thought. Yesterday I said that I had not had time to look at the Milkoreit thesis which apparently forms the basis for the statements in the paper and the CAM diagram. Here is what the paper says:

“The maps are derived from Milkoreit’s extensive research on attitudes toward climate change. Using a variety of primary text sources, including newspaper articles, blogs, and transcripts of speeches of presidential candidates, interview data collected in 2012, and secondary literature on the role of ideology, media, and business actors in climate politics, Milkoreit selected concepts and conceptual links that various authors or interview participants had used or referred to most frequently.”

Having looked at Milkoreit’s thesis, this statement seems to be untrue. CAMs are discussed in chapter 3, p77-158, and that chapter contains no mentions of newspapers or blogs. In fact newspapers and blogs are only mentioned once in the entire thesis, on p 224 in chapter 5 on the “Q” method (with no indication of which newspapers or blogs) and these were only used to formulate a questionnaire. Responders to this questionnaire were divided into 6 factor groups A-F, but none of these groups express skeptical views – they are all minor variations within the climate-concerned group. Appendix 5-2 gives the political views of the participants, which are quite illuminating:
28 Left/Liberal
1 Center
2 Right/Conservative.

In summary, the thesis of Milkoreit provides no evidence to support the claims made in the published paper or press release.

What’s going on in the minds of social scientists?

A provocatively titled press release from the University of Waterloo, What’s going on inside the minds of climate change skeptics? has led to some discussion on twitter, so I am setting up a blog post to allow more detailed discussion (and returning the compliment).

The article is based on a paper The Conceptual Structure of Social Disputes which looks at four disputed areas, one of which is climate change. The paper produces “cognitive-affective maps” (CAMs) that are diagrams linking together positive (green), negative (red), ambivalent (purple) and neutral (yellow) thought processes. Here is the CAM for climate skeptics:

The obvious question is where does all this come from? Is there any data or evidence behind it? Does it really tell us anything about the thinking of climate skeptics, or is it telling us more about the thinking of social scientists? Apparently it comes from the PhD thesis of Manjana Milkoreit, but this has 469 pages so I haven’t quite finished reading it yet. One flaw, pointed out by Ronan Connolly, is that the paper twice describes the liberal person in favour of climate action as ‘well-informed’, with the implication that skeptics are not. In fact, Dan Kahan’s work has shown (see last graph here) that skeptics are just as knowledgeable about climate science. The failure of the paper to cite Kahan is quite remarkable given the close relevance of his work. Another criticism made is that it presents the issue as two distinct groups, without acknowledging the reality of a continuous spectrum of views. The paper simply declares that to a climate skeptic, “anthropogenic climate change is not real”. This unhelpful attitude contributes to polarisation and antagonism. The authors then declare that “Figures 8 and 9 show that the conflict over climate-change policy is rooted in profound ideological differences”, when in fact these figures only show the prejudiced opinions of the authors. The chart presents the trendy view that skepticism is all about politics and policy; it is stated that blogs were one of the inputs used to determine this, but Amelia Sharman has shown that skeptical blogs are very much focussed on the science.

Another recent example of this sort of thing is poster 2 at the ecolabs blog, which was presented at a recent climate communication conference and supposedly plots the position and influence of various people in the climate debate. Reading the small print on the poster, the whole thing is “speculative and subjective”. The poster is quite informative, not of the state of the climate debate, but of the prejudiced groupthink that permeates much of the social science field. In the mind of Dr Boehner who produced the poster, climate contrarianism is all about the Koch brothers, Exxon, Fox and Murdoch. Sceptical bloggers such as Anthony Watts (who sometimes gets 1/4 million page views per day), Steve McIntyre, Bishop Hill and Jo Nova simply do not exist – Barry and I have asked her if she is aware of their existence. However, this poster of “prominent actors participating in climate communication” includes at least three who are no longer alive. This remarkable shoddy work reflects badly on Roger Pielke Jr’s group at the University of Colorado.

Of course, there is some good objective social science research being done in this field (Kahan, Sharman, Pearce, Grundmann…) but unfortunately the legacy of some awful earlier stuff lives on.

Robin Guenier responds to Jonathan Rowson

Last December, Jonathan Rowson wrote a paper A New Agenda on Climate Change: Facing Up to Stealth Denial and Winding Down on Fossil Fuels for the RSA. The report was criticised at Bishop Hill for its relentless muddled talk of ‘denial’ and failure to engage with the real arguments.

Robin Guenier has written a detailed set of notes commenting on Rowson’s paper (For a mini-bio of Robin, see the end of his document on UK climate policy on an earlier post).

Robin points out that details of a public opinion survey are not given in the RSA paper and appear to conflict with other surveys, and that the claim of an overwhelming consensus that climate change is a threat is unsubstantiated; the remainder of the paper is therefore built on two false premises. The issue of unilateral action by the UK being pointless (more “solitary lemming” than “setting a good example”) is discussed. There is criticism of the repeated inappropriate use of the term “denial”, which is confusing because it is used with different meanings. Finally, there are comments on the fact that global emissions will continue to grow – most countries have either not agreed on previous emissions-cutting agreements, (‘developing’ countries including China) or have backed out (e.g. Canada and Australia) – and that the need now is to focus on achievable aims such as adaptation. Read the notes in full for details and references.

Rowson says that his paper is “designed to provoke debate”, so I am sure he will welcome these comments, though it is a bit odd that apparently he has not responded to the notes that Robin Guenier sent him in March.

[The last three blog posts illustrate a common theme: people have been publishing papers saying that they wish to encourage public debate, yet provide no platform for such a debate and seem reluctant to engage in discussion.]

In my view, Rowson suffers from what I call the “Norgaard Delusion”. Kari Norgaard is a climate activist who visited a small town in Norway and was amazed to find that, despite people saying they were concerned about climate change, they continued their everyday lives, taking kids to school and even watching TV. She simply could not understand why they weren’t marching and protesting. So she decided they must be “in denial” and wrote a book about it. Rowson’s paper shows the same mindset, as does his latest blog where he cannot understand why a Labour policy document on economics does not discuss climate change.

Another report on climate communication

The climate change industry appears to remain convinced that there is nothing wrong with climate science, but there is a problem with “climate science communication”. Or at least this is the line they are trying to maintain.

There was the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report on climate communication a couple of months back, to which the government responded yesterday.

Today sees the launch of the latest blockbuster in the field, Time for Change? Climate Science Reconsidered. It’s a glossy 156-page tome written by a team of scientists and social scientists mostly from UCL, headed by Chris Rapley, author of “Time to Raft Up“. I wrote to Rapley following that article, explaining his prejudices, false assumptions and lack of self-awareness, but he does not seem to have improved his understanding very much since then.

The main conclusions of the new report are

  • Climate scientists are not well prepared to explain their work to the public
  • A meta-narrative is required (not sure what that means)
  • Policy is complicated, many factors play a role, not just science
  • Values – what sort of world we want – are important
  • New forum for active discussion needed
  • A professional body for climate science should be set up

Despite the talk of ‘change’ and ‘new’, there doesn’t seem to be much new here.

Chapter 1 tries to deal with the complex science/policy interface, citing Hulme, Pielke, but this is an impossible question to deal with.

Chapter 2 is on how people think, cognition, and values, referring to Dan Kahan and others. There is an interesting discussion of alarmism, an aspect of the report picked up by The Times, with a frank statement that this has contributed to loss of trust.

The remaining chapters deal with communication and blogs,  telling stories,  public opinion, and their proposal to set up yet another organisation and forum for public discussion. It ends with a recognition of the need for self-reflection and humility, but as with the authors of the paper discussed in the previous post, it does not appreciate their own groupthink problem and the need to involve and listen to their critics.

Ultimately, the failure of the document is that it does not seem to realise that this focus on presentation and communication will be seen as spin and propaganda.

 Bishop Hill blog - comments on the bias, the navel-gazing and the dullness of the conclusions.

Carbon Brief – says “Academics urge scientists to do more to engage the public on climate change”.

Update 25 June:

Climate scientists do not seem very impressed by the report. They don’t like the jargon or the dictatorial tone.

The misfiring of the report and the apparent failure to anticipate this illustrates again the lack of self-awareness of the authors.

Climate Change Research and Credibility?

A new paper, Climate change research and credibility: balancing tensions across professional, personal, and public domains, has been published in the journal Climatic Change. It’s a revised version of this freely available preprint, though there are significant differences.

Unfortunately this biased paper from five members of the Tyndall Centre will do nothing to enhance the credibility of the climate clique, and everything to enhance their reputation as one-sided political activists.

A look at the long reference list is instructive. Guardian articles by Carrington, Goldenberg and McGowan are cited, as is an article by Lewandowsky in the Conversation. Remarkably, although claiming to “stimulate and inform debate” and to be “Based on a wide, cross-disciplinary review of conceptions of credibility”, the published paper does not include a reference to a single sceptical source.
Are these ‘researchers’ (sneer quotes are theirs) so terrified of James Delingpole’s articles on climategate, Andrew Montford’s books on the hockeystick and climategate, or Judith Curry’s blog, that they dare not mention them?
Or are they so securely wrapped in their Tyndall bubble, surrounded by groupthink-afflicted fellow activists, that they are blissfully unaware that such things even exist?

In the Introduction, the authors claim that “This paper aims to stimulate structured discussion within and outside the academic community on researchers’ professional, private, and public behaviours” and that they want “To set up fruitful discussion”, returning in the Conclusion to say that they want to provide “open a space for structured debate” and “We thus advocate opening the climate change credibility debate”. But no steps to provide such a space – such as an open online discussion forum – are set up or even mentioned in the paper. This, combined with their failure to even mention any of their critics, shows that their claimed aims are insincere. Rather than providing a space for open discussion with the public, their concern is continue to propagate the one-sided activist climate propaganda of themselves and their supporters (such as “Michael Mann’s ‘hockey stick’ graph engendered assaults on his integrity from ardent denialists (Mann 2012)”).

Having first picked out the worst aspects of the paper, there are some interesting points:
They acknowledge that appeals to consensus are insufficient.
There is a reasonable discussion of the advocacy problem, and an acceptance that there’s little agreement on this.
They also raise the question of the possible loss of credibility of a climate researcher flying to conferences and telling people how important it is to reduce CO2 emissions.
There is an interesting admission that climate researchers may have been attracted to the field “by personal interest and belief in the necessity of curbing emissions”.
But none of these discussions go anywhere, leaving the Conclusions section rather lacking in any conclusions.

Since the authors of this piece have failed to “open a space for structured debate”, I will do so here. I have invited all of them to come here for some “fruitful discussion”.

IPCC needs a rethink, say academics

A new paper, Towards a Reflexive Turn in the Governance of Global Environmental Expertise. The Cases of the IPCC and the IPBES (open access) looks into the organisation of the IPCC. It’s written by a large team of environmental and social science researchers from many countries, including Mike Hulme and others from the UK. It results from a meeting held in Leipzig last year.

The paper makes some criticisms of the IPCC, but some of these are rather odd:
“The IPCC has also largely failed to engage with alternative forms of expertise such as local knowledge, or to evaluate and facilitate more radical forms of civic action”.
I don’t think facilitating radical civic action is really within the IPCC remit.

There are some interesting remarks about climategate, the IAC review and the issues of transparency and public trust. They also comment on the aim for consensus and the consequent exclusion of minority views. This paragraph near the end of the section on the IPCC sums up their concerns:

The events surrounding “climategate” demonstrated that public trust cannot be reduced to a function of the quality of science or the breadth and depth of consensus on science alone, as the IPCC had assumed. They showed that trust in science is related to the performance and persuasive power of the people and institutions who speak for science – and that not all countries interpret or trust the IPCC in similar ways (Hajer 2012). The IPCC’s chosen style of risk assessment and communication has also contributed to a unitary approach to representing scientific consensus as a single voice. Not acknowledging or inviting diverse voices to speak will fail to assuage the sense of mistrust. In response, the IPCC plenary has not yet adopted a process of full public disclosure, and it continues to rely upon its existing knowledge-making processes mediated by national delegations. In addition, current discussions about the future of the IPCC continue to be conducted largely behind closed doors, even if the formal positions of countries are somewhat more transparent. It is very likely that in the future the panel will be exposed to scrutiny from more diverse and lively publics and that it will have to respond to forms of distributed or uninvited public participation”

Unfortunately, although the paper raises some interesting questions, there are no clear proposals for improvement of the IPCC beyond the general suggestion of continuously reviewing its own procedures.

US Sci Tech Committee hearing on IPCC

The US Committee on Science, Space and Technology held a 2-hour hearing Examining the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Process today.

The aim was to evaluate the processes behind IPCC AR5.

The witnesses were Richard Tol, Michael Oppenheimer, Daniel Botkin, Roger Pielke Sr. The link above includes the opening statements of the witnesses.

Donna Laframboise has a blog post where she says “Experts condemn the IPCC”.

The views of Tol and Pielke are probably fairly familiar to most. Botkin’s comments were particularly interesting. He said that species are resilient and adaptable and that scares of extinctions have been greatly exaggerated. He also said that focus on global warming had distracted attention from other more serious environmental problems. It was left to Oppenheimer to defend the IPCC orthodoxy.

There was a live feed of the session, but it was rather patchy. There are some videos:

Video 1 where the (Republican) chairman Lamar Smith gives his introduction, criticising alarmism and Obama.

Video 2 which features the witnesses reading their statements, and includes several follow-up questions.

Supporters of the IPCC won’t like it.

Update May 30:

The videos that were linked above no longer work. There is now a video file linked from the hearing main page but it doesn’t work on my computer.

Judith Curry’s post on the hearing.

Washington Examiner: House panel takes hard look at UN climate change process

Washington Times: Experts tell House panel climate change science isn’t settled

Committee press release- Witnesses All Agree: Climate Science “Not Settled”

The Democrats have put up some youtube videos of their representatives questioning the witnesses:

Eric Swalwell asks Tol an odd series of questions.

Ami Bera gives a lecture on his own opinion, then asks Oppenheimer something – I’m not sure what.

Marc Veasey suggests that Christy’s model/observation comparisons are unreliable; Pielke disagrees.

Bonamici asks softball questions to Oppenheimer and refuses to allow Botkin to comment.

Johnson asks about the inclusiveness and the IPCC review process, and criticises Tol and Botkin. Again, ironically, only Oppenheimer is allowed to answer the question.

Joe Kennedy encourages speculation about 3 degrees of warming. He then asks aggressive questions to Botkin about whether he wears a seatbelt and what steps should be taken to mitigate warming. Botkin says there are 9 environmental issues more serious than climate change.