“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.

Update: The journal, Sage Open, allows reader comments on articles, so I have submitted a comment, here in pdf form.

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

  1. Now that the “Shut up! The science is settled” meme has foundered on the rocks of the “pause” – we seem to be seeing a co-ordinated effort to move the climate debate into the realms of social science.

    Clearly, the social activist community see this as a playing field they have great experience of winning on. In social sciences you can make up the rules of the game as you go along and move the goalposts as necessary, to be sure of victory.

    Trying to advance social activism via physical science was always a risky business for them. The murky distant depths of paleo helped out with the hockey stick approach for a while, and computer modelling kept the ball in play for a long time – but the inconvenient & immutable reality of physical observations turned out to be a bit of a bummer.

    If they can convince those who matter that basic school physics, together with infinitely adjustable & extensible computer modelling, mean that physical observations on human timescales can be dismissed as “short term noise” – job done!

    I’m beginning to see why climate luminaries like Mike Hulme were so quick to get on board the “post-normal science” bandwagon.

    Stop poring over the dodgy temperature records peasants – it’s the “social imperative” that matters!

    Just smile, through gritted teeth, & hand over the money.

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