Tag Archives: Scepticism

Sutter reports back from Oklahoma

As mentioned in the previous post, CNN climate evangelist John Sutter went off to deepest Oklahoma for a couple of weeks – one of the most climate-sceptical parts of the US.

He’s now reported back with an article Woodward County, Oklahoma: Why do so many here doubt climate change? This is, of course, a potentially interesting question. But it’s one that he completely fails to answer.

His article is full of amusing sound-bites from sceptics:
“I think it’s a big fat lie.”
“I think all this global warming crap is overblown.”
“The most ludicrous myth that has been forced upon the Earth since the world began.”
But despite the length of the article, there is virtually no attempt to look into the details or the reasoning of sceptic arguments. At one point he does try to do this, but gets hopelessly confused, claiming that climate sceptics show graphs of the upper troposphere when they should be looking at the lower troposphere. No John, it’s the lower troposphere data that sceptics point to, and it shows that the observed temperature is significantly below the model predictions.

There are two rather unpleasant sections, which show just how low people like Sutter are prepared to go. In one, he finds a statue of a stegosaurus with a sign saying it lived 5,000 years ago. Later, he finds some people whose relative died in a fire, and tells them that wildfires are predicted to increase.

There are some amusing aspects to Sutter’s piece. Despite claiming that he went to Oklahama to listen to the climate sceptics, he seems to have been so freaked out by having his cosy metropolitan-elite values challenged that in desperation he tries to find people who share his own views. He “made it a personal mission” and “wandered all over the county on a scavenger hunt for believers”.

His second defence mechanism is to go back to reciting his credo (the climate is changing, we are responsible, 97%…) and to seek support from other climate propagandists. The article, which, remember, is supposed to be about the views of climate sceptics, cites Lewandowsky, Marshall, Hayhoe, Leiserowitz and the Pope!

The only little piece of progress comes right at the end of the article, when he learns that climate sceptics do in fact care about the environment, and admits that it took him far too long to realize it. He quotes one man who describes climate change as “baloney” : “I’m a steward of the land out here. It’s my responsibility to see that even in drought times, the land is taken care of and the land is respected.”

Update 6 Aug:

Sutter has now updated his confused paragraph about the troposphere (suggesting that he may have read this blog). The edited version is just as confused and misleading, and it seems that this is thanks to the intervention of the notoriously unreliable Katie Hayhoe.  The new  inserted sentence from Hayhoe claims that “there were errors in troposphere data, which are commonly misused by climate skeptics”. I’ve asked Sutter if this latest RSS data showing the model/reality mismatch, linked above, contains “errors”.

Roger Pielke on twitter is not impressed by Sutter’s piece:
Wow. @CNN sends a condescending reporter to Oklahoma to find out why people there are so stupid. Reminds me of Borat.
If you want to understand why climate politics is pathologically politicized in the U.S. Read this mocking MSM “news”

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Paper on climate scepticism published

A little over a year ago I noticed a call from the journal Environmental Communication for a special issue of articles on “Climate change communication and the internet”.  For some time I had been thinking vaguely about writing something about the interesting Reader Background thread at Jeff Condon’s Air Vent blog, so I wrote a paper on this and sent it to the journal.

The paper was handled very well by the journal.  It was reviewed ‘double-blind’, i.e. both the author and reviewers were anonymous. This isn’t usually done in my field but apparently it’s quite common in social science.  The reviewers were clearly experts in the field; they read the paper very carefully and made a lot of comments, criticisms and constructive suggestions for improvement. I revised the paper and then there was another round of quite detailed comments, but after that the paper was accepted.

The published paper is here, paywalled because I did not pay Taylor & Francis the Open Access fee.  However, apparently I can give 50 people access to the paper – let me know if you’d like this (in the olden days, you used to get a bundle of 50 paper reprints to mail out).  Alternatively there is a draft preprint version of the paper, before the review comments, with a few very minor changes. It contains a bit more discussion and opinion, fewer up-to-date references, and more mistakes, than the final version.

Below is a brief summary of the main points of the paper.

Why are people sceptical about climate change?

Surveys show that a significant minority of the population are sceptical about climate change and that there has been a modest increase in scepticism over the last few years. Some research has considered why this may be, but surveys do not usually ask people exactly what it is that makes them sceptical. There is some useful information on this question in comments on climate sceptic blogs, but this has not been studied in the literature. However, it should be kept in mind that these views expressed in blog comments are probably not representative of the general public.

In April 2010, Jeff Condon launched a “Reader Background” post, proposing “a discussion of our various backgrounds and how we came to be interested in climate science”. I count that there are 154 people on that thread who express some degree of scepticism about climate change. 17 of these explicitly call themselves lukewarmers, and at least 8 others express lukewarm opinions, so about 1/6 can be regarded as lukewarmers – though this is probably an underestimate. At the other end of the spectrum, about 1 in 10 are what might be called “hardcore sceptics”, using language like “scam” in relation to climate change.  Over 1/4 of the responders say they have a PhD, and a further 1/3 have some form of degree.  More than 1/4 say they switched from being concerned about climate change to being sceptical.

Reasons given for scepticism include

  • Hype and alarmism, either in the media or from climate scientists. 32 people give this as a reason.
  • Memories of previous scares, such as the 1970s ice age scare, mentioned by 15.
  • Politics – some say  the climate story seems politically motivated, others say  it does not fit with their own views, which often lean more towards libertarianism than conservatism.
  • Climategate is mentioned by 30 people, but only seems to have been a major influencing factor for 13. The survey was only 5 months after climategate, so most had probably already formed their view.
  • Poor science is mentioned by about 60, with the hockeystick most common issue.
  • Blogs – Climate Audit is most cited (57 times), followed by RealClimate (42 times) with many negative comments about their attitude and apparent failure to answer questions satisfactorily.
  • Other minor factors include books, newspapers and films.

Two other blogs have carried out similar exercises, see Judith Curry’s Denizens thread (Nov 2010) and My personal path to Catastrophic AGW skepticism at WUWT (July 2013). These show a similar picture – though there is some overlap in the contributors.

Another dumb climate psychology paper

A paper Public division about climate change rooted in conflicting socio-political identities was published yesterday in Nature Climate Change. The six authors, Bliuc et al, come from Social Science and Psychology departments in Australia. There is also an associated News & Views article by Tom Postmes, Psychology: Climate change and group dynamics.

The paper is truly awful, in so many ways, and effectively illustrates the blinkered thinking that is endemic in the field, nicely summarised by Andy West in his recent post at Climate etc. The following paragraphs raise some of the problems with the paper.

It starts badly, with unquestioning assertion of the Cook et al 97% consensus paper. As usual this is stated in an unclear way, “97% agree that climate change is caused by humans” (what, some of it? Most of it? All of it?), a feature that Ben Pile refers to as consensus without an object.

Then the paper simply declares that
“The public is divided between climate change ‘believers’ (whose views align with those of the scientific community) and ‘sceptics’ (whose views are in disagreement with those of the scientific community)”
It’s as simple as that. It’s us v them. The goodies and the baddies. Although there is a brief mention later on of multiple shades of opinion, this is dismissed with the statement “we argue that there is value in seeing climate change believers and sceptics as conflicting opinion-based groups.” Yet the paper and the News & Views piece talk about overcoming divisions, and conflict reduction – reducing a division that they themselves have artificially created. This is the same criticism I raised regarding Homer-Dixon et al (I have just noticed that the journal has now published my comment on that paper).
This isn’t just stupid – it’s really damaging.

The main “finding” of the paper is, as suggested in the title, that it’s all to do with social group identity. They say “we argue that people come to see climate change beliefs and scepticism not just as an opinion on an issue, but as an aspect of self that defines who they are, what they stand for, and who they stand with (and against)” and “the results support the contention that cultural polarization and political mobilization are at the core of the climate change divide.” This is the main idea of Dan Kahan’s work, even down to the exact wording used, “who they are”. But, amazingly, none of Kahan’s papers are cited (again, this was one of my criticisms of Homer-Dixon et al). As previously mentioned, I think there’s an element of truth in this argument, but it’s usually overstated.

As usual with such papers, although the text is nonsense, there are some interesting points in the data obtained. One of the issues they asked ‘sceptics’ and ‘believers’ about is their “anger at the opposing group”. The numbers came out (on some scale) at 2.84 for sceptics, but 4.10 for believers. We’ve seen recently several examples of the obscene vitriol directed towards even those who are moderately sceptical about climate change.
But the way this data is reported by Bliuc et al is astounding: “We note, in particular, that part of the sceptic group consciousness is anger at climate change believers”. The smaller number (sceptic anger at believers) is highlighted, while the considerably larger number (believer anger towards sceptics) is ignored.

Another common theme in these papers is that the main aim is how to change the minds of the sceptics: “strategies for building support for mitigation policies should go beyond attempts to improve the public’s understanding of science, to include approaches that transform intergroup relations”. This seems particularly devious: “efforts to undermine group efficacy, for example, by convincing sceptics that their actions are unlikely to prevent action on climate change, represent a more plausible path.” They are recommending that people should try to undermine sceptical groups – presumably they would condone the hounding of Lennart Bengtsson when he dared to join the GWPF.

The paper has a fair amount of jargon-speak. I liked this sentence: “Given that there are different causal orders proposed by existing models we conceptualize the antecedents of action as an integrated cluster of variables that represent a distinct group consciousness for believers and for sceptics, each of which predicts commitment to action to support the cause they each support.” I have no idea what it means – perhaps “we drew some pictures”.

In summary, we have a biased paper promoting political activism, exacerbating division and with a main conclusion that has already been stated many times in the literature. How did this rubbish get published? Oh, it’s in Nature.

There are articles about the paper at The Register, at The Conversation and at WUWT.

Converts to scepticism / agnosticism

“…they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”

Some time ago I mentioned that two prominent climate sceptics, Anthony Watts and Patrick Moore, were originally active believers in the climate change cause and subsequently changed their minds and became sceptical. It turns out that quite a few prominent climate sceptics have followed this course.

This is interesting, because some of the academic literature says that peoples’ climate scepticism is related to their ‘worldview’ or the opinions of their cultural group. Intriguingly, when this concept originated in the work of Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavsky in the early 1980s, it was used rather the other way round – to provide an explanation of the surge in interest in environmentalism, a point which is now generally overlooked.

Now, it’s probably true that views on other issues and group allegiance may influence views on climate change, but this often seems to be overstated, and is often only stated one way round.  It  doesn’t seem to apply for these people here, who have been concerned about climate change, often as part of a group,  and subsequently changed their mind to a greater or lesser degree. Here are details of some of these converts, in no particular order, starting with the two already mentioned.

Anthony Watts

Anthony Watts is the man behind Watts Up With That?, described as “the world’s most viewed climate website”, which regularly runs articles very critical of the claims of climate science.  It has been running since 2006 and has won various awards.

On his About page, he says that he has an electric car and has solar panels on his roof. There is an interview with him here, where he says: “I started out actually just being a climate alarmist. I got involved with saving the planet by helping other weather forecasters do the same thing through planting trees. Then when I met the State climatologist in California, his data changed my mind and now I’m a skeptic.” He also talks of starting to ask questions about the effect of different coatings on Stevenson Screens, in his pre-sceptic days.

Patrick Moore

Not the astronomer, but the environmentalist and co-founder of Greenpeace who has been in the news recently having reported to a US Senate Committee, discussed by The Independent and by WUWT.  The Independent article says that  having helped set up  Greenpeace in 1971, he left in 1986 after they became more interested in politics than science. It seems that Greenpeace has been re-writing their history, deleting his name from the list of founders on their website some time between 2005 and 2008. 

In this interview he gives more details of how became disillusioned with the green movement as it became more ideological, and goes on to  say that we don’t really understand the factors that affect the climate and that so-called “cures” would cause more harm than the “disease”. Another interview is here, and here is one for Spiked, where he says global warming is a religion that plays on fear and guilt . He has written a book, Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout.

Jo Nova & David Evans

Jo Nova runs the most prominent climate sceptic blog in Australia.  In fact, her
blog was identified as on of the three “most central” sceptic blogs globally by a recent study, along with with Watts Up With That and Climate Audit. On her About page she says “A long time ago she was a Green, and still wants to save the world, but with the scientific method”.  She is married to David Evans, who has produced a number of sceptical articles and youtube videos. He used to work for the Australian Greenhouse Office modelling carbon, but during that time became increasingly sceptical.

A transcript of an interview with Jo Nova and David Evans gives much more detail.

David: “I used to work for Department of Climate Change, or as it was back then the Australian Greenhouse Office for about five or six years doing carbon modelling for them and I was out there to save the planet. I was also a member of the Labor Party on and off for 15 years and I was a member of Greenpeace so I was a believer, I thought I was saving the planet and I thought this plan problem was a really momentous one that needed solving straight away. As the years went by I found out more evidence, the evidence supporting it drifted away and evidence started accumulating that the man made hypothesis wasn’t true and so I changed my mind.”

Jo: “I was actually a member of the Australian Greens, it’s the only political party I’ve ever been a member of so … I am concerned about the environment, I’m concerned about doing things sustainably. I worry about the country that we leave for our kids …”

There are video interviews with Jo Nova, David Evans and Anthony Watts here.

Verity Jones

Verity runs a blog called Digging in the Clay. This may not be one of the most high-profile sceptic blogs, but interestingly it was one of the few to get the climategate 2 link in November 2011.

On her about page she reports:  “Climate change came along. I embraced the science and became quite evangelistic about it. But then finally something happened. The scientist in me can’t help but listen to debate, and I didn’t like what I was hearing. The scientists began to sound like politicians and the politicians looked as if they were being asked to kiss babies. And it all became loud and complicated. So I dusted the cobwebs out of my brain and started to read, and learn, and question.”

Judith Curry

Whether Judith Curry is a “climate sceptic” or not depends on how broad your definition of the term is. But via her blog she has certainly raised some awkward questions for climate science and the IPCC, and her views have clearly changed over the last few years. In an interview in May, Chatting With ‘A Climate Heretic’, she said that on a scale from 1 (intense skeptic) to 10 (intensely IPCC orthodox) she moved from about 7 to about 3 since 2009. She cited “Climategate and the weak response of the IPCC and other scientists” as a major factor, along with the lack of a satisfactory explanation for the current pause in warming. Earlier, in 2010, she wrote at her own blog of her transition from a “high priestess of global warming” to engagement with skeptics and a critic of the IPCC.

Graham Strouts

Graham Strouts blogs and tweets under the name Skepteco. His about page starts with radical environmentalism:  “I grew up in the south of England and studied sociology at Essex University 1983-6. Leaving with a radical view of the world and feeling certain that modern society was both unjust and unsustainable- and that its demise would probably be a good thing- I spent the next view years seeking a back-to-the-land lifestyle first in Shropshire, then in Scotland, finally moving to Ireland in 1990” But then he goes on to say “More recently, I have started to question fundamentally many of my previous assumptions. This blog explores my change of direction and tries to separate the science from the ideology within the environmental movement.”

There are more details of his conversion from green ideology  in this post on GMOs, and more on this one, where he writes  “By baring all once again I hope my past delusions may serve as some kind of cautionary tale to the young radicals just getting going in life who may be open to some kind of guidance in making sense of the klaxons of environmental alarm that have scarcely quietened in the intervening years” before reposting an old blog entry  from his former self expressing “peak oil” fears. He has also written some interesting posts on political orientation.

Mike Haseler

Mike runs a blog called Scottish Sceptic, which among other things, recently conducted a survey of his predominantly sceptical audience.

He says:

“I was selected as a Green candidate for the Scottish Green party in 2003”
“I worked in the wind industry in Scotland”

But then goes on to say

“I am an agnostic on man-made warming, a sceptic by scientific training and disgusted with so called climate “science” which isn’t science as I was taught it.”

James Lovelock

Although he can’t really be described as a climate sceptic, environmentalist James Lovelock has been in the news recently for changing his tone on climate, and for plugging his new book, a Rough Ride to the Future. In an interview on BBC’s Newsnight,  he said “Well, take this climate matter that everybody’s thinking about. They all talk, they pass laws, they do things as if they knew what was happening. I don’t think any of them really know what’s happening. They just guess at it. And a whole group of them meet together and encourage each other’s guesses.” This is a big change from his previous apocalyptic pronouncements on climate, as discussed later in that interview and on his Wikipedia page.  See also his interview with ABC, I was alarmist about climate change.

Daniel Botkin

Botkin is an ecologist and environmentalist who has held posts at Yale and other universities and has over 40 years of research experience. He was chosen to give evidence to a US Committee hearing on the IPCC. His written evidence was very critical, saying that warming is not unusual, model predictions are way off reality, and that the IPCC had become politicised and was promoting an agenda.
In the question and answer session he made it clear that he feels that the case for man-made global warming is weaker than it was a few years ago.

Fritz Vahrenholt

Fritz Vahrenholt is a German politician and environmentalist.  He has worked at the German Umweltbundesamt (Environment Agency), and has also worked for a wind turbine company.  But in 2012, in collaboration with Sebastian Lüning, he wrote a book “Die kalte Sonne” with the subtitle “Warum die Klimakatastrophe nicht stattfindet” (why the climate catastrophe is not taking place). It’s been translated into English as “The Neglected Sun“. In an interview with Spiegel, he says “For years, I disseminated the hypotheses of the IPCC, and I feel duped.

Jim Steele

Jim Steele is an environmentalist at San Francisco State University, where he taught classes on plant and bird life at their Sierra Nevada Campus.  He has written a book,
Landscapes and Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism, see also Amazon page, the title of which does not need further explanation.  There is an interview with him here.

Jean-Louis Pinault

Pinault is a French hydrologist with a substantial record  of published research papers.
He has recently written a book, From the melody of the oceans to climate change: a fight against ostracism. On Amazon we can read the first few pages, where he says that following retirement he was able to pursue his interests without any concern about research funding, and writes “This long journey led me to admit that global warming has a natural cause”.

Caleb Rossiter

Rossiter is a statistician and policy analyst who made the news for being dropped from his position with the Institute for Policy Studies for questioning global warming orthodoxy. In this interview he says that about a decade ago he would have agreed with Obama that people who didn’t agree about climate catastrophe were fools, but since then he’s become convinced that claims about cause and effects of warming have been greatly overblown. In another recent interview he describes Obama as “delusional” on climate change, despite being himself on the political left, and criticises the IPCC for its claims of 95% certainty.

Matt Ridley

Matt Ridley is a “Rational Optimist” who adopts a “lukewarmer” view of global warming – future warming will be less than is often claimed and not a serious problem.  In this blog post he says that he he was surprised by the pause in warming and that now he worries that he is exaggerating the likely warming.

Here he says that in 1979 he voted for the Green Party (then known as the Ecology Party) and recounts his increasing disillusion, mentioning ‘ecotoffs’, IPCC exaggeration and the burden of climate policy on the poor.

Update 19 Jan: More from Ridley on his conversion, citing slower warming than predicted, previous apocalyptic predictions, the hockey stick, climategate and the failure of climate scientists to answer doubts as significant factors in his conversion to a ‘lukewarmer’ view.
This article he co-wrote back in 1993 implicitly accepts that warming is a problem, and discusses how to ‘save the environment’.

Margaret Thatcher

In 1989, Thatcher gave a speech to the UN, in which she said

“But the problem of global climate change is one that affects us all and action will only be effective if it is taken at the international level. It is no good squabbling over who is responsible or who should pay. Whole areas of our planet could be subject to drought and starvation if the pattern of rains and monsoons were to change as a result of the destruction of forests and the accumulation of greenhouse gases.”

But by 2002, her view had changed completely, as shown by these excerpts from her book Statecraft:

“The doomsters’ favourite subject today is climate change. This has a number of attractions for them. First, the science is extremely obscure so they cannot easily be proved wrong”
“It would, though, be difficult to beat for apocalyptic hyperbole former Vice President Gore.”

See Thatcher & Global Warming: From Alarmist to Skeptic for more details.

Klaus-Eckart Puls

Puls is a meteorologist and one of the people behind the German climate sceptic blog EIKE.  In an interview titled “I’m ashamed about it today” (In German, but Google translate does a reasonably good job, or see this translation by Pierre Gosselin)  he says that until about 10 years ago he parroted without question what the IPCC said. Then he started to check the claims, and found that a lot of what the IPCC and the media say about climate change is not right and not supported by scientific facts and measurements.

Related blogs:

See also this blogpost from Pointman, which starts off with “One of the intriguing aspects of the climate wars is that you very frequently see people dropping comments on blogs that they started off as unthinking believers in catastrophic global warming but when they actually stopped and looked into it for themselves, became skeptics.” He followed this up with a second post, Sometimes you don’t have to anything but wait, where he talks of people crossing the aisle to the sceptic side, ending with “We don’t have to fight for converts – they find their way to us all by themselves.”

It is sometimes claimed that Berkeley physicist Richard Muller converted from scepticism, but this blog gives comments made by him in 2003 and 2008  showing that this is not true.

Many more converts to scepticism can be found on Jeff Id’s Reader Background thread, Judith Curry’s Denizens thread and My personal path to Catastrophic AGW skepticism at WUWT.

Updates:

I will add more people who have become more sceptical or agnostic over time, as they come to my attention:

Blair King

Blair King is the author of the excellent A Chemist in Langley blog. The blog started off talking about pipelines and renewable energy, but seems to have got drawn in to the basics of the climate debate. In My Lukewarmer post, or how to lose friends on both sides in the AGW debate he sets out his lukewarm view and says he is skeptical of the political aspects. In this post he talks of his transition from “trust me” to “show me”, mentioning factors such as activist scientists predicting doom and particularly climategate as factors. He says (as many of us have said before) that the real problem wasn’t so much the bad behaviour of a few individuals, but the failure of the climate community to admit that there was a problem or deal with it. As a result of all this he says “I need to be convinced every time a new paper comes out and that convincing means releasing enough information so that work can be replicated” – a very simple point that some seem to be unable to understand.

Eija-Riitta Korhola

Korhola is a Finnish politician who served as an MEP for 15 years. She has recently completed a PhD on Climate Change as a Political Process, discussed at Roger Pielke’s blog and at Bishop Hill.

At the beginning of the thesis she writes some personal notes in the preface: “I was one of the first Finnish politicians to knowingly push the issue of climate change and its threats onto the political agenda. In 1994, I published my first effusions in Vihreä Lanka, a weekly green newspaper, to which I had contributed as a columnist for five years.” Later in the preface, hints of cynicism appear, such as “…during the great climate hype in 2007 when the political agenda changed abruptly. It seemed as if no issue could be promoted without mentioning the threat of global warming”, “the climate scare turned into a climate fatigue” and she is very critical of MEPs and the environmental movement. At the end of the thesis she includes some of her blog posts. Blog 15.49 “Is it true or not” says that temperatures are not in line with prediction, that she was flabbergasted by Climategate and that temperature data may have been massaged. The final blog included in the thesis is Confessions of a climate agnostic, where she writes of the warming pause and misleading consensus claims, and says that politicians should be ‘climate agnostic’.

Christopher Monckton

Monckton is a well-know sceptic of global warming who gives talks on the subject all over the world and has written his own version of the dead parrot sketch in which global warming salesman Pachauri claims that his product is not dead, just pausing. He has recently written a paper on why climate models run hot, along with Soon, Legates and Briggs.

In an interview, Monckton’s Journey From Warming Believer to Influential Skeptic, he says that when he was an advisor to the Conservative Party and Mrs Thatcher (see above) in the 1980s he drew her attention to the problem of global warming. He also says he spoke on the subject on the Clive James Show. Apparently his views changed in 2006 when he looked into the climate issue as part of an investigation into renewable energy.

David Siegel

David Siegel is a writer and consultant. In a blog post How a liberal vegan environmentalist made the switch from climate proponent to climate skeptic he says that as a Democrat and environmentalist he believed the climate change story as presented by the likes of Al Gore and wrote a book about conservation. Recently he was challenged by a friend and went through a familiar process: “As I started to look at the data and read about climate science, I was surprised, then shocked. As I learned more, I changed my mind. I now think there probably is no climate crisis and that the focus on CO2 takes funding and attention from critical environmental problems.”
There is a lot more at his website.

Donald Trump

In 2009, Trump signed a letter from business leaders calling on Obama to strengthen climate legislation, saying that “if we fail to act now, it is scientifically irrefutable that there will be catastrophic and irreversible consequences”.  More recently, he has described himself as “not a big believer” in man-made climate change, and has said he would like to cancel the Paris climate agreement.

Lewandowsky’s Loopy Logic

As I’ve mentioned before, I really try to ignore the Lewandowsky nonsense, but  occasionally  an opportunity comes up that’s too good to miss. In The Conversation this week there’s an article “Are you a poor logician? Logically, you might never know” by Stephan Lewandowsky and Richard Pancost. Yes, Lewandowsky, the Chair of Cognitive Psychology at University of Bristol, who writes papers on his pre-determined conclusions without apparently noticing that his data doesn’t support them, has written an article about people who aren’t very good at thinking logically, and who over-rate their own competence; the article goes on to stress the importance of “introducing accurate scientific knowledge into public debates”. Honestly, I’m not making this up.

So I posted the following comment at The Conversation (and knowing the tendency of The Conversation to delete comments that don’t support their agenda, promptly took a screen shot).

Lewandowsky’s logical blunder has been reported on numerous occasions, by Steve McIntyre here, here and here, by ManicBeanCounter, by Jose Duarte and by Brandon Shollenberger, who showed how Lewandowskyan logic can be used to show that people who are concerned about climate change are pedophiles. Here is Brandon’s plot of Lewandowsky’s data, which nicely illustrates the error (small random numbers have been added to the responses so that they show up individually):

This is the data that Lewandowsky used to justify his notorious paper “NASA faked the moon landing—therefore, (climate) science is a hoax”. Despite the obvious errors, and calls for retraction, the journal Psychological Science has so far stubbornly refused to take any action.

After the section on logical thinking and the Dunning-Kruger effect, of which Lewandowsky himself is such a fine example, the remainder of the Lewandowsky-Pancost article sinks further. There is an unfair personal attack on Anthony Watts, saying that he thinks hot buildings contribute to warming, when in fact, as the authors are well aware, his concern has been with the poor siting of weather stations. Then there is the false analogy of smoking causing lung cancer – at the risk of stating the obvious, tens of thousands of people die every year from lung cancer, almost all of them smokers, so the link is perfectly clear, unlike the claims about future warming based on speculative computer models that are increasingly failing to match reality.

My comment was deleted by the Conversation’s moderators, and I received an email giving their guidelines – none of which were broken by comment. It can’t really be seen as off-topic, since it’s about logical thinking, and there are other comments that are much more off-topic that survived. Presumably the excuse would be that pointing out Lewandowsky’s errors counts as a “personal attack” – though he himself is allowed to attack Anthony Watts. (My comment survives at this blog where the article is copied). Several other comments were deleted and the comment thread was rapidly closed.

A future post will deal more specifically with the so-called Conversation, its censorship of comments, its abuse of public funding, and its bogus claims of “Academic rigour” and being “free of political bias”.


Update 10 Nov:

Some more links:

Ben Pile has an article on Lewandowsky’s Logic and what he aptly terms the “Nonversation”. He also notes the failure of the academic community to act as a check, and how this then reflects badly on the entire field.

Ben links to a series of three recent posts at by Andy West at WUWT. One of Andy’s main points is that Lewandowsky, and the climate movement generally is a prime example of the cognitive bias failings that he accuses others of – similar to the point I am making here.

Brandon Shollenberger reminds me that he wrote a longer document on the statistical error.

Finally, the LiveFromGolgafrincham blog has been fortunate to procure a special guest post from the man himself, in which he explains that the latest Conversation article was in fact intended to be a humorous parody, which makes a lot of sense.


Update 13 Nov: Latest Lewpy Logic

Another own goal by Lewandowsky appeared yesterday. A short, content-free opinion piece by him was published by IOP (have they forgotten what the P stands for?). It is the latest instalment in his “every-one-who-disagrees-with-me-is-a-conspiracy-theorist” canon. His paper draws attention to climategate, by claiming that sceptic blogs show a “continued and growing fascination” with it.
Yet again, the man exposes his clueless lack of self-awareness.
Needless to say, Lewandowsky’s claim of “continued and growing” sceptic fascination is nonsense. The above link shows that Climate Audit has had one article on Climategate in 2014, none in 2013 , and one in 2012. The much more active WUWT blog has had 4 in 2014, 2 in 2013, 16 in 2012, and 22 in Nov-Dec alone in 2011, following Climategate 2. Maybe someone can do a more thorough investigation?
ATROSTO again, it is he, by publishing this inane article, who exhibits “continued and growing fascination”, and “continued conspiratory obsession”.

As Judith Curry wrote on twitter, “New paper by Lewandowsky once again projects his own conspiracy ideation onto skeptics”.

In her latest blog post, We are all confident idiots, she writes “Lew is so busy dissecting the ‘bias’ of climate change skeptics that he misses his own rather glaring biases.”

WUWT writes “More insane conspiracy theory from Dr. Stephan Lewandowsky of Bristol University”

“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.

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.