A couple of hours ago, I mentioned in a comment on the previous post that I was going to have a look at Lewandowsky’s numerous references, hoping to be able to tease out the no doubt complex strands of thought that lie behind his rather opaque analysis.
I started with his first reference, which is apparently the source of his key idea of conspiracist ideation, hoping to find clarification of Lewandowsky’s thinking. I expect to find an intellectual argument which would require weeks of patient analysis. Instead, I found a load of mendacious rubbish even more devoid of substance than Lewandowsky’s, which I’d better get off my chest before it pollutes my mind any further.
Lewandowsky says, in the first paragraph of his new paper:
“Conspiratorial thinking, also known as conspiracist ideation, has been repeatedly implicated in the rejection of scientific propositions (Diethelm & McKee, 2009; Goertzel, 2010; Kalichman, 2009; McKee & Diethelm, 2010).”
“Diethelm & McKee, 2009” refers to “Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond?” published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the European Public Health Association and available at
Pascal Diethelm is an anti-tobacco campaigner and an economist who worked at the World Health Organisation for thirty years, ending up in charge of information technology.
Martin McKee is Professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
The following commented précis of the article contains all five of their stated characteristics of denialism, plus all their references to climate change.
Here is the first paragraph:
Black is white and white is black
“HIV does not cause AIDS. The world was created in 4004 BCE. Smoking does not cause cancer. And if climate change is happening, it is nothing to do with man-made CO2 emissions. Few, if any, of the readers of this journal will believe any of these statements. Yet each can be found easily in the mass media.”
Comment: This is clearly false. Of the four propositions, only the last can very occasionally be found defended in the mass media. It must be rare for an article by two serious academics to begin with such an outrageous lie.
from para 3:
“The reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have suffered similar attacks [similar to those who deny that smoking is harmful] from commentators with links to major oil companies.”
Comment: Indeed they have. They have also suffered attacks from many others, by far the greater proportion of whom have no links with oil companies, major or minor.
from para 4:
“This phenomenon has led some to draw a historical parallel with the holocaust, another area where the evidence is overwhelming but where a few commentators have continued to sow doubt. All are seen as part of a larger phenomenon of denialism.”
Comment reserved to the end of this article.
Defining and recognizing denialism
“Denialism is a process that employs some or all of five characteristic elements in a concerted way. The first is the identification of conspiracies. When the overwhelming body of scientific opinion believes that something is true, it is argued that this is .. because they have engaged in a complex and secretive conspiracy.” [Examples: Fluoridisation in Dr Strangelove; link between HIV and AIDS]
“There is also a variant of conspiracy theory, inversionism, in which some of one’s own characteristics and motivations are attributed to others.” [Example: smoking and health]
Comment: Inversion is a two-way street brother.
“The second is the use of fake experts. These are individuals who purport to be experts in a particular area but whose views are entirely inconsistent with established knowledge. [Examples: smoking and health] In 1998, the American Petroleum Institute developed a Global Climate Science Communications Plan, involving the recruitment of ‘scientists who share the industry’s views of climate science [who can] help convince journalists, politicians and the public that the risk of global warming is too uncertain to justify controls on greenhouse gases’.
[Example of government appointment of someone whose views were based on their religious beliefs] A related phenomenon is the marginalization of real experts, in some cases through an alliance between industry and government, as when ExxonMobil successfully opposed the reappointment by the US government of the chair of the IPCC.”
Comment: Where in the references is the evidence that these were “fake experts”? The idea that “the risk of global warming is too uncertain to justify controls on greenhouse gases” was a perfectly reasonable one when it was proposed in 1998, and even more so now, after 15 years of no warming. The chair of the IPCC in question was Sir John Houghton, whose own religious beliefs were central to his stated desire for a disaster to shock us into a realisation of the dangers of climate change.
“The third characteristic is selectivity, drawing on isolated papers that challenge the dominant consensus or highlighting the flaws in the weakest papers among those that support it as a means of discrediting the entire field.” [example from autism / vaccination scandal]
Comment: So what’s wrong with “challengng the dominant consensus” or “highlighting the flaws in the weakest papers”?
“The fourth is the creation of impossible expectations of what research can deliver. For example, those denying the reality of climate change point to the absence of accurate temperature records from before the invention of the thermometer. Others use the intrinsic uncertainty of mathematical models to reject them entirely as a means of understanding a phenomenon.” [example from smoking studies]
Comment: No references given.
“The fifth is the use of misrepresentation and logical fallacies. [example from smoking] Other fallacies used by denialists are false analogy [example from creationism] .. and the excluded middle fallacy .” [example from smoking]
Responding to denialism [paras 16- 17]
“Denialists are driven by a range of motivations. For some it is greed, lured by the corporate largesse of the oil and tobacco industries. For others it is ideology or faith, causing them to reject anything incompatible with their fundamental beliefs. Finally there is eccentricity and idiosyncrasy, sometimes encouraged by the celebrity status conferred on the maverick by the media.
“Whatever the motivation, it is important to recognize denialism when confronted with it. The normal academic response to an opposing argument is to engage with it, testing the strengths and weaknesses of the differing views, in the expectations that the truth will emerge through a process of debate. However, this requires that both parties obey certain ground rules, such as a willingness to look at the evidence as a whole, to reject deliberate distortions and to accept principles of logic. A meaningful discourse is impossible when one party rejects these rules. Yet it would be wrong to prevent the denialists having a voice. Instead, we argue, it is necessary to shift the debate from the subject under consideration, instead exposing to public scrutiny the tactics they employ and identifying them publicly for what they are. An understanding of the five tactics listed above provides a useful framework for doing so.”
Comment: Creationism, the denial of the effects of tobacco on health and denial of the link between AIDS and HIV are inexistent problems in the mass media or in the field of public health. Climate change scepticism is tagged on to these three weirdo beliefs (together with a reference to Dr Strangelove and the autism / vaccination controversy) so that the label of denialism (specifically linked to Holocaust denial) and the definition and characteristics of denialism as defined in this article, can be attributed to climate scepticism. This article can have no other purpose.
The authors of this article, and any authors who cite this article, are implicitly and knowingly equating climate sceptics with Nazi sympathisers who deny the Holocaust. The authors of LEWCO13 name a number of individuals, including myself, as being denialists, as defined in the above article. I would be grateful for any legal advice as to any action we might take.
[Updated a few hours after posting to remove a particularly strong expression]