What Lies behind Lew’s Lies?

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

http://eurpub.oxfordjournals.org/content/19/1/2.full

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.

Mustn’t it?

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

para6

“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]

para 8:

“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.

para 9:

“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.  

para 11:

“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”?

para 14:

“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.

para 15:

“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]

This entry was posted in Stephan Lewandowsky and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to What Lies behind Lew’s Lies?

  1. Lewis Deane says:

    Listen to this my friend – “I am a Marxist but I hate the left” and “going in to the sweaty back streets of Labour was a real joy, is a real joy” :

  2. Lewis Deane says:

    What lies behind? A joke and a pretense.

  3. Foxgoose says:

    Spent a depressing hour or so reading Martin McKee OBE ‘s Twitter feed.

    https://twitter.com/martinmckee

    I know you’re inclined to the left in politics yourself Geoff – but this guy’s stream of consciousness reads like a 1970’s NUS meeting replay.

    He is apparently very high up in the international public health quangocracy – and keen to impress with tales of his publicly funded, non-stop, world-circling, jet-set odyssey fighting the evils of disease, poverty, war, Americans, Tories, capitalism and anyone who criticises the immaculate perfection of our NHS.

    I really never knew before that “social justice” was a public health requirement.

    In terms of tolerance and self awareness – he’s right up there with Prof Lew himself.

    If I was a conspiracy theorist – it would be very easy to believe that all supranational bureaucracy is administered by Gramscian Marxists.

  4. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Perhaps one day Professor Lewandowsky will find the time to look at the apparent correlation between post-Christian opposition to Israel and full-on ‘mankind faces extinction’ climageddonism. Others have touched on this linkage tangentially (e.g. Jamie Bartlett and Carl Miller at Demos) but a proper credentialled psychological study would be welcome.

    (Perhaps he could start by interviewing the Right Honourable Michael Meacher, MP.)

  5. tlitb1 says:

    @Geoff Chambers
    It is good to see someone like you pulling together material on Lew et al’s work. I do think there could be case study made of him.

    However I have to say that I see institutional poor practice rather than lies as showing in Lewandowsky.
    Often practitioners like Lew seem at some level to be aware of their weaknesses but they address these with pseudo-scientific posturing. Looking at L13 in some more depth I think I see a few dodgy references that don’t show lies but more self delusion: e.g. with references such as this:

    “A second criticism might cite the fact that we have considered the “blogosphere” as if it were a single entity, analyzed within the context of psychological processes and constructs that typically characterize individuals rather than groups. Our response is twofold: First, at the level of purely descriptive discourse analysis, our work fits within established precedent involving the examination of communications from heterogeneous entities such as the U.S. Government (Kuypers, Young, & Launer, 1994) or the Soviet Union (Kuypers, Young, & Launer, 2001).”

    The two papers they reference here are regarding the same event. The downing of Iran airbus flight 655 in 1988. Now the papers are pay walled, but I would start from the assumption that the Lew et al half assed surveying of alarmist blogs has pretty much no relation to the surveying of governmental departments’ responses regarding a single specific international event as in these papers.

    It seems this kind of lightweight self-delusion is very easy come up with in this academic forum. Any criticism levelled can be dealt with by a pseudo forensic response reference to a paper conjured up without risk of further detail being required or understanding shown.

    Lew et al here seem full of bombast, attempting posturing alongside weightier material, that would make me see them as pitiful rather than lying.

    I think you would agree with me Lew et al are basically puling a trick to pathologise critics for just being – well for just being critics – but they still feel they need to justify it. So when they create their tables of criticisms in their analysis of they say:

    “The issue of validity of those hypotheses or indeed the validity of the conclusions of LOG12 is orthogonal to the psychological question at issue here, viz. whether the response to LOG12 constituted conspiracist ideation.”

    The use of the word “orthogonal” here I think is a big clue to their pseudo-scientific response here. Mathematically it means something i.e. they have isolated something unique, uncontaminated by extraneous bias, but they show no absolutely no justification for this and I think the close reader realises that he only has their word for it.

    This is what they depend upon – or rather to take away intention – this is what they feed off. The fans who are not “close readers” or the enemies who get angered or the institution that is just a sausage machine turning it out – not really caring if it is good beef or horse meat.😉

  6. tlitb1
    Agreed, it’s bombast and posturing rather than lying. I’d noticed Lewandowsky’s absurd justification for treating blogsites as people – with a reference to papers which had already done it with respect to governments. What kind of an argument is that? (Answer: the only form of argument which is allowed in peer-reviewed articles: argument from authority, the authority of other peer-reviewed articles). There’s no room within the restrictions of a peer reviewed paper for a reasoned analysis. Add in the fact that learned journals are not searchable on the internet before the beginning of the century, and you have the conditions for the dream of a Hitler or a Pol Pot to come true. A fresh start with a clean slate, and no place for dissenting views. No thinking allowed. The absurd early predictions of an Ehrlich are not on the net – they might as well not exist.
    I noticed the word “orthogonal”. It’s put in as a warning to non-scientists to keep out. Just as the original paper LOG12 gave beta values and no raw figures, thus disguising the fact that its findings didn’t support the conclusion. It’s pitiful, and the pity is that there is no-one anywhere that can see who will call them out on it.
    Foxgoose
    Gramsci’s dream is being realised by people who have never read him, and who have little in common with Marx except perhaps his obsession with statistics. I suspect Martin McKee is, (like me, Sir Paul Nurse, Sir Martin Rees, and so many of our generation) a disappointed Old Labourite who’s never got over the fact that Michael Foot and Tony Benn were cheated of their chance to sort the world out by General Galtieri.
    Vinny Burgoo
    That’s one thing I won’t be doing. Lewis Deane started some speculation about Lewandowsky’s origins which pointed in the opposite direction to yours. It’s a subject I really don’t want to get into, which is not to say it couldn’t or shouldn’t be explored by someone else.

  7. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Geoff, I wasn’t thinking of L or anyone else being or not being Jewish or anything remotely like that. And I see that I missed out the main bit, the actual conspiracy theory. The posited correlation should have been anti-Israel (or pro-Palestine, if you prefer) with 9/11 Truther with CC spells human extinction. A quick search turned up half a dozen people who tick all three boxes, with Meacher being the most famous. I’m sure that a little clever maths could prove that the first causes the second causes the third, or the other way around, if need be. (I suspect that, among the examples I found, all three are actually caused by … Oh, I don’t know. The 1960s? Anti-Americanism? Fear of complexity? Oikophobia? Misanthropy? Poor potty-training – that’ll do.)

  8. Chuckles says:

    It seems to me that they are indulging in the very practices which they are supposedly investigating?
    Projection, or simply that that is how they do things, and assume that their ‘opponents’ must be doing things in a similar way?

  9. Climate Daily says:

    Reblogged this on Climate Daily.

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