Stephan Lewandowsky, Professor of Cognitive Psychology, formerly of the University of Western Australia, now of Bristol University, England, recently published a paper establishing a causal link between climate denial and belief that the Apollo moon landing was a hoax. This link was based on four anonymous responses (out of a total of more than 1300) to a faulty on-line survey. There is good evidence that two of the four responses were faked.
This paper has received widespread uncritical publicity in the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian, the New York Times, the New Yorker, Huffington Post, the Raw Story, the Daily Beast and Salon, and elsewhere.
Professor Stephen Emmott, Microsoft Professor of Computational Science at Cambridge, (and also Professor at Oxford and London) had a notable theatrical success last year at the Avignon Festival and the Royal Court Theatre, London. He received rave reviews and favourable interviews in the Guardian, Observer, Telegraph, Times, Financial Times, Evening Standard, Forbes (everywhere, in fact except the French press) for “Ten Billion”, his one-man-show in which he made use of his immense scientific expertise to predict the collapse of civilisation before the end of the century – a collapse which, according to Professor Emmott, science is helpless to prevent. The best thing to do, according to Professor Emmott, is to teach your children to use a gun.
Neither Professor Lewandowsky nor Professor Emmott likes us climate sceptics much. Professor Lewandowsky has shown himself quite willing to lie and defame us in order to weaken our stranglehold on public opinion. But he hasn’t actually suggested killing us, as far as I know. So if I had to choose one of them to share a desert island with, I’d go for Stephan. Stephen seems a nice enough bloke, but Stephan’s sarcasm and mendacity would be easier to live with than Stephen’s murderous fantasies.
Also, Stephan seems to possess survival instincts which Stephen lacks. Stephan has just moved from the University of West Australia to Bristol England. Within days of his arrival, he was awarded the Wolfson medal for outstanding achievement by the Royal Society, which handily tops up his university salary by ten, twenty or thirty thousand a year over the next five years.
Then look at the press coverage that he’s getting for his Moon Hoax article. (The second one, Recursive Fury, has got less mentions since being shunted by publishers “Frontiers in Science” into a limbo state somewhere between publication and withdrawal). It started in Huffington Post last July, moved on to the Guardian and Telegraph, and was decisively trashed at hundreds of blogs, before finally being published last month (six months after prepublication) whereupon the publicity started all over again, notably in the New Yorker:
“… over all, the trends were clear… the more likely they were to be conspiracy theorists, the less likely they were to believe in climate science.”
Then there was this from Salon:
“Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, a cognitive scientist at the University of Western Australia, published a paper late last month in the journal Psychological Science that has received widespread praise for looking at the thinking behind conspiracy theories about science and climate change.”
with the phase “widespread praise” linking back to the article in the New Yorker.
Then, just ten days after the Boston bombing, Lewandowsky was interviewed about the resulting conspiracy theories at the Daily Beast:
“The proliferation and sheer power of such ideas come as no surprise to Stephan Lewandowsky, a professor of psychology who has made a study of the conspiracy-obsessed… Lewandowsky, whose study of conspiracy-minded climate-change deniers was recently featured in The New Yorker…”
Lew’s Moon Hoax paper is not rocket science. It’s not even climate science. It’s worthless trash. Anyone can see that. If I’d produced a survey like that in my first week as a market researcher, I’d have been told politely to look for another job. If I’d done it in my second week, I’d have been thrown out of the Market Research Society.
I pointed out in a comment at the New Yorker that Lew’s paper was based on a lie, but no-one seemed interested. Anthony Watts of the world’s most popular science blog, Jo Nova of Australia’s most popular blog, and of course Steve McIntyre at Climate Audit have all made the point over and over again, far better than I can. But they’re not the New Yorker. And none of them are ever likely to get a medal from the Royal Society.
* * *
Stephen Emmott starts from a rather more elevated position than Stephan Levandowsky, as Microsoft Professor at Cambridge, leading a team of sixty of “a new kind of scientist” doing “a new kind of science”. The results of his research, financed by Microsoft and the United Nations, were summarised in his stage performance “Ten Billion” (financed by the Arts Council and the European Union) in the ringing conclusion: “We’re F*cked”. He too, received streams of adulatory praise from every corner of the mainstream media (though not, curiously, in France, a subject I’ll be coming back to). He was inundated by offers to turn his message of doom into a tv documentary. There were rumours of a TED talk, and then finally a contract was signed with Penguin for a book, to be published on May Ist.
At this point the media coverage for Stephen starts to diverge radically from that received by Stephan. Under the heading “Penguin Reveals Some Stellar Acquisitions” sandwiched between “Underland” (Robert Macfarlane’s long-term exploration of the hidden worlds beneath our feet) and the secret diary of Dennis the Menace, Booktrade reports:
“… Penn has also acquired a title by Stephen Emmott, head of Microsoft’s Computational Science Laboratory in Cambridge, called Ten Billion. A devastating and shocking vision of the impact we are having on our world, Ten Billion is a book about our future: our failure to tackle an unprecedented planetary emergency and a cry for radical collective action – action which Emmott believes is deeply unlikely to happen… Allen Lane will publish in September 2013.”
So publication has been put back four months, which didn’t stop Texas estate agent Liz Sullivan from publishing a favourable review of the book (all 128 pages) back in February. She gave it four stars (out of five), two more than Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms”, and one less than Virginia Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse”.
One would expect Penguin /Allen Lane to pull all the stops out to publicise a catch like this, but the proceeds of their PR efforts so far have not been impressive. All I’ve found so far is this:
where London’s free evening rag’s food bod reports eating:
“A great chunk of cod, a luxury these days, perhaps not quite sustainable, at a Penguin Press dinner at the Groucho Club, while being told about nuclear Armageddon by Eric Schlosser, catastrophic overpopulation by Stephen Emmott, and finding peace in deepest Siberia by Sylvain Tesson”.
Presumably other journalists were present, but none of them seem to have reported their experience. Perhaps they don’t like cod.
Otherwise, the work of Emmott and his sixty-strong team of a new breed of scientists seems to be getting a meagre press. I reported at
on an app for spotting endangered species which got some coverage on green blogs in Italy, France, Argentina and Canada, and at
on a comment piece in Nature about his team’s General Ecological Model,
paywalled at source but available here
which got some coverage on two blogs in Rumania. There were favourable mentions on the German public broadcaster DeutscheWelle and in the Tehran Times, and that seemed to be about it.
Then today I found this:
It’s by Jonathan and Angela Scott, “the Big Cat People”, and they say this:
“Is it too late to save the planet? Margot’s coffee table has other words of wisdom for all of us. A 2012 copy of the FT Weekend Magazine flagged up the performance of “TEN BILLION” by Stephen Emmott’s, one of Britain’s leading scientists, at the Royal Court last summer. In the article written by Clive Cookson, Emmott says: ‘I’m deeply sceptical about the rational optimist’s view that we will invent ourselves out of trouble, because our inventiveness and cleverness got us in to trouble in the first place.’”
and they conclude:
“Crucially Emmott brings it all back to the nub of the problem when he says; ‘There is almost certainly more hope for the future in changing people’s consumption patterns….Radical behaviour change is needed more urgently than anything that science and technology could provide.’ Meanwhile the sun is still shining in England and the natural optimist in me says ‘it’s a beautiful day, believe in small miracles and carry on in a more ‘mindful’ way! Brad, Vicky, Peter and Liz, Paul and Carole, Margot and all our good friends heading to Galapagos – lets have an amazing trip in the land of Darwin! What would the great man have thought about all this?”
There are two comments to Jonathan and Angela’s post. Camilla says:
“We are looking forward to Galapagos too. See you in Quito. Milly & Pete”
and Jonathan and Angie reply:
“Blimey – I don’t quite know how we could have missed the fact that you are coming to Galapagos too. That is sooooo!!!!!! Cool. It is going to be some party! Darwin will be turning in his grave with all the banter and high jinks! See you soon and hugs and kisses from us both!”
I don’t imagine Jonathan and Angie noticed my comment on the FT article (I think it was the only one) but I’d just like to say:
Jonathan and Angie (and Milly and Pete – do you ever get called “Millipete” by rude friends? – I hope not) and Brad, Vicky, Peter and Liz, Paul and Carole, Margot and all the others, may I wish you all a super holiday?
There’s an unfortunate tendency among us climate deniers to point out a certain inconsistency among fans of green doom-mongering when they bewail the end of civilisation while flying off to the further corners of the earth to savour the last dying embers of our ecosystem. Bugger them, I say. Good luck to you. And as I sit on my Ryanair flight to England tomorrow, I shall put down my paperback copy of the Voyage of the Beagle and raise a toast in a five euro plastic cup of O’Leary’s best Hungarian Chardonnay to you and your friends. Have a lovely time.
* * *
I shall be out of touch in faraway England for the next week. I leave my half dozen fans with this Lewandowsky-style questionnaire:
Who would you rather be marooned on a desert island with?
1) Professor Stephan Lewandowsky
2) Professor Stephen Emmott
3) George Monbiot
4) Vivienne Westwood
5) Naomi Campbell
6) Dr Viren Swami
7) John Selwyn Gummer (Lord Deben)
8) Baroness Worthington
9) Sally Weintrobe
10) the Golden Lion Tamarind Monkey
11) Don’t know, haven’t been paying attention to your blog