A Tale of Two Steves

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:

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/elements/2013/04/conspiracy-theory-climate-change-science-psychology.html

which says:

“… 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:

http://www.salon.com/2013/04/24/why_people_believe_in_conspiracy_theories/singleton/

“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:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/04/25/boston-bombing-conspiracies-and-what-s-behind-the-false-flag-crazies.html

“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:

http://www.standard.co.uk/goingout/restaurants/five-things-david-sexton-ate-this-week-8522660.html

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

https://geoffchambers.wordpress.com/2012/10/07/stephen-emmott-microsoft-google-computational-science-end-of-the-world-golden-lion-tamarin-monkey/

on an app for spotting endangered species which got some coverage on green blogs in Italy, France, Argentina and Canada, and at

https://geoffchambers.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/cuckoo-in-the-nesta/

on a comment piece in Nature about his team’s General Ecological Model,

paywalled at source but available here

http://www.unep.org/pdf/Purves_etal_2012.pdf

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:

http://www.jonathanangelascott.com/main/wordpress/2013/04/ten-billion-by-stephen-emmott/

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

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22 Responses to A Tale of Two Steves

  1. Pingback: Geoff Chambers on Lewandowsky at Bristol | Tallbloke's Talkshop

  2. Reblogged this on contrary2belief and commented:
    Lewandowsky will no doubt be “missed” by everybody in Western Australia.

  3. Beautifully written. I didn’t enjoy my three years at Bristol University much, bit of a culture shock for a South Wales valleys boy. But at least Stephan Lewandowsky wasn’t there then. He’ll fit right in with the privileged wankers.

  4. Kon Dealer says:

    Bryony, of course.
    I could wear ear defenders and she a paper bag over her head.

  5. Doug Proctor says:

    “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.”

    To the point but it seems TOO simple.

    I’m using the terms Procedural Accuracy (or Certainty) vs Representational Accuracy (or Certainty): Procedural means that how the thing was calculated is correct by method. Representational means what was calculated is correct by how well it reflects what is or was in the world. Dr. L and Hansen and all those others, including Mann and Marcott, speak of things that are Procedurally sound but Representationally unsound.

    This is what I object to in modern scientific discourse, especially anything that uses high technology and statistical analysis: the common Man and MSM and politician do not understand the difference between what these studies produce and what the study was supposed to reflect. The result is a war of words in which results that are artifacts of procedure are conflated with facts of existence.

    The consequences are tremendous, but the greatest of the calamities as regard to scientific advance is the preference of model over observation. Models are clean, precise and can be manipulated over and over again. Observations are what they are; any modification, as in “adjustments” or “corrections” are justifiably suspect and debatable. The IPCC like models and hate observation, including those recently at CERN wrt GCR creation of (micro) nucleation sites for cloud droplets. The way that proceducal “truths” trump representational truths shows up in what I call “Trenberth Events”, after, of course, Dr. Trenberth.

    Trenberth Events are common in climate science, but perhaps everywhere, including the work of Dr. L. A Trenberth Event is an observation that is at variance with model that results in the rejection of the observation, not a modification of the model. There are Positive and Negative Events, depending on whether the unacceptable observation is made (Positive) or not made (Negative).

    The first and defining one is is Trenberth’s “missing heat”. This would be a Negative TE: he can’t find 0.58 W/m2 in the near surface ocean data, so rather than saying he must be viewing the world wrong, he says that it is “hiding” in the deep ocean – no data to say that, but there you are, problem with the model solved. Another Negative TE is the mid-tropopheric hotspot: the 19 million balloon-borne radiosondes are inadequate. A Positive TE is the increase of Antarctic ice: relative to the Arctic, the numbers are small, so the increase really doesn’t exist. The CERN GCR experiment is a Positive TE: the nuclei are too small to create droplets and we are not going to continue experiments to see if the nuclei will grow (in nature) because, well, the nuclei are too small.

    I could go on, but the points is clear already.

    Trenberth Events look to me to account for Lewandowsky’s results. When we say that only 4 out of 1300 “events” support the conclusion, like the “97%” consenus that is 75 out of 10,000 (or so) self-replies, the answer is that the 4 (et al) numbers are correct. The situation is that the other 1296 replies are “wrong”, i.e. inappropriate respondents.

    Trenberth Events are the signs that belief is stronger than reason, that a conclusion reached has more life than the questioning attitude that earlier lead to the investigation behind the conclusion.

    During Galileo’s time, there were theologians who refused to look through a telescope to see the phases of Venus or the satellites of Jupiter, observations that challenged their geocentric and supposedly Biblical view of the universe. Those observations would have been Positive Trenberth Events, and the theologians behaved the same way that Trenberth does now with regard to all the Argo data: the problem lay with the telescope, not the model the Church held. And to hold that the telescope revealed truely was simply to prevent the continued development of God’s world as He would have it.

    Dr. L: Popes 500 years ago would have canonized you. Congratulations.

  6. hum says:

    Gotta go with Naomi. She has to take a break from talking at least sometimes.

  7. diogenes says:

    I don’t get it. Bristol University used to be considered one of the top 6 universities in the UKI. How can such a charlatn obtain a chair at a reputable university? Maybe a polite email to the Chancellor is required, asking why they are employing such a buffoon?

  8. alexjc38 says:

    Stephan Lewandowsky is an avid rock-climber, so if there are plenty of coconut palms on this desert island, I think he’d be a good choice, providing he’s also amenable to shinning up trees (I couldn’t do it, as I hate heights.)

    Thinking about it, though, the Golden Lion Tamarind Monkey might be equally useful, in that regard.

    So those would be my choices – Stephan (1) or otherwise the monkey (10).

  9. dearieme says:

    “Bristol University used to be considered one of the top 6 universities in the UK”: by whom?

  10. j ferguson says:

    My choice would be Lewandowsky. I would think it undeniable (oops) that his study is highly original. I deduce from that that he is a superlative first-guesser. He needs a superlative second-guesser; moi. I think we could have a wonderful time clarifying the objectives of studies related to his first ill-fated effort and devising a more effective sequence of surveys to get at them.

    I also suspect he’s a very congenial guy based on the benefits people keep raining on him.

  11. Foxgoose says:

    Gotta be Lew.

    He’s the only one I could see myself killing and eating, without a trace of regret or squeamishness, when the food ran out.

    (Will this get me a mention in the “Australian National Climatological Death Threat Database”?)

  12. j ferguson says:

    bravo, foxgoose.

  13. diogenes says:

    @dearieme

    The last time I looked at the THE World Rankings, Bristol was 6th in the UK but tahat was a few years ago:

    http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/2010-11/world-ranking/region/europe

  14. Don B says:

    Now Scientific American is quoting the Lew paper…..

    “Interestingly, belief in conspiracy theories has recently been linked to the rejection of science. In a paper published in Psychological Science, Stephen Lewandowsky and colleagues investigated the relation between acceptance of science and conspiricist thinking patterns. While the authors’ survey was not representative of the general population, results suggest that (controlling for other important factors) belief in multiple conspiracy theories significantly predicted the rejection of important scientific conclusions, such as climate science or the fact that smoking causes lung cancer.”

    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=moon-landing-faked-why-people-believe-conspiracy-theories

  15. Kendra says:

    DonB, someone just posted that on FB. My comment, Lewandowsky being taken seriously made the whole article suspect (comment will probably be ignored).

  16. Mooloo says:

    The one with the biggest tits, of course!

    (For those that don’t know the joke, it can be found at: http://www.ebaumsworld.com/jokes/read/196639/ )

    Actually Monbiot. Because he’s the only one I would trust to actually question his prior beliefs when presented with over-whelming evidence. The rest would get some hair-brained scheme to “save water” by drinking our urine based on some half-remember Bear Grylls program. Or die of anemia by trying to go vegan because they weren’t prepared to kill any animals to stay alive.

  17. Gee I did not know that Mr Toilet paper was gone from WA. He probably decided to leave as the political situation is starting to warm up and come this Sept 14 the Gillard government will be gone and the Labour party after that date will be a fabulous mess for the next 20 years.

    Good riddance to bad rubbish, pity the poms now have to put up with his stupid mumblings.

  18. Skiphil says:

    Lew-spew alert!!

    Scientific American blog spouts Lewandowsky propaganda

    “…Unfortunately it’s not easy to disabuse people of a conspiracy mindset since as the article notes, presenting evidence to the contrary only makes them more convinced of the diabolical success of the supposed conspiracy. The one thing we can do is to at least point out to climate change denialists how their beliefs are in fact conspiratorial. Demonstrate the features that climate change conspiracies share with 9/11 denial and Pearl Harbor revisionism….”

  19. DGH says:

    Geoff,

    When I attempt to post a comment at Frontiers In Recursive Theory following yours dated April 11 2013,

    see http://www.frontiersin.org/Personality_Science_and_Individual_Differences/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00073/abstract

    i am immediately redirected to a page at talking climate dot org. Weird. I hate to speculate why this is happening lest I end up in Recursive Fury Part Deux.

    Has that already been noted in the blogs?

    DGH

  20. DGH
    Barry Woods told me about this. I just tried an hour ago and the comment appeared OK at Frontiersin. (I deleted it straight away as it was irrelevant).
    I know nothing about how these things work. Does it mean that there had been some contact between the two blogs which left a link in place? Adam Corner has no papers published at Frontiers, an Lewandowsky hasn’t been mentioned at Talkingclimate as far as I can tell since Corner’s article of August 2012.
    Here’s an interesting thing. If you search for Lewandowsky in the Climate Communication Database at the top of TalkingClimate’s Homepage, only one paper comes up, the uncontroversial (as far as I know) “The pivotal role of perceived scientific consensus in acceptance of science”.
    You could argue that “Moon Hoax” and “Recursive Theory” are not about Climate Communication. Or does Talkingclimate know something about the other two papers that we don’t?

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