Stephan Is At It Again (part one)

Lewandowsky has a new paper out on climate scepticism and conspiracy ideation – his third.

You will remember that the first one (actually the second to be published, though the first to be publicised) Lewandowsky, Oberauer and Gignac 2012 (LOG12 or “Moon Hoax”) found that 2% of climate sceptics believed that the moon landing was a hoax, compared with only 1% of warmists. This result was headlined in the title of the paper, making Lewandowsky a laughing stock among researchers everywhere.

The second paper, Lewandowsky, Cook, Oberauer and Marriot 2013 (LCOM 13 or “Recursive Fury”) has been removed pending an enquiry, following complaints from people named in the paper as being “conspiracist ideationists”.

The third paper “The Role of Conspiracist Ideation and Worldviews in Predicting Rejection of Science” (Lewandowsky , Gignac, Oberauer 2013, or LGO13 for short) ia available at:

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0075637

and is accompanied by an article with FAQs by Lewandowsky at:

http://www.shapingtomorrowsworld.org/lewandowskyFAQPLoS1.html

There’s also an article in the Guardian at

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/planet-oz/2013/oct/02/climate-change-denial-skeptics-psychology-study-conspiracy-theories

A quick look at the paper has left me with a strong sense of déjà vu, accompanied by an even stronger feeling of ennui, and the question: What the hell is going on in social science?

LGO13 is an opinion poll coducted among a  thousand-strong representative sample of the population of the USA. From a quick look it seems to be about as interesting as dozens of opinion polls on this kind of subject, the only difference between this paper and your average MORI poll being that Lewandowsky has done some cross correlations. The fact that there may be a significant overlap between the 20% of respondents who think that climate change is a hoax and the 18% who think that Lady Di was murdered is about as interesting as the fact that it tends to rain on cloudy days. (Does that mean I think Lady Di’s murder was caused by climate change? I don’t think so). Some people believe everything they read in the papers; some don’t believe anything. About a quarter to a third of Americans have no opinion on most subjects. The deaths of  John Kennedy and Martin Luther King happened before most Americans were born. Why should they care? Conservatives don’t like being lectured by Greens about changing their lifestyles. Who’d have thought it?

As always in these papers, the substantive findings occupy a tiny part of the paper, most of the rest being given over to quoting from other papers, almost all of which have already been quoted in Moon Hoax and Recursive Fury, and none of which are any more relevant to this study than to the previous ones.

Lewandowsky is like some mad litigant shuffling from one court to another, brandishing  the same old bundles of papers: “Look, Your Honour! Anti Semitism in Malaysia! Homophobia among men who have sex with other men in South Africa! It all fits!”

It’s when one turns to the FAQs published at the University of Western Australia’s Shapingtomorrowsworld site that one gets the feeling that Lewandowsky is losing touch with reality. He seems so hopelessly confused about the nature of his own research.

LOG12 was about the views of “the denizens of climate blogs” – a tiny group of the world’s population, numbering no more than a few tens of thousands – and Lewandowsky made it perfectly clear that he was interested in nailing a certain set of beliefs on a certain group of people, going so far as to name one of them – Steve McIntyre – and referring clearly to a second – Anthony Watts – in the first paper, and accusing both of them, plus me and Jo Nova and a blogger called ROM, of being conspiracist ideationists in the second.

Fair enough; he doesn’t like us, and he managed to fool a couple of prestigious psychology  journals into publishing the by-products of his silly vendetta. But this paper is on an entirely different matter, with an entirely different  sample. The  thousand denizens of Tamino’s and Scott Mandia’s virulent blogs, plus John Cook’s Twitter followers who formed the self-selected subjects of the first study, and the hundred or so Lew-selected blog commenters who were the subjects of the second study, have absolutely nothing to do with the subjects of the third study, who are average Americans, being asked a highly disparate battery of questions about their opinions on a variety of political and social questions. Yet Lewandowsky seems incapable of keeping his attention on the subject of his own paper.

The first FAQ starts off like this:

Q: What are the theoretical reasons for conducting this research?

A: There is a long-standing tradition of epistemological enquiry in philosophy that seeks to differentiate between justifiable (and potentially scientific) knowledge on the one hand, and conspiracy theorizing on the other…   

To which one can only reply: “No there isn’t.” Philosophers are not interested in conspiracy theories. It’s way off-topic for them. The one paper quoted over and over by Lewandowsky is an essay by one Keeley, the musings of a philosopher on what a conspiracy theory might be.

And what in the name of Socrates  is “justifiable knowledge” when it’s at home?

There are eleven FAQs. Let’s skip to number six, which actually poses the question which a reader of the paper might ask:

Q: What is most surprising about our results?

A: The involvement of conspiratorial thinking in the rejection of science is not very surprising… Similarly, the important role of free-market worldviews in the rejection of climate science is also not surprising… What is surprising, and in our view quite remarkable, is the absence of any role of free-market worldview or conservatism in the rejection of GM foods, and their rather weak (and mutually opposing) role in the rejection of vaccinations. As we note in the paper, these results fly in the face of media speculation which—based on anecdotal evidence—ascribed opposition to vaccinations and GM foods to the political left. We find no evidence for this association concerning GM foods, and only weak evidence in the case of vaccinations. (Vaccinations are a nuanced beast and the article explores those nuances in greater depth.)

Well blow me down. Opposition to GM foods doesn’t necessarily come from Liberals. Maybe it comes equally from Liberals and from Conservatives. Or maybe from people who are neither, or maybe equally from mad redneck conservatives and equally mad green activists. Who knows? Lewandowsky doesn’t, and this is his most important finding. He doesn’t know because he didn’t ask, and he didn’t ask because he doesn’t care.

[End of Part 1. Rest after I’ve moved house]

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5 Responses to Stephan Is At It Again (part one)

  1. Pingback: REALITY CHECK: Conspiracy Theorists Are More Likely To Disavow Vaccines, Climate Science And GM Foods | pundit from another planet

  2. manicbeancounter says:

    At least 36 of the questions in this paper were trialed at a survey at
    http://watchingthedeniers.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/take-this-test-please-uni-of-wa-survey-on-science-and-values/
    This I evaluated a few hours later at http://manicbeancounter.com/2012/06/07/australian-climate-science-opinion-survey-confirming-prejudices/.
    When LOG12 was published two weeks later I at first thought this was the paper.
    Two things that failed to make the cut for the final questionnaire. First were 15 questions on Christianity and Evolution. Imagine the outcry if Lewandowsky had tried to link Christian belief to “denial of the climate”.
    Second were 13, very similar, questions on corporations, written by someone with an extremely anti-business viewpoint.

    Given that one of the co-authors of the “Recursive Fury” paper is the proprietor of “Watching the Deniers” blog, there is a backstory awaiting to be pursued.

  3. “Neither my reference to my criticisms of Lewandowsky’s paper on my blog, ….”

    Why would they bother? You don’t like the results – that’s clear, but so what?. Big deal. NEWSFLASH: Guy with blog dislikes results of scientific study!!!

    You’re a headline from ‘The Onion’

    Science denial has often been shown to be A) politically motivated, and B) inhabited by conspiracy theorists

    The recent LOG work only reinforces what we already knew. Though ‘we’ in this case may exclude *you* since it depends on knowledge of scientific history.

    http://rabett.blogspot.com/2013/10/lewandowsky-invariance.html

  4. Kevin O’Neill
    Lewandowsky’s headline claim about the link between Moon Landing Hoax denialists and climate scepticism is based on a sample of ten anonymous and probably fake responses.
    Why do you defend it? Why does Chris Mooney, or the Royal Society?

  5. Pingback: Mann and Lewandowsky go psychotic on skeptics | Watts Up With That?

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