Stephan Is At It Again (2) The FAQs

This continuation of the previous post refers to the article by Professor Lewandowsky at

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

I’ll deal with Lewandowsky’s FAQs, not in the order that they are presented, but in an order that attempts to bring out their logic. Lewandowsky doesn’t number them. The numbering is mine.

FAQ 1 states falsely, that  “There is a long-standing tradition of epistemological enquiry in philosophy about conspiracy theorising”, that the baton has recently been taken up by cognitive science and that “the present paper fits squarely within this theoretical tradition”, which is fair enough. If a battery of questions tagged on to an online survey about attitudes to dog food is what counts as cognitive science these days, so be it. Lewandowsky is the Prof with the medal from the Royal Society, not me.

FAQ 6 is about his most important finding, which is about the non-correlation of opposition to vaccination and GM foods with political opinions, results which, he says “fly in the face of media speculation which  – based on anecdotal evidence – ascribed opposition to vaccinations and GM foods to the political left”.

Which is quite true, except that the anecdotal evidence in the case of opposition to GM foods is based on the hundreds of people who trash experimental crops (who tend to be environmentalists) while Lewandowsky’s survey is picking up the tens of millions who say in answer to a survey :“GM crops? No, I don’t like the sound of that.” 

How could the political tendencies of the former group possibly be picked up in a survey of the latter? Lewandowsky is saying that the most surprising finding of his survey, designed to generalise the findings of a survey about conspirationist ideation among bloggers by surveying the general public, is that he doesn’t know anything about the political views of people who oppose GM crops and vaccination. But he wasn’t looking for that. He was looking for evidence that people who think that the government is not telling the truth about the death of JFK also think they are not telling the truth about climate change. What a surprise. But what has that got to do with Senator Imhofe having written a book with “Global Warming Conspiracy” in the title, given that 97%* of respondents have never heard of Senator Imhofe or his book?

*(A figure which I intend to demonstrate in research to be conducted as soon as I am named Associate Professor at a suitable university)

FAQs 3-5 are as follows:

Q: Are all skeptics “deniers”?

A: No […]

Q: Is there no room for debate?

A: Of course there is […] 

Q: Do the results imply that people who reject scientific findings should be silenced?

A: No. Far from it  […] 

These are the honeyed tones of sweet reason. Except that in FAQs 3&4 he insists that the debate must take place in the peer reviewed scientific journals, and in FAQ 5 he adds this proviso:

everybody is most welcome to contribute opinions and potential data (in the form of blog comments and hypotheses) to the public sphere. However, the public has a right to be informed about why people voice such hypotheses and how they differ from sound scientific reasoning.” 

In other words: “You’re free to say what you like on blogs, and I’m free to point out why your opinions are unscientific in the peer-reviewed press.”  

Back to FAQ 2, which I reproduce in its entirety:

Q: What are the pragmatic implications of this research?

A: The public has a right to be informed about the risks societies are facing, from issues such as climate change or the introduction of GM foods to often-fatal diseases that are preventable by childhood vaccinations. Sadly, the public is currently prevented from exercising that right, especially as it relates to climate change, because the media coverage in many countries fails to reflect the overwhelming and strengthening scientific consensus. In addition to the widespread misleading representation of scientific issues in the media, there are cognitive and motivational factors that cause some people to deny well-established scientific facts, such as climate change or the benefits of vaccinations. Because such denial, when sufficiently vocal, can exacerbate the media misrepresentations, this alone renders the present research important. Moreover, its importance is enhanced by the well-known fact that people cannot readily dismiss misinformation unless they are provided with reasons for why false information was propagated in the first place. Thus, for the public to regain its right to accurate knowledge of the risks we are facing, it must also understand what motivates people to deny those risks.

While the ostensible subject is the laudable defence of the right to be informed on a (presumably) wide variety of subjects involving “the risks societies are facing”, Lewandowsky rather gves the game away with the three highlighted phrases, which link to:

1) The recent paper by Cook, Nuccitelli et al. claiming that 97% of relevant published papers taking a position on Anthropogenic Global Warming  endorsed the consensus position.

2) A newspaper article by Bob Ward criticising another newspaper article by David Rose on the absence of global warming.

3) A blog publicity for an anti-sceptic pamphlet by Lewandowsky and Cook, which was conceived as a counter to a sceptic pamphlet by Jo Nova, who is one of the five people named as a conspiracy ideationist in Lewandowsky’s  second paper, the one that has been temporarily removed from the journal’s site bcause of complaints by a number of people who claim to have been defamed, either in the paper, or in the supplementary material compiled by second author Cook.

Skipping over FAQ 6, (which admitted that the most interesting finding was about GM food and vaccination) we come to FAQ 7:

Q: Are all “deniers” conspiracy theorists?

A: No. There are many other variables that drive people to deny inconvenient scientific facts […] However, […] there is a discernible conspiracist element to science denial […] In fact, our work shows that those beliefs are not exactly widespread: Not only is the number of climate “deniers” relatively small – and highly disproportionate to the public noise they generate – but conspiratorial thinking accounts for only a modest component of the variance in people’s opinions about climate change […]

Note that Lewandowsky slides once again from talk of “inconvenient scientific facts” and “science denial“ to the subject of “climate deniers” , and that the two links from the highlighted passages above are to:

1) an article by Guardian environment Fiona Harvey headed: Leading climate change economist brands sceptics ‘irrational’: Lord Stern says governments should treat as ‘just noise’ what sceptics say on climate change”

and:

2) an article by Lewandowsky himself on the subject.

On to FAQ 8:

“Q: How might people who reject scientific findings deal with the now fairly well-established fact that denial involves a measure of conspiratorial thinking?”

[or: now that we’ve established scientifically that you’re a wifebeater, when did you stop?]

“A: Some ideologically-motivated people who oppose the scientific consensus on climate change have recognized that their proximity to conspiratorial thinking is discomforting and have publically distanced themselves from that component of denial, in particular its anti-Semitic element…”

The link here is to a sceptic Australian journalist who denied a link with an activist who propounded anti-semitic theories.

WHAT THE FAQ HAS A NON-STORY ABOUT AN AUSTRALIAN JOURNALIST FALSELY ACCUSED OF ANTI-SEMITISM TO DO WITH A SURVEY OF OPINIONS ABOUT SCIENCE AMONG A SAMPLE OF AMERICANS?

How can a distinguished professor of psychology fighting for his reputation get so far off-topic that within a single sentence he’s gone from discussing his supposedly original contribution to the cognitive science of conspiratorial thinking among a random sample of Americans to the subject of an Australian journalist wrongly accused of supporting the views of someone who believes that the woes of the world were due to a cabal of Jewish bankers?

“Frequently asked questions” in this context can only mean: “Questions that I, Profesor Lewandowsky, expect to be asked about this paper.”

Professor Lewandowsky, do you really believe that people reading your paper are going to start asking questions about Jewish bankers? Or about the conspiracy theories of some Australian  person concerning Jewish bankers? No? Then what the FAQ are you on about?

FAQ9:

“Q: Where should skeptical members of the public who are confused by the denial campaign turn to obtain further information or to voice their concerns?

A: In addition to the peer-reviewed literature, there are several excellent websites that disseminate  evidence-based information about climate change. I list a few of them here:

IPCC, Skepticalscience, Tamino

My colleague at Bristol, Dr. Tamsin Edwards, also runs a blog on which she seeks to answer questions by members of the public.” 

Indeed she does. She also replies politely to the very people you accuse of being paranoid. She has never accused her critics of losing data under a pizza, as you have. And she does not lie about the sources of her data.

But that’s not the point, is it? What on earth are you doing recommending sources of information of any kind in the context of a scientific study of people’s beliefs? Some people believe one thing, some believe another. And here you are, at the same time reporting on what they believe in a supposedly scientific study, and telling them what to believe by recommending certain websites, including some with which you are personally associated.

“…members of the public who are confused by the denial campaign..”

This is Jehovah’s Witness talk. Stop it. You’re a laughing stock.

FAQ10:

Q: How does this paper mesh with other recent publications, such as (LOG12) that identified conspiratorial thinking among visitors to climate blogs?

A: There has been some recent concern about the replicability of scientific findings, particularly in the social sciences. [Oh really? I haven’t heard anything about that – certainly not here, except of course the concern voiced by us sceptics about the papers by Lewandowsky et al] This concern is valid and it is best met by showing that phenomena replicate, preferably under a variety of different circumstances. Thus, it is important that the famous “hockeystick” graph, which shows that current global temperatures are likely unprecedented in the last 1000 years or more, has been replicated many times. [Quite. But the hockeystick graph has nothing to do with the social sciences, and hasn’t been replicated, but simply repeated, with slight variations of imput data (You put the strip bark in, the strip bark out. In, out, in, out, you shake it all about. You do the hocus pocus and you turn it upside down. That’s what it’s all about. Ooooh, the hocus pocus…)]. Equally, it is important to establish that the association between science denial and conspiratorial thinking is robust and holds under a variety of circumstances. [Important for your career, perhaps. What’s important for us, and for the science, is to establish the truth].

FAQ 11:

“Q: How does this study differ from the one reported by LOG?

A: There are several notable differences […]”

Indeed there are. And many of them accord with recommendations made by commenters here and at SkepticalScience and at other blogs where sceptics were free with their criticisms of LOG12.

But instead of thanking your critics for their positive suggestions, you defamed them as paranoid conspiracy ideationists. And then you lied about the source of your self-selected sample to Barry Woods. And your colleague John Cook lied to me about it. So, instead of withdrawing the paper which had been shown to contain false statements before publication, you made him joint author of the follow-up paper which defamed Barry and me and dozens of others, and which was peer reviewed by a colleague of yours whom you had cited a half a dozen times in these papers – an expert in the appreciation of female bottoms – a paper which had to be withdrawn twice and rewritten in response to criticisms, and which was peer reviewed four times, before being “removed” for review, a review which has been going on now for over six months, I believe.

This is not the moment for replication,  Professor Lewandowsky, but for refutation and retraction – or retribution.

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14 Responses to Stephan Is At It Again (2) The FAQs

  1. Mooloo says:

    A: There has been some recent concern about the replicability of scientific findings, particularly in the social sciences. [Oh really? I haven’t heard anything about that

    Actually there’s been an increasingly large stink about this, as a couple of quite high profile social “scientists” have been caught making thing up.

    Diederik Stapel is the most recent example.

    There have been studies where quite sizeable number admit it, and so presumably the number who do it is much higher:
    http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0005738

    And there’s been plenty more shown to have “findings” as a result of data dredging.

    I love your righteous indignation about old Lewandowsky, but his type are a dime a dozen in social sciences. The branch of “Education” is utterly littered with them — half rate minds trying to push some ridiculous theory.

  2. alexjc38 says:

    Just wondering what on earth Tamsin makes of Lewandowsky and his methods, but can see why she might need to be circumspect.

  3. Katabasis says:

    ” “There is a long-standing tradition of epistemological enquiry in philosophy about conspiracy theorising”,”

    – Does he provide any references for this whatsoever? Apologies for the argument from authority here but it is apropos: I have two degrees in philosophy and this is the first I’ve heard of such a tradition. And most of the philosophers I know would probably characterise the process of conspiracy theorising as perfectly rational in environments where secrets are kept, data is withheld and words are purposefully twisted to suit an agenda.

  4. catweazle666 says:

    “There is a long-standing tradition of epistemological enquiry in philosophy about conspiracy theorising”

    Ah, another idiot who has eaten a dictionary.

    What a moron.

  5. johnbuk says:

    I find it incredible that a man such as Lewandowsky can garner employment, so much attention and comment for what is effectively being a “professional” Troll.

    I understand why you Geoff and others, who have been personally singled out by this idiot, wish to reply to his infantile ravings but in the end I believe this only serves to boost his “reputation” amongst Cook et al and the rest of CAGW tribe. Actually I wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear that a lot of them are secretly embarrassed by this imbecile spouting on their behalf. No true scientist would take anything he says seriously.

    My only concern as a UK tax payer is that I am now paying for his continued employment. The USA and OZ are well shot of him.

    On a personal note Geoff I thoroughly enjoy and learn a lot from your blog posts both here and elsewhere and thank you for keeping the flag flying on behalf of us “deniers”, “conspiracy ideationists” whatever the latest description is from our concerned, moral superiors – I’m happy to wear them all as a badge of pride.

  6. JohnBuk
    Thanks for the support. It’s always good to know someone reads my long, detailed, and – frankly – sometimes boring posts. But from time to time you have to counter the nonsense in detail, which means transmitting more than any sane human being could want to read on the subject.
    On the subject of Lewandowsky’s reputation, I see no sign that it has suffered as a result of his research, or of Lewandowsky’s substantial self-publicity efforts. An interview with Chris Mooney, favourable articles at Huffington Post, Scientific American, the Guardian – and above all the fact that “conspiracy theorist” has entered the political vocabulary, alongside “denalist” and “flat-earther” as a term to describe climate sceptics – these are all signs of the success of his message.
    One thing that fascinates me is the relationship between Cook and Lewandowsky. The SkepticalScience Treehut Files reveal that Cook was quite infatuated with Stephan. He mentions him over fifty times, but absolutely no-one in the voluminous correspondence ever replies. Then Cook dumped him in it quite seriously by not posting the link to the LOG13 survey at SkepticalScience, and carried on writing about the research in private mails as if it was something to be done in the future, when he knew perfectly well it had already happened.
    When the story broke two years later, and Barry Woods revealed to Lew (if he didn’t already know) that Cook had let him down, and even misled him, as we can see in the FOI material obtained by Simon Turnill, Lew appointed Cook second author and got him a post as assistant professor. Why? Does Lew need Cook as much as Cook needs Lew? There’s a mystery there.

  7. foxgoose says:

    Alex

    I had a Twitter exchange with Tamsin on that subject.

    She sad she was involved in discussions with him which she’d rather not comment on – OWTTE.

    I think she tries to tread a fine line, as she sees it, “twixt scylla & charybdis”.

  8. Johnbuk says:

    Geoff, I’d always assumed Lew kept Cook as his Gopher (didn’t Cook run his website – not very well as it turned out). I guess he threw him some crumbs now and then to maintain the adult /child relationship. Perhaps Cook learnt too much during his doting phase?

  9. mikep says:

    Not looked at it in detail, but the simple correlation between conspiracy ideation and climate scepicism, although statistically significant, is tiny. So it seems that if you are given to conspiracy theories you might be very slightly more likely to be a climate sceptic, but most climate sceptics are not conspiracy theorists. And that assumes his conspiracy ideation and climate sceptic categories are properly constructed…

  10. Katabasis
    The one reference he provides (Keeley, B. L. (1999). Of conspiracy theories. The Journal of Philosophy, 96 , 109{126. doi: 10.2307/2564659) seems to be no longer available, though I remember reading it earlier this year. With your two degrees in the subject (I have just the one) you’ll understand my objection; philosophy can have nothing to say about the truth or reasonableness of this or that opinion about what’s happens in the world (though Keeley quotes Hegel at the head of his article, so perhaps he’d disagree).
    Keeley, as far as I remember, wrote an interesting though non-philosophical article about what a conspiracy theory might be, starting out from a discussion of Roswell and the Kennedy Assassination. Keeley says on page one (the only page still available on the net) “Conspiracy theory has not been given much attention by philosophers. In fact, I am aware of only a handful of discussions..” which is in direct contradiction with what Lewandowsky says, quoting Keeley.
    It’s as if you read an article in the Watchtower which said: “see Paul: Epistle to the Salopians” and you turned to the relevant text and it said: “Don’t take any notice of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, o inhabitants of Shropshire. They’re rubbish.”
    (Actually, St Paul is mistaken on this point. Jehovah’s Witnesses are jolly nice people in my experience, and their publications are highly professional and rather sympathique, I find. Their insistence on the unity of family of man irrespective of race is a plus point, which can be found also in the publications of green climate warmist propaganda. But that shouldn’t count against them.)

  11. Mooloo
    Thanks for the information and the link. This subject deserves a more serious treatment than I am likely to give it.
    When I worked in market research (the poor cousin of sociology) a century ago, the idea of making up results was unheard of. For a start, we used real interviewers, and their data was checked by real supervisors, under the control of real people back in the office. Of course, technological advances have made all that unnecessary, and you can now get facts straight off the net.
    How long before some internet company, specialised in infiltrating on-line data collection services, offers to provide you with the Research Results-u-Like? Or has it already happened?
    Tomorrow belongs to those who have the computer savvy to construct a convincing pi chart.

  12. johanna says:

    What I find odd is that Lew seems to really think he is onto some dazzling new insight with this line of argument (I wouldn’t dignify it with terms like “thought” or “work”).

    Leaving aside the sloppy methodology, which no amount of correction over a long period seems to have any effect on, the actual subject is strange, to put it politely.

    There has been work done over the years which touches on conspiracy theories and theorists. If he had bothered to read any of it, he would know that it is much more nuanced than the way he presents it. The topic intersects closely with cultural differences, varying definitions of mental illness, social and political history etc.

    I wrote elsewhere this week re the Greenpeace activists being detained in Russia, pointing out that Russians do not see the world in the same way as Western liberals do, for good reasons. The same applies to much of Eastern and Central Europe. It is nonsense to try to apply a concept like “conspiracy ideation” as though there is some gold standard definition with universal application.

    He also should know, having lived and worked in the US, Australia and now the UK that while they may appear superficially similar, there are distinct differences in political culture and issue profiles between them. These differences are even greater once we venture into the non-English speaking world.

    To the extent that political conservatives generally favour less government intervention in the economy (and often also in personal decisions) than conventional left-wingers, it is hardly surprising that they tend to oppose policies such as subsidised “green” energy. This is not exactly ground-breaking stuff.

    But the “conspiracy ideation” thing is intellectually incoherent, and even if his surveys were properly carried out and interpreted, they would add nothing meaningful to the sum of human knowledge.

  13. Johanna
    You mention work that has been done over the years which touches on conspiracy theories and theorists. Do you have any references? I intend to do an article on Lew’s references one day.
    The little research I’ve done tends to confirm what Mooloo says in the first comment here. But there’s no way of countering Lewandowsky academically, since the very structure of the peer-reviewed literature makes it impossible to develop an intelligent argument, even if you had one. Maybe that’s why Lewandowsky and his kind always meet any criticisms with the demand to publish in the peer-reviewed literature. Which we can’t, because no-one has ever written anything in the peer-reviewed literature that we can quote saying: “Conspiracies happen: so what?” (Actually, Herodotus did. And Thucydides. But they weren’t peer-reviewed). So what are supposed to do, become experts on Greek historiography before we can point out what nonsense Lewandowsky spouts?
    For example, Lewandowsky quotes frequently Diethelm and Mackay on their theory of denialism. But they’re health researchers interested in the dangers of smoking, and all their examples come from the story of the tobacco industry’s campaign to resist limitations on cigarette advertising. So the accusation that climate sceptics are denialists becomes a fact, because it’s in Lewandowsky’s peer-reviewed article, which quotes another peer-reviewed article about the scandal of the tobacco industry’s underhand methods, which quotes a blog on denialism run by the Hoofnagel brothers.
    Now, I’m the last person to denigrate someone for expressing his opinions on a blog, but in the end, Lewandowsky v. Chambers comes down to one blogger’s word against another’s.
    His other serious source is a sociologist, Goertzel, who says, among many other things, that “Despite this historical evidence (that conspiratorial thinking was central to antisemitism) conspiratorial thinking was not part of the authoritarianism syndrome as originally conceptualized by Adorno, et al. (1950)” which is hardly surprising, since conspiracist ideation, as conceived by Lewandowsky, is essentially anti-authoritarian. In all the examples of conspiracies used by Lewandowsky, scepticism involves doubting the word of the US government, (except the death of Lady Di, which involves doubting the word of the British government, which is sometimes regarded as an organ independent of Washington).
    Lewandowsky, the accuser of the climate sceptic conspiracist ideationists, is a fervent defender of orthodoxy and of unquestioning belief in The Science, as established by official government appointed bodies. Lewandowsky the editor of a book criticising government-condoned torture, is a resistant, whose courage I salute. There’s a contradiction here, and I think the psychologists have a word for it.

  14. johanna says:

    Hi Geoff

    I confess that it is many years since I did some reading on this, and don’t have any references to hand. But I do remember the main strands of the debate as follows:

    1.Cultural differences – this is about the mainstream patterns of thought and perception in various cultures. For example, we know that the way that people react to bereavement (a major event) varies enormously between cultures, and that behaviour which would be inappropriate in one culture (e.g. weeping and wailing and losing control in public) is praiseworthy in another. It includes things like belief in Fate and predestination, which would tend to mitigate against “conspiracist” modes of thought. Prevailing religious beliefs are important in this context.

    2. Varying definitions of mental illness – there is quite a bit of literature about cross cultural and cross national definitions of mental illness. What is relevant here are perceptions of what we call paranoia and delusions, which vary widely. In India, for example, seemingly bizarre behaviour by religious mystics is accepted as quite normal, even if the viewer does not agree with what is being done. I seem to recall an Australian study about the very high (compared to the rest of the population) proportion of migrants from the former Yugoslavia with very high levels of paranoia and delusions, often expressed violently. Then there are all the religious cults around the world. There are plenty more examples like this – the point being that there is no objective definition of paranoia and delusions.

    3. Social and political history – people from countries with turbulent histories of war, invasion, oppression and so on are, not surprisingly, less trusting and accepting than people from countries where peace and stability has been the norm. This is a perfectly rational response, although it moves them along the spectrum towards being quick to suspect malevolent intent even when there is none.

    As you can see, all these perspectives overlap, and form a much more complex and nuanced picture than the cartoonish “concept” that Lewandowsky peddles.

    HTH

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