This continuation of the previous post refers to the article by Professor Lewandowsky at
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”
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?
“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.
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].
“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.