[Updated and slightly expanded 17-12-13 to clarify my objections to Sharman’s use of words]
Paul Matthews, In a comment to my last article, mentions “… a ‘new wave’ of sociologists who are starting to study the subject with objectivity and adopting a more scientific evidence-based approach.”
and cites as an example “Amelia Sharman, whose ‘Mapping the climate sceptical blogosphere’ is reasonably systematic and accurate, once you get past her kow-towing to the usual suspects in the introduction.”
I’ve just read Amelia Sharman’s paper. Her main conclusions are that:
– WUWT, Climate Audit, and JoNova are the most important climate sceptic blogs;
– they’re mainly interested in science, but also in policy and other things.
Well done Amelia. Only about a hundred thousand people knew that, namely WUWT’s regular readers (who are also readers of JoNova and Clmate Audit of course) but also possibly including one or two at the Grantham Institute.
Thanks to this paper, it will now be possible to say things like “WattsUpWithThat is a really popular blog, with lots of science in it (Sharman 2013)” in a scientific paper. Which would have been quite impossible, of course, before Amelia conducted her “degree centrality and node betweenness tests from social network analysis”.
Though I agree with Amelia’s main findings, I’m puzzled by how she managed to arrive at them, given that almost everything she says leading up to her conclusions is confused, or just plain wrong.
She seems unaware of the meaning of the ordinary English word “knowledge”, which she uses as a synonym for “data” or “evidence” or “information” or even “opinion”.
Paul Matthews says, in a second comment:
“With the Sharman paper, and academic papers generally, it’s best to wizz past the introduction and get to the content. The purpose of the intro is to cite and flatter the people who are likely to review the paper. If she had started with ‘Cook et al is a pile of crap and so is Doran and Zimmerman’ or words to that effect, the paper would have had no chance of being published.”
which is an interesting comment on peer-reviewed science. I’m all for politeness and civilised discourse. But lawyers and MPs (who rate among the least trusted professions) though they address their adversaries as “my honourable friend”, are not obliged to pretend that they agree with them. If justice was administered after the manner of peer-reviewed science, defence lawyers would begin their summing up: “Though my client is obviously guilty (Cocklecarrot 2013)…”
Which is pretty much Amelia Sharman’s method. She starts off:
“Evidence supporting the reality of climate change and its anthropogenic cause is overwhelming in the peer-reviewed literature (J. Cook et al. 2013; Doran and Zimmerman 2009)”.
No it’s not. Cook and Doran have nothing to say about evidence for anthropogenic climate change. All they do is tot up, either climate scientists’ opinions (Doran), or their own interpretations of what they think their opinions might be (Cook). There is no overwhelming evidence in the peer-reviewed literature, and neither Cook nor Doran claim that there is.
Her second sentence is:
“However, outside the paradigm of mainstream climate science and particularly in online environments, climate change knowledge is actively disputed (Corner et al. 2012; Hobson and Niemeyer 2012; Jacques et al. 2008; Poortinga et al. 2011; Washington and Cook 2011)”.
After the misuse of the word “evidence” for “opinion”, we have “knowledge” being used as a synonym for “opinion” or possibly “data” or “theory” or “fiddling the figures” or who know what. Amelia ignores, or is possibly unaware of, the fact that knowledge is, by definition, true, so anyone disputing it is wrong. She starts her scientific paper by declaring that climate sceptic blogs are wrong because they dispute the truth. No amount of post-normal flattery thereafter can alter that fact.
But she gives five citations to support the statement that “climate change knowledge is actively disputed”. If you accept her loose use of the word “knowledge”, then the statement is such an obvious truism that it’s somewhat surprising to find that none of her five citations actually support her assertion.
Corner et al. 2012 establishes that if you show 190 Welsh teenagers phony articles from the Irish Times and the Scotsman which you’ve written yourself, they tend to believe them – though Corner et al are unable to explain why. (Their most interesting finding was that supporters of the Green Party were the most likely to be climate sceptics – but that’s not relevant to this story).
From the Hobson and Niemeyer; 2012 abstract:
“…this paper discusses research into public reactions to projected climate change in the Australian Capital Region. Using Q Methodology and qualitative data, it outlines five discourses of scepticism and explores the impact regional-scale climate scenarios and a deliberative forum had on these discourses. Results show that both forms of intervention stimulate “discourse migration” amongst research participants. However, migrations are rarely sustained, and sceptical positions are infrequently dispelled outright, suggesting the relationship between climate scepticism, broader beliefs, and the methods used to inform and debate about climate change, are pivotal to comprehending and addressing this issue”. [emphasis mine]
I think it’s fairly clear from the above that the purpose of Hobson and Niemayer was to find ways to stop sceptics from being sceptical, at least in the Australian Capital Region. But their abstract contains nothing to support Sharman’s assertion that “climate change knowledge is actively disputed”
The main finding of Jacques et al. 2008 is that:
”over 92 per cent of environmentally sceptical books published between 1972 and 2005 are linked to conservative think tanks … We conclude that scepticism is a tactic of an elite-driven counter-movement designed to combat environmentalism..”
An “elite-driven counter-movement,” eh? As a conspiracy theory, it has potential. As support for Sharman’s thesis, not.
The Abstract for Poortinga et al. 2011 starts:
“This study presents a detailed investigation of public scepticism about anthropogenic climate change in Britain… The study found that climate scepticism is currently not widespread in Britain.”
So no support there for the assertion that “climate change knowledge is actively disputed”.
Washington and Cook 2011 is a book “Heads in the Sand” published in 2011.
The Amazon article says:
“Humans have always used denial. When we are afraid, guilty, confused, or when something interferes with our self-image, we tend to deny it. Yet denial is a delusion. When it impacts on the health of oneself, or society, or the world it becomes a pathology. Climate change denial is such a case. Paradoxically, as the climate science has become more certain, denial about the issue has increased. The paradox lies in the denial. There is a denial industry funded by the fossil fuel companies that literally denies the science, and seeks to confuse the public. There is denial within governments, where spin-doctors use ‘weasel words’ to pretend they are taking action. However there is also denial within most of us, the citizenry. We let denial prosper and we resist the science.
“Climate Change Denial explains the social science behind denial. It contains a detailed examination of the principal climate change denial arguments, from attacks on the integrity of scientists, to impossible expectations of proof and certainty to the cherry picking of data. Climate change can be solved – but only when we cease to deny that it exists. This book shows how we can break through denial, accept reality, and thus solve the climate crisis. It will engage scientists, university students, climate change activists as well as the general public seeking to roll back denial and act.”
Nothing there about “climate change knowledge” being “actively disputed”. Lots about “denial” though. Cook is an Evangelical Christian, and it shows. But Cook is also a proven liar. And he’s cited twice in the first two sentences of this paper.
Sharman’s first sentence is clearly false, and not supported by the two citations. Her second sentence is certainly true, but not supported by the five citations.
Scientists, along with doctors, are among the rare professionals who are trusted by around 80% of the public. But the public is wrong. Journalists and politicians (who are trusted by around 15% of the population) are infinitely more trustworthy. If thay tell an outright lie, they get jumped on by their colleagues. If a scientist tells a lie, he gets cited by the people who disagree with him, just in case he is called upon to peer-review their article. Conservatives do not feel obliged to cite socialists to defend their positions. Dominicans do not call on the support of Franciscans in every theological dispute.
And so to priests. If an Evangelical Preacher tells you that “The horseleech hath two daughters, crying, Give, give.” and cites Proverbs, you expect to find the citation in Proverbs, and not in Deuteronomy.
Evangelical Preachers are a surer source of information than social scientists – at least those working for the Grantham Institute.
[The citation continues: “There are three things that are never satisfied, yea, four things say not, It is enough: The grave; and the barren womb; the earth that is not filled with water; and the fire that saith not, It is enough.”]
And, yes, it’s in Proverbs.