Lew’s Conspiracist Classification Criteria

I intend to put up all my research on Lewandowsky’s new paper here as I complete it. I don’t expect many people to find it interesting. It is intended as a research tool for anyone who is preparing an analysis, a letter of complaint, or a scientific paper on the subject.

The full text of the “Conspiracist Classification Criteria” section of “Recurrent Fury” is reproduced as an appendix. I refer to Recurrent Fury” as RC2 and the original paper “Recursive Fury” as RC1.

I’ve already analysed the Conspiracist Classification Criteria of RC1 in the letter of complaint to Frontiers which I reproduced at https://geoffchambers.wordpress.com/2013/03/22/lews-talk-costs-libels/

and in more detail at https://geoffchambers.wordpress.com/2013/11/17/lews-thinking/

The Conspiracist Classification Criteria section in RC2 is essentially the same as in RC1. I note below the only significant changes – four of them. Bold type indicates a significant change, or text present in one version but not in the other.

1)

RC1: “First, the presumed intentions behind any conspiracy are invariably nefarious”

becomes:

RC2: “The first criterion is that the presumed motivations behind any assumed conspiracy are invariably nefarious or at least questionable

[comment: the toning down of the criterion renders it incoherent. So is it invariably nefarious or not? Obviously not, if it’s sometimes only questionable]

2)

RC1: “When presenting the results, we refer to this criterion by the acronym NI, for nefarious intention”

becomes:

RC2: “When presenting the results, we refer to this criterion as Questionable Motives, or QM for short

[comment: Description watered down pointlessly. Conspiratorial intentions are necessarily nefarious. It’s in the definition]

3)

RC1: “Thus, nothing is at it seems, and all evidence points to hidden agendas or some other meaning that only the conspiracy theorist is aware of. Accordingly, low trust (Goertzel, 1994) and paranoid ideation (Darwin et al., 2011) feature prominently among personality and attitudinal variables known to be associated with conspiracist ideation. The short label for this criterion is NS (for nihilistic skepticism).

becomes:

RC2: “Thus, nothing is at it seems, and all evidence points to hidden agendas or some other underlying causal mechanism. We label this criterion Overriding Suspicion or OS.

[comment: I pointed out somewhere that Geoertzel’s study found that conspiratorial beliefs were most prevalent among the young, blacks, and Hispanics, not in Lew’s target group of old white men. He had to go. I pointed out too that the word “paranoid” attached to a concept attached to named individuals was defamatory, so out it goes too. The word “nihilistic” was borrowed from a throwaway remark by Keeley in his philosophical musings on the meaning of conspiracy and just tagged on to “skepticism”. It’s science aping the worst sort of theology. Anything goes as long as there’s a source in scripture. Jesus wept. (John 11:35)]

4)

RC1: “’… the specifics of a conspiracy theory do not matter as much as the fact that it is a conspiracy theory at all’ (Wood et al., 2012, p. 771). Thus, the specific claims and assumptions being invoked by conspiracist ideation may well be fluctuating, but they are all revolving around the fixed belief that the official version is wrong. In consequence, it may not even matter if hypotheses are mutually contradictory, and the simultaneous belief in mutually exclusive theories – e.g., that Princess Diana was murdered but also faked her own death – has been identified as an aspect of conspiracist ideation (Wood et al., 2012). We label this criterion MbW, for “must be wrong.”

becomes:

RC2: “the specifics of a conspiracy theory do not matter as much as the fact that it is a conspiracy theory at all” (Wood et al., 2012, p. 5). We label this criterion Must be Wrong (MbW).

[comment: Steve McIntyre found, after intimidating and bullying Wood’s university with an FOI request, that the Princess Diana anecdote was baed on a sample of zero.]

So two or three of the changes correspond to criticisms made by McIntyre and me, and no doubt by others. Will our help be acknowledged in the supplemental material I wonder? Or did Lewandowsky come round to our point of view off his own bat?

Appendix: “Conspiracist Classification Criteria” section from “Recurrent Fury”

To process the corpus and to test for the presence of conspiracist discursive elements, we derived six criteria from the existing literature (see Table 3). Our criteria were exclusively psychological and hence did not hinge on the validity of the various hypotheses. This approach follows philosophical precedents that have examined the epistemology of conspiratorial theorizing irrespective of its truth value (e.g., Keeley, 1999; Sunstein & Vermeule, 2009). The approach also avoids the need to discuss or rebut the substance of any of the hypotheses.

The first criterion is that the presumed motivations behind any assumed conspiracy are invariably nefarious or at least questionable (Keeley, 1999): Conspiracist discourse never involves groups of people whose intent is to do good, as for example when planning a surprise birthday party. Instead, conspiracist discourse relies on the presumed deceptive intentions of the people or institutions responsible for the “official” account that is being questioned (Wood, Douglas, & Sutton, 2012). This criterion applies, for instance, when climate science and research on the harmful effects of DDT are interpreted as a globalist and environmentalist agenda designed to impoverish the West and push civilisation back into the stone age (Delingpole, 2011). When presenting the results, we refer to this criterion as Questionable Motives, or QM for short (see Table 3).

A corollary of the first criterion is that the person engaging in conspiracist discourse perceives and presents her- or himself as the victim of organized persecution. At least tacitly, people who hold conspiratorial views also perceive themselves as brave antagonists of the nefarious intentions of the conspiracy; that is, they are victims but also potential heros. The theme of the victimization and potential heroism features prominently in science denial, for example when isolated scientists who oppose the scientific consensus that HIV causes AIDS are presented as persecuted heros and are likened to Galileo (Kalichman, 2009; Wagner-Egger et al., 2011). We refer to this criterion as Persecution-Victimization or PV for short.

Third, conspiracist ideation is characterized by “(…) an almost nihilistic degree of skepticism” (Keeley, 1999, p. 125) towards the “official” account. This extreme degree of suspicion prevents belief in anything that does not fit into the conspiracy theory. Thus, nothing is at it seems, and all evidence points to hidden agendas or some other underlying causal mechanism. We label this criterion Overriding Suspicion or OS.

Fourth, the overriding suspicion is often associated with the belief that nothing happens by accident (e.g., Barkun, 2003). Thus, small random events are woven into a conspiracy narrative and reinterpreted as evidence for the theory. For example, the conspiracy theory that blames the events of 9/11 on the Bush administration relies on evidence (e.g., intact windows at the Pentagon; Swami, Chamorro-Premuzic, & Furnham, 2010) that is equally consistent with randomness. We label this criterion Nothing is an Accident, or NoA for short.

Fifth, the underlying suspicion and lack of trust contribute to a cognitive pattern whereby specific hypotheses may be abandoned when they become unsustainable, but those corrections do not impinge on the overall abstraction that “something must be wrong” and the “official” account must be based on deception (Wood et al., 2012). In the case of LOG12, the “official” account is the paper’s conclusions that conspiracist ideation contributes to the rejection of science; and it is this conclusion that must be wrong according to this criterion. At that higher level of abstraction, it does not matter if any particular hypothesis is right or wrong or incoherent with earlier ones because “ (…) the specifics of a conspiracy theory do not matter as much as the fact that it is a conspiracy theory at all” (Wood et al., 2012, p. 5). We label this criterion Must be Wrong (MbW). Finally, contrary evidence is often interpreted as evidence for a conspiracy. This idea relies on the notion that, the stronger the evidence against a conspiracy, the more the conspirators must want people to believe their version of events (Bale, 2007; Keeley, 1999; Sunstein & Vermeule, 2009). This self-sealing reasoning may widen the circle of presumed conspirators because any contrary evidence merely identifies a growing number of people or institutions that are part of the conspiracy.

Concerning the rejection of climate science, a case in point is the response to events surrounding the illegal hacking of personal emails of climate scientists, mainly at the University of East Anglia, in 2009. Selected content of those emails was used to support the theory that climate scientists conspired to conceal evidence against climate change or manipulated the data (see, e.g., Montford, 2010; Sussman, 2010). After the scientists in question were exonerated by nine investigations in two countries, including various parliamentary and government committees in the U.S. and U.K., those exonerations were re-branded as a whitewash (see, e.g., U.S. Representative Rohrabacher’s speech in Congress on 8 December 2011), thereby broadening the presumed involvement of people and institutions in the alleged conspiracy. We refer to this criterion as Self-Sealing, or SS for short.

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2 Responses to Lew’s Conspiracist Classification Criteria

  1. mpcraig says:

    I’d like to see a rating for these:

    ex-IPCC Chief R K Pachauri – “The committee had held Pachauri guilty of sexual misconduct and abuse of his position as director-general and recommended action against him. But Pachauri had contended, besides other things, that the complaint against him might be backed by “climate sceptics” (those who do not believe in human-induced climate change).”

    Professor Peter Wadhams – “UK climate scientist Peter Wadhams feared assassination by ‘death squad'” “He added: “If it was some kind of death squad, you don’t expect that with something like climate change. I know lots of oil companies have been giving lots and lots of money to– climate change denialist organisations but you don’t expect them to kill people.” “It seems to me to be too bizarre to be accidental but each individual incident looks accidental, which may mean it’s been made to look accidental.”

  2. catweazle666 says:

    Wadhams appears to believe that dark forces have already assassinated three of his colleagues.

    Professor laxon fell down a flight of stairs at a New year’s Eve party at a house in Essex while Dr Giles died when she was in collision with a lorry when cycling to work in London. Dr Boyd is thought to have been struck by lightning while walking in Scotland.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/environment/globalwarming/11762680/Three-scientists-investigating-melting-Arctic-ice-may-have-been-assassinated-professor-claims.html

    It seems Big Oil can call down bolts of lightning now…

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