Saturday, September 22, 2012

Quantifying Lewandowsky madness

A few weeks ago, a bright young man by the name of Stephan Lewandowsky came into the blogospheric eye because of a study which found a correlation between climate denial and the belief in other conspiracy theories.

Now, possibly I have a warm spot in my heart for Dr Lewandowsky, having made much the same point on a number of occasions. But Lewandowsky didn't just spot the relationship, he demonstrated the association scientifically, in a tightly argued paper, now in press.

Climate deniers were upset by this.

The result has been Lewandowsky madness, a psychological disorder characterized by obsessive preoccupation with and demonization of a single, not-yet-published paper, whose crime was to provide evidence of something that anyone who has spent five minutes perusing their comment threads knows: a lot of deniers believe other silly things too.

Climate Audit

Total posts: 12 13

Low point: Accused Lewandowsky of carrying out a “pogrom” after banning an abusive troll from his blog.

(UPDATE): More Deception in the Lewandowsky Data


Watts Up With That?


Total posts: 15

Low point: Confirms the scientific community’s impression of his chops by referring to Lewandowsky as  “Lewdandorky.”

Steven Schneider’s 1992 argument against balance in science reporting

The Blackboard

Total posts: 9

Low point: In “The Five Blogs” Lucia finds out her accusations of fraud and lying are totally unfounded after Lewandowsky gets permission from his university’s ethics committee to release the information that proves he’s tell the truth. Lucia decides he should apologize to her for making her wait.


Total posts:  9

Low point: N/A. Every word out of Jo Nova’s mouth is a new low for her and us.

Bishop Hill

Total Posts: 9

Low point: In a massive failure of self-awareness, BH justifies his obsession: “The Lewandowsky story rumbles on, demonstrating an abilitity [sic] to generate new storylines that I'm sure few of us thought it ever could have.”

A total of 56 57 blog posts about one not-yet-published social sciences paper.  So far, they’ve failed to identify a single serious problem with the study. Lewandowsky himself has a PhD in clinical psychology and a resume chocked full of well-regarded research. Yet Lewandowsky madness rages on.

You might say, well, this isn't "madness," it's what the denialosphere does: they fixate on things. They fixated on the Hockey Stick, they fixated on Hansen's 1988 prediction. But this is very different. The Hockey Stick demonstrated and simultaneously provided an arresting visual image of global warming. Hansen correctly predicted the emergence of the global warming signal. This evidence is relentlessly attacked because it is important.

Lewandowsky's paper, while interesting, and as far as I can tell well done, is not in the same league. If I were a denier -- which, not to be immodest, I would be great at, given my amateur knowledge of science and significant reserves of indignation -- I would address Lewandowsky's paper like this:
"As you may know, there's a paper in publication that finds a correlation between climate skepticism and conspiracist ideation. It will be interesting to see if this holds up, but it does not surprise me. It's obvious by reading the comment threads at WUWT, Climate Audit, and elsewhere, that some of the people who are ready to challenge the IPCC narrative believe some really strange things. But this argument is about ideas and evidence, not people. Sometimes good arguments attract strange people. At the heart of the anti-slavery movement was an extremist religious sect whose members were radically pacifist, refused to swear oaths and shook like seizure victims in the middle of church services."

Maybe it's easier for people already mistrustful of society over other issues to accept the fact that, as hard as it may be to believe, a small group of climate scientist and power-hungry government officials have sold us a bill of goods. Be that as it may, it's only a distraction from the discussion we need to have; a serious discussion, like adults, about the other side's best story, not about the fringe, not the endless and pointless argument about whose loons are more loony. This interesting paper should not tempt us into that pointless shouting match."
 But what do I know, eh? I actually believe we landed on the moon.


  1. So the argument seems to go that he used "Data" from people posing as sceptics who made ridiculous claims that real sceptics don't make. And apparently McIntryre has shown some major flaw in the methodology that renders the paper meaningless. can't be bothered to try to sort it all out.
    But I am with you after three years of exploring a number of denier blogs, they are often chock full of crazy ideas and they are hardly ever shot down by the blog owners, who somehow manage to comment on other commenters often enough.
    Whereas on the consensus side I see very few batshit crazy ideas and when i do they are usually immediately shot down by the owner or well informed commenters

  2. I suspect that a large part of the febrile frenzy of fulmination that LOG12 has elicited arises as displacement behaviour consequent to the unprecedented melting of the Artic sea ice.

    Of course, this only makes the above compilation of the bizarre denialist discussions even more of a gold mine for future dissection of this remarkable phenomenon. Many people will be delighted to see them collected here for posterity.

    Bonus points for concise summation:

    "Low point: N/A. Every word out of Jo Nova's mouth is a new low for her and us."

    One cannot (rationally) argue with fact.

    Bernard J.

  3. Well, the thing is deniers are very, very upset about that study :)

    One reason is of course that it minimizes their chance to recruit 90% of the lowest-end deniers - which all believe it is some form of conspiracy.

    But the other special factor at play for the "top-level 10%" (those that are most active on the internet) of the deniers is that it is very hurtful for their Dunning-Kruger - the thing that drives them is not so much money (even if that is certainly a motivator for many of them), the most important thing is related to the fact that they all believe they are much, much smarter than everybody else (including all those climate scientists) - and as such when lumped together with the bottom 90% they feel their "special position" destroyed :)

  4. Oh, ya, who would be so unreasonable as to take issue with a study that purports to show that the only reason you believe something is actually because you are just paranoid.

    Obviously any accusation of paranoia is automatically true if the person being accused claims not to be, and thus their strong rejection of this proves they are.

    And this is great, because if they didn't reject it, no one would know how flawed it is and everyone else would consider it proof of their paranoia anyway.

    This is my favorite kind of research. The kind where you don't actually have to prove your point, but just make a claim and say that it is true by definition since your opponent rejects it.

    1. You might benefit from actually reading the paper

    2. I doubt that reading this or any other paper would cure whatever is afflicting Unknown.

  5. Well,if there's one group more feared than climatologists by pseudo-skeptics,it's cognitive scientists.

    1. ...and Macintyre has now posted more splutterings on just that group. What took him so long? Probably inhibited by this post's number crunching,he backed away for a while...

  6. Better make that 14 posts at CA. Steve just won't stop flogging a dead horse.

  7. Well color me stoopid, that is why they call me "Hey Stoopid!".

    A most interesting read, watching the very small minority of cranks, ersatz skeptics and assorted ignorant mononeuron denialati, being driven like brainless sheep down the garden path, by paid for profit quisling propaganda writers vainly attempting to defend that which is indefensible.

    The irony, is that they are all literally, end up using the same old inferior grade z posterior effluent, as was originally predicted.

    Lest we forget, one should not mistake denialism for debate, it is something these sad ignorant denialati, do all too often.

    Such is life.

  8. What's clear from all the shouting is that deniers of the laissez faire variety don't object to the finding that right wing extremism strongly predicts rejection of climate science.

    What they hate is having to sharing the limelight with those of a different form of wackiness.

    I wonder if non-specific conspiracy theorists object to sharing the limelight with extreme right wing ideologues.

    1. Christ, such bollocks from the Sow of Bungalunga.

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