Paper review – The ‘Alice in Wonderland’ mechanics of the rejection of (climate) science: simulating coherence by conspiracism

Stephan Lewandowsky, John Cook, Elisabeth Lloyd

Published in Synthese on the 19th of September, 2016

DOI 10.1007/s11229-016-1198-6

Abstract: Science strives for coherence. For example, the findings from climate science form a highly coherent body of knowledge that is supported by many independent lines of evidence: greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from human economic activities are causing the global climate to warm and unless GHG emissions are drastically reduced in the near future, the risks from climate change will continue to grow and major adverse consequences will become unavoidable. People who oppose this scientific body of knowledge because the implications of cutting GHG emissions—such as regulation or increased taxation—threaten their worldview or livelihood cannot provide an alternative view that is coherent by the standards of conventional scientific thinking. Instead, we suggest that people who reject the fact that the Earth’s climate is changing due to greenhouse gas emissions (or any other body of well-established scientific knowledge) oppose whatever inconvenient finding they are confronting in piece-meal fashion, rather than systematically, and without considering the implications of this rejection to the rest of the relevant scientific theory and findings. Hence, claims that the globe “is cooling” can coexist with claims that the “observed warming is natural” and that “the human influence does not matter because warming is good for us.” Coherence between these mutually contradictory opinions can only be achieved at a highly abstract level, namely that “something must be wrong” with the scientific evidence in order to justify a political position against climate change mitigation. This high-level coherence accompanied by contradictory subordinate propositions is a known attribute of conspiracist ideation, and conspiracism may be implicated when people reject well-established scientific propositions.

This article is ostensibly on conspiracism, but as conspiracism is never explicitly defined in it (the authors, it would seem, take conspiracist ideation to be where people have psychological – not epistemic – reasons to accept some claim of conspiracy over a non-conspiracy – and by extension – epistemically warranted theory), really it’s an article on the incoherence of certain arguments against the thesis of anthropogenic climate change. Indeed, there’s little about conspiracies in the paper, despite the reference to conspiracism; it’s as if the term ‘conspiracism’ is being used here as a pejorative for a kind of irrationality directed against scientific theories (whilst it is true many climate change denial theories also include auxiliary hypotheses about a conspiracy to cover up the truth, this is not a focus of the authors’ work here).

The basic thrust of the paper is that the arguments of anthropogenic climate change deniers are incoherent; they tend to believe mutually contradictory views, and – as such – that is a reason to prefer the standard scientific account of anthropogenic climate change over that of the deniers. There are some excellent examples of incoherent views in the climate change denier camp, and – in this respect – the paper is a good primer for anyone interested in debating such sceptics. However, the paper also suffers from a general problem found in most conspiracist-style critiques, which is conflating the beliefs of certain prominent deniers (the paper takes Australian climate change denier Ian Plimer to task quite extensively) with deniers in general. Now, the authors are aware they might be critiqued for this, saying:

It is possible, therefore, that individuals within this community would only hold one or the other of two incoherent views, and that each person considered in isolation would not be incoherent. In that case, one could argue that there is merely a heterogeneity of views in the “community” of denialists, which might in turn be interpreted as being an indication of “healthy debate” or “scientific diversity” rather than incoherence.

But they reject the idea of making an appeal to diversity, arguing that the best explanation is really some account of epistemic vice (my term, not theirs), with that vice being some account of how the views of climate change deniers generally are incoherent. Yet there are two problems here.

The first (and relatively minor) problem is that the authors present something of a false dilemma: either the views of climate change deniers as a group are incoherent, or they indicate the existence of a healthy debate. There are other options; the debate need not be healthy, or scientifically diverse. It just needs to be a debate in the climate change denier camp. I feel the authors salt the pot (so to speak) here.

The second issue is the more serious. In defence of what they construe to be the scientific method, and the corpus of scientific theories, they have to gradually concede ground. As they argue later in the paper, there is disagreement by scientists about the inclusion of some scientific theories, and thus there is some incoherence in science proper. However, they downplay the significance of such debates because ‘any incoherence contains within it an impetus for reconciliation’.

They are trying to have it both ways; there is incoherence in the Sciences. For example, look at the debate in Physics and the central role of string theory in particular. Whilst it’s true there is an impetus for reconciliation, that reconciliation has a) not yet happened, and b) might not happen (and, c) certain sides are antagonistic in this debate). So the happy picture of the scientist and her chums working together that the authors describe does not quite resemble what really happens in the real world of scientific research.

This also means that claiming the climate change deniers are incoherent is a little rich. Surely what the authors should be claiming is that the level of incoherence in climate change denial theories generally is a problem for their views. It’s not that climate change deniers are incoherent. Rather, it’s the kind of incoherence that we find in them which is a problem.

Maybe they would be better off talking about climate change denialism as being a degenerating or stagnant research programme (ala Steve Clarke), rather than with respect to incoherence, because the more they paint the consensus, the more they have to excuse it’s form of incoherence as being epistemically virtuous in some sense.

Indeed, I think their critique really is on the fact there aren’t that many scientists in the climate change denial camp, rather than the incoherence of their particular views. Then authors make frequent reference to the fact that when you investigate the credentials of the supposed rebel lot who promote climate change denialism, you find few scientists, and even fewer active researchers. The low number of actual scientists in climate change denials entails greater incoherence, because whilst there will be some incoherence in the Sciences (even the anthropogenic climate change camp), such incoherence will be washed out by the sheer number of scientists agreeing with one another.

I’m really not sure what to think of the paper generally. It’s a good primer on weird arguments in the climate change denier camp, but its portrayal of both climate change deniers and scientists as groups makes me worry the authors are misrepresenting both sides to get to their conspiracist-style conclusion.


About Matthew Dentith

Author of "The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories" (Palgrave Macmillan), Matthew Dentith wrote his PhD on epistemic issues surrounding belief in conspiracy theories. He is a frequent media commentator on the weird and the wonderful, both locally and internationally. On occasion he can be caught dreaming about wax lions but, mostly, it is rumoured he works for elements of the New World Order.

24 comments:

  1. Great review. I agree with you: From the abstract I could detect little more to their line of thought then that individuals they call “climate change deniers” have different responses to the proposition of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and that in some cases these responses are logically inconsistent (on average world is cooling v on average world is warming). I suppose the political content of the article appealed to the editor of Synthese.

    3 quick thoughts.

    Calling people who accept AGW but argue it is beneficial to humans and perhaps many other species “climate change deniers” is obviously mistaken. How this got past review only heaven knows. (See above). They don’t deny the change, they deny its harmful effects or some significant subset of these. To some small extent this might even apply to me. For instance, I wouldn’t mind seeing Manhattan gently transformed into Venice. And if the Chinese can build Islands, I hope to think we can raise them. But here I and “out of my depth”–the Engineers in my family must be consulted. But those who whole clothe embrace AGW effects are much more ambitious than my superficial musings here. We might call such people climate change catastrophe deniers. 2. Or we might not. The problem is in the use of the epitaph, “denier”. It, like “conspiracy theorist” or worse, “conspiracism”, is a term intended to inflict abuse, silencing and so, political control. It is today frequently substituted for substantive debate, or in the Synthese paper, at least to announce a forgone conclusion on the basis of the character of people. One need not delve into the reasoning and evidence of “deniers”. They are “in denial”; psychiatrically irrational by definition. If we do delve into their writings after such a declaration, the reader can hardly expect us to be objective. The exposition will surely be editorial, selective, not fair and philosophical. Why bother reading it? That philosophers would embrace such a rhetorical tactic is unfortunate. To frame an entire professional publication around this tactic is even worse. It’s beneath us, because it appeals not to evidential, rational or epistemic critique, but is a form of the fallacy of “name calling”, a specie of ad hominem attack. AGW “skeptics” (“sceptics”, as Hume spells it) is a much better, because much more neutral, term. Why it is not used in this publication, as in Hume’s great tradition, is quite suspect.
    An important concession we must make, but the paper ignores: Climate scientists are not unbiased individuals. They have found themselves in a hyper-biasing environment. The political/professional rewards of supporting the conjunction of “catastrophic” and AGW are immense. Theirs is a new-found, almost messianic political relevance, with massive research funding. The political/professional penalties quite significant; loss of employment, the subject of hatred and social out-casting. This is an extremely unhealthy environment for good science. I’ll skip the puns about cooked data and over heated debate. While I have long advocated AGW based on my personal observations (where’s the snow in front of my parents house anymore? for one), long before in was popular in the US, we also have to concede this intellectual environment problem, whatever the case concerning AGW. How much of the “consensus” among climate scientists concerning AGW can be explained, and best explained, by political/professional factors entirely new to these scientists? This leaves us with an entirely general epistemic problem and an excellent context in which to announce and explore it: To what extent and in what instances are scientists psychologically blinkered to evidence contrary to AGW in such an environment, and to what extent are they intentionally suppressing evidence that could be interpreted as critical of the AGW hypothesis or its conjunction with “catastrophic”, for either reasons of personal gain or personal loss, or both? The subsequent epistemic dilemma is if we turn to their research to resolve this question, we are forced to beg this very question.

    Fertile ground for not entirely insane conspiracy theories concerning AGW, isn’t it? A social, ethical and political issue concerning conspiracy theory of the most basic kind.

    That said, Dr. Dentith, could you supply me with a copy of the Synthese paper?

    1. First matters first, check your inbox for a copy of the paper. It’s open access, so, frankly, everyone can go look at it here anyway – http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11229-016-1198-6

      Two: The paper is written by two social scientists, and one philosopher. So, that probably explains some of the language. Given Synthese has just opened itself up to a broader set of submissions, that might also explain the paper appearing in it (that’s not a judgement per se on the paper, but a year or so ago Synthese wouldn’t have published it because it wasn’t in their remit).

      Three: I’m in two minds about the ‘denier’ tag. On one level I’m happy for it to be used in everyday discourse, because I’m happy with the rhetoric that says we need to cast scepticism of such a serious, global issue in a bad light. But on an academic level, I guess I’d probably mention it in passing (“…sometimes called “deniers”…), and then come up with a more neutral phrase when dissecting the issues.

      Four: On the consensus thing, well… If you do a custodies quis custodes style analysis, the benefits of writing for the “deniers” like the Koch Brothers, the Rand Institue, etc. is vastly more of a worry than government and federal grants (especially since governments like the US, the UK, Australia, etc. keep defunding climate science research). So, I would disagree that there is a “new-found, almost messianic political relevance” for climate science, just because there is such a push-back against it by several major world governments. Obama might be all for the clean air act, but the machinery of US government is not. Theresa May disbanded the Ministry concerned with climate change. Australia got rid of their Crown research institute on the matter. Europe looks like its on the verge of a tilt back to the Right, and many of the populist right-wing parties are sceptical of climate change in general. Even in sympathetic governments, despite climate scientists saying “If we don’t stop doing x now, we will have runaway warming in ten years”, said governments say “We need twenty years to implement that…” Now, that doesn’t mean scientists aren’t affected by peer relationships on the issue, I don’t quite see the reverence point, myself.

  2. A question, Dr. Dentith, with your well-meant defense of climate scientist objectivity is it is looking to the present and future, not to the past, where AGW was lionized as consensus and catastrophic. It was a public panic of sorts, starting with Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” et al here in the US. Climate scientists for the first time in the history of their profession achieved political significance, spectacular political significance, on the basis of the “catastrophic” conjoined to the AGW hypothesis. Funding mushroomed 100s of times the level before. Understandably. This political significance is one they retain in the political battles of the future over what to do, policy-wise, with their concerns, but it was established in the past. They also retain most of this spectacular funding gain. So it is the recent past that is relevant for their “messianic” status, savers of the world. The echo in the popular culture was remarkable, in movies, television and books. An entire multi-billion industry in itself. One need only look to Hollywood.

    The push-back has only now began. Funding for the research premised on the catastrophic AGW conjunction is almost entirely tax-based, public funding. While sometimes now being withdrawn, it is still vast, far more than any private entity funding for skeptics and critics of this conjunction.

    So we face massive political fame plus massive money. And public fear. An intoxicating mix indeed, and one epistemically relevant to our evaluations and epistemic research, whether we like it or not. Again, in this scientifically unhealthy context, how do we properly evaluate climate scientists’ research, recent past and future? Will they become more desperate and so less objective as they see their funding and political influence threatened and even diminished? Nothing would be less surprising from a human, psychological perspective. In the background lurks the natural tendency of governments to encourage panics, to increase their powers. None of this means the conjunction of “catastrophic” and AGW is erroneous, it means we are faced with very difficult epistemic entanglements on this issue, that undermine our confidence in science. That’s a purely social epistemology issue. Not one connected to the science of global warming itself and subsequent politics, but one well illustrated by it. That conspiracy theories would emerge from these extreme entanglements is rational, even if they are false. (See the above post by a conspiracy theorist, “Wallace Bernd”.) So to repeat our shared problem, “How do we resolve the reliability of the conjunction of “catastrophic and AGW? If we turn to the research of climate scientists who advocate this conjunction, we are forced to beg the very question we are asking: Are they reliable?”

    What do you think?

    1. “not to the past, where AGW was lionized as consensus and catastrophic”

      Sorry, but that’s a rather hyperbolic overstatement of the status of climatology and anthropogenic climate change; we’ve known about the problem since the 1960s, and climatologists have not been lionised or treated as messiahs. Yes, research funding has increased over time, as you would expect given the emphasis on increasing funding to scientific research over the 20th Century, but the increase in funding has not matched the massive increase in funding over the same period for, example, particle physics, or cancer research, or even DNA sequencing. And yes, there have been prominent members of the anthropogenic climate change community, like Al Gore, who have made coin and reputation on creating ‘panics’, although the true catastropharians, like James Hansen, continue to be dragged through the mud politically, despite their theories being largely agreed to by other members of the scientific community.

      So, sorry, but I do not see the spectacular political significance these climatologists you claim they have. Indeed, given that most Western nations are doing their very best to not doing anything substantive about anthropogenic climate change, you would think that if these climatologists really did have spectacular political significance, we wouldn’t be heading to greater than two degrees Celsius warming by the end of this century.

      As for the claim ‘[Public funding] is still vast, far more than any private entity funding for skeptics and critics’… Well, that’s not necessarily true. As numerous investigative reports have shown, there is a lot of dark (and thus untraceable) money going into climate change denialism, to the point that we know which billionaires and companies are funding it, but not to the tune of how much. It isn’t obvious public funding outstrips this at all. We do know that at one stage in the UK, charitable donations to denialist thinktanks in the UK outstripped public funding of anthropogenic climate change research in the UK at the time, which is food for thought, isn’t it.

      So, whilst I see the general point you are making (how do we evaluate claims from such a hierarchy, especially a hierarchy which is accused of colluding to protect itself) I think you do your argument a disfavour by overstating the issue. Being a climate contrarian or just agnostic about the issue, politically-speaking, is no less advantageous or disadvantageous than being a proponent of anthropogenic climate change (indeed, given the evidence of stalling to do anything which might threaten quality of life for the average Westerner, being agnostic or contrarian seems politically like a very safe bet, at least in the short term). And it’s not as if there aren’t serious, sometimes disruptive and vicious disputes in the scientific field either; climatologists and atmospheric physicists have long standing issues with each other’s work on anthropogenic climate change. So, once again, I just don’t see this lionised consensus on the issue that you detect.

  3. Great information. You’ve studied the issue carefully.

    The “lionized” consensus I make reference to is the public lionization of AGW and catastrophe; not within the scientific community of any specific version of AGW conjoined with catastrophe (even though the conjunction of catastrophic and AGW certainly holds sway among the many alternative versions of how this may occur).

    This public lionization is quite telling and supports the claim, obvious enough, about spectacular political influence, public funding and pop-culture significance of prominent climate scientists: International treaties, academic funding and billion dollar movies, for instance. The scientific disputes you mention do not appear with any significance in the popular press, nor are they relevant to this point. What is spectacular in the popular press is the ascription to climate scientists, of whatever sort, the proposition that, “The planet is about to die. And we’ll kill it, unless you do what we tell you to.” and the popular acceptance of this proposition’s impact on these scientists’ political and economic status. So again, the point is wholly political, and as you acknowledge, epistemically challenging.

    But I detect a great degree of study on your part concerning the conjunction of catastrophic and AGW. Help us do our homework. Can you provide some salient links?

    You also write,

    “…there is a lot of dark (and thus untraceable) money going into climate change denialism, to the point that we know which billionaires and companies are funding it, but not to the tune of how much. It isn’t obvious public funding outstrips this at all. We do know that at one stage in the UK, charitable donations to denialist think tanks in the UK outstripped public funding of anthropogenic climate change research in the UK at the time, which is food for thought, isn’t it.”

    That’s a conspiracy theory. It’s the logically constant flip side of the coin I present concerning the intellectually distorting forces pregnant within the AGW/catastrophic conjunction in the context of scientists’ political significance, funding and the public’s fear. This is a good example of a Hegelian dialectic. Your movement from “dark” and “untraceable” to “We do know that…” is telling, and the problematics it produces is also an exemplar of our field of study, the uncertainty of society. What’s important here, and we agree on, is there are profound epistemic problems with our present information hierarchy. That’s what matters to social epistemologists as such.

    The question-begging, ad hominem tactic of “denial” and “denialism” is, as I suggested earlier, suspect. As philosophers I think we should not use these rhetorical devices. Even though I agree with your conclusions, these terms are anti-rational as they substitute silencing labels for evidence and discussion.

    What’s important is that we agree on the root issue. AGW is real. And really scary. I knew that when I was 12 years old and I started asking why the snow had stopped coming to town. My thought was that people were changing the world and I said so. So many cars. On a personal note, at first my family thought I was crazy. I think they still do, concerning other issues. It makes me smile.

    1. I guess this might all come down to information sources, media biases, and the like, but I’m still not seeing this lionisation thing. So often the presentation of anthropogenic climate change in public discourse is “Here’s a whacked-out extremist claiming the world is about to burn, so now we turn to the Rand Institute for balance on this issue…” So, I don’t see this as lionisation. If anything, there’s a persistent chain of thought in public discourse to deliberately play down the claims of proponents of anthropogenic climate change as ‘Too extreme!’, and advocate a middle-ground/golden mean approach to the issue. Yes, there are international treaties (largely ignored by regional governments, mind, like most UN-originated things are), and academic funding (although the fact there is funding doesn’t tell us much; it’s relative funding which is the issue, and it’s not clear climatology is well-funded, nor the best funded academic discipline). But the prestigious position you see proponents of anthropogenic climate change as having… I just don’t see it. So, whilst I respect and appreciate your work on the failings of the PTA approach, I don’t think you’re characterising proponents of anthropogenic climate change in a way which does service to that argument. Indeed, the fact we can disagree (reasonably) about the nature and status of the thesis of anthropogenic climate change, and its proponents (i.e. lionised vs non-lionised), surely is evidence the status of the theory, and the position of its proponents in society, is up for debate? As such, I would argue it is not the case that the advocates of anthropogenic climate political and economic status gives us a prima facie reason to treat their claims with the degree of scepticism you contemplate.

  4. “There are some excellent examples of incoherent views in the climate change denier camp”

    Are they? The paper begins with two (very short) quotes:

    “CO2CO2 keeps our planet warm ….”
    — Ian Plimer, Australian climate “skeptic”, Heaven & Earth,
    “Temperature and CO2CO2 are not connected.”
    — Ian Plimer, Australian climate “skeptic”, Heaven & Earth,

    and then immediately compare this to an insane children’s book character..

    “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
    — The White Queen, in Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There

    This is about as subtle as a brick,an intent to associate Plimer with incoherence/madness, priming the reader?

    In the paper the authors fail to inform reviewers/readers that the – Australian climate “sceptic” Ian Plimer”, is in fact Professor Ian Plimer, an eminent geologist, multiple Eureka Prize award winner. Perhaps the peer reviewers for this paper did not even have a copy of his books referenced to check sources very carefully. Would this omission lead to reveiwers (and readers) taking these quotes on trust vs perhaps asking themsleves what did this actual scientist actually say in context and checking for themselves?
    http://ipa.org.au/people/ian-plimer

    Here is the first quote in context:

    “Carbon is more basic to life than sex. You heard it here first! Carbon dioxide is a colourless odourless non-poisonous gas. It is plant food, and it drives the whole food chain. All life is based on and contains carbon. Every cell in every living organism on the planet is based on carbon. Bacteria, algae and plants remove CO2 from the air and water and store it in their tissues. Together with water vapour, CO2 keeps our planet warm such that it is not covered in ice, too hot or devoid of liquid water.” – Ian Plimer

    (nothing wrong here, though you may not like his writing style)

    The context of the quote shows it agrees with Stephan Lewandowsky, John Cook, & Elisabeth Lloyd presenation – carbon dioxide helps regulate Earth’s temperatures.

    This seems to contradict “…Temperature and CO2 are not connected.” later in the same book. However, the context for that quotation is:

    “Ice drilling by the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica (EPICA) at Concordia Station, Dome C, Antarctica gives another look back in time over some 800,000 years. Eight icehouse-greenhouse cycles were recognised. Antarctic temperatures have been reconstructed as have the CO2, methane and nitrous oxide content. More detailed measurements concentrated on the history of CO2 in ancient air trapped in the ice. Popular paradigms were destroyed. At 800,000 and 650,000 years ago, atmospheric CO2 dropped below 180 ppmv yet temperature was unchanged. Temperature and CO2 are not connected. Furthermore, there was a long-term trend in CO2 which rose by 25 ppmv from 800,000 to 400,000 years ago and then fell by 15 ppmv thereafter. Again, a disconnection between temperature and CO2. Even more intriguing was that the methane levels in trapped air changed from 100,000- to 20,000-year cycles. By contrast, temperature and CO2 showed 100,000-year cycles.”

    The text is discussing specific examples, referencing a single region (Antarctica) and time periods in which the author of the book says, “Temperature and CO2 are not connected.” on the previous page it says.

    “The initial analyses of the Vostok ice core used samples spaced at intervals of hundreds of years. The initial conclusions were that high CO2 in the atmosphere led to high air temperatures. However, with far more detailed measurements on the scale of decades over a 250,000-year ice core record and a correlation of a 35,000-year ice core record from Taylor Dome, it was shown that high air temperatures are followed some 400 to 1000 years later by a high atmospheric CO2 content. More recent work, using argon isotopes in Antarctic ice cores of just one temperature rise, shows that CO2 increased 200 to 800 years after that particular temperature rise. During the last 420,000 years there have been massive temperature changes, and a rise in CO2 concentration follows air temperature increase by about 800 years and it is only after a cooling event that CO2 decreases.” – Ian Plimer, Heaven and Earth

    Ian Plimer is absolutely not claiming CO2 levels and the planet’s temperature are unrelated to one another. He wrote several paragraphs specifically discussing how the two are related (in his view) for certain cases. Lewandowsky,Cook and Lloyd Lloyd have taken very short quotes out of the context which shows it was a remark about a very specific example and portray it as being a general statement that is always true. Whether Plimer is right or wrong about ancient and current climate, is irrelevant for this paper, the paper makes claims that he contradicts himself.

    It is also interesting to see the Dead and Alive (Wood et al) paper referenced again, where some conspiracy theorists believe in contradictory statements at the same time, ie that Diana simultaneously faked her own death and was murdered..

    This is a single study paper, where 137 2nd yr psychology undergraduates (83% female, average age 20.4) completed a survey about belief in a number of conspiracies theories. Despite the title of paper and it’s conclusions not a single individual that participated in the survey actually believed that Diana both faked her own death and murdered by MI5 (n=o). (It is very easy to check the data for yourself, as Michael will just email it to you on request)

    And again, the Alice White Queen quote, the linkage to conspiracies theories (Dead and Alive paper) and asserted contradictions made by a group of people and individuals, might be perceived as a very unsubtle (and unsupported by sources, in context) smear of Ian Plimer and a whole group of people.

    Perhaps you should follow the quotes to actual source, for expanded quotes and context.

    from the paper:

    “Over one hundred incoherent pairs of arguments can be found in contrarian discourse. (See http://www.skepticalscience.com/contradictions.php). In this article, we have explored a representative sample in some detail.”

    These a pairs of arguments are not actual quotes, no reference to a source are made, they are all written at John Cook’s Skeptical Science website by contributors/or admins at that website, they are second hand interpretations of skeptical arguments written by the opponents of skeptics.

    If you follow the link to the hundred of contradictions reference, you will find a 113 were written by James Wight a volunteer admin at John Cook’s website, most are nonsensical, with no original source of any individual saying that to be checked for accuracy or context. This is not a peer reviewed website (though they claim to peer review each other! As I’m sure they also do at Greenpeace website).

    How credible are James Wight’s interpretations of what sceptics say or believe are incoherent contradictory arguments, as a source for a philosophy paper. At the time of creation of the Contradictions webpage (~2010) we find via his personal website Planet James / Precarious Climate) that he is a teenage homeschooled boy, about to embark on a gap year. He speaks of deniers, deniaists and being at war (his twitter handle is @350ppmJames and we also find him on climate marches)

    Should we just trust James (and John Cook) when he asserts skeptics (his opponents) contradict themselves, with his non referenced interpretations of their arguments, or ask what did they actually say in context?

    When this paper came out, I was personally able to add 4 (random/made up) contradictions to the referenced source in this paper, automatic approval and they remain there. This is just not reliable source.

    https://web.archive.org/web/20120128102238/http://jameswight.wordpress.com/skeptical-science/

    “Since August 2010, I’ve been writing for a climate blog called Skeptical Science which has more traffic than my blog. Skeptical Science is run by John Cook, and basically the core of the site is an increasingly comprehensive database of rebuttals to the arguments of global warming “skeptics” (at last count it included rebuttals to no less than 165 arguments).” – James Wight – Planet James

    https://web.archive.org/web/20101226024517/http://jameswight.wordpress.com/about
    “My name is James Wight. I am a teenage home-educated student living in Australia. On this blog I’ll be writing whatever miscellaneous thoughts happen to enter my mind. I’m mainly interested in science; at the moment I’m particularly interested in climate science, and for years I’ve been interested in astronomy. I am also an avid collector of Ausway street directories. You’re welcome to reproduce my content elsewhere as long as proper credit and a link to Planet James is given. I have also written for a climate blog called Skeptical Science; you can find links to all my contributions” – James Wight

    The danger for philosophy is a perception that it is being used by activists on a specific topic to attack their opponents. Is John Cook just smuggling his opinion pieces from 5 years ago into the peer reviewed literature to attack/discredit an opponent?

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/Plimer-vs-Plimer-one-man-contradiction.html

    1. Hi, Barry.

      Lewandosky and Plimer have some history, so I’m fairly sure they know each other’s work. I also am quite aware of Plimer’s work, having been earlier impressed by his debunking of creationism in Australia, and then fairly dismayed by his recent work on anthropogenic climate change. I think Lewandosky et al aren’t doing Plimer a disservice here, given Plimer’s public comments on AAC. Certainly, it’s not as Lewandosky is the only person criticising Plimer for inconsistent statements involving climate.

      I guess I’m slightly more taken with your point about James Wight, although having told off Lewandosky et al for character attacks on Plimer, you kind of do the same thing with respect to Wright (and then Cook by extension). It may well be the case that Wright’s portrayal of some apparent contradictions in the ‘denalist’ literature are flimsy, but knowing that literature, and the various conspiracy theories surrounding it, it’s not clear Wright is largely wrong in his characterisation of all of them. At best I think you can ping him for mischaracterising some of them. The fact he’s homeschooled or not really isn’t material here, in the same respect that Plimer being a prestigious professor doesn’t actually tell us anything about whether some of his views are inconsistent. In both cases the strategy is the ad hominem (the inverse form when it comes to Plimer), and it’s not material.

      But that’s by-the-by; my focus in this review was on the way talk of conspiracy theories and conspiracism was phrase, which I found problematic.

      Finally, the problems with the Mike Wood et al paper are known by us philosophers who study conspiracy theory theories; a colleague and I have written on this, which will be seeing print soon enough.

      1. Hi – they do him a disservice (purely in context of this paper) IF they misrepresent him, quote him out of context, simplify his arguments to the point of mischaracterization in the actual paper.
        Actually they do Philosophy a disservice?

        The paper should stand on the examples given, not because of what else Plimer may or may not have said, but the actual quotes used in the paper, to make the argument in the paper itself.

        Cook has been using the idea that Plimer contradicts himself for some time. Previously he used a longer version of the headline quote.

        “Together with water vapour, CO2 keeps our planet warm so that it is not covered in ice, too hot or devoid of liquid water.” SkS version 2011

        https://www.skepticalscience.com/plimervsplimer.php

        so why the shorter version as a headline example in this paper.

        “…CO2 keeps our planet warm so that it is not covered in ice, too hot or devoid of liquid water.”

        and oh so subtly linked to the insane children’s character quote. (if a politician did this, in an opinion peace in the media would the reader just smile and move on, but in Philosophy?)

        Was it made shorter to make it look more contradictory, otherwise might the reader just think Plimer thinks Water Vapor is the major driver, and CO2 has a minor effect and that the quotes are not that contradictory, especially if you bother to go to the source and check context.

        Plimer may may be wrong of course to think that, but the paper is asserting contradictory arguments, not wrong arguments and incoherence of named living individuals in peer reviewed science, linking into to conspiracy theorist thinking (the Wood paper)

        This naming of Plimer would not happen in a psychology journal now. Recursive Fury did this, it named well known identifiable people, who’se quotes were linked to psychopathology behavior, I’m sure you’ve seen the retraction notice for legal reason. But when the paper was republished and expanded as Recurrent Fury, the names and identities of people were removed.

        The complaints were not that public comments were used without permission, but the linkages to psycho-pathological traits were made to named people, and in several instances quotes by entirely different people linked to the wrong person. (simply following the links in the dataset showed this – it was very sloppy)

        you say: ” it’s not clear Wright is largely wrong in his characterization of all of them”

        My point is not who he is or what he is or that he is wrong because of who he is. But that extra effort must be made to check very carefully, as this is a partisan source, especially when the hundreds of arguments claim – are made via single source (SKS )for a major argument the paper.

        1 example given in the paper cites SkS, but drops the fact that John Cook wrote it..

        CO2 is just a trace gas – CO2 is plant food – John Cook

        The fact that I was able to add 4 to the actual source, shows how little verificatin there is..

        https://www.skepticalscience.com/contradictions.php

        Addition:
        “CO2 is good for plants CO2 is just a trace gas – Barry Woods
        Comment: Actually I meant to compare = CO2 is plant food – & – CO2 is a trace gas (but can’t submit a previously submitted pair) John Cook says they contradict each other, but both these statements are arguably true. (essential for photosynthesis and ~0.04% of the atmosphere) perhaps John can explain why he thinks – CO2 is plant food – contradicts – CO2 is a trace gas

        End Addition

        As an analogy, would a journalist “trust”, a quote database on a political party’s website as evidence of their opponent contradictory economic policies.. without going to the very original source, not relying second hand interpretations/characterization of that source. Philosophy must be seen to do better in these circumstances?

        A perception that is potentially damaging for journals is that of scientist activist using peer review to go after opponents – Lewandowsky published the bulk of this paper as an opinion peace last year.

        https://www.opendemocracy.net/conspiracy/suspect-science/stephan-lewandowsky/alice-through-looking-glass-mechanics-rejection-of-climate-science

        The Fury paper official reaction states for legal reason no ethical issue.(authors and journals lawyers) When the authors went to press stating the journal had retracted because of bullying and intimidation. The editors of Frontiers responded – critically – denying this and expanding on the
        real reason – as did the founder of the journal

        http://www.frontiersin.org/blog/Retraction_of_Recursive_Fury_A_Statement/812

        “Frontiers came to the conclusion that it could not continue to carry the paper, which does not sufficiently protect the rights of the studied subjects. Specifically, the article categorizes the behaviour of identifiable individuals within the context of psychopathological characteristics. Frontiers informed the authors of the conclusions of our investigation and worked with the authors in good faith, providing them with the opportunity of submitting a new paper for peer review that would address the issues identified and that could be published simultaneously with the retraction notice.” –
        Costanza Zucca, Editorial Director
        Fred Fenter, Executive Editor
        Frontiers

        If a pattern of behaviour can be potentially perceived of activist scientist Lewandowsky/Cook using peer reviewed journals to generate headlines in the media to denigrate and label named opponents as conspiracy theorists, contradictory mutually incoherent people ? Is that not bad for science?

        does that sound like a conspiracy theory – “activism abusing science as a weapon”

        The founder of Frontiers responded further here:

        http://www.frontiersin.org/blog/Rights_of_Human_Subjects_in_Scientific_Papers/830

        and in the comments he added his own opinion – that the authors actions were – activism abusing science as a weapon.

        full comment (I do not want to do a short quote, like Cook)

        Henry Markram: “My own personal opinion: The authors of the retracted paper and their followers are doing the climate change crisis a tragic disservice by attacking people personally and saying that it is ethically ok to identify them in a scientific study. They made a monumental mistake, refused to fix it and that rightfully disqualified the study. The planet is headed for a cliff and the scientific evidence for climate change is way past a debate, in my opinion. Why even debate this with contrarians? If scientists think there is a debate, then why not debate this scientifically? Why help the ostriches of society (always are) keep their heads in the sand? Why not focus even more on the science of climate change? Why not develop potential scenarios so that society can get prepared? Is that not what scientists do? Does anyone really believe that a public lynching will help advance anything? Who comes off as the biggest nutter?
        Activism that abuses science as a weapon is just not helpful at a time of crisis. – Henry Markram

        It is interesting that philosophers are aware of the problems with Wood et al paper, I look forward to its publication. As the title and conclusion seems to be a phantom fact that now has a life of its own, in journals and in the media..

        https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=that+Princess+Diana+was+murdered+but+also+faked+her+own+death+has+been+identifi+ed+as+an+aspect+of+conspiracist+ideation&oq=that+Princess+Diana+was+murdered+but+also+faked+her+own+death+has+been+identifi+ed+as+an+aspect+of+conspiracist+ideation&aqs=chrome..69i57.504j0j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

        1. Markham’s comments notwithstanding, it’s not exactly obvious that a) scientists should not be activists (it’s a little like the claim ‘Journalists should be neutral’; it’s a false standard which says you can do science or journalism without politics, which is almost certainly false), or b) that what Lewandosky and co. did was contrary to ethical norms in publishing. Certainly, the original round of peer-review did not pick up on this, and it’s almost certainly the case that the retraction notice used the ‘Parties should not have been named’ as a convenient excuse for the publisher to remove the piece from their website (the piece is still widely cited, and it’s not as if academics cannot access it anymore). Certainly, the norms about naming subjects in publications is incredibly complex, and the idea that you can’t ascribe psychological states to named individuals (living or dead) is not universally true. A lot of work in history and philosophy (especially the literature on conspiracy theories) make claims about the psychology of such people as Alex Jones, David Icke, David Irving and the like, all without trouble.

          Also, I should note that your criticisms of the authors here also involves attributing psychological states to named individuals; you’ve already made claims about the activist and conspired nature of Cook and Lewandosky, for example, so if you are going to complain about the activities of these individuals, maybe you should consider the latent hypocrisy in your own writing.

  5. The authors of the paper are not immune from making contradictory statements themselves, within the same paper under review Lewandowsky, John Cook, Lloyd-Springer Philosphy. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11229-016-1198-6

    Let us highlight 3 short quotes from the paper, with respect to deniers/denialists:

    “…views in the “community” of denialists…”

    “No such corrective processes can be observed in denialist discourse…”

    “…incoherencies manifest in denialist discourse…”

    The fourth use is in a footnote, which states that:

    “We use denial as a noun that describes a political or discursive activity but we avoid labels such as “denier” or “denialist” that categorize people.”

    They seem a little confused about who are the people who are incoherent and contradictory, by both simultaneously labelling/categorising a whole group of people as denialist or deniers, but simultaneously stating that they do no such thing. A simple explanation is the authors are activists on the subject of climate change and just simply can’t help themselves using “climate deniers” as it works to smear their opponents.

    Maybe somebody should collect very short quotes from Lewandowsky, Cook, Lloyd over the last 12 years contradicting themselves (and Al Gore, Vivienne Westwood) and submit a paper to a philosophy journal building a very similar persuasive case against them? We could give it a “Humpty Dumpty” provocative headline grabbing title and make a similar disparaging ‘connection’ – because peer reviewed ‘science’ says so.

    And then generate media headlines for the public to read off the back of the new peer reviewed science -therefore must be true,(via a tame journalist, the lead author has been interviewed by many times before by) attacking our opponents, because no journalist will bother to read the paper, and follow the quotes to source and check context?
    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/planet-oz/2016/sep/23/how-climate-science-deniers-can-accept-so-many-impossible-things-all-at-once

    Ironically, co-author John Cook observed the problems with the smearing by association use of denier, writing on one of his personal blogs, at about the same time he launched Skeptical Science (2007)

    “I’ve been following the global warming argument closely of late and I’ve noticed both sides often fulfill Godwin’s Law. Global warming advocates liken skeptics to Holocaust deniers (akin to a Nazi). Skeptics compare Al Gore’s public awareness campaign to Nazi-like propoganda. It’s lazy debating – why discuss the issues with facts and logic when you can easily write off your opponent with a derogatory label?” – John Cook – 2007

    https://web.archive.org/web/20070905124940/http://www.cricket-blog.com/archives/2007/05/13/JCs-Law/

    Mark Lynas, George Monbiot, and Johna Hari seemed to have started the equating climate sceptics with holocaust deniers (in the UK at least) – around 2005/2006 – in the main stream media – as this was around the time of the David Irving trial, it no doubt seemed like a convenient metaphor to equate climate sceptics with views beneath the pale.. (not exclusively, climate deniers has also used to equate them with creationists, and aids deniers and anything else derogatory)

    “The climate-change deniers are rapidly ending up with as much intellectual credibility as creationists and Flat Earthers. …they are nudging close to having the moral credibility of Holocaust deniers.”

    – Johann Hari, The Independent (2005)

    “I wonder what sentences judges might hand down at future international criminal tribunals on those who will be partially but directly responsible for millions of deaths from starvation, famine and disease in decades ahead. I put this in a similar moral category to Holocaust denial.”

    – Mark Lynas, Environmental Activist (2006)

    “Almost everywhere, climate change denial now looks as stupid and as unacceptable as Holocaust denial.”

    – George Monbiot, The Guardian (2006)

    “It’s about the climate-change “denial industry”, …we should have war crimes trials for these bastards – some sort of climate Nuremberg.”

    David Roberts, Grist Magazine (2006)

    “The obvious reductio ad absurdum is Holocaust deniers: Should their perspective be provided, for “balance,” any time someone writes about the Holocaust?”

    – Chris Mooney, The Intersection (2006)

    “Giving in to the forces of low ambition would be an act of climate appeasement. This is our Munich moment.”

    Chris Huhne, U.K. Energy and Climate Change Minister (2011)

    Even the Guardian (who use deniers rather a lot) recognized the problem with it in the discourse about climate, be it science, policy/economics. This was SIX years ago now.
    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/mar/01/climate-change-scepticism-style-guide

    “We have been discussing such terminology, and some of my colleagues have suggested that Guardian style might be amended to stop referring to “climate change deniers” in favour of, perhaps, “climate sceptics”.

    The editor of our environment website explains: “The former has nasty connotations with Holocaust denial and tends to polarise debate. On the other hand there are some who are literally in denial about the evidence. Also, some are reluctant to lend the honourable tradition of scepticism to people who may not be truly ‘sceptical’ about the science.” We might help to promote a more constructive debate, however, by being “as explicit as possible about what we are talking about when we use the term sceptic”.

    Most if not all of the environment team – who, after all, are the ones at the sharp end – now favour stopping the use of denier or denialist (which is not, in fact, a word) in news stories, if not opinion pieces.

    The Guardian’s environment editor argues: “Sceptics have valid points and we should take them seriously and respect them.” To call such people deniers “is just demeaning and builds differences”. One of his colleagues says he generally favours sceptic for news stories, “but let people use ‘deniers’ in comment pieces should they see fit. The ‘sceptics’ label is almost too generous a badge as very few are genuinely sceptical about the science but I think we have to accept the name is now common parlance.” – Guardian

    Prompted by Anthony Watts writing to The Guardian environment editor
    https://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/03/02/sea-change-in-climate-journalism-the-guardian-and-the-d-word/

    denier quotes/examples
    http://www.populartechnology.net/2014/02/skeptics-smeared-as-holocaust-deniers.html

    1. Two things:

      1. I think you are ignoring the use/mention distinction here. You can mention a name commonly ascribed to a group without using it (i.e. I can talk about ‘denalists’ without using/attaching the term to any one person).
      2. You say:

      They seem a little confused about who are the people who are incoherent and contradictory, by both simultaneously labelling/categorising a whole group of people as denialist or deniers, but simultaneously stating that they do no such thing. A simple explanation is the authors are activists on the subject of climate change and just simply can’t help themselves using “climate deniers” as it works to smear their opponents.

      So, your first claim is false, at least according to the examples you cite. The authors describe a movement, made up of people, engaged in a political activity. That’s consistent with their stipulated definition, and so not contradictory.

      Then your second claim (‘They can’t help it!’) is a little like the pot calling the kettle black. Aren’t you doing the same thing here, smearing the other team, but claiming the simplest explanation is a vendetta? Surely the simplest explanation is that the authors (if we accept the first charge) were clumsy in their use of terms. Being an academic writer myself, I know firsthand how such clumsiness manifests itself when writing lengthy pieces. The claim, then, that ‘the authors are activists on the subject of climate change’ may well be true (after all, Plimer is an activist on the subject of climate change, admittedly from another angle, and has publicly attacked his critics in op-eds, etc.), but it’s not a slamdunk rebuttal to their work that you seem to take it to be.

      1. Clumsiness in one paper, is forgivable ( I can hardly talk, being typo king of the internet/twitter) but a pattern of behavior is another. Just wondered if you have seen these 2 papers?

        Prof Lee Jussim writes of political motivations being obvious

        Prof Lee Jussim (pg185 ref Lewandowsky)
        http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~jussim/Jussim%20et%20al,%202016,%20High%20Moral%20Purposes.pdf

        & Jussim, Duarte et all
        http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~jussim/Interps%20and%20Methods,%20JESP.pdf

        earlier blogging
        http://www.joseduarte.com/blog/more-fraud

      2. No, you are wrong on both points.
        (a) You seem to be saying that I can write an article about paedophiles, and intersperse it with sentences about someone called, say, Mathew Dentit, without implying that Mathew Dentit is a paedophile.
        (b) With “Aren’t you doing the same thing here”, you are making a false comparison between a remark made in a blog comment, that will be read by a handful of people, and a false and unethical smear in a supposedly peer-reviewed academic publication by supposedly professional university academics.

  6. I’m a bit mystified at what people choose to discuss when criticizing a paper. For instance, I have no idea why one should care that a person was home-schooled. That, combined with the inordinately lengthy comments of Barry Woods makes me think it would perhaps be best to start this discussion over.

    The fundamental problem with this paper is it simply says things which are not true. Woods points out the quotes provided for Ian Plimer are not contradictory when actually examined. Our host responds to this by saying:

    Lewandosky and Plimer have some history, so I’m fairly sure they know each other’s work. I also am quite aware of Plimer’s work, having been earlier impressed by his debunking of creationism in Australia, and then fairly dismayed by his recent work on anthropogenic climate change. I think Lewandosky et al aren’t doing Plimer a disservice here, given Plimer’s public comments on AAC. Certainly, it’s not as Lewandosky is the only person criticising Plimer for inconsistent statements involving climate.

    This is a non-sequitur. Regardless of what Plimer’s views are, the issue is what the authors said. The authors listed four specific examples of Plimer supposedly contradicting himself. Those examples were all false. That one might believe other, real examples could be found does not excuse the use of the false examples in this paper.

    Science is not supposed to work by having people cite data which doesn’t support their conclusions because the reader might be able to think of data which would. Similarly, whether or not “Lewandowsky is the only person criticising Plimer” in this way is utterly irrelevant. That this point gets brought up at all is troubling as it suggests our host’s personal biases are resulting in him accepting things this paper says simply due to confirmation bias. Similarly, this:

    It may well be the case that Wright’s portrayal of some apparent contradictions in the ‘denalist’ literature are flimsy, but knowing that literature, and the various conspiracy theories surrounding it, it’s not clear Wright is largely wrong in his characterisation of all of them. At best I think you can ping him for mischaracterising some of them.

    Is confirmation bias, pure and simple. When judging a paper’s validity, one needs to examine what the paper says and if it accurately represents its sources and data. That is impossible to do in any meaningful sense for Table 2 in this paper as it cites as its only source a webpage created by one of the paper’s authors which claims, without any evidence, people hold certain beliefs.

    That is not science. That an author might create a webpage which says, “These people I dislike believe gravity is caused by invisible faeries” doesn’t mean he should be allowed to write a scientific paper in which he cites that page as proof people he dislikes believe gravity is caused by invisible faeries. Yet, that is exactly what has happened here.

    And in the analogy, our host has defended that by saying, “Well, my personal experience is those people really do believe gravity is caused by invisible faeries so there’s no problem here.” There is a problem here. The problem is even if you like or agree with results stated in this paper, the paper’s supposed evidence supporting those results is all false.

    1. Brandon, as you should be able to note from my review, my focus in reviewing the paper was on the way talk of conspiracism was parsed in it. I added as an aside that I found it a good guide to a set of contradictory arguments found in the literature of those who cast doubt on the thesis of anthropogenic climate change. As such, this discussion of the minutiae of that side of the paper is ignore the substantive points I made against the paper.

      Also, just a polite note that, as a first time commentator, maybe don’t wander into the discussion and immediately accuse your ‘host’ of confirmation bias. Especially since as some of what you say in support of that claim ignores both my stated knowledge of the overall arguments, and the nature of academic publications. So:

      1. You say:
      2. Is confirmation bias, pure and simple. When judging a paper’s validity, one needs to examine what the paper says and if it accurately represents its sources and data. That is impossible to do in any meaningful sense for Table 2 in this paper as it cites as its only source a webpage created by one of the paper’s authors which claims, without any evidence, people hold certain beliefs.

        Except it’s not. Readers can judge claims in a paper based upon prior knowledge. Indeed, the whole point of the short academic article format (as opposed to the book or monograph, where you are expected to give readers a fulsome grounding in a subject before advancing novel arguments) is that readers are expected to have a certain amount of background knowledge when reading papers. Such papers advance arguments based upon assuming readers have the necessary background information to parse the evidence and arguments presented. Such articles are written for a specific audience, which is why a) they get away with using sometimes overly technical language, and b) are often not written with the lay public in mind.

        Now, you can certainly disagree with the assumptions the authors make, or point out niggling inconsistencies, but it is not prima facie evidence of confirmation bias (a term which is really quite overused) to say ‘This agrees with what else I know’. To get to the claim that ‘what else’ the reader knows is the product of confirmation bias requires several more steps, none of which you have engaged in here.

        Which leads to:

      3. You accuse me of downplaying Wood’s supposed evidence that Plimer does not contradict himself because of a personal bias. Yet even with the larger context for the Plimer quotes, it’s not obvious all that he says is consistent. At best you could argue that Lewandosky and co. overplay their hand, but it’s not a slamdunk that they have created contradictions out of nothing. Plimer’s book as a whole (which they take what they think to be representative quotes from) is a mess. Maybe you could mount an argument that the authors chose the wrong examples, or that they should have provided greater context, but I think you are grasping by saying that these quotes, even in context, does not show that Plimer’s views are inconsistent at best, and contradictory at worse. This is especially vexing since I know the book in question.
      1. “I found it a good guide to a set of contradictory arguments found in the literature of those who cast doubt on the thesis of anthropogenic climate change.”

        Really? You did? I suggest you look again. Look carefully at the list of supposed contradictions in table 2 and think about whether they are in fact contradictions.

        Also take a look at the excellent forensic posts by Brandon Shollenberger at his Izuru blog on this. And note that Shollenberger is not, himself, a climate sceptic. He is very critical of Ian Plimer’s book, describing it as a waste of money, and has also been very critical of Anthony Watts at times. He’s just a guy with a great attention to detail and a high level of concern for accuracy, precision and honesty.

        While it is clear from your review that you have doubts about the paper, for example in your final remark about misrepresenting both sides to get to the conclusion they want, I don’t think you have given the core claims of the paper about contradictory arguments the critical scrutiny they deserve.

      2. Matthew, just as you are free to focus on whatever aspects of the paper you wish to focus on, people are free to focus on whatever aspects of your post they wish to focus on. We do not normally refer to people choosing to discuss the issues that interest them as ignoring all other issues they could have potentially discussed. Similarly, we do not say:

        Especially since as some of what you say in support of that claim ignores both my stated knowledge of the overall arguments, and the nature of academic publications.

        When a person discusses the issue of that very knowledge, pointing out why it is irrelevant. You cite part of that discussion of mine in which I say readers of a paper should judge the paper’s claims by examining “what the paper says and if it accurately represents its sources and data” rather than just relying upon one’s personal knowledge or experience. You contradict this, saying:

        Except it’s not. Readers can judge claims in a paper based upon prior knowledge.

        Taken at face value, this appears to be you stating it is okay to ignore a paper misrepresenting its sources and data, as happened with this paper, if your “prior knowledge” supports the paper’s conclusions. I assume that is not your intended meaning.

        However, given you reject the idea we should examine what papers say and if they accurately represent their sources and data, instead suggesting we can just use “prior knowledge” to judge the paper, it is perfectly reasonable to label this as confirmation bias.” Confirmation bias usually arises from the (often subconsciously) failure to critically examine things which might contradict our views in favor of using our previous experience/knowledge to determine the “truth.” That is exactly what you’ve suggested doing. In the same way, you say:

        You accuse me of downplaying Wood’s supposed evidence that Plimer does not contradict himself because of a personal bias. Yet even with the larger context for the Plimer quotes, it’s not obvious all that he says is consistent. At best you could argue that Lewandosky and co. overplay their hand, but it’s not a slamdunk that they have created contradictions out of nothing. Plimer’s book as a whole (which they take what they think to be representative quotes from) is a mess.

        But that’s not how things are supposed to work in science. Even if Ian Plimer’s book is filled with contradiction, the simple reality is the quotations provided in this paper do not demonstrate that. Again, we see you are defending the authors’ conclusions without examining their arguments. That is wrong. You cannot decide conclusions are correct therefore criticisms against the arguments used to reach those conclusions are wrong.

        You can say:

        This is especially vexing since I know the book in question.

        But that just furthers the impression you’re relying on confirmation bias. You’ve basically said you’re fine with this paper’s conclusions (on this issue), so you find it annoying to have to listen to any criticisms of their arguments. I’m sorry, but that’s not how science works. I could write a paper arguing, “Roses are red, violets are blue, therefore global warming is real.” That I reached the right conclusion wouldn’t make my paper more than garbage.

        This paper is garbage. If you quit focusing solely upon the conclusions (that you like) and actually examine its arguments, you will reach that conclusion. As much as you may not like me saying this, the only reason you are defending the paper’s conclusions is you like them. It has nothing to do with the soundness of their analysis or methodological approach.

        In other words, it’s confirmation bias. That’s why you haven’t even tried to defend the authors’ arguments, only their conclusions. If I am wrong about the authors’ argument, you really ought to say how. By the way, the same is true for you <href=”https://twitter.com/HORansome/status/784366013785702400″>saying I got things wrong in a post.

        1. Wow, that comment is filled with typos. Sorry about that. My keyboard has been acting up and missing keystrokes. I hadn’t realized how much of an effect it was having on my typing. Hopefully everything is still legible enough to understand what I was saying.

        2. Brandon, if you are going to accuse anyone of confirmation bias, why not look at your own comments here, and then ask yourself ‘What was M’s purpose in writing this review?’ You’ll then see that you are completely missing the point of the review, which was to look at the way in which Lewandosky and co. parse their talk of conspiracism and conspiracy theories (which I am critical of). If anything is evidence of confirmation bias, it’s the way in which you have selectively ignored the content of the review to whip your favourite horse.

          1. You may find it useful to respond to a person a week or more after they wrote their comments to not address anything they say, but rather, make remarks about them as a person. I do not. If you wish to discuss something I’ve said, I’d be happy to. Otherwise, I’m not going to waste anybody’s time by engaging in the sort of vapid exchange you’re pushing us toward.

            For the record, I have not said a word about the purpose of this post. Your portrayal of me having missed the pointo f the post is based on nothing. The simple reality is when people see false claims, they may choose to respond to those claims regardless of what larger discussion the claims might have arisen from.

            That you choose to make an issue of that, personalizing it rather than simply addressing the substantive points that have been made in no way makes anything I’ve said less true. It just means you are choosing to not engage in any sort of productive dialogue.

          2. I see. So you get to accuse someone of confirmation bias, but when the tables are turned, that’s suddenly an illegitimate move to make in an argument, even though you were the one who came here selectively ignoring the fact you were pushing what was only a side-point in a review which actually centred on discussion on a separate issue, the authors’ clumsy use of conspiracy and the special character of the sciences. Bravo!

            As for the ‘Oh, you took so long to reply!’ point. Well, some of us have been at conferences and away from a reliable internet connection. And it’s not as if I owe you prompt replies anyway.

  7. I want to write something separate from my above comment due to the fact it is not a central issue for the paper. In addition to misrepresenting the arguments in each of the “contradictions” listed in this paper, the authors of this paper also making a glaringly false claim about scientific publications, including their own work. Near the start of the paper they write:

    the consensus position that global warming is happening, is human caused, and presents a global problem is shared by more than 95 % of domain experts and more than 95 % of relevant articles in the peer-reviewed literature (Anderegg et al. 2010; Cook et al. 2013, 2016; Doran and Zimmerman 2009; Oreskes 2004; Shwed and Bearman 2010).

    None of the sources they cite support this claim. Not a single one says there is a consensus global warming “presents a global problem.” None of them even look at the issue of whether or not there is a consensus global warming is any sort of problem. This is purely a fabrication on the authors’ part, a remarkable one given one author (John Cook) was an author on two of the cited studies and another author (Stephan Lewandowsky) was an author on one.

    Indeed, Cook et al. 2016 was a meta-study which covered many studies of the “consensus.” It’s a terrible paper which cherry-picks then misrepresents its data, but even so, it lists the “consensus position” supposedly given by many different studies. Not a single one includes any mention of global warming being a problem. I get some people may not care about this fabrication because they think something like, “Global warming is obviously a problem if real,” but in science, one shouldn’t be able to claim work demonstrates something it hasn’t even looked at.

    On the upside, our host says:

    Finally, the problems with the Mike Wood et al paper are known by us philosophers who study conspiracy theory theories; a colleague and I have written on this, which will be seeing print soon enough.

    That’s good to hear. Unfortunately, while that group of people might know about the problems with the paper, the paper is still frequently cited and the same problems can be found in dozens of other papers. I just read a PhD thesis which may well suffer from the same basic mathematical flaw as Wood’s. (It’s impossible to tell unless or until I can get data for several papers or at least certain information about that data.)

    For those who don’t know, the simple correlation tests routinely performed are designed to examine the relationship between data with bivariate normality. When this assumption is violated, the test fails to fully and accurately describe the relationship. The less normal the distribution of data, the less appropriate the test becomes. When the data is strongly non-normal, the results of the test will be biased toward showing correlations that are purely a figment of the methodology. The result is if you sample one group more heavily than another, you can find a “statistically significant correlation” which covers both groups but arises entirely from one. This is because a fundamental assumption of the test is violated.

    In layman’s terms, this is akin to asking Democrats if they believe President Obama is an extraterrestrial and noting they largely say, “No.” From this, you conclude there is a strong correlation between political party and one’s belief on whether or not the President of the United States is an extraterrestrial. From that, you conclude Republicans believe the President is an alien impostor. It is a completely inappropriate and nonsensical methodology based upon a failure to understand how a simple mathematical test works, and it is one that comes up with some regularity.

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