Climate Science Denial Linked To Conspiratorial Thinking, But Deniers Smell A Conspiracy In The Research

Originally published at DeSmogBlog

IF the world’s conspiratorial blogosphere was broken up into food items on a wedding buffet table, then an eclectic array of plate-fillers would surely be on offer.

There would be canapés topped with faked moon landings and hors d’oeuvres of Government-backed plots to assassinate civil rights leaders.

Sandwich fillings would come from US military staff at Roswell in New Mexico (cheese and alien, anyone?). The alcoholic punch would be of the same vintage as that which the British Royal family gave Princess Diana’s chauffeur, as part of their plot to kill her. All of the catering would be provided by the New World Order.

Then there’s the salad of human-caused climate change being a hoax, with the world’s climate scientists, national academies and the declining Arctic sea-ice all in on the conspiracy.

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Western Australia (UWA), is about to publish research which shows that a strong indicator of the rejection of climate science is a willingness to accept conspiracy theories.

His paper, to be published in the journal Psychological Science, is titled “NASA faked the moon landing – Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science“.

The study details the results of a controlled online questionnaire posted on blogs between August and October 2010.

Among the conspiracy theories tested, were the faking of Apollo moon landings, US government agencies plotting to assassinate Martin Luther King, Princess Diana’s death being organised by members of the British Royal family and the US military covering up the recovery of an alien spacecraft that crashed in Roswell, New Mexico.

In the paper, Lewandowsky concludes that “endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories… predicts rejection of climate science”. The research also claims a correlation between people who endorse free-market economics and the “rejection of climate science”.

He told DeSmogBlog:

There’s a fair bit of previous literature to suggest that conspiratorial thinking is part of science denial. Conspiratorial thinking is where people would seek to explain events by appealing to invisible, powerful collusions amongst individuals, rather than taking events at face value. The absence of evidence for the conspiracy is sometimes taken as evidence of its existence and any contradictory evidence is itself embedded into the conspiracy.

In his paper, Lewandowsky adds: “Endorsement of the free market also predicted the rejection of other established scienti c findings, such as the facts that HIV causes AIDS and that smoking causes lung cancer.”

Given the well documented links between free market think-tanks and climate science misinformation, this finding isn’t surprising.

But back to that “conspiracist ideation” trait which Lewandowsky and other researchers, such as Pascal Diethelm and Martin McKee, have identified among people who reject science.

Because rather fittingly, no sooner had Lewandowsky’s paper begun to make headlines than the world’s loose, nimble and definitely-not-conspiring network of climate skeptic blogs began to construct their own conspiracies about Lewandowsky’s research.

The survey was conducted online and Lewandowsky’s research team approached climate blogs requesting they post a link to the survey. Some eight “pro-science” blogs agreed to post the link, which gained 1147 responses.

Lewandowsky’s researchers also emailed five popular skeptic blogs, but none of those approached posted the link to the questionnaire.

But had Lewandowsky actually fabricated the claim he had emailed five sceptic blogs? This was asked by skeptics Anthony Watts, Jo Nova and others who were smelling a consipracy.

Steve McIntyre, a long-time mining industry consultant and active climate sceptic, even encouraged blog readers to email the ethics department at Lewandowsky’s university.

“If Lewandowky’s claim about five skeptic blogs was fabricated, it appears to me that it would be misconduct under university policies,” wrote McIntyre.

Once McIntyre had come down from the conclusion he had just jumped to, he later admitted that actually, he had been emailed by one of Lewandowsky’s researchers after all but offered a “dog ate my homework” excuse.

Meanwhile, Lewandowsky says he has been “inundated” with requests to release the names of the four remaining bloggers his team contacted.

But since the approaches to bloggers were conducted on the presumption of privacy, the academic has asked his university’s ethics committee and the Australian Psychological Society if he is free to release their identities.

Not content to wait, Australian skeptic blogger Simon Turnill has sent a Freedom of Information request to UWA asking for Lewandowsky’s emails. Lewandowsky told DeSmogBlog:

So now there’s a conspiracy theory going around that I didn’t contact them. It’s a perfect, perfect illustration of conspiratorial thinking. It’s illustrative of exactly the process I was analysing. People jump to conclusions on the basis of no evidence. I would love to be able to release those emails if given permission, because it means four more people will have egg on their faces. I’m anxiously waiting the permission to release this crucial information because it helps to identify people who engage in conspiratorial thinking rather than just searching their inboxes.

Lewandowsky revealed that two of the five skeptic blogs approached even replied to the email they were sent.

One stated “Thanks. I will take a look” and another asked “Can you tell me a bit more about the study and the research design?”

Perhaps an inbox search for these phrases might help some bloggers to move on from their latest conspiracy theory.

Or maybe, just maybe, the real story is that the New World Order hacked their email accounts or a CIA operative secretly dropped a memory-lapse drug into their fake moon juice?


Author: Graham

Graham Readfearn is a Brisbane-based journalist. Go to the About page in the top navigation for more information.

4 thoughts on “Climate Science Denial Linked To Conspiratorial Thinking, But Deniers Smell A Conspiracy In The Research”

  1. Colin, what have you been smoking? I have read most or all of the references you site and non of them in any way resemble your rather sneering summation. The questions raised by McIntyre are completely pertinent and it has been pointed out that even if we take Lewandowsky’s methodology as acceptable (sic) only0.2 per cent of self proclaimed skeptics (sic) believed the moon landings were faked. Also why did L not publish the results for those who believed that the invasion of Iraq was not motivated by a desire to destroy weapons of mass destruction? All the facts (sic) that fit we print?

  2. You quote Lewandowsky: “People jump to conclusions on the basis of no evidence.” Sorry for pointing this out, but that’s EXACTLY what HE did, and you are also doing by supporting him.

    You also say “Given the well documented links between free market think-tanks and climate science misinformation, this finding isn’t surprising.”. Who has decided that scepticism of the AGW hypothesis, i.e. the normal and proper scientific process of challenging and trying to falsify a hypothesis to determine if it stands up to scrutiny, is “misinformation”? No one has that qualification, that right to make that presumption. Not even Lewandowsky, and certainly not another blogger like yourself.

    The people who are sceptic are those that have actually researched and read into the AGW matter, and found it wanting. They are not conspiracy believers, but evidence followers, a simple fact that seems to have bypassed Lewandowsky. There is no evidence that the moon landings were faked, and similarly there is no evidence that man’s CO2 emissions are driving up global temperatures dangerously. AGW and the resulting alarmism is all based on computer models that are not evidence.

    It has been noted elsewhere (I don’t have the reference to hand), that those with scientific background, which I take to include those who have a science degree (as I do), are more sceptical of the AGW hypothesis. That doesn’t surprise me, and shouldn’t surprise Lewandowsky, and for the same reason, that those who are able to do their own assessment of the AGW claims do so and find from the observational evidence that they don’t stand up to scrutiny. They also understand that other possibilities must not be excluded because they don’t fit the political agenda.

    Now, you will no doubt criticise me for having a conspiracy theory that politicians are behind AGW and not ‘the science’. It’s not a theory, but 100% correct. It’s politicians who decide the output of the IPCC reports, and politicians who now control the vast majority of publicly funded research, including climatic, and politicians who ride on the ‘Green’ ticket. The corruption of climate science especially is politically led by the restriction of the majority of funding to research that provides politicians with confirmation of their (AGW) beliefs. There are many documented examples of scientists who don’t get funded if they don’t mention “effect of Climate Change”, even if the research is completely off-topic. Scientists need funding to survive, and will bend proposals to get it. That’s not necessarily their fault, except when they step over the threshold from science to advocacy.

    You also criticise Steve McIntyre and others for not having having seen the survey invite email in their inbox. That is not a fair criticism as many people who receive large volumes of email will often skip over ones from an unrecognised sender (the invite was sent by an assistant). As they say, you are ‘making a mountain out of a molehill’. Further, your implication is that those blogs that didn’t carry the survey have some sort of evil conspiracy. Have you ever considered that they just didn’t elect to carry it, which is their rightful choice?

    Finally, an indicator of Lewandowsky’s unprofessionalism is that even though the surveys were “conducted on the presumption of privacy”, he now makes moves to break that presumption, that inherent promise, and publish the names. It should therefore not come as any surprise if no one ever trusts him again.

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