Mike Haseler comments upon the appearance of Prof Stephan Lewandowsky on Radio 4 this week.
Lewandowski is a nasty piece of work who set out to fabricate data using bogus questions by which he attempted to prove sceptics are conspiracy theorists. All he managed to prove is that he is incapable of admitting the poor quality of his work. So, imagine my disgust tonight when I heard the BBC were broadcasting some of his material:
“Why do we continue to believe information even when we are told it’s wrong? Claudia Hammond discovers how the brain stores facts and why we don’t erase erroneous explanations.” (all in the mind)
That section of the program wasn’t very interesting (I fell asleep listening) but having had the misfortune to read the scenario before, the gist of it was that sometimes people will use ideas that they have been explicitly told are wrong showing that most people do not trust academics like Lewandowski.
Obviously that’s not what he intended the result to be.
The scenario given was that subjects were told there was a fire in a barn. They were told oil paints were stored in the barn. They were then told they were not stored in the barn (at which point is anyone going to believe the researcher?). Then they are asked why the fire had thick smoke. Lewandowski is trying to prove “false memories” or some such junk, by showing people still use the information that there was oil paints which they have been told is false. The reality is that what he proves is that very often people don’t believe the information the academics force down their throat and they come up with quite plausible explanations (the smoke was caused by the oil paints the researcher told them wasn’t present) which don’t agree with the “truth” ordained to them by academics like Lewandowski. What this clearly shows is that the general public is more inclined to trust their own ideas of what happened rather than rely on academics like Lewandowski when they are so untrustworthy they can’t make up their mind whether there is or is not paint in the barn.
My comment was
Your point about not believing somebody who has fed you false information is an enormously important part of human psychology. In close relationships, such as with one’s partner or a close friend we trust the other implicitly. If that trust is betrayed – such as a wife finding out after many years of marriage that the husband has a mistress – then it is not easily regained. A lot of distrust in climate science is that when the science gets it wrong, or is found giving false certainties (such as Glaciergate and Climategate), the reaction has not been to confess to error, but to sweep the issue under the carpet, or blame others.
Another aspect is that people tend to trust new information from people that they trust and respect, rather than people that they are prejudiced against. However hard we try to be neutral, people tend to more easily accept the words of the politicians that have their world view, than those of the opposite party. A life-long Tory from Haslemere has similar prejudices to a Labour supporter from Middlesbrough. They would far sooner trust a politician from their party than from the other side.
The problem with Lewandowsky is he fails to understand the problems of regaining trust when it has been breached, but instead tries to create prejudice against those who question his dogmatic views.
Posted by manicbeancounter on December 6, 2012
In the Guardian today, James Garvey, argues that the actions of Peter Gleick in lying to obtain documents from the Heartland Institute could be justified in the interests of the wider good. He says
The documents, if authentic, show that Heartland takes money – in secret – from people who have something to gain by the idea that climate science is uncertain, and then spread that idea with enthusiasm. Do I actually need to say this in 2012? There is no controversy in the scientific community about Heartland’s target: the fact of warming and the human role played in it.
What Heartland is doing is harmful, because it gets in the way of public consensus and action. Was Gleick right to lie to expose Heartland and maybe stop it from causing further delay to action on climate change?
There are some issues with this statement
The most important strategy document is almost certainly fake. Peter Gleick was accused of being the source of the leak by Steven Mosher, because this document was in his distinctive style of writing, including grammatical errors. Gleick denies he wrote the fake document, but now admits to (the lesser crime of) obtaining the other documents by deception.
The following statement is ambiguous
There is no controversy in the scientific community about Heartland’s target: the fact of warming and the human role played in it
It can mean one of four options. First, that the “scientific community” believe what the Heartland’s target is (so there must be a straw poll somewhere). Second, the scientific community believe in anthropogenic global warming. In which case there a definition of who is in the “scientific community” and who is out. The “97% of scientists believe” was a small subset of all scientists in the climate field, who were asked two very trivial questions, so the degree of belief is not in the predicted level of catastrophe that will justify drastic action. Third as to whether the human role played in (global warming) is a fact. The statement of global average surface temperatures being higher than they were 50, 100, 150, or 400 years ago is incontrovertible (though the actual amount is debatable), but the human role is a subject of wide controversy. They are two separate facts, so the human role is just a belief of the 97% of 1.6% of those who answered two trivial questions, which was just over 30% of those who received questionnaires. Whatever the ambiguities in the statement, it does not rely on scientific evidence, as there is plenty of controversy of the anthropogenic contribution due to a lack of incontrovertible scientific evidence.
If the scientific consensus was created by a minority and maintained by “outing” any who voiced concerns, with activists seeking to annul their funding, then that “consensus” opinion should be viewed with a little bit of scepticism.
- The statement “What Heartland is doing is harmful, because it gets in the way of public consensus and action.” is a potential moral minefield. If 90% of the population decide that it is alright to persecute a peaceful minority would that be alright? If 90% of the population strongly believe that potential terrorists should be held without trial and tortured, would that be alright?
But leaving these issues aside, the problem with telling lies, or exaggerating, is when you are found out. Once you have lost people’s trust, it is very hard to regain that trust. Dale Carnegie in “How To Win Friends And Influence People” made this very point.
However, from a purely utilitarian point of view it might be permissible to mislead a suspect criminal in order to find the evidence, at it is not that person’s trust that you want to maintain. The wider public will generally think well of you if you get a criminal off the streets. But if it is to marginalise you opponents, it will backfire if the wider public then perceive that you cannot be trusted. This is especially true when much of the case for climate change is based on trust in scientists to report accurately on a complex subject.
The reasons that there is growing distrust in the scientific consensus are multiple:
- Michael Mann’s hockey stick studies were based on cherry-picked data, biased weightings of individual studies that showed hockey sticks over the ones that did not AND the favoured studies have all been overturned.
- The UNIPCC 2007 report did not live up the projected image in a number of areas. The Himalayan Glaciers episode is only the tip of the non-melting iceberg. It is full of partisan analysis and exclusion of contrary science.
- The Climategate email hack also showed the public image of certainties held by a wide number of scientists is nothing of the sort. The core group are highly partisan, and have taken strenuous efforts to exclude contrary views from the journals.
Finally, please remember that activists have got every major scientific body, including the Royal Society, to make proclamations in favour of Global Warming Alarmism. If public funding of science is seen to go to those who lie and exaggerate, then there will be increased distrust in all areas of science. These activists scientists are risking more than their own reputations.
Posted by manicbeancounter on February 28, 2012
The current effort to “clarfiy” the law on assisted suicides will attain the opposite of its intention. The intention is to make society more humane, and promote human rights, by making it clear the boundaries for assisting loved ones who clearly wish to take their own life. An the boundary will be laid in such a way that they will no longer face prosecution. However, what of those who are pushed into it. The elderly parent going senile, or with degenerating physical condition. Will the onus be on them to go quickly rather than ruin the best year’s of their children’s lives? Or will they be feel pressurised or morally obliged to go, rather than exhaust their children’s inheritance in a care home?
Our laws are influenced by our moral environment, but they also influence it. It is better to leave alone, with the understanding that clear cases of compassionate assistance in suicide are not prosecuted. But the unspoken understanding is that if there is a suspicion of undue pressure, then the full weight of the law can be unambigously applied, without necessity of proving that pressure. This is both compassionate and just.
Maybe Nadine Dorries is right, in principle, in saying this issue should go before Parliament. But Parliament is so weakenened at present that it will be whipped into place on the whim of the spin doctors. And those spin doctors like rules & regulations.
Posted by manicbeancounter on August 6, 2009