Lewandowsky et al. 2012 MOTIVATED REJECTION OF SCIENCE – Part 4 Political Opinions

This is the fourth in a series on Lewandowsky, Oberauer & Gignac – NASA faked the moon landing:Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science (in press, Psychological Science).

This posting is further analysis of the data set sourced by Katabasis. (The data is now available from Bishop Hill) The previous post looked at the conspiracy theory question, whilst this looks at the link that the survey makes between free market ideas and rejection of climate science. From the abstract, this was the primary theme of the survey.


Although nearly all domain experts agree that human CO2 emissions are altering the

world’s climate, segments of the public remain unconvinced by the scientific evidence.

Internet blogs have become a vocal platform for climate denial, and bloggers have taken a

prominent and influential role in questioning climate science. We report a survey (N

> 1100) of climate blog users to identify the variables underlying acceptance and rejection

of climate science. Paralleling previous work, we find that endorsement of a laissez-faire

conception of free-market economics predicts rejection of climate science (r≈:80 between

latent constructs). Endorsement of the free market also predicted the rejection of other

established scientific findings, such as the facts that HIV causes AIDS and that smoking

causes lung cancer. We additionally show that endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy

theories (e.g., that the CIA killed Martin-Luther King or that NASA faked the moon

landing) predicts rejection of climate science as well as the rejection of other scientific

findings, above and beyond endorsement of laissez-faire free markets. This provides

empirical confirmation of previous suggestions that conspiracist ideation contributes to

the rejection of science. Acceptance of science, by contrast, was strongly associated with

the perception of a consensus among scientists.

There were relatively few questions to identify the political views of the respondent.

The Free Market Questions

FMUnresBest An economic system based on free markets

unrestrained by government interference automatically

works best to meet human needs.

FMNotEnvQual I support the free market system but not at the expense

of the environmental quality.

FMLimitSocial The free market system may be efficient for resource

allocation but it is limited in its capacity to promote

social justice.

FMMoreImp The preservation of the free market system is more

important than localized environmental concerns.

FMThreatEnv Free and unregulated markets pose important threats

to sustainable development.

FMUnsustain The free market system is likely to promote

unsustainable consumption.

The Climate Science Questions

CO2TempUp I believe that burning fossil fuels increases atmospheric

temperature to some measurable degree.

CO2AtmosUp I believe that the burning of fossil fuels on the scale observed over the last 50 years has increased atmospheric temperature to an appreciable degree.
CO2WillNegChange I believe that the burning of fossil fuels on the scale observed over the last 50 years will cause serious negative changes to the planet’s climate unless there is a substantial switch to non CO2 emitting energy sources.
CO2HasNegChange I believe that the burning of fossil fuels on the scale observed over the last 50 years has caused serious negative changes to the planet’s climate.

The Results

The answers for the free market questions are from 1 (reject the free market) to 4 (complete agreement to free market).

The answers for the climate science questions are from 1 (totally Reject) to 4 (complete agreement).

As in my previous posting, for the Climate Science questions I graded the answers to the four questions into groups based on the average score.

The answer is clear from the poll results. The stronger the support for free markets, the more likely one is to reject the climate science.

Taking the average score and rounding to the nearest whole number, the picture is even clearer.

The more free-market the views expressed, the greater the rejection of the science. Does this substantiate Lewandowsky et. al’s assertions?

Err No.

There are some series issues with this result.

Firstly, the survey was only available on a certain type of blog. Depending on your point of view, they are either pro-science or alarmist. These are


If you sample some of their articles, you will find a dogmatic defence of climate change, and blocking, editing or denigration views that are contrary to their own. To regularly trawl through articles that you disagree with takes a certain kind of person that may not be representative of the wider sceptic community. Given that the sceptic blogs attract a wider audience than the “pro-science” ones, the fact that only 15% of responses were from sceptics says that only a minority regularly visit the blogs antagonistic to their views. In other words, the survey is not representative of the true population of those interested in the climate change / global warming issues.

Then there are the questions themselves.

At first glance the questions do not allow for the middle ground. Many sceptics who are not libertarian in outlook have then a number of options.

  1. Some might quit the survey in disgust, thus creating a sample less representative of the true population. There was no record kept of the numbers of part completed surveys, nor the point at which they were completed. The lack of neutrality and narrowness of the range of questions suggests that might be material.
  2. The second is to answer questions in opposition to the climate consensus. That is the join in coalition to free-marketers to oppose the environmentalist ideology. This is quite logical. Environmentalist ideology can be viewed as increasing authoritarianism, constraining economic growth (and thus the prospect of ever-rising standards of living) along with regressive cost increases in electricity and fuel for cars. In other words, those who want the status quo to be maintained join in coalition with those who want the direction of change to be the opposite of where environmentalists are pulling. There is no risk here for the moderates. Libertarianism is nowhere a major political force.

Let us look at the average response for each question to see if this is suggested.

The most pragmatic question is the least polarized. People may support a position ideologically, but will compromise if there is a demonstrable need or benefit. Conversely the last two questions are the most ideological. A lot of people are motivated to oppose a movement that is contrary to their own beliefs. In other words, the nature of the questions further drives people into opposing camps.

How should Lewandowsky have approached these problems? If he was an objective scientist, Lewandowsky would have sought advice from professional pollsters on the content of the questions. They would have advised more neutral, and a broader range of questions to enable people to express a range of views. They would have also advised validity checks to make sure the survey results were representative of the population at large. But Stefan Lewandowsky is not an objective scientist. His agenda is to prevent any opposition to the ideology he and others promote.

Are there any conclusions to be drawn?

The biases in the free market questions apply to those who reject climate science. However, as a survey of those who accept the climate science, it is more valid.

Firstly the sample size is significant. Merging the six groups into 3 gives:-

The sample size of 854 is quite large, and more than six times the size of those who reject climate science.

Secondly, the sample is likely to represent the true population of “Acceptors”, as it was placed on the blogs that they frequent.

Thirdly, as the survey was devised by people sympathetic to their point of view, the abandonment rate should not have been any higher than for more neutral polls.

The major conclusion is that those who “accept the science” have no truck with conspiracy theories. On political opinions, they strongly support an ideology which promotes the environment at the expense of economic growth and economic freedoms. That is the, planet should be given a higher priority relative to the people that live on it.

Thus the true result of the survey data is not that those who oppose climate science are nutters. Rather, it is that those who support climate science have views that are at odds to, and contrary to the best interests of, the vast majority. We have not got here the justification to silence the opposition, but giving them due weighting.

Leave a comment


  1. tlitb1

     /  03/09/2012

    Thanks for this excellent work it certainly lays out the data far more clearly than the obfuscation of “latent variable modelling” and the outright lie of the title.

    Just one thing, don’t you think it strange that the following two FM questions seem to skew in the same direction as the rest of the FM questions?:

    FMThreatEnv Free and unregulated markets pose important threats
    to sustainable development.

    FMUnsustain The free market system is likely to promote
    unsustainable consumption.

    Both skew as accepted by “climate science rejectors” and rejected by “pro-science” but I would have assumed they would provoke the opposite tendency. Admittedly that is just my prior assumption, and science is about confounding prejudice 😉

    • manicbeancounter

       /  03/09/2012


      It is a standard ploy in setting questionnaires to make people change the position of their ticks. These two questions would have the 4 at the left side, the others at the right side on screen. Therefore any responses with ticks in the same position are rejected as the person (or computer) has not thought about the questions,

      This goes to show that the people compiling the questionnaire are not rank amateurs. They have had proper training in setting questionnaires. But instead of setting a questionnaire that is neutral, they took a number of steps that would confirm their hypotheses. Despite this they had no confirmation on the faked moon landing conspiracy theory hypothesis, so they just lied.

      • tlitb1

         /  03/09/2012

        Thanks, I see now. I missed the “R = reverse scored” note next to those questions on the paper. 🙂

  2. Brian H

     /  03/09/2012

    Good analysis. Lots of grammar and spelling boners, though.

    E.g.: “There are some series issues with this result.” Indeed. Serious ones, too! 😉

    • manicbeancounter

       /  03/09/2012


      You know that I am a number cruncher, not a wordsmith. Thanks again for checking.


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