John Cook undermining democracy through misinformation

It seems that John Cook was posting comments in 2011 under the pseudonym Lubos Motl. The year before physicist and blogger Luboš Motl had posted a rebuttal of Cook’s then 104 Global Warming & Climate Change Myths. When someone counters your beliefs point for point, then most people would naturally feel some anger. Taking the online identity of Motl is potentially more than identity theft. It can be viewed as an attempt to damage the reputation of someone you oppose.

However, there is a wider issue here. In 2011 John Cook co-authored with Stephan Lewandowsky The Debunking Handbook, that is still featured prominently on the This short tract starts with the following paragraphs:-

It’s self-evident that democratic societies should base their decisions on accurate information. On many issues, however, misinformation can become entrenched in parts of the community, particularly when vested interests are involved. Reducing the influence of misinformation is a difficult and complex challenge.

A common misconception about myths is the notion that removing its influence is as simple as packing more information into people’s heads. This approach assumes that public misperceptions are due to a lack of knowledge and that the solution is more information – in science communication, it’s known as the “information deficit model”. But that model is wrong: people don’t process information as simply as a hard drive downloading data.

If Cook was indeed using the pseudonym Lubos Motl then he was knowingly putting out into the public arena misinformation in a malicious form. If he misrepresented Motl’s beliefs, then the public may not know who to trust. Targeted against one effective critic, it could trash their reputation. At a wider scale it could allow morally and scientifically inferior views to gain prominence over superior viewpoints. If the alarmist beliefs were superior it what be necessary to misrepresent alternative opinions. Open debate would soon reveal which side had the better views. But in debating and disputing, all sides would sharpen their arguments. What would quickly disappear is the reliance on opinion surveys and rewriting of dictionaries. Instead, proper academics would be distinguishing between quality, relevant evidence from dogmatic statements based on junk sociology and psychology. They would start defining the boundaries of expertise between the basic physics, computer modelling, results analysis, public policy-making, policy-implementation, economics, ethics and the philosophy of science. They may then start to draw on the understanding that has been achieved in these subject areas.

Kevin Marshall

A Great and Humble Man Dies

Sir Nicholas Winton died today at 106 Years Old. A true hero of mine.