A recent paper, based on an internet survey of American people, claimed that “conspiracist ideation, is associated with the rejection of all scientific propositions tested“. Analysis of the data reveals something quite different. Strong opinions with regard to conspiracy theories, whether for or against, suggest strong support for strongly-supported scientific hypotheses, and strong, but divided, opinions on climate science.
In 2012 I spent a lot of time looking at a paper “Lewandowsky, Oberauer & Gignac – NASA faked the moon landing:Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science” – hereafter called LOG12. The follow up in early 2013 was the notorious Recursive Fury paper that has now been withdrawn (Here and here). When a new paper came out, by the same authors reaching pretty much the same conclusions, I had lost interest.
However, Barry Woods, a victim of the Recursive Fury paper, suggested in a comment:-
Lewandowsky always claimed that his US study replicated LOG12
Could you try the same pivot table analysis as LOG12?
I had a quick look at the file, tried a few pivot tables, had a short email exchange, and found something interesting.
The 2013 US study is “The Role of Conspiracist Ideation and Worldviews in Predicting Rejection of Science” – Stephan Lewandowsky, Gilles E. Gignac, Klaus Oberauer. PLOS one. Hereafter called LOG13.
The two papers were similar in that
- The three authors were the same.
- Many of the questions were the same, or very similar.
- The conclusions were similar.
The two papers are different in that
- LOG12 was an internet survey, conducted solely through “pro-science” blogs. LOG13 was another internet survey, but this time of the U.S. population.
- LOG12 had just 4 responses. Running 1 to 4 they are strongly/weakly reject and weakly strongly accept. LOG13 had 5 responses. In the middle there was a neutral/don’t know/no opinion option.
At “Shaping Tommorow’s World” Blog, Lewandowsky and Oberauer said of the LOG13 paper:-
Conclusions: Free-market worldviews are an important predictor of the rejection of scientific findings that have potential regulatory implications, such as climate science, but not necessarily of other scientific issues. Conspiracist ideation, by contrast, is associated with the rejection of all scientific propositions tested.
It is the last part that I will deal with in this posting. Free market views I may come back to at a later time.
Comparison of conspiracist orientations and science denial in LOG12 (pro-science blogs) and LOG13 (Americans)
LOG12 had thirteen questions on conspiracy theories and LOG13 nine. In the latter three were on science issues and one on “New World Order”. That left five that are comparable between the papers, but independent of the scientific / political subject matter1.
In LOG12 there were two scientific questions. In short they are “HIV causes AIDS” and “smoking causes lung cancer”. In LOG13 was added “lead in drinking water harms health”
This can be compared by banding the belief in conspiracy theories by the rounded average response.
The first column in the table is the band, taken by rounding the average response to the nearest whole number for the responses to the 5 conspiracy theories. The second column is the unrounded average response within the band. The third column is the number of responses. The fourth column is the average response to the two science questions. The fifth column is acceptance ratio.
For the LOG12 survey, conducted via “pro-climate science” blogs, the connection is clear. The belief in the five conspiracy theories is inversely related to belief in two well-accepted scientific hypotheses. However, there is strong acceptance of the two science questions by all but two respondents. The two respondents who were in the highest conspiracy category I referred to as “rogue responses” in my earlier analysis, and which Steve McIntyre called “super-scammers”. Take out the two scam responses and there is a picture of degrees of science acceptance and no science denial.
For the LOG13, an internet survey of the American public, there is a somewhat different picture. The belief in three well-accepted scientific hypotheses appears to be related to the strength of opinion for three conspiracy theories, independent of the direction of that opinion. The respondents with the least belief in the scientific hypotheses are those who are in the middle on conspiracy theories. That is those who express no opinion, or give similar weight to both sides. Yet they still are, on average, affirming of the scientific consensus. There is no “rejection of the science” at all by any band of belief in conspiracy theories. Further, the greatest “believers in science” are the 12 who have the greatest “conspiracist” ideation. Like the authors, I have no truck with conspiracy theories. But the evidence does not support the statement “conspiracist ideation, … is associated with the rejection of all scientific propositions tested“. Falsely maligning a group of people will only serve to confirm them in their beliefs.
Comparison of conspiracist orientations and climate science denial in LOG12 (pro-science blogs) and LOG13 (Americans)
A similar comparison can be made between the beliefs in conspiracy theories and the beliefs in climate science.
In LOG12 there appears to be a relationship. 97% of respondents strongly accept climate science and reject conspiracy theories. The 30 who have a modest acceptance of conspiracy theories are a little more lukewarm on climate science. The real odd result are the two scam responses.
In LOG13 there is a distinct relationship here – the stronger the belief in conspiracy theories, the lower the belief in climate science. But hold on. A score of 3 is neutral, and 5 is total acceptance. The difference is between very lukewarm acceptance and virtually no opinion either way. To claim rejection is misleading. However, the result appears to contradict the previous result the three scientific hypotheses. To understand this result needs closer examination. There were 5 statements and 1001 responses, so 5005 total responses in total. Counting all the responses gives the following result4
To clarify, the “Grand Total” row shows that there were 366 scores of 1 in the 5 CO2 science statements. Of these 15 were by the 12 respondents who averaged a score of 5 in the conspiracy theories. The proportions I believe can be better seen by the percentage of responses in each row.
So 7% of all the 5005 responses were a score of 1. Of the 60 responses by the strongest believers in conspiracy theories, 25% were score of 1.
We get a similar result for belief climate science to belief in three well-accepted scientific hypotheses. Those with the most extreme opinions on conspiracy theories are those with the most extreme opinions on climate change. But there is a crucial difference, in that opinions on climate change are split between acceptance and rejection. The 12 respondents, who were the strongest believers in conspiracy theories, also had the highest proportion of 1s and 5s on the climate questions. The second most extreme group was the 215 respondents on the strong rejection group. The highest proportion of 3s, along with the lowest proportions of 1s and 5s were those in middle band on conspiracy theories. Holding strong opinions on conspiracy theories seems to be a predictor of strong opinions on climate science, but not a predictor of whether that is strong belief or strong rejection.
Corroboration of the result
The results of the internet survey confirm something about people in the United States that I and many others have suspected – they are a substantial minority who love their conspiracy theories. For me, it seemed quite a reasonable hypothesis that these conspiracy lovers should be both suspicious of science and have a propensity to reject climate science. Analysis of the survey results has over-turned those views. Instead I propose something more mundane – that people with strong opinions in one area are very likely to have strong opinions in others.
In relation to the United States, there is a paradox if you follow the “conspiracist ideation”. Along with being a hotbed of conspiracy theorists, the US is also home to 11 or 15 of the World’s top universities and much of the technological revolutions of the past 50 years originate. If science is about conformity and belief in the established expert opinion, this could not have happened.
- Five, non-science, conspiracy theories, in common to LOG12 and LOG13
Comparing the average scores across the two surveys can be confusing where there are a different number of options. The acceptance ratio makes average scores comparable where there are a large number of responses. Strong acceptance scores 1, strong rejection -1 and the mid-point 0.
- Climate Science
LOG 12 had four questions on Climate science
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
LOG 13 had five questions on Climate science
CNatFluct I believe that the climate is always changing and what we are currently observing is just natural fluctuation. (R)
CdueGHG I believe that most of the warming over the last 50 years is due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations.
CseriousDamage I believe that the burning of fossil fuels over the last 50 years has caused serious damage to the planet’s climate.
CO2causesCC Human CO2 emissions cause climate change.
HumansInsign Humans are too insignificant to have an appreciable impact on global temperature. (R)
- Response Count
To replicate my response table, create a pivot table for count of responses for each of the climate change statements. Make the conspiracy bands the row labels, and a climate statement as the column label. Add the results together.