Conspiracist Ideation Falsified?


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 The follow up in early 2013 was the notorious Recursive Fury paper that has now been withdrawn (Here and here).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.

Kevin Marshall



  1. Five, non-science, conspiracy theories, in common to LOG12 and LOG13
  • CYMLK The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. was the result of an organized conspiracy by U.S. government agencies such as the CIA and FBI.
  • CYMoon The Apollo moon landings never happened and were staged in a Hollywood film studio.
  • CYJFK The assassination of John F. Kennedy was not committed by the lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald but was rather a detailed organized conspiracy to kill the President.
  • CY911 The U.S. government allowed the 9–11 attacks to take place so that it would have an excuse to achieve foreign (e.g., wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) and domestic (e.g., attacks on civil liberties) goals that had been determined prior to the attacks.
  • CYDiana Princess Diana’s death was not an accident but rather an organised assassination by members of the British royal family who disliked her.


  1. Acceptance Ratio

    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.


  2. 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)

  1. 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.


Lewandowsky – Climate Scientists should be listened to because they are wrong

Stephen Lewandowsky has another couple of papers out. From e! Science News

Scientific uncertainty has been described as a ‘monster’ that prevents understanding and delays mitigative action in response to climate change. New research by Professor Stephan Lewandowsky of the University of Bristol, and international colleagues, shows that uncertainty should make us more rather than less concerned about climate change. In two companion papers, published today in Climatic Change, the researchers investigated the mathematics of uncertainty in the climate system and showed that increased scientific uncertainty necessitates even greater action to mitigate climate change.

The scientists used an ordinal approach — a range of mathematical methods that address the question: ‘What would the consequences be if uncertainty is even greater than we think it is?’


Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, Chair in Cognitive Psychology and member of the Cabot Institute at the University of Bristol, said: “We can understand the implications of uncertainty, and in the case of the climate system, it is very clear that greater uncertainty will make things even worse. This means that we can never say that there is too much uncertainty for us to act. If you appeal to uncertainty to make a policy decision the legitimate conclusion is to increase the urgency of mitigation.”

Co-author, Dr James Risbey of Australia’s CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, said: “Some point to uncertainty as a way to minimize the climate change problem, when in fact it means that the problem is more likely to be worse than expected in the absence of that uncertainty. This result is robust to a range of assumptions and shows that uncertainty does not excuse inaction.”

If we assume that catastrophic climate change is a fundamental truth, the authors are right. The task of climate science is to reveal that truth to the world. If that truth cannot be accurately accessed, then the consequences of unmitigated climate change will be greater than if they could be. But if there is no fundamental truth to be revealed then all what you have is a number of dogmatic people who cannot accept that their theories are not backed by the evidence. The failure to understand the path to climate catastrophe might be due to no climate catastrophe in prospect. Persistent failures increase the likelihood that the belief in the fundamental truth of climate catastrophism is just a cult. Circumstantial evidence is in the unique methods and language of the “science”; moral certitude; failure to appreciate climate change could be a trivial problem; belief in their infallibility; reliance on belief in science, as opposed to accepting science that fails to be falsified; failure to recognize that those who disagree may also have valid viewpoint; and the denigration of anybody who asks questions as heretics deniers. Further, the solution is always the same, fitting in with an extremist socialist-environmentalist world view. There is no recognition that mitigation policies can fail. If mitigation can avert climate catastrophe it is a tautology to state that if mitigation is only practiced in a few minor emitting countries, those countries will bear all the cost of policies, and future generations will endure virtually all the consequences. The same is tautological truth applies if mitigation is practiced globally, but fails to reduce emissions.

The pay walled papers are here and here.

Kevin Marshall

Update :Jo Nova has a satirical take on the latest Lew papers.

Lewandowsky’s setback on campaign to undermine academic pluralism and excellence

The “Recursive Fury” paper, that allegedly libelled a number of bloggers1, has been taken down2. Lead author Stephan Lewandowsky has given his reaction at Shaping tommorow’s world.

Two of the “Recursive Fury” paper authors were Prof Lewandowsky and the blogger John Cook3. In 2011 they co-wrote “The Debunking Handbook“. I ask that readers view my comments in the context of the following opening statement:-

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.

My comment is copied below. In brief I try to cover:-

  • Lewandowsky’s smearing of the majority with the views expressed by a minority.
  • Total failure to empathise with alternative points of view.
  • How his appeals for academic freedom are the reverse.
  • How the false allegations and smears are used to a shutdown questions on public policy.
  • How the “Lewandowsky Episode” can become a textbook example of why promotion of pluralism is necessary in our universities.
  • 56.ManicBeancounter at 20:37 PM on 23 March, 2014

    Stephan Lewandowsky,
    As a professor, you should be my intellectual superior. As a scientist you should be able to provide novel explanations about your subject area that go beyond what the non-specialist would find out for themselves, but at the same time accommodate the basic understanding that the non-specialist.
    Your “Hoax” paper ignored the obvious conclusion of the data. The vast majority of respondents did not believe in the cranky conspiracy theories, regardless of their views on “climate science”. Any “conspiracist ideation” revolves around differences in the small proportions that do. That means that the vast majority of “skeptics” who do not understand will feel insulted. Morally you should have clearly stated that any conclusions only apply to a small minority. The first part of the paper’s title inferred the opposite.
    “NASA Faked the Moon Landing—Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax”
    Out of 1145 respondents, just 2 strongly rejected “climate science” and strongly supported that faxed moon landing theory. The question was not asked of those two people if they followed that path of reasoning. Unsurprisingly, when you smear people with ideas that they find insulting they express outrage. There is nothing “confected” about this.
    There are three things that make this beyond the pale of academic freedom
    First, you do not advance knowledge, but to repress the obvious empirical statement (the vast majority do not believe in cranky conspiracy theories) with the opposite.
    Second is that the smears is to deny a group of people who you disagree with a voice.
    Third, is that you use false allegations of intellectual inferiority to evaluate climate “science”, to prevent a voice in matters of public policy. Yet the voices that you seek to repress often have far greater understanding and knowledge of economics and policy implementation than you and your fellow-travelling academics.
    Academic freedom must be protected so that ideas and knowledge that challenge society’s established beliefs can be nurtured. But that must be accompanied by a deliberate policy of pluralism, for there are none so defensive of their protecting their beliefs or ideas as those who spent their lives developing them. Professor Lewandowsky, your work in the last three years should become a textbook example of the attempts and consequences to suppress that freedom.

    69.ManicBeancounter at 06:39 AM on 24 March, 2014


    Your comment 68 shows a basic function of peer review. Correcting the obvious errors. If there is no such quality control then the demarcation between academic and non-academic literature simply collapses. Further, if the academia cannot easily distinguish the excellent from the dross, then there must be a quality control before their recommendations are passed into public policy. Much the same way are new pharmaceuticals must go through rigorous regulatory testing before being proscribed to the public.

    70.ManicBeancounter at 06:59 AM on 24 March, 2014

    My comments as 57 and 70 should be viewed in the context of the opening comment in the “The Debunking Handbook”, written by John Cook and Stephen Lewandowsky and accessible on the right column.

    “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.”

    By any independent measure the “Hoax” and “Recursive Fury” papers are full of misinformation. The authors aim at establishing a monopoly on truth, but by their very words, and subsequent behaviour, show that they are the last people you would entrust with that monopoly. There is no better example for the need of democratic societies to promote pluralism through competition in their universities to prevent the establishment of dogma. This is particularly true in Australia and the UK, where Government’s would like their universities to be World-leading.


  1. This includes Steve McIntyre, Barry Woods, Geoff Chambers and “Foxgoose”.
  2. See BishopHill (here and here), Geoff Chambers, Steve McIntyre, Australian Climate Madness (here and here), and the Guardian.
  3. This is the same John Cook who thinks he can define the meaning of words better than a dictionary.

Kevin Marshall

Lewandowsky fails his own low standards

Prof Stephen Lewandowsky keeps on digging a deeper hole for himself, and anybody associated with him. At “Shaping Tomorrow’s World” he has posted his personal values statement. Ben Pile has given it a pretty good frisking. A part of these beliefs is that opinions should only be expressed and debated in the peer-reviewed literature. This is interesting given that many of Lewandowsky’s arguments are outside the peer-reviewed literature. In a comment, I gave a recent example that undermines his claims:-

A major argument of Lewandowsky, is that critics of climate change are a bunch of conspiracy theory-loving nutters. At “The Conversation”, a taxpayer-funded blog for Australian and British academics to sound off, Prof. Lewandowsky stated

While consistency is a hallmark of science, conspiracy theorists often subscribe to contradictory beliefs at the same time – for example, that MI6 killed Princess Diana, and that she also faked her own death.

This was from a peer-reviewed study, that stated

In Study 1(n= 137), the more participants believed that Princess Diana faked her own death, the more they believed that she was murdered.

Steve McIntyre, with some difficulty, obtained the data. There was a reason for the author being a bit circumspect. McIntyre said

Within the Wood dataset, only two (!) respondents purported to believe that Diana faked her own death. Neither of these two respondents also purported to believe that MI6 killed Princess Diana. The subpopulation of people that believed that Diana staged her own death and that MI6 killed her was precisely zero.

The reason that the authors, the peer-reviewers and Prof. Lewandowsky failed to pick up on this is that they failed to do basic check on the data, using pivot tables. Instead, they rely on sophisticated statistical tests that Lewandowsky himself has used in his hoax paper. (The reason for the failure was succinctly expressed by Brandon Shallonberger in the comments) Ben Pile also used simple pivot tables, and eloquent language to completely demolish Lewandowsky’s 2012 hoax paper.

This example demonstrates three things

1. Lewandowsky does not stick to his own peer-reviewed rules.

2. Peer review can fail spectacularly.

3. Alternative opinions of data are possible, and the best analysis does not necessarily come from the most sophisticated techniques on the whizziest computers.

3. Lewandowsky swallowed misinformation because it accorded with his beliefs and lack of expertise in interpreting statistics. As a psychology professor studying misinformation, who is also “an award-winning teacher of statistics“, this is far less excusable than any trivial mistakes by the people he attacks.

Lewandowsky’s false inference from an absurd correlation

Steve McIntyre has posted a number of instances where Stephan Lewandowsky has reported correlations for which there is little or no evidence. My comment is

Even more bizarre than absurd correlations, is to draw inferences of cause and effect from correlations, when there are a huge number of equally valid (or invalid) inferences that can be made.

The title of the Hoax paper is “NASA faked the moon landing|Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science“. The first part implies that, due to coming to believe that the moon landing was faked, survey respondents reasoned that climate science was also a hoax. But, given that this survey was only on climate blogs, is it not more likely that the respondent’s rejection of “official” or orthodox version of events goes the other way?

Looking at the data there is a similar issue of low numbers on support of the paired statements. Only 10/1145 supported CYMoon. Of these only 3 supported CYClimChange. Of these only 2 scored “4” for both. And these were the two faked/scam/rogue respondents 860 & 889 whose support of every conspiracy theory underpinned many of the correlations. The third, 963, also supported every conspiracy theory. Let us assume that they are genuine believers in all the conspiracy theories. Further, let us assume that one of the 13 conspiracies in the survey did trigger a response of the form “because I now know A was a conspiracy, I now believe B is a conspiracy”. There are 2n(n-1)= 312 possible versions of this statement. Or, more likely, no such reasoning process went through any respondent’s mind at all. Given the question was never asked, and there is no supporting evidence for the statement “NASA faked the moon landing|Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax” it most likely a figment of someone’s imagination.

Data in support of this statement

In the survey the answer 1 was a strong rejection, 4 a strong support. Out of 1145 responses, only 6 strongly supported the “NASA faked the Moon Landing” hypothesis, and a further 4 lent support to it. Of these 10, only 3 support the “Climate Change is a Hoax” statement.

The strong support for conspiracy theories is shown by giving the average score of respondents over all 13 conspiracy questions. The 3 that supported by CYMoon and CYClimChange had the highest average scores of all 1145 respondents.

Stephan Lewandowsky – a self-confessed danger to democracy

Australian Climate Madness takes a swipe at Stephan Lewandowsky’s latest taxpayer-funded polemic. This is an extended version of my comment.

Lewandowsky’s sneaky request “to mention only my assistant’s name, Charles Hanich, on the online survey” has particular relevance to what followed. Before Joanne Nova published her “Lewandowsky show skeptics are nutters… post, she contacted a number of skeptic bloggers to search their inbox for Lewandowsky’s survey. There was no mention of his research assistant in the paper, so naturally all the resultant searches drew a blank. On this basis I wrote on 03.09.12:-

The claim in the paper that they contacted five sceptical blogs to improve the spread of views is highly suspect.

It turns out that my suspicions were correct. Stephen Lewandowsky had not contacted any of the skeptic sites, and deliberately kept people in the dark as to this fact.

Lewandowsky posted on 10.09.12 at Shaping Tomorrow’s World

1. When will an apology be forthcoming for the accusations launched against me? And how many individuals should now be issuing a public apology?

To explore the magnitude of this question we must take stock of public statements that have been made about my research. For example, one blogger considered it “highly suspect” whether I had contacted any “skeptic” sites. (emphasis mine)

Linking to my comment, Prof. Lewandowsky, knowing my suspicions to be true, brazenly demands that I apologize for daring to suspect him.

He digs himself a deeper hole by saying later

we now know that the presumed lack of evidence was actually evidence for a measure of carelessness or shoddy record keeping among the individuals contacted.

It gets worse. Prof Lewandowsky co-wrote with John Cook a short pamphlet called The Debunking Handbook.

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.

What Lewandowsky engaged in was misinformation. He asked to keep secret his identity, gave obscure (or non-existent) clues to emails and then claimed bloggers “amnesia” when they failed to find emails sent to them by unidentified individual. He did this whilst believing that such misinformation would work to the advantage of himself and his unsupported beliefs, whilst undermining democracy.

He later went onto attack my simple analysis using pivot tables. Yet such analysis revealed much the LOG12 paper omitted. For example

– how few skeptic responses there were (c.15%)

– how few supported many of the conspiracy theories (e.g. Moon landing hoax = 10/1145, AIDS created by US Govt = 9/1145)

– That key to the higher proportion of skeptics supporting conspiracy theories were two rogue responses.

The whole paper is misinformation, aimed at getting an alleged majority to discriminate against those who have alternative points of view. Lack of any counter-balance is the major factor that makes people vulnerable to misinformation. Further research on belief in conspiracy theories would reveal that they are more predominant in communities where there are strong belief systems with enforced dominance.

Kevin Marshall

Anyone who wishes to contact me can do so through the comments. I will not publish any such request made in a non-threatening fashion. I will publish counter-arguments, so that others might compare and contrast for themselves.

Smoking Causes Lung Cancer therefore Climate Change will cause more Extreme Weather: Unpicking a pseudo-analogy

A few weeks ago Stephen Lewandowsky, James Risbey and Naomi Oreskes posted at the Conversation “Climate change is not all disaster and uncertainty“. This compared the strongly-supported hypothesis that “Smoking causes lung cancer” with the hypothesis that “climate change will cause extreme weather events”. Below is the comment I posted.

You make an analogy between climate change and smoking causes lung cancer. It is worth exploring this analogy further. According to Cancer Research UK 86% of people who caught lung cancer in 2010 were smokers. A smoker is 15 times more likely to catch lung cancer than somebody who has never smoked. Put another way, only 1 in 15 smokers who caught lung cancer would have caught it anyway – and you cannot identify which these people are. Also lung cancer has a 90% mortality rate and can be diagnosed by professionals very clearly. It is a nontrivial problem both for the people experiencing it and there are large numbers dying from it.

Climate policy is about prevention of nontrivial adverse climate change, predicted to happen many years into the future. With less than one degree of warming so far (which might be partly natural), the severe effects are difficult to detect amongst all the infrequent naturally-caused extreme events, with natural cycles and fluctuations. There are two ways that this differs from lung cancer.

Firstly, somebody either has lung cancer or not. There is no trivial in between. In between human caused climate change being false and there being an apocalyptic problem, there is a huge range of possibilities. This is from the highly trivial through being a significant problem, to being serious enough to justify global mitigation policy.

Secondly, whereas for a smoker who catches lung cancer it is most probably caused by smoking, an extreme weather event occurring now will most probably not be caused by climate change, whereas (if the predictions are correct and no successful policies are implemented) one happening in 2100 will most probably will be.

That leads to a dual problem. Extreme weather events may become much more extreme in the future, but this will only be detectable over large numbers of similar events at the present time. Even that will not necessarily point to a problem severe enough to justify the adoption of mitigation policies.

If there is false attribution or exaggeration for promotion people will smell something quite different than the climate science. There has been huge damage to climate change cause in England from the prediction in 2000 that children will grow up never knowing what snow is, or in the USA by saying hurricanes would become more frequent and stronger after Katrina. As a result of these and other failures many people will fail to believe anything that is said by competent scientists. Unless more objective and scientific methods are discerned for isolating the anthropogenic climate change signal than the hollering of climate activists, then the message will not get across. Even for those not turned off, the failure of the short-term predictions will conclude (like most sceptics) that it is a far more trivial problem to that which the climate consensus portrays.

Kevin Marshall

Fundamentals that Climate Science Ignores

Updated 08/09/13 am

Updated 08/09/13 pm – M The Null Hypothesis

Climate Science is a hugely complex subject, dealing with phenomena that are essentially chaotic, with vague patterns. Yet the promotion of that science is banal and superficial. Below are some of the fundamentals that have been addressed in established areas like economics, philosophy and English Common Law, but which the Climate Science community ignores. Most overlap, or are different ways of looking at the same thing.

A Positive and Normative

I do not hold with the logical positivism in vogue in the early parts of the C20th and later underpinning the “positive economics” ideas of Milton Friedman that was popular in the 1950s to 1980s. But it made the useful distinction between positive statements (empirically based statements) and normative statements (what ought to be). The language of climate science is heavily value-laden. There is not attempt to distinguish positive from normative in language, nor highlight that competency in the sphere of positive statements is not necessarily an indication of competency in normative ones.  For instance, when scientists make statements about the moral imperative for policy, they may overemphasize the moral questions raised as they may be too close to the subject. In fact believing that that rising greenhouse gas levels causes a worsening of climate can lead to a bias towards the simplified solution to constrain that growth. It takes understanding of the entirely separate fields of economics and public policy-making to determine whether this is achievable, or the best solution.

B Boundary conditions

There is no clear definition of science in general or the study of climate in particular. The only underlying definitions are tantamount to saying that science is what scientists do, and scientific statements are those made by scientists. Without a clear definition of science, scientists end up making unsupported statements, outside their area of competency. For instance, scientists often make statements about the economic case for policy. With the term “climate change” encompassing both, the general public are misled into believing that “climate scientists” cover both areas.

C Open and closed questions

A closed question can by answered by a single word. The narrowest closed questions are those can be answered “Yes/No” or “True/False”. Open questions need fuller answers. Climate change is not just about closed questions. It is about how much, how likely, when and where. If terms of boundary, there is not a closed question of science versus non-science – with the boundary in actual work being between that published in a peer-reviewed journal and that published outside. That leads onto non-triviality and quality conditions and relevancy

D Trivial v. Non-trivial

The strongest evidence for global warming suggests a trivial issue. In one aspect this is true by definition. The non-trivial part – the potential climate catastrophe that policy seeks to avert – relies upon future projections. This relies on temperature rises many times greater than so far experienced. Projections will always be, weaker that the actual evidence. But there is an empirical aspect as well. If the actual trends are far below those predicted (surface temperature warming trends), or fail to show a switch to a path pointing to catastrophe (acceleration in the rate of sea level rise)

E Quality

There is good quality science and poor quality. Peer review should help, but (as suggested in the Climategate emails) acceptance/rejection can be based on criteria other than science. In most areas of science, and indeed in many professions, efforts have been made to improve the quality of results. One minor step towards improvement of quality is the insistence on publishing the data behind peer-reviewed articles. This has led to the quick exposure of shoddy work like Gergis et al 2012 and LOG12 papers, whereas it took many years of persistence by Steve McIntyre to get the full data on Keith Briffa’s deeply flawed Yamal tree-ring temperature proxy. However, as the forthcoming UNIPCC AR5 report will demonstrate, increasing quality is sacrificed in promoting climate catastrophism.

F False Positives and False Negatives

A particular subset of the quality issue is that of false positives and false negatives. With activists pressuring governments and scientific bodies to agree with the dogma, and promotion of pejorative language (e.g. deniers, fake skeptics), misattribution of significant weather events to climate change is a consequence. Whilst in cancer screening there have been efforts made to reduce the number of false positives and false negatives, in climate science there seems to be every effort to increase the numbers of false positives. (Superstorm Sandy that hit New York state last year, the extreme heat wave in Europe in 2003, the low sea ice point in September 2012).

G Relevancy and significance

Some pieces of information, or scientific papers, are more important than others. The vast majority of papers published are on trivial issues and/or fail to make a lasting impact. In terms of catastrophic global warming, most papers in the field are tangential to the subject. The same is true of items of information, statistics and opinions.

H Necessary and Sufficient

For a climate policy to give net benefits, a number of conditions are necessary, both in the science (greenhouse gas effect, significant warming, adverse consequences) and in policy area (policy with theoretical net benefits > costs of doing nothing, large enough policy area, effective policy management). Sufficient for policy success (net policy benefits > costs of doing nothing) all are to some extent necessary. For policy failure, it is only sufficient for one of the necessary conditions to fail. It does not matter whether this is

–       climate sensitivity being much lower than assumed

–       or adaptation at the non-governmental local level is much more effective than assumed

–       or the net adverse consequences of any given amount of warming are grossly exaggerated

–       or the theoretical economic case for policy is flawed (such as demand for energy is far more inelastic with respect to price over time than assumed, or that renewable energy is not a close substitute to fossil fuel energy)

–       or the actual policy enacted does not encapsulate the economic theory, diluting or nullifying the effectiveness

–       or unilateralist policy where success requires that the vast majority of the biggest economies to participate

–       or the policy on paper is potentially successful, but it is not project managed to drive through the maximum benefits at least cost

I Levels of evidence

In the legal systems, especially in criminal law, it has long been recognized that there are different qualities of evidence. The strongest is DNA, fingerprints, or catching somebody in the act. There is then secondary evidence from witnesses. There is then circumstantial evidence, such as the accused being near to the scene at the time, with no clear reason to be there. The lowest form of evidence, and usually rejected, is hearsay evidence. That is opinions of people with little interest in the case, giving unsupported opinions. The judicial process also views more highly evidence that is corroborated by other pieces of evidence, and evidence that on its own seems quite strong is downgraded or ruled out by contrary evidence, or alternative explanations.

J Values of the Legal Process in Reverse

Climate science, fails to grapple with the grading of evidence, as some its strongest arguments – consensus amongst scientists – is actually hearsay. Improving the quality of evidence would mean critically examining past forecasts in the light of evidence. In the judicial process, creating prejudice in the eyes of the jury against the defendants, or seeking to deny the accused a defence, is forcefully dealt with. Creating prejudice and denying a voice to those who question the climate change dogmas is viewed as part of the cause.

K Underdetermination Thesis

“The underdetermination thesis – the idea that any body of evidence can be explained by any number of mutually incompatible theories”

Quote from Kuhn vs Popper – Steve Fuller 2003

The global warming hypothesis is but one of a number of hypotheses trying to explain why climate changes over time. The problem is not just of a potential number of competing theories. It is that there might be a number of different elements influencing climate, with the various weightings dependent on the method and assumptions in analysis. It is not just trying to determine which one, but which ones and to what extent that they interplay.

L Vulnerability

Every scientific hypothesis is vulnerable to being refuted. Human-caused catastrophic global warming (CAGW) is based on extremely tentative assumptions, and is a forecast of future events. As the warming the past one hundred years is tiny compared that forecast to happen in the future, and that warming is partly obscured by natural variations, then the signal of future catastrophe will be weak. The issue is further clouded by the lack of long periods of data on climate variability before when human emissions became significant. That is data prior to 1945, when the post war economic boom led to a huge increase in human emissions. Assuming the forecasts of CAGW are correct, the hypothesis becomes incredibly vulnerable to rejection.
But if CAGW is false, or massively exaggerated, then the hypothesis is deeply susceptible to confirmation bias by those who only look to find evidence of its truth. The core belief of climate science is that the catastrophist hypothesis is true and the job of the “science” is to reveal this truth. The core mission of many co-believers is to stop any questioning of these core beliefs. The alternative view is that evidence for CAGW has become stronger over the last twenty-five years, making the hypothesis less vulnerable over time. This can be tested by looking at the success of the short-term predictions.

M The Null Hypothesis

Wikipedia’s definition is

In statistical inference of observed data of a scientific experiment, the null hypothesis refers to a general or default position: that there is no relationship between two measured phenomena,…… Rejecting or disproving the null hypothesis – and thus concluding that there are grounds for believing that there is a relationship between two phenomena …………….. – is a central task in the modern practice of science, and gives a precise sense in which a claim is capable of being proven false.

It applies to AGW theory, as the hypotheses are empirical relationships. With highly complex, and essentially chaotic, systems it is only by confronting the data using a battery of statistical tests that you can disprove the null hypothesis. Without the null hypothesis, and without such rigorous testing, all the data and observations will only confirm what you want to believe. Some of the best established empirically-based hypotheses, like “HIV causes AIDS” and “long-term heavy smoking significantly reduces life expectancy” have been confronted with the null hypothesis many times against large, high quality data sets. At extremely high levels of significance, the null hypothesis of no relationship can be rejected.

It could be claimed that the null hypothesis in not applicable to AGW theory as it forecasts something much worse happening than has so far been experienced. However, it is more important because of this. There is no bridge between reality and the theoretical relationships (with assumed magnitudes) in the climate models. The null hypothesis (general or default position) for testing against actual data is not that there is no relationship, but the double-negative of no non-trivial relationship. So the null hypothesis for testing “CO2 causes warming”, is not “CO2 does not affect temperature”, but “CO2 has no non-trivial impact on warming”. The reason is that the claimed requirement for policy is avoidance of a climate catastrophe, with relationships being non-trivial in magnitude.

Ed Davey’s anti-science, anti-British and anti-Liberal attack on Climate Sceptics

Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Climate and Energy has, according to the Telegraph recently said

“Of course there will always be uncertainties within climate science and the need for research to continue.

I agree that there are uncertainties with climate science. But if you only allow believers in that “science” to contribute, without any training in decision-making under conditions of uncertainty, then the conclusions drawn out of that research will be wrong.

“But some sections of the press are giving an uncritical campaigning platform to individuals and lobby groups,”

Such as the Guardian, the BBC, or central government departments? It can work both ways.

“This is not the serious science of challenging, checking and probing.”

Are you speaking of sceptics or of climatology? You must first establish that climatology is not just a science, but is a science of the highest standards.

“This is destructive and loudly clamouring scepticism born of vested interest, nimbyism, publicity seeking contraversialism or sheer blinkered, dogmatic, political bloody-mindedness.”

Matthew 7:3-5 says

Why do you stare at the splinter in your neighbour’s eye, but ignore the plank in your own? How can you say to your neighbour “Here – let me get the splinter out of your eye,” when you’ve got the plank in your own? You’re just play-acting! First take the plank out of your own eye, then you’ll see clearly to take the splinter out of your neighbour’s eye.”

These two thousand year old words, translated by Tom Wright (Britain’s leading New Testament Scholar and former Bishop of Durham), show the issue of climatology. Professor Stephan Lewandowsky or Bob Ward, or desmogblog are some of the “planks” that deliberately blind and prejudice people from examining the evidence, moral and political arguments for themselves. Putting in a milder fashion, you cannot say that people are wrong, or have a massively inferior argument, if you cannot first demonstrate that you are on the side of truth, or encourage others compare and contrast your arguments with the opponents. As I posted last week, there is a strong lack of a positive case for the science. As I posted last week, this should be a combination of trumpeting the short-term predictive successes, showing that climate science build on the traditions of the greatest scientists and philosophies of science and also of the moral case covered below.

“This tendency will seize upon the normal expression of scientific uncertainty and portray it as proof that all climate change policy is hopelessly misguided.”

Rubbish. Criticism of policy is often for separate reasons to scientific uncertainty. The argument is that the costs of policy are far greater than then benefits. Some of the policy might be totally ineffective, or in trying to reduce CO2 emissions may make people less capable of dealing with the impacts, through making them poorer.

He added: “By selectively misreading the evidence, they seek to suggest that climate change has stopped so we can all relax and burn all the dirty fuel we want without a care.”

Sceptics say that climatologists selectively read the evidence. Many would say that increased CO2 provides net benefits, and I do not come across any blog that we should create general pollution without a care. Many of the leading sceptic blogs (WUWT, BishopHill, Jo Nova) accept that increased greenhouse gases will lead to some level of warming, but not a significant one. As put by Warren Meyer, most sceptics deny the catastrophe, not the basic science.

“Those who argue against all the actions we are taking to reduce emissions, without any serious and viable alternative, are asking us to take a massive gamble with the planet our children will inherit, in the face of all the evidence, against overwhelming odds.”

I believe that morally politicians should act like medical professionals. They should have a duty of care towards the patient. That duty should be based on the reasonable expectation that treatment will leave the patient better off than not being treated at all. If anyone claims that climatology and public-policy making have the same level of knowledge of diagnosis and treatment as medical professionals and pharmacy on such ailments as common cancers or arthritis, then they are wrong. I would say that climate “ethics” needs to catch up with medical ethics as well.

Finally, let me point to four areas where Ed Davey is severely out of line.

First, my late father voted for the Liberal Party for over 50 years at every election – bar at one local election where no Liberal was standing. Then he voted for the underdog Conservative candidate. He believed in the consensus through seeking the middle ground, a thoroughly British trait. This middle ground was the opposite of the extremism of climatology, which is increasingly about demeaning the opposition and denying them a platform to speak.

Second, a virtue of English Common Law is that of letting the accused have the same rights of presentation, and to have the same rules of evidence as for the prosecution. This is not in the belief that the most notorious criminals can get off scot free. It is because the most guilty who proclaim their innocence will most convince an independent jury of their guilt as their lies and ridiculous stories unravel. On the other side, if the prosecution, convinced of the guilt of the accused perverts or supresses the evidence, the later unravelling of the case will undermine the rule of law. It did with the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six, men falsely sentenced for heinous crimes that they did not commit. Another example is that I strongly believe that those who do not accept that around six million Jews were massacred in the Nazi genocide should not be silenced. Rather, comparing their evidence will the overwhelming evidence of the historical truth will demonstrated that there is no debate, and those deniers are have an inability to assess the evidence. Silencing such views will lead to false conspiracy theories that there is something to hide.

Third, is the British sense of fair play. The very British idea of having a level playing field is not unconnected to the fact that most major sports are British inventions, or have been strongly influenced by British rule-making. Winning is not at any cost is not the point. It is playing the game to the best of one’s ability. There is a lesson in life as well. Somebody might be far superior in a sport, or in science, or in any intellectual field, than anyone else alive. But it is only by going head-to-head with others that everyone will be convinced. But in losing in sport, we go back and try harder. If we are beaten in science, we are forced to re-examine our conclusions, and may improve. Finding out where we went wrong, or how to improve from failures is a general lesson in life. Within wider society it leads to improvement.

Fourth is something very anti-British. The most evil powers, whether governments, religious cults or tribal gangs, are those who assert their power by belittling and silencing others. Ed Davey and climatologists are not in their league by any means. But they fall into a false sense of superiority by demeaning others. It is a very human trait to practice this, but has mostly held back humanity.

The previous Secretary of State, Chris Huhne, earlier this year convicted of perverting the course of justice, was similarly dogmatic. Why there should be two ministers so at odds with the older philosophy of the moderate Liberal Party traditions is the subject of the next post.

Dehumanizing Climate Sceptics

Steve Mcintyre did some research on Dr Paul Bain – the same who Jo Nova had a long correspondence with a few months ago.

Dehumanizing Language
A few months ago, in an article in Nature Climate Change, Paul Bain, another Australian psychologist, repeatedly used the term “denier” to refer to climate skeptics. Bain defended this usage at Judy Curry’s on the basis that it would “activate the strongest confirming stereotypes” in his target audience:
By using the term “denier” we wanted to start with something that would activate the strongest confirming stereotypes in this audience
Bain’s usage was sharply criticized by skeptic blogs (though it was not an issue that I bothered with.) Judy Curry made the following interesting suggestion:

Somebody needs to research the sociology and psychology of people that insist that anyone that does not accept AGW as a rationale for massive CO2 mitigation efforts is a “denier.”

Judy’s invitation unfortunately was not followed up in the comments. Had this been done, people would have made the surprising discovery that, in his “day job”, Bain primarily wrote about the use and function of derogatory epithets (e.g. cockroach in the Hutu-Tutsi and other racially charged terms). Bain observed that a primary function of dehumanizing language is to reinforce the self-esteem of the “in group”:
For example, Bain observed

Subtle forms of dehumanization are often explained with reference to …the idea that the in group is attributed “the human essence” more than outgroups, and hence outgroups are implicitly seen as “non-human”. ..

People typically evaluate their in-groups more favorably than out-groups and themselves more favorably than others…

such labeling has the effect of denying full humanness to the out group, reinforcing the self-esteem of the in-group..

The denial of full humanness to others, and the cruelty and suffering that accompany it, is an all-too familiar phenomenon…

Despite Bain’s prolific writing on the use and abuse of dehumanizing epithets, he was oddly oblivious to the function of the term “denier” as a means of dehumanizing IPCC critics.

My interpretation of Bains’ scientific research is that likening sceptics to Nazis or pedophiles shows the collective insecurities and feelings of inadequacy of those making the comments. Deep down they know that their beliefs are built on sand, and are desperately finding ways not to acknowledge this. Dehumanizing those who challenge their beliefs is nothing new. It is an easy position to fall into, and takes courage to challenge.