Daniel Hannan on the selfishness of running a deficit and post-truth realities

In the latest Ici Londres production Dan Hannan looks at the morality of deficits.

Daniel Hannan starts by quoting Matthew 7:9-10

If the son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will you give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish will you give him a serpent?

The passage goes onto to say the if you are evil, understand how to give good gifts to your children. By implication, to act for good, we must also understand how to act for the good, not just have the moral injunction.

Hannan goes onto say we do not run up large debts to bequeath to our children. Yet many impose a very different standard as voters, convincing themselves that they are being unselfish. By asking for more money from the State, whether to pay for care in old age or for a pay rise in the public sector, or remission of tuition fees, it might be a very good claim, but it is not an intrinsically unselfish claim, as they are asking for everybody else to chip in and pay for their cause. Conversely those who try to impose some fiscal discipline are deemed selfish. They are standing up for future generations. Austerity is not a random preference but a simple reality.

This is all pretty obvious stuff to anyone who understands basic morality and the slightest notion of finance. It is certainly within the understanding of anybody who has been brought up in a traditional British public school education. But I would suggest it is totally alien to the vast majority of the British public. This reason is described by a new word that entered the Oxford English Dictionary last month.


Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.

The General Election campaign is a clear illustration of the domination of post-truthers in public life. There is no understanding of public finances, just mass beliefs that are not based on any moral tradition. The spread of the beliefs is on social media, driven by those who most forcefully and repeatedly express their ideas. People are wrong because they disagree with the mass beliefs and shouted down (or trolled in the electronic version) because of it.

In a post last month – General Election 2017 is a victory for the Alpha Trolls over Serving One’s Country – I concluded

It is on the issue of policy to combat climate change that there is greatest cross-party consensus, and the greatest concentration of alpha trolls. It is also where there is the clearest illustration of policy that is objectively useless and harmful to the people of this country.

Like with public finances, climate change is an where post-truthers dominate. Two examples to illustrate.

Consensus messaging

There is no clear evidence of an emerging large human-caused problem with climate and there is no prospect of action to reduce greenhouse has emissions to near zero. Instead we have a dodgy survey that claimed 97% of academic papers on an internet search matching the topics ‘global climate change’ or ‘global warming’ expressed support (belief / assumptions) in the broadest, most banal, form of the global warming hypothesis. This was converted by Senator Bernie Sanders, in questioning Scott Pruitt, into the following:-

As you may know, some 97% of scientists who have written articles for peer-reviewed journals have concluded that climate change is real, it is caused by human activity, and it is already causing devastating problems in the US and around the world.


While you are not certain, the vast majority of scientists are telling us that if we do not get our act together and transform out energy system away from fossil fuel there is a real question as to the quality of the planet that we are going to be leaving our children and our grandchildren. 

The conversion from banal belief to these sweeping statements is not the fault of the Senator, though he (or his speech-writers) should have checked. Rather it is of lead author John Cook and his then PhD supervisor Cognitive Psychology Professor Stephan Lewandowsky. Post-truthers will not recognize the glaring difference between the dodgy survey and the Senator’s statements, as it is appeals to emotion and belief that are primary in evaluating political realities.

Mitigating Climate Change

Dangerous climate change is allegedly caused by human greenhouse emissions. The proposed solution is to reduce those emissions (mostly CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels) to near zero. The key for policy is that emissions are global, yet most countries, covering over 80% of the global population have no primary obligation under the 1992 Rio Declaration to reduce their emissions. These developing “non-Annex” countries have accounted for all the in emissions since 1990, as shown in this graph.

The problem can be expressed in my First Law of Climate Mitigation

To reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, the aggregate reduction in countries that reduce their emissions must be greater than aggregate increase in emissions in all other countries.

All the ranting about supporting the Paris Agreement ignores this truism. As a result, countries like the UK who pursue climate mitigation will increase their energy costs and make life harder for the people, whilst not achieving the policy aims. It is the poorest in those policy countries who will bear the biggest burden and create comparative disadvantages compared to the non-policy countries. For the developing countries (shown in purple in the graph) to reduce their emissions would destroy their economic growth, thus preventing the slow climb out of extreme poverty still endured by the majority of people on this planet. In so doing we ignore the moral tradition from our Christian heritage that the primary moral concern of public policy should be the help the poor, the disadvantaged and the marginalized. Ignoring the truism and pursuing bequeaths a worse future for our children and our grandchildren. This is the same for climate change as for public finances. But in both cases it is the post-truth “reality” that prevent this recognition of basic logic and wider morality.

Kevin Marshall


Michael Mann and John Cook at Bristol University

Lucia at The Blackboard last month publicized that the John Cook is to speak at Bristol University on Dogma vs. consensus: Letting the evidence speak on climate change on Friday 19th September. There are still 395 free tickets left for the event.

Stephen Lewandowsky also notes that Michael Mann is to lecture at the same event on Tuesday 23rd September on The Hockey Stick and the climate wars – the battle continues. Just 102 free tickets left for this event.

Given the Mann’s belief that the continued climate denial is due to “massive funding of climate change denial by monied interests” (HuffPo), it might provide some light entertainment for the students.

Update 19th Sept. There are still 309 tickets left for the John Cook lecture for tomorrow – Friday 20th September. See http://www.bristol.ac.uk/cabot/events/2014/488.html

The Michael Mann lecture is now SOLD OUT, or more accurately, all the tickets have been given away.

Extreme Socialist-Environmentalist Ideation as Motivation for belief in “Climate Science”


Professors Lewandowsky, Oberauer & Gignac have now produced papers two internet opinion surveys. The “Hoax” paper was from a survey placement on pro-climate science blogs. The second was from a cross-section of the US population. Both claim evidence that the rejection of “climate science” is associated with extreme “free-market worldviews”. I find two opinion surveys do show a clear relationship between the agreement with “free-market” statements and disagreement with the “climate science” statements. But in US survey clearly shows that extreme views on both “free-market” and “climate science” statements are held by tiny minorities, with most occupying the middle ground. Conversely the blog survey is dominated by responses that are both pro “climate science” and anti “free-market”. There is no evidence from the papers that enlightened expert scientists and their supporters are trying to save the world from an avoidable catastrophe, but plenty of evidence that people with strong and dogmatic political beliefs are using “climate science” as a vehicle to foist those beliefs on everybody else.



Professors Lewandowsky, Oberauer & Gignac have now produced two opinion surveys that, they claimed certain political views were behind rejection of “climate science”. In “NASA faked the moon landing:Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science (hereafter LOG12 (blog survey)), they say

..we find that endorsement of a laissez-faire conception of free-market economics predicts rejection of climate science.

In “The Role of Conspiracist Ideation and Worldviews in Predicting Rejection of Science” (hereafter LOG13 (US survey)), they say

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.

I have previously looked at the other major claim of the two studies – that conspiracist ideation leads to a rejection of science. This claim I found to be false when looking at conspiracy theories unrelated to science or policy.

In examining the relationship, I first look at the “climate science” belief against aggregate “free-market” statements. This is then put in the context of number of respondents. Then I examine the evidence presented as to whether “climate science” informs political choices of its supporters, and for the contrary view.


Evidence for “Free-market” views and rejection of “Climate-Science”

For LOG13 (US survey) study I have plotted the distribution of belief in “climate science” against belief in “free-markets”. With five “free-market” statements and options 1 to 5, the possible scores are 5 to 25. Please note that the X axis is reversed. That is, moving from left to right increases with the rejection of free markets. This is plotted against the rounded average response to the four “climate science” questions1. This “climate science” band I have colour-coded by a traffic light system, with red for reject, amber for neutral and green for accept.

The highest scores for “free-market” statements have a preponderance of the red and pink for net reject of for “climate science”. Conversely, strong belief in “climate science” is related to anti “free-market” statements, with those with no net belief either way on climate most thickly spread over the middle ground of political opinion.

This is shown by the “climate science” acceptance ratios2 against the “free-market” scores.

The graph clearly shows that the higher the score for free markets, the greater the rejection of “climate science”. The reverse relationship is not so clear-cut. Responses with the most extreme anti “free-market” opinions are not the strongest accepters of “climate science”. Further those who are in middle on the political scale are also net neutral on the climate issue.

The LOG12 (blog survey) has one extra “free-market” statement. This I have ignored for this study. With only were only four responses to each statement the aggregate possible scores range for five statements 5 to 20. Lack of a neutral option means lack of the amber “climate science band”.

Even allowing for the absence of a neutral amber option, the proportion of respondents taking the more extreme positions on climate appears much greater. This is clarified by the climate acceptance ratios.

Compared with the US population, in the blog survey rejection of the “free-market” is a much stronger predictor of the acceptance of “climate science”. Conversely, acceptance of the “free-market” is not quite so strongly associated with rejection of “climate science”, but it is still a strong association.


Numbers of Respondents

In the above I have only looked at the split belief respondents for each “free-market” score. Including the number of respondents helps clarify the picture.


There is a normal distribution of responses on “free-market” beliefs. Over a quarter of responses were net neutral. The most frequent “climate science” band is amber, with 423 (42%) of responses. The overall climate acceptance ratio is 0.09. That is the American public are neutral on “climate science”, with “accepters” being almost exactly offset by “rejecters”. Strong belief in climate change is the preserve of a small minority. Further, although the majority of the 44 responses on climate band 5 net reject the “free-market”, 13 are net accepters and 3 are neutral. Every indication is that the American public does not view global warming a pressing problem.

So where do those who frequent “pro-climate science” blogs stand?

Compared to the US public, the vast majority of respondents on the blog survey were strongly anti-free-market and also presented a very strong belief in “climate science”. The dark green strong accepters of “climate science” form 69% of total responses, outnumbering the strong rejecters more than 10 to 1. In all the furore over the blog survey paper, there was little mention, apart from by me, that a study was published on a group of people that were a very small minority of the total responses, and accessed only from blogs that are virulently hostile to their views. But for that very reason, it becomes a very good survey of the beliefs of the most fervent supporters of “climate science”.

So which comes first for these dogmatic supporters? Is it the evidence of science that leads to the necessary political policies? Or is “climate science” just a means to subvert the democratic process, and impose extreme political or pseudo-religious beliefs?


Climate Science
lead or follow Political belief?

If belief in the projected harm of rising greenhouse gas levels, the policy used to combat that issue would be closely derived from it, and tailored to it. Much in the same way that cancer treatments are closely tailored to the needs of the patient, taking into account both the effectiveness and harms of the treatment. If it is the other way round, then there will be leaps of faith, and biases all over the place.

The evidence of the two papers, and the writings of lead author Stephen Lewandowsky, show the authors to be upholding political beliefs as the driver of belief in science. Examples include

  1. The LOG12 (blog survey) paper fails to reference any overwhelming scientific evidence in favour of the catastrophic global warming hypothesis. The evidence is that the vast majority of climate scientists believe in trivial propositions. There is no evidence presented of belief in extreme versions of “climate change” by the experts. Nor is there evidence that climate scientists” are free of the normal motivations for studying a subject. That is belief in the value of the subject.
  2. The use of the term “climate denial” suggests that, for the authors, “the catastrophic global warming hypothesis” is not a normal scientific hypothesis capable of falsification by the evidence, but a self-evident truth. Thus anybody who disagrees must do so from some errant thought processes. By implication, a “free-market worldview” is also based on a set of errant beliefs.
  3. The language of the LOG13 (US survey) suggests a bias. This quote from the introduction

    People who embrace a laissez-faire vision of the free market are …… than people with an egalitarian-communitarian outlook.

    The normal term for people with a “laissez-faire vision” is “libertarian”, with the antonym being “authoritarian”. The author’s outlook is more socialist and environmentalist. The authors avoid using more meaningful terms, as that would create prejudice against their conclusions.

  4. Failure to recognise bias in the questions. Three of the five “free-market” questions contrast with an “environmentalist” alternative. Therefore, it should be no surprise that a conclusion is reached that people with a libertarian outlook “are less likely to accept that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are warming the planet than people with” socialist- environmentalist views.
  5. Failure to acknowledge that the rejection of “climate science” on political grounds could be because no distinction is made in the public domain between science and policy. People who question policy, whether of wind farms or rising costs of energy, are accused of science denial. Further, the LOG12 (blog survey) shows that the strongest supporters of “climate science” believe the association.
  6. Failure to acknowledge that the language of “climate science” is similar to the language of politics, as opposed to the language of hard sciences or engineering. Particularly when some of the short-term prophesies have been contradicted, we get mealy-mouthed excuses and ex-poste justifications. Mike Haseler’s recent survey of opinions from sceptic blogs found

    ..that most of the 5,000 respondents were experienced engineers, scientists and IT professionals, most degree-qualified and around a third with post-graduate qualifications.

    People used to precise measurements and judging success by results will think “climate scientists” talk rubbish. On the other hand, mainstream politicians will understand it.

The overwhelming evidence for catastrophic climate change, the analysis of policy effectiveness and the guidelines for effective policy implementation are totally lacking.


Final Comments

What is clear from the US survey is that those with extreme belief in both climate science and socialist-environmentalist views are very few. Further, the studies present no evidence that the “scientific” views are anything more than something that those with extreme left beliefs have arrogated to push their dogmatic opinions. Yet climate mitigation means essentially removing individual freedom on certain lifestyles and democratic choice from energy policy, placing it in the hands of people with extremist and intolerant beliefs. It is not just people who oppose “climate change” who will be no longer have their opinions represented, but (in the case of the USA) the vast majority of the population.

I have found these results by various trying different hypotheses, along with comparing and contrasting between the two surveys. I have only shown my results graphically. The statistical significance of the conclusions can be calculated by others. The key relationship is in the blog survey, for the 955 responses that express overall support for the climate science statements (score 11 to 16). Magnitude of disagreement with the “free-market statements” is a strong predictor of magnitude of support for the “climate science”.

There is also a need for evaluations of the surveys by professional opinion pollsters and occupational psychologists, with experience of setting opinion surveys.

All first time comments are moderated. Please use the comments as a point of contact. I will not publish approaches in this way. All email addresses are treated as confidential. The opinions expressed are my own, and I have received no funding for this work.

Kevin Marshall

 Note – “Out of Office” until 11th Aug


  1. Climate Science Bands

    In the LOG13 questionnaire there were 5 options, from 1 for “strongly disagree” to 5 for “strongly agree”. For each respondent, the “Climate Science Band” is obtained by the rounding the average of the questions to the nearest whole number. These bands are traffic light coded as below.

    LOG12 (blog survey) did not have a neutral option, hence there is no amber.


  2. Acceptance Ratio

    There are two issues with using the average responses. First is that a negative response is a positive number. Second is that LOG12 had only four possible responses for each question, whereas LOG13 had five with the addition of a middle neutral, option. The Acceptance Ratio converts the responses as follows.

    Please note, that the calculation of the acceptance ratio is calculated from average responses to all the “climate change” questions and not on the average of the “Climate change bands.


  3. The five “Free-market” statements

    FMUnresBest     An economic system based on free markets unrestrained by government interference automatically works best to meet human needs.

    FMLimitSocial     The free market system may be efficient for resource allocation but it is limited in its capacity to promote social justice. (R)

    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. (R)

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