Lew Role Unravelled

The discussion between two psychologists, reproduced in Ian’s article Lew and George in Bristol, reveals environmentalism at its most deranged. It’s worth examining in detail, I think, in order to try and understand what we’re up against.
First of all, who they are:
Stephan Lewandowsky has a perfectly normal day job as professor of cognitive psychology. He has received a gold medal from the Royal Society for outstanding achievement and a five figure sum to attract him to Britain. He spends most of his free time lying about people who don’t agree with him and publishing his lies in ever more obscure peer-reviewed on-line publications. He also believes in numerology.
George Marshall also claims to be a psychologist, though I’m not sure on what basis. He certainly practises professionally, since he’s paid (by the Universities of Cardiff, Exeter, Edinburgh, Greenpeace, the WWF, the United Nations, and the British government, among others) to tell other people that they’re wrong and he’s right.
George has a blog called “Climate Denial.” In his most recent post (six months ago)
he states his intention of “actively engaging with conservatives”. Two commenters (Paul Matthews and Barry Woods) politely pointed out that using the D-word about people you want to engage actively with is a bad start.
George replies: “I … recognise that this has become a divisive term and may be considered unsuitable for people who are, for whatever reasons, unconvinced about the issue. And then again, it takes a very long time to set up a blog and I’m rather loathe to do it again”.
Go on George, do it again. Do it with other people. It’s more fun that way.

In the Bristol University magazine article George starts with the interesting admission that attitudes to climate change are socially and psychologically conditioned. He says: “When people do pay attention to climate change, generally two things have happened: the issue has taken a form that speaks to their values, and it comes with a social signal from a peer group.” The first part is a tortuous tautology (“My values are what I believe in; I believe in climate change because it speaks to my values”). The second part is an adequate statement of the sociological truism that we tend to believe the things the people around us believe.

You can see why George (one of the “very few” who respond to climate change “in proportion to its potential dangers” – George’s words) considers it imperative to engage with the other 99% of the human race. The article in which he announced his engagement was titled “Part 1” and was published six months ago. We await Part 2 with impatience.

Lewandowsky 42Stephan agrees with George and adds: “People’s attitudes are fragmented and context-specific: they will contradict themselves in different settings. We call that ‘knowledge partitioning’ …There’s an opportunity there to determine which context is most effective for eliciting an engaged response.”
In the course of four sentences the professor of cognitive psychology has smoothly elided “attitudes”, “knowledge”, and “responses”. It’s all the same kind of stuff, you see, like atoms and molecules and electrons, or conservatism, conspiracy ideation and denial of science. That’s what you learn from being a cognitive psychologist.
George then makes the interesting observation that: “Climate change has, quite dangerously I think, been shaped by its origins in earth science, which has a very data-driven culture.”
It’s obviously absurd to claim that changes in the earth’s climate have their origins in science. He doesn’t mean “climate change,” of course, but something like “the way climate science is conducted,” or “the way climate change is perceived”. And the handy term “data-driven culture” can be applied, not only to earth science, but to a very large section of modern society. Many of us, including George and Stephan and most of their fans and me and most of the readers of this blog, I dare say, spend much of our lives shovelling data around. We’ve closed most of the coal mines, and taken up data mining instead. It’s what we do best.
As an example of what I mean, consider Stephan’s next comment, which contains the only attempt at a factual statement about climate science in the whole article. He says:
“My research has shown that if people are told an outcome is uncertain, they find that less threatening than if an outcome is guaranteed but its timing is uncertain. For example, if you say sea levels may rise between ten and 90 cm, people say: ‘with a bit of luck it’ll just be ten centimetres’. But it’s just as true to say sea levels are almost guaranteed to rise by 50cm, the question is whether that’s by 2040 or 2060.”
Fifty centimetres of “almost guaranteed” sea level rise in the next 25 to 45 years eh? Let’s give the old mental arithmetic a whirl.
That’s 11-20 mm rise per year, or roughly 4-7 times faster than the current sea level rise (which has remained roughly unchanged for the past century or so) of 3mm per year. For Stephan to be right, sea level rise has to start increasing 400% right now (or more gradually, but at an even more fantastic rate later on). This is clearly physically impossible. No climate scientist on earth would defend such a prediction. When it comes to discussing climate change, Stephan is out with the fairies.
Let’s get back to psychology. George asks about the relation between “conservative, hierarchical views” and attitudes to climate change. Stephan says: “Well, we do know that people’s world views are a prime driver of their attitudes.”
Having equated attitudes to knowledge, he now states that they are driven by “world views” whatever they may be. Stephan’s attitude to the relationship between the key concepts of cognitive psychology is that of a Scrabble player: (“Does it fit? Will I get a triple word score?”)
He continues: “People who are politically conservative and endorse free markets are very likely to reject the findings from climate science. The strength of that relationship never ceases to amaze me.” Then, after a brief intervention from George, Stephan adds: “I don’t agree. Outside English-speaking countries, climate change isn’t challenging to conservatives.”
Note that Stephan is saying he doesn’t agree with himself. The strength of the relationship between conservatism and the rejection of climate science that never ceases to amaze him is restricted to English-speaking countries. And of course, as always, when he says “climate change” he doesn’t mean “climate change,” but rather something like “acquiescence in the consensus belief in climate change.” Climate change is the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced, according to George, Stephan and the rest of the 1%, so when he says: “Outside English-speaking countries, climate change isn’t challenging to conservatives,” he means: “Outside English-speaking countries, climate change is challenging to conservatives.” And vice versa.
Lewandowsky 32Stephan is on a roll here, (a typical Lew roll) and continues: “We also know that people who think we can’t solve the problem are likely to deny the problem, because they think it’s unsolvable. I think that’s where the conversation should be: how the problem can be solved…”
So some (or is it all?) of the people who deny climate change are doing so because they can’t see how to solve it, just as some (or all) of the people who deny that you can square the circle or make a perpetual motion machine are only doing so because they personally can’t figure out how to do it. Which just goes to show that…
I’d better stop. My head hurts.
Should I leave the last word with George? “With climate change, we have a very weak narrative, with multiple voices.”
Or with Stephan? “We’re talking about a problem bigger than anything humanity has ever seen – something so big that it’s ridiculous to think we can condense it into one thing. We’ve got to have multiple voices, even if it’s a cacophony at times.”
I don’t know. You decide.

GIFs by Brad Keyes


  1. Good stuff. See my comment (submitted, but not yet appearing) on the previous post for some relevant remarks about Potemkin Villages dotted around a Malibu Beach where people can surf on waves of alarm over CO2.


  2. “George then makes the interesting observation that: “Climate change has, quite dangerously I think, been shaped by its origins in earth science, which has a very data-driven culture.”

    … These people are idiots. They can’t get their head around the idea that there are still some real scientists who go where the data leads them and not fabricate the data to push their own vile politics.

    So. e.g. there’s been no warming for 18 years, now both Antarctic and Greenland ice are increasing. No increases in severe weather, none on floods, drought, children still know what snow is … etc. Basically not a shred of evidence to support their fraud – but still they believe it because despite the evidence clearly telling us they are charlatans, they just “know” the globe is heading to their doomsday cultist end.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The problem for Lew and George is that they’re 20th century anthropologists, if not 19th century ones. You know the type who’d don a pith helmet and go stare at natives for a week and be the world expert on those people. Or worse, they’d never leave their desk. Modern scientists go and embed. They live with the people, learn their language and find out why they do what they do. Lew and George have a passing acquaintance with scepticism at best. Lew in particular has engineered situations to get reactions, none of which tell him what we are really about, any more than poking a baby will tell you much other than it doesn’t like being poked.

    He’s right when he says we give conflicting answers. Partly because the issues are complicated and two situations may seem the same but aren’t and partly because sometimes we’re in a different mindset. Most of the time I think that climate scientists are good people with mediocre skills trying to work out the impossible with almost no data. I think they’re a self selecting group who are from the anxious end of personality types. I think they think they’re doing a good job and probably have no experience from other fields to judge by. I don’t know how bad CO2 is and I don’t think they know either. I would not rule out that we need to do drastic things to cut CO2 but basic observation suggests that almost nobody is convinced about CAGW so the evidence needs to move to another level before that changes. That’s what I think on a good day. On other days I think they’re a bunch of lying, arrogant, rent seeking, stupid, parasites, who’ve invented the next religion and I’d take up arms to stop them bringing in green communism, even if we all have to die a fiery death of our own making. When some dumb climate science cheerleader pokes sceptics, they’re more likely to get the second version from me.

    The two reactions might seem conflicting but they stem from the climate bandwagon being so fundamentally inept. The whole thing is like the revenge of the B Arkers. No matter how low I think of the scientists are, it’s nothing compared to the hangers on. It’s like they’ve been specially chosen to make AGW look dodgy to my sort of mind.

    George and Lew are unlikely to ever understand sceptics because they’d have to admit they were part of the problem. They’d have to leave the safe confines of their clique and sit down with sceptics and listen. They’d need to accept that their view of the world is not the only view, let alone the only right view.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Tiny CO2
    I must stick up for 19th century anthropologists. Sir James Frazer’s “Golden Bough” is one of the most fascinating compilations of human bizarrerie that I know, and he never got nearer to examining native ways than the Cambridge university library, (at least until he took up the chair of anthropology at Liverpool).

    Our ancestors knew all about combating climate change. Frazer reports on an Australian tribe whose way of countering drought was to take the foreskins of young boys, wrap them in the skin of a carpet snake, and bury them in the sand (after first removing the said foreskins from their owners, one presumes).

    Now that’s mitigation for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. In every generation there are exceptions to the dross… it takes time for everyone else to recognise who is and who isn’t.

    As for your second paragraph – shushhhhh! Don’t give them ideas. Think of all those sceptical teenage boys being labelled as trouser snake climate deniers.


  6. Anyone who listens to a Psychologist needs their head looking at.

    – yeah OK guys the original joke was about Psychiatrists but I couldn’t resist.

    It is lovely to be told why I am a sceptic – who would have thought it. And I had the idea that I just wanted Climate Science to make an accurate prediction. Amazing – thanks Lew and George, my tax pounds well spent!!


  7. “People who are politically conservative and endorse free markets are very likely to reject the findings from climate science. The strength of that relationship never ceases to amaze me.”

    I can make his little universe more complex by saying the appalling state of climate science has actually driven me to be more politically conservative. Not least because it has been embraced so aggressively and unquestioningly by the political left who always have the same solutions looking for a problem.
    Maybe it might have had a similar effect on other people?

    As an aside, I also can’t help thinking that an A-team behavioural psychologist might decide the real action was in studying the behaviour of investors in the financial markets, not churning out insults about people who are justifiably unconvinced of global warming disaster scenarios.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Is it normal among psychology types to take one specific side in a debate, telepsychologise all who disagree and never ever try the same on those who agree?

    IOW is psychology research always/often/seldom so bad?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Omnologos
    Reiner Grundmann, who’s a sociologist and a colleague of Paul’s at Nottingham, says somewhere, absolutely not. Talking about the social sciences in general, he says that the researcher must remain neutral as to the truth of the two sides in any conflictual situation examined. I imagine it’s a point made in chapter one of any social science primer.

    But your suspicion is justified. When I saw Lewandowsky’s first “conspiracist ” paper I was amazed how bad it was methodologically. Then I looked up some of his references and saw that it wasn’t so exceptional.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Grundmann is an oasis of integrity and objectivity in a desert of biased agenda-driven activism in the social sciences. This is the problem that Jonathan Haidt, Joe Duarte and others are trying to address in their Heterodox Academy. As Geoff says, Lew is one of the most blatant, but most social scientists and psychologists studying the climate debate start from a position so prejudiced that they have no hope of doing any useful research.
    I’m not sure whether the same applies with other topics.


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