Knowing—really knowing—your enemy

Abuse new-lew-43

“Brains,” insists Prof. Stephan Lewandowsky—a zombie argument we’ve already debunked so many times, its mindless repetition can only be a sign of what scientists call bad faith.

Alan Kendall is one of our most thoughtful, humane and deeply-educated contributors. So when he rebukes me, however gently, his criticism is not to be dismissed lightly. It takes a whole blog post.

Alan recently said I should temper my Manichaean Weltanschauung by getting to know—really know—our enemies, elaborating (my emphasis):

I actually meant meeting with someone so that you can simultaneously evaluate their body language, eye movements and what they say. I have had the good fortune to meet very few people I would evaluate as enemies. But as Climategate 2 revealed, you never can tell.

But in my defence:

Primum, I’m not entirely ignorant of the “body language,” “eye movements” and other non-verbal habits of my enemies.

In fact, my Lewandowsky Collection has become a world-class pathology archive for the study of precisely this problem. We regularly host private viewings for alienists, sideshow promoters and other credentialed curators of insanitalia from all corners of the globe. (By request of the donor, illegitimate inserters need not apply, I’m afraid.)

Mute your headsets and enjoy some rarely seen, morbidly beautiful specimens:

Advanced tip: the Museum’s Accessory Annex is an excellent place to study the non-verbal M.O.s of Lewandowsky’s minor accomplices.

Here we see Professor Pancost attempting a so-called Victory Hail (the salute scientists use, in social settings, when introduced to an older or more legitimate colleague).

Uncertainty Pancost 0006

Speaking of WWII enthusiasts, our next piece is a favorite of mine. It catches John Cook, the great communicator of Science Communications Science, in an intimate family moment. (Professor Lewandowsky, just out of frame, is unmistakeable.)

Arctic Challenge bucket3

Or does it? On closer inspection, this is no mere vignette of healthy, backyard father/son hijinx—it’s the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. That’s right: Cook is raising money for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) charities.

Or is he? On even closer inspection, he’s just plagiarizing the meme in an attempt to rustle up cash for people who—in his diseased brain—are more deserving: climate academics.

Lewandowsky Junior makes no secret of it on his YouTube page:

I (belatedly) answer Jason Box’s Arctic Sea Ice Bucket Challenge, in order to raise awareness of the impacts of climate change on Arctic sea ice and to help raise funds for climate research.

Ah, SkepticalScience®: The Robin Hood of Climate. Stealing from the poor sufferers of Motor Neurone Disease, the loved ones who spend their final years caring for them and the researchers who spend their lives looking for a cure… and giving to the rich white males who spend eight months a year marketing modeling the fanciful “impacts” of Global Earth Climate Systems Disruption.

(Once you know this, what else is there to know about the calibre of human being I call my enemy?)

Secunditer, the overwhelming majority of reputable “believers” in the existence of the Earth’s climate are decidedly not my enemy. (In the beautiful words of Anton Chigurh, I can’t afford to have living enemies.)

Few of them even rise to the level of opponent. As a rule, the right classifier is “total stranger” (when it’s not “mate,” “Mum” or “Dad”).

Even the advocates of alarm are A-OK by me—as long as they carry out their dysangelism in good faith, abhorring the lure of Climate Honesty.

I have so few bona fide, mala fide enemies that I can literally name most of them.

Tertieriter, the latest evolutionary psychology says that if you want to know—really know—your enemy, the standard approach (“meeting with someone so that you can simultaneously evaluate their body language, eye movements and what they say”) may be overrated. After all, the hominid arsenal of buttock, face and hand signals is as much a deceptive adaptation as an informative one. Aposematism, deimatism and thanatopsis, oh my!

For instance, reader, were you taken in by Lewandowsky’s carefully-cultivated mask of normalcy above? I hope not. The good professor isn’t quite as sane as casual visitors to the Museum are often led to think.

But there’s no need to throw out the baby with the Arctic ice-water, say leading ethologists Paul Ekman, Daniel Kahnemann and Cal Lightman, the trio recently honored as our Least Naïve Public Intellectuals.

The truth is there, beneath the slick, prosocial veneer—you just have to know where to look. And that comes down to two main channels of evidence:

  • microexpressions (the facial movements that come and go too fast for the untrained eye to decode)
  • and involuntary affect.

The former obviously won’t help us much. Climate charlatans like the Lewandowsky family are born without the allelic equipment for microexpressions, a mutation that confines their emotional wavelength to the 0.5- to 120-second (macro- to mega-expression) range. There’s actually a whole village in Poland with this polymorphism, which is now believed to be the origin of the old lie-to-children: don’t pull that face at me, young man, or the climate could change and then you’ll have to wait for a hiatus!

What, then, does the science of involuntary affect have to say about my enemies?

Naomi Oreskes, the half-geologian, half-alt-historian and half-coauthor of 2010’s critically-acclaimed Merchants of Doubt, is often asked why she failed to interview a single climate skeptic at any point in the writing process.

(Not for Oreskes the drudgery of meeting with someone so that you can simultaneously evaluate their body language, eye movements and what they say, like a normal scholar. She prefers the Anthropology of Avoidance, a climate-curious mode of inquiry summed up in the words of her partner Stephan: “Engagement, in my view, is not the solution but just an enormous waste of time.”)

But the world wasn’t ready for the Nu Journalistic Ethix, so Oreskes had little choice but to make up an alibi for the omission.

She would’ve loved nothing better (says the Harvard-based neo-epistemologist) than a chance to get to know—really know—her enemies. Tragically, though, 3 of the world’s 4 climate skeptics had already died from complications of being old white men.

And the one surviving doubt-monger—some guy called Fred Singer, a kind of Pope of denierdom—”had dementia,” she adds with a laugh!

This is Oreskes at her realest. Note the contraction of orbicularis oculi, an involuntary muscle that corrugates the eyelids to form the Duchenne rictus of unfeigned pleasure:

Series 10 copy

A Pan Am smile is one thing—any botoxed Hooters hostess worth her tips can humor your humor with a polite spasm of zygomaticus maj.

But when someone puts their whole face into it, you can be be pretty sure, scientifically: this person isn’t just pretending to find the thought of the world’s leading skeptic slowly succumbing to Alzheimer’s disease hilarious, she’s veritably leaking in glee at the thought. (I.e., the one of the world’s leading skeptic slowly succumbing to Alzheimer’s disease. Which they find hilarious. The thought.*)

One of the great epistemic tragedies of history—a close second, I think, to the burning of the Library of Alexandria—is that mankind can no longer remember where it put the video of Oreskes answering science’s “Hard Question.” Namely: how is anyone seriously supposed to believe she knows more about climate change than Freeman Dyson?

No, seriously?

Primatologists can only guess what facial, anal and manual gestures once accompanied the audio of Oreskes’ brilliant explanation:

It’s important to realize that [Dyson] is now, 90? 92? …I think it’s important that journalists especially need to understand, scientists are people like everybody else. They get lonely, they crave attention and especially scientists who have been very famous in their earlier period of life and I think sometimes it’s hard for them when they start to lose the limelight so I think we’ve seen that phenomenon here.†

Next, see Oreskes talk about something scientists call global warming, a planet-wide bloodbath they believe is about to make the Rape of Nanking look like the purely localized atrocity it was:

Oreskes' guns

Next she discusses… well, does it matter?

Oreskes 51S

Here ends the unpaid portion of our tour, I’m afraid.

To our valued visitors, the world’s favorite Professor of Punitive Psychology kisses farewell for now:

Abuse Lew kisses


*I barely know anything about Fred Singer (which is weird, considering he’s one of the top four thought-leaders in the climate-denier world [Oreskes, N., and Conway, E., 2010]), but does he actually have Alzheimer’s? Neurologists are divided, since Wikipedia doesn’t mention it. As a general principle of medicine, however, an accusation of dementia by Naomi Oreskes is considered the closest thing possible to the proverbial (and, in practice, elusive) “clean bill of health.”

†A note to would-be apologists for this kind of ageist filth: please spare us your appeals to the myopia of youth. That excuse ran out five years ago, when Oreskes moved out of her mom’s apartment. At 39, she really ought to know better than to denigrate her elders and smarters by now.

14 thoughts on “Knowing—really knowing—your enemy

  1. Well Brad I think you are misunderstanding what I wrote “simultaneously evaluate their body language, eye movements and what they say.” You are showing recorded body language and eye movements but I cannot hear what they are saying. But what is more important still, their body language, eye movements and what they say, is not a reaction to my interaction, it’s to someone else whose body language, eye movements I cannot see. When I wrote my post I thought of Skype interactions, but dismissed this as a distraction. I think the technology gets in the way. I vaguely recall a programme discussing the ineffectiveness of video interviews but I have no experience of them. Telephone interviews can be most misleading.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well Brad I think you are misunderstanding what I wrote: “simultaneously evaluate their body language, eye movements and what they say.”

    D’oh. Sorry about that mate.

    You can’t really blame me though—all I had to go on was your words.

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  3. So Brad your excuse is that you are now ( in your 5.37pm response ) agreeing with me (that just words are insufficient to make correct judgements) yet your entire blog post is devoted to demonstrating the obverse. What is a poor pom to do when confronted by such antipodian dexterity?

    BTW what explains the oiliness of the Oreskes animated B+W portraits in your collection? Is it the obvious?

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  4. Don’t come the raw pawn with me, sunshine. You knew exactly what you were getting your vestibular system into when you committed to an opinion poles apart from the correct one.

    Oh, and Naomi Oreskes’ extreme unctuousness is a mystery for your local Catholic priest. Big Oiliness doesn’t pay me enough.

    Like

  5. I gather from your extreme aggressiveness Brad (“sunshine” really!) and complete inability to address the issues, that my views are in the ascendant.

    I note, after looking back at your recent outpourings that you have a veritible fetish of bestrewing your tapestries of erudition with moving representatives of your true adoree- the fair Oreskes, the more sebaceous the better.

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  6. The appeal – the cold lobster plunged into boiling water as the COP attendees imagine doing the same to sceptics. Denier Thermidore. Each hapless lobster having been named in advance. Chef! Two Anthony Watts and a Marc Morano!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Recent COPs are technologically more advanced employing a communal caquelon above a portable fossil fuelled réchaud to cries of “Oil companies are fondoing the Earth” The irony escapes them.

    Liked by 1 person

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