Europe‘s march towards a carbon-free future will be on hold for a month or two while Germany makes up its mind in what direction it is going to lead the European Union. The likely coalition with the fervently anti-coal anti-nuclear Greens, and the Free Democrats, who argue for a “rational” pro-business energy policy, may bring energy policy and therefore climate change mitigation to the forefront of European politics.
So while we’re waiting, let’s all relax and consider a new article by Jonas Kaiser of Harvard University and Cornelius Puschmann of the Hans-Bredow-Institut which explores the German climate sceptical blogosphere in order the better to understand what kind of chaps (and chapesses) we climate sceptics are (thanks to Paul Matthews for alerting me to this.)
From the Abstract:
Debates around climate change are a prominent example of polarized online communication. We examine the German climate hyperlink network and evaluate the degree to which it is shaped by mainstream and skeptical views […] We find that skeptics form a counterpublic that is only loosely connected to the mainstream as neither skeptics nor the mainstream want to be affiliated with each other. Skeptics, thus, are mostly excluded within the German online climate network. However, skeptics are part of an “alliance of antagonism” with other groups, such as conspiracy theorists, men’s right groups, and right-wing sites.
Note a glaring contradiction in the above. The authors “.. examine the German climate hyperlink network and evaluate the degree to which it is shaped by mainstream and skeptical views” but note a few lines later that “..skeptics form a counterpublic that is only loosely connected to the mainstream” and “thus are mostly excluded within [sic] the German online climate network.” If they’re mostly excluded, how can you examine the degree to which they shape the climate network? What they mean, presumably, is that they are mostly excluded within the mainstream German online climate network. To warmists, one thing slowly mutates into another. The climate network becomes the mainstream climate network, just as Global Warming becomes anthropogenic and then catastrophic without anyone even noticing, like a frog in hot water which becomes a tasty grenouille bouillie before it even has time to croak.
The authors claim to demonstrate scientifically that:
1) we sceptics don’t want to be affiliated with the mainstream
2) we are part of an “alliance of antagonism” with conspiracy theorists and rightwing sites
The Introduction begins with a paragraph which summarises everything known about climate scepticism up to now. The entire paragraph is reproduced below, but divided into individual assertions and numbered to facilitate analysis. References supporting the various assertions are retained from the text. Where there is no reference, the assertion is just that, an assertion. I’ve put in bold extracts on which I comment.
1) Climate change is a controversial and even polarizing issue for many reasons. [NO REFERENCE]
2) There is no single political solution for tackling climate change and its associated challenges, and it is unclear what economic consequences a solution may entail or whether it is scientifically wiser to adapt to global warming incrementally or attempt to mitigate it altogether. [NO REFERENCE]
[COMMENT: This is precisely the position of the vast majority of climate sceptics. The authors seem to be unaware that they have adopted the position of us climate septics in their first paragraph. The following thirteen pages of their paper will be devoted to demonstrating that the climate sceptics, with whom they agree, are a groupuscule of nutters who have isolated themselves from mainstream discussion and aligned themselves with racists and conspiracy theorists.]
3) The notion that climate change is a dangerous and consequently urgent issue that threatens society is increasingly accepted internationally (Schmidt, Ivanova, & Schäfer, 2013).
[COMMENT: The claim that it is increasingly accepted internationally that climate change is dangerous is obviously of key importance. The kind of evidence one would expect to support this claim would be numerous statements by key political figures from several countries stating that climate change is dangerous. But the one reference given says merely this in its abstract:
“The article identifies the drivers of media attention for climate change in three countries: Australia, Germany and India. It calculates the monthly amount of climate change-related coverage in two leading newspapers for each country in relation to all articles published in the respective newspapers over a 15-year time span (1996–2010). Based on an explanatory model derived from agenda setting theory, punctuated equilibrium theory and multiple streams theory, it uses time series regression analysis to assess the influence of weather and climate characteristics as well as various social events and feedbacks on issue attention..”
There is nothing in the abstract to suggest that climate change is dangerous, or that the authors think that climate change is dangerous, or that they have found any sources in their media analysis who think that climate change is dangerous. The authors of this article, about bloggers in Germany, clearly think that climate change is dangerous, and cite this article anyway. Why not? Why not cite Don Quixote or the Prophet Jeremiah? Did they think the peer reviewers wouldn”t notice this flagrant non sequitur? They were right.]
4) Consequently, political parties, grassroots activist organizations, charities, companies, and scientific and religious institutions fight climate change on a local, national, and trans- national level. [NO REFERENCE]
[COMMENT: Do they though? My own researches, spread over several afternoons on the internet, have uncovered a number of grassroots activist organizations, charities, companies, and scientific and religious institutions who claim to be fighting climate change on a local, national, and transnational level and who prove to be spending millions of dollars or euros supplied by the foundations of dead American billionaires or the agencies of the European Union maintaining zombie websites where nobody goes, nobody tweets, nobody links and nobody comments. Each website typically employs several dozen bright young graduates in a half a dozen geographical locations (at least one of them in Africa) writing reports and blog articles that no-one except me ever reads. These thinktanks and NGOs quote each other, award each other prizes, and urge the rest of us to adopt their virtual asceticism. As for fighting climate change, they’d do better to renounce their airflights to international climate conferences and fire themselves from their perfectly useless jobs.]
5) Yet there is a vocal minority within both the global and national climate debates that questions climate change or even denies its existence—so-called “climate skeptics.” [NO REFERENCE]
As explained at 2) above, we climate sceptics who “question climate change” are part of the consensus who question “what economic consequences a solution may entail or whether it is scientifically wiser to adapt to global warming incrementally or attempt to mitigate it altogether.” No-one has ever denied the existence of climate change. The article provides no reference to support the assertion that “there is a vocal minority .. that denies” the existence of climate change. End of story.
6) This is even more prominent online where skeptics form communities in which they can validate and strengthen each other’s opinions and isolate themselves from other ones and form enclaves, often referred to as “echo chambers” (Sunstein, 2001; Williams, McMurray, Kurz, & Hugo Lambert, 2015).
[COMMENT: “Often” is hardly supported by two references in the scientific literature, but, let’s be fair, establishing that something happened “often” would be beyond the capacity of a 17-page article in a scientific journal. Which just goes to show that you shouldn’t expect too much from modern peer-reviewed science publications. Roll over Charles Darwin and tell Albert Einstein the news.
Sunstein’s book looks interesting, dealing with the hyper-specialisation of interests facilitated by the internet. He mentions dog fanciers. He might just as well have mentioned climate fanciers, or climate sceptics, or dog sceptics.
From the second reference (Williams, McMurray, Kurz, & Hugo Lambert, 2015):
“Here we construct several forms of social network for users communicating about climate change on the popular microblogging platform Twitter. We classify user attitudes to climate change based on message content and find that social networks are characterised by strong attitude-based homophily and segregation into polarised “sceptic” and “activist” groups. Most users interact only with like-minded others, in communities dominated by a single view. However, we also find mixed-attitude communities in which sceptics and activists frequently interact. Messages between like-minded users typically carry positive sentiment, while messages between sceptics and activists carry negative sentiment. We identify a number of general patterns in user behaviours relating to engagement with alternative views. Users who express negative sentiment are themselves the target of negativity.”
Yeah, people tend to agree with people they agree with. And when they don’t agree with someone, the person they don’t agree with often doesn’t agree.
Note to professors, lecturers, and doctoral students writing scientific papers; if you cite someone who is talking shit, there is a high probability that those who read your article will assume that you also are talking shit. But don’t worry about it. Because there is also a high probability that those who cite your article won’t have read it, let alone have read the shitty articles you cite.]
7) Even though much is known about the skeptics’ framing of climate change, their demographics, and industry ties, there is presently little research on their role within society and the types of coalitions they form (e.g. Elgin, 2015; McCright & Dunlap, 2000).
8) This, too, holds true for climate communication in general, which is shaped by the actors mentioned above, all of whom aim to make their voices heard in the public sphere in order to define how climate change is discussed (Anderson, 2009).
9) To fully understand conflicting framings of the same issue, a structural perspective is needed since it enables us to identify different factions, as well as to see the tension between mainstream and outlier positions. In this article, we accordingly focus on the overarching research question: How is online climate change communication structured?
My comments cease at point 6) because at that point I thought I’d take a look at the rest of the article and discovered, hidden in the middle of the article on page 6, this:
As we are interested in the structural organization of German climate debate, [sic] and specifically in the role that skeptics play, we rely on blogroll links for our analysis.
Despite the fact that the authors have just stated that:
…both Ackland (2004) and Adamic and Glance (2005) take on a more negative view, remarking that blogroll links have a tendency to become stale, in contrast to “fresh” permalinks used in a blog post, which are considered to be more up-to-date and accordingly characterize ongoing communicative interaction more reliably than blogrolls do. The authors suggest that current debate is better captured by post hyper-links, rather than blogrolls. Blogroll links appear to be less suitable for studies of ongoing communication on particular individual issues, but should act as suitable indicators of stable ideological allegiances.
We at Cliscep don’t have a dog in the race, or a frog in the saucepan, since we don’t have a blogroll. If you don’t already know that you should be reading WattsUpWithThat or Climate Audit or JoNova or Notalotofpeopleknowthat, then you shouldn’t be here.
Once you realise that the whole article is based on the blogrolls of the climate sites, and of the sites on their blogrolls, and the sites on their blogrolls, you get a measure of what these chaps from Harvard and the Hans-Bredow-Institut are up to. It’s said that everyone knows someone who knows someone.. and by the fifth iteration you’ve included the whole human race. (It’s not true in my case, since I don’t own a portable telephone. I don’t even know my fellow clisceppers.) So the statement that climate sceptical sites (unnamed) are linked with racist and conspiracist sites is pure climate filth.
And while we”re on the subject of filth, here’s a little known fact from Wikipaedia:
Until 1987, the [German] Greens comprised a faction involved in pedophile activism.. This faction campaigned for repealing § 176 of the German penal code, dealing with child sexual abuse. This group was controversial within the party itself, and was seen as partly responsible for the poor regional election result of 1985.
But the Greens didn’t have a blogroll in 1985, so no articles in the peer reviewed literature for them. But who needs them, given that the leader of the Greens in the European parliament until last year was an acknowledged paedophile? Of course none of this matters, since the climate is not interested in the sordid activities of a well-known French politician several decades ago, even if he was on French TV just tonight lecturing us on the need for greater European unity. (Think of your grandchildren.)
But if you‘re worried about someone writing a peer reviewed article about you, I‘d be careful about visiting sites associated with the German Greens. And the same goes for dog fanciers.
I lost interest in the article at this point, and can’t even be bothered to point out that their description of the sole useful illustration (which they call a graph, but which is in fact a scatter diagram) is totally incoherent. There are words missing, or badly translated, I don’t know which, and I don’t care. Back to the article. With some comments on a few choice quotes, which I‘ve numbered for ease of commenting:
10) It has, for example, been shown that skeptics are usually politically more conservative (McCright & Dunlap, 2011), tend to be more open for conspiracy theories (Lewandowsky, Gignac, & Oberauer, 2015).
COMMENT: This is the wrong Lewandowsky paper. It’s about the general public in the USA, 99% of whom never visit a climate sceptic website, and 99.999% of whom have never clicked on a blogroll hyperlink on a German website.
11) Additionally, there are also individual bloggers who combine climate skepticism with a range of other issues, from the purported marginalization of smokers, xenophobia, racism and “men’s rights” to conspiracy theories on issues such as so-called chemtrails and the global monetary system.
COMMENT: And there are individual bloggers (me for instance) who combine climate scepticism with a sister site publishing sketches of nude fit young men and luscious ladies (remind me to update it some time.) There may even be some sketches of dogs for those who like that sort of thing.
12) Second, the skeptic counterpublic is not restricted to voices pertaining to climate change but forms an alliance of antagonism with other extreme factions such as misogynists, racists, and conspiracy theorists, that is, radical positions which are also not represented in mainstream public communication. What all these factions seem to have in common are [sic] a contempt and antagonism for what they perceive to be the mainstream’s political correctness or [sic] do-gooders. Even though the connection between climate skepticism and conspiracy theories has been made before (e.g. Lewandowsky et al., 2015), our study is, to our knowledge, the first which shows the structural connections between climate skeptics, conspiracy theorists, and other factions on the right political fringes.
COMMENT: Wrong Lewandowsky paper again. 99% of the sample of Lewandowsky et al 2015 have never visited a skeptical site. The accompanying scatter diagram and its obscure explanation pertain to an automatically derived list of 9871 German language websites which was then reduced in some obscure fashion and coded by hand in order to determine topic, stance, and “who the content creators behind the site are.” The evidence that we climate sceptics are allied with “misogynists, racists, and conspiracy theorists” is therefore hidden in the minds of anonymous coders, as is the evidence they uncovered, (but haven’t revealed) as to “who the content creators behind the site are.”
Consider this article as my own demonstration that Harvard University and the Hans-Bredow-Institut are neo-fascist organisations bent on the elimination of opposition to the climate consensus from public discourse on climate by associating us with “misogynists, racists, and conspiracy theorists.” Unlike Kaiser & Puschmann”s anonymous coders, I present my evidence.
13) For the climate change debate worldwide, this study also highlights two major points worth considering. First, the “alliance of antagonism” between skeptics, conspiracy theorists, and other right-wing sites is in line with previous research (Lewandowsky et al., 2015) and emphasizes the connection between a conservative attitude and climate skepticism. By choosing counterpublic theory, we suggest that this alliance is not an echo chamber but an opposition of the mainstream public sphere that might even transcend the national context (German skeptic sites, for example, often also linked to English language skeptic sites). Second, we suggest that skeptics could potentially be also considered a counterpublic in other countries. This, then, would imply that studies that look at how to persuade skeptics could potentially miss the point as skeptics are in opposition to most mainstream institutions and positions in the first place and thus also barely open for potential persuasions. In this sense, it would seem more productive to look for aspects that both sides can agree on (e.g. adaptation measures to fight consequences as rising sea levels) rather than to try to convince skeptics that the mainstream is right.
This is the third time they have cited the irrelevant Lewandowsky et al 2015 instead of Lewandowsky et al 2013. The latter is the only Lewandowsky article to treat “”denizens of climate blogs” and which finds, on a sub sample of eleven, out of a total sample of 1100, (after a quarter of the original sample had been, eliminated for obvious cheating) a statistically significant relation between belief in the article’s headline conspiracy theory and climate scepticism. (Five sceptics to six believers, if I remember correctly.)
14) When e-mails by climate scientists were leaked right before a climate summit in 2009—an incident dubbed “Climategate”—journalists and skeptics were quick to cast climate research in doubt, although no evidence for scientific misconduct could be found (Grundmann, 2012).
Now that’s not at all what the article in question, says. What Grundmann says, among other things, in a long and thoughtful article, is:
“If we use the above definition of scientific fraud, according to which it is ‘forging, trimming, or cooking of data,’ we could arrive at a different conclusion. The handling of the divergence problem seems to be a clear instance of ‘trimming’ (editing or suppressing data), maybe even of ‘cooking’..
“One could conclude that among the IPCC lead authors double standards were practiced. What is more, it appears that there existed the possibility that members of the core set could get their papers published without proper peer review since they were sending their papers round in their inner circle.”
“the UK deputy information commissioner stated in January 2010 that some of the actions of CRU researchers/UEA officials would have been punishable (unlimited fines under FOI) but were outside the six month limit for prosecution.
“The exposed climate scientists did not adhere to the norm of universalism as they gave preferential treatment to close allies. They did not share their data… They did not act in a disinterested way.. On the contrary, they acted strategically, showing self-interest and zeal… Finally, they did not foster organised skepticism but tried to stifle skeptical voices. It is interesting that the Climategate investigations describe this as “bunker mentality” but do not see unethical behavior.”
So the article by Reiner Grundmann, a sociologist at Nottingham University, does not in any way support the thesis of Kaiser and Puschmann. Indeed, Grundmann, using the reasonable neutral language required in the scientific literature, shows that Kaiser and Puschmann are talking bollocks. They are either lying, or pitifully ignorant of the facts they are discussing.
Grundmann, in an interview with Hans von Storch makes an interesting point, insisting on the Weberian principle of the separation of science and politics (but who reads dead white men like Weber in social science faculties nowadays?) in which he insists on:
“…a principle at the heart of science studies, the methodological rule of studying knowledge claims symmetrically. This means not to assume a priori that one side is right and the other wrong and that we only need to find explanations for the “wrong” position (because the truth will out in the end and is in no need for explanation). Instead, we should analyze both sides (or more sides, if there are more) without committing to one of them on the level of cognitive validity or authority.”