The Oxford Research Encyclopaedia of Climate has a new article on Climate Change Conspiracy Theories by Joseph E. Uscinski, Karen Douglas, and Stephan Lewandowsky. I’ll be writing about it later in depth, but first a digression on its first author Joseph E. Uscinski, author of a standard textbook on conspiracy theories.
He has 6 sources listed in the bibliography of the new Oxford Climate article, quoted 33 times in the text. By far the most frequently cited source, quoted 27 times, is his book, “Uscinski, J. E., & Parent, J. M. (2014). American conspiracy theories. New York: Oxford University Press.”
Professor Uscinski is an expert on conspiracy theories, but not on climate change. His book mentions climate just three times: first on p.13, where he says: “Stephan Lewandowsky and colleagues found that free market ideologies predicted endorsements of climate change conspiracy theories,” referencing Lewandowsky’s “Moon Hoax” study; then on p.27, where he mentions “those who support the oil and coal industry and who do not want discussion of climate change and alternative fuels…” and finally on p.29, where he goes into a bit more detail about climate change conspiracy theories:
Perhaps the most well-documented evidence of backlash involves psychology professor Stephan Lewandowsky [ref. Recursive Fury] He and several colleagues examined the link between conspiratorial thinking and the rejection of climate science. [ref. Moon Hoax]. Upon publication of their findings, conspiracy theorists accused the authors of a plot to smear climate change skeptics by fabricating data, misanalyzing the findings and purposefully biasing their study so as to achieve a preordained conclusion. Some accused the corporate media and the Australian government of being in on the ruse as well. Conspiracy theorists even conjectured as to which of the co-authors was the stringpuller behind the plot.
“Maths prof Kevin Judd is the mastermind behind [the study]. He is apparently a brilliant mathematician, chess and go player and computerwhizz. He is a typical reclusive mad scientist. There is no doubt he is behind [the studies].” [ref. Recursive Fury]
This is the only example that Uscinski gives of a climate conspiracist theory, and he gets it wrong. Professor Judd is not the co-author of any study, though he’s an associate of Lewandowsky and Cook at the University of Western Australia, as you can see in the photo. (Judd is on the left.)
The comment comes from
and is cited in the retracted Lewandowsky paper, “Recursive Fury,” where it appears in the following context:
A commenter sought to clarify the extent of this presumed conspiratorial activity, claiming that:
“It’s mostly a 3-man show: Lew [Lewandowsky], Cook and UWA maths professor Kevin Judd, who is the real strategist behind all this”
Kevin Judd’s apparent leadership role in this conspiracy was reinforced in a subsequent comment:
“As local I can confirm that the Maths Prof Kevin Judd is the mastermind behind UWA AGW. He is apparently a brilliant mathematician, chess and go player, and computerwizz. He is a typical reclusive mad scientist. There is no doubt he is behind all UWA”
The first comment in the extract above is by Robbo, a frequent commenter at WUWT, and it has been truncated by Lewandowsky, removing the detailed evidential material and thus making the quote sound vaguer and more conspiratorial than it is, a standard practise of Lewandowsky throughout “Recursive Fury.”
The second comment is quoted correctly and in its entirety in “Recursive Fury”, but, bizarrely, it has been truncated and doctored in order to change its meaning in Uscinski’s book. In Uscinski’s version the first few words, “As local I can confirm that the” have been dropped, and “UWA AGW” and “all UWA” have become “[the study / the studies].”
While it would make sense for Uscinski to add an explanation in square brackets of the terms “UWA” (University of Western Australia) and “AGW” (Anthropogenic Global Warming” for a readership to whom the initials wouldn’t be familiar, it makes no sense to change the meaning of the quote by replacing these terms with “[the studies].” On the other hand, if he received the quote in this form from somewhere, that would explain his mistaken belief that Judd was one of the co-authors of the studies in question.
So if he didn’t get the mangled quote directly from “Recursive Fury,” the paper he cites, maybe he got it from from “Recurrent Fury,” Lew’s later, doctored, self-plagiarised version of the retracted “Recursive Fury” paper? The quote does appear there, but in an even more mangled form:
X’s apparent leadership role in this conspiracy was reinforced in a subsequent comment by a local who confirmed, with “no doubt”, X’s role as “mastermind” and typical “mad scientist.”
Uscinski can’t be faulted for citing the “Recursive Fury” paper, since it was retracted in 2014, the year his book was published. But why truncate and doctor the quote in such a way as to change its meaning? It is, after all, the only piece of evidence in his whole book for the existence of climate conspiracy theorists. And why choose this quote, out of dozens available?
One possible clue is in this article at SkepticalScience, written jointly with John Cook, in which Lewandowsky announces:
Recursive Fury documents a whole spectrum of conspiracy theories. As you get further into the paper, the conspiracy theories become broader and more extreme until you get to my personal favourite – maths professor Kevin Judd being the grand poobah of the “global climate activist operation” at the University of Western Australia.
But what of the commenter who has been chosen by Lewandowsky as his all time favourite conspiracy theorist? Here is the comment as it appears at WUWT, just as Lewandowsky correctly quotes it:
Donald Woerd September 12, 2012 at 11:25 pm
As local I can confirm that the Maths Prof Kevin Judd is the mastermind behind UWA AGW. He is apparently a brilliant mathematician, chess and go player, and computerwizz. He is a typical reclusive mad scientist. There is no doubt he is behind all UWA.
It looks as if it was written hurriedly, since there’s an “a” missing between “As” and “local,” (an “a” thoughtfully provided by Lew in the anonymised reference in “Recurrent Fury” to “a local who confirmed, with ‘no doubt’, X’s role..”) and it ends abruptly: “All UWA.” All UWA what?
But who is Donald Woerd, the author of the comment? He is clearly close enough to Professor Kevin Judd to know his hobbies, and holds him in high esteem. He’s also clearly having a laugh, replying sarcastically to the comment by WUWT regular Robbo, a much truncated version of whose comment Lewandowsky quotes in “Recursive Fury” (see above.) Lewandowsky apparently didn’t get the joke when he chose the quote as his “personal favourite” example of conspiracy theorising.
Donald Woerd is Donald Duck in Dutch. So the question becomes: who among Kevin Judd’s colleagues at the University of West Australia’s Climate Centre would choose the Dutch name of a cartoon character for his nom de plume in order to make a once-in-a-lifetime venture on the internet in order to poke fun at WUWT commenters and their supposed conspiracy theorising?
On Googlesearch, the only sign of his existence is his single comment at WUWT, except for six references in Dutch to the Disney character. A cartoon character who makes one comment on a blog and then disappears for ever hardly counts as a “denizen of climate blogs” – the supposed subject of Lewandowsky’s research.
So a sarcastic remark by some unknown joker from the University of Western Australia has been chosen by the world’s leading expert on climate conspiracy theorising as his personal favourite example of a climate conspiracy theory, and the pseudonymous author, who has never been seen on climate blogs before or since, has had his words immortalised in the standard reference book on conspiracy theory. Well done Donald Duck. Well done Professor Lewandowsky and Professor Uscinski. And well done Oxford University Press, publishers of Professor Uscinski and of the peer reviewed Oxford Research Encyclopaedia of Climate.