Strangling the Gorilla in the Echo Chamber of Your Mind



Lewandowsky Cook and Ecker (who he?) have two new articles at the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition.

The firstBeyond Misinformation: Understanding and Coping with the ‘Post-Truth’ Era”

…explores the growing abundance of misinformation, how it influences people, and how to counter it. And outlines “a number of recommendations to counter misinformation in a post-truth world.”

The second Letting the Gorilla Emerge From the Mist: Getting Past Post-Truth”

welcomes “the nine constructive and insightful commentaries on our target article” and synthesizes “the suggestions from the commentary into a proposal that may help overcome the post-truth malaise, provided a final obstacle can be overcome. This obstacle is the gorilla in the room: Policy making in the United States is largely independent of the public’s wishes but serves the interests of economic elites.”

Members of the public who want to learn more about Lewandowsky’s campaign to take policy making out of the hands of economic élites and hand it back to the people are invited to fork out $63 for 24 hours access to the two articles, and a further $31.50 for each of the “nine constructive and insightful commentaries.”

Or you can get a peek at some of the first pages by clicking here

For example, R. Kelly Garrett, School of Communication, Ohio State University, in his or her constructive and insightful commentary, says

The importance of the arguments made in “Beyond misinformation” (Lewandowsky, Ecker, & Cook, 2017) is difficult to underestimate.

Or, to put it another way, easy to overestimate.

The primary goal of this response, however, is not to underscore the article’s insights. Those contributions speak for themselves. Lewandowsky, Ecker, and Cook (2017) cover considerable intellectual territory..

Well I’m sure they do. But what territory exactly?

Aaron M. McCright and Riley E. Dunlap come straight to the point in their commentary: Combatting Misinformation Requires Recognizing Its Types and the Factors That Facilitate Its Spread and Resonance.” It’s all about climate denial.

As sociologists who have studied organized climate change denial and the political polarization on anthropogenic climate change that it has produced in the US since the late 1990s, we have closely followed the work of Lewandowsky and his collaborators over the years. Like them, we have observed how the “climate change denial countermovement” has employed the strategy of manufacturing uncertainty — long used by industry to undermine scientific evidence of the harmful effects of products ranging from asbestos to DDT and especially tobacco smoke — to turn human-caused climate change into a controversial issue in contemporary American society. And, like Lewandowsky, Ecker, and Cook (2017) in “Beyond Misinformation,” we view these past efforts as key contributors to the present situation in which pervasive misinformation has generated “alternative facts,” pseudoscience claims, and real “fake news”—a “post-truth era” indeed.

Indeed. These “past efforts” are “key contributors to the present situation” in which large swathes of the population believe that tobacco smoke, DDT and asbestos are good for you. Don’t they? Where was I? Oh yes, Dunlap and McCright on alternative facts.

The current state of affairs has provoked much consternation among academics … Within this context, we widen our scope beyond climate change denial to discuss misinformation more generally and, in doing so, offer a sociological response to Lewandowsky et al. (2017), aimed at complementing and extending their analysis.

[At the bottom of page one of the Dunlap and McCright article is this peculiar little Author Note:

For their respect for facts, dedication to truth, and pursuit of justice, we thank Eric Schneiderman, and Robert Mueller, as well as Mueller’s all-star team …

I can think of a country or two where it might be normal for a scientist to thank effusively government employees for doing their job properly, but the USA? Is it post-normal for visions of gorillas in the mist to lead to such rank arselicking?]

Fortunately there’s a prepublished version of “Beyond Misinformation” at

while “Letting the Gorilla Emerge From the Mist: Getting Past Post-Truth” can be found at:

and McCright Dunlap‘s Combatting Misinformation Requires Recognizing Its Types and the Factors That Facilitate Its Spread and Resonance” is here

Happy New Year, and good reading.

23 thoughts on “Strangling the Gorilla in the Echo Chamber of Your Mind

  1. Lew and gang are increasingly creepy and transparently calling for overt censorship and suppression.


  2. It might help you understand this issue better if you avail yourself of this free online course that starts on January 9th: Making Sense of Climate Science Denial.

    The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation helpfully announced the availability of this class. According to the description they distributed:

    This massive open online course (MOOC) is offered by edX, a MOOC provider founded by Harvard University and MIT. Course material is primarily delivered via short videos. This MOOC focuses on climate change communication and includes forums for online conversations with fellow learners and course moderators.

    Course Title: Making Sense of Climate Science Denial

    What You’ll Learn:
    • How to recognise the social and psychological drivers of climate science denial
    • How to better understand climate change: the evidence that it is happening, that humans are causing it and the potential impacts
    • How to identify the techniques and fallacies that climate myths employ to distort climate science
    • How to effectively debunk climate misinformation
    Price: Free. (Certificates are available for a fee.)
    Dates: 7 weeks starting on January 9, 2018
    Level: Introductory
    Effort: 2-4 hours a week

    Reading this description there is no mention that the class is given by the University of Queensland. The first instructor listed is John Cook, adjunct lecturer. The description about of the course says:

    In public discussions, climate change is a highly controversial topic. However, in the scientific community, there is little controversy with 97% of climate scientists concluding humans are causing global warming.
    • Why the gap between the public and scientists?
    • What are the psychological and social drivers of the rejection of the scientific consensus?
    • How has climate denial influenced public perceptions and attitudes towards climate change?
    This course examines the science of climate science denial.

    We will look at the most common climate myths from “global warming stopped in 1998” to “global warming is caused by the sun” to “climate impacts are nothing to worry about.”

    We’ll find out what lessons are to be learnt from past climate change as well as better understand how climate models predict future climate impacts. You’ll learn both the science of climate change and the techniques used to distort the science.
    With every myth we debunk, you’ll learn the critical thinking needed to identify the fallacies associated with the myth. Finally, armed with all this knowledge, you’ll learn the psychology of misinformation. This will equip you to effectively respond to climate misinformation and debunk myths.

    This isn’t just a climate MOOC; it’s a MOOC about how people think about climate change.


  3. I’ll be getting into Lew’s epistemological argument in a while, after a few deep breaths, and possibly deep draughts of something strong. But first, let’s take a peek at what’s going on in Stephan’s mind by means of a quote (Misinformation p11.)

    The framing of the current post-truth malaise as “misinformation” that can be corrected or debunked fails to capture the full scope of the problem. This framing at least tacitly implies that misinformation is a blemish on the information landscape—our mirror of reality—that can be cleared up with a suitable corrective disinfectant.

    The idea of clearing a blemish off a mirror with disinfectant raises the question: “What has the first author been doing in front of the mirror – again?” The two sentences which follow resolve the mystery:

    This framing fails to capture the current state of public discourse: the post-truth problem is not a blemish on the mirror. The problem is that the mirror is a window into an alternative reality.

    Lew looks into the mirror and sees a window into an alternative reality. Hence the gorilla in the mist.


  4. Sorry folks but does
    “Lew looks into the mirror and sees a window into an alternative reality. Hence the gorilla in the mist”
    have any real meaning? I read such as this and wonder if I have been dipping into the remnants of the Christmas trifle too often.
    I also ponder if I should be re-indoctrinated by taking that oh-so-inviting MOOC which offers to explain away all my doubts about climate denial. Oh to have an untroubled mind and join the mythical 97%.


  5. Thank you Roger Calazza. The course you mention was prepared by John Cook, coauthor of “Beyond Misinformation” and “Gorilla in the Mist.” In the “Beyond Misinformation” paper (p5) he says:

    …power lies with those most vocal and influential on social media: from celebrities and big corporations to botnet puppeteers who can mobilize millions of tweetbots or sock puppets—that is, fake online personas through which a small group of operatives can create an illusion of a widespread opinion

    In 2010 Cook and Lewandowsky discussed using spambots to place fake comments on his own blog. Two years later he became Lewandowsky’s doctoral student, and now he’s an assistant professor of psychology.


  6. Is anyone offering a course on how to become a botnet puppeteer? The problem of disinfecting my information landscape I will defer till tomorrow. Only then will I feel able to work out whether it is a mirror of reality or a window into a multiverse. I confess I am not good at multi-tasking


  7. There are some interesting nuggets of social science in Beyond Misinformation, e.g.:

    Fessler et al. (2017) found that participants who were more conservative exhibited greater credulity for information about hazards… On balance, although the number of studies to date is limited, there is empirical reason to expect certain types of misinformation, namely pseudo-profound bullshit and claims about hazards, to be accepted more readily among conservatives than liberals.

    So which news is fake, that conservatives are more likely to believe in hazards, or that they deny climate catastrophism?


  8. Beyond Misinformation p31

    At present, many representatives of think tanks and corporate front groups appear in the media without revealing their affiliations and conflicts of interest. This practice must be tightened and rigorous disclosure of all affiliations and interests must take center-stage in media reporting.

    Tell that to Dana Nuccitelli, who wrote a glowing report about this paper in the Guardian
    without revealing that three of his papers are cited in the bibliography, and that he cowrites the Skeptical Science blog with second author Cook.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Here are two quotes which need to be read together, face to face, in the mirror which is a window into an alternative reality:

    p32. People should be encouraged to make their voices heard, not just to directly persuade, but also to influence people’s perceptions of norms and the prevalence of opinions, so that false-consensus effects do not arise. Even a few dissenting voices can shift the perceived social norm (i.e., the perceived range of acceptable views), thus legitimizing opposition and encouraging evidence-based discourse.

    p33 The fact that a few commenters can sway readers’ opinion and can set the tone of discourse is of growing concern to internet news services and media providers. In response, some sites have introduced strict moderation of comments, as for example which employs a “community manager” and has entertained options such as a “community council” to provide moderation (https://


  10. I have to admit to being intrigued…

    Lew & Cook: The post-truth world emerged as a result of societal mega-trends such as a decline in social capital, growing economic inequality, increased polarization, declining trust in science, and an increasingly fractionated media landscape.

    Although I thought I could work out what I think they intended, I had to look up ‘fractionated’. It’s a word from chemistry, though appropriated by media science (pka A-level media studies) by Lew and Cook, who by now can be abbreviated as Lewk. Surely Sokal would have something to say about the misappropriation of technical terms by the cock-eyed champions of “science”?

    verb CHEMISTRY
    past tense: fractionated; past participle: fractionated
    divide into fractions or components.
    “samples were fractionated by electrophoresis”
    separate (a mixture) by fractional distillation.
    “the products were fractionated with boiling acetone in a Soxhlet apparatus”

    The psychologists have no equivalent to Soxhlet apparatus; they have only dodgy Internet surveys, speculation from dodgy presuppositions, and dubious statistical methods. There is no equivalent to fractionation in social-psychology: you can’t boil Breitbart and The Guardian in acetone. (Well, you can, but all you would be left with is a highly-flammable paper mache, not James Delingpole and George Monbiot staring back at you from the other side of laboratory glassware.

    The ‘societal megatrends’ are the preoccupations of erstwhile Occupiers and left wing academics — arguably not constituencies that in fact suffer from the alienating effects of ‘inequality’ or the ‘decline of social capital’, nor who have sat in the middle of an increasingly polarised cultural sphere, rather than sought to create wedges to serve as weapons in the Culture War. Weapons, that is, which have not served as well to capture the masses as much as served to alienate the public from high-minded academic truthsayers who believe that climate change and taxing the 1% slightly harder are the most important things to the American worker on minimum wages. Unfortunately for them, that worker is not so dumb as to have noticed that the academic presumes to speak on his behalf, but speaks on behalf of the academic’s self-interest, the same as any political constituency, albeit with better graphs.

    Which makes Lewk’s opening all the more interesting:

    Imagine a world that has had enough of experts. That considers knowledge to be “elitist.” Imagine a world in which it is not expert knowledge but an opinion market on Twitter that determines whether a newly emergent strain of avian flu is really contagious to humans, or whether greenhouse gas emissions do in fact cause global warming, as 97% of domain experts say they do (Anderegg, Prall, Harold, & Schneider, 2010; Cook et al., 2013, 2016; Oreskes, 2004). In this world, power lies with those most vocal and influential on social media: from celebrities and big corporations to botnet puppeteers who can mobilize millions of tweetbots or sock puppets—that is, fake online personas through which a small group of operatives can create an illusion of a widespread opinion (Bu, Xia, & Wang, 2013; Lewandowsky, 2011). In this world, experts are derided as untrustworthy or elitist whenever their reported facts threaten the rule of the well-financed or the prejudices of the uninformed.

    Lewk’s dystopian projection is of course an allusion to Gove. As Barry likes to rightly point out, however, the experts in question were largely from organisations of a particular kind, with a particular agenda, and with a particular stake in the continuation of the status quo — the maintenance of the political order that has been dominant in the era in which those ‘megatrends’ have developed now to the point of denouement. Rather than ‘post-fact’ or ‘post-truth’, that era is better described as ‘post-political’ and ‘post-democratic’ — ‘post truth’ is a symptom of the expertisation of policy-making and the professionalisation of politics, not a cause, owed to the fact of facts being issued by authorities on truth, not by the contest of ideas in the public sphere from which the voter has been excluded by precisely the ethics Lewk champions. It only matters what proportion of lies or truths were uttered in either the US presidential campaign, or the Brexit referendum if you make an equivalent of financial economists at lofty NGOs with paediatric oncologists. Making such an equivalence makes a voter as powerless to participate in politics — i.e. economic decisions — as he or she would be in the treatment of his or her child’s cancer.

    Lewk fears the minimum wage worker. And it is this cynicism and mistrust which causes his fantasy — his conspiracy theory, in fact — about Bondesque villains operating “millions” of Twitter bots. It could happen. And in the post-fact world of Blair’s dossiers, Rumsfeld’s unknown unknowns, and greens’ precaution (aka, Lewandowsky’s very own “uncertainty is not your friend”), what could happen is equivalent to what is happening. So Something Must Be Done. Lewk takes aim at democracy:

    It is a truism that a functioning democracy relies on a well-informed public (Kuklinski, Quirk, Jerit, Schwieder, & Rich, 2000). Conversely, if people are pervasively misinformed, chances are thatsocietal decisions will be suboptimal. Likewise, if an individual is misinformed, that person’s decisions may not be in their best interest and can have adverse consequences. For example, following the unsubstantiated—and now thoroughly debunked (DeStefano & Thompson, 2004; Godlee, Smith, & Marcovitch, 2011)—claims of a link between childhood vaccinations and autism, many parents (primarily in the U.K.) decided not to immunize their children. As a result of these misinformation-driven choices, there was a marked increase in vaccine-preventable disease, and substantial expenditure was required to overcome this public-health crisis (Larson, Cooper, Eskola, Katz, & Ratzan, 2011; Poland & Spier, 2010; Ratzan, 2010).2

    Here, Lewk again makes an analogy of parental choice in clinical intervention and voting. But it was not incredulity towards expertise and institutions of knowledge that caused the MMR-autism panic. Nor was it some blowhard billionaire posting in Twitter — Twitter had not yet been invented, and domestic Internet was still a new thing in 1998. It was a researcher who mis-identified the possible link. And it was the clumsy response of a trusted scientific institution that fuelled the panic, and then politicised it. It fed into growing suspicions towards corporate capitalism and its dominance in the field of medicine — which arguably (according to at least one of Wakefield’s notable critics, who is broadly sympathetic to Lewk) has put commercial interests before effective and safe treatment, with the acquiescence of the scientific establishment, and which, as many from within that field have noted, demonstrate the inadequacy of peer-review, the fact of confirmation and publication bias, and the extent to which many published articles are simply wrong. These are the consequences of Lewk’s own analogy. He should own it. the only way he can disown it is to call it either a ‘conspiracy theory’ or ‘post-factual’. You don’t need to be an expert to know that he would be lying.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Ben
    I thought the Lew/Cook “megatrends” comment you quote was a first timid step towards
    sanity, away from the view they expressed just a couple of months ago in their OUP article that scepticism was a result of a mental malfunction of a certain kind of person incapable of rational thought.

    However, the impression of dawning common sense was spoiled by a comment in their second paper, where, under the title: “Demisting the Gorilla” they say:

    The focus of LEC [the first paper] was on identifying candidate societal trends that may have contributed to the emergence of a “post-truth” world. We identified 6 trends…
    We acknowledged that this selection was largely arbitrary. We therefore do not insist that our selection of trends is exhaustive—on the contrary, we merely wanted to stimulate a growing conversation about the importance of the larger context in which individual cognition, such as esponding to misinformation, takes place. In this spirit, we now offer a further mega-trend that we believe to be important and that we only became aware of after LEC was written.

    Santos, Varnum, and Grossmann (2017) provided comprehensive cross-national evidence for a global increase in individualism, measured in both attitudes and practices, during the last 30-40 years. Individualism is “a view of the self as self-directed, autonomous, and separate from others”, and it stands in contrast to collectivism, which refers to an “interconnected view of the self that overlaps with close others, with individuals’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors embedded in social contexts”…

    What kind of social scientist can admit that their list of mega trends is “largely arbitrary”? Or that the rise of individualism was news to them, only revealed in a paper published this year?
    What alternative reality have they been inhabiting?


  12. Give Lew a break, Geoff. The kind of disinfectant that can clean a mirror of reality is hard to acquire and it probably takes a while to convert a mirror into a window. And how would you set about cleaning an information landscape anyway? While Lew was locked away in the smallest room, he just didn’t have the time to observe mega-trends. I imagine he had to ask his research assistants to read back-numbers of the New York Times selected by the 5 year old who participated in the moon hoax paper.


  13. Dr Lew is the psychological equivalent of Tracey Emin. No real talent but attractive to people who have no talent either but dream of acclaim. They think ‘if Dr Lew can make it, we all can’. But ultimately Dr Lew’s work is an unmade bed with used condoms and skid marks. No deep insight, no skill, just gimmick and bluster.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. TINYCO2 (29 Dec 17 at 11:57 pm)
    Gosh. I thought I’ve sometimes been unfairly hard on Lew. But never would I have dared compare him with Tracy Enim. But now you say so …
    She got a job at the Royal Academy. He got a six figure sum from the Royal Society…

    Dr Lew’s work is an unmade bed with used condoms and skid marks

    That’s a potentially libellous accusation about the quality of the average Lew paper.


  15. “That’s a potentially libellous accusation about the quality of the average Lew paper.”

    So you think Tracey Emin would be offended?

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Having read through the preprint version of Cook, Ecker, & Lewandowsky, 2017 I can find no clear definitions of either “post-truth” or “misinformation“. I will help fill in those glaring gaps. From the Oxford Living Dictionaries the adjective “post-truth” is defined as

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

    I believe that the response of those who desire to be genuine experts is to differentiate themselves from those who seek to drive the mass appeals to emotion and belief. That is to appeal to conventional standards of evidence. Climate alarmism seems to reject this approach. It is the use of mantras like AGW is real, human-caused, serious, and solvable(Supran and Oreskes 2017) or support of banal belief-statements (the 97% consensus) that IMO is driving the climate alarmism in the opposite direction to what I would term a more academic approach for a subject on the periphery of science, and strongly influenced by value-judgements. In these terms “climate denial” becomes disagreeing with the belief-statements, not with rejecting objective facts or well-verified empirical statements. So the term “climate-denier” can be applied to both someone who rejects facts out of hand, and those who show that the believed mantras are at odds with the real world data, defy logic, and/or reject alternative belief systems. In the climate alarmist’s terms “misinformation” can be either false information, or pointing out that the climate propaganda is false, unsubstantiated, opinions. Note that Cook, Ecker, & Lewandowsky, 2017, with respect to the 2016 presidential campaign only look at “misinformation” by the Donald Trump campaign and not the Hillary Clinton campaign. Similarly, in previous articles from the Lewandowsky school have only looked at what he believes the reasons why people reject the mantras of climate and not the direct reasons. To do so would be a tacit acknowledgment that other valid beliefs are not only possible, but evaluated on the same basis as alarmism, are often comparatively superior.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. With considerable respect to those favouring the comparison between Lew output and Tracy Emin’s bed I do recognize the awful similarity but would point out that the “bed” was a one-off, never to be repeated. Lew (and chums) on the other hand have produced many undelectable items and have the stamina to produce many more. If artistic comparitors are required might I respectfully suggest Chris Ofili’s Oeuvre – both probably gave off a similar smell when being composed.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Manic, further to your well-taken points was the display of post-truth during the last US presidential election, and then of course multiplied since then.

    It was seen that a politician or a leader and his followers know they are playing a game, and winning depends on having the more compelling narrative, never mind the “truth.” In fact, these falsehoods are not even concerned with any “truth,” they are just making up stuff that sounds good to an audience. In other words, they are not lying, they are bullshitting. Insiders know it and are OK with it, while much of the public is naive and therefore gullible.

    As it happens Harry Frankfurt of Princeton gets to the heart of the matter in his provocative essay, On Bullshit, he says:

    It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction.

    Frankfurt’s essay is here:

    My synopsis:

    Liked by 2 people

  19. As to my previous point on 30 Dec 17 at 2:35 pm, I have found a definition of “misinformation”Ecker, U.K.H., Lewandowsky, S., Fenton, O. et al. Mem Cogn (2014) 42: 292. starts the abstract with

    Misinformation—defined as information that is initially assumed to be valid but is later corrected or retracted

    Given that two authors are the same, it is a valid to assume this is the definition used in the latest missive. In the terms of the Lewandowsky corpus the implications are

    If an article in a peer-reviewed journal states that an item of information (be it fact, conjecture or opinion) is incorrect, or might not be valid, then it is invalid.
    If an item of information in a peer-reviewed journal is claimed to be incorrect by something published outside of a peer-reviewed journal, then it has not been corrected.
    If the original authors of an article respond to the “correction” in another peer-reviewed article or comment, then that “correction” is countered and so the original claims are not misinformation. An example is the countering of the Ruth Dixon and Jonathan Jones commentary entitled ‘Conspiracist Ideation as a Predictor of Climate Science Rejection: An Alternative Analysis.’  (A more detailed explanation is here.)
    If the alarmist academic community ignores the correction, it is not a correction.

    Misinformation is therefore not primarily about false statements. or inferior opinion statements. It is the making statements that the consensus of academics in the field deems to be incorrect or inappropriate. In the climate change arena, misinformation has become anything that contradicts the claims of the climate ideologues.


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