Meta Studies and Climate Science

Well, they don’t mix. At least not so far.

there-are-lies-damned-lies-statistics-and-sloppy-s

Following Climategate, the activist community felt as though they needed to respond to what they perceived as a victory for skeptics of climate change. Like the skeptics themselves, they were frustrated at the slow pace of the climate conversation in the academic literature and the even slower pace of the IPCC, which issues reports less frequently than the Olympic Games are held.

Again, like climate skeptics, they searched for avenues where non-scientists could contribute. They started a ‘Crusher Crew,’ a rapid response network where skeptic opinions stated on blogs or online articles in the mainstream media would be confronted immediately.

But that wasn’t pro-active enough. So these citizens started doing ‘science.’ Not really science, you understand, but rough overviews of academic literature to show favorable numbers of pro-consensus publications compared to that put out by skeptic scientists.

Using (predominantly) keyword searches and evaluating the titles or abstracts of publications, a number of studies attempted to deligitimize the skeptic opposition. As these papers served no other purpose, the intent was clear to all. Perhaps inevitably, given their distaste for climate skeptics, they made no effort to become familiar with what skeptics were actually writing, relying only on search results, meta tags–things that don’t require thought. The papers uniformly reflect the lack of wisdom of that strategy.

Since Climategate, there have been a number of studies that appear to be deliberate attacks on the skeptic community:

Anderegg, Prall et al PNAS 2010,
Quantifying the Consensus Cook et al,, Environmental Research Letters 2013
Consensus on Consensus, Cook, Oreskes et al, Environmental Research Letters 2016
NASA Faked The Moon Landing–Therefore, (Climate) Science is a Hoax, Lewandowsky et al, Psychological Science 2012
Recursive Fury: conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation’, Lewandowsky et al, Frontiers in Psychology 2013

The papers have much in common.

The received extensive coverage in both the media and the climate blogosphere.

They were quickly critcized by mainstream scientists ranging from Spencer Weart to Mike Hulme, as well as by skeptics. Much of the criticism focused on sloppy methodology and inappropriate analysis tools, criticism often leveled at social science papers outside the realm of climate science.

They contribute nothing to our understanding of the climate and precious little to our understanding of the climate conversation, except as exemplars of shoddy work reinforcing entrenched beliefs about the opposition.

The most recent, covered heavily at this blog, is Harvey et al 2017. It is exactly like the others in intent and (shoddy) execution, although it focuses strictly on weblogs rather than academic literature.

Consensus activists want skeptics (and we lukewarmers) to shut up and go away. However, they don’t want to debate us. They don’t want to know what we actually believe–it would conflict with their *ahem* conspiratorial ideas about us.

Which is why their attacks on us tend towards the ludicrous.

There is a place for literature searches, meta studies and pub counts. There are also protocols, rules of the road, tips and tricks and established procedures for performing this type of research. But none of those were employed in the papers referenced here. The result–sloppy name calling trying to justify itself in the name of science–cheapens the debate.

It also damages science.

12 thoughts on “Meta Studies and Climate Science

  1. When you read these Lew type studies (as he seems to be the main protagonist), one is always reminded of the quote by Lord Rutherford “If your experiment needs statistics, you ought to have done a better experiment.” And he was one of the greatest of experimental physicists.

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  2. you missed one. another attack paper from Lewandowsky on an individual here..

    The ‘Alice in Wonderland’ mechanics of the rejection of (climate) science: simulating coherence by conspiracism
    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11229-016-1198-6

    John Cook/Lewandowsky’s old Australian sceptic foe – Prof Ian Plimer is an incoherent contradictory conspiracist person and they link him to the Dead and Alive conspiracy paper.

    In Philosophy journal (could they not get the paper into a psychology journal, ie iving people named)

    an example of their dishonesty. they describe him only as an Australian sceptic Ian PLimer…

    not informing the reader he is Professor Ian Plimer, a highly cited geology academic and an Eureal Prize winner. The whole paper, a rehash of material Cook wrote about Plimer on Skeptical science (and when you read the Skeptical Science leaked forum – Plimer is a major concern for Cook and co, and they need to ‘debunk him’

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  3. they go after Anthony Watts in the above paper, as well.. a clear attempt to describe all sceptics as incoherent contradictory conspiracy nuts. ie. peer review ‘science’ evidence to ignore sceptics… a pattern? The Harvey paper is an attack on Crockford, but also a wider attack on all sceptics..

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  4. This is the conclusion of the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ hit piece:

    “ There is considerable evidence that the rejection of (climate) science involves a component of conspiracist discourse. In this article, we provided preliminary evidence that the pseudo-scientific arguments that underpin climate science denial are mutually incoherent, which is a known attribute of conspiracist ideation. The lack of mechanisms to self-correct the scientific incoherencies manifest in denialist discourse further evidences that this is not the level at which rational activity is focused, and we must move to a higher level, looking at the role of conspiracist ideation in the political realm. At that political level, climate denial achieves coherence in its uniform and unifying opposition to GHG emission cuts. The coherent political stance of denial may not be undercut by its scientific incoherence. Climate science denial is therefore perhaps best understood as a rational activity that replaces a coherent body of science with an incoherent and conspiracist body of pseudo-science for political reasons and with considerable political coherence and effectiveness.”

    If I change just four words it makes a lot more sense:

    “There is considerable evidence that the rejection of lukewarm (climate) science involves a component of conspiracist discourse. In this article, we provided preliminary evidence that the pseudo-scientific arguments that underpin climate science denial are mutually incoherent, which is a known attribute of conspiracist ideation. The lack of mechanisms to self-correct the scientific incoherencies manifest in denialist discourse further evidences that this is not the level at which rational activity is focused, and we must move to a higher level, looking at the role of conspiracist ideation in the political realm. At that political level, climate denial achieves coherence in its uniform and unifying opposition to GHG emission cuts fossil fuels. The coherent political stance of denial may not be undercut by its scientific incoherence. Climate science denial is therefore perhaps best understood as a rational activity that replaces a coherent body of science with an incoherent and conspiracist body of pseudo-science for political reasons and with considerable political coherence and effectiveness.”

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  5. “There is considerable evidence that the rejection of (climate) science involves a component of conspiracist discourse. In this article, we provided preliminary evidence that the pseudo-scientific arguments that underpin climate science denial are mutually incoherent, which is a known attribute of conspiracist ideation.” (Alice in Wonderland paper: pity they didn’t refer instead to Alice in the Looking Glass – more apt).
    Interesting stats: 17k downloads but only 4 citations.

    Two sentences, 5 slurs – “conspiracist discourse”, “pseudo-scientific”, “denial”, “incoherent”, “conspiracist ideation”
    I’d like to punch them in the mouth!

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  6. Which Blogs have consistently found no problems with the work of Lewandowsky and Mann?

    It seems only fair to put Lewandowsky’s domino toppling theory to the test.

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  7. Wow. Hillary reading extracts from “Fire and Fury” at the Grammys! Could we, say, get Michael Mann reading from Climate Audit?

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  8. I’ve just been looking at the first paper you cite, Anderegg, Prall, Schneider 2010, which claims to find a 97-98% consensus in favour of “Anthropogenic Climate Change.” A key claim in the abstract is that “A vocal minority of researchers and other critics contest the conclusions of the mainstream scientific assessment, frequently citing large numbers of scientists..”

    Who are the vocal minority (later defined as “climate change skeptics or deniers”) and who are the scientists they cite? Anderegg et al cite three sources, two papers by McCright& Dunlap based on research into conservative think tanks from 1990 to 1997, and a paper (Lahsen M 2008) “Experiences of modernity in the greenhouse: A cultural analysis of a physicist ”trio’ supporting the backlash against global warming” which names Frederick Seitz (1911 – 2008) Robert Jastrow (1925 – 2008) and William Nierenberg (1919 – 2000).

    The fact that a paper published in 2010 could find nothing better to quote as an example of climate skepticism than two studies of think tanks in the nineties, and no sceptical scientists younger than 85, says much about their view of us. While they’re thinking of their grandchildren, we’re apparently taking our views from century-old dead scientists.

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  9. Hans,
    The more I read the excerpt you provide of the Lew gang’s original closing statement, the more it is obviously a bunch of made up gibberish. It only serves to demean the target of their paper. It conveys little or no actual information.

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  10. Can someone explain this? The Wonderland article Barry links to is headed Jan 2018 “to be cited as Lewandowsky, S., Cook, J. & Lloyd, E. Synthese (2018)” yet the pdf version says “Received: 18 February 2016 / Accepted: 4 August 2016 / Published online: 19 September 2016”. It was the subject of an article at Opendemocracy a year previously in Oct 2015. https://www.opendemocracy.net/conspiracy/suspect-science/stephan-lewandowsky/alice-through-looking-glass-mechanics-rejection-of-climate-science

    It’s so horribly bad that it requires an article of its own. The articles Tom cites here are at least coherent in a miserable failed-first-year-student sort of way. They say “we’ve analysed articles by a thousand climate scientists and 97% agree…” or: “we surveyed a thousand denizens of climate blogs and found a correlation…” or “we analysed three dozen remarks made on blogs and they had these characteristics…” They’re pathetic, but with patience, their pathos can be demonstrated and analysed.
    But what to do with the Wonderland article, which says, in effect: “Some people say one thing, others say another. They contradict each other, but it’s ok, because they’re conspiracy theorists, and they do this kind of thing. It’s just how they are”?

    It moves on from attacks on individual bloggers that backfired in Recursive Fury to an attack on a group of people in general via quotes from a small number of people (Monckton, Plimer) which they claim are contradictory, but aren’t. And it contains the first known example of Lewandowsky considering the possibility that his hypothesis might be mistaken.

    Our analysis was performed at the aggregate level; that is, we considered the incoherence of collective argumentation among a “community” of like-minded individuals as if it were a single intellectual entity. It is possible, therefore, that individuals within this community would only hold one or the other of two incoherent views, and that each person considered in isolation would not be incoherent. In that case, one could argue that there is merely a heterogeneity of views in the “community” of denialists, which might in turn be interpreted as being an indication of “healthy debate” or “scientific diversity” rather than incoherence.
    We reject both the possibility and its hypothetical implication.

    Remind me to use that one in my first peer-reviewed paper:

    We have demonstrated, beyond a shadow of doubt, that Lewandowsky is a lying, bullying charlatan, using the power which comes with his privileged position to defame honest critics as anti-semitic mental defectives and to expose them to ridicule via his network of ignorant or complacent allies in the media, aided and abetted by the solidarity of the academic establishment in the universities and the scientific press, and via his power to appoint peer reviewers who are either students dependent on his favours, or colleagues who share his moral values. It is possible that his behaviour is due to the fact that he is clinically insane, and that his colleagues are merely demonstrating compassion for the suffering of a tormented soul. [and here comes the killer argument]
    We reject both the possibility and its hypothetical implication.

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