28 thoughts on “Global Warming: a case study in groupthink

  1. Pingback: Global Warming: a case study in groupthink — Climate Scepticism – NZ Conservative Coalition

  2. ‘Groupthink’ is a contradiction wrapped up in a single compound word. Whoever coined this term obviously wasn’t ‘thinking’ very clearly and in all likelihood was afflicted by ‘wrongthink’. Because groups don’t ‘think’, individuals do. Groups may adhere to a common WAY of thinking, made acceptable, desirable, even compulsory by prevailing consensus opinion carried forth and multiplied from its source in the actual thinking (wrong thinking, in the case of AGW climate science) of a minority of individuals. If the majority of adherents to ‘groupthink’ were to actually start ‘thinking’, independently, properly, then they might in some cases dissociate from consensus opinion and form views which do not align neatly with the prevailing ‘wisdom’.

    However, ‘groupthink’ need not always be negative; in many instances it can be positive, forcing general alignment on issues which are not contentious, issues which it is obviously advantageous to have general agreement on, scientific issues for example which have been more rigorously researched and tested using empirical evidence and observations. I’m thinking for example the theory of infectious disease caused by living viruses and bacteria, I’m thinking evolution, DNA, genetics. These are all matters of general scientific agreement, evidence-based, which the public and the scientific community accept as basically given. They are ‘groupthink’ issues which form a solid foundation upon which society builds, and they form a platform from which further scientific research can be launched. Consensus climate science is not ‘groupthink’ forged in this manner; it is groupthink enforced via peer pressure and political expediency. As such, it is not only essentially worthless in itself, but is actually destructive, negative and regressive.

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  3. If you’re engaged in ‘climate wars’ and your brain doesn’t hurt, then you’re not participating, you’re just standing around on the battlefield, getting in the way.


  4. Jaime,

    Methinks (as opposed to usthinks) you are being uncharitable to social psychologists like Irving Janis and William H. Whyte, Jr., who were well aware that ‘groupthink’ as literally understood (as a kind of aggregate cognition) is an oxymoron, as you point out. We aren’t teleconnected trees; Avatar is science fiction (as is MBH98); and our nervous systems are discrete, one from another. On that I’m sure we can all converge (by independent ratiocination).

    Wikipedia records that

    “Whyte derived the term from George Orwell’s 1984, and popularized it in 1952 in Fortune magazine:

    Groupthink being a coinage – and, admittedly, a loaded one – a working definition is in order. We are not talking about mere instinctive conformity – it is, after all, a perennial failing of mankind. What we are talking about is a rationalized conformity – an open, articulate philosophy which holds that group values are not only expedient but right and good as well.[11][12]

    Mind you, I think you’re right to find the term unsatisfactory. It’s an insipid name for what it designates.

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  5. Booker’s report is quite long, and I have only read a third of the way through. On page 25 he discusses the Hockey Stick controversy. This on the Wegman Report

    ……. commissioned a report from Dr Edward Wegman, one of America’s most respected statisticians, which was fiercely critical of Mann’s methodology. In a line which could almost have come from Irving Janis, Wegman wrote that Mann’s academic supporters were

    …a tightly-knit group of individuals who passionately believe in their thesis.

    However, our perception is that this group has a self-reinforcing feedback mechanism.
    In other words, the group’s method was to discuss, peer-review and cite each other’s work, to maximise the authority of their shared view.

    Look at the Harvey Polar Bear paper, or the latest Cook et al. missive, and the same methods appear to still be going on.


  6. Brad,

    From Booker’s essay, Janis’ theory of groupthink in his own words:

    “I use the term ‘groupthink’ as a quick and easy way to refer to a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action. Groupthink is a term of the same order as the words in the newspeak vocabulary George Orwell presents in his dismaying 1984 – a vocabulary with terms such as ‘doublethink’ and ‘crimethink’. By putting groupthink with those Orwellian words, I realise that groupthink takes on an Orwellian connotation. The invidiousness is intentional, Groupthink refers to a deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing and moral judgment”

    Booker says:

    “And Janis himself did not originate the term, which is attributed to William Whyte Jr. in 1952. But Janis minted it afresh by consciously adapting it from George Orwell’s ‘doublethink’ in Nineteen Eighty-Four”

    So yes, Janis was well aware that the term involves some sort of malfunction of reasoning, but nonetheless, in his opinion it would seem, the [small] group of subjects thus afflicted were still ‘thinking’, still attempting to apply their cognitive intellectual faculties, just not doing it very efficiently. This is different from the blind acceptance of the masses, who don’t think about global warming, they just install it in a shallow layer of consciousness labeled ‘fact’. The vast majority of adherents to the global warming consensus fall into this category.

    Booker confirms that the ‘groupthink’ of his essay is somewhat different from Janis’ original conception of ‘groupthink’:

    “Janis was only really concerned with how groupthink affected small groups of people in charge of US policy at the highest level. But when we come to consider the story of the belief in man-made global warming, we are of course looking at how this was shared by countless other people: academics, politicians, the media, teachers, business executives, indeed public opinion in general. But all these people only got carried along by the belief that manmade global warming was real and dangerous because they had been told it was so by others. They accepted as true what they had heard, read or just seen on television without questioning it. And this meant that they didn’t really know why they thought why they did. They hadn’t thought it necessary to give such a complicated and technical subject any fundamental study. They simply echoed what had been passed on to them from somewhere else, usually in the form of a few familiar arguments or articles of belief that were, like approved mantras, endlessly repeated.”

    The term ‘groupthink’ thus has metamorphosed from Janis’ very specific mental affliction of a small, close-knit group, to a societal issue which more correctly might be described as mass delusion.


  7. Jaime, I’m convinced—the concept has indeed shifted like Gondwanaland—which is yet another reason to prefer a clearer and stronger term. ‘Groupthink’ sounds far too benign for the kinds of cases in which one’d want to use it.

    The second phenomenon you describe, wherein people receive their beliefs second-hand, I call ‘vicarious thinking’ or ‘outsourcing your brain.’ Not that I’m innocent of it myself on any number of questions.

    I’m not sure that the average believer—as opposed to a treehouse-dwelling fanatic—is naive enough to file [C[A[GW]]] under ‘fact’ though. They might be conditioned to view it as the only reasonable interpretation of “the” science (albeit without any clear notion of what they themselves mean by ‘reasonable’, ‘interpretation’ or ‘science’), but it doesn’t follow that they give it the certainty of a ‘fact’ such as the boiling point of water or the capital of France.Talking to such people, I’ve found it fairly easy to get them to agree [C[A[GW]]] *might not* happen / be happening. Getting them to acknowledge that there’s *reasonable* doubt about it is a bit harder. Getting them to see why a sane person would *reject* it is harder still.

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  8. Jaime: —This is different from the blind acceptance of the masses, who don’t think about global warming, they just install it in a shallow layer of consciousness labeled ‘fact’. […]a societal issue which more correctly might be described as mass delusion.

    I think you’ve presumed the ‘mass’ part of this, Jaime. Climate change is an elite preoccupation. It has never been tested democratically. It is also categorically the preoccupation of remote elites, during an era in which the ‘masses’ have been increasingly excluded from politics, and the contest of ideas in politics is increasingly narrow, and the emphasis of politics is increasingly to problematise the masses, and so to manage them more than reflect their wishes.

    Put simply, the masses are not party to climate change debates. They do not figure in official thinking (or groupthinking) except as an afterthought: “right, now we’ve decided what the policy is, how do we convince the voter that s/he must obey”. This is a departure from democratic politics. It was most visible in the 10:10 campaign, which was the result of Ed Miliband wondering where were the 21st century equivalent of the civil rights movements that had got behind anti-apartheid and gay rights campaigns (among other issues) in the mid 20th. He had forgotten that those movement stood against the political establishment, not behind it. NGOs had effectively displaced the masses as a political entity in this configuration of politics.

    But it’s not a confident compact. And that is why difference of opinion on many matters so terrifies today’s political class. They are terrified of ‘the masses’, in fact. The expression of scepticism of their projects threatens them, existentially. It creates an opportunity for cohesion around those issues, to oppose their fragile grasp. Look at how Brexit has caused that class to throw itself to the floor, convulsing. It is totally incapable of making the positive argument for its now doomed political project, and lashes out at ‘populism’, at the stupid voter. It loses any dignity it ever had, and reaches for whichever -ism is closest to hand, to throw at the leaver.

    We see the same in climate, in microcosm. The fact is, however, that it has been much harder for the voter to ‘see’ the issue of climate policy in the way that the EU became something that voters could sense. It has been much less talked about, though it has certainly been rammed down people’s throats. And of course, coverage of it has been heavily policed.

    It is the political class which is deluded, indeed. But the wider public has not been given the opportunity to express itself. Such expression is anathema to today’s political class, who prefer to only offer the voter different management styles, not differences of political outlook.

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  9. Barry W just tweeted a link to this conversation at the LSE’s blogs… http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/representative-claim-climate/

    How MPs can make a case for action on climate change, even if voters aren’t yet interested

    Scientists are clear that urgent action is needed on climate. At the Paris Summit, world leaders agreed to limit rises in global temperatures. And yet, climate change barely troubles domestic politics. As part of a collaborative research project with Lancaster University and Green Alliance, I have interviewed over 20 members of the UK parliament since 2015. One message has emerged with striking clarity: the electorate are not asking their representatives to act. In the words of one of my interviewees, “Voters don’t ask about it. We go out and knock on doors, and we speak to people, and I don’t know if I’ve ever been asked about climate change, ever.”

    This is a fundamental dilemma for politicians. Most of them know what needs to be done. Yet they get their mandate from voters, who are not asking them to do anything at all. How can they square this circle?

    What sticks out for me, other than the line in bold, is this line: As part of a collaborative research project with Lancaster University and Green Alliance…

    The Green Alliance is the organisation, referred to above which engineered the cross-party political consensus on climate change. Look them up. That this is what they did is not a conspiracy theory or a secret. It is their own claim.

    That we can now see them working with academics makes academics, much like idiot MPs, their instruments. To do it, they have to reformulate representative democracy, as well as reformulate the academic. And the public.

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  10. On Ben’s point about how different ‘the masses’ are from the mediocre elite, Richard Lindzen’s foreword to Booker is worth quoting in its entirety:

    The bizarre issue of climate catastrophism has been around sufficiently long that it has become possible to trace its history in detail, and, indeed, several excellent recent books do this, placing the issue in the context of a variety of environmental, economic and political trends. Darwall’s Green Tyranny: Exposing the Totalitarian Roots of the Climate Industrial Complex and Lewin’s Searching for the Catastrophe Signal: The Origins of The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change deserve special mention in this connection.

    Booker’s relatively brief monograph asks a rather different but profoundly important question. Namely, how do otherwise intelligent people come to believe such arrant nonsense despite its implausibility, internal contradictions, contradictory data, evident corruption and ludicrous policy implications. Booker convincingly shows the power of ‘groupthink’ to overpower the rational faculties that we would hope could play some role. The phenomenon of groupthink helps explain why ordinary working people are less vulnerable to this defect. After all, the group that the believers want to belong to is that of the educated elite. This may have played a major role in the election of Donald Trump, which depended greatly on the frustration of the non-elites (or ‘deplorables’, as Hillary Clinton referred to them) with what they perceived to be the idiocy of their ‘betters’.

    Booker’s emphasis on the situation in the UK is helpful insofar as there is nowhere that the irrationality of the response to this issue has been more evident, but the problem exists throughout the developed world. The situation everywhere has been reinforced by the existence of numerous individuals and groups that have profited mightily from the hysteria (including academia, where funding predicated on supporting alarm has increased by a factor of about 15–20 in the US), but why so many others have gone along, despite the obvious disadvantages of doing so, deserves the attention that Booker provides.

    That’s in the GWPF press release yesterday as well as the pdf. It was lovely to have a chat in the pub after Booker’s presentation at the House of Lords on Tuesday with various friends old and new, including Peter Lilley, Barry, Josh and James Delingpole. James has no truck with EM Forster on loyalty to friends ahead of country. But it was Josh who asked me the leading questions that exposed my own deep need for prayer at present. Much appreciated.

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  11. Ron

    I like your diagram but steps 03 and 06 are odd men out. The other steps all have to do with the state of the evidence (swinging one way, then the other).

    3 and 6 are irrelevant, in the sense that it makes zero difference, scientifically, how many people believe a given theory. That’s not evidence. It’s not even an epiphenomenon of the evidence, strictly speaking.

    Assuming that step 05 refers to replications *of the rebuttal* (something which you might want to make clearer, to heighten the impact of the punchline), then the theory is scientifically *dead* by the time it gets to stage 6. And “zombie” is indeed the right word. That part I get. I just wonder if the diagram would be more epistemologically correct, as well as funnier, if the form of it somehow reflected the orthogonality of the two variables: popular support for, vs. evidence for, a theory.

    They’re separate axes. Could you capture that somehow?


  12. Brad, I took the stages from Pomeroy, who was describing how a psych theory achieves social acceptance as pop science (stage 3) and then loses it. 3 indicates that everyone “knows” it is so (“Of course the earth is flat!), while 6 is when everyone knows it is passe (” You still think the earth is flat? Humbug!”

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  13. Booker gives a summary of Groupthink identifiers in a CAPX article.

    What Janis did was to define scientifically just how what he called groupthink operates, according to three basic rules. And what my paper tries to show is the astonishing degree to which they explain so much that many have long found puzzling about the global warming story.

    Janis’s first rule is that a group of people come to share a particular way of looking at the world which may seem hugely important to them but which turns out not to have been based on looking properly at all the evidence. It is therefore just a shared, untested belief.

    Rule two is that, because they have shut their minds to any evidence which might contradict their belief, they like to insist that it is supported by a “consensus”. The one thing those caught up in groupthink cannot tolerate is that anyone should question it.

    This leads on to the third rule, which is that they cannot properly debate the matter with those who disagree with their belief. Anyone holding a contrary view must simply be ignored, ridiculed and dismissed as not worth listening to.

    Given these principles from the field of psychology, there is something that I find strange in an article on enforcing the climate consensus. A search on “Lew” only has “Lewin” in the hits. Maybe Booker is planning a follow-up?

    But Booker is not an academic psychologist. The theories of climate deniers being blinkered, along with the promotion of climate consensus, emanate from a Professor of Cognitive Psychology, and a recent PhD in the area.

    There are two alternative questions that can be posed about this promotion of the climate consensus, along with smearing of opponents, by academic psychologists.

    Are the consensus enforcers deliberately using the tools psychology as weapons to promote their own political beliefs by excluding others?


    Are the consensus enforcers so immersed in Groupthink that they are completely blind to anything outside of their shallow consensus opinions?

    Having followed the climate debate wars for over a decade now, I believe it is the latter rather than the former. Janis’s three points, (first published more than a decade before CAGW first hit the political stage) can be applied to give strong support to my perspective. There could be other perspectives on this topic. To truly understand consensus enforcers, it would be useful to compare and contrast the perspectives with examples. I could certainly provide at least two interesting case studies to support my conjecture.

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  14. Ben, Brad. Yes, I do make the mistake of using poor terminology. ‘Fact’ should perhaps be replaced with ‘reality’. ‘The masses’ is overstating it – the masses are mostly neutral on climate change, unengaged and uninterested. But a large majority of academics, politicians and people working in the media are AGW believers and they tend to be middle class. The working classes have more pressing concerns in general to worry too much about discussing strategies for saving the planet whilst sipping soy lattes in trendy Islington coffee bars.

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  15. A more appropriate term for the whole social phenomenon than ‘groupthink’ is ‘cultural’, and indeed culture writ small often may approximate to groupthink and culture writ large may spread out from groupthink, which as the name suggests originally occupied a modest sized group or elite.

    The important aspect which the cultural term emphasizes is that all instances are *emergent*, and there are endless instances throughout history, the culture associated with the certainty of climate calamity being just one more example. This in turn is because culture has been a major feature of our evolutionary heritage due to being a significant net advantage, despite some downsides which, episodically, can be more serious. So cultural behavior is endemic. Hence Booker’s slant on groupthink as quoted by Jaime above seems inappropriate, because all humans are highly subject to cultural influence (across a variety of domains, so may be expressed in some but not others) and it is not therefore by definition a ‘deterioration of mental efficiency’ or moral judgement. It is simply a ‘feature’ of humanity. Cultural adherence is emotively based, so it will interfere with objective reasoning, and strong culture will also morph the moral (and corresponding legal) landscape too, given enough time. So morals are relative to cultural norms anyhow. But ‘deterioration’ implies a flaw or disease or shortfall in certain people, which is not the case. There’s sufficient linguistic ambiguity that Booker may not have meant this exactly and I’ve only skimmed the work so far, yet nevertheless it’s preferable to use more objective language which reminds that all of us at any time may be swept up by emotive cultural influences, and likely none of us are completely free of it.

    For the features of emergent culture and particularly those of calamitous climate culture, see here: https://judithcurry.com/2015/11/20/climate-culture/

    Regarding scope, ‘mass delusion’ is appropriate, as long as one doesn’t take ‘delusion’ to mean, likewise to above, a flaw or illness. Cultural narratives are ‘group deceits’, which newer research hints may work via the mechanisms in the brain which hypnotism leverages, and it is a feature of all humanity to be very susceptible to group deceits. Although there is interesting and unresolved literature on whether group deceits are lies or not, the current balance seems to be ‘not’, in the sense of a *conscious* lie, but yes, in the sense that, for adherents, some parts of our brain lie to other parts. At any rate, bearing in mind the caveat that any human enterprise that is large enough (and the CC domain certainly is) will have some liars or scammers bolted on, the great majority of both elite and grass roots cultural adherents honestly *and passionately* believe in the narrative that they support. This is why such movements can be so powerful and hard to oppose, and also why they can frequently lead for a minority of particularly passionate believers to the ‘small’ dishonestys executed in service to the much bigger ‘truth’ that is honestly believed (i.e. noble cause corruption). ‘Mass’ does not imply the whole population or even a majority (albeit it can be a majority), but significant slices of the whole population. And as very many surveys show, in countries where there both is and isn’t tribal political alignment to the opposing sides (cultures frequently form alliances, and hence also oppositions), there are significant rumps of both grass roots support for calamitous climate culture, and significant skeptical opposition too.

    This is an expectation, innate skepticism rides always with culture and can be glimpsed for all historic cultures, but you have to read the graffiti not the official records, because for dominant cultures at least the latter are almost always orthodox. Note that innate skepticism is not due to reasoned objection, it is also a part of cultural mechanisms, a counter-balance to both invasive alien cultures and the excesses of a home culture that’s become too powerful. So as Lindzen’s intro and Ben allude to, those not in the home elite, i.e. the ordinary people, provide a constant reservoir of skeptical opposition from folks who know not a sausage about the details of what the culture purports to stand for (in the CC case case the ‘scientific’ certainty of calamity), but instinctively detect that the narrative is cultural (and so wrong, all strong cultural narratives are wrong). This is the very opposite of the incorrect ‘merchants of doubt’ explanation for widespread skepticism. For the typically tiny percentage of people who *do* have much knowledge about what the culture purports to stand for, as Kahan shows they are much more polarized than the general public, either for or against the narrative position.

    For the characteristics of innate skepticism, how it is triggered and in whom etc. see: https://judithcurry.com/2017/02/20/innate-skepticism/

    Note that the characteristics and high cultural profile of an elite, plus an inevitable widespread innate skeptical reaction in a public, does not mean that strong cultures don’t also have grass roots support which can also be described as ‘mass’. Strong popular cultures typically split the public, maybe along pre-existing lines (as has happened in the US on CC), or maybe crossing existing lines (all the main parties in the UK support climate policies and skeptics likewise are less aligned to particular parties). Even for the Lib / Dems in the US for instance, supposed strong believers, only about 40% place CC (according to its narrative the ultimate threat) as a high priority. About 25% don’t claim belief, and the ~35% in-between do claim belief yet don’t place the issue at high priority (this is ‘convenient belief’, for the sake of party alliance / identity) – note this is 2013 figures. Hence the believers, and the skeptical, and the persuadable, can all claim ‘mass’ representation, even in this one party of supposed believers. For Rep / Cons it is ~15%, ~60%, ~25% respectively. So those who do exhibit full belief in this or other strong mainstream cultures, spread far beyond the elites, but so does opposition, and respectively they do not have enough knowledge to properly be included in the core groupthink, or object on the basis of informed reason.

    The scientific position on evolution, or similarly established theories, is not groupthink. Established science needs no consensus, being manifest by replication that can verify underpinning theory. But it’s also true that the theory of evolution had to survive for a century between Darwin’s publication and the discovery of DNA, without an ultimate underpinning theory (and indeed Darwin’s own offerings regarding the mechanisms were wrong). During most of the century there was a majority agreement that Darwin’s theory of natural selection was true, indeed helped by successful predictions. But anyhow this agreement was not groupthink / a cultural consensus, which consensuses feature specific associated behaviors (from our deep evolutionary past), and which per above are emergent, happening despite ourselves so to speak, and include for instance emotive investment and enforced policing that is largely not top down ‘upon command’, but executed voluntarily by many adherents. The enterprise of science is extremely vulnerable to cultural influence though, and this can also start from groupthink within science itself, within a surprisingly small clique of domain-knowledgeable scientists. And indeed some culture did arise around a spin-off of evolutionary theory, i.e. eugenics, with severe consequences when this went into cultural alliance with anti-Semitisim and far right political philosophies in the early twentieth century. Science has very many times found itself so compromised, often only with implications largely within science itself, e.g. in geology regarding tectonic plate theory, yet cultural appropriation of climate science certianly has much wider social implications. For immature science, it may be impossible to determine whether a majority position is cultural or not, but if it *is* detected by social data to be cultural, we know that position is wrong, even though we may have no idea what is right instead (social data can’t tell us this). The innate skepticism link above lists various mechanisms regarding how culture entangles with the enterprise of science.

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  16. OT, breaking news, Mark Jacobson droping lawsuit:



  17. OK, thanks for clarifying, Ron—a rare courtesy indeed in this world of blatant opacification and patent obscurantism.

    But if everyone knows it is passé, why is somezombie being admonished: “You still think the earth is flat? Humbug!”

    Feel free to reject my previous suggestions—don’t worry, I can only nurse a murderous hatred for one person who spurns me at a time, and it’s Paul Nurse right now—but how bout this one:

    Speaking of Paul Nurse, why not call the stages S1-S6 instead of 01-06, in a droll imitation of cell-cycle terminology? Much more pseudoscientificky at zero the cost!


  18. Brad, I think your earlier point was that theories get loose into the public domain and become fashionable. Later on someone discovers that the notion doesn’t work in reality (stage 4), Then other people try to apply the theory in situations where it should work and also find that it fails (stage5). Finally amongst the specialists who are focused on these things, the notion is recognized as ridiculous. But in the public square there are subcultures where the theory supports other parts of their worldview, and so they continue to assert its validity That’s the zombie part; the notion is still discussed in the absence of any empirical grounding.
    You might find interesting this recent survey of Americans scientific knowledge. A tidbit: 3/4 of Americans have figured out that the earth revolves around the sun. But only 1/2 of them know that one revolution takes a year. Zombie anyone?



  19. Here’s the latest from Bullshit Bob.

    He falsely claims that the Booker article is complaining that sceptics aren’t given enough media coverage. He doesn’t have the honesty to link to the actual report. And he whined to the Charity Commission (to no avail) about the under-representation of women at GWPF.

    It’s mostly a regurgitation of the same tripe he wrote just three days ago.


  20. Turns out I may have counted one of the males twice. But that’s perhaps because these are extremely male males, their ‘feminism’ notwithstanding. They want to save all the ladies from teh evul denierz.


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