There’s a new paper out in Nature Climate Change, called Relationships among conspiratorial beliefs, conservatism and climate scepticism across nations, by Matthew Hornsey, Emily Harris and Kelly Fielding from the University of Queensland. Unfortunately, it’s behind a paywall, so I will post some of the results here. Eric Worrall has a post about it at WUWT that includes the rather uninformative abstract. Alternatively, you can try reading through the spin of Graham Readfern’s article at the Guardian or the news item from the University of Queensland.
The results of the paper are not good news for Professor Stephan Lewandowsky and his theory that climate sceptics are conspiracy theorists. As Readfern puts it, “But a new study that tested this idea across 24 different countries found the link between so-called “conspiratorial ideation” and “climate scepticism” only really holds in the US.”
The researchers surveyed over 5000 people from 25 different countries. They were asked four conspiracy-type questions, about the deaths of Kennedy and Princess Diana, 9/11, and the New World Order, with answers on a five-point scale from “strongly disagree to “strongly agree”. Only one question was asked about climate change: “Thinking about the causes of climate change, which of the following best describes your opinion? ‘entirely caused by natural processes’, ‘mainly caused by natural processes’, ‘mainly caused by human activity’, ‘entirely caused by human activity’, ‘there is no such thing as climate change’ or ‘I don’t know’”. 21% of participants chose one of the first two options, so they had a reasonable sample of climate sceptics, in contrast to Lewandowsky’s flawed work. The raw data are already available here, and there are no participants aged 5 or 32757. As well as the raw data there is also a supplementary information file containing tables of means and standard deviations.
They calculated the correlation coefficient between climate scepticism and conspiracy belief, and it turned out to be -0.02. Clearly, this wasn’t the result they wanted, so they looked at the correlation within different countries. For European countries, France, Germany, Sweden, Portugal, there was no significant correlation (at p < 0.05). For the UK, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, there was no correlation. But they found a correlation for the USA! I’m reminded of this XKCD cartoon about correlations.
The questionnaire also asked participants about their political views, asking them to put themselves on a 1-9 left-right scale and a 1-9 liberal-conservative scale, and asked questions designed to rate people for their “Individualism–communitarianism worldview” and “Hierarchy–egalitarianism worldview”. Here, again, they didn’t find very much. In the UK, Europe and South America there was no link between climate scepticism and right-wing views:
Figs. 2–6 show that, in approximately three-quarters of cases, there is no significant relationship between the various indices of ideology and scepticism.
There was a significant correlation in the USA and Australia, which the authors try to explain by suggesting that these countries have high per capita fossil fuel use, and so there may be a vested interest in climate scepticism. This speculation gets blown into a confident headline in the Guardian.
The authors were clearly disappointed by their results, so much so that they attempted to disparage their own work. Most papers end with a conclusions section, but in this paper it is “Limitations and conclusions”, which I don’t think I have seen before. They suggest they should try looking at other measures of climate scepticism – following the strategy of the XKCD cartoon.