New Nature paper debunks Lewandowsky

 

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.

 

 

33 thoughts on “New Nature paper debunks Lewandowsky

  1. Is Queensland the spawning ground of succubuses and incubusses devoted to linking climate change heresies to other mental aberrations? Is this brought about by sucking cane toads perhaps?

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  2. There are more fun charts available at the abstract linked above, including one on the correlation between left/right political beliefs and scepticism. In India and Chile leftwingers seem to be more sceptical, though, since in 19 out of 25 cases the error bars straddle the median line, the exercise does seem rather pointless. Are Hindu nationalists comparable to Trump voters? Are members of the Indian Communist Party like Hillary fans?

    The statement in the last sentence of the abstract that “the weak relationships between ideology and climate scepticism in the majority of nations suggest that there is little inherent to conspiratorial ideation or conservative ideologies that predisposes people to reject climate science, a finding that has encouraging implications for climate mitigation efforts globally” is a glorious non-sequitur. Climate policy is decided by governments of left or right. All leftwing parties in the developed world are resolute believers that climate action will save the planet and create millions of jobs. This insanity will doom them to failure, and, in countries like France, Germany and Sweden, isn’t even what their voters want.

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  3. The Hornsey et al paper looks to be an interesting piece of research. However, Professor Hornsey’s half-baked attempt to explain the US and Australian anomalies is far less impressive. It rests firmly upon the Oreskesian fallacy that sceptics are attracted to the doubt-mongering of Big Oil pseudo-science. In truth, they are repelled by the certainty-mongering of grant-devouring quasi-science.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. In February the same authors published a study based on the same survey but concentrating on anti-vaxxers. Available in full here:

    http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2018/02/vaccine-skepticism.aspx

    Climate change got only one mention. It was in a passage that someone who is prone to conspiracy ideation might interpret as revealing a political bias in the authors. Someone not so prone might just think that they were all writing in a second language. (Russian?)

    For example, people who subscribe to relatively individualistic and hierarchical values are more inclined to value commerce and free enterprise, and so are motivated to believe that “big government” is a problem. In contrast, people who subscribe to relatively egalitarian and communitarian values are more likely to have a moral suspicion of “big business”, and so are motivated to embrace the risk that commerce and free enterprise present to the environment and to people (Kahan, 2010). Although these ideological variables have been shown to have a robust relationship with some “anti-science” beliefs (e.g., climate skepticism; Hornsey, Harris, Bain, & Fielding, 2016) the link with vaccination attitudes is less clear.

    Embrace the risk?

    Here’s Kahan, 2010:

    People with individualistic values, who prize personal initiative, and those with hierarchical values, who respect authority, tend to dismiss evidence of environmental risks, because the widespread acceptance of such evidence would lead to restrictions on commerce and industry, activities they admire. By contrast, people who subscribe to more egalitarian and communitarian values are suspicious of commerce and industry, which they see as sources of unjust disparity. They are thus more inclined to believe that such activities pose unacceptable risks and should be restricted.

    Hornsey et al’s paraphrase of Kahan’s statement about individualism-hierarchy worldviews looks about right. Their ’embrace the risk’, however, looks like a gobbledygook way of avoiding an acknowledgement that, in their cited source, egalitarian-communitarian views can be similarly biased – it seems to suggest that Kahan’s ‘unacceptable risks’ are a fact and *should be* restricted.

    Either that or they can’t write for shit.

    (When I first read that passage I thought that Hornsey et al meant that opposing ends of the political spectrum were equally happy to accept/ignore the risk.)

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  5. Hans, when counting the “consensus” the climate hysterians count most realists/skeptics/lukewarmers as part of the consensus. All you need to be part of the “97% consensus” is answer “risen” and “yes” to these two questions, respectively:

    1. “When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?”

    2. “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?”

    (Those are the exact questions Dr. Peter Doran used when calculating his “consensus.”)

    Obviously that includes most climate realists (skeptics & lukewarmers), like us, in “the consensus.”

    But in any other context we’re “science deniers bought off by a giant conspiracy funded by big oil and the Koch brothers,” or something like that.

    Their surveys don’t ask real questions, which would distinguish between realists and alarmists. They don’t ask questions like these:

    ● Do you think that, in the words of James Hansen, this is “our last chance to save humanity” from a “climate catastrophe” caused by CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use?

    ● Do you believe that emissions of CO2 from human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, are causing dangerous increases in global average temperatures?

    ● Paraphrasing a very prominent politician, do you believe that “climate change is real, man-made and dangerous?”

    Their polls don’t ask real questions like those because if they did they wouldn’t find anything resembling a consensus in the scientific community. In fact, they might not even find a plurality in agreement with climate alarmism.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I like to check the figures on these surveys.

    There are some good things about the data. The numbers per country, gender, average age and average political profiles all seem to be consistent. But with so many countries, the country sample sizes are quite small – 212 on average.

    What I am disappointed with is that, unlike the Lewandowsky et al surveys, not all the question results are given, just scores.

    I am also concerned that are significant numbers of blank responses. There are ten data columns. I have created a quick pivot table of the number of “NA”s.

    Of the 37 responses with 9 “NA”s (hence only one data response), 36 only have the age filled out.
    There is some estimation of ages. 35 is the most frequent age with 158. the following are the top ages, followed by the count.
    35, 158
    25, 135
    30, 132
    24, 130
    26, 128
    45, 124
    65, 123

    Of the 327 who chose not to reveal their gender, 321 gave have no response to the Left-Right or Conservative-Liberal spectrum. Is this significant? 

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  7. @Vinny – thanks for the quotes & link.

    looks like the researchers are out to cover all the push button topics they can for max media coverage.

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  8. They did reference the Lew Papers. Of course the irony is that Lewandowski and his left-wing cronies have no difficulty in believing that a global conspiracy actually does exist; one funded by fossil fuel companies, with the sole intention of preventing the world taking decisive action to Fight Climate Change [tm].

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  9. “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. ”

    So easily disproven. Canada has a higher per capita fossil fuel use than the USA (colder and more spread out), has very similar living standards and lifestyles, yet differs markedly in the correlation being examined (in fact, together with Mexico, it displays the greatest difference from the USA). I don’t know about Mexico, but to a large extent the parts of Canada that I know best (having lived there) might well be best defined by not being the USA. Is this another instance of this?

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  10. Will Lewandowski now believe there’s a conspiracy against his paper…
    and will his consequent recursive fury have no bounds.? Tune in fer
    next episode…*

    *’you’ll hear it on the radio,’
    … and twitter and the internet.

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  11. Kevin, do you have the paper with the full methods section?

    “Of the 5,323 respondents, 1,291 failed an attention check (‘To show that you are reading the questions carefully, please select Slightly Disagree here’) and so were excluded from the main analyses. ”

    So there are really only about 4000 participants.

    “Participants received monetary compensation for their time”

    So maybe some just signed up for the money and only ticked one or two boxes?

    On the climate question,
    “A small number of respondents (4.9%) clicked an option saying ‘I don’t know’, and were excluded from analyses.”
    So that may explain the large number of NAs there.

    I am a bit confused by your table, especially the 0 column?
    For Canada I make it 28 NAs in the sceptic column.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Paul,
    I had not read the methods paper.
    Sure enough, the number where attention_check ≠ 3 is 1291
    There are a further 272 where CCskep = NA
    This leaves 3760.
    Of those 192 have “NA” against the conspiracy theory answers, leaving just 3568 responses to compare climate scepticism against belief in conspiracy theories. For the USA, this is just 144 responses.

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  13. This article is arguably worse than Lewandowsky’s finest (“NASA faked the Moon Landing..”) but in a different way. At least Lewandowsky knew what he was doing, and got the result he wanted. From a survey in which sceptics proved to be 5 to 10 times less likely than the average person to believe in conspiracy theories, he extracted the conclusion that sceptics are likely to believe in conspiracy theories, announced his conclusions while fieldwork was still going on, and then spent two years polishing it into a paper and a further year getting it published.

    Hornsey, on the other hand, seems confused about what he’s looking for, and how to find it. Asking Indonesians and Chinese about two events in the USA (one 55 years ago) one in Paris and another nowhere and expecting sensible answers is setting the bar rather high, I think. Ask the average American about the Indonesian annexation of East Timor or the Great Leap Forward and see what you get.

    And who says his examples are conspiracy theories anyway? Kennedy announced his intention to destroy the CIA and the CIA got their shot in first. Where’s the conspiracy? Was Gunfight at the OK Corral a conspiracy? Lady Di was about to take the Heir to the Throne and future Head of the Church of England off to Egypt to be brought up as a Muslim. Of course the Archbishop of Canterbury loosened the wheel nuts on her car. He would have been failing in his duty if he hadn’t. As for the New World Order, just the other week President Macron in a speech before the US Congress boasted about being one of the leaders of the New World Order, repeating the phrase several times. Perhaps they’re wise to these things in Poland and Mexico.

    Cross cultural comparisons like this are useless unless you are aware of language problems, and make at least some attempt to discover if your informants know what you’re talking about. “Climate” in Indonesian is “iklim” which rather suggests they didn’t have one until the Dutch got there. It also suggests the French “clim” which means air conditioning. “Climate” in Chinese is “qihou” which translates literally as “air condition.” Is Hornsey sure they understood the concept of man-made climate change? Or do half of them think ventilators grow on trees?

    The only research I know of to ascertain people’s understanding of climate change was that conducted by Dr Happer of the Glasgow Media Group. She found that quantitative research of this kind is useless, since the vast majority of people don’t know what you’re taking about, confusing climate change with the ozone hole, tsunamis, or diesel fumes. Maybe Hornsey’s respondents in Brazil and South Africa are better informed than that. Maybe, like me, they watch CNN International and saw yesterday’s Weatherwatch programme which reported on floods in Turkey, droughts somewhere else, and lava flows in Hawaii. Maybe they have reason to be sceptical.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Hi Paul
    from Vinnie’s link – 09 May 18 at 6:14 pm

    http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2018/02/vaccine-skepticism.aspx
    Although these ideological variables have been shown to have a robust relationship with some “anti-science” beliefs (e.g., climate skepticism; Hornsey, Harris, Bain, & Fielding, 2016) the link with vaccination attitudes is less clear.”

    I agree with your conclusion – “The authors were clearly disappointed by their results”

    “anti-science” beliefs studies keep people in funds as well 🙂

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  15. just in case you Hornsey/Lew are out on his own –
    http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0146167217741314

    “Corroborating previous empirical work (e.g., Lewandowsky, Gignac, & Oberauer, 2013) and a
    recent meta-analysis (Hornsey et al., 2016), climate change
    skepticism was consistently found to be best predicted by
    political ideology. Moreover, we also found that political
    conservatives’ particular skepticism about climate change
    could not be attributed to a more general distrust in science.
    Instead, it is perhaps more likely that our data reflect the
    argumentation that conservatives worry about the economic
    and political ramifications of climate science (Lewandowsky,
    Gignac, & Oberauer, 2013; Lewandowsky & Oberauer,
    2016).”

    almost wish I could get funding for shoddy (so called) science

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  16. Pingback: Who’s Binary, Us or Them? | Climate Scepticism

  17. @geoff
    Agree that the survey should have used country-specific conspiracies.

    Unlike weather, climate is an academic construct, so we should not be surprised that many languages borrowed the Greek word.

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  18. RICHARD S J TOL (11 May 18 at 9:42 am)
    Certainly it’s no surprise that languages of ex-colonies borrow from European languages, and it’s no reflection on the Indonesians that they adopted the word from their Dutch masters. But it does indicate that the concept itself is an import, and may therefore have a different meaning, especially in a country where the temperature is a steady all year 30°C.

    If I were a climate researcher, or a professor of linguistics, I’d find this idea fascinating and worthy of research. Researchers like Hornsey ignore what’s interesting and go straight to: “What does this mean for my climate change sensibilisation campaign?” In this they are rather less sensitive than early missionaries, who at least made a serious effort to discover what the natives believed before converting them. It’s hard to imagine the Jesuits at the Chinese Imperial court being so crass as to hand out questionnaires asking what the Mandarins thought of the Gunpowder Plot.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Geoff’s comment at 11 May 18 at 3:39 pm points to something important if climate alarmists genuinely want to reduce global CO2 emissions to by over 80% in about 30 years. Take the final comment from the abstract.

    (T)he weak relationships between ideology and climate scepticism in the majority of nations suggest that there is little inherent to conspiratorial ideation or conservative ideologies that predisposes people to reject climate science, a finding that has encouraging implications for climate mitigation efforts globally.

    The authors have failed to find any reason why the vast majority of respondents might reject their beliefs about climate science, let alone embrace climate mitigation as the overriding policy option. As Geoff mentions Indonesia, let us take the introduction to that country’s INDC submission.

    For the climate activists, cutting emissions is in line with the major aims of environmentalism. But my reading is that it is a clear message that climate mitigation will is far from being number one priority. This will continue to be the case, no matter what happens to the climate. Further, Indonesia, will not surrender its political sovereignty, economic priorities and cultural identity to climate mitigation. Like most other developing countries, Indonesia plays the political game, and only carries out gestures consistent with national policies. When I looked at Indonesia’s INDC three years ago, both Carbon Brief and the World Resources Institute recognized the game being played, but then talked about what Indonesia ought to be doing.

    In general, climate alarmists do not recognize that other people have very valid reasons for rejecting policies. It is the policy-makers that must be won over for global climate mitigation to work. These policy-makers come from quite different perspectives and value systems. Like many failed politicians, the climate believers are so caught up in their highly insular worldview they trot out all sorts of cranky reasons to blame their failure on others being somehow blinkered. The failure to find a link between conspiracist ideation or ideological perspectives and the rejection of the alarmist worldviews is only encouraging insofar as it staves off the day when the alarmists have to recognize their own collective failures.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. At least part of the paper seems to be a dig at Australian and US skeptics.
    Which is odd on several levels it would seem.

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  21. Hunter, is that so odd? The US is the root of all evil of course, especially in the Trump era, and the authors are from Australia so will naturally want to smear sceptic in their own country.

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  22. Paul,
    That is the oddness of course:
    The paper is yet another nonsense paper written by academic thugs trying to justify ignoring (if not outright censoring) skeptics.

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  23. A question worth asking is
    “What is the opposite of “skeptic” and why are academics seemingly disinterested in studying it?”

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  24. Speaking of debunked science, the wildly out of control Australian John Cook University has fired Prof. Peter Ridd for daring to speak openly about his views regarding faikures of science regarding coral reefs.
    He needs help with legal bills to fight against yet another example of the climate empire striking back against skeptics who dare to speak out.
    https://au.gofundme.com/peter-ridd-legal-action-fund

    He deserves the support if all who care about Academic Freedom.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Thx Hunter, a correction, ‘James’ Cook University. Happy to have contributed to
    ‘nullius in verba, bed-rock of academic enquiry and the western scientific revolution.

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  26. Beth,
    Thank you for catching that. What would be a post from me via “smart”phone without a typo or three?
    Prof. Ridd really deserves and needs our support. I have given the bit I can afford right now. I hope others will do the same.
    Here is an example of the intersection of alarmist crap, money and politics that is damaging the public square. This devolutionary process has festered worse in Australia, which allowed the persecution of Prof. Ridd, the open corruption of temperature data, and the destabilization of so much of Australia’s economy to take place.
    The Philippines were hijacked by cynical climate profiteers after their typhoon. Now there is a well funded and lucrative climate fear mongering industry acting as parasites, contributing nothing to the improvement of life in the Philippines (except of course for themselves and those they assist).
    It is an amazing site:
    http://climatetracker.org/1-5-biggest-number-climate-change/

    Like

  27. Success!
    People who care about academic integrity and common decency have come together in support of Prof. Ridd. The estimated cost of his legal defense against JCU, $250K AU, has been raised by contributors who were moved by his plight.
    This was accomplished in only a few days.
    Congratulations are in order.
    The celebration if he ultimately prevails will be shared internationally.

    Liked by 1 person

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