As temperatures fall, (half a degree in the past few months, wiping out half a century of manmade climate change in the flight of a swallow) and as the Paris Agreement looks likely to follow the Iran Nuclear Deal into oblivion, and as climate activists are vanishing faster than Arctic ice, some in a puff of smoke, others in a wave of public revulsion, we at Cliscep are finding fewer and fewer subjects to comment on to justify our lavish Big Oil-funded lifestyles.
Luckily, though, there’s always climate psychology, as Paul demonstrated the other day, and as can be found for example in an article at the ever reliable Conversation entitled “The Thinking Error at the Root of Science Denial” by a certain Jeremy P. Shapiro, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychological Sciences, Case Western Reserve University.
Case Western Reserve University is the best research university in Ohio, according to Case Western Reserve University, and I see no reason to doubt them. Adjunct Assistant Professor Shapiro’s adjunctions seem to be limited to a workshop in 2007 and another in 2013, as far as I can see. Otherwise, he’s a psychotherapist, specialising in child and adolescent therapy – a noble calling, and one in which I wish him well.
Off topic for him (but not for us) he thinks he’s found the source of the problem with us climate sceptics: – binary thinking.
As a psychotherapist, I see a striking parallel between a type of thinking involved in many mental health disturbances and the reasoning behind science denial. As I explain in my book “Psychotherapeutic Diagrams,” dichotomous thinking, also called black-and-white and all-or-none thinking, is a factor in depression, anxiety, aggression and, especially, borderline personality disorder.
In this type of cognition, a spectrum of possibilities is divided into two parts, with a blurring of distinctions within those categories. Shades of gray are missed; everything is considered either black or white. Dichotomous thinking is not always or inevitably wrong, but it is a poor tool for understanding complicated realities because these usually involve spectrums of possibilities, not binaries.
So far, so good. It’s perfectly true that I tend to view the heroes of the climate wars like Mann, Oreskes and Lewandowsky as mentally deficient worms whose pathetic bleatings from the first circle of Hell wouldn’t merit a mention from a latter day Dante if it weren’t for the fact that they have the tongues of the world’s Great and Good up their nether cleavages. OK, that’s binary thinking on my part. But binary thinking is perfectly acceptable in certain circumstances, for example when it comes to voting or supporting your team. And here we’re talking about the biggest Either/Or imaginable: the Survival (or not) of the Planet. What’s the Day of Judgement if not binary thinking Writ Large?
Binary thinking is indeed a poor tool (but aren’t we all?) when it comes to understanding complicated realities. On the other hand, when it comes to analysing an article in the Conversation, it’s just the job.
So far, so binary, but here Jeremy’s thinking bifurcates:
Spectrums are sometimes split in very asymmetric ways, with one-half of the binary much larger than the other. For example, perfectionists categorize their work as either perfect or unsatisfactory.. In borderline personality disorder, relationship partners are perceived as either all good or all bad, so one hurtful behavior catapults the partner from the good to the bad category. It’s like a pass/fail grading system in which 100 percent correct earns a P and everything else gets an F.
In my observations, I see science deniers engage in dichotomous thinking about truth claims… deniers perceive the spectrum of scientific agreement as divided into two unequal parts: perfect consensus and no consensus at all. Any departure from 100 percent agreement is categorized as a lack of agreement, which is misinterpreted as indicating fundamental controversy in the field.
So our problem is not just that we’re binary, but that we’re perfectionists who demand absolute certainty, says Jeremy. Here he’s lost me. I certainly don’t demand certainty, do you?
I have observed deniers use a three-step strategy to mislead the scientifically unsophisticated. First, they cite areas of uncertainty or controversy, no matter how minor, within the body of research that invalidates their desired course of action. Second, they categorize the overall scientific status of that body of research as uncertain and controversial. Finally, deniers advocate proceeding as if the research did not exist.
For example, climate change skeptics jump from the realization that we do not completely understand all climate-related variables to the inference that we have no reliable knowledge at all. Similarly, they give equal weightto the 97 percent of climate scientists who believe in human-caused global warming and the 3 percent who do not, even though many of the latter receive support from the fossil fuels industry.
And that’s all Jeremy has to say about us climate deniers. Having diagnosed us as suffering from borderline personality disorder on the basis of his psychotherapeutic experience, he turns his attention to creationists and Trump on vaccination and autism. But he does give two links to back up his claim that anyone questioning the science is barking mad. The second is to Graham Redfearn at the Graun, in support of the argument that, because Willie Soon once received funding from an oil company, therefore climate deniers need psychiatric help.
His first link is more interesting, since it addresses the “false balance” problem. To back up his claim that “climate change skeptics … give equal weight to the 97 percent of climate scientists who believe in human-caused global warming and the 3 percent who do not” he quotes this article originally posted at SkepticalScience by Alan Scuse, attacking an article by one James Powell who claimed in a paper in the Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society that the consensus was not 97%, but 99.99%.
In defence of the “robust” 97% consensus, and in opposition to Powell’s outlier estimate of 99.99%, Scuse cites his co-authors Cook, Rice, Nuccitelli, and Salsa Arrabiata. No doubt Scuse is absolutely right, and 97% is a fairer estimate than 99.99% of the number or articles demonstrating catastrophic climate change. I’ve been convinced of that ever since I took a peek at the evidence in the form of the ten thousand-odd articles examined by Cook et al and noted that number two in the list was a study of alpine grasshoppers in New Zealand. I mean, would a Kiwi grasshopper lie?
But to get down and binary, the point is, Jeremy’s one link in support of his thesis that deniers are borderline mental isn’t about deniers at all. It’s about a total loony called James Powell who believes what Jeremy believes, but even more fervently than Jeremy, or than his allies Redfearn, Scuse, Nuccitelli, Cook, and Ken Rice of this parish. Jeremy thinks that the fact that someone who agrees with him too much has been roundly refuted by someone who agrees with him just the right amount demonstrates that someone who doesn’t agree with him at all is borderline – you know…
If Jeremy would just let down his binaries a minute, he’d realise that either/or is sometimes the best policy. Some theses are defensible, some not. Anything defended by John Cook is not. Also, diagnosing people you’ve never met as borderline personality disorderly is bad medicine for a psychotherapist. And – Jeremy – Graham Redfearn, whom you cite as an authority, once referred to me as a climate denier. So when my cheque from Big Oil comes through, I’ll be contacting my lawyer in the US.
In the comments at the Conversation, Jeremy is ripped apart by Robin Guenier, who is as unbinary as they come, and by Paul Matthews.