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I think you’ll find that was the other guy

Driving back from my holidays the other day, I suddenly felt the urge to empty my increasingly dysfunctional bladder. So it came to pass that I found myself stood at a urinal in the Tibshelf northbound services, only to look down and see that I was stood in a pool of someone else’s piss. Yes, it was disgusting. But to someone such as myself, whose mind is unceasingly searching for metaphors, it proved to be gloriously symbolic of man’s1 shared journey through life. Even when we are pointed in the same direction, we are not all equally certain of our aim. And the mess that some of us make of it, can make life decidedly unpleasant for the fellow traveller.

This problem is particularly evident when one reflects upon the accusations of cognitive impairment that are all too often levelled against climate sceptics by the current band of bandwagon-riding bandleaders from the psychology camp. Take, for example, the latest efforts from Professor Shapiro of the Case Western Reserve University. Nobody, outside the group that stands accused by the good professor, seems terribly concerned regarding the double-standards that such pundits appear to be applying. For example, in this instance the accusation was one of dichotomous reasoning, yet the accuser employed more than his fair share, particularly by invoking the precautionary principle.

One would have hoped that the ubiquity of cognitive bias, on both sides of the argument, would be more widely accepted, so sceptics shouldn’t be a particular target. But the sad fact is that just too many sceptics indulge in excessive claims, and it therefore becomes too easy to explain scepticism using psychobabble that serves to condemn doubters of all persuasions. To the alarmist, we all stink, and it is no good pointing out that the aroma emanates from the pool of piss you’re stood in. We are not all right-wing nut jobs, we are not all Big Oil apologists, we are not all convinced of a global conspiracy deviously constructed by the scientific community (whatever that means). But we seem doomed to suffer guilt by association, simply because we share a distrust of the politicisation of climate science and so share ideological urinals.

Sadly, I think the rational sceptic’s position is now nigh on indefensible, largely due the common-held view that, when it comes to the climate change debate, no such sceptics exist. When looking at the comments that are posted in support of the sceptic-bashing articles, one will always see plenty that are zealous in their insistence that climate science scepticism simply has no rational advocacy. For example, when I challenged Professor Shapiro at The Conversation, I became the target of an individual who was quite adamant that I was the first of hundreds of ‘deniers’ he’d encountered over 15 years that could offer a rational argument. Now I know that is not true, because, if nothing else, I know he’s aware of the views expressed on the Climate Scepticism website, and so he will have seen such rationality expressed first hand. One wonders, therefore, where such a jaundiced outlook comes from.

Rather than attempt to defend against those who are firmly focused upon the weakest elements of their opposition (so much so that they simply cannot see any others), I think the best strategy is to go on the offensive. By that, I mean we need to point out the extent to which the cognitive biases that we sceptics stand accused of monopolising in our arguments are, actually, also rife within the arguments offered in support of the claim that AGW is already set ready to end in tears. I do not propose to win the argument that way—the real debate will be settled by science and objective evidence. Nevertheless, a more balanced application of the cognitive sciences would at least dissuade those who would disallow rational sceptics from even taking a place at the debating table. (Spoiler Alert: Before reaching the end of this article you will encounter a shameless plug).

Let us start with the Focusing Effect. This is a cognitive bias that influences how people approach multi-criteria decision-making.2 The temptation is to focus too much upon one aspect of the problem to the detriment of others. The rationality of a chosen course of action can therefore be turned on its head simply by changing focus. In particular, the rationality of applying the precautionary principle to mitigate climate change impact depends critically upon whether one is focused upon such impact or the negative economic impacts of the precipitous application of climate change mitigation. I’m not choosing to take sides on this debate, but for one side to accuse the other of suffering from the focusing effect would be soundly hypocritical. To the extent that this effect is disproportionately levelled at sceptics, I sense such hypocrisy is not uncommon.

Then there is the Backfire Effect; a dubious favourite of Dr Lewandowsky, purveyor of all that is wholesome and wise within the climate debate. Even the sceptical societies can see nothing wrong with invoking his risible Debunking Handbook.3 And yet who amongst the psychological cognoscenti is calling out Dr Mann, purveyor of all that is exciting and revolutionary in climate science statistics, as he clings on ever more tenaciously to his hockey stick self-enchantment?4

I could go on at great length, and indeed I did so recently, at WUWT (the promised shameless plug). But there is only so much one can achieve by preaching to the converted. Of all the cognitive biases that appertain, Bias Blind Spot, i.e. the ability to see cognitive bias in others but not in oneself, is perhaps the one to be most wary of. So the aim should be to encourage the professionals within the psychological sciences to admit the universality of cognitive bias and to apply their supposedly deft insights without prejudice. Even better, what if the journalistic profession were to get off its toadying backside and do some actual journalism every now and then? That would be nice.

Stepping back from my metaphor (and back into the literal world) I should point out that, upon completing the deed, I left the Tibshelf toilets, sheepishly leaving a trail of stale urine through the concourse within which giggling children frolicked, and proud parents were supping their wheelie-bin of Starbucks.5 But did I feel guilty?

No. I just felt embarrassed and disappointed. Which is the story of my life, really.

Footnotes:

1 And in this case I think I really do mean to say ‘man’s’.

2 See Schkade, D. A., & Kahneman, D. (1998), “Does living in California make people happy? A focusing illusion in judgments of life satisfaction.”

3 A fact brought to our attention by Hans Erren in his commentary on ‘The Conversation shakes its Willy at us’.

4 And yes, I am aware of the supposed corroborations. I say, ‘a proxy on all their houses’.

5 Other immorally tax-exempted beverages are available. Also, I should admit that the Tibshelf franchise is actually Costa Coffee, but the joke didn’t seem to work as well.

28 thoughts on “I think you’ll find that was the other guy

  1. the aim should be to encourage the professionals within the psychological sciences to admit the universality of cognitive bias and to apply their supposedly deft insights without prejudice.

    Good luck with that.

    The remedy to cognitive bias, is to permit continued debate. This is not in the constitution of the contemporary academy, which for reasons of history, in its new role prefer consensus, or at least carefully delimited areas of debate. Psychology perhaps more than any other area.

    Put differently, climate change has in many senses come to the rescue of academic disciplines whose promises have not survived on their own terms in the post-enlightenment, postmodern eras.

    Dan Sarewitz’s Guardian article from last year sheds some light on the Cook/Lew – Kahan axis…

    https://www.theguardian.com/science/political-science/2017/aug/21/stop-treating-science-denial-like-a-disease

    He urges the climate shrinks to ‘stop treating science denial like a disease’. But they cannot help themselves. The promise they trade on is that ‘science denial’, like many other forms of behaviour, from addiction to not paying taxes, can be understood as a disease. To debate the point would be to debate the question ‘should psychology pack up its stuff, close down its shop, go home, and find something else to do’.

    It (more charitably: most of it) wouldn’t be missed if it did.

    The excesses of academic psychology can be examined in the terms climate psychologists use to attempt to understand ‘denial’. But they won’t listen. They won’t investigate. And they won’t publish.

    We should do it anyway. Plus, we should note the role of politics and institutions in the story. If climate deniers are the obedient slaves of misinformation, climate psychologists are no less slaves of funding bodies and their own agendas… Which are distinctly green. Unfortunately for them, it is much easier to pathologise climate psychology than climate change denial. Academic psychology is an aberrant phenomenon.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Ben,

    The frustration is that the psychological sciences know full damn well that cognitive bias is universal, but bias blind spot has got them hoodwinked. They accept unquestioningly the mantra of ‘settled science’ and therefore see all dissent as anti-science irrationality. There are plenty of cognitive biases that can be invoked to explain such irrationality but, there again, there are plenty that can explain the unquestioned acceptance of a mantra. It is astonishing to see that psychologists know that cognitive biases are universal and yet still can’t imagine themselves suffering any of them. Add to that, the temptation to ride the climate science funding bandwagon, and one ends up with a prostituted profession that cannot practise what it preaches.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “….the real debate will be settled by science and objective evidence”.
    I’m afraid I don’t think so. There is no way this will happen given the vast amount of resources and political careers “invested” in the proposition. There will be a giant “fudge” maybe spread over time but no defining moment when the “winners and losers” will be announced.

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  4. There’s a lot to reflect on in this article and in the Sarewitz article linked by Ben in his comment above. But first, a comment on one of the more subtle warmist ploys mentioned by John:

    … when I challenged Professor Shapiro at The Conversation, I became the target of an individual who was quite adamant that I was the first of hundreds of ‘deniers’ he’d encountered over 15 years that could offer a rational argument.

    Beware of opponents who insist on your uniqueness. It’s a ploy to get you to settle so they can net you, pin you down, and add you to their collection.

    I used to spar with a climate believer at the Graun called GPWayne who claimed I was the first denier he’d come across who had a sense of humour. He rather spoiled our budding relationship by asserting in a later comment (on what evidence I don’t know, certainly not peer-reviewed) that I had a small penis. The moderator clearly felt this was on topic and left the comment up, and another climate believer came to my aid with the kind but unhelpful comment that in her experience size didn’t matter.

    No, I have never used the Tibshelf northbound services.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The really strange thing is that you can pop over to Attps site of groupies and they are all furiously debating just how sensitive the system is to disturbances. It’s like a mirror image of this site. But they are the ones who know the truth in their scabby tattoed hands

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  6. Because this is climate science, it is not at all strange that facts are lacking… The modus operandi of the ATTP pseudo science is that facts are socially determined. Just wait till the Scottish government defunds him

    Liked by 1 person

  7. John’s long list of cognitive biases at WUWT is very informative but does not get us very far.
    A way around the various biases is to put on the onus on the those with conjecture or hypothesis to demonstrate it with actual, empirical evidence. Until a conjecture is verified, in terms of understanding the natural world it is as if it never proposed.
    There is a very relevant analogy. In English Common Law is up to the prosecution to prove their particular case beyond reasonable doubt, according to clearly defined rules of evidence, and allowing the defence to operate on the same level playing field.
    The climate community seems to have completely overturned these basic principles. It is up to sceptics to prove that the alarmists are wrong. Yet in alarmists sites, the mere fact of questioning is used as evidence of bias. But get too close, and the conversation is diverted, or shut down.
    “Evidence” that is only tangentially applicable to the vaguest forms of the AGW hypothesis is used to justify policy to combat potentially catastrophic scenarios. Yet in promoting policy to reduce global emissions the alarmists forget that shutting out critics in their “safe” areas is very far from persuading countries to adopt policies that are against the political and economic interests of those countries. Then the alarmists, who accept any waffle in the appropriate language, wonder how they cannot bridge the gap between actual INDC submissions and the desired policy aims. Rather than admit they are wrong, or confront those countries to demand more (180+ of 195 nation states), they go into the safe communities to play with their models some more.
    The comments by Mark Hodgson @ 28 May 18 at 7:52am and Shub @ 28 May 18 at 6:24 pm on John’s previous post – https://cliscep.com/2018/05/25/a-cry-for-help/ – suggest most countries in their INDCs have frozen out the alarmists from achieving their policy objectives.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. John you wrote “the real debate will be settled by science and objective evidence”. Rubbish! Sorry to be so blunt, but science and objective science, if paid attention to, would have prevented us from stupidities such as Kyoto, Rio and Paris, and from false expectations that we could (and should) drastically degrade our societies by reducing our dependence on fossil fuels or have the power to control global climate. Self delusion about climate science is rampant and self reinforcing.
    There was a time, just before we were treated to the delights of the Gore extravaganza, that the global warming hypothesis was based upon 2-3 major planks, one of which was the “fact” that temperature rises determined within ice cores followed rises in CO2 (so proving CO2 was a major control). Science and objective evidence then showed that CO2 rises followed temperature rises. Odd that this caused barely a stir outside the sceptical community.
    The “pause” was (and is) invoked, explained away or subjected to statistical wizardry. How much more science and objective evidence in future will we ignore or explain away? I gave up patience when I learned that thermometer evidence for the “hot spot” was dumped as being inconveniently lower than modelled, and more convenient values were reconstructed from wind data. Not only was this travesty written up, but the paper was accepted by a prominent science journal and quoted favourably. Rubbish!!!! Some climate science made me angry, now it merely causes resignation (and on off days despair). Today is an off-day.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. John, Alan,

    I can fully understand where you are coming from and there is an important respect in which you are absolutely right. As it stands, the argument is well and truly being won, notwithstanding the quality of evidence. Indeed, given the imperatives of the precautionary principle, we cannot help but accept an argument based upon incomplete science. Nevertheless, we should not forget that there is a real-world phenomenon out there that will, eventually, overwhelm us with its evidence. For example, I am quite confident that the ‘we are all going to fry’ meme will not survive the next ice age. This debacle will resolve itself one day, but perhaps not in our lifetimes. Or am I even now underestimating the power of human self-delusion?

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  10. On second thoughts, perhaps it isn’t humanity’s capacity for self-delusion that is the issue; its the propensity to exercise power through the promise of salvation. No matter what happens, one will always be able to conceive of a future peril to put the masses on the back foot.

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  11. John. From time immemorial we have always had doomsayers and control freaks. When science and allegedly predictive models are bolted on and given religious, political and academic support they are near invincible. Science and objective evidence is made subjective, and even real climate changes are malleable. Oh! A real off-day!!

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  12. I’m sorry Alan, I can’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t just sink you into a deeper depression.

    Look on the bright side. Eventually we will both die and can leave them to get on with it.

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  13. Dave Burton,

    I post on websites such as this to engage in public debate and am not particularly motivated to take it any further than that. If, however, you could provide me with some indication as to why you request direct contact, I may be able to reconsider my policy on this occasion.

    John

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  14. John. It is less depression and more like fatalism: a realization that my opportunities to influence have essentially disappeared. In the past I was able to sow doubt and recommend reassessment of climate change support to hundreds upon hundreds of students (causing some to be at least suspicious of some activist claims at least for a short time). Today I’m an ol’fogey, a crank, someone who should be ignored. I correspond on some sites but know that if I preach it is to the converted or to those who play climateball. Humour sometimes works. Where is Brad? Some is forgiven.

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  15. John ‘n Alan, let us nevah fergit
    what has come out of the primeval mud,
    such innovation from way-a-ay back,
    taming of fire, mastery of ocean-going,
    log-technology, OMG! Socrates on
    reason! Master Shakespeere out
    -freuding Freud, Newton, Einstein
    on the universe, Darwin on us,
    Jane Austin, Thurber and Marx
    bros on divine comedy and this ,
    say, what interactive geni-us…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MhMdAdRtT8s *

    *If yer don’t git it, look I don’t have a clue on mc^2.

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  16. Philistines rule Beth,
    Philistines rule.
    Global warming fries brains
    and culture (and science) acclimatizes.
    The primeval mud
    now spawns viral pandemics,
    homogenizations, and falsehoods.

    Singer beneath bridges

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  17. Beth Climate power freaks usually dinah concern themselves with Socrates, Shakespeare, Freud, Newton, Einstein, Darwin, Jane Austin, Thurber, Marx (Bros?) or JSB. Lew, Oreskes and their ilk are their henchpersonages and the Nonversation their habitat.

    “Brusselsmen”? How sexist!

    I am surprised to find you here. I would have judged John”s reminisces and moral cogitations about male urinals would have been offputing. Flowers in turnip fields is more your style.

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  18. Harlan Ellison wrote about the anger and appetite of new gods.
    Observing the rise of “climate change”, I see that something Harlan did not consider was the need for new ignorance to sustain the new god’s cult.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. John,

    My younger brother was a bit like Adam Yauch(1). Is his teens he would of missed the target on purpose if he thought the scoring was rigged or if the target missed the point. At least the public restroom you visited wasn’t one of those holes in the floor I recall while on holiday in Italy decades ago. Case’s campus is near/in the cultural center in Cleveland. One of J’s most memorable moments wasn’t getting his masters at the university, but surviving being in the right place at the wrong time during a celebration in Little Italy.

    He learned a valuable lesson that night. Sometimes its best to just get out of the way when being nudged- in this case by a 6000+ pound Cadillac Limo. Applying enough force, from a punch, to the hood of the limo created a rather large dent. His try anything (2) approach to problem solving (stopping the idiot in the vehicle from plowing through the crowd of party goes) likely seemed like a good idea at time. Checking to make sure goons aren’t in waiting is recommended before trying anything so bold as to openly question a power structure in a way that is noticeable to the general public.

    Many enforces pack some extra weight. This, and their lack of proper attire for a chase, gave the slightly intoxicated former defensive end the advantage as once his adrenal gland kicked on the half mile sprint and lots of fence hoping was an easy task. Staying out of all lighted areas for another couple miles sobered J up rather quickly. He didn’t go back to little Italy for over a year.

    1) https://savageminds.org/2012/05/07/dialogue-with-the-public-adam-yauch-and-academic-snobbery/

    2) https://energyathaas.wordpress.com/2018/05/29/try-everything-really/

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  20. Kakatoa. Thanks for the reference to the meeting where Adan Yauch asked a question. Beautifully written and made you feel there, even to the “gut-punch” of the academic official’s put down.

    Like

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