Bereft of gainful employment, I now find myself spending more time than is good for me plucking at the internet for morsels of entertainment. Thus engaged, and being a sucker for the allure of an intriguing title, I recently settled upon the following article, written by a certain Michelle Nijhuis, and posted on Vox,1 the self-proclaimed ‘general interest news site for the 21st century’:

Scientists are testing a “vaccine” against climate change denial

This, I assured myself, was bound to offer a right, royal spoofing, to enthral the most discerning of the idly inquisitive. And that, of course, would be me.

But sadly, as I read on, I was overcome by an encroaching dread as it slowly dawned that this was no satirical japery, no sardonic divertissement. No, this was another grimly earnest promotion of the limp-witted cod psychology offered in the name of climate denial debunking. The first clue that I was about to be treated to such hackneyed fayre came in the first paragraph:

“In the battle between facts and fake news, facts are at a disadvantage. Researchers have found that facts alone rarely dislodge misperceptions, and in some cases even strengthen mistaken beliefs.”

Okay, so we start with good old-fashioned, Lewandowsky-style ‘backfire effect’ psychobabble. But then things become even more familiar:

“The theory of identity-protective cognition, developed by Yale Law professor Dan Kahan, holds that we subconsciously resist any facts that threaten our defining values — and better reasoning skills may make us even better at resisting. People who are more scientifically literate, for instance, are even more divided about the risks of climate change than those who are less scientifically literate.”

Ah, that old chestnut. Scientific literacy cannot possibly legitimise scepticism, it can only provide sceptics with a superior cognitive apparatus that they waste on self-delusion. Yes, that makes a great deal of sense!

So far, the article was offering nought but the light entertainment that easily derided twaddle provides with facility, but as I found myself in vague reverie, seeking to recall the defining values I was so keen to protect, the article then took on a darker tone.

“Borrowing from the medical lexicon, these studies show that it may be possible to metaphorically ‘inoculate’ people against misinformation about climate change, and by doing so give the facts a boost. What’s more, these researchers2 suggest, strategic inoculation could create a level of ‘herd immunity’ and undercut the overall effects of fake news.”

The article goes on to explain that ‘inoculation messages’ can serve to protect people from the disease of climate change denial by pre-empting the ‘denialist’ claims being made by the already-infected. For example, subjects can be ‘inoculated’ by:

“…fake experts had often been used by the tobacco industry to question the scientific consensus about the effects of tobacco on health.”


“Some politically motivated groups use misleading tactics to try to convince the public that there is a lot of disagreement among scientists.”

Having been exposed to such messages, subjects were then far less susceptible to the denial virus.

I have to admit that all this talk of ‘strategic inoculation’ and ‘herd immunity’ had chilled me to the bone. And the chills were multiplyin’ by the time I had read:

“While even brief inoculation messages can have lasting effects, permanent immunity requires repeated treatments — preferably starting with kids.”

In pre-war Germany, the National Socialist Teachers League (of which, spookily, 97% of teachers were a member) distributed the schoolbook, Don’t Trust a Fox in a Green Meadow, or the Word of a Jew.3 Its purpose, of course, was to indoctrinate school children by ‘inoculating’ them against the beguiling ‘evil’ of perfidious Semites — supposedly the principal existential threat to the future of the Fatherland. Other than the fact that both the National Socialists and climate alarmists can both be seen to harbour sincere concerns for the fate of their children, there is, of course, no comparison to be made between their respective moral or ethical positions. To make such a comparison would be odious in the extreme. Nevertheless, this does not alter the fact that, in the two cases, one encounters an identical strategy to promote ideology: inoculation through brazen propaganda.

Yes, I know that propaganda wars are a two-way intrigue, and this presumably is why the alarmist propagandists cannot see themselves in that role, preferring instead to self-identify as champions against ‘denialist’ propaganda. But, as someone who has been invited by such people to adopt the sobriquet ‘denier’, I feel I am justified in drawing attention to the explicit hypocrisy of talking about ‘herd immunisation’ whilst feigning to take the moral high ground on the propaganda battlefield.

In 1931, the American social scientist, William Wishart Biddle, wrote ‘A Psychological Definition of Propaganda’. This was one of the earliest attempts to study the psychology of propaganda, and it included the enunciation of the following four principles:

  • Rely on emotions, never argue
  • Cast propaganda into the pattern of ‘we’ versus an ‘enemy’
  • Reach groups as well as individuals
  • Hide the propagandist as much as possible.

I maintain that all four of these principles can be readily discerned in the strategies employed by advocates of CAGW. They can be seen in the images of beleaguered polar bears perched perilously upon shrinking ice floes; they can be seen in the refusal to debate the science outside an inner conclave of scientists; they can be seen in the characterisation of scepticism as a dangerous denial of established facts; they can be seen in the ad hominem attacks made upon dissenting voices within the scientific community; they can be seen in the grouping of all sceptics under the one banner of ‘cognitively impaired fantasists’; and they can be seen in the Nijhuis article’s attempt to hide wanton propaganda under the guise of what ‘researchers have found’.

Far from being entertained by the Vox article, I found myself to be thoroughly depressed. So much so that, as soon as I had finished it, I was on the search for another alluring title that promised a more edifying repast. It was not long before I found the following on the very same website:

“How a pseudopenis-packing hyena smashes the patriarchy’s assumptions”

I was tempted. Don’t believe for a minute that I wasn’t tempted. But in the end, I just turned the television on, looking for something suitably anodyne to sooth my troubled brow.

Ah! Tipping Point.


1 The Vox article was written only a year ago, so I’m nothing if not topical.

2 If I were to tell you that one of the researchers concerned is cited as John Cook, of the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University in Virginia, I guess a lot would start to fall into place.

3 See Propaganda and Children during the Hitler years. [Working link as of December 2019 here.]


  1. John Cook is well known for wanting to ‘inoculate’ people who might be at risk of being infected by climate denial. His mum apparently had him inoculated against logic, common sense and rationality before he could even talk or walk. It worked. He didn’t even need booster jabs.

    What’s amusing and somewhat ironical is that inoculation against climate misinformation is working very well; just not to the benefit of climate alarmists. People have read so much BS about fossil fuel-induced extreme weather, climate catastrophe, melting poles and rising sea levels swallowing islands whole without a trace that they have largely turned off and tuned out from it. It’s only die-hard lefty Guardian and Independent readers who really take seriously the guff which is churned out daily by climate catastrophists and their apologists in the MSM.

    As the stories get even more bizarre and even more unbelievable, more and more people are protected against alarmism, ever more effectively, often for life. Take this for example:

    “Irish dairy farmers are being urged to prepare for unavoidable “extreme weather shocks” in the coming years, a leading climatologist has warned . . . .

    “There are a quarter of a million more cattle in Ireland today – relative to the end of 2011. Today, each dairy cow produces more methane per cow than it did 10 years ago,” he said.

    Methane production is one of the leading instigators of climate change. As such, Prof. Sweeney believes that it is “inevitably” playing a part in ongoing extreme weather events across the world – including Ireland.

    According to Sweeney the prevalence of “weather anomalies” will continue to increase in frequency over the coming years.

    “If the ‘Beast from the East’; the winter fodder crisis; and our current prolonged heatwave have taught us anything, it is that our risk management systems are deeply flawed.”

    In brief: Irish cows farting is responsible for creating more extreme weather in the UK and we should reduce their numbers drastically if we don’t want more droughts and really cold winters.

    Now that is some seriously effective inoculation against climate bullshit – literally!

    What Cook doesn’t seem to realise is that it’s not the facts that people are resistant to, it’s the very, very silly stories dreamt up by the AGW/sustainability agenda pushers to try and package the ludicrous paucity of actual, empirically verifiable facts about man-made climate change which is the real problem. It’s mostly fancy packaging and people have caught on to this. In a very real sense, what he is trying to make people immune to is their own natural immunity to BS, not ‘misinformation’ from climate sceptics! If that’s not a classic demonstration of how the exceptionally virulent ‘Dumb & Dumber’ strain of the Stoopid virus can infect and rot the brains of those who have been inoculated against common sense, I don’t know what is.


  2. History will deal harshly with brain washing hucksters who write the academic drool ypu have high lighted here.
    The USSR used psychiatric drugs and even EST to “help” those who resisted sciemtific socialism.


  3. Hunter, if we are fortunate history will forget the brain washing hucksters who write academic drool, if we are unlucky their output will form a new mantra that guides decent into further stupidity. At the moment the dice are still in the air.


  4. Alan,
    Yes indeed.
    A sort of Schrodinger’s dice.
    However, if we forget this sorry period the wsy we forget, for example, Stalin, the more likely we to have a repeat performance in the future.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Same ol’ big bro 1984. Historical studies is off the agenda, education’s given over to
    one world ‘values’ indoctrination. For intransigent cases, cli-sci-wise, as proposed
    by John Cook, maybe try inoculation, coupla’ grams of Soma could work, or if all else
    fails, there’s always the gulag. Stage one’s already in operation, take a look at what’s
    going down K-12 core curriculum.


  6. It is worrying to see the extent to which the modern education system has been subverted to enable the promulgation of values held by particular factions of society. It is worrying when this is done at the expense of the provision of information, but it is all the more worrying when this is achieved through the provision of misinformation.

    When one looks at the online course referred to in the Nijhuis article (a course developed by Cook et al. at the University of Queensland), it is difficult to believe that it will restrict itself to established facts—unless one accepts the dogma that all claims made in the name of CAGW advocacy are by definition ‘established facts’. For example, the course synopsis includes the following bold claims:

    “However, in the scientific community, there is little controversy with 97% of climate scientists concluding humans are causing global warming.”


    “We will look at the most common climate myths from ‘global warming stopped in 1998’ to ‘global warming is caused by the sun’ to ‘climate impacts are nothing to worry about.’”

    Then there is the following bold promise:

    “With every myth we debunk, you’ll learn the critical thinking needed to identify the fallacies associated with the myth. Finally, armed with all this knowledge, you’ll learn the psychology of misinformation. This will equip you to effectively respond to climate misinformation and debunk myths.”

    It is notable that they do not teach the students “the psychology of misinformation” until the end of the course. It certainly wouldn’t work for the tutors if the students were to be armed with such insights from the outset!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “holds that we subconsciously resist any facts (*) that threaten our defining values”

    * CLAIMS. People make claims. Whether a claim is also a fact often remains to be tested.


  8. Michael 2,

    The distinction you make between facts and claims would not impress the behavioural and cognitive scientists. They are no more qualified than you or I to arbitrate upon the validity of the claims being made in the name of climate science but, as far as they are concerned, disagreement with the scientific consensus has to be a disagreement with fact. This only serves to demonstrate how little they understand about the philosophy of science. The problem is that, once they have committed such a gaffe, they are then unable to explain scepticism in any terms other than by reference to cognitive deficiency. Perhaps that suits their purpose, because they specialise in making such diagnoses.


  9. Mods: I would appreciate you digging out my post of about 8 hours ago. I naughtily put about 4 links in, so that’s probably why it’s stuck in the filter. Thanks.


  10. Off topic but for many of us of a certain vintage the term “mods” conjures up images of suited scooter riders battling with leathered up, motorcycle riding rockers, both laying waste to coastal towns like Brighton. MSM worried about the youth and talked about moral decline. All blown up needlessly and demolished by Stanley Cohen who developed the term moral panic to describe this media fascination. Guess we need our own Stanley Cohan to demolish our current climate panic.

    As a student then I rode a scooter but couldn’t afford to wear fashionable suits.


  11. Another aspect of climate alarmist propaganda is never be put in the position of having to justify one’s claims, nor to admit that opponents might have a valid point of view. Instead put the onus on the opponents to justify their opposition after first having to acknowledge that climate change is real and we ought to do something about it.
    The whole purpose of propaganda is never to allow the opponents to argue from a perceived level playing field. It is to create conditions where they are as unequal as possible. Comparison by most people will always be from a position of prejudice.


  12. trying again minus some links…

    I recall reading the original article at the time. It’s deeply ironic. Both the backfire effect and Kahan’s polarization of the more knowledgeable have been shown to exist within different domains and via multiple measurements. Effects such as these are not only real, they are critical in revealing from social data that the orthodox climate position stems from cultural belief, not evidence, which belief is driven by a main narrative of catastrophe. E.g. see below:
    and regarding Kahan’s analysis:

    Memes that inoculate against critique or more typically competing cultures, are known as vaccimes, and indeed as you imply they’ve been around essentially forever. ‘There is only one God and his name is X’, inoculates against competing gods. There’s more irony here, because of course the use of vaccimes has generally throughout history been a tool of strong cultures, whether of the religious brand or other brands such as aggressive philosophies or extremist politics. And especially in inoculating youngsters. So as you note, articles such as this one are a powerful warning sign that a strong culture is in play.

    Whether ACO2 turns out to be good, bad, or indifferent, once folks have actually figured the climate system enough to know, belief in imminent (decades) climate catastrophe is cultural. Consensuses enforced by strong cultures are all wrong, hence this one is wrong too. (Or at least if it’s right, this could only be via highly unlikely coincidence, as such consensuses have an evolutionary social purpose that is fundamentally incompatible with the seeking of truth). So while the social data cannot tell us what is right, it can for sure tell us what is highly likely to be wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Andy,

    You do well to take the opportunity to promote your previous writings on this subject. I for one, had not been familiar with your work but will be spending some time catching up over the next few days.

    In the meantime, I observe that you seem to share my view that the cognitive and behavioural scientists apply their insights into cognitive bias tendentiously. Personally, I find myself less interested in what they have to say and more interested in why they should say it. It is inconceivable that they are making a professional mistake by failing to understand the universality of cognitive biases — they surely understand. My opinion, therefore, is that they have simply failed to understand the extent to which social and cultural factors contribute towards the establishment of scientific consensus, i.e. they hold to a naïve view regarding the role of the ‘scientific method’. Having made that mistake, they interpret scepticism in the face of scientific consensus as a form of irrationality, and so they seek an explanation based solely upon posited cognitive impairment. (There is probably also a degree of professional deformation involved, since they are restricting their analysis purely to the methods of their profession. From their perspective, it is a happy coincidence that CAGW scepticism is a form of ‘denialism’, since they are the self-professed experts on that subject.)

    I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: Of all the cognitive biases, the one that bites the hardest is Bias Blind Spot.


  14. Yeah, you have to laugh at the position that cognitive biases only apply
    to one side of the debate… Whilst displaying naked cognitive bias to
    make the point.


  15. John:

    “My opinion, therefore, is that they have simply failed to understand the extent to which social and cultural factors contribute towards the establishment of scientific consensus, i.e. they hold to a naïve view regarding the role of the ‘scientific method’. Having made that mistake, they interpret scepticism in the face of scientific consensus as a form of irrationality, and so they seek an explanation based solely upon posited cognitive impairment.”

    That’s a fair summary, although there are good cops and bad cops in the social psychology game. The latter think along the lines of the worst interpretation of ‘impairment’, i.e. as a readily identifiable and deplorable ‘condition’, aka ‘denialism’, which (as a demonization) some imply as much about personal flaws as cultural viewpoint. The former think along the lines of merely cultural influence alone, i.e. that climate skeptics are not different than anyone else, but are just opposed due to their cultural viewpoint. This is not really wrong in the sense that (in some countries at least, particularly the US), due to cultural alliance effects there are indeed pre-existing (i.e. from before the climate debate) cultures on both sides. Analysis of social data can’t tell you who is right in such circumstances, but it can tell you who is very likely wrong, and (similarly to the situation with Cons, Libs, and religion), there are *3* cultures in play not just 2, i.e. Cons, Libs, and climate culture. Understanding this is the key to understanding who stands for what, and why.

    Mistaking climate culture for a scientific consensus is indeed the key error. But even this is complicated by the fact that the actual scientific consensus (if we use IPCC AR5) does not have a high certainty of imminent catastrophe, whereas the main narrative of climate culture does, with this being transmitted in the public domain by a long list of presidents, prime ministers, and UN elite etc. plus *some* scientists, who are *not* mainstream but live at the opposite fringe to skeptics.

    Re the bad cops framing of ‘denialism’, there is likely no such condition in the modern terms of this framing, and certainly the tests for it as put forward by folks such as Diethelm and McKee are deeply flawed, very unfortunately granting academic legitimacy for anyone to call out any group they don’t like as ‘deniers’. See:

    Kahan is one of the good cops, and does excellent work over at his cultural cognition blog, showing all his working and ideas in real-time, and running suggested variants of tests from commentors too. Yet his very hard baked prior is indeed that the ‘scientific consensus’ must be right, which stymies his higher level analysis in this domain, His data is largely good though, and highly useful in demonstrating climate culture 🙂 It is ironic that social psychology and cultural evolution have collected tools and approaches over the last 150 years that all show in bright glowing letters that there is a powerful culture operating within the climate domain. Yet after being beaten up for about the same length of time by the ‘hard’ sciences for being ‘inadequate’ in some way, I think fear of challenging *apparent* hard science is definitely a factor in the blind spot you cite.


  16. My in-laws were recently forced out of their electrical service provider (PG&E) to one selected by their local government as part of a state wide effort to support community choice organizations. They tried to stay with PG&E but they were not allowed to for some unknown reason (likely $ to someone).

    In any case their Smart Meter is still owned by PG&E and their usage data will still be generated at the meter and forwarded to Opower for combining it into various reports. I forgot to check with my father in-law but I assume their time of use (TOU) rate schedule is still in affect- as one of the reasons for having a CC organization is so that they can more effectively nudge folks to conserve energy and use it when it helps support the states de carbonization goals.

    I was originally going to say that my in-laws were nudged out of their service provider but that would be incorrect per this post-

    “Lambert here: See footnote 8. And the phrase “choice architecture” gives me the creeps.”

    By Christian Schubert, Visiting Professor for Economic and Business Ethics, University of Kassel. Originally published at VoxEU.

    Nudges are modifications of people’s choice architecture that impact their behaviour but don’t change their incentives or coerce them. As a policy instrument, nudges have been shown to be effective in changing certain kinds of behaviours. This column explores the ethical issues that arise in employing such potentially manipulative policies. An evaluation programme is outlined that explores a potential policy’s impact on people’s wellbeing, autonomy, and integrity, along with its practical implications.

    ….”I suggest four steps when it comes to evaluating a nudge policy.

    •First, let’s see whether the nudges in question increase people’s wellbeing.

    Unfortunately, already here we get into deep water.

    It’s unclear how we should think about wellbeing in the ‘behavioural world’ – which is, in fact, the real world, and the world in which nudges work. Remember, in the behavioural world, people not only have limited mental resources – meaning computational capacities, willpower and attention – but also context-dependent, inconsistent, and incomplete preferences. As a consequence, the standard neoclassical notion that defines wellbeing as the technical degree of satisfaction of given and consistent preferences cannot be applied.”….

    …”Second, we have to ask how nudges affect people’s autonomy”…..

    “•:The third step invites you to check whether it’s maybe not autonomy after all, but rather people’s integrity that’s at stake in nudging?…”

    “Fourth and finally, we should think about what all this means in terms of practical policy implications”….

    Thought you might enjoy the discussion around nudges.


  17. Andy,

    May I start by saying I agree with what you say. There is a lot to be gained by thinking about the climate change debate in terms of the cultural dynamics. Memetics, in particular, will obviously be a useful paradigm in this regard. However, there is also a nature versus nurture evaluation to be made, and this should not be forgotten, since there will always be an extent to which personality traits underpin patterns of thinking. For example, if it is in one’s nature to be distrustful of authority, then it could be deemed psychologically inconsistent to trust the strong governance associated with socialist polity, whilst at the same time distrusting expert authority evinced by a supposed scientific consensus. The theorised concomitance of conspiracist ideation with CAGW scepticism would surely also lend itself to a psychological rather than a sociological explanation.

    Cultural forces play their hand but the manner in which individuals are influenced will depend upon their susceptibility to the memes to which they are exposed. I am not saying that one explanation will always be better than another. Rather, a full explanation would require an understanding of the complex interplay between cultural and psychological factors.

    I think I need to dig out my copy of Susan Blackmore’s “The Meme Machine” to remind me of everything I have forgotten about memetics.


  18. John:

    ‘I am not saying that one explanation will always be better than another. Rather, a full explanation would require an understanding of the complex interplay between cultural and psychological factors.’

    Absolutely, indeed you can’t have one without the other, because they are both just different aspects of a single and long-evolved system. Which is why my links include material from both angles, and also why it’s important to keep a strong eye on what researchers like Kahan are turning up. This area is currently in a state not dissimilar to that of the discipline of biological evolution for the century between Darwin’s publication and the discovery of DNA. I.e. much is known regarding what happens and this can be very productively leveraged, but the detailed underlying mechanics are not yet known (Darwin’s own theory of the mechanics behind natural selection were wrong, as were various other proposals within that century). And a strong psychological angle by no means makes analysis intractable; in aggregate and over time predictable patterns emerge. Individuals exhibit statistical spreads around expected behavior, such as for instance your individual who maybe has more of a dose of innate skepticism than most, causing him to resist (even home / native) cultural elite instruction, aka authority, more than most others. Albeit even innate skepticism is itself actually cultural value dependent:

    Bear in mind that the emotive memes propagated by cultural narratives, and the psychologies with which they interact, have co-evolved for probably the whole history of homo-sapiens-sapiens, maybe before (via pre-language and signing for earlier hominids). Hence forming a single system.

    Take care with Blackmore. From my own reading I recall her stuff on gene / meme co-evolution seemed good, but imho she way over-emphasizes imitation only regarding meme replication, i.e. a ‘mind-blind’ approach, which hence takes little consideration of the psychological side, i.e. not as we both think is important above (and there also seems some contradiction to me between these aspects of her approach). The fact that the psychological action can also be characterized in aggregate (and further progress will be much easier as more direct evidence from brain-scans is forthcoming), doesn’t mean that, as you say, it isn’t complicated (in fact, very), or isn’t doing anything beyond trivial replication. In fact whole aspects like emergent (and frequently very heavy) policing of cultural norms / narratives, would simply not occur in a pure mind-blind scenario,

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Andy,

    Thank you for your considered response. There is much food for thought there, so I won’t attempt a glib reply.

    Yes, I was thinking Lewandowsky, and that is why I took pains to say ‘theorised’. You are quite right regarding the lack of evidence. I was just speculating about what form such evidence might take, were it to emerge. If I might borrow your good cop / bad cop metaphor, Lewandowsky knew what form the evidence might take and was not averse to planting it.


  20. I think my “moral and social philosophy” professor would of enjoyed looking into nudges-

    “Lambert here: See footnote 8. And the phrase “choice architecture” gives me the creeps.”

    By Christian Schubert, Visiting Professor for Economic and Business Ethics, University of Kassel. Originally published at VoxEU.

    Nudges are modifications of people’s choice architecture that impact their behaviour but don’t change their incentives or coerce them. As a policy instrument, nudges have been shown to be effective in changing certain kinds of behaviours. This column explores the ethical issues that arise in employing such potentially manipulative policies. An evaluation programme is outlined that explores a potential policy’s impact on people’s wellbeing, autonomy, and integrity, along with its practical implications.”….

    ps- my first version of this comment got lost……… .


  21. I think that creationism and climate catastrophism share the same meme set. Namely man is guilty and will bring the world to an end as we know it until we repent and change our wicked ways. It is also fundamentally pessimistic, what they also share with Maltus, Ehrlich and Rachel Carson.

    Somehow the idea was born that when people manage to escape poverty they will create a tipping point along the way, but the poorers countries are the durtiest countries. Coal mining and copper mining in Europe coased the reforestation, which is now chopped down rapidly for biomass electricity!


  22. We have to face it, the Aquarius-religion is gaining momentum, this religion that preaches the end of the world unless man (yes they are men) drops his wicked ways against Gaia.


  23. The final link in John’s original post is giving an ‘Error 404 – Page not Found’ today. Wayback Machine suggests it disappeared in January 2020. I’ve edited to give a link to what it was in December 2019. The URL is this one:

    The web/20191222 means 22 Dec 19, strange as it may seem. One can easily go further back to see if the page changed between John citing it and this last one.

    I don’t promise to do this for all dead links in Cliscep’s brief history 🙂


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