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’:
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.