Back when I was allowed to comment at the Conversation on their articles about Climate Change (and French and Italian politics, modern dance and veganism), their second- and third-most prolific authors were Stephan Lewandowsky and John Cook, with forty-odd articles apiece.
Lew’s forty articles span April 2011 to August 2016, followed by a long “pause” (or “hiatus” as we literary critics say) until August 2018, when he came back with this:
The article starts with a critique of teleology:
Ask a three-year-old why they think it’s raining, and she may say “because the flowers are thirsty” … But .. rain clouds do not drop water with an outcome in mind… Take teleology one step further, and you get Donald Trump, who thinks that global warming is an invention of the Chinese to make US manufacturing non-competitive.
Teleological and conspiratorial thought share a number of features in common. Core to both ways of thinking is the act of giving things a purpose. Flowers supposedly produce delightful perfume in order to attract pollinators, and climate scientists supposedly invent a hoax known as climate change at the behest of the “world government” or George Soros.
It is tempting to think that giraffes needed long necks to reach leaves at the top of the trees, and so evolution provided them with those long necks. This teleological notion is in conflict with the fact that natural selection had no such goal in mind. There was natural variation in the population and those animals with longer necks had greater reproductive success in an environment with tall trees. So the giraffe evolved and longer necks became standard.
(I’d have liked to come back to the subject of teleology, but it was quite well covered in the comments, to which Lewandowsky replied in a civilised fashion—which he had elsewhere promised to do as soon as substantive critics like me and Paul Matthews and Barry Woods and Foxgoose had ceased to comment at the Conversation. We were all identified in his “Recursive Fury” article as mental retards, and Lewandowsky is on record as stating that there is no point in discussing with people like us.)
Lewandowsky’s first substantive claim in this article is that:
Note the four links in the above claim. The first link to the “growing evidence” is to the paper: “Relationships among conspiratorial beliefs, conservatism and climate scepticism across nations where, in the abstract, we read:
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.
So his first claim of “growing evidence that indulging in conspiracy theories predisposes people to reject .. climate change” is supported by reference to an article whose abstract says the opposite. Pure Lew. He has lost none of his flair.
The link to the magic words “climate change”—the first scientific finding rejected by conspiracy theory indulgers—goes to none other than “NASA Faked the Moon Landing—Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax,” the paper which, in support of its thesis that people who question the sanity of Professor Lewandowsky and his friends also believe that Princess Diana is both alive and was murdered by her father-in-law, cites in its bibliography a couple of articles about the attitudes to AIDS of heterosexual South African males who indulge in same sex sex.
(Well, I assume they were males. I haven’t read the articles in question, and am currently viewing my access options, which will probably involve an outlay of quite a lot of of euros, when there’s so much available on similar subjects on the internet for free, if you know where to look.)
More importantly, the paper by Lewandowsky cited by Lewandowsky was not a study of “people,” as such, but, in its own words, a study of “denizens of climate blogs” or, more accurately, of “denizens of mainly Australian climate blogs devoted to countering the views of denizens of climate blogs who question the scientific theory of climate change.”
But never mind.
The link to the second scientific finding rejected by conspiracy theory indulgers—vaccinations—goes to:
which reads in part:
This Correction is being published to provide a clarification regarding ethical approval for the inclusion of minors in this study, and to address concerns regarding the inclusion of age outliers in the dataset and some analyses that were discovered by a reader. The authors thank the reader for drawing this problem to our attention. In addition, the authors discovered a slight error in the specification of the single-indicator latent variable model for Conservatism, which necessitated an update of the fit statistics for two of the models and a slight change in the reported regression weights and correlations.
The dataset included two notable age outliers (reported ages 5 and 32,757) … Inspection of these two records indicated nothing unusual that would suggest or mandate their exclusion. The two outliers did not affect the summary statistics for Age but did affect that variable’s correlation with other indicators, as detailed below…
The reader thanked (but not named) for drawing attention to the fact that Lewandowsky and his fellow authors hadn’t bothered to look at the data they were reporting on is of course Jose Duarte, the heroic social scientist who is the only voice from within academia to my knowledge who has pointed out that Lew is a liar, a fraud, and a total asshole.
Nothing about vaccination there. I assume Lew linked to (Stephan Lewandowsky, Gilles E. Gignac, Klaus Oberauer) because it was his other survey-based paper designed to link conspiracy ideation with science denial, but the journal’s al-go-rhythm takes us automatically to the correction bolluxing the paper.
The link to the third scientific finding (I’ll huff and I’ll puff…) rejected by conspiracy theory indulgers is about countering AIDS denial, a brick-built scientific edifice if ever there was one. It goes to Still Crazy After All These Years: The Challenge of AIDS Denialism for Science by Nicoli Nattrass of the AIDS and Society Research Unit, University of Cape Town, South Africa. It’ll cost you 42 euros to read the whole thing. I’ve read the abstract and the bibliography and the keywords, which are “Demographic Model, Western Cape Province, Boundary Work, British Broadcasting Corporation, Medical Hypothesis.” Nothing there about “indulging in conspiracy theories.” Nor is there anything in the fifteen works cited in the bibliography to suggest that the author is the slightest interested in conspiracy theories.
So, to summarise, in the first sentence of his article which makes a substantive claim, Lewandowsky supports this claim with links to four other sources, one of which is a paper written by himself which is generally agreed to be one of the worst papers ever to have been published in the social sciences; one of which is a humiliating correction made by himself to one of the second worst papers ever written in the social sciences; and the other two of which don’t seem to be world shattering additions to human knowledge, but which either contradict or don’t support the point he’s making.
He goes on with his discussion of a study into teleological thinking for a couple of more paragraphs, with a link to the excuse for his article, which is an article by some people from the University of Fribourg entitled “Creationism and conspiracism share a common teleological bias.”
It can be yours for six hours for the knockdown price of $3.99, which is a bargain when you compare it to the price of finding out what heterosexual South Africans get up to in their spare time. (What’s that fancy Greek word for people who hire out their special talents by the hour?)
And he sums up thus:
Conventionally, the use of conspiracy theories to reject scientific accounts has been explained as a way to avoid accepting an inconvenient truth.
Which is an obvious lie, since conventionally nothing of the sort has been done, unless by “conventionally” is meant “by Lewandowsky and his associates.”
And the link at “has been explained” is to “Motivated Rejection of Science” by Stephan Lewandowsky and Klaus Oberauer, which I can access for one whole day for $35. A snip, if you like that sort of thing, and you have the stamina. Here’s the abstract:
Some scientifically well-established results—such as the fact that emission of greenhouse gases produces global warming—are rejected by sizable proportions of the population in the United States and other countries. Rejection of scientific findings is mostly driven by motivated cognition: People tend to reject findings that threaten their core beliefs or worldview. At present, rejection of scientific findings by the U.S. public is more prevalent on the political right than the left. Yet the cognitive mechanisms driving rejection of science, such as the superficial processing of evidence toward the desired interpretation, are found regardless of political orientation. General education and scientific literacy do not mitigate rejection of science but, rather, increase the polarization of opinions along partisan lines. In contrast, specific knowledge about the mechanisms underlying a scientific result—such as human-made climate change—can increase the acceptance of that result.
Six sentences with six explicit claims. With the proviso that the authors’ implicit definitions of certain ill-defined terms (“scientifically well-established results,” “scientific findings,” rejection of science,” “scientific result”) are open to interpretation, a reasonable person can reasonably agree with the six claims made in the abstract of (Lewandowsky, Oberauer 2016.)
If you’re living in the kind of world described by Orwell in “1984,” where the official propaganda is that “truth is lies” and “war is peace” then, objectively, you can be brought to agree that, yes, in the context in which words are being used here, war really is peace, and truth really is lies. But that doesn’t mean that Big Brother is objectively loveable. Merely that the system is such that we are being encouraged to love Big Brother.
Luckily, our world isn’t that described by Orwell, but nearer to that described by L. Frank Baum, full of straw men and cowardly lions. And the Wizard of Oz, despite his gold medal from the Royal Society, is not Big Bother.
Where’s Toto when we need him?