Cambridge Three part 2: Professor Runciman’s Crusade

David Runciman is professor of politics at Cambridge University and the great nephew of Sir Steven Runciman, author of a magnificent three-volume History of the Crusades, to which T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom is little more than an appendix on the perils of camel riding and a description of the intimate habits of those fascinating beasts. (Did you know that Lawrence’s companion-at-arms Sheikh Faisal had a servant in his entourage serving hot tea and coffee from camel-back while on manoeuvres? Can Starbucks offer as much?) Stendhal claimed that the Thousand and One Nights occupied half of his mind (esprit) and one may reasonably enquire: “Why only half?”

This article may seem to stray from the path of climate scepticism, but as an adage from the above mentioned text in the version by the great Dr Mardrus has it: “The pilgrimage is not over until the cameleer has buggered his camel.”

Where was I?

I’ve mentioned Professor David Runciman in a couple of articles, once out of pique, here because his Guardian article,How climate scepticism turned into something more dangerous”got a higher rating on a google search for “climate scepticism” than this blog, and once here because he is one of three Cambridge professors running a five year research project on Conspiracy and Democracy, financed by the Leverhulme Trust, because I couldn’t see any reason for including climate scepticism in his ten examples of conspiracy theory except that climate scepticism seems to be a bit of a giant bee in Professor Runciman’s bonnet.

My criticisms of the initial research results in the above article were measured and polite. This was because I wrote to the author of one of the three Guardian articles on the Conspiracy and Democracy project, Dr Hugo Drochon, and he kindly provided me with the raw data for the research. Dr Drochon has published an analysis of an earlier part of the research project as a chapter in Conspiracy Theories and the People Who Believe Them” and I’ll be coming back to this interesting book soon.

One of the ten “conspiracy theories” considered was that: The idea of man-made global warming is a hoax that was invented to deceive people.” The other specific conspiracy theories explored in the research concerned vaccines, AIDS, aliens and the Holocaust. There were also two questions about immigration, and three which vaguely accused “the powers that be” of conspiracist aims.

I found it odd that the question of climate change scepticism should figure so prominently. Apart from immigration, it was the only subject of contemporary interest included, since the origin of AIDS or a plot to impose vaccination are hardly burning topics of discussion. There were none of what might be considered “typical” conspiracy theories – the historic events where the official explanation fails to convince, like the Kennedy assassination, the Triple Towers attack, or the Skripal case. Spending five years researching conspiracy theories without mentioning the only conspiracy theories anyone’s heard of seems a bit – odd. Can a dead soap millionaire demand his money back?

As I suggested in my previous articleI have huge reservations about the validity of the whole Conspiracy and Democracy project. In fact I think the five year’s work of CRASSH, as revealed on their website, is a steaming pile of extremely poor research, produced for base political purposes by cynical manipulators of public opinion using their academic reputation to attempt to impose an Orwellian censorship on political discourse, which in the process diminishes the reputation and authority of one of the world’s great universities to somewhere between that of the University of East Anglia and the Jimmy Saville Fan Club. But I’ll reserve my bile for a later article and keep the present one resolutely polite.

I mentioned in a comment to my article that all three professors who are named as PIs, or “Principal Investigators” on the research project have expressed negative opinions about climate sceptics, and that Professors Naughton and Evans have both used the term “Denier” (odd, in the case of Sir Richard Evans, who is a historian of the Third Reich, and might therefore be expected to have an ear for the resonance of the word.)

But this article is about Professor Runciman, so let’s keep it strictly ad hominem.

The thesis of his long Guardian article How climate scepticism turned into something more dangerous” is that climate scepticism (which the Guardian’s sub changes to “denial” in the URL) tends to degenerate into cynicism.

…climate scepticism is being driven out by climate cynicism. A sceptic questions the evidence for a given claim and asks whether it is believable. A cynic questions the motives of the people who deploy the evidence, regardless of whether it is believable or not. Any attempt to defend the facts gets presented as evidence that the facts simply suit the interests of the people peddling them.

Runciman is standing up for healthy, evidence-based scepticism against the cynic’s attribution of base motives to his adversary. So where does Runciman stand on “the evidence”?

The scientific consensus is clear: more than 95% of climate researchers agree that human activity is causing global warming, and that without action to combat it we are on a path to dangerous temperature rises from pre-industrial levels.

[The link here, presumably inserted by a Guardian sub, is to an article by John Abrahams about ocean heat, apparently because it’s the latest article at the Guardian written by the two stooges known as “the 97%.” All the other links I looked at were also to articles on the Guardian website, with no particular relevance to what Professor Runciman was saying.

Imagine if you can a Cambridge Professor (call him, for the sake of argument, Bertrand Russell, or Stephen Hawking, or Isaac Newton) who allowed an article of his to be published, with random footnotes added by some anonymous sub-editor.

Imagine now a Chinese Professor of Politics, coming across this article by a Cambridge Professor of Politics, intrigued by the claim that “more than 95% of climate researchers agree…”who decides to follow it up, and finds that the source is an engineering lecturer in an obscure American religious college, whose very first article at the Guardian contained the immortal words: “..according to the most authoritative polar bears…”

Does Professor Runciman care that the Guardian has turned his carefully reasoned article into a Monty Python sketch? Apparently not.]

Professor Runciman’s first statement on “the science” is demonstrably false. No-one has ever tried to quantify the number of climate researchers who make that claim. Does he know that? In which case he is lying. Or doesn’t he? In which case he really doesn’t know what he is talking about.

Most of the rest of the article is about tactics: how to push back against the purveyors of post-truth.”But Runciman wants to allow a place for scepticism:

A healthy democracy needs to leave plenty of room for doubt. There are lots of good reasons to be doubtful about what the reality of climate change will entail..

But that doubt needs to be severely limited:

Climate change is the defining political issue of our times… the contest over the truth about climate change is doing serious damage to our democracy.

But isn’t contest overthe truth about different assertions what democracy is all about?

The idea that manmade carbon emissions are contributing to significant changes in the climate first came to public notice in the 1960s and 1970s… In 1975 Newsweek made a splash with the claim that the science of climate change was pointing to the imminent threat of global cooling… Many of the recent Republican presidential candidates cited over-the-top scare stories about global cooling from their childhood as a reason to discount scare stories about global warming today. What politicised the idea of climate change was its adoption as a cause by Democratic politicians in the 1980s, above all by Al Gore. By the start of that decade, evidence of global cooling had faded and a scientific consensus was starting to form around the idea that the climate was warming up.

Well, yes, exactly. First there was global cooling, then global warming. And this is a reason to denigrate scepticism?

Runciman’s essay is largely an account of the politics of climate change, but he is obliged to digress into the science from time to time, because without the science, there is no politics. After a brief discussion of Thatcher and Gore comes this key paragraph:

Once science gets dragged into the territory of politics, its opponents can accuse it of being a distortion of science. Scientists are meant to be politically neutral, at least as far as their science is concerned. Yet it is almost impossible to remain neutral when you are under political assault.

Let’s rephrase that paragraph so that – say – a casual reader of Feynman wouldn’t be ashamed of it:

Once science gets dragged into the territory of politics, it is no longer science, but a distortion of science. Scientists must be politically neutral, as far as their science is concerned. If they find it impossible to remain neutral when under political assault, then they are no longer scientists.

Then Runciman comes back, if not to the subject of science, to the subject of facts about “the science:”

In these politically charged circumstances, there is no safe space for the facts to retreat to. [What? Safe space for facts? Did a professor really write that? Or was it inserted via a hack by some evil alt-right cynical-sceptic having a laugh?] That was made clear by the so-called “climategate” scandal of 2009, when a series of hacked emails from the University of East Anglia was held up as evidence that the scientific evidence was being distorted to fit a political agenda. The emails showed no such thing. What they did reveal is that in an environment of highly politicised scepticism, climate scientists were forced to think about guarding the evidence against opponents looking for any excuse to discredit it.

But, but.. Professor Runciman, you have clearly read the emails. You therefore know that the climate scientistdidn’t just “think about guarding the evidence against opponents looking for any excuse to discredit it.” They hid it, and expressed their willingness to destroy it, rather than reveal it. You know that.

In private correspondence, the UEA scientists talked about presentational “tricks” for describing the data and the need to favour certain outlets for publication over others. They looked out for their friends and they were wary of their enemies: that’s politics. There was nothing wrong with the science, as was confirmed by an extensive series of inquiries into the affair. But the emails betrayed the scientists’ awareness that the idea of a consensus on manmade climate change was under concerted attack. So they went out of their way to shore up the consensus. Which, when revealed, confirmed to their opponents that the consensus was a sham.

I heartily agree with Runciman’s last paragraph, except for the sentence I’ve put in italics, which is false, as the rest of his paragraph amply demonstrates.

presentational “tricks” for describing the data… the need to favour certain outlets for publication… They looked out for their friends and they were wary of their enemies: that’s politics… the scientists’ awareness that the idea of a consensus on manmade climate change was under concerted attack … they went out of their way to shore up the consensus…”

In the middle of this series of taps on the knuckles of climate scientists, Professor Runciman says: There was nothing wrong with the science.”

Cynics? Us?

That Runciman can insert into this catalogue of intellectual horrors the declaration that: “There was nothing wrong with the science, as was confirmed by an extensive series of inquiries into the affair” demonstrates that he is familiar with the reports by Muir Russell and Lord Oxburgh and that therefore he knows that neither report dealt with “the science.”Therefore he is lying.

Professor Runciman is clearly familiar with the content of the emails, so he will know that Professor Jones expressed his satisfaction at the death of an obscure retired weatherman in Tasmania, and that Professor Santer expressed the desire to exercise a bit of peer-reviewed GBH on a prominent critic of the hockey stick. He wasn’t obliged to mention these sordid facts in his article, but they are relevant. And a historian or a professor of political science who leaves out relevant facts is no longer a historian or a political scientist, just as a scientist who tries to suppress contrary evidence is no longer a scientist.The Climategate emails showed scientists lying and suppressing opposing opinions and destroying data and requesting others to destroy data. Professor Runciman refers to these facts without characterising themfor a historian or a social scientist, that’s tantamount to lying about it.

So Professor Runciman can take the rest of his lying article with his conspiratorial hysterics about oil money and tobacco money and his insane unsupported theory that the“current migrant crisis is partly being driven by changes in the climate affecting food and water supplies in Africa and the Middle East”and take a fucking running jump. And he can take the reputation of Cambridge University with him.

Well, I’m afraid I’ve blown it there, in terms of establishing a dialogue. And I had so much more to say, about Professor Runciman’s YouTube talks[in which he accuses ProfessoOreskes among others of being a conspiracy theorist, which, given that she is one of the prime movers of the scientific consensus, tends to cut off the goolies of his “more than 95%”argumentand about how I‘m in favour of academic freedom, and will defend the right of Cambridge professors financed by dead soap millionaires to spout lying hysterical crap about the end of the world until my dying day, or at least until the establishment of a Climate Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which will establish the precise responsibility of each intellectual wanker in the great circle jerk of uncertainty (which is not your friend, but which is something to hold on to when you’re installing a regime of intellectual terror designed to tighten your uncertain grip on reality and what you like to think of as your influence on events in the real world) in imposing this particular insanity upon us.

Professor Runciman is on a crusade, financed by dead soap millionaires, supported by a once great university and naturally by the entire right(left)-thinking media. He wants to build a climate-proof Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land.

Which means first destroying us infidels. Because it is we sceptics who hold the Holy City of scientific method and rational discourse. If he wants to challenge us, he’s welcome. So far, he hasn’t. He hasn’t tried. Nobody has.

34 thoughts on “Cambridge Three part 2: Professor Runciman’s Crusade

  1. Are you absolutely sure you’ve spelt his name correctly? Such spoonfuls of nonsense could easily have been written by the estimable E. Lear.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Such a shame. His great uncle’s books on the Crusades were my introduction to that fascinating yet depressing subject. How the mighty (surname) has fallen.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Searing indictment Geoff, yet I fear that Runciman in his far off ivory tower will not even be singed, We need to find some way of nuking the bastards in their hideaways, because, as you point out, they won’t come to us.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. BETH
    Indeed he is.


    “We need to find some way…”

    Agreed. And my way isn’t it. I always regret being rude afterwards, since I fear it may reflect on the far more serious efforts of you and Paul and others to bring them down with patient logical argument. But one glass too many, and on the stroke of midnight I’m transformed into the monster which is my true pitiful self.

    The real drawback to my argument is that it involves attributing nefarious intent to the person I’m arguing against. But what else is there to to do with stuff like this? Without delving into intentions, what is there to say?

    “Rich charity funds three professors to ask questions of tens of thousands of people in ten countries. Small number of people in Poland and Portugal agree with something a U.S. senator said in a book title, and the Guardian, NYT etc. write dozens of articles about it.”

    And suddenly, somehow, you and I are a threat to democracy.

    Alan Kendall’s way is probably the best. From now on I shall see the three professors as the Jumblies:

    Their heads are green and their hands are blue
    And they went to sea in a sieve.


  5. Geoff, never regret being rude. Regret only the circumstances which led to your becoming rude, being largely attributable to the provocative behaviour of certain unscupulous individuals with just a small contribution from fine wine!


  6. “This is how climate scepticism becomes climate cynicism: doubts about the evidence are replaced by doubts about the motives of the people using it.”

    “Questioning climate science [doubts about the evidence] suits the interests of the fossil fuel industry, where the politics of climate change has long been seen to pose a direct threat.”

    Runciman seems blissfully unaware of this glaring contradiction in his analysis of the ‘dangers’ of climate scepticism (cynicism). It’s not OK for sceptics to stray into questioning motives, but it’s entirely natural apparently for climate change believers to question the motives of sceptics of climate change science. ‘Sceptics’, only a few short paragraphs later in his risible Guardian article, suddenly morph into ‘merchants of doubt’ whose nefarious motive is crystal clear:

    “The ultimate goal of the merchants of doubt has been to politicise the orthodoxy, not simply to dispute it. What has given climate scepticism political teeth over the past two decades is the drive to associate the scientific consensus with the political establishment.”

    The transition between accepting that people have the right to question evidence into assigning an organised motive, indeed, constructing a full-blown fossil fuel conspiracy theory, is seamless and I question whether the author is aware of this transition (in which case he is unscrupulous in the extreme) or not (in which case he is a village idiot who just happens to be squatting in a Cambridge ivory tower).

    My guess is that it is the former, because, as Runciman says:

    “A healthy democracy needs to leave plenty of room for doubt. There are lots of good reasons to be doubtful about what the reality of climate change will entail.”

    This is particularly weasely wordplay by Runciman. He appears to be saying that doubt is healthy and democratic, but is in fact saying only that doubt about the impacts of man-made climate change is legitimate, not doubt about its supposed ‘reality’ – authenticated by >95% scientific consensus. He either has no comprehension whatsoever of the legitimacy of doubt about the scientific ‘evidence’ presented for ‘dangerous’ man-made climate change and the attribution of recent climate change entirely to GHGs or he does, and he is deliberately obscuring this fact. We then come back to the binary choice of whether he is a village idiot or an unscrupulous,, clever and conniving character and in actual fact are drawn to the conclusion that he is, Schroedinger wave function-like, both, simultaneously.


  7. Jaime,

    “…whether he is a village idiot or an unscrupulous,, clever and conniving character and in actual fact are drawn to the conclusion that he is, Schroedinger wave function-like, both, simultaneously.”

    Yes, people who have strong cultural belief behave (within domain) as though they are both, and yet (out of domain) are neither (excepting a few bad apples in any group of humans will be liars or whatever). But there’s no need to invoke anything as complex as Schroedinger to explain this. For adherents who are emotively convinced of a strong cultural narrative, parts of their brain ‘lie’ to other parts of their brain, which is the origin of outside impressions they are lying although internally they genuinely do not in any way think that they are (the action occurs beneath consciousness). And part of the consequence is that objective reasoning is literally bypassed for any issues that are domain-critical, which is the origin of outside impressions of apparent stupidity, although outside of domain (plus strongly allied domains if these exist) there will (typically) not be stupidity, and so this cannot be a real case of lack of intelligence.

    Think of intelligent and nobly motivated people who nevertheless passionately believe in one of the big religious fairy tales; everything is fine until conversation and any hope of reason strays onto the minefield of their belief. A difficulty is that while we are quite used to seeing such behaviours in respect of some cultural expression (religions being the main case), we are still unused to seeing these effects in some secular cultures, so we still attempt to interpret as though no ‘religious’ factor was in play. Even some of those who deploy the ‘green religion’ label probably don’t realise the true depth of this comparison. I do rather like your wave-function metaphor though.


  8. Well it’s clear that Runciman is projecting irt just about everything he is claiming of skeptics.
    I might have held back the rather straightforward summation, in print, but it is not inaccurate.
    Too bad that we are seeing the imposition of a Nicea process, where dogma is crafted by a process that excludes critics or competing ideas.
    I do wonder why Runciman would choose to do something that is so counterfactual.
    But I guess being part of a modern crusade helps him connect better with his father.


  9. *connect better with his uncle*
    It is fascinating that the more skeptics point out the lapse, lack and fabrication of facts by climate consensus extremists, the more they feel compelled to focus on psychology, conspiracies, motives and how threatening skeptics are.
    It is as if they are unwilling to discuss the issues.
    And heaven forbid that skeptics open a discussion of motivation$ of the consensus opinion leaders who promote non-scientist nonsense….


  10. Very helpful commentary Geoff. I’d missed this 2017 piece by Runciman completely. The 97% of scientists ‘footnote’ deserves parody all of its own so I’ve just got the ball rolling on that. You can see from my link that the science of catastrophe is incontrovertible. Your point about Evans and Denier is also an incredibly strong one. Science of Doom had been listening to an Evans audio book when he penned his passionate The Holocaust, Climate Science and Proof four years ago. The word irony is deeply inadequate. The academy is in the process of being corrupted. You are, rightly, shouting back. We greatly appreciate it.


  11. Andy, the Schroedinger wave function analogy was more tongue in cheek to be honest. I actually find it rather amusing that someone can be alternately intelligent and cunning and then rather stupid. But yes, I get your point that such behaviour can be characteristic of those operating in a strong cultural domain.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Every morning, I listen to the BBC radio news and almost everyday I get a fake story about climate change, a lie about Brexit, and a story intended to show Trump in a bad light. There seems to be a conspiracy in academia that these 3 things are the only things that matter. They don’t understand them, cannot explain them but somehow people who are sceptical of the massive impacts of climate change, people who voted for Brexit, and people not afflicted by Trump derangement syndrome are literally worse than members of the SS. Of course Runciman is a key figure in this – his regular articles in the Guardian and LRB and his BBC radio shows regularly show him wrestling with the problem of why hurling insults at millions of people hasn’t made all 3 problems disappear. I wasn’t aware that Evans was involved too but I am dipping into his large tome on 19thc Europe and am starting to get the impression that he is uneasy with popular movements that don’t align precisely with his achingly political correct views. His accounts of Nazi Germany might stand the test of time, thanks to his original archival research but his attempts at historical synthesis might not

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Jaime,

    The knack is to possess the emotive will to fool yourself whilst not being clever enough to know when you are being fooled. As is so often the case, the choicest quote can be found in the canon of everyone’s favourite sage, Richard Feynman:

    “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”

    Unfortunately, we are all neurologically wired for such self-deception; often our reptile brains are making our decisions, and only after the decision is taken will the higher cognitive functions move in to fabricate a rationale. With a strong enough emotive will, the cognitive functions will not even notice the most obvious of inconsistencies. It’s not just wilful ignorance, it is wilful dissonance in which emotional integrity is protected at the expense of rationality.

    You see, I can bullshit just as convincingly as Lewandowsky.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. John, it is easy to see the inconsistencies in the narratives of others; far more difficult to detect the inconsistencies in our own narratives, purely because of our perspective, looking from the inside out, at the train of our thoughts passing from formlessness to concrete conscious form, rather than being in a position to examine the finished product of somebody else’s train of thought in its entirety. This is why it’s often a good idea to go back after a few weeks and re-read what one has written previously, when the emotive connection has largely been severed and all that remains are the words themselves. Having said that, we all have a bullshit filter which prevents us from being the victims of the more obvious forms of self-deception. However, it appears that some people have Hepa grade filters whilst others make do with a kitchen sieve!

    Liked by 1 person

    I don’t buy this stuff about “parts of their brain ‘lie’ to other parts of their brain,” or “we are all neurologically wired for such self-deception.” It’s not that I’m “denying” the discoveries of neuroscience; I’m just denying that it has anything useful to tell us here, for a very simple reason.

    However Professor Runciman’s brain is wired, and whatever part of his hypopotamus lights up when he tells a porky, mine is wired the same. So our differences can’t be explored in these terms.

    Ideally, to discover what Professor Runciman means, we should be having the kind of reasoned dialogue popularised by Plato. But since we’re unlikely to ever meet in a TV studio or courtroom the dialogue must remain imaginary, and I have to make certain assumptions about what he means, and what he is basing his statements on. This involves attributing intentions, making judgements, and sometimes being rude.

    For example, his detailed description of the Climategate emails reveals that he knows what’s in them. His description would make an excellent speech by a defence lawyer. But he’s not, he’s a scientist being paid to explore a supposedly serious threat to democracy – conspiracy theorising. Jones, Mann &co conspired to illegally destroy emails in which Jones asks his colleagues to falsify the science by breaking IPCC rules. Runciman is clearly familiar with the emails, so he know that. So when I call him a liar I’m being very kind. He’s not just telling the kind of fib that gets a client off the hook; he’s disgracing one of the world’s great universities, prostituting himself in some perverse solidarity with fellow academics who share his penchant for preventive mendacity, and gulling the folks at Leverhulme Trust who are paying him to provide honest research that will help defend democracy from the forces of evil (climate sceptics, parents who read something about vaccines being dodgy, voters who suspect that only a few people run the country, Holocaust deniers – people like that.)

    Defence lawyers, climate scientists, and Cambridge professors, as well as vaccine deniers and crusty old curmudgeons like me all have our brains hardwired the same way. That doesn’t explain why Professor Runciman lies about the climate change question and I don’t.

    Liked by 3 people

    You can add to your list of subjects about which the media lies daily Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-semitism and Venezuela.

    You and I probably disagree about these and other subjects, but one of the reasons we’re both here is because we both hold the media to a certain standard of accuracy in their utterances. You have to be sure of your quotes before accusing someone of dishonouring the memory of six million dead. Or before you provoke a civil war in a country of 32 million inhabitants, with an army of nearly half a million.

    The British government in supporting Some-random Guy-doh as the legitimate President, along with forty other countries, evoked article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution.

    Theresa May is lying, as are Trump (well of course) Merkel and Macron. Putin, Xi, Erdogan, Hassan Rouhani and the Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel, on the other hand, are telling the truth.

    It may seem a bit daft to introduce this into a discussion about bias at the BBC, but here’s a strange thing:

    The BBC may lie for years about the likely extinction of the human race with absolutely no effect on anything. (Our politicians remain piously green, while the public remains indifferent.)

    Yet America’s allies may get together and lie about a clause in the Venezuelan constitution, and millions may die.

    We’re here because we demand honesty, precision, and reasoned argument from our politicians, our media, and our academics, and we know we’re not getting it.

    Sometimes I think we’re barking up the wrong tree (possibly Briffa’s famous one on the Yamal peninsula.)


  17. Geoff,

    “…mine is wired the same…”

    Yes! And this is a critical thing that many don’t grasp. The potential to behave this way is identically in *all* of us, and nor is it likely to have zero expression**.

    “So our differences can’t be explored in these terms.”

    But they very much *can* (albeit we should really be talking about group behaviour, because we can’t know what is happening for any single individual; for those individuals who are passionate adherents of a strong culture, we are making the approximation that they are representative of the group). Given we observe throughout history these powerful biases sometimes happening and sometimes not, the critical concept becomes: in what circumstances are these features enabled, or disabled? This turns out to be a function of cultural values. We tend to be interested in the strong end of the spectrum, but per ** above most folks will have some mild expression, which as it is cultural value related will only occur in the domains where we have some cultural allegiance.

    “This involves attributing intentions, making judgements, and sometimes being rude.”

    And there is nothing wrong with doing that too, it is what folks have always done to try and navigate such situations, and indeed it is still necessary especially as the approximation of individual behaviour to the groups they’re in won’t always hold. But the science of how these things work yields more objectivity, plus will produce still more as it advances, and also for some purposes it is sufficient to know what groups not individuals will do. After all, as you rightly note we are *all* subject to the same issues of our brain architecture, and hence the more objective defence we can beef up our assessments with, the more we will be insulated from ourselves and relying instead upon a theoretically external system of science. (And even though science often itself goes wrong for exactly the same reasons of bias, it net progresses).

    “For example, his detailed description of the Climategate emails reveals that he knows what’s in them.”

    Just as many millions who believe in Creationism (especially for instance in the US), know what’s in the theory of evolution, most are taught this at school yet still don’t believe it. The point here being that emotive conviction causes us not to notice blatant inconsistency, as John puts it. The mechanisms literally bypass our reasoning. That it’s hard to believe this happens for secular culture is part of the point I was trying to make above, yet we are very familiar with the effects in religions, and to some extent we acknowledge the same in extreme political ideologies too. As noted, we cannot be sure about anything for an individual, maybe he’s just a bad apple, but assuming he is representative, he will passionately believe in the threat, he will believe that Mann & co are saints for the cause, and he will be blind to massive inconsistency, in this case regarding evidence of proper process. In some of the most passionate believers, another effect occurs, which is noble cause corruption. This can indeed involve lying, but *not* lying about all the beliefs for which they are pouring in their efforts, but about some of the means by which they are servicing those ends.

    “He’s not just telling the kind of fib that gets a client off the hook; he’s disgracing one of the world’s great universities, prostituting himself in some perverse solidarity with fellow academics who share his penchant for preventive mendacity, and gulling the folks at Leverhulme Trust who are paying him to provide honest research that will help defend democracy from the forces of evil…”

    But the critical point here is that which you said yourself at the end. Whatever this individual may or may not have done along the way, ultimately he honestly *believes* in ‘forces of evil’, which is why his stance is ‘justified’. Considering what passionate, genuine (cultural) beliefs have driven mankind to do in the past, his is pretty mild on this historic scale, and he probably thinks he’s a noble crusader in the cause.

    “Defence lawyers, climate scientists, and Cambridge professors, as well as vaccine deniers and crusty old curmudgeons like me all have our brains hardwired the same way.”

    Yes yes yes yes and more yes!

    This is the point that many often miss, and it is absolutely critical. To think that cultural explanations rely on some necessity of brain asymmetry between some groups and others (hence boiling down to just another means of labelling one’s opponents as ‘bad’) is to utterly and completely miss the point. They do not do this at all! They explain why, when everyone exactly *does have* the same brain architecture that evolved as indeed ours has done, cultural asymmetry in domains is a necessary result. In fact the effects actually rely on having the same architecture throughout all players.

    “That doesn’t explain why Professor Runciman lies about the climate change question and I don’t.”

    It doesn’t explain why you personally don’t and he personally does, i.e. as individuals. But it absolutely does explain why groups will and groups won’t, and also that this follows a path of extreme polarization sometimes, plus that Runciman’s behaviour is typical of what one would expect for an ardent believer.


  18. P.P.S. fix: ‘But it absolutely does explain why groups will and groups won’t…’ believe, not lie, but behave as though they are lying.


  19. Geoff,
    Demonstrating your ignorance about Venezuela does not move the larger issues forward, much less add to the discussion of Venezuela.
    The theft of Venezuela is well documented.
    Claiming that Maduro is legit because possession is 90% of the law does not make it right. Or accurate.
    But what does the tyranny of Maduro and his kleptocrats have to do with some ass-ignorant academic who thinks skeptics are a threat to democracy?


  20. Geoff,
    I apologise. My comment came out harsher than I intended.
    I have family living in Venezuela, and Houston is home to a large Venezuelan community. I have heard for a long time what is really going on there.
    The debacle if the Bolivaran revolution is something I have followed since long before the news started to pay close attention.
    Dismissing the speaker of the elected Assembly as just some guy is a bit unfair. And ignoring what Chavez and Maduro did, with Cuban help, to rob Venezuela blind and starve Venezuela by corrupt policies that could never work is frustrating.
    The only way millions die in Venezuela is if the corrupt Bolivaran remain in power.


  21. Geoff,

    “Defence lawyers, climate scientists, and Cambridge professors, as well as vaccine deniers and crusty old curmudgeons like me all have our brains hardwired the same way. That doesn’t explain why Professor Runciman lies about the climate change question and I don’t.”

    Nor would I expect it to. What one chooses to ‘lie’ about will be determined by the direction your emotive will takes you. There is a nature/nurture dynamic here. All I am saying is that it is in all our natures to be susceptible to the influences of nurture without necessarily being aware of the extent to which such influences affect our rationality. Exactly how this effect manifests itself will vary from individual to individual in accordance with how they are emotionally programmed to respond to specific information, which is itself determined by the set of prior beliefs for which we will naturally seek confirmation (the cultural influence, as I think Andy might say). Runciman appears to be in the thrall of the idea that scientists are, by dint of the scientific ethic, less deceitful than the average Joe, and so any evidence of skullduggery can’t possibly be what it appears to be. This also explains why it is so easy for him to characterize accusations of skullduggery as conspiracist thinking, even when the evidence is so incontrovertible.

    Yes, at the end of the day there is a palpable dishonesty in Runciman’s world view, but I am sure he does not see it that way. At the risk of sounding too postmodern, I’d say he is pursuing his own truth.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Hunter,

    “The only way millions die in Venezuela is if the corrupt Bolivaran remain in power.”

    I’m not particularly aware regarding Venezuela, but I saw a couple of videos in the twitter-sphere from Venezuelan doctors in hospitals (and some patients), where they said that absolutely everything has run out and that thousands are suffering (and in some cases dying) unnecessarily. Sometimes, they didn’t have any power either. As far as I recall malnutrition was mentioned as an issue with patients too. Any who can, try to get out of the country for treatment, swelling the number of refugees (which yesterday reached 3.4 million according to the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration).


  23. “Runciman appears to be in the thrall of the idea that scientists are, by dint of the scientific ethic, less deceitful than the average Joe, and so any evidence of skullduggery can’t possibly be what it appears to be”
    What a strange idea. My jaundiced view is that many scientists, by virtue of the intense competition to produce meaningful results and their desire for underlying understanding will concoct explanations regardless of obdurate facts. Those facts will be buried and opposing interpretations scandalously attacked. Love of, and defense of one’s own intellectual products is a well known affliction. Add money and…..

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Andy, my brother in law, a Venezuelan, list about 20 kilos due to food shortages.
    He was not overweight to start with.
    My friend’s Venezuelan mother in law died from a lung infection in Venezuela due to lack of treatment.
    A former co-worker, who is Venezuelan, fled after his brother was arrested for political resistance and jailed for over a year.
    He was physically abused and malnourished while in custody.
    Colombia is being overwhelmed by hungry Venezuelan refugees fleeing.
    And now gangs of pro-Maduro thugs are beating people trying to seek refuge.
    Think if how people defended Lenin and Stalin even as they killed their millions by terror, starvation or torture.
    How the West was told to leave them alone to try their grand scientific socialist experiment.
    The climate consensus, with creeps like Runciman asserting that those who disagree are sub-human, and Macron actively, violently suppressing his own people, are not all that different.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. HUNTER
    I’m sorry to hear about the suffering of members of your family. I brought up Venezuela as an example of the kind of outright lying in the media which has risen hockeystick-like in the centrist or left of centre media in Britain in recent years. (I’m most familiar with the Guardian and the BBC, both of which have statutes meant to guarantee impartiality.) However corrupt and incompetent Maduro may be, he was legally elected with about 60% of the votes, I believe, and if children are starving, it’s because of what is effectively a trade embargo by the US, which according to Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, is having a worse effect on civilians in Venezuela than the sanctions against Iraq.
    Since the rise of fake news in what used to be considered as reliable mainstream media is contemporary with the stifling of climate scepticism in the same media, I suggest there is some common causal factor, possibly linked to the rise of the internet, possibly to the challenge to US and European global dominance.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Geoff,
    Thank you.
    The Maduro election, like his disenfranchisement of the Venezuelan Congress and corruption if the Venezuelan Courts, were not legitimate.
    And now Maduro is preventing food and supplies from reaching Venezuelans and is using Cuban secret police to suppress Venezuelans.
    Not hardly.


  27. HUNTER
    I won’t continue my defence of the Maduro régime here, because it’s off topic, but I found it interesting to analyse my own reactions while researching a possible reply, keeping in mind the points made by ANDY WEST and JOHN RIDGWAY on the emotive and the rational. For example, when I admit straight away that Maduro’s régime may be brutal and corrupt, I’m obviously trying to establish myself as a reasonable kind of guy, who can see both sides of the question. But I have no more evidential basis for saying that Maduro is corrupt than I do for saying that he’s legitimately elected. It’s all hearsay, and my process of choosing what to believe is very largely unconscious.

    For example, when I quote some journalist on article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution, rather than get into the question of who set fire to the aid trucks, it’s because unconsciously I reasoned that no-one’s going to lie about an article of the constitution, which can be easily verified. This intuitive way of doing things suits me, because I know I’m not a political stooge or paid public relations officer for Maduro. But no-one else knows that.

    Thinking about how one reasons oneself is an interesting way of absorbing the message of Andy’s analysis. I’m happy to learn whatever there is to be learned about our reptilian brain structure, as long as I can then drop the brain stuff and see what it means in terms of the way I think (because I’m the only person whose thoughts are available to me.) It was good enough for Descartes.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Geoff,
    Thank you again.
    While Venezuela is off topic, the underlying discussion has been very much on topic if that makes sense.
    I sincerely appreciate this.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Thanks all for the diversion on Venezuela. As Hunter says, it really wasn’t. (And your first-hand experience convinces me, my friend. FWIW. Interpretation and bias, though inevitable, shouldn’t prevent us from caring.)

    I was also reminded of this thread on reading Louise Mensch in the Spectator on the weekend. This bit by Geoff:

    There were none of what might be considered “typical” conspiracy theories – the historic events where the official explanation fails to convince, like the Kennedy assassination, the Triple Towers attack, or the Skripal case.

    Mensch thinks the UK should delay Brexit because Vlad killed the Skripals and, being that evil, he wants us to Brexit fast in a way that will damage us. Falling out with Jaime and Geoff and many of us in saying that I would imagine. (Though I personally was sympathetic to Paul Collier’s Vlad-free argument that we should revoke Article 50 until we know what we’re doing in the same rag.)

    It’s a very big point Geoff makes on what Runciman left out though. I would have chosen the chemical attacks assigned to Assad in Syria over the Skripals. But whatever. These are exactly the kind of real-world events that have had questions raised, then the conspiracy theory label applied. I also agree with Geoff that Runciman knows what he is doing. Climate scepticism is being targetted in a highly dishonest way.

    (Sorry no links to the Speccie pieces. In a hurry. Haven’t been reading Cliscep. May go into that mode for days more. Or months.)


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