I’m currently reading “Conspiracy Theories and the People who Believe Them” edited by Professor Joseph Uscinski. There are thirty one chapters in the book, six of which appear to mention climate change conspiracy (I can’t be sure of the exact number until I’ve read the whole book.)
Professor Lewandowsky has a chapter to himself, recounting the story of the retraction of his “Recursive Fury” paper. While the other 40+ authors analyse conspiracy theories, or theorise about conspiracy theories, Lewandowsky is the only one to report from the trenches as to what it’s like to be the victim of a conspiracy instigated by climate sceptic conspiracy theorists. Stylistically, his paper is to be placed somewhere between Dostoevsky’s “Notes from Underground” and George and Weedon Grossmith’s “Diary of a Nobody.” It’s a masterpiece of its kind, and it will be the subject of a later article in this series.
There will also be articles about the contributions by Dr Drochon of CRASSH, who alerted me to this book, and Professor Uscinski, and possibly others. But for the moment I’ll concentrate on just three paragraphs in the introduction, in which Joe Uscinski gives special thanks to three organisations:
Over the last few years I have had the privilege of associating with some very excellent funded projects which have greatly advanced the study of conspiracy theories. In particular, the Conspiracy & Democracy Project at CRASSH, University of Cambridge was kind enough to invite Joe Parent and me to be visiting fellows in 2014.. The friendships that developed from that experience have been incredibly rewarding.
In 2015, Peter Knight and Michael Butter invited me to help brainstorm a proposal they were putting together for a large networking grant. Their proposal was successful (eCost Conspiracy) and it has been a pleasure being involved with Peter, Michael, and their excellent staff.
Finally; I need to thank Karen Douglas and her team who I had the great good fortune to work with at the University of Kent. It was a pleasure to be a small part of their CREST grant focusing on conspiracy theories and security.
The bolds are mine, of course. We learn that Professor Uscinski of Miami has been to England, possibly for a full academic year, and has thoroughly enjoyed himself. I confess I found Professor Uscinski’s constant insistence on the subject of excellent, large, rewarding grants and funds rather disarming. Joe sounds like the kind of guy you could enjoy spending an evening with over a few beers. Especially as he could clearly afford to pay his round.
I’ve written at length about Professor Uscinski and the article he published together with Lewandowsky and Karen Douglas (who also has a chapter in the book) in the Oxford University Press Encyclopaedia of Climate Science here and here.
As a result of my letter of complaint to OUP, “Recursive Fury” is no longer on the recommended reading list in that article. Its inclusion was apparently due to a typing error. Someone meant to write “Feynman,” and by happenstance typed “Lewandowsky Cook and Marriott” instead. But let’s get back to Joe’s introduction, and his thanks to all those excellent, rewarding grants and funds.
I’ve already mentioned CRASSH at the University of Cambridge and their five year study of Democracy and Conspiracy Theorising, and will be coming back to them. In my previous article I discussed their interest in linking conspiratorial thinking with pro-Trump and pro-Brexit attitudes. Dr Drochon’s article reveals that climate scepticism was already on their minds in 2015, long before Trump and Brexit. In 2015 a professor of politics or modern history would have been justified in predicting a happy future for David Cameron’s “greenest government in history” and an equally green third and fourth Clinton terms. But it seems that, long before Trump tweeted about climate change being a hoax, they already had this nagging worry about the threat to democracy posed by climate scepticism.
I hadn’t heard of CREST, but professor Karen Douglas is known to us as co-author of the Uscinski / Lewandowsky OUP Encyclopaedia article, and of an article co-authored with her graduate student Michael Wood claiming that conspiracy theorists are capable of holding contradictory beliefs, namely that Lady Di was murdered by the British secret services and was still alive. This paper was the sole source for Lewandowsky’s claim that conspiracy theorists are incapable of rational thought. Steve McIntyre obtained the data for the survey on which Douglas’s paper is based via an FOIA request and discovered that the number of respondents believing both statements was zero. The paper continues to be cited.
Professor Douglas’s page at the University of Kent tells us more when she mentions a Conspiracy theory research database of the current academic literature on conspiracy theories. Its production was supported by CREST– the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (ESRC Award: ES/N009614/1).
The Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST) has a website according to which they are:
delivering a world-class, interdisciplinary portfolio of activity maximising the value of behavioural and social science research to understanding, mitigating and countering threats to national security.
Their site has a blog, beginning in November 2015, with five articles in June 2018, four articles in July, four in August 2018, and none since.
CREST has over a hundred staff funded by or associated with its core programmes and commissioned projects. They also have 66 “commissioned researchers” working on projects that have been funded through one of CREST’s commissioning calls.” Yet somehow, despite a staff of a hundred and a budget of £7 million, and their interest in countering threats to national security, their blog died seven months ago.
They are lecturers, research fellows, and research associates at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, in the School of Nursing and Health Sciences, and at the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies at the University of Portsmouth, etc. Look, I can’t list all 66 researchers. Just be satisfied with the fact that Professors Karen Douglas and Joe Uscinski are among the lucky funded, and take as a typical example the first on the list, Dr Adrian James:
Dr Adrian James joined the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies following a long career in the Metropolitan Police Service. Adrian was a detective for almost 25 years, working with a variety of Scotland Yard departments, the UK’s Regional Crime Squads, the National Crime Squad, and on extended projects with HM Revenue and Customs and the Serious Organised Crime Agency.
Whilst a serving officer, Adrian James studied for a HNC in Public Administration, a BSc degree in Policing and Police Studies, and an MSc in Criminal Justice Policy. Towards the end of his police career, Adrian was awarded a research fellowship to support his PhD studies. Since joining ICJS, Adrian has completed his PhD and developed his research interests in: policing policy and reform; the history and culture of the detective force; covert policing; criminal intelligence; and organised crime.
According to the link at the above ESRC reference, CREST has received a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council of £7,100,841 for the period Oct 15 – Sep 20. No year is specified, but one supposes that their hundred staff and 66 commissioned researchers weren’t left to starve come the end of the academic year.
So where do Professors Karen Douglas and Joe Uscinski fit into this £7 million programme of “maximising the value of behavioural and social science research to understanding, mitigating and countering threats to national security”? From Professor Douglas’s university web page:
My primary research focus is on beliefs in conspiracy theories. Why are conspiracy theories so popular? Who believes them? Why do people believe them? What are some of the consequences of conspiracy theories and can such theories be harmful?
Well we jolly well hope they can be harmful. How otherwise to justify one’s share of that lovely seven million quid if you can’t show that you’re “maximising the value of behavioural and social science research to understanding, mitigating and countering threats to national security”?
The third organisation thanked by Joe was a bit of a mystery. eCost Conspiracy turned out to be COMPACT (Comparative Analysis of Conspiracy Theories in Europe) financed by COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology.)
According to their website, their next meeting (in Croatia) will be in October 2018.
It was on30 October 2015 that COST begat COMPACT, and so far, Professors Knight and Butter and their 127 associate members have produced just one document, a bibliography of conspiracy theory studies.
The Memory of Understanding for the Implication of the COST Action “Comparative Analysis of Conspiracy Theories” (COMPACT) CA15101 lays out the Main Aim of COMPACT:
Conspiracy theories play an increasingly visible role in the political life in Europe, not least because the EU itself is often viewed as a vast conspiracy. Although sometimes seen as harmless entertainment, conspiracy theories can contribute to extremism within particular regions, as well as fuelling tensions between nations. They can erode trust in democratic institutions and the media… The aim of this Action is to develop an interdisciplinary and international network to provide a comprehensive understanding of conspiracy theories.
1.1.1. Description of the Challenge (Main Aim)
Conspiracy theories – the belief that events are secretly manipulated behind the scenes by powerful forces – have a long history, and exist in all modern societies. However, their significance is increasing today, especially within Europe. They are not confined to the political margins as the product of a pathological mind-set; instead opinion polls confirm that the majority of citizens in Europe and the U.S. now believe in one or more conspiracy theories. Some conspiracy theories may be harmless entertainment or a sign of healthy scepticism, but others are dangerous because they fuel racism, nationalism or terrorism. They can lead to political disengagement, distrust of the media, and, in the case of climate change and vaccination programmes, loss of faith in medical and scientific authorities. […]
1.1.2. Relevance and timeliness
Conspiracy theories have in recent years become a pressing issue in Europe. They may be more popular and influential in some countries than in others, but they circulate in all of them at the level of populist politics (e.g., UKIP in Britain…), among elites (e.g. Erdogan, Orban, Putin), in grassroots campaigns (e.g. vaccination scare stories, climate change denial, the 9/11 Truth Movement), and in popular culture (e.g. TV, film and fictional narratives).
22.214.171.124 Public Engagement with Science
…An understanding of how conspiracy theories work, and how to combat them, will be of great benefit to scientists who are engaged in efforts to communicate their work to the public in the face of sceptical, conspiracist opposition (e.g. those working on climate change, vaccination programmes or AIDS prevention).
This COST Action will work… to develop useful knowledge on how to promote democratic transparency, reduce radicalisation and extremism, and defuse conspiracy-fuelled hatred directed against minority groups. A number of NGOs from across Europe (including political think tanks, scientific institutions involved in documenting climate change…) have already confirmed their participation in the Action…
Note that the above quote is from an official website of the European Union. Note how it mentions the democratically elected leader of a member country of the EU (Orban) and the democratically elected leaders of two other European countries (Putin and Erdogan) plus a democratic party represented in the European Parliament (UKIP) in a description of a programme of a supposedly scientific analysis of conspiracy theorising which speaks of a “pathological mind-set,” of “extremism,” of “racism and terrorism.” And that’s before they’ve even started their programme of developing “an interdisciplinary and international network to provide a comprehensive understanding of conspiracy theories.”
The news section at COMPACT’s website hasn’t been updated since October, 2018, suggesting that professors Butter and Knight and their 127 fellow researchers either have nothing new to say, or are too busy to say it. Among the 127 members, are Lewandowsky, Karen Douglas and her co-author Michael Wood, plus the delicious Professor Sirven Swami, the Attraction Expert at youbeauty.com, author of: “Ask a Scientist: Why do Guys Love Women’s Butts?”
Where was I? Ah yes..
.. who was copiously referenced by Lewandowsky in “Moon Hoax,” and who responded by peer reviewing several versions of his finally retracted “Recursive Fury” article. They’re all there, from Western Australia to Miami, sucking at the teat of an Orwellian superstate, at least for the next three weeks.
After that, the United Kingdom will no longer be involved in a programme sponsored by European Cooperation in Science and Technology to counter (scientifically) the opinions of those who dare raise questions about professor Mann’s tree rings or professor Jones’ destroyed historical temperature records. Professors Butter, Knight, Swami, Lewandowsky and Douglas will have to find other outlets for their conspiracy theory conspiracy theorising. And an invite to Cambridge will no longer get Professor Uscinski in on the game. Isn’t that a shame?
In a shortish visit to Britain, Professor Uscinski, expert in American conspiracy theories, managed to rub up against three rewarding grant-funded organisations, funded by a major private foundation, the British government, and the European Union, all of which are being financed to research conspiracy theories, and all of which feature prominently climate scepticism as a conspiracy theory in their research programmes. And he got: first, the job of editing an article for the Oxford University Press Encyclopaedia of Climate Science on Climate Science Conspiracy Theories, despite the fact that his sole contribution to the subject was a reference in his book to a blog comment by one Donald Duck; and second, a contract to edit a book published by OUP.
I don’t know how much the EU and the Leverhulme Trust are contributing, but the £7 million contributed by the British government to just one of these programmes for just one year suggest that the overall sum invested must amount to many tens of millions. All the information publicly available (and it’s pitifully little) about these (mainly publicly) funded programmes suggests that the hundreds of publicly funded university professors moonlighting on these schemes have little interest in exploring the psychology of believers in conspiracy theories, but a great interest in analysing and controlling social movements that challenge the “powerful forces” who “secretly manipulate” events “behind the scenes.” And prominent among these powerful forces are the professors themselves.
A long time ago, in my anarchist phase, I registered “Luddite Enterprises” at Companies House. And in my most desperate (or most lucid) moments, I think that breaking into their rooms at Cambridge and elsewhere and smashing their computers is the only rational response to their organised – conspiratorial – and well-funded assault on democracy. It’s not going to happen, but as a dream – like those Tolkienesque fantasy trilogies about alternative worlds that seem to inspire today’s adolescents – it might inspire a hope in some alternative reality, a reality where mendacious arseholes like Joe Uscinski don’t have it all their own way.