Professor Lewandowsky has been quiet on the climate front for a couple of years now. (I’ll come back to this at the end of the article.) But media coverage of the Royal Society gold-medal-winning professor has been picking up due to a new interest of his – Donald Trump.
His current area of research has been mentioned recently by Paul Rosenberg at Salon in an article reproduced at Alternate. He’s also been cited at US News and World Report, and in the free British paper Metro which reproduces an article by the professor himself from the Conversation titled: “Gaslighting: from partners to politicians – how to avoid becoming a victim.”
Gaslighting according to Wiki, is “a form of psychological manipulation in which a person seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity.” In the Conversation article Lewandowsky defines it thus:
It’s a way of controlling someone by creating false narratives – for example, that they are irrational or crazy. If such lies are repeated constantly, victims may get confused and start believing there really is something wrong with them. Confusion, diversion, distraction and disinformation can similarly be used to gaslight an entire society.
Before getting on to the subject of Trump, Lewandowsky gives an example of “confusion, diversion, distraction and disinformation” deliberately “ramped up to become an omnipresent pollutant of public debate” in the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines MH17 in 2014, which, Lewandowsky says, has been the subject of “massive gas lighting” by “pro-Kremlin websites.”
Lewandowsky quotes four examples of “gas lighting,” (i.e. alternative theories to the “official” western one) in the case of the shooting down of the Malaysian plane:
1) that the missile wasn’t Russian
2) that it was fired by Ukraine
3) that the pilot had deliberately crashed the plane
4) that it was all part of a vast conspiracy to turn the world against Russia
The link supporting point 1) is to the English-language Malaysian paper the Star which says in its second sentence: “the jet was shot down by a Soviet-made missile” and goes on to quote the Russian Defence Ministry itself, who claimed that it was a Russian missile delivered to a Ukraine military unit in 1986. Lewandowsky’s cited source therefore says the precise opposite of what Lewandowsky says it says.
There’s no link to support point 2), which hardly matters. Everyone agrees the missile was probably Russian. Both Ukraine and the Russian-backed Donbass secessionists had access to it.
Point 3) is supported by a reference to a Guardian article which states simply:
State media in Moscow has floated dozens of conspiracy theories, among them: a Ukrainian jet shot down MH17; the plane was already full of dead bodies and deliberately crashed; a Buk missile downed the plane, but it wasn’t Russia’s.
The Guardian gives no source for these claims, though elsewhere they cite the Bellingcat website. Both the Guardian and Bellingcat are known to have close links to the British and US secret services.
Point 4) is supported by a link to a chapter in “Media, Ideology and Hegemony,” “MH17 as Free-Floating Atrocity Propaganda” by Oliver Boyd-Barrett, who is an Irish-born emeritus professor in the school of media and communication, Bowling Green University, Ohio, who, according to Jiyanwei.com, “can be classified as a globalisation homogenise for his extensive defence and reformulation of media imperialism theory.”
Boyd-Barrett’s article is indeed an accusation, backed up by evidence, that there is “a vast conspiracy to turn the world against Russia.” In Lew logic, linking to an accusation of a conspiracy is somehow evidence that the conspiracy doesn’t exist.
Lew rounds off his analysis of the MH17 incident thus:
Most of those claims don’t fit together and each is implausible. But the cumulative effect is one of confusion and distraction from the Russian involvement.
with a link to this article published at the Conversation just 24 hours after the shooting down of the aircraft which begins:
Writing from Kiev, the city is boiling with rage. And now all Europeans too may boil with rage as 189 Dutch and smaller numbers of Belgians, British, French and Germans perished, when their Malaysian Airlines flight was shot down over a separatist-controlled location near Donetsk city. The next step must be for hard-headed EU politicians to make some hard-nosed decisions. To whom should their anger be addressed? EU officials may await official answers, but they should be preparing a robust riposte for the most likely explanation. That would involve measures to quickly rob Russia of crucial gas revenue.
The author is a Senior Research Fellow, Centre for European Policy Studies and ex-ambassador for the European Union in Moscow. In just 24 hours he managed to write and get published an 800-word article, with twelve links, describing what happened, who did it and how, and what the West should about it. (Who said the British secret services and their friends in the government-subsidised academic press outlet which is the Conversation can’t react swiftly to events?)
Since the article was written and published within hours of the event, it can have no relevance to Lewandowsky’s accusation of “confusion and distraction” in the discussion in the wake of the event. No-one else, “pro-Kremlin websites” or otherwise, had had time even to absorb what had happened, let alone propose a conspiracy theory. Only a think tank senior fellow and ex-EU ambassador to Moscow could assess the situation, identify the culprit, compose the right geo-political strategic response, and get it all on-line in 24 hours. Bravo MI6. He’d have probably revealed the truth about the Scripal poisoning four years before it happened if his minders hadn’t reined him in.
So much for Lew’s argument, so much for logic, so much for academic freedom, so much for the intellectual standards at the university-financed Conversation, the world’s only discussion forum where your interlocutor is likely to ask you what subject you took your PhD in.
Take a paragraph from a Conversation article – any paragraph, with four assertions and four links backing up the assertions. Check the links and you will find that they either don’t back up the assertions, or they flatly contradict them. This is the public face of our academic world, now available free to millions of commuters in Metro. Bravo the forty odd British universities who support this Soviet-style shit. Bravo the British taxpayers who pay for it.
The rest of Lewandowsky’s Conversation article is a very generalised criticism of Trump’s behaviour, which is of course, just as offensive as Lewandowsky says it is. When Trump pronounces the name of Rashida Tlalib with a sneer, he is indulging in the kind of second order racism which is about as acceptable behaviour as spitting on the floor or farting in a lift. These are all reprehensible activities, but not, in my book, interesting enough to write scientific articles about.
..which Lewandowsky has done, apparently. Towards the end of the Conversation article Lew says:
My colleagues and I have recently shown, in an as-yet unpublished paper, that Trump masterfully diverts the media and the public from information that is threatening to him.
(What the as yet unpublished paper apparently fails to demonstrate is that Trump is more masterly in diverting the media and the public than any other democratic politician back to Pericles. Because Lewandowsky hasn’t looked at the efforts in masterly diversion of any politicians other than Trump. Failing peer reviewed papers proving that Trump is a fascist, we’re forced to rely on boring old verifiable facts. Like that Obama started wars against three Moslem countries for no reason, and Trump has started none. Trump may sneer at people called Rashida, but he hasn’t blown them to bits while they were celebrating weddings, unlike Obama.)
The link is not to the paper, but to Rosenberg’s article at Salon which links back to two previous articles by Rosenberg on Lew’s oeuvre, all the way back to Recursive Fury, and refers to a keynote presentation by Lew here which apparently contains the nub of his forthcoming article. We can’t wait.
But while we’re waiting, let’s note some differences between Trump’s lies and Lewandowsky’s. Trump tweets his off at 4am with not a moment’s thought, and with no other apparent aim than to aid his re-election. They are, let’s say, the kind of crazy thoughts that you nor I might jot down at 4am before checking the next day, but which Trump launches on an expectant world like a free range chicken farmer chucking grain to his flock. When he tweeted in 2012 that “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” he was making a false statement which contains a couple of nuggets of truth: that catastrophic global warming is indeed a politically charged, “created” concept; and that the Chinese are going to benefit from our political adoption of this utterly unscientific political position.
Lewandowsky’s lies are quite different. For a start, their distribution is supposedly limited to the élite to which they addressed, in scientific periodicals available only to university members. Secondly, they are carefully crafted for the audience for which they are intended. Thirdly, they are supported by the vast pseudo-theological apparatus of scientific publishing, with its references to supposedly supporting evidence in other reliable sources, which, as I demonstrate above for the umpteenth time, is an exercise in third rate prestidigitation which would get Stephan booed off stage in any music hall in the world. (But Lew doesn’t work the music halls. He does British fucking academia, which has lower standards. And which doles out gold medals and five figure sums to charlatans who deliver the message they want to hear.)
I said at the beginning of this article that Lew has been quiet on the climate front. His site at the Conversation lists two articles since 2016 about climate change, but one of them is not about climate change but about creationism (Conversation science editor Willy de Freitas doesn’t do fine distinctions like that) and the other is about the hiatus – nothing to do with Lewandowsky’s speciality of cognitive psychology. Prior to that, Lewandowsky was one of the Conversations top contributors on the subject of climate change, along with his protege John Cook. They both produced forty odd articles on the subject between 2011 and 2016 and both have been more or less silent since. Lew has been similarly quiescent at shapingtomorrowsworld.org – his university of Western Australia site.
I’d like, to claim some credit for this, for me and for Barry Woods and for a few dozen other tireless bloggers who, each time an article appeared on a mainstream blog, replied, pointing out – politely, in the case of Barry, rudely, in my case – that Lewandowsky was full of shit. No-one ever thanked us for our efforts. No-one ever challenged our arguments rationally. But, bit by bit, Lewandowsky faded from the small corner of the internet reserved for discussion of climate psychology. You can hunt through the works of Adam Corner of COIN and Cardiff University and the barmy eco-therapists of Bath and Exeter Universities – not to mention Professor “Science of a Beautiful You” Viren Swami, now of Anglia Ruskin University, and the professors at Kent University (I forget their names and can’t be bothered to search them) who lied about Lady Di and tried (unsuccessfully) to block Steve McIntyre’s efforts to reveal their peer-reviewed lies. They’re still alive and kicking against the trace gasses. But you won’t see the name of Lewandowsky cited much, and I suggest that the reason is that Barry and I (and a few others) made him a little bit persona non grata on blog sites. Not that anyone ever went so far as to admit that we were right in pointing out that Lew is a serial liar and a scientific charlatan whose Royal Society medal and five figure sum to facilitate his move from Western Australia to Bristol were obtained under false pretences. But if you write a serious-seeming article at – say – Retraction Watch or Open Democracy and a half a dozen unknowns suddenly arrive with arguments that you can’t counter – well, your not going to change your mind, are you? That would be so uncool. But you may decide to quietly drop certain references.
Which might, I suggest, explain why Stephan has turned his sights on Trump who, unlike certain of us bloggers, won’t present rational arguments to show that Stephan is wrong. Also, in using your academic credentials to attack the President you benefit from the immense advantage of having public opinion on your side – an important consideration for a searcher after truth and media clicks. 90% of the population trusts scientists, while only 10% trust politicians. (I just made those figures up. Adjust them at your leisure.)
But the main reason for Lewandowsky’s new hobby may be simply pique following the realisation that Trump is better placed than a disgraced professor of cognitive psychology at a once reputable British university to Shape Tomorrow’s World.
Ah, democracy. It did for Socrates. It may yet be equally unkind to Lewandowsky, 24 centuries later. Not that I’m suggesting hemlock as a solution to the Lewandowsky problem. Just that shaping tomorrow’s world is not a job for thinkers. Give it a rest Stephan. Retirement and a nice pension are in sight. Leave politics to people who know how to get elected.