When Jaime asked recently “Australia Bushfires – Is Blaming Greens a Conspiracy Theory?”she was addressing in particular Professor Betts of the Meteorological Office, who recently tweeted:
I understand that this [the buildup of dried brushwood caused by newer policies preventing the traditional management of the bush, mentioned in a previous tweet by Roger Tallbloke] is not actually an issue. Australian states actually take active steps to reduce the bushfire hazard. However it remains a popular conspiracy theory.
This statement, coming from no less a person than Betts of the Met, is triply disappointing, given that:
1) Prof Betts represents the reasonable face of climate authority. He once claimed on a Bishop Hill thread that he never let himself be quoted in articles of the hystero-catastrophic kind, and apologised when I pointed out that he’d done just that in a Guardian article by Damien “Hot Flushes” Carrington. Betts is a gentleman and a scholar.
2) The “theory” that Betts wants to refute cannot by any stretch be considered a conspiracy theory, since it involves no accusations of secret plotting or nefarious intent, just the suggestion that some well-intentioned political decisions have had unfortunate consequences, and should be changed. Betts is lazily using the term “conspiracy theory” to mean: “hypothesis I can’t be bothered to disprove, so I’ll just chuck in a vague ad hominem and move on.”
3) Betts is not alone. In the past few years it has become common for any sceptical challenge to an official announcement (be it the claim that climate change will kill billions, or that Joe Biden’s son deserved every penny of the $1 million he received from a corrupt Ukrainian company when his father was in charge of US policy towards Ukraine) to be labelled a “conspiracy theory.” And it is surely no coincidence that, for the past few years, a shadowy network of academics in Bristol, Cambridge, Miami and elsewhere, financed by government departments, the European Onion, and a number of millionaire-sponsored foundations, has been conducting “research” and writing “reports” on conspiracy theorising, in order to counter the efforts of certain sceptical citizens to “..undermine people’s trust in government services and institutions.”
How do I know? Thanks to a whistleblower, one Stephan Lewandowsky, who reveals all in an article published a year ago on the blog of the London School of Economics US Centre. titled: “A new tool can help us determine which conspiracy theories are false and which might be true.”
Lew is hardly a new tool, rather a middle-aged tool, but his theories are always worth a shufti. This article, according to the LSE, is: “based on the new book, “Conspiracy Theories and the People Who Believe Them,” edited by Joseph E. Uscinski,”and argues that “conspiratorial thinking .. can often be a near-self destructive form of skepticism. We can use this skepticism, along with conspiracists’ tendency towards pattern-seeking and self-sealing reasoning, to flush out which are false, and which might be true after all.”
Indeed we can – if we define a conspiracy theorist as someone who accuses the authorities of conspiring to hide the truth – someone like Galileo for example. Or Giordano Bruno.“Pattern-seeking”? “Near-self destructive”?I’ll say. Flush them out. Then silence them, or burn them.
Lew begins with a“philosophical challenge,”claiming that it is important to differentiate conspiracy theories from actual conspiracies:
“…given that the mere exposure to conspiracy theories can undermine people’s trust in government services and institutions. Conspiracy theories are not harmless fun…”
So, safeguarding people’s trust in institutions is a“philosophical challenge”? Says who? Well, Plato for one, and Lenin for another. Socrates, Russell and Popper – not so much. But none of the five mentioned above would have considered undermining people’s trust in government “harmless fun,” despite their profound differences. Lenin, Socrates and Bertrand Russell all went to prison for the crime of scepticism, Plato was sold into slavery, and Karl Popper was exiled to New Zealand for his “mistrustfulness,” or worse. (Worse than mistrust, I mean, not worse than New Zealand.)
An examination of Lew’s cunning plan for distinguishing a true conspiracy from a false conspiracy theory aimed at undermining people’s trust in government will have to wait for another time. Lew, and the LSE blog editors, claim that his theory is base on his contribution to the Uscinski tome (“..a chapter on my experiences with people who believe in conspiracy theories.”)
Now this chapter is not theoretical at all, nor is it about his “experiences with people who believe in conspiracy theories,” since Lewandowsky has consistently refused to engage with such people, except through the peer reviewed press, which means practically never. Lew’s chapter in the Uscinski tome is simply an account of the events surrounding the retraction of an article, from the point of view of the victim. It’s enough to bring tears to the eyes of a grown man, provided he is one of the estimated seven people on the planet who have followed this story in all its convolutions up to its happy dénouement. Since I am almost certainly the only one of the seven to have read Lewandowsky’s chapter, I can confidently assert that it is a somewhat flimsy basis for a new theory of how to distinguish the true from the false on such profound political questions as why, in the early sixties, a small army of lone gunmen decided to murder the four most prominent left wing politicians in the USA, or whether a few paragraphs cribbed from a PhD thesis were sufficient grounds for killing a few hundred thousand Iraqis. Again.
Though I haven’t the time or patience to examine Lew’s paper now, here’s a taster for a future upcoming article on Lew’s theory. Lew says:
People who believe in conspiracy theories typically exhibit an almost nihilistic degree of skepticism, to the point of distrusting more and more knowledge-producing institutions. It is not unusual for climate deniers to distrust the official temperature record based on a long catalogue of presumed improprieties by bureaus of meteorology around the world.
Which links to the article: “Recurrent Fury: Conspiratorial Discourse in the Blogosphere Triggered by Research on the Role of Conspiracist Ideation in Climate Denial” which is simply the retracted “Recursive Fury” article, with the original “evidence” (quotes from sceptic bloggers abridged, mangled, and misattributed) replaced by stuff which Lewandowsky made up. We know he made it up because he says so in the paper.
Think about that. A professor is humiliated when an article he boasts about in a dozen blog articles is retracted because of its utter pathetic uselessness. (The professor disputes this interpretation, maintaining – falsely – that it was because of threats of legal actions for defamation.) The article then forms the basis for articles proudly published by the Oxford University Press and the London School of Economics.
A further consequence of immutable suspicion is that a person may abandon specific hypotheses when they become unsustainable, but those corrections will not compromise the overall abstraction that “something must be wrong” and that the official account is based on deception. At that higher level of abstraction, neither the validity of any particular hypothesis nor the coherence of the theory matter. What matters is that there must be a conspiracy. In consequence, conspiracy theories are often incoherent. It is not uncommon for climate deniers to be equally convinced that global temperature cannot be measured accurately and that there has been global cooling for the last 10 years.
Linking to this article: “The ‘Alice in Wonderland’ mechanics of the rejection of (climate) science: simulating coherence by conspiracies”which goes considerably further than his original survey, which identified a conspiratorial link between climate scepticism and belief that the moon landing was a hoax based on four out of 1300 fake responses to a fake survey, since it accuses an undefined heterogenous group of sceptics of logical incoherence because a geologist in Australia said something different from a meteorologist in California.
Finally, and perhaps most crucially, conspiracists’ thought processes are inherently self-sealing, such that contrary evidence is re-interpreted as evidence for the theory. This reflects the assumption that the stronger the evidence against a conspiracy (e.g., climate scientists being exonerated of wrong-doing), the more the conspirators must want to hide the truth (i.e., investigations were rigged by George Soros to exonerate the scientists)
Hang on. The last time I saw the name of George Soros quoted in a blog article was in an accusation that quoting the name of George Soros was prima facie evidence of anti-semitism.
Lewandowsky gives no source for the accusation that the rigged investigations into Climategate (and rigged they were:we have the word of a chief scientific advisor to the government for it:“Congratulations on playing a blinder”) were the work of the Jew Soros. Perhaps he’s just being funny. You know, accusing the people he’s investigating scientifically of being kike-hating anti-Semites – because among all the criticisms levelled at the lazy lying shits who inquired into Climategate – criticisms that proved beyond doubt that they were indeed lazy, liars, and shits – notably absent was the accusation that they were kikes.
Kike? Did I say kike? So I did, quoting Lew, who has said it three times to my knowledge. Once in an article in Nature, at least once in blog comments, and once at the head of the chapter which is (according to the LSE blog) the source of a new theory for establishing the truth behind some of the great political enigmas of of our time. Lewandowsky heads his chapter in the Uscinski book with an anonymous email (I assume it was anonymous. Lew doesn’t say) which accused him of being a Nazi kike, and mentioned the same email in an article about climate scepticism in Nature, the well-known toe rag for high IQ science types.
Lew recently on Twitter accused the Conservative party of being racist, or in the hands of racists, or whatever. I’m no fan of the Tories, but the party boss Mr Cleverly and the Government’s no. 2 Mr Javid don’t look like racists to me.
Lew’s groundbreaking papers on climate scepticism have established a weakish connection between climate scepticism and conspiracy theorising, but a stronger relation with conservatism. And conservatism is racist, according to Professor Lewandowsky. Therefore when Oxford University Press and the London School of Economics and Nature all go with articles on climate scepticism which open with the “Nazi kike” motif, you know they’re on to something. Would the OUP and the LSE lie about something as important as the link between belief in a lower value for equilibrium climate sensitivity, as suggested in Lewis & Curry 2014, and belief that professor Lewandowsky is a Nazi kike?
Just read this article in the Graun: “Farmed pheasants are little more than free-range livestock”
Out of breath and panting heavily, I breasted the summit of the Lion’s Haunch, paused, then turned, slowly. A stiff pull up a frozen path through low gorse had brought me to the lesser peak of Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano that looms above Edinburgh…My descent had barely begun when I shocked a pheasant out of its bed of thorns. It exploded grouse-like from gorse, tail feathers quivering, and my first startled thought was: this is a wild bird. Three mornings later I was back in one of the pheasant pamperlands of southern Britain, where the bird is little more than free-range livestock…
Cuk-cuk calls from out towards the wooded ridge and tyre tracks through sodden grass led me to a sloping field on a big shooting estate… They were not the only timorous beasties. I had not spotted it out in the open, in the middle of the field, but it had seen me. When I had drawn too close, the pheasant bolted in a volley of indignant clucks. I saw the same quivering tail feathers I had seen in Scotland. The same bird, living a very different life.
As the climate crisis escalates the Guardian will not stay quiet. This is our pledge: we will continue to give global heating, wildlife extinction and pollution the urgent attention and prominence they demand. The Guardian recognises the climate emergency as the defining issue of our times. You’ve read 123 articles in the last four months…
Be-Jaysus-the-Jewish-kike. The Guardian has been counting the number of articles I read.“Cuk-cuk”calls from out towards the renovated bodge of concrete behind Kings Cross:“We’re watching you.You’re the same kind of bird as our core readers (ABC1 social class, graduate, left-leaning and elderly) but living a very different life. HOW DARE YOU.”
I am not a pheasant plucker. Nor are any members of my family, to my knowledge.But I intend to keep on being as plucking unpheasant as I please for a little while yet.
Great couple of articles by Jaime by the way.