Lew’s Psychology (2)

The LSE’s US website is serialising a book edited by Professor Uscinski of the University of Miami chapter by chapter. Last year they gave space to Professor Lewandowsky, which resulted in an article titled: “A New Tool Can Help Us Determine Which Conspiracy Theories Are False and Which Might Be True.” in which he argues that conspiracy theories represent a philosophical challenge because exposure to them “can undermine people’s trust in government services and institutions.”

Well, quite. The theory that members of Trump’s election campaign conspired with Russia to swing the election undoubtedly undermined the trust of many people in the presidency. This false conspiracy theory was disproved by a painstaking enquiry, resulting in the Mueller Report, and Americans are now firmly united behind their president.

All except about 95% of academics in American and British universities that is. What is is about these people that they refuse to accept the evidence thatheir opposition to Trump has been proven to be based on false premisses? Let Professor Lewandowsky explain:

One promising approach to classifying conspiracy theories has been to shift the focus to the people who believe in them, rather than on how these theories are justified by those people.

This is known to philosophers as the ad hominem approach. It worked against Socrates and Giordano Bruno, so I guess it will work for the academic readers of the LSE website.

Lew continues:

There is much evidence that people’s cognition is “optimal” in many circumstances… Even when confronted with esoteric tasks, such as estimating the duration of the reign of Egyptian Pharaohs, people are surprisingly well-attuned to the actual quantities.

Well, bully for the common man. That’s nice, coming from Lew, who usually bows to expert opinion and refuses on principle to discuss his work with anyone who isn’t an acknowledged domain expert. In the case of Pharaonic reign lengths, the only surviving peer-reviewed evidence from a domain expert is that of the Egyptian priest Manetho who reckoned the length of reign of the first Pharaoh as 737 years and nine months. But that shouldn’t faze an expert like Lew, who included a respondent in one of his studies who was more than 30,000 years old.

Lew goes on to list four characteristics of a conspiracy theorist, so you’ll know one if you see one. I’ve numbered them below for ease of reference:

1) 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.

2) This overriding and immutable suspicion of the “official” account leads to several consequences. It may prevent the person from recognizing that some events occur by accident or are simply trivial. The way that conspiracists think means that they often believe that nothing occurs by accident; any random event is re-interpreted as evidence for the theory.

3) 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.

4) 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… the more the conspirators must want to hide the truth.

Lew accompanies each characteristic with an example, as follows:

1) 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.

2) For example, the fact that Timothy McVeigh fled the scene of the Oklahoma City bombing in a car without license plates is interpreted as proof of his innocence and that he was framed by federal agents.

3) 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 or the last 10 years.

4) (e.g., climate scientists being exonerated of wrong-doing) … (i.e., investigations were rigged by George Soros to exonerate the scientists).

Imagine you’re an ordinary reader of the LSE website. So far in this article about conspiracy theory you’ve read references to 9/11, the Contra scandal, Watergate, the CIA… You know where Lew is coming from. Then suddenly – wham! – climate change. Three times.

Taking each of Lewandowsky’s claims in turn:

1) Mentions by climate deniers of “presumed improprieties by bureaus [sic] of meteorology around the world” (e.g. the excellent Paul Homewood and Steve Goddard) are invariably accompanied by evidence, in the form of records of changes in historical data etc. Lewandowsky never cites specific examples, never says: “There’s nothing wrong with the temperature record in Uruguay, and here’s why..”

Why not? Because he doesn’t know. He doesn’t care. And the last thing he’s going to do as a scientist is quote a specific example. Someone might verify it, for Gaia’s sake.

3) The claim that climate deniers believe both that global temperature cannot be measured accurately and that there has been global cooling or the last 10 years is linked to a paper by Lewandowsky Cook and Lloyd called:The ‘Alice in Wonderland’ Mechanics of the Rejection of (Climate) Science: SimulatingCoherence by Conspiracies

I’ve reread the paper, looking for mentions of cooling, and found this claim in the abstract:

Hence, claims that the globe “is cooling” can coexist with claims that the “observed warming is natural” and that “the human influence does not matter because warming is good for us.”

and this example of two incoherent arguments in Table 1:

Global temperature does not exist / It cooled in mid-century.

But nowhere in the text is a denier quoted as claiming the existence of global cooling. Lew has made this up, put it in the abstract of his paper, and then used the paper as evidence to back up his argument. That’s science folks. Lewis Carroll wrote academic articles too, but not like Lew’s.

Lew’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ paper is the perfect proof that a social scientist, like Humpty Dumpty, can make words mean just what he chooses it to mean.

The question is,” said Alice, “Whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”

4) The conduct of the two British investigations into Climategate (not counting the Parliamentary Inquiry, which was cut short because of an election) was so blatantly corrupt that anyone claiming that the scientists were exonerated is what is commonly referred to in libel case law as jacentum stercore, or a lying shit. Which term applies to every environmentalist or environmental journalist who has referred to the affair, and every academic except Dr Grundmann of Birmingham.

There is a nugget of truth within the turd quoted at 4) above, however. When Lew speaks of the conspiracy theorist’s belief that “…the stronger the evidence against a conspiracy … the more the conspirators must want to hide the truth” he is pointing us to a verity understood by the same common man who is better at guessing the average reign length of an Egyptian Pharaoh than your domain expert: that the more fervently the defenders of some false news insist that it’s true and that its critics are conspiracy theorists, the more likely that they’re hiding something.

On George Soros, I think Lew is joking, but what about? And how would you tell? And why Soros? What is Lew getting at?

Having listed four criteria for identifying a conspiracy theorist, Lew comes to the nub of his argument – his cunning plan for determining who killed the Kennedys (all four of them, or only one? Not sure.) And whether the fact that a Cambridge professor on a million dollar retainer from the CIA kept accidentally bumping into members of the Trump election campaign and offering them jobs, meetings with attractive oriental ladies etc. was just one of those funny coincidences, as the FBI spokesman claimed, or something more – conspiratorial … ?

Oh, you haven’t heard that one? Wait till the Department of Justice report comes out, and then even the Guardian will be reporting that there’s a conspiracy theory going the rounds …

And here’s Lew’s nub:

What do these criteria for conspiracist cognition—nihilistic skepticism, seeing pattern in randomness, incoherence, self-sealing reasoning, and a few others not mentioned—buy us?

I argue that they help us in at least three ways. First, they can be clearly operationalized. Naive judges have successfully used those criteria to differentiate between scientific critique and conspiracist discourse. This renders the criteria useful in determining the status of potentially contested material. Second, in another study I found that if participants are trained to detect incoherence in an argument, they subsequently become more resilient to false argumentation that is common in conspiracist rhetoric.

Finally, and perhaps more controversially, I suggest that these criteria may allow us to infer the likely truth value of a conspiracy theory.

And that’s it? That’s it. Except that the claim that “naive judges have successfully used those criteria to differentiate between scientific critique and conspiracist discourse”links to the article: Recurrent Fury: Conspiratorial Discourse in the Blogosphere Triggered by Research on the Role of Conspiracist Ideation in Climate Denial” by Stephan Lewandowsky, John Cook, Klaus Oberauer, Scott Trophy  Elisabeth A. Lloyd, and Michael Marriott.

And what the naïve judges were differentiating between was not “scientific critique and conspiracist discourse” but what Lewandowsky defined as scientific critique and a series of brief quotes purporting to come from blog comments which Lewandowsky had made up.

Naive, the judges? I’ll say so. But they weren’t the same common folk who got the reigns of the pharaohs right. They were PhD students. And they correctly identified Lewandowsky’s made up quotes as being shit.

Which is proof that Lew’s paper is proof that Lew can tell one when he sees one. Or something. According to the LSE’s US blog.

With a bit of effort I discovered that the LSE US blog really does have links to the London School of Economics, and that the acronym didn’t stand for Lewandowsky’s Self Estimation. But there’s no email address, no editors, or indication of who is responsible for publishing this drivel. Unlike a normal blog, it’s just Out There, one of 61 blogs administered by one of the world’s most prestigious social science faculties, just publishing stuff, who knows what or why.

How do you point out to an organisation like the London School of Economics that they’ve published a load of shite based on a turd of a paper containing fabricated evidence plagiarised from a retracted paper which defamed people who pointed out the ludicrous errors of a previous paper, all three papers being the work of the same lying shit of a professor whose presence at a prestigious British university is due to a generous grant from the Royal Society?

And is it worth the bother?

Lewandowsky once co-edited a book of academic papers about our use of torture during the Iraq war. I have never done anything as courageous or worthwhile, and for that I salute him.

21 thoughts on “Lew’s Psychology (2)

  1. Which conspiracy theory prevented Arctic summer sea ice from disappearing by [insert year] as we were loudly informed many times by the supposed experts that it would do?


  2. When I read “A New Tool Can Help Us Determine Which Conspiracy Theories Are False and Which Might Be True.” I thought that the tool must be Lew himself. Obviously I was wrong and he has produced a tool that is obviously unable to give us any assistance whatsoever.


  3. If I’m reading this correctly, what Lew is saying is that his ‘tool’ for discriminating between batshit crazy conspiracy theories and conspiracy theories which might have some “truth value” is to concentrate upon the people who are actively communicating and spreading such ‘conspiracy theories’. But, essentially, a conspiracy theory is rarely if ever, demonstrably true or false, because the conspirators themselves have presumably been at great pains to hide the truth. A ‘conspiracy theory’ implies motive. It’s extremely difficult to actually prove motive in most cases. It’s not so difficult to demonstrate that information communicated as ‘factual’ is not factual or that said ‘facts’ communicated without caveats are contingent upon a whole host of dubious assumptions. Most scepticism (including most climate change scepticism) consists of the latter, i.e. the questioning of received wisdom conveyed as ‘science’ or ‘fact’ without the assumption of nefarious motive.

    For instance, Jennifer Marohasy questions the Australian BOM’s temperature record because, in 1998, they replaced their mercury thermometers with electronic probes and, contrary to best practice recommendations, they did not keep the old thermometers in place for a few years so as to ensure that the new measurements could reliably be calibrated with the historic record. BOM have consistently failed to justify this procedural irregularity. They’ve also failed to publicise the specifications of their custom-built probes. They also changed their measuring criteria from averaging over 1 minute to instantaneous spot-measurements in the recording of maximum temperatures. So JM is deeply sceptical, but she’s not a conspiracy theorist. She is also not promoting a ‘conspiracy theory’ which might have ‘truth value’ – she is just rationally and coherently questioning the official temperature record as provided by BOM. Lew would categorise her as a batshit crazy conspiracy theorist anyway just because she happened to be questioning the ‘official’ temperature record in Australia, irrespective of the validity of her questioning. That’s his ‘tool’ – he is in point of fact the tool, for uncritically engaging in ad hominem speculation presumably with the purpose of smearing those whose views he finds not to his liking.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Only babies and fascists produce such meaningless babble. German democrats fought this in the 1920s-30s and narrowly lost. Thus far, democratic forces in UK are fighting with feather dusters, plastic knives, and disunity. But maybe that’ll change?


  5. Those Lew quotes came from here:

    There’s lots more like that. Lew went off his trolley about Brexit. Tories are on their way to being a fascist cult, any suspensions of parliament will be made permanent as they were in Germany, etc etc etc. He’s a fruitloop.

    (Gosh. A publicly-funded fruitloop ranting about the state of the nation? Why am I not surprised?)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Right. The democratic forces, with the emphasis on “forces”, who turn up at your workplace or home to check your thinking ie actual thought police (I wish I was even joking).


  7. “Only babies and fascists produce such meaningless babble. And yet, this individual commands support of a large share of UK public. It’s all happening in broad daylight, but the little Englanders are jeering in their 1930s-Munich beer halls. But no one can say they didn’t know. ” …

    The measured
    of a scientist
    regarding objective
    weighing of
    the evidence?

    – Well no
    more like
    down the rabbit hole
    recursive fury –
    ‘I’ll be judge, I’ll be jury,’
    says cunning old Fury, ‘
    ‘ Evidence is,
    what I say it is.’

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Perhaps we should start a crowdfunder to pay for John Cook to do a version of his Cranky Uncle game in which a cranky uncle peddles conspiracy theories about Brexit. Here’s the original:


    The new one could be called Loonie Uncle Lew. There’d be a cartoon of Loonie Uncle Lew comparing the Tories to a ‘fascist cult’ or the current government to a ‘cabal of authoritarians’ or Brexit to the Reichstag fire or whatever and underneath there’d be four buttons to choose from. Perhaps: ‘Furtive Fallacy’, ‘Reductio ad Hitlerum’, ‘Ipse dixit’ and ‘Brexit Derangement Syndrome’. BDS would always be a correct answer. The more points you get, the loonier Loonie Uncle Lew becomes. The game ends when Loonie Uncle Lew shouts that Russian bots fixed the Brexit referendum at the behest of Princess Diana, who had been reincarnated as a fascist lizard in the ruins of the Twin Towers.


  9. Wrt analysing conspiracy, or I suspect anything else these days, Lew is wandering like a blind rooky around a forest of which once, albeit years back now, he had some appreciation regarding the winding paths therein. Hence, silly output like this. Ironically, political and ideological alignment are the most usual cause of such blindness. He fails to grasp, or maybe has forgotten, that the *same* instinctive mechanisms which can indeed lead to conspiracy theory and / or the rejection of correct knowledge, are also those which also lead to the eventual overthrow of oppressive culture, including cases in which the latter can hi-jack science. The mechanism evolution has bequeathed us as protection against such cultures going far too far, has a cost in false triggers and conspiracy theory. However, overall, the cost is still much less than giving those cultures carte blanche. Not even recognising this common root, means his tests couldn’t possibly work, couldn’t possibly distinguish between the apt and inapt triggering of this mechanism. With or without domain knowledge (which won’t always help, depending on the case), his tests contribute nothing. Very similar approach as testing for the presence of (misframed) ‘denialism’, by Diethelm and McKee. And absolutely useless for the same reason.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Re: Lewandowsky’s political psychosis.
    My bet is he has long applied the same quality of cognition to climate as he apparently does regarding Brexit.


  11. In the Times Higher, sociologists are upset that they get “only” about 500 million a year for their efforts to manipulate public opinion.


    The corresponding paper is titled “The misallocation of climate research funding” – which I suppose is true, though in the opposite sense to what the greedy little troughers mean.


    Liked by 1 person

  12. “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 or the last 10 years.”

    Gavin is a climate denier…
    “What exactly do we mean by SAT?
    A. I doubt that there is a general agreement how to answer this question. Even at the same location, the temperature near the ground may be very different from the temperature 5 ft above the ground and different again from 10 ft or 50 ft above the ground.

    To measure SAT we have to agree on what it is and, as far as I know, no such standard has been suggested or generally adopted.

    Q. What SAT do the local media report?
    A. The media report the reading of 1 particular thermometer of a nearby weather station. This temperature may be very different from the true SAT even at that location and has certainly nothing to do with the true regional SAT. To measure the true regional SAT, we would have to use many 50 ft stacks of thermometers distributed evenly over the whole region, an obvious practical impossibility.

    Q. If the reported SATs are not the true SATs, why are they still useful?
    A. The reported temperature is truly meaningful only to a person who happens to visit the weather station at the precise moment when the reported temperature is measured, in other words, to nobody.

    Q. If SATs cannot be measured, how are SAT maps created?
    A. This can only be done with the help of computer models, the same models that are used to create the daily weather forecasts. We may start out the model with the few observed data that are available and fill in the rest with guesses (also called extrapolations) and then let the model run long enough so that the initial guesses no longer matter, but not too long in order to avoid that the inaccuracies of the model become relevant.

    What do I do if I need absolute SATs, not anomalies?
    A. In 99.9% of the cases you’ll find that anomalies are exactly what you need, not absolute temperatures. In the remaining cases, you have to pick one of the available climatologies and add the anomalies (with respect to the proper base period) to it. For the global mean, the most trusted models produce a value of roughly 14°C, i.e. 57.2°F, but it may easily be anywhere between 56 and 58°F (13.3 -14.4C) and regionally, let alone locally, the situation is even worse.”


  13. Professor Lewandowsky is giving a talk in Denmark next week at a conference about ‘Research on Online Political Hostility’.


    Perhaps he’ll be explaining why he has called the British government and the people who voted for it Nazis, a fascist cult, white nationalists, etc.

    And perhaps he’ll share the following search term so that others can use it as a template when doing research on online political hostility:


    (Prolly not. I think he’s going to be regurgitating SkS stuff.)


  14. Sovacool and Overland! (no it’s not our new conspiratorial code, it’s the names of the authors of the paper linked by Paul above.

    They say:

    Analysis by scholars from the University of Sussex and the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs of funding awarded globally over the past three decades found that just $4.6 billion (£3.5 billion) was spent on climate change research in the social sciences and humanities, compared with $40 billion that went to the natural and physical sciences.
    However, much of this funding went towards studies unrelated to mitigating climate change – such as how to manage extreme weather events or how historic climate change affected ancient civilisations, according to a paper published recently in the journal Energy Research & Social Science. Funding for social science-focused research into how energy use might be reduced by changing human behaviour accounted for just $393 million, 5.2 per cent of the total, the study estimates.

    £3.5 billion to sociologists for touting politicians’ plans for winning the green vote. No wonder the Conversation doesn’t like us queering their pitch.

    And the authors complain that most of it went on researching how to manage extreme weather events – you know – how to actually save lives lost since time immemorial in floods, droughts, etc. And only a measly third of a billion on how to persuade us to switch off the lights and eat our toast a lighter shade of brown.

    If the Russians could swing a US election with $300,000 of ads on Facebook, surely the sociologists could do better with a thousand times as much? Here’s a hint: I estimate there’s only about thirty thousand active climate deniers on the internet. How about bunging $10,000 dollars to each of us to shut us up?


  15. For those of you haven’t read Lew’s defence of science against the forces of hate and darkness – it’s chapter 10 in Joe Uscinski’s useful book

    (fourteen dollars on Kindle.) This is the source of the Lew article I’m criticising above, though I can’t quote it at length, because Kindle apparently won’t let me download the book I’ve bought, but only consult it on the internet (Like the old British Museum rule for books in their “restricted access” section, which could only be consulted in the presence of a librarian.) Anyone know a way round this?

    Of the four examples of conspiracy theorisation Lew gives in his ‘”New Tool” article, three are about climate, and the fourth is about the Oklahoma bombing, which Lew formulates thus:

    For example, the fact that Timothy McVeigh fled the scene of the Oklahoma City bombing in a car without license plates is interpreted as proof of his innocence and that he was framed by federal agents.”

    But the conspiratorial proposition in the original survey for the Moon Hoax paper was: “The Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols did not act alone but rather received
    assistance from neo-Nazi groups.” And according to Wiki, four people were convicted of the bombing. So a “non-conspiratorial” response to the survey question would be false, and the survey respondent and future Lewandowsky co-author John Cook who emailed the Survey administrator Lewandowsky saying that he found it difficult to give his opinion on this question (and without a response, he couldn’t continue the survey, and Lew would have been one respondent short) was right to be dubitative.

    Think about this. A professor conducting a survey on a controversial subject enters into an email correspondence with an acquaintance who promised to publicise his survey on his blog (but didn’t, and subsequently lied about it to the professor, the lie being repeated in the paper.) The acquaintance discusses his response to the survey, and the professor subsequently hires him as co-author on a paper discussing responses to the paper reporting on the survey (to which the co-author was a respondent.)
    In marketing, a researcher who let an acquaintance respond to a market research survey, and then hired him to report on that survey, would be sacked.

    It’s like the yukky slime in the Petri dish chatting with Alexander Fleming about the nature of his findings. Enlightening? Maybe. Ethical? Not.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. @paul – your link header/title has an odd date? – tps://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214629619309119
    Energy Research & Social Science
    Volume 62, April 2020, 101349

    anyway from the Abstract – “Limiting global warming to 1.5°C will require rapid and deep alteration of attitudes, norms, incentives, and politics. Some of the key climate-change and energy transition puzzles are therefore in the realm of the social sciences.”

    can’t wait for the new plan social sciences have to implement this – “rapid and deep alteration of attitudes, norms, incentives, and politics” puzzle solver.


  17. FYI: George Soros is brought into the discussion because he funds a lot of left wing pressure groups including Green groups. As a result he gets mentioned negatively by a lot of the people who oppose those groups. On top of this, he also gets criticised by a lot of neo-nazi groups, because of his Jewish origin. This gives rise to the idea that anyone who criticises him can only be motivated by antisemitism.


  18. @BethTheSerf

    No disagreement from me. I was just responding to:

    On George Soros, I think Lew is joking, but what about? And how would you tell? And why Soros? What is Lew getting at?

    The irony is that much of the left has virtually wed itself to the socialism of fools. I wonder if George will ever understand the company he chooses to fund.

    Liked by 1 person

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