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Lewandowsky’s Progress

David Hume awoke Kant from his “dogmatic slumber” when the latter was in his seventies. John Ridgway has the same effect on me. Together we could go far. 

ClimateDenierRoundup, in their regular spot at Daily Kos rounding up us climate deniers, reveal that:

“..in the forthcoming volume of the Annual Review of Public Health […]disinformation expert Stephan Lewandowsky lays out how disinformation has distorted the climate conversation, and what can be done about it. Lewandwosky’s [sic] piece follows two others in the last volume of the Annual Review of Public Health, in which researchers explored how the internet has led to a blossoming of misinformation, and documented how the Trump administration has deregulated and de…um…science’d the EPA.”

The forthcoming paper, written September 16th 2020, can be read here. It’s rather dull, but interesting; for reasons I’ll give in a minute.

Meanwhile, the Bristol Post reports that:

Covid-denial is creeping from the fringes into the mainstream.. Some 20 per cent of people in England believe the virus is a hoax, 40 per cent think it is an attempt by the powerful to “gain control” and 60 per cent feel the Government is misleading the public about the cause.

What is happening in the minds of these people, and how dangerous are their theories? We asked Prof Stephan Lewandowsky, a cognitive psychology expert at the University of Bristol.

“Any pandemic will give rise to conspiracy theories,” Prof Lewandowsky said. “It has done so for the last 500 years, as far as we know – every time… We got it when Princess Diana died in an accident – it happens after any traumatic event that makes people feel they don’t have full control over their lives. It is an ironic psychological process that if you can blame specific people for things that go wrong in the world, it gives you greater comfort, though this isn’t the case for everyone. People like having enemies, which to me sounds strange, but for some people it reduces uncertainty. The moment you can blame someone, you can imagine the world would be a better place if you got rid of these bad people. That, for some people, is easier to accept than random events. Some bat sneezed in China and now we’re locked down. For some people, it’s easier to think Bill Gates is trying to implant microchips in our heads and that’s why we have to stay home. The fact Princess Diana died because of some drink-driving accident is kind of difficult to accept because it’s so random.”

There’s a lot more to the article, including about forty paragraphs quoting Professor Lewandowsky saying things like:

“There are also some politicians who are actually helping to spread the conspiracy theories. Donald Trump is a master of giving ‘nudge nudge, wink wink’ support to them, and then denying it. The US President claimed in July the “deep state” was delaying the coronavirus vaccine until after the presidential election. He also said he was confident the virus originated in a Chinese lab, despite his own intelligence service finding no evidence of this.”

The US intelligence service has also found no evidence that Cliscep is financed by Gasprom, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true, does it?

Nudge nudge wink wink. 

Of course princesses die in drink-driving accidents all the time, but not always on the very day they’re flying off to marry an Egyptian millionaire and bring up the heir to the throne as a Moslem. 

Not that there’s anything wrong with the heir to the throne (and future head of the Church of England) being a Moslem of course, just so long as he isn’t a Catholic. 

Ever one for hedging his bets, Lewandowsky goes in for some conspiracy theorising of his own on the subject of Covid vaccinations in an article on the Cornell Alliance of Science blog: Speed of COVID vaccine research likely to bolster conspiracy theories:”

John Cook, a professor at George Mason University and co-author of The Conspiracy Theory Handbook, called the anti-vaccine sentiment’s overlap with the pandemic “probably one of the biggest questions that society is facing right now.” He said one of the most effective ways to reduce the spread of conspiracy theories is through what he calls “inoculation,” or pre-bunking rather than debunking. […]

Stephan Lewandowsky, Cook’s Conspiracy Theory Handbook co-author, agreed that people are more likely to resist misinformation if you can tell them in advance how they might be misled or manipulated. But he said a larger societal problem drives the type of distrust and conspiratorial thinking that can lead a significant part of the populace to reject a vaccine.

“What we really need to focus on is the global context, the attention economy and the information landscape that we’re all exposed to,” Lewandowsky, a psychology professor at the University of Bristol, said.

“Our information diet in the Western world is basically run by algorithms that are generating profit for a few dozen people in Silicon Valley,” he added. “We know very little about how these algorithms work, so we’re living in an environment where we don’t have any democratic control over something that is really important.”

Hang on, isn’t one of those “few dozen people” Bill Gates, who conspiracy theorists think is planting microchips in our heads? Or is it undemocratic algorithms in our environment? Whose side are you on Stephan?

Finally (for now) the Scottish paper “the National” reports that:

A third webinar in a series launched by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) to look at the “wicked challenges” facing the planet takes place on Wednesday, October 7. “Fake news: The challenges of communicating environmental and climate change research” will feature presentations by Tracey Brown, director of the charity Sense about Science, and Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, chair of Cognitive Psychology at the School of Psychological Science at the University of Bristol.

Fake news; misinformation; conspiracy theories; attitudes to Covid vaccines; climate change denial: Lewandowsky is expert on them all. One day we shall emerge from this mess, and Questions Will Be Asked. And who better to answer them than Professor Lewandowsky? He’s already been called as an expert witness to a parliamentary committee on Fake News. How long before he’s named High Commissar for the Governmental Office for the Suppression of Fake News – FakOff?

But don’t be fooled by the sage homespun comments he imparts to any news medium that will listen. Behind and below the folk wisdom of his comments in the media lies a bedrock of peer reviewed science. See, for example, the bibliography of the article in the Annual Review of Public Health cited by the Daily Kos above, which contains no less than 21 papers authored by – Professor Lewandowsky, including “NASA faked the Moon Landing..” in which Our Author bases his principal finding on the evidence of three out of 1100 respondents, and “Recurrent Fury” – possibly the only paper in the history of peer reviewed science to be based entirely on data which the author boasts of having made up himself.

To say that our Expert has feet of clay is unfair to the hydrous aluminium phyllosilicates that have provided us with pots that have enabled man to express his artistic genius for thousands of years. Our Author’s scientific expertise is based foursquare on pure shit. Spread the word.

15 thoughts on “Lewandowsky’s Progress

  1. Speaking of Princess Di:

    My favourite newspaper headline that never was: “Dodi Dies, Di Ditto”

    One can imagine that a headline writer actually came up with this one, but the editor said “Nah, best not”.

    I’ll come up with a more serious comment, Geoff, when I’ve had more time to think.

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  2. Come on Geoff, if a tenured professor in a regional British university believes his scientific buddies can confidently predict a climate in 80 years time, determining my next-door neighbours reaction to a new-fangled Covid 19 vaccine in a few months should be a right doddle and worth at least two A1 class research papers.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Until the likes of Lewandowsky and Ehrlich and the other fear mongering grifters are thoroughly repudiated, we will continue the drift into the dark ages we are seemingly committed to.

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  4. Lewandowsky speaks of the ‘attention economy’. Well he should know all about that since public attention seems to be the main product of his industry. One is reminded of the philosophical argument regarding the tree that falls in the woods. If there were to be no one to hear him, would he still be an expert? In fact, is it that he spends so much time playing the part that makes him an expert? To my mind his only expertise seems to be in being an expert.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “To my mind his only expertise seems to be in being an expert.”

    Some of his earlier work, before he jumped off the deep end into the climate domain, is pretty reasonable stuff. It’s also pretty mainstream, which is to say not controversial. Perhaps that didn’t generate enough attention 😉 Anyhow, it is rather handy for helping to support the case that cultural behaviours dominate the climate domain; I’ve used it several times.

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  6. “The US intelligence service has also found no evidence that Cliscep is financed by Gasprom, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true, does it?”

    I wish they’d disburse some evidence my way.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Mike,

    Off topic, but I note that you have been having some fun over at ATTP. If it is any consolation, I was able to comprehend that the IPCC definition of ‘disaster’ only includes ‘material, economic and environmental effects’ insofar as they impact ‘critical human needs’. Therefore, whilst material, economic and environmental metrics may be of interest, it is the metric that measures a failure to meet critical human needs that is fundamental. Of course, one can quibble over what ‘critical’ means in the context of human needs, but the obvious interpretation is to treat this is a health and safety issue. Consequently, the KSI (killed and seriously injured) metric is the most germane, as long as health and physical injury are both taken into account.

    This is not a question of choosing narratives, it is a case of English comprehension and an appreciation of the importance of determiners such as ‘that’ and adjectives such as ‘critical’.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. “his only expertise seems to be in being an expert.”

    What more do you need (other than peer review by other experts, of course?)

    Rhetorical question. The answer is: friends in the media which = status, credibility. Lewndowsky has had his ups (Royal Society Medal, testimony before a Parliamentary Committee, article with Uscinski in the Oxford University Press Climate Change Encyclopaedia) and his downs (retraction of his Fury paper; absence from the Conversation, Guardian, etc.; lack of citations from the academic Conspiracy Theory juggernaut crowd.) His coming gig at Scotland’s Rural College does rather suggest a one hit wonder touring village halls in search of that buzz of fifteen minute fame. But we shall see.

    Events are in his favour. Governments are using the conspiracy theory accusation to stifle all opposition to their policies. The Covid event and the coming debate over vaccines will let him play the science card. The likely coming US election disaster will also allow him space to display his expertise on fake news.

    My obsession with Lewandowsky is largely personal. When psychologist Adam Corner (with whom I’d previously had a well-publicised joust) pushed his paper and linked to it at the Guardian, I saw an opportunity to use an area of expertise (in survey technique) to attack the beast. It was largely Cliscep personnel (me, Barry Woods, ManicBeanCounter, Paul Matthews and others) who provoked him into his further peer reviewed weirdnesses and his surrealist blogs at ShapingTomorrowsWorld, and kept up the attack wherever he reared his ugly head. Coverage at the big sceptic sites like Jo Nova, WattsUpWithThat and BishopHill ensured that hundreds of thousands of sceptics would keep him in their sights, but I’m convinced that it was commenting by Barry and me and a quite small number of obsessive Lewphobes that persuaded the climate commentariat that he was not kosher. I treasure a comment at the Conversation after Barry and I had filled in a Scottish philosophy professor on the true nature of the Con’s climate psychology expert: “Oh, I see.”

    If 97% of climate scientists can be persuaded to utter those three little words, we’ll have won.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. Geoff,

    What else indeed.

    Part of my texpertise includes the assessment of practitioner competence on safety related projects (apologies once more to Steven Mosher for not attaching my independently attested CV). This entailed the use of IEE guidelines for the performance of evidence-led assessments. As you might expect, the required evidence would include relevant credentials, experience and a track record of success. For simplicity, four levels of competence would usually suffice: Expert, Practitioner, Supervised Practitioner and Novice. Based upon my investigations into the competence of the Uncertainty Handbook’s four authors, I would place two at the Supervised Practitioner level and leave the other two at Novice. Yet they claim themselves to be experts, with an expertise endorsed by other (unnamed) experts. And this was always the difficulty with the Expert level when making competency assessments. Too often the expert would be self-assessed because there was no-one around with the required expertise to judge them. If there were, then they wouldn’t be so much an expert after all. I remember writing an article for the SCSC Newsletter on this difficulty, in which I proposed that the most important skill an expert needs is the ability to convince others that they are an expert. It’s a real problem when it comes to developing safety cases.

    Credibility is only half the battle. What is also needed is gullibility.

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  10. Geoff. Do you have a link to that Scottish professor quote ?

    My personal favourite was when a Bristol academic told me that at Bristol, they (and colleagues) found Prof Lewandoesky.. odd and slightly worrying.

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  11. Found it. It’s towards the end of comments at
    https://theconversation.com/why-climate-uncertainty-is-no-excuse-for-doing-nothing-32924
    and it involves Brad and me, though you’re in on the beginning of the Conversation

    Hugh McLachlan
    Professor Emeritus of Applied Philosophy, Glasgow Caledonian University
    In reply to Geoff Chambers
    Many thanks, Geoff and Brad. This makes things much clearer for me.
    6 years ago

    Hugh McLachlan
    Professor Emeritus of Applied Philosophy, Glasgow Caledonian University
    In reply to Brad Keyes
    Many thanks, Geoff and Brad. This makes things much clearer for me.

    Yes, he really said it twice

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I have often wondered why the certainty about global warming and why the always-forecast-but-never-transpiring disaster scenarios don’t have an impact on the general public that should naturally occur when people keep getting forecasts wrong. Not only that a cursory glance at the climate’s history indicates continuous swings between warming and cooling. Yet here we are with seemingly intelligent people, and indeed, scientists, who should not be “seemingly” intelligent, seriously believing that they can tell us what the climate will be like 100 years from now. Surely Richard Betts, a decent man if ever there was one, can look at the historical records and see the previous eight warm periods in the Holocene, and wonder whether this CO2 malarky might be a tad over the top. Well I might have stumbled onto the solution in this paper:

    Knowledge Does Not Protect Against Illusory Truth,

    “In daily life, we frequently encounter false claims in the form of consumer advertisements, political propaganda, and rumours. Repetition may be one way that insidious misconceptions, such as the belief that vitamin C prevents the common cold, enter our knowledge base. Research on the illusory truth effect demonstrates that repeated statements are easier to process, and subsequently perceived to be more truthful, than new statements. The prevailing assumption in the literature has been that knowledge constrains this effect (i.e., repeating the statement “The Atlantic Ocean is the largest ocean on Earth” will not make you believe it). We tested this assumption using both normed estimates of knowledge and individuals’ demonstrated knowledge on a post experimental knowledge check (Experiment 1). Contrary to prior suppositions, illusory truth effects occurred even when participants knew better. Multinomial modelling demonstrated that participants sometimes rely on fluency even if knowledge is also available to them (Experiment 2). Thus, participants demonstrated knowledge neglect, or the failure to rely on stored knowledge, in the face of fluent processing experiences.”

    Lisa K. Fazio Vanderbilt University, B. Keith Payne, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Nadia M. Brashier, Duke University Elizabeth J. Marsh, Duke University

    Journal of Experimental Psychology: General © 2015 American Psychological Association 2015, Vol. 144, No. 5, 993–1002

    Worth a read, and explains why people who have not looked into the AGW in any detailer indeed at all, can consider those who have and have doubts about it “deniers”.

    It also explains to me why the Democrats – the party of the KKK – are regarded by large numbers of people in the UK as the party that abolished slavery, and the Republicans, who were formed as a party with the specific intention of abolishing slavery are seen as right wing, racist, fanatics.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Thanks Gerry. It took a few hours to dig you out of moderation, sorry. I edited your comment as I suppressed the other incomplete earlier one, to make things simpler! I’m sure others will find this interesting. Part of the purpose of my comment now is to draw attention to it in ‘New Comments’.

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  14. Gerry,

    As well as Illusory Truth, there is also the Continued Influence Effect and the Availability Cascade to consider. These and other cognitive biases are a staple of psychologists trying to explain the popularity of certain belief systems. So-called ‘climate denial’ is a particular favourite, but rarely do these same psychologists pause to consider how the same biases can serve to bolster the ‘alarmist’ mind-set; the latter is assumed to be a rational position supported by the truth.

    Here is another paper that you may or may not have seen, and which you may find of interest:

    Click to access who-believes-shares-misinformation.pdf

    Thankfully, it doesn’t seem to have an agenda, although it does cite the work of those in the field who do, e.g. Lewandowsky. Never mind, at least it is prepared to accept the universality of such biases.

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