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« The futile gesture of Earth Hour | Main | Bad to worse »
Friday
Mar222013

Climategate: the role of the social sciences

A new paper in Climatic Change looks at Climategate and wonders whether upholders of the IPCC consensus haven't been shooting themselves in the foot. It's paywalled, so I will quote relatively extensively.

'Climategate: the role of the social sciences', by Myanna Lahsen of the Brazilian Institute for Space Research, opens with an absolute howler

...there was a well-organized PR campaign ready to go at the time the emails were released (Pearce 2010a, 180), aimed at shaping public perceptions of ACC and undermine efforts to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases. 

Following the citation to its source one finds Pearce quoting Michael Mann as saying that there appeared to have been a well orchestrated PR campaign. Thus one moves from a statement about appearances (and from a scientist who enjoys a reputation, even among his supporters, for making wild unsubstantiated statements) to a statement of certainty. Thus myths are propagated; has anyone ever presented any evidence of a "well-organized PR campaign"?

This shambles aside, the paper still has some interesting things to say, although one has to wade through the double whammy of the contorted language favoured by many social scientists and the need for the author to present an acceptable front on AGW by constant reference to "contrarians" and "backlash scientists". Notably, however, Lahsen draws the line at "denier" and "denialist", noting that these terms

are used unreflexively by many social scientists, [to] foreclose the facts and – together with the pervasive tendency to collapse contrarianism and skepticism – erase a space for legitimate questioning of the consensus position...

Oreskes and Conway are also criticised. Their work, while "carefully researched" also "illustrates current scholarly literature’s avoidance of critical analysis of the scientific mainstream"; its tendency to divide the climate world into two competing camps obscures dissenting views within the mainstream and "space for legitimate doubt and questioning outside of the IPCC consensus position". Note the recognition of legitimate doubt - a step forward I feel.

The curious need to badmouth dissenters while recognising the failings of the upholders is stark at the start of the conclusions section:

Advocates of concern about [AGW] commonly attribute instances of weakened public faith in science, and in the IPCC, to the backlash coalition. The premise is that the public is duped by backlash actors. Certainly, the backlash involves deep and problematic deception and manipulations that undermine democratic processes and informed decision-making. But the US public is right to believe that scientific experts still are arguing about ACC in terms of its likely extent and impacts. They are even smart to believe that, because they see beyond what they are being told by powerful and prestigious scientists and analysts; they may rightly perceive logical inconsistency when advocates of concern, including some of the authors discussed  above, that scientific research always involves doubt, that scientists by nature are inclined to question, that scientific findings involve evidence the details of which remain unclear and can be falsified by new discoveries and, on the other hand, suggest that the science is settled and that scientists all agree about [AGW] – as if dissent does not exist, also outside of the small faction of contrarians.

This is undoubtedly correct. Many sceptics come to scepticism precisely because messages of consensus are so obviously dishonest when applied to a system as complex and as ill-understood as the climate.

Lahsen goes on to suggest a way out of climate science's mess:

An overarching strategic decision for climate-concerned scientists and scholars is whether to continue the long-standing foreclosure of facts or dare to show the social underpinnings of the production and use of climate science upholding concern about ACC. I argue that the latter is needed, and that it can serve to create space and warranted legitimacy for questioning of (aspects of) the science. Ironically, foreclosure of facts and idealization of IPCC science heighten vulnerability to contrarian attacks, and these representational practices increase  public distrust when chinks in the armor are revealed.

Amen to that.

 

 

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Reader Comments (81)

Notably, however, Lahsen draws the line at "denier" and "denialist", noting that these terms "are used unreflexively by many social scientists, [to] foreclose the facts and – together with the pervasive tendency to collapse contrarianism and skepticism – erase a space for legitimate questioning of the consensus position..."

Wow. I know this is going to sound weird but I think we just won.

Mar 22, 2013 at 9:49 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

" Certainly, the backlash involves deep and problematic deception and manipulations that undermine democratic processes and informed decision-making."

Is this in the author's voice or carried on from the previous idea? Does he believe the deception and manipulation? From sceptics? Has he an example? How does arguing one's corner undermine democracy?

Mar 22, 2013 at 9:51 AM | Registered Commenterrhoda

Your Grace

I admire your tenacity in reading through this tedious waffle.

Do you know if there will be a film version with English subtitles?

Mar 22, 2013 at 9:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

"...deep and problematic deception and manipulations..."

This makes me wonder: if pressed could the author come up with any deep deception or manipulation by any sceptic with a wide enough following to influence the debate in the way claimed?

It is easy to find such deception and manipulation among those in the mainstream claiming consensus in favour of the CAGW hypothesis (hiding the decline; the recent Marcott paper, Gleick's admitted and apparent malfeasance, attacks on even-handed journal editors and so on). Yet I can think of no such deception not manipulation by any sceptic, nor even any case for one without looking at a disagreement and simply believing the assertions of one side that the other is dishonest rather than having a reasoned argument to answer, right or wrong.

Perhaps like "the debate is over" (before it has begun), we are expected to accept the climate community's claims before their respondents should not be heard, because what the climate community is saying is that the other side should not be heard, and the climate community must be believed because the other side must not be heard - rather begging the question, I feel.

Mar 22, 2013 at 10:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterDoubting Rich

Shorter Lahsen

Dear Climatologists

The public aren't stupid. If you go around acting like shysters with something to hide, they will draw their own conclusions about your integrity and your 'science'.

Mar 22, 2013 at 10:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

I just made this comment at Jo Nova re the ludicrous labelling of Richard Betts by Cook and Lewandowsky then mosied over here to see what was going on in this veritable and virtual cathedral of climate sense and 'conversation':

'Richard Betts is from the civil and rational (apart from his faith in GCMs!) end of the climate alarm spectrum, whereas Loopy and Cook are further right towards the unhinged end. We poor ‘bemused ones’ (aka ‘sceptics’)have to tackle the whole range of them since each band has had some influence. If they start to fight amongst themselves, and apply some of their abuse to one another, that may make progress to the marginalisation of them all a little faster?'

Now the opaque language of the sociologist (?) quoted above is tiresome, but it does seem she is thinking for herself, and that puts her towards the rational end. But at the same time, getting sociologists on board may help speed up my dreamed of (fantasised?) marginalisation of the recent alarm over human influence on global climate. By that I mean, it is so weakly-based, it deserves to remain in the cloisters of the church, the groves of the academy, and the literature of sociology. There it can provide endless scope for speculation and pontification, and who knows, one day, as Richard B seems genuinely to believe, something useful may emerge from it that will actually help and not hinder humanity in addressing problems and opportunities, including those presented by climate variation. But instead, what a psychological and economic burden it has landed us with thanks to politicians and financiers being persuaded of the opportunities the alarm has presented them with.

Mar 22, 2013 at 10:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

ironically even this new paper is full of conspiracy theorism. Nevermind.

Mar 22, 2013 at 10:23 AM | Registered Commenteromnologos

LA,

That's a far better abstract than the official one, which begins thus:

As has been widely documented, lavishly funded media campaigns by political and financial elites and corporations with vested interests against climate policy are a central instigator of the climate backlash and a threat to democratic processes...

Sorry, this is utter drivel. The democratic process has been corrupted in precisely the opposite direction to that claimed by the author by endless taxpayer-funded media campaigns and complete domination of our national broadcaster. I'm not aware of any 'lavish' campaigns or corporately-funded challenges to this monolith in the UK - have I missed something?

Mar 22, 2013 at 10:27 AM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor

Latimer: That'll do nicely.

Omnologos: The neologism conspiracism can be useful. But a very good point. And I do mind. Once the worst demonisation has ceased let's finger every culprit and expose the underlying falsehood.

Mar 22, 2013 at 10:30 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

I note the use of the acronym ACC instead of AGW. I guess they will have to move on to ACD, which I have not yet seen despite 'climate disruption' now being the commonly used phrase!

Mar 22, 2013 at 10:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterIan E

Indeed, there isn't any reference to substantiate the 'deceptions and manipulations' claim at the beginning of the conclusion. Overall, the paper provides a good summary of some of the sociological arguments made re consensus in climate science. One might hypothesise that these arguments have been under-published in the past. See here: http://klimazwiebel.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/interview-reiner-grundmann.html Good to see this published in Climatic Change rather than a strictly sociological journal.

@Richard Drake - I made a similar point here, trying to fisk 'denier' in terms of 'what is actually being denied?' - http://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/makingsciencepublic/2013/03/09/are-they-really-climate-deniers-closing-down-debate-in-science-and-politics/

Mar 22, 2013 at 10:39 AM | Registered Commenter@warrenpearce

That looks very interesting and helpful, Warren, thank you for drawing it to my attention. (And welcome to Bishop Hill, if you've not contributed before. Or if you have :))

Mar 22, 2013 at 10:49 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

'Certainly, the backlash involves deep and problematic deception and manipulations that undermine democratic processes and informed decision-making.'

There should therefore be no issues in telling us what these are , unless there is a 'there was a well-organized PR campaign ready' to stop him , so did she actual define them complete with proof or does she 'know' there true and try and BS his way through?

Mar 22, 2013 at 10:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

I am so glad you put this up. The UN climate change documents and Agenda 21 are just full of statements that the term "science" includes both the natural and social sciences. They want to strip away the cause and effect relationships that do exist in the natural sciences and then try to use the social sciences, especially education, to try to make people predictable because they are responding from emotion. Without a store of accurate facts or proper interpretations. Literally the systems thinkers talk in terms of supplying the conceptual lenses that will serve as the metaphors for falsely interpreting everyday life. In order to gain predictable responses.

I wrote this http://www.invisibleserfscollar.com/nothing-as-practical-as-a-good-theory-for-gaining-access-to-action-research/ quoting from Kurt Lewin and Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens and Paul Ehrlich to explain that these theories do not need to be true. With the government monopolies over education that gets at minds and regulate and award grant funding, useful theories to change the individual oriented, free market status quo where it still exists are all that is needed. False theories and beliefs and toxic values are still terribly useful to a statist seeking to influence the masses.

Anthony Giddens says in that post that it does not matter if CAGW is not true, it is still designed to gain the structural changes-socially, politically, and economically--that are the real end games.

There's a maxim in social science that all skeptics should remember because it is a cardinal operating principle--"If theories are believed, then they are consequential." We need to keep pointing out the false facts that do not fit with the theories. But we also need to remember false facts are merely annoyances that risk disclosure to a social scientist looking for cover while seeking radical, likely to be unpopular if accurately understood, structural transformations of the West.

Mar 22, 2013 at 10:53 AM | Registered Commenteresquirerobin

The problem is a simple one - and not confined to Climate Change.

Briefly, this is a problem caused by ACTIVISM.

A scientist, when told of a problem in his theory, will ask for more details and look to see what is wrong. An activist, on the other hand, will refuse to think that anything could be wrong, and berate you for not believing.

Politicians nowadays do not seem to consider issues dispassionately. Instead, they present as activists - believing that some course or other is good, even when it is collapsing around them. The EURO disaster in Europe is entirely the fault of blinded euro activists.

It's a cultural thing. We're stuck with it. Balance, integrity and knowledge have gone out of the window, along with the classical education system which taught then, and passion is the new arbiter of what is good. Look at the change in TV announcers from heavyweight avuncular figures to boppy youths....

Mar 22, 2013 at 10:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

@Latimer - I agree. Forcing someone to read this babble would be a cruel and unusual punishment.

They write in riddles. Have you heard of the various chomsky-bots? Computer programs that generate paragraphs of grammatically correct waffle with no meaning - just like the first Chomsky Bot himself.

Mar 22, 2013 at 11:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

They are even smart to believe that, because they see beyond what they are being told by powerful and prestigious scientists and analysts; they may rightly perceive logical inconsistency when advocates of concern, including some of the authors discussed above, that scientific research always involves doubt, that scientists by nature are inclined to question, that scientific findings involve evidence the details of which remain unclear and can be falsified by new discoveries and, on the other hand, suggest that the science is settled and that scientists all agree about [AGW] – as if dissent does not exist, also outside of the small faction of contrarians.

Amazing. I just ran this through my word processor and got a word count of 104 for one sentence. I mentioned this to the memsahib en passant and she laughed. Her comment: "social scientists use language to confuse rather than illuminate". It seems in Japan things are no different from the west.

I don't understand that sentence either.

Mar 22, 2013 at 11:18 AM | Registered CommenterHector Pascal

Sociology was a key component of Tyndall Centre objectives when it was set up in 2000 by Mike Hulme, see "GLOBAL WARMING: THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF A QUASI-REALITY?" - Journal Energy & Environment, Publisher Multi Science Publishing ISSN 0958-305X

Issue Volume 18, Number 6 / November 2007 Pages 805-813

The title comes from a Tyndall Working Paper: "The Social Simulation of the Public Perception of Weather Events and their Effect upon the Development of Belief in Anthropogenic Climate Change", described as "presenting a quantitative dynamic simulation model of the social construction of a quasi-reality, a reality thus far defined by expert knowledge and surrounded by uncertainty."

Reprint at http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/reprint/social_construction.html
Original Paper at http://multi-science.metapress.com/content/v84152h64m5r36t5/

Mar 22, 2013 at 11:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterDennis Ambler

'Advocates of concern about [AGW] commonly attribute instances of weakened public faith in science, and in the IPCC, to the backlash coalition.'

Ooh matron. Can I be a member of the backlash coalition please?

Mar 22, 2013 at 11:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterBloke down the pub

The thing I find interesting is that the two possible courses of action illustrate how the alarmists are between a rock and a hot place. They can continue to stonewall with the recognition that the public is aware of their tactics and losing faith. Or they can open up with their own version of glasnost (as the author suggests), which we know will expose just how shallow the evidence for CAGW is and further erode confidence. Glasnost is indeed the best course of action, but only if you have the best answer. Just ask the CCCP Central Committee about that. Wouldn't wanna be ya.

Mar 22, 2013 at 11:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterWill Delson

I've said this before on my comments to various blog posts on here over the years. The promotion of AGW by the UN, IPCC and governments has little to do with science and vastly more to do with social issues and the desire to see some form of redistribution of wealth. One only has to look back at the comments of then PM, Gordon Brown at Copenhagen where he said the west owed a "carbon debt" to the third world and western governments should stump up 100 Billion in aid. Just a couple of years earlier when chancellor he was promoting the cause of Africa suggesting that ...er....western government should stump up Billions in aid - a coincidence ?

Just about every "charity" has used AGW to promote some form of social and political change. I have met some of the people involved and have listened to their total ignorance and twisted logic on the subject. Quite staggering.

Mar 22, 2013 at 11:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterMactheknife

The curious need to badmouth dissenters..

I don't find the need to badmouth dissenters at all curious; it is part of the basic alarmist mindset.

There's is principally an emotional rather than rational stance, and they are heavily emotionally invested in it.

Hence, anyone who opposes their position threatens their emotional well-being, and the automatic defence mechanism is to lash out, to vilify and demonize, as a means of deflecting the threat.

I would be surprised if it were any other way.

Mar 22, 2013 at 11:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

I'm coming around to ACP. Anthropogenic Climate Perturbation.

Mar 22, 2013 at 12:16 PM | Registered Commenterjferguson

The otherwise good work is undermined by carrying water for the canard that skeptics have been undermining democracy.
As any study of history shows, it is the true believers of any popular movement who act to undermine democracy and the rule of law.
It has been AGW opinion leaders who have called for the suspension of democracy, not the skeptics.

Mar 22, 2013 at 12:17 PM | Unregistered Commenterlurker, passing through laughing

The way I see the differences between the natural sciences and the social sciences is this:

The object of the natural sciences is our common experience (some people would say '...of independent things beyond our senses of them' but let's agree that they are experiences common, similar, comparable and compared).

In contrast, the object of the social and psychological sciences are social and psychological facts. These are, for example, other folks beliefs and interpretations of their experiences and of the expressed beliefs of others upon their experiences, fantasies etc. It's not so straight forward! These 'social facts' are 2nd order (and higher orders) in the sense that, at the most basic, a social scientist operates at the level of his/her experience of (other peoples) experiences.

In the 1960s and 1970s the social sciences got skeptical of natural scientific knowledge in the first place because they didn't understand what it was, and also, and as a consequence, they became overconfident and expansionist. This is how we soon got to 'the social construction of reality.' This is how you got to 'essentialist' as the prerogative term for those feminist theorists who dare propose that sexuality had a biological (natural) foundation. This is how you got post-modernist skepticism, where every attempt to establish an natural fact ends in a recursive loop where there are no real natural facts and all is belief (or and endless string of signs signifying signs signifying...).

What this tended to lead to was an extreme skepticism where nothing could be stated as true. There was simply no ground upon which to make true statements about nature or society. All is belief about beliefs and so all science including the natural sciences. However, a very common position of dim unreflective grad-school social science relativists/post-modernists was not to realise this, and they would give papers with proclamations about the social value-ladened relativism of all those peoples (that we don't like or we look down on) without reflecting that they themselves are in no better situation for they too are just expressing beliefs about belief about...

These grad-school types make a half-baked use of this scepticism to do exactly what they criticised in old fashion non-sceptical social science -- they make authoritative statements about the beliefs of others. And here it also gets mixed up with the remnants of new-Marxism, where the purpose of the scientific practice itself is to change the world for the better ('Thesis 11' activism). Anthony Giddens is one state-sanctioned master of this position, but there are many others in the social science schools, and there has been a diaspora of less talented un-reflective relativists activist versions of him outside the mainstream schools -- and even into 'quantitative' research in medicine. This sort of thinking entered the climate change discourse mostly via geography and environmental sciences.

Mike Hulme is a classic example of such a type. And note how when you are politically and emotionally in accord, he appears perfectly reasonable and cordial. But when you are on the other side, on our side, he appears as arrogant and condescending as the worst Victorian anthropologist.

As for Lewinsky, with his recursive theories of our recursive behaviour in criticising him criticising us from his high moral ground...well, he is like the clown samurai in the Seven Samurai - he reveals what is hidden in the others.

Mar 22, 2013 at 12:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterBernieL

I never cease to be amazed that such papers are conceived, written and then published.

Do some people live in a different universe and sometimes their communications reach us by mistake?

Oh dear, I've just blown it by disclosing my conspiracy theory...

Mar 22, 2013 at 12:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

I never cease to be amazed that such papers are conceived, written and then published.

Do some people live in a different universe and sometimes their communications reach us by mistake?

Oh dear, I've just blown it by disclosing my conspiracy theory...

Mar 22, 2013 at 12:36 PM | Schrodinger's Cat


And guess who pays for it?

Mar 22, 2013 at 12:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterBuffy Minton

"They are even smart to believe that, because they see beyond what they are being told by powerful and prestigious scientists and analysts; they may rightly perceive logical inconsistency when advocates of concern, including some of the authors discussed above, that scientific research always involves doubt, that scientists by nature are inclined to question, that scientific findings involve evidence the details of which remain unclear and can be falsified by new discoveries and, on the other hand, suggest that the science is settled and that scientists all agree about [AGW] – as if dissent does not exist, also outside of the small faction of contrarians."

Translation: Contrarians may have a point n'est pas?

Mar 22, 2013 at 12:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterBernal

Maybe Lewandowsky haven't read the Warm Words playbooks

Mar 22, 2013 at 12:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterBernd Felsche

The goal of disinformation campaigns is to first, obscure what it is you are really doing and second, mislead and confuse your opponent and then third, divide your opponent when he has been degraded by the first two steps. This has been and still is the purpose of AGW claims. There is no "victory" or "winning" until AGW claims cease altogether.

Andrew

Mar 22, 2013 at 1:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterBad Andrew

I have gone back over her words as reproduced by the Bish, and now I feel I was far too hasty in putting her at the more thinking end of the Climate Alarm spectrum in my earlier comment. I think she is probably nearer the unhinged end, albeit with a facility to churn out turgid rather than emotive prose. My trouble is that I just like to think the best I can of other people, and sometimes that tints my glasses with a rosy hue.

Mar 22, 2013 at 1:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

Ironically, foreclosure of facts and idealization of IPCC science heighten vulnerability to contrarian attacks,

Hmmm. not only complex sentences with obscure meanings but also the use of wrong words!

Foreclosure - action taken by a mortgage holder when the mortgage is unpaid

I think the authors meant disclosure

Mar 22, 2013 at 2:01 PM | Unregistered Commenterdave38

Do proper scientists actually read that kind of waffly paper? Does it affect them at all?

Mar 22, 2013 at 2:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames Evans

The Bish writes: "Following the citation to its source one finds Pearce quoting Michael Mann as saying that there appeared to have been a well orchestrated PR campaign."

There it is: taking conjecture and turning into into objective fact. That's Climate Science™

Mar 22, 2013 at 2:54 PM | Unregistered Commentertheduke

I think it is quite incredible for the author of this paper to ascribe undermining "democratic processes" to skeptic arguments. In what way could this have been done? Even if the mythical well-prepared, big-oil funded PR campaign actually existed, how would this undermine democracy? Political campaigns are by definition PR campaigns so this would simply be continuing the existing democratic process.

At no stage has any skeptic I have ever read suggested direct (non-democratic) action - in direct contract to the alarmists who have not only suggested it, but often participated in it. The tools being proposed by alarmists are anti-democratic almost by definition (emissions limits being imposed by fiat, promotion of unelected bodies to impose rules etc.) - and the response of skeptics to this has simply been to provide information of a different set of interpretations and to ask for time to debate.

I think we are arguing the wrong case here in trying to find evidence of a softening in this paper - we should address the basic tenet that the democratic process is undermined by debate. To accuse skeptics of this is beyond a back-handed slur - this is defamation and if a specific person had been named, I would recommend that person sue.

Mar 22, 2013 at 2:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob Potter

The "absolute howler" arises from the tendency of social scientists to prefer secondary sources. They would say that a secondary source adds perspective and interpretation, but of course in reality it adds spin and propaganda, leading to a game of Chinese whispers that reflect the political bias of the author and her chosen intermediary.

But it's interesting to see some glimmer of understanding coming through all the prejudice.

"backlash actor" is a new one. I don't recall us being called that before.

Mar 22, 2013 at 2:59 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

jferguson:

I'm coming around to ACP. Anthropogenic Climate Perturbation.

That I really like. I believe in climate change - it changes all the time. I believe in global warming, starting from the Little Ice Age till now, with the odd down as well as up. And I believe in man-made climate perturbation. That covers not only the effect of greenhouse gas emissions but of aerosols as well - whichever sign their impact turns out to be. Helpful, John.

Mar 22, 2013 at 3:09 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

The Bish gives an "amen" to the final paragraph, but to me it's just more convoluted socio-speak with all the typical assumptions in place. Lahsen speaks of daring "to show the social underpinnings of the production and use of climate science upholding concern about ACC."

I believe we got a very clear view of "the social underpinnings of the production and use of climate science" in the Climategate emails and it was rife with moral and intellectual corruption.

There is some attempt to give a handful of credence to skeptical participants in the debate, but as is to be expected from a practitioner of social science, the underlying assumption that AGW climate science is on solid ground foreshadows all else.

Mar 22, 2013 at 3:11 PM | Unregistered Commentertheduke

Foreclosure - action taken by a mortgage holder when the mortgage is unpaid

I think the authors meant disclosure

No - I think she (or they) were using 'foreclosure' elsewhere in the sense of 'foreclosing debate;' they are pointing out that this is ultimately a weak tactic, since people eventually see that those promoting the 'climate consensus' are unwilling to argue their case, and therefore suspect that it is flawed.

Mar 22, 2013 at 3:17 PM | Unregistered Commenterdcardno

I see that those that have read the piece dislike both the convoluted language and many of its assumptions. I retain the great advantage of not even being tempted to wade into it. That quote about "denier" and "denialist" was easily enough for me. Blink. One's snap reaction isn't always right, as Gladwell makes clear, but it is far more often than one would expect. I'm sticking with it here. Here's partly why:

A few months ago, in an article in Nature Climate Change, Paul Bain, another Australian psychologist, repeatedly used the term “denier” to refer to climate skeptics. Bain defended this usage at Judy Curry’s on the basis that it would “activate the strongest confirming stereotypes” in his target audience ...

Bain’s usage was sharply criticized by skeptic blogs (though it was not an issue that I bothered with.) Judy Curry made the following interesting suggestion:

'Somebody needs to research the sociology and psychology of people that insist that anyone that does not accept AGW as a rationale for massive CO2 mitigation efforts is a “denier.”'

Judy’s invitation unfortunately was not followed up in the comments. Had this been done, people would have made the surprising discovery that, in his “day job”, Bain primarily wrote about the use and function of derogatory epithets (e.g. cockroach in the Hutu-Tutsi and other racially charged terms). Bain observed that a primary function of dehumanizing language is to reinforce the self-esteem of the “in group” ...

Despite Bain’s prolific writing on the use and abuse of dehumanizing epithets, he was oddly oblivious to the function of the term “denier” as a means of dehumanizing IPCC critics.

That was Steve McIntyre in Dehumanizing Language, second section of his magisterial Anatomy of the Lewandowsky Scam on 8th September 2012. One of the most important things, for me, that Steve has ever written. And Myanna Lahsen has brought a fresh and refreshing corrective on this, from the 'other side'. As I think Steve's scholarship makes clear, it's far from a small issue.

Mar 22, 2013 at 3:26 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

dave38 and decardno: My old dictionary from 1966 defines its traditional meaning as "to shut out; exclude; bar." I suppose that was before banks adopted the term. Decardno has interpreted it correctly.

Mar 22, 2013 at 3:36 PM | Unregistered Commentertheduke

Why is this kind of thing/individual funded as 'science'?

'In addition to numerous, multi-year research grants from the U.S. National Science Foundation, Myanna has received ...'

(from http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/about_us/meet_us/myanna_lahsen/)

Mar 22, 2013 at 3:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterZT

"...there was a well-organized PR campaign ready to go at the time the emails were released (Pearce 2010a, 180), "

Lessee, I requested my Charles the moderator, Mosher, and McIntyre sit on these emails for two days until I could get back in the USA, fearing that I'd be fingered at customs or security for having received the zip file in Belgium. None of us knew what we had or why, or the why the timing. Once I cleared US customs, I sat down at the gate at Dulles airport and wrote the first post on it via WiFi, hit submit just seconds before they closed the door to my flight to California, and then chewed off all my fingernails for the next 5 and half hours wondering "what have I done"?

Yeah, well organized.

Mar 22, 2013 at 3:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Watts

Richard Drake @ 3:26: Yes, that essay by Steve was game/set/match for Lewandowsky. Masterful. His usual extraordinarily thorough audit that exposed a very conspicuous example of academic fraud.

Lahsen's essay is much less important in my view. We will agree to disagree. :>} Of course, I would need to read the whole paper to reach a final opinion.

As for BLINK, my first "blink" noticed that he used the word "really" three times in a sentence in the first paragraph, which reminded me of Ed Sullivan and his "really, really big shew." (I'm dating myself here.) I will look into it further, hoping my initial "snap reaction" isn't right.

Mar 22, 2013 at 3:55 PM | Unregistered Commentertheduke

Oh, and recall that Dr. Mann thought the free Josh calendar I sent him for Christmas was also part of a "widely distributed" campaign.

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/12/22/too-funny-i-send-mike-mann-a-free-wuwt-calendar-as-a-christmas-gift-and-he-goes-full-conspiracy-theory/

Why isn't Lewandowsky writing papers about this? /sarc

Mar 22, 2013 at 3:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterAnthony Watts

"Advocates of concern about [AGW] commonly attribute instances of weakened public faith in science, and in the IPCC, to the backlash coalition."

I had my haircut earlier this week. My hairdresser is a woman of about 40. Only cuts men's hair. Our conversations are rarely mentally challenging. This last time we somehow got onto global warming and I asked her if she believed in it. No, she says. Have you researched it, I ask. No she says. Just doesn't seem to be right.

Anecdotal I know, but whenever I meet self-employed people on the front line of the economy they seem to be instinctively turned off by AGW. Any social scientists out there want to investigate this rather strange case of sensibleness?

Mar 22, 2013 at 4:05 PM | Unregistered CommenternTropywins

Anthony Watts:

... recall that Dr. Mann thought the free Josh calendar I sent him for Christmas was also part of a "widely distributed" campaign.

Oh no Anthony, you've given away the conspirator-in-chief himself. Those cartoons, they're the tip of the iceberg. Worse, when you consider the encoded messages for anarcho-denalist cells in every continent of the globe. GK Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare had nothing on this.

Mar 22, 2013 at 4:15 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

theduke: Isn't he a she? You may of course be right. But to deny oneself the use of denier outweighs a lot of other verbiage for me. And, sadist that I am, I let the Bish do the detailed wading in many such cases.

Mar 22, 2013 at 4:19 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

@nTropyWins

'This last time we somehow got onto global warming and I asked her if she believed in it. No, she says. Have you researched it, I ask. No she says. Just doesn't seem to be right'

Perhaps she was unconsciously influenced by the Big Oil conspiracies who plant anti-science denialist messages in the MSM like today's from the Telegraph

'As snow and flooding causes chaos across the country, forecasters have warned that another spell of bitterly cold weather could make this the coldest March in 50 years'

And anyway a cold spell is (I am assured by my alarmist friends) a sign of the cessation of the Gulf Stream caused by the melting of the Arctic Ice and the failure of the Copenhagen talks.Gaia is taking her revenge upon us. And the colder it gets - the more it proves that global warming is a big big problem.

Mar 22, 2013 at 5:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

Rob Potter @ 2:57 has an important point. The 'Backlash Coalition' is an interference in the democratic process. Since, per crack Australian research, it's mentally ill also, the solution, not the final one, is clear.
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Mar 22, 2013 at 5:29 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

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