Sunday, September 09, 2012

Assigned Reading

Down there in the comments, one of the bunnies, Louise, quotes a comment from Willard Tony's blog of ill repute which is trying to freep the Lewandowshy poll, to establish once and for all that those who deny human's having a major effect on climate are not conspiracy junkies

WUWT is attempting to replicate the survey, some of the comments are particularly amusing:

"the warmists will be discussing this secretly" - wot, you mean a conspiracy?

"I won’t be completing the survey. Here’s why. First, I strongly agree with several of the conspiracy theories, (secret services assassinate people – that’s their job) and I don’t want that fact being used to dirty the name of scepticism." - Hmm, again, not a conspiracy believer?

"Also, I would note that not all “conspiracy theories” are wrong, and not all conspiracy theorists are whack-jobs. Almost noone believes the lone gunman and magic bullet theories of the JFK assassination"

"I, like many sceptics, accept that fossil fuels are having an influence on the climate but I also believe that its influence is exaggerated by “scientists who wish to spend more taxpayer money on climate “research””. "
Eli is an old beast who grew up in the culture wars of the 1950s only to emerge full eared as the paranoid style in American politics took the Republican party by the throat and threw out the progressive wing of the party (and there was one, mostly in the Northeast and the Upper Midwest). Viewed through these lenses, the uproar about Stephen Lewandowsky's (some of the links here) paper is deja vu all over again.  With one simple substitution the start of  Richard Hofstadter's observations about the Goldwater capture of the Republican party in 1964 is an iron law today
    American politics has often been an arena for angry minds. In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated in the tea party movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. But behind this I believe there is a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wind. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind. In using the expression “paranoid style” I am not speaking in a clinical sense, but borrowing a clinical term for other purposes. I have neither the competence nor the desire to classify any figures of the past or present as certifiable lunatics. In fact, the idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.

    Of course this term is pejorative, and it is meant to be; the paranoid style has a greater affinity for bad causes than good. But nothing really prevents a sound program or demand from being advocated in the paranoid style. Style has more to do with the way in which ideas are believed than with the truth or falsity of their content. I am interested here in getting at our political psychology through our political rhetoric. The paranoid style is an old and recurrent phenomenon in our public life which has been frequently linked with movements of suspicious discontent.
 The conclusion is, again, something that could have simply been copied into the Lewandowsky paper
  This glimpse across a long span of time emboldens me to make the conjecture—it is no more than that—that a mentality disposed to see the world in this way may be a persistent psychic phenomenon, more or less constantly affecting a modest minority of the population. But certain religious traditions, certain social structures and national inheritances, certain historical catastrophes or frustrations may be conducive to the release of such psychic energies, and to situations in which they can more readily be built into mass movements or political parties. In American experience ethnic and religious conflict have plainly been a major focus for militant and suspicious minds of this sort, but class conflicts also can mobilize such energies. Perhaps the central situation conducive to the diffusion of the paranoid tendency is a confrontation of opposed interests which are (or are felt to be) totally irreconcilable, and thus by nature not susceptible to the normal political processes of bargain and compromise. The situation becomes worse when the representatives of a particular social interest—perhaps because of the very unrealistic and unrealizable nature of its demands—are shut out of the political process. Having no access to political bargaining or the making of decisions, they find their original conception that the world of power is sinister and malicious fully confirmed. They see only the consequences of power—and this through distorting lenses—and have no chance to observe its actual machinery. A distinguished historian has said that one of the most valuable things about history is that it teaches us how things do not happen. It is precisely this kind of awareness that the paranoid fails to develop. He has a special resistance of his own, of course, to developing such awareness, but circumstances often deprive him of exposure to events that might enlighten him—and in any case he resists enlightenment.
    We are all sufferers from history, but the paranoid is a double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well.
and what better exemplars of this style exist besides Lucia and StevenNigel of how those addicted to these fantasies adopt scholarly argument to their ends
A final characteristic of the paranoid style is related to the quality of its pedantry. One of the impressive things about paranoid literature is the contrast between its fantasied conclusions and the almost touching concern with factuality it invariably shows. It produces heroic strivings for evidence to prove that the unbelievable is the only thing that can be believed. . . . . .But respectable paranoid literature not only starts from certain moral commitments that can indeed be justified but also carefully and all but obsessively accumulates :evidence.” . . . . . The paranoid seems to have little expectation of actually convincing a hostile world, but he can accumulate evidence in order to protect his cherished convictions from it.
and, of course we have the Heartland Institute and the NIPCC reports:
    The higher paranoid scholarship is nothing if not coherent—in fact the paranoid mind is far more coherent than the real world. It is nothing if not scholarly in technique.
As anyone living in it knows, the real world is messy, people are, well messy, which is why, for the purposes of the thing Eli much prefers being a Rabett

Finally a word of caution implicit in Hofstadter's writing.  The entire essay is to be read, and to be read again every so often when the political world descents into the mire of conspiracy.  The central theme, that the paranoid style originates with a perceived loss of control, is key, the warning is not to go down that path, and there are times that those of us trying to inject reason and scientific observation into various arguments are all too tempted (and sometimes succumb) to tit for tat, it being wearisome to keep knocking the moles down.


Anonymous said...

Lewandowski has perfected the "breeder reactor" approach to research -- publish papers that automatically generate additional data that can be used to publish still more papers.

--caerbannog the anonybunny

Anonymous said...

"there are times that those of us trying to inject reason and scientific observation into various arguments are all too tempted (and sometimes succumb) to tit for tat"

Very well, Eli: tat!

Mal Adapted

Anonymous said...

If Willard had any brains then he'd ask just one question in his poll: do you think climate change denial is largely organised and funded by the fossil fuel industry.

Because, funnily enough, I've not yet met a climate change denier who would agree with that. And that's the one conspiracy that I do believe in.

Regards, Millicent

dbostrom said...

This segment certainly is redolent of the current circumstances:

The situation becomes worse when the representatives of a particular social interest—perhaps because of the very unrealistic and unrealizable nature of its demands—are shut out of the political process. Having no access to political bargaining or the making of decisions, they find their original conception that the world of power is sinister and malicious fully confirmed. They see only the consequences of power—and this through distorting lenses—and have no chance to observe its actual machinery.

Thinking this in terms of infantry-level skepticon access to the tools and social machinery of scientific research, there we have an explanation for constantly simmering accusations of corruption, which must lead to invisible conspiracy in order to be "proven."

The irreconcilable differences here lie in the collision of physics and economics. Economics -must- give way to physics, but economics are driven by human impulses.

What a mess.

chek said...

I think the answer to Millicent's preferred question is that the question she wants asked boils down to: "Are you an ignorant f*kcwit who's been played like a banjo by the denial industry"?

There aren't likely to be very many honest answers to that.

Marion Delgado said...

I've alienated some of my friends by claiming that daily pot-smoking only helps the militia Right - because after a while the mindsets become very similar.

And I think the "I'm powerless to know, or find out" feeling that drives a lot of paranoia can be easily linked to a turning away from respect for science as both body of knowledge and process.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if I'm allowed to admit it so I won't sign my name here, but I'm one of the people who filled in the survey.

One of the things that puzzles me is the heated discussion elsewhere in the rational blogosphere about the robustness of Lewendowsky's questions and the quality of responses. Particularly, about two respondents who emerged as extreme conspiracy believers.

Now, my own answering would have me with a whisker and a toe not in the absolute non-conspiracy camp, but I can confidently say that I know at least half a dozen bunnies who swing deep into Jerry Fletcher territory. Several are not-too-closely related to me, so I get to see the both the extremity and the persistence of their conspiratorial "ideation".

Frankly, I'd have been surprised if there hadn't been at least two respondents who weren't as extreme as seen. Given my own sampling of the real world I suspect that Lewendowsky's survey was in fact gamed slightly the other way...

Anonymous said...

Just so that I'm not entirely anonymous, I should sign my post at 9/9/12 3:11 PM thusly:

Anonymous, 'James' Anonymous.

metzomagic said...

Spot on, chek. In the 90's the denialist ties to the fossil fuel industry were more obvious. Now they realise people have copped on, so the big money (though not so big as it used to be) is mostly channeled through the right wing think tanks like Heartland.

But also, there is a burgeoning army of useful blog science idiots, as you allude to above, made ripe for the picking by their right wing authoritarian follower leanings. It's fun to watch them squeal like stuck piglets, in vapid protest of having been pegged so well by Lewandowsky's paper.

If the regular commenters at WUWT *aren't* conspiracy theorists ("All climate scientists are academic frauds only in it for the grant money. Verily!") then colour me silly.

Anonymous said...

"heroic strivings for evidence to prove that the unbelievable is the only thing that can be believed."

Ironically, that describes the behavior of those involved in actual conspiracies (eg, Watergate) as well as the "paranoid types" who subscribe to imagined conspiracy theories.

The signature characteristic of both groups is that they cherry pick evidence and ignore/omit/deny and even try to cover up evidence that would disprove their case.

And both groups also generally have to resort to very contorted explanations for what can be more readily (and convincingly from a scientific standpoint) explained with fewer ad hoc assumptions (In other words, they use a kind of inverse Occam's razor)

Neither group can stand up to having its claims subjected to scientific scrutiny.

In fact, the scientific method is the only way one can really determine which conspiracy theories are real and which are not.


Russell said...

If McIntyre snips two of your polite comments about l'affaire Lewandowsky in succession, can you apply for conspiracy insurance?

Sou said...

I thought by now the science attackers would be leaving well enough alone. But they seem to be maintaining their defensive bullying and some seem to be getting even more ferocious.

Particularly inexplicable given Stephan's latest post, in which he lists issues on which he's going to respond. He is under no obligation to respond to unsolicited emails and blog smears, but he said he will.

I can only speculate that it is this very willingness that is enraging deniers more and making them even sillier. They don't want his answers, because that would reduce the number of stupid accusations they can make.

In this case, the Sister Souljah moment is yet to come.

PS McIntyre has shown his true ugliness and willingness to deceive and make baseless accusations - and Lucia her pettiness and verbosity. Blatantly revealing their true colours.

metzomagic said...

Over at tamino's place, it has come to our attention over the weekend that 'Smokey', one of the more vitriolic regulars over at WUWT, is actually a *sock puppet* of one of the moderators there, a certain David Stealey (DBS). You can't make this stuff up:

They can't possibly sink any lower than that, can they? Though years of experience with the AGW deniers shows that maybe they can...

Anonymous said...

Sou at 9/9/12 8:36 PM.

This thread at Lewendowsky's is astonishing too.

I was particularly amused to see tyger, who was previously unfamiliar with Lucia L, respond to her with:

"...because right now you are just being contrary, argumentative and pedantic."

Didn't take him long to nail her...

Thomasawfuller amuses too.

But for the palpable hit of the day, layzej's observation wins hands down.

Bernard J. Hyphen-Anonymous XVII, Esq.

Anonymous said...

Blogs attract the most paranoid, socio-(even psycho)pathic folks in our society (and some blogs seem to be outright "kook magnets")

I would have thought that would be fairly obvious to anyone who has followed blogs at all.

But apparently, you can get research grants, write papers in journals, make a name for yourself, advance your career, etc in certain academic disciplines for "illuminating" such revolutionary findings.


Sou said...

Yes, Bernard.

Did you see the comment from Carrick, who seems to think it is perfectly normal for a blog to have to specify those topics as 'off limits'?

Gator said...

Dr. Bob Altemeyer has done some very relevant research. See his free book: "The Authoritarians"

bluegrue said...

The "winners" are out over at Lewandowski's site. The 'skeptics' contacted regarding the survey were:
McIntyre (no reply)
Pielke Jr (replied to initial contact)
Mr Marc Morano (replied to initial contact)
Spencer (no reply)
Ferguson / SPPI (no reply)

Sou said...

Tom Fuller is being annoying and his usual obnoxious self, as well as showing his ignorance of conspiracy theorists (and surveys).

McIntyre is busy casting his aspersions and shows no sense of self-awareness.

The other bloggers have retreated, licking their wounds after being ignored when the survey was sent out.

Sou said...

And for people who deny climate scientists have received death threats, now they seem to be targeting psychology professors:

Gator said...

From WUWT -- wondering if my post will make it through moderation.

Curiousgeorge says:
September 10, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Hey Lew: Bring it. Wear kevlar. You’ll need it.

Curiousgeorge says:
September 10, 2012 at 4:02 pm

PS: I find such thinly veiled threats from the likes of Lewendowsky immensely humorous. He obviously has no idea how proficient many people are with various firearms. Does he think that the targets of his derision would just sit idly by?
I’m very interested to see how the WUWT moderators will handle this…

Phil Clarke said...

You're in real trouble now, Professor. You've come to the attention of The Auditor. He has asked you Questions. You now have two choices:-

(1) You could assume the questions are posed in good faith, The Auditor is genuinely interested in the knowing the answers, and will make constructive and reasonable use of the information. This would be a category error. It's like those email scams where if you respond the spammers know the address they've hit is real. Next thing you know there will be a second round of followup questions, and so on ad nauseum. Dr Gerald North writes:-

"This guy can just wear you out. He has started it with me but I just don’t bite. But there are some guys, Ben Santer comes to mind, who if they are questioned will take a lot of time to answer. He’s sincere and he just can’t leave these things along. If you get yourself in a back-and-forth with these guys it can be never ending, and basically they shut you down with requests. They want everything, all your computer programs. Then they send you back a comment saying, “I don’t understand this, can you explain it to me.” It’s never ending. And the first thing you know you’re spending all your time dealing with these guys.”

Do you really want that?

(2) You ignore the Questions. This will lead to a post at the Audit weblog using words like 'stonewall', 'petulance', 'refusal'. You won't be directly accused of malpractice or fraud, naturally, however the comments will be a playground where those with a desire to speculate about 'What is Lewandowsky hiding?' will be given free rein. There will then be a short hiatus during which you may think your life is getting back to normal, but then the orchestrated FOI requests for any and all emails relating to the paper will start ...

Do you really want that?

There is no 3rd choice.

Steve Bloom said...

In current political news is the outcome of a poll (from Ohio IIRC) that asked who was more responsible for the death of bin Laden, Obama or Romney. 16% of Republicans said Romney and 38% didn't know.

It's the world we live in.

Sou said...

Gator, Smokey reluctantly snipped one of the death threats (apologising to the errant poster for doing so), but left his first threat in place.

Anonymous said...

Bugger, my post at 10/9/12 7:01 AM above appears to have had its linkie messed up due to moderation deletions over at Lewendowsky's.

The post in question is currently number 200 on the thread, but it says:

"layzej at 02:41 AM on 10 September, 2012

It is telling that the WUWT comments policy has to specifically ban the following: "discussions of barycentrism, astrology, aliens, bigfoot, chemtrails, 911 Truthers, Obama’s Birth Certificate, HAARP, UFO’s, mysticism" -

Bernard J. Hyphen-Anonymous XVII, Esq.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it amazing how all these lay people are not only more clever than all of the world's professional physicists and climatologists, but that they are also able to tell practising psychologists how to do their work.

Heck, why don't we just do away with professional science altogether, and let these bozos discover their own new chemicals, treatments, understandings, technologies, and all that other stuff that these overpaid, white-coated fraudsters in laboratories pretend that they do?

Double heck, Monckton apparently already has a start on Graves disease and a few other medical conditions, so he should certainly be able to lead the charge. Stuff the surfacestations Willard - get out there and build a rocket that will take women and men to Alpha Centauri. Go on - I'm sure that your followers will click the donate button like rats pressing the heroin lever...

Bernard J. Hyphen-Anonymous XVII, Esq.

Turboblocke said...

Might I suggest that the denizens of WUWT and the like are suitable candidates for the Golgafrincham B Ark?

Jeffrey Davis said...

Regarding going tit for tat with the paranoids and the liars, I keep coming back to the last lines of Freud's paper A Philosophy of Life:

Those of our fellowmen who are dissatisfied with this state of things and who desire something more for their momentary peace of mind may look for it where they can find it. We shall not blame them for doing so; but we cannot help them and cannot change our own way of thinking on their account.