Contradiction on emotional bias in the climate domain

NOTE: as of 24th April this Post is up at Climate Etc, the well known Lukewarmer blog of atmospheric scientist Judith Curry: http://judithcurry.com/2015/04/24/contradiction-on-emotional-bias-in-the-climate-domain/

Section 1: Universal acknowledgement of emotional bias.

The psychological phenomena of emotional bias, a distortion in cognition and decision-making due to emotional factors, has been known of for millennia. I perhaps should say ‘enhanced’ emotional factors, because emotional reaction is a core part of our thinking machinery and hence wholly rational perceptions or decisions would likely be a rarity at best, and possibly non-existent. Yet as emotional factors increase to something that truly touches us, distortion away from what might be termed ‘regular’ (i.e. no strong emotions present) or ‘rational’ or ‘balanced’ thinking, becomes much more significant.

This distortion is so well known that consciously or sub-consciously, arguments often employ an appeal to emotion exactly because this significantly increases the chance of overcoming opposing views. From the link immediately above (warning, wiki; short summaries of this topic are hard to come by) we are told that Aristotle (died 322BC) in his treatise Rhetorica described emotional arousal as critical to persuasion, while Seneca (died AD 65) warned that “Reason herself, to whom the reins of power have been entrusted, remains mistress only so long as she is kept apart from the passions.”

Many studies in the modern era back this general understanding, adding more sophistication plus detail of the underlying mechanisms (though to date these are by no means fully understood). Apparently the role of ‘affect’, emotional reaction, underwent somewhat of a de-emphasis within social psychology for a time from the early 1970s, returning some thirty years later but on a wider stage, acknowledged to have other cognitive players with which emotional bias can interact or fuel to varying degrees. According to Daniel Kahneman, from his Nobel Prize in Economics Lecture, December 8 2002: ‘It is worth noting that in the early 1970’s the idea of purely cognitive biases appeared novel and distinctive, because the prevalence of motivated and emotional biases of judgment was taken for granted by the social psychologists of the time. There followed a period of intense emphasis on cognitive processes, in psychology generally and in the field of judgment in particular. It took another thirty years to achieve what now appears to be a more integrated view of the role of affect in intuitive judgment.

So, while the leading-edge understanding of emotional bias mechanisms is dynamic and ongoing, aided considerably by the recent assistance of MRI scans, in its very long wake is a general understanding that all psychologists and sociologists and associated disciplines have to be very familiar with. Along with professional communicators, probably most politicians and I should imagine a great many of the general public too, they will know at the very least about the power of appeal to emotion plus the danger that rationality will be compromised, or even derailed, when such an appeal is powerfully and / or repeatedly enacted. And while emotional bias has beneficial properties (e.g. condensing a large range of options and also promoting group cohesion / consensus), disrupting rationality can work out very badly indeed. For examples at various scales emotional bias can strongly contribute to: skewed jury / legal decisions and extremist politics, bad business practice and financial meltdowns, cults and the spread of misinformation, and yes the social hi-jacking of science too, for instance the Eugenics saga in the first half of the 20th century.

Hence there are increasing efforts to limit emotional bias effects in society. The business community have joined that campaign in recent times, not just to limit corporate damage from emotively driven negative culture, but also for reasons of direct profitability (See ‘Bottom Line’ at Investopedia).

Of all those masses of professionals who know about the characteristics of emotional bias, a subset are playing an active part in the climate change Consensus. This does not alter their knowledge of the former topic. Indeed a few of this subset are even helping to push forward our understanding of emotive bias mechanisms. For instance Stephan Lewandowsky has a string of papers (with associated authors) about cognitive bias impacts, which include insights on emotional bias. The paper Misinformation and Its Correction: Continued Influence and Successful Debiasing by Lewandowsky et al, posits that emotive content significantly increases the degree to which misinformation both spreads and persists. Resistance to vaccines based on emotive scare stories is an example Lewandowsky highlights. A similar point is made in Theoretical and empirical evidence for the impact of inductive biases on cultural evolution by Griffiths et al (one of the other authors is Lewandowsky). This paper supports the evidence that cultural concepts with an emotional component are easier to memorize, which in turn appears to result in them being retained for longer plus better transmitted to others in society, than is the case for similar concepts minus the emotional component. I.e. an emotive load provides arbitrary bias favoring the concept.

Lewandowsky is an ardent advocate for the certainty of dangerous man-made climate change, and at least some of the associated authors (e.g. Cook and Ecker) have comparable sentiments. So emotional bias is most certainly understood and accepted by the strongest end of the spectrum of CAGW support. Similarly the role of emotional bias, at least in broad-brush terms, is just as much a part of the mind-set of all the psychologists, sociologists, professional communicators, etc. who work in or actively support the climate Consensus, as it is for those belonging to these same professions who don’t happen to work within the climate Consensus. I.e. this knowledge is simply part of their job; they must all grasp both the power and danger of emotional bias independently of their climate domain credentials. Hence the understanding of emotional bias is absolutely not something that the climate Consensus supporters could abandon when inconvenient, nor something that could possibly be framed as some kind of climate skeptic invention.

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Climate psychology’s consensus bias

NOTE: as of today this Post is up at Climate Etc, the well known Lukewarmer blog of atmospheric scientist Judith Curry: http://judithcurry.com/2015/01/30/climate-psychologys-consensus-bias

Climate psychologists have for years now puzzled over public inaction on climate change and also what makes skeptics tick (or sick), apparently making little progress on these issues. Their lengthening list of possibilities includes plausible candidates that are nevertheless weak or narrow in scope – attempting to stretch them to match survey data always causes a conundrum of some kind to be exposed – and the implausible such as conspiracy ideation, which appears not stretchable to the data at all.

I believe the systemic error behind the puzzlement of climate psychologists is readily identifiable. The error is that the climate psychologists do not perceive that a culture dominates environmentalism. A culture based upon misinformation about the certainty of catastrophe (from CO2). A culture which enforces a Consensus, as strong cultures do, upon scientific endeavor that is nowhere near mature enough to have reached consensus without enforcement.

The climate psychologists come in two groups, which I call the Bad Cops and Good Cops, and who intentionally or not end up policing the Consensus. Both appear to view climate change as essentially flat fact, purely settled science, not as a culture.

I’m sure we all know the archetypal bad cop. Psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky’s ‘conspiracy ideation’ papers (‘Moon hoax’ and ‘Recursive Fury’) that link climate skeptics to generic belief in ‘way out there’ conspiracies, have generated a great deal of traffic in the climate blogosphere and the media. Not least regarding pretty much inarguable challenges to their detailed methodology and data collection, the legitimacy of such approval procedures as occurred, and even the ethics of the papers; essentially the entire validity of these works. Indeed ‘Recursive Fury’ was eventually withdrawn from the journal Frontiers of Psychology on ethical grounds. My posts AW1 to AW3 at Watts Up With That describe the likely route of Lewandowsky into the cognitive-dissonance avoidance which appears to be driving his psychological policing of climate orthodoxy. This avoidance stems from much reasonable work on cognitive bias, largely prior to his jumping off the deep end in the climate domain, which if applied to this domain shows that the CAGW Consensus absolutely has to be soaked in bias.

So much for our archetypal bad climate cop. What about good climate cops? Just like real cops, these are the ones who don’t work backwards from a gross assumption of guilt for the crime, who don’t end up force-fitting the evidence while loudly proclaiming “he did it, bang him up!” (The ‘crime’ in question being psychological dysfunction expressed within the climate domain). The ones who actually try to figure out what the data about public attitudes is telling them, the ones with a reasonable approach, the ones who can still be surprised, the ones who do actually want to investigate this ‘crime’, rather than simply pinning it on the guys who everyone ‘knows’ are bad and loudly proclaiming that ‘result’ to the public (thereby ‘saving’ everyone from further bad influence). One such good cop is Dan Kahan. And indeed, our good cop expressed surprise at the results of a survey that was part of his investigation. I was alerted to this surprise by a Climate Etc post, which I followed back to Dan’s post What is going on inside their heads? (DK1) on the blog at the cultural cognition project, which post is in turn the main source of my ‘good cop’ analysis here.

Dan’s surprise comes from a noble attempt to separate identity from knowledge in a survey crafted to gather what he hopes are genuine public attitudes to climate change, on the basis that the wording of questions in many previous surveys caused respondents to identify with and promote ‘their side’, rather than reveal what they truly think about particular aspects of the climate debate. See some detail on this new approach at another of Dan’s posts (DK2). He says towards the end of DK1: ‘The thing to be explained took me by surprise, and I don’t feel that I actually have figured out the significance of it for other things that I do feel I know.

So what caused this surprise? What needs to be explained? Well unlike in the UK, in the US mainstream politics is split over attitudes to climate change. And the split is ugly, as Dan himself notes. However in his DK2 survey regarding scary climate possibilities, which is theoretically geared to eliminate identity issues (the main one here being political allegiance), the responses of both the Republicans and Democrats are very similar. The response differences are reduced to ‘trivial’, Dan says, the big majority of both groups believing all the scary possibilities. Dan claims this implies a common attitude, a ‘widespread apprehension of danger’ in both the Democrats and the Republicans.

Part 2 comes from direct questioning about whether the world is warming ‘mostly because of human activity such as burning fossil fuels’, or ‘mostly because of natural patterns in the Earth’s environment’. As expected, this head-on style questioning invokes identity issues and so yields responses that differ significantly due to political allegiance (Republican / Conservative or Democrat / Liberal). Respondents perceive this question as a political one and so respond accordingly. Yet the more science-aware the responders are (established by other questions), the wider the gulf is between the two political groups. Science-aware Republicans / Conservatives almost all answer ‘natural patterns’ whereas science-aware Democrats / Liberals almost all answer ‘human activity’; the gulf between these two is nowhere near so large for the science unaware, to the extent that there is even a small overlap. Dan says: ‘…these citizens—the ones, again, who display the highest degree of science comprehension generally & of the mechanisms of climate change in particular—are also the most politically polarized on whether global warming is occurring at all.’ Note: the science questions come in an Ordinary Science Intelligence survey (DK3) and an Ordinary Climate Science Intelligence survey (DK4).

Dan then logically adds part 1 to part 2 and comes up with ‘what needs to be explained’. He expresses this in DK1 by quoting a question from one his audience at a lecture, as the man’s question perfectly expressed his own puzzlement: ‘How, he [the member of the audience] asked, can someone simultaneously display comprehension of human-caused global warming and say he or she doesn’t “believe in” it? In fact, this was exactly what Yoshi and I had been struggling with…’ Hence the title of Dan’s DK1 post: ‘What is going on inside their heads?

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Wrapped in Lew Papers: The psychology of climate psychologization – Part3

Note: as of 9th November, this Post is up at ‘Watts Up With That’, the most viewed climate site on the planet: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/11/09/wrapped-in-lew-papers-the-psychology-of-climate-psychologization-part3/

∙Third of 3 posts examining papers by Lewandowsky & co-authors before ‘conspiracy ideation’ claims. These papers warn of cognitive bias effects, all of which occur in the CAGW Consensus, confirming it is heavily biased. Can’t admit this? Skeptics exposing the dilemma? So… push skeptics beyond the pale, minimizing cognitive dissonance.

From the first post in this series, and summarized as warnings for an individual seeking to avoid bias, the various papers by Lewandowsky and associated authors (see refs at end) include the following wisdom:
Type 1: Beware of the bias from one’s worldview.
Type 2: Beware of the bias caused by explicit emotive content.
∙∙∙∙∙∙Type 2A: Beware of implied emotional content, which via a powerful type 1 reaction may enhance or attenuate Type 2 (essentially an interaction of 1 & 2).
Type 3: Beware of the bias from the CIE, which can never be wholly eliminated.
∙∙∙∙∙∙Type 3A: Beware of information that does not come with health warnings.
∙∙∙∙∙∙Type 3B: Try to be aware of corrections / retractions; be suspicious if these are not on a par with the vigor of the original information transmission.
∙∙∙∙∙∙Type 3C: Be healthily skeptical; suspicions based on innate skepticism reduce the CIE.
∙∙∙∙∙∙Type 4: Beware of the ‘third person effect’, especially for oft repeated / saturating information.

Post 2 showed how each of these warnings is highly applicable to the CAGW Consensus. Yet before we continue regarding the fuller implications of this truth, there is one more important finding from the Lew papers that is important to know about. This finding concerns a psychological tactic employed by both the Consensus and the skeptics, while also providing an excellent candidate explanation for the ‘riddle’ of public inaction on climate change (also described in post 2), which so many in the Consensus obsess over.

Bias warning type 3C says: Be healthily skeptical; suspicions based on innate skepticism reduce the CIE. Yet knowledge about innate skepticism and its effects opens up the possibility of attempting to subvert this healthy characteristic. I.e. one can theoretically trigger the mechanism in people by casting false (or at least highly speculative and unverified) suspicion upon a source of the information one is attempting to counter. Both sides in the climate debate have followed this course. On the skeptic side, this is essentially the tactic of the ‘hoax’ and ‘liberal conspiracy’ arguments. On the Consensus side, the tactic is manifested by the ‘evil Big Oil’ argument, plus the ridiculing and demonization (e.g. ‘deniers’) of skeptics. Yet for both sides attempting to induce false suspicion has resulted in only partial success, and has caused some damage to the home sides too.

For skeptics, the main thrust of their argument has always stayed pretty close to science issues (e.g. the use of questionable statistics, or the divergence of models and observations), hence conspiracy theories have been secondary. And those shouting ‘hoax’ have tended to damage the skeptic position rather than enhance it. Yet more subtle leftwing conspiracy arguments have likely found some purchase with the public, more so of course with right-wingers and it seems also in particular countries, probably where politics is already more polarized. Skeptics adopting the milder tactic of merely pointing at the leftwing / redistributionist worldview alignment of certain Consensus heavy-weights, may not technically be inducing false suspicion, because at least where quotes are provided (see the example quotes in post 2), this alignment is self-proclaimed. Such an alignment does not imply conspiracy though, only a heavy cultural bias, i.e. from an initial political platform now heavily juiced by the culture of catastrophe, which itself is based upon the misinformation of certainty. Nor of course is there anything inherently bad about being leftwing, only in being extreme (to left or to right) or through bias improperly amplifying or leveraging climate worries for political ends (which therefore quotes should show). However, despite some climate justified left activisms that are becoming more obvious, plus the fact that various secondary intrigues and agitations will accompany any major movement from whatever origin on the political spectrum, it seems too easy a step to make from highlighting alignment, to incorrectly deducing a global conspiracy. Quite a few skeptics don’t resist this step, with mixed results when their deduction is then broadcast. Overall, the attempt to induce false suspicion may well have gained skepticism barely more supporters than it has lost them, yet it has almost certainly contributed to a stronger alignment of sides in the debate, with pre-existing political poles. (Likewise to above, deducing rightwing conspiracy only from rightwing alignment, is incorrect).

Overall, the media punch of the skeptic side, whether broadcasting genuine information (e.g. about real uncertainties), or indeed false suspicion, is still very weak compared to the public pile-driver deployed by the Consensus. It was weaker still until the recent official acknowledgement of ‘the pause’. Hence as noted before, Consensus information (whether true or false) continues to dominate. Yet at first sight curiously considering the vast efforts pumped into them, Consensus attempts at inducing false suspicion have also achieved only a relatively modest payback. Tellingly, the impact of the technique is domain-orientated. In what might be considered the core domain for the Consensus, i.e. the elite science and policy circles, the environmental NGOs, plus the majority of the mainstream media organizations, the de-legitimization and demonization of skeptics has worked pretty well, despite some blowback from a few more moderate Consensus adherents. However this is largely preaching to the converted, and it is in this very domain that the message originated in the first place. Hence what we’re really looking at here is a consolidation and entrenching process. While certainly very significant, for instance in largely locking skeptics ‘out of the system’, the main audience that the Consensus-orientated media are actually aiming at, i.e. the general public, seem surprisingly resilient to this tactic.

The Consensus seems to acknowledge this major failure to eliminate the credibility of skeptics in the public domain. There seems to be plenty of angst in the ranks expressed via phrases like ‘the deniers are winning’, or even ‘the deniers have won’. A wide range of reasons is cited, some of which conflict and at the extreme end of which (I guess simply as a comfort blanket), invoke the very technique that has failed, e.g. a ‘Koch conspiracy’ and / or nasty propagandist techniques by skeptics. Yet considering how little skeptic messaging actually makes it past the orthodox Consensus gatekeepers, we must be talking about incredibly potent stuff here. And considering too the deluge of demonization over decades, skeptics must surely be super-cyborg Teflon ducks for this all to simply slip off their backs – the public is still listening to them! OR, there’s another explanation, a much simpler and less fantastical one.

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Wrapped in Lew Papers: The psychology of climate psychologization – Part2

Note: as of 8th November, this Post is up at ‘Watts Up With That’, the most viewed climate site on the planet: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/11/08/wrapped-in-lew-papers-the-psychology-of-climate-psychologization-part2/

∙Second of 3 posts examining papers by Lewandowsky & co-authors before ‘conspiracy ideation’ claims. These papers warn of cognitive bias effects, all of which occur in the CAGW Consensus, confirming it is heavily biased. Can’t admit this? Skeptics exposing the dilemma? So… push skeptics beyond the pale, minimizing cognitive dissonance.

IMHO the engagement of psychologists with the social phenomenon of climate change has been hugely disappointing. As noted at the end of the last post, knowledge of cognitive bias by no means guarantees protection against it, and as a consequence of this simple fact psychologists do not apply their knowledge and tools to the entire social landscape of the climate change domain. Instead they appear to assume that the dominant paradigm of catastrophic AGW is magically free of bias, and so focus only upon negative reactions to that paradigm, namely skepticism and inaction, with which they appear to be obsessed. This obsession in turn appears to stem from a kind of prejudiced fascination in attempting to solve what is perceived as a fundamental riddle: why is there an apparent gulf between attitudes and action on climate change? And why do a small band of ‘way-out’ skeptics appear to foster so much success? An article on the New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) website, Psychology may yet be the most potent foil to climate change, finds Harriet Palmer (November 9, 2011), summarizes the appeal of the problem thusly:
∙∙∙∙∙∙That contradiction between what we feel we should be doing, and what we are doing, is fertile ground for the social sciences. Psychologists, analysts, academics, policymakers, politicians – they’re all dying to know why what we think about climate change, and what we do about it, seem to be two very different things.
Palmer later encapsulates the lack of progress on this perceived problem, essentially stating that we still don’t know the answer, along with pleading special case (‘unique’), which is never a good sign [my underline]:
∙∙∙∙∙∙Psychologists are trying to find out what happens in our heads when we hear the ‘CC’ words. They suspect that climate change presents a unique set of barriers that stop people engaging with the reality, and sap their will to act.
However, this hasn’t prevented very many proffered insights and candidate explanations from a wide array of psychologists. From the same article:
∙∙∙∙∙∙It feels like environmentalists are asking us to give up the good life. That’s when we’re tempted to slip into what Albert Bandura, Professor of Social Science in Psychology at Stanford University, calls “selective moral disengagement,” a neat trick we’ve learned to keep guilt at bay.
∙∙∙∙∙∙Dr Niki Harré, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology, University of Auckland, argues a better appreciation of human psychology would prompt a much wider response [to the challenges of climate change]. Harré believes our morals, and beliefs about justice, are a big part of the equation. Inherent moral values guide much of our behaviour, and Harré says we’d make more progress if people thought about conserving resources at least as a societal convention, but better still, as something that was simply morally right.
∙∙∙∙∙∙Psychologists describe climate change risks as having ‘high psychological distance’ – a long way off in the future, happening to somebody else, on the other side of the world.

In the article Psychological Factors Help Explain Slow Reaction To Global Warming (August 10, 2009), the American Psychological Association appears to agree with the ‘set of barriers’ approach:
∙∙∙∙∙∙While most Americans think climate change is an important issue, they don’t see it as an immediate threat, so getting people to “go green” requires policymakers, scientists and marketers to look at psychological barriers to change and what leads people to action, according to a task force of the American Psychological Association.
This approach certainly allows for much ground (and much ass, perhaps) to be covered; they identify ‘numerous’ barriers, of which half a dozen (uncertainty, mistrust, denial, undervaluing risk, lack of control, habit) are briefly expanded, adding:
∙∙∙∙∙∙The task force highlighted some ways that psychology is already working to limit these barriers.
Yet these ‘barriers’ have very much the feel of a large mish-mash of second or third rank factors that have all been rather forcefully marshaled into some kind of coherent narrative.

Many contributions from psychology seem to run along similar lines, and some psychologists even claim that they may have an answer to the riddle. An article in Time, The Battle Over Global Warming Is All in Your Head (August, 2013), is subtitled:
∙∙∙∙∙∙Despite the fact that more people now acknowledge that climate change represents a significant threat to human well-being, this has yet to translate into any meaningful action. Psychologists may have an answer as to why this is.’
Yet once again these ‘answers’ invoke a range of factors, up to 30 in fact, and hardly seem convincing. From the same article (and noting that in respect of climate change not taking ‘a human form’, I’d say it has been massively anthropomorphized over the last thirty years!):
∙∙∙∙∙∙For some, the answer lies in cognitive science. Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, has written about why our inability to deal with climate change is due in part to the way our mind is wired. Gilbert describes four key reasons ranging from the fact that global warming doesn’t take a human form — making it difficult for us to think of it as an enemy — to our brains’ failure to accurately perceive gradual change as opposed to rapid shifts. Climate change has occurred slowly enough for our minds to normalize it, which is precisely what makes it a deadly threat, as Gilbert writes, “because it fails to trip the brain’s alarm, leaving us soundly asleep in a burning bed.”
∙∙∙∙∙∙Robert Gifford, a professor of psychology and environmental studies at the University of Victoria in Canada, also picks up on the point about our brains’ difficulty in grasping climate change as a threat. Gifford refers to this and other psychological barriers to mitigating climate change as “dragons of inaction.” Since authoring a paper on the subject in 2011 in which he outlined seven main barriers, or dragons, he has found many more. “We’re up to around 30,” he notes. “Now it’s time to think about how we can slay these dragons.” Gifford lists factors such as limited cognition or ignorance of the problem, ideologies or worldviews that may prevent action, social comparisons with other people and perceived inequity (the “Why should we change if X corporation or Y country won’t?”) and the perceived risks of changing our behavior.

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Wrapped in Lew Papers: The psychology of climate psychologization – Part1

Note: as of 6th November, this Post is up at ‘Watts Up With That’, the most viewed climate site on the planet: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/11/06/wrapped-in-lew-papers-the-psychology-of-climate-psychologization-part1/

∙First of 3 posts examining papers by Lewandowsky & co-authors before ‘conspiracy ideation’ claims. These papers warn of cognitive bias effects, all of which occur in the CAGW Consensus, confirming it is heavily biased. Can’t admit this? Skeptics exposing the dilemma? So… push skeptics beyond the pale, minimizing cognitive dissonance.

Psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky’s ‘conspiracy ideation’ papers (‘Moon hoax’ and ‘Recursive Fury’) that link climate skeptics to generic belief in ‘way out there’ conspiracies, have generated a great deal of traffic in the climate blogosphere and the media. Not least regarding pretty much inarguable challenges to their detailed methodology and data collection, the legitimacy of such approval procedures as occurred, and even the ethics of the papers; essentially the entire validity of these works. Indeed ‘Recursive Fury’ was eventually withdrawn from the journal Frontiers of Psychology on ethical grounds.

However prior papers from Lewandowsky (with various co-authors) identify and warn us about a list of major cognitive bias effects in society, all of which occur within the social phenomenon† of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW), and strongly contribute to the dominance of this phenomenon. Constrained so tightly by his own findings, wrapped if you will in Lew papers, yet apparently possessing a worldview that is highly challenged by any questioning of the climate change ‘Consensus’ (note: a challenge to worldview is itself one of the warnings), any attempt by Lewandowsky to analyze rising world skepticism is very likely to have resulted in a polarized outcome: Either a wholesale rejection of the climate Consensus based upon the belated realization that all his above warnings apply to CAGW, and must always have applied, or an attempt to place skeptics beyond the pale, which hence might preserve a pre-existing worldview and prevent the head-on intellectual and emotional crash of the bias list with the behavior of the Consensus. It seems that the latter course was taken. While I have some sympathy for anyone caught in such an excruciating position, and the resultant behavior in these circumstances is typically not fully conscious, the debacle described in the second paragraph above seems very much like a desperate and sustained attempt to reduce cognitive dissonance.

This short series of posts does not delve further into the tangle surrounding Lewandowsky’s recent jaunt into conspiracy ideation, represented by Moon Hoax / Recursive Fury and other papers. Instead I explore, in detail, warnings about cognitive bias that came mainly before that jaunt. In this first post, each of the warnings is detailed by type. In the second post, the excellent applicability of each warning to CAGW is demonstrated. And finally the clash of these warnings with pre-conceptions is examined in the third post, a clash that psychologists and academia generally should heed regarding climate change perceptions. The three posts together form an extensive look at climate psychologization, using Lewandowsky’s work and stance as a prominent example case and framework, demonstrating that bias has blinded the discipline of psychology and prevented it from applying established principles and past findings (even about bias!) to the climate domain, which in turn has led to grossly erroneous conclusions. Along the way we glimpse the root causes of, and flawed treatments for, climate depression aka eco-anxiety aka apocalypse fatigue, and open a useful window onto the fundamental workings of Consensus culture itself.

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CAGW bias in academia; Lesfrud and Meyer 2013 revisited.

Well I am very late in posting this at my own blog; bar 1 minor correction (old retained as strike-through) it is repeated below exactly as it appeared at Watts Up With That, the most viewed climate site on the planet, on 27th January. There is useful discussion in the comments there.

Posts at WUWT have often featured scientific papers that are clearly impacted by a cultural bias towards CAGW. Given the impressive reach of WUWT and the likelihood that a number of folks from academia will be peeking here, some examination of the impact upon conclusions, and also how bias has occurred for particular scientists or organizations, not only keeps alive healthy skepticism in science but hopefully might result, one day, in a reduction of the CAGW bias. In that spirit, this post revisits ‘Science or Science Fiction? Professionals’ Discursive Construction of Climate Change’ by Lianne M. Lefsrud and Renate E. Meyer, LM2013; It is not pay-walled. An article at Forbes plus the Investor’s Business Daily on the paper, triggered a WUWT post here. Unfortunately however, the former articles misfired into a tangent that was not well considered, greatly distracting from a deeper look at the paper; hence also from something that I believe is valuable, plus deeply ironic for the authors.

The post is adapted from supporting material in my essay The CAGW Memeplex summarized in a WUWT guest post here. However, no particular memetic insight is invoked here and none is needed to see how the authors of this paper have fallen victim to bias and ended up with unsupportable conclusions; just an appreciation (from history) that social narratives can acquire an inertia of their own, a kind of insistent culture that sometimes dominates events while leaving facts far behind. This can happen not only where the narrative is long-lived and wide in scope, e.g. mainstream religions evolving over many generations, but also where an original narrative is narrow in scope, e.g. Lysenkoism. Such narratives and counter narratives compete in our social space and may do so via strong or weak alliances and wider coalitions, for instance Lysenkoism was strongly coupled to Stalinism in the USSR, and the culture associated with Eugenics was loosely allied to right-wing various politics in various countries, later becoming strongly coupled to Fascism especially in Germany. Religions have often found alliances within shifting maps of state and regional politics. The increasing number (and depth) of comparisons between CAGW and religion (e.g. see the varied selection: UK MP Peter Lilley , blogger John Bell, Michael Crichton via blogger Justice4Rinka [Jan 10, 2013 at 10:07am], Richard Lindzen, blogger BetaPlug, philosopher Pascal Bruckner, blogger sunshinehours1 [cult], professor Hans Von Storch [prophets], Evangelical skeptics, and a Climate Etc post discussing this area, plus very many more), acknowledges that CAGW is a (successful) social narrative, an ‘insistent culture’ that has indeed left reality behind.

With the above in mind, the approach of LM2013 seems at first to be admirable. For instance social coalitions (termed ‘discourse coalitions’) are understood to be important entities backing the survival / growth of competing ‘storylines’ within a contestable narrative space, where coalition members attempt to ‘frame’ the debate so as to promote their storylines while trying to ‘break the persuasiveness’ of competing stories, a process within which apparent truths are relative (‘…experts construct interpretive packages or frames that stand in for the ‘truth’.’) It is also recognized that these ‘frames’ are intimately linked to the legitimacy and identity of the framers: ‘Besides defining the issue, framing is also the means by which professionals draw from broader values (Hulme, 2009), construct their self-definitions and expert identities.’ The latter is consistent with literature (e.g. the concept of the ‘The Social Mind’ by neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniger) essentially saying that our thoughts and identities are in some part formed by the societal entities we’re embedded in. This concept not only helps with understanding the motives of the players, it also helps regarding awareness of one’s own social embedding and hence the attempt to distance oneself from personal bias, as presumably the LM2013 authors would wish. Ultimately the authors appear to grasp that it’s a narrative war out there, in which ‘the truth’ may not always win out.

So what’s not to like? Shouldn’t a paper that recognizes these principles be robustly impartial? In trying to analyze the various ‘storylines’ shouldn’t the authors have attempted to position themselves, at least so far as is possible, outside of all of the relevant narratives? Well, unfortunately not…

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The CAGW Memeplex; a cultural creature

The hypothesis for a single, simple, scientific explanation underlying the entire complex social phenomenon of CAGW.

UPDATE: as of 1st November, this Post is up at Climate Etc the blog of atmospheric scientist Judith Curry: http://judithcurry.com/2013/11/01/cagw-memeplex/
UPDATE1: as of 2nd November, this Post is up at ‘Watts Up With That’, the most viewed climate site on the planet: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/11/02/the-catastrophic-agw-memeplex-a-cultural-creature/

Whatever is happening in the great outdoors regarding actual climate, inside, truly inside, in the minds of men that is, overwhelming evidence indicates that Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming is a self-sustaining narrative that is living off our mental capacity, either in symbiosis or as an outright cultural parasite; a narrative that is very distanced from physical real-world events. The social phenomenon of CAGW possesses all the characteristics of a grand memetic alliance, like numerous similar structures before it stretching back beyond the reach of historic records, and no doubt many more cultural creatures that have yet to birth.

Having painted a picture of CAGW from a memetic perspective in fiction last December, see the post: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/12/15/wuwt-spawns-a-free-to-read-climate-sci-fi-novel/, I realized that many people instinctively sense the memetic characteristics of CAGW, and typically express this in blogs or articles as relatively casual comments that cite memes or religion. Yet these folks appear to have no real knowledge of how truly meaningful and fundamental their observations are. Hence I have provided a comprehensive essay which attempts to fill in this knowledge gap, and indeed proposes that the entire complex social phenomenon of CAGW is dominated by memetic action, i.e. CAGW is a memeplex. Note: a ‘meme’ is a minimal cultural entity that is subject to selective pressures during replication between human minds, its main medium. A meme can be thought of as the cultural equivalent to a gene in biology; examples are a speech, a piece of writing (‘narratives’), a tune or a fashion. A memeplex is a co-adapted group of memes that replicate together and reinforce each other’s survival; cultural or political doctrines and systems, for instance a religion, are major alliances of self-replicating and co-evolving memes. Memetics101: memeplexes do not only find shelter in the mind of a new host, but they will change the perceptions and life of their new host.

An amusing depiction of a serious entity; the narrative colony creature that is the memeplex of Catastrophic Antrhopogenic Climate Change

Because the memetic explanation for CAGW rests upon social and evolutionary fundamentals (e.g. the differential selection of self-replicating narratives, narrative alliances, the penetration of memes into the psyche causing secondary phenomena like motivated reasoning, noble cause corruption and confirmation bias etc.) it is not dependent upon politics or philosophies of any stripe, which tend to strongly color most ‘explanations’ and typically rob them of objectivity. Critically, a memetic explanation also does not depend on anything happening in the climate (for better or for worse). CO2 worry acted as a catalyst only; sufficient real-world uncertainties at the outset (and indeed still) provided the degree of freedom that let a particular ‘ability’ of memeplexes take hold. That ability is to manipulate perceptions (e.g. of real-world uncertainty itself), values, and even morals, which means among other things that once birthed the CAGW memeplex rapidly insulated itself from actual climate events.

Homo Sapiens Sapiens has likely co-evolved with memeplexes essentially forever (Blackmore), therefore they are a fundamental part of us, and indeed no characteristic of CAGW appears to be in the slightest bit new, quite the contrary. Underlining this ancient origin, one class of memeplexes folks are familiar with is: ‘all religions’. Yet these fuzzy structures are by no means limited to religion; science has triggered memetic themes before and extreme politics frequently does so, and there have even been historic memeplexes centered on climate. This does not mean CAGW is precisely like a religion, but being similarly powered by self-replicating narratives creates the comparable characteristics that many have commented upon.

Using a great deal of circumstantial evidence from the climate blogosphere and support from various knowledge domains: neuroscience, (economic) game theory, law, corporate behavior, philosophy, biological evolution and of course memetics etc. the essay maps the primary characteristics of CAGW onto the expected behavior for a major memeplex, finding conformance. Along the way, contemporary and historic memeplexes (mainly religious) are explored as comparisons. The essay is long, book-sized, because the subject matter is large. I guess an essay describing all of climate science would be very long, so one exploring the entire memetic characteristics of CAGW plus I hope enough context for readers to make sense of that, is similarly so.

The context is extremely broad, ranging from why pyramid building evolved in Egypt to a passionate cry against kings, priests, and tyranny in a radical women’s journal of the early nineteenth century. From the impact of memeplexes on the modern judicial system courtesy of Duke Law, to the ancient purpose of story-telling and contemporary attempts to subvert this, along with a plot analysis of the film Avatar. From the long and curious tale of an incarnation of the past is always better meme currently rampant on the internet, to the evolutionary selection of fuzzy populations in biology and the frankenplex multi-element cultural creature that is CAGW. From the conflict related death-rates in primitive tribes versus modern states, to analysis of corporate social responsibilities after the Enron and banking sector crises. From memetic chain letters that stretch back to the hieroglyphs (Letters from Heaven), to the analysis of social cross-coalitions via game theory within the perspective of economics. From the concept of ‘the Social Mind’ courtesy of neuro-scientist Michael Gazzaniga, to pressure upon religions by aggressive atheism as promoted by Richard Dawkins. From modification of theistic memes in the Old to the New Testament, to notions of Gaia and telegraph wires and wing-nuts. Plus memetic sex, witchcraft, cults, Cathars, concepts of salvation, Communism, hi-jacking altruism, Lynsenkoism, lichen, psychologizers, National Socialism, de-darwinisation, that ugly term ‘denier’, and much more.

Next page (2) for more…

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‘Engines of Life’ launched

Well I returned today from a gastronomic trip to New York (I can highly reccomend the [very] fine dining restaurant ‘Per Se’ :) ) to find Greyhart Press have launched my SF story collection on the very same day. What a lovely welcome home!

Engines of Life story collection Cover

Engines of Life Cover


Outstretched figure: image (c) Lonely – Shutterstock.com; abstract swirl (c) Emelyanov – Shutterstock.com

At the heart of all the philosophical SF novelettes (and a novella) in Engines of Life, beats some aspect of my major inspiring theme, evolution, be it cultural or genetic or both. Unique to this collection is The Curator; the story won the University of Central Lancaster (UCLan) Science Fiction competition a year or so back, but the publishing arm of the university ran into legal problems, leaving the story homeless. Until now that is :) .

The Greyhart Press Release is here.
Paperback (224 pages) amazon.co.uk RRP £7.50 | amazon.com RRP $11.50
Kindle amazon.com | amazon.co.uk at special launch price of 99c/ 77p
Coming soon in other eBook formats.

Some summary blurb is below (click on page 2). Enjoy,
Andy.

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‘Truth’ available at Smashwords

My Sci-Fi / Cli-Fi novelette ‘Truth’ is now available at the Smashwords book publishing portal. Find it here: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/273983

The book remains free at this portal. However, normal publishing protections apply, so formats of ‘Truth’ loaded from Smashwords are not freely distributable under Creative Commons. If you want to distribute the work yourself (e.g. emailing the actual text or placing it direct on your website), you must use the pdf format available on the sidebar of this blog, which *is* distributable under Creative Commons (you can click on the CC License link inside the pdf to view the full conditions).

The upside of availability at Smashwords, which also partners to provide works at Barnes and Noble, Sony for their bookreaders and other outlets, is a much wider audience than just those from the climatosphere (see below for posts at climate blogs), plus availability in a whole list of formats including epub and .mobi for kindle.

Happy reading on whatever is your bookreading machine and format :) .

Andy

Posted in Climate, Literary | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Seven little gems from NewCon Press

Back in December I received a Press Sampler from NewCon Press (independant UK genre publisher) with 7 stories inside. As a NewCon regular I got this for free :) . However, you can read these too for less than the price of a coffee. I can highly reccomend.
PressSamplerCover
UK Kindle link, price is just 77p
US Kindle link, price is just $1.24

The original blurb is here:
The attached NewCon Press Sampler contains seven stories that are intended to provide a taster of titles due in 2013 (and the latter part of 2012). You will find here three stories from Imaginings volumes (Tony Ballantyne, Nina Allan, and Lisa Tuttle), two from imminent collections that fall outside the Imaginings series (Chris Beckett and Mercurio D. Rivera), a jolly little tale of seasonal terror from Gary McMahon (which is original to this collection), intended as a taster of his forthcoming novel The End… Plus a previously uncollected and never-in-print story from Adrian Tchaikovsky. This last is intended as a tantalising teaser for a very special and unannounced anthology, coming in 2013. Of course, to find out more, you’ll have to read on…

Amazon book description is here:
A deliberately low-priced anthology providing a taster of what NewCon Press is all about. Showcasing publications from 2012 and 2013, seven stories from seven premier genre authors: Nina Allan, Tony Ballantyne, Chris Beckett, Gary McMahon, Mercurio D. Rivera, Lisa Tuttle, and Adrian Tchaikovsky. Science fiction, fantasy, and horror at their best.

For pdf or epub, follow the link to NewCon Press on the right sidebar.
Enjoy, Andy

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