CAGW bias in academia; Lesfrud and Meyer 2013 revisited.

I return now to this snippet from the conclusion: ‘it seems unlikely that the defensive institutional work by those in powerful positions within fossil fuel-related firms and industry associations can be breached in the near future without global enforcement mechanisms’. Underneath the trappings of academia and the raft of references, this quote highlights that LM2013 is treating us to more than a hint of those calls from highly immersed green street-activists; i.e. CAGW must be right and thus forcing regulation must also be right, where in the activist case overriding democracy plus direct action against oil and coal interests are both candidates for action. No doubt, unfortunately, such activists will benefit from this type of academic work. What a disappointing and very unenlightened dead end to a promising approach, which if it were but wider in context could hardly fail to identify to the authors their own framing work, and maybe provide a good formal entry port into an analysis of the memetic mechanisms that drive narrative wars. Not to mention exposing the aggressive framing of the self-named ‘Hockey Team’ (the small core of climate scientists promoting the original Global Warming theory). As the well-known climate commenter and contributor to BEST surface temperature series,
Stephen Mosher, said: ‘Rather than using this methodology to understand skeptics, it’s probably better used to understand “the team” .’ See here for the original comment.

In not explicitly mentioning that the same process (of narrative competition) occurs across all sectors, and also in taking the word of the IPCC as an ‘absolute truth’ that is somehow magically defined as outside of this entire competition, the authors have painted a picture of the narrative struggle as though it is merely a secondary issue. An issue regarding only the dissemination of this ‘absolute truth’, plus the consequent policy action (or lack thereof), both of which are impeded or accelerated by the resistive or supportive frames within their arbitrarily narrowed contest. Yet the authors’ own frame and the supportive home for their storylines is enabled entirely by (unacknowledged) CAGW culture, by far the most dominant uber-frame within the environmental domain. Hence a very intelligent and careful work, no doubt associated with a great deal of effort to conduct their survey and analyze the results etc. is in my opinion completely undermined by a cultural bias to which the authors appear almost entirely blind.

To summarize: The authors’ haven’t sought to distance themselves from their own immersion in a (dominant) frame within the narrative competition they seek to analyze. Hence LM2013 is highly entangled with their own framing activity, including emotive content. While equal terminology ought to have been applied to all frames, this simply cannot be done in any case when only one small sector (experts from or associated with the petro-chemical industry [in Alberta]) of the battleground is considered; many entire frames that prosper outside this sector aren’t even acknowledged! One cannot analyze a single narrow sector in isolation from the wider narrative competition, and still draw useful conclusions about that wider competition. Even the more limited conclusions one might draw should be tested for possible framing bias from the wider competition. Nor can one take a near universal truth (e.g. regarding older males in society) as being meaningful for or against any particular frame in a given narrative competition; it will have near equal weight in all frames and hence should be disregarded. The authors appeared to recognize that all ‘truths’ in the total narrative competition are relative, yet then contradict themselves by singling out one particular relative ‘truth’, i.e. that of the orthodox IPCC view, and granting this the status of an absolute. While they may claim that the law (in the form of emissions regulation) supports their ‘absolute truth’, it is well established that arbitrary framings can in any case alter the law* and even morals* in their favor; hence this is no excuse for ceding objectivity. [*see my essay for more on this, including supporting refs].

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6 Responses to CAGW bias in academia; Lesfrud and Meyer 2013 revisited.

  1. Great stuff, if a little heavy going for the average reader. There’s a sociology professor Reiner Grundmann at Nottingham University who had a very useful quote at Notrickszone a while back about the absolute necessity of applying the same analytical criteria to both sides of a debate in this kind of a study.
    Neurology and memeplexes are on way of looking at the question of the spread of ideas; there’s another I’ve been meaning to look into since a commenter at a French sceptic site pointed it out, due to a physicist called Serge Galam who has developed a mathematical model of how ideas spread. Some of his papers are in English. They’re full of graphs with what look like sums of hyperbolic functions, giving unpredictable tipping points. His basic idea is that a small number of people with a fixed idea can spread that idea to a majority in a surprisingly short time, given the right starting conditions. Lots to look into.
    I haven’t looked into your SF stories yet, but I will. Have a look at Alex Cull’s blog at
    He’s big on SF.

  2. andywest2012 says:

    Thanks for dropping in Geoff, your comments much appreciated.

    I’ve been over to Alex’s place a couple of times; he read my sceptical cli-fi / sci-fi novelette ‘Truth’ when it first came out, and left a compliment on the BH thread about the book at that time. His blog is one of many I’m discovering on my CAGW wanderings that I would love to spend more time at. But with the full-time job taking precedence, and needing time for my own contribution in various domains too, time to wander pleasurably in the words of others whether fact or fiction, is an increasingly rare luxury for me ): Enjoyed your great contribution at BH over recent years though, and I’ll definitely check out this Serge Galam chap and his very interesting theory, thanks for the pointer. Regarding the absolute neccessity of the same analytical criteria being applied to both sides of the debate, I have a potential Lewandowsky related post on precisely that issue, *if* I can find the time to work it up of course!

  3. Nick Drew says:

    Do you check comments here regularly?

    Having just carefully read (and re-read) your fine CAGW Memeplex essay, and noting your invitation for suggestions, I have one such suggestion to offer.

  4. andywest2012 says:

    Nick Drew says: September 1, 2014 at 10:48 am (Edit)

    Hi Nick, many thanks for reading it and for your compliment, and I’m more than happy to receive suggestions. In practice, given I’m so busy with the day job and other projects, I may never get around to an update (which I’d hoped to do, and there is still some chance one day). On a more immediate timescale I’ll actually be occupied with other matters for almost 2 weeks, so may not get a chance to reply to you until then. But by all means suggest away and I’ll reply when I’m free again.

  5. Nick Drew says:

    A tactical suggestion born of strategic considerations which latch onto the time-honoured principle of reductio ad absurdum, in a field with no shortage of manifest absurdity. Highlight the contradictions abounding in promotion and subsidy of industrial-scale burning of biomass as a ‘renewable’ source of energy.

    Not all categories of bioenergy are manifestly absurd. Burning certain organic waste products for fuel (including for electricity generation) may be entirely logical by many standards – almost certainly by the CAGW-promoted standards of CO2 reduction and sustainability, and maybe even including economic viability (though they do all seem to be looking for subsidies …).

    But biodiesel and other liquid biofuels, and most particularly fuel-pellets made from ‘roundwood’ (mature trees) are a different story. In the case of the latter being used in millions of tonnes to generate electricity it has been shown pretty conclusively (by the highly-regarded Prof David MacKay among others) that there are scenarios in which this can be significantly worse for the environment – including levels of CO2 emissions – than burning coal: and that’s saying something. (The assessment is complex, involving careful analysis of the counterfactuals for use of the timber and use of the forest land. But some of the results are extremely damning.)

    In the case of liquid biofuels, these are frequently produced at the expense of food production and/or highly damaging change-of-use of the land involved. Although governments are slowly waking up to all this and may change the relevant policies over time, the status quo is that many categories of bioenergy have been given a free pass, i.e. they are ‘deemed carbon neutral’ for qualifying for subsidies and for meeting renewables targets – irrespective of the facts.

    The beauty of industrial-scale bioenergy as a point of attack on the memeplex is that it plays directly to the (rational) sensibilities, indeed the primary sensibilities, of many of its adherents (should be most of them: but one finds plenty whose kneejerk reaction is blindly to defend biomass burning – encouraged by the very well-funded biofuels lobby). The most ‘honest’ greens see the point immediately; and several NGOs strongly associated with, if not actually paid-up adherents of the memeplex are becoming increasingly hostile to such biofuels.

    However, this is not remotely an attack based solely on expediency, schadenfreude or mere troublemaking for the memeplex: it’s an important battle to win in its own right, for every reason. Reversion to wood-burning, even in the form of ‘high-tech’ pellets, is an astonishing return to primitivism, neglecting nearly 300 years of history, science and technology: the thermal density of wood is pitiful when compared with coal; its EROEI (for those who are counting) is likewise badly inferior; and its net emissions include not only (in some cases) more CO2 than coal, but all manner of harmful particulates we thought we’d eradicated from our air. If ever there was a case of CAGW imposing too high a ‘taxation’ burden, this is it.

    As I say, many greens know this to be correct, and are on the side of putting an end to it. (There are new single-issue green groups springing up with this as their cause.) The issue therefore stimulates (a) green-on-green strife, with the ‘antis’ using many of the weapons the memeplex itself has fashioned over the years; and – because no green wants to go against another without some science to hand – (b) a blessed and all-too-rare emphasis on really careful analysis.

    I can provide more detail if desired. As a dispute it doesn’t require much stirring: it shows every sign of building into a civil war of its own momentum. It is a far more direct, internal-to-CAGW, green-on-green contradiction than, say, countryside supporters vs windfarms, which are two distinct, if loosely overlapping memplexes.

    And with real science being deployed! Who knows where this might lead, if it becomes a habit …

  6. andywest2012 says:

    Nick Drew says: September 2, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    Apologies Nick for the ridiculously long time in answering, am a bit overwhelmed with stuff at the moment.

    While not deep into detail, I’m somewhat familiar with the arguments against biofuels. Not least in causing their own environmental damage, pushing up world food prices, and in some cases (due to harvesting, processing, transport, storage) having little carbon footprint advantage to boot. I’ve sometimes highlighted this angle in conversations with folks who know only the mainstream CAGW narratives as gleaned from the press, because as you point out it is pretty hard to refute, and an increasing number of greens are themselves opposing the more damaging bio-fuel policies (I think the sad tale of Drax is helping to open eyes on this angle). It’s a good way to guide folks into what other things may be wrong.

    But having said that, and apart from this being another piece of evidence that the (not sentient, not agential) ‘agenda’ of the memeplex has us doing things that suit it and not us, this isn’t where I want to focus my own efforts. Such spare time as I have is focussed on advertising the fact that CAGW is an insistent culture in its own right, *is* a memeplex, plus the pyschological issues that surround this such as inherent bias (the thread we’re in here being one example). In that sense I’m not so much combating CAGW, but identifying its characteristics such that others can better see the nature of the beast, and hence help to tame it. With the limited time I have, I can’t afford to widen my focus too much, I guess we each help in our own way.

    But your point is well made, and I think hitting on the absurdity and damage of some bio-fuel policies is a good way to challenge CAGW, and to help dismantle policies that, in any context, shouldn’t be happening anyhow.

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