CAGW bias in academia; Lesfrud and Meyer 2013 revisited.

NOTE: The 41% largely supportive of the ‘C’ in CAGW (or at least the need for strong controls on human emissions to combat climate change) is made up of two frames, a 5% ‘regulation activist’ frame and a 36% ‘comply with Kyoto’ frame, of which only the latter strongly believes that ‘humans are the main or central cause’ of global warming (the 5% frame accepts the possibility of a larger natural component). Some skeptics have thus made much of this result, i.e. only 36% of the respondents, a significant minority, believe ‘humans are causing a global-warming crisis’. For example see the Forbes article and IBT article (later discussed at Watts Up With That here). However this article, which calls the LM2013 survey respondents simply ‘geo-scientists and engineers’, fails to point out that the entire sample consisted of experts from or associated with the petro-chemical industry in Alberta, Canada, a state in which this industry also dominates the economy. Hence the respondents would clearly be defensive of their industry and economy and thus pretty biased towards skepticism. I very much doubt that a truly broad world-wide sample even among generic ‘geo-scientists and engineers’, would produce anything like this result. While I agree with the Forbes article regarding unmistakable bias, and indeed the article makes a similar point to me regarding biased terminology, stretching the LM2013 results inappropriately ‘out of sector’, a similar error to those the authors themselves make, is not the way to set matters straight. In my opinion this paper completely falls apart on its own merits; it needs no push whatsoever. (The comment by Brian Angliss at WUWT alerts to inappropriate assumptions in the Forbes article, as do various comments below the article itself – though the scientist/engineer ratio is not a critical issue and I am not endorsing or otherwise further comments by Brian – the limited sector of the respondents is highly relevant). In their own objection at Forbes, Lesfrud and Meyer warn against making generalizations from a ‘non-representational data set’. The data is indeed not at all representative of the whole narrative contest, and hence should not make assumptions about unexamined frames within the contest, such as for instance that IPCC framings contain ‘more truth’, or indeed ‘an absolute truth’.

Once a major narrative war is well under way, the accumulated weight of narrative frames will tend to dominate over any truths that may still survive beneath the battle. Critically, highly persuasive storylines from winning frames will actually alter perceptions so much that searches for the truth (scientific or otherwise) will very likely become highly biased or outright corrupted, as occurred in the historic examples mentioned at the top of this post (and it is all too easy to see this in climate science). Hence the successful narratives will tend to maintain conditions that maximize those uncertainties which led to the narratives arising in the first place. The apparently rampant CAGW bias in academia is a result; very likely the extremely poor progress on bounding climate sensitivity in the last twenty-five years (perhaps the single largest contributor to uncertainty) is also a symptom of this mechanism.

Many articles at WUWT have highlighted CAGW bias in academic papers across a great diversity of topics from ‘threatened’ butterflies to agricultural impacts to core climate metrics like temperature and sea-ice extent. I picked this particular paper because its mode of investigation holds both a very deep irony for the authors, and also something very well worth rescuing indeed; something immensely valuable in fact. I mentioned above that more and more folks in the climate sphere, whether well-known or less so, and some even from within the Consensus itself, are applying religious metaphors to CAGW. Also they are increasingly using terms like ‘framing / reframing’, ‘meme’ and ‘narrative’ (e.g. ‘narrative competition’ ‘successful narratives’, ‘reframing the Climate Change narrative’, ‘dominant narrative’ etc) to characterize the evolution of the CAGW phenomena and the many struggles this spawns. LM2013 homes in upon this angle, and it is the right angle, a highly valuable angle, for attempting to understand the social phenomena of CAGW. Religions are essentially successfully evolved narratives, and the same mechanisms that support them also support the rise of CAGW. Reality (including acknowledging the real uncertainties) has been left far behind because once conditions were right for a narrative war to blossom, narrative success became more important than factual content; the winner so far in this particular war is the aggressive CAGW culture. Understanding that culture will help defeat it.

Next page (6) for more…

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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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