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.

Next page (2) for more…

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

  1. Michael 2 says:

    Brilliant. Everything I would say on the subject if I had your literary skill and passion for it.

    “Ironically those individuals with the greatest domain knowledge, yet who are steeped in the orthodox bias of an associated negative culture, will be the least protected.”

    I am reminded of the flexible sapling that can withstand high winds and storm versus the brittle old tree that is strong until it breaks.

    Keeping impossibly conflicting ideas in separate compartments (sometimes left brain / right brain since one is cognitive and the other emotive) is a thing probably impossible for a person to detect by himself, since each “side” is also observed through that side’s filters.

    My own father is an example; one moment scientific and arguing for evolution because he thinks I am opposed to it; his worldview requires that I oppose it. So when I argue that not only has evolution taken place but that it is continuing to take place through selective breeding, he suddenly argues that dolphins cannot be made more intelligent by US Navy breeding programs; they are always dolphins, they have always been dolphins — negating his earlier assertion regarding evolution. You see, that is his other worldview, a residue of his Lutheran religion.

    While he abandoned the outward trappings of religion, he cannot escape that his formative years were immersed in Lutheran culture and belief. He *is* Lutheran, it is the way he was made. This can lead to some confusion by people around him but he does not see it himself.

    Another aspect of your comment is brittleness. Occasionally these two worldviews CAN be brought together like matter and antimatter with some risk of annihilation — but it also releases energy that can dramatically accellerate a person’s maturation. In my own case I had grown up without any imposed religion and yet it is cultural, everywhere present, or at least it was during my formative years. So I believed in a young earth even without having gone to church once!

    One day when I was a teenager I hiked in the mountains and sat on a rock to rest. I noticed that it was composed almost entirely of long slender cone shells embedded in very hard black rock, highly resistant to chiseling (I tried to bring home a piece). At any rate, it was conspicuously older than 6,000 years old; it had been at the bottom of a sea but now was exposed by weathering and was at 7,000 feet elevation or so. In other words, really, really OLD.

    So I discarded that part of my belief system but not the rest of it. This is where many people have problems — just because one part of your belief system is wrong is not a reason to discard all of it.

    But many people, including my friends, tend to chain things together so if one part breaks it all does. This can be scary to observe. I had a roommate in the Navy, a born-again inerrantist Christian. That worldview depends on a single belief: Inerrancy. In the case of my roommate, he had one other absolute belief, that anyone of my religion was going to hell. So one day I said, “Jesus is come in the flesh”. That is all. It must be said exactly that way. To the inerrantist, only a man of God can say that; and yet, he was exactly as sure that I was an enemy to God.

    So I brought these worldviews into collision and I feared for his sanity. I regretted the stunt. Still, I met him a couple of years later and he was vastly more pleasant to be around. He still had his religion but now knew that it had some warts and he had to use his own intelligence to know what parts were the important parts — the two great commandments which boil down to just one — loving your neighbor.

  2. Michael 2 says:

    I may have quite a lot to say about memetics when I have more time and have read your writing on it. It may relate somewhat to Carl Jung’s “archetypes”, persons having an affinity for certain things or ideas without obvious explanation. An example is “dragon”, almost everyone on Earth knows what is a dragon, or at least has some conception (but rather variable), yet no such thing exists or ever existed in human memory.

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