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

This fundamental suspicion that the CAGW narrative is flawed and so hides an unsound topic, is a very plausible candidate for the most major component of public disbelief and inaction, to explain which a large and improbable array of psychological factors have been welded together by Consensus aligned psychologists (see quotes / examples at the opening of post 2) with external factors such as the recession bolted on. While a few of these factors may still play to some extent, the mere fact that the issue remains highly puzzling to them, a ‘riddle’, is an acknowledgement that their welded array is not up to the job. Also, Consensus aligned papers and assessments explicitly acknowledge the general extent of this disbelief and inaction; not all folks in the Consensus are burying their heads in the sand when it comes to realizing their low (and declining) impact for what ought to be the ultimate cause (saving the planet). Which means they are at least perceiving their real problem, if not the true reasons for it. This extract from S&L2014 is one of many such assessments.
∙∙∙∙∙∙Americans have been somewhat concerned about global warming for many years, although in recent years, public concern about global warming has decreased. For example, in 2009 only 35% of Americans considered global warming a very serious problem compared to 44% in 2008. In a series of nationally representative surveys conducted between 2010 and 2012, Leiserowitz et al. found that fewer than 12% of Americans said they were “very worried” about global warming, an overall drop of 5 percentage points or more since 2008. A similar drop in public opinion has also been identified in comparable polls conducted internationally. Surveys conducted in the United Kingdom, for example, found that between 2005 and 2010, British public concern about the issue dropped approximately 10 percentage points. Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain this period of increased scepticism, including issue fatigue, the 2008 global financial crisis, and decreased media attention (see Pidgeon and Brulle et al. for reviews).

An irony in all this is that, as mentioned a few paragraphs above, skeptics were very probably right all along regarding this issue. Comments on skeptic websites have for many years speculated that the very nature of the narrative reveals how implausible is the subject matter at its core, i.e. a certainty of (near) catastrophe, and this often independently of particular climate knowledge or claims. The nature of the narrative itself reveals that the claims have been manufactured, reveal that somewhere inside the biased core of CAGW, unseen yet sensed by the public, there nevertheless must be rampant uncertainty about all sorts of foundational props for this narrative. The skeptics and the public nose both appear to have been proved right, as Climategate and ‘the pause’ have begun to reveal. Western government agencies and environmental NGOs have been defending their misinformation by ratcheting up the attempts to induce suspicion on skeptic sources, a policy which may win over some, but will only confirm in the minds of the bulk of the public, an original suspicion that something is very wrong with this whole global warming / climate change thing (hence the declining poll figures). This ploy has also opened a widening gulf between core Consensus fortresses (such as the ruling bodies of science councils and universities, the NGOs, some government departments etc) and the public. However, decades of misinformation will not be erased by mere suspicion and much of the public, some sectors more than others, will be subject to the tenacious bonds of the CIE for a long time to come.

So, repeating and extending slightly the summary paragraph from post 2 about warnings from the Lew papers as applied to the Consensus, we have: Regarding type 1, beware of the bias from one’s worldview: support for the Consensus is highly aligned to specific worldviews and this is self-declared; worldview endorsements will produce no less bias than worldview challenges. Regarding type 2, beware of the bias caused by (explicit or implied) emotive content: the Consensus is saturated with emotive messaging, both within itself and projected out to the public (within which its science and policy contributors are inextricably embedded). Deliberate and sustained emotive messaging campaigns have been carried out over decades, and the Consensus proposes to tune these for more efficient hits on the appropriate emotive hot-buttons, and continue hitting those buttons as hard as possible for the foreseeable future. This can only result in heavy bias. Regarding type 3, beware of the bias from the CIE (with subtypes): the Consensus has transmitted critical misinformation (primarily regarding the certainty of calamity), from the highest possible levels on downwards to every imaginable media channel and local interaction. It is hard to think of any other message in history that has received so much global attention from practically every nation upon Earth. The Consensus did not accompany their message with appropriate health warnings. Even when challenged by ‘the pause’, the Consensus has not promoted cautions, corrections or retractions at the same level of vigor as the original information; indeed it actively seeks to resist this activity and only acknowledges the absolute minimum adaptations, which are typically transmitted in the most obscure manner possible (while all along attempting to maintain undamaged the narrative of an inevitable looming calamity, which it still promotes). When healthy skepticism that might reduce the CIE is expressed, the typical response of the Consensus is to de-legitimize and in cases even demonize the skeptic voices. This is in fact an attempt to subvert healthy skepticism about false certainty by inducing suspicion, which while it has largely failed in the public domain, has certainly borne fruit within core science and policy circles. Overall this means that the CIE, which even in the best of circumstances can never be wholly eliminated, will continue to play a big role in biasing both the public and also the current core Consensus contributors themselves, the latter of whom are now still more entrenched as a result of the induced suspicion. Regarding type 4, the third person effect: the massed drums of the Consensus, amplified by authority, which for decades have repetitively beaten out the narrative of ‘the science is settled’, and ‘calamity is certain’, will indeed have had the effect of causing considerable bias in any scientist honestly struggling to uncover the truth, let alone in the public, who are far less armed to resist such false certainty.

Major, coherent social entities that drive high levels of bias via various mechanisms as described above, will tilt society itself towards their narratives, producing an envelope of responses in adherents (there will be a range of levels of belief), and tearing apart social bonds between adherents and cynics, which tears will often follow existing lines of weakness (though not exclusively), e.g. elite / public, religious / secular, pre-existing political divides etc. or some mix of these. This is certainly what we see regarding CAGW (and incidentally these characteristics, even when sustained over generations, are not unexpected or ‘wrong’ for a philosophical movement, say, yet they are for policies whose premise ought to be rooted in hard science), but we can look for deeper confirmation of the rampant cognitive bias effects that are super-glue for the Consensus, for instance at a personal level. If the social entity has not come into some sort of dynamic stability within society as a whole, and continues to evolve away from reality (i.e. the bias effects continue to strengthen), then considerable stress will eventually be experienced by adherents, especially those within the ‘core’ of the entity (for CAGW this is the science and policy hub). So at the more passionate end of the envelope of responses, we will expect to see expressions of this stress. Such expression will likely include depression, despair, desperation, excess personal identification with ‘the cause’, a gaming of the current system, illegal actions or calls for such, and so on. [NOTE: this does NOT mean Consensus folks are delusional or deranged! We are all subject to cultural influence and to stress; in the climate Consensus domain there just happens to be a lot more of those things right now].

To be counted as evidence, such things would have to be significant and systemic, not just one-off observations, and I’ve done no survey plus know of none assessing this area. However, I think the cache of Climategate emails reveals that gaming the system was certainly a systemic activity. While apparently an isolated incident, the Gleick affair reveals illegality at a personal level, yet rather more worryingly there is evidence of gaming the law itself in favor of CAGW (see note at end for refs). Staying with the personal, this series of letters from Australian environmental scientists (h/t WUWT), which show an astonishing level of personal revelation regarding thoughts about climate change, certainly seems to me to represent a slide into despair. Whether or not that’s formally true, the level of emotion here completely trumps reason, and the fears expressed seem to have lost touch with the science the IPPC itself presents in the AR5 technical papers. There is no attempt to conceal the level of emotive motivation, which implies utter belief, mainly in the misinformation of certainty, and these letters are simply laden with memes that have prospered in historic social entities, apparently now having found a snug new home within CAGW. Once again the false ‘riddle’ of public inaction, discussed above and also in post 2, appears as the incomprehensible and apparently insurmountable blockage to the noble cause of these scientists, abetted by betrayal of leaders, the media, vested interests, and you name it. The sense that ‘these guys know our doom and yet no-one lets them run the show’, is palpable, and quite evocative of old style Gnostic narratives such as found in the Cathar and Nizari Ismaili movements. Evidence such as this supports the likelihood that the core Consensus truly believes its own narrative about certainty, despite the increasing stress of maintaining this message within the same stable as rapidly diverging science. [For some in the Consensus, even big-wigs, self-consumption of recycled scare memes is far worse still, pretty much to the point of goblin fiction; see the great book review here, not written by a skeptic, exposing an example].

In another recent series of messages from environmental scientists in Lewandowsky’s homeland of Australia, at Scared Scientists (h/t WUWT),the emotive focus shifts from a sympathy-grabbing sadness and bewilderment to a straight pitch at fear, as one might gather from the label of these guys and gals. Each of 8 messages (1 from each scientist) is headlined in capitals ‘FEAR: XYZ’, where XYZ is the particular fear each scientist claims is their particular biggy. Aside from the usual parasitical memes of alarm getting a cozy living once more, overall the transmission of misinformation about the certainty of various dooms, plus the certainty in the simplistic solution, is quite something to behold. This is a very strong pitch indeed; it seems these scared scientists haven’t seen the research threads mentioned in post 2 (from within the Consensus!) pointing out that fear-based appeals don’t work and tend to turn people off. Or maybe they ignored that; the whole exercise has more than a whiff of desperation. The kind of desperation folks feel when the real world crashes into the serious cultural bias one has been soaked in for years, or maybe decades; in this case, the culture of catastrophe founded upon the misinformation of certainty.

Next page 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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