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

There is more stress and climate depression here at Grist, with corresponding survival tips also. In this instance there does seem to be some slight inkling that all this emotion might be a cause of bias, yet this thought is immediately subsumed into a fear the mythical ‘enemy’.
∙∙∙∙∙∙Even if scientists did bring a little emotion to their findings — which raises questions about the importance of objectivity in the sciences — Kiehl worries that such honesty would just provide even more fodder for climate deniers.
My advice would be to forget about those survival tips and take Judith Curry’s advice instead:
∙∙∙∙∙∙But then I woke up as a scientist and realized that my belief in dangerous anthropogenic climate change was second order belief – based on the IPCC consensus. That is I believed in the consensus, without having done a real detailed assessment of my own. Then when climategate triggered me to closely examine everything, notably the IPCC’s attribution argument, I realized that the fingerprints were ‘muddy’, the climate models are running too hot, the forcing data is uncertain, no account is made for multidecadal and longer internal variability, and they have no explanation for the warming 1910-1940, the cooling 1940-1976, and the hiatus since 1998. Once you raise questions about 20th century attribution, then your angst about impacts that you think are attributable to AGW becomes much less justified.

Lacking a survey about stress in the Consensus, from articles / websites like the above there does at least appear to be no shortage of evidence within easy reach that such stress is a big problem. Serious enough to be addressed at an organizational level (and bear in mind that all of the above evidence comes from solidly Consensus sources). This confirms expectations regarding a clash of reality with a highly biased culture, itself fostered by the misinformation of a certainty of catastrophe. But if the climate scientists / organizations and their ‘troops’ are so badly affected, how does all this impact psychologists who’ve entered the fraught social domain spawned by climate change worries? They after all, are the ones who are supposed to know what’s going on with respect to the interplay of competing social pressures and individual behavior. Yet given that the above cure (and similar advice) is at best sidestepping the problem, and at worst sending wounded troops back into an impossible fray with no serious help (merely a short rest and some more drafts of noble cause), then one can only conclude that psychologists aren’t looking in the right place for their understanding or solutions. In order to find out what’s really going on, they would have to delve deeply into the workings and psychological impact of the Consensus itself; so why haven’t they done that?

I suggest for the majority of the discipline at least, it’s not because they won’t, but because they can’t. Being themselves subject to all the biases detailed by Lewandowsky and associated authors as discussed in this series, they are blinded by these to anything that questions the culture of certain catastrophe, in some cases to the extent that their belief has left behind even the collective positioning of the IPCC, itself stretched to the point in AR5 whereby a large tear has appeared between the summary for policymakers and the technical papers. This also means that they’ll be subject to all the same stresses which they’re seeing in ‘the troops’.

I suspect that the long dominant ‘science is settled’ narrative has had a huge impact on the social sciences, who are I think somewhat conditioned to accept the output of supposed ‘hard’ science as unquestionable ‘truth’, which is a major mistake. The wicked problem of climate is mired in many complexities and many uncertainties, so very little within is unequivocal. The social sciences should have remembered, more than anyone else, that claimed certainty in output may not mean actual certainty or unadulterated output (nor does the use of physics and math on the more known parts of the system imply it is all known, nor deterministic either). There are many thousands of individuals and much social process between the input data and the output message, and the process of science itself has frequently gone off the rails due to rampant bias. The fact that the ‘science is settled’ narrative has now fallen victim to ‘the pause’ has not changed perceptions very much either, as yet; the Consensus is pivoting to stances which thus far are managing to preserve the perceived certainty of calamity, and as noted in Lew and crew warning 3, the CIE is very powerful and cannot wholly be eliminated, even if anyone was actually trying to.

Despite the above adaptation of the Consensus, the cultural space it occupies is under attack, is slowly shrinking and fragmenting, which of course is the cause of adaptation. The prior ‘science is settled’ message was very broad-brush, effectively underwriting yet also sealing every sub-topic. Hence every fundamental new question now arising, such as the lack of trend in most indices of extreme weather, or the record Antarctic ice, and of course ‘the pause’ itself, by implication challenges the central Consensus narrative of the certainty of catastrophe. As noted above some of the many explanations offered for these unforeseen real-world outcomes are theoretically still consistent with that narrative, but it is the very number of new explanations, plus the lack of prediction, which broke ‘the science is settled’. This change is leaving climate scientists who fail to adapt, who are putting out the same unjustifiable scare stories in the same old way, very exposed. The Consensus appears to be distancing from some of these individuals (e.g. see here at Bishop Hill). The shrinking cultural space will also impact any folks from other fields that have heavily committed themselves in defense of the Consensus, including psychologists, and Lewandowsky appears to be very highly committed indeed. Yet in the case of psychologists there’s a sense in which much more is at stake; these are the guys who should have see the bias effects within the Consensus, who should have warned us in the first place.

Lewandowsky in particular seems to have a long and productive contribution to the understanding of cognitive bias effects, a portion of which is referenced in this series. So for him, this raises the stakes still further. While the relative levels of various bias types occurring within the Consensus are debatable, the case for significant overall bias as outlined here using Lewandowksy’s own theories, is hard to refute. Even a case for overwhelming bias looks not unreasonable. For anyone so deeply committed to the Consensus, this represents a serious clash of ideals with reality, which could well have manifested in cognitive dissonance, a typically subconscious discomfort that may in turn lead to redoubled yet ever more strained contributions towards ‘saving’ the Consensus ideals from the various recent threats. While providing temporary relief, such efforts will likely worsen the long-term situation, also lessening the chance of a graceful evolution to a more accommodating position. And we have seen recent redoubled efforts from Lewandowsky, in three critical areas that are threatening the Consensus most: uncertainty, the credibility of skeptics and to a lesser extent the infamous 97%. Auditors have claimed that these latest contributions are not just strained, but worse; plus they all appear to be converging towards a hard line of defense that the mainstream Consensus itself seems unlikely to stand behind, increasing the likelihood that Lewandowsky will become isolated on an isthmus of his own making.

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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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