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

There are clues as to how Lewandowsky arrived in what appears to be a heavily conflicted position. While laudably not giving a free pass to the political left in some papers, Lewandowsky shows much less flexibility within the climate domain and rarely misses an opportunity to point out that policies to fight climate change (which tend to imply large-scale government control) are resisted by those with strongly free-market or conservative views. Overall a strong ‘progressive’ leaning is not hard to detect. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it may have been the open door to self-latching bias within the climate domain. A strong association and shared works with John Cook, who runs the website Skeptical Science (despite its name an ardent support site for the Consensus), may have pulled Lewandowsky further away from objectivity regarding climate related issues, at the critical time when he had yet to be fully informed regarding this domain. A further clue: folks in fact often let slip their worldview alignment (and its relative strength) when they feel that they’re with a home audience, but rarely as explicitly as in the quote below. From the video associated with L2014, a lecture given to the Consensus aligned AGU Chapman conference (underline mine), Lewandowsky says:
∙∙∙∙∙∙The possibility that there might be some tacit acceptance by scientists, of a particular frame or narrative that was actually dictated by somebody else, outside the scientific community, who may not share our er, methods or worldview…’[starts at 4.22].
This is an admission of the belief that ‘scientists’ must all have a particular worldview, and one which Lewandowsky shares, hence also the implied flipside that those individuals with differing worldviews cannot by definition be scientists, which of course is wholly wrong.

Clues are not fact, but some route of this kind would explain subsequent actions. While it is true that some conservatives resist policies on climate change due mainly to their worldview, this is not an overwhelming truth. Skepticism is a very broad church and the most effective pews have always been those that present science-based, apolitical arguments, not least of which is the growing discrepancy between (largely model-based) theory, and observations. And anyhow, active skeptics muster tiny numbers compared to the Consensus, which also still acts to suppress part of the former’s voice. By dint of sheer numbers the worldview alignment of Consensus adherents is a far more important factor, and being a consensus, these views are more focused. The worldview of very many individuals within the Consensus, including it would seem Lewandowsky’s, will have been confirmed, amplified, flattered and warmed by the ‘logic’ they find therein, which is based on misinformation. As L2012 states:
∙∙∙∙∙∙Given that people more readily accept statements that are consistent with their beliefs, it is not surprising that people’s worldview, or personal ideology, plays a key role in the persistence of misinformation.

The approximate path Lewandowsky travelled (albeit partially speculated here) helps to inform what is happening now, as individuals will react differently depending on when they meet worldview challenges, relative to the occurrence of other cultural influences. Other clues of a likely path to, and also demonstration of, bias, are revealed by events such as Lewandowsky’s acceptance of super-zealous pro-free-market responses within his survey data for a paper, when these caricatures of ‘the enemy’ could, according to Steve McIntyre’s analysis, really only have been false responses. Where an alliance of worldviews exists, bias regarding one part of the alliance (e.g. anti-free-market), can lead to bias regarding another part (e.g. pro-culture-of-the-catastrophic, as fostered by the Consensus).

Regarding what is happening now, L2012 points out this about misinformation:
∙∙∙∙∙∙From a societal view, misinformation is particularly damaging if it concerns complex real-world issues, such as climate change, tax policies, or the decision to go to war. The preceding discussion suggests that in such real-world scenarios, people will refer more to misinformation that is in line with their attitudes and will be relatively immune to corrections, such that retractions may even backfire and strengthen the initially held beliefs (Nyhan & Reifler, 2010).
I couldn’t agree more. Right now Lewandowsky, like many others within the Consensus, appears to be immune to any corrections on the misinformation about the certainty of catastrophe (which has been broadcast for decades), because this misinformation is in line with his attitudes and worldview. I agree too that this misinformation has been highly damaging, both to society and the environment too. L2012 also emphasizes the backfire effect:
∙∙∙∙∙∙When the corrections were worldview-dissonant (in this case, for Republican participants), a “backfire” effect was observed, such that participants became more committed to the misinformation.
I suggest that Lewandowsky himself is deep into a backfire effect. Far from updating his local copy of misinformation regarding the chances of catastrophe, as the climate domain widens and new science comes in and our observations improve, he is strengthening his commitment to initially held beliefs. This is the most plausible explanation for his increasing and increasingly strained defense of the Consensus, which indeed has tempted him out of psychology and into the domain of physical climate science and associated climate uncertainty estimation. I concede some imprudent bravery here however, leaping from the tower of psychology into the trenches at a time of danger for the Consensus. I doubt in the long run that this will rewarded. (I will just remind folks here too that no-one is completely free of bias, so of course including me, and via the mechanisms above it can sometimes self-latch. We must all be vigilant).

The questions raised by skeptics, and the corrections that very slowly are starting to seep into climate science (e.g. some acknowledgement of the weakness of models and some acknowledgement of a larger role for internal variability) are worldview-dissonant for most folks within the Consensus. This is why they are so fervently resisted, and why discussion of any science challenges to Consensus theory are so often deflected into ad-homs or argument from authority etc. Given that the emotive culture of certain catastrophe swirls constantly around the mainstream media (both paper and electronic), plus social media too, and has done for a very long time, dwarfing the voices of skepticism and moderation alike, corrective science faces a huge uphill struggle that has nothing to do with actual scientific content, and everything to do with its challenge to an established alliance of worldviews. L2012 says:
∙∙∙∙∙∙Whatever the underlying cognitive mechanism, the findings of Ecker, Lewandowsky, Swire, & Chang, (2011) suggest that the repetition of initial misinformation has a stronger and more reliable (negative) effect on subsequent inferences than the repetition of its retraction does. This asymmetry in repetition effects is particularly unfortunate in the domain of social networking media, which allow information to be disseminated quickly, widely, and without much fact-checking, and to be taken only from sources consonant with particular worldviews.
This in part also explains why even papers suggesting some divergence from core Consensus theory must genuflect to the catastrophic, as has often been noted by skeptics. Otherwise, they wouldn’t make it into the repeat loops of the dominant mode, and hence would simply not be read. Even if they were read, the amplified dissonance caused by leaving out the genuflect, would then result in the authors being labeled as heretics. Yet bear in mind that this isn’t a fully conscious process, deep bias will cause a belief in core values despite some results that counter those values. Hence science itself can be seriously skewed; while bias effects do not change the infra-red properties of CO2, for an infant science working on a wicked problem they can certainly change expectations about what total effect those properties imply, and may do so for decades and possibly generations, preventing a genuine understanding of whether good, bad, or indifferent climate may result.

Incidentally, Lewsandowsky agrees that active skeptics are small in number and that, despite he believes their voice is disproportionately loud and their motivation is tied to conspiracy theories, their impact is modest. From his blog Shaping Tomorrows World, in response to a question about ‘science deniers’:
∙∙∙∙∙∙In fact, our work shows that those beliefs are not exactly widespread: Not only is the number of climate “deniers” relatively small—and highly disproportionate to the public noise they generate—but conspiratorial thinking accounts for only a modest component of the variance in people’s opinions about climate change.
This ties to the discussion in the few paragraphs above, confirming that Consensus culture and Consensus aligned worldviews are dominant in the setting of world events, and hence any bias within this culture will also dominate, whatever level of opposing bias skeptics may or may not also foster. This confirms too that after decades of dire messaging from practically every source of authority including national leaders and the UN, it is not active skeptics that are holding the public back from concern and action on climate change, which inaction is revealed by many polls, but instead Lewandowsky’s key to accuracy, i.e. innate and healthy skepticism. And Lewandowsky himself clearly acknowledges the truth of these polls, believing indeed that the public are not concerned. From the video associated with L2014, he says:
∙∙∙∙∙∙the public, and the so-called merchants of doubt, er are kind of, you know, of the firm belief that they know we have nothing to worry about.’ [starts at 2.46].

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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