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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Lewandowsky: A Cabal of Bankers and Sister Souljah

A Cabal of Bankers and Sister Souljah

by Stephan Lewandowsky (Winthrop Professor, School of Psychology, University of Western Australia), Shaping Tomorrow's WorldSeptember 9, 2012
One of the many adverse consequences of knee-jerk science rejection is the voluminous noise generated in response to certain events, such as the recent publication of my paper on rejection of science and conspiracist ideation. Whenever baseless accusations are launched, whether against me or other scientists, this detracts attention from other potentially substantive issues.

My inbox has been overflowing with messages relating to my paper, to the point where I can no longer guarantee a personal response to each message. Some emails raise good points and substantive scientific issues. Likewise, the comment stream on my earlier posts contain some interesting points, and I apologize for not being able to engage with the comments to the extent that I would like—I am however monitoring them so I can make a note of important insights.

I will endeavour to take up those substantive issues here as time permits. I consider the following points to be particularly worthy of discussion in connection with my forthcoming paper:
  • The distinction between conspiracist ideation and meritorious criticism.
  • Outlier detection and interpretation of extreme responses.
  • The role of structural equation modelling and how it differs from Excel cross-tabulation.
  • Details of the methodology and the supplementary online material.
I look forward to posting on those issues (roughly in the above order) in the near future.

I would do so sooner if my time weren’t also occupied with other, comparatively trivial matters, such as the identity of those “skeptic” bloggers whom I contacted for my study. I have several phone conversations scheduled for tomorrow, Monday, W.A. time, with the ethics committee at my university. I will report on the outcome as soon as a decision has been finalized.

I want to offer some further thoughts on the crucial notion of “triage,” that is, the separation of an intellectual signal from the noise of the echo chambers:
  • One must differentiate between the organized purveyors and pushers of science denial on the one hand, and the “consumers” of such denial on the other. While the former legitimately attract moral scorn because their conduct causes much human pain, the latter are in a very different category. This distinction can be brought into sharp focus by considering AIDS denial: The purveyors of pseudo-scientific nonsense who convinced South Africa’s President Mbeki that antiretroviral drugs were “racist” medicine deserve little other than moral contempt. Their actions have killed—330,000 people in South Africa alone, based on the peer-reviewed literature—and their actions continue to kill.

    The sick and desperate people who turn to the purveyors of denial to deal with their tragic illness, by contrast, deserve not contempt but compassion, however ill-informed and counter-productive their actions may have been. The triage between the perpetrators and the victims of science denial is, alas, frequently very difficult and I can only highlight that dilemma without being able to resolve it.

    In this context, it is of interest that my forthcoming paper on the rejection of science found a stronger link between conspiracist ideation and the rejection of sciences other than climate science (including rejection of the link between HIV and AIDS). To date, however, this fact has been overshadowed by the eager self-immolation of the climate-denial community, who has seen fit to respond to my paper with more conspiracist ideation than my modest survey could have ever uncovered.
  • There are subtle indications that even among climate “skeptics” a penny has dropped. Ardent “skeptics” suddenly recognize the need to address their own fringe. This is best illustrated by the moves of Mr. Andrew Bolt, a right-wing blogger and Murdoch columnist, who commands a large audience in Australia despite his high-profile conviction for racial vilification.

    Mr. Bolt has referred to me variously as a global warming evangelist or smearer. Despite those obvious failings, Mr. Bolt publicly distanced himself from the “Galileo Movement.” The Galileo Movement is an Australian climate-denial outfit that variously reminds me of Monty Python and Fox News.

    Although initially listed as one of their "advisors," together with other practicing scientists such as  Australia's most famous shock jock, Mr. Bolt discovered that the Movement's views about climate science comprise an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory involving a “cabal” of bankers who strive to dominate the world via carbon trading (or something like that, I apologize if I have not penetrated the full nuances of this theory).

    If even Mr. Bolt is concerned about anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, then we have arrived at a Sister Souljah moment for climate denial.

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