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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

So what is this “science” of which you speak so highly?

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky and two colleagues from the University of Western Australia published a paper called ‘NASA faked the moon landing – Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax:An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science’.

Johnathan Pearce mentioned it in this post. As I said in the comments, Bishop Hill and other sceptical blogs made scathing criticisms of the survey. For instance, according to Australian Climate Madness, the headline finding about disbelief in the moon landings was produced from a mere ten responses, some or all of which looked likely to be jokers. The whole internet survey had only about 1100 self-selected responses. That self-selection makes it about as reliable as the surveys of the readers of bridal magazines that claim that the average cost of a wedding is £20,273 in the UK, or $26,501 in the US and are every year quoted as fact by credulous journalists.

To their credit, some commenters from the warmist side of the aisle also queried the obviously leading questions. Questions were asked from all sides as to why almost no effort seems to have been made to gather responses from AGW-sceptic blogs, leaving the sceptic responders to come almost entirely from those controversialists who post at warmist blogs. There was a farcical subplot in which Lewandowsky initially refused to reveal which sceptical blogs he had contacted. He does not seem to have asked many of the biggest sceptical blogs, such as Watts Up With That?, or to have made more than token efforts to get noticed by those sceptic blogs he did contact. Shall I go on? There was no option for “don’t know” or “no opinion” in the survey questions. The conspiracies chosen were mainly “right wing” conspiracies, such as Birtherism, rather than “left wing” ones, such as those relating to “Big Oil”. There were inadequate safeguards against multiple returns by the same person, or joke returns by any person. Different versions of the survey were sent out to different people – but not randomly, which would have been defensible; rather some blogs got one version and others got another. Results were being discussed online while the survey was still open, corrupting later responses. I will stop there. If you want to read more, just Google “Lewandowsky”.

Professor Lewandowsky’s response to criticism was revealing.

If I am not mistaken, I can indeed confirm that there were 4—not 3—versions of the survey (unless that was the number of my birth certificates, I am never quite sure, so many numbers to keep track of… Mr. McIntyre’s dog misplaced an email under a pastrami sandwich a mere 8.9253077595543363 days ago, and I have grown at least one tail and several new horns over the last few days, all of which are frightfully independent and hard to keep track of).


Finally this new friend from Conspirania is getting some legs.

About time, too, I was getting lonely.

Astute readers will have noted that if the Survey ID’s from above are vertically concatenated and then viewed backwards at 33 rpm, they read “Mitt Romney was born in North Korea.”

To understand the relevance of Mr Romney’s place of birth requires a secret code word. This code word, provided below, ought to be committed to memory before burning this post.

So here it is, the secret code. Read it backwards: gnicnalabretnuoc.

Translations are available in any textbook for Methodology 101.

Don’t give up the day job, Professor. On second thoughts, maybe a career in comedy is the way to go. There was a time when a scientist responding to criticism in such a fashion would have had a career change forced upon him.

This survey was published in the journal Psychological Science.
Reported seriously in the Telegraph and other newspapers.
Peer reviewed and everything.

It does make you wonder. Compared to most readers of this blog, I am still a warmist. But ever since I first saw the term “climate denier” I have worried about what an opinion becoming a cause would do to scientists. I feared, and still do fear, that if having a certain scientific opinion can get a scientist bracketed with Holocaust deniers, then perhaps researchers might unconsciously shy away from results that might have that result. Now that fear is joined by another. As for sticks, so for carrots. If a scientist can be published and lauded for coming up with the equivalent of “nine out of ten cats we tested prefer KittyTwinks to swamp mud” so long as his or her findings promote the Cause, then perhaps researchers might unconsciously prefer results that get that result.

11 comments to So what is this “science” of which you speak so highly?

  • Frank S

    Don’t be a warmer, Natalie. The prospect of a cooling phase due to a combination of a cool-phase PDO and a less active Sun looks far more plausible. You would also put a little clear water between your good self and the ludicrous Prof.

  • JimGl

    Quote: I am still a warmist. But ever since I first saw the term “climate denier” I have worried about what an opinion becoming a cause would do to scientists. I feared, and still do fear, that if having a certain scientific opinion can get a scientist bracketed with Holocaust deniers, then perhaps researchers might unconsciously shy away from results that might have that result. Now that fear is joined by another.

    What? You never heard of “Silent Spring” which just had its fifties birthday, or the “hole in the ozone layer” or “Acid Rain”? The libs have been doing this “shit” for almost 50 years

  • veryretired

    Once again, the crucial issue is not whether the earth’s climate in changing—it does so on a regular, cyclical basis.

    The previous cycle was the “Little Ice Age”, which ended in the early 1800′s, and the current cycle is a gradual warming, both periods alternating around the overall average temperatures of the globe in this 10,000 year long inter-glacial era.

    None of this is the least bit unsupported by historical evidence and scientific fact, the massaged data of the fallacious “hockey stick” notwithstanding.

    The critical element in all the arguing and theorizing is the relentless attempt to find modern human technological culture at fault, and therefore in need of the sort of restructuring that can only occur if the rights and freedoms of the citizenry are abandoned, and all decisions in society are made by an allegedly competent political elite.

    It is no mere coincidence that an identical solution to any number of previous crises has been repeatedly asserted by the same cast of characters that now claim the salvation of the earth can only be assured if they and their ideological comrades are put in charge, and the modern technological economy is dismantled, to be replaced with the subsistence economy which the last few hundred years of human effort around the world has striven to improve and replace.

    It is not warming or cooling which is the issue in this debate, but the very distinct difference between freedom and serfdom.

    My ancestors threw themselves into an unknown and uncertain future to achieve the former, and escape the latter. Their descendents will not willingly forfeit that back-breaking effort, nor surrender their victory over despotism and poverty, for this bowl of poisonous pottage.

    Our birthright will not be sold so cheaply.

  • There is a lot of difference between social science and natural science.

    In particular, natural science requires evidence rather than just opinion.

    Best regards

  • Bombadil

    veryretired’s comments are straight to the point.

    I would add two things.

    1) Consensus is a ridiculous way to do scientific work. If you want to make an empirical case for anthropogenic global warming, then propose a falsifiable hypothesis in support of it and devise a means of testing your hypothesis. But stuff your consensus where the sun don’t shine.

    2) Any “science” which relies almost wholly upon computer models which have yet to make ANY accurate predictions is bunk science to me. But it’s easy to shut me up: simply use your marvelous models to tell me whether it will be warmer or cooler, on average, 5 years from now. Plant a flag, don’t hedge your bets, and let’s test the models out. Because the only criterion for the value of a model is its usefulness in prediction. Not its expense; not the number of PHD’s who make their careers working on it; ONLY it’s predictive utility.

    So propose a testable hypothesis; make a prediction about the FUTURE with your models – and let’s see where the state of climate science actually is.

  • mdc

    Great post Natalie, and I would like to support your choice to not be an ardent sceptic. In my very brief career in an unrelated field of science, I have been wrong about enough trivial and uncontroversial things that I don’t feel like nailing my colours to the mast on this issue, and unlike most others with strong negative opinions, I actually know something about the subject.

    I think that when one (or both?!) sides in this turns out to be wrong, it’s going to discredit a lot of ultimately unrelated ideological views in the process. I hope those aren’t ours this time!

  • jerry

    Or course the climate is changing – it always has.
    It’s cycles are documented and provable. Is it getting warmer of colder ?? Beats me but I know that there isn’t a damn thing humans can do about it because we have NO CONTROL over the Sun which is by far and away the largest influence on our climate.

    JimGi is correct. This crap of keeping the general populace scared and worried about SOMETHING has been going on for DECADES. Read Scared to Death by Christopher Booker & Richard North.

    VeryRetired, I hope and pray your prediction is
    correct !

    Bombadil touches on the problem with today’s ‘science’ where it seems EVERYTHING is done by computer. Look up and read ‘Aliens Cause Global Warming’ by Michael Crichton and you will see how we have gotten to the point where thesis/experimentation/testing/repeatability have been replaced by ‘consensus of opinion’ when doing ‘scientific research’ !!!!

    I won’t say what I think should have been done with Rachel Carson and her Silent Spring claptrap but the elimination of DDT has caused untold deaths and suffering from malaria just to name one of the consequences.

  • Stonyground

    I think that you should be aware that many predictions have been made. Regarding in particular such things as, rising sea levels, increases in hurricane activity, and the disappearance of snow from UK winters.

  • Bombadil

    There is a good overview of climate models here: Wikipedia Global climate model(Link). If you read through the information there it becomes clear that the strong correlation of >0.9 shown on the best models (Link to precipitation correlations with models) is for correlation with past data. However there is a graph showing mean predictions for the climate models there (Link).

    All well and good … however, read through the predictions. They are hedged and qualified to the point of meaninglessness. Money quote: “For the six SRES marker scenarios, IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (2007:7-8) gave a “best estimate” of global mean temperature increase (2090-2099 relative to the period 1980-1999) that ranged from 1.8 °C to 4.0 °C. Over the same time period, the IPCC gave a “likely” range (greater than 66% probability, based on expert judgement) for these scenarios was for a global mean temperature increase of between 1.1 and 6.4 °C. These ranges stem from a combination of uncertainty over future emissions and variations between models regarding the expected response to a given set of emissions. The figure above, showing the disagreement among models for a single scenario, illustrates the latter kind of uncertainty.

    Now I completely agree that uncertainty in modeling is no sin, and acknowledging the unknown factors in the model is good science. But remember, the people at the political end of the AGW movement want to dismantle our material civilization based on the predictions of these models. They want to make substantial reductions in our personal freedoms in the name of “saving the planet”.

    And they want to do it based on predictions, loaded with uncertainties, that range from 1.1 to 6.4c over the next 80 years.

    No thanks. Give me a prediction about 2015 to test the quality of your models. Broad predictions like increase in snow in the UK are a good start, I concede it. But will the mean temperature in the UK be higher or lower in 2015 than it is now, according to the models? If you look at that predictions graph, it’s pretty difficult to tell in the near term, and predictions about what will happen 80 years from now are useless to determine whether we should let the output from a model take away our liberties today.

    Of course, none of this even begins to address the question of anthropogenic global warming, as opposed to the natural cyclical warming and cooling that has been occurring for millions of years.

    Finally, does my skepticism, my refusal to simply accept what my betters at the IPCC tell me, make me a Denier? Not a skeptic, not an unconvinced person, not someone who is discomfited by the sight of the same old salivating commies who have been trying to get themselves put in charge of the rest of us for the past 60 years standing in line with “Save the Earth” tshirts on, but a Denier. The term clearly tries to tie my views with the views of Holocaust Denialists (or if you don’t think it does, give another example of Denier as a noun applied to a class of skeptic about some issue).

    It tastes a lot like an attempt to browbeat the Bourgies into accepting the rule of the Bolshies. No thanks.

  • I have analyzed this paper on my own blog in some detail.
    The argument in short
    1) The climate debate is settled as most scientists agree.
    2) Climate deniers also believe in every conspiracy theory going, including that NASA faked the Moon Landings.
    3) The most important finding was that climate deniers also believe in the free-market ideas.
    4) In conclusion, the only ones who object to our ideas are evil nutters. They must be shut-up, as they are undermining the truth.

    My counter arguments are
    1) The first survey quoted shows that people believe in what they do. (Ditto Economists of a particular school of thought). The second survey asked trivial questions.
    2) No they don’t. Most responses (98%) moderately or strongly rejected conspiracy theories for all the non-climate or “New World Order” conspiracy theories. There was little difference whether the people accepted or rejected climate science. (The strong statistical correlation is based (a) on a couple of conspiracies related to climate (b)a few rogue responses coupled with the consistent rejection of conspiracies in all groups. A correlation was found between those who reject the science, and the climate conspiracy theory. But there was no question on “Climate denial is funded by big oil” Considering 75% of responses were from those who accept the science, this was a glaring omission, meaning that the control group was biased.
    3) This is probably correct, only free-market types are first and foremost libertarian. Lewandowsky did not ask any use the word, probably because of its antonym.
    4) The are plenty of historical examples of people who monopolize the truth. I cannot think of any admirable ones.