27 March 2013

How not to prove you’re not wearing a tin foil hat.

Posted by Dan Satterfield


From xkcd.com. Gotta lovem!

Do those who think climate science is a giant hoax or a conspiracy, also tend to have other conspiratorial type beliefs? A paper written back in 2010 attempted to answer that question:

(Lewandowsky, S., Oberauer, K., and Gignac, G. E. in press). NASA faked the moon landing–therefore (climate) science is a hoax: an anatomy of the motivated rejection of science. Psychol. Sci. doi:10.1177/0956797612457686).

The paper did indeed discover such a connection (and based on the emails I get when I write about climate science here, it was not much of a surprise). I still wonder what psychological factors/experiences etc. make people to be susceptible to these ideas.

You might also wonder what the climate change denial crowd thought of this paper, and to say the least they did not like it at all! The reaction was actually quite interesting, and John Cook (the Physicist in Australia who writes the blog Skeptical Science) got together with Psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky and others to study the reaction. What they wanted to know was this: Did the reaction to the original paper show commonly accepted “conspiricist ideation”? In non psychological babble- did the climate science denial blogosphere start coming up with conspiracy theories about the paper that said they tended to be conspiracy minded??!

The paper they wrote has just been published and you can read it by clicking the image below. It is A LONG paper, but it was a real riot!

In short, some of the bloggers who were upset at the original paper quickly manufactured several conspiracy theories about the validity of the paper itself! The new paper (Recursive fury) documents this, and John Cook wrote a summary about it on Skeptical Science. Well worth a read, and I definitely learned a little psychology.

A little teaser from John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky’s post- The 6 criteria for conspiratorial thinking:

1. Nefarious Intent: Assuming that the presumed conspirators have nefarious intentions. For example, if person X assumes that blogger Y colluded with the New York Times to publish a paper damaging to X, then X presumes nefarious intent on the part of Y.

2. Persecuted Victim: Self-identifying as the victim of an organised persecution.

3. Nihilistic Skepticism: Refusing to believe anything that doesn’t fit into the conspiracy theory. Note that “conspiracy theory” here is a fairly broad term and need not involve a global conspiracy (e.g., that NASA faked the moon landing) but can refer to small-scale events and hypotheses.

4. Nothing occurs by Accident: Weaving any small random event into the conspiracy narrative.

5. Something Must be Wrong: Switching liberally between different, even contradictory conspiracy theories that have in common only the presumption that there is something wrong in the official account by the alleged conspirators. Thus, people may simultaneously believe that Princess Diana faked her own death and that she was assassinated by MI5.

6.Self-Sealing reasoning: Interpreting any evidence against the conspiracy as evidence for the conspiracy. For example, when climate scientists are exonerated of any wrong-doing 9 times over by different investigations, this is reinterpreted to imply that the climate-change conspiracy involves not just the world’s climate scientists but also the investigating bodies and associated governments.