Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

Archive for the ‘Confirmation bias’ Category

Why do our politicians not act on IPCC advice?

with 12 comments

Washington and Cook - Climate Change DenialI am hereby delighted to invite all my readers to indicate (by voting on a question [on the Survey Monkey website] that I have created) why they think our politicians continue to fail to respond effectively to the increasingly stark warnings (such as IPCC AR5 reports) from the scientific community?

With reference to my response to a recent comment on my blog, the choice seems to me to be either:

(a) they understand the risk of continuing inaction but believe taking action would be electorally suicidal;
or
(b) they discount the warnings because they choose to believe that technology alone will solve the problem.

What do people think? Is there another explanation?
Please vote at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TKNBN5P

If you feel you must insert an alternative explanation (the survey question allows this but I would prefer that people choose from the above options), please feel free to comment below as well (or instead).

N.B. This survey will close on the 13th of May and is not part of my PhD research.

Why am I here?

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My Dad with my children in 2008.

My Dad with my children in 2008.

This post is dedicated to the memory of my father, Henry Chester Lack (1926-2009), who would have been 88 today.

The University of Liverpool run an online training module for all off-Campus and/or International students in the first year of their PhD studies. As part of this, I have been asked to explain (to a non-technical audience) why I am doing what I am doing. Here is what I said:

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Q1. What do I intend to research?
I intend to research the historical development of the disputation of climate science in British newspapers since 1988. This will be done by keyword searches of online databases of newspaper content at specific times over the last 25 years. These will include the time of significant publications (e.g. IPCC reports) and events (e.g. extreme weather). The intention is to document the arguments of – and the counter-factual claims made by – those who dispute the reality, reliability and/or reasonableness of the scientific consensus (that ongoing change is primarily a consequence of the post-industrial burning of fossil fuels); and whether or not these have changed in response to increasing scientific confidence in that consensus.

Q2. Why does it interest me?
I believe this research will be of great societal benefit because the fossil fuel industry has spent much of the last three decades disputing the science indicating that our burning of its product is damaging the environment. In so doing, it has copied a strategy invented by the tobacco industry to delay the effective regulation of its business; and a large proportion of humanity appears to have failed to learn from this recent history. Consequently, disputing the reality, reliability or reasonableness of the modern consensus regarding climate science can only be justified by the invocation of scientific or political conspiracy theories.

Q3. What do you want your audience to learn as a result of reading this?
Conspiracy theory has been defined as the invocation of a more-complicated explanation for something (based on little or no evidence) in preference to the simplest-possible explanation (taking all evidence at face value). Whereas there is no precedent for the global scientific community conspiring to manufacture alarm simply to perpetuate scientific research (i.e. conspiracy theory), there is a precedent for global industries conspiring to manufacture doubt regarding very inconvenient science (i.e. conspiracy fact).

Q4. How can I make things more interesting?
Here is a quote from one of the heroes of modern climate science, Stephen H Schneider, who said: “If you deny a clear preponderance of evidence, you have crossed the line from legitimate skeptic to ideological denier.” In other words, the rejection of a clear preponderance of evidence is ideologically-motivated denial (not skepticism). To see the context within which Schneider reached this conclusion, please see the following article by John Mashey on DeSmogBlog (i.e. ‘Clearing the PR Pollution That Clouds Climate Science’) recently:
http://www.desmogblog.com/2014/04/18/pseudoskeptics-are-not-skeptics

Written by Martin Lack

30 April 2014 at 16:00

How NOT to be sceptical

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In the process of compiling my previous post, I was reminded of this one; and decided it warranted being re-posted in its own right…  Originally posted on 7 September 2011, as How to be a climate change “sceptic”, this is probably (even if I do say so myself) one of the best things I have ever written here (because it neatly summarises the raison d’etre of this blog).

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Washington and Cook - Climate Change DenialIf I have not said it before, the reason sceptic is inside quotation marks is because I take the view, as do Clive Hamilton, Peter Jacques, and David MacKay, that those who deny anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) are not sceptics at all.

As a consequence of this, my (MA in Environmental Politics) dissertation (researching climate change scepticism in the UK) included a threefold theoretical background, as summarised (on my old blog) as follows:
1. The philosophical roots of scepticism;
2. The political misuse of scepticism; and
3. The psychology of denial.

All of this leads me to offer readers this easy-to-use guide on “How to be a climate change ‘sceptic'”, as follows:
1. Assume everything you have been told by authority figures is a lie.
2. Assume, even though you are not an expert, that you know best.
3. Allow confirmation bias to prevent you from considering any information that might alert you to the fact that you are suffering from cognitive dissonance (i.e. “It is hard to convey just how selective you have to be to dismiss the evidence for climate change. You must climb over a mountain of evidence to pick up a crumb: a crumb which then disintegrates in your palm. You must ignore an entire canon of science, the statements of the world’s most eminent scientific institutions, and thousands of papers published in the foremost scientific journals…”George Monbiot, 10 May 2005).
4. Continue asserting your individual human rights whilst simultaneously ignoring your collective human responsibilities.
5. Maintain a utilitarian attitude to the environment (i.e. “use it up and wear it out”) despite mounting evidence to indicate that the ecological carrying capacity of planet Earth (w.r.t. humans at least) has already been exceeded.
6. Accuse anyone who asserts that there is cause for concern and/or an urgent need for radical action to mitigate humanity’s impact on the planet as being any or all of the following:- anti-human, anti-libertarian, anti-progress, anti-Western, and/or in favour of a new global socialist world government (“which is what the UN is all about, init!”).

In his book, ”Bad Science”, Ben Goldacre says that proponents of pseudoscience have succeeded in making people think science is impenetrable. However, the truth may be even more insidious because, by awakening people to the fact that they are regularly being lied to, these peddlers of pseudoscience have in fact contributed to – if not caused – a much more widespread distrust of science and all scientific authority.

Therefore, I would humlby suggest that claiming that humanity is not the cause of climate change is even more stupid – and even more dangerous – than claiming (as did Thabo Mbeki for a long time) that HIV is not the cause of AIDS.

TIME is not on the side of David Rose

with 12 comments

Thanks to Greenpeace for this amazing story:

Either David Rose has himself used the real (2007) cover to create the fake (1977) cover - or - he has been a little too ready to believe what he so wants to be true. Which is it David? The World is waiting for your answer.

Written by Martin Lack

29 June 2013 at 00:02

The ‘threadbare hypothesis’ of climate change

with 28 comments

Washington and Cook - Climate Change DenialThis is the Gospel according to Roger Helmer MEP (and Cambridge graduate in Mathematics) – whose non-expertise in the subject leads him to conclude that the climate is not changing; and to equate people concerned about climate change with those who once insisted the Earth was flat…

I am pleased to report that the comment that featured in my previous post, entitled ‘A letter to Roger Helmer UKIP MEP’, did appear on his blog.  

I am even more pleased that he decided to respond. Nevertheless, I am very disappointed by the extremely tired and pre-debunked arguments that he trots out.

But don’t just take my word for it; judge for yourself.  What follows is a transcript of his reply and my response (which has also appeared on his blog).  However, before you read that, see how many discredited arguments you can count in Roger’s remarks.

In response to my original comment, Roger Helmer said this:

Thanks Martin. Good question. Your are quite right that I am not “a scientist”, though you may also like to know that I have a Cambridge maths degree, and have followed a range of scientific issues that interest me. But the fact is that politicians have to make decisions and take positions on issues — and I suggest to you that I know a great deal more about science, and about energy policy, than most of the MPs who blindly voted through the disastrous Climate Change Act. I know enough about science to know that scientific questions are settled by the creation and testing of hypotheses — not by appeals to authority. The global warming hypothesis is looking increasingly threadbare. I also recall that a few hundred years ago all accepted authorities agreed that the world was flat, and you could be burned at the stake for taking an alternative view…

My reply to that load of dingo’s kidneys was as follows:

I take it you mean you have not seen enough evidence yet. If so, it would help if you looked at some (rather than relying upon anargumentum ad verecundiam of your own – courtesy of the very few people who tell you want you want to hear).

The passing of the Climate Change Act in 2008 was a landmark in cross-party co-operation at a national level, and may even have convinced the Chinese that some Western countries are actually willing to acknowledge their responsibility for the bulk of historical CO2 emissions. The Communist Party of China may now only be acting in the interests of self-preservation, but at least it is acting (rather than continuing to dispute the science).

It is interesting that you should mention belief in a Flat Earth – or that the Sun revolves around the Earth – as this is directly comparable with the disputation of climate science today. Climate change“sceptics” are not like Galileo. Galileo confronted an obscurantist Establishment with evidence that it refused to look at (such as moons orbiting Jupiter) and insisted that – as the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west – it was very obvious that the Sun goes round the Earth and not vice versa.

The only obscurantist Establishment today is the fossil fuel industry: In order to describe climate science as a threadbare hypothesis it is necessary to put your faith in a handful of industry-funded contrarians (like Roy Spencer or Richard Lindzen) who – having been theologically or politically prejudiced before looking at any data – would have us all believe that the majority of climate scientists are now behaving like an obscurantist Establishment themselves. This is, to say the very least, highly improbable.

Given the fact that theoretical heat-trapping effect of CO2 was deduced from basic principles, tested in a laboratory, and continues to be validated by events (i.e. global warming did not stop in 1998, etc), your position is simply not credible: Indeed, it is comparable to someone insisting that the Earth is only 6000 years old – which is very easy to do if you reject every piece of evidence that suggests otherwise as part of a scientific and/or political conspiracy.
http://www.desmogblog.com/2012/11/15/why-climate-deniers-have-no-credibility-science-one-pie-chart

I suspect that, by now, Roger has dismissed me as a self-deluded eco-Marxist.  However, what he and every other Maths graduate from Cambridge who thinks he knows best need to remember is this:  

Reality is not altered by what you decide your personalised version of the truth is going to be.

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Addendum (for all those who struggle with the basics of atmospheric physics):

Global warming is manifested in a number of ways, and there is a continuing radiative imbalance at the top of atmosphere. The current hiatus in surface warming is [therefore] temporary, and global warming has not gone away. — From ‘Global warming is here to stay, whichever way you look at it’, by Kevin Trenberth on The Conversation website (23 May 2013).

Written by Martin Lack

27 May 2013 at 00:02

Past performance is not a predictor of future results

with 6 comments

As it says on my About page,  “The driver of an accelerating car about to hit a brick wall might well say ‘so far so good’ – but that does not mean that the wall is not there!” — John Dryzek (2005: 70).

“So far so good… No! Wait!… Oh shi…”

This is the almost-ubiquitous advice of stockbrokers but, sadly, it is almost universally ignored.

As ccgwebmaster recently observed wryly in a comment on this very blog:

I have never died before. Does this mean I can presume upon my immortality?

I would therefore like to take this opportunity to make a few suggestions to all those who think concern for the environment is a false alarm, a new religion, or an excuse to curtail your freedom or tax you more heavily:
1. Grow up.
2. Go back to school.
3. Open your eyes and look out the window.
4. Stop cherry-picking data that reinforces your prejudice.
5. Stop ignoring all the data that contradicts your misperception of reality.
6. Read this Wikipedia article on the New World Order – it might just open up your mind.
7. Read this Skeptical Science article on the History of Climate Science – it might just resolve your confusion.

My book compared to Merchants of Doubt

with 3 comments

merchantsofdoubtIn the Preface to my book, The Denial of Science: Analysing climate change scepticism in the UK, I make clear that it was reading Merchants of Doubt, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, that prompted me to do the research that my book summarises.

Therefore, I am delighted here to reproduce the review of my book by Vice-President of the Geological Society, Dr Colin Summerhayes, now published on Amazon.co.uk, in which this comparison is made. Although Dr Summerhayes has asked me to stress that his review his solely a statement of his personal opinions, he agreed that it would be appropriate for me to highlight the expertise that perhaps make his opinions significant: Dr Summerhayes is a marine geologist and oceanographer with a particular interest in the Antarctic. As such, since 2010, he has been an Emeritus Associate of the of the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) – a part of Cambridge University. Prior to that, Dr Summerhayes was Executive Director of the International Council for Science’s Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) and, as such, was also one of the editors of the Antarctic Climate Change and the Environment report published by SCAR in 2002. For the record, Dr Summerhayes was also, to my knowledge, the only other non-sceptical person in the audience when Professor Richard Lindzen gave his now infamous talk in a Committee Room of the Palace of Westminster in February 2012 (which I refer to as Lindzengate).

However, without further ado, here is the review posted on Amazon by Dr Summerhayes:

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In 2010, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway did a service to science when they documented the manufacture of doubt about human-caused global warming by many of the same people who brought us ‘safe’ cigarettes. Most of their book focussed on doubt generated in the USA. The attack on the science of global warming remains shrill, and it comes from within the UK as well. Martin Lack has provided much the same service as Oreskes and Conway by documenting the UK’s sources of doubt about this socially important topic. Lack starts out by addressing the philosophical roots of scepticism, its misappropriation for ideological reasons and the psychological causes of denial. He lists the main UK organizations, scientists, economists, journalists, politicians and others promulgating ‘denial’ of the science of human-induced climate change. Rather than labelling these ‘agents’ ‘deniers’, Lack prefers to label them ‘sceptic’ or ‘contrarian’, citing Robert Henson’s definition of the climate change contrarian position (in the 2008 second edition of “The Rough Guide to Climate Change”) as: “The atmosphere may not be warming; but if it is, this is probably due to natural variation; but if it isn’t, the amount of warming is probably not significant; but if it is, the benefits should outweigh the disadvantages; but if they don’t, technology should be able to solve problems as they arise; but if it can’t, we shouldn’t wreck the economy to fix the problem”. Scientific scepticism is healthy and widespread within the climate science community, the group of people who actually know what they are talking about when it comes to human-caused climate change. Their collective view could be called ‘scientific consensus, or scientific authority, or conventional scientific wisdom’. It is this ‘mainstream’ view that is attacked by the contrarians. Their common argument is that this or that particular point is wrong, hence the whole edifice is wrong. Such an approach displays a fatal misunderstanding of what Karl Popper meant by falsification. Read Lack and learn.

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My book is now available in electronic form – search any online bookstore website for the ISBN 9781481783989 – and if it does not show up on Amazon.com please pester them until it does.

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