Lack of Environment

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

Climate change denial IS conspiracy theory

with 50 comments

I am growing increasingly tired of the circular nature of arguments about climate change.  People who are supposedly ‘sceptical’ only have four arguments, which are as follows: (1) It ain’t happening; (2) It ain’t us; (3) It ain’t bad; and (4) It ain’t worth fixing.

However, climate change is happening, human activity is the primary cause, it is going to be bad, and, if we don’t fix it, the sixth mass extinction now underway will kill the majority of species on the planet.  This is the settled opinion of the vast majority of relevant experts.  Dismissing their opinions can only be justified by one of two basic kinds of conspiracy theory:

Scientific conspiracy theories:  ‘Scientists are just trying to perpetuate their research funding’ (etc).

Political conspiracy theories:  ‘The ‘IPCC is just trying to subvert national government via the UN’ (etc).

Unfortunately, when you point this out to conspiracy theorists, they don’t like it.  This is because, sadly, they are in denial about being in denial.

Stephan Lewandowsky

In 2012, Stephan Lewandowsky et al published research – in the Psychological Science journal – highlighting the fact that rejection of the scientific consensus regarding primary human causation of ongoing climate disruption correlates very strongly with invocation of conspiracy theory explanations for other things:  NASA Faked the Moon Landing—Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science.

In response, the conspiracy theorists who got annoyed at being labelled conspiracy theorists, invoked conspiracy theories in an attempt to discredit the research.  Lewandowsky et al were so astonished by this that they published a second ‘Recursive Fury’ article – on the Frontiers journal website.

Now, over 12 months since the latter was removed from the website – because of threats of legal action from conspiracy theorists – the Frontiers journal have taken the extra-ordinary step of retracting the article’s publication (in their journal) altogether.  Fortunately, the article remains on the website of the University of Western Australia (PDF) – who have accepted that it is valid, ethical and legally defensible.

As a result of events last week, however, things are not looking good for the Frontiers journal, as I will now attempt to explain:

On the 21 March this year, the Frontiers journal retracted the ‘Recursive Fury’ article, despite finding no ethical flaws in the research: citing legal ‘issues’ raised by the climate change deniers that had objected to being labelled as conspiracy theorists.

Last Friday, however, in response to objections from a variety of academics – including one who peer-reviewed the article prior to publication, which appeared on The Conversation blog and was reprinted on the Scientific American website –  the Frontiers journal published a second statement asserting that they had not been threatened by legal action and dismissing the research by Lewandowsky et al as invalid (despite having previously stated they had found the research to be ethically and legally defensible).

If you want to catch up on the back story to all of this (before things get interesting for the Frontiers journal), please read the excellent summary by Graham Redfearn on DeSmog blog.

It would seem to me that both Lewandowsky and those that peer-reviewed the Recursive Fury article have little choice now but to sue Frontiers for defamation of character.


UPDATE (1215 GMT Monday 7th April 2014): Stephan Lewandowsky has issued a very polite statement demonstrating how hard it is to reconcile the second Frontiers statement with the facts of history (as documented by the article’s authors and reviewers): Revisiting a retraction

50 Responses

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  1. Yes, I largely agree. With all due respect to noted skeptics it’s very hard to see how they can argue that their views are not, by definition, effectively a form of conspiracy ideation. As you say, either it’s because scientists are looking for funding, governments want to control us, the IPCC is trying to be alarmist so as to influence policy, or there’s groupthink (or some combination of these). All of these seem like forms of conspiracy ideation. Maybe it’s time they actually accepted this. They may be right, although that would be remarkable and extremely unlikely. In some sense, we should probably hope that they are, because the alternative isn’t particularly good.

    • Thanks. The literature review I have undertaken as the first step along my road to getting a PhD has confirmed that there is indeed ‘Nothing New Under the Sun‘. I am therefore struggling to see where climate change denial is going in the long run… Deniers are losing a fight with science and history – I just hope that they are not taking most of the species on this planet with them on a journey to extinction.

      Martin Lack

      6 April 2014 at 13:42

  2. Have you taken your med’s today you seem a little out of sort’s ?


    6 April 2014 at 13:38

    • No, have you? You seem a little incapable of formulating a counter argument?

      Martin Lack

      6 April 2014 at 13:43

  3. Bye the Bye his paper was crap why else hide the data ?


    6 April 2014 at 13:42

    • That sounds like a conspiracy theory to me. Why have UWA stood by the research? (Are they part of your conspiracy too?)

      Martin Lack

      6 April 2014 at 13:45

      • lorne50 is proud to be a conspiracy theorist. The wingnuttery is on display at Yup, environmentalism is genocide. “Global warming has always been about politics, not science.” – has Fourier, Tyndall and Callendar rolling in their graves.


        6 April 2014 at 15:55

        • Thanks for the enlightenment, John. Sorry for the delay in spreading it.

          Martin Lack

          7 April 2014 at 10:52

  4. I think you should go easy on ‘lorne50’. We shouldn’t expect her to understand the science if she isn’t capable of constructing a sentence without making elementary grammatical errors.


    6 April 2014 at 14:11

    • Thanks, John. Are you going to set up the new RSPCA – ‘Royal Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Apostrophes’ – (or shall I)…?:-)

      Martin Lack

      6 April 2014 at 14:18

      • The leading edge of the great extinction of grammar to come

        Eli Rabett

        6 April 2014 at 18:21

        • Thanks Eli. Have we now overcome out initial misunderstanding on Judith Curry’s ‘Climate etc’ blog?

          Martin Lack

          7 April 2014 at 10:57

  5. Mind you, Martin, there are conspiracy theorists. There are also real conspiracies.


    6 April 2014 at 16:15

    • I have never disputed that their are conspiracies; I only seek to make the point that climate science is not one of them.

      Martin Lack

      7 April 2014 at 10:53

      • Indeed. Scientists are not in a conspiracy. Some denialists are.


        7 April 2014 at 11:56

  6. Climate deniers are the lowest human sort, the sort that kills for greed. Faced with overwhelming evidence of all types, they deny, because they are paid to do so, by their masters, the conspiring plutocrats. Never mind that the biosphere is threatened with quasi-extinction.

    Patrice Ayme

    6 April 2014 at 16:24

    • Thanks Patrice. You speak of an elite minority. Most climate ‘sceptics’ are just people who have been fooled by these professional misinformers.

      Martin Lack

      7 April 2014 at 10:54

  7. It’s no coincidence that the USA is the den of climate, evolution, government denial, etc. Being, to start with, the den of justice denial helps. See the latest Supreme Court decision:
    By a five-to-four decision, the United States Supreme Court today defended the right of the wealthiest Americans to own the United States government.

    Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts summarized the rationale behind the Court’s decision: “In recent years, this Court has done its level best to remove any barriers preventing the wealthiest in our nation from owning our government outright. And while the few barriers that remained were flimsy at best, it was high time that they be shredded as well.”

    Citing the United States Constitution, Justice Roberts wrote, “Our founding fathers created the most magnificent democracy in human history. Now, thanks to this decision, the dream of owning that democracy is a reality.”

    Patrice Ayme

    6 April 2014 at 16:30

    • -5,000 points for quoting a New Yorker humor/satire piece as fact, was The Onion unavailable?

      If you fail to take down the false quote, are you practicing denialism?


      6 April 2014 at 21:13

      • Absolutely not, Harkin. Borowitz is quoted in my link above, in the comments. The Borowitz quote can be viewed as an abstract of my very serious essay, that was written 2 days prior. In a way, it’s an abstract of my essay (let me repeat to you as you seem epistemologically challenged: it’s denial to deny that Borowitz exactly repeated the substance of what I said). The difference is that I am serious, so I had to say that Roberts acted as if he were talking to total idiots.

        Patrice Ayme

        7 April 2014 at 16:22

        • You quote Borowitz and you attribute it to Roberts. Any junior college journalism instructor would give you an F.

          Meanwhile back on earth……..


          8 April 2014 at 02:13

        • Harkin: You seem thoroughly confused. Sorry if I confused you. It’s simple. The Supreme Court of the USA is bought. Go back to my general essay on that, and learn about the rich judges (up to 20 million dollars for some, although they never had high paying job).

          Patrice Ayme

          8 April 2014 at 03:40

    • It is indeed a sad day for democracy when the judiciary reinforces the ability of vested interests to trash the planet. It reads like the screenplay to ‘Elysium’.

      Martin Lack

      7 April 2014 at 10:56

  8. I’m confused. By my reading, you’re saying anyone who denies climate change “will kill the majority of species on the planet” can justify their belief by resorting to conspiracy theories. Is that correct? If so, where is this strong statement about mass extinction expressed as the consensus view?

    Also, you claim the paper was retracted by the journal which cited legal issues “raised by climate change deniers that had objected to being labelled as conspiracy theorists.” This seems to say everyone who filed a complaint with the journal was a climate change denier who had been labelled a conspiracy theorist. Is that correct?

    Brandon Shollenberger

    6 April 2014 at 21:41

    • Brandon, as I have now said numerous times on Twitter, the headline for the IPCC AR5 WG2 report is that the effects of climate change will be “severe, pervasive and irreversible”. When you unpack this statement, it supports the consensus view that, unless we take rapid and sustained action, ongoing climate change will lead to the sixth mass extinction of species. This is not altered by semantic and pedantic argument about the ambiguity of the words I used (i.e. whether the majority of individuals or species are at risk and/or whether they are actively killed or die passively)… and disputing the reality, reliability and/or reasonableness of the scientific consensus can only be justified by belief in either a scientific or political conspiracy to foist environmental alarmism upon a credulous world.

      I am confident that the second retraction statement from Frontiers journal can and will be shown to be verifiable false. The journal was threatened with legal action by conspiracy theorists who objected to being labelled as such; and it is now attempting to re-write history. In the circumstances, I think Stephan Lewandowsky’s response to it is incredibly polite.

      Martin Lack

      7 April 2014 at 11:15

      • Martin Lack, thank you for your response. While we may just have to disagree about some things, I hope you’ll acknowledge the IPCC WG2 did not say “the effects of climate change will be ‘severe, pervasive and irreversible.'” What it actually said is “increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts.” There is an enormous difference between saying “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” will be more likely and saying they are guaranteed. I don’t see how either statement indicates a consensus global warming will “lead to the sixth mass extinction of species,” but hopefully we can at least agree on what was said.

        As for the rest, I obviously disagree with your views as I am one of the people who filed a complaint with the journal. I don’t believe global warming will lead to a mass extinction event like you describe,
        I don’t believe there’s a conspiracy regarding global warming, and I’ve never made a legal threat in my life. I think your views are quite misguided.

        Of course, you don’t have to agree or even believe me.

        Brandon Shollenberger

        7 April 2014 at 18:10

        • Brandon, I think you have become so adept at taking things out of context that you do not even realise you are doing it. The important part of my comment that you appear to overlook is “unless we take rapid and sustained action”. This makes the IPCC headline a conditional statement.

          You are quite right, I don’t have to agree with you or believe you. That is because your beliefs are irrelevant (and so are mine). However, if you are not a conspiracy theorist, you need to explain why you reject the settled opinion of the vast majority of relevant experts (whom you describe as misguided). To do this without invoking (scientific or political) conspiracy theory, I think you will find yourself relying upon the fallacy of the marketplace of ideas.

          Martin Lack

          8 April 2014 at 13:09

        • Martin Lack, you have a disturbing tendency to misrepresent what people say. For example, you just claimed I describe “the vast majority of relevant experts… as misguided.” I’ve done nothing of the sort. I said I think your views are misguided. You are not the vast majority of relevant experts, and you can be mistaken about what the vast majority of relevant experts believe.

          I’d ask you refrain from painting gross caricatures of my views. The only person I’ve said is wrong in this topic is you. That doesn’t say anything about the consensus position on global warming other than I think you’ve described it inaccurately. Incidentally, I’d say it is pretty reasonable for me to say you’re wrong given you’ve been unable to provide a shred of evidence the consensus position is global warming could lead to a mass extinction event that would kill 50%+ species on this planet. [A patently false statement – see my response below. – ML]

          To put it simply, I think you are misrepresenting any consensus there may be on global warming. That’s not saying there’s a conspiracy. It’s saying you’re wrong. [An utterly illogical statement. My position **is** that of the consensus; and disputing its existence necessitates belief in some form of conspiracy or collective hypnosis. – ML]

          Brandon Shollenberger

          8 April 2014 at 16:34

        • Given your prominence in the manufactured controversy surrounding Lewandowsky et al, I guess it is hardly surprising that you adopt such a robust manner in your attempts to invert reality. Although I may have not expressed it with the same level of precision, my position is that of the vast majority of relevantly qualified experts (as summarised [in accordance with their mandate] by the IPCC):

          Increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts. Some risks of climate change are considerable at 1 or 2°C above preindustrial levels (as shown in Assessment Box SPM.1). Global climate change risks are high to very high with global mean temperature increase of 4°C or more above preindustrial levels in all reasons for concern (Assessment Box SPM.1), and include severe and widespread impacts on unique and threatened systems, substantial species extinction, large risks to global and regional food security, and the combination of high temperature and humidity compromising normal human activities, including growing food or working outdoors in some areas for parts of the year (high confidence)… – IPCC AR5 WG2 SPM (page 14)

          The IPCC now has high confidence that, unless we act fast to minimise anthropogenic warming, we risk causing substantial species extinction. Even if you want to argue about the meaning of words like ‘significant’ and ‘substantial’, I do not (and I have already explained what I actually meant by ‘kill most species’). Furthermore, to question the existence of a consensus on global warming (as you have just done) is to admit you are a conspiracy theorist. Therefore, since you are self-evidently in denial of this fact, your comments will now be heavily moderated to remove repetitious and circular arguments.

          Martin Lack

          9 April 2014 at 09:55

        • Martin Lack, it’s difficult to see how you could possibly say I have just “question[ed] the existence of a consensus on global warming” when I have never said anything to indicate I do [Another patent falsehood see below. – ML] All I have done is say you are wrong about what the consensus position is. No fair-minded person could possibly read that as questioning the existence of a consensus on global warming.

          [Snip – Yet more reality inversion deleted. – ML]

          Brandon Shollenberger

          9 April 2014 at 15:08

        • “…you are misrepresenting any consensus there may be” – B. Shollenberger.

          Please feel free to cut the semantic and pedantic obfuscation and state clearly what you think the consensus position is (or why you doubt the validity of it).

          Martin Lack

          9 April 2014 at 17:02

        • There are many different aspect to the global warming issue, and there are positions on each. Assuming you want to know what I think the consensus on extinctions is, I believe the consensus is extinctions concerns have been overstated. I think most climate scientists do not believe global warming will cause 40-70% of species to go extinct, as has been previously reported. I also think they don’t believe 50%+ species may go extinct as you now claim. Moreover, I think the ones who do or have believed numbers such as those would not attribute the extinctions entirely to global warming as you have but would instead attribute them to a variety of factors.

          On a more broad note, I think most climate scientists would acknowledge there is doubt we’ll even see the amount of warming all those values are predicated upon. I think they’d acknowledge there are at least three issues to consider: 1) How much warming will there be by when; 2) How much extinction there will be; 3) How much of 2 will be caused by global warming.

          Given the uncertainties on each point, I think they’d reach a consensus the amount of extinctions global warming will cause if left unabated is impossible to determine with any precision. As such, it is reasonable to believe there will be few or many.

          Brandon Shollenberger

          9 April 2014 at 17:58

        • Thanks for that straightforward response to a direct question, Brandon. I have already conceded that my phraseology was poor but, in effect, you are now left trying to differentiate my ‘majority of species being at risk’ and the IPCC’s ‘substantial risk’ of extinction. Given that IPCC reports always tend to understate risks (because of the interference of government-appointed reviewers), the significance of the language used should not be underestimated any further.
          World ‘needs Plan B’ on climate – IPCC report (BBC’s Roger Harrabin, 8 April 2014)

          In general, however, you seem content to second-guess genuine experts and rely upon non-experts whose views of science are clearly prejudiced by adherence to libertarian ideology and free-market economics. Whilst I share your preference for these (rather than authoritatian ideology and centrally planned mismanaged economies), I do not allow my personal preferences (or prejudices) to dictate which science I accept and which I reject. On this basis, Occam’s Razor demands that I reject industry-funded misinformation and accept the reality, reliability and reasonableness of the scientific consensus regarding ongoing climate disruption.

          Contrary to your unreferenced and unsupported opinions, the consensus is now that the sevenfold increase in the post-industrial human population has become the primary driver of change (AR5 WG1) and that only rapid decarbonisation of our economies is likely to prevent “severe, pervasive and irreversible” environmental damage (AR5 WG2). Since a wide range of organisations including the US Dept. of Defense, the International Energy Agency (IEA) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) have all said much the same thing in recent years, it is clear that you do not have to be left-wing to see climate change as an existential threat.

          All of this is entirely at odds with your reliance upon supposed uncertainty about how much warming there will be, by when, and whether or not we are primarily responsible for it. The World has moved on since the human contribution to climate disruption was first identified (25 years ago) and it is now estimated that we are responsible for at least 75% of the accelerating changes we have since observed, which cannot be explained by natural/cyclical/random climate forcing factors alone.

          Martin Lack

          10 April 2014 at 08:43

        • Martin Lack, you’ve once again misrepresented me. You claim:

          Contrary to your unreferenced and unsupported opinions, the consensus is now that the sevenfold increase in the post-industrial human population has become the primary driver of change (AR5 WG1)

          I’ve never said anything that remotely supports your portrayal. I haven’t commented on change in general, and on the issue of extinction rates, the closest I’ve come is referring to other factors than global warming. That is still nowhere near close to what you claim as anyone familiar with extinction models knows there are many anthropogenic factors other than global warming (pollution, deforestation, etc.). Similarly, you say:

          All of this is entirely at odds with your reliance upon supposed uncertainty about how much warming there will be, by when, and whether or not we are primarily responsible for it.

          I have never, in my life, claimed humans are not primarily responsible for the observed warming. I haven’t even suggested we aren’t. You’re exaggerating things to the point of simply making them up.

          Given you’ve threatened me with moderation and fabricated multiple claims to paint me as unreasonable, I don’t see how you expect me to comment here. I can support everything I’ve said about extinction rates by citing the IPCC, but there’s no point if you can’t even acknowledge what I do say. We can’t hold a discussion if you try to read my mind rather than my words.

          Incidentally, I find it humorous I’m mostly just restating what I’ve found in the IPCC reports. Those reports are touted as representing the consensus, but you suggest my reliance upon them is “second-guess[ing] genuine experts,” and hand-wavingly claim the “IPCC reports always tend to understate risks.”

          By the way, claiming governments interfere with the IPCC’s reporting, referring to “industry-funded misinformation” and assuming the worst in people are at least as close to showing conspiratorial ideation as many of Stephan Lewandowsky’s examples. You might want to look into that😛

          Brandon Shollenberger

          10 April 2014 at 15:04

        • From the totality of what you write, I think my inferences were entirely reasonable (unless of course you are just playing games with words).

          There is a world of difference between conspiracy theory (e.g. belief that the IPCC is politically motivated) and conspiracy fact (e.g. well documented oil industry funding of climate change ‘scepticism’).

          I think this conversation may now have outlived its usefulness.

          Martin Lack

          10 April 2014 at 17:06

  9. […] tendency to rely on conspiracy theories (in general) and a willingness to deny climate science, at Lack of Environment.  “…In 2012, Stephan Lewandowsky et al published research – in the Psychological […]

  10. […] tendency to rely on conspiracy theories (in general) and a willingness to deny climate science, at Lack of Environment.  “…In 2012, Stephan Lewandowsky et al published research – in the Psychological […]

  11. Martin: It’s striking that your blog keep on attracting the same crowd of deniers, post after post. As some seem aware that the Supreme Court is bought in the USA (see my essay about the mysteriously rich “justices”), one may deduce that they lie deliberately, it’s not just that they are misled. The buying of SCOTUS has allowed the rise of mass following of, say, the Koch brothers.

    Patrice Ayme

    7 April 2014 at 16:31

  12. A blog post at explaining the reason for a decision:

    “The climate of intimidation which is developing nowadays risks to do great damage to climate science and to science in general. I believe that the situation risks to deteriorate further if we all don’t take a strong stance on this issue. Hence, I am taking the strongest action I can take, that is I am resigning from “Chief Specialty Editor” of Frontiers in protest against the behavior of the journal in the “Recursive Fury” case. I sent to the editors a letter today, stating my intention to resign.”


    8 April 2014 at 20:14

  13. Another blog post: “Frontiers of Intimidation — What a Controversial Paper’s Travails Teach Us About Libel Laws and Publishing”

    Excerpt: “However, beyond the particulars of the paper above, there is an independent timeline that reveals less-discussed aspects of the controversy. It is a timeline of corporate expansion, national borders, social media, and libel laws.”

    Further —

    “Some lessons:

    – UK libel laws are headed in the right direction again, finally
    – social media is not benign and laws around it are not settled
    – low barriers to litigation have a chilling effect on speech and academic freedom
    – trolls be trolls, recursive or not

    Most reassuringly, this retraction situation is clearly not a conspiracy. In fact, it seems completely explicable, based on badly conceptualized libel laws in the UK, a business transaction which shifted venue for Frontiers, unclear legal standing for social scientists relative to social media users, and a publisher’s dubious assessment of risk and role.”



    9 April 2014 at 14:38

  14. Amazing thread you’ve sparked here, Martin. I hope that this dalliance with those in denial isn’t distracting you too much from more worthy endeavours.

    In other news: my copy of Shadows of Liberty arrived this week, and I watched it last night. Most enlightening. And thoroughly scary, especially in the light of recent events.


    20 April 2014 at 18:59

    • Thanks Colin. I am glad someone other than me got to read the comments. In the end, however, I decided Brandon was just playing games with words (and/or being argumentative for its own sake). I had seen Patrice’s post but had not heard of em>Shadows of Liberty before. I will have to add it to my list – or are you going to review it on your blog?

      Martin Lack

      21 April 2014 at 07:33

      • I’ll try to find time to review it. But I also keep meaning to review ‘The Corporation’, yet for some reason I can’t put my finger on, I can never find the motivation for that. In a nutshell: Shadows of Liberty highlights how the vaunted US media ‘freedom’ of the press has been bought lock, stock and barrel by corporate interests — and how truth is now sacrificed on the altar of the mighty buck. What I found surprising was how well it portrayed the reality that we’re all in thrall to the beast.


        21 April 2014 at 08:37

        • Were you not aware that the HQ of News International Corp used to be 666 First Avenue, NY?😉

          Martin Lack

          22 April 2014 at 15:03

        • Nope. Awesome. My first real Internet service provider was ‘Demon’. All the (dial-up) connection telephone numbers ended with ‘666’… It’s the beast, I tells ya!:)


          22 April 2014 at 18:27

        • Sorry, Colin. It would be very apt but, I was, in fact, making it up.

          Martin Lack

          22 April 2014 at 20:13

        • You bar steward!:)


          22 April 2014 at 21:50

  15. “Frontiers is making a lot of noise about supporting its authors and reassuring its editors, just as it did with the first statement of retraction. However, actions speak louder than words. This latest round is sure to chill authors and editors more, as even after the retraction was official, Frontiers felt it necessary to back the car up to see what it had retracted.” From the blog post “Keeping It Real — Ethics and Privacy as the Frontiers “Recursive Fury” Case Continues to Churn” 23 April 2014


    23 April 2014 at 15:01

    • Thanks Bill. I would recommend that those who are interested should read Stephan Lewandowsky’s own blog (unless, of course, they consider him to be part of the conspiracy to foist environmental alarmism on a credulous world…)

      Martin Lack

      23 April 2014 at 19:33

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