Archive for the ‘denial’ Category
This was supposed to be my latest attempt to explain my research idea to a lay audience. However, it has been pointed out to me that, in what follows, I spend more time highlighting the seriousness of the problem the motivated rejection of science has caused than actually describing how I will research the ways in which it has (or has not) evolved over time. This is unfortunate because the former is clearly not the purpose of my research. However, it is the raison d’etre of this blog. Therefore, I have decided to post this here anyway…
If you deny a clear preponderance of evidence, you have crossed the line from legitimate skeptic to ideological denier. – Stephen H Schneider
Where did this idea come from?
In 2011, I completed an MA in Environmental Politics at Keele University. As part of this, I chose to research and write my dissertation on climate change scepticism in the UK. My inspiration for choosing this topic was reading two books:
— Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth of Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway; and
— Requiem for a Species: Why we Resist the Truth About Climate Change, by Clive Hamilton.
My research involved analysing and categorising the arguments put forward by prominent think-tanks, scientists, economists, politicians, journalists and others that dispute the reality, reliability and/or reasonableness of the scientific consensus that humans are now the primary cause of ongoing climate change. I decided then that I would like to pursue this further as a PhD. Sadly, this proved harder to achieve than I had imagined but – having attracted a great deal of academic attention by starting my Lack of Environment blog on the subject and publishing my research as a book (see its Facebook page for details) – I am now doing just that. Well, sort of…
The key was finding the right PhD supervisor but, finding the right supervisor has meant focussing my research on newspapers; specifically the output of journalists and other commentators who seek to influence public opinion.
What’s this all about?
I intend to research the historical development of the disputation of climate science in British newspapers since 1990. 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.
Why does this 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.
Where is the conspiracy?
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).
However, there is simply no evidence for a left-wing conspiracy to over-tax and over-regulate people (so as to make everyone poorer). Whereas, there is a great deal of evidence for a right-wing conspiracy to under-tax and under-regulate industry (so as to make a few people richer).
Therefore, 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).
“Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy. There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.” – James Hoggan.
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:
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:
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.
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
Please don’t be a Climate Ostrich.
The UN is not being ‘alarmist’ in order to achieve global Zionist and/or Communist domination.
Working Group 2 of AR5 warns that the effects of human caused climate change are most likely to be severe, pervasive and irreversible.
The pH of seawater is increasing due to rising CO2 content of our oceans. Because the pH scale is logarithmic, pH 7 is ten times more acidic that pH 8.
The threat to marine life from continuing pH reduction in seawater is a scientific fact, not a political conspiracy.
As the BBC’s Roger Harrabin reported last week, dying coral off the coast of Papua New Guinea does not care that the CO2 bubbling out of the sea floor is volcanic in origin – it is just dying.
For Marine Biochemistry 101 – please see Wikipedia.
I am struggling to make time to blog so may have to investigate getting Tweets to appear here automatically. In the meantime, there is this…
— Martin Lack (@LackMartin) March 3, 2014
Thanks to Greenpeace for the inspiration…
Industry has been manufacturing doubt regarding inconvenient science for decades. They have confused the public and paralysed our politicians. All we must do now is deal with the consequences.
Over to Greenpeace for the call to action:
Is this what it would take to get action from the government on climate change? http://bit.ly/1hg9TVM
With a climate change denying environment minister like Owen Paterson in charge, it may well be. But we don’t have to wait to see. Join the call to sack Paterson – and replace him with someone serious about climate change. http://bit.ly/1hg9TVM
What more can I say?
…or the Preservation of Favoured Rhetoric in the Service of Liars.
With apologies to Charles Darwin for the parody of the title of his most famous work (Darwin, 1859), I have decided to mark the start of work on my PhD by posting here the Abstract and Conclusions of my MA dissertation, ‘A Discourse Analysis of Climate Change Scepticism in the United Kingdom’. Existing readers will, no doubt, be aware that the Abstract has been on the About page of this blog since its inception, and other bits and pieces have appeared over time (links embedded below). However, the Conclusions have never been published here before (although I have often alluded to them). The whole thing, of course, was the basis for my book, The Denial of Science: Analysing climate change scepticism in the UK, which can be purchased in hardcopy or eBook form from any decent online bookstore (click on book cover, right, for details).
Before reading further, however, please note the following:
1. Since writing this, three years ago, I have stopped using the more familiar – but imprecise – term ‘Anthropogenic Global Warming’ (AGW), in favour of the less familiar – but more precise – term ‘Anthropogenic Climate Disruption’ (ACD).
2. It is not possible to explain the totality of late 20th Century warming unless humans are the primary cause.
3. Disputing this necessitates believing that the majority of climate scientists are either: (a) being stupid; (b) reaching unjustifiable conclusions; or (c) wilfully stating things they know to be false.
4. Whereas 3(a) is highly improbable and 3(b) is entirely irrational, if 3(c) were true, unlike industry-sponsored misinformation campaigns, it would be unprecedented. However, fortunately for all those interested in avoiding ideologically-driven denial of science in the service of vested business interests, evidence continues to pour in to show that the scientific consensus is entirely reasonable, rational and reliable.
Discourse analysis is understood in the sense proposed by John Dryzek (2005) that it involves the textual assessment of (a) basic entities recognised or constructed; (b) assumptions about natural relationships; (c) agents and their motives; and (d) key metaphors and rhetorical devices used. As a piece of social science research, no attempt is made to prove or disprove the validity of the scientific consensus view that climate change is happening and that human activity is its primary cause. However, this reality has been assumed solely in order to analyse the views of climate change sceptics that dispute it. To this end, the philosophical roots of scepticism; its possible misappropriation for ideological reasons; and the psychological causes of denial are reviewed. In this context, based on the finding of numerous researchers that conservative think-tanks (CTTs) often act as the primary driving force of campaigns to deny environmental problems, the output of such UK-based CTTs is analysed, along with that of scientists, economists, journalists, politicians and others. Whereas the majority of CTTs analysed dispute the existence of a legitimate consensus, and the majority of sceptical journalists focus on conspiracy theories, the majority of scientists and economists equate environmentalism with a new religion; whereas politicians and others analysed appear equally likely to cite denialist and/or economic arguments for inaction. However, because of the economic and political realities of the world in which we live, politicians will not take any action that will be unpopular with business interests and/or the wider electorate. If so, Peter Jacques (2009) would appear to be right to conclude that anti-environmentalism (i.e. environmental scepticism) needs to be exposed as being “in violation of the public interest”.
Whereas the majority of CTTs analysed dispute the existence of a legitimate consensus – and the majority of sceptical journalists focus on conspiracy theories of various kinds – the majority of scientists and economists equate environmentalism with a new religion. In contrast to all of the above, the politicians and others analysed appear equally likely to cite denialist and/or economic rationalist arguments.
Climate change sceptics often object to being called ‘denialists’ on the grounds that they accept the climate is changing but do not accept that we are causing it. However, this appeal to reason is wholly reliant on the complexity of climate science; and the consequential limited understanding of it amongst the vast majority of the population.
Therefore, although many sceptical scientists and economists may wish to draw analogies between concern for the environment and religious belief; and be very dismissive of “an uncritical acceptance of this new conventional wisdom” (Peacock 2008: 114), this does not negate the reality of the Limits to Growth argument; nor change the strong probability that, in addition to being the “greatest market failure in history” (Stern) and “a failure of modern politics” (Hamilton), AGW is the clearest evidence yet that the Earth has a limited capacity to cope with the waste products of human activity (cf. Meadows et al. 2005: 223). As James Lovelock has put it:
Unless we see the Earth as a planet that behaves as if it were alive, at least to the extent of regulating its climate and chemistry, we will lack the will to change our way of life and to understand that we have made it our greatest enemy. It is true that many scientists, especially climatologists, now see that our planet has the capacity to regulate its climate and chemistry, but this is still a long way from being conventional wisdom (Lovelock 2006: 21-2).
Furthermore, there is strong circumstantial evidence to suggest that this scepticism being fuelled by those with a vested interest in the continuance of ‘business as usual’ (i.e. the FFL and/or CTTs) by seeking to downplay, deny or dismiss the scientific consensus on the extent of AGW; and/or the unsustainable nature of exponential growth in economic development, resource depletion, and environmental pollution (Hamilton, Jacques, MacKay, Oreskes & Conway, etc.).
If the consensus view of AGW is correct, taking action to mitigate and/or adapt to the realities of AGW in a timely fashion has already been delayed by several decades. This would make it imperative that this delay should end; and that action should be taken. However, because of the economic and political realities of the world in which we live, politicians will not take any action that will be unpopular with business interests and/or the wider electorate. If so, it is also imperative that those with a vested interest in the continuance of ‘business as usual’ – waging this disinformation campaign – should be exposed as the real enemies of humanity and the planet.
It is hoped that this research will be of benefit to those seeking to achieve this end.
Darwin, C. (1859), On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. London: Murray.
Dryzek, J. (2005), The Politics of the Environment (2nd ed). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hamilton, C. (2010), Requiem for a Species: Why we resist the truth about climate change. London: Earthscan.
Jacques, P. (2009), Environmental Skepticism: Ecology, Power and Public Life. Farnham: Ashgate.
Lack, M. (2013), The Denial of Science: Analysing climate change scepticism in the UK Milton Keynes: AuthorHouse.
Lovelock, J. (2006), Revenge of Gaia. London: Allen Lane.
MacKay, D. (2009), Sustainable Energy: without the Hot Air. Cambridge: UIT. Available online at http://withouthotair.com.
Oreskes, N. & Conway E. (2010), Merchants of Doubt. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Press.
Peacock, A. (2008), ‘Climate change, religion and human freedom’, in Robinson C. (ed), Climate Change Policy: Challenging the Activists. London: IEA, pp.114-31.
Stern, N., et al. (2006), Stern Review: The Economics of Climate Change. London: HM Treasury.
If you have a genuine interest in understanding who it is that has been lying about climate change for decades, based on the research I have since done (in order to draft my PhD proposal), I would recommend that you read any or all of the following:
Capstick, S. & Pidgeon, N. (forthcoming). ‘What is climate change scepticism? Examination of the concept using a mixed methods study of the UK public’. Global Environmental Change. Corrected proof available here [accessed 01/02/2014].
Carvalho, A. & Burgess, J. (2005). ‘Cultural Circuits of Climate Change in U.K. Broadsheet Newspapers, 1985–2003’. Risk Analysis, 25 (6), pp.1457-69. PDF available here [accessed 01/02/2014].
Gavin, N. & Marshall, T. (2011). ‘Mediated climate change in Britain: Scepticism on the web and on television around Copenhagen’, Global Environmental Change, 21(3) pp.1035-44. Abstract available here [accessed 01/02/2014].
Jacques, P. et al. (2008), ‘The organisation of denial: Conservative think tanks and environmental scepticism’, Environmental Politics, 17(3), pp.349-385. Available here [accessed 01/02/2014].
O’Neill, S.J., & Boykoff, M. (2010). Climate denier, skeptic, or contrarian? Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 107:E151. Available here [accessed 01/02/2014].
Painter, J. (2011). Poles Apart: The International Reporting of Climate Sceptics (Oxford: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism). PDF of Executive Summary available here [accessed 01/02/2014].