Painting Your Intellectual Opponents as Psychologically Defective

Perhaps some of you have seen studies knocking about from time to time that attempt to correlate one or another political position with various psychological or mental deficiencies.  Probably the most common is "________ (fill in the blank, I have seen this study for both Conservatives and Liberals) have lower IQ or are less educated or more gullible or whatever than their intellectual opponents.  Most folks in the mainstream, fortunately, treat this as the unserious biased ad hominem attack that it is -- it should hardly be a surprise that the folks who look the best in all these studies miraculously match the political views of those doing the study.

However, for those of you who don't follow the climate debate, you may not know that there is a cottage industry among the alarmist / warmist community that cranks out studies that say that skeptics are mentally defective in some way.  I kid you not.  I won't get into it, because those not in the climate debate won't care much and those in the debate have seen this stuff debated to death.  But I thought those of you out of the loop might like to see an example.

A guy named Stephan Lewandowsky has released a series of really egregiously-structured studies around the general theme of climate skeptics being susceptible to conspiracy theories, or conspiracy "ideation" as he puts it.  He has "proved" this in the past by offering a mix of people on the Left and Right a list of conspiracy theories mainly held by people on the Right (e.g. Obama birth certificate) while leaving out almost any of the common conspiracy theories held by the Left.  Then he asks these people which theories they believe, and Surprise!  People on the Right, who overlap a lot with skeptics, believe Rightish conspiracy theories more than do people on the Left. So thus climate skeptics are what they are because they are people who are more susceptible than average to conspiracy ideation.  Yes, this study is as stupid as it sounds -- actually it is more stupid because he did it via Internet poll advertised mainly on alarmist blogs with no controls for people submitting false flag answers.  And like most climate studies, he got some basic statistical calculations wrong.

Anyway, his new study is out and it is just as awesome in its dedication to fail as his prior work

One known element of conspiratorial thinking is its ‘self-sealing’ quality (Keeley 1999, Bale 2007, Sunstein and Vermeule 2009), whereby evidence against a conspiratorial belief is re-interpreted as evidencefor that belief. In the case of ‘climategate’, this self-sealing nature ofconspiratorial belief became evident after the scientists in question wereexonerated by nine investigations in two countries (including various parliamentary and government committees in the U.S. and U.K.; see table1), when those exonerations were re-branded as a ‘whitewash.’ This ‘whitewash’ response can be illustrated by U.S. Representative Sensenbrennerʼs published response to the EPAʼs endangerment finding.

This so grossly oversimplifies the issues involved as to be breathtaking.  Only the most tightly sealed of echo chambers could possible pass this work on to publication.

  • Gattsuru

    I particularly like the part where Lewandowsky responded to criticism of his study by claiming the criticism itself was itself evidence of conspiracist ideation (http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00073/full ). To borrow from Scott Alexander of SlateStarCodex, "this is possibly the most chutzpah I have ever seen a single human being display."

  • Ben

    I do not see how climate science will not be seen to have done more damage to the standing of science in society than anything else in the medium and long term. It is astounding that field continues to hold any sway.

  • Daublin

    Ben, I believe that is just what is happening.

    I got excited about scientific methods in part due to reading Richard Feynman. He tended to say that many people calling them scientists are just using the name to prop up the legitimacy of their claims. As I reflected on it, though, and as I read more about how the sausage is made, I have come to think that there are inherent problems with expecting an isolated community to ever be any good at external validation. While they will get good at measuring each other, they are always going to downplay any evidence that their entire field is dubious.

    I then went back and reread Feynman's old Cargo Cult essay, and I noticed that even he seemed to feel that almost all practicing scientists were doing it wrong. At this point, it rather seems like what I think of as "science" is not what the practitioners are doing, and this has been going on for decades. More's the pity, but should I continue to insist that "science" means something different from what its practitioners mean?

    Better to apply scientific methods to science itself, the same way we apply it to faith healing and to GMO studies. If a group of people make bad predictions over and over again, what is the rational response but to say they are going to keep making bad predictions? To add insult to injury, climate science has also spawned a cottage industry of essays about presenting results to the public. The underlying assumption of these essays is consistently that anyone outside the inner circle couldn't possibly understand the direct material.

    I have to think I'm not the only one who has gone through this gradual thought process. I might never have thought it through without the way climate science has gotten tied up in politics. Now that I have, I apply it very broadly.

    So yes, at least for me, the debacle around carbon controls has led me to categorically downgrade science as a whole.

  • Nehemiah

    Agenda driven science at its best.

  • Onlooker from Troy

    Indeed, though the field of nutrition has done similar damage as well, pushing the fat is bad, sat fat worst, cholesterol kills, grains are good, memes that have ruined so many people's health.

    Similar ideology trumping evidence dynamics at play, with a very large overlap between climate alarmists and the vegetarian/vegan/low fat is best/meat kills (especially that evil red meat) crowd.

  • joe

    9 count em 9 exoneratons of the climate scientists

    I take it that Lewandowsky hasnet seen or lacks the intellectual capicity to have understood S Mc analysis of those investigations - See climateaudit.org

  • http://devilish-details.blogspot.com/ mesaeconoguy

    Great point, Coyote. However, you just posted an entire article devoted to analyzing and debunking the egregiously structured non-studies,
    thereby possibly proving him right.

    [joke.]

    Luckily, this type of ad hominem attack doesn’t occur in other fields of study.

  • Republican brainiac

    What about "the Republican brain" book? Surely that is deserving of a blog post, as it is unbelievably one sided, saying republicans are inherently deficient.

  • cb75075

    So studies show that something like 85% of academia, research etc are populated by liberal progressives and then we're supposed to believe there is no bias in the peer review process. That a group of ideologically like minded people won't be bobble heads and all agree. Would people trust an 85% academia of conservatives like it was in the old days? I doubt it.