Personal message to Stephan LewandowskyRichard Treadgold | September 3, 2012
I have just asked you for access to the data underpinning your latest paper “An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science” and received an auto-reply to my email because apparently you are travelling for a week or so.
Your message contains a rather odd addendum. After saying you’re travelling, it adds this:
Note that although I endeavour to keep all email correspondence private and confidential, this does not apply to messages that are of an abusive nature.
This is astonishing – even comical. It shows
- a tendency to receive large numbers of abusive messages
- a disinclination to enjoy them
It challenges the imagination, therefore, to understand why you should have participated in writing the paper about to be published in Psychological Science. It will surely generate more of the abusive messages which you don’t enjoy.
Imagine yourself as sceptical
To illustrate how abusive your paper is, imagine for a moment, if you will, that you were truly sceptical in your approach to the natural world. That you shared something similar, perhaps, to the attitudes of Newton, Rutherford, Pasteur, Galileo and the rest. You took nothing for granted, no matter who told you, and were keen to see evidence for each theory you encountered.
Then let us say that an idea has taken hold in the popular mind that mankind is heating the earth to a dangerous degree. Some heating may already have taken place, but, because of a measurable increase over about 200 years of atmospheric carbon dioxide emitted by human activities, and more to come, there will be a dangerous amount of heating over the next 100 years, and we must modify our industrial and personal behaviour to prevent these emissions.
Imagine that a major portion of the future heating rests upon an untested theory that predicts feedback from increased atmospheric water vapour, which will cause the ocean to warm.
A very thin skin
As a sceptical person, you ask, quite naturally, how this warming from the greenhouse effect will get from the air to the ocean and you listen with rapt attention to the answer, which concerns an ultra-thin “skin” on the surface of the water which, under the influence of minor extra heating from downward infra-red radiation from CO2, modulates the transfer of heat from the water to the air, so the ocean stays warmer for longer.
Wanting confirmation that you’ve understood correctly, you ask: “Are you saying the skin effect slows the transfer of energy from the water?”
The answer is “Yes.”
So you say: “I don’t understand how it does that. Would you go through it again, please?”
Accused of denial
The answer this time is an accusation of denial. You are anti-science, you’re told, a denier of climate science, probably in the pay of big oil, certainly under the influence of capitalistic think tanks and their coordinated attacks on honest scientists and you are recklessly delaying humanity’s response to the greatest challenge of our time. Climate change will destroy the earth as we know it and the day of reckoning for climate deniers will come. There will be a climate court where you can be held to account for your crimes of denial against humanity.
Would you feel betrayed, even offended? Would you object that you were only trying to understand, that something didn’t sound right and you asked for some evidence, and this was no way to repay honest enquiry?
This is literally the recent experience of climate sceptics, Stephan, and it’s no joke. In writing this paper, you are in the vanguard of this assault on us. Why don’t you listen to our honest questions and the valid objections we have to some (not all, but some) of the pronouncements of climate scientists and the IPCC? You’re using your academic weight (whatever weight psychologists playing with computers might have) to push these ideas, yet they lack scientific foundation. (Do let me know which sceptical blogs you contacted for your survey. Ours wasn’t one of them.)
Paper over the ridicule
Here’s some of the ridicule in the paper:
- NASA faked the moon landing – Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax [the very title of the paper]
- bloggers have taken a prominent and influential role in questioning climate science [as though sceptical questioning was not the very essence of scientific inquiry]
- the variables underlying acceptance and rejection of climate science [taking the matter out of the realm of rational evaluation and claiming it is subject to unrelated beliefs]
- We … show that endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories predicts rejection of climate science as well as the rejection of other scientific findings [as though asking for evidence is evidence of denial]
- climate deniers believe that temperature records have been illegitimately adjusted to exaggerate warming [as though asking for the reasons for those adjustments is illegitimate]
I’m still reading the paper and I’ll let you know of any more deprecating material I find there.
About those abusive emails you get: did you know that if you keep doing the same thing, the same thing will happen? But I’m confident that, if you stop abusing others, they will stop abusing you.
I’m looking forward to examining your data, but even more to the happy cessation of this vulgar, preposterous campaign against free speech, which your paper takes to a whole new low.
Climate Conversation Group
UPDATE 4 Sep 2012
Bishop Hill has the data here, which Simon at Australian Climate Madness uses to show that the paper’s very title is wrong. Simon found that Lewandowsky’s data contains 10 responses indicating that the moon landings were faked. Of those 10, 60% accept the consensus position on climate change. So the paper’s title should read: “NASA faked the moon landing – Therefore (Climate) Science is Real.” If, that is, you believe that the statistical logic on either side carries any weight. In fact, the so-called rigorous, peer-reviewed academic paper is everything but.