Research Links Climate Science Denial To Conspiracy Theories — But Skeptics Smell A Conspiracy

by Graham Readfearn, via DeSmogBlog

If the world’s conspiratorial blogosphere was broken up into food items on a wedding buffet table, then an eclectic array of plate-fillers would surely be on offer.

There would be canapés topped with faked moon landings and hors d’oeuvres of Government-backed plots to assassinate civil rights leaders.

Sandwich fillings would come from US military staff at Roswell in New Mexico (cheese and alien, anyone?). The alcoholic punch would be of the same vintage as that which the British Royal family gave Princess Diana’s chauffeur, as part of their plot to kill her. All of the catering would be provided by the New World Order.

Then there’s the salad of human-caused climate change being a hoax, with the world’s climate scientists, national academies and the declining Arctic sea-ice all in on the conspiracy.

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Western Australia (UWA), is about to publish research which shows that a strong indicator of the rejection of climate science is a willingness to accept conspiracy theories.

His paper, to be published in the journal Psychological Science, is titled “NASA faked the moon landing – Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science“.

The study details the results of a controlled online questionnaire posted on blogs between August and October 2010.

Among the conspiracy theories tested, were the faking of Apollo moon landings, US government agencies plotting to assassinate Martin Luther King, Princess Diana’s death being organised by members of the British Royal family and the US military covering up the recovery of an alien spacecraft that crashed in Roswell, New Mexico.

In the paper, Lewandowsky concludes that “endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories… predicts rejection of climate science”. The research also claims a correlation between people who endorse free-market economics and the “rejection of climate science”.

He told DeSmogBlog:

There’s a fair bit of previous literature to suggest that conspiratorial thinking is part of science denial. Conspiratorial thinking is where people would seek to explain events by appealing to invisible, powerful collusions amongst individuals, rather than taking events at face value. The absence of evidence for the conspiracy is sometimes taken as evidence of its existence and any contradictory evidence is itself embedded into the conspiracy.

In his paper, Lewandowsky adds: “Endorsement of the free market also predicted the rejection of other established scientic findings, such as the facts that HIV causes AIDS and that smoking causes lung cancer.”

Given the well documented links between free market think-tanks and climate science misinformation, this finding isn’t surprising.

But back to that “conspiracist ideation” trait which Lewandowsky and other researchers, such as Pascal Diethelm and Martin McKee, have identified among people who reject science.

Because rather fittingly, no sooner had Lewandowsky’s paper begun to make headlines than the world’s loose, nimble and definitely-not-conspiring network of climate skeptic blogs began to construct their own conspiracies about Lewandowsky’s research.

The survey was conducted online and Lewandowsky’s research team approached climate blogs requesting they post a link to the survey. Some eight “pro-science” blogs agreed to post the link, which gained 1147 responses.

Lewandowsky’s researchers also emailed five popular skeptic blogs, but none of those approached posted the link to the questionnaire.

But had Lewandowsky actually fabricated the claim he had emailed five sceptic blogs, asked Anthony WattsJo Nova and others, smelling a consipracy.

Steve McIntyre, a long-time mining industry consultant and active climate sceptic, even encouraged blog readers to email the ethics department at Lewandowsky’s university.

“If Lewandowky’s claim about five skeptic blogs was fabricated, it appears to me that it would be misconduct under university policies,” wrote McIntyre.

Once McIntyre had come down from the conclusion he had just jumped to, he later admitted that actually, he had been emailed by one of Lewandowsky’s researchers after all but offered a “dog ate my homework” excuse.

Meanwhile, Lewandowsky says he has been “inundated” with requests to release the names of the four remaining bloggers his team contacted.

But since the approaches to bloggers were conducted on the presumption of privacy, the academic has asked his university’s ethics committee and the Australian Psychological Society if he is free to release their identities.

Not content to wait, Australian skeptic blogger Simon Turnill has sent a Freedom of Information request to UWA asking for Lewandowsky’s emails. Lewandowsky told DeSmogBlog:

So now there’s a conspiracy theory going around that I didn’t contact them. It’s a perfect, perfect illustration of conspiratorial thinking. It’s illustrative of exactly the process I was analysing. People jump to conclusions on the basis of no evidence. I would love to be able to release those emails if given permission, because it means four more people will have egg on their faces. I’m anxiously waiting the permission to release this crucial information because it helps to identify people who engage in conspiratorial thinking rather than just searching their inboxes.

Lewandowsky revealed that two of the five skeptic blogs approached even replied to the email they were sent.

One stated “Thanks. I will take a look” and another asked “Can you tell me a bit more about the study and the research design?”

Perhaps an inbox search for these phrases might help some bloggers to move on from their latest conspiracy theory.

Or maybe, just maybe, the real story is that the New World Order hacked their email accounts or a CIA operative secretly dropped a memory-lapse drug into their fake moon juice?

Graham Readfearn is an independent journalist based in Queensland, Australia, with 15 years experience as a reporter and writer on newspapers, magazines, radio and online. This piece was originally published at DeSmogBlog and was printed with permission.

31 Responses to Research Links Climate Science Denial To Conspiracy Theories — But Skeptics Smell A Conspiracy

  1. NJP1 says:

    conspiratorial thinking can take many forms, and has gone on for thousands of years.
    Religion is a prime example. All religions start out as a cult, and that cult must by definition, be conspiring against the established order. Therefore the cult must be suppressed, usually violently. That suppression attracts more followers (convinced that there’s ”something in it”) and so the cult grows exponentially.
    fast forward to now, and we have the same thing the deniers attract even more lunatic fringes to their cause, and so they grow with no material substance behind their claims, but because what they offer seems infinetly better than the truth. So the truth is denied.

  2. Dennis says:

    A very interesting article here. It’s no surprise that even the efforts to do a survey on conspiracy theories turns into a conspiracy theory. When I talk to deniers about the science, their conclusion inevitably comes down to either all these thousands upon thousands of scientists doing research around the world are idiots, or it’s a big conspiracy among them.

  3. prokaryotes says:

    I rather focus on national security implications (from deliberately created climate sceptic rumors), rather then a topic with such an extensive nature, like “conspiracy theories”. At least you have to note that the fossil fuel industry is on the record for spreading conspiracy theories about climate science theories.

  4. BillD says:

    Anyone involved in publishing science knows that the peer review system works well and that there are strong disincentives to faking data or exagerating results. One question is “how many skeptics are conspiracy theorists and how many are simply misinformed and confused by the news media?” For example, many people seem to get most of their news from “Fox News” and these people are exceptionally well misinformed and confused about science. The Wall Street Journal is just about as misleading, at least on environmental sciences. I think that the distinction between the merely confused and misinformed versus the conspiracy theorists is important, because conspiracy theorists show very strong reluctance to change their minds even when the evidence is overwhelming.

  5. prokaryotes says:

    For instance, the latest buzz from the fossil agenda “cookbook”.

    Fred Singer Promotes Fossil Fuels Through Myths And Misinformation

  6. Everybody in my circle is on board that AGW is happening and is a problem…except for one friend. He is quite intelligent and ran a very successful business for many years and is a ‘social liberal’. And he believes 1) The moon landing was faked 2)The US took down the WTC towers 3)’they’ were building concentration camps for those who refused to take the swine flu vacines (he even showed me a youtube of the building!) 4) AGW DOES NOT EXIST. PERIOD. When I first got fired up about climate change, I was stunned to learn of his belief. Really stunned. The first ‘authority’ he cited was…Monckton! We have established a detente…I mostly feel a bit sad for him. Actually, he has been a great ‘learning tool’ for me. It still leaves me stunned though, have to admit.

  7. prokaryotes says:

    New focus in climate messages

    Experts tend to communicate climate change as either an environmental or a political issue but this approach has had limited impact on public concern. Other dimensions of climate change, such as public health and national security, could be used to engage the public.

  8. We won’t have to wait for sea levels to rise for societal collapse. Once the weather goes crazy in 10 or 20 years due to the disappearance of the ice cap, and agriculture and the world economy fail, the right-wing paranoiacs will see conspiratorial enemies everywhere. You’re probably one of them, as am I.

    People take actions on their fears, which breeds more fear. A “positive” feedback loop–just like the melting ice cap itself.

    The Agenda-21 kooks have a nice collection of 300 million guns that will help them stop all those conspiracies in their tracks–like when the government steps in with massive centralized efforts to cope with the climate-collapse chaos. Which, of course, will only amplify the conspiracy paranoia and societal collapse. Another “positive” feedback loop.

  9. NJP1 says:

    I find you can learn a lot from deniers too—it really focusses the mind on odd fuzzy areas you were not sure about–so you have to go back and check and recheck to make sure.
    I saw a Richard Heinberg vid recently in which he also put himself on the WTC conspiracy list.
    I found that difficult to take, have always had much respect for Richard’s view on world events.

  10. Chris Winter says:

    Ah, yes… “Fox News: Misinforming people exceptionally well since 1996.”

  11. Chris Winter says:

    IIRC, someone located that building and showed it to be an abandoned railway station.

  12. HA! You only think it is an abandoned railway station. The Illuminati working with the CIA can make it look like anything they want to! (or something like that)

  13. DrFredB says:

    If the Moon landings were all fakes, the fakers would have needed not only more technical expertise to create such credible images, objects, and data than it took to actually pull off all those landings, but also a pact of secrecy that would be greater than the highest levels of the CIA could achieve.

    How people buy into that claim is beyond me.

  14. A truly claptrap piece of “research” lumping scientific ignorance together with political leanings into some sort of “explanatory” variable.

    E.g., there was enough evidence to convince a Memphis (civil) jury of a government conspiracy to assassinate MLK jr, so this is hardly in the same category as questioning the moon landings.

  15. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    So it’s just an example of really crude psychological projection. Dunning-Krugerites in frantic pursuit of oblivion.

  16. Daniel J. Andrews says:

    Especially since we now have photographs of the original moon landing sites taken from the lunar orbiter. We can see where the astronauts walked, the rover tracks, the equipment they set up, etc. Of course, those pics are all faked, and a new generation of NASA people are sworn in to keep the conspiracy going.

  17. Dean says:

    Don’t forget about the new conspiracy du jour…chemtrails.

    Who comes up with this nonsense?

  18. Merrelyn Emery says:

    The distinction between the basically ignorant and the active conspirators and misinformers is important in terms of ease of pushing through public policy. We have seen the dynamic in action in Oz as the carbon price went into effect. As the ignorant see reality unfolding and their peer group changing their minds, they also qietly change theirs. The activists on the other hand, cling even more closely to their dwindling in-group and raise the decibels, ME

  19. aenoch says:

    Most of those ridiculous conspiracy theories are thrown out by the “aliens” to cloud the issues and taint the true frauds with their ridiculousness. For example we have the story that the Twin Towers were wired up with explosives and then demolished after the planes hit which is pretty far fetched. On the other hand you have hostile aircraft entering the airspace of the US capitol and killing US military personal right in their own headquarters. That is not SOP.

  20. Merrelyn Emery says:

    It is not new, probably just in another recycling phase, ME

  21. Ozonator says:

    “Hawkins: I’ve got it! I’ve got it. The pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle, the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true, right? …” (from the movie The Court Jester”, 1956, starring Danny Kaye;

  22. Krissy says:

    If you listen to any AM fox affiliate, just know it probably will air Coast to Coast AM at night. Its a wonderful show about aliens, etc. and if you’re looking for what they say about global climate change its that its a UN new world order conspiracy that will bring FEMA camps and FEMA coffins, the secret pentagon HARP program that creates scary weather paid for by Mark Udall (That was also on Jesse Ventura’s show) chemtrails and contrails, and heating the earth up so that the reptilian anunaki aliens can come out of their underground bunkers in Kentucky. I am fascinated by this program but I wish they would give climate scientists a chance. Unfortunately the reality is scarier than any annunaki ever will be.

  23. BTW, my blog is apparently part of the conspiracy as well. Mr.Watt’s kindly alludes to my critical role “inbox-gate”:

    To which I have to say: “Guys, now we are getting just plain silly…”:

  24. aenoch says:

    That is the technique alright. Make up something that is absurd and then lump that with the true dirty work and call it all “conspiracy theory”.
    Is there anything going on in D.C. that isn’t a conspiracy?
    And always blame us before we can expose their fraud. That reduces any future claim we might have about their dirty work. Those guys are smart at this.
    Now we need a conspiracy about the conspiracy about the conspiracy.

  25. prokaryotes says:

    I don’t know a lot about this but i think it gets often confused with weather modification ( look this up on wiki), which is quiet common and is rising with hopes about geoengineering climate related problems.

  26. prokaryotes says:

    Because parts are valid claims. Just look up Operation Northwood.

  27. Martin Vermeer says:

    Actually I saw — like in, myself — the oxygen cloud released by one of the SIVBs on translunar trajectory.

    (Right, boss?)

  28. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The problem is that not all ‘çonspiracy theories’ are wrong. After all, if you believe that Lee Harvey Oswald and Sirhan Sirhan were ‘lone killers’, then you haven’t really studied the facts. Moreover, if you buy the cover-story concerning 9/11, then I have an Opera House and bridge in Sydney that you might like to purchase.

  29. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Laurence Olivier’s favourite movie.

  30. J4zonian says:

    Well, OK,

    I hope you’re being sarcstic, Mulga. I’d hate to be identically disillusioned about 2 people I respected in as many weeks. However, it’s interesting to consider that the official story about 9/11 is just as much a conspiracy theory as the 9/11 truthers’ ideas. Whether it’s completely true with a fair amount of evidence, partly true, or made-up nonsense with most of the evidence showing the contrary, it’s still a theory about a conspiracy.

  31. J4zonian says:

    And people care about public health? Tell that to the members of the gay community who survived the 80s. And the millions of HIV-infected people in Africa and the sex trades in Thailand and Eastern Europe.

    And the problem with thinking of climate cataclysm as a security issue is that security issues demand security solutions, at least for the people who think that way, the people we hire to solve the problems we foist off on them and that category out of fear and rage and confusion. Unfortunately, it’s not primarily a security issue and needs to be solved as an ecological issue, an economic issue, a diplomatic issue, a moral compassion issue, a psychological issue… These all demand (simultaneous) solutions commensurate with their spheres. Convincing fearful, security-obsessed people climate catastrophe is a security issue is most likely to cause political oppression and war, which will delay real solutions and dramatically increase GHG emissions, dooming us.