Antivaccine nonsense Medicine Quackery Skepticism/critical thinking

More data on why people reject science

Although I focus mostly on medical topics, such as vaccines, alternative medicine, and cancer quackery, I don’t limit myself to such topics. True, I used to write a lot more about evolution and creationism, the paranormal, and other standard skeptical topics, but over the last couple of years I’ve realized where my strength is and where my niche is. So I continue to do what I do, but that doesn’t mean I’ve lost interest in those topics. I’ve just learned that there are those who can do them as well as I can, while the number of people who can do what I do with respect to quackery and medical pseudoscience is much smaller for the simple reason that there aren’t very many trained physicians who take on skeptical topics. I really wish there were, as it would make my job easier and perhaps there wouldn’t be so much quackademic medicine, but there aren’t. In addition, there aren’t any MD/PhDs that I know of who have taken an interest in such topics.

Of course, medical pseudoscience shares a lot of traits with pseudoscience of all stripes. It’s just that the consequences tend to be more direct and immediate. Antivaccinationists lead to disease outbreaks; cancer quacks lead to people dying of cancer when they don’t have to; practitioners of “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) offer therapies that usually can’t do any good and can sometimes do harm. In contrast, the effects of other forms of science denialism, such as creationism or anthropogenic global warming (AGW) denialism, tend to be distant in that the consequences of teaching creationism is schools won’t manifest themselves until those children grow up and the consequences of AGW denialism are likely to be decades away. Still, I wonder why people deny science, and that’s why a study caught my eye. It’s not the most rigorous study in the world, but, even so, I think it tells us some useful things about why people embrace irrationality.

The study is from the University of Western Australia:

Researchers from The University of Western Australia have examined what motivates people who are greatly involved in the climate debate to reject scientific evidence.

The study Motivated Rejection of Science, to be published in Psychological Science, was designed to investigate what motivates the rejection of science in visitors to climate blogs who choose to participate in the ongoing public debate about climate change.

The actual study itself is here, and it’s NASA faked the moon landing — Therefore (climate) science is a hoax, which goes to show that even scientists have a bit of a sense of humor.

The authors took an approach that I haven’t seen before. Their approach happens to be both a weakness and a strength, as you’ll see. Basically, visitors to climate blogs were asked to complete an online survey. Links to the survey were posted to eight climate blogs with a pro-science stance. Five AGW “skeptic” (i.e., denialist) blogs were approached but refused. It’s not clear why these bloggers refused to take part, but they did. Be that as it may, I’m sure you can see why this represents a weakness. Basically, the participants were self-selected, which is always a potential confounding factor. On the other hand, in this case it might not be such a bad thing, because the self-selection process is likely to enrich the population for just the sorts of science denialists that we want to study.

The visitors to the blogs, over 1,000 of them, were queried about their beliefs regarding climate science, as well as several common conspiracy theories, such as whether Princess Diana’s death was not an accident; that the Apollo moon landings never happened; that HIV does not cause AIDs; and that smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer. The interplay of these responses and the visitors’ acceptance of climate scientist were studied, along with questions regarding belief in a free market ideology and the belief that previous environmental problems have been resolved.

Can you guess the results? I bet that you probably can.

Yes, as you might guess, a belief in free market ideology was associated with AGW denialism. This isn’t anything new. We’ve known this for years; it’s been suggested by several studies. In addition, belief in a free market ideology was also predictive of rejection of the scientifically demonstrated link between tobacco and lung cancer and between HIV and AIDS. I must admit, these latter two correlations were unexpected to me. I would expect that extreme free market and libertarian ideologies would be correlated with rejection of AGW science. After all, many of the proposed solutions for AGW involve government action and suggest that big business is a major contributor to the problem. I would have predicted that. I would not have predicted that free market ideology would correlate with the rejection of a link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. Maybe 40 years ago, when tobacco companies were still actively trying to undermine the science demonstrating that smoking causes lung cancer, but not now. A better question would have been to ask whether second hand smoke is a health hazard. As for HIV/AIDS denialism, I totally wouldn’t have expected a link with free market ideology, but that’s what the authors found.

More predictable is the link between conspiratorial thinking and AGW denialism, although not so predictable is that it would be a weaker link than the link between free market ideology and AGW denialism. This is, after all, simply another way of describing crank magnetism, which is the tendency for people who believe in one form of crankery or pseudoscience to believe in multiple forms of crankery and pseudoscience. All this study does is to reinforce that concept.

One thing was missing from the study that would have greatly interested me. Given that the authors asked about HIV/AIDS denialism, I was truly surprised that it wasn’t included on the list of topics included in the survey. Regular readers will no doubt have guessed what I’m talking about. That’s right: Antivaccine beliefs. I would have been interested to know whether they correlate with the same sort of extreme free market beliefs. It’s not entirely clear that they would. It’s certainly true that there is a libertarian wing of the antivaccine movement that is closely associated with the “health freedom” movement. However, there is also a more “crunchy,” granola wing of the movement that believes that natural is always better, exhibits an extreme distrust of industry in general and big pharma in particular, and tends to be associated with more left wing politics. Ah, well, it was a lost opportunity.

In the end, this study, although in reality more of survey than a proper study and a self-selected one at that, is yet another bit of evidence that tells us that denial of science almost always boils down to ideology. Science that agrees with a person’s ideology (or that at least does not conflict with it) doesn’t cause a problem. It’s science that challenges ideologist that result in denialism. That’s why fundamentalist Christians tend to reject evolution and free market libertarian types tend to reject AGW. Perhaps more rigorous studies could help define more precisely what drives denialism of the sorts of science that I’m most interested in, specifically science-based medicine, as this current survey only hints at such issues. In the meantime, I’ll simply keep bumbling along in my own way trying to combat in my own litter corner of the blogosphere the rising tide of irrationality when it comes to medicine. At the very least, I can shine a light on the infiltration of quackademic medicine into medical academia.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

93 replies on “More data on why people reject science”

And please, take a look at the number of positive samples in the MoonHoaxNutJob category.

If Andrew Wakefield had done such a job to feign an association, you would have torn it apart within seconds.

The correlations are not surprising to me at all. There is always the Lew Rockwell wing of the Libertarian community, which is surprisingly large and virulently anti-science.

Hmmm. Appear to have hit a nerve with Mr. Mach. One would hope that he would try to keep the number of comments to a reasonable number. Four comments in 20 minutes are too many too fast. That’s how cranks flood comment threads.

In any case, one wonders if this was the reason:

For the record, I have never seriously doubted that the moon landings really happened or that cigarettes cause cancer. Also, I will add my name to the list of skeptical bloggers who were not contacted about the study — though I am a small fry, I am pretty easy to find given my URL.

Mr. Mach also appears to be assaulting a straw man, as the study doesn’t claim that every AGW denialist is a moon landing denier or an HIV/AIDS denialist or that every libertarian/extreme free market type is an AGW denialist, HIV/AIDS denialist, or moon hoaxer. It’s simply looking at correlations, and it notes (as I did) that there is a problem with self-selection.

Free market associated with denialism?

I have seen that in people who I FB with. Little “l” libertarians who are vaccine skeptics (but not outright anti), free market, small government, want drugs legalized..

Basically, they view anything the Gubmint says with skepticism and this extends to research done by Big Gubmint. Big Gubmint funds a LOT of research and has the machinery in place to collect much of the data (especially medical data). I have no idea what you have left when you ignore the previous body of work.

Here’s one possible explanation for the correlation of AGW denialism and conspiracy-theory mongering.

Virtually every competent atmospheric scientist thinks that AGW is happening, and that it’s potentially very disruptive. While it’s possible — in principle — that all these scientists are simply mistaken, it seems much more plausible to many that they’re all skewing their results for grant money, or because they’re all a bunch of lefties who are searching for an excuse to exert greater social control (when the UN black helicopters swoop in to take away your pickup, and your gun too!).

In other words, unless you’re prepared to accept a conspiracy theory to explain why all them scientists are lying, it’s pretty hard to accept denialism, because then you have to accept that thousands of scientists pursuing different lines of evidence are all simply — mistaken.

I’d be willing to bet good money that very few of the denialists are personally acquainted with many academic scientists. In academic science, your results have to be reproducible; if they’re not, you’re quickly found out to be either incompetent (well, anyone can make a mistake or two) or, God forbid, a fraud. It’s just not worth it to cheat. For an example of what happens if you DO cheat, have a look at this:

So if I smell cooked data I must be a covert NSDAP sympathizer? That is the frame you put around the topic with “denialism”. It’s religion, not science, that brooks no disagreement. I expected better.
The congruence to those who accuse you of shilling for Big Pharma seems to escape you, although I’m sure we agree that they are at the very least tedious twits. The observation that a fair number of them make a living selling their worthless supplements also has its counterpart in this isometry.
I spent a few years sifting signal out of noise, and that’s my basis for having some sympathy for Mann’s misstep with the hockey stick. It’s devilishly easy to tweak a filter that’s not quite working right until it gives the right answer that you know is there. The circularity can be hard to see. But the whole ‘ “Shut up”, they explained.’ discourse that follows is harder to understand. It owes more to Alinsky than to Popper.

I would not have predicted that free market ideology would correlate with the rejection of a link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. Maybe 40 years ago, when tobacco companies were still actively trying to undermine the science demonstrating that smoking causes lung cancer, but not now. A better question would have been to ask whether second hand smoke is a health hazard. As for HIV/AIDS denialism, I totally wouldn’t have expected a link with free market ideology, but that’s what the authors found.

What they all have in common is the “bad things can’t happen to good people” psychological defence:
* Rigid free-marketism holds that the poor are poor because they choose to be poor, bad luck has nothing to do with it
* Lung cancer likewise: smoking can’t cause it because that would mean it might happen to me (If I’m right, this would be a weaker correlation than others.)
* HIV/AIDS: if it’s a virus, I might get it even though I’m not some druggie.
* AGW: Happens to the virtuous (me) and the sinful (losers) alike.
* Moon landings: so what? Not my problem
* Diana: So what? Not my problem.

And you’re very right that vaccination would have been another great question, since it’s also in the “measles (or HIB, or smallpox, etc.) happen to the just and the unjust alike.

I agree that denying the science of AGW (just like discounting evolution) requires that one believe not only in conspiracies, but in a massive and unprecedented conspiracy of virtually every scientist in the relevant fields.

As an administrator in a scientific institution, I would invite the denialists to give me some tips on how to get two or more scientists to agree on anything so completely they would be able to manage a conspiracy. It would be something of Holy Grail for me.

And speaking of Holy Grails, I’d also love to hear where all those “big grants” come from that support this fraudulent research. Seriously – I know some researchers who could use the money. Please include a contact link.

I would not have predicted that free market ideology would correlate with the rejection of a link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. Maybe 40 years ago, when tobacco companies were still actively trying to undermine the science demonstrating that smoking causes lung cancer, but not now.

We have seen a few anti-vaccine libertarians on these threads, so we know they exist.

I wonder how many of these anti vaccine libertarians are simultaneously
– accepting “tobacco science”, i.e. rejecting the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer
– rejecting vaccines studies because these are “tobacco science”, or at least supporting groups which have this argument as part of their rhetoric.

Micheal Shermer *cough*

He was late to accept AGW and his arguments that deregulation had nothing to do with the financial meltdown – ti was all the fault of the government on the Skeptoligists blog was nothing short of pathetic. He apparently failed to notice that the heavily regulated Canadian banks didn’t need a bailout. He is a prime example of how Libertarianism requires ignoring reality and history.

Oh boy! While I could spend a few paragraphs discussing econo-woo**, palindrom and DC hit a few things:

I think that in order for a person to ACCEPT conspiracies, there has to be a higher order belief above it all ( even above, “all scientists lying”/ “black helicopters”) that overlooks data that is contradictory and simple reality-based notions like, ” Wouldn’t a plot of that size be very hard to pull off?” Perhaps it might reflect a particular worldview which I would expect derives from personality factors and early childhood events.

It also reeks of grandiosity: the whole world is wrong/ all the experts are wrong BUT I am correct. I hear this a lot.

Attributing economic outcomes to personal rather than societal/ enviromental factors is something that young children do and generally grow out of- however, NOT all children. There are cognitive factors that change the quality of thinking ( generally and socially) the occur around adolescence, making it more abstract and more likely to consider complicated ( multiple factor) situations and use qualifiers.

My prof used to say that kids’ thinking gets more liberal as they develop. Not all, I’d add.

** extreme economic belief systems not supported by data.

OT: ( but is rhetorical hyperbole that involves martyrdom and persecution in WWII- ever truly OT @ RI?)

Today @ TMR, Ms MacNeil discusses three books that delineate the experiences of people in the Dustbowl/ Depression, a French woman who fought N-zi oppression and a serviceman in the Viet Nam war.

All of these horrendous situation were “created out of the greed and ignorance of those in power” which is strikingly analogous to being ( Surprise!) a parent of a child with autism.

I will suspend further comment about why I do not agree with Ms MacNeil.

Shame the denialist sites wouldn’t host it. It would have made for an interesting comparison despite the obvious flaws.
I’m still wary of it in general though as it appeals to my prejudices. and it’s only correlation taken alone.

I’m not terribly surprised at the free market association. I think D.C. brings up something interesting by tying it with the just world hypothesis. One alternate angle that comes to mind is that the heads of big polluters are “virtuous” because they’re profitable, and they can’t believe that their “virtuous” action of seeking profit is causing a negative change to our environment and thus our economy.

I also sense a bit of a paradox with some just world thinkers: They think they’re doing everything right, therefore they should be greatly rewarded by the cosmos. They aren’t being rewarded, therefore someone must be actively interfering with the natural course of events. Replace “cosmos” with “the invisible hand of the market” for the free market version.

On an aside, I wonder how many free marketers are unworried because they expect someone will find a way to fix AGW once market demand for a fix rises enough to make a profit. That ties into the meme that scientists can develop impossible sci-fi technologies, unconstrained by established physical laws if you just give them enough beakers and Jacob’s Ladders.

To follow up on Orac’s” two wings” of the anti-vax movement ( before I must depart):

amongst the web woo-meisters ( who offer a menu of anti-vaxx, hiv/aids denialism, anti-SBM, nature worship but NOT anti-AGW), they manage to walk a fine line that somehow addresses the concerns of BOTH wings- they wouldn’t want to scare off any customers now, would they?

However, it seems that they despise governmental intervention and regulation that oppose ‘health freedom’ as well as any interference with the free market; they despise Keynes as well.. They simultaneously play on being ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’ in other areas… the mind boggles as it ties itself into rhetorical knots…

-btw- if you want to be ‘treated’ to a rant along these lines that twists around in on itself in Mobius fashion- tune in to PRN live/ Gary Null show ( it will be archived for posterity). I have only heard half of it- mercifully, I need to go.

Palindrom and DC Sessions already covered most of what I wanted to say, but I have also noticed some odd geography on the part of the anti-AGW faction. One of their claims is that the Northwest Passage was open during the Medieval Warm Period (ca. 700-1000 years ago), and the evidence they cite for this claim is that Viking artifacts have been found along the shores of Hudson Bay. The problem is that while having an open Northwest Passage is a sufficient condition for reaching Hudson Bay, it is not a necessary condition. There has been a seaport at Churchill, Manitoba since the 1920s. Such a seaport is obviously useless if you can’t reach Hudson Bay from the Atlantic or the Pacific. But the Northwest Passage has only started opening in the last decade or so; prior to that it has never found to be open since the first attempt to find it in 1497.

@Denice Walter, one thing they found in a lot of conspiracy theorists was a feeling of a loss of control over things. As I understand it, it’s more comforting to believe that malicious forces are in control than to realise that even the people in charge aren’t really in control.

Back in 2006, Prof Bob Altemeyer published a book called The Authoritarians. He makes it available for free online. You can download it from his web site at:

It is clearly written and avoids snowing the reader with statistical jargon (but provides a chance to find it for those who are interested).

One of the questions Altemeyer asks is why the right wing authoritarians are not just closed minded but angry and downright hostile to those who try to refute them.

I suspect that anti-vax folks include both right wing authoritarians and a sort of hippy-dippy mirror image, but the ability to wall off rational arguments and contradictions seems to be something they have in common.

A Couple of Observations

Generally, the earth has been warming for about 12000 years. There have been centuries of variation within that period such as the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Warming. 3000 years ago the high desert in California was covered with streams, lakes, marshes and pine trees. Now, nothing but scrub and sand – hotter and dryer. The Sahara has been moving southward for hundreds of years. Sea levels were hundreds of feet lower 10,000 years ago. Sea levels have been increasing for a very long time. Hysterical climate myopia serves no one – least of all science.

Regarding the origin of the universe, there are only two choices; eternally existing time, space and matter which auto organized and self animated, or an eternal, creative consciousness. Meaningless, nihilistic, happenstance or purpose.

Regarding vaccines I suspect that occasionally vaccines are responsible for some autoimmune disease. However, it is apparent that most vaccines do far more good than harm.

As mentioned by DCS and Bronze Dog, the Just World Hypothesis is ingrained so strongly in certain populations that any event which contradicts their outlook must be a conspiracy or a lie.

You see this on a small scale with crimes like rape, stalking and domestic violence, and it goes all the way through to government policy, and catastrophic events like 9/11 and 7/7.

The current US Republican “War on Women” is a good example. A group of religious people I’ve been debating always vote R. At the moment it’s down to sheer racism, I’m afraid (they openly admit it) . However, this is a group with a consanguinous population, and catastrophic foetal defects are common. However, they are thoroughly convinced that their community will be exempt from restrictions/bans on abortion and foetal testing, because they deserve it, they’re met like those women.

Same goes for their stance on welfare reform. They say it’s great that Medicaid, Section 8, WIC and TANF would be gutted. When it’s pointed out that some of their communities are so dependent on welfare that 80%+ are claimants, again it’s “Yes, but they don’t mean us, they mean them.

Their UK compatriots did exactly the same thing. When they were (predictably) hit very hard by the welfare changes (to the tune of hundreds of pounds per week, due to artificially inflated rents) it was denounced as a conspiracy, and some incredibly tasteless claims were made.

Anti-science attitudes bewilder me, as do people who hold no truck with the “common good”. Thankfully that kind of extreme libertarianism is not as widespread in the UK as it apparently is in the US.

Tony Mach – shouldn’t you be wittering on about “XMRV” and medical oppression somewhere?

@ Julian Frost:

Right. You might want to consider what’s been written about ‘locus-of-control’ and ‘mastery orientation vs helplessness’ as personality/ attributional styles. Also ‘agent vs pawn’. This is also important in developmental psych/ social cognition.


Young children often attribute being poor to a person being ‘bad’/ being wealthy to being ‘good’**. Often stories tailored to children reflect this while those which are instructional or aimed at older kids may reverse that policy and illustrate more situational/ historical causes.

** we’ve heard that before from people who aren’t minors.

The anti-tobacco-science explanation seemed obvious to me, before going to “Just World” abstraction. In the Libertarian mind, business is good, government is bad. Big business (tobacco companies) for years denied smoking causes cancer. Much of the education on this point came from public-health efforts, i.e. government. What’s the cigarette warning? “The Surgeon General has …”. That’s government. End of story for Libertarians. If government was right and business was wrong (even downright deceptive), their world falls apart.

There is always the Lew Rockwell wing of the Libertarian community, which is surprisingly large and virulently anti-science.

The train of thought running through Lew Rockwell’s columns seems to be as follows:
1. Public-health initiatives like water fluoridation and vaccination programs are ideologically Bad Things because they are centralised, and FREEDOM.
2. Therefore fluoridated water and vaccines must be medically Bad Things… the universe being so constructed that ideology and empirical fact are always in harmony.*
3. Purity of Bodily fluids! Fluoride in children’s ice-cream! Conspiracy!

It is particularly amusing when these Mies-Institute Libertarians pride themselves on their unstinting rationality and unsentimental clarity of thought.

* Much as the Soviet regime denied the existence of pollution, for its centrally-planned industries were following the principles of Marxist-Hegelian Dialectic and were therefore in harmony with the natural world.

@ Herr doctor bimler

ideology and empirical fact are always in harmony.

Finding parallels between libertarian and soviet ideologies has been on my mind for some time. Their ideologies seem diametrically opposed, and yet, I don’t see many differences between the diatribe of a far-left guy I read on a French forum, and the recent post of a libertarian (SecondJ) in another thread.
Is it a Godwin, if I go out and assert that libertarians will be the communists of the 21st century?

Googling on a guess, I see that Lew Rockwell also promotes AIDS denialism, climate-change denialism (of course), and Cold Fusion.

The Rockwell website reminds me of the Analog SF magazine (and before that, Astounding) when the editor was John W. Campbell,* a similar kind of thinker… a hard-line libertarian, blissfully convinced of his rationality and mental superiority, in fact following a combination of magical thinking and wishful thinking.

* Campbell threw his weight behind the Dean Drive, radionic healing and remote diagnosis, and of course Dianetics

Let me present a more charitable view of some people who doubt AGW.

I attended a college with an extremely strong focus on science and engineering. I knew people who were chemists, physicists, biologists, materials scientists, naval architects, and so on. I also knew people who majored in music, management and economics – though they received a bachelor of science degree in these fields. That’s how strong the science focus was.

I don’t recall hearing of a single person who majored in climate science, nor do I recall a single course in climate science. I’ve never heard of the great advances in climate science, nor seen any useful application of climate science in our daily lives.

In fact, the only thing I’ve known a climate scientist to do is predict the effects of anthropogenic global warming, attend conferences about AGW, and make recommendations on why AGW is so severe that we need to make drastic lifestyle changes to combat it.

Now, I accept that the logic behind the predictions makes sense. I agree that data showing an increase in atmospheric CO2 are certainly consistent with the probability that human activity will lead to a rise in average temperature. However, I can understand how some would question whether people in a field they’ve had no exposure to know what they’re talking about, or have been indoctrinated.

MO’B @1647: I’m not inclined to be charitable to those people, because unlike the average guy on the street, people who attend a university such as your undergraduate institution (and mine, which also is a science and engineering focused school which awards Bachelor of Science degrees to humanities/arts/social sciences majors–we may even have the same undergraduate alma mater) will normally have taken two semester equivalents of physics, and will therefore be familiar with conservation of energy. Earth absorbs a certain amount of energy from outer space (predominantly from the sun), and it radiates a certain amount of energy back into space. If you like the climate the way it is, you want those two numbers (or at least their long term average) to be equal; if they aren’t, the average temperature of the Earth will change until they come back into balance. CO2 absorbs and emits photons in the frequency range of the energy radiated into space. The physics of this process does not care about the direction of emission, so the emitted photons will go out in all directions, roughly half of which will be toward the ground. But the absorbed photons are preferentially traveling in one direction (away from the Earth). So the effect of increasing atmospheric CO2 (and of atmospheric H2O and CH4, the other two main contributors to the greenhouse effect) is to reduce the amount of energy radiated into space, causing the temperature of the planet to increase. So the anti-AGW crowd has to deny energy conservation. I can forgive most laymen (who have never taken physics) for ignorance of this point, but not anybody who has taken physics.

Also, just because you didn’t know any climate science majors doesn’t mean there weren’t any; the department may have simply had a different name. Some universities have a separate atmospheric sciences department. Elsewhere (such as my undergraduate institution and the place I currently work), climate scientists will work in a department that includes other areas of geophysics (such as seismology or planetary science). Likewise, I didn’t know any astronomy majors at either of my alma maters; the people who wanted to go into astronomy normally majored in physics, which departments included astronomy and astrophysics types. I don’t know of anybody (outside of the Young Earth Creationist crowd and a few physics cranks) who denies the reality of astronomy.

Such studies are relevant only in the particular cultural context. In my country (Bulgaria), a common combination of beliefs among educated people is pro-free market, pro-evolution, pro-vaccines, anti-global warming. The first is a no-brainer for socialism survivors like us. For me, the mere fact that you have branded it “ideology” shows denialism.
I am myself a global warming denialist, that is, I reject the AGW theory as a guideline for any action. The theory may be correct, but in this case, the idea of its supporters to reverse the AGW effect by some minor economy attempts seems to me ridiculous. What would be expected to help is – to decimate the human population to a small fraction of its current size and to force on the remaining humans regression to preindustrial lifestyle. I do not accept this agenda, and I suspect many Western free-market “ideologues” feel the same way.

I don’t recall hearing of a single person who majored in climate science, nor do I recall a single course in climate science.

I imagine one would have been majoring in geophysical or environmental science, with climate science per se being a post-baccalaureate specialization. As a physics undergrad, my only exposure to the geophysics guys were when I was able to squeeze in fluid dynamics, which was in their department.

I’ve never heard of the great advances in climate science, nor seen any useful application of climate science in our daily lives.

Seen any useful applications out of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey? Sometimes the methods and the data are the point.

(The oldest course catalog I can find from my alma mater is from 1995, which postdates me, but they did in fact have undergraduate “Biogeochemistry/Global Change.”)

@Militant “Micheal Shermer *cough*”

Eurgh. I like so much of what he’s done, but when I came across that bit in Believing Brain when he talked about how he’s a libertarian and it’s so much more rational than being a republican or democrat, and I just wanted to ask, dude, have you read your own stuff? 😀

The Slacktivist had an interesting take on AGW. We do all, as people, contribute to the problem. But we don’t see ourselves as bad people, generally, so people deny AGW to preserve their internal narratives of themselves as good people. It’s an interesting hypothesis, and it would be interesting to see it investigated.

Eric, I’ve taken a few semesters of physics in college and I could not tell whether or not global warming was correct on the basis of conservation of energy. And in fact, the laws of conservation of energy were known long before scientists realized global warming was correct.

To Eric Lund – we all know that climate has undergone a lot of major changes long before humans were even present on Earth. I don’t doubt that the law of conservation of energy has been in action all along. I don’t think your slandering of opponents is helpful in the discussion.

Mephistopheles O’Brien: “I’ve never heard of the great advances in climate science, nor seen any useful application of climate science in our daily lives”

While others have answered this more eloquently than I can, I do want to add that you may have seen some useful applications without realizing it. My cousin is a limnologist whose post-doc work focused on paleolimnology. This all sounds very arcane until you consider that the fresh water fishery on the west coast of Canada ( Alaska, Washington and Oregon too) is deeply reliant on Salmon who spawn in fresh water. The better we understand their reproduction, the better we can manage this industry. As a side benefit, we can use cores from lake bottoms to look at salmon population and vegetable matter going back thousands of years. These data are also one one of the lines of evidence in the AGW puzzle.

I’ve taken a few semesters of physics in college and I could not tell whether or not global warming was correct on the basis of conservation of energy.

This does probably require some laboratory introduction to spectroscopy as a motivator, which I don’t recall as occurring until my third undergraduate year, even though the basic concepts were already there.

I’m despairing… the latest screed at AoA is about autism as an autoimmune disease. They keep focusing on the words in their quotes but hell, they made a laundry list of quote for a condition (narcolepsy) that is known to affect 160 case over 33 millions vaccinated case…

Did they skip primary math level 4 and dropped out of school at level 5???

it boggle the mind.



I swear that AoA started out mildly conspiracy theory when I started reading it about two years ago and now it seems a third of their posts are either J’accuse! or blatant CT.

I don’t think there’s much point in reading it anymore, outside of seeing what whackadoodle ideas they are entertaining.

This is a typical article:

Autism is caused by vaccine damage
Autism is caused by environmental influences.

The government refuses to investigate or fund research on these premises.

Bad, BAD government! Government is cruel and callous and continues to ignore a veritable MOUNTAIN of evidence! They are re-victimizing all the individuals with autism and their families! It’s irresponsible! Unethical! Unthinkable!

Bad, bad government!

We must continue to strive to prove what we KNOW is true, even in the face of such refusal to Face The Facts. ONWARD!

Eric Lund,

Good points all. And if you graduated towards the end of the 1980s, there’s a very good chance we’re talking about the same institution.

As I said, I became convinced of the plausibility of AGW some years ago (James Burke gave a particularly good description of the case at that time, at least in my view). And I tend to stay abreast of developments in a wide array of sciences. I can, though, see how someone who has not might well be tempted to dismiss what seems like an obscure science that is only (in the popular press) discussed in relation to a single topic and who (according to some reports) can’t/won’t share their raw data and who, at the end of the day, can only point to computer models. This does not excuse those who willfully ignore reality.

Niche Geek – sounds more like geology to me, possibly mixed with a little paleontology – but what do I know?

@ Anj,

Thanks for your comment (who feel like a breath of fresh air), I got a good laught out of it, I guess they’d fare poorly at the course I’m going to take at school (BIO291 Evaluating Scientific Evidence).

Speaking about courses, this course (& lab) include a lot of medical stats applications and give a lot of example in bayes statistics, the likelihood paradigm and the information theory approach; topics more at home in a graduate level course.


who (according to some reports) can’t/won’t share their raw data and who, at the end of the day, can only point to computer models. This does not excuse those who willfully ignore reality.

That computer model nonsense gets up my nose a bit. The three main legs supporting climate science generally are physics, paleoclimatology and modelling. And these are more like Papa Bear, Mama Bear and Baby Bear than they are equally load-bearing legs of a tripod. Physics is very much the big daddy – seeing as it includes radiative physics, fluid dynamics and all points in between and far beyond.

As for data. The problems with data were mainly imposed by the ‘free market’ approach of many governments trying to turn their meteorology services into money spinners – and the only way they could find to do that was to bar initial users of data from publishing or distributing it to others. Hence we had months or years of climate scientists negotiating copyright clauses with intransigent governments in order to satisfy the wails and tantrums of those who claimed to want the data so they could contest the scientists’ analyses.

(Biiiig joke here. The complete dataset used by scientists has been freely available for a goodly while now. Anyone care to guess how many of the contrarians have done their own analysis? Not one.)

Of course, it’s all a bit hysterical just now. The Arctic’s vanishing before their eyes along with the land-based glaciers and there’s a fair amount of “look, squirrel!” jumping and pointing going on.

Mephistopheles O’Brien,

Actually the work I described is in the department of biology.

It might be worth pointing out that there isn’t really such a thing as a free market, just disagreement about which rules are legitimate. There always have been and always will be rules about what you can sell and who you can sell it to. Much talk of the free market seems to me to be people justifying the rules they like and castigating those they do not.

Maybe scientists sympathetic to the free market who haven’t retired yet have better things to do with their time than read blogs?

That would leave idiots of all colours and susidised scientists (who might be expected to reject the free market like all subsidised folk), being the only ones actually providing data for the experiment. Presto, biassed sample!

By the way, the first paragraph reads as if you believe that some people who initially disagreed with you have been persuaded by the content of your blog articles. I think we’d all be interested to see hard data confirming this piece of bragging; it sounds more than a little improbable, and we’re all scientists here, right?

Not sure that there is any natural ideological link between libertarianism and the denial of climate change. Anyone with an extreme perspective on the importance of private property would promote preventing any individual from acting in any way that impacts the property of another without the latter’s consent. Basically, if you can’t contain the CO2 you release to your part of the atmosphere you must seek my permission (including the possibility of offering me monetary compensation) for any such release.

Many people today just mindlessly join teams. They then actively adhere to the central beliefs of those teams, even when those beliefs are inconsistent.

Krebiozen @0751: Yes on the subject of a free market. There have to be some rules, so that people who don’t know each other well can trust each other well enough to trade, knowing that there are avenues of redress if either party thinks the other is cheating. Otherwise it comes down to, “Pray I do not alter the bargain further.” Calling the belief that a market can continue to operate under such conditions an ideology is being too kind–it’s more of a fantasy.

Obligatory quote on that subject:

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves Orcs.


I think we’d all be interested to see hard data confirming this piece of bragging; it sounds more than a little improbable, and we’re all scientists here, right?

Funny you should ask. I know that the plural of anecdotal is not data, but…

Oh, and “subsidized scientists”?. Yeah, sure.
So if I understand correctly, when a private corporation pays someone for a job, it is a wage, but if it’s a public entity doing the hiring, it’s a subsidy?

I have a couple of problems with the free market arguments.

First, I’m a utilitarian and the free market has been shown, repeatedly, to produce good outcomes for some people, but not all (or even most.) The free market is based on the myth that everyone makes rational, informed decisions. Faced with an infection and the choice between antibiotics or a coffee enema, they would do the research and understand that the antibiotics work and the enema doesn’t. But people aren’t that rational or dedicated to finding the information. This is complicated by the fact that the free market allows quite a bit of stretch in the information that’s out there. So, without regulation, someone could make claims that coffee enemas will cure infections and the consumer would have to work past those lies. To make matters worse, much of the evidence in that free market scenario would be people dying of infections when treated with coffee enemas.

My other issue is that the free market is based on a very subjective idea of “value.” Science, on the other hand is far more objective. Something is (provisionally) true, or it isn’t or we don’t know yet. Assigning some subjective value to things can, and will, run counter to their objective truth.

ArtK — it can be more insidious even than that. Even purely rational people cannot be relied upon to make the best decisions about health care for the same reason that torture victims cannot be relied upon to make a truthful confession — they are not really in a possession to negotiate. If you believe you have a life-threatening infection, you do not have the luxury of time to research all options. If you’re sick enough, you may not even realistically have the option of refusing the first option presented. With no regulation, this would lead to a lot of people accepting bogus cures for life-threatening conditions — but even in the current market, it leads to wildly erratic prices. Since the health care consumer rarely has the option of picking which hospital the ambulance will take them to when they collapse with a heart attack, they have no way of choosing who is the best or the most cost effective. A recent survey of prices for common procedures revealed prices that were all over the place. One place might charge 10 times what another charged. The consumer would never even know, and logically therefore would also have no ability to exert market pressure on the more expensive ones. The free market is pretty good at picking the price of shoes. It’s terrible at picking the price of medical care.

If the science is settled, we must first replace current energy generation with low-carbon energy generation. We must also remove some of the carbon already present in the air. Finally, we must raise the Earth’s albedo.

In other words,it’s time to a) regard anti-nuclear activists as traitors to the ecosphere, b) ban recycling and replace it with carbon burial, and c) cover the oceans with a layer of reflective plastic.

I’m reminded of unemployment denial in the 1970s. The Left wing of the time frequently accused conservatives of denying that unemployment was a problem. (One common argument was that conservatives should back the welfare state on the grounds that their policies made it necessary.) The Right wing of the time would claim that anybody who wanted a job could get one. Looking at the stagflation controversy in hindsight, we can see that unemployment was indeed a problem (even if was exaggerated by Leftists) but that it was alleviated by following policies exactly opposed to those recommended by the people who claimed to be most concerned about unemployment. I’m glad to say my fellow wingnuts are not repeating that mistake with regard to the current stagflation, but they appear to be making others.

Mr. Hertzlinger:

c) cover the oceans with a layer of reflective plastic.

What color is the sky on your planet? The one that does that not have these things called “ships” that move goods from one continent to another as part of this thing we call “international trade.”

What do I know? I only spent a good part of my youth in Panama. You may have heard of it, it has a canal, which has recently been enlarged. It seem they may object if you block the ocean surface by covering it with plastic.

Also, do you like to breathe oxygen? In that case, why do you want to cut off sunlight to the largest producer of photosynthetic oxygen: phytoplankton?

So, really, what color is the sky on your planet? The one where you don’t breathe oxygen and do not use your oceans for international trade.

Why can’t we dump nuclear waste in deep space, or fire it off with a one way ticket to the sun?

I wonder if the reason for this tendency has less to do with the ideology of the right than it has with the ideology of the left.

Suppose evidence begins to come in to show that human activities are affecting the climate for the worse. Well, there’s nothing political about that either way. But what is proposed that we should do about it, if this is the case? The solution involves government intervention. Taxes for activities deemed bad. Subsidies for activities deemed good. Maybe even a central planning bureau to allocate resources. And the opportunity to demonise opponents of this agenda as enemies of all humanity. Why, it’s just like the good old days!

Small wonder, then, that the idea of climate change appeals to the left. Thus if the evidence is such that it would ordinarily convince, say, 80% of the public, those with strong left wing views will be all but unanimous. Even if the theory turns out wrong, the agenda suits them! Then of course the right wing community is less well convinced by comparison, and we can write lovely articles describing them as anti-science.

Even so, though, I’m not fully convinced that left wing environmentalism is very deep. It was all about green futures not long ago. Sustainability was the watchword. Not any more. Not now that people are feeling poorer, and fear for their jobs. Now everybody seems to want economic growth no matter what, and to hell with carbon quotas!

dingo199: Because hurling thousands of tonnes of neutron-irradiated concrete and steel into the sun demands ungodly amounts of rocket fuel, and all other forms of “nuclear waste” are either easily dealt with or potentially useful.

Why can’t we dump nuclear waste in deep space, or fire it off with a one way ticket to the sun?

1. cost
2. risk – what happens if the rocket explodes during takeoff as some, unfortunately, do?

Eric Lund @5:52PM:
Can I just add a huge thankyou for your explanation of why CO2 is so critical in AGW? I’m an IT person so never did any physics past high school, but your explanation made a great deal of sense to me. I just wish deniers would understand it.

While up until now I haven’t understood the role of CO2, I’ve always believed in AGW – if you have an enquiring mind, as I like to think I do, you only have to look at the graphics of the receding ice sheets, or look at fish migration patterns, to realise something Really Bad is happening, and while climate change has happened in the past, it’s never happened on this scale so quickly.

>It might be worth pointing out that there isn’t really such a thing as a free market, just disagreement about which rules are legitimate. There always have been and always will be rules about what you can sell and who you can sell it to. Much talk of the free market seems to me to be people justifying the rules they like and castigating those they do not.

This is what really pisses me off about people who rail against Big Gubmint and getting angry at those lazy public servants – they always complain about the state of the roads and how long it takes to see a doctor. And they never seem to realise that if we did away with ALL rules, there’d be chaos on the streets because people would be driving any way they wanted, there’d be no recourse for victims of crime, and no safe products available for sale.

1. cost
2. risk – what happens if the rocket explodes during takeoff as some, unfortunately, do?

Some of it also might come in handy some day.

[Insert rant about selling off the U.S. helium reserve.]

@ Christine…well stated.

” And they never seem to realise that if we did away with ALL rules, there’d be chaos on the streets because people would be driving any way they wanted,…”

Nor do they realize that Americans would be driving on the left (shudders)! 🙂

“NASA faked the moon landing — Therefore (climate) science is a hoax”

Absolute number of “skeptics” (real or fake) that responded positive to CYMoon:

Absolute number of “warmists” (real or fake) that responded positive to CYMoon:

Take away just one each, what do you get?

“NASA faked the moon landing — Therefore in believe in catastrophic anthropogenic global warming”?

If I am attacking an strawman, then one that was raised by Lewandowsky – and irks me if people, who’s opinion in CAM-BS medical issues I tend to trust, fall uncritically for such “studies” that are supposed to show something. So do I now have to check your blog posts about CAM-BS with a fine comb, because it is likely that you might be critical to only one side? I don’t know.

And the problem is, that this study – bordering somewhere between sociology and psychology – should fall squarely in your field of expertise. Small sample sizes? Awfully worded questions? No possibility of “no opinion” answers? Dubious selection of responses? Reported results (see title) not supported by the data? And the reported results focus more on painting a “guilty by association” picture, than actually eroding any mechanisms why people believe in climate science one way or another?

Why is it, that Orac is not all over this study, dissecting it, throwing out all BS, until nothing of substance is left? Why is that, Orac?

The AGW pseudo-skeptosphere — led by Anthony Watts and Steve McIntyre — is all up in arms over Lewandowsky et al. So expect more noise like Tony Mach’s posts. They’re already firing FOI requests at Lewandowsky’s university for his emails. Shameful witch-hunt stuff. Read about it here

Lewandowsky’s own responses to the denialist noise are here:

Tony Mach:

At Skeptical Science, a thread about the upcoming fall AGU meeting has been taken over by discussion of the Lewandowsky paper.

IMO the criticisms posted there against Lewandowsky’s paper, by advocates for climate science & for action against climate change, have been far more cogent and substantive than yours – or, for that matter, the criticisms you link to (the second one, in particular, amounts ot the same cherry pick you resort to in your comment @ 4:43 AM). I would not say they are necessarily correct, however.

Frankly, apart from any issues with framing or messaging (e.g. style or tone) who cares about the title? Does it affect the substance of the paper?

When I read the study, I see a loooong introduction explaining the background & pertinent research that led to the conducting of this survey, putting it in the context of prior research. In the methodology, results & discussions we again see Lewandowsky & company putting their findings in the context of other, prior research.

Reading your posts, we get a bunch of unsubstantiated assertions. Can you point to other research showing that samples of around 1,000 individuals are inadequate for surveys of this kind (small sample size is not necessarily inadequate, after all)? Can you point to other research showing that no ‘no opinion’ option is problematic?

I found Tom Curtis’ criticisms of Lewandowsky’s paper reasonable, and it appears most skeptic responses (and indeed, your response here) seem to rely on it to some extent. But Tom does not provide any context to show that his criticisms would be considered meritorious by sociologists/psychologists researching in similar domains.

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