A simple recipe for the manufacturing of doubt

By Klaus Oberauer
Posted on 19 September 2012
Filed under Cognition
and Stephan Lewandowsky
Professor, School of Experimental Psychology and Cabot Institute, University of Bristol

Mr. McIntyre, a self-declared expert in statistics, recently posted an ostensibly unsuccessful attempt to replicate several exploratory factor analyses in our study on the motivated rejection of (climate) science. His wordy post creates the appearance of potential problems with our analysis.

There are no such problems, and it is illustrative to examine how Mr. McIntyre manages to manufacture this erroneous impression.

Our explanation focuses on the factor analysis of the five “climate science” items as just one example, because this is the case where his re-“analysis” deviated most from our actual results.

The trick is simple when you know a bit about exploratory factor analysis (EFA). EFA serves to reduce the dimensionality in a data set. To this end, EFA represents the variance and covariance of a set of observed variables by a smaller number of latent variables (factors) that represent the variance shared among some or all observed variables.

EFA is a non-trivial analysis technique that requires considerable training to be used competently, and a full explanation is far beyond the scope of a single blog post. Suffice it to say that what EFA does is to take a bunch of variables, such as items on a questionnaire, and then replaces the multitude of items with a small number of “factors” that represent the common information that is picked up by those items. In a nutshell, EFA permits you to go from 100 items on an IQ test to a single factor that one might call “intelligence.” (It’s more nuanced than that, but that captures the essential idea for now).

One core aspect of EFA is that the researcher must decide on the number of factors to be extracted from a covariance matrix. There are several well-established criteria that guide this selection. In the case of our data, all acknowledged criteria yield the same conslusions.

For illustrative purposes we focus on the simplest and most straightforward criterion, which states one should extract factors with an eigenvalue > 1.  (If you don’t know what an eigenvalue is, that’s not a problem—all you need to know is that this quantity should be >1 for a factor to be extracted). The reason is that factors with eigenvalues < 1 represent less variance than a single variable, which negates the entire purpose of EFA, namely to represent the most important dimensions of variation in the data in an economical way.

Applied to the five “climate science” items, the first factor had an eigenvalue of 4.3, representing 86% of the variance. The second factor had an eigenvalue of only .30, representing a mere 6% of the variance. Factors are ordered by their eigenvalues, so all further factors represent even less variance. 

Our EFA of the climate items thus provides clear evidence that a single factor is sufficient to represent the largest part of the variance in the five “climate science” items.  Moreover, adding further factors with eigenvalues < 1 is counterproductive because they represent less information than the original individual items. (Remember that all acknowledged standard criteria yield the same conclusions.)

Practically, this means that people’s responses to the five questions regarding climate science were so highly correlated that they reflect, to the largest part, variability on a single dimension, namely the acceptance or rejection of climate science. The remaining variance in individual items is most likely mere measurement error.

How could Mr. McIntyre fail to reproduce our EFA?

Simple: In contravention of normal practice, he forced the analysis to extract two factors. This is obvious in his R command line:


In this and all other EFAs posted on Mr. McIntyre’s blog, the number of factors to be extracted was chosen by fiat and without justification.

Remember, the second factor in our EFA for the climate item had an eigenvalue much below 1, and hence its extraction is nonsensical. (As it is by all other criteria as well.)

But that’s not everything.

When more than one factor is extracted, researchers can rotate factors so that each factor represents a substantial, and approximately equal, part of the variance. In R, the default rotation method, which Mr. McIntyre did not overrule, is to use Varimax rotation, which forces the factors to be uncorrelated. As a result of rotation, the variance is split about evenly among the factors extracted.

Of course, this analysis is nonsensical because there is no justification for extracting more than one factor from the set of “climate change” items.

There are two explanations for this obvious flaw in Mr. McIntyre’s re-“analysis”. Either he made a beginner’s mistake, in which case he should stop posing as an expert in statistics and take a refresher of Multivariate Analysis 101. Or else, he intentionally rigged his re-“analysis” so that it deviated from our EFA’s in the hope that no one would see through his manufacture of doubt.

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Comments 201 to 250 out of 589:

  1. Sou (-snip-). No I don't worship at the feet of Steve McI but I have published enough in the hard science (biochemistry/molecular biology) fields to know what is and isn't required by editors of scientific journals. And Izen if someone meeting the criteria you stipulate has replicated the Lewandowsky results, of course I would believe them. Has that happened? If so I'd very much appreciate the reference to their work. But on the other hand I see no reason to disbelieve Steve McI at the moment. Do you have insider knowledge not available to all to indicate his findings are wrong? If so could you provide a reference for that? Thanks.
    Moderator Response: Inflammatory snipped.
  2. Your motivation is peeping through, Ian.

    You are taking the word of a blogger who has no expertise in cognitive science and who is struggling not just with the analysis as a whole, but even with the very first steps of the exploratory factor analysis - and who publishes his preliminary 'findings' on WUWT!!

    You seem to think his 'word' is more reliable than that of three experts who did the research and prepared the paper, a leading psychology journal and the specialists who reviewed the paper.

    (Yet McI still hasn't got to first base in his 'analysis'.)
  3. Interesting series of comments. It's amazing that there is so much expertise about a technique that most professionals seek professional advice on. Who knew? Just a few comments on the statistical side.
    First, an eigenvalue of 4+ from 5 items is a sign, like being struck by lightning, that there is only one factor, using any statistical rule for number of factors. 82% and 87% are not statistically or meaningfully different, and a second factor should never have been added.
    Second, with one factor, there is no rotation. With 2 factors having such a wide difference in eigenvalues, a varimax rotation is a gross error. Two factors with such a proportionate difference (say, with 50 variables, and eigenvalues of 41 and 3.0) indicate 2 highly correlated factors, and thus rotations such as oblimin are most appropriate.
    To make those mistakes is statistically indefensible, and to try to defend them is ignorance. This is why science should not be done without a scientist around. Perhaps some people have been reading the '10 ironic rules for non-statistical reviewers' and trying to apply them, including rule 1 - once you start to review something, you are now automatically the expert. Ain't so, and the real experts will call you out.
  4. Ian @219, my experience is rather different from yours. I'm also a molecular biologist (mol biol/molbiophys), and with a pretty long experience of publishing scientific papers, reviewing papers and so on I have a pretty good idea of what is and isn't required by an editor of scientific journals.

    What isn't required is that every demand for information is met even before the paper has been published (either in print or electronically). What isn't required is that the spreadsheets and other calculations used by authors to apply defined methodologies to datasets be released on demand.

    Requirements for deposition and accessibility of primary data is journal specific. It's normal that the primary database should be made available upon publication and that the methodologies applied to the database data using numerical transformations, statistical analyses etc. are defined in the paper. However if someone lacks the expertise to apply these methods the author has no necessary requirements to address this. In the normal course of events an author is likely to assess whether requests of this sort are made in good faith, and may or may not choose to respond positively to these.

    We'd be in a pretty sorry state if the scientific ennterprise in contentious subjects was more widely subjected to the sort of tedious circuses of bullying, implicit or explicit accusations of fraud that is played out on the blogosphere. In reality there are very straightforward means of addressing issues relating to uncertainties concerning the validity of methodologies and interpretations in scientific papers; i.e.:

    ..potentially contentious published work is subject to consideration by competent scientists (and laypersons) who, if they consider substantial errors exist and that these can't be addressed with/without communication with the authors or other competent individuals, either (i) write a comment to the journal outlining what they consider to be problematic, and (ii) do a scientific analysis of their own and publish this. If there are problems that amount to fraud then this might lead to retraction (the only example I'm aware of in the latter case is the Wegman/Said paper that constituted part of the effort to bully a climate scientist and was retracted from "Computational Statistics and Data Analysis").

    Good examples abound in climate science. A whole series of appalling papers that constitute efforts to misrepresent scientific understanding (we could name them) have been met with very robust critiques in the scientific literature. This method of dealing with problematic work leads to clearcut and dispassionate clarification of scientific issues.

    That's how it works in molecular biosciences in my experience. I'm surprised you consider that principles of good faith that apply in your field and mine should be thrown out of the window when dealing with another field.
  5. Thanks Chris - a plain and simple exposition of why McIntyre is a fake "auditor" will always be regarded as such until he puts up and responds in a scholarly way, as opposed to jeering from the sidelines like any old one-eyed sports fan.
  6. It is the responsibility of the author and the editor of the journal to ensure the information provided is sufficient for others to replicate the results. This used to be the sine qua non of scientific publishing but is now a concept seldom adhered to particularly in the more contentious areas of science. If McIntyre hasn't got the necessary detail from Lewandowsky's paper to enable replication of his results, the editor of the journal should refuse to publish the paper until the necessary details are provided. Unfortunately however, what used to be the norm in scientific publishing is now the exception and science is the worse for it

    I too publish in the "hard" sciences, and I've also reviewed more papers than I care to count.

    If "the necessary detail... to enable replication of... results" were included in the methodology of every paper, it would easily double the size of journals and databases around the world. Likely more than double. From an efficiency point alone it would be ridiculous to attempt such laboured detailing.

    This is why professional science is best done by professionals. They are familiar with the background of the knowledge and the methodological techniques used in their respective disciplines, and as Sou said this obviates the need for beginners' primers to be included in every paper. A real expert would know how to backtrack from a properly written, reviewed and edited paper to replicate the work themselves.

    And if they encountered any difficulties they'd know how to pick up a 'phone or to write an email and ask the original authors nicely for assistance...

    Armchair experts bleating about the conspiracy of scientists to cloak their work in secrecy are simply demonstrating that they're not competent to participate in any advanced discussion of the material.

    Oh, and they're conveniently putting further truth to the findings of LOG12...
  7. Ian @ 211. You make some interesting comments:

    "It is the responsibility of the author and the editor of the journal to ensure the information provided is sufficient for others to replicate the results. This used to be the sine qua non of scientific publishing but is now a concept seldom adhered to particularly in the more contentious areas of science.......... Unfortunately however, what used to be the norm in scientific publishing is now the exception and science is the worse for it"

    Again my experience differs from yours. Reproducing methodologies in published papers has always been problematic. There have been many times I or my colleagues have been unable to reproduce protocols for purifying a protein, making and expressing a fusion protein or whatever of the myriad methodologies one finds in papers in the biosciences.

    How did we deal with this? What we didn't do was start a highly publicised campaign involving accusations of fraud, encouraging crowds of blog "warriors" to inundate the scientists with FOI requests and threatening emails, and demanding that the authors respond immediately to our every demand.

    In fact we would likely take a considered look at the protocol and try out some variations, discuss with our colleagues, and we might well make some enquiries to the authors if these efforts weren't successful. If the issue was sufficiently important one of us might visit the author's lab. We might attend, or send a student to attend, a course on the particular problematic technique.

    The main difference between my experiences (and I can't believe you don't share these), and the appalling rubbish in the blogosphere is that we and the community of scientists in which I worked had and have broadly common standards of good faith. Our ultimate interest was and is in advancing our personal bit of science rather than to pursue what look very much like vendettas in support of some dubious motivations.

    That's not to say that the electronic era hasn't seen some robust critique of published work in the blogosphere, like the well publicised cases involving the incorporation of arsenate in place of phosphate in phosphodiester bonds of DNA, or the possible role of XMRV virus in prostate cancer. But what distinguishes these from the appalling bullying of climate scientists and their research is that these examples were ultimately played out in good faith despite feelings of indignation and outrage on all sides. Work was reassessed, other labs performed experiments, critical comments were published and new papers subsequently submitted and published and papers were even retracted.

    That seems to be the "norm" in science and scientific publishing and it's how issues are resolved and scientific fields progress; I'm also surprised that you think things have changed for the worse in that respect (of course some things in science at have changed for the worse, but that's another story!).
  8. To Chris and Bernard do you remember John Maddox editor of Nature for about 20 years who doubted the water memory hypothesis but eventually published in nature with the rider from Maddox in an editorial that " "There are good and particular reasons why prudent people should, for the time being, suspend judgment" Maddox demanded that the experiments be re-run and this showed the original findings were reproducible. However, Maddox was still not convinced and the experiments were conducted on a double blind basis. This showed no evidence of water memory. The authors protested and gained some public support much as Lewandowsky is getting here. In the end however it was clearly shown from further experiments that the concerns of Maddox were correct and water memory as claimed does not exist. while I am not saying Lewandowsky's results are incorrect i am saying that in contentious areas it is better to be cautious as McIntyre is being here, rather than blindly accepting results. (-snip-)
    Moderator Response: Inflammatory snipped.
  9. Today I read a similar comment on another website. (I think it was Yale Forum on Climate Change), comparing blogger Tony Watts to Thomas Edison, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

    A sense of proportion is called for.
  10. Ian, you're referring to Jacques Benveniste and yes, I am intimately acquainted with the matter. I was working in immunology at the time, and we used to fight over each week's lab copy of Nature to see how long it would take for the penny to drop both at Nature and in Benveniste's lab.

    You have the wrong end of the stick though. I'm not saying that LOG12 might not be superceded by further work. What I'm saying is that amateurs who don't like the implications as they stand - and who do not have the professional understanding, the knowledge, and the methodological expertise to repeat the work - offer nothing that in any way indicates that the paper should not be allowed to be published and further tested by real experts in the discipline.

    And on the subject of long memories versus watery ones, posterity will not remember kindly the likes of McIntyre, Watts, Curry, Monckton et al who are fomenting serious opposition to taking the necessary action that would greatly assist to mitigate the serious impact that humans are wringing on the planet's climate. I'm happy to go on record as supporting the consensus of professional climatologists and physicists, and I actively go out of my way to make sure that people know that I support my climatological colleagues in science.
  11. (Rather than offend anyone by writing 'ha ha', I will simply explain that the gurgling sound you might hear through your speakers is the echo of me chortling.)
  12. Not a good example Ian I think. The Benveniste "homeopathy" paper was one of those that really shouldn't have been published but Nature chose to do so in one of their period instances of publishing provocative work (the Science paper on arsenate substituting into phosphodiester bonds I mentioned above is maybe another example of provocative publication). You said in a previous post that sufficient methodological detail for reproducing methods used to be the "sine qua non" for scientific publishing but your example directly contradicts that assertion.

    The Beneviste paper was obviously rubbish from the outset. There's no evidence that Dr. Lewandowsky's paper isn't fine, and the fact that one particular individual on a blog chooses to make a huge fuss about a rather non-contentious paper (there's already a large literature on the correlates of particular opinions and worldviews) doesn't require us to stop everything until he's satisfied; how ludicrous would that be?!

    I have no problem with Benveniste's paper being published all those years ago; everyone had something to think about and the issues were resolved quite handily. Likewise with the arsenatepaper (perhaps not quite fully resolved yet). And likewise with Dr. Lewandowsky's paper. Once the counterpoint of publishing, comment and follw-up papers find their way into the literature we'll all be rather better informed about some quite interesting issues of psychology.
  13. Sou My apologies. I didn't include you in my comments (#227). You state "You seem to think his (Steve McIntyre's) 'word' is more reliable than that of three experts who did the research and prepared the paper, a leading psychology journal and the specialists who reviewed the paper. I suggest you too have a look at the water memory controversy and compare it with the current Lewandoiwsky controversy. I think when you have read and understood what happened then you will a) see that the scrutiny Lewandowsky is currently being subjected to is minor compared with that experienced by Benveniste and b) that McIntyre is following previously established pathways for checking scientific reports. That he should do so is surely more worthy of commendation rather than the excoriation you and others subject him to. Are you and those criticising McIntyre afraid he will be able to comprehensively repudiate Lewandowsky's findings. If they are so irrefutable surely their independent substantiation by McIntyre is to be desired not condemned. Isn't it?
  14. 213 Sou -- "Particularly when the people demanding answers are rude, hostile and go on and on and on repeating unfounded allegations."

    I just refer to it as bullying.
  15. @ Ian - to clarify in turn (because, strangely, it seems necessary to do so), I was chortling making an observation about the odd juxtaposition/comparison of a 'skeptic' blogger, who carries a chip on his shoulder and a suffers a bee in his bonnet, with an editor of Nature.
  16. @ J Bowers - Yes. Bear in mind that's the principal ingredient in the (very) simple recipe (as per the title of this article).

    (Supporting material: comments on CA and WUWT - hardly a word about methodology, science, psychology or statistics - and nary a mention of the first author of this article.)
  17. Ian - psychological research is best critiqued by psychologists, who know the constructs and the means of analysis. When you don't know either, you have to wait for the experts, or seek expertise yourself. That wasn't done here (again, see my comment 222 for demonstrations why).
  18. Chris I am not saying Lewandowsky's paper "isn't fine" but equally there was no evidence that Benveniste's paper wasn't fine also. In fact the initial subsequent experiments suggested it was. To suggest that the paper was "rubbish" is to denigrate Nature which at the time was arguably the best science journal in the world, although Science would have had something to say about that I'm sure. Also hindsight is a great help when assessing science and I'd be prepared to bet that you didn't and scientifically couldn't, call Benveniste's paper "absolute rubbish" when it was first published. Like Lewandowsky lashing out at McIntyre, Beneviste lashed out at Maddox. For your sake I hope the outcome isn't the same for Lewandowsky. And incidentally there are many who you would call sceptics who are not convinced humans are not implicated in global warming but who are less compelled by model data reliant as they are on human input, than by empirical measurements. The satellite and Argos measurements of temperature tell a somewhat different story than do the models. Why is that do you think? Are these empirical measurements wrong? (-snip-)
    Moderator Response: Inflammatory snipped.
  19. Ian - You can dismiss my posts, that's fine. However you might read the posts from Stewart #222 and #237 and see if it helps you get some better perspective.
  20. Sorry Sou i don't have a clue what you mean about a skeptical blogger with a bee in his bonnet about the editor of nature. When Maddox was editor, Nature scrutinised everything very closely indeed. Does it still? Yes i am skeptical of those who blindly accept that what is published must be right. For many years duodenal ulcers were regarded as being due to excess gastric acid but are now, thanks to Barry Marshall and Robin Warren, known to be due more to Helicobacter pylori. Similarly, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome was thought due to androgens but is now thought to be due to increased insulin and is treated by drugs acting on insulin rather than on steroid hormones. I do not and never have subscribe to the mantra "the science is settled' as it seldom is. In Climate Science can you let me know whether water vapour, clouds if you will, has a positive or negative feedback effect on temperature. References would be much appreciated
  21. Ian, Benveniste's paper was rubbish from the outset since there was abundant scientific knowledge that dilution of substances towards infinite dilution must leave a solution with no possible residual effect from that substance (unless the laws of physics and chemistry were entirely to be overturned), and from neutron diffraction and NMR analysis of water structure that showed that the water hydrogen bonds of water re-exchanged on timescales (pico-nanosecond I expect) that entirely precluded the possibility of structure that was retained on the timescale of hours and days....and so on.

    So Nature were being provocative in their publishing of this paper. Perhaps Dr. Maddox had the ultimate aim of "calling out" the sort of snake-oil-style prediliction towards self-delusion that underlies some of these silly notions.

    This is absolutely and entirely different from the publication of Dr. Lewandowsky's paper. Astonishing claims require an astonishing level of evidence. Beneviste's astonishing claim was rather unsupported by the sort of evidence that would convince a knowledgeable individual and for that reason alone the paper shouldn't have been published on scientific grounds (I'm quite happy that it was published since we're all much the wiser for it!).

    Dr. Lewandowsky is publishing on an interesting (and quite important) subject that makes some broadly un-contentious conclusions and has passed peer review. I don't really see the similarity with the Benveniste stuff.

    Not sure of the relevance of your comments about empirical measurements and models. Our understanding of the earth response to greatly enhanced greenhouse forcing and its real and potential consequences comes almost exclusively from empirical observations. Some of this is encapsulated in models (can't do science without models) but ultimately what we know is a result of inspection of the real world.

    Models and empirical measures should go hand in hand. After all an astonishingly long-lasting and flawed analysis of satellite microwave sounding unit temperature analyses gave the impression of a lack of atmospheric warming for the better part of 15 years until competent scientists resolved the issues. The models were broadly correct and skeptical scientists rightly had good reason to take credence of model projections over empirical measures in this case. Likewise with flawed radiosonde measures of temperature.

    Science isn't easy. But if we're skeptical and honest we get there in the end!
  22. Ian - what Chris said.

    Also, it's common for 'deniers' to bring up Helicobacter to 'prove' we're about to discover AGW isn't 'real', in a similar vein to 'skeptics' falsely comparing themselves to Galileo. (Before H pylori was discovered no-one knew what caused ulcers - it hadn't been the subject of a great deal of research. Many medicos, if they thought about it at all, figured that microorganisms could not survive in the acid stomach contents. Stomach ulcers were often put down to what medical practitioners still put a lot of idiopathic ailments to today - stress.)

    Researching things is what researchers do. If you don't 'get' that it seems silly to put a 'skeptic' blogger who knows little about science (and is not a scientist) on the same plane as the editor of Nature - or promoting Tony Watts to the standing of Thomas Edison, then we will continue to talk past each other.

    Comparing McIntyre's antics to the discovery of H pylori seems ludicrous. Not because he's not a professional scientist but because he doesn't do science in any sense (professional or amateur). His aim is 'gotcha's' (at best - if that fails, harass, nip at heels and bark a lot). He's an Auditor, a number cruncher - and as this episode shows, not a very good one at that.
  23. @Sou - the paper does address the issue of "scammed" responses but not in a scientifically valid way. Based on the survey questions and methodology for how it was taken, there is really no scientifically valid way to deal with the data without knowing who exactly responded to the poll.

    Otherwise there could be people who think it is amusing to answer as if they are a paranoid person who believes every conspiracy theory. Then there are people who dislike "denialists" and would have answered the poll in ways to make them look bad. Given that there are far more blogs that were not ran by denialists that hosted the survey, it is highly likely that those who don't like denialists scammed the survey including some that are obvious and some that won't be.

    To filter out responses of people who are reasonably intelligent and who take this particular survey for motives like humor or dislike of "denialists" is an impossible task given the questions that were asked and how they were asked. In fact, the only valid way is to know who exactly filled out the survey.
  24. but not in a scientifically valid way

    Says who?

    In fact, the only valid way is to know who exactly filled out the survey

    Why/how would that help? I suspect you are wanting more than that. You're probably wanting one-on-one depth interviews, an examination of any and all their comments on websites like this one, biographic details if they work in climate science. Even their publication history wouldn't be good enough in some cases (eg Curry, Christy).

    Over the years various measures have been developed to test the validity of surveys. They are not perfect, but neither is knowing 'who exactly filled out the survey'.

    Sounds a lot like 'motivated rejection'.
  25. Something to consider, Dr Lewandowsky:

    " (-snip-)"

    You may:

    - (-snip-).
    Moderator Response: Extensive blockquote, off-topic and moderation complaints snipped.
  26. "please realize that to be unbiased, a site must present the best arguments of the skeptics in addition to the reasons CAGW considers them wrong."

    Here you go.
  27. Sou (#242). I find it insulting to be called a denier as it insinuates my scepticism of AGW is akin to me having a belief that the Holocaust didn't happen.. When/where did I.compare Tony Watts with Thomas Edison? Please answer that. Similarly can you show me where I'm "putting a 'skeptic' blogger who knows little about science (and is not a scientist) on the same plane as the editor of Nature"? My comments on John Maddox were regarding the publication of a controversial paper by Nature just as this paper by Lewandowsky is controversial. If you think this is comparing McIntyre with Maddox you obviously need to read what is written a little more carefully. I don't know that H.pylori has been routinely cited in discussions of CAGW but I'm certain PCOS hasn't. Anyway here's a few things that have been believed and subsequently shown not to be correct. Not that I'm saying CAGW isn't correct (please note that phrase) but that I think the science still isn't as settled as you and others seem to believe. Anyway a few misconceptions firmly believed at the time. Women determine the sex of their child. You may know men do. There are about 100,000 genes in the human genome. Sequencing has shown there are in fact about 30000. Bacterial infections were caused by "a noxious miasma" rather than bacteria. There are lots of other misconceptions other than the sun goes round the earth. By the way have a look at how the association between H. pylori and ulcers was recognised as you obviously have no idea of the events that took place.

    And Chris (#241) I don't think you can possibly have read the detail of the Nature-Benveniste controversy if you think Maddox published it for provocative purposes. I suggest you do before you comment again on the matter. To guide you a little, as you seem to need it, the paper was published as there were no methodological flaws apparent at the time. This is of course exactly analogous to this paper by Lewandowsky with McIntyre, who does have credibility as a statistician despite whatever you and others may believe, attempting to determine if there are or are not methodological flaws. You seem to thing that approach was perfectly OK for Benveniste's work but not for that of Lewandowsky. That's not a particularly scientific stance
    Moderator Response: "Denier" is on thin ice depending upon the context. A continual "crying wolf" over its use is patently transparent as a diversionary tactic when losing an argument.
  28. Brad Keyes,

    Please bear in mind that the Chewbacca defense is not the Chewbacca attack.

    In the former case, one defends by saying:

    > What I say makes no sense.

    In the latter case, one attacks another position by claiming:

    > What you say makes no sense.

    You'll notice that the Chewbacca attack (or Chewbaccatack) is more expeditive than the Chewbacca defense.

    But the two can take about the same kind of space whence the attacker takes time to drown the conversation in litteralist interpretations that make the head hurt.

    Here's an example:


    For completeness' sake, here's the inspiration:


    Look at the silly monkey!
  29. Ian @ 247.

    Please look up the word 'denier' in any online dictionary. If - without resort to tendentious sources - you get any result significantly differing from 'one that denies: a denier of harsh realities' (that isn't about nylon!) let us know.

    The term implies nothing of the sort. This over-wrought and manipulative 'skeptic' argument should have been excluded from the debate long ago...
  30. Denier of human caused climate change if Ian insists on the long version, and frankly my dear, who gives a farthing?
  31. Bill (-snip-)
    Moderator Response: Multiple inflammatory snipped.
  32. Bill I note in the comments policy those who use the term denier are 'skating on thin ice". It would appear my objection to the use of the word is in accord with the comments policy of this blog.
    Moderator Response: No.
  33. @- Ian
    Given your concern about the use of the term denier, here is what the authors of the paper state -

    "...whereas investigations of denial focus on the techniques by which organizations or individuals seek to undermine scientific findings in the public’s eye, our research on the rejection of science focuses on the factors that predispose people to be susceptible to organized denial. We thus use “denial” to refer to public activities connected to the rejection of science, and use “rejection” when talking about individuals’ attitudes towards science."

    So by the authors definition Monckton would be a denier, those that think he is talking some sense are rejecting science.
    From the findings of this paper it is more likely that is linked to a ideological preference for free markets and minimal regulation than because they share his conspiracy theories about birth certificates or cures for AIDS.

    Checking into the literature, there are five and a half pages in this paper and a brief search reveals many more, it is clear that the findings of this paper are the same as many others. It replicates a repeated finding about how people learn and process new information.
    Or misinformation.
    This paper is not a lone 'hockey stick', it exists in a context of probably hundreds of other papers that show the same kind of links between science rejection and ideology, conspiracy construction and authoritarian mindsets.

    But perhaps all that will do is amplify the current conspiracy theory that the authors of this paper are the W Australia cell in a global cause....

    The deniers have a big job on their hands finding flaws in that body of research so that the rejecters are persuaded of the inerrancy of their dogmatism. I suspect it is pure accident, {or serendipity!} that has made this paper so prominent a target.
  34. Ian - I'm not sure if you think I fit into either of the two categories that cause you to give a dam. (I don't think so, but who am I to judge?)

    It might help to check the Oxford Dictionary definition of the word in question. Here it is:

    "a person who denies something, especially someone who refuses to admit the truth of a concept or proposition that is supported by the majority of scientific or historical evidence:
    a prominent denier of global warming
    a climate change denier

    Common current usage is possibly generation-specific, in which case I can understand the offence at mistaking a climate science context for a mid-twentieth century WWII-related context. I think most people alive today would use the word in the sense defined above - and I could understand the offense if it was applied incorrectly there too.

    Now as any reader can verify if they choose, I didn't apply that word to you, Ian. If you read what I wrote I was pointing out that you raised a point that forms the basis of an argument commonly used by other people who reject climate science (if you prefer).

    But definitions and understandings were not the main point of the exchange. There are indications that in the rush of posts yesterday, Ian missed a couple of mine therefore didn't appreciate the context of my remarks. It's much too minor a point to tediously trawl back and rehash everything.

    I'll just say that mentioning McIntyre in the same breath as an editor of Nature or the discoverers of H pylori seems ... well, I leave that to the reader. (I wouldn't really be surprised if Mr McIntyre took it as his due :D)

    I apologise to everyone for being the root cause of the diversion - I hope the discussion can now get back on track.
  35. Sorry, but another thought did occur to me - sort of along the same lines. The next time someone trashes the entirety of UWA on the grounds it is home to one of the authors of this paper - as has been happening of late, an astute reader might raise the issue of H pylori, then its common association.
  36. "...McIntyre is following previously established pathways for checking scientific reports."

    So...those previously established pathways include crying fraud if you can't immediately reproduce the authors' working from a paper in a domain with which you are unfamiliar, and letting lose the blogs of ... er ... blog war?

    Who knew?!
  37. "...common current usage relates it to those denying the Holocaust ever happened."

    Context matters!

    Common current usage in the context of AIDS discussions refers to those who deny that HIV causes AIDS.

    Common current usage in the context of discussions of various medical issues relating to vaccination refers to those who deny medical science that says vaccines don't cause what the deniers say they cause (which includes autism).

    Common usage in various discussions of climate science refers to those who deny various fairly well established climate science findings.


    [There does rather seem to be a pattern here. Let's continue.]


    Common usage in discussions of certain historical events around the time of World War II refers to those who deny the fact of the Holocaust.

    Common usage in discussions of certain historical events in the field of Moon exploration generally refers to those who deny that the US landed men on the Moon when the US first claimed that it did.


    If an unadorned noun is always and everywhere presumed to have a hidden qualifier even when in contradiction with context, then:

    Language! UR not doin it rite!
  38. Good use of statistics requires:
    a) Appropriate knowledge and skill
    b) The desire to create honest insight, not amplify confusion
    How many people fondly recall Darrell Huff's "How To Lie With Statistics"?

    Many lessons can be drawn from that book and Huff.
  39. Ian, it's dificult to understand your persistence in discussing the Benveniste homeopathy affair as if this has some relevance to the publication of Lewandowsky's paper. As I said in my posts no informed and skeptical scientist at the time took Benveniste's claim seriously [that's explicitly described in Caroline Picard's 1994 account of the affair published in Social Studies of Science (vol 24, 7-37)]. It was a ludicrous claim that if true would have overturned our fundamental understanding of causality in the natural world.

    I agree with Maddox (see his letter in Science in 1998 (vol 241, 1585-1586) that the publication of the paper had considerable value since it allowed some salient points to be brought home to the readers of Nature concerning the nature of scientific evidence. The affair shows how useful it is for contentious (even ridiculously contentious!) issues to be sorted out rather definitively by publication in the scientific literature (rather than be kicked around by those with interest in obscuring the issues for their own advantage in other forums). Perhaps that might be a loose parallel with the Lewandowsky paper; i.e. get it published and let the "court" of scientific scrutiny play itself to its natural conclusion. Bitching about stuff on blogs is great fun but it shed's a whole lot more heat than light on a subject!

    None of this really matters a damn and one wonders why a molecular biologist feels so strongly about drawing false parallels between a ludicrous but fascinating paper and the hoo-haw it caused nearly 25 years ago and the current rather non-contentious publication.
  40. Ian, here's an interesting paragraph from Caroline Picart's paper on the Benveniste ("ghostly imprint") affair (the "trials" she refers to relate to the argy-bargy between the then supporters of Benveniste and Maddox, respectively).

    "Another peculiar feature of these mirror-image trials was the personalism and irrationalism with which charges and counter- charges were exchanged. The emotionalism of the debates was itself a constitutive feature of the farcical (that is, laughable) atmosphere of the 'ghostly imprint' saga. Both the Benveniste and Maddox camps employed various low-level arguments: non-sequiturs of different kinds and ad hominem arguments ranging from name- calling to attempts to undermine the other's credibility."

    That's rather pertinent don't you think? As far as science goes, the Benveniste affair rather nicely stamped on the notion that magical phenomena might underlie causality in the natural world. In terms of scientific advance and the broadening of wider knowledge the affair was of considerable value. However it was accompanied by some rather unpleasant and childish discourse (if only the blogosphere was in existence then!).

    And here we are again. Publication of Lewandowsky's paper in the scientific literature will similarly sort out the value of the work, and the science on the psychology of motivations will sail serenly onwards, leaving behind a soon-to-be-forgotton blog whine-fest.
  41. Ian at #247, 09:10 AM on 23 September, 2012:

    I find it insulting to be called a denier as it insinuates my scepticism of AGW is akin to me having a belief that the Holocaust didn't happen..

    Utter tosh.

    As so many others have already pointed out "denier" is a subject-neutral noun, and requires either context or an adjectival modifier to indicate its specificity.

    Deniers of human-caused climate change dislike the term because it brings to the fore their cognitive dissonance, and by golly they don't want to listen to those nasty little demons on their shoulders whispering that there's a fault occurring in their capacity for rationalisation.

    The specious comparison with Holocaust denial is a muddying-the-waters gambit intended to use political sensitivities to remove a damning concept from the debate; it's very Orwellian, very Newspeak. By attempting to taint the word, its opponents hope to generate avoidance of the word, and thus of the concept, and hence to emasculate the move to point out the intellectual depauperacy of denialism. That many people are happy to unthinkingly join the train-ride simply demonstrates that very lack of thought, of logical analysis.

    A similar tactic is used by moral conservatives to damn homosexuals, especially in debates such as homosexual marriage. Homosexuals are often confabulated with pædophiles so that there is a visceral revulsion of the whole idea of homosexuality itself. The most recent twist on that gambit was the nonsense displayed last week by Liberal senator Cory Bernardi when he compared homosexuality with bestiality, by suggesting that legalisation of gay marriage would lead to bestial marriage. Fortunately even the usually rusted-on conservatives looked askance at this one-bridge-too-far foray into deepest, darkest right-wing extremism and he was relieved of his front-bench responsibilities.

    Of course some damage was done, because the idea is now planted in the minds of many people and the resistance to gay marriage will probably now linger for years yet.

    As for your notion of offence to the Jewish community, my own Jewish friends are rather put out that the Nazi horrors are being used as an excuse to sweep under the mat the very process of climate change denialism. They make no such confabulation, and regard it as a cheap tactic at best when denialists do so.

    On the matter of Beneviste your comparison is also off the mark, as others have pointed out above. Whatever Maddox' motivation for publishing, Beneviste was blatantly contradicting basic physical principles. He was soon refuted. Similarly, there was a huge gap in the microbiology of gastric ulcers, so Marshall and Warren were quickly confirmed. The physics of climate change has beend scrutinised to whole orders of magnitude than just about any other topical subject, and it stands as strongly as any scientific theory.

    And on the subject of LOG12, it suggests nothing particularly surprising given the extensive background of work on conservative and conspiratorial thinking - the problem is, as I said above, that it's rubbing conservatives' noses in their cognitive dissonance... and ironically moving them to confirm the very correlation that they are trying to dispute.
  42. "The physics of climate change has been scrutinised to whole orders of magnitude more..."
  43. *The paper itself* personalises the issue, ...
    How does the paper personalise the issue? Some people seem to be taking it personally, which raises other interesting questions.

    irrationalises the other side, ...
    Not sure what's meant by 'the other side'. If you means people who reject science then - yes, of course. And...?

    and is an attempt at name-calling ...
    Not sure what this comment is referring to.

    and undermining the other side's credibility.
    Assuming again the 'other side' is those who reject climate science, then it doesn't take a cognitive science paper to do that.

    The comment is suggestive of a mental model of science rejection - a model that assumes rejecting hard evidence is rational and a person who does so has credibility.
  44. Ian @ 252 "Whatever the dictionary does or does not say about the word denier, common current usage relates it to those denying the Holocaust ever happened."

    Oh dear, better tell David Bellamy "I am a denier, and proud to be one" that you've unilaterally redefined "common usage" of a perfectly appropriate noun used in context. Dr. Bellamy was talking in response to questions on his views on climate science and so the context of his comment is clear (even if his opinions on climate science are ill-informed).

    oddly enough Dr. Lindzen (discussed a little on these threads) quite likes the term.

    For his part, MIT’s Lindzen told the BBC in 2010 that he rejects the “skeptic” label because it should be reserved for situations where one is contradicting a “strong presumptive case,” which he insists is not the case with climate change. “I like ‘denier,’ that’s closer than ‘skeptic,’” he said when asked about labels he preferred for himself. “Realist is not bad.”

    Rather in contrast to your specific alarmism, Dr. Lindzen is Jewish and in fact his parents fled Nazi Germany to arrive in the US.

    If these individuals are able to deal rationally with the semantic context of words, it's very difficult to understand why you struggle to do so.....
  45. @- Brad Keyes
    " No, I mean people who trust and respect science but say No to items like CO2HasNegChange and CO2WillNegChange.
    Disbelieving a specific hypothesis is not the same thing as disbelieving a whole science, no matter how hard it is for you to disentangle these concepts."

    Of course questioning a specific hypothesis within the overall field of AGW theory may not be rejecting the science.

    But was is science rejection, is rejecting the statements made by every major scientific body that defines the problem and warns of its implications.
    Are you happy to accept the NRC statement -


    or any of the other statements by the myriad of national and international bodies?
    Or do you even reject the WG1 sections of the IPCC reports ?!

    Humans are causing the CO2 rise.
    Rising CO2 causes warming.
    Current warming is largely caused by the rise in CO2.

    The rest is just arguing about the price as the actress said to the bishop....
  46. @Brad "No, I mean people who trust and respect science but say No to items like CO2HasNegChange and CO2WillNegChange."

    That would be an oxymoron. Let's refine it: people who reject a large body of scientific knowledge are not rational in that respect. They are not necessarily irrational in other areas. (Some may be irrational in other areas, eg cognitive science :D)

    "See Kahan et al. The more scientificly literate a person is, the *less* concerned they're likely to be about climate change."
    That's a misrepresentation of Kahan et al, the findings of which are not dissimilar to this study. Kahan et al found that among those having better scientific education there was a high degree of cultural polarisation. Right wingers are more likely to minimise or reject the risks of climate change, (despite evidence to the contrary). (They refer to 'complex psychological mechanisms' at work.)

    Some excerpts from Kahan et al:

    ...people who subscribe to a hierarchical, individualistic world-view—one that ties authority to conspicuous social rankings and eschews collective interference with the decisions of individuals possessing such authority—tend to be sceptical of environmental risks....On this view, one would expect egalitarian communitarians to be more concerned than hierarchical individualists with climate change risks.
    Our data, consistent with previous studies6, supported this prediction.

    Could be that whatever forced you to misconstrue Kahan et al has similar roots.
  47. In other words, both Kahan et al and Lewandowsky et al found a strong association between rejection of climate science and political ideology.

    LOG12 found that extreme right wing views strongly predict rejection of climate science.

    Kahan et al found that among the more scientifically literate, right wingers are more likely to refuse to accept the risks of the rapidly changing climate (avoids dissonance with their 'world view') while progressives are more likely to accept risks of climate change (does not cause as much dissonance with their world view, presumably).
  48. See Kahan et al. The more scientificly literate a person is, the *less* concerned they're likely to be about climate change.

    Wrong again.

    Kahan et al showed that people who are well-educated but whose ideology is such that they're more interested in themselves rather than in the objective truth will rationalise away the science of global warming.

    In the part of the population that was non self-oriented, increased education served to increase acceptance of the body of science.

    It's a classic case of cognitive scotoma manifesting in many individualist/hierarchical people.
  49. Had I refreshed I'd have seen that Sou had already caught that Kahan googly...
  50. "But as an insult it's got plausible deniability because, as Lotharsson rightly points out, it could mean denial of almost anything depending on the context."

    Now we have someone flirting with denying the very clear context in which the term has been used on this thread.

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