All posts by Stephan Lewandowsky

Iraq, Climate, and the Media

The “97%” blog at The Guardian was generous enough to run a piece by me on the similarities and dissimilarities between the media coverage in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the current reporting of climate change. There is no point in reiterating the piece here, but it may be worthwhile to point to the underlying scholarly article that appeared in American Psychologist as part of a special issue on peace and conflict resolution. Sadly, the journal article is behind a paywall, but I believe that I am entitled to email it to interested parties upon request.


Subterranean War: Some Reasonable Questions and Answers

Further authors: Gerard Hastings and Linda Bauld, University of Stirling

The “Subterranean War” article that we published earlier this month caused considerable interest. Notably, we received much further confirmation of the common pattern underlying attacks on scientists from colleagues in multiple disciplines, including in particular medical research. One article in the New England Journal of Medicine from 1997, entitled “the messenger under attack—intimidation of researchers by special interest groups” reads like a prequel to our own article.

There have also been critical voices on the internet, not all of which were constructive. We take up some of the more incisive questions that have been raised by various commentators, in particular by Warren Pearce.

Warren raises three points that we take up in slightly different order:

2) 3rd party re-analysis of data is surely a staple of science. Of course, those doing so may have particular motivations (as in the Philip Morris example), but one would have a hard time preventing this taking place. Recent history shows the perils for scientific credibility of not making data available.

We agree and like most scientists, we make all our data are routinely available upon publication of an article. We agree that this is a healthy staple of science. (There are some important discipline-specific exceptions involving confidentiality of participants which are important to understand but need not concern us here.) We are however concerned with the way in which this basic scientific principle can be abused. It is helpful to underscore those abusive techniques here:

  • There have been many instances of re-“analyses” of epidemiological data (or other data with regulatory import) by industry bodies or their affiliates, in which inconvenient results were “sanitized” by elimination of data or other statistical statistical sleight of hand. This is well documented and is an abuse of the transparency of the scientific process. It may not be possible to prevent this from occurring, but it is possible to draw the public’s attention to those strategies so it can make an informed choice about how much credence to lend to such activities.
  • Similarly, if requests for data persist after all results of any potential scientific value have been made available, those requests are difficult to reconcile with good-faith attempts to contribute to new knowledge. Such requests are more likely to be harassment than attempts to aid in scientific discovery. Recent decisions by the UK Information Commissioner support this perspective by rejecting requests for prepublication data quite decidedly.
  • Finally, if requests for data have been met by scientists, but they are nonetheless accused of “hiding data,” this is a fairly clear fingerprint of denial. (We wonder what “recent history” Warren is alluding to; this might well be mythical problem rather than an actual one.)

3) The piece vividly depicts some troubles and tribulations of science (and indeed, life) in the modern world. However, it might benefit from a stronger counterpoint than the final paragraph’s nod to the “public’s right to access to information”. The activities of climate sceptics may well represent an “insertion into the scientific process”, and I do not offer a blanket defence of their multifarious criticisms and approaches. In particular, where bullying is identified it should not be tolerated anywhere in modern society. However, the arrival of online fora has demonstrated that the public are not always a passive group waiting for the latest scientific knowledge to be visited upon them. On occasion they can be somewhat unruly and, if sufficiently motivated, they may wish to “insert themselves” in any way they can with the limited tools available to them; especially as members of the public do not enjoy the same access to journals as academics. This may be an inconvenient truth, but it is also a fact of modern life. With better systems for dealing with this, we can hopefully focus more on transparent and robust methods of managing conflicts – both legitimate and otherwise – between science and society, rather than seeking to devise new laws to protect the former from the latter.”

We agree that the public need not (indeed, should not) be a “passive recipient” of knowledge. There is nothing wrong with vigorous public debate in blogs or elsewhere. Both of us contribute to public debate on an on-going basis, and we regret that our time commitments are insufficient to engage even further and in more detail. There are however clear boundaries between vigorous (perhaps even polemical) debate and the fingerprints of denial. To give but a few examples,

  • Posting email addresses of scientists or executives of universities on the internet with the explicit or tacit encouragement to launch complaints, on the basis of the flimsiest of accusations, is not a means of public discussion. It is difficult to consider this to be anything but harassment. It is also a waste of the tax-payers’ money because someone has to respond to whatever correspondence to a university ensues.
  • Refusal to follow proper paths by which complaints and concerns can be redressed—e.g., by refusing to make a formal approach to a university but continuing nuisance email correspondence—is not a matter of public debate. It is harassment, pure and simple.
  • Refusal to take note of the outcome of complaints, by continuing to air concerns that have already been adjudicated, is not a meaningful contribution to debate but, likely, a further tool of harassment.
  • Refusal to submit one’s criticisms of academic work to peer-review, while at the same time seeking to suppress research by bullying of editors is not public debate. It is harassment, and it constitutes an intolerable and unethical interference with due scientific process. More than anything else, this issue of seeking to suppress academic work must be tackled in light of the scholarly evidence that climate scientists are unduly risk averse. If there is one thing the public must be protected from, it is scientists who have been bullied into downplaying the true risk societies are facing, be it from tobacco, HIV, or climate change.

1) How does one differentiate between ‘vexatious’ or ‘trivial’ requests for data and those which are merited? The authors give the example of timestamps for blogposts as trivial, but one could imagine occasions when such information might be quite important. There appears to be an appeal to lawmakers to act in the final paragraph. Is this really the best way to proceed? An ethics committee containing a rich mix of personnel drawn from different sections and strata of society (i.e., not just academics) might provide better, context-specific judgements.

This is a difficult question and like many other things in public life, it requires judgment. There are however valuable sources of constraint that are beginning to emerge:

  • The literature on querulous complainants has yielded a fairly good set of markers that administrators can use to differentiate between true grievances and vexatious agenda-driven complaints. It is important to recognize that every vexatious request ties up time that could otherwise be put towards resolving a true grievance—in that sense, vexatious complaints and requests are no different from prank calls to fire or police emergency lines.
  • There is a growing tendency, at least in the UK, to recognize the problematic implications of FOI legislation in the age of electronic communication, where private conversations among scientists are now considered to be “public documents” because the technology—but not the context or intent of the parties involved—has removed the right to privacy that citizens are entitled to in democratic societies.
  • In a recent judgment, the UK information commissioner seems to have recognized that scientists are entitled to a private space of debate that is not subject to FOI. We cite paragraph 34 of that judgment: “All too often such [FOI] requests are likely to be motivated by a desire not to have information but a desire to divert and improperly undermine the research and publication process–in football terminology–playing the man and not the ball. This is especially true where information is being sought as part of a campaign–it is not sought in an open-minded search for the truth–rather to impose the views and values of the requester on the researcher. This is a subversion of Academic Freedom under the guise of FOIA and the Commissioner, under his Article 13 duty must be robust in protecting the freedom of academics from time-wasting diversions through the use of FOIA.” (Emphasis added.)

Are we calling for lawmakers to act? We consider this to be an open question. As we noted in “Subterranean War”, daylight is the best disinfectant. The daylight should enable a public conversation about ways in which inconvenient scientists who are conducting research in the public interest can be protected from harassment and vexatious complaints, while they continue to be accountable to ethical and professional bodies as they already are.

We must not forget that science denial can kill. It killed thousands in South Africa because vital anti-retroviral drugs were withheld from AIDS sufferers by a government that considered Western medicine to be racist. It killed tens if not hundreds of thousands when firm medical knowledge about the effects of tobacco on human health was questioned by organized denial. And, yes, to the extent that climate denial delays mitigative action, it too will come with a cost that is measured in human lives as well as money.

This week’s typhoon that is now estimated to have killed 10,000 people in the Philippines might have occurred in the absence of climate change, although global warming likely put it on steroids. Nonetheless, right on cue, some individuals have already denied the strength of the storm by claiming that the typhoon was “another overhyped storm that didn’t match early reports.”

The issue of science denial and the attacks on scientists it provokes is thus too important to ignore or to put into the “too-hard” basket. The scholarly literature on denial—some of which is reviewed here— provides some initial criteria by which it can be differentiated from legitimate scientific or public debate. It is in the public’s interest to become conversant with that distinction so it does not confuse the noise generated by attention-seeking or agenda-driven individuals with genuine scientific debate.

Association for Psychological Science on Inconvenient Truth Tellers

The monthly newsletter of the Association for Psychological Science (APS) contains two articles that examine the way in which “inconvenient” scientists are being attacked, both within the discipline of psychology and beyond.


The lead article, written by APS, can be found here. A companion article, authored by Stephan Lewandowsky, Michael E. Mann, Linda Bauld, Gerard Hastings, and Elizabeth F. Loftus is available here.

War or Peace? Psychology’s Contribution

Human beings have been fighting each other in organized warfare since time immemorial. The 20th Century has often been characterized as one of the bloodiest ever. Does this mean that war is inevitable? Will human beings continue to slaughter each other on a large scale?

Some scholars have offered an optimistic prospect for the future: For example, Steven Pinker has suggested that violence in the world has been on a gradual downward trend, major cataclysms such as World War I and II notwithstanding. Others have disagreed with Pinker and have argued that violence continues unabated.

Irrespective of the historical trends, many people might agree on the need for a better understanding of the societal and psychological processes that underlie warfare and violent intergroup conflict. The most recent issue of the American Psychologist is dedicated to exactly those issues. The issue, which commenced shipping in hardcopy on 16 October, with online postings of the articles to follow shortly, reports a broad range of contributions from experimental psychologists and cognitive scientists that address how a better understanding of human behavior might help us prevent or mitigate violent conflicts.

The special issue was organized by me and colleagues Klaus Oberauer, Alexandra Freund, Werner Stritzke and Joachim Krueger. All articles were subject to the regular editorial process of American Psychologist.

This first post on our initiative provides an overview of the articles and links to their online appearance and to the authors’ homepages. Future posts will focus on particular issues within the article(s) and provide a bit more background information that, for space reasons, could not make it into the printed article(s).

Lewandowsky, S., Stritzke, W. G. K., Freund, A. M., Oberauer, K., & Krueger, J. I. Misinformation, Disinformation, and Violent Conflict: From Iraq and the “War on Terror” to Future Threats to Peace.

In a world of unprecedented technology, information can spread across the globe in a matter of seconds. As both an instrument and an object of war, psychocultural influence increasingly defines modern warfare. The ways in which people respond to misinformation and disinformation are examined in a retrospective case study of the Iraq war of 2003 and in a prospective study of the destabilizing effects of climate change.

Christie, D. J., & Montiel, C. J. Contributions of psychology to war and peace.

American psychologists have contributed to war efforts in various ways over the past century. Breaking with this tradition, about 50 years ago some psychologists in the United States and around the world began focusing scholarship and activism on preventing war and promoting peace. Contemporary scholarship and practice in peace psychology focus on the prevention and mitigation of episodic and structural violence and the promotion of peace, human well-being, and social justice.

Leidner, B., Tropp, L. R., & Lickel, B. Bringing science to bear—On peace, not war: Elaborating on psychology’s potential to promote peace.

Only a fraction of human history has gone unmarked by violent conflict. Is war inevitable? While violence has its starting points in the human mind, an inherent human capacity for peaceful relations challenges the inevitability of war. Building on this capacity with approaches that foster empathy and understanding of outgroups and increase critical evaluation of ingroups, the authors emphasize the importance and use of psychology to reduce war.    

Al Ramiah, A., & Hewstone, M. Intergroup contact as a tool for reducing, resolving, and preventing intergroup conflict: Evidence, limitations, and potential.

History is rife with incidents of violent, long-term conflict, and postconflict societies often remain fragile and prone to civil wars. Among conflict resolution approaches, intergroup contact-based approaches, derived from Allport’s (1954) contact hypothesis, can play a pivotal and complementary role in reducing, resolving, and preventing conflict. Highlighting some conflict zones around the world, this review explores how and when intergroup contact can most effectively aid lasting peace.

Jonas, E., & Fritsche, I. Destined to die but not to wage war: How existential threat can contribute to escalation or de-escalation of violent intergroup conflict.

Our higher cognitive capacities bring about unique awareness of our own mortality. Research emanating from terror management theory has shown that existential anxiety is heightened when people are presented with reminders of death. Defense of one’s cultural ingroup is a natural coping mechanism but can result in hostility when accompanied by derogation of outgroup members. The authors discuss possible approaches to overriding adverse consequences of existential threat.

Kruglanski, A. W., …. Sharvit, K. Terrorism—A (self) love story: Redirecting the significance quest can end violence.

The same motivation that when directed favorably may inspire people to their most constructive conciliations can, when misguided, drive them into mutual destruction. Rousseau’s diametric concepts of self-love, the quest for personal significance, and love of self, a focus on self-preservation, present a model for understanding terrorist motivations. Insight into the psychological processes involved in becoming a terrorist and leaving terrorism behind can yield nonviolent paths to personal significance.

Staub, E. Building a peaceful society: Origins, prevention, and reconciliation after genocide and other group violence.

Recent human history has been profoundly marked by genocide, mass killings, and civil war. Understanding the origins of intergroup violence—difficult life conditions, psychological factors, and social processes—can open possibilities for psychological intervention. Research suggests that early interventions, such as promoting positive regard for others, helping groups heal from past victimization, public education, and raising children to become inclusively caring and courageous people, might offer the best potential to avert violence.

Cohrs, J. C., Christie, D. J., White, M. P., & Das, C. Contributions of positive psychology to peace: Toward global well-being and resilience.

Peaceful societies are associated not only with the absence of violence but also with the presence of positive characteristics such as social justice and harmonious relationships. Positive psychology, with its focus on sanguine experiences such as happiness, hope, and fulfillment, appears to offer peace psychology useful concepts, while peaceful societal conditions may enhance well-being. The interrelationships between these fields, however, are found to be complex.

FAQs for PLoS1 paper by Lewandowsky, Gignac, and Oberauer

This post contains FAQs and answers to the paper by Lewandowsky, Gignac, and Oberauer that was published in PLOS ONE in 2013, entitled The Role of Conspiracist Ideation and Worldviews in Predicting Rejection of Science.

The abstract of the paper is reproduced below, and because PLOS ONE is an open access journal the paper itself can be accessed here:


Background: Among American Conservatives, but not Liberals, trust in science has been declining since the 1970’s. Climate science has become particularly polarized, with Conservatives being more likely than Liberals to reject the notion that greenhouse gas emissions are warming the globe. Conversely, opposition to genetically-modified (GM) foods and vaccinations is often ascribed to the political Left although reliable data are lacking. There are also growing indications that rejection of science is suffused by conspiracist ideation, that is the general tendency to endorse conspiracy theories including the specific beliefs that inconvenient scientific findings constitute a “hoax.”

Methodology/Principal findings: We conducted a propensity weighted internet-panel survey of the U.S. population and show that conservatism and free-market worldview strongly predict rejection of climate science, in contrast to their weaker and opposing effects on acceptance of vaccinations. The two worldview variables do not predict opposition to GM. Conspiracist ideation, by contrast, predicts rejection of all three scientific propositions, albeit to greatly varying extents. Greater endorsement of a diverse set of conspiracy theories predicts opposition to GM foods, vaccinations, and climate science.

Conclusions: Free-market worldviews are an important predictor of the rejection of scientific findings that have potential regulatory implications, such as climate science, but not necessarily of other scientific issues. Conspiracist ideation, by contrast, is associated with the rejection of all scientific propositions tested. We highlight the manifold cognitive reasons why conspiracist ideation would stand in opposition to the scientific method. The involvement of conspiracist ideation in the rejection of science has implications for science communicators.


Q: What are the theoretical reasons for conducting this research?

A: There is a long-standing tradition of epistemological enquiry in philosophy that seeks to differentiate between justifiable (and potentially scientific) knowledge on the one hand, and conspiracy theorizing on the other—a problem that turns out to be quite nuanced and tricky. Those efforts have recently been augmented by empirical work in cognitive science, which seeks to analyze conspiratorial thinking into its constituents and seeks to identify associated psychological predictors. The present paper fits squarely within this theoretical tradition.


Q: What are the pragmatic implications of this research?

A: The public has a right to be informed about the risks societies are facing, from issues such as climate change or the introduction of GM foods to often-fatal diseases that are preventable by childhood vaccinations. Sadly, the public is currently prevented from exercising that right, especially as it relates to climate change, because the media coverage in many countries fails to reflect the overwhelming and strengthening scientific consensus. In addition to the widespread misleading representation of scientific issues in the media, there are cognitive and motivational factors that cause some people to deny well-established scientific facts, such as climate change or the benefits of vaccinations. Because such denial, when sufficiently vocal, can exacerbate the media misrepresentations, this alone renders the present research important. Moreover, its importance is enhanced by the well-known fact that people cannot readily dismiss misinformation unless they are provided with reasons for why false information was propagated in the first place. Thus, for the public to regain its right to accurate knowledge of the risks we are facing, it must also understand what motivates people to deny those risks.


Q: Are all skeptics “deniers”?

A: No. Scientists are skeptics and they use the peer-reviewed literature for vigorous debate. However, climate scientists no longer debate the fundamental fact that the globe is warming from greenhouse gas emissions, and in the medical community, doubts about the efficacy of vaccinations no longer have much intellectual respectability. Beyond such fundamentals, the submission portals of journals remain wide open for skeptical debate. Denial differs from skepticism because it usually side-steps the peer-reviewed literature and replaces skeptical analysis with the noise of talkfests or blogs.


Q: Is there no room for debate?

A: Of course there is. Science is debate, but that debate takes place in the scientific literature and at scientific conferences. In the history of science, we are not aware of a case in which a serious scientific issue was adjudicated by tabloid journalists or their modern-day equivalents such as blog commenters. Anyone truly interested in scientific debate can contribute to it by submitting papers to the relevant journals for peer review.


Q: Do the results imply that people who reject scientific findings should be silenced?

A: No. Far from it, everybody is most welcome to contribute opinions and potential data (in the form of blog comments and hypotheses) to the public sphere. However, the public has a right to be informed about why people voice such hypotheses and how they differ from sound scientific reasoning. Out latest paper places some emphasis on the difference between scientific reasoning and other modes of cognition in the Discussion.


Q: What is most surprising about our results?

A: The involvement of conspiratorial thinking in the rejection of science is not very surprising, given the existing body of literature that we review in the paper. Similarly, the important role of free-market worldviews in the rejection of climate science is also not surprising in light of previous results—including work by ourselves but even more so by Dan Kahan and Robert Gifford and others. What is surprising, and in our view quite remarkable, is the absence of any role of free-market worldview or conservatism in the rejection of GM foods, and their rather weak (and mutually opposing) role in the rejection of vaccinations. As we note in the paper, these results fly in the face of media speculation which—based on anecdotal evidence—ascribed opposition to vaccinations and GM foods to the political left. We find no evidence for this association concerning GM foods, and only weak evidence in the case of vaccinations. (Vaccinations are a nuanced beast and the article explores those nuances in greater depth.)


Q: Are all “deniers” conspiracy theorists?

A: No. There are many other variables that drive people to deny inconvenient scientific facts. The primary variable in many instances appears to be a perceived threat to people’s worldview: Mitigation of climate change threatens people who cherish unregulated free markets because it might entail corporate regulation or taxes on carbon; vaccinations threaten Libertarians’ conceptions of parental autonomy, and so on. However, even when those primary variables are controlled, there is a discernible conspiracist element to science denial. After all, if a U.S. Senator writes a book entitled The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, then the public is entitled to know how widespread such beliefs are. In fact, our work shows that those beliefs are not exactly widespread: Not only is the number of climate “deniers” relatively small—and highly disproportionate to the public noise they generate—but conspiratorial thinking accounts for only a modest component of the variance in people’s opinions about climate change (although our paper shows that this component is greater and quite substantial for vaccinations).


Q: How might people who reject scientific findings deal with the now fairly well-established fact that denial involves a measure of conspiratorial thinking?

A: Some ideologically-motivated people who oppose the scientific consensus on climate change have recognized that their proximity to conspiratorial thinking is discomforting and have publically distanced themselves from that component of denial, in particular its anti-Semitic element. The present data may provide a further “Sister Souljah” moment.


Q: Where should skeptical members of the public who are confused by the denial campaign turn to obtain further information or to voice their concerns?

A: In addition to the peer-reviewed literature, there are several excellent websites that disseminate  evidence-based information about climate change. I list a few of them here:

There are many additional sources but this sample should suffice for starters. Readers who like their message presented as a video will enjoy this site.


Q: How does this paper mesh with other recent publications, such as the paper by Lewandowsky, Oberauer, and Gignac (2013; LOG from here on) that identified conspiratorial thinking among visitors to climate blogs?

A: There has been some recent concern about the replicability of scientific findings, particularly in the social sciences. This concern is valid and it is best met by showing that phenomena replicate, preferably under a variety of different circumstances. Thus, it is important that the famous “hockeystick” graph, which shows that current global temperatures are likely unprecedented in the last 1000 years or more, has been replicated many times. Equally, it is important to establish that the association between science denial and conspiratorial thinking is robust and holds under a variety of circumstances. In addition to the recent work by my colleagues and I, we now have a fairly robust body of research that establishes this association in a number of domains, from climate science to vaccinations to HIV/AIDS. Many of those sources are cited in the PLOS ONE paper. The paper also explains why those associations are not entirely surprising. 


Q: How does this study differ from the one reported by LOG?

A: There are several notable differences—the fact that those differences did not alter the basic pattern of results reveals how resilient the relationships between the various variables are to moderately substantial variations in methodology.

  • Unlike LOG, which relied on visitors to climate blogs, the present study used a representative sample of the American population, and the data were collected by a professional survey firm.
  • Unlike LOG, this study involved a number of additional scientific issues and psychological constructs: We included GM foods and vaccinations, and we separated conservatism and free-market worldviews into two separate constructs.
  • The response options for all items involved a “neutral” option. This differs from LOG, which omitted the neutral option. Both choices have ample precedent in the literature, and each has associated with it some distinct advantages and disadvantages.
  • We included an attention-filter question in the survey and we considered only those participants who passed that attention-filter.
  • We used a different (but related) analysis method in this paper owing to the large(r) number of manifest variables and the fact that the response scale had more categories.

Ethics Lost in Translation

The tobacco-funded Heartland Institute already lost many of its sponsors—and millions in donations—a year ago when it suggested on a billboard that acceptance of the pervasive scientific consensus on climate change is somehow tantamount to being a serial killer or terrorist. The Institute is now again embroiled in a major scandal: This one does not involve billboards but a serious misrepresentation of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

What happened is this.

On June 12th, the Heartland Institute crowed that

The Chinese Academy of Sciences, one of the most prestigious scientific academies in the world, has translated and published two massive volumes of peer-reviewed climate science first published by The Heartland Institute.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) will present the two books at a June 15 event in Beijing, a landmark event that puts enormous scientific heft behind the questionable notion that man is responsible for catastrophically warming the planet.

‘This is a historic moment in the global debate about climate change,’ Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast said.

Actually, this was more of a historic moment in the revelation of climate denial for what it is: Denial of basic scientific facts for reasons that range from ideology to something else.

Because on 14 June, the Chinese Academy of Sciences issued a statement as follows:

However, the Heartland Institute published the news titled “Chinese Academy of Sciences publishes Heartland Institute research skeptical of Global Warming” in a strongly misleading way on its website, implying that the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) supports their views, in contrary to what is clearly stated in the Translators’ Note in the Chinese translation.

The claim of the Heartland Institute about CAS’ endorsement of its report is completely false. To clarify the fact, we formally issue the following statements:

(1) The translation and publication of the Chinese version of the NIPCC report, and the related workshop, are purely non-official academic activities the group of translators. They do not represent, nor they have ever claimed to represent, CAS or any of CAS institutes. They translated the report and organized the workshop just for the purpose of academic discussion of different views.

(2) The above fact was made very clear in the Translators’ Note in the book, and was known to the NIPCC report authors and the Heartland Institute before the translation started. The false claim by the Heartland Institute was made public without any knowledge of the translator group.

(3) Since there is absolutely no ground for the so called CAS endorsement of the report, and the actions by the Heartland Institute went way beyond acceptable academic integrity, we have requested by email to the president of the Heartland Institute that the false news on its website to be removed. We also requested that the Institute issue a public apology to CAS for the misleading statement on the CAS endorsement.

(4) If the Heartland Institute does not withdraw its false news or refuse to apologize, all the consequences and liabilities should be borne by the Heartland Institute. We reserve the right for further actions to protect the rights of CAS and the translators group.

This response leaves little room for ambiguity, as amplified by a further CAS statement.

In the third instalment of this affair, Heartland issued an apology of sorts by noting that:

Some people interpreted our news release and a blog post describing this event as implying that the Chinese Academy of Sciences endorses the views contained in the original books. This is not the case, and we apologize to those who may have been confused by these news reports.

Anyone familiar with the activities of deniers will recognize that this affair follows a fairly standard three-step template: First, a spectacular announcement is made that is at the very least misleading if not outright mendacious. Then, true skeptics (usually scientists) discover and correct the misrepresentation. Finally, the responsible party retreats into its shadowy lair of irresponsible ideology with an “apology” that blames a “confusion” on parties unknown.

There is no confusion here. There is organized denial on the one hand and real science on the other. The distinction is obvious to anyone who cares to analyze the pattern.

The scientific consensus on climate change: Still pivotal and more pervasive than ever

Science is debate. It’s a debate that takes place at conferences or in the peer-reviewed literature, and scientific debates contribute to the error-correction process that has served science and the public well for a century or more.

Scientific debates have somewhat different rules from other debates. Unlike the raucous shouting matches in political arenas and schoolyards, scientific debates rely on rules of evidence and reasoned judgments. (And for the most part, scientific debates remain civil indeed, at least when compared to schoolyards, beer gardens, and parliaments.)

But that doesn’t mean that anything in science is open for debate. There is no debate about whether or not the Sun is at the center of the solar system, or whether there is gravity on Mars. Scientists don’t waste their time discussing issues on which a consensus has been established. Thus, the fundamental fact that human greenhouse gas emissions are warming the planet is no longer discussed at scientific meetings or in the peer-reviewed literature. Global warming is an accepted scientific fact.

There are two important aspects to this scientific consensus: The first one is psychological and relates to the impact of the consensus. The second relates to the way in which such a strong consensus emerges.

Turning to the psychology first, there is considerable evidence that the public is sensitive to the existence of a scientific consensus. If people perceive that scientists agree on an issue, then their own belief follows suit. This basic result has been replicated several times, including in my own research. It also explains why climate deniers expend considerable effort to negate the existence of that consensus, using the usual array of deceptive techniques such as pseudo-experts, or pointing to unreviewed blog-posts as “evidence” for their contrarian positions.

What is perhaps more notable is that the association between perceived consensus and the acceptance of scientific findings appears to be causal: in one of my studies, when members of the public were explicitly informed about the scientific consensus on climate change, they became significantly more likely to endorse the basic premise of global warming, and they attributed a larger share of the observed warming trend to human CO2 emissions, than people in a control condition who received no such information (and who underestimated the scientific consensus considerably.)

Underscoring the consensus in public communication of climate science is thus an important tool to counter the plethora of disinformation that is showered upon the public in some countries.

And that tool has become even more powerful today, with the publication of another peer-reviewed paper that examined the breadth of the scientific consensus on climate change. This new paper, by John Cook and colleagues, is particularly important because it underscores the source of the scientific consensus—namely its grounding in overwhelming evidence.

There has been evidence in the peer-reviewed literature already that more than 95 out of 100 climate scientists agree on the basic premise that human greenhouse gas emissions are warming the planet. Those figures were derived from several surveys of scientists or analyses of their publication record.

But why do virtually all climate scientists hold the opinion that the Earth is warming due to greenhouse gas emissions? Most members of the public have an intuition that scientists form their opinion on the basis of evidence. And so, if the evidence is only pointing in one direction, then the overwhelming majority of scientists around the world will come to the same conclusion. (The few individuals who think that the consensus is the result of a conspiracy to create the World Government can be safely ignored for present purposes.) But until now, tools for the visualization of that evidence have been limited.

This is where the new study by Cook et al. plays such a particularly important role: Going beyond previous surveys of climate scientists, Cook et al. performed a systematic review of the massive literature on climate change.

In a nutshell, they used a scientific search engine (ISI Web of Knowledge) to gather all papers published on ‘global climate change’ or ‘global warming’ between 1991 and 2011. This search returned a mind-boggling 12,000 papers (in round figures). Cook and colleagues then read all the abstracts of the papers and focused on those that expressed a position on the basic premise that humans are causing climate change. (The remainder addressed other issues such as new measurement techniques for polar ice and so on, and hence did not express a position in the abstract, although many endorsed the consensus position in the body of the paper.)

Of the roughly 4,000 papers that took a position, more than 97% endorsed the consensus.

To confirm their classification of the abstracts, Cook et al. additionally contacted the authors of the papers and asked the authors to classify their own article as to whether or not it endorsed the consensus. The result was the same: more than 98% of authors classified their articles as having endorsed the consensus.

Of all peer-reviewed papers expressing a position on human-caused global warming, 97-98% endorsed the facts that the Earth is warming due to greenhouse gas emissions.

This underscores what scientists had already known for at least a decade: That there is an overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change.

The work by Cook et al. goes beyond related precedents in three important ways: First, the number of papers and scientists sampled was far greater than the number used in any previous study on this subject. Second, owing to the large sample size, it was possible to trace the extent of the scientific consensus over time. This temporal analysis revealed that the consensus has not only been stable for the last nearly 20 years, but if anything, it has been increasing ever so slightly. Finally, the work by Cook et al. was based on a content analysis of the scientific literature, and scientists were asked to rate their own articles only for confirmation of that analysis.

Thus, the results of Cook et al. tell us not just about the existence of the consensus, but it also identifies the underpinning of the consensus—namely, the overwhelming evidence in the literature that points to the very clear fact that the globe is warming due to levels of CO2 in the atmosphere that have been unprecedented for several million years.

The results of the paper by Cook et al. are explained in more detail on a new website, that was also launched today.

The involvement of conspiracist ideation in science denial

There is growing evidence that conspiratorial thinking, also known as conspiracist ideation, is often involved in the rejection of scientific propositions. Conspiracist ideations tend to invoke alternative explanations for the nature or source of the scientific evidence. For example, among people who reject the link between HIV and AIDS, common ideations involve the beliefs that AIDS was created by the U.S. Government.

My colleagues and I published a paper recently that found evidence for the involvement of conspiracist ideation in the rejection of scientific propositions—from climate change to the link between tobacco and lung cancer, and between HIV and AIDS—among visitors to climate blogs. This was a fairly unsurprising result because it meshed well with previous research and the existing literature on the rejection of science. Indeed, it would have been far more surprising, from a scientific perspective, if the article had not found a link between conspiracist ideation and rejection of science.

Nonetheless, as some readers of this blog may remember, this article engendered considerable controversy.

The article also generated data.

Data, because for social scientists, public statements and publically-expressed ideas constitute data for further research. Cognitive scientists sometimes apply something called “narrative analysis” to understand how people, groups, or societies are organized and how they think.

In the case of the response to our earlier paper, we were struck by the way in which some of the accusations leveled against our paper were, well, somewhat conspiratorial in nature. We therefore decided to analyze the public response to our first paper with the hypothesis in mind that this response might also involve conspiracist ideation. We systematically collected utterances by bloggers and commenters, and we sought to classify them into various hypotheses leveled against our earlier paper. For each hypothesis, we then compared the public statements against a list of criteria for conspiracist ideation that was taken from the previous literature.

This follow-up paper was accepted a few days ago by Frontiers in Psychology, and a preliminary version of the paper is already available, for open access, here.

The title of the paper is Recursive fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation, and it is authored by myself, John Cook, Klaus Oberauer, and Michael Marriott.

I enclose the abstract below:

Conspiracist ideation has been repeatedly implicated in the rejection of scientific propositions, although empirical evidence to date has been sparse. A recent study involving visitors to climate blogs found that conspiracist ideation was associated with the rejection of climate science and the rejection of other scientific propositions such as the link between lung cancer and smoking, and between HIV and AIDS (Lewandowsky, Oberauer, & Gignac, in press; LOG12 from here on). This article analyzes the response of the climate blogosphere to the publication of LOG12. We identify and trace the hypotheses that emerged in response to LOG12 and that questioned the validity of the paper’s conclusions. Using established criteria to identify conspiracist ideation, we show that many of the hypotheses exhibited conspiratorial content and counterfactual thinking. For example, whereas hypotheses were initially narrowly focused on LOG12, some ultimately grew in scope to include actors beyond the authors of LOG12, such as university executives, a media organization, and the Australian government. The overall pattern of the blogosphere’s response to LOG12 illustrates the possible role of conspiracist ideation in the rejection of science, although alternative scholarly interpretations may be advanced in the future.

One world, two realities: BigAussieHeat

Update 11/1/13: video of duststorm added. Australia is experiencing the mother of all heat waves. Records are tumbling everywhere: For the first time in recorded climatic history, the country experienced 7 consecutive days above 39C (90F 102F). Extremes are everywhere, and the Bureau of Meteorology issued a special climate statement.

As stated by Bureau of Meteorology’s manager of climate monitoring and prediction, David Jones, ”The current heatwave – in terms of its duration, its intensity and its extent – is unprecedented in our records. Clearly, the climate system is responding to the background warming trend. Everything that happens in the climate system now is taking place on a planet which is a degree hotter than it used to be.”

It’s so hot, the Bureau had to add another color to the temperature map–Burning Deep Purple:

This actually means something.

It means that people suffer, like the heroic grandparents who saved their children from a bushfire, taking pictures because they thought they might never see them again alive:

It means freakish dust storms off the coast of Western Australia, awe inspiring in their beauty:

And an even more awe-inspiring video


That is what climate change means.

But this reality is not shared by everyone. There are some politicians who live in an alternate reality. Just today, one of them reiterated their commitment to abolishing Australia’s price on carbon, because it allegedly fails to cut emissions and because “genuine domestic emission reductions can be achieved without taxing electricity.”

And therein lies the problem. We have one world, one reality, and an alternate fantasy world inhabited mainly by politicians, mining magnates, and their enablers in the media.

In reality, there is some evidence that the price of carbon, however imperfect a first step it may be, is having an effect on emissions.

The top (Climate) Events of 2012

A group of us, all interested in climate science, put together a list of the most notable, often, most worrying, climate-related stories of the year, along with a few links that will allow you to explore the stories in more detail.

We did not try to make this a “top ten” list, because it is rather silly to fit the news, or the science, or the stuff the Earth does in a given year into an arbitrary number of events. (What if we had 12 fingers, and “10” was equal to 6+6? Then there would always be 12 things, not 10, on everyone’s list. Makes no sense.) We ended up with 18 items, but note that some of these things are related to each other in a way that would allow us to lump them or split them in different ways. See this post by Joe Romm for a more integrated approach to the year’s events. Also, see what Jeff Masters did here. We only included one non-climate (but related) item to illustrate the larger number of social, cultural, and political things that happened this year. For instance, because of some of the things on this list, Americans are more likely than they were in previous years to accept the possibility that science has something to say about the Earth’s climate and the changes we have experienced or that may be in the future; journalists are starting to take a new look at their own misplaced “objective” stance as well. Also, more politicians are starting to run for office on a pro-science pro-environment platform than has been the case for quite some time.

A failing of this list is that although non-US based people contributed, and it is somewhat global in its scope, it is a bit American based. This is partly because a few of the big stories happened here this year, but also, because the underlying theme really is the realization that climate change is not something of the future, but rather, something of the present, and key lessons learned in that important area of study happened in the American West (fires) the South and Midwest (droughts, crop failures, closing of river ways) and Northeast (Sandy). But many of the items listed here were indeed global, such as extreme heat and extreme cold caused by meteorological changes linked to warming, and of course, drought is widespread.

This list is subject to change, because you are welcome to add suggestions for other stories or for links pertaining to those already listed. Also, the year is not over yet. Anything can happen in the next few days!

The following people contributed to this effort: Angela Fritz, A Siegel, Eli Rabett, Emilee Pierce, Gareth Renowden, Greg Laden, Joe Romm, John Abraham, Laurence Lewis, Leo Hickman, Michael Mann, Michael Tobis,, Paul Douglas, Scott Mandia, Scott Brophy, Stephan Lewandowsky, and Tenney Naumer

1 Super Storm Sandy

Super Storm Sandy, a hybrid of Hurricane Sandy (and very much a true hurricane up to and beyond its landfall in the Greater New York/New Jersey area) was an important event for several reasons. First, the size and strength of the storm bore the hallmarks of global warming enhancement. Second, its very unusual trajectory was caused by a climatic configuration that was almost certainly the result of global warming. The storm would likely not have been as big and powerful as it was, nor would it have likely struck land where it did were it not for the extra greenhouse gasses released by humans over the last century and a half or so.

A third reason Sandy was important is the high storm surge that caused unprecedented and deadly flooding in New York and New Jersey. This surge was made worse by significant global warming caused sea level rise. Sea level rise has been eating away at the coasts for years and has probably caused a lot of flooding that otherwise would not have happened, but this is the first time a major event widely noticed by the mainstream media (even FOX news) involving sea level rise killed a lot of people and did a lot of damage. Fourth, Sandy was an event, but Sandy might also be the “type specimen” for a new kind of storm. It is almost certainly true that global warming Enhanced storms like Sandy will occur more frequently in the future than in the past, but how much more often is not yet known. We will probably have to find out the hard way.

Note that the first few of the links below are to blog posts written by concerned climate scientists, whom the climate change denialists call “alarmists.” You will note that these scientists and writers were saying alarming things as the storm approached. You will also note that what actually happened when Sandy struck was much worse than any of these “alarmists” predicted in one way or another, in some cases, in several ways. This then, is the fifth reason that Sandy is important: The Earth’s weather system (quite unconsciously of course) opened a big huge can of “I told you so” on the climate science denialist world. Sandy washed away many lives, a great deal of property and quite a bit of shoreline. Sandy also washed away a huge portion of what remained of the credibility of the climate science denialist lobby.

Is Mother Nature revving up an October Surprise (w/ human thumbs on the scale)?

Grim Trajectories

Has climate change created a monster?

Ostrich Heads in the Sand(y)? Does your meteorologist break the climate silence?

Climate of Doubt As Superstorm Sandy Crosses US Coast

Are Tropical Storms Getting Larger in Area?

What you need to know about Frankenstorm Sandy


2 Related to Sandy, the direct effects of sea level rise…

… were blatantly observed and widely acknowledged by the press and the public for the first time

Sea Level Rise … Extreme History, Uncertain Future

Peer Reviewed Research Predicted NYC Subway Flooding by #Sandy

How peer-reviewed material understates likely sea-level rise and examining NY Times interactive graphic relying on this optimistic material.

See WMO summary of year for info on global extremes – especially floods in Africa, India, Pakistan, China

3 The Polar Ice Caps and other ice features experienced extreme melting this year.

This year, Arctic sea ice reached a minimum in both extent (how much of the sea is covered during the Arctic summer) and more importantly, total ice volume, reaching the lowest levels in recorded history.

Arctic sea ice extent settles at record seasonal minimum

Ice Loss at Poles Is Increasing, Mainly in Greenland


4 Sea Ice Loss Changes Weather …

We also increasingly recognized that loss of Arctic sea ice affects Northern Hemisphere weather patterns, including severe cold outbreaks and storm tracks. This sea ice loss is what set up the weather pattern mentioned above that steered Sandy into the US Northeast, as well as extreme cold last winter in other areas.

Arctic Warming is Altering Weather Patterns, Study Shows

5 and 6 Two major melting events happened in Greenland this summer.

First, the total amount of ice that has melted off this huge continental glacier reached a record high, with evidence that the rate of melting is not only high, but much higher than predicted or expected. This is especially worrying because the models climatologists use to predict ice melting are being proven too optimistic. Second, and less important but still rather spectacular, was the melting of virtually every square inch of the surface of this ice sheet over a short period of a few days during the hottest part of the summer, a phenomenon observed every few hundred years but nevertheless an ominous event considering that it happened just as the aforementioned record ice mass loss was being observed and measured.

Greenland Losing Ice Fast


7 Massive Ice islands…

…were formed when the Petermann Glacier of northern Greenland calved a massive piece of its floating tongue, and it is likely that the Pine Island Glacier (West Antarctica) will follow suit this Southern Hemisphere summer. Also, this information is just being reported and we await further evaluation. As summer begins to develop in the Southern Hemisphere, there may be record warmth there in Antarctica. That story will likely be part of next year’s roundup of climate-related woes.

8 More Greenhouse Gasses than Ever

Even though the rate of emissions of greenhouse gasses slowed down temporarily for some regions of the world, those gasses stay in the air after they are released, so this year greenhouse gas levels reached new record high levels

United StatesGreenhouse Gas Levels Reach New Record High

World Meteorological Organization: Greenhouse Gas Concentrations Reach New Record

9 It Got Hot

As expected, given the greenhouse gases just mentioned, Record Breaking High Temperatures Continue, 2012 is one of the warmest years since the Age of the Dinosaurs. We’ll wait until the year is totally over to give you a rank, but it is very, very high.

UK Met Office forecasts next year to set new record

Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math

10 …and that heat brought extreme, killer heat waves

Hot, Very Hot, Extremely Hot Summers

11 For many areas, this was the year without a Spring.

The growing season in temperate zones is longer, causing the USDA in the US to change its planting recommendations.

It’s the Heat of the Night

12 There were widespread, unprecedented and deadly wildfires…

…around the world and in the American West.

Media Begin To Connect The Dots Between Climate Change And Wildfires

13 There was a major drought…

…in the US with numerous negative effects including threats to the food supply

Drought, Water & Energy

What is the link between Global Warming and Drought?

Brutal Droughts, Worsened by Global Warming, Threaten Food Production Around The World

Alarm bells on climate change as extreme weather events sweep the world: CCSOS

The Bacon Shortage

14 River Traffic Stops

A very rare event caused by drought conditions was the closing of the Mississippi River to traffic in mid-summer at two locations. This is part of a larger and growing problem involving drought, increased demands for water, and the importance of river traffic. Expect to hear more about this over the next couple of years.

Drought Closes Mississippi River Traffic in Two Locations

15 Very, very bad storms.

In June, a major and very scary derecho event – a thunderstorm and tornado complex large enough to get its own Wikipedia entry – swept across the country. This was one of several large storm systems that caused damage and death in the US this year. There were also large and unprecedented sandstorms in Asia and the US.

June 2012 North American derecho

16 Widespread Tree Mortality is underway and is expected to worsen.

Dire Drought Ahead, May Lead to Massive Tree Death

17 Biodiversity is mostly down…

We continue to experience, and this will get worse, great Losses in Biodiversity especially in Oceans, much of that due to increased acidification because of the absorption of CO2 in seawater, and overfishing.

Big loss of biodiversity with global warming

18 Unusual Jet Stream Configuration and related changes to general climate patterns…

Many of us who contributed to this list feel that this is potentially the most important of all of the stories, partly because it ties together several other events. Also, it may be that a change in the air currents caused by global warming represents a fundamental yet poorly understood shift in climate patterns. The steering of Hurricane Sandy into the New York and New Jersey metro areas, the extreme killer cold in Eastern Europe and Russia, the “year without a Spring” and the very mild winters, some of the features of drought, and other effects may be “the new normal” owing to a basic shift in how air currents are set up in a high-CO2 world. This December, as we compile this list, this effect has caused extreme cold in Eastern Europe and Russia as well as floods in the UK and unusually warm conditions in France. As of this writing well over 200 people have died in the Ukraine, Poland and Russia from cold conditions. As an ongoing and developing story we are including it provisionally on this list. Two blog posts from midyear of 2011 and 2012 (this one and this one) cover some of this.

The following video provides an excellent overview of this problem:

19 The first climate denial “think” tank to implode as a result of global warming…

… suffered major damage this year. The Heartland Institute, which worked for many years to prove that cigarette smoking was not bad for you, got caught red handed trying to fund an effort explicitly (but secretly) designed to damage science education in public schools. Once caught, they tried to distract attention by equating people who thought the climate science on global warming is based on facts and is not a fraud with well-known serial killers, using large ugly billboards. A large number of Heartland Institute donors backed off after this fiasco and their credibility tanked in the basement. As a result, the Heartland Institute, which never was really that big, is now no longer a factor in the climate change discussion.