Commentary in Psychological Science

This is a joint post by Ruth Dixon and Jonathan Jones about our Commentary entitled ‘Conspiracist Ideation as a Predictor of Climate Science Rejection: An Alternative Analysis.’. [The link is now to the version of record, published in May 2015].

After nearly a year, two journals, and four rounds of review, our Commentary on two studies by Stephan Lewandowsky was published in Psychological Science on 26 March 2015. This post describes our findings in more detail than the tight word-limit in Psychological Science allowed.

In two papers published in 2013, Stephan Lewandowsky and his colleagues Gilles Gignac and Klaus Oberauer suggested that ‘conspiracist ideation’ (the tendency to believe in conspiracy theories) predicted scepticism about anthropogenic climate change. In our reanalyses of the data from both studies, we found that there was a curved relationship between these variables. Both climate-change sceptics and the ‘climate-convinced’ tended to disbelieve in conspiracy theories. The linear models used by Lewandowsky and colleagues were therefore not appropriate descriptions of the data. Both datasets show this effect, although they resulted from very different survey types (the first surveyed readers of ‘climate blogs’ (LOG13-blogs, published in Psychological Science) and the second surveyed a panel representative of the US population (LGO13-panel, published in PLoS)), so we are confident that our findings are robust.

As we describe in more detail later in this post, our main finding was that there is a curved relationship between belief in anthropogenic climate change (CLIM) and belief in conspiracy theories (CY). This curvilinear relationship is most clearly seen in the LGO13-panel dataset (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The curved relationship between belief in anthropogenic climate change (CLIM) and in conspiracy theories (CY) (Loess plot, 95% confidence intervals). Higher values correspond to higher levels of belief or endorsement.

Figure 1. The curved relationship between belief in anthropogenic climate change (CLIM) and in conspiracy theories (CY) (Loess plot, 95% confidence intervals). Higher values correspond to higher levels of belief or endorsement.

As we argue below, all this really shows is that people who are undecided about one fairly technical matter (conspiracy theories) also have no firm opinion about another (climate change). The complex statistical models used by Lewandowsky et al. mask this rather obvious and uninteresting finding.

A note on the publication of our Commentary

Although Lewandowsky and colleagues were sent our Commentary to review in late 2014, Eric Eich, the editor of Psychological Science, did not agree with their opinion that our paper should be rejected. Their (non-anonymous) review made much the same points as their Reply which is published alongside our Commentary.

When accepting our paper, Eric Eich placed an embargo on all discussion until the Commentary and Reply were published.

Our analysis

Lewandowsky and his colleagues used Structural Equation Modelling (SEM) to analyse the datasets. SEM can be a powerful technique which allows complex relationships to be teased out, but it has two disadvantages compared with the Exploratory Data Analysis approach (EDA) that we used. First, SEM requires an underlying theoretical model to describe the presumed relationship between variables, and then estimates the parameters for this model, which renders SEM studies prone to confirmation bias. By contrast EDA allows the data to speak for itself, with the minimum of presuppositions. Second, SEM results are usually presented as diagrams that schematically describe the theoretical model and list the parameters, giving artificial prominence to detected relationships which are not substantial or important. The simpler approach of EDA clearly reveals the strength and importance of any relationship to visual inspection.

The rest of this post describes our findings in more detail.

The LGO13-panel data

LGO13-panel surveyed US citizens drawn from an internet panel. Composite variables for beliefs in climate science (CLIM) and conspiracy theories (CY) were calculated by simple averaging of the relevant question scores on a 5-point scale from ‘strongly disagree’ (1) to ‘strongly agree’ (5).

In Figure 2, we summarise the relationships between the CY and CLIM variables in both datasets using loess local regression, which seeks to find a reasonably smooth curve which summarises any substantial structure in the data. Lewandowsky and colleagues’ choice of using CY to predict CLIM arises from a theoretical model in which conspiracist ideation is supposed to cause climate scepticism, although their experimental design does not test the direction of causality. We investigated both directions to avoid any presuppositions, and show the plot which reveals the structure most clearly. This reversal of direction is not important for straight line fits, but is very important when using loess.

These plots use ‘jittering’, which moves each data point by a small random amount, to give some idea of the number of repeated occurrences of each data point, and the grey bands show the plausible region in which the best fit lines could lie.

Figure 2. Loess plots of LGO13-panel data: CY as a predictor of CLIM (left-hand plot); CLIM as a predictor of CY (right-hand plot).

Figure 2. Loess plots of LGO13-panel data: CY as a predictor of CLIM (left-hand plot); CLIM as a predictor of CY (right-hand plot).

It is immediately obvious from the scatter plots that there is no strong relationship between CY and CLIM, with points fairly evenly scattered over the graph. The best fit straight lines (see Supplemental Table and Figures (pdf) Figure S1) show that CLIM and CY are weakly anti-correlated, that is, agreement with the IPCC consensus view on climate change falls slightly as belief in conspiracy theories rises, as reported by Lewandowsky and colleagues. This relationship is, however, extremely weak, being barely distinguishable from a flat line: a statistical analysis of this straight line fit shows that CY predicts less than 1% of the variation in CLIM.

The loess plots in Figure 2 reveal the underlying structure of the data. Using CY to predict CLIM (left-hand plot) still shows an essentially flat line, but using CLIM to predict CY (right-hand plot) gives a clear bell shaped curve. The highest values of CY (the greatest ‘endorsement’ of conspiracy theories) occur not for climate sceptics (low values of CLIM), but for people at the middle of the CLIM spectrum, those with no strong opinion either way.

The LOG13-blogs data

The LOG13-blogs survey invitation appeared on climate-related blogs in 2010; responses were on a 4-point scale from ‘strongly disagree’ (1) to ‘strongly agree’ (4). The manner in which this data was collected has been strongly criticised by many commentators, but we do not address that point here, beyond noting that the respondents to this survey were far more strongly convinced of the IPCC consensus position on climate change than the more representative panel survey. By far the largest group of respondents (41%) expressed maximum agreement with all five propositions relating to climate change (CLIM=4.0), while only 15% were ‘more sceptical than not’ having CLIM in the range 1.0–2.4. The stark contrast of the LOG13-blogs and LGO13-panel datasets is shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Distribution of responses on the CLIM scale in LOG13-blogs and LGO13-panel.

Figure 3. Distribution of responses on the CLIM scale in LOG13-blogs and LGO13-panel.

This extreme skew in the dataset makes analysis more challenging, but loess fits to scatter plots are still useful. Figure 4 indicates that the LOG13-blogs respondents with high values of CLIM gave lower credence to conspiracy theories than those at moderate values of CLIM. The behaviour at low values of CLIM (climate sceptics) is much less clear, but there is no sign that the line continues upwards as CLIM decreases, as implied by the conclusion of the LOG13-blogs paper.

Figure 4. Loess plot of LOG13-blogs data: CLIM as a predictor of CY.

Figure 4. Loess plot of LOG13-blogs data: CLIM as a predictor of CY.

The clarity of this plot can be greatly increased by excluding the 18 data points from the blogs dataset which were identified as ‘outliers’ by Lewandowsky and his colleagues. These points correspond to particularly high beliefs in conspiracy theories (CY>2.5, across the whole range of CLIM). Excluding data points from analyses must be done with care, but Lewandowsky and colleagues specifically noted in their paper that their analysis was robust to the removal of these 18 data points (less than 2% of the whole). The effect on the loess fit, however, is substantial, as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5. Loess plot of LOG13-blogs data with CY≤2.5: CLIM as a predictor of CY.

Figure 5. Loess plot of LOG13-blogs data with CY≤2.5: CLIM as a predictor of CY.

The LOG13-blogs loess plot now shows a clear fall in CY at low values of CLIM, in agreement with the LGO13-panel data.

What does it mean?

In their reply (LGO15), Lewandowsky et al. are highly critical of the lack of ‘theory’ in our commentary, saying ‘Alternative models should reflect alternative theoretically motivated hypotheses, any mention of which is conspicuously lacking in in Dixon and Jones’s Commentary’ and ‘The reader is left in the dark as to what any of this means, which is ironic in light of Dixon and Jones’s admonition against use of SEM as a “black box”.’

Lewandowsky and colleagues argue that since any correlation matrix can be fit by more than one model the greatest consideration should be given to ‘theoretically motivated’ models. This appears to us to be a recipe for confirmation bias. Any model can be used to justify a pre-existing prejudice if it happens to meet (in this case minimal) statistical tests.

If the authors of LGO15 want to know ‘what does it mean?’ they should look at the data. Our graphs show clearly that the relationship between CY (the average of ‘agreement with conspiracy theories’) and CLIM (the average of ‘belief in anthropogenic climate change’) is bell-shaped. That is, both ‘climate sceptics’ (low values of CLIM) and those convinced of the dangers of anthropogenic climate change (high values of CLIM) were less likely than the ‘climate-neutral’ to agree with conspiracy theories. A very straightforward explanation is that people who have firm opinions (and are willing to express them) are sceptical of (most) conspiracy theories and have polarised opinions on climate change. People who are less sure (or less willing to express an opinion) are ‘neutral’ about both CLIM and CY. Such people tend to occupy the middle of the range on CLIM, but being ‘neutral’ about conspiracy theories places them near the top of the range of responses for CY.

All the data really shows is that people who have no opinion about one fairly technical matter (conspiracy theories) also have no opinion about another fairly technical matter (climate change). Complex models mask this obvious (and trivial) finding.

Other materials

Our Commentary (open access)

Our Supplemental Table and Figures (open access). This document lists the climate and conspiracy questions included in CLIM and CY, and gives brief methodological details of Lewandowsky’s two surveys. It also contains some additional graphs (our Commentary was restricted to one figure with 2 panels).

Lewandowsky et al. Reply (paywalled – Lewandowsky summarises the main points on Shaping Tomorrow’s World)

R-code for our commentary and this blog post

Timeline of events relevant to our publication

We will address other points made in Lewandowsky’s Reply in future posts


43 thoughts on “Commentary in Psychological Science

  1. Congratulations! I know I’ve made the same basic point you guys make before, but I never would have been able to write up a good technical explanation like you have, much less get one published in a journal. Awesome job!

  2. How many people don’t believe in the conspiracy – depends on how bias the media is.
    #2: ”climatologist and similar shonks pretend to believe that: climate in Sahara and Amazon basin are the same – because both places have SAME amount of CO2 => if that’s not conspiracy, that word shouldn’t exist in the dictionary! None of them is interested in the real climate – because the ”real climate” can be improved also, BUT by working people, not by the commissars:

    • None of the conspiracy theories that make up ‘CY’ was about climate science. Lewandowsky showed that many climate sceptics think that climate science is a conspiracy – what we have shown is that sceptics don’t believe in conspiracy theories in general.

  3. Count me among the sceptics of both conspiracy theories and the terrors of ‘climate change’

    Substantial conspiracies are far too difficult to maintain beyond a very small number of people. And there is always a huge reward to be the first to break it. Think how much money and fame the first of the many hundreds needed to fake the moon landings would receive.

    • Whilst also being sceptical on both counts, my rejection of conspiracy theories is somewhat different. It is easy to maintain a conspiracy theory if people want to believe it is true. What makes them implausible it that the “conspiracy” often requires a much greater deal of coordination and knowledge than the more mainstream explanation. For instance the JFK assassination and 9/11 conspiracy theories require vaster amounts of coordination than the standard explanations.

  4. Essentially what you have shown is what common sense told us all along, that those who have bothered to study the science seriously, even if only as amateurs, and have come to different but at least reasoned conclusions, have little time for the manic ravings of the Fake Moon Landing, 9/11 Was a Jewish Plot brigade.
    We are left with a strong feeling that Lewandowsky (especially when his methods were exposed) was only interested in coming to a certain conclusion, reasons unknown.
    I’ll subscribe to that theory.

  5. Very clear and unsurprisingly obvious to those with an open mind.
    It makes it uncomfortable to reflect on just how much this mishap was applauded by those who should know very much better.

  6. Pingback: Lewandowsky: a conspiracy theorist or just evil? | Scottish Sceptic

  7. AGE was redacted form the LOG13 data, but AGE was not redacted from the PLOS one data..

    The survey of the general public PLOS ONE included minors (10-17 year olds) and LOG13 also according to its methodology included 10-17 year olds…

    As the PLOS One paper included at least two 14 year olds (anonymous respondents) that belived in moon hoax, we know that Lewandowsky et al think it is OK to include children believing in conspiracy theories for a psychological paper of this nature..

    Yet, he and his co-authors REDACT age from LOG13 data on his website

    Perhaps Ruth or Jonathan, could ask Erih Eich too supply the unredacted data, to either yourselves, or just for Erich’s attention.. To see quite how may respondents that believed in conspiracies (tiny numbers) were also children…

    If there are any at all, it should in my opinion, be withdrawn completely.

  8. Pingback: Jones and Dixon Refute Conspiracy Theorist Lewandowsky « Climate Audit

  9. 2 earlier reference to LOG 13 – BOTH by Wray Herbert of the APS – could be added to your timeline..

    Based on 3 anonymous data points – which gave it it’s title – this is how Wray Herbert from the APS -wrote about it on the 19th July 2012 (8 months before actual publication)

    “The results were unambiguous, and unsettling. First, those who hold a laissez-faire view of unfettered free markets were much more likely to strongly reject climate science. Lewandowsky believes that, because the fundamental importance of fossil fuels (and CO2 emissions) to modern economics, climate science in general (and evidence for global warming in particular) is a threat to free market advocates. Free marketers were also more likely to reject other established scientific findings, even the (undisputed) facts that smoking causes lung cancer and HIV causes AIDS.

    Second, conspiracy thinking was clearly linked to climate denial—and to the rejection of scientific propositions in general. This was true even of conspiracy theories unrelated to the environment or climate—the belief that NASA staged the moon landing, for example, or that the CIA killed Martin Luther King. In other words, conspiracy thinking is not simply a convenient way to dismiss a particularly bothersome scientific consensus. Instead, some people seem to have a general personality trait or cognitive style, which leads them to endorse any conspiracy. This paranoid thinking in turn predisposes them to reject completely unrelated scientific facts.

    Lewandowsky’s study will be published in a future issue of Psychological Science, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, providing further evidence of a vast and ingenious plot to elevate enlightenment thinking and marginalize the unenlightened.” Wray Herbert APS

    The same article was republished by Wray in the Huffington Post! the same day..

    Ruth: Thanks, Barry, I’ve added the first link.

    • Wray hyped it up even more than Adam – over 400 comments on the Huff post version of the article.

      I hope the APS are really ‘proud’ of this

      “What are the motives of these climate deniers, who reject even overwhelming scientific consensus? Do they have a specific agenda having to do with the environment or economics, or are climate deniers the same people who fantasize about the second gunman on the grassy knoll?”

      “I am writing this article knowing full well that it will be used as evidence against me — evidence that I have been duped by a powerful cabal, a vast conspiracy to… to do what? Well, take your choice. Perhaps to convince a naive public that NASA landed men on the moon? Or to hide the fact that our president is African? Or the fact that al Qaeda didn’t mastermind 9/11? Or to falsely link HIV with AIDS, or smoking with lung cancer?”

  10. You have already gone well beyond any call of duty on this, but you might consider a nonparametric correlation coefficient (Spearman?) and test of significance for the data. This also probably reveals how dated my statistical knowledge is! But this approach might give a quite clearcut statistical measure of how limited the association is, using a minimum of model assumptions.

  11. another entry for your timeline –

    Public, September 2010 presentation of Moon Hoax results.. naming sceptics..

    From the slides – Lewandowsky publicly presented LOG13 ‘results’ at Monarsh University Sept 2010… Emails invites/reminders were still going out to sceptics at the time..

    Lewandowsky & Gignac (forthcoming)
    •Internet survey (N=1100)
    •Endorsement of climate conspiracy (“hoax by scientists to get grants”) linked to endorsement of other conspiracies (“NASA faked moon landing”)
    •Conspiracy factor without climate item predicts rejection of climate science

    In the slides he publicly names Andrew Bolt and Jo Nova, and labels Jo an irrational hyper emotional conspiracy theorist..

    1.(b.) Conspiracy Theorists and Science
    •Conspiratorial thinking usually not isolated
    –If you believe in one (FBI assassinated MLK), you are more likely to also believe in others (e.g., AIDS created by U.S. government; Goertzel, 1994)
    –single factor for 14 conspiracies (34.6% of variance; Swami, 2009)
    –predicted by alienation and cynicism and disengagement from mainstream politics
    •Joanne Nova called 9/11 a “building accident”

    Following slide

    Two Classes of Contrarians
    •Free-market ideologues (Bolt)
    –pragmatic (?) and not overtly irrational
    –driven by opposition to any form of regulation
    –provide fodder for the second class …
    •Conspiracy theorists (Jo Nova)
    –outside mainstream politics and society
    –hyper-emotional and often irrational

    ref the ‘building accident’ and 9/11 – Jo wrote a blog post wrote MOCKING Lewandowsky’s, May 2010 article.

    Lewandowsky is no doubt just quoting Watching the Deniers – Michael Marriott (co-author Recursive Fury) – utter misrepresentation of Jo..

    Watching the Deniers –
    Jo Nova: claims she is no conspiracy theorist while stating 9/11 was a “building accident”

    Jo’s actual article said, which was mocking Lewandowsky conspiracy theorists May 10 article –

    “Is the planet warming from man-made CO2? Lewandowsky “knows” it is. Why? Because the 9/11 truthers are conspiracy theorists (and conspiracies are always wrong). O’ look, a few people ask odd questions about an accident in a building years ago, and sometimes those people are also the species Homo Sapiens Climata Scepticus (!). So it follows (if you are insane) that because some people still doubt the official story of an unrelated past event, man-made global warming will contribute 3.7W/m2 in the year 2079, and we’ll all become souffles in the global Sahara.

    I’m not making this stuff up. I’ve tallied up the obvious errors from both articles. His power to confuse himself with red herrings is … “impressive”. – Jo Nova – May 2010

    slides: (Cook is included as author)

    Professor Stephan Lewandowsky: The psychology of climate change communication and ‘skepticism’ – Held on 23 September 2010

    What motivates the seemingly growing number of climate ‘skeptics’? How is climate science best communicated in the face of contrarian voices that are small in number but highly organised and vocal? Do we need to communicate the science at all, or is there a better way forward? Australian Professorial Fellow and Winthrop Professor from the University of Western Australia – Professor Stephan Lewandowsky – explores the insights and recommendations provided by psychology and cognitive science.

  12. Pingback: Fianlly: peer reviewed pushback against the Lew paper | Watts Up With That?

  13. Ruth, what confounding effect might one expect if one of the conspiracy theories is that climate science heat proponents are part of a conspiracy? Climategate suggests that there is (was?) a lot of collusion and pal review among the main players – even discussions about erasing emails, hiding and destroying data, subverting the FOIA, getting rid of the MWP and LIA, selection of only those trees for ring analysis that supported the “theory”. You bet there is a lot conspiracy right in the middle of climate theory itself. It would be interesting to see plots for a survey that included climate warming data manipulation as one of the conspiracies listed!

    • Both Lewandowsky’s surveys contained a question about a climate science conspiracy: “The claim that the climate is changing due to emissions from fossil fuels is a hoax perpetrated by corrupt scientists who want to spend more taxpayer money on climate research”. It’s clear that including that question in the calculation of CY would dominate the relationship between CY and CLIM (and Lewandowsky rightly excluded that question from his analysis, as did we). Agreement with the ‘climate science conspiracy’ question showed a strong (negative) correlation with ‘climate science belief’, reported as r = -.57 in Lewandowsky’s Reply (for the panel dataset). So, this just shows that climate sceptics are selective about which conspiracy theories they endorse!

      • Ruth, a couple of points about Lewandowsky’s selection of CY results to report. Lewandowsky’s survey included a question about Iraq, results of which were not included in the Katabasis dataset. I have another version of the data (obtained by Roman with answers to this question.) Second, Lewandowsky’s ethics approval included a question about whether there was a conspiracy to withhold secret energy-saving motors – despite this question being on the approved schedule, Lewandowsky withheld the question from the survey. It’s a question that obviously would tilt his CY index in a direction that he didn’t want.

        • Thanks, Steve. I’d read about the existence of the Iraq question but did not know that data had been obtained. Interesting in the light of Lewandowsky’s current insistence on his blog that no changes can be made to the research design after the data was collected!

  14. Can you rearrange the letters in “What Lysenko Spawned” to produce the name of a well-known social scientist?

  15. Am I the only one who finds it, well – at the very least somewhat odd – that Lewandowsky et al should have chosen to keep their “response(s)” to your Commentary behind a paywall?!

    Is this simply because they declined to cough up the cash (as you and Jonathan have kindly done for the benefit of all) or are you aware of a different reason for their apparent choice to protect their projections and objections?!

    P.S. My hat’s off to both of you for your perseverance. I hope that this will be a lesson well-learned for journal Editor Eich (who just happens to be at UBC, i.e. in my neck of the real-life woods!)

    • Many thanks, Hilary. I think there could be various reasons for the Reply being paywalled. For one thing, we were pleasantly surprised to find we could get a considerable institutional discount on the advertised $3000 Open Access fee, bringing it down to a cost we could afford ($375) – $3000 would have been out of the question. Perhaps L et al did not ask what it would cost in their case, or perhaps their institutions do not subscribe to the discount scheme. They may not have had funds available for that purpose. Researchers’ funds are tightly circumscribed, and it is unusual to decide to spend one’s own private funds on OA! (The whole issue is quite contentious in academia at the moment – journals get the manusripts and peer-reviewing for free – and then want to charge the authors for open access).

  16. I associate my opinion with Hillary Ostov’s above, my hat’ off too. One would think it obvious that climate debate is associated with a political party debate in the USA and in many countries, and thus the particular implications of the individual conspiracies reflection on party loyalty would be highly relevant. And, some conspiracies are actually more plausible that others. One would think this whole undertaking with be extremely hard to compose in an unbiased fashion.

    A republican would much more likely believe that the Fed is too powerful and secretive. A Democrat would be more likely to believe Michael Moore’s wag-the-dog theory of 9/11..etc. The most balanced conspiracy would be tough, hmm, maybe alien abductions? (But that’s too plausible) oops! 😉

    • Thanks, Ron! You make very good points which potentially could be tested in Lewandowsky’s datasets. But we don’t plan to try to analyse the data further given the quality problems with both datasets (which would take too long to enumerate!). There are no questions (as far as I recall [Update – no, I’m wrong, the panel survey does ask for Conservative-Liberal preference]) on political affiliation, but the questions on free-markets could potentially be used to infer that information. However, those questions are so poorly designed (e.g. conflating environmental with market concerns, ambiguous wording, two-clause questions requiring a single response, etc.) that I would not think it advisable to do so. And the average level of endorsement of most conspiracies was really very low (and expressing various levels of doubt, as others have pointed out, does not imply ‘endorsement’), so there is very little actual signal in the data.

      Update 2: For what it’s worth, in his PLOS paper, Lewandowsky found a slight negative correlation between free-market beliefs and conspiracy endorsement, and between Conservatism and conspiracies – i.e. liberals were more likely to be conspiracy theorists (see table 4 in that paper). But as you suggest, that likely depends on the conspiracy theories included in the survey.

      • In the HOAX paper Lewandowsky also stated his findings on free market relationships with conspiracy beliefs “paralleled” previous research in Heath 2006. A serious problem since Heath 2006 actually found there was NOT any such correlation between free market and conspiracy.

  17. Congratulations, Ruth and Jonathan, on your excellent work showing that Lewandowsky’s analysis was faulty ,and your perseverance with getting your comment accepted by the journal concerned.

    • Hear hear. I’ve perched this putative comment below Nic’s because I wanted to tell what happened on Twitter on the Road to Ringberg, so to speak, this time last week. (Putative meaning even less offence than normal if it’s snipped Ruth. Interesting perhaps that seeing you do some trimming elsewhere helped me resolve to submit this to My Garden Pond moderation.)

      Last Monday Andrew Dessler kicked off a ‘conversation’ thus:

      And Chris Colose firmly ended it:

      Well, apart from my little comment back. You can see that by clicking on the date and time in either case.

      Unfortunately what Foxgoose had said has for some reason been removed from the record but it certainly didn’t deserve the neologism ‘conspirasize’. I’m sure he felt the same say I did – that Colose in particular was trying to close down what should be a very active debate with “Nothing to see here, it’s all already understood”:

      At that we began to mock a little. We didn’t trust such an account as fully objective science. But the ease and confidence with which even a relatively minor ‘insider’ resorts to attributing full-blown conspiracism to two sceptical and slightly sarcastic strangers is I think part of Dr Lew’s legacy.

    • The comments on that article include one by tlitb1 (good to hear from that poster again) that is well worth reading. The final part of the comment says:

      As Mooney acknowledges here there is a worthy point to the research and the reporting of it:

      “While almost all of the attention has been directed to the finding of a link between conspiratorial beliefs and the denial of climate change…”

      However when someone later patiently works through the peer review to point out the speciousness of the main headline worthiness of the original work we now learn how boringly “technical” that is, and gosh yes, maybe that was weak but hey! there’s all this other stuff too about free-market ideation!

      Bless. This level of science media reporting. Is Just. Wonderful.

  18. I have to believe that we are talking angels on the head of a pin here.

    The survey questions themselves do not have a demonstrated ability to evince the classifications suggested, whether CY or CLIM, with reasonable precision.

    The data collection was atrocious — anyone could game the answers and there was no quality control on the selection of participants.

    It was blatantly obvious what the survey was trying to demonstrate; and responders — skeptic and believer alike — could answer in accordance with what they wanted their answers to show.

    Lewandowsky is psychologically corrupted by hubris — I did a survey of myself and regressed the result and wrote a paper and published it on my home printer and PROVED IT — so there.

    The study/paper was crap, without question —[Ruth: Snip – you’ve made your point]

    It doesn’t dignify the counter-thought /response it has received, though the efforts are appreciated.

    • Lewandowsky published two papers. The data collection methods of the blogs survey were atrocious, as you say, but we found the clearest results from the panel survey data (Lewandowsky’s PLOS paper) which surveyed a US panel – people with no particular interest in climate, more professionally surveyed. The figures in our Commentary come from that dataset.

      But when we applied the same method to the blogs survey data, we found the same curvilinear relationship, showing that whatever that relationship means, it was consistent across the two datasets.

      • You are nice and reasonable and thoughtful and I appreciate that.

        I trust your comment on the non-survey data set.

        I would still say that the study was nothing but a conclusion in search of data.

        Let’s go outside the study for some intuitive thoughts.

        The kind of skepticism I am interested in involves curiosity about the underlying science, its complexity and nuance. Generally this skepticism comes to the conclusion that CO2 has a modest warming effect, but the evidence for catastrophic effects doesn’t exist and the policy prescriptions based on such non-evidence are unjustified, not to mention many times more pernicious than even the reasonably evident effects.

        With that, I would find it nearly impossible that the people that fall into that kind of thoughtful skepticism believe in the non-scientific baloney that was asked about on the survey. However, it is exactly that kind of skepticism that Lewandowsky set out to disparage. And I don’t think the survey was able to test for that kind of thoughtful skepticism. Lewandowsky simply wanted to wrap his belief, i.e., you have to be a cuckoo bird to disbelieve catrostrophic global warming, into an academic-scientific package. He was not interested in learning any truth. I do believe he suffers from hubris.

        Dumb and incurious people (or even smart ones with hubris) can be propagandized to believe any sort of malarkey — we don’t need further studie to demonstrate that.

  19. Pingback: Dixon and Jones confirm a result on the Stephan Lewandowsky Surveys | ManicBeancounter

  20. Congratulations on getting this commentary published. You reach a very similar conclusion to what I did last year in my post Conspiracist Ideation Falsified?, but the statistical analysis here is far superior. It is an overlap. The results presented here were derived earlier, but only just published.
    My summary was

    A recent paper, based on an internet survey of American people, claimed that “conspiracist ideation, is associated with the rejection of all scientific propositions tested“. Analysis of the data reveals something quite different. Strong opinions with regard to conspiracy theories, whether for or against, suggest strong support for strongly-supported scientific hypotheses, and strong, but divided, opinions on climate science.

    In the concluding I wrote:-

    The results of the internet survey confirm something about people in the United States that I and many others have suspected – they are a substantial minority who love their conspiracy theories. For me, it seemed quite a reasonable hypothesis that these conspiracy lovers should be both suspicious of science and have a propensity to reject climate science. Analysis of the survey results has over-turned those views. Instead I propose something more mundane – that people with strong opinions in one area are very likely to have strong opinions in others.

    • Thanks Kevin for these kind words! We were aware of some of your early work on this, and I think we saw your original post shortly after we submitted our first manuscript.

      As you say your methods are very similar to what we did, and the conclusions even more similar. On the methods, while we would quite like to take credit for the idea of using loess smooths, that was actually suggested by one of the referees, and as soon as we plotted the first graph we knew s/he was absolutely right. As for conclusions, I prefer the reverse formulation (that people with no opinions in one area are very likely to have no opinions in others), but fundamentally the two forms are pretty much equivalent.

      • Thank you Jonathan for the acknowledgement. Your use of the loess smooths is far in advance of the my looking at the data in a number of ways on a spreadsheet. The fact that people can independently come to the same or similar conclusions from different approaches shows the robustness of those conclusions.
        The blog survey data shows that it was only by very narrow forms of data analysis that Lewandowsky et. al could reach the conclusions they did. Conspiracist ideation is used as a reason to justify a self-selected group of experts having a monopoly in both ideas and data evaluation. The way they arrived at the conclusions from survey data is strong justification for the opposite – pluralism in analysis, then let others compare and contrast the relative strengths of the results.

  21. Dear Ruth and Jonathan,

    On this Good Friday, I, a mere taxpayer, thank you sincerely. But if you wonder Why your well-reasoned and carefully researched words have no widespread impact there is a most basic reason. We are in a religious struggle. [Ruth: snip]

    Ruth: Happy Easter, Jane F. No further comments along these lines, please.

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  23. Hi,

    What I still miss in this dicussion is “What exactly is conspiracy ideation”. Sometimes some people already know what others only believe or don’t believe. Sometimes the worst conspiracy in the end becomes history and everybody says “I always knew it was true”.

    About the death of Kennedy we Europeans have no clue, but about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, we know that the rumours were untrue. No need for ideation if you know it’s not true.

    But for catastrophic climate change, when the worst ever climate change in the history of the universe happended 25 years ago, I’m a little bit skeptic. That doesen’t mean that I “know”. I just “don’t know”.

    But about the moon landing, I know that it is not a hoax. Can I prove it? Maybe! Am I just convinced or really sure? I’m totally convinced.

    All this makes no sense to me. Maybe in the US more people are skeptic about such obvious things. Catastrophic Climate change is everything but obvious?!

    Best regards

    • You make good points. Certainly the range of responses to the individual conspiracy questions varied a lot, as some of the conspiracies were simply more plausible than others. But we haven’t looked into that in detail. There was apparently a question on WMD in Iraq in Lewandowsky’s original (blogs) survey but the responses don’t appear in the publicly available data set.

      • presumably because it is a ‘leftish’ and we believe in climate change conspiracy.. and he didn’t want those results getting out.

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