A taxonomy of delusion

At this point in the debate over climate change, I doubt that any standard process of argument (reference to scientific research, analysis of data, refutation on Internet-derived talking points and so on) is likely to shift the views of those who accept some version of the anti-science position on this topic. Certainly, I don’t intend to try any further.

But, it seems useful for a number of reasons to try to understand why people take and hold such positions. In some cases, it may be that, where rational debate on the scientific merits has failed, some other mode of argument or persuasion might work. More generally, in any political process, it’s useful to understand the opposition.

Here’s a first attempt at a taxonomy, which I started in this Tim Lambert thread

. Looking at those who have either propounded or accepted anti-science views on this topic, nearly all appear to fit into one or more of the following categories

* Tribalists
* Ideologists
* Hacks
* Irresponsible contrarian
* Emeritus disease

Update John Mashey has a related taxonomy here

Further update The discussion has convinced me that I need to add a further category, that of irresponsible contrarian. I’d previously applied this to Richard Lindzen, see below, so it was a mistake not to have this category.

Tribalists are probably the biggest group, with two main subcategories.

First, there’s a group of people who really dislike environmentalists and can’t bear the thought that they could be right about something as important as climate change. This group is strongly represented among (though still a minority of) engineers and mining geologists, groups that appear to make up most of the rank-and-file membership of the Lavoisier Group, for example.

Second, there are rightwingers in the US and other countries (including Australia) where the political right derives most of its thinking from the US. The basic motivation is the same, except the animus is directed towards liberals (in the US sense) and leftists in general, rather than environmentalists specifically. Members of this group are notable for an obsessive focus on Al Gore: some seem to think that an An Inconvenient Truth and not, say, the thousands of pages of IPCC reports, is the primary document in the case for action on climate change.

There’s nothing much that can be done about the political right, which is wrapped in impenetrable layers of delusion, but there’s a lot that can be done (and is being done, to some extent) to bridge cultural gaps between environmentalism and professions like engineering and geology. Younger members of these professions tend to be lot more concerned about sustainability, while the spread of suits, haircuts and a generally pragmatic approach among environmentalists has done its bit also.

Ideologists overlap significantly with tribal rightwingers, but are potentially more amenable to argument. These are people with a libertarian, or more generally pro-market outlook, who have convince themselves that doing something serious about climate change involves a major step towards socialism (a view shared by a few hopeful socialists). Given this conviction, wishful thinking inclines members of this group towards scientific delusionism. For most of these people, the fears they have are groundless. The standard measures proposed to deal with climate change, emissions trading and carbon taxes, are minimally interventionist, both in scale (maybe $10 billion a year for Australia to start with, and not much more even in the long run) and form (these are market-based methods of correcting externalities).

There are, I guess, a handful of extreme libertarians whose ideological position depends on the non-existence of global public goods requiring global policy solutions. To this group, I can only say that if your political views are inconsistent with the existence of the atmosphere, perhaps you should revise those views rather than trying to adjust reality to fit them.

The third group, not large in number, but important as opinion leaders, are hacks, who argue against science for a living. This group can easily be recognised by their past track record. Since there aren’t many people prepared to do this kind of thing, the same individuals and institutions have pushed the corporate line on tobacco and passive smoking, the ozone layer, DDT and climate change, among many others. In Australia, the IPA has played the leading role in this respect, running hard on passive smoking before shifting to climate delusionism.

The individual who most exemplifies this group globally is Steve Milloy, an all-purpose compendium of hackery, who spent years presenting himself as a scourge of “junk science” while secretly on the payroll of tobacco and oil companies. He’s now the official Science expert for Fox News, which says it all I guess. People who have paid little attention to th issue and have accepted Internet factoids as trustworthy can often by persuaded by pointing out their origin with people like Milloy. But at this point the majority of delusionists have well-established mental defences for their own delusions; many have convinced themselves that it’s the real scientists who are spouting lies for money and that corporate funding for the likes of Milloy is just self-defence.

The best hope of dealing with this group has been making life hard for their paymasters. After being outed as the money pump for a string of front groups, Exxon has largely given up paying. For anyone old enough to have been in the game before the mid-1990s, it’s always useful to check the Tobacco Archives, which document every corrupt payment made by the tobacco industry to its legion of hired guns.

Fourth, there are irresponsible contrarians, exemplified by Richard Lindzen. The typical contrarian is skilled enough in argument to maintain a weak position, and successful enough in their own field (often tangentially relevant to the issue at hand) to have an inflated view of their own intelligence. And they prefer confuting the conventional wisdom (to their own satisfaction) to giving serious consideration to the views of experts on subjects where there own knowledge is limited. The type is most clearly illustrated by a 2001 Newsweek interview of Lindzen that I’ve quoted before

Lindzen clearly relishes the role of naysayer. He’ll even expound on how weakly lung cancer is linked to cigarette smoking. He speaks in full, impeccably logical paragraphs, and he punctuates his measured cadences with thoughtful drags on a cigarette.

Anyone who could draw this conclusion in the light of the evidence, and act on it as Lindzen has done, is clearly useless as a source of advice on any issue involving the analysis of statistical evidence. But, I imagine, he could hold up his side of this argument just as well as he does on climate change.

Finally, and most unfortunately, there is Emeritus disease, a problem that is found in every area of academic controversy. The typical sufferer is an older male, with the archetypal case being the holder of an emeritus position. Unfortunately, aging tends to go along with both a hardening of intellectual arteries and an unwillingness or inability to keep abreast of recent developments in the field in question, with the effect of dogmatic attachment to views formed long ago. Having taken a view of an issue on the basis of very limited consideration, they remain dogmatically attached to it until the end of their days.
(Looking at the description, I’m obviously a high-risk candidate for going emeritus myself. That’s one reason I try to engage in discussion with people holding a range of views from which I might learn something, most recently economists of the Austrian school).

Unfortunately, Emeritus disease has a bad prognosis. As Max Planck observed long ago

a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

I’ll lay down a few rules for discussion on this post. I’m not interest in rehashing delusionist talking points (GW stopped in 1998, Al Gore is fat and so on) and comments containing such points will in general be deleted. On the other hand, I’d be interested in anyone claiming to have reached a sceptical position who doesn’t fit into one or other of the categories I’ve mentioned (to be credible, you may have to forgo anonymity). And, obviously, I’m interested in refinements of the classification, better targeted counterarguments and so on.

220 thoughts on “A taxonomy of delusion

  1. “Surprisingly yet another blog post has failed to resolve the AGW debate.”

    It wasn’t aimed at doing so, merely at understanding those who imagine that well-established scientific research can be overturned by debates in blog comments threads, based on talking points rather than evidence. In this respect it has, I think, helped a little.

    Ubiquity, I agree that the classification of rhetorical tricks is more useful, but I think the classification of types of delusion is also important. One of the questions I’m reaching for is what kind of rhetoric serves to convince/reinforce what kind of delusionist. As an example, attacks on Al Gore are a good indicator of tribalism.

  2. Thank you, Ubiquity at #147

    Your approach is much more useful than saying “Nya nya nya, your just a Tribalist / Ideologist / Hack / Irresponsible contrarian / Pompous Ass who thinks eminence in one field entitles you to make ex cathedra remarks on other subjects”

    Setting up a taxonomy of delusionists is just a high-falutin form of an ad hominem attack. A taxonomy of delusionists’ arguments might help us choose better arguments to refute them.

  3. Ubiquity @ 147 and Alan @ 152, the denialst talking-points have been done to death at real climate and deltoid (among other places0.

    I think Prof Q’s taxonomy of denialist types is extremely useful, as it allows one to decide what kind of denialist one is debating, and tailor the choice of counter-argument accordingly.

  4. 1) There are various good lists of arguments around, some of which have already been mentioned.

    John Cook’s Skeptical Science, is highly recommended, and the multi-level organziational structure is worth considering.

    Coby Beck’s How to talk to a skeptic is also good, and its list has some more taxonomy.

    2) However, understanding the reasons behind anti-science (in general, and this particular one as well) is actually a serious research topic here and there in academe.

  5. William Ruddiman (of “Plows, Plagues & Peterolum” (2005) fame) had a few comments motivations of scientists to go into anti-science.

    In chapter 18, in 10 pages he offers a fine essay on climate-change science and politics, calm, balanced, and well-reasoned. See [A], {B], [C] towards the end. [B] is certainly related to Emeritus. I’m not sure about [C].

    Here are a few relevant snippets, but the real thing is worth reading:

    ===============(Ruddiman)
    “The public hears mainly from people toward the extremes of the global-warming issue…”
    “Until the last year or two, I kept a wary eye on both sides of the global-warming debate. I discredited the disinformation coming from both extremes and tried to weigh the solid evidence and from my own opinions. Very recently, however, I have become aware that this dispassionate detachment may be too idealistic. The debate has taken a surprisingly ugly turn…

    Because of wide coverage of my hypothesis, my name had somehow been added as a recipient of several newsletters that take skeptical or contrarian (in effect, proindustry) positions on global change. These letters opened a window on a different side of science, a parallel universe of which I had only been partly aware. The content of these newsletters purports to be scientific but actually has more in common with hardball politics.

    This alternative universe is quite amazing. In it, you can “learn” that CO2 does not cause any climatic warming at all. You can find that the world has not become warmer in the last century, or that any warming that has occurred results from the Sun getting stronger, and not from rising levels of greenhouse gases. One way or another, most of the basic findings of mainstream science are rejected or ignored….

    But this alternative universe is new and worrisome; in the name of uncovering the truth, it delivers an endless stream of one-sided propaganda.”

    “Why would scientists devote time and energy to doing this kind of thing?

    One obvious possibility is money…. [A]

    Another potential motivation is thwarted ego. Some spokespersons are scientists whose reputations in the scientific mainstream never amounted to much, or whose early career successes have faded away…. [B]

    Still another motivation may the “white knight” or “hero” syndrome-the conviction that only heroic action in uncovering the “real truth” will save humanity from oncoming disaster or folly. Many contrarians appear to see mainstream scientists as dull-witted sheep … And of course only the lone visionary can save the day. [C]

    This picture is a gross misrepresentation of science and scientists….”

    ===============(end Ruddiman)

  6. jquiggin #143:

    JB, you say you’re not a tribalist, by which I assume you claim that you are not on the political right or hostile to environmentalism in general.

    If one can be a tribalist by mere fact of having a political persuasion, are we not all tribalists? (FWIW, on most economic issues I would probably be characterized as of the right. On social issues I would probably be considered left: eg I believe in abortion rights and I think not letting gays get married is a form of discrimination.)

    As for environmentalism, where it is consistent I don’t have a problem but environmentalism is not always consistent. For example, I don’t see why we should tell countries that eat whale not to when there are abundant species for them to harvest. Would we listen if they told us not to eat cow?

    And, presumably, you accept the standard scientific position on most issues you haven’t researched for yourself.

    More-or-less, although I do modify my prior using the overall track-record of the discipline. For example, having been variously told over my life that certain eating and drinking habits were both helpful and harmful, I am a little more skeptical of pronouncements by the medical profession until I hear what they’re based on.

    So, can you say how you came to hold the views you do on AGW?

    Reading, mostly. Many years ago I became curious whether there really was cause for great alarm. I read up on climate science. Read a few dozen papers. Read the last two IPCC reports. I am still of the view that we should be watchful, but not alarmed at this point.

    You want to know how I am persuadable: it’s easy. A scientific demonstration that climate sensitivity is towards the upper end of the uncertainty range. There are a couple of ways that can happen. Either better analysis of the historical data we have for the Earth, or empirical evidence that temperature is increasing rapidly. In 1998 I though we might be seeing that, but things have settled down since then. If we see another couple of big spikes in the next 20 years then I’ll be convinced.

    As for solutions if CO2 is a big problem: I think we should just replace coal-fired power stations with nuclear, and then shift terrestrial transportation first to natural gas and then hydrogen, leaving the fossil fuels for air-travel. That doesn’t seem like a huge deal to me either.

  7. In 1998 I though we might be seeing that, but things have settled down since then. If we see another couple of big spikes in the next 20 years then I’ll be convinced.

    If the term ENSO means anything to you, then you know, of course, that we will.

  8. In 1998 I though we might be seeing that, but things have settled down since then.

    And … actually … you’d think the warmest La Niña on record would count for something …

  9. If the term ENSO means anything to you, then you know, of course, that we will.

    Not on account of ENSO alone. 1998 was unusually large, and the temperature has remained elevated. That is more than just an “oscillation”. So if we get more like that then it would seem something beyond just ENSO is at play…

  10. John Quiggin, I’m not sure if any of your categories allows for the interested lay person who, while not able to follow all the technical and statistical arguments, nevertheless finds the overall “package” of AGW unconvincing.

    As an example of what I mean, our South Australian Premier, Mike Rann, has said that the science is settled, AGW is inevitable. However he used that position to justify measures such as promoting wind generators on office buildings. If he was serious, and believed AGW was inevitable, given SA’s non-impact on global CO2 emissions, he should (in my opinion), have been preparing the State to deal with the coming crisis. At a minimum, some type of coastal protection for important areas likely to be inundated by rising seas.

    Another example was the confident statements made in the media shortly after 1998. Namely, that the world could expect higher temperatures to continue, with 95% confidence. Now, I’m certainly not saying that global warming stopped in 1998, but the statements at the time were that temperatures would continue to rise beyond the 1998 levels. Now 1998 is taken as an “outlier” due to el nino, which was largely the skeptic position at the time.

    One last example, the recent South Australian Climate Forum made the statement that weather forecasting was now made more difficult by climate change!

    So I am skeptical largely because I feel the AGW side is asking me to “believe six impossible things before breakfast”, and has a tendency to become abusive when I don’t.

  11. “Another example was the confident statements made in the media shortly after 1998. Namely, that the world could expect higher temperatures to continue, with 95% confidence.”

    Can you give some examples? The view that the 1998 El Nino was an outlier was standard at the time and only the sceptics have abandoned it.

  12. jquiggin Says: June 1st, 2009 at 5:21 am

    It wasn’t aimed at doing so, merely at understanding those who imagine that well-established scientific research can be overturned by debates in blog comments threads, based on talking points rather than evidence. In this respect it has, I think, helped a little.

    I always like a good taxonomy and Pr Q’s is better than most. Although it does not achieve the Gold Standard of an exhaustive and exclusive classification of types.

    Nonetheless I think that he is over-analysing in this case. In a tribute to the memory of Max Weber I offer the following “ideal typical” characterization of the AGW-denialist traits, based partly on the intropsective method of “verstehen“:

    – Personal: they are mostly middle-aged men with a contrarian-cum-cranky streak. They just wont be told. They are usually clever enough, but not nearly as clever as they think.

    – Professional: I do not have much evidence. But my guess is that they suffer from “mad scientist” complex. Some degree of status-anxiety and feelings of thwartedness in their careers, mixed in with crank solutions. So turning the tables on “the smartest guys in the world” will show the doubters. “They wont laugh at me anymore!” [sound of mad-scientist cackling]

    – Political: under interrogation they will admit to having a pre-judice against Greens. Usually based on revulsion towards the Green’s post-sixties anti-industrialism and anti-intellectualism. And their insufferable air of moral superiority. And dont get me started on their odious cultural policy. Thus Right-wing tribalism of the form “the friend of my enemy is my enemy” is moar powwerful of all. The Greens are strongly Left-wing in-themselves and in alliance with the rump of the Socialist Left. So a Right-winger, used to victory in the Cold War and Class War, will instinctively oppose the Greens in the Climate War.

    This political trait is unfortnate as the Greens could, with some justice, make common cause with general conservatives. Including much-despised immigration restrictionists. So perhaps the Greens should be a bit more inclusive in this sense.

    I think this ideal type has predictive legs. If you look at the demographics of AGW denialists et al they are middle-aged men. Probably educated over their actual SE status level (kind of game show contestant types). I would predict divorced or never-married. And fewer kids than the average 1.6. With a tendency to attach to cranky political theories (low rent emeritus disease).

    I am not sure this “diagnostic” approach will work much beyond the margins. Usually a collapse in faith follows revelations from a previously thought to be sacrocanct source. Such as high priest or Party Boss eg Kruschev’s Secret Speech caused Communist Party membership to collapse.

    But who is the War Lord of the AGW denialist tribe? Dick Cheney? I dont see the scales falling from his eyes anytime soon.

    So I predict that AGW denialism will only disappear as a serious political force when an abrupt rise in sea-levels starts to threaten sought-after coastal properties. Call this the Malibu effect.

  13. “Another example was the confident statements made in the media shortly after 1998. Namely, that the world could expect higher temperatures to continue, with 95% confidence.

    Can you give some examples? The view that the 1998 El Nino was an outlier was standard at the time and only the sceptics have abandoned it.”

    My previous post seems to have disappeared into cyberspace. It had links to the IPCC, so no doubt the software thought it was spam!

    Media links don’t last long, so I can’t find any from c. 2001.

    The TAR SPM mentions 1998 as being “likely” the hottest northern hemisphere year in 1,000 years, and the hottest southern hemisphere year since 1861. This is clearly in the context of increased GHG concentrations being the cause. This was reported extensively in the media with no qualifier that it was a statistical outlier. Surely you remember?

    The Working Group I technical summary mentions the el nino of 1997-8 as being an extreme event, but also goes on to predict higher maximum and minimum temperatures, more hot days and fewer cold days over nearly all land areas, with a “90-99% chance” that that prediction would be correct.

    A few years ago, I was able to find several media links that corroborate my statement. Those links have now disappeared.

    Are you saying that the media position at the time was that 1998 was an outlier? That’s certainly not how I remember it. Perhaps you could provide some examples, if that is your position.

  14. Nothing you’ve quoted seems to support the claim that the IPCC predicted a short-term increase relative to 1998, which, as you now recall they noted was en El Nino event, and was indeed, likely the hottest year in the past millenium, hence unlikely to be surpassed for a few years (2005 came close, IIRC). But, the TAR is online so if you can find such a statement, please cite it.

    Coming back to your original post, by what process of reasoning does possible inconsistency on the part of a provincial Australian politician have any bearing on the reality or otherwise of AGW? You appear to be basing your factual judgements on your political preferences.

  15. JQ, I only cited three examples that have led me to reject the AGW “package”. There’s plenty more. It would be pointless to list more.

    Neither have I stated any political leanings.

    I don’t expect to convince you on AGW, but I think there is room for another category in your taxonomy.

    I’m not in the pay of the oil industry, although you accused me of that a couple of years ago (a “shill” was the term you used). I certainly don’t make a living out of opposing climate change. But I don’t fit into any of the categories above.

    The whole AGW edifice doesn’t ring true when passed through my fairly well developed bull-s**t meter. There are a lot like me in Australia, and we vote, so if the opinion makers expect AGW to be accepted by the electorate in any meaningful way, ie. if financial pain results, they’d better start refining their message, and drop the arrogance.

  16. The 7.30 Report reported that Bob Katter said in Parliament today:

    If you imagine this entire roof above us here, as an illuminating neon light, or an illuminating light. And we got four of those clocks, and put them up on the roof, then we said “no light will illuminate this room, because we put those four clocks up there”. Now that is what you are saying with global warming, you are saying that the equivalent of one square meter, over two and a half thousand square meters, is going to warm up the world.

    So where does this fit into the taxonomy?

  17. RE jquiggin #164:

    Nothing you’ve quoted seems to support the claim that the IPCC predicted a short-term increase relative to 1998, which, as you now recall they noted was en El Nino event, and was indeed, likely the hottest year in the past millenium, hence unlikely to be surpassed for a few years (2005 came close, IIRC).

    None of the temperature reconstructions of the last millenium are sufficiently robust to conclude that 1998 was likely the hottest year.

    While the IPCC did not necessarily explicitly predict a short-term increase relative to 1998, they did trumpet so-called “attribution studies” purporting to show that the warming from the 70s to the 90s must be due to anthropogenic GHGs.

    In those studies it was shown that unless they were driven with anthro GHG forcing, climate models could not reproduce the warming of the latter part of the 20th century. From this it was concluded that that warming must be due to human influences. Never mind the fact that those same models were unable to reproduce large scale natural climate variability such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation and ENSO.

    In fact, better recent modeling of these gross features suggests temperature will
    remain flat for sometime, begging the question: how much of the warming attributed to human forcing was simply poor modeling?

  18. Johnathan Baxter:

    Never mind the fact that those same models were unable to reproduce large scale natural climate variability such as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation and ENSO.

    Climate models do not forecast ENSO events which should be obvious from the fact that ENSO timescales are much shorter than the minimum timescale for measuring climate (20-30 years). Almost exactly the same applies to the PDO. I wouldn’t expect climate models to predict the AMO either (generally they don’t predict unforced oscillations) but the temperature amplitude of the AMO is much lower than the others I expect.

    In fact, better recent modeling of these gross features suggests temperature will remain flat for sometime

    I wouldn’t bet on it.

  19. JB, I wasn’t trying to argue the science, merely pointing out that Paul Williams’ recollection of claims made about 1998 was faulty, and gave him no grounds for adopting a delusionist position.

    As regards the correctness or otherwise of IPCC claims, I’m not interested in amateur analyses of the topic. Please take these elsewhere. Again, my interest is in how opponents of the mainstream scientific viewpoint came to this position, not to debate science in blog comments.

  20. As regards the correctness or otherwise of IPCC claims, I’m not interested in amateur analyses of the topic.

    In which case, to be consistent, you should discount most of the IPCC claims that are based on complex statistical analyses, since most climate scientists are amateur statisticians at best.

  21. Chris O’ Neill:

    Climate models do not forecast ENSO events which should be obvious from the fact that ENSO timescales are much shorter than the minimum timescale for measuring climate (20-30 years).

    We’ve been instructed not to debate the science here, so this will be my last post, but your criterion for modelability can’t be correct. For example, seasons change on an annual timescale but would you have any faith in a climate model that was unable to reproduce such “irrelevant” fine-grained behavior?

  22. We’ve been instructed not to debate the science here, so this will be my last post, but your criterion for modelability can’t be correct. For example, seasons change on an annual timescale but would you have any faith in a climate model that was unable to reproduce such “irrelevant” fine-grained behavior?

    It’s no different than the fluid dynamics models that can’t predict the exact configuration of wing-tip vortices and the like but have no problem reporting that a stationary airliner won’t fly, while one breaking the sound barrier will break up.

    And, yet, I bet you fly on modern airplanes whose design heavily depends on these models which you so sneeringly dismiss.

  23. Dhogaza, Have you heard the expression “better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you’re stupid than to open it and prove it”? Just asking…

    I recommend reading the reference. Some aspects of climate are important to model because they influence global temperature, just like some aspects of the airflow over airliners are important to model because otherwise the wings might fall off.

  24. “this will be my last post,”

    Given your subsequent post, also containing advice applicable to yourself, I think you should have stuck to your commitment. Please, nothing more unless you want to contribute on the question raised by the original post.

  25. On my blog I have also hypothesized about the reasons why people embrace anti-scientific views on climate.

    I think that in many cases the answer is that they don’t like the perceived consequences. In other cases it’s a matter of thinking along familiar lines. And for some, it may be the attraction of being the underdog, which, in extreme cases, leads some to think of themselves as (supporting) the new Galileo. And yet others may have been fooled (with not a little help from the popular media) into thinking that there still is a real scientific debate about the big picture. After all, without reading the primary literature or attending relevant conferences, how would you know who is right?

    John Haffner also had a nice blog post on the same broad topic.

  26. Given your subsequent post, also containing advice applicable to yourself

    Actually I was thinking of you jquiggin. You might recall that you were the one who dismissed a basic global warming equation as denialist propaganda.

    You should probably expand your taxonomy to include anti-science behavior from all sides of the debate, not just the skeptical camp. I’d recommend adding the category “Fanbois”. Follow the link. Decide for yourself where you fit.

  27. Climate models do not forecast ENSO events which should be obvious from the fact that ENSO timescales are much shorter than the minimum timescale for measuring climate (20-30 years).

    Jonathan Baxter:

    We’ve been instructed not to debate the science here, so this will be my last post,

    OK, this will be my last post too.

    but your criterion for modelability can’t be correct. For example, seasons change on an annual timescale but would you have any faith in a climate model that was unable to reproduce such “irrelevant” fine-grained behavior?

    If you knew anything about what climate is, you wouldn’t have made such a silly statement. Climate, as I implied above, is the average statistics over at least 20 years. So CLIMATE models are only intended to model at least 20-year average statistics. 20-year+ averages don’t tell you very much at all about an individual season in an individual year or individual years for that matter either.

    I recommend reading the reference.

    Recommending the other point of view as well would have been unbiassed. (BTW, no ad hom attacks on professional climate scientists please.)

  28. Deleted. I’m holding you to your word this time JB. Thanks for giving us some insight into your thinking

  29. JQ

    I assume this delusional taxonomy refers to those that deny “anthropogenic” GW is the single greatest present and immediate threat to the earths environment.

    John Cook from Skeptical Science says:

    “Beneath the politics is a more elemental instinct – an aversion to alarmism. We’ve been burnt before. The media predicted an ice age in the 70’s which never eventuated. Y2K was going to destroy society – it was barely a hiccup. And I won’t deny there are alarmists in the global warming camp. Urgent cries that the ice sheets are on the verge of sliding into the sea. Or emotional pleas to save those cute little polar bears. Sadly, alarmists seem to be the loudest voices in the global warming debate. But that doesn’t change the science underneath.”

    Mr Cook points out that the alarmist are the “loudest voices” in the global warming debate. I am struggling to fit those persons who object to the alarmist approach, into the Taxonomy. An Alarmist position may include apocalyptic scenarios, threats to our children and future progeny, dismisses any evidence as anti-science that contradicts the alarmist position.. The “delusionist” in this case could be anyone from a savvy climate scientist to a Yr 12 Geography student who is familiar with all or some the evidence, familiar with the alarmism and is skeptical of the alarmist response. Is it possible to be a skeptic and not allow your political or ideological tendencies to influence your skeptical position. Can they be mutually exclusive situtaions ?

    One further point. the Taxonomy’s conception is only possible because of the strong but sometimes adverse relationship between science and politics. If this is the case, then the Taxonomy risks being a political pejorative.

  30. Another category, for which I can’t think of a name (“Cyclops” perhaps?) are those for whom a single observation is enough to discount all of the science by all of the scientists of the world. An example here http://www.blognow.com.au/mrpickwick/132310/Tree_change.html, but the classic example is a particularly cold day in one locality. It may be a sub-category of one of your other categories though.

    But the major missing category is the religious one, especially in the US – god wouldn’t let this happen to his creation, so if you think it is happening you must be wrong.

  31. JQ:

    Lindzen was writing for CATO, at least as far back as 1992. That along with the well-known contrarianism.

    Lindzen has a relatively rare combination of attributes, a bit reminiscent of {Seitz, Jastrow, Nierenberg}.

    Can you suggest some more members of that category, to help establish whether it’s a useful one or not?

  32. JM: Lomborg and his model, Julian Simon, are certainly contrarian in style, though there’s clearly an element of ideology with Simon and opportunism with Lomborg.

  33. JQ:
    I conjecture that “contrarian-to-be-contrarian” [PSYCH-2] is a Lindzen attribute (or so I’ve heard from some folks who know him.)

    I’m having a hard time finding anyone in this turf who is just being contrarian without also having ideology heavily-involved also.

    Lindzen: PSYCH-2, IDEOL-2, maybe POL-2 [CATO, Marshall Institute, speaks at Heartland], some ECON-3.

    Simon: IDEOL-1 [Senior Fellow @ CATO], presumably ECON-3

    Lomborg: PSYCH-1, IDEOL-1, ECON-2.
    (See <a href=”http://thingsbreak.wordpress.com/2009/01/08/lomborg-long-game/”Lomborg & Playing the Long Game, which among other things, shows Lomborg’s connections with:
    – CEI: In 2003, Lomborg received the Julian Simon award from CEI.
    – Fraser Institute: Lomborg spoke for them in 2007.
    – Heartland Institute: Lomborg is on their “climate expert’s” list.
    – Hoover Institution: Lomborg was a contributing author for their publication “You Have to Admit It’s Getting Better”
    – Manhattan Institute: Lomborg spoke and interviewed for them in April, 2008
    – Reason Foundation

    Those are pretty strong IDEOL-1 credentials.

    So, the open question to me is whether contrarianism, per se, is really a category on par with the others, or a sub-attribute that often shopws up, usually with ideology.

    Maybe you have some examples from the Australian space?

  34. (Irritation at non-science) doesn’t seem a JQ-level category. It is clearly a contributing factor or starting point for some people.
    It doesn’t make a lot of sense as the sole long-term reason for anti-science.

    1) Ubiquity’s wording is in effect a strawman argument, although perhaps not so intended:

    “those that deny “anthropogenic” GW is the single greatest present and immediate threat to the earths environment.”

    Some people say that (or worse), but mainstream science says:

    Wikipedia summary of scientific opinions, whose current state can be summarized tersely [Well, IPCC AR4 WG I, II, III has ~3000 pages]:

    a) Climate is changing,
    b) Humans are doing it, and
    c) there will be serious, mostly negative, consequences, whose severity will depend on our future actions.

    For what it’s worth, many people who subscribe to that, and think AGW is a serious problem say:
    – AGW’s effects are starting to be seen, the near-term ones aren’t too bad, but they get progessively worse over the next century or two
    – The system has great “inertia”, i.e., warming already in the ocean “pipeline”, even if we stopped emitting CO2/N2O, etc today.
    – Some of the positive-feedback non-linear “tipping-points” are very hard to predict
    – All of which may generate expensive/impossible to fix changes
    – Hence, the worry is not so much what happens today, but for grandchildren who may be given a very bad hand to play, with no choice.
    – The bad effects of other problems may hit faster, but some are exacerbated by climate change. Faster problems may include: energy crunch (Peak Oil, etc), pressure on nitrogen fertilizer production, phosphorus (that is potentially very scary), and especially, water.

    In the real world, one has to solve numerous problems concurrently. Effects that take 50 years to materialize, but are then inevitable, are very difficult for humans to handle, even when we are trying very hard. I’ve done sea-level-rise exercises like that, and they are difficult.

    2) Some use the term “non-science” to group together:

    – miscommunication due to difficulty of explaining science to general audience
    – de-caveating of science-speak into sound-bite-size things
    – bad headlines, sometimes inadvertent
    – sensationalism in media
    – focussing entirely on the more dangerous tail of a distribution
    (That may or may not make sense; in insurance, some thought is needed on it)
    – expressing certainty about something for which the data is not strong
    – leaping on the latest single paper as though it were the last and only word
    – exaggerating to induce action for moral reasons, or to raise funds

    Non-science is a worthy topic, but it’s not this thread. See Section 1 of how to learn…, especially the Great Wall. Science has many opportunities for internal arguments within its own framework, and history says that works fairly well. Lindzen’s IRIS hypothesis didn’t hold up very well, but was certainly taken seriously and analyzed carefully. When Lindzen does real science (and he does), he publishes it in real journals. Arguing about climate sensitivity is still science, even if people doubt his continued insistence on really low values.

    Anti-science (the topic of this thread) is the deliberate attempt to obscure science, or reject its results, sometimes called agnotology.
    It is almost never intended for an audience of scientists, but for the general public.
    Mars is warming, so it isn’t CO2 is simply anti-science, and ought to be mocked.
    Lindzen writes very differently in Wall Street Journal OpEds, CATO publications, or in Energy&Environment.

    3) JQ’s classification is of major categories of anti-science belief

    My old taxonomy described the more specific reasons that lead people to anti-science. POL-1/POL-2 there somewhat addressed the “irritation at non-science” issue, but I’ve been accumulating changes since then, and decided a while ago that I needed:

    PSY-0: Irritation: with non-science (extremes, media exaggerations, etc)

    *Anyone* can get irritated at that, regardless of politics, ideology, tribe, or scientific knowledge. *I* get irritated at it.

    If you want to find people who *really* get irritated with extreme non-science, it’s climate scientists and serious environmentalists, who think over-exaggeration is counter-productive.

    4) But, I don’t think PSY-0 is a JQ-style category. Byt itself, it is not a plausible long-tem lower-level reason. It is often an initial reason for someone to go study the science, if they want to. Someone with a sustained anti-science position probably has other reasons, and then just cites the non-science as reinforcement, or to discredit mainstream science by conflating it with non-science.

    PSY-0 is essentially irrational as a sole reason to be anti-science. Who cares what (X) says, when one can easily find out what (science) says, and then ignore (X), and then make decisions on the best science available. I offer two analogies, one real, once simpler, if fanciful:

    5) Cigarette history [best analog]
    Cigarette wars have non-science, science, and anti-science.

    Non-science:
    Temperance movements of the late 1800s (like WCTU), urged non-smoking (and other things) primarily for moral reasons. They claimed smoking was bad for health, which turned out to be correct, but they were way ahead of epidemiologtical science. In some cases, moralizing just irritated people into smoking. In any case, in the US at least, WW I strongly diminished the influence of the temperance unions. See Allan M. Brandt, “The Cigarette Century”, 2007, especially Chapter 2.

    Science:
    Mostly via statistical epidemiology, bad effects of smoking were clearno later than 1964’s report of the Surgeon General. It has been long known (by tobacco companies and scientists) that strong cigarette addiction is most often created during the teenage years while brains are developing quickly. I.e., people who start later have a much easier time stopping than those who started as kids, and hence are less profitable customers. Still, to this day:
    – many of the exact biochemical disease mechanisms are poorly understood
    – nobody can predict if or when a particular person will suffer from lung cancer or other smoking-related disease
    – it is nontrivial to explain why two similar-seeming people with similar smoking habits have different outcomes

    Anti-science:
    Tobacco companies are still big and profitable. This is ECON-1, huge economic self-interest, most commonly by that small subset of companies with a large ratio difference between (privatized profits) and (socialized costs), who of course find paying thinktanks and lobbyists very cost-effective [ECON-2]. Tobacco is probably #1 in this. Tobacco companies have waged a long and fairly successful fight to obscure the science and create doubt.

    Ideological elements appear as well [IDEOL-1, IDEOL-2]. Anyone reflexively opposed to any government regulation of any sort may well side with the tobacco companies, and unlike PR firms and lobbyists, may even do so for free.

    SO: suppose someone says: “Don’t smoke! You’ll die of it!” or “Smoking is immoral!”
    Death is not guaranteed (non-science), and the moralizing is really irritating.

    Q: Still, does that make people say:?
    a) The science is wrong, smoking isn’t that bad.
    b) SO I’ll smoke more.,
    c) And if my kids want to start, sure, because those people are *so* irritating.

    A: actually, for teenagers, it often does. Clever tobacco campaigns have used that fact explicitly to gain more customers, crafting messages for parents to tell children almost guaranteed to get them to smoke by reaction, even as they sounded sensible.

    A: actually, others react the same way, i.e., “This anti-smoking commercial makes me want to start smoking” can be found on YouTube now and then.

    [Note: none of this should be taken as a moral stance on smoking: if an adult wants to start, and I don’t have to breathe it or pay for the effects, feel free. On the other hand, most societies really don’t think well of addicting children to substances that will kill many of them, and that’s really how cigarette companies survive.]

    Is there a group of people who smoke *only* because someone exaggerates the dangers?
    I doubt it.

    6) Gravity

    You are at Empire State Building (86th Floor, 320 meters up), looking over the edge, thinking it might be interesting to jump.
    Your companions say: “You can float down, if you flap your arms hard enough.”

    a) Somebody else screams in your face: “Look out, you’ll hit the ground in 4 seconds, accelerating at 40 meters/sec^2.”

    You say:
    “what a loud irritating idiot, I know that’s an alarmist exaggeration” … and you are right, it is an exaggeration.

    b) By happy chance, a physicist is standing nearby with a stack of standard physics books. They say:
    “g is about 9.8 meters/sec^2, with some variation from air resistance, so if you have a cape to spread, you might fall slower. I don’t know the exact height here, but I think it’s about 8 seconds.” They offer you the physics books to check (or, if you have an iPhone, you can Google for it).

    b1) Then, you can say, “well, they don’t know *exactly*, and that idiot really irritates me, so jump.”

    OR

    b2) “Oh, time to move back from the rail.”

    It doesn’t matter *who* tells you that it’s a bad idea, or how irritating they are, or how they exaggerate, gravity does not care, and it will have its way with you.

    7) Conclusion

    Some people start with PSY-0, and if they study the science enough, they typically learn to recognize non-science and mostly ignore it, even if it still irritates them.

    Others combine PSY-0 with other reasons, and either don’t go study the science, or find every possible reason to take the opposite view from that non-science, but unfortunately, the opposite view isn’t science, it’s often anti-science.

    But PSY-0, by itself, is not a solid reason for anti-science, and I doubt that it fits as a JQ-style top-level category.

    (Of course, if JQ sticks it in, my hypothesis will be invalidated. 🙂
    Also: is anyone else having trouble making “Preview” work since blog format change?

  35. As regards Lomborg,unless his own account is totally faked (I’m sure it’s exaggerated, but I doubt that it’s a complete fabrication) he started out with standard beliefs, but pretty obviously with a contrarian style. Ge has certainly cashed in with the right, but the gigs you cite are all well after he came out with his first piece.

    Refining a bit, contrarianism is a disposition that can lead you in lots of different directions. So, unless you’re a climate scientist like Lindzen, in which case this is a natural choice, you need an additional ingredient to point you in the specific direction of AGW delusionism. Also, since contrarian climate scientists are in short supply, they are v likely to get offers or publication, conference gigs etc from rightwing thinktanks, and vain enough to accept. So, it’s hard to tell whether the contrarianism came first (as with Lindzen, I think) or whether it’s being used as a mask for ideology (Sallie Baliunas, for example).

    A couple of Australian examples: William Kininmonth & Garth Paltridge. Hard to distinguish between emeritus, contrarian and ideology without more detailed knowledge.

    BTW, Preview is broken. I’ll look into this.

  36. In the case of Fred Singer and of Sallie Baliunas, they have always been guns for hire when industry wanted to do battle with the EPA in America. They have quite a list between them on issues where they have come down on the contrary, minority side of a scientific body of work; the acid test is whether the EPA may use the mainstream scientific position to regulate an industry – if so, then SB and FS will form a contrary position and spruik it ad-nauseum. They are like the cold-warriors of old, in many ways.

  37. John – nicely summed up

    “It doesn’t matter *who* tells you that it’s a bad idea, or how irritating they are, or how they exaggerate, gravity does not care, and it will have its way with you.”

    Indeed it will. These noisy skeptic obstructionists are really irritating because they attempt to distract us and way lay us all from the needed technological advancements to fight GW (so as to serve the short term profit motives of this dirty firm or that dirty firm).

    I hope when the skeptic advocates die they can honestly say to themselves “I lived a useful life, I served myself and my fellow man well”….but somehow I doubt it.

    Does their conscience ever get to them up in the end??

  38. Surely you know that Lomborg accepts that AGW is real?

    If you’re going to put believers in your taxonomy of delusion (not that I think that’s a bad thing), you’ll need a whole swag of new categories.

    I’m still upset you haven’t found a category for me:).

    Come on John, if we are to take this taxonomy thing seriously, you will have to lift your game!

  39. John Mashey @ pge 4/35:

    1.The two reasons for my first paragraph:

    “those that deny “anthropogenic” GW is the single greatest present and immediate threat to the earths environment”

    was to make sure the Taxomony of delusionism proposed by JQ was specifically aimed at those who rejected the significance of the anthropogenic form of global warming (and its consequences). This was not made clear in his original thread, but it was implicitly assumed. It was also depicting the alarmist rheotoric.

    2.Your second point suggests that it is the politics of the science of AGW that has brought about anti-science claims (which is what I implictly suggested).The anti-science claims are fuelling the skeptics. As a outcome of this the science dosen’t get the appropriate exposure required to achieve favourable outcomes in our (ironically)democratic society.

    3. “It doesn’t matter *who* tells you that it’s a bad idea, or how irritating they are, or how they exaggerate, gravity does not care, and it will have its way with you.”

    your point taken, but standing at the edge of the building and contemplating throwing yourself off it, has direct and immediate impact on most people such as symptoms of anxiety, images of death and a short and/or painful life if you survive. It is also a familiar story with familiar results. AGW scenarios don’t have the same immediate effects on a person and will leave room for skepticism.

    In regard to irritation with alarmism/non-science the story of “the boy who cried wolf” is one familiar to most. Past experiences only feed skepticism and often of the prolonged form.

    In summary it is the political ideologies that fuel the ideological skepticism. The science of anything will inevitably fuel philosophical skepticism defined (in wikepedia) as “philosophical skepticism, or Pyrrhonism, is the philosophical position that one should suspend judgment in investigations” and “In philosophical skepticism, pyrrhonism is a position that refrains from making truth claims. A philosophical skeptic does not claim that truth is impossible (which would be a truth claim)”.

    My personal opinion is that the politics of climate change makes it all the more difficult to achieve the best result. The state has to much control over what is going to happen as opposed to a lesser role of overseeing the changes and ongoing maintenance.

    I can’t see how the Taxonomy will contrbute in any positive sense to the climate debate and convincing the skeptics but I wish you luck.

  40. @Ubiquity
    Thanks.
    Like I see, if there’s *anyone* who gets irked with (real) alarmists, it’s real scientists and responsible environmentalists, for exactly the reasons you note.

    I don’t know JQ’s goals for taxonomy.

    Mine *isn’t* to convince dedicated AGW-deniers [almost certainly a hopeless task], but for people wanting to learn more, and sometimes confused by the anti-science, and unaware of the particular architecture here.

    I’ve often been asked, or seen speakers asked, questions like “Seitz? Jastrow? Nierenberg? those were serious scientists? why were they doing this?”

    Nobel physicist Burton Richter gave a talk, a subset of this to a local town meeting a few years ago. Some people raised a bunch of doubts that must have originated with the above (or maybe Fred Singer). They were rather taken aback when Burton not only explained why they were wrong, but identified the sources of the incorrect memes as individuals he knew personally, and expressed displeasure with senior scientists who abandoned science for ideology (or words to that effect).

  41. @Paul Williams

    Paul: recall that the definition I used was:
    “a) Climate is changing,
    b) Humans are doing it, and
    c) there will be serious, mostly negative, consequences, whose severity will depend on our future actions.”

    Lomborg may accept a) and b), but has done everything possible to downplay c), and his strategy for that is probably the cleverest around.

  42. @Donald Oats

    I think the issue we’re poking at it is the nature of contrarianism, which is not necessarily very well-defined.

    0) In science, if you take a contrary position, and evidence piles up in your favor, and your hypotheses get accepted as good theories, you gain serious prestige (which may of course only happen after you’re dead, like Wegener). Luckier are folks like Barry J. Marshall and J. Robin Warren for their work on bacteria & stomach ulcers. We’ll see what happens with Bill Ruddiman’s various hypotheses.

    1) Some people seem drawn to contrary positions, almost reflexively. Thomas Gold comes to mind, and he had some wins, and some loses. Lindzen seems to fit this.

    2) I don’t think FS fits this particularly, i.e., I think the strong motivation has been ideological., i.e., “no regulation of anything, period”, and indeed the cold-war analogy is good, at least for FS. If you haven’t seen Naomi Oreskes’ American Denial of Global Warming, that is very useful history. Even more useful will be the book she’s working on, of which I’ve reviewed a few chapters; it should be out next year. She looks at cold-war carryovers in detail.

  43. @jquiggin

    JQ: re Lomborg
    You’re probably familiar with this, but for for all, see: website of Kare Fog (*not* a Lomborg fan).

    Some of the description there (“alternative thinking” by parents, in 1st page) supports JQ’s contrarian hypothesis.

    Some description in the 2nd page seems to show an abrupt shift from one extreme (Greenpeace contributor, if that’s true) to the other extreme of Julian Simon-like cornucopian. Certainly TSE was effectively dedicated to Simon.

    I have seen similar behavior occasionally, in which:

    a) Someone has a long established belief system, but perhaps not strongly grounded in science. Call this 1 on a [0-1] scale.

    b) They encounter something or someone that casts doubt on this, and instead of shifting to .9 or .8, or even .5, they flip over into ~0, i.e., their belief is totally shattered, rather than being adjusted moderately.

    This was the idea behind PSYCH-4, “ambiguity-intolerant personality” in my list. I’ve asked various psychologist friends about this, and they said that in really pathological cases, people can flip *back-and-forth* between extremes within a day or two, but being very sure at all times. Probabilistic worldviews (a la Feynman) are rather terrifying for many people.

    ===
    In many examples I’ve considered (I’m working along Heartland & CATO lists), regardless of someone’s first impetus into anti-science, there can be positive feedback loops that pull them further along, i.e., rewards (financial, political power, or attention)that pull them further along. The amplification in Lomborg’s case was pretty clear.

  44. I would really like to know whether y’all have looked at Pat Frank’s analysis, and what you think of it.

    You can find it here, in Skeptic magazine:
    http://www.skeptic.com/the_magazine/featured_articles/v14n01_climate_of_belief.html

    As best I understand it, he says that, from a physics viewpoint, there are a couple of links that just can’t be made theoretically (hypothetically, yes), and so it is just impossible to say with assurance that human causation is significant.

    My physics chops are very rudimentary, but my air pollution understanding is significant. I think he may have a point. In the end, his point can’t deny human causation, either, and I think there is a lot of historical data to support the conclusion that humans have played a signficant role and, more importantly, can play a very significant role in reducing warming and its effects in the future.

    Where does that put him in the taxonomy?

  45. @John Mashey
    Does this mean Senator Fielding is best put in Psych-4? He is getting a lot of media coverage at the moment (just because he attended some form of skeptics conference). Does the Senator know who funds these conferences and the impetus behind them, at all or is he just willing himself to be blind because of pressures from his electorate? Or worse…is he lacking cognitive abilities?

  46. @John Mashey
    I was referring to the information in JQ’s lead post, John. Still, it’s good to know that those who don’t fully believe in the Holy Trinity, as you have defined it, aren’t allowed to escape the Inquisitorial net.

    I presume burning at the stake will proceed as soon as carbon offsets can be arranged?

  47. @Jonathan Baxter

    For example, seasons change on an annual timescale but would you have any faith in a climate model that was unable to reproduce such “irrelevant” fine-grained behavior?

    You misunderstand. GCMs reproduce seasonal changes, Due to the initial condition problem outlined in your reference, they are unable to forecast whether a *particular* summer some time in the future will be warmer or cooler than average.

    This is exactly as I stated earlier: analogous to the initial state issues that make it impossible to predict in detail the exact configuration of a vortex at a particular point in time in the future.

    Yet, the plane flies. Yet, climate models have accurately predicted large-scale phenomena not dependent on detailed initial state data, i.e. stratospheric cooling, greater warming in the NH than SH, blah blah blah.

  48. @Ed Darrell
    Hi Ed.
    re: pat Frank’s article.
    I took a quick look a while back, and it was discussed frequently in thread at RealClimate, 11 May 2008. Read the post, then search the thread for “Pat Frank”, and ask again if that doesn’t make sense.

    He does X-ray chemistry @ SLAC near here, and I’ve seen letters to little local little local papers.

    I’d conjecture: in JQ’s scheme, ideology or maybe tribalist (of the narrow tribe of non-cliamte physicists who think they can disprove mainstream climate science with a paper outside science journals.) He *does* publish real science (of late mostly in “Inorganic Chemistry”, certainly a credible journal.)
    Google Scholar: pat frank slac .

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