Recurrent Fury

Conspiratorial Discourse in the Blogosphere Triggered by Research on the Role of Conspiracist Ideation in Climate Denial

Abstract

A growing body of evidence has implicated conspiracist ideation in the rejection of scientific propositions. Internet blogs in particular have become the staging ground for conspiracy theories that challenge the link between HIV and AIDS, the benefits of vaccinations, or the reality of climate change. A recent study involving visitors to climate blogs found that conspiracist ideation was associated with the rejection of climate science and other scientific propositions such as the link between lung cancer and smoking, and between HIV and AIDS. That article stimulated considerable discursive activity in the climate blogosphere—i.e., the numerous blogs dedicated to climate “skepticism”—that was critical of the study. The blogosphere discourse was ideally suited for analysis because its focus was clearly circumscribed, it had a well-defined onset, and it largely discontinued after several months. We identify and classify the hypotheses that questioned the validity of the paper’s conclusions using well-established criteria for conspiracist ideation. In two behavioral studies involving naive participants we show that those criteria and classifications were reconstructed in a blind test. Our findings extend a growing body of literature that has examined the important, but not always constructive, role of the blogosphere in public and scientific discourse.

http://jspp.psychopen.eu/article/view/443

Discuss!

 

92 thoughts on “Recurrent Fury

  1. Joe Felsenstein:
    Once one reaches people who, for theological reasons, deny that there are common ancestors of living forms, one is among creationists.

    Even Young Earth Creationists accept that there are common ancestors of living forms. So that’s not a very good test.

  2. Gee, for a while there I thought the moderation here at TSZ had gotten completely arbitrary, but now I see that’s not true at all. It’s actually quite targeted.

    Who the hell is running this asylum anyways?

  3. ok, can we get some clarification on the new rules? Doesn’t most of this thread actually belong on Noyau and not Guano? Besides, I’m feeling kind of lonely over there. Reduced to flaming myself for goodness sakes.

    Too bad I can’t get drunk tonight and join Gregory. Got to work tomorrow. Hey, anyone up for an online drunken brawl tomorrow night?

    If we get KN drunk will we actually be able to understand his posts? 😉

    If we get keiths drunk will he actually turn out to be a likeable guy?

  4. So it turns out Gregory was completely justified in his question to Joe and it had nothing to do with denying the antecedent. IOW, most of you tossed the “good faith” rule right out the window as soon as you could. Well done.

  5. Mung: Richardthughes contributes more than his fair share to AGW.

    This is true. I am a patron of a “clean cookware” charity though. So I’m trying.*

    *Very trying.

  6. keiths has nothing to say, so says nothing, but posts a link to another post where he had nothing to say just for emphasis. But he’s not part of “the problem.”

  7. My point Mung is your vocal disagreement with established science here on these well trodden* interwebs is part of the problem. UD, in its war with materialism has it in for most flavours of science these days.

    I’m sure you’re fun to have a beer with. You’re just bad for science.

    *So many lurkers.

  8. Mung:
    So it turns out Gregory was completely justified in his question to Joe and it had nothing to do with denying the antecedent. IOW, most of you tossed the “good faith” rule right out the window as soon as you could. Well done.

    No, it doesn’t turn out that way at all. Of course Gregory committed that fallacy. And when I noticed it, he blew a blood vessel out of embarrassment. But you know It’s not like he killed a child. He could have just said “Whoops!” but instead he got really ugly and called people some awful names. And then when he was criticized for that, you stepped in to defend him.

    Not much sympathy for old people, cats or philosophists, but for abusive assholes, you’re right there. Nice.

  9. And, incidentally, unless both you and Elizabeth actually know something about him drinking, I think all those posts suggesting that should be sent to guano.

  10. Mung,

    Joe: Once one reaches people who, for theological reasons, deny that there are common ancestors of living forms, one is among creationists.

    Mung: Even Young Earth Creationists accept that there are common ancestors of living forms. So that’s not a very good test.

    An interesting example of that binary logic thing.

  11. Allan Miller:
    Mung,

    An interesting example of that binary logic thing.

    I could have been more precise and said that “once one reaches people who do not accept that mice and fish have a common ancestors …”

    Of course there are the Baraminology people. They are creationists. If they were willing to follow the trail of evidence and connect more and more species into ever-larger baramins, they would cease being creationists.

    But …

  12. Joe Felsenstein,

    I think Mung was just doing that thing I have come to think of as ‘doing a Mung’ – reading natural language sentences as if they were computer code and he a mere logic gate.

  13. Allan Miller: I think Mung was just doing that thing I have come to think of as ‘doing a Mung’ – reading natural language sentences as if they were computer code and he a mere logic gate.

    Good call.

    That “gate” thing is one of the few things Mung does that I really don’t like. IF he can’t help it, it’s Asperger-spectrum behavior and neither to be scorned nor pitied. But if he could help it and chooses to do it anyway, ugh.

  14. Are ya’ll saying I’m too logical?

    I actually haven’t a clue what you’re talking about, so whatever you’d like to see change is not likely to change. Consider talking to me like a person. 🙂

  15. Mung: Consider talking to me like a person.

    Do you want a recap of this particular thread, or is this a more-general request of yours?

  16. More of a specific request. This appears to be some pattern of behavior that people have detected. Example(s). Analysis. Recommendation for improvement. Think of it as an intervention.

    I am sort of like Erik in that we occupy completely different worlds, but English is my first language. Part of the “new me” is at least trying to find common ground, and if me changing some things about myself would help I am interested.

    But I have to know what people find annoying and not simply that they find find me annoying. Some things I do intentionally and others have more to do with the actual way I am, and in that sense could be said to be unintentional. But either way I can change if I so choose.

    It’s that whole free will crap I believe in and actually choose to practice.

    🙂

  17. FWIW, I don’t think you’re particularly annoying, mung.

    Almost always wrong, though. 🙂

  18. btw walto, I ordered a book recently.

    Philosophical Systems: A Categorical Analysis

    Maybe you had some hand in that.

  19. Allan Miller:
    CharlieM,

    If AGW is unreal, what should we do re: fossil fuel use?
    If AGW is real, what should be do re: fossil fuel use?

    Whatever the case we will do as we always do which is to advance technically.
    Michael Crichton: speaks a lot of sense:

    Is the globe warming? Yes. Is the greenhouse effect real? Yes. Is carbon dioxide a greenhouse gas and being introduced by man? Yes. Would we expect this warming to have an effect? Yes. Do human beings in general affect the climate? Yes. But none of that answers the core question of whether or not carbon dioxide is the contempoary driver for the warming we are seeing. And as far as I could tell scientists had postulated that but they hadn’t demonstrated it. So I’m kind of stranded here. I’ve got half a degree of warming, models that I don’t think are reliable. How am I going to think about the future. I reasoned in this way. If we’re going to have one degree increase maybe, if, if climate doesn’t change and if there’s no change in technology, but of course, if you don’t imagine a change in technology in the next hundred years you are a very unusual person. And I also was aware that we had actually been starting to do the actual thing we ought to do which is to de-carbonise. Jesse Ausubel at Rockerfeller University points out for example that starting about a hundred and fifty years ago in the time of Abraham Lincoln and Queen Victoria we began to move from wood to coal, from coal to oil, from oil to natural gas and so on, decreasing our carbon, increasing our hydrogen. Makes perfect sense, makes environmental sense, makes political sense, makes geo-political sense. And we’ll continue to do it, without any legislation, without anything forcing us to do it, as nothing forced us to get off horses.

  20. Mung: More of a specific request. This appears to be some pattern of behavior that people have detected.

    Okay, but even though I intuit that it’s a “pattern”, I’m only going to look right here. You – or someone else – will have to do the generalization. Here’s what I saw happen in this particular thread that I responded to:

    Joe Felsenstein makes a fairly long comment:

    I think that there is some fuzziness as to who among skeptics of evolutionary biology are being conspiracy theorists.

    There are certainly many conspiracy theorists (“News” at Uncommon Descent is one). But they are at the far end of a spectrum that starts with biologists who think that present evolutionary theory is inadequate and that some particular important phenomenon should be added, one which they are pushing.

    From there one goes, in small steps, to people who reject all of evolutionary theory and want to replace it by a totally new perspective, perhaps even a comprehensible one. Now one has reached the shores of kookdom. The late and lamented John A. Davison cheerfully dwelt there.

    One is not necessarily among conspiracy theorists at this point. Once one reaches people who, for theological reasons, deny that there are common ancestors of living forms, one is among creationists. Explaining how all scientists could have mistakenly concluded that there is a common genealogy of life leads one to dark thoughts of conspiracy.

    A few hours later in the midst of Gregory’s temper tantrum, Joe replies to Gregory:

    … most creationists do deny common descent. Some allow a little, under the banner of “baraminology”. Some who accepts common descent but envisages a little Divine Intervention now and again to make some new forms might be called a creationist …

    Next day, you skip that post, going back to Joe’s prior post – or I should probably say, reading forward from the beginning you get to his first post, you stop, you quote one sentence and you reply:

    Once one reaches people who, for theological reasons, deny that there are common ancestors of living forms, one is among creationists.

    Even Young Earth Creationists accept that there are common ancestors of living forms. So that’s not a very good test.

    which quite thoroughly misses the larger point. But sure, your reply is true, if we take the most literal definition of each word including “common ancestors”, and ignore all connotations of the words and the larger context of both Joe’s first comment about whether creationism (in general) is prone to conspiracy theory and his next comment clarifying who the creationists are.

    From the outside, it looks as if you read through the thread scanning for something that, at it’s most literal, was not the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth. When you found it, you basically just answered “False”.

    I’m not insisting that Joe’s comment deserved more of a response or a “better” response than you gave, Mung. I didn’t pick up on it as part of a pattern at the time and obviously I didn’t think I needed to respond to your short answer myself (although I was really busy; otherwise, who knows, I might have asked what you were trying to get at). But I’m pretty sure that the snap-to-false quality of your response is what Allan Miller means with his next comment:

    An interesting example of that binary logic thing.

    which he amplified later by saying:

    I think Mung was just doing that thing I have come to think of as ‘doing a Mung’ – reading natural language sentences as if they were computer code and he a mere logic gate.

    I don’t want to speak for Allan, but what I think he means is that most people will look at comments, for example Joe’s two, and think something like “this seems quite true, this is interesting” (and, maybe, “I have something to add”) rather than read it as either/or perfectly true/not true, logic gate returns value “false”.

    Which is where I come in, with my comment directly before your question …

    I’m pretty open to the idea that this “logic gate” thing (if it’s actually a thing you have a pattern of doing, as opposed to being a mistaken pattern detection on my part and Allan’s part) is to do “with the actual way [you] are”. I don’t have to like it when I see it, but that doesn’t mean you have to change yourself, either. There seem to be huge swathes of our (patterned) behavior that are intrinsic to our individual natured/nurtured selves and it’s foolish to want to change them. Not because it’s impossible to change, not because you cannot chose to change, but because it’s not worth the energy to try when it’s not harmful to others or oneself.

    And besides, if we were all perfect, we’d all be the same, and that would be hideously boring!

  21. Mung:
    btw walto, I ordered a book recently.

    Philosophical Systems: A Categorical Analysis

    Maybe you had some hand in that.

    Awesome!

  22. hotshoe_: And besides, if we were all perfect, we’d all be the same, and that would be hideously boring!

    ok, I know I am perfect. But am I really that hideously boring? If you weren’t already married I’d be trying to enchant you off to Pennsylvania (where both I and my mother were born) for a Quaker wedding.

    But you’d have to like cats.

  23. hotshoe_: A few hours later in the midst of Gregory’s temper tantrum, Joe replies to Gregory:

    … most creationists do deny common descent.

    I’ll give my perspective on that. I’m pretty sure that Gregory was thinking of old earth creationists, many of whom have no disagreement with the idea that evolution was the means of creation. Joe missed that, and was using “creationist” mainly for YEC and ID. So I see that as a major miscommunication.

  24. I both agree and disagree with Neil.

    Joe knew what he was doing, and both Gregory and I called him on it. No “Creationist” believes that “evolution” was the means of Creation. Both Gregory and I agree that Joe ought to say what he means.

    Joe F:

    I could have been more precise and said that “once one reaches people who do not accept that mice and fish have a common ancestors …”

    How does that help? Seriously. Who exactly is Joe intent upon singling out?

    Permit me to suggest a more direct approach.

    People who do not accept that humans (like Joe F.) and Gorillas (like Koko) have a common ancestor.

    If that does not suffice to establish the point Joe wants to make, why not?

    I will offer a hypothesis. And that hypothesis consists of the recognition that “Creationism” for Joe F. has nothing to do with YECism, which is merely a cover.

    Any view which rejects universal common descent from a single original population is “Creationist.”

    But the view that all extant life descended from a single ancestral population is itself not a scientific consensus, and any alternative theory is creationist.

    Both Gregory and I have grounds to object.

  25. Mung:
    I both agree and disagree with Neil.

    Joe knew what he was doing, and both Gregory and I called him on it. No “Creationist” believes that “evolution” was the means of Creation. Both Gregory and I agree that Joe ought to say what he means.

    […] Permit me tosuggest a more direct approach.

    People who do not accept that humans (like Joe F.) and Gorillas (like Koko) have a common ancestor.

    If that does not suffice to establish the point Joe wants to make, why not?

    I will offer a hypothesis. And that hypothesis consists of the recognition that “Creationism” for Joe F. has nothing to do with YECism, which is merely a cover.

    Any view which rejects universal common descent from a single original population is “Creationist.”

    But the view that all extant life descended from a single ancestral population is itself not a scientific consensus, and any alternative theory is creationist.

    Both Gregory and I have grounds to object.

    See, I knew you had something interesting to say!

    Mo’ bettah.

  26. Mung:
    Are ya’ll saying I’m too logical?

    I actually haven’t a clue what you’re talking about, so whatever you’d like to see change is not likely to change. Consider talking to me like a person. :)

    perfect response 🙂

  27. “Once one reaches people who, for theological reasons, deny that there are common ancestors of living forms, one is among creationists.” – Joe Felsenstein

    “Does that mean that people who don’t ‘deny that there are common ancestors of living forms’ are categorically *NOT* ‘creationists’ in your view, Joe?” – Gregory

    Let Joe answer the question himself.

    He replied to me merely with pretence:

    “I suspect I don’t understand your point. So please clarify who you see as a creationist.” – Joe

    It wasn’t a point; it was a question. The question was quite specific and clear. The clarification of who sees what as a ‘creationist’ is your burden, Joe, since you made the statement above, which is why I asked my question to you.

    If you think everyone who believes in Creation qualifies as a ‘creationist’ then you’ve got lessons in ideology to attend, regardless of whatever level of competency you have in biological sciences.

  28. hotshoe_: From the outside, it looks as if you read through the thread scanning for something that, at it’s most literal, was not the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth. When you found it, you basically just answered “False”.

    Yes, exactly this. It’s like they are more interested in scoring petty points then actually progressing any discussion. Them being “right” is far more important to them than anything else. It’s kinda sad.

  29. CharlieM,

    Whatever the case we will do as we always do which is to advance technically.

    This seems naive. The vague hope that someone, somewhere might sort the problem out technologically, and avoid us having to do something political. You may be right, I hope you’re right, but what if you aren’t? How do we deal with exponential growth, technologically? Make more planet?

  30. Mung,

    Are ya’ll saying I’m too logical?

    No, I’m saying you seem to favour indulging the ‘gotcha’, by picking an overly-literal reading of a sentence when I’m pretty sure you grasped the intent of the writer pretty well.

    I actually haven’t a clue what you’re talking about, so whatever you’d like to see change is not likely to change.

    Who says I want you to change? Just an observation.

    Consider talking to me like a person.

    OK then.

  31. hotshoe_,

    Yeah, the ‘binary logic’ thing was just this:

    Joe: Once one reaches people who, for theological reasons, deny X

    Mung: Even Young Earth Creationists accept X

    It’s clearly a different X. YECs accept that organisms have parents, and even that the diversity of bears (say) may be post-Ark. They don’t accept that reptiles and humans share common ancestry. There is a continuum of possible points of convergence at which one might think the chain of ancestry stops, not a single point.

  32. Gregory: Let Joe answer the question himself.

    Your phrasing it as a question doesn’t make it any less of a useless stupid comment, Gregory.

  33. Allan Miller:
    CharlieM,

    This seems naive. The vague hope that someone, somewhere might sort the problem out technologically, and avoid us having to do something political. You may be right, I hope you’re right, but what if you aren’t? How do we deal with exponential growth, technologically? Make more planet?

    There is nothing naive about being cautious of decisions politicians make supposedly for the good of the people. What is naive is thinking that unrealistic targets set by governments and world leaders, designed to fix future problems that may or may not arise, are going to bring nothing but benefits to our descendents.

    Obama states that the debate is settled, climate change is real. Well I don’t know of anyone who ever thought that the climate is unchanging. Imagine if he had said, “the debate is settled weather change is real”, he would have been considered to be off his head.

    Speaking of the weather and our ability to provide accurate forecasts. With all the modern technology available we cannot predict the weather over a period of a few days, weeks at the most. But many people are convinced that we can predict climate change over decades and centuries.

    I wonder how many of our leaders who are pushing for drastic measures to curb CO2 emissions are giving up things like their cars and their holidays at the end of long haul flights?

    Most of us can see the benefits of using energy more efficiently and the need to come up with alternative sources of energy. We do not need our governments imposing restrictions on us to see this. As it is the poor of the world rely on conventional energy production no matter how inefficient it is. Their needs must be taken into account when restrictions and caps are set.

  34. We only have to look at the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy with its butter mountains and wine lakes, where farmers were paid to produce goods which were never going to be consumed. Fish quotas where dead fish are thrown overboard because the fishermen are not allowed to sell them, while millions starve around the world.

    Government subsidies in rich countries prevent the producers of poorer countries from getting a fair price for their products if indeed they get any price at all.

    Forgive me for being skeptical of world leaders devising solutions (to deal with future perceived climate problems) which are fair on those with the least say in the matter and which exude common sense.

  35. CharlieM,

    No-one says politicians get it right all the time. But if you are waiting for a magic technological bullet from scientists, you may be waiting a long time. Especially if you join the long line of people saying that scientists are a waste of money, and that Climate Change thing is a massive hoax anyway, what’s the rush?

    I think it is almost impossible for us to do anything significant about AGW. I think it is (probably) real, and I think it irrelevant to say “yeah, well the climate always changes”. But I think we lack the capacity to act collectively, partly because of attitudes such as those you are displaying, and partly because that’s just how we are.

    Fuck climate change – we are running out of fossil fuel. Use it slowly or use it quickly – what do you think is the best strategy?

    I am pessimistic. We are heading for a cliff at an accelerating speed, and people are saying “Maybe there’s no cliff. Maybe we’ll find a way to change direction. What’s the point of doing anything since politicians are corrupt and make bad decisions? If we try and slow down now we’ll get flung against the windshield. We have to accelerate; society depends on it, and we need to be FREE FREE FREE! So … steady as she goes”.

  36. Allan Miller:
    CharlieM,

    No-one says politicians get it right all the time. But if you are waiting for a magic technological bullet from scientists, you may be waiting a long time. Especially if you join the long line of people saying that scientists are a waste of money, and that Climate Change thing is a massive hoax anyway, what’s the rush?

    I’m not waiting for a magic technological bullet from anyone. Our technology is advancing all the time. Consider the efficiency of a modern car engine compared to the ones that originally powered say a Model T Ford. I think that by the end of this century humans will have developed engines that advanced far beyond those run on hydrocarbons. Technological innovations will surpass the reliance on fossil fuels before we run out of these commodities. Its not just one single event, technical advancement is a continuous process which is accelerating at a near exponential pace.

    I think it is almost impossible for us to do anything significant about AGW. I think it is (probably) real, and I think it irrelevant to say “yeah, well the climate always changes”. But I think we lack the capacity to act collectively, partly because of attitudes such as those you are displaying, and partly because that’s just how we are.

    By acting collectively do you mean waiting for our respective governments to tell us what to do? I prefer to act as an individual. And if you are so pessimistic about AGW why do you think we should spend billions and deprive the world’s poor of their vital source of energy all for a pointless exercise?

    Fuck climate change – we are running out of fossil fuel. Use it slowly or use it quickly – what do you think is the best strategy?

    I think I’ve made it clear from previous posts that I’m all for slowing down its use. I will be quite happy to provide you with information such as how many air miles I’ve clocked up over the last decade, what car I drive, or any other fact you think relevant. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours 🙂

    I am pessimistic. We are heading for a cliff at an accelerating speed, and people are saying “Maybe there’s no cliff. Maybe we’ll find a way to change direction. What’s the point of doing anything since politicians are corrupt and make bad decisions? If we try and slow down now we’ll get flung against the windshield. We have to accelerate; society depends on it, and we need to be FREE FREE FREE! So … steady as she goes”.

    Well I don’t think that there will be many humans left to plunge over your cliff into the abyss because before that happens we will blown each other to kingdom come. Technology is a two-edged sword. In times gone by a maniac running amoc with a bow and arrow could do only limited, local damage; but a modern terrorist with nuclear weapons would have the capability to kill millions.

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