Guest post by Thomas Fuller
The medicalization of dissent is a delicate topic to bring up in conversations about climate change. If you use it about somebody you’re almost instantly associating them with really evil people who used the tactic to further Stalinism, Naziism, Maoism, etc.
But the tactic, which really is nothing more than a fancy term for calling your opponents crazy, exists. It is reprehensible. So when I accuse climate alarmists such as Chris Mooney, Kevin Prall, John Mashey and now Stephan Lewandowsky of using the tactic of medicalizing dissent, I am not trying to say they are Stalinists, Nazis or Maoists. That would be like calling people deniers… a thuggish tactic if ever I’ve seen one.
Medicalizing dissent was perhaps first used by Dr. Samuel Cartwright in 1861, when he invented the term drapetomania to describe a new disease, suffered only by slaves. The disease was a desire for freedom. It had to be a disease, you see, because Cartwright had to justify slavery. As you can see, it’s hard to talk about medicalizing dissent without being offensive.
The latest attempt is Stephan Lewandowsky’s paper, ‘NASA faked the moon landing, Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science’, scheduled to be published in Psychological Science in the near future. The paper describes the findings of an internet survey and finds a correlation between belief in a ‘laissez faire’ conception of free market economies and rejection of climate science.
The paper is badly flawed, primarily because the internet survey is junk science. I am a market researcher who has extensive experience with online surveys. I’ve done them for government, non-governmental organizations, companies and volunteer groups. I’ve done a lot of them. Over 1,000, most of them in the UK when we were cranking them out like sausages to the tune of 25 a week for two years.
Stephan Lewandowski has not described the details of the fielding of his survey, which is probably wise on his part. The few details that emerge by chance in his paper are enough to invalidate his conclusions.
If you’ve been following the story you’ve probably seen most of this but it’s worth recapping:
1. Lewandowsky’s survey was advertised and linked to on 8 climate alarmist weblogs. So although his survey is supposed to be of skeptics, he put links on weblogs where skeptics rarely go and, if by chance they do visit, they’re hardly likely to stay.
2. Lewandowsky used four different versions of the survey with questions in differing order. Sometimes you want to randomize questions (although usually you randomize responses) so that people who always pick the first answer won’t prejudice the results. But Lewandowsky doesn’t describe which site got which version and hasn’t released the different versions. The next point shows why that’s important.
3. Several questions in the survey are not covered in the analysis. This isn’t really unusual. Researchers analyze and report on what’s interesting to them. But in an Excel spreadsheet Lewandowsky released, the data from excluded questions is removed. That’s very unusual. It’s okay not to analyze some of the data–it’s not okay to prevent someone else from doing so.
4. Lewandowsky allowed multiple responses from the same IP address. This means that someone could spam the survey, entering time and again to influence the results. Would they? One of the sites that linked to Lewandowsky’s survey has as part of their secret tribe of activists a person who wrote, “...people like us have to build the greatest guerilla force in human history. Now. Because time is up…Someone needs to convene a council of war of the major environmental movements, blogs, institutes etc. In a smoke filled room (OK, an incense filled room) we need a conspiracy to save humanity” and another who wrote of skeptics, “Sometimes you just want to let loose and scream about how you want to take those motherfucking arseholes, those closed-minded bigotted genocidal pieces of regurgitated dog shit and do unspeakable violence to their bodies and souls for what they are doing to the safety of what and who we all hold dear.” So, yes, they would probably do so in support of their cause.
5. Lewandowsky discussed the objectives of the survey while the survey was open for responses, so those who wanted to prejudice the results knew they could do so. This alone amounts to research misconduct and is cause for throwing out the results of the survey as well as the paper based on it.
Lewandowsky’s inability to address any of these issues, despite writing a paper describing it and hyping it on a weblog with 8 blog posts in the past week, is evidence that he cannot address them. He simply decided before his research began that climate skeptics are conspiracy theorists and gamed a survey to produce the results he wanted.
Is that exaggeration? No. He has written on the same subject before without any data and came to the same conclusion. In this case, he just manufactured data to support the same conclusion.
As for torturing the data, he did and it confessed. Steve McIntyre is working on a discussion of how, and I’m going to let him do the heavy lifting. I will just note that the numbers of skeptics believing in multiple conspiracies does not seem to be sufficient to produce statistically significant results and that in more than one case, both the number and percentage of warmists who believed in a conspiracy theory was greater than that of skeptics.
I’m not a climate skeptic–I’m a lukewarmer. But I have a message for readers who are skeptics. Lewandowsky, like Mooney, Prall, Mashey, etc., is not writing to you. He’s writing about you. His desired audience is those who have been fighting not to get involved in the climate debate–the vast majority of people in the developed world, in other words. He wants to convince them that you are lunatics.
Much like a slave who wants his freedom is obviously sick.