Why climate science is a textbook example of groupthink

In groupthink, organizations value consensus more than free thought. The emphasis on consensus leads to group polarization, in which a group’s positions become more extreme than any individual would come up with. Alarmist climate science is a textbook example of groupthink in action.

Guest post by Paul MacRae

A while ago, I received an email from a friend who asked:

How can many, many respected, competitive, independent science folks be so wrong about [global warming] (if your [skeptical] premise is correct). I don’t think it could be a conspiracy, or incompetence. …  Has there ever been another case when so many ‘leading’ scientific minds got it so wrong?

The answer to the second part of my friend’s question—“Has there ever been another case where so many ‘leading’ scientific minds got it so wrong?”—is easy. Yes, there are many such cases, both within and outside climate science. In fact, the graveyard of science is littered with the bones of theories that were once thought “certain” (e.g., that the continents can’t “drift,” that Newton’s laws were immutable, and hundreds if not thousands of others).

Science progresses by the overturning of theories once thought “certain.”

And so, Carl Sagan has written:

“Even a succession of professional scientists—including famous astronomers who had made other discoveries that are confirmed and now justly celebrated—can make serious, even profound errors in pattern recognition.”[1]

There is no reason to believe that climate scientists (alarmist or skeptic) are exempt from this possibility.

That leaves the first question, which is how so many “respected, competitive, independent science folks [could] be so wrong” about the causes and dangers of global warming, assuming they are wrong. And here, I confess that after five years of research into climate fears, this question still baffles me.

Climate certainty is baffling

It is not baffling that so many scientists believe humanity might be to blame for global warming. If carbon dioxide causes warming, additional CO2 should produce additional warming. But it’s baffling that alarmist climate scientists are so certain that additional carbon dioxide will produce a climate disaster, even though there is little empirical evidence to support this view, and much evidence against it, including a decade of non-warming. This dogmatism makes it clear, at least to those outside the alarmist climate paradigm, that something is very wrong with the state of “consensus” climate science.

There are many possible reasons for this scientific blindness, including sheer financial and career self-interest: scientists who don’t accept the alarmist paradigm will lose research grants and career doors will be closed to them. But one psychological diagnosis fits alarmist climate science like a glove: groupthink. With groupthink, we get the best explanation of “how can many, many respected, competitive, independent science folks be so wrong.”

Groupthink was extensively studied by Yale psychologist Irving L. Janis and described in his 1982 book Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes.

Janis was curious about how teams of highly intelligent and motivated people—the “best and the brightest” as David Halberstam called them in his 1972 book of the same name—could have come up with political policy disasters like the Vietnam War, Watergate, Pearl Harbor and the Bay of Pigs. Similarly, in 2008 and 2009, we saw the best and brightest in the world’s financial sphere crash thanks to some incredibly stupid decisions, such as allowing sub-prime mortgages to people on the verge of bankruptcy.

In other words, Janis studied why and how groups of highly intelligent professional bureaucrats and, yes, even scientists, screw up, sometimes disastrously and almost always unnecessarily. The reason, Janis believed, was “groupthink.” He quotes Nietzsche’s observation that “madness is the exception in individuals but the rule in groups,” and notes that groupthink occurs when “subtle constraints … prevent a [group] member from fully exercising his critical powers and from openly expressing doubts when most others in the group appear to have reached a consensus.”[2]

Janis found that even if the group leader expresses an openness to new ideas, group members value consensus more than critical thinking; groups are thus led astray by excessive “concurrence-seeking behavior.”[3] Therefore, Janis wrote, groupthink is “a model of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.”[4]

The groupthink syndrome

The result is what Janis calls “the groupthink syndrome.” This consists of three main categories of symptoms:

1. Overestimate of the group’s power and morality, including “an unquestioned belief in the group’s inherent morality, inclining the members to ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their actions.” [emphasis added]

2. Closed-mindedness, including a refusal to consider alternative explanations and stereotyped negative views of those who aren’t part of the group’s consensus. The group takes on a “win-lose fighting stance” toward alternative views.[5]

3. Pressure toward uniformity, including “a shared illusion of unanimity concerning judgments conforming to the majority view”; “direct pressure on any member who expresses strong arguments against any of the group’s stereotypes”; and “the emergence of self-appointed mind-guards … who protect the group from adverse information that might shatter their shared complacency about the effectiveness and morality of their decisions.”[6]

It’s obvious that alarmist climate science—as explicitly and extensively revealed in the Climatic Research Unit’s “Climategate” emails—shares all of these defects of groupthink, including a huge emphasis on maintaining consensus, a sense that because they are saving the world, alarmist climate scientists are beyond the normal moral constraints of scientific honesty (“overestimation of the group’s power and morality”), and vilification of those (“deniers”) who don’t share the consensus.

For example, regarding Symptom 1, overestimation of the group’s power and morality: leading consensus climate spokespeople like Al Gore, James Hansen, and Stephen Schneider have stated outright that they feel it’s acceptable and even moral to exaggerate global-warming claims to gain public support, even if they have to violate the broader scientific principle of adherence to truth at all costs (http://www.paulmacrae.com/?p=51 has examples.) Consensus climate science also overestimates the power of humanity to override climate change, whether human-caused or natural, just as government planners overestimated the U.S.’s ability to win the Vietnam War.

Regarding Symptom 2, closed-mindedness, there are many cases of the alarmist climate paradigm ignoring or suppressing evidence that challenges the AGW hypothesis. The Climategate emails, for example, discuss refusing publication to known skeptics and even firing an editor favorable to skeptics.

Regarding Symptom 3, pressure toward uniformity: within alarmist climate science there is a “shared illusion of unanimity” (i.e., a belief in total consensus) about the majority view when this total or near-total consensus has no basis in reality. For example, the Oregon Petition against the anthropogenic warming theory has 31,000 signatories, over 9,000 of them with PhDs.

Climate scientists who dare to deviate from the consensus are censured as “deniers”—a choice of terminology that can only be described as odious. And the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change explicitly aims for “consensus” in its reports—it does not publish minority reports, and yet it is impossible that its alleged more than “2,000 scientists” could completely agree on a subject as complicated as climate.

Group polarization

Janis notes one other form of dysfunctional group dynamic that arises out of groupthink and that, in turn, helps create even more groupthink:

The tendency for the collective judgments arising out of group discussions to become polarized, sometimes shifting toward extreme conservatism and sometimes toward riskier forms of action than the individual members would otherwise be prepared to take.[7]

This dynamic is commonly referred to as “group polarization.”

As a process, “when like-minded people find themselves speaking only with one another, they get into a cycle of ideological reinforcement where they end up endorsing positions far more extreme than the ones they started with.”[8] [emphasis added]

And because these positions are so extreme, they are held with extreme ferocity against all criticisms.

Examples of alarmist climate groupthink

Groupthink is common in academic disciplines. For example, philosopher Walter Kaufmann, a world-renowned editor of Nietzsche’s works, identifies groupthink in his discipline as follows:

There is a deep reluctance to stick out one’s neck: there is safety in numbers, in belonging to a group, in employing a common method, and in not developing a position of one’s own that would bring one into open conflict with more people than would be likely to be pleased.[9]

Similarly, in the 2009 Climategate emails, CRU director Phil Jones shows this “deep reluctance to stick out one’s neck” in writing (July 5, 2005):

“The scientific community would come down on me in no uncertain terms if I said the world had cooled from 1998.”

Keith Briffa laments (Sept. 22, 1999):

“I know there is pressure to present a nice tidy story as regards ‘apparent unprecedented warming in a thousand years or more in the temperature proxy data’ but in reality the situation is not quite so simple. … I believe that the recent warmth was probably matched about 1,000 years ago.”

Elsewhere, Briffa notes (April 29, 2007):

“I tried hard to balance the needs of the science and the IPCC, which were not always the same. I worried that you might think I gave the impression of not supporting you well enough while trying to report on the issues and uncertainties.”

All of the above (there are many more examples in the Climategate emails) reveal scientific groupthink, which puts the needs and desires of a peer group—the desire for “consensus”—ahead of the scientific facts. We would, undoubtedly, find other examples of alarmist groupthink if we could examine the emails of other promoters of climate alarmism, like James Hansen’s Goddard Institute.

This groupthink isn’t at all surprising. After all, alarmist climate scientists attend several conferences a year with like-minded people (the views of outright “deniers” are not welcome, as the CRU emails clearly reveal). In the absence of real debate or dissent they easily persuade themselves that human beings are the main reason the planet is warming and it’s going to be a catastrophe. Why? Because everyone else seems to think so and, in groupthink, consensus is highly valued. The same principles operates strongly, of course, in religion.

The ‘hockey stick’ and groupthink

Climate alarmists will, of course, angrily dispute that climate science groupthink is as strong as claimed here. However, groupthink is clearly identified in the 2006 Wegman report into the Michael Mann hockey stick controversy.

As most WUWT readers will know, the Wegman report was commissioned by the U.S. House Science Committee after Mann refused to release all the data leading to the hockey stick conclusions, conclusions that eliminated the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age in order to show today’s warming as unprecedented. In fact, as mathematician Steve McIntyre discovered after years of FOI requests, the calculations in Mann’s paper had not been checked by the paper’s peer reviewers and were, in fact, wrong.

The National Academy of Sciences committee, led by Dr. Edward Wegman, an expert on statistics, identified one of the reasons why Mann’s paper was so sloppily peer-reviewed as follows:

There is a tightly knit group of individuals who passionately believe in their thesis. However, our perception is that this group has a self-reinforcing feedback mechanism and, moreover, the work has been sufficiently politicized that they can hardly reassess their public positions without losing credibility.[10] [emphasis added]

Wegman noted that the Mann paper became prominent because it “fit some policy agendas.”[11]

The Wegman Report also observed:

As statisticians, we were struck by the isolation of communities such as the paleoclimate community that rely heavily on statistical methods, yet do not seem to be interacting with the mainstream statistical community. The public policy implications of this debate are financially staggering and yet apparently no independent statistical expertise was sought or used.[12] [emphasis added]

In other words, alarmist climate scientists are part of an exclusive group that talks mainly with itself and avoids groups that don’t share the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis and alarmist political agenda. Overall, Wegman is describing with great precision a science community whose conclusions have been distorted and polarized by groupthink.

Recognizing groupthink

After the Climategate emails, some consensus climate scientists began to recognize the dangers of groupthink within their discipline. So, Georgia Tech climatologist Judith Curry wrote in 2009:

In my opinion, there are two broader issues raised by these emails that are impeding the public credibility of climate research: lack of transparency in climate data, and “tribalism” in some segments of the climate research community that is impeding peer review and the assessment process.[13]

Similarly, IPCC contributor Mike Hulme wrote:

It is possible that climate science has become too partisan, too centralized. The tribalism that some of the leaked emails display is something more usually associated with social organization within primitive cultures; it is not attractive when we find it at work inside science.[14] [emphasis added]

In short, it is clear that groupthink—a later, more scientific word for “tribalism”—is strongly at work within alarmist climate science, however much the affected scientists refuse to recognize it. As a result of tribalism (groupthink), alarmist climate science makes assertions that are often extreme (polarized), including the explicit or implicit endorsement of claims that global warming will lead to “oblivion,” “thermageddon,” mass extinctions, and the like. Indeed, one of the ironies of climate science is that extremist AGW believers like Gore, Hansen and Schneider have succeeded in persuading the media and public that those who don’t make grandiose claims, the skeptics, are the extremists.

Group polarization offers a rational explanation for extreme alarmist claims, given that the empirical scientific evidence is simply not strong enough to merit such confidence. It is likely that even intelligent, highly educated scientists have been caught in what has been called the “madness of crowds.” Indeed, writing in the Times Higher Education magazine, British philosopher Martin Cohen makes this connection explicit:

Is belief in global-warming science another example of the “madness of crowds”? That strange but powerful social phenomenon, first described by Charles Mackay in 1841, turns a widely shared prejudice into an irresistible “authority”. Could it [belief in human-caused, catastrophic global warming] indeed represent the final triumph of irrationality?[16]

There is strong psychological evidence that alarmist fears of climate change are far more the result of groupthink and the group polarization process than scientific evidence and, yes, this alarmist groupthink has indeed led to the triumph of irrationality over reason.

Paul MacRae is the author of False Alarm: Global Warming—Facts Versus Fears. His blog is at paulmacrae.com. More on this subject: http://www.paulmacrae.com/?p=51

Notes

1. Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. New York: Ballantine Books, 1996, p. 49.

2. Irvin L. Janis, Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1982, p. 3.

3. Janis, p. vii.

4. Janis, p. 9.

5. Janis, p. 247.

6. Janis, pp. 174-175.

7. Janis, p. 5.

8. Andrew Potter, “The newspaper is dying—hooray for democracy.” Maclean’s, April 7, 2008, p. 17.

9. Walter Kaufmann, Critique of Religion and Philosophy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1990 (1958), p. 51.

10. Edward Wegman, et al., “Ad Hoc Committee Report on the ‘Hockey Stick’ Global Climate Reconstruction.” U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, 2006, p. 65.

11. Wegman, et al., p. 29.

12. Wegman, et al., p. 51.

13. Judith Curry, “On the credibility of climate research.” Climate Audit blog, Nov. 22, 2009.

14. Andrew Revkin, “A climate scientist who engages skeptics.” Dot.Earth, Nov. 27, 2009.

15. Steve Fuller, Kuhn vs. Popper: The Struggle for the Soul of Science. Cambridge: Icon Books, 2006 (2003), p. 105.

16. Martin Cohen, “Beyond debate?” Times Higher Education, Dec. 10, 2009.

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pat

Exactly

corio37

I came across the following summary of groupthink in a recent book on communications, The book had nothing to do with climate at all, but the summary sure struck a chord:
“High levels of cohesiveness and conformity in groups can interfere with the group’s ability to make decisions, effectively giving rise to a phenomenon called groupthink. Groupthink, a term coined by Janis (1982), refers to the susceptibility o a highly cohesive group to the danger of making poor and reckless decisions. A ypical groupthink culture is one that discourages alternative points of view because hey are seen as a threat to the group and its existing hierarchy.
Groupthink symptoms include (Janis 1982):
* excessive confidence: Too much confidence in the group’s ability and capacity for good judgment increases the likelihood of risky and poorly thought out decisions.
* sense of invincibility: A sense of not being vulnerable to making mistakes leads to hastily proposed solutions becoming favoured courses of action without careful consideration.
* anonymity: Groups provide individuals with a degree of anonymity and insulation against taking personal responsibility for decisions, so no one person has to take the blame when poor decisions are made.
* moral superiority: This kind of self-righteousness can lead a group into becoming ‘a law unto themselves’, resulting in poor ethical decisions and behaviour.
* obsessive rivalry: Decisions made solely on the basis of unduly negative attitudes towards others (including other departments) can blind a group and lead to poor decisions.
* peer pressure: Pressure is exerted on those who tender views and options that conflict with the group’s beliefs in its ability, reasoning, viewpoints and existing hierarchy.
* censorship: Gatekeepers withhold from group members information that may challenge the validity of the group’s direction, practices and leaders.”
Mann, Jones, Gore, Hansen — stop fidgeting at the back there!

OK, the null hypothesis is that it is we sceptics who are the groupthinkers and are deluded and not the climate scientists. The question then, is if we are so deluded by group think to believe we are right when the truth is that we just all share a consensus delusion, how would we know?
Well having tried to bring sceptics in Scotland to a consensus about the climate … I can say its like “herding cats” we are still no where closer to consensus than when we started.
1. Overestimate of the group’s power and morality
Let’s me be honest, I personally wouldn’t support some sceptics except for this one issue. If anything, I think most sceptics underestimate our ability to act … if we would sacrifice a bit of the moral high ground and start acting as a group.
2. Closed-mindedness, including a refusal to consider alternative explanations
Personally I was resistant to the idea of solar activity. Now I’m open to the possibility that changes in land use have had more impact. If there is closed mindedness, it is that “warmists are bad”. As an ex warmist, I’ve been open about that and never had anyone seriously criticise me for it. That doesn’t strike me as being closed.
3. Pressure toward uniformity, including “a shared illusion of unanimity concerning judgments conforming to the majority view”.
The only “conformity” I find that we … I was going to say “not to say stupid things”, but sceptics are on the whole very tolerant. The pressure is to put forward good arguments.

Ray

Another notable “groupthink” comparable to CAGW that comes to mind… Jonestown.

polistra

The question by the “anonymous friend” isn’t the important one. Anyone who has worked in or around any branch of science or scholarship knows of many bad theories that were, or still are, held by the majority of paid professionals despite being transparently wrong. That’s NORMAL.
The important question is why this one theory about CO2 acquired the status of a worldwide religion and took over ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING for twenty years. No other belief of any sort, right or wrong, political or religious, has ever gained such TOTAL AND COMPLETE worldwide POWER. Not Christianity, not Islam, not Communism, not Fascism. Those were all regional, moderate and arguable compared to the CO2 theory.

MB

The addition of toxic Fluoride is a great example of group think.
As are most of the vaccination programs. How many doctors who carry out the vaccinations know the statistics of efficacy and harmful effects of the vaccine they give their patients? Answer: Hardly any. Most just rely on the “group-think” (and of course the bonuses they get -at least in the UK- for pushing the vaccine!).
The Milgram experiment is the classic study of this area. You could do a lot worse than to search for “Zimbardo Stanford Prisoner Experiment” in google videos. He covers the Milgram experiment.

Zac

Absolutely! I have long held the opinion that climate science is exactly that. Human group think. We will endevour to make global warming a truth, until it gets colder then that will be the new truth. Not sure how long the CO2 myth will last though.

johanna

While many of the points you make are valid, I think it is a pity that you conflated scientific groupthink with political examples. Political decisionmaking is a very different animal – indeed, it is the application of political models to science that caused a lot of the trouble in climate science.
Political groupthink is a different phenomenon to the changing of scientific paradigms, although they share some features. Politics is overtly a contest of beliefs and ideals, while science is supposedly a contest of testable and replicable experiments to support or disprove a hypothesis.
I suspect that using the Vietnam War as an example will get you a lot of grief in the comments. The fact is, whether one believes it was a good idea in policy terms or not, if the US had expended its full military might, it could have ‘won’ the war quite quickly. The unwillingness to do that was a political, not an objective, judgement.
The notion of ‘groupthink’ is, as you point out, also described as tribalism or, in other pop psychology models, in-groups and out-groups, or the madness of crowds. It was hardly a new idea. What is interesting is the growth of social movements such as environmentalism, and how they affect the actions of people in other spheres such as politics, science and the media.
Another dimension is the growth of ‘evidence based policy’, which is often a synonym for finding researchers who support what the political actor wanted to do in the first place. Instead of saying, ‘we will do this because it is right’, they say ‘we will do this because scientists or other researchers tell us that it is right’, thereby avoiding some of the responsibility if things go wrong.
The need for internal cohesion in organisations is not the same thing as the need to preserve contestability in the wider world, whether it be in politics or in science. In politics, contestability is achieved through democracy. In science, it is preserved by adhering to the scientific method, which is the opposite. They are very different phenomena, and groupthink does not adequately describe either of them.

jlurtz

If you look at a high altitude picture of most University Campuses, the buildings look like boxes. I will propose that the people “inside of those boxes” think that they are “outside of those boxes”. I can state this strongly since I was “once up a time” inside the boxes.
One can NOT get a degree without a successful PhD dissertation in your field. You will be pounded until your square edges are gone and you fit “into the round hole” [box?]. No matter what the field, your dissertation will fail if it doesn’t “fit”.
Today I am proposing a thermodynamic technique that will remove the constraints of Carnot’s Law. I hope that they will let me “into the box” to make my proposal. [Post dissertation, I guess I’m a scientist now !?!?]

Zac

The group think is quite frightening though. Humans now have the ability to seed the atmosphere with dust, the oceans with metal particals, or their food with birth control.
The current group think is that humans are bad for planet Earth

davidmhoffer

While one can see the effects of groupthink on climate science, I have to question if there is not more too it than that. Add to groupthink the fact that there is enormous money to be made due to the poor decision making by government that is enabled and encouraged by the climate science mythology.
Did the founders of Solyndra really believe in what they were doing? Or did they just seen an opportunity to siphon millions from the public coffers by saying that they did? (And yes, they went bankrupt, but they got paid handsomely on a personal basis). The intro to one of the IPCC reports gushes over what a wonderful document it is….and the person quoted runs a company that manufactures windmills that would be totaly uneconomical without massive government subsidy. And let us not let the IPCC itself get a free pass on the matter. Without AGW fear, they, and their jobs, would cease to exist. The entire UN for that matter continues to inflate itself and reach for more power and funding despite being an abject failure in terms of the goals they were set up to pursue. Empowered to “save the children” in Iraq by trading oil for food, they promptly gamed the system, lined their own pockets, then investigated and exhonerated themselves. Did those leaches believe they were saving anybody? THEY COULDN’T HAVE CARED LESS!
Climate Science may have been initiated and enabled by groupthink, but it is maintained, and agressively so, by corruption and greed. I doubt that very many of those who have profited from ill thought out government subsidies, gauranteed loans and huge grants to build completely uneconomical solutions to a non existant problem really care (or believe) in the issue one way or another. They see an opportunity for profit, and they behave accordingly.

John Trigge

The ‘Comfortable Clone Syndrome’ is used in business teachings to counter group-think. If more of the alarmists had worked in real jobs rather than in only in academia, perhaps they would be able to identify and counter these issues.
Most organizations understand the benefits of having a diverse workforce. We know teams who have diverse members with complementary skills are more creative and innovative than homogeneous teams. Comfortable clone syndrome is the desire to surround ourselves with people who think and act like we do to avoid conflict and the discomfort of being around others who are simply, in our eyes, strange and difficult.
Diversity is more than just age, race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. It includes personality styles, individual strengths and talents, work experience, interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence. In 1997, Dorothy Leonard and Susaan Straus wrote the Harvard Business Review article, “Putting Your Company’s Whole Brain to Work,” where they introduce the concept of creative abrasion. This is the ability to tap into the diverse talents and expertise of every person on the team in a way that maximizes productivity, drives results and generates positive work relationships.

KR

And here I thought the consensus was driven by people in the field looking at the evidence and deciding what conclusions were supported… with the occasional dissenter objecting.

Thanks, Paul.

H.R.

I dunno… what do ya’ll think? ;o)

Big D in TX

MB says:
April 30, 2012 at 4:08 pm
The addition of toxic Fluoride is a great example of group think.
As are most of the vaccination programs. How many doctors who carry out the vaccinations know the statistics of efficacy and harmful effects of the vaccine they give their patients? Answer: Hardly any. Most just rely on the “group-think” (and of course the bonuses they get -at least in the UK- for pushing the vaccine!).
The Milgram experiment is the classic study of this area. You could do a lot worse than to search for “Zimbardo Stanford Prisoner Experiment” in google videos. He covers the Milgram experiment.
**********************************************
Begone, troll, and your sad attempt at inserting junk opinions to see if anyone agrees with you.

misterjohnqpublic

Another word for groupthink is arrogance.
Groupthink is just too p.c. for me. I say call a spade a spade. AGW is simply a group of professionals who are too full of themselves to ever admit they were wrong … or, look at data that contradicts their findings. If you’ve every spent any time in academia, you already know how over-inflated the egos of researchers can get.

Groupthink is a way of understanding what is going on here, as it is with the Vietnam War, Watergate, Pearl Harbor and the Bay of Pigs — although other particularities of the denial and decision and in-decision that led to these disasters require explanation beyond incompetence or conspiracy. These have to do with the pursuit of vested interests of individuals and groups, baptist-and-bootlegger analysis and so forth. These ways of explaining are required to answer the question: Why did groupthink prevail so strongly in these instances and not others?
In Science, Groupthink relates to more general older notions such as ‘paradigm’ (Kuln) or ‘episteme’ (Foucault), and right back to Marx’s “Ideology” — which relates groupthink to vested interests. Notice that we only complain about Groupthink when it goes wrong for the interest group. Marx could point to bourgeois groupthink, as I could point to west society groupthink, where ‘incredibly stupid’ thinking and decisions serve our interests very well without adverse impact. But for us here on this blog, I think, the question is more refined: Why is it happening in Science? Why now? and Why with this issue?
There has certainly been groupthink in Science before. In fact, I would say that it is both natural and endemic to scientific communities. And it has been duly recognised. And so for 300 years now Science has developed protocols, practices and institutions to mitigate against groupthink getting out of control and overwhelming the advancement of science. What is surprising, and surprising about currents events, is that it has never before corrupted the institutions of science so fully and pervasively (although your quoted Sagan gave us some hits of how it might with ‘Nuclear Winter’!). The question for Science is: How did this corruption succeed in this case, at this time, and on this issue.
Aynsley Kellow, in his notion of “Virtual Corruption,” early on came up with a way to understanding this. It is also, in my view, important to understand the infiltration of the Marxist practice (praxis) of science-as-activism (‘Thesis 11’), and how this has come across from the social sciences mostly via environmental science (including in the notion of ‘post-normal science’) as the fear campaigns of environmentalism developed in the broader community.
Other ways of understanding what has happened here are discussed in a previous WUWT post:
http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/12/27/climate-change-and-the-corruption-of-science-where-did-it-all-go-wrong/

Big D in TX

MB, would you happen to be MB Schachter?
http://www.mbschachter.com/dangers_of_fluoride_and_fluorida.htm
#1 link on google when you search “dangers of fluoridation”.

Paul Bahlin

40 years ago I was on a station responsible for a massive electronic navigation system with hundreds of vacuum tubes and dozens of drawers of circuitry. We had a 99.95% up time goal and when we went to back ups due to an online failure all hell broke loose. The entire duty section was called out to trouble shoot.
Group think always took over until exhaustion set in. Then I could work on the system alone and usually fix it while the exhausted took a coffee break. It was fascinating to see the consensus negotiations that took the group think further and further from the problem.
I don’t work well with others I guess.

Peter O'Brien

The other aspect to this ‘consensus’ of a huge number of scientists involved in IPCC reports, is that most of them are not pure ‘climate scientists’ at all, but epidemiologists, oceanographers, agricultural scientists, glaciologists etc etc, whose research starts with an acceptance of the basic CAGW premise.

David Larsen

I have done considerable graduate work in archeology. Archeologist try to reconstruct the past environment to understand the adaptation species make to the environment, and especially humans. The dynamics of the solar changes then become more apparent after having to look at those adaptations to the changing environment. The earth has gone through heat and cold cycles for billions of years and will continue to do so without human impact or effect.

DirkH

He quotes Nietzsche’s observation that “madness is the exception in individuals but the rule in groups,”

Nietzsche was an exceptional individual.

Oh how the shoe fits the climate alarmists.
“Group-think, Suppression of Dissent, and Enforced Conformity in Thinking
The cult has standard answers for almost everything, and members are expected to parrot those answers. Willfulness or independence or skeptical thinking is seen as bad. Members accept the leader’s reality as their own.
There are two corollaries:
A) Independent or critical thinking is discouraged, especially critical thoughts about the leader or the group or the cult’s teachings.
B) Positive thoughts and statements about the leader and the group are encouraged.
In cults, no criticism of the leader, his teachings, or his organization is seen as valid — such criticism is always automatically wrong, just because it criticizes the guru, his teachings, or his group. (And of course such criticism of the guru or his group also breaks Cult Rule Number One, “The Guru Is Always Right”.)
Dissent and disagreement are also seen as impolite and inappropriate. One should “respect” the “traditions” and “ancient teachings”. “They are much older than you are. After all, what do you know? Just go along with it.”
Cults also assert that questioning the group’s doctrines will lead to bad results. You might not get into Heaven, or you might not get enlightened, or your doubts will make you backslide, or something like that.
Cults consider it immoral, or at least a serious spiritual failing, for someone to think independently, rather than parrotting the standard slogans and text. And actually criticizing the illogical or irrational aspects of the cult’s doctrines is considered a very serious moral offense. Cults will even claim that you are harming other cult members by questioning the craziness — you are keeping others from going to Heaven, or you are weakening their faith, or you are leading them into temptation and you are leading them to their downfall, causing them to become “lost souls”. ”
http://www.orange-papers.org/orange-cult_q0.html
Who would have thunk that a field of science falls prey to group think?

Bart

KR says:
April 30, 2012 at 4:46 pm
Taken from the notes of Cardinal Bellarmine, no doubt.

Group-think and intolerance to criticism are notably present on both sides of the AGW conflict. It’s the human nature. Some of us are born and/or brought up as gentlemen, the others are “cattle farm intellectuals,” and the latter never learn.
But there is a real difference between skeptics and alarmists.
While AGW group-think may be a common disease in craven Academia, in financial, commercial, and political circles the AGW propaganda is a clever money-making mechanism and a power grab, the new and effective way to exploit amazing ignorance and fears of the general population.
Yes, a religion of sorts. And the high priests of this new religion, like all priests of all times, are the least believing of all: they know exactly, what they are doing, they laugh in our faces and in the faces of their faithful, they already accumulated such an iron-clad power that our diddly “skepticism” doesn’t bother them at all — we cannot do them any harm.
I suspect that the smartest bunch on the Green Side of the Force quietly approves the existence of such outlets as WUWT. Antics of the skeptics have entertainment value for our masters, allow them to appreciate their success more vividly. Winning over fools is easy and boring, crushing under your feet something truly precious, something you never can become — those loathsome brave, talented and knowledgeable people — is sublimely thrilling for the jaded rulers of the world. That’s why they pay millions for imbecilic abstract art, or go to degenerate, tax-funded opera houses to listen to Verdi and Mozart being perverted and mocked by voiceless singers and hapless conductors. The Conqueror Worms enjoy their power that way.
Also, according to several conversations I had with wealthy alarmists, they view sites like WUWT as useful relief valves: let those perspicacious types gather together and let their steam off in completely harmless way, perusing articles published in untouchable “peer-reviewed” journals, finding errors and wasting their own and others’ time, endlessly analyzing details, making obvious conclusions, and building imaginary reputations among their ilk — instead of really trying to take control of the situation by force. Let the discontent play in their sandbox, while the real world belongs to the serious, practical people, thieves and liars.

The glue of group think is confirmation bias and the antidote is the scientific method. When you come across group think you simply say “What is your hypothesis and how can we falsify it?” If this alarms them they’re talking BS.

Latitude

groupthink???……what a lame excuse
Not after all this time…..that’s saying they don’t even know their own science…or that they are ignorant of it

DirkH

Scottish Sceptic says:
April 30, 2012 at 3:54 pm
“OK, the null hypothesis is that it is we sceptics who are the groupthinkers and are deluded and not the climate scientists. The question then, is if we are so deluded by group think to believe we are right when the truth is that we just all share a consensus delusion, how would we know?”
I can only speak for myself. I derive no personal gain or recognition or prestige or anything from being here so I don’t care if any of you disagrees with me. I am here to gather information for my own perusal; I would be reading the MSM if they had trustworthy information but that era is over.
If this were a consensus group I’d leave.

Sceptical lefty

It should be understood that ‘groupthink’ is, in fact, a behavioural norm right across humanity. Climatology is by no means unique among the sciences in having an outworn (or just plain WRONG) paradigm sustained by a corrupt heirarchy that cannot amend its position without destroying its credibility and prestige, and suffering a painful reduction in allocated resources.
You might also note the phenomenon of groupthink on this very blog. How many of your contributors associate Right-wing (good and decent) political views with climate scepticism? You may take some comfort from the observation that warmist blogs are obvious havens for groupthinking (evil, immoral) Left-wingers. And yet, politics should be totally unrelated to what is supposed to be a not-so-simple matter of fact.
Whatever one may say or think about scientific ideals, the unfortunate reality is groupthink!
To briefly address the three enumerated points raised above:
1. When one is part of a group, airy-fairy ethical and moral consequences are irrelevant to those who conform. To be blunt, conformity is GOOD and nonconformity is BAD.
2. Closed-mindedness is a virtue where independent thought threatens the cohesiveness (and, therefore, existence) of the group.
3. Uniformity, consensus, ‘get with the plan’. Guardians of groupthink are everywhere. These include human resources personnel (whose real role is to justify corporate policy to the underlings), priests and political demagogues (either sustainers of existing groupthink or manufacturers of a new groupthink), to name just a few.
I hope that most of your readers can honestly question their own social and professional attitudes. If one wishes to avoid falling into the groupthink trap, it is necessary to constantly question perceived norms. Religious people and many members of political parties are among those who have found constant re-examination and persistent uncertainty too taxing. They have given up. And it must be admitted that the peace of certainty – however wrong – is, for many, far more comforting than the turmoil of doubt – however honest.

Bill Illis

Academic Freedom.
In climate science, there is none. As much as they resort to using the concept when needed (Mann’s emails), they go out of their way to invalidate it when they perceive a threat to the consensus (climategate emails).
This is a much stronger version of maintaining consensus than I think we have seen before. There is a coercive element to it. It seems to be a much more extreme version of GroupThink.
If they believed so strongly in the concept, they would have already been trying to lead by example by curtailing their personal use of fossil fuels, set-up groups who reduce group emissions etc. Instead, we have gradiose meetings in all the most expensive tourist destination spots around the planet during the local high season.
Cut-off ALL the funding. This is the only way I see getting out of this mess. Write your politician.

DirkH says:
He quotes Nietzsche’s observation that “madness is the exception in individuals but the rule in groups,”
Nietzsche was an exceptional individual.

Ah…the logical paradox. LOL. Beautiful DirkH. I am sure Nietzsche would have laughed too!

eric1skeptic

KR, could you please point to some posts where you have challenged some aspect(s) of the “consensus” over at SkepSci? Really it seems to me you are the epitome of a group thinker.

GogogoStopSTOP

As others have said or alluded to, “Warmists” as a group are motivated by more than the pure psychology of a collection of people who believe we may be in for future danger. The other motivations of whole or parts of the Warmist are: political achievement, social recognition, monetary rewards, media recognition, media business success, investment partners reducing or eliminating risk, academic accolades, Hollywood Oscars, Nobel Prizes, school essay contests.
Since the “globe” is involved, all of the above is necessary to create & sustain this perfect storm. I submit that the only way to defeat this movement, because of it’s momentum & the driving forces, is success at the ballot box… there is no other way. It’s Right v Left, Capitalism v Communism, Religion v Atheism… Freedom v Slavery… think about it.

pat

the public don’t seem to be going along with groupthink!
30 April: Guardian: Adam Corner: Personal carbon allowances – a ‘big idea that never took off’If we really are ‘all in this together’, then why are personal carbon allowances so politically unpopular?
(Adam Corner is a research associate at Cardiff University. His interests include the psychology of communicating climate change)
But why shouldn’t the concept of a personalised ‘budget’ be applied to our environmental debt, as it is to our financial one?…
In a UK government review in 2008, it was written off as a policy “ahead of its time”. When individual politicians have dared to raise the idea of an individualised carbon budget – which people could spend, trade and owe just like money – the response from the political establishment and the media has not been positive. At best, personal carbon budgets are dismissed as impractical – at worst, they are caricatured as a totalitarian attempt to control behaviour.
But – perhaps surprisingly – research that has looked at how personal carbon budgets are perceived by the public has not always found such cynicism. In a review of the limited amount of data on public perceptions of carbon budgets, Dr Tina Fawcett found that personal carbon quotas – although by no means unconditionally endorsed – were often seen in a more positive light than other policy alternatives (eg carbon taxation).
And, whenever small-scale pilot schemes for trialling personal carbon budgets have been attempted, they have been met with a positive response from those who have participated in them. Typically, though, the participants in the pilot schemes have been enthusiasts, already convinced by the argument that there is a moral duty for individuals to use as little carbon as they can. There is (as yet) not much direct evidence of an appetite for personal carbon budgets among the general public…
http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainable-business/personal-carbon-allowances-budgets?newsfeed=true
Tina co-authored “The Suicidal Planet: How to Prevent Global Climate Catastrophe” and ” How We Can Save the Planet: Preventing Global Climate Catastrophe”, so Adam doesn’t bother mentioning she’s already convinced!
ScienceDirect: Personal carbon trading: A policy ahead of its time?
Tina Fawcett, Environmental Change Institute, Oxford University Centre for the Environment
Received 22 May 2009. Accepted 1 July 2010. Available online 18 July 2010.
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421510005239

MattN

Challenger is another classic example of Groupthink.
I made the AGW/Groupthink parallel years ago. It is absolutely text book. A finer example does not exist.

gcapologist

@ Alexander Feht says:
April 30, 2012 at 5:18 pm
+1 !

Eric Adler

In my opinion, a better example of group think than climate science is the community which frequents this blog. There are so many scientific misconceptions propagated with almost no one dissenting. People are willing to accept any theory no matter how wrong which contradicts AGW,: the temperature record is a fraud, global warming is due to cosmic rays, positive feedback automatically implies a temperature runaway will occur, the greenhouse effect is contrary to the second law of thermodynamics…
On the basis of the above post, why not claim that biologists’ acceptance of the theory of evolution is an example of group think? It has the same characteristics. It is unanimously accepted by biologists. All work done in biological science and medicine is based on it, the workers’ living depends on belief in evolution. Also by coincidence the theory was developed by an Englishman, in the same year as the greenhouse theory of global warming.
Also, despite the fact that people who don’t accept evolution, are ridiculed by scientists, there are many people in the US who are smart enough to know it is a fraud. Only about 1/2 of the population accept Darwin’s theory evolution as valid.

Dave L.

When I began reading this post, the first thought that came to my mind was Charles Mackay and his famous book: Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. I was glad that a reference to him appeared in a later section of the post. I think Mackay would have included global warming in his discourses on “national delusions”.
“Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”

Ron

The industry I work in – newspapers. Our leadership committed fatal groupthink when, during the 1990’s, they had to have an answer to the internet. Answer? Give the work of paid editorial staff away for free on the internet while still charging for it on the printed product. The accepted theory was that links back and advertising would make up the difference. Well, guess what? That hasn’t happened, and all newspapers have been forced to cut deeply into that editorial staffing in order to stay in business. The time will come when newspapers will want and expect editorial content for free too, just like we’ve trained our readers. This is all the result of stupid groupthink at the outset of the tech revolution.

jimash1

http://coupmedia.org/ice-age/cbs-has-michio-kaku-discuss-global-warming-0202
Aaaaarrrrrrgggghhhh !
I think that sometimes THEY think that there is no way that their “peers” could be crooked, and so they buy, uncritically, what is being sold and end up victims of the groupthink .

PeterGeorge

If I were a member of the hardcore Left I might think that groupthink would be a good way to herd the useful idiots. Good thing the Left hasn’t thought of that yet.

markx

Alexander Feht says:April 30, 2012 at 5:18 pm

“…While AGW group-think may be a common disease in craven Academia, in financial, commercial, and political circles the AGW propaganda is a clever money-making mechanism and a power grab, the new and effective way to exploit amazing ignorance and fears of the general population. …

Alexander sums it all up and words it very well in his whole comment.
This battle is far from over, and it is probably unlikely logic will trump entrenched agendas. These people, with all their disparate (and all their mutually beneficial) plans and needs will plough ahead, act, and then ‘manufacture’ the ‘support’ for their actions.
Bob Dylan: (yeah, again, but so apt here) “And the masters, make the rules, for the wise men, and the fools.”

jorgekafkazar

misterjohnqpublic says: “Another word for groupthink is arrogance.”
Yes, or hubris. Call it what you will, the incident that best epitomizes Warmist arrogance is 350.org’s 10-10 “no pressure” video. Several dozen people created that hideous production, and apparently not one of them had any second thoughts about the monstrous concept of blowing children up for the crime of not supporting the AGW meme. They ALL thought the video was funny. In fact, it is a stark preview of the absolute corruption that will accompany acquisition of absolute power by Marxist watermelons.

gcapologist:
You realize, of course, that your one +1 is worth more than $10,000 to me.

freezeframe

simple everyday psychology – nobody wants to admit they might be wrong especially after being adamant for so long

R. de Haan

It’s a propaganda driven and fraud and based conspiracy. “Group think” really doesn’t cover the level of deceit in play here. It goes far beyond that.
You’re too nice for this world.

galileonardo

Since 2010 I have used the term “groupthink tank” in posts at several of the AGW echo chambers I haunt. Thought I had coined the term but alas, nothing’s new. I “echo” the author’s sentiments and offer my own example of AGW groupthink, one that covers all three of the Janis’ main categories of symptoms of groupthink syndrome: the 10:10 “No Pressure” Armstrong/Curtis “travesty.” A pretty classic example actually.

johanna

Eric Adler says:
April 30, 2012 at 6:27 pm
In my opinion, a better example of group think than climate science is the community which frequents this blog. There are so many scientific misconceptions propagated with almost no one dissenting. People are willing to accept any theory no matter how wrong which contradicts AGW,: the temperature record is a fraud, global warming is due to cosmic rays, positive feedback automatically implies a temperature runaway will occur, the greenhouse effect is contrary to the second law of thermodynamics…
On the basis of the above post, why not claim that biologists’ acceptance of the theory of evolution is an example of group think? It has the same characteristics. It is unanimously accepted by biologists. All work done in biological science and medicine is based on it, the workers’ living depends on belief in evolution. Also by coincidence the theory was developed by an Englishman, in the same year as the greenhouse theory of global warming.
Also, despite the fact that people who don’t accept evolution, are ridiculed by scientists, there are many people in the US who are smart enough to know it is a fraud. Only about 1/2 of the population accept Darwin’s theory evolution as valid.
———————————————————————
Taking your points in order:
You must be reading a different version of WUWT than the one that appears on my screen if you believe that “people … accept any theory no matter how wrong which contradicts AGW”. There has been plenty of vigorous debate about competing climate theories, the reliability of data from different sources etc in the version that I have been reading. The fact that Anthony insists that debate remains civil has in no way the same as saying that people here just swallow whatever they read. You must have missed some of the intense, but relatively polite, discussions about conflicting theories that frequently occur on this site.
Your statements about evolution are inaccurate, 100% of biologists do not believe in the theory of evolution, which in any event is far from monolithic. There are literal ‘creationist’ biologists and a significant group of ‘intelligent design’ biologists, not to mention many divergences among those who broadly support the theory of evolution but disagree substantially about what it means in practice.
As for your figures about the US population’s views of evolution, I have no idea if they are correct, but they are in any event irrelevant to the subject under discussion.

nc

Paul, I suggest you do some real research on Vietnam and not follow groupthink. The war was being won even with political meddling from incompetent presidents and would have had a different outcome if the liberal press had kept their Pulitzer seeking noses out of it. If the US had not stepped in, just what do you think the area of the world would have looked like.