Guest opinion by Drieu Godefridi
In a new paper just published with two other authors “The ‘Alice in Wonderland’ mechanics of the rejection of (climate) science: simulating coherence by conspiracism“, Stephan Lewandowsky states — for the umpteenth time — that climate skeptics are deniers, that
“there is strong evidence that the rejection of climate science is primarily driven by ideological factors”
(page 2), even psychological factors since their identity (page 3), or worldview, is threatened by climate science, that
“there is growing evidence for an involvement of conspiracist ideation in the rejection of climate science”
(page 4) and that the whole body of skeptical pseudo-science (pp. 4, 15, 16) is incoherent, thus implying a form of “Mad Hatter” nonsense, since he claims that coherence is at the very essence of science.
Mr. Lewandowsky commits errors in reasoning that should have him immediately stripped of his university affiliation.
First of all, the idea that the critics of a dominant paradigm should be coherent among themselves, is not only false or ludicrous, but comical. At every step of the formidable development of science in the history of the West, we find a myriad of parallel and concomitant challenges to the dominant paradigm. That is, before one of them finally takes over. Were all the critiques of Newton, Kepler, Einstein or Heisenberg coherent between themselves? See the present state of physics, with several theories in the quest of the last particle, theories that are perfectly coherent as such, but mutually incoherent.
Lewandowsky is conscious of this slight monstrosity of his (only) argument since he writes (in the end): “Our analysis was performed at the aggregate level; that is, we considered the incoherence of collective argumentation among a “community” of like-minded individuals as if it were a single intellectual entity. It is possible, therefore, that individuals within this community would only hold one or the other of two incoherent views, and that each person considered in isolation would not be incoherent. In that case, one could argue that there is merely a heterogeneity of views in the “community” of denialists, which might in turn be interpreted as being an indication of “healthy debate” or “scientific diversity” rather than incoherence.” (page 16), only to reject it: ” the argumentative incoherence that we analyzed in this article also arises within arguments offered by the same individual.” Lewandowsky then gives a few samples of such individual incoherences, then concludes:
“This sample is far from exhaustive but is sufficient to establish the existence of argumentative incoherence at the level of the individual in addition to the denial movement in the aggregate.”
Having thus conceded the falsity of his argument, Lewandowsky tries to save it by explaining that somehow the incoherence of some scientists reverberates on the whole body of skeptical climate science. May we remind the 15 years old who may read this text that there is not one scientist who has ever been perfectly coherent, and that it takes some magical thinking to sustain that such an incoherence is contagious, not only between individuals, but between individuals and theories.
The main sample of incoherent thinking (at the “aggregate level”) given by Lewandowsky is this: ” Another long-standing contrarian claim has been that global warming “stopped” in 1998. Although this claim is based on a questionable interpretation of statistical data, it has been a focal point of media debate for the last decade or more and it has ultimately found entry into the scientific literature under the label of a “pause” or “hiatus” in warming. Either the temperature record is sufficiently accurate to examine its evolution, including the possibility that warming may have “paused”, or the record is so unreliable that no determination about global temperatures can be made.” (page 4). Did it occur to our expert in coherence that you can show the incoherence of a theory without accepting this theory?
Having thus showed that the argument of the hiatus since 1998 — which is indeed one of the favorite themes of scientists skeptical of the dominant paradigm in climate science — belongs to the realm of ideological, conspiracist and psychiatric pseudo-science, Lewandowsky explains that “the theoretical coherence of consensual climate science does not prevent robust debate.” (page 16). Of this robust, sane debate — opposite to the his alleged conspiracist pseudo-science of the denialists with a problem of identity — he gives an example: the hiatus. “One striking example <of robust debate inside the scientific community> involves the recent controversy about the so-called “pause” or “hiatus” in global warming in the early 2000’s. Some scientists have argued against the existence or special status of this “pause” (here the psychologist Lewandowsky quotes himself) whereas others have taken a contrary position. We therefore argue that science achieves its coherence through a constant self-correction process” (page 16).
In a very recently published paper Nassim Nicholas Taleb defines the “intellectual yet idiot” as a bureaucrat paid by the taxpayer who “pathologizes others for doing things he doesn’t understand without ever realizing it is his understanding that may be limited.” However, in the case of Lewandowsky, an acknowledged expert in the psychological sciences, one can appreciate that this pathologizing of diverse experts in climate science who do not conform to his consensus ideation, appears to be intentional and is a career theme for him. If this speculation of intent is true, such activity is clearly in breach of medical and psychological codes of ethics, beginning with the acknowledged fundamental of “Do no harm.”
Enormous harm is done to science and to dissenting scientists by Lewandowsky’s portrayal of them as being pathologically unstable for voicing dissent – especially as well-known scientific codes of conduct like that of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering and Institute of Medicine state that “Science has progressed through a uniquely productive marriage of human creativity and hard-nosed skepticism….”
Having fallen down his own rabbit hole into a magical, fantasy world of scientific conformity, the appreciation of the crucial value of critical thinking and skeptical review to science is something that Lewandowsky continues to deny.