Playing the Cognitive Game – The Climate Skeptic’s Guide to Cognitive Biases

Guest essay by John Ridgway

I don’t know about you, but I am getting pretty fed up with psychologists proclaiming the irrationality of climate change scepticism. Eagerly, they waste no opportunity in hurling accusations of cognitive bias which, strangely enough, only seems to afflict those who find issue with the consensus view.

Well, I think it is high time that someone redressed the imbalance. So, I offer here my own commentary on the common cognitive biases and how they relate to the climate change controversy. In so doing, I hope to demonstrate how easy it is to conjecture upon a group’s psychological state and how easy it is to turn the tables and place the advocates of the Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) hypothesis under scrutiny. The result may be so much psychological flimflam but I consider it no less worthy than the dubious speculation emanating from the supposed experts and the IPCC.

For my reference point, I have taken Wikipedia’s list of cognitive biases. The psychologists have had a field day inventing (sorry, discovering) biases, and I believe I have identified no less than 61 that the CAGW hypothesis supporters should be wary of. As a result, this guide is a bit longer than your average WUWT article, but I am hoping that even a partial reading will be sufficient to pick up the general theme.

For simplicity, the list is presented below in alphabetic order:

Ambiguity Aversion

When there is insufficient information to determine objective probabilities, individuals assume the risk is higher, even though there is no basis for doing so. This is the thinking behind the application of the precautionary principle, where risks with so-called ‘unknown probabilities’ are used to justify policy. The experts who warn of CAGW are clearly ambiguity averse since they readily invoke the precautionary principle. And yet IPCC’s AR5, chapter 2, tendentiously claims that ambiguity aversion doesn’t affect experts.

Anchoring

When evaluating information, prior to making a decision, the first information encountered has an undue influence upon one’s deliberations. This will be the case irrespective of the position one finally arrives at regarding CAGW. CAGW’s believers cite anchoring as an explanation for the sceptics’ irrational denial of CAGW’s emerging evidence. Meanwhile, they fail to appreciate how the same irrationality would lie behind their own intransigence.

Anthropocentric Thinking

Some (but by no means all) of the sentiment that fuels environmental concern is engendered by the Mother Earth trope. Eco-psychologists condemn sceptics for having a disconnect with such thinking, but actually it is the eco-psychologists that are embracing a false paradigm. Having long ago made peace with the absurdity of human existence, I have little room for such sentiment (frowny face).

Authority Bias

This is simply the appeal to authority. If there were to be no such thing as Authority Bias then the IPCC would be out of a job. In fact, so much of the advocacy behind CAGW is built upon Authority Bias, it is a wonder that anyone needs actual evidence. Nevertheless, respect for authority can go spectacularly wrong, as it did recently when the world’s greatest authority on all things, Professor Stephen Hawking, chose to share his expertise on planetary physics by predicting that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are destined to result in Venusian conditions. Those who knew no better were deeply alarmed. The rest of us squirmed with embarrassment.

Automation Bias

An over-reliance upon automated systems may result in erroneous automated information being accepted uncritically. This results in a tendency to overlook or downplay the ‘Garbage In, Garbage Out’ syndrome in relation to computerised systems. Take, for example, the evaluation of the output of computerised climate models. The public is expected to be impressed because these models are very clever, very complicated, and very computerised.

Availability Heuristic

When assessing likelihoods one tends to be unduly influenced by information or events that directly relate to current or recent personal experience. IPCC’s AR5, chapter 2, uses this to explain the sceptics’ irrational denial of CAGW evidence. Instead of following the science, we look out of the window and declare, “Look, it’s snowing. So much for global warming”. However, clearly this cuts both ways, and the CAGW hypothesis supporters never tire of using topical weather conditions to support their case. For example, every passing hurricane is well and truly milked for its availability.

Availability Cascade

This is the phenomenon by which collective belief in a proposition gains increasing plausibility simply through public repetition. Despite the best efforts of the BBC and the Guardian, this effect has not proven as effective as the psychologists say it should have been. This has led to much head-scratching and a great deal more funded research into the reasons why this should be so. Some CAGW hypothesis supporters claim that it is the sceptics’ own availability cascade that is doing the damage, but this explanation would require the sceptics to have a much higher public profile than they actually enjoy.

Backfire Effect

This is the reaction to discomforting evidence by strengthening one’s previous beliefs. Sceptics, apparently, do not respond well to inconvenient truths. Citing the Backfire Effect, CAGW hypothesis supporters claim that it is of no use providing sceptics with evidence for CAGW; the stronger it gets, then the more they will dispute it. Ultimately, irrefutable and self-evident proof will be met with abject denial. This may be the current assessment of the situation according to the CAGW faithful, but it is also psychological hogwash. No matter what one believes, one will always have a rationale for doing so.

Bandwagon Effect

I don’t think this needs any explanation. Both sides have equal rights to cite it in their defence, although the CAGW bandwagon does seem to enjoy better sponsorship.

Belief Bias

When assessing the logical strength of an argument one is invariably influenced by previously held beliefs. Some would say this is an awful indictment of our inbuilt prejudices. Others will simply point out that it is a natural and unavoidable feature of the learning process. Either way, Belief Bias cannot be cited as an explanation for irrational CAGW scepticism unless one also accepts that it underpins CAGW hypothesis advocacy.

Bias Blind Spot

This is the tendency to see bias in other people’s thinking but not in your own. It is, of course, the premise of this article. The psychologists seem to be looking only for biases that undermine the legitimacy of CAGW scepticism. This is itself a bias.

Bike-shedding

Bike-shedding is the informal but more colourful term for Parkinson’s Law of Triviality. It gets its meaning from the observation that committees, faced with the difficult job of agreeing the design of a nuclear power station, are likely to spend an inordinate amount of time poring over the details of the bike sheds. Why? Because it’s the easy bit. Far be it from me to suggest that the details of the Paris Accord demonstrate that the world’s governments are currently engaged in a monumental Bike-shedding exercise.

Confirmation Bias

Once we have decided upon an initial position, we all concentrate upon seeking out confirmatory evidence and, when faced with ambiguous evidence, choose to interpret it in a way that reinforces our preconceptions. This is a universal cognitive bias and there is no point in trying to suggest that CAGW sceptics are unusually prone to it. On the contrary, sceptics are by nature distrustful of belief systems – even their own.

Congruence Bias

When assessing evidence it is always important to appreciate that more than one hypothesis may be supported by it. In such circumstances, the only way to determine the correct hypothesis is to search for evidence that discounts one or the other. The problem, however, is the temptation to be satisfied simply because one already has ‘sufficient’ evidence to support the chosen hypothesis. You may then be blissfully ignorant that your hypothesis is actually wrong. Confidence in your hypothesis does not come from merely passing a test. What matters is how hard you tried to make your hypothesis fail the test and how hard you searched for better alternatives. So this is the question: Just how hard is the IPCC trying?

Conservatism (Belief Revision)

We all update our beliefs conservatively in the light of new evidence. This means that the degree of modification is less than would be expected if one accurately applied Bayes Theorem. The suggestion is that the effect may be due to Anchoring, although I think this is not so much an explanation as, perhaps, a re-stating of the phenomenon.

Although conservative belief revision is a universal bias, it is worth mentioning that CAGW scepticism is more prevalent within politically conservative individuals than with left-wing thinkers. This should come as no surprise. The whole point of conservatism is to favour the known present over the unknown future. As a result, the conservative mind demands a higher quality of evidence before committing to change.

Continued Influence Effect

Even after information has been discredited, it tends to have an influential effect on one’s thinking. Basically, mud sticks. I would like to suggest that the continued, pernicious influence of the discredited Hockey Stick graph is a good example but, in truth, it isn’t. Many of those who continue to cite the Hockey Stick are simply unaware that it has been discredited. The remainder continue in their efforts to corroborate the Hockey Stick because its removal of the global Medieval Warm Period was just too good a result to abandon. Such efforts fall within the province of Belief Bias, with the discrediting of the Hockey Stick having been readily dismissed in the manner of the Backfire Effect.

Courtesy Bias

This is the tendency to express an opinion that is sociably acceptable rather than one that reflects one’s true beliefs. I don’t think any CAGW sceptic can be accused of this but, given the pressures placed upon climate scientists to conform, one has to wonder to what extent Courtesy Bias explains the much vaunted 97% consensus. As far as climate science is concerned, perhaps Courtesy Bias should be referred to as the Career Survival Bias.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

Dunning and Kruger gained fame by pointing out that some people are just too stupid to know that they are stupid. The jibe was aimed at the unskilled but I see no reason to presuppose that experts are immune to unknown unknowns. It is important to keep this in mind because climate science may be a hotbed of unknown unknowns just waiting to prick expert hubris.

Egocentric Bias

This occurs when someone claims more responsibility for themselves for the results of a joint action than an outside observer would give them credit for. It’s a bit like when someone claims to be a Nobel Laureate simply because they have done some work for the Nobel Prize winning IPCC. Not that such a thing could ever happen (cough! Dr Mann).

Experimenter’s Bias

To quote directly from Wikipedia, Experimenter’s Bias is, “The tendency for experimenters to believe, certify, and publish data that agree with their expectations for the outcome of an experiment, and to disbelieve, discard, or downgrade the corresponding weightings for data that appear to conflict with those expectations”.

Scientists would be the last ones to admit that they might succumb to such a cognitive bias and there are some (cough! Dr Mann) who would not hesitate to sue if you suggested that they did. However, the current Reproducibility Crisis in science would seem to suggest that Experimenter’s Bias is widespread. I would not expect climate science to be exempt. After all, “one can’t make a cherry pie without picking cherries”.

Extrinsic Incentives Bias

We tend to believe other people do things for extrinsic benefits, such as monetary reward, whilst we do things for intrinsic benefits, such as the desire to maintain our integrity. This bias can be seen in the assumption that sceptical scientists are in it for the Big Oil payoff but the consensus scientists are in it for the love of knowledge.

False Consensus Effect

There is a tendency in everyone to overestimate the extent to which the population as a whole agrees with them. Predictably, psychologists have convinced themselves that this cognitive bias is stronger in climate sceptics than it is in the remainder (i.e. right-thinking) sector of society. This view seems to be based upon a much-publicised Australian study, which found that, when asked to estimate the percentage who shared their view on climate change, individuals of all persuasions overestimated the value. However, the overestimation was comparatively greater within the group holding the most sceptical views.

But then, the most sceptical group also happened to be the smallest. Surely, the smaller a group is, then the greater is the scope for overestimation. This is just a statistical effect, not a proof of psychological inferiority. Sigh!

Focusing Effect

This is the predisposition to place too much importance on one aspect of an event. For example, the recent warming has coincided (to a disputed extent) with increased anthropogenic emissions of CO2. As a result, the greenhouse effect of CO2 has become the dominant area of interest to climate scientists seeking to explain recent climatic trends. Whether or not this is an undue focus is something the lay public has to take on trust, based upon the climate science consensus. However, given the alarming extent to which sociological effects have been instrumental in forming this consensus, it is only natural that such trust may be undermined. As a result, the lay jury is still deliberating upon whether the CO2 fixation is fully justified or simply a pathological Focusing Effect.

Framing Effect

Different conclusions can be drawn from the same information depending upon how the information is presented. The obvious example of this is the question of agreement between observations and climate model output. Simply changing the baseline upon which temperature anomalies are predicated can make a significant difference to the analysis. Framing effects are insidious and should never be underestimated.

On a related subject, IPCC’s AR5, chapter 2, places great store in the potential that framing effects may have in persuading the undecided masses to support climate change policies. I believe Goebbels was also quite adept at exploiting framing effects.

Halo Effect

This is often presented as a tendency to find physically attractive people more credible. However, more generally it is the assumption that because someone is accomplished in one field they can be trusted to comment upon loosely related fields. The BBC use this all the time. For example, amongst their CAGW hypothesis advocates they have naturalist Sir David Attenborough (national treasure – if you can’t trust him, who can you trust?) and physicist Brian Cox (isn’t he dishy, isn’t he clever).

We have Lord Lawson. Oh dear.

Hard-Easy Effect

People tend to think easy tasks are harder than they are, and think hard tasks are easier than they are. I happen to think that predicting the Earth’s climate for centuries into the future is a hard task, and so I am unsurprised to find that its difficulty has been underestimated (as in, ‘the science is settled, isn’t it?’).

Hindsight Bias

Anyone who engages in post hoc tuning of climate models, simply to achieve correspondence with previous observations, is being wise after the event and so is guilty of Hindsight Bias. I don’t know if this practice is common amongst modellers, but I do know that the IPCC has deemed it necessary to warn against it.

This bias is closely related to the Texas sharpshooter fallacy, in which a small subset of data is focused upon because it happens to support a retrospectively formulated hypothesis.

Hostile Attribution Bias

Stand up Naomi Oreskes.

Hyperbolic Discounting

People prefer options that provide immediate payoff to those that provide deferred payoff, even when the later payoff is likely to be greater. Psychologists delight in pointing out that this short-sightedness lies at the heart of the average CAGW sceptic’s thinking. We are too keen to reap the short-term benefits of fossil fuels and too disingenuous to admit it, even to ourselves. We must think of the children but, unfortunately, most of us are just embittered, old, selfish, alt right conservatives who have no stake in the future and so couldn’t give a damn. I have only one thing to say to that:

Who are you calling old?

Identifiable Victim Risk

It is natural to be more concerned regarding risk to a single, identifiable person than to a risk affecting an anonymous mass. This effect is particularly strong when the single, identifiable person is yourself. CAGW sceptics are supposed to be particularly guilty of this bias, since they are insufficiently concerned for future generations who may have to suffer the effects of their selfish indulgencies. You may share this supposition, but my experience is that CAGW sceptics are more than able to express concerns for the anonymous masses of the future who will have to deal with the economic and environmental legacy that will result if we insist on implementing the crackpot renewable energy policies that are currently being proposed.

IKEA Effect

This is a tendency to place a disproportionately high value in something constructed by oneself, regardless of the quality of the end result. I don’t know how prevalent this effect is within climatology but I do note that Dr Mann is still very proud of his Hockey Stick.

Illusion of Asymmetric Insight

This is the widespread illusion that we know more about others and their motives than they know about us. Psychologists are themselves guilty of this every time they piously lecture upon the psychological failings of CAGW sceptics, whilst failing to appreciate that the sceptics know exactly what such psychologists are up to and exactly where they are going wrong.

Illusion of Control

With respect to the Earth’s climate, there are some that might say that the world’s governments are guilty of such an illusion. I could hardly comment.

Illusion of Validity

Stand up any paleo-climatologists who use proxies in their studies. Oh, that would be all of you then.

Illusory Correlation

Some CAGW sceptics maintain that this cognitive bias can be seen in the insistence that CO2 concentrations drive temperature fluctuations. The causation is disputed, and even the level of correlation is questioned. I won’t get into this because it is too big a subject. Besides which, it would take me off topic.

Illusory Superiority

Illusory Superiority is yet another cognitive bias that is supposed to provide the perfect explanation for the climate scepticism phenomenon. Surely we must be deluded to think we know better than all of those clever climate scientists.

Except, that isn’t what Illusory Superiority is about. Instead, Illusory Superiority is the tendency to believe that we are above average within a group performing the same task or in the same situation. So in this instance, we need to be focused upon comparisons between those laypersons who are evaluating the significance of the politicisation of a science that is making predictions far into the future. Do sceptics think they are above average within this group? You bet! We are guilty as sin regarding Illusory Superiority. But do the non-sceptics also think they are above average at making such an evaluation? Of course they do. There is absolutely no reason to presume that Illusory Superiority is exclusive to sceptics.

Illusory Truth Effect

Simple ideas that are repeated many times are easier to accept than complicated, often counter-intuitive and possibly arcane ideas. So let me help you out here:

You’re all gonna fry!

Fry, I tell you! Fry!

Information Bias

There is an assumption that one cannot get too much information before drawing a conclusion. However, this assumption is incorrect; additional information can often be irrelevant and distracting. So we should accept that those amongst us who want more information before acting on climate change may be guilty of Information Bias. It all depends upon the information that is being solicited and the cost in terms of outlay and additional risk caused by delay. This is, of course, a subject of some dispute amongst climate scientists and policy makers. The IPCC is screaming that we already have enough information, get on with it! But there again, they were screaming that from the very outset.

Ingroup Bias

This is the tendency to look more favourably upon members of one’s own group. It is, of course, the basis for the pal review network. But I’m forgetting, scientists are immune to cognitive bias. Isn’t that what we learned when the Climategate scientists were exonerated?

Irrational Escalation

Also known as the sunk cost fallacy, this is the reluctance to pull the plug because so much has already been invested. This effect sucked the USA into the Vietnamese War and kept its troops in Vietnam long after the point at which unavoidable defeat had been preordained. One fears that the war on climate change has already gone the same way; there are now too many careers and reputations at stake. I sincerely hope I am wrong.

Law of the Instrument

When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. Since the only tool we have is the climate model, we are going to have to pretend that the Earth’s climate is easy to simulate.

The French also refer to déformation professionnelle. This is the temptation to view a problem narrowly from the perspective of one’s own profession, rather than taking a wider perspective. As a consequence, many experts believe their grasp on the truth is greater than it actually is.

Loss Aversion

The loss of a given level of utility is perceived as being greater than the equivalent gain. This may result in Irrational Escalation. Perversely, however, the IPCC blames this cognitive bias for the failure of many to take climate change action (see AR5, chapter 2). For the life of me, I can’t see how they have arrived at that conclusion.

Naïve Realism

According to Wikipedia, Naïve Realism is, “The belief that we see reality as it really is – objectively and without bias; that the facts are plain for all to see; that rational people will agree with us; and that those who don’t are either uninformed, lazy, irrational, or biased”.

Sounds familiar?

Neglect of Probability

This is defined as the complete indifference to probability when making decisions under uncertainty. Typically, very small probabilities are not taken into account when assessing risk levels. This is usually because the relevant impacts are so high that even infinitesimal probabilities would be considered unacceptable. Basically, who cares what the probabilities are? I just don’t like the sound of it. Unfortunately, anyone can invent a horrible scenario and make it sound plausible. As a consequence, objections may be fomented based upon the flimsiest of pretexts. Take, for example, the fear that turning on the Large Hadron Collider would result in flocks of mini black holes marauding the Swiss countryside. To my knowledge, that never happened, but many feared it would. I blame the precautionary principle.

Normalcy Bias

Where I come from there is no such word as ‘normalcy’, so, if you don’t mind, from hereon I will refer to ‘Normality Bias’.

Normality Bias is the refusal to plan for, or react to, a disaster which has never happened before. It is easy, therefore, to see why CAGW hypothesis supporters declare it to be the perfect explanation for climate scepticism. We stand accused of sleepwalking into disaster, simply because we lack the imagination and understanding required to appreciate the seriousness of the situation.

Expressed in this way, Normality Bias appears to be an irrational neglect. However, one has to keep in mind that basing one’s expectations upon the norm is actually quite rational – it’s called inductive reasoning. To expect the unexpected is irrational. The problem with inductive reasoning, nevertheless, is the tendency for the unexpected to happen. Unfortunately, knowing this fact is of limited value. Firstly, planning for each and every conceivable disaster is economically prohibitive; we would soon be bankrupted by our imagination. Secondly, when actually facing disaster in real time, you will still find yourself gripped by a psychological paralysis borne of cognitive dissonance.

So are CAGW sceptics just ostriches with their heads in the sand, or even rabbits frozen in the headlights? Of course not, they are just pragmatists whose inductive reasoning, based upon their evaluation of the evidence, happens to lead them to a different position (i.e. that it is too early to draw a conclusion). If anything, they are less susceptible to Normality Bias because they expect the climate to change; they just don’t agree upon the degree of anthropogenic attribution and are therefore more concerned regarding the costs and associated risks of the disaster management currently being proposed by the CAGW campaigners.

Not Invented Here

Obviously, this is the aversion to using products, research, standards, or knowledge developed outside a group. I find this particularly the case with respect to the IPCC. For example, it is difficult to explain the IPCC’s preference for their home-spun standard for the characterisation of uncertainty, rather than the adoption of the standard previously developed by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM). The cynic in me suspects that it is in the IPCC’s best interests to establish a professional disconnect with scientific bodies that might demand higher standards.

Observer-expectancy Effect

If an observer expects a certain effect, this is likely to influence the chances of the effect being perceived. In the world of experimentation, this takes the form of the Experimenter-expectancy Effect, in which there is a temptation that experimenters may subconsciously manipulate the experiment or the data in a manner that fulfils the expectation. As with Experimenter’s Bias, you will find that most scientists will claim that such a fallibility is very rare, but the evidence of the Reproducibility Crisis suggests otherwise.

Omission Bias

For some reason, harmful acts are considered more serious than harmful omissions. That’s why the precautionary principle is focused only upon the risks associated with actions (the onus is placed upon those taking actions to prove that the risks are acceptable). Omission Bias is another reason why one should be wary of the precautionary principle.

Optimism Bias

This is also known as wishful thinking, positive outcome bias or the valence effect. This bias is the tendency to overestimate favourable outcomes. Sceptics stand accused of being over-optimistic regarding global warming but they can counter by accusing their opponents of Pessimism Bias (see below). Of course, the matter needs to be settled by science rather than through the battle of the biases.

Ostrich Effect

This is another one thrown solely at CAGW sceptics, but, like the bird, this tactic does not fly. Instead, why don’t we talk about the Ostrich Effect as it applies to the refusal to see renewable energy impracticalities? The Ostrich Effect is just a cheap jibe (no pun intended).

Overconfidence Effect

Most people, when asked a question, will over-estimate the probability that they have given a correct answer. This is probably because there are more ways of getting an answer wrong than there are of getting it right, and Bayesian thinking doesn’t come naturally to the average Joe. The most entertaining commentary on this website can be found when the Overconfidence Effect encounters the Overconfidence Effect.

Pareidolia

Pareidolia is the human mind’s capacity to discern familiar patterns within a random stimulus. For example, one may see faces in clouds, canals on Mars, or trends in data when there are none. Of course, one shouldn’t just rely upon a visual inspection to discern a trend; there are statistical techniques available for the purpose. Even so, one should never underestimate the human capacity for self-deception when seeking a coveted trend. Keep in mind that, under torture, random data will tell you anything you want.

Pessimism Bias

This is simply the converse of Optimism Bias. There’s not much more to say really.

Pseudo-certainty Effect

In Kahneman and Tversky’s prospect theory, the Pseudo-certainty Effect is the tendency for people to understate the uncertainty associated with a decision. This happens when the decision involves a multi-step stratagem and the uncertainties entailed in the early steps are not propagated through to the final decision. Pseudo-certainty features in the evaluation of climate model ensembles when fidelity with observation is cited without regard to the plausibility of the parametric choices that led to such fidelity.

It is ironic that Daniel Kahneman should present the CAGW sceptics with the gift of Pseudo-certainty and then be amongst the most vociferous in denouncing their scepticism.

Reactance

CAGW sceptics are deemed to be guilty of Reactance, as the only reason they are averse to taking action is because they see it as constraining their freedom of choice. The reverse psychology trick is to try presenting climate change action as the empowering option. This tactic is founded upon the assumption that CAGW sceptics are gullible enough to be fooled by it, which is an example of the Optimism Effect.

Reactive Devaluation

We all engage in the habit of denouncing ideas simply because they originate from an adversary. The politicisation of the climate science debate has caused it to become mired in Reactive Devaluation.

Status Quo Bias

Status Quo Bias is the cognitive bias most commonly laid at the feet of CAGW sceptics (usually predicated upon Loss Aversion or System Justification). Apparently, by refusing to change our habits, we are happy to continue ‘polluting’ the atmosphere with evil CO2 even though we know for a fact (but won’t admit it) that this will lead to catastrophe. The irony, however, is that there is more than a little of the Status Quo Bias in those who want to fix global temperatures at their current values, since they assume that we just happen to have been born in a period for which global temperatures are at their optimum. The fact is, we prefer the climate as it is because we have built our societies around the assumption that it will not change.

Stereotyping

This is one of the most common tactics for those engaged in the climate science debate; stereotype your opponents and then take issue with the stereotyped.

Surrogation

Surrogation is a psychological error in which the measurement of a construct comes to replace the construct itself; in other words, the map is misconstrued as the territory. Surrogation is commonplace within the business world, where the achievement of a metric target is automatically taken as achievement of the business objective that the metric was presumed to track. This may or may not be the case but no one bothers to check because the metric has been satisfied. In paleo-climatology, proxies are surrogates for direct measurement of the variable of interest, e.g. temperature. Ultimately, calibration is the only way of ensuring the validity of the surrogate, but calibration is itself fraught with problems. As a result, Surrogation remains a pernicious cognitive bias within climatology.

System Justification

As I said earlier, we prefer the climate as it is because we have built our societies around the assumption that it will not change.

System Justification lies at the heart of climate change concern. It even extends to the natural world, since we seem to believe that the existing eco-system has a greater validity than those that have preceded, or may follow, the current ecological equilibrium.

Zero Sum Bias

Regrettably, the climate change debate is dogged by zero sum bias, i.e. the presumption that one can only win if someone else loses. Zero sum thinking is particularly prevalent amongst the CAGW hypothesis proponents, who are too ready to denounce any colleague as a denier the moment they try to introduce a note of balance or restraint. There is no room for uncertainty or moderation in a zero sum game.

End of List

Thus ends my personal take on the role of cognitive biases within the climate science controversy. If your favourite bias is not featured, please to do not take it to heart. It will not be because I thought the bias to be unimportant, I will have just deemed it irrelevant. If you think I am mistaken, feel free to rectify the problem in the comments below.

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153 thoughts on “Playing the Cognitive Game – The Climate Skeptic’s Guide to Cognitive Biases

  1. This is a surprisingly good article, but it really just constitutes a litany of the defective thought processes to which the vast majority of us are susceptible.

      • Adding CO2 is GOOD for the atmosphere and for ALL life on Earth, McClod.

        but I doubt you can allow that fact passed your massive cognitive dissonance and blinkered brain-washed agenda-based bias.

      • Why do you insist in SQUAWKING in upper case ParrotG55?
        Do you think by squawking louder your squawks somehow become more persausive?

      • That’s the reason you’re reading it here Phoenix44, with this: “…The Climate Skeptic’s Guide to Cognitive Biases” as part of it’s title.

      • “Adding CO2 is GOOD for the atmosphere and for ALL life on Earth”

        No rational arguments to counter?

        We know it hasn’t caused any warming .. at least not since satellite data started.

        We know it has led to big increases in the biosphere.

        I do understand why you hate LIFE so much , though.

      • HE’S YOUR PRESIDENT! HE’S YOUR PRESIDENT!
        ROFLMAO!!
        The article is an example of outstanding scholarship.
        like poking a dumb animal with a sharp stick, probing for signs of hostility.
        lewandosky- eat your heart out. this is how it’s done.

      • I am going to take all of my advice on how to be persuasive from the least persuasive person in the crowd, eh Tony?

      • So why can’t you cagw believers even debate the issue? I have tried to have rational conversations with some of you guys at work and they won’t do it. I was accused of “getting all my information from Fox News” (from which I don’t get any, since I don’t have cable) and many other incorrect assumptions. One guy threw his hands in the air and stalked off yelling “I just can’t talk to you!” And all of your websites instantly ban us for asking legitimate questions. We don’t ban you guys.

        I sure would love to hear the reasons for this (especially if you are truly convinced you “know the truth”)

      • “So why can’t you cagw believers even debate the issue?”

        Debate religion. See if it is any different. Ask who was Jesus praying to in the Garden of Gethsemane. That’s always good for a lively argument.

      • Tony

        Is this bad?:

        Greening of the Earth and its drivers

        Zaichun Zhu, Shilong Piao, Ranga B. Myneni, Mengtian Huang, Zhenzhong Zeng, Josep G. Canadell, Philippe Ciais, Stephen Sitch, Pierre Friedlingstein, Almut Arneth, Chunxiang Cao, Lei Cheng, Etsushi Kato, Charles Koven, Yue Li, Xu Lian, Yongwen Liu, Ronggao Liu, Jiafu Mao, Yaozhong Pan, Shushi Peng, Josep Peñuelas, Benjamin Poulter, Thomas A. M. Pugh, Benjamin D. Stocker, Nicolas Viovy, Xuhui Wang, Yingping Wang, Zhiqiang Xiao, Hui Yang, Sönke Zaehle & Ning Zeng.

        Nature Climate Change 6, 791–795 (2016)
        doi:10.1038/nclimate3004

        Global environmental change is rapidly altering the dynamics of terrestrial vegetation, with consequences for the functioning of the Earth system and provision of ecosystem services1,2. Yet how global vegetation is responding to the changing environment is not well established. Here we use three long-term satellite leaf area index (LAI) records and ten global ecosystem models to investigate four key drivers of LAI trends during 1982–2009. We show a persistent and widespread increase of growing season integrated LAI (greening) over 25% to 50% of the global vegetated area, whereas less than 4% of the globe shows decreasing LAI (browning). Factorial simulations with multiple global ecosystem models suggest that CO2 fertilization effects explain 70% of the observed greening trend, followed by nitrogen deposition (9%), climate change (8%) and land cover change (LCC) (4%). CO2 fertilization effects explain most of the greening trends in the tropics, whereas climate change resulted in greening of the high latitudes and the Tibetan Plateau. LCC contributed most to the regional greening observed in southeast China and the eastern United States. The regional effects of unexplained factors suggest that the next generation of ecosystem models will need to explore the impacts of forest demography, differences in regional management intensities for cropland and pastures, and other emerging productivity constraints such as phosphorus availability.

    • “defective thought processes to which the vast majority of us are susceptible.”

      I challenge the judgment of “defective”. These mechanisms have arisen over, presumably, a very long time of evolution and thus serve important if non-obvious purposes.

      Knowledge of the many fallacies allows one to formulate clever arguments when simply speaking the truth, assuming it is known and matters, is unlikely to accomplish anything.

      Most of human interaction in my opinion is competitive in nature and necessarily biased since your opponent is also biased but in the other way. Ultimately your mortal existence is about survival and reproduction, in part a zero-sum game unless you can figure out win-win. If your opponent is thinking zero-sum, your enlightened idea about win-win isn’t going to get you very far BUT if you stick to your principles you can surround yourself with like minded persons though they seem to be few in number.

  2. Thoroughly entertaining and well-constructed presentation. Not sure how many CAGW proponents are likely to re-examine their beliefs as a result, but we like it anyway.

    Thank you for encouraging my confirmation bias that almost all psychology is bunk, just like my dad told me it was 50 years ago.

  3. Dunning-Kruger Effect

    Dunning and Kruger gained fame by pointing out that some people are just too stupid to know that they are stupid. The jibe was aimed at the unskilled but I see no reason to presuppose that experts are immune to unknown unknowns. It is important to keep this in mind because climate science may be a hotbed of unknown unknowns just waiting to prick expert hubris.

    That’s just golden John. Did you mean to demonstrate the effect?

      • Andy, you’re just plain nasty. Pack in it, will you?

        I often agree with you, but I reckon that’s just an unfortunate co-incidence

      • How about another category?

        I’ll call it the OVERSTATEMENT FALLACY. Forgive me if it has already been categorised by psychologists under another name.

        I’ve noticed in the comments here and on many other sites, that defenders of the status quo respond to counter-arguments by seizing upon small exaggerations or asides made therein which can be challenged more easily than the main argument, which can then be conveniently sidestepped. In its most extreme form it becomes the ‘straw man’ argument. The holder of the cognitive bias therefore retires, justified, without having addressed the main thrust of the criticism.

        It is therefore most important to state an argument concisely, without hyperbole or reference to extraneous issues, so as to give no excuse to one’s opponent. Of course, the truly biased individual will then either ignore you, or shout…

        This is a general truth, as are many in our author’s list, and not really requiring a psychologist’s imprimature.

      • Wait there, so McClod can say what he likes about the author, but can’t get his just deserts?

        Stick it !!

      • AndyG55
        Hi Andy, It would be pointless going hunting with, you would just shoot everything in sight right down to earth worms.
        Have a great day smiley
        Regards

      • I’ll call it the OVERSTATEMENT FALLACY…. defenders of the status quo respond to counter-arguments by seizing upon small exaggerations or asides made therein which can be challenged more easily than the main argument …

        This is also known as “the fallacy of the glancing blow.”

    • That’s an interesting interpretation of Dunning-Kruger that John uses. Dunning-Kruger, I believe, referred to low achievers that overestimated their own abilities. Since it was done in 1999, it may simply have reflected too many “performance trophies” and “self-esteem rewards”. Maybe stupid had nothing to do with it.

      • “…because climate science may be a hotbed of unknown unknowns…”

        …I’m just going to follow my ill-informed gut-instinct. Textbook DK effect. lol

      • No, I have seen it enough over the whole of my life-span to know that “Too stupid to know you are stupid” is a very real phenomenon.
        As is “Too smart to know you are ignorant”.

      • menicholas: I am not saying one cannot be too stupid to know they are stupid, but rather that is not what the Dunning-Kruger effect refers to. Certainly, one can be too stupid to know they are stupid and a corollary of “They’ve been stupid so long they think it’s the way to be”.

    • The Dunning Kruger effect had nothing to do with intelligence or “stupidity”. And it’s a twofer. People who are highly skilled at something often underestimate their skills, and people who are unskilled often overestimate their own.

      Now, I don’t know if someone peed on your turkey today, or you’re seeking the job of poster boy for logical fallacies and cognitive biases yourself, but calm and eat some pie or something.

      • I have to admit to being a little puzzled by those on this forum who dispute that the DK effect has anything to do with intelligence or stupidity. Writing in the Pacific Standard in 2014, Professor Dunning stated the following:

        “A whole battery of studies conducted by myself and others have confirmed that people who don’t know much about a given set of cognitive, technical, or social skills tend to grossly overestimate their prowess and performance, whether it’s grammar, emotional intelligence, logical reasoning, firearm care and safety, debating, or financial knowledge.”

        Clearly, therefore, cognitive skill and the ability to reason logically feature in the effect. Also, keep in mind that Professor Dunning’s article was titled: “We are All Confident Idiots”.

        Yes, it is all about how the holding of skills affects our self-awareness, but when one of those skills happens to be cognitive skill, I think I may be allowed to use the colloquialism ‘stupid’; particularly when the good professor is, himself, prepared to use the term ‘idiot’.

      • John, Dunning singling out ‘firearm care and safety’ is an indication of some political bias in his reporting. How about ‘stamp collecting’ and ‘small motor repair’ as relevant, non political examples.

    • “Did you mean to demonstrate the effect?”

      Demonstrating this effect is exceptionally difficult which is why there’s a name for it.

      It pertains to self-declared intelligence as compared to measured intelligence (more or less) and works both ways; highly intelligent people tend to understate their intelligence and less intelligent people tend to overstate their intelligence.

      All it means is you cannot rely on someone else’s self-reported intelligence (duh). It is as likely to be overstated as it is to be understated. It is not an insult except of course among people who don’t know what it is but think it is an insult.

      As you say, a demonstration.

      • At some point one must differentiate between IQ and knowledgeability.
        We are born with the IQ we have, mostly.
        But one mush acquire a good deal of knowledge to understand how much there really is to know.
        People who are narrowly or improperly or inadequately educated simply never learn enough to have any idea of how much knowledge they lack.

    • Dunning-Kruger Effect has been shown not to work for for the climate debate. Please keep up with science Mr McLeod. In fact, I think the people who delivered this research went so far as to say Dunning-Kruger was a myth. For example, the more I learn about the climate, the more I realize just how wrong alarmists are, and the less alarmists are able to parry facts and explanations I’ve learnt by studying. Previously, when I lazy and ignorant on climate, I accepted the, so-called, consensus viewpoint.

    • I think the Dunning-Kruger explanation was WRONG! Note from the data, not only do less skilled people overestimate their ability, but the more skilled UNDERESTIMATE theirs. I think this is a natural result of sampling error rather than the explanation offered by Dunning-Kruger.
      People good at chess, or softball, or tiddly winks for that matter, will associate with others skilled at those activities for recreation.
      As a result, good chessplayers will be comparing themselves to others who participate at the game, and will tend to underestimate their ability compared to the general public. Conversely, they will overestimate their relative ability at softball since they are unfamiliar with the skilled softball players who have way above average ability, bringing up the average for the population as a whole. Needless to say, those same comparisons work in reverse for the softball players, who underestimate their softball ability and overestimate their chess ability.

      • Alan D McIntire writes “As a result, good chessplayers will be comparing themselves to others who participate at the game, and will tend to underestimate their ability compared to the general public.”

        I believe that is the mechanism of the DK effect; calibrating your self of self based on who you associate with.

  4. The listing itself is subject to the Rumplestiltskin Syndrome, where naming something makes it go away (psychologically, in that no further study of the phenomena is considered necessary).

  5. I’ve said it and I say it again: a climastrologer is the greatest sufferer of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. He thinks he knows more mathematics than a mathematician, more physics than a physicist, more statistics than a statistician, more chaos theory than a chaos theory expert, more computer science than a computer scientist, more biology than a biologist, more economy than an economist. He has to deal with knowledge from all those fields (and many others). Unusually he’s a mere amateur in all of them. Maybe he knows something about a single domain (often he’s a failure in that domain, that’s why he switched to climastrology), in the best cases maybe two of them. But nevertheless, he’s an ‘expert’ in a domain that requires them all.

    I suspect though that psychologists that act as climastrologers are even greater sufferers of that syndrome than climastrologers themselves.

  6. What do you/we call: “Wanting world governance, but need to hide that wish under false-pretences, so we’ll push every fallacious button we can get our hands on, to get there by 2100”?

    Everything else they say/do is BS.

    Your list was damn good, sir! Thanks!

  7. I for one would love this to be re-written… From the view point of a Liberal. I’ll bet a million dollars their view is not congruent with what you have written. Then we could give a fair comparison between the two “world views”.

    Love this list, great job.

  8. It is useful to know the terminology of your enemy.

    Obfuscation by using commonly misunderstood, invented terms is one of the favorite tricks within any group driven by the professionally and financially advantageous, government-sponsored ideology.

    One typical example would be Naum Chomsky, who built his long and profitable academic career on absurd, nebulous, mostly meaningless terminology — and this socialist charlatan is still invited to give his opinion on all subjects imaginable, though even in his area of specialization, linguistics, his theories has been conclusively shown not to hold any water.

    Psychology is one of the most un-scientific areas of the mythical blah-blah regarded as “science” these days. When I see or hear a “psychologist,” I immediately cross to the other side of the street. Note that psychologists’ children are usually the most spoiled, neurotic brats imaginable.

    • Then you probably should cross the street when you read my comments, since my degree is in psychology and social work.

      • I thoroughly enjoyed my sociology class. There is no such thing as crime, only different behaviors that some people don’t like. And yet, the professor and every student in there had very clear and distinct ideas about such things and it was pretty easy to tie them into knots. My favorite memory of that class was combining the sacred cows of gun control and equality (citizens at least being equal to criminals). Students were shouting at me, standing on desks to see over the other students that were standing on their feet. It was like matter-antimatter annihilation.

    • Alexander Feht: Naum [sic] Chomsky…his theories has been conclusively shown not to hold any water.

      Got a reference for that claim?

      • Noam is a variation of the name usually spelled in Russian as Naum.
        Being Russian, I sometimes type in English using Russian spelling, sorry.
        Reference? E. O. Wilson, among thousands of others.

      • Alexander,
        Thank for the lead. I have not been familiar with Dr. Wilson, and it’s not immediately clear to me how his views on socially driven genetic evolution can seriously weaken the evidence for genetically driven universal language development, Personally, I think some of the strongest evidence for that comes from phonological development (as described by Roman Jakobson. See Child Language, Aphasia and Phonological Universals)

        While I agree that Chomsky’s political views have for many years been off the wall, I would not dismiss the impact of Syntactic Structures, or the impressive contents of Chomsky and Halle’s Sound Patterns of English. It is in fact his substantial contribution to the scientific study of language that underscores the point made in the above post: expertise in one subject area guarantees nothing in other subject areas.

      • The central point of Chomsky’s linguistic theories, from the beginning, was an assertion that a human brain contains a certain “language organ,” which makes humans different from all other animals. (Creationist and Socialist religions often overlap in most fundamental ways — if only because both are based on absurd irrational beliefs.)

        This inconvenient and ridiculed term has been re-phrased and re-defined by Chomsky several times; he made it more and more ambiguous, in order to obfuscate the issue and to evade deserved criticism. Now this thingy is called “genetically driven universal language development”?

        And dogs somehow don’t show any “genetically driven language development”? Because barking and tail-wagging are not a “universal language,” perhaps? And yet, dogs and people communicate with each other in very universal ways, all the time. And no one who lived with dogs would deny that dogs learn new ways of communication as they go. Don’t you see, how ridiculous all this empty talk is, and how obvious becomes the reality of our genetic kinship with animals (always hated by the Orthodox Marxists), as soon as you put away thousands of pages filled with nebulous nonsense?

        I don’t need “references” or “authority” to think. It helps sometimes to forget everything you have been told by “professors,” and take a look at the world with open eyes. Your own eyes.

    • Psychology is a science; the problem isn’t with the science itself but with the ethics of *testing* extremely complex self-willed moving targets.

      I use things like Myers-Briggs frequently, did so today to understand why we (me specifically but getting negative vibes from several other employees) are having so much difficulty at work with a newly hired middle manager.

      Understanding why people do what they do helps me cope with difficult people. They remain difficult of course but I can arrange my life to somewhat insulate me from them.

      • Myers-Briggs is not a proper example of “social science”. There are four binary traits, whereas modern social science uses a –/-/0/+/++ scale with normal distribution. The Big Five personality traits has replaced it.

      • Eric Gisin writes: “Myers-Briggs is not a proper example of social science.”

        Sorry, I didn’t realize there was a “no true social science” test.

        “whereas modern social science uses a –/-/0/+/++ scale with normal distribution. The Big Five personality traits has replaced it.”

        I do not find the “Big Five” useful or predictive. Absolute measures of traits are not easily determined by observation, but preferences can be judged by observation. So I determine that my boss is ENTJ which confirms what I was rapidly heading toward, we aren’t going to communicate very well.

        I have further determined that these preferences tend to be self-sustaining and with positive feedback tend to latch-up in these preferences such that humanity tends to cluster on these types without much worry of artificial boundaries on a continuum. The Big 5 is defined as 5 vectors each of which is a continuum.

        As you have seen, people use DK as an epithet or accusation; it is very easy to do the same with Big 5: “You are low on agreeableness!” whereas the MBTI doesn’t have “high/low” vectors and thus is resistant to being used as an epithet. People don’t want to be “low” on anything.

        So, what would the ideal human be like, high on all five values? “openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism”

        Since it is invented by academics, it’s a good bet that the perfect human will be (drum roll) an academic.

  9. A great list – and this is why science was invented!

    Distorting and corrupting the best way we have discovered to get around all these biases that we all share is the true crime in all the Alarmist nonsense.

  10. Playing the Cognitive Game – The Climate Skeptic’s Guide to Cognitive Biases

    Or: How I woke up one day and realized I was heading north when in fact I was heading south.

    • “How I woke up one day and realized I was heading north when in fact I was heading south.”

      That is why compass exists. I’ve done almost that very thing driving at night toward Santa Rosa but was instead heading to San Francisco because the highway had taken a big gradual loop or something like that.

      But keep in mind modern progressive language skills; your north might be my south and you have a right to call it whatever you want. In fact, your north today might be your south tomorrow but still the same direction.

    • “but the fact that the author failed the Dunning Kruger test”

      There is no Dunning Kruger test and it cannot be “failed” (or passed, for that matter). You, personally, can fail to correctly explain things and maybe there’s a name for your behavior.

    • T mcleod ,
      The Dk theory simplified for you.
      Some people are so arrogant that they don”t know that they are arrogant.
      This applies to most of the trolls on this site.
      Full of sound and fury .
      contributing nothing .

  11. Indeed the climate psychologists own data and methods reveal gross bias in the Consensus, to the extent that belief in the certainty of imminent climate calamity (which is the dominant narrative), shows clear cultural characteristics:

    https://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/11/06/wrapped-in-lew-papers-the-psychology-of-climate-psychologization-part1/
    https://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/11/08/wrapped-in-lew-papers-the-psychology-of-climate-psychologization-part2/
    https://wearenarrative.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/wrapped-in-lew-papers-the-psychology-of-climate-psychologization-part3/

  12. A great list and exposition. But it will only confuse all of the great unwashed.
    I propose that if everybody would only listen to me, all of the world’s problems would go away.
    Simple , no?

  13. IKEA effect.

    I always thought the IKEA effect in CAGW was related to modelling the earth as a ball suspended in a warm fluid. Like meatballs in sauce.

  14. When CAGW alarmists can’t refute a scientific argument, they typically resort to name-calling or bias-calling. Dunning-Kruger is a favourite because it identifies the opponent as stupid while somehow suggesting that the user of the term is superior.
    tony mcleod please note. In future it would be better to try a real explanation rather than name- or bias-calling. It’s harder than it looks, but a good discipline.

    • +20

      My favorite sport is watching someone who is oblivious to their own biases attempt to correct the biases they THINK others have. I call it Pious Bias. :)

      • And my favourite sport is to obseved those who think they don’t have any.

        I understand irony can be lost in tranmission to some parts of North America, but the fact that the author failed the Dunning Kruger test — as part of his definition of it… was,,, well pretty ironic, don’t ya think?

      • Tony,
        I think you missed this:

        “In so doing, I hope to demonstrate how easy it is to conjecture upon a group’s psychological state and how easy it is to turn the tables and place the advocates of the Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) hypothesis under scrutiny. The result may be so much psychological flimflam but I consider it no less worthy than the dubious speculation emanating from the supposed experts and the IPCC.”

        He ADMITS to conjecture, psychological flim flam, and dubious speculation before he even started. (And yes, I emphasized that word with caps instead of italics just because it annoys you so much.)

        In stating this:
        “And my favourite sport is to obseved those who think they don’t have any.”
        You demonstrate a confidence in being “highly skilled” in something not humanly possible…the ability to read minds. You cannot read my mind, or the author’s, so it is illogical and biased to state or insinuate or presume to know what we think.

        But carry on. I enjoy watching someone use all kinds of cognitive biases and flawed reasoning to lecture someone else on biases and flawed thinking.

        *disclaimer…i admit to having all kinds of biases. I just try not to engage them whenever possible. I appreciate when people point out that I might be engaging them, and examine my words and correct or clarify them if necessary*

      • Sorry for being late to my own party, but I have only just woken up.

        Aphan, I must thank you for pointing out the disclaimers I placed at the head of the article. They are important because the general point I am trying to make is that it is too easy to form psychological theories regarding people’s views on climate science, and I am concerned that such theories invariably place climate scepticism in a bad light. If my understanding of cognitive biases is correct, they are the result of mental heuristics that we all employ (they probably provide an evolutionary advantage). Given their universality, I thought it would be amusing to speculate how cognitive bias is being employed in the service of CAGW advocacy. That said, I hope that much of what I have written is speculation that is worthy of consideration.

        On the subject of the Dunning-Kruger effect, I was of course being flippant by using the term ‘stupid’. It is really a matter of skills held and how they bear upon self-awareness. Some people are unskilled and unaware of it (unconscious incompetence, if you will) whilst others are skilled and unaware (unconscious competence). My point is that the two can co-exist in the same individual (even experts have unknown unknowns to deal with no matter how much they personally benefit from unconscious competence). In that respect, one might say we are all candidates for the Dunning-Kruger effect, including, of course, yours truly. I think this recognition renders Tony’s trolling a little redundant.

    • McLeod shows all the signs of being nothing more than a troll. Whether he is paid or not is another question. Preach to him about providing real or even thoughtful explanations as you wish he/ they are not going to change their view. They have no real view they are here only to take up space and make others angry. I was commenting on several similar political blogs a couple of years ago. I happened to go to all of them the same night on the same subject. There was an obvious troll, saying exactly, word for word the same thing on all of them, however they were using a different name on each. Two of the sites tracked them down. Paid small group of people sitting together with cookbook comments. Remember in the world of radical socialism there is a group, well funded, that calls itself, “By Any Means Necessary.” The radical socialists really do believe that. They don’t give a rat’s hind end about CAGW and the science, they only want to change the world and will use any rallying issue out and about.

      • Oh Edwin don’t let my teasing of ParrotG55 colour your view of me.
        Tell me more about getting a job as a paid troll. Where do I apply?

  15. Motte and bailey (MAB) is a combination of bait-and-switch and equivocation in which someone switches between a “motte” (an easy-to-defend and often common-sense statement, such as “culture shapes our experiences”) and a “bailey” (a hard-to-defend and more controversial statement, such as “cultural knowledge is just as valid as scientific knowledge”) in order to defend a viewpoint. Someone will argue the easy-to-defend position (motte) temporarily, to ward off critics, while the less-defensible position (bailey) remains the desired belief, yet is never actually defended.

    In short: instead of defending a weak position (the “bailey”), the arguer retreats to a strong position (the “motte”), while acting as though the positions are equivalent. When the motte has been accepted (or found impenetrable) by an opponent, the arguer continues to believe (and perhaps promote) the bailey.
    Note that the MAB works only if the motte and the bailey are sufficiently similar (at least superficially) that one can switch between them while pretending that they are equivalent.

    https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Motte_and_bailey

    • This is the entire rationale of CAGW. The motte is the reasonable argument that human CO2 emissions might cause a bit of warming. The bailey is the belief that the end result will be catastrophic.

  16. You can stay in the defensive mode too long. There comes a time to go on the offensive. Great list!

  17. When I see such ‘studies’ I like to reference these 2 papers.

    https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00409/full
    https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00406/full

    Note the authors are not particulary pro-sceptics – they call them Conspiracists – personally I think they should have gone for Contrarians.

    Note also neither of these were ‘surveys’ which can be biased in any number of ways as we saw with Lewandowsky’s trash. In the first one, the subjects never knew their posts would be used and in the second they used narrative as a tool.

    Note the first one talks about the hostility of the Conventionalists and that’s AFTER they removed all posts containing only insult and invective.

    The Conspiracists come out looking pretty sane and relatively calm.

    The Conventionalists… not so much.

  18. Ha ha, and here’s sky ‘news’ telling us that there are now more poley bears around, and that’s because of nasty CAGW ™ of course!
    https://news.sky.com/story/dozens-of-polar-bears-pictured-eating-whale-carcass-on-russian-island-11140075

    He said the number of bears seen this autumn was 589, far more than previous estimates of 200-300, and he called the latest figure “anomalously high”.

    Given that the article is about the fact that they are all snacking on a huge whale carcass, wouldn’t that more likely to be the reason they are there?

    Cognitive bias in action!

    • Perhaps our resident poley bear expert can tell us all about this “anomalously high” number of poley bears?

      Griff? Is Griff in the house?

      /sarc

  19. But wait, there’s more!
    http://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/California-birds-nesting-earlier-to-try-to-12379156.php

    Apparently birds in California are breeding earlier to “try to survive Global Warming ™ .” I kid you not.

    A new study finds some species of California birds are nesting earlier in an attempt to adapt to global warming.

    So, no chance they get frisky when the temperature is right, giving their chicks more time to grow before the winter and a better chance of survival, then? Nooooo, eeeevil Global Warming ™ is forcing them to breed early to ‘escape’ the eeeevil warmth.

    More cognitive bias?

    • ” “In some sense, if we say, ‘Oh yeah, no problem, animals will be able to compensate for this,’ it may give us a false sense of hope,” Beever said.”

      Whereas, pretending you don’t believe these bird species have survived many episodes of “climate change” in the past, will give climate alarm skeptics another easy way to demonstrate to others, why being skeptical is prolly the best way to survive the “crisis” ; )

  20. Have not yet read whole guest post,or comments. Just had to interject as just got back from hospitsl where significant other will spend the night tonight on Thanksgiving.
    I took a one semester Harvard Law School course on negotiation [common in mediation and arbitration] and accompanied all my corporate direct reports on a 3 day extracuricular short version offered by HLS to the ‘public’. That I then deemed mandatory, since they could not comprehend or execute as I desired.
    Anchoring and framing were the first two techniques taught at the HLS shoet course, because so important. . Bravo.

  21. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who squirmed with embarrassment when Stephen Hawking put his foot in it recently, with his appalling ‘Earth will be a blazing fireball due to Anthropogenic CO2’ SNAFU. Jesus wept, how the mighty have fallen, eh..? }:o(

      • somebody else coined the malapropism and i adopted it cuz i thought it clever.
        in this instance, it is also cruelly irreverent mockery of his physical condition.
        i’m allowed to mock cruelly cuz my medical excuse — mythical autism – which is characterized by peer reviewed apologetics and victimhood when the meat of the matter is really that idgaf.

  22. I suspect many people have been entering earth sciences because they have been indoctrinated with the belief that humans are destroying the planet with industrial activity, and so the hope to become saviors of the world…in their own little way. learn is interpreted in a manner that verifies their premise.

    • It is the “I am good” bias. Label something good, you have that trait. Label something bad, you don’t have that trait. It’s all in the labeling (framing).

      If I accuse you in a sharp tone of voice that you have a nose on your face, your instinct is going to be to deny it.

      • My instinct would be to wonder why you felt the need to state an obvious fact in a sharp tone of voice.

        The more credible information one has about a given topic/issue, the more the framing effect is reduced or often eliminated.

      • Aphan “My instinct would be to wonder why you felt the need to state an obvious fact in a sharp tone of voice.”

        It’s a non-sequitur, a juxtaposition of two things that usually would never co-exist; namely, a sense of shock and astonishment combined with the ordinary. It is perceived as amusing.

        Its common with the INTP personality type and probably exists to break through scripts and barriers; a probe to sneak past your guards and the reflection (your response) reveals what is possibly some true aspect of the other person. A well adjusted person (IMO) won’t react because he doesn’t care whether he has a nose on his face. So what? But a suspicous person, doubting himself in any way, will do as you suggest: he will wonder why I felt the need, and this seed is planted in your mind garden and feeds on whatever is there and then pops out revealing what is in there.

        It’s all very instinctive of course but in my opinion that’s what it is about.

      • INFJ

        You stated:
        “If I accuse you in a sharp tone of voice that you have a nose on your face, your instinct is going to be to deny it.”

        That’s very different from “It is perceived as amusing.”

        My reaction was not suspicion based on self doubt, but curiosity/suspicion about what motivated YOU to juxtapose two things that usually never co-exist. Curious but ultimately unconcerned, it really doesn’t matter..

      • Aphan writes “That’s very different from ‘It is perceived as amusing.’ “

        Indeed it is. I had been earlier studying the conflict potential between INTP and ENTJ (I am in such conflict and i don’t even work for the guy but his drive to command is so strong it spews everywhere). INTP’s develop strategies for dealing with conflict; the “non-sequitur” being apparently one of them. I had not considered it in that light but having it pointed out I can see that it is so.

        It seems to be a distracting technique, “Look, a bird!” or “squirrel!” and is extremely effective when someone has gone down a rabbit hole of their own making. The abruptness of the transition also effectively reduces the fight-or-flight tension.

        “My reaction was not suspicion based on self doubt, but curiosity/suspicion about what motivated YOU to juxtapose two things that usually never co-exist.”

        I wonder also why it is; my daughter has the same odd sense of humor and finds some thing hilarious that other people merely find puzzling; because you aren’t *supposed* to find meaning in such utterances.

      • By the way, INTP humor doesn’t work on ENTJ’s. Invoking squirrel or bird *might* produce a 100 millisecond glance but probably not.

        There’s a t-shirt with some math symbols on it: square root of minus 1, 2 cubed, summation symbol and the Greek letter “pi”, followed by “- and it was delicious!”

        i, eight (ate), sum (some), pi (pie); and it was delicious.

  23. John — I really enjoyed scanning through your article (didn’t have time to read the entire thing). I’m probably going to copy it into a text document, so I don’t forget about it. I can personally identify some of these biases in myself (sorry, I’m not perfect — and my loving wife reminds me of that every day), even though I’m a climate skeptic (or basically I don’t thing things are as dire as they say they are). I take it you are a climate skeptic — but I wonder if you can expand upon your view on CAGW — this is not a trick question, and I’m not trying to put you on the spot — I’m just curious, and I can understand if you don’t reply.

    • Littlepeaks,

      I am troubled by the possibility of CAGW and I am unprepared to rule it out. Nevertheless, I remain sceptical because, as I say in the article, climatology is a highly politicised science attempting to make highly problematic predictions far into the future. The checks and balances normally associated with the scientific method are often absent in climatology and whenever I look for reasons for rational doubt, I find them. But my main concern is not the science but what seems to be happening in our society, in which reasonable scepticism is habitually re-characterised as pathological thinking that cannot and will not be tolerated. I think professional psychologists are jumping on this bandwagon, and I would have thought they should know better. Hence this article.

      Sometimes in the article I have adopted the voice of the CAGW proponent to help me make my case. I hope this didn’t lead to any confusion. I am on the sceptics’ side.

      Hope this helps,

      John

      • Please note Tony M’s denigration of some parts of North America. The Deplorables meme is strong in “climate science” and leftist thought in general.

      • Dave,

        “He who takes offense when no offense is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense is intended is a greater fool.”

      • Jumping incorrect conclusion there Dave.
        There is a feeling amongst many non-American English speakers than Americans don’t have a very well developed sense of irony.

  24. Another cognitive bias could be given the name: “David Attenborough’s dead whale” illusion.
    In the much acclaimed BBC’s “Blue Planet 2” series narrated by David Attenborough, a female pilot whale is emotively filmed carrying around it’s stillborn infant. “It’s dead”, DA informs us. Well – we can’t argue with that part.

    But the description of the dead infant is embedded in a discussion of the problem of plastic pollution in the sea, and the clear impression is given that plastic pollution killed the infant through contaminated milk. (Although if it was stillborn, it would not have drunk any milk.) Zero evidence was given for any link between plastic and this dead infant pilot whale. The BBC appear to think that the suave and authoritative voice of Sir David alone is more than enough evidence for the truth of such an implied causative link.

    Media reaction to this dead whale scene indicates that the beeb went too far this time in it’s politically motivated abandonment of scientific rigour. In an interview with the Blue Planet team, on the subject of “how do we know the whale infant died from plastic”, the reply was purely emotional – “we couldn’t take a sample of the dead infant’s tissue because that would disrespect the grieving mother”. Who could argue with that?

    https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/4963045/bbc-blue-planet-baby-whale-death-scene-faked-claims-professor/

    https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/no-evidence-the-dead-baby-whale-featured-in-marine-pollution-section-on-blue-planet-ii-died-from-a3698956.html

    In fact, the most likely cause of natural stillbirths in all animals, is genetic:

    http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(11)61416-5/fulltext

    Every sexually reproduced new animal is a genetic role of the dice, as needed for evolutionary variation and also evasion of parasitism. With each role of the dice there is a significant chance that your random chiasmata crosslinking genes in a new and unique way will cut across a highly conserved and essential gene system, resulting in a non viable offspring. That’s why almost every family with more than 2 or 3 children has likely had a miscarriage (ours is no exception).

    The implied link of the dead pilot whale infant with plastic is pure wishful thinking – plastic junk science.

    Plastic in the sea is a real problem, much more so than CO2 in the atmosphere or ocean.

    But DA and the BBC have prostituted and devalued themselves by peddling this emotive mis-information to lend support to the plastic-in-the-sea bandwagon.

    • So basically Mother Nature killed the infant? Yet another thing to add to her long list of crimes. When will people wake up and demand stop to these injustices?

  25. Lew, Cook et al willingness to elaborate an average global skeptic psychoanalysis makes them even less trustworthy than CACA scientists. If I want a weather forecast or psychoanalysis nowadays, it’s enough to step in a barber’s shop.

    Whether CACA conjecture is true or not, I disagree with the establishment of a world government digging my purse to force my will and call me names for non-compliance. At this stage, I’m willing to obstruct CACA policies with all means possible within the rule of law. And with each passing day CACA raises the bar for the latter and, paradoxically, lowers compliance motivation.

  26. Excellent article. Just excellent.

    The big problem is that there is way too much substance there to absorb in one reading.

    However, if I had to sum up the problems at both ends of the “climate spectrum” in one short sentence. I’d say the problem is intellectual laziness — failure to do one’s homework. A non-climate related example — Paul Krugman whines occasionally about not having a flying car in his driveway. Krugman isn’t stupid. But he’s lazy. If he spent 20 hours doing some research he’d know why he doesn’t have a flying car. (Basically it’s a combination of technical difficulty, difficulty of control, need for meticulous maintenance, insurance cost, safety (broken cars STOP, broken aircraft DROP), and security concerns.) I’m not sure how that fits into a cognitive bias framework.

  27. This is my own experience with AGW: When the Hockey Stick came out, and predictions were made regarding increased storm activity due to the heating of the atmosphere (using the example of heating water in a pan creates more and faster movement of the water), I pretty much accepted it on authority. My degree is in Geology, so I was willing to grant the ground to the climatologists who weren’t quite calling for Earth turning into Venus yet (or at least that I’d heard).

    Then the Phil Jones refusal happened, and that pushed the issue for me down from climatology to science in general. How could a scientist refuse to share data that would support his position? I could see doing so pre-publication, but once the paper or opinion was out there, I would have said “Here’s my data. Look at it and marvel at my methods and conclusions. You will immediately see the light and understand what is at stake.”

    Instead, he said no, I’ve spent 25 years on this and all you’ll do is try to find something wrong with it.

    I can’t begin to describe the alarm bells that went off in my head when I read about that. Einstein made the famous remark that it only took one experiment to prove him wrong, and here was Jones denying the possibility of that one ever occurring. Even if all the requester wanted was to “find something wrong with it,” if Jones were right, then no one would be able to find anything wrong with it.

    Then the Climategate emails came out and pretty much showed the deception and back-room dealings that prevented alternate viewpoints from being published, in favor of The Team’s perspective.

    So I wonder: which bias did I demonstrate in my evolution of opinion? Authority bias at first probably, but after that? I didn’t see “Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus” listed.

  28. To all those hard working psychologists let me introduce Occam’s Razor

    If you have an issue that divides the population into two reasonably large groups, it is far more likely that the difference in opinion is based on real issues and not the fact that one group is crazy.

    Here is an added bonus. Logic > Data > Science.

    When do I get my PhD for this work?

      • And one group is paid to have a particular opinion. Paid, as in jobs, tenure, grants, travel, recognition, political sinecures, lucrative government contracts, green subsidies, etc.

      • Dave,

        I was going to ask him for empirical evidence to support the “miniscule” statement, but since there isnt any, he might bring up the so called “consensus” papers and demonstrate that he is truly mentally handicapped rather than just a mediocre troll. And making fun of the handicapped is wrong.

        :)

      • Miniscule and minute: the number of active scientist publishing basic research into atmoshperic, climatic and oceanic systems who don’t think humans have dramatically altered the world’s climate, almost certainly for the worse.
        Negligible.

      • Tony mcleod “Miniscule and minute: the number of active scientist publishing basic research…”

        Apparently there’s about 70,000 “climate scientists” that are apparently publishing not-basic research. To get into that club you must first adhere to the club rules.

        All it takes is one child to declare the emperor has no clothes.

      • Tony, your “… humans have dramatically altered the world’s climate, almost certainly for the worse.” goes far beyond the purported questions asked of “practicing” “scientists.” The questions amounted to ‘is there AGW?’ Of the sample arbitrarily selected, the answer was ‘yes.’

        The totality of the minor warming, whether natural or AGW, during the late 20th Century and early 21st Century has not “dramatically altered the world’s climate” by any metric. Dr. Roger Pielke, Jr., among many others, have demonstrated that none of the metrics of bad weather phenomena have worsened over at least the last century.

        Any supposed scientist, politician or bureaucrat screeching that weather metrics are significantly worsening is either willfully ignorant, a fool or lying. Even the politicized IPCC admits there is no attribution possible.

        Oh, and the minor warming and CO2 fertilization have been a boon to man’s overall wellbeing. Food crops, anyone?

  29. The cognitive bias mentioned in the first paragraph wasn’t explicitly mentioned. This one is Pathological Projection which seems to be the glue that binds CAGW’ers to their cognitive biases.

  30. Good article, in general, but a bit long. Many of the buckets seem to just slightly restate others. Maybe a container class could be defined for similar ones, with the variations as corollaries to tighten it up and make it more readable? It might also be interesting to consider various well-known logical fallacies, and use those as an organizing principle. In climate science there are some real doozies, such as appeals to authority, creating and then attacking a straw man, confusing correlation with causation, cultish group think, etc.

    From there, its easy to describe and discredit the types of people who use these fallacies to persuade. And secondarily, it’s easier also to see which populations these particular fallacious arguments are persuading or attracting, such as, for example, NPR or BBC or Graun reader/viewers.

    Of course, this would be a biased exercise, conceived in self-righteousness, intended to educate, correct and persuade people who believe in stupid crap like humans beings will warm the planet to Venusian levels by emitting CO2, simply because they’re highly susceptible to sophistry and logical fallacies.

  31. it’s pretty simple.

    The movement is designed to be appealing to one tribe, the one that won the cultural war, dominates media and academia.

    It’s largely driven by emotion and feels. Something the progressive left is steeped in

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