D’Ye Ken Dan Kahan

I do love it when I change my mind. It’s nature’s way of demonstrating that I am not a robot. 

One thing I’ve changed my mind about is the way the media report subjects like climate change and the Virus. In the past I praised the British way, of giving each side a fair innings and banking on the keen eyesight of the umpires to ensure fair play; and denigrated the French way, where power speaks truth to an obedient media, and the job of the journalist is to take notes and express the view of the metropolitan élite in elegant French.

How wrong I was! The rules of Ofcom on criticism of official government policy, ably abetted by the censorship policies of oligarchs in the ex-colony across the water, have reinstalled the traditional English view of Political Truth – that what Our Sovereign Charles the First (or Third) says, goes. 

Some of us have been taken to task for describing this situation as (quasi- crypto- or proto-) fascist. Say what you like about Hitler, but at least (unlike Charles I) he never put the heads of his political opponents on a pike.

In France, on the other hand, the reporting of events on the ground is left to the poor stringer for Agence France Presse, while the professional journalist polishes his phrases for his next opinion piece in the TV studio while simultaneously debating anything the TV presenter throws at him. All he needs to know in order to play this game is which minister the TV presenter is the mistress of.

However: however much the millionaire owners of three of France’s 24-hour news channels, and the government, which owns two more (France Info and France 24) control the news narrative, all anarchy tends to break out on the panel discussions which fill nine tenths of the air time. The French are therefore singularly ill-informed by a mendacious government and a servile media – but they get a variety of opinions, and they therefore know how ill-informed they are.

Another subject I’ve changed my mind about is Dan Kahan. I’ve shared the respect expressed for him by Andy West and others because of his findings, widely commented on, that knowledge about climate matters doesn’t imply agreement with the official view. Dan reports these things, which are not good news for the social science wing of the climate science movement, and allows full discussion on his blog. Or allowed, because the blog was discontinued in 2018.

The blog is still worth a visit though, for the comments among other things. For example, in discussing a paper by Lewandowsky et al.  Kahan heaped praise on a paper by Wood et al which claimed that conspiracy theorists are out with Alice in Wonderland in believing contradictory things; which enabled Lewandowsky to claim that climate sceptics are irrational, naming Steve McIntyre, Anthony Watts and Joanne Nova as climate loonies. When you claim that the most prominent opponents of the ideas you are promoting are thick as shit, you need to be able to back up your claim, which is why Lewandowsky was ill-advised to make it, and why we would be fully justified in returning the compliment. (Though Lewandowsky is clearly not thick, but simply a liar and a charlatan and, as a media-appointed expert on misinformation, a threat to free speech and the working of democracy.) 

Paul Matthews pointed out in a comment that the Wood paper had been refuted by Steve McIntyre, and Barry Woods and Brandon Schollenberger joined in. Dan Kahan replied civilly to each commenter and promised to look into their comments. Since Barry had referred him to blog articles by José Duarte branding Lewandowsky’s work a fraudulent, Dan Kahan must have been left with a singular impression of the hornet’s hole or rabbit nest he’d stumbled into.

In a previous article in praise of Lewandowsky’s “real cool paper” Dan praised “an excellent paper” by Adam Corner, Lorraine Whitmarsh, & Dimitrios Xenias. It so happens that I may be the only person in the world who has read the background material to this paper, and it is time to reveal to the world what counts as “an excellent paper” in social science in the opinion of an honest scientist like Dan.

Back in 2012 I had been involved in a debate with Guardian journalist, psychology lecturer and climate activist Adam Corner,which received a fair degree of publicity at Climate etc. and Bishop Hill, of which (unfortunately) I was blissfully unaware. During the debateAdam mentioned his paper, and kindly provided me with the background information. The subject of the paper was a survey of opinions on climate change before and after respondents were exposed to newspapers articles on the subject from the pro-warmist and sceptical points of view. 

This was the first time since my first year psychology course at University College London nearly fifty years previously that I had read a social science paper, and I wasn’t impressed. I kept my opinions to myself, out of respect for Adam, who had been correct in our many email exchanges. 

But, no, really.

It was crap. 

The survey respondents were nearly 200, 90% of whom were female, with an average age of 18 and a half. In other words, they were first year students in the psychology department of Cardiff University. (psychology is a common choice of subject for nurses.) 

It’s a peculiarity of psychological research that it doesn’t matter who you interview. If you’re exploring attitudes to dog food, orreasons for voting for Trump, you try to reach a representative sample of the public. But if you’re exploring the profoundworkings of the human psyche, any old (or young)respondent will do. They may all be inmates of the same loony bin for all your peer reviewed journal cares. Think of the peer reviewed papers that Freud could have got “into the literature” in these circumstances. He could have been a scientist.

In the Corner paper informants were presented with two of four newspaper articles pro- or anti- the official global warming discourse. There were threeproblems with this:

The articles were false, having been written by Adam Corner and his co-authors. Corner is a climate activist, a candidate for election on the Green Party ticket, photographed on a demo in a fetching wig and blue face paint. When not in drag, he’s a fit-looking young lecturer at Cardiff University, presumably well-known to his eighteen-and-a-half-year-old female students and respondents.

The articles were tendentious. Is it normal for social scientists to make up the material to test the acceptability of opinions with which they disagree? Lewandowsky made up the quotes of respondents on which he based a paper proving that these respondents were irrational and paranoid, but that’s not the same. Inventing the responses is not the same as inventing the prompt material for a scientific experiment. The only similarity is that both are considered acceptable procedures in the peer reviewed literature in the social sciences.

In order to obviate political bias, the articles were (falsely) attributed, not to left or right-leaning journals like the Guardian or Telegraph, but to the Irish Times and the Scotsman.

In Wales. 

By an Englishman.

They play rugby in Cardiff. Against England, Ireland and Scotland. Would-be nurses know that. Climate activists – maybe not.

Adam also provided me with a breakdown of opinions on climate change by political allegiance which revealed that the most climate sceptical were – voters for the Green Party. OK, there were only thirteen of them, but it’s an interesting finding, not reported by Corner. Lewandowsky published a headline claim based on a far smaller sample, in a notorious paper which was revealed to the world by Adam Corner in a scoop in the Guardian,which was repeated far and wide, including by President Obama. Lewandowsky’s headline claim that climate sceptics are nut jobs was revealed to be a pile of shit and was nonetheless defended by its publisher Psychological Science even after Lewandowsky’s defensive post-pre-published paper paper was retracted despite the entreaties of Lewandowsky’s lawyers.

This is science? I’ll raise the question at Kahan’s excellent, though dormant, blog. And I’ll publish Corner’s false articles at the Scotsman and the Irish Times if I can find them. The future of the planet is in the balance, after all.

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February 4, 2021 at 10:27PM

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