Lewandowsky & Cook: Official UN Misinformation Experts

UNESCO, whIch is the education, science and cultural arm of the UN, has put out a document aimed at countering misinformation and conspiracy theories. It’s a series of factsheets titled” “ThinkBeforeSharing – Stop the spread of conspiracy theories.” and it opens thus:

The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a worrying rise in disinformation and conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories can be dangerous: they often target and discriminate against vulnerable groups, ignore scientific evidence and polarize society with serious consequences. This needs to stop.

The idea of “stopping the spread” of conspiracy theories is obviously taken directly from the treatment of viral infections, and the metaphor is extended throughout the document. The advice is basically to stick a mask over your mind and wash your brain thoroughly if it comes in contact with an idea.

A new campaign helps you learn how to identify, debunk, react to and report on conspiracy theories to prevent their spread… This UNESCO campaign is implemented jointly with the European Commission, Twitter and the World Jewish Congress.

The campaign consists of 10 infographics and 10 “stamps,” which is UNESCO-speak for posters of the kind you see at the doctor’s warning about coughs & sneezes & venereal diseases.  And at the bottom of each infographic is the following:

With thanks to Michael Butter, co-author of the COMPACT Guide to Conspiracy Theories, and John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky, authors of The Debunking Handbook and The Conspiracy Theory Handbook. 

Cook & Lewandowsky we know. Though their Debunking and Conspiracy Theory handbooks are stuffed full of references to climate denialists and their conspiracy theories, none of this appears in the UNESCO documents. Cook & Lewandowsky’s first published paper on conspiracy theorizing & misinformation was so full of it that it had to be retracted, officially because it failed to “protect the rights of subjects” or some such, in fact because it was a load of defamatory garbage. Their third paper was a rewrite of the first, with the added (surely unique) feature, that, in order to avoid charges of defaming their ”subjects,” they simply made up the quotes themselves. 

These two papers were responses to criticism, not to say rolling-about-wetting the-carpet-with-tears-of-laughter derision, which greeted Lewandowsky’s first paper on conspiracy theorizing (though the second to be published) the famous “NASA Faked the Moon Landing…”

This paper had a long, (and unjustly overlooked) introduction on the academic literature on conspiracy theorizing, which at the time of his research (2010) was extremely sparse, so sparse that the bibliography is filled out with a bewildering variety of papers on e.g. the views of homophobic men who have sex with other men in South Africa, and a study of anti-Semitism in Malaysia which concludes that there is little anti-Semitism in Malaysia because there are no Jews. From this literature Lewandowsky derived an analysis of conspiracy theorizing which he has used in subsequent publications like the Debunking Handbook and The Conspiracy Theory Handbook, which form the basis of the UNESCO study.           

Less is known of Michael Butter, though I mentioned him herehttps://cliscep.com/2019/03/08/the-great-climate-conspiracy-theory-conspiracy-theory/  From his bio at the University of Tübingen, where he is professor American Literary and Cultural History, we learn :

 Michael Butter’s research interests include conspiracy theories and populism, the colonial period and the Early Republic, popular culture, the poetics of contemporary TV shows, the construction of heroes and their cultural functions, and American culture after 9/11. From 2016 to 2020, he was Vice Chair of the COST Action “Comparative Analysis of Conspiracy Theories.” Since April 2020, he has been Principal Investigator of the ERC-funded project “Populism and Conspiracy Theory.” .. he… serves on the advisory board of veritas, which offers counseling for people affected by conspiracy theory..

COST, as you can see, is an EU financed programme, and Michael Butter’s last contribution as vice chair, as far as I know, is this Final Achievement Report, which can be found by clicking on Final Achievement Report here .

What has all this to do with Climate? Nothing. COST doesn’t get into details on individual conspiracy theories, but stays strangely abstract, as here, where they discuss their success in attaining the following objective:

The Action aims at equipping the major stakeholders with robust knowledge and strategies to understand and counter accusations of conspiracy directed against them or others. It thus will reach out and collaborate with scientists, politicians, journalists, NGOs and educators

You read that right. One of COST’s aims is countering accusations of conspiracy against themselves, or against politicians, journalists, NGOs etc.

They award themselves 76-100% success on this objective. Why?

The Action successfully organized a stakeholder workshop which took place in Brussels in January 2017 to learn about stakeholders’ needs and interests. In addition, at each WG meeting or action conference, there has been at least one panel dealing with the practical implications of believing in conspiracy theories and trying to counteract them. At the Turin meeting the focus was on vaccination; at the Bilderberg meeting it was on security issues. 

So that’s COST. They hold meetings, and produce a report that awards themselves achievement points, depending on how many meetings they’ve held.

Meetings at which they listen to politicians, journalists, NGOs etc. explain how they need to be protected from accusations by conspiracy theorists. 

Our UNESCO document also recommends Michael Butter’s  “COMPACT Guide to Conspiracy Theories” which can be found here, which I’m looking forward to reading the day I’m locked in an isolation cell for the crime of spreading disinformation and accusations of conspiracy about politicians, journalists, NGOs etc.

The UNESCO documents are in the form of visuals which can’t be searched or copy/pasted, and I can’t be bothered to type out any more of the wisdom of the learned academics, so you’ll have to explore it on your own. And the day they knock on your door asking: “Who told you that?” please forget that you read it here first.

via Climate Scepticism


August 25, 2022 at 07:56AM

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