Lewandowsky is notorious within Skeptic circles. Unlike others who naivety end up insulting skeptics, Lewandowsky’s attacks are different. Because unlike others who end up attacking skeptics through ignorance, Lewandowsky’s attacks appear to be directed or motivated in a calculated manner distorting the evidence to damage skeptics. Why?
Addendum: Since this article was originally written it appears some chemical weapons were present in Iraq. “The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons. This has led to discussion as to whether this vindicates Bush: Do Reports of WMD Found in Iraq Vindicate George W. Bush?. I’ve not been aware of this and obviously this might vindicate Bush about chemical weapons.
Because Lewandowsky’s behaviour is unusual and without any clear motive, I started reviewing Lewandowsky’s previous work to see if I could understand what made him tick and what might have caused him to behave this way. I now believe I have found the answer and the answer appears to be one of the most despicable acts we skeptics have seen. The evidence strongly suggests that Lewandowsky’s attack on skeptics were not a mistake. Instead it was part of a cynical campaign of attacks using morally reprehensible tactics which he himself condemned.
In the past article I showed how Lewandowsky’s own evidence showed that skeptics based their views on the evidence. His work showed almost no change in predicted outcome when skeptics were told a graph was global temperature compared to when the same graph was said to be stock market shares. In contrast those believing in global warming almost doubled their predicted outcome when told the graph showed global warming.
Whilst this shows “believers” are easily misled, the important point is that it shows skeptics are very difficult to mislead because we interpret the data dispassionately and drew the same conclusion irrespective of what we might “want” the data to show.
After more research, I now believe that rather than failing to spot this obvious and very positive conclusion for skeptics, Lewandowsky actually knew & understood it but chose to hide it. He intentially hid the fact that skeptics based their views on the evidence and that no amount of “communication” or “concensus” would affect skeptics views unless & until the evidence supported it.
It now appears his motivation for attacking skeptics was the increasing acceptance by the academic community of the skeptic view regarding “the pause” and his realisation that the evidence was increasingly supporting the skeptic viewpoint against catastrophism.
As such it appears he chose to mimic the tactics that he himself condemned of Bush and Blair on WMD and tell outright lies knowing that even if those he lied about could force him to retract (as we have), the damage would be done because his research showed that the public only remembered the lies.
My interest in Lewandowsky started with some academic research into the visual interpretation of data. The questions were these: how do people estimate a trend or curve from a scatter plot of data? How accurately does this trend or curve represent the actual data and can learning affect the accuracy and reliability?
I came across the first paper, written some time ago by the title “Discriminating Strata in Scatter plots”. At this time Lewandowsky appears to be a genuine researcher. In this paper he examined the effect of the symbol type used to display a graph on people’s perception of the graph. However this was part of a broader context whereby as the paper says:
Statistical graphs have been in use for some two centuries, originating with the work of Playfair (1786). Despite this long history and the ubiquity of graphs, little is known about how people perceive and process statistical graphs and numerous appeals for more empirical investigationts have been made. This article addresses one aspect of the perception of statistical graphs, namely the discrimination of multiple strata in scatterplots. In two behavioral experiments, we examine the roles of two major determinants of perceptual performance: symbol type and the expertise of the observer.
This article showed that experts tend to be better at reading graphs and that symbol type does make a significant difference. So, on the face of it, this was very useful research and it was cited in other papers and books such as “Graph design for the eye and mind” and “the Cambridge book of visualspatial thinking”. Whilst the paper had nothing to do with global warming, in retrospect, it is clear this work into interpreting graphs was the inspiration for his first paper attacking skeptics on climate. It also shows he was well aware the problems of interpreting graphs and rules out naivety as a possible explanation for what happened later.
Lewandowsky then continued a fairly mundane academic career working on “Category Learning” which refers to people’s ability to learn to classify objects into different categories; for example, as children we learn to differentiate between furry things that are dogs and other furry things that are cats, knowledge partitioning and memory … so pretty typical academic work. But it was his work on “Knowledge partitioning” which seems to have been instrumental to later events as he came to believe that:
“knowledge may be held in separate, non-integrated parcels. These parcels may contain contradictory information and may be used without reference to other parcels, which can result in contradictory decision making. This has been shown to be the case in various function learning and categorization paradigms.”
The Politicisation of Lewandowsky’s work
The first indication that Lewandowsky’s work is becoming politicized comes in 2005 with a paper on the Iraq war:
Lewandowsky, Memory for fact, fiction and misinformation: The Iraq war 2003. (2005)
Media coverage of the 2003 Iraq War frequently contained corrections and retractions of earlier information. For example, claims that Iraqi forces executed coalition prisoners of war after they surrendered were retracted the day after the claims were made. Similarly, tentative initial reports about the discovery of weapons of mass destruction were all later disconfirmed. We investigated the effects of these retractions and disconfirmations on people’s memory for and beliefs about war-related events in two coalition countries (Australia and the United States) and one country that opposed the war (Germany). Participants were queried about (a) true events, (b) events initially presented as fact but subsequently retracted, and (c) fictional events. Participants in the United States did not show sensitivity to the correction of misinformation, whereas participants in Australia and Germany discounted corrected misinformation. Our results are consistent with previous findings in that the differences between samples reflect greater suspicion about the motives underlying the war among people in Australia and Germany than among people in the United States.
Then, there is an (unexplained) two year gap in output during which Lewandowsky appears to produce no work at all until 2008 when he produces another very similar and arguably even more overtly political paper:
Misinformation and the ‘war on terror’: When memory turns fiction into fact (2008)
“Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction”; “we know where they are.” These statements, made in 2002 and 2003 by the US Vice President, Dick Cheney, and the US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, respectively, turned out to have no basis in fact when the post-invasion search for weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq failed to turn up any tools of chemical or biological warfare, let alone the massive stockpiles that US officials insisted had been hidden by the Iraqi regime. Notwithstanding, polls conducted in the United States for up to a year after the invasion, by which time the absence of WMDs had become fully evident and made public, continued to reveal a persistent belief in their existence among 20% to 40% of respondents (Kull et al., 2004; PIPA, 2004). Indeed, for several months after President Bush declared the war to have ended (May 1, 2003), some 20% of respondents additionally believed that Iraq had in fact used chemical or biological weapons on the battlefield during the immediately preceding conflict (Kull et al., 2004.)
Lest one think that these figures merely represent some inertia of opinion, with those erroneous beliefs inexorably fading over time, polls conducted in March, 2006, revealed that nearly a quarter of Americans continued to believe that Iraq possessed WMDs just before the invasion (PIPA, 2006).
In 2010 we see another paper developing this conceptual framework of false ideation (aka “conspiracy”) in:
“Explicit warnings reduce but do not eliminate the continued influence of misinformation”
Information that initially is presumed to be correct, but that is later retracted or corrected, often continues to influence memory and reasoning. This occurs even if the retraction itself is well remembered. The present study investigated whether the continued influence of misinformation can be reduced by explicitly warning people at the outset that they may be misled.
Again in 2011 we see another of the conspiracy ideation papers probably inspired by 911:
“Terrorists brought down the plane! – No, actually it was a technical fault: Processing corrections of emotive information” (2011)
This article investigated the impact of emotionality of the material on people’s ability to discount corrected misinformation. The focus was on moderate levels of emotionality comparable to those elicited by real-world news reports. Emotionality has frequently been shown to have an impact upon reasoning and memory, but the generality of this influence remains unclear. In three experiments, participants read a report of a fictitious plane crash that was initially associated with either an emotionally laden cause (terrorist attack) or an emotionally more neutral cause (bad weather). This initial attribution was followed by a retraction and presentation of an alternative cause (faulty fuel tank). The scenarios demonstrably affected participants’ self-reported feelings. However, all three experiments showed that emotionality does not affect the continued influence of misinformation.
Skeptics as the new enemy
Then later in 2011 Lewandowsky (who appears to have no qualification at all relevant to the field of climate science) begins a series of paper on climate attacking skeptics. This starts life as a very innocuous sounding project called:
Understanding Statistical Trends
The aims of the project were described thus:
The project seeks to explore people’s understanding of statistical trends in time series data. If we are monitoring a stock price, what do we think will happen to it in the future?
Participants will be shown simple graphs of time series (samples enclosed) and will make predictions about the future trends.
However the results failed to support Lewandowsky’s conspiracy theory that skeptics were being manipulated by “forces” or that we are people who are easily misled. And when the data showed the opposite (that it was skeptics who based their views on the evidence), the paper produced had a very different title:
“Popular Consensus: Climate Change Is Set to Continue“
From the first lines:
There is near unanimity among climate scientists that the global climate is changing
… it was clear from his previous work that this would be another politically motivated project exploring ways to reject or denigrate views he disagreed with using concepts we can broadly describe as “conspiracy ideation”.
As reported in the previous article the project proposal sought to examine how people’s perception of future trends predicted from a graph changed depending on their views on climate. I have shown that it was climate skeptics who based their views most closely on the data and it was believers in AGW that changed their view when told the graph showed global temperature. As such believers appear to be more gullible and less resistant to false information. The irony was that Lewandowsky was the real conspiracy theorist here. He was the one trying to prove there was a conspiracy of dark forces trying to manipulate gullible people. Instead he found a group of rational people who were skeptical and a group of easily misled people who were supporting global warming alarmism.
How would he respond? The rational view, would have been to accept that skeptics are also rational and that our views will therefore be well supported by the evidence and data. However, whilst the project results show this the conclusions in the final paper did not. Why? In the last article I gave him the benefit of the doubt and suggested “motivated blindness” … that in searching for evidence supporting his theory, that he missed the obvious evidence contradicting it. Now I am sure he also concluded that skeptics base their views on the data because if we examine the abstract carefully we see that Lewandowsky must have drawn this conclusion:
In a large experiment (N = 200), participants extrapolated global climate data, presented graphically either as share prices or as temperatures. Irrespective of their attitudes toward AGW, and irrespective of presentation format, people judged the trend to be increasing. These results suggest that presentation of climate data can counter claims that AGW has stopped.
The phrase “suggest that presentation of climate data can counter” shows Lewandowsky understood the conclusion that skeptics primarily base their views on the data irrespective of what they are told the data shows. This is prima facia evidence that Lewandowsky not only produced results showing that believers are those most susceptible to false information and skeptics are most immune, but he understood the implications that skeptics would be most strongly influenced by data and not propaganda.
This is important. Whilst Lewandowsky is clearly aware that skeptics would need to be convinced by the data, the paper did not include this obvious conclusion. Instead it strongly implied that skeptics were susceptible to false information. This very strongly suggests an intention to deceive.
In the last article I highlighted how it was not possible for this to be an oversight as the ethical proposal for the project showed this area was the focus of the project. As such Lewandowsky had to proactively change the focus of the project and this is not something that could occur by omission or error on such a simple project.
This new evidence following careful reading of the abstract, Lewandowsky’s reference to “climate data” as being key to “counter[ing] claims that AGW has stopped” shows he also knew and understood this conclusion. This rules out the possibility that he was “blinded” to this possibility as I suggested as a possibility in the previous article; (admittedly only included as an outside possibility)
As we can rule out error/omission and unmotivated rejection, there is only one option left: that Lewandowsky intentionally left out this conclusion knowing it to be true, knowing that skeptics have acted in good faith basing their views on the data and knowing that his own results showed those who believe in global warming tend to be be the more susceptible to false information aka propaganda.
This shows a motivated rejection of the truth
and that he knew he was falsely attacking skeptics.
The motivation for his attacks
Lewandowsky’s next paper “The pivotal role of perceived scientific consensus in acceptance of science” goes back to this idea of “scientific consensus”, is strongly reminiscent of his politically motivated work on WMD. The themes are similar motivated “forces” have intentionally misled the public and the opinions of academic “experts” are being rejected. This shows how these two ideas of WMD conspiracy and global warming conspiracy are starting to be combined:
Although most experts agree that CO2 emissions are causing anthropogenic global warming (AGW), public concern has been declining. One reason for this decline is the ‘manufacture of doubt’ by political and vested interests, which often challenge the existence of the scientific consensus. The role of perceived consensus in shaping public opinion is therefore of considerable interest: in particular, it is unknown whether consensus determines people’s beliefs causally. It is also unclear whether perception of consensus can override people’s ‘worldviews’, which are known to foster rejection of AGW. Study 1 shows that acceptance of several scientific propositions-from HIV/AIDS to AGW-is captured by a common factor that is correlated with another factor that captures perceived scientific consensus. Study 2 reveals a causal role of perceived consensus by showing that acceptance of AGW increases when consensus is highlighted. Consensus information also neutralizes the effect of worldview.
From this we can pick out several themes he is developing:
- [there is a conspiracy to] manufacture of doubt’ by political and vested interests
- consensus [should] determine people’s beliefs causally
- [people’s] ‘worldviews’, … foster rejection of AGW
These appear to me to reflect far more on Lewandowsky than on skeptics. We see clear evidence for the ideas which underlies all conspiracy ideationists: that there are (unnamed) forces and vested interests acting to distort people’s “worldviews” which is then causing them to reject something that the conspiracy ideationist believes should be the basis of everyone’s belief because they believe there is a “consensus” they assert is held by “everyone”. To put it more crudely Lewandowsky is asserting that “everyone” believes in global warming so “everyone” should believe in global warming, so those who don’t must be influenced by a conspiracy of “political and vested interests“.
However, like all conspiracy ideationists, Lewandowsky appears to be unable to follow his own logic and has selective memory loss. In his previous paper he admitted that:
“These results suggest that presentation of climate data can counter claims that AGW has stopped.” We know he knew the results supported a much stronger assertion to the effect that:
“presentation of climate data [that it is warming] will counter claims that AGW has stopped“.
The following is therefore false:
- [people’s] ‘worldviews’, … foster rejection of AGW
Instead, from Lewandowsky’s own research we learn that as far as skeptics go:
- the data, fosters rejection of AGW
And by extension for climate skeptics:
- the evidence determine people’s beliefs causally
It therefore follows that skeptics, given the available data, have very little choice regarding their belief as to what the data shows. Our own motivation plays a very small part in our beliefs. In sharp contrast, global warming believers dramatically change their views depending who they choose to believe. It is AGW believers like Lewandowsky who are motivated to adopt views of catastrophe, because his research shows that believers adopt this view through social pressure – or to put it crudely they decide “who they like” and reject “those they don’t” So their motivation is arguably the single largest factor affecting who they chose to believe.
Given what we now know, the final paper which finally exposed Lewandowsky had a very ironic title:
“NASA Faked the Moon Landing-Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science”
It might as well have read:
“Lewandowsky Faked his research -Therefore, (Climate) Skeptics are wrong: the Anatomy of the Motivated attack on skeptical Science.
Lewandowsky already knew skeptics base their views on the evidence and that AGW believers were quite gullible and changed their views based solely on what they were told the evidence showed.
Indeed, the paper’s title was an atrocious lie which even Lewandowsky must have known because research showed that 95% of skeptics rejected the idea of a moon landing hoax. This is a 20:1 bias against his paper’s title, yet he still felt motivated enough to feature this lie as his paper’s title.
How can we explain Lewandowsky’s actions?
By examining Lewandowsky’s past political activity, it becomes clear that Lewandowsky was motivated through the very lack of evidence supporting warming his view: that skeptics based their beliefs on the evidence and with 17 years without warming that evidence did not support AGW. Knowing skeptics based their views on the evidence and seeing that skeptics were becoming increasingly accepted with no imminent likelihood of supporting his belief, it appears Lewandowsky chose the only alternative he saw available, which was to mimic the behaviour (as he saw it) of those who used WMD to support the Iraq war and so he set out to destroy the reputations of skeptics by fabricating this idea that skeptics are conspiracy theorists.
Which is particularly ironic as Lewandowsky was clearly a deluded conspiracy theorist who despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that skeptics are rational, chose instead to propagate the irrational conspiracy theory of unspecified “forces” behind skeptics.
What reason could there be for him producing papers which he must have known to be false and attacking people he knew to base their views on the evidence. The reasons is clear in his previous papers:
It is well known that people often continue to rely on initial misinformation even if this information is later corrected and even if the correction itself is remembered.
Based on his own research it seems Lewandowsky intentionally set out to produce “misinformation” knowing that even when he was forced to correct this, the initial impression would remain.
I believe the most likely scenario is as follows:
- Lewandowsky started by believing that skeptics were gullible people who were being misled by “unknown forces”.
- Increasingly using his work to further his own politics, he devised a politically motivated project to attack the “conspiracy” of “unknown forces” he saw driving skeptics called: “Understanding Statistical Trends“. This was intended to show that skeptics changed changed their prediction of future trends to cooling only when told data was global temperature.
- But, far from the intended outcome, the results showed that skeptics were the rational ones who base their views on the evidence.
- As a result on this survey, Lewandowsky realised that skeptics would only be convinced by actual data of warming. But far from the data supporting his view, he was horrified when academics started admitting that the climate was not currently warming.
- As skeptic views started becoming mainstream, Lewandowsky realised that without data showing warming, the skeptic view would soon become generally accepted. He couldn’t change skeptic views, so could he change the public’s view of skeptics?
- This appears to be his motivation for the attacks. He was attempting to discredit skeptics using the tactics of misinformation he himself had so vehemently criticized in previous papers on WMD.
- It seems to me he finally flipped and chose to adopt the morally reprehensible tactics which he himself had hitherto so vehemently condemned. He chose to fabricate evidence & conclusions by means of a bogus survey intended to discredit skeptics, knowing from his own research that even if he was forced to retract the paper, the public would continue to disbelieve skeptics despite a full retraction or overwhelming evidence that skeptics were right.