Intentions, profiles and predictability.
I’ve spent an inordinate amount of my life working out other people’s real intentions, and what they would do and how they would attempt to do it, because of those intentions. Getting one jump ahead of complex, imaginative and sometimes troubled minds, is a tough business, but that’s what made it interesting. They were those very disciplined sort of people, who’d learnt to totally sublimate their immediate desires in favour of a slower, but surer strategy, to achieve their ultimate goals. Their thought processes made watching paint dry, look like strenuous exercise.
The skill was to get deep inside their head and see the world not only from their intellectual viewpoint, but their emotional one as well. It’s about their view of it and their needs, not yours, irrespective of how you might happen to feel about them or their objectives. If you wanted to understand them, you had to park your own beliefs and emotions.
You don’t study them as types, but as distinct individuals. You learn about where they spent their childhood, where they were educated and who educated them, who taught them their profession, who were their major influences and you add them to your research stack as well. You study their work and their methods, you read every word they’ve ever written, you get your hands on every picture you can that’s been taken of them, and spend hours staring at them, to find the way in.
You do all that and you become intimate with their life, but that’s not enough. You have to take that final depersonalising step of seeing your world as they actually think you see it, because that’s what they’ll base all their plans on. You have to find a way to love and care for them, because in the end, that’s the only thing that will get you through the wilderness of mirrors.
You only study people like that, because they exercise power. By knowing them well, you can see what’s behind a move, and more importantly, make reasonably accurate predictions of their behaviour. If he’s the man at the very top, then the whole entity will go in whatever direction he decides. You’re playing the man, not the ball, for the simple reason that he’s the one controlling it.
I’ve studied the major players of all sides in the climate wars, both those in the limelight and those more comfortable operating away from it.
Taking the realists first, there are currently no active mainstream politicians championing the realist cause, though many are sympathetic. I think that’ll change the other side of the presidential elections, but in the meantime, I’ll look at the opinion formers, whom I know are read by some of the rising young Turks of the political world.
In general, they tend to be those stubborn onion people you settle down to peel a few layers off. They’re very diverse, very focused and the type of as yet unsolved people, I’m used to. In the main, their academic background was in one of the sciences but they’ve made a career in the private sector, unlike most alarmists, who tend to be safely ensconced in politics, government, NGOs, activist organisations or in academia. They share a few general traits but almost the only common one, and the defining one I think, is a propensity, when they’ve noticed something amiss, to pursue it to wherever it takes them, until they get an answer that satisfies them. They’re strong enough personalities to have no problem, if that answer happens to lead them off the orthodoxy reservation. They’re the all growed up versions of those maddening kids, who were always taking things apart, just to find out how they worked.
What makes any exercise in trying to predict the skeptics as a group essentially futile, is that in contradiction to the widespread alarmist belief, there simply isn’t a big organisation run by a few people, directing their actions. Every one of them acts totally independently, for their very own reasons, doing whatever they choose to do, in their own particular style. Yes, they all have a readership following, but they only rarely ask for any concerted action from it. A button that’s seldom pressed, retains its potency.
Though in general I feel they’d dislike to be seen as political creatures, the reality is that the effect of their influence is actually political, whether they are comfortable with that idea or not. In the future, it’s an area of activity they’ll be increasingly drawn into.
When considered collectively, the most unusual thing about them is the almost fifty-fifty gender demographic. The women speak with as strong a voice as the men, and have just as strong a readership. I think a possible explanation of that is the one dimensionality of the medium of blogging. You can’t see their faces, hear their tone of voice, watch the body language or anything else, except read their words. Like a book, it’s such a seriously stripped down medium, that it’s the purest form of one mind communicating with another, and hence it liberates women from the expected behavioural stereotypes. It’s a case of mind over dangly bits.
The prominenti of the alarmists, in contrast and surprisingly, fall into a very small number of quite uniform types. That in itself is not unusual, but it’s more commonly found in the footsoldiers of a movement, rather than the leadership cadre. I believe the reason for this uniformity, is that their shared belief in a coming Armageddon, corresponds very closely to a new religion, and like all young religions, it’s essentially fundamentalist. While all formal religions have doctrinal viewpoints on controversial issues, the mark of a fundamentalist one, is an absolute insistence on a complete adherence to each and every one of its doctrines. Any sort of dissent, is simply not tolerated.
If you look around the fringes of the movement, you’ll find a few sad orphans sniffing about, who’ve been excommunicated, simply because they’d dared to question one of the tenets of the church. Even talking to unbelievers, will get you shunned.
In such a fundamentalist society, women of course know their place, and that isn’t anywhere near where the men are handling all the important things. Their place, when they’re allowed to have one, tends to be writing cheerleading books for a reading age of fifteen and three-quarters and a cognitive age of something considerably less. By and large, they’re very grateful for any sugar lumps of recognition thrown in their direction by the church elders.
This almost unconscious but rigorously enforced uniformity, leads to very predictable behaviour patterns. On any issue, you know what the approved doctrine is going to be. They do remind me of that observation made of the Bourbon kings, who ruled sixteenth century Navarre, in what was to become France; they had “learned nothing and forgotten nothing.”
There is no subtlety or pragmatism to them; they’ll defend every pawn to the death, rather than be prepared to sacrifice it, in order to take down a piece of higher value. However, everything else is at the service of their cause, and can be used or abused as required, and that includes not only the truth but scientific integrity. They have a compulsion not just to win every battle, but never to lose one either. As Frederick the Great observed, you can’t be strong everywhere, but they labour under the delusion that they are. Such mental inflexibility guarantees a certain glass-like fragility, which is why the humour weapon works so predictably, and so very well on them.
My perception of that uniformity worried me for a long time, until I finally satisfied myself that I really was looking at something as simple as the equivalent of a cult. They never tie off an operation that’s gone bad and just move on to the next one, preferring instead to let it haemorrhage credibility, because anything else would be approaching an admission that they were wrong. If you’ve any doubt of that, simply look at some of the damaged brands they’ve insisted had to stay in place; Pachauri, Jones, Mann, Gleick and most latterly Lewandowsky.
This blog is about the politics of climate alarmism, with special emphasis on the infowar aspects of it. Propaganda is an important weapon in anyone’s infowar arsenal, and the alarmists have used it very successfully, in conjunction with an overwhelming sympathetic mainstream media, to establish certain myths in the public psyche around the world. Unfortunately, the tide of the climate war has turned against them for a variety of reasons, and again in a seemingly worldwide fashion, the common person cares less and less about it.
I wrote an assessment of the current alarmist propaganda strategy, which in short said they would increasingly turn to rigged polls and psychological stereotyping of climate realists, because of a lack of alarmist science papers to base propaganda initiatives on. The reason for the shortage of suitably alarmist papers, was quite simply that the skeptic blogosphere was routinely gutting them, in a blaze of internet publicity. In effect, such papers were becoming propaganda coups for the climate realists.
The article was barely published, when the Lewandowsky paper appeared. It managed to combine both propaganda approaches; a poll which apparently came to the conclusion that climate realists subscribed to various unlikely conspiracy theories, such as the moon landings were faked by NASA. Interestingly, two of the more prominent climate realists, were at one time astronauts, who’d actually walked on the moon, but no doubt, that thought never occurred to Prof. Lewandowsky. Judging by the number and contents of the analysis blogs written on the paper by Jo Nova, Anthony Watts, the redoubtable Steve McIntyre and many others, not much thought actually went into the paper at all.
The paper was such an epic fail from pretty much any perspective, even the laughably dire efforts by its author to defend it, that it eventually became an object of what can only be characterised as derision, which is a first, in my experience of any science paper. I’m sure there may still be a few papers knocking about out there on things like Phrenology or Lysenkoism, which could possibly rival it, but what little reading time I have left, is too valuable to waste on that sort of rubbish.
Two thoughts occur in the context of the Lewandowsky paper. The first became evident to any honest reader three years ago, when the climategate emails were leaked. When it comes to anything to do with climate science, the peer review process is broken or at the very least, traduced to a point where it’s effectively not even in place. The only fix I can possibly see, is for referees of such papers to lose their anonymity. If they can’t detect such a terribly flawed paper, then they’re either incompetent or gatekeeping, either of which means they should be disqualified from acting as referees on any further work.
The second one, is that the sheer number of mistakes made in design, methodology, execution, processing and statistical treatment of the experiment, either indicates an unbelievable level of incompetence in a university professor, or what can only be characterised as proposing a supposed scientific conjecture, and then bending the science in such a way, as to support that conclusion. It’s either the poorest paper I’ve ever seen, or raw political propaganda, cringing behind the respectable cloak of science. Obviously, we all have to make up our own minds on that one, but if you lean towards the latter judgement, then in my experience, people inclined to indulge in questionable practises, tend to have a prior history of doing so.
If I believed it was deliberate, I’d be going over their published backtrail with a fine tooth comb, in the sure and certain expectation of finding more instances of the same behaviour. I wouldn’t like that last sentence to be interpreted as the firing of a starting pistol. The poor wretch has suffered enough.
I shudder to think of the impact it’s had on the reputations of Lewandowsky, the Psychological Science journal and the University of Western Australia, but the real effect of the paper, which turned out to be a propaganda disaster, will be longer term. Will Lewandowsky find it more difficult to get published in the future? Will Psychological Science continue to accept such activist articles. Will they continue to use the people who peer-reviewed it?
Will the University of Western Australia, continue to lend its good name to what I can only class as propagandist activities? Certainly, if I were an alumnus of that august centre of learning, I’d be having a quiet word, if only to protect the value of my degree. A few more escapades like that, and the place will soon have the academic reputation of the University of Easy Access.
As with all great tragedy, there were elements of comedy to it, but unfortunately more in a Benny Hill sense, rather than Dante. Lewandowsky thinking he could take out McIntyre on points of statistical methodology, was right up there with a one-legged man entering an ass kicking contest. A guilty pleasure I know, but it was enjoyable to watch that bout, predictable though the outcome was. Like they said in one of my favourite movies, don’t shoot Mongo – you’ll just make him mad. “Mongo” McIntyre; when you think about dogged determination, it does have a certain ring to it, beyond the obvious alliteration. The RCMP are not the only Canadians, who always get their man. It must be something in the water up there.
As a broad psychological tip for you Stephan, you’ll find that the type of person, who’s still successful at a high level in a very physical sport, albeit as a grey beard nowadays, tends to be inordinately difficult to bully off the ball. You just stick to Tiddlywinks in the future matey, and you’ll be fine.
One of the conclusions I reached in the propaganda assessment, was that as the propaganda got more extreme, and it will, it would gradually close down the science journals as outlet mediums. Just this week, Nature, a journal I ceased subscribing to some years back out of sheer embarrassment at the basic standard of some of the papers it was publishing, ran an editorial about the very real uncertainties in attribution of extreme weather events to global warming. You didn’t have to read very deeply into it, to realise it’s a warning. The days of automatically getting any old crap published, just because it was supportive of the cause, are drawing to a close. Who knows, if they keep going in that direction, I may even consider renewing my subscription.
In the true Bourbon fashion, we’ll be seeing more polls and pseudo-psychology, and as usual, we’ll be shooting them down. Just this week, plans came to light, or should I be more accurate and say emails were leaked, of a scheme to run yet another one by John Cook of the Skeptical Science site or SS, as it’s long been nicknamed by those realists, still innocent enough to try commenting there. The methodology outlined in the email, is already getting the Lewandowsky treatment, but that won’t stop them, though it might possibly help them construct a more robust piñata for the skeptics to use their baseball bats on. The bats are already being oiled.
Leaks like the above do seem to be a problem for the alarmists, and yet another thing they’re in denial about. I think that started with their absolute refusal to believe climategate was a leak by an insider. At a guess, I’d say most skeptic bloggers receive anonymous tips, and though you usually can’t use the information, if only to protect the anonymous source, it does allow you to prepare in advance for events. The more people involved in anything, the higher the probability of a leak occurring, an almost nonexistent problem for realists, since they tend to operate as lone wolves.
In what will probably be regarded as a breakthrough event in the coming years, Anthony Watts was invited to participate in a program on the PBS channel. After it, there were the expected and orchestrated, howls of righteous indignation from various alarmist organisations. Irrespective of the outcome, it’s the shape of things to come; as popular interest in the alarmist cause dwindles, we’ll start getting heard more in the mainstream media, if only because initially the resultant controversy will bump up their viewing numbers, and we all know how important those numbers are for the advertising revenue stream. In business, making more money trumps saving the planet, every time.
I said in the assessment, that the viciousness of the propaganda would escalate, but unfortunately, that will be accompanied by a rise in criminal activity in the name of environmentalism. Already, environmental terrorism groups are high on the FBI’s watch list, mostly for offences against property. An example of this tendency has just occurred with the attack on Jo Nova’s site. While I’m sure some group somewhere is crowing about that, I’d do it very quietly; you never know who might be listening and decide to drop the dime on you.
As so often happens with alarmist operations, it simply wasn’t thought through. Beyond a momentary nuisance value, what lasting impact, if any, was it expected to achieve?
One way or another, Jo’s site will soon be back up again, with nothing but the lasting impression being left, that the attack mobilised the entire skeptic community to rally to her aid. Not only did it give Jo a long overdue and well-earned break, but it unleashed a very inclusive tsunami of offers of sympathy, support, help, expertise and donations, from right across the skeptic blogosphere. You could feel the love. Instead of taking out one person in that community, it instead succeeded in unifying the whole damn community. I’m sure the experience will form the basis of a few interesting pieces by Jo.
Given the Australian context of the criminal act, it turned out to be yet another propaganda boomerang.
Related articles by Pointman: