John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky, the Laurel and Hardy of pop climate psychology, are back with more self-serving consensus nonsense in The Conversation.
The question posed by the first article, “The truth is out there – so how do you debunk a myth?” seems to be answered by the response “replace it with a different myth”:
First and foremost, you need to emphasise the key facts you wish to communicate rather than the myth. Otherwise, you risk making people more familiar with the myth than with the correct facts.
That doesn’t mean avoid mentioning the myth altogether. You have to activate it in people’s minds before they can label it as wrong.
Secondly, you need to replace the myth with an alternate narrative. This is usually an explanation of why the myth is wrong or how it came about. Essentially, debunking is creating a gap in people’s minds (removing the myth) then filling that gap (with the correct explanation).
If you had to boil down all the psychological research into six words then it can be summed up as follows:
fight sticky ideas with stickier ideas.
Myths are persistent, stubborn and memorable. To dislodge a myth, you need to counter it with an even more compelling, memorable fact.
But Cook’s first ‘memorable fact’ is itself another myth. The 97% consensus figure is as meaningless as any other factoid. Nothing in that figure conveys the subtlety of the arguments in play – it’s a typical black/white result chosen to mislead. Putting aside all the statistical sleight of hand (which others have dealt with), even if we accept the conclusion, what does it tell us? That almost all papers conclude that the climate is changing and humans have an influence? Count me in.
What it doesn’t show is the range of views within that group – from those like me, who acknowledge the effect on climate but question its magnitude and the proposed response, to those like Cook ‘n’ Lew, who think there is no natural component to the recent warming, it’s all man-made, and we should wreck the global economy in a pointless gesture that won’t change a thing.
The second ‘memorable fact’ is simply misleading and emotive: the Hiroshima bombs analogy.
Global warming is a build up in heat. Greenhouse gases are trapping heat which is building up in our oceans, warming the land and air and melting ice. When scientists add up all the energy accumulating in our climate system, they find the heat build-up hasn’t slowed since 1998.
The greenhouse effect continues to blaze away. It turns out the laws of physics didn’t go on hiatus 16 years ago.
Creating a metaphor
To communicate this, we used a metaphor. We toyed with many metaphor ideas but found none able to conceptualise the heat build-up in a stickier manner more than this:
Since 1998, our planet has been building up heat at a rate of 4 Hiroshima A-bombs per second.
We released a website with an animated ticker widget to show how much heat our planet is building up each second. The widget, which can be freely embeded on other websites, also includes a number of other metrics such as the amount of energy in hurricane Sandy, an earthquake and a million lightning bolts.
This is intentionally and cynically misleading, since it plays on the ignorance of the general public as to the amounts of energy flowing into and out of the atmosphere. As pointed out in this post, 4 Hiroshima bombs per second is very small compared to the 1000 launched at us by the Sun every second. But your average man in the street wouldn’t know that. They would look at the destruction of Hiroshima and link that with the ‘destruction’ wrought upon the atmosphere.
Cook is then joined by Lew for another defence of the fake Consensus, this time against an attack from their own side. Mike Hulme argues that simply quoting figures (like the 97% fake consensus) has little influence on the political actions that are needed (or not) to deal with the problem (or lack of a problem). Cook and Lew disagree, naturally, since the fake Consensus is their baby:
The data we have just reviewed show otherwise: there is strong evidence that the public’s perception of an overwhelming scientific consensus is key to stimulating the constructive policy debate we should be having.
All of this is wrapped up in cliched comparisons with the tobacco lobby (whereas many do and will continue to die from lung cancer as a result of smoking, the planet is refusing to warm as expected despite increasing CO2 emissions; whereas stopping smoking will reduce your chance of dying from lung cancer, taxing CO2 will make no difference to climate change; etc etc) and the citing of fake data about the funding poured into the denial machine.
In case you haven’t noticed, this is all propaganda. It is about creating a consensus where none exists, in order to fool the public.
But, guys, it ISN’T WORKING. Despite all your desperate attempts to manufacture agreement, the Australian public (and around the world) are even more sceptical of the exaggerated and alarmist claims of extremist environmental groups, Western governments, the UN and the IPCC. The more you try, the worse it gets.
In other words, keep it up!