Lewandowsky's Conspiracy Paper : Im the Outlier

I'm normally a big fan of Prof Stephan Lewandowsky's work, but this time I'm not so sure. Lewandowsky's conclusion is roughly that people who don't accept the scientific consensus on climate change are more likely to accept modern day conspiracy theories like the moon landing was a hoax.

The argument goes climate deniers also support conspiracy theories which are all obviously wingnut fodder and so their climate denial can be dismissed too.  But it relies on these conspiracy theories to actually be wingnut fodder. And in my head there's still room for my cherished skeptical view of the Warren Commission report and support of the scientific consensus on climate change.

So for the record here's my thoughts on three conspiracy theories.

If the Apollo moon landing were a hoax, why didn't the Russians who were tracking Apollo by radar and at the height of the cold war call it out?

But  I simply don't buy the lone gunman theory, did you know Richard Nixon was in Dallas November 22nd 1963 ? That has to be suspicious.

I've got an interesting angle on Roswell too.  There was no UFO crash , but the authorities conspired to make it look like a UFO crash to mitigate loss of business from the closure of the military base.

  An Alien at Roswell. Good for Business 

Ok Ive not bothered to search for evidence for that one, and perhaps for 'authorities' you could read 'conspiracy theorists' themselves . But it's no bad thing that conspiracy theorists challenge everybody else's view, and for that they really don't deserve the bad press . Perhaps today's conspiracy theorist is tomorrow's Revisionist Historian. So let's stop comparing climate deniers to conspiracy theorists , it's not fair on conspiracy theorists.


Apparently this is what the McDonalds in Roswell looks like. I rest my case. (h/t Wake and Wander )


  1. "The argument goes climate deniers also support conspiracy theories which are all obviously wingnut fodder and so their climate denial can be dismissed too."

    That's not the argument in the paper. It's a good paper and I recommend reading it if you haven't. Essentially it shows a correlation. He has an N of over a thousand. The methods make sense, including the exclusion criteria. The paper builds on earlier research and is well sourced.

    So what do we do with this information? Well, I think we realize that the broader experience in the social sciences of people who believe in conspiracy theories, doomsday cults, and the like (that literature is extensive), may help us understand climate denial better. That may give us better communication strategies. Or not.

    Social science is not as rigorous as the physical sciences in most cases -- hard to say how it could be -- but neither is it all instrumental, which is to say, it isn't all there for the immediate purpose of proving a political point or changing how we do things. It's science: you observe. You learn something about people and how they think and behave. What you can do with that is secondary.

    Speaking of interesting questions in social science, I think it's fascinating how the denial blogs have gone absolutely nuts over this paper, with dozens of posts attacking it -- CA, the Blackboard, and WUWT all have more than half-a-dozen posts on the subject.

    Why are they freaking out? Do they need a distraction from the ice? Is the idea their followers may be a little nutty simply intolerable? I wonder.

    1. They are freaking out because the truth hurts... Anthony Watts completely ignored my comment on WUWT (but I guess I should be grateful he did not delete it).

      The really fascinating thing is that they complain about the way they were invited (and failed to respond) to get involved with the study. To me, the methods of Lewandowsky et al seems perfectly legitimate: They started with a null hypothesis (that there would be no difference between sceptics and non-sceptics) and falsified it (i.e. there is a difference).

      If not actual conspiracy theorists, people who can ignore the fact that the tobacco industry lied to everybody about the dangers of smoking; dismiss the evidence that the fossil fuel industry has been doing the same thing; and assert that climate change is a hoax, a false alarm, natural, not a problem (etc)... clearly have a very defective in-built truth-o-meter.