Why It’s So Hard to Convince Pseudo-Skeptics

Yesterday Anthony Watts published a guest post on his “Watts Up With That” blog authored by Matt Manos. It is entitled “Why It’s So Hard to Convince Warmists“.

Being a somewhat lazy realist I reproduce it here in full, although be warned that I have used the search/replace function of my text editor a teensy-weensy bit:

Many of the posters and readers at GWC have expressed frustration at convincing pseudo-skeptics. Using facts and logic seem to fall on deaf ears. There are some interesting social sciences theories on why pseudo-skeptics are unresponsive. I know the social sciences aren’t a favoured science with this group but if you’ll bear with me, you’ll hopefully see how social science can be useful in describing why pseudo-skeptics are unreachable. And possibly, what to do about it.

In their latest speeches on global warming, Obama and the Pope weren’t trying to convince pseudo-skeptics that CAGW is real. Instead, they were sending signals to their supporters on what “all right thinking people” should be saying. This is classic in-group/out-group communication. Obama and the Pope were setting up the talking points for their in-group members to use to determine who can be considered part of the tribe and who should be rejected for being outside of it. This is a process called Othering. Othering turns political foes into non-beings. Others have no value. Others can be discounted and ignored. Others can be mocked.

Booker and Rose are examples of bellwethers; the sheep with the bell that the other sheep follow. Bellwether is not a derogatory term, it’s a descriptive term. The job of a political bellwether is to indicate the position that their followers should take in their everyday conversations. Booker and Rose’s latest articles function as position papers for the delegates of all right thinking people. You meet these people at work, church, school, at the coffee house, etc. The delegates will mirror the words that Booker or Rose used to identify other in-group members, normalize beliefs and mock out-group members. One of the main themes of both speeches was shame. Shame on those who aren’t right thinking people. Shame that they aren’t as intelligent and capable as “us.”

That type of smugness is almost impossible to penetrate. When a realist questions a pseudo-skeptic’s view on global warming/climate change, the pseudo-skeptic hears something vastly different than what the realist is saying. A realist might say, “There’s no evidence for an Arctic Ice Recovery.” What the pseudo-skeptic hears is how stupid warmists are because that’s what Anthony Watts told him he should think. If the pseudo-skeptic doesn’t prove that he thinks realists are stupid then he might be confused for a warmist! And no one wants to be identified with being a warmist because they’re mocked and don’t get invited to the right parties. No amount of science can penetrate the ROI the pseudo-skeptic has internalized in not believing in CAGW.

Many of the pseudo-skeptics are running on pure rational ignorance. Rational ignorance is a belief that the cost/benefit to researching every issue is so low as to be a net negative in time utilization. Thus the ignorance is rational and everyone utilizes this mental process on certain topics. People who are rationally ignorant about global warming look to bellwethers that support their gut stance. Rationally ignorant pseudo-skeptics would look to Australian leaders, mockutainers and denialist scientists for guidance on how to communicate their position on global warming.

Penetrating rational ignorance is tough because the position pseudo-skeptics have taken isn’t based on logic. Their position is actually based on an appeal to authority. To question the rationally ignorant denier is to question the field of science as a whole (to be a science realist) or to question the leadership of their favorite bellwether personalities. This will cause the rationally ignorant denier to become defensive and try to stand up for their favorite bellwether. The rationally ignorant will also point to their favorite bellwethers and say, “Who am I to doubt all these intelligent people?” It’s intellectually offshoring. It’s lazy. It’s human nature.

The scientific method rejects outright in-group/out groups, Othering, bellwethers and rational ignorance. A scientist is supposed to follow the results on an experiment even if the results don’t support his hypothesis. The scientist is clearly not supposed to rig the data to ensure he gets invited to a party with the right people or continued funding. But science has a poor track record on controversial topics. It often takes decades to accept new theories that are clear winners (e.g., continental drift).

Scientists are still social animals. Social animals follow hierarchy and incentives. If you really want to win the debate on global warming, change the opinions of the bellwethers. Change the economic incentives for the global warming scientific paper mill. Otherwise you’re stuck debating only the people who are unable to change their minds because it would cost them personally to do so. Rare is the person intellectually honest enough to bite the hand that feeds or is willing to violate social norms to speak the truth.

Please feel free to comment below should you spot any inadvertent errors that necessitate a bit more searching/replacing on my part. In the meantime you may be interested in watching this recording I made of a presentation by Dr. Darren Schreiber of Exeter University at a “Pint of Science” presentation last week, entitled “Your Brain is Built for Politics“:

Note in particular the part at 8 minutes 15 seconds where Darren says:

In a new study that just came out a couple of months ago they showed a single disgusting image, and one single disgusting image and measuring the brain activity and how the person responded to that was sufficient to allow you to identify if somebody was conservative or liberal. With a single brain image. With 95% accuracy!

7 thoughts on “Why It’s So Hard to Convince Pseudo-Skeptics

  1. Way to continue taking it to these delaying denialists, SW! I look forward with pleasure at your continuing annihilation of their idiocy!

    1. Thanks Harry,

      We will continue to pursue with all possible vigour further examples of such idiocy, wherever they may be located. Especially if they mention the word “Arctic”!

  2. Jim, I would like you to know that I have used this essay as a reference numerous times since I first read it in 2015. Thank you for provide this info to those of us who are trying to figure out why skeptics are so arrogantly misinformed and desire so strongly to spew this misinformation.

  3. Do Governments regulate sugar? No, because it runs the drug industry that provides actual services to the consuming tax payer- we, the people- who have been necessarily accustomed to this toxic drug. Making people sick, like tobacco and alcohol, pays the bills and keeps the wolf from the door.
    Fossil fuels is the same thing.. Jevons paradox dictates that the more efficiently you use a resource the more of that resource will be used. [The real kicker being the idea that big business (like the blue chip companies that last longer than fifty years) never pay tax because they just charge the consumer more. THAT is life my friends.]
    Bottom line- fossil fuels should be regulated.
    (Also, why is everyone a manager with a parking space? How does one mudball in space regulate that little peculiarity?)
    It’s a price point scenario. Horse pollution interacted with developing civil society in a way that it couldn’t stomach anymore so only consequence will turn this fossil fuel powered tide towards a solution.
    “Where is the consequence?”, is the question.
    Governments don’t fix things if they aren’t broke. Governments don’t do the hard stuff. Letting the markets rip has its distinct advantages but they aren’t free as the last President of the USA made clear when saying he used the impossibly complex tax code to his advantage just like the rest of his political opponents because he was smart.
    Or rational. Ignorance is bliss and we all sit at home watching the goggle/google box pointing fingers at everyone else. You’ll note that Nietzsche warned about the folly of democracy. A two party system sounds awfully close to a one party system and the overabundance of choice in the supermarket is just to confuse the consuming voter even more into believing they have a choice. It’s all sugar unless you’ve been raised correctly, i.e. away from the propaganda that bred the disease industry.
    No, all markets have Government intervention. What else are Governments for?

  4. “If it moves, tax it; if it keeps moving, regulate it; if it stops moving, subsidise it.”(Ronald McDonald)

    Without subsidies fossil fuels wouldn’t exist.

    Democracy has knobs all over it because it’s the idiot voter who gets fed the propaganda that business makes the consuming voter pay for like an idiot anyway. (I made a reference to sugar before as a comparison but tobacco and alcohol also have been weaponised onto the consuming voter in order to forever further dull their mediocre, un-eductated senses: the health guidelines, from our tax payer funded health industry, are at minimum an order of magnitude out of anything healthy- you don’t want to kill them all, just make them sick, otherwise there’s no market for the drugs they want to sell you. )

    To make it worse both parties in a representative democracy- which sounds very much like a one party, um, system- provide the same option: none

    Hands up who really thinks representative democracy is solving this conundrum? Governments don’t do the hard stuff…

    -> I’ve got the solution: import more customers… rofl

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