Friday, November 13, 2009

Discovering Science Writer John Mashey

718 HandImage by Voyageur Solitaire-mladjenovic_n via Flickr

I thought I was well versed in the science writing around climate change, but I had never heard of John Mashey. What I discovered today was science and critical thinking writing of the highest caliber. Go to "Another Silly Climate Petition Exposed", and read (or skim over) the 128(!) page analysis of the anti-science petition at the American Physical Society (APS).
The American Physical Society (APS) was petitioned by 206 people, about 0.45% of the 47,000 members, to discard its climate change position and declare decades of climate research non-existent. The Petition was _overwhelmingly_ rejected, but this anti-science campaign offers a useful case study. The Petition signers? demographics are compared to those of APS in general. Then, the social network behind the petition is analyzed in detail, person by person for the first 121 signers. This might seem a grassroots groundswell of informed expert argument with the existing position, but it is not. Rather, it seems to have originated within a small network of people, not field experts, but with a long history of manufacturing such things, plausibly at the Heartland Institute‘s NYC climate conference March 8-10, 2009. APS physicists can, do, and will contribute strongly to solving the 21st century's conjoined climate+energy problem, but this petition was a silly distraction, and rightly rejected. However, its existence was widely touted to the public.
I went through the whole document, and I never encountered such a thorough dissection of "Art of Controversy" with regards to Science and Anti-Science. (Using Schopenhauer's term for denialism or creating controversy where there really is none in an attempt to frustrate rational analysis and action). These are Mashey's diagrams of the ideal of how science affects policy: ... and the anti-science alternative of "science bypass": Science Bypass - Executive Summary
Mashey: Science bypass is familiar to people involved with PR, lobbying, politics and those few scientific disciplines facing well-organized attacks, but simply alien and confusing to many scientists. This paper offers a case study to help people understand the tactics, as APS is unlikely to be the only target of such campaigns, often mounted, not to convince scientists, but to create and maintain doubt in the public.
Science Bypass - Section 1: Introduction and Definitions

Research. Olin Warner (completed by Herbert Ad...Image via Wikipedia

This whole section has clear eyed classifications of the recurring themes in the Art of Controversy. Or as Mashey says:
Agnotology was coined by Stanford's Robert N. Proctor to describe the deliberate production of ignorance and doubt.
I will refer to this whole section anytime I am dealing with denialists. Science Bypass - Section 3: The Petition - Commentary
Mashey: This petition is silly. One need only study the 2007 IPCC AR4 to know how meaningless or wrong is the paragraph starting “Greenhouse gases..” The unusualness of 20th and 21st century climate change is well established by multiple lines of evidence. It certainly has been warmer, and during most of those times, large parts of the current USA were under water. Any serious gardener knows Liebig?s Law - growth is limited by the most restrictive factor. No amount of extra CO2 will grow corn in the Sahara Desert. Extra CO2 can be helpful in greenhouses with sufficient water, sun, and other nutrients, a condition untrue for most farms. Those who grow up on farms usually learn this by the time they are 10, but apparently the signers have not. Water is the most common restriction. Higher temperatures and Hadley Cell expansion will move rain elsewhere and increase evaporation, especially in places like the US SouthWest. CA is seriously-dependent on Sierra snowpack, always has water problems, and grows half the fruit and vegetables in the USA. Oddly, at least a third of the signers live in the US SouthWest. [The petition] simply asserts ideas contrary to the large, well-tested body of peer-reviewed research in top journals, with no backup whatsoever except belief. All of this is simply anti-science, akin to brain surgeons declaring cardiologists ignorant of heart disease.
Science Bypass - Section 5: Demographics of Signers versus APS Membership Demonstration that the demographics of the signers does not (at all) match the demographics of the whole of APS Membership.
The signer list seems unrepresentative of the APS membership. As a group, the signers are certainly older, seem likely more politically conservative, and somewhat more likely to be male than the total membership.
Science Bypass - Section 6: Social Networks Behind the Petition Simply amazing work. By studying the list of names of earlier anti-climate-science petitions, John Mashey can study the social networks of each "wave" of new signers. Must be read to be believed how pains-taking Mashey was. Science Bypass - Section 7: Why?
Mashey: Why might well-educated physicists sign this silly petition? I do not know any personally, so I can only speculate. I have worked over the last year to create frameworks to help analyze issues of science and anti-science.
From Section 7: Scientist becoming Anti-Scientist Cognitive Bias Failure Modes I have never seen such an thoughtful and comprehensive listing of cognitive bias failure modes, before.
Mashey: IF anti-science THEN one or more following reasons likely to be found; not all combinations make sense.
Cognitive Bias Failure Modes - Finance
  • FIN1 Huge: long-term, direct economic organizational self-interest
  • FIN2 Large: long-term, direct organizational interest, via funding from above
  • FIN3 Personal: direct economic interest, effectively paid for anti-science
  • FIN4 Plausible Fear: personal economic impacts, less direct, employee
  • FIN5 Vague fear: personal economic impacts; general public
  • ---- LB suggests "reference dependency" and "non-rational risk assessment"
Cognitive Bias Failure Modes - Ideology
  • IDE1 Professional (paid political advocacy; anti-regulation; extreme free-market)
  • IDE2 Public (political advocacy; anti-regulation; extreme free-market, beyond usual)
Cognitive Bias Failure Modes - Politics
  • POL1 Political wedge tactic: "X says it", more votes
  • POL2 Against: "Cannot stand X, so anything they say is wrong"
  • ---- Example: "greenie treehugger environmentalists", or "Al Gore"
Cognitive Bias Failure Modes - Psychology
  • PSY1 Conflates: confuses non-science with real science, dismisses latter as former
  • PSY2 Contrarian nature; even without attention
  • PSY3 Contrarian attention: gets much more attention/publicity; may help career
  • PSY4 Ego/pride: in skepticism in general and of scientists in particular
  • PSY5 Dunning-Kruger Effect: incompetent and does not know it
  • PSY6 High-bar, low-bar: real science takes work; contrarian, easy acceptance
  • PSY7 Ambiguity-intolerance: all-or-none thinking; "Authoritarian personality" ??
  • PSY8 Personal anchor: encounters anti-science early, accepts, sticks
  • PSY9 General psychology denial: problem just too big
Cognitive Bias Failure Modes - Technical and Scientific Workers specific
  • TEC1 Long Anchor: early position from TEC0, held long, ~Type II error)
  • ---- Early doubts OK, but mainstream has long ago moved. TEC7, PSY2?
  • TEC2 Field non-science: evidence stays weak, mild ~Type I error (solar?)
  • TEC3 Field pseudo-science: wrong: strongly disproved, strong ~Type I error
  • ---- Scientist has an idea, but mainstream science gets in its way. (cosmic?)
  • TEC4 Intra-field (or nearby) conflict: personal, factional; discipline rivalry
  • ---- Some meteorologists and TV weather people seem especially
  • ---- prone to distrusting climate scientists, especially modelers.
  • ---- Guess: the former have to predict noise, and get criticized when they miss.
  • ---- Some may not understand the physics and methods of climate modeling.
  • TEC5 "Going emeritus": (retired, or close) person starts opining beyond expertise
  • ---- These are truly sad cases. Sometimes response to perceived loss of influence.
  • ---- If inside field and has long done good work, then… might be TEC1, PSY3, PSY1
  • TEC6 Ego: smarter than field scientists, prove them wrong
  • TEC7 Inter-field conflict: many in one field dislike (sometimes newer) field
  • ---- Unsurprising that some mining/petroleum engineers disbelive AGW. (FIN4)
  • ---- Some a) physicists, b) engineers, c) economists, d) political scientists seem
  • ---- unusually likely to distrust climate science. (Speculative) reasons complex.
  • ---- DOE, nuclear, weapons folks sometimes dislike environmentalists…
  • TEC8 Over-generalization: of methods from own area, models, proofs, etc
Following understandable, but at some point become real anti-science TEC1 or PSY1
  • TEC0 Normal scientific argument evidence, value, uncertainty ?=>TEC1
  • PSY0 Irked: exaggeration, non-science, bad journalism, moral arguments ?=>PSY1
Science Bypass - Section 8: Conclusion
Mashey: As a group, the signers have written very little findable peer-reviewed climate research. Some have written books, websites and other pieces, some of which show fervent passion to prove mainstream climate science wrong. The demographics are very different from that of APS. Without being able to prove the exact connections, it is fairly easy to find strong past associations and plausible connections to recognize an act of a dedicated social network willing to support anti-science, not as a grassroots movement by physicists. The data offers strong hints that politics and ideology may have more influence on signing than does normal science. Even those who write books and do lectures often cite outright pseudoscience of the poorest quality, which requires serious suspension of disbelief. Finally, this Petition is a direct descendant of the PR approach outlined for the cigarette companies in 1954, and long practiced by SEPP, GMI, Heartland, and CATO, entities clearly, if not so obviously, involved in this Petition.
More from Mashey - Writings on Climate-Change and Critical Thinking
  • Mashey's blog comment: Reasons for Anti-Science
  • Arch of Fozzigiaren in Tadrart Acacus. This ar...Image via Wikipedia

    Mashey's: Bjorn Lomborg, Wizard of misdirection & Reincarnation of Julian Simon
"Watch the belt-buckle, ignore the head-fakes." ... In politics, there is quite often a difference between what someone says and what they really want, and it takes a while to sort it out.
  • John Mashey on how to learn about science
Critical Thinking Reading List: For general defense against disinformation of various sorts:
  • Joel Best, Damned Lies and Statistics - Untangling numbers from the media, politicians, and activists, 2001
  • Nicholas Capaldi, The Art of Deception, 1987
  • Darrell Huff, How to Lie with Statistics, 1954. Classic, indispensable, cheap.
  • Gerald Everett Jones, How to Lie with Charts, 1995
  • Paul Kurtz, ed, Skeptical Odysseys, 2001
  • Mark Monmonier, How to Lie with Maps, 1991
  • John Allen Paulos, Innumeracy: Mathematical illiteracy and its consequences, 1998
  • Edward Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, 1983. Most about doing it right, but Chapter 2 is about doing it wrong, and recognizing such. A truly wonderful and beautiful book, as are Tufte's later three, all of which are worth having for anyone who wants inspiration for good presentation of data.
Scientists can believe strange things and stick with them:
  • Robert Ehrlich, Nine Crazy Ideas in Science- A few might even be true, 2001. Physicist offers advice in evaluating crazy-sounding ideas; pp 5-10 is nice summary of evaluation criteria.
  • Robert Ehrlich, 8 Preposterous Propositions, 2003
  • Many people can believe really strange things, some of which the originators believe, and some of which are hoaxes. Some retain belief even after the hoaxers show them how they did it.:
  • Kendrick Frazier, Ed, Science Confronts the Paranormal, 1986
  • Martin Gardner, Science Good, Bad and Bogus, 1981
  • Martin Gardner, Did Adam and Eve Have Navels - debunking pseudoscience, 2000
  • Phlip Plait, Bad Astronomy, 2002
  • James Randi, Flim-Flam, 1986
  • Jim Schnabel, Round in Circles, 1994. People can believe in weird things like alien crop circles, even after "Doug and Dave" explained.
Happy reading, from Mashey's book list, and from Mashey himself!
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1 comment:

watchingthedeniers said...

Thanks for listing these articles. I was not familiar with Mashey's work, but his analysis is well worth considering.