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Analyse this! Climate mind games

By Michael Kile - posted Thursday, 18 October 2012


Seeking some light relief in the nation's elusive "climate conversation"? You need go no further than the peer-reviewed journals of psychology. For a small fee you can join the fun, as folk entertain each other with eccentric (grant-funded) research into how best to placate the Beast of Climate Change Denial before it irreversibly damages both your mental - and Gaia's - health.

A favourite of mine appeared this year in the Journal of Environmental Psychology (volume 32, issue 2): Nicolas Gueguen's "Dead indoor plants strengthen belief in global warming."

Participants were surveyed in a room where trees with or without any foliage were displayed. They were asked to report their own beliefs toward global warming. Participants were more likely to believe in global warming in presence of the trees without foliage.

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Gueguen, from the Universite de Bretagne Sud in Lorient, France, is a versatile chap. Before moving into the (presumably more lucrative) climate circus Big Top, Francophile mating rituals seem to have been his research focus: Eg: "Say it with Flowers": Effect of flowers in a room on female receptivity of a male's courtship request. (Social Influence, 2011, 6, 105-112).

Such erudite stuff is proliferating at a rate now exceeding the alien seed pods in Don Siegal's Invasion of the Body Snatchers. ("It's weird. Let's hope it's not catching," GP Dr Miles Bennell remarked, as more of his patients began suspecting friends or relatives were imposters.)

Consider another example closer to home: the curious psychodrama that began in the University of Western Australia's Cognitive Science Laboratories. It became public this year when Professor Stephan Lewandowsky made a University News media release on 23rd August - "What motivates rejection of (climate) science?"

Lewandowsky and joint authors Klaus Oberauer and Gilles Gignac cannily used online surveys, multivariate analysis and specialist insight to explore the notion of "conspiracist ideation", especially in the "climate arena."

Their (peer-reviewed) paper, NASA faked the moon landing, therefore (climate) science is a Hoax: An anatomy of the motivated rejection of science, "in press" with Psychological Science, apparently "provides empirical confirmation of previous suggestions that conspiracist ideation contributes to the rejection of science."

They claim, for example, "those who subscribed to one or more conspiracy theories [such as Princess Diana's death was not an accident; the Apollo moon landings never happened; etc], or who strongly supported a free-market economy, were more likely to reject the findings from climate science, as well as other sciences" (my italics).

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The researchers – led by Lewandowsky – also claim discovery of a new causal relationship:"that free-market ideology was an overwhelmingly strong determinant of the rejection of climate science" (my italics). (In cognitive psychology's lexicon, "strong determinant" presumably implies causation.)

Stretching a long bow further, they declared another "first" with eye-watering panache. Their "ideological rejection" hypothesis applied not only to climate science, but also to "other scientific facts".

While "there has been much research pointing to the role of free-market ideology in rejecting climate science," this was "the first time it's been shown that other scientific facts, such as the link between HIV and AIDS, are also subject to ideological rejection" (my italics).

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A version of this article appeared at Quadrant Online in early October, 2012.

Disclosure Statement: The author does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. He has no relevant affiliations, except as author of the Devil's Dictionary of Climate Change. He is a graduate of the University of Western Australia and two other universities.



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About the Author

Michael Kile is author of No Room at Nature's Mighty Feast: Reflections on the Growth of Humankind. He has an MSc degree from Imperial College of Science and Technology, University of London and a Diploma from the College. He also has a BSc (Hons) degree in geology and geophysics from the University of Tasmania and a BA from the University of Western Australia. He is co-author of a recent paper on ancient Mesoamerica, Re-interpreting Codex Cihuacoatl: New Evidence for Climate Change Mitigation by Human Sacrifice, and author of The Aztec solution to climate change.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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