Climate denial conspiracy theories – contentious study republished

In a long-running wrangle with sceptical bloggers, psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky has revived a previously retracted paper

Press Conference at the Launch of the IPCC Synthesis Report (Pic: UN Photos)

Press Conference at the Launch of the IPCC Synthesis Report (Pic: UN Photos)

By Megan Darby

A paper on climate denial that was retracted from a scientific journal has been republished, with extra evidence to support its conclusion.

The original work appeared in Frontiers of Psychology in 2013, before the publication withdrew it over concerns it exposed them to lawsuits.

Lead author Stephan Lewandowsky is back with a beefed-up analysis on a link between conspiracy theories and rejection of climate science.

Published in the Journal of Social and Political Psychology, the study is the latest instalment of Lewandowsky’s long-running wrangle with the climate sceptic blogosphere.

In a linked blog and FAQ, Lewandowsky explains why he thinks it is important to challenge those who paint global warming as a hoax.

“There is ample evidence that the public is currently not being adequately informed about the risks from climate change,” he writes. That is “owing largely to flawed media coverage, to which blogs make a contribution”.

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His earlier work found conspiracy theories at work among a small minority who reject the scientific consensus that climate change is human-caused and dangerous.

Advocates for free markets were more likely to dispute climate science, it found, plus findings such as the link between smoking and lung cancer.

The contentious 2013 paper, entitled Recursive Fury, looked at a backlash from the online climate sceptic community against that argument.

Frontiers withdrew the piece, citing legal concerns, in a move widely characterised as caving into threats by deniers unhappy at their portrayal.

Lewandowsky has taken it as an example of a campaign of harassment he argues discourages climate scientists from sounding alarm about their findings.

The debacle shows “scholarship can sometimes be compromised by a small number of individuals who intimidate and bully editors, authors, universities or journals to suppress inconvenient work,” his blog states.

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Undeterred, on Wednesday he and five co-authors published an updated version of Recursive Fury, flanked by two new behavioural studies.

They recruited doctoral students unfamiliar with the previous work to assess anonymised comments for signs of conspiratorial thinking. This exercise reinforced the original conclusion.

The results show a need to educate the public about the difference between scientific and non-scientific discourse, the authors conclude.

“The Internet—as a platform for everyone to voice any opinion and make any claim, however unsupported by evidence—will not go away,” they write, “and the positives associated with a ‘free for all’ medium should not be under-estimated.

“However, we need to protect the evidence-bound sphere of scientific arguments from the largely unconstrained buzz outside that sphere.”

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