John Mashey's blog

Pseudoskeptics Exposed In The SalbyStorm

Pseudoskeptics Exposed In The SalbyStorm

Pseudoskeptics Are Not Skeptics was inspired by last year's SalbyStorm,  which highlighted the stark divide between scientific skeptics and most (pseudoskeptic) climate dismissives, who reject the mainstream consensus.

Murry Salby's unsupported, internally-inconsistent story of dismissal by Macquarie University was broadcast via blogs, to excited discussion.  Contrary evidence mounted over the next few days, including here.  Reactions differed strongly.

Scientific skeptics
About 30 commenters accepted mainstream climate science and rejected Salby's wrong ideas from his lectures and 2012 book (see review). Given a one-sided employment dispute story, real skeptics were cautious or knowledgable enough to be more dubious.  In the hostile territory of these blogs, they were often insulted, sometimes for merely expressing caution. 

Real skeptics knew the science, weighed evidence, and avoided leaping to premature conclusions on Salby's story.  Some searched and found relevant history that cast doubt on Salby's credibility, but were ignored or insulted for providing unwanted facts.

Climate dismissives, pseudoskeptic behavior
By contrast, of the 400+ dismissive commenters (who reject mainstream consensus), about 40% explicitly supported Salby's erroneous CO2 ideas, seemingly desperate to believe the current rise in CO2 was natural.  That idea was rejected by a mere handful, of whom one apologized and said he expected to be downvoted for doing so, and indeed he was.
Dismissives reacted to Salby's Macquarie story in varying ways:

Pseudoskeptics Are Not Skeptics

Fake skeptiocism is not genuine

Genuine scientific skepticism is not just the unmoving rejection of evolution or climate change by fake skeptics, called pseudoskeptics.  The real thing avoids premature conclusions, recognizes uncertainty, motivates searches for good data and causes real skeptics to change their minds,  as put succinctly by John Maynard Keynes:

“When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?”

Familiar Think Tanks Fight For E-cigarettes

Anti-science think tanks learned tactics from the tobacco industry and got paid for their help by tobacco companies, who fostered the Tea Party with the Koch brothers. When the Kochs needed better PR, they knew who to hire, Steve Lombardo, an experienced tobacco operative.

People rarely get strong nicotine addiction after their teen years,* but teen smoking has slowly been dropping in developed countries, threatening tobacco's future customer base. So do advertising restrictions and smoking bans in many places.

What to do?

Answer: Use the classic formula — apply brilliant marketing while familiar think tanks provide pseudo-academic cover to public and policy makers. Clean coal anyone?

Koch Industries Hires Tobacco Operative Steve Lombardo to Lead Communications and Marketing

Q: What does Koch Industries do when it needs better PR?

A: Hire a veteran helper of the tobacco industry.

At O'Dwyer's, Kevin McCauley writes January 9 in Koch Bros Lure Burson PA, Crisis Chair”:

“Steve Lombardo, PA/crisis chair at Burson-Marsteller in Washington since April, is moving to Koch Industries next month for the chief communications/marketing officer slot.

The 53-year-old sees an opportunity to showcase how the $115B Wichita-based conglomerate works to improve the lives of people around the world, according to Politico.

Prior to B-M, Lombardo helmed Edelman’s StrategyOne research operation, ran his own shop for an eight-year span and served as vice chairman of Blue Worldwide, Edelman’s advertising unit.

Lombardo has been involved in Republican politics, recently serving as senior research and communications director for Mitt Romney presidential run.

KI is the firm of conservative activists Charles and David Koch. Their empire includes Georgia-Pacific, Koch Pipeline/Fertilizer, Molex (electronic components), Flint Hills Resources, INVISTA (chemicals), Matador Cattle and Odessa Power.

Lombardo and Edelman colleague Jackie Cooper wrote about the “Republican Brand Problem” in O'Dwyer's in December 2012.

PR firm Burson-Marsteller and Lombardo both have relevant histories with tobacco.

Study Details Dark Money Flowing to Climate Science Denial

Drexel University sociologist Robert Brulle's long-awaited, peer-reviewed study “Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations” was published Dec. 20 in the journal Climatic Change.

The Drexel press release, “Not Just the Koch Brothers: New Drexel Study Reveals Funders Behind the Climate Change Denial Effort” gives a quick introduction to the findings:

'This study marks the first peer-reviewed, comprehensive analysis ever conducted of the sources of funding that maintain the denial effort.
Through an analysis of the financial structure of the organizations that constitute the core of the countermovement and their sources of monetary support, Brulle found that, while the largest and most consistent funders behind the countermovement are a number of well-known conservative foundations, the majority of donations are 'dark money,' or concealed funding.”

“Funding has shifted to pass through untraceable sources. Coinciding with the decline in traceable funding, the amount of funding given to denial organizations by the Donors Trust has risen dramatically. Donors Trust is a donor-directed foundation whose funders cannot be traced. This one foundation now provides about 25% of all traceable foundation funding used by organizations engaged in promoting systematic denial of climate change.”

Of course, many recipients engage in numerous other actiivities outside the climate issue, and Brulle's study did not and could not address the percentage spent on climate change.  The clear message is that tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations that spread climate denial get huge sums of dark money, and we really do not yet know exactly how they spend it.

Brulle has provided DeSmogBlog with the 120-page Supplementary Material, with detailed financial data and explanations of the methodology. Figs 1-4 are attached below. Fig 3 shows how the DONORS TRUST money anonymizer has grown:

Growth of DONORS

Defamation By Internet? Part 1 - Murry Salby's Short-Lived Blog Storm

Defamation? Murry Sa;by's Short-Lived Blog Storm

Climate anti-science adapted well to the Internet. A blog storm (in this case the “SalbyStorm”) can surge through well-linked blogs to spread misinformation or unsupported accusations.  Some blogs act as tribal echo chambers where people reinforce others' anger, in this case resembling a famed witch-burning scene, with Macquarie University as main, but not only, witch.

As in the “Climategate” blog storm, the noise was intended for the mainstream. This reached The Australian, but the main SalbyStorm lasted less than a week.

Some earlier storms generated serious harassment of targeted climate scientists. In pre-blog 1996, Frederick Seitz and Fred Singer made personal attacks on Ben Santer via the Wall Street Journal. Later, blogs were employed to continue, as by Paul Chesser in this or this(Warning: those URLs are OK, but every once in a while, WebCite gets overloaded and gives odd error message. Ignore for now and try later.)

Michael Mann has replaced Santer as favored target, but there have been many other victims, such as Katharine Hayhoe. Only a small fraction of readers need get angry enough to produce reputational damage, hate mail, death threats, a dead rat on the doorstep or floods of email.

Some “skeptical” bloggers routinely accept and repeat both silly anti-science ideas, and other unsuppported claims, as here. Apologies or corrections almost never occur and even if they do, they rarely flow through the network, leaving waves of misimpression there.  First impressions stick.

On July 9-12, Macquarie suffered this kind of attack (Wave 1).  Ex-Professor Murry Salby made serious, but unsupported and sometimes contradictory, accusations against Macquarie, by the unusual route of email to bloggers. Joanne Nova (Australia), Anthony Watts (Watts Up With That, USA), and Andrew Montford (Bishop Hill, UK) republished them.

After 4 days and 1,500+ comments at those blogs alone, SalbyStorm's Wave 1 ended quickly when Salby's checkered past was detailed at DeSmogBlog.  Discussions stopped, although with little apology or introspection about gullibility at “skeptical” blogs.  A very few people had wondered at oddities of Salby's claims, searched for his past history, and independently started finding problems within a few hours. Salby supporters did not do that, preferring to specualte and comment.

People believed the worst and repeated it, sometimes expanding defamatory accusations with little concern for evidence. A few of the phrases applied to Macquarie or mainstream climate science included criminal, dictatorial, barbaric, Orwellian, Nazi, Stasi, Deutsch Physika, Marxist, Stalinist, Lysenko, thugs, Mafia, and extended further to “goose-stepping, alarmist, fascist, progressives.”  Salby was praised as a science hero, compared to Galileo, Copernicus or Einstein,  despite the evident problems in his scientific claims.

Salby sent accusations to bloggers who republished them with little visible effort to calm the mutually-reinforcing commenter outrage.  Finally, the story got repeated by The Australian.  Experienced watchers have seen this before, but  SalbyStorm makes a compact case study to document and recall in future storms.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - John Mashey's blog