Australian Psychological Society "Disturbed" By Climate Denialist Group's "Misleading" Newspaper Advert

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Australia’s peak body representing psychologists has attacked a climate science denial group for a prominent advert taken out in a major national newspaper.

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) says the advert from a little-known group “misuses psychology-based arguments” to “mislead the public” on the science of climate change.

In a stinging letter to The Australian newspaper, which ran the half-page advert, the APS said the authors had shown “cognitive biases” in ignoring a “huge body of scientific evidence” on climate change.

The advertisers identified themselves only as “The Climate Study Group” in the page five advert that appeared on 7 August under the title “Psychology and the New Climate Alarm”.

DeSmog has found the group members have links to mining, finance, agriculture and free market “think tank” the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA).

Professor Lyn Littlefield, APS executive director, wrote in the letter:

The Australian Psychological Society was disturbed to see psychology being misused to mislead the public on such an important topic as climate change, and for this to be published in a reputable newspaper.

The advert claimed there was “no evidence CO2 has determined climate in the past or that it could do so in the future” and that “the next ice age remains the real global threat”.

Those conclusions run counter to all the major scientific institutions and academies around the world, including the UK’s Royal Society, the American Geophysical Union and the US National Academy of Sciences. Littlefield’s letter said:

The advert… misuses psychology-based arguments to add credibility to myths and misinformation about climate change. In doing so, the authors illustrate aptly the very error bias (confirmation bias) they are erroneously attributing to the climate science community.

There is a growing body of empirical research into the psychology of climate science denial and a number of these characteristics are on display in the Climate Study Group’s advertisement.

The advertisement provided no contact details about the group, but two members are former directors of the Institute of Public Affairs – a Melbourne-based “think tank” that has worked for decades to block action on greenhouse gas emissions while supporting non-expert fringe views on climate science.

In April, the seven-strong group sent a submission to the Government and the document was hosted on the IPA website.

None of the members of the group appear to have relevant qualifications in climate science or psychology but do have backgrounds in mining, agriculture and the finance industry.

The same group has previously gone by the name “Fair Farming Group”. In another government submission relating to the finance industry, two group members were described as being part of  “The Industry Group”. None of the groups appear to be incorporated in any way.

One group member is 76-year-old Dr Tom Quirk, who was an IPA director from 1998 until February 2014.  Quirk trained as a nuclear physicist but an online profile suggests has worked in industry since at least the late 1980s. His first industry role appears to have been with mining company Rio Tinto. He is a director of vaccine company Sementis.

Bob Officer, another group member, is also a former IPA director and an economics and finance industry consultant.

Mark Reyner, a former mining company director in the aluminium industry, is a former chairman of National Australia Bank who graduated from the University of New South Wales with a chemical engineering degree in 1960.

In a year-2000 university magazine article, Rayner said: “I’ve had a fascinating career and life, chasing around the world in the aluminium and mining industries.”

Richard Morgan, described as the “convenor” of the group, has a career focused on the agricultural fertiliser industry. Graham Sellars-Jones is a former stockbroker. The remaining members of the group have been listed as John Chambers and Andrew Miller.

In June 2014 the same group had a paper published in the journal Agricultural Science – the journal of Ag Institute of Australia – which tried to argue there was “no compelling evidence” that greenhouse gas emissions could cause dangerous global warming.

That paper was a reprint of an identical article that appeared in the November 2013 issue of the journal Energy and Environment.

The group, then using the name “Fair Farming Group”, said its priorities were to protect farmers from “unwarranted penalties in the guise of a carbon tax or ETS (emissions trading scheme)”.

Energy and Environment has been described as the “journal of choice for climate sceptics” and its editor, Dr Sonja Boehmer-Christensen, has described herself as a climate “sceptic”.

DeSmog attempted to contact group members Quirk and Morgan to ask them about their expertise and to respond to the APS criticisms, but received no response.

UPDATE: In an email, Mr Quirk declined to address any of the questions DeSmog posed, including how the advertisement was paid for, what relevant qualifications the group members had to comment on climate science or psychology and what their response was to the APS criticisms. Mr Quirk said: “Thank you very much for your interest as expressed to Mr Morgan and myself. You can easily search the public record for the group. We will read your article with interest.”

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