Despite the huge number of mutually contradictory claims denialists make, there is something they all have in common: no matter how much green ink a they use in their writing, denialists never formally criticise each other.
The term cognitive dissonance was coined by Leon Festinger, a psychologist who (in 1954) infiltrated a UFO cult that had been promised a ride into space to avoid a great flood. The UFOs didn’t show. But instead of the cult imploding they turned instead to self justification and denial as they learned, via automatic writing from God, that their goodness had persuaded Him to call it all off.
Festinger established five criteria for cognitive dissonance (from the link above). The first four are unremarkable:
- 1) A belief must be held with deep conviction and it must have some relevance to action, that is, to what the believer does or how he behaves.
- 2) The person holding the belief must have committed himself to it; that is, for the sake of his belief, he must have taken some important action that is difficult to undo. In general, the more important such actions are, and the more difficult they are to undo, the greater is the individual’s commitment to the belief.
- 3) The belief must be sufficiently specific and sufficiently concerned with the real world so that events may unequivocally refute the belief.
- 4) Such undeniable disconfirmatory evidence must occur and must be recognized by the individual holding the belief.
The last, however, is directly relevant to the climate “debate”:
- 5) The individual believer must have social support. It is unlikely that one isolated believer could withstand the kind of disconfirming evidence that has been specified. If, however, the believer is a member of a group of convinced persons who can support one another, the belief may be maintained and the believers may attempt to proselyte or persuade nonmembers that the belief is correct.
Could it be that the need to spread the mental strain of dissonance over more minds (insert your own comments here) is the reason denialists can’t criticise each other? (Every denialist is sacred). If denialists started throwing people out for idiocy then where would it stop?
For example, in a Listener article of April 19, 2008, Bryan Leyland and Chris de Freitas said in the context of climate that “there has been no global warming since 2002 despite an increase in atmospheric CO2 of more than 4%“. Six years data and they were calling the climate? Regardless of any other consideration it is, as even HT commenter James appears to concede, invalid to use such short periods to discuss climate. But why did no denialist ever publicly put their name to saying so?
Perhaps, and I am very willing to believe this, most of the members of the NZC”S”C are not well educated enough to have picked up on the subtlety that 6 is less than 30. But there’s an even more clear cut example of NZ’s denialists reducing their collective cognitive dissonance by avoiding telling a fool they are a fool.
For many months in 2006 and 2007 the NZC”S”C site hosted a letter by Ken Ring. Ring sent the letter to all MPs and said that:
CO2 is also nearly twice as heavy as air (molecular weight 44, that of air 29) so it cannot rise anywhere beyond haze level of a couple of hundred feet. The Greenhouse cover is 20 miles up, at the top of the atmosphere, and is formed by water vapour. Any CO2 at higher levels is ejected there from volcanoes and kept aloft by upper level turbulence. Nevertheless, it is continually FALLING, not rising, which is how and why vegetation receives it, enabling plant life to grow.
Yes, he actually confused rising = increasing with rising = greater altitude. I had a lengthy correspondence with him and clarified that he really thought that CO2 collected at ground level and in mines etc and was incapable of making it into the upper atmosphere. (I seem to have missed noticing the even heavier CFC layer at ground level). Ring’s article quickly gathered more comments than most threads at the NZC”S”C site (including well over 100 comments in a separate thread about a beautiful demolition of Ring that they posted alongside the original). Plainly the NZC”S”C was aware of what Ring was saying. But none of the members (even those with real science training) ever told Ken to push off because he was embarrassingly wrong.
Consider also the beyond parody EG Beck (who is trumpeted as a genius by Bryan Leyland). Beck compiled every reported measurement of atmospheric CO2 in the last 200 years, graphed the data and reported in all seriousness that atmospheric CO2 could go up and down by a physically implausible 100 ppm in 10 years.
Beck thanked NZC”S”C scientist Bob Carter for “helpful discussions”. I am happy to accept that Beck didn’t know any better but Carter — a fellow of the Royal Society of NZ — certainly should have done. In Carter’s submission to the first ETS Select Committee in 2008 he included a copy of a 2007 presentation he gave at The AusIMM [Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy] New Leaders Conference. In that he states: “More support for decadal fluctuations of carbon dioxide comes from the compilation and summary of 90000 historical atmospheric analyses back to the mid-19th century by Beck (2007)”. Does Carter have a blind spot of dumb to avoid dissonance or is he, as Chomsky said of Lacan “an amusing and perfectly self-conscious charlatan”? (Carter will be the subject of a future post.)
On the other hand, over at the sceptics dictionary they say that:
There are people who know what they are doing is wrong, but they have such contempt for the rest of us that it doesn’t make them the slightest bit uncomfortable conning us. What evidence is there that people who do bad things or believe what they should know is false are concerned about their self-image? Do mafia hit men have to deal with cognitive dissonance so they can sleep at night? I’d like to see the empirical study on that one.
It is unlikely to be so simple. More likely, some denialists are deluded or delusional, some bad, and some both. I think the bad ones are in it mainly for ego. They know action will be taken despite them. They also know that, like creationists, they can fight a long and (in some cases) lucrative rearguard action. By whacking the bad moles (fulfilling Festinger’s 4th condition) we make it harder for them to maintain their credibility and recruiting potential (ie avert the 5th condition). So grab a hammer and start pounding the bad moles.