by Judith Curry
I’m wondering how we can inoculate ourselves and broader public from the latest nonsense from John Cook: an online MOOC Making Sense of Climate Denial.
BadAstronomer has signed up for the course, given an overview of the course in this post Making sense of nonsense: a MOOC about climate change denial, BadAstronomer is very excited about guest lecturers Michael Mann, Katherine Hayhoe, and Naomi Oreskes.
The ‘philosophy’ behind the course is described by John Cook in an article in the Conversation, entitled: Inoculating against science denial. Excerpts:
How then should scientists respond to science denial? The answer lies in a branch of psychology dating back to the 1960s known as “inoculation theory”. Inoculation is an idea that changed history: stop a virus from spreading by exposing people to a weak form of the virus. This simple concept has saved millions of lives.
In the psychological domain, inoculation theory applies the concept of inoculation to knowledge. When we teach science, we typically restrict ourselves to just explaining the science. This is like giving people vitamins. We’re providing the information required for a healthier understanding. But vitamins don’t necessarily grant immunity against a virus.
There is a similar dynamic with misinformation. You might have a healthy understanding of the science. But if you encounter a myth that distorts the science, you’re confronted with a conflict between the science and the myth. If you don’t understand the technique used to distort the science, you have no way to resolve that conflict.
Half a century of research into inoculation theory has found that the way to neutralise misinformation is to expose people to a weak form of the misinformation. The way to achieve this is to explain the fallacy employed by the myth. Once people understand the techniques used to distort the science, they can reconcile the myth with the fact.
The response to science denial is not just more science. We stop science denial by exposing people to a weak form of science denial. We need to inoculate minds against misinformation.
The practical application of inoculation theory is already happening in classrooms, with educators adopting the teaching approach of misconception-based learning (also known as agnotology-based learning or refutational teaching).
This involves teaching science by debunking misconceptions about the science. This approach results in significantly higher learning gains than customary lectures that simply teach the science.
At the University of Queensland, we’re launching a MOOC that makes sense of climate science denial.
Our approach draws upon inoculation theory, educational research into misconception-based learning and the cognitive psychology of debunking. We explain the psychological research into why and how people deny climate science.
Having laid the framework, we examine the fallacies behind the most common climate myths. Our goal is for students to learn how to identify the techniques used to distort climate science and feel confident responding to misinformation.
No, I have not signed up for the course. However, I did receive a lengthy email from someone who did sign up for the course, who emailed me transcripts of everything provided during week 1 of the course. Here is the course overview:
Denial101x includes 6 weeks of lectures. The first week looks at the psychology of denial – what drives people to reject a scientific consensus? Understanding the psychology is crucial because we lay out a framework for science denial that will be used throughout the rest of the course. From weeks 2 to 5, we debunk myths about climate science – Some of them may be very familiar to you and some might be brand new.
Week 2 looks at myths that cast doubt on the reality of global warming. Week 3 looks at myths related to what’s causing global warming. We’ll look at the many human fingerprints being observed through our climate that not only confirm our role in recent global warming but also rule out other possible causes. Week 4 looks at the past and the future – paleoclimate research into the Earth’s past and climate model projections into the future. Week 5 looks at climate impacts, specifically we look at myths that try to play down the impacts of climate change.
Finally, in week 6, we answer the question – how do we respond to climate science denial? We look at psychological research into how to respond to
denial and give practical advice on debunking misinformation. Throughout this course, we’ll include interviews with some of the world’s leading climate
The guest lecturer for Week 1 is . . . . Stephan Lewandowsky. I looked through the entire transcript, usual nutty stuff. A few excerpts:
Well, I think the most important thing, to my mind, is the scientists, climate scientists, to realize that the public sphere is awash with agents who are not acting in good faith, who are not interested in dialogue, who are pursuing their own interests whatever they may be and for whatever reason, and who will not respond to communication in the same way that you and I would engage in a dialogue.
JC comment: Sounds like a conspiracy theory to me.
Now what’s happened is that on the blogs, the University of Western Australia is being maligned and smeared and is now pulled into this bigger conspiracy.
Some of the characteristics of conspiratorial thinking or conspiratorial discourse are well understood, and there is a number of them. I think the most important one, the most powerful one, is an overriding sense of suspicion, something that goes beyond skepticism that goes into suspicion and can be—can approach paranoia even, and that is that nothing will be accepted at face value if it comes from somebody who’s presumed to be involved in this conspiracy. It doesn’t matter what you say, if you’re the target of a conspiracy theory, because whatever you say will be taken with the greatest suspicion and it will not be seen in the light in which it is intended. That, I think, to my mind, is the most important one.
JC comment: can you guys please look in the mirror?
If the public knows that the scientists have formed a consensus on climate change, then that allows them to rely on that trust that they have in scientists anyway and to accept the fact that, yes, we have a problem and we should do something about that. It turns out that there is a number of studies that have looked at this, and in pretty much all cases that I know of, over and over again, if you tell people that there is a scientific consensus on climate change, then that is affecting their acceptance of the science. We know that people’s perception of the consensus is related to their policy preferences. The more people think there is a strong consensus among scientists, the more likely they are to support mitigation measures.
JC comment: Sounds like ‘motivated reasoning’ for writing a bogus paper on 97% consensus.
Well, I’m not even sure where to start with this one.
Going through all this did make me realize something: Cook, Lewandowsky, Mann, Oreskes et al. are conspiracy theorists – they see a fossil fuel funded, conservative conspiracy of ‘climate denial,’ the so-called merchants of doubt meme.
The facts of the matter are this (from my recent Congressional testimony):
Scientists agree that surface temperatures have increased since 1880, humans are adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have a warming effect on the planet. However there is considerable disagreement about the most consequential issues:
- Whether the warming since 1950 has been dominated by human causes
- How much the planet will warm in the 21st century
- Whether warming is ‘dangerous’
If Cook et al. think that there is a 97% consensus on the the three bulleted points, well then they are the true ‘climate science deniers.’
It is clear from all this that Cook et al. are UNFCCC/IPCC ideologues. There is nothing wrong per se with ideology; it is the ideologues that are the problem – absence of doubt, intolerance of debate, appeal to authority, desire to convince others of the ideological “truth”, and a willingness to punish those that don’t concur. They need to look in the mirror and understand their own motivated reasoning.
And finally, a word about agnotology. Cook cites a paper on agnotology-based learning, which is rather painful. I suggest reading my previous post Agnotology, agnoiology, and cognitronics , and specifically Michael Smithson’s post Agnotology, Uncertainty, and Ignorance.
Well, it will be sort of interesting to see how Cook’s latest attempt at ‘consensus’ enforcement plays out.
Update: I thought it would be fun to make some suggestions for John Cook’s final exam, to see if the students REALLY are inoculated against climate denial. Here are my suggestions for a reading list (accessible to nontechnical students), I look forward to your suggestions: