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October 23rd 2012 print

Hal G.P. Colebatch


Quadrant Online contributor Hal G.P. Colebatch doesn't need to crunch numbers in order to spot the flaw in UWA psychologists' much ridiculed study of what "deniers" are said to be believe

A reading of the paper “NASA faked the moon landing, Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science” by Stephan Lewandowsky, Klaus Oberauer and Gilles Gignac of the University of Western Australia, immediately and without further investigation of sources, etc. shows objections which, I believe, undercut the paper’s claim to scientific rigour.

The authors seem principally concerned with asserting that belief in unscientific conspiracy theories is linked with a belief in so-called laissez-faire, or the free, unrestricted market.

The first objection to this is that no serious educated person believes laissez-faire to be anything more than a philosophical construct or model, as the authors should be aware. No completely unregulated market exists or, in all probability, has ever existed anywhere in the world. This is known to everyone who has undertaken any kind of economic activity. The authors are flailing at a straw man.

Second, the typical conspiracy theories the authors repeatedly refer to are that NASA faked the moon landing, that 9/11 was an inside job, that the FBI killed Martin Luther King and that the US Air Force is concealing evidence of contact with space aliens.

In political terms these conspiracy theories, and others such as that the CIA or shadowy big business interests assassinated President Kennedy, or that the British Royal Family were responsible for the death of Princess Diana, are all left-wing. They attribute murderous, lawless villainy and lies to major institutions of the US (and British) Governments. Yet a belief in laissez-faire, or to put it more realistically, minimal government regulation, is right-wing. While many, or all, right-wing think-tanks show a distrust of big government, I know of none anywhere in the world that subscribe to the conspiracy theories the authors list.

The paper is basically incoherent, and appears motivated by ideology rather than fact.

The authors give very little indication, beyond vague prejudicial stereotyping, of the level of education, occupation, qualifications, level of success, achievement, family background, mental history, competence and adjustment of the people they interviewed. To collect the opinion of a group of cranks or autodidacts may be an interesting clinical exercise but it is hard to see it proving anything about normal society.

          Finally, one cannot help noticing that the listed qualifications of the authors do not necessarily qualify them to make judgements on the validity or otherwise of what they repeatedly refer to as “the science.”

Hal G. P. Colebatch