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The hypocrisy of the annointed

Posted By JoNova On May 15, 2010 @ 3:43 am In Global Warming | Comments Disabled

This is too rich. Baa Humbug has found scientific peer reviewed research that skeptics are more attuned to reality and better able to discount misinformation (!) but, oh the irony, which researcher makes this claim? The man with the fairy dust logic, Stephan Lewandowsky. It’s just a shame he wouldn’t know a skeptic if one sat on him.

He presented his research conclusions in Nov 2007 in Online Opinion and The Canberra Times as A Sceptics Guide to Politics. One week later with a completely straight face, he implored everyone to act to save the climate, because it was obvious. Of course.

In his world, if you question officialdom and you’re “right”, you’re a skeptic, but if you question officials and you’re “wrong”, then you’re a denier. Got it? It all makes sense, but only if Lewandowsky is God. Somehow He knows when to trust the news-media and politicians: John Howard and George Bush couldn’t be trusted over Iraq, but obviously Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong are entirely correct on Climate Change. (After all, most of the world’s bankers agree with them.)

I recently conducted research with colleagues abroad in which we investigated how people processed information about Iraq. We identified scepticism as the key variable that predicted whether or not people mistakenly believed that weapons of mass destruction had been found. People who were sceptical about the motives underlying the invasion tended to be more attuned to the reality on the ground than people who were less sceptical.

Similarly, after it was corrected, sceptics were able to discount the misinformation, whereas those who were less sceptical failed to discount the discredited versions of events. Importantly, scepticism did not interfere with people’s ability to remember true events, identifying it as a sharp and incisive tool to differentiate between truth and falsehood.

Get ready, Lewandowsky has written the Guide to being a Skeptic and it has all the value of any guide written by The Gullible.

How to protect yourself from “Misinformation”?

First is confidence - an essential ingredient of scepticism. You cannot doubt a politician’s statement, especially one based on unspecified intelligence, unless you have sufficient confidence to know that you may know better.

Why not take your confidence to an extreme? Gift yourself the power to know without doubt which politicians are telling the Truth (other people call this arrogance). Pour scorn on those who disagree. You are the holy one with the Vision for Truth. (Does Lewandowsky really think the rest of the population are so underconfident that they believe politicians? Hasn’t he seen the polls, people rate the honesty and ethics of politicians just above news-readers, insurance brokers and car salesman, and below most other professions.)

being sceptical means avoiding what George Orwell called the memory hole. Simply put: don’t forget what actually happened.

Exactly, since you are gifted, and know What Actually Happened (because you were there, in Iraq, right?), this isn’t so hard. Keep repeating the same lines to yourself. Don’t seek out information that might confuse you. Isn’t this the very anti-thesis of skepticism? There is an inbuilt assumption in the phrase “knows what actually happened”.

(*Just for comparison, a real skeptic, like myself, says I have NFI whether there were once WMDs in Iraq. I know that officials didn’t find any, but I also know Saddam didn’t let anyone romp in to any site at random with candid cameras. Since I haven’t done serious research into it, I don’t spout my opinion either way, and I certainly don’t ask for grants to do scientific research and write peer reviewed papers using official press releases as if they are a Definitive Statement of The Truth.)

Third, being sceptical means to consider the track record of politicians and specific media outlets. If their record turns out to be patchy, should you continue to trust them?

The first rule in the Good Guide to Get Confused is to mix up the message with the messenger. You can spend hours going through someone’s CV, or their “track record” on unrelated topics, and never learn anything about the actual topic that matters. (This is the point that blows him away as a fake skeptic. This is Argument¬† from Authority — judge the person not the particulars. The first requirement of any skeptic is surely to look at the evidence, not the character of the messenger.)

Fourth, being sceptical means that you need to focus on the information. We know from much laboratory research that it takes time and effort to process negation; hence, if a report says that weapons of mass destruction were not found in Iraq, chances are you will mistakenly remember this in the affirmative if you are distracted while processing the information. Do not let the dog and the kids get between you and the news if you really want to know and remember what is happening.

Yes, the Good Guide to being Gullible says you should listen intently to everything they tell you on TV. Pay attention! Don’t go hunting on the Internet for the other side of the story, and then weigh up the answers. (Lewandowsky presumably recommends you listen carefully to government funded news broadcasters telling you about government funded research that supports government policies that provide excuses for governments to expand their powers. Why be skeptical about that?)

The Peer Reviewed paper: Memory for fact, fiction and misinformation (2005)

Lewandowsky assumes that all the government reporting on the Iraq War is accurate and that the media reportage of it is unbiased, then fashions a study of people’s attitudes, recollection, and ability to recall the PR (he calls it “truth”) accurately.

Can anyone spot any problems with doing research based on the assumption that you know The Truth about a complex phenomenon involving hundreds of thousands of people in a fight to the death? (It’s known as the Fog of War for a reason, and recall the cliche: The first casualty in war is The Truth.) But Lewandowsky thinks our news reporters and government officials are so honest, unbiased, and omnipresent that he can use something like this as a definitive basis for research.

We draw three pragmatic conclusions: First, the repetition of tentative news stories, even if they are subsequently disconfirmed, can assist in the creation of false memories in a substantial proportion of people. Second, once information is published, its subsequent correction does not alter people’s beliefs unless they are suspicious about the motives underlying the events the news stories are about. Third, when people ignore corrections, they do so irrespective of how certain they are that the corrections occurred.

How do we know what a false memory is, when the event is highly complex and there are different versions? To make it worse, the “event” we refer to (no-WMDs) is a “non-event” which requires evidence of absence (which is essentially unprovable). How could anyone really “know” that something didn’t exist? We can know that there were no reports on TV of anyone finding WMDs. We can know they searched high and low. We can know that some people would have liked to have uncovered any WMDs. We can (maybe) estimate the probability that there were none. But we can’t “know”.

His third conclusion, that people ignore “corrections”, is a non-starter if we don’t know which version was correct. The people ignoring “official corrections” might just be the die hard skeptics who are still discounting the press releases and government reports and putting more weight in other sources. I have no strong opinion about the topic of Iraq. Maybe the news reports are the “Truth”, but given the half-truths promoted about the climate, I’m not willing to assume I get the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about any topic any more. With such flawed assumptions underlying the study I doubt anything conclusive could be drawn from it. (So much for the rigor of “peer review”.)

After all the Climate propaganda, how many “false memories” have been formed?

How many people believe:

Remember the repetition of tentative news stories, even if they are subsequently disconfirmed, can assist in the creation of false memories.

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