Seeing freedom and truth as disease

A thought-provoking post just went up at WUWT. It’s by Thomas Fuller concerning Stephan Lewandowsky’s ill-born “poll” of climate sceptics and his subsequent paper “revealing” them as believers in various wacky conspiracy theories. Fuller gives an electrifying insight into the attacks on sceptics as suffering a disease of the mind. For he cites a tactic from the days of slavery.

The medicalization of dissent is a delicate topic to bring up in conversations about climate change. If you use it about somebody you’re almost instantly associating them with really evil people who used the tactic to further Stalinism, Naziism, Maoism, etc.

But the tactic, which really is nothing more than a fancy term for calling your opponents crazy, exists. It is reprehensible. So when I accuse climate alarmists such as Chris Mooney, Kevin Prall, John Mashey and now Stephan Lewandowsky of using the tactic of medicalizing dissent, I am not trying to say they are Stalinists, Nazis or Maoists. That would be like calling people deniers… a thuggish tactic if ever I’ve seen one.

Medicalizing dissent was perhaps first used by Dr. Samuel Cartwright in 1861, when he invented the term drapetomania to describe a new disease, suffered only by slaves. The disease was a desire for freedom. It had to be a disease, you see, because Cartwright had to justify slavery. As you can see, it’s hard to talk about medicalizing dissent without being offensive.

Just as slaves naturally want their freedom, climate sceptics naturally want the truth. If instead we become agitated by ad hominem attacks, we may find that, piece by piece, our freedoms are weakened and removed. Like the slaves, we will end up hankering for freedom (not that the slaves contributed to their own abduction).

As this post illustrates and developments everywhere attest, climatic dissent has become dangerously emotionally charged and associated by many with the safety of mankind and even the Earth itself. Powerful, primordial instincts are at work to muzzle, hobble or even eliminate those who threaten the survival of the tribe.

Investigate now — discuss, correspond, refute and object. Dissent is already difficult, but for now at least it remains legal.

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24 Thoughts on “Seeing freedom and truth as disease

  1. Andy on 16/09/2012 at 5:16 pm said:

    Hilary Ostrov has also just written a piece on this which is worth a read.

    I quite liked the comment from Judith Curry

    an alternative hypothesis: the motivation reasoning is on the other side, the liberal defenders of the CAGW consensus. Once the ‘consensus’ argument stepped beyond climate science into the realm of ‘dangerous’ impacts and ‘solutions’ involving global changes in governance and energy policy, BS detectors were triggered in people who didn’t share that motivation.

    So when Ken says we are politically motivated, he is partly right. I just think our BS detectors are what motivates us. I am particularly unsympathetic to BS of any political flavour, and there is plenty of that around.

  2. Robin Pittwood on 16/09/2012 at 7:34 pm said:

    Also take a look at WUWT, the tail end of Lew#5, Glenn Tamblyn’s forum post at SkS.
    Very revealing!

  3. Huub Bakker on 17/09/2012 at 6:58 am said:

    Rather than the term ”denier (which the CAGW followers would like to call us because of its associations with the Holocaust and the suggestion that we can’t see what’s plainly in front of our noses), or even ‘sceptic’, which is a more scientific term, I’m of the opinion that the term ‘heretic’ might be the most appropriate. This has religious overtones and denotes one who differs in opinion from the scientific or political consensus of the day.

    To be a denier already implies that there is something wrong with you. To be a sceptic suggests an innate stubbornness, which can be seen as an undesirable, negative character trait. Certainly this carries overtones of unemotionalism that does not lead to sympathy. To be a heretic recalls the likes of Galileo, right, but persecuted for his beliefs.

    The choice of title to describe someone is important beyond the straight meaning; there’s the emotional baggage that comes with it as well. The idea here is to pick a term that provides no sympathy for your opponent and allows you to then dehumanise them. The two pillars to knock down are those of credibility and sympathy.

  4. Rob Taylor on 19/09/2012 at 6:16 am said:

    Thanks for the link to the Lewandowsky paper, RT; perhaps there is some value to this site, after all?

    • Richard C (NZ) on 19/09/2012 at 7:27 am said:

      Not just a link to the paper Rob, there’s an entire Lewandowsky post and comment thread here:-

    • Rob Taylor on 19/09/2012 at 11:23 am said:

      Hey, guys, here’s a section of the paper that describes your reaction to the NZCSET High Court debacle:

      The prominence of conspiracist ideation in science denial is not entirely surprising because if an overwhelming scienti c consensus cannot be accepted as the result of researchers independently converging on the same evidence-based view, then its very existence calls for an alternative explanation|a function readily ful lled by the ideation
      of a complex and secretive conspiracy among researchers (Diethelm & McKee, 2009;
      McKee & Diethelm, 2010).

      However, no empirical evidence exists about how widespread such ideations are among people who reject scienti c evidence, in particular as it relates to climate change. Moreover, to date, analyses of conspiracist ideation in the rejection of science have exclusively focused on conspiracy theories pertaining to the issue under consideration: Thus, AIDS denial has been linked to the belief that the U.S. Government created HIV; the tobacco industry viewed lung cancer research as an oligopolistic cartel,” and climate deniers believe that temperature records have been illegitimately adjusted to exaggerate warming (e.g., Condon, 2009).

      In all those cases, the conspiracy theory serves to explain away overwhelming scienti c evidence. Thus, the conspiracist ideation may be an accoutrement of the denial of an inconvenient scienti c fact, rather than reflecting an independent and potentially stable psychological variable that is associated with the rejection of science more generally.

  5. Richard C (NZ) on 19/09/2012 at 11:45 am said:

    “….the paper that describes your reaction to the NZCSET High Court debacle:”

    No it isn’t, you are quoting the Lewandowsky paper ‘Motivated rejection of science’ currently being shredded (see comments):-


    “[CAGW sceptics] [prove] that temperature records have been [mal]adjusted to exaggerate warming”

    E.g. here:-

  6. Rob Taylor on 19/09/2012 at 11:57 am said:

    Yes, I am quoting the excellent Lewandowsky paper, which well describes the behaviour I see on this blog.

    As for it being “shredded” by more of the same, dream on….

  7. Rob Taylor on 19/09/2012 at 12:22 pm said:

    Wow, professional deniers Jo “Nova” and McIntyre don’t like the exposure – quelle surprise!

    FYI, if you listen to Chris Laidlaw’s programme on National Radio this Sunday, you may learn something…

    • Richard C (NZ) on 19/09/2012 at 12:50 pm said:

      “Jo “Nova” and McIntyre don’t like the exposure” – No Rob, they’re excoriating the paper.

      As are:-

      William Briggs (statistician)
      Tom Fuller (Online Market Researcher, not a sceptic)
      Tom Curtis (Skeptical Science stalwart)
      Richard Betts (The Leopard In The Basement, I think)
      Anthony Watts (yes I know – blah-de-blah)
      Lucia Liljegren (The Blackboard, statistician)
      et al

      Re Richard Betts, here’s Wikipedia:-

      Richard A. Betts is Head of the Climate Impacts strategic area at the Met Office Hadley Centre in Exeter, United Kingdom.[1][2] He was a lead author for Working Group I[3] and a contributing author for Working Group II[4] of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report. He will be a lead author for Working Group II of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report.[5] He is an editor for the International Journal of Global Warming,[6] the Journal of Environmental Investing,[7] and for Earth System Dynamics.[8]

      After studying physics at the University of Bristol, Betts switched to meteorology at the University of Birmingham and then studied for a doctorate in meteorology at the University of Reading.[1] He is noted for engaging with climate sceptics on Twitter[2] and was selected by TIME as one of the 140 best Twitter feeds of 2012.[9]

    • Richard C (NZ) on 19/09/2012 at 1:04 pm said:

      Since when were Tom Fuller, Tom Curtis and Richard Betts sceptics?

      I missed that news update.

    • Tom Fuller on 03/10/2012 at 3:32 pm said:

      Umm, I am not a skeptic on climate change. I am a lukewarmer.

      That said, Lewandowsky’s an idiot.

  8. Andrew W on 19/09/2012 at 12:32 pm said:

    Put simply, humans are rationalizing rather than rational creatures, So what “skeptics” are doing in rationalizing away the weight of science isn’t about them being crazy, rather it’s about them succumbing to instinct.

    This rationalizing away of reason is something humans have done for millions of years, in human society we instinctively recognize “in groups” and “out groups”, for “skeptic” on the one hand and “warmists” on the other, the nature of the issue creates these two groups, and human instinct does the rest, we’ve spent the vast majority of our evolutionary history battling to survive, and survival has often meant killing, or at least ejecting those in the out group.

    It’s easier to kill other people, or leave them to starve if we rationalize that they’re bad, mad or evil etc, so to improve our chances of survival, that’s what evolution has bred us to do.

  9. David on 19/09/2012 at 1:11 pm said:

    Ron Taylor says
    “Yes, I am quoting the excellent Lewandowsky paper”

    Thank you for continuing to confirm how little you really know. You are so funny. I love reading your comments here and elsewhere. It brightens up my day laughing at you.
    Please dont stop. Its just too entertaining the total disconnect you have with reality.

    • Rob Taylor on 19/09/2012 at 2:13 pm said:

      Goodness gracious, David, are you trying to hurt my feelings?

      You are such a bad boy; I do hope your mother doesn’t see this and take away your skateboard…

  10. Ron on 01/10/2012 at 8:21 am said:


    “Football fans who make offensive chants about wind turbines could face stiff jail sentences under plans by the government and the Football Association to ‘get tough’ with climate change deniers. ……. ” “…. The FA’s campaign builds on research they conducted that found a clear link between the Holocaust, racism and scepticism towards claims by solar panel and wind turbine marketing managers. …”

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