Lewandowsky

Summary

Based on the ethics application, Lewandowsky’s known views on skeptics and comments he made about “the pause” it appears this project was set up with the expectation that it would show that skeptics changed their views depending what they thought the graph showed. It was probably expected that skeptics would demonstrate a bias by changing their estimation of future trend when informed the graph showed global temperature and it might have been expected that many would say it was cooling.

To test this idea, the groups were randomly split into those told the graph was the share price and another told it was global temperature. They were also asked their views on climate and Lewandowsky then compared those within each group to see how their beliefs on climate was related to their average prediction of the future trends.

It turns out the survey showed the complete opposite effect to that we believe was expected. Skeptics in the group told it was temperature and those told it was share prices had almost the same prediction of the future trend. So irrespective of whether it was shares or global temperature skeptics estimate of future trends were very similar. In contrast the expected trend given by global warming believers differed dramatically between those who were led to believe the graph showed share prices and those led to believe it was global temperature.

This is a very significant finding. It appears to show that those who believe in warming are very suggestible and that skeptics base their views very largely on the evidence and not what they are told the evidence shows.

But the final paper avoided this conclusion by focussing on another point saying that: “even skeptics predict it will warm”. This focus only appeared after the results were available.

To put it bluntly, the paper strongly suggests that people who believe in global warming are more gullible and skeptics are very resistant to false suggestions.

Background

Steve McIntyre has been investigating the ethical application for the Lewandowky NASA conspiracy paper which was originally drawn up for another project. But this project is also dynamite. (also see WUWT)

The original application was submitted on or about 14 December 2009, with the title:

Understanding Statistical Trends

The aims of the project were described thus:

The project seeks to explore people’s understanding of statistical trends in time series data. If we are monitoring a stock price, what do we think will happen to it in the future?

Participants will be shown simple graphs of time series (samples enclosed) and will make predictions about the future trends.

The procedures are expanded upon in a further part of the application (section 9):

Subjects will be shown a number of statistical graphs (3 or 4 at most) that contain time series data. Subjects will be asked to extrapolate the visible trend into the future by indicating their guess of the next most likely values (see enclosed sample).

Some of the trends will be upward, some downward, and most will be presented as fictitious stock prices. The actual data will either be generated randomly or will be the world’s temperature (climate) data collected by NASA (NASA GISS data set).

For some subjects, the climate data will be identified as such whereas for other subjects (chosen at random) they will be presented as stock prices.

And finally:

Upon completion of the graphical task, subjects will be presented with 3 – 4 questions about their impressions of scientific certainty. For example, people will be asked how certain they think sceintists are about the association between emissions and climate change, HIV and AIDS, and tobacco smoke and lung cancer (using a scale from 0 – 100%)

The aim is very clear. The project aimed to understand how participants background affected how they viewed statistical trends. This was going to be tested by asking them to predict the future trend of a plot after one group was told it was stock market data and other that it was global temperature. Then this would be tested to determine whether participants views on issues like climate change affected their perception of the likely future trend.

Results & change in name

But was not what was reported in the results. Instead the result was a paper named:

Popular Consensus: Climate Change Set to Continue

This is a very odd name for a paper intended to find any link between people’s views on issues like climate science and their expectation of future temperature. And there was nothing in the ethical assessment about “contrarian claims about global warming having stopped”. But according to the report this is suggested as the focus of the project:

This study,… suggests that presentation of climate data can counteract contrarian claims about global warming having stopped.

This was clearly not the aim of the study, so what could have led to such a dramatic change in focus. The answer appears to come from the following paragraph:

Notably, although extrapolations overall differed little between presentation formats, people’s perceptions were related to their attitudes only when the data were identi fied as temperatures; however, even for those few individuals in that condition who explicitly rejected AGW, extrapolations were still (just) significantly positive.

Like most people would, when I read this I understood this to be a statement about “contrarians” to the effect that contrarians were more likely to change their view depending whether the data was said to be climate or stock markets.

But this conclusion is clearly false. Although the paper does not give all the relevant figures, there is enough figures in the paper to estimate how the future trend of “contrarians” compares to the predicted trend of other people as shown by the table below:

Predicted temperature trend Predicted Share trend
r(96)=0.09 R(96) = 0.21
All 5.51 3.66
Neutral or disagree
with AGW
3.75

~3

(estimated
from regression)

Disagree (6) 3.77 Not Stated

Discussion

This shows that whilst “skeptics” tended to interpret a temperature graph as having a slightly higher gradient (3.75) than that of shares (3), those who believed in global warming dramatically changed their view of the graph because when everyone was included there was a dramatic change between when told it was temperature (5.51) and when share trend (3.66).

As skeptics would have reduced this figure, it is fairly safe to say that whereas skeptics showed almost no change in the predicted trend irrespective of what they were told the data was, believers must have doubled their predicted future trend depending only on what they were told the graph portrayed.

But this obvious conclusion that those believing in global warming are very subjective and change their interpretation to fit their beliefs in sharp contrast to skeptics who tended to base their views only on the data and not what they were told the data showed, was not only omitted from the paper, but instead it was replaced with a conclusion very strongly suggesting the opposite.

Conclusion

As such not only does this paper show that members of the public who believe in global warming change their perception of the global temperature graph to fit what they believe it shows, but it is also strong evidence that at least some academics are so strongly influenced by their beliefs regarding global warming that (to put the best possible interpretation on their actions) they are “blinded” to obvious conclusion that do not fit their world-view.

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