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PostSubject: Unlocking the Conspiracy Mind-Set   Fri Feb 22, 2013 2:08 pm

When I first met the NASA climate researcher Gavin Schmidt a few years ago, we discussed the proliferation of material on the Internet attacking mainstream climate science. I asked him whether he thought climate contrarians were flirting with conspiracy theory in their views.

“Flirting?” he said. “No. They’ve already had conspiracy theory out on a hot date, and now it’s the morning after and they’re sitting up in bed, having coffee.”

I happened to recall that conversation the other day as I read the latest chapter of a remarkable back-and-forth between mainstream researchers and climate contrarians.

It all started last year, when a social scientist named Stephan Lewandowsky, of the University of Western Australia, and two colleagues published a rather provocative paper. It was based on an anonymous Internet survey of the readers of climate blogs.

The title alone will give you a sense of the findings: “NASA Faked the Moon Landings – Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax.” The subtitle was “An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science.”

The strongest finding in the survey was that ideological belief in an unregulated free market tended to be a predictor of someone’s willingness to reject the findings of mainstream climate research. No great surprise there. It was the secondary findings that set off a brouhaha.

Dr. Lewandowsky’s survey results suggested that people who rejected climate science were more likely than other respondents to reject other scientific or official findings and buy into assorted fringe theories: that NASA faked the moon landing, that the Central Intelligence Agency killed Martin Luther King Jr., that the AIDS virus was unleashed by the government, and so forth.

This piece of research appeared in a specialized journal in psychological science, but it did not take long to find its way onto climate skeptics’ blogs, setting off howls of derision.

A theory quickly emerged: that believers in climate science had been the main people taking Dr. Lewandowsky’s survey, but instead of answering honestly, had decided en masse to impersonate climate contrarians, giving the craziest possible answers so as to make the contrarians look like whack jobs.

So, a paper about a tendency among this group to believe in conspiracy theories was met by … a conspiracy theory.

Dr. Lewandowsky and his collaborators were taken aback, but not for long. As far-fetched ideas about the survey ricocheted around the Internet, they realized that manna was falling on them from heaven.

more here: http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/21/unlocking-the-conspiracy-mindset/

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