Category Archives: Climate Communication

Neutralizing misinformation through inoculation: selecting 33 answers in just one minute?

Looking at the data of the second experiment of the Neutralizing misinformation through inoculation paper, I came across something rather strange. The time to complete the survey was recorded also and some of the participants finished the survey in an incredibly short timespan.

Let me first explain how I got there. I incidentally stumbled on it by looking at something else that initially puzzled me. This is how the population of experiment 2 was selected as explained in the section “Participants”:

Participants (N = 400) were a representative U.S. sample, recruited through Qualtrics.com, based on U.S. demographic data on gender, age, and income in the same fashion as for Experiment 1 (49.2% female, average age M ≈ 43 years, SD ≈ 15 years). The sample delivered by Qualtrics comprised only participants who had successfully answered all attention filter items. None of the participants had participated in Experiment 1. Outliers in the time taken to complete the survey (n = 8) were eliminated according to the outlier labelling rule as in Experiment 1. The final sample of participants (N = 392) were randomly allocated to the four experimental conditions: control (n = 98), inoculation (n = 98), misinformation (n = 99), and inoculation+misinformation (n = 97).

As it is explained here, I understood that there were 400 participants and 8 of them were outliers (in the sense that it took them too long to complete the survey). Subtracting those eight outliers left them with 392 final participants who were randomly allocated to the four experimental conditions.

In the order as it is explained in that paragraph, it didn’t make much sense to me.

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Neutralizing misinformation through inoculation: the conclusion that could not be a conclusion

This is already the third post on the Neutralizing misinformation through inoculation paper of Cook, Lewandowsky and Ecker (2017). This post will focus on one paragraph in the general conclusions of this paper (my emphasis):

The ongoing focus on questioning the consensus, in concert with the gateway belief status of perceived consensus, underscores the importance of communicating the consensus [68,69]. However, positive consensus messaging is not sufficient, given recent findings that misinformation can undermine positive information about climate change [33,56]. As a complement to positive messages, inoculation interventions are an effective way to neutralize the influence of misinformation.

Although these are nice sounding conclusions, I have one problem with it: these could never ever be one of the conclusions that can be drawn from these two experiments described in the paper…

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Neutralizing misinformation through inoculation: false balance and the perceived consensus

When I hear the complaint that there is a problem with false balance media coverage in the climate debate, then I am always surprised. False balance meaning both sides of the debate getting equal time, so the perception is that they are both equally likely, even when this is not the case. Personally, I am surprised because I hardly see this in practice. When there is a debate on climate change on for example our television, radio or newspapers, then it is between like-minded individuals from the alarmist side who might differ on some technicalities, but generally agree with each other.

Heck, when I look back to my believers years, then I can’t even remember who those “deniers” were or what they were standing for. If I heard a skeptical argument, then it came from an alarmist, who brought it in a denigrating way and then sabering it down. You know, THAT much balance.

This may differ in other countries of course. The Inoculation paper of Cook and Lewandowsky had one experiment devoted to false balance media coverage, so apparently, the authors considered it a big enough problem to devote one of the two experiments in their paper to it. I wondered in which country this is considered a problem. The study was approved by a Australian University, but the participants were recruited from the US population. Whatever the country may be, the skeptics there should be glad to have the opportunity to debate the other side on equal representation 😉

Experiment 1 in this paper investigates the effect of false balance on the perceived consensus of the participant, but also they investigated if it was possible to counteract this effect by “inoculating” the participants against it by showing in advance how a certain misconception works or by explaining in advance that there is a consensus.

There were 5 groups in this experiment:

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Neutralizing misinformation through inoculation: definitions (or the lack thereof)

John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky (together with Ulrich Ecker) have released a new paper at the beginning of May 2017. It is called Neutralizing misinformation through inoculation: Exposing misleading argumentation techniques reduces their influence.

The paper is about (skeptical) “misconceptions” and how to “neutralize” them by means of the inoculation theory. It is a topic that I recognize. John Cook wrote about this several times in the past. I was rather weary hearing his argumentation back then and this time it is no different.

The paper is certainly more thoughtfully written than the Alice-in-Wonderland paper (from two of the authors), but reading it, it is my impression that this is not the work of neutral researchers. I noticed that already in the beginning when I read the abstract. This is how it starts:

Misinformation can undermine a well-functioning democracy. For example, public misconceptions about climate science can lead to lowered acceptance of the reality of climate change and lowered support for mitigation policies.

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The lessons we learn from nutritional science

My employer is concerned about the health of his employees and subscribed us all to a health newsletter. Every two weeks we receive some health tips in about ten to fifteen lines, based on the latest findings in health science. In the last newsletter, there was one article that jumped out on me. It was titled “Lots of fats or lots of carbohydrates?”. This is how it starts: (translated from Dutch)

Nutritional Sciences made large blunders in the past. For a long time, we had to avoid fats to stay healthy. Not only was this the wrong advice, it also has proved counterproductive.

In the 1950s, scientists drew the wrong conclusions from population studies. They focused on fats as the only cause of obesity and heart disease. Recent studies provide a more nuanced picture: a diet rich in fats and low in carbohydrates works at least as well to lose weight!

This sounded very familiar. Until a few years ago, fats were seen as something bad for our health due to our sedentary life styles and considered to be THE cause of obesity with loads of negative side effects like hypertension and heart disease.

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Breaking windows for a better economy?

Factchecker energie SER

Last week, I came across the “factchecker energie” from the Energy Agreement of the SER (Social Economic Council, the Netherlands). The goal of this fact checker is to give, ahem, “objective information about sustainable energy to civilians and companies”, because the “heated discussions on this subject are not always based on facts”.

Nice to hear that they care about the facts, but it is a pity that, as usual, only the facts from one side are provided.

This post will be about the first fact check from a series of (currently) five and is called Episode 1: The Energy Agreement is good for the economy (attention, Dutch ahead). This is how it starts (translated from Dutch):

What are actually the benefits of the Energy Agreement?
The Energy Agreement contributes to an affordable, clean energy supply for the Netherlands. […]

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The IPCC is not alarmist because it understates sea level rise (while using words like “endgame” and “5 minutes to midnight”)

Almost three weeks ago, I wrote a post on the “climate myth” that the “IPCC is alarmist”. I then focused on how an actual statement from Dr. Roy Spencer was changed beyond recognition before it was “debunked” in a skepticalscience article. The climate myth “the IPCC is alarmist” is tackled in their article by the use of four examples. The subject of this post will be the argument of the second example:

[…] By 2100 sea-level rise was predicted by the IPCC to be in the range of 18-59 cm. It is now believed that figure may be far too low, because estimates of contributions from Greenland and Antarctic ice-caps were excluded from AR4 because the data was not considered reliable. (This omission hardly supports the notion that the IPCC seeks to exaggerate global warming trends).

I heard similar claims before. The IPCC is excluding things that it is not sure about, so their predictions could be much more alarmist if they wanted to. Therefor the IPCC is considered “conservative”, “cautious” or “to err on the side of the least drama”.

In this case, if estimates of contributions from Greenland and Antarctic ice-caps were excluded because “the data was not considered reliable”, then it is likely that the sea level rise is going to be faster than projected and then the IPCC isn’t exactly alarmist if they report this number that is too low. At least when it comes to sea level rise.

Well, yes … and no.

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