Monday, August 8, 2016

The Intelligent Irrationalists: Why So Many High IQ Folks Deny Sound Science



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A recurring problem for discussion in many professional scientific organizations is how to get out ahead of pseudo-science and in particular denial science: the denial of scientific legitimacy (or mocking it with facetious putdowns). The classic example is for human-induced global warming and what most concerns many climate scientists is a specific subset of intellectual critic referred to as "intelligent irrationalists".

These people, often in high IQ societies like Mensa and Intertel,,  fancy themselves "debnnkers" but fail to perceive they are, in fact, sophisticated "bunkers" : the disseminators of bunkum and rubbish thanks to their own intellectual blind spots (especially in the critical thinking capacity) and also their irrationality.

What has often irritated and puzzled me - not necessarily in that order- is how so many of these denizens feel so confident to spout off at length about topics like global warming - despite the fact they've likely had the most passing acquaintance with thermal physics. The thread I have seen through all their assorted critiques - say like Intertel's Kort Patterson - is they lean almost entirely to Libertarianism or some entrenched and unquestioning belief in market economics. The upshot is that their adulation of the latter leads them to craft a counter narrative in the guise of real science (but more analogous to creationist "science") to attack genuine climate science.

There may be some psychological and sociological ballast to this. We've already seen, for example, the thesis of Stanford historian of science Robert Proctor who correctly ties global warming denial to the trend of pseudo-skepticism sown deliberately and for political or economic ends . In other words, the agents of agnotology - whoever they may be- are all committed to one end: extolling economic profit over human habitability of planet Earth.  Some disgusted climate scientists have even referred to this breed of economically dominated denizens as "Homo Economicus" to distinguish it from Homo Sapiens.

But a another side to this has been articulated by Yale Law school prof and science communication researcher Dan Kahan.  He has concluded that most information processing - especially by the intelligent irrationalists -is determined by their own deep-seated political values and cultural identities. Thus, a white libertarian member of  Intertel, for example, will see global warming science as just one more vehicle of  subversive force backed  by the "untermenschen"  to be used against his precious economic values and Eurocentric ideals. All of this then attributed to "global warming alarmism". At this point, his thinking is already so corrupted and contaminated it's almost impossible to break through on any rational or critical thinking level.

In general, according to Kahan's theory, these high IQ skeptics - or who fancy themselves such, don't really have the time to evaluate every piece of evidence that comes before them (say ice cores containing CO2) so basically punt. Instead of rationally and objectively evaluating the evidence they side with the top bananas in their political group  - in this case folks like Charles Murray- and use their generic  economic arguments (i.e. against taxes as "theft" and "force")  to attack climate science or more precisely the climate science consensus that human induced warming is real, e.g.



Driven by this short cut mental modality, they then seek out those oddball contrarians (like Willie Soon) who do sound off against the climate consensus, even though they are dead wrong, see e.g.





Thus, the stage emerges for the next phase: cherry picking only the data which conforms to the economic or political values of one's identity group, in this case, libertarianism. It is also by now become a self-reinforcing mechanism: the more one gets exposed to the faux science that  supports one's economic and political stance the more one continues to adopt that position and related ones further out. These include far out, paranoid ideations that one's opponents "demand that Western Industrial Civilization commit cultural suicide by adopting the crippling constraints sought by the global warming conspirators."  in the words of Kort Patterson.

In other words it's not that much of a jump from the irrational rationalizations underpinning one's position based on a group identity, to conjuring conspiracy theories targeting the out groups (real scientists and citizens - government officials who support them)

Related to the cherry picking of data, there is also the noisome tactic of mischaracterizing research methods and results, for example mocking the 'hockey stick" ansatz of Michael Mann.  In the words of one Intertel AGW denier Carol Dane:

"One hundred and twenty eminent scientists here, some Nobel laureates with impressive credentials, denounce Michael Mann and his hockey stick chart on which so much fraudulent global warming argument is based."

No mention that the bulk of those "eminent scientists" were economists, former NASA engineers, chemists, geologists, biologists and psychologists. Also that a number of climatologists  subsequently published their own reconstructions of global temperatures from independent lines of research that vindicated Mann's research by showing similar if not identical trends in temperature..

But again, this is the nature of the criticism from the intelligent irrationalists, who also comfort themselves (as members of Intertel, say) that few mortals will be able to take them on and dismantle their nonsense.

Another key attribute of their irrationality which especially stands out in Kort Patterson's tirades against AGW is focusing on perceived implications rather than examining the evidence itself. Thus Patterson leaps to the hysterical implication that climate scientists who've published in support of anthropogenic warming "demand that Western Industrial Civilization commit cultural suicide ".

In its irrational extremism it is really not much different from an anti-evolutionist who might assert: "well, if evolution is true and we all descended from a common primate ancestor we could as well kill ourselves because we don't have souls and life has no purpose".

Again, an unhinged,  hysterical implication. (Though I am sure Kort would disagree with the comparison)

Another  recurring irrational tactic of the economic obsessives in the high IQ societies is to make personal attacks on the scientists themselves, or their methods - say like Michael Mann and his hockey stick.  Thus, instead of focusing on the science (which admittedly most of these people are weak in) they claim the scientists have "rigged'" or "fudged" their research or data to support a scientific consensus. All it takes by this time is the slightest news or hint of subterfuge (say like the overblown climate gate brouhaha) to establish a specious confirmation bias and make them believe it's true and there really is a global conspiracy.

The most depressing aspect, as Kahan observes, is there may be little that can be done by the genuine rationalist or scientist to convince these intelligent irrationalists of their folly. That may have to await the extreme unfolding of multifold climatic disasters in real time, in whatever form - e.g.

http://video.pbs.org/video/1108763899


to finally turn this lot into believers or at least accepting the plausibility of the premise.. Even then they are just as likely to write off the effects, i.e. "That  51-day  heat wave leading to monster fires was just a meteorological disturbance".

As Kahan and others observe, all this discloses humans are hard-wired for irrational thinking. Science in its legitimate practice can certainly help to abate such tendencies but if the afflicted persons distrust even science (as "rigged") , there is little that can be done. That critique also applies to the superficial, frivolous lot of 'so what?' skeptics such as Intertel's Steve Mason - unprepared to invest mental capital in anything.. Hence, willing to believe anything even codswallop from the likes of Kort Patterson.

In the end the lack of any discrimination in the latter may pave the way for even more expressions of irrationality, based on "why accept anything when science is always changing" or to use Mason's words: "How can I believe anything when what I believe changes?"  

Those like Mason  are probably convinced they are the ultimate "rational"  AGW critics  using a meta-template to ascribe any risks of  climate change  as "inflated". But in the end they are just as irrational as the outright irrationalists - only adopting a less discernible cover to the superficial observer. But for those of us who've been fighting this lot for over 40 years in different forums, they aren't fooling anyone - at least not us!

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