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Conspiracy Mongering Defies Political and Ideological Labels

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorJune 6, 2013 7:41 PM


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A recent survey on conspiracy beliefs in the United States attracted a lot of media attention. The first question: Do you believe global warming is a hoax, or not? Do ................................................................... 37% Do not ............................................................. 51% Not sure .......................................................... 12% The political breakdown, according to the poll, found that "Republicans say global warming is a hoax by a 58-25 margin, Democrats disagree 11-77, and Independents are more split at 41-51. 61% of Romney voters believe global warming is a hoax." No doubt, outspoken Republican politicians have played a key role here, but this particular conspiracy belief extends beyond American shores. One Forbes blogger wrote several years ago:

In WatermelonsThe Green Movement’s True Colors, British journalist/blogger James Delingpole promises to show that the man-made global warming is a fraud, one that has already cost billions of dollars and is a clear and present danger to our liberty and democratic traditions — and, ironically, to the environment itself. He largely accomplishes this task and, for the most part, does so without sounding hysterical or radical. This alone would recommend this book to all who care about the environment, the human condition and the foundations of our way of life.

If somebody can tell me when "Dellers," as he is fondly called by his many fans in the climate skeptic blogosphere, is not being hysterical and radical, I'm all ears. This is the guy who pens editorials titled, "Wind farm scam a huge cover-up." That on one of his pet issues he is also guilty of the same pseudoscience and fear-mongering that he accuses others of seems to elude him, as I discussed here. So what's behind all this wild-eyed talk of global scams and hoaxes? This week, Chris Mooney at Mother Jones writes:

In recent years, a persuasive theory of how and why people deny science and reality has emerged. It's called "motivated reasoning"—and was described at length in Mother Jones (by me) back in 2011. Here's the gist: People's emotional investments in their ideas, identities and world views bias their initial reading of evidence, and do so on a level prior to conscious thought. Then, the mind organizes arguments in favor of one's beliefs—or, against attacks on one's beliefs—based on the same emotional connections. And so you proceed to argue your case—but really you're rationalizing, not reasoning objectively. At the same time, though, other phenomena are also often invoked to explain the rejection of science on issues like climate change, evolution, and vaccinations—phenomena that may (or may not) be fully separable from motivated reasoning. One of the most prominent of these: Conspiracy theorizing.

Mooney goes on to discuss the findings of a paper that claims to show "conspiracist ideation" in those who stubbornly reject mainstream science. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the methodology of the study has been called into question by climate skeptics. Regardless, anyone familiar with some of the most popular climate skeptic blogs, such as Watts up With That, should have no problem detecting the climate scientists are frauds theme. None of this is to overlook the missteps and tribalist behavior of climate scientists that has given ammunition to the frothiest global warming is a hoax shouters and political partisans. Unfortunately, the sensitivity over this in climate circles is such that even bringing it up is viewed by some as as an unfriendly act. That's how poisoned the whole climate debate has become. My sense is that the same kind of hypersensitive, politically correct dynamic is now playing out with the GMO issue. For example, there is no shortage of conspiracy thinking in progressive circles about the science of biotechnology and genetically modified foods. Look at the comment thread of any GMO-related post or article, especially those in progressive outlets, and witness the conspiracy virus for yourself. Yet progressives seem loathe to tamp down on this virulent strain of anti-GMO crankery within their own ranks. Why is that? Sorry, but whatever your political leanings, I think it undermines your credibility if you are selectively outrageous about junk science and conspiracy mongering.


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