Pathologizing Dissent

Article by Judith Curry on her website:

Abou a recent conversation (HERE) between Adam Corner, a psychologist, and  Geoff Chambers a noted AGW-skeptic about  “Understanding climate scepticism”. There’s been a lot of dicussion about it both on Curry’s blog and at Bishop Hill. Curry links it to an additional study by Sonia Akter, Jeff Bennett Michael Ward, whose abstract reads in part:

Public scepticism surrounding climate change is an obstacle for implementing climate change mitigation measures in many countries. However, very little is known about: (1) the nature and sources of climate change scepticism; and (2) its influence on preferences for climate change mitigation policies. 

The general conclusion of  Akter et al – and  Corner  is  – wait for it – not all Deniers  are funded and fueled  by Big Oil after all!

Noooo, turns out some of them  are  just deluded.

(Sorry,  I’m forgetting my Psychobabble  – I mean they are driven “by motiv­ated reas­oning pro­cesses – rooted in ideo­lo­gical dif­fer­ences”)

Yay! Let’s hear it for  informed open-minded, non-Orwellian social science!

Judith suggests dialogues and studies like this are “a step in the right direction” towards an acceptance of skepticism as legitimate.  If she  really thinks so, and isn’t just being brilliantly ironic (I’m sort of assuming she is for now),  I fear she might be missing something meaningful.

It might do to reflect, for example, that authoritarians tend to not  only demonise unwanted opinions but pathologise them too.  In dictatorships and oligarchies dissent is often equated with disease as a means of de-legitimising alternative POVs. And while climate science isn’t quite an oligarchy, I don’t see how it’s really going to be more possible to have dialogue with people who’ve decided you’re  crazy  rather than simply corrupt.

And what about J’s last para?

“Much of the climate community continues to view AGW skeptics as anti-science, fossil fuel funded troglodytes (Mike Mann’s book is a prime example of this view).”

Surely that’s not quite right?  Surely a better summary would be that a vocal subsection within the “climate community” (not really sure how that’s defined actually) are endeavouring to make it appear AGW skepticism is  anti-science?  Surely it’s also true  this is completely impossible to sustain with any reference to data or within any accepted norms of scientific conduct? That it’s a construction designed to conceal the fact that AGW theory is not the Absolute Truth it’s been marketed as being to the non-scientific community where people like Corner get their info?

So, the best way to deal with the likes of Corner and others of the “vocal army of the complacently  uninformed”  is to point this “inconvenient truth” out to them – and maybe also add that  a soft science degree and a subscription to Greenpeace  does not entitle someone  to patronise people who have looked a little more closely at this subject than the average psychologist.

If Skeptics are going to ‘dialogue’ with people who can willingly surrender judgment to jargon then don’t make polite noises and try to accommodate their  smugness, just ask them  for the science that justifies viewing doubt as a DSM IV category.

And then ask ’em again about who’s deluded.

5 Responses to “Pathologizing Dissent”
  1. Peter Wilson says:

    “So, the best way to deal with the likes of Corner and others of the “vocal army of the complacently uninformed” is to point this “inconvenient truth” out to them”

    I did. I sent the following comment there 2 days ago, but Adam appears to have found it unacceptable and has deleted it. I think I was making pretty much the same point as you:


    It is clear from your com­ments that you are des­per­ately clinging to the view that typ­ical informed skep­tics are motiv­ated to seek out nit­picking faults in the sci­entific con­sensus by factors such as polit­ical or social views etc.

    This is wrong.

    All skep­tics I am aware of are primarily motiv­ated by a con­vic­tion that the sci­entific case for CAGW, as pro­pounded by the IPCC and asso­ci­ated groups, is not merely less cer­tain than pub­licly admitted, but based on cir­cular reas­oning, pro­jec­tions by unval­id­ated com­puter models, and cherry picked data, and sup­ported by a “con­spiracy” (as revealed by Climategate) among leading sci­ent­ists to sup­press opposing views and “off mes­sage” data.

    Try starting from that stand­point if you really want to under­stand sceptics.

  2. Shane Bronsky says:

    Arrogant shite

  3. fjpickett says:


    I read that too. Sounds a bit petulant! Or perhaps he knows the science is bust, but doesn’t want to admit it and get frozen out by his chums.

  4. elsa says:

    I’m not a climate scientist and just lurk mostly at various climate sites and blogs but agree with your opinions. I mostly read Bishop Hill because he has a very accessible way of explaining, and I also appreciate the humour of Josh. Humour of that kind is very powerful and I think you are employing it too. Josh should illustrate your posts, just a suggestion.

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