Lizardman’s Constant Is 4%

Beware of Phantom Lizardmen

I have only done a little bit of social science research, but it was enough to make me hate people. One study I helped with analyzed whether people from different countries had different answers on a certain psychological test. So we put up a website where people answered some questions about themselves (like “what country are you from?”) and then took the psychological test.

And so of course people screwed it up in every conceivable way. There were the merely dumb, like the guy who put “male” as his nationality and “American” as his gender. But there were also the actively malicious or at least annoying, like the people (yes, more than one) who wrote in “Martian”.

I think we all probably know someone like this, maybe a couple people like this.

I also think most of us don’t know someone who believes reptilian aliens in human form control all the major nations of Earth.

Public Policy Polling’s recent poll on conspiracy theories mostly showed up on my Facebook feed as “Four percent of Americans believe lizardmen are running the Earth”.

(of note, an additional 7% of Americans are “not sure” whether lizardmen are running the Earth or not.)

Imagine the situation. You’re at home, eating dinner. You get a call from someone who says “Hello, this is Public Policy Polling. Would you mind answering some questions for us?” You say “Sure”. An extremely dignified sounding voice says – and this is the exact wording of the question – “Do you believe that shape-shifting reptilian people control our world by taking on human form and gaining political power to manipulate our society, or not?” Then it urges you to press 1 if yes, press 2 if no, press 3 if not sure.

So first we get the people who think “Wait, was 1 the one for if I did believe in lizardmen, or if I didn’t? I’ll just press 1 and move on to the next question.”

Then we get the people who are like “I never heard it before, but if this nice pollster thinks it’s true, I might as well go along with them.”

Then we get the people who are all “F#&k you, polling company, I don’t want people calling me when I’m at dinner. You screw with me, I tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to tell you I believe lizard people are running the planet.”

And then we get the people who put “Martian” as their nationality in psychology experiments. Because some men just want to watch the world burn.

Do these three groups total 4% of the US population? Seems plausible.

I really wish polls like these would include a control question, something utterly implausible even by lizard-people standards, something like “Do you believe Barack Obama is a hippopotamus?” Whatever percent of people answer yes to the hippo question get subtracted out from the other questions.

Poll Answers As Attire

Alas, not all weird poll answers can be explained that easily. On the same poll, 13% of Americans claimed to believe Barack Obama was the Anti-Christ. Subtracting our Lizardman’s Constant of 4%, that leaves 9% of Americans who apparently gave this answer with something approaching sincerity.

(a friend on Facebook pointed out that 5% of Obama voters claimed to believe that Obama was the Anti-Christ, which seems to be another piece of evidence in favor of a Lizardman’s Constant of 4-5%. On the other hand, I do enjoy picturing someone standing in a voting booth, thinking to themselves “Well, on the one hand, Obama is the Anti-Christ. On the other, do I really want four years of Romney?”)

Some pollsters are starting to consider these sorts of things symptomatic of what they term symbolic belief, which seems to be kind of what the Less Wrong sequences call Professing and Cheering or Belief As Attire. Basically, people are being emotivists rather than realists about belief. “Obama is the Anti-Christ” is another way of just saying “Boo Obama!”, rather than expressing some sort of proposition about the world.

And the same is true of “Obama is a Muslim” or “Obama was not born in America”.

Never Attribute To Stupidity What Can Be Adequately Explained By Malice

But sometimes it’s not some abstruse subtle bias. Sometimes it’s not a good-natured joke. Sometimes people might just be actively working to corrupt your data.

Another link I’ve seen on my Facebook wall a few times is this one: Are Climate Change Sceptics More Likely To Be Conspiracy Theorists? It’s based on a paper by Stephen Lewandowsky et al called NASA Faked The Moon Landing, Therefore Climate Science Is A Hoax – An Analysis Of The Motivated Rejection Of Science.

The paper’s thesis was that climate change skeptics are motivated by conspiracy ideation – a belief that there are large groups of sinister people out to deceive them. This seems sort of reasonable on the face of it – being a climate change skeptic requires going against the belief of the entire scientific establishment. My guess is that there probably is a significant link here waiting to be discovered.

Unfortunately, it’s…possible Stephan Lewandowsky wasn’t the best person to investigate this? Aside from being a professor of cognitive science, he also runs Shaping Tomorrow’s World, a group that promotes “re-examining some of the assumptions we make about our technological, social and economic systems” and which seems to be largely about promoting global warming activism. While I think it’s admirable that he is involved in that, it raises conflict of interest questions. And the way his paper is written – starting with the over-the-top title – doesn’t do him any favors.

(if the conflict of interest angle doesn’t make immediate and obvious sense to you, imagine how sketchy it would be if a professional global warming denier was involved in researching the motivations of global warming supporters)

But enough of my personal opinions. What’s the paper look like?

The methodology goes like this: they send requests to several popular climate blogs, both believer and skeptic, asking them to link their readers to an online survey. The survey asks people their beliefs on global warming and on lots of conspiracy theories and fringe beliefs.

On first glance, the results are extremely damning. People who rejected climate science were wildly more likely to reject pretty much every other form of science as well, including the “theory” that HIV causes AIDS and the “theory” that cigarettes cause cancer. They were more willing to believe aliens landed at Roswell, that 9-11 was an inside job, and, yes, that NASA faked the moon landing. The conclusion: climate skeptics are just really stupid people.

But a bunch of global warming skeptics started re-analyzing the data and coming up with their own interpretations. They found that many large pro-global-warming blogs posted the link to the survey, but very few anti-global-warming blogs did. This then devolved into literally the worst flame war I have ever seen on the Internet, centering around accusations about whether the study authors deliberately excluded large anti-global warming blogs, or whether the authors asked the writers of anti-global-warming blogs and these writers just ignored the request (my impression is that most people now agree it was the latter). In either case, it ended up with most people taking the survey being from the pro-global-warming blogs, and only a few skeptics.

More interestingly, they found that pretty much all of the link between global warming skepticism and stupidity was a couple of people (there were so few skeptics, and so few conspiracy believers, that these couple of people made up a pretty big proportion of them, and way more than enough to get a “significant” difference with the global warming believers). Further, most of these couple of people had given the maximally skeptical answer to every single question about global warming, and the maximally credulous answer to every single question about conspiracies.

The danger here now seems obvious. Global warming believer blogs publish a link to this study, saying gleefully that it’s going to prove that global warming skeptics are idiots who also think NASA faked the moon landing and the world is run by lizardmen or whatever. Some global warming believers decide to help this process along by pretending to be super-strong global warming skeptics and filling in the stupidest answers they can to every question. The few real global warming skeptics who take the survey aren’t enough signal to completely drown out this noise. Therefore, they do the statistics and triumphantly announce that global warming skepticism is linked to stupid beliefs.

The global warming skeptic blogosphere has in my opinion done more than enough work to present a very very strong case that this is what happened (somebody else do an independent look at the controversy and double-check this for me?) And Professor Lewandowsky’s answer was…

…to publish a second paper, saying his results had been confirmed because climate skeptics were so obsessed with conspiracy theories that they had accused his data proving they were obsessed with conspiracies of being part of a conspiracy. The name of the paper? Recursive Fury. I have to hand it to him, this is possibly the most chutzpah I have ever seen a single human being display.

(the paper is now partially offline as the journal investigates it for ethical something something)

The lesson from all three of the cases in this post seems clear. When we’re talking about very unpopular beliefs, polls can only give a weak signal. Any possible source of noise – jokesters, cognitive biases, or deliberate misbehavior – can easily overwhelm the signal. Therefore, polls that rely on detecting very weak signals should be taken with a grain of salt.

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48 Responses to Lizardman’s Constant Is 4%

  1. sixes_and_sevens says:

    Several years ago, I would often poll my LJ friends list to test ideas I was working on. I’ve since gone on to learn about survey design in a more formal capacity, but this was my first taste of the infuriating nature of self-reported data. It wasn’t long before I stopped trying to solicit information about Topic X, and started dividing my friends list into different groups to see how they responded to different wordings on questions about Topic X.

    I made the mistake of writing a post about my results from this process, and people stopped filling out my polls.

    My biggest take-away from the experience was the idea that poll-takers want to be individuals. They will select options that portray them as thoughtful, unique snowflakes. If you make an exhaustively complete set of answers, and add “somehow none of these answers apply to me”, a curious number of people will convince themselves that they should be ticking that option.

    I think my favourite result was a question along the lines of “do you prefer the word ‘apple’ or ‘carrot’?” One group just got “apple” and “carrot” as options, and another group had the additional option of “I am incapable of expressing arbitrary preferences for words”. Both groups got similar numbers of respondents (n ~ 20 for each). The first group had an overwhelming preference for “carrot”, but the second group mostly decided they were incapable of having a preference, simply because I gave them the option to not be able to.

    Self-reported data is a mug’s game.

    • Randy M says:

      I think that’s a good insight. I know when taking a poll I have the feeling “I don’t want to be misrepresented as falling quite in line with what this answer suggests” or “I do agree with that answer but not for the reasons I suspect the poll answer will assume if I mark it”.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      The Less Wrong survey was the worst for this.

    • But I don’t have a preference between ‘apple’ and ‘carrot’. I can’t see that I’m trying to make your life worse or showing some character defect when I don’t want to give an answer that doesn’t make sense.

      • Roxolan says:

        I’m more than 50% confident that, if you’d been asked “do you prefer the word ‘apple’ or ‘carrot’?” before reading this post, you would have found an answer.

        But okay, some people, possibly including you, may be incapable of expressing arbitrary preferences for words. They aren’t doing anything wrong by answering truthfully. But we know that most people in one survey answered dishonestly, because the polls got similar numbers of respondents.

  2. bilbo says:

    Sometimes I use the behaviours of communities as proxies for whether their beliefs are true or not. So far I see the global warming skeptics blogosphere as showing a lot more intellectual honesty than their counterparts, and I can’t deny that this has influenced my own position.

    Haven’t seen much discussion of global warming on places like less wrong, perhaps because it’s a politically charged topic and they tend to steer away from those. But I wonder in general what the community thinks.

    • Randy M says:

      I agree with you. I mean, I know Al Gore (not that he is a leading scientist, but activist) can rationalize a lavish lifestyle in utilitarian terms as needed a lot of electricity and travel to convince people of the urgency of Global Warming and that therefore his own commitment shouldn’t be judged by living well above an average person. But the signalling of it is terrible, and it also works as Beyesian evidence for “The whole thing is a scam.”

      • Ben L says:

        As an atmospheric scientist, I am fairly convinced that it isn’t a scam, Al Gore is just a hypocrite. It is the typical American attitude which think the solution to is for everyone else to start sacrificing before they even get to 1/10th of our emissions per capita. It applies equally well between Americans with a factor of ten or so wealth difference.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        I don’t know, I totally endorse Al Gore’s lifestyle. Timeless decision theory doesn’t work on a national scale – Al Gore cutting down his own lifestyle without any similar commitment from anyone else to cut down theirs is going to be less than a millionth of a rounding error.

        It seems totally consistent to seek laws that will make everyone (including me) cut down their emissions and so create important change, while not also making a meaningless and self-destructive gesture.

        I admit it’s really bad politics, though.

        • Randy M says:

          What do you mean by Al Gore’s lifestyle, and how would moving into a home the size of those occupied by a Randy M or a Scott Aaronson be “self destructive”?
          Do you not see leading by example as a very strong form of persuasion? (or perhaps that’s what you mean by bad politics, but then I’d wonder why you endorse it)

        • David Gerard says:

          I think it’s reasonable to assume that Al Gore’s lifestyle isn’t climate change deniers’ true objection, or even seriously a major part of it..

        • Pat K says:

          What seems to be missed whenever this topic comes up is that Mr Gore couldn’t afford this lifestyle before he became such a prominent “climate” activist. The fact is that he has made a lot of money out of this. Nothing intrinsically wrong with that but it does sow the seeds of doubt as to his motivation. As they say, follow the money trail.

        • Pat K says:

          ” Gore was rich before this”

          Gore estimated net worth when he left the White House was 1.9 million dollars. His current value is estimated at from $270 Million to $300 million plus.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Al Gore made the bulk of his money off of (a) Current TV (2004-) and (b) Apple (2003-). These came after he left the White House, but before his movie. They monetize his connections and might be post hoc bribes, but appear to me to have nothing to do with his celebrity. Maybe Jobs chose him because of his pre-celebrity environmental activism, but I think that’s a minor part.

          How much money did he make as an speaker before 2004?

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        I don’t see a lot of fact-checking in this sub-thread about Gore, so I’ll venture to say that (one) we should compare Gore’s carbon to mile ratio to the carbon to mile ratio of others who travel the same number of miles. And, iirc, one of his projects is to develop and model luxury items that have less impact than the standard model of the same item (eg jet skis).

        Like, instead of saying we should all live in the dark, show that the same amount of light can be got with less heat.

  3. BenSix says:

    “Conspiracy theory” is a descriptor that is used and seen as being a pejorative for no reason at all. I mean, look at what is classed among them. That the Bush administration lied? Of course it did! That the CIA was instrumental in bringing crack to Chicago? I’m not sure about “instrumental” but it certainly allowed the contras to run drugs to America’s cities. That the medical industry and Big Pharma “invent” new diseases? I doubt that anything takes place that is quite as organised as that but who was it that found that the WHO’s treatment of an influence scare relied upon “experts who had declarable financial and research ties with pharmaceutical companies producing antivirals and influenza vaccines”? Those kooks at the British Medical Journal.

    In the 1960s, if such a poll had taken place, it might have asked Americans whether the government injected African-Americans with STIs; tested psychedelic drugs on mental patients and carried out secret bombing raids above Cambodia.

    There are conspiracy theories that are stupid and dangerous, naturally, but the denial of covert operations that the term and its misuse has encouraged is at least as depressing.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      Iirc, the term ‘conspiracy theory’ once, usefully, meant ‘the sort of theory that would require an absurdly and massively large number of otherwise sane people to have consciously and without good motive cooperated in whatever it was’. Such as the theory that the moon landing was a hoax … or that global warming is a hoax.

      The examples you give were of reasonably sized groups of people who had strong motives for their wrong doing and kept their actions covert — rather than trying to convince the public of some interesting hoax.

      • Fnord says:

        You are aware that, by that definition, “AIDS was created by the government” (to pick an example) probably doesn’t qualify as a conspiracy theory?

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          By that definition, not all kooky theories are ‘conspiracy theories’. By that definition, ‘conspiracy theory’ is a misnomer, referring only to ‘ridiculously big conspiracy theory’. But a useful misnomer.

          Otherwise, any theory about more than one person cooperating to do something bad in secret could be called a ‘conspiracy theory’; which is not very useful.

  4. Deiseach says:

    Looks like another argument for the principle of charity in debate; if global change proponents believe their opponents can only be motivated by stupidity or malice or both, and decide to mock the idiots by filling in pretend answers for them using the maximal credulity and stupidity, they end up shooting themselves in the foot.

    I’d also like to ask that people would talk about climate change rather than global warming, and drop such labels as “deniers”. Is the whole scientific establishment firmly behind “global warming”? Even those who aren’t climatologists, meteorologists, or statisticians?

    I don’t believe lizardmen are running the planet (though sometimes, it’d be nice to think so – it’s too depressing to contemplate we managed to screw things up this badly by ourselves) but I’m not running around going “We’re all gonna die by burning up to a crisp!”

    Because I’ve been around for these kinds of warnings before. When I was a teenager, we were all going to die in the next Ice Age. Well, come the year 2000, and we were all still alive. Ditto for the global famine, collapse of civilisation by running out of oil, nuclear war, overpopulation and the rest of the forecasts of how we were utterly, utterly doomed within the next thirty years.

    So while I am willing to be convinced on climate change (after all, I don’t think anyone can deny that human activity does have a demonstrable effect on the environment), I am less convinced by the “Science has proved temperatures are inexorably increasing and we will all be living in sun-scorched, cracked, dried earth, waterless lands by this time next decade!”, especially when it turns out “Oops, there’s a bit of a blip in the figures – never mind, now it’s climate change not global warming and if you express any doubt whatsoever about methodology or bias or interpretation, you are a denier who should be burned at the stake, you denier, you!”

    I don’t know anything about statistics. Person A tells me this graph demonstrates how temperatures are climbing. Person B tells me those figures were taken out of context from a longer term study and the temperatures are actually holding steady. Who do I believe? And it’s not helped if A starts yelling about “denial” and “conspiracy theorists” and “imminent doom unless we do something now” because, like I said, I’ve lived through a couple of those “imminent doom” scenarios already.

    • Deiseach says:

      Is this denial, skepticism, applesauce, or a legitimate difference of opinion as regards interpretation of data? The blogger is a professional statistician.

      I don’t know nuthin’ ’bout nuthin’ when it comes to figures, so I’m left in the position that A tells me “Eek! All gonna die!” and B tells me “No big deal”, as I said above.

      • g says:

        It seems to be mostly about the following claim: At one time it was thought that temperatures declined quite a lot from about 1940 to about 1980. More recent graphs show less of a decline (or even an increase) in that period, which shows that the deceitful global warming advocates are fudging the science to look like temperatures are increasing when they aren’t.

        To which I make the following observations.

        0. About that quotation from the US National Science Board. According to Wikipedia — that page is well worth reading as a summary of the whole “global cooling” business — the document in question also said this: “But there is increasing concern that man himself may be implicated, not only in the recent cooling trend but also in the warming temperatures over the last century” and other things that make it clear that it wasn’t telling alarmist scare-stories about global cooling and wasn’t radically divergent from today’s consensus.

        1. Now, those graphs. Those red and blue bars, supposedly showing the changes over time in climate scientists’ description of what happened between ~1940 and ~1980, seem to me to have been drawn in purely “by eye” (rather than showing, e.g., the means or medians of the periods they cover). And in every single case they seem to me to be quite far from the mean or median of the period in question. And in 5 of the 6 cases they differ from it in a direction that makes the alleged manipulation over time bigger.

        If, for instance, those lines are meant to show the average temperature reported in each graph over the corresponding periods, then the total area above the line should equal the area below the line. It looks to me as if this consistently fails to be the case. For the 1980 graph, I think the red line should be a little lower and the blue substantially higher; for the 1987 one, the red a little higher and the blue quite a lot higher; for the 2007 one, the red slightly higher and the blue substantially lower.

        (I’m looking in each case at the 5-year running averages because that’s what we have from 1980 and apparently in 1987, so it’s what we should compare with in 2007 too.)

        So it looks to me like whoever put those red and blue bars on those graphs was being less than perfectly honest.

        2. Let’s suppose there is a real change over time in what GISS has said about the relative temperatures in the 1940s and the 1970s. (I think there probably is, even though I also think the way it’s shown here is misleading.) Does that indicate deception or dishonesty on the part of the people who made the graphs? I don’t see why. It could just mean that new information has become available that changes how the data are analysed. That’s one of the reasons why science works: new things get discovered and (at least in theory) opinions change accordingly.

        3. Again, let’s suppose that there is a real change over time in how GISS has reported the temperatures in the 1940s and 1970s. The idea being proposed in the linked article is that this has been done to encourage belief in global warming. Well, does the picture look any more global-warming-y with the “new” figures than with the “old” ones? I don’t see that it does. The long-term trend shown by all these graphs is exactly the same; the only thing that’s allegedly different is the exact shape of the incidental variation along the way.

        The 1980 graph does look less warming-y than the 1987, which in turn looks less warming-y than the 2007. But that’s for one simple reason: the later graphs include later data, which show warmer temperatures. The obvious explanation for that, of course, is that in fact temperatures are getting higher.

        So. If there’s deceptive graph-manipulation going on, it seems to be being done by whoever marked up these graphs (in order to show the purported deception) rather than by their actual creators; if the change being claimed here is real, the motive alleged for making the change doesn’t make any sense. And the idea that “global cooling” was a big worry to climate scientists in the 1970s (as opposed to something that a few journalists made a noise about, which indeed it was), and that more recent concerns about warning represent some sort of big climatological U-turn, is just incorrect.

        You may of course believe or disbelieve whomever you please. But the parallels between “global cooling” in the 1970s and “global warming” now are pretty weak. The former was a big climate scare pushed mostly by journalists and generally rejected by actual climate scientists. The latter is a big climate scare pushed by actual climate scientists and rejected mostly by people with strong political or business incentives.

    • Randy M says:

      “I’d also like to ask that people would talk about climate change rather than global warming”

      Can you justify that it isn’t simply a dodge? I cannot really concieve of a theory that asserts that something is going to happen, and it will be bad, and we’re doing it, but we can’t say if it will be warmer or cooler.

      • Randy M says:

        Actually, it sounds like you agree with me, so I’m not sure why you’d be okay with the changing of the naming now.

      • Ben L says:

        There are two reasons to use “change:” the first is that it encompasses a variety of affects, including precipitation and wind pattern changes beyond temperature. Secondly, it tries to alleviate the simple objection that because there are still cold days, the global average temperature must be rising. Lastly and most importantly. rising average temperatures can drive colder temperatures in winter, especially in certain places. If the global average temperature ever starts significantly going down without human intervention, we can probably say the climate theory is wrong. But in the meantime, it can do strange things like enhance European winters.

        • Randy M says:

          The reason I object is because is sounds like “We think the earth is warming and there are positive feedback mechanisms that will make it cataclismic… but just in case it doesn’t, we’re going to call it ‘change’ to preserve our credibility either way. ”

          Can you point to an article posted in advance of cold winters, specifically predicting them then and there because of increasing average global temps?

  5. Fnord says:

    The methodology goes like this: they send requests to several popular climate blogs, both believer and skeptic, asking them to link their readers to an online survey. The survey asks people their beliefs on global warming and on lots of conspiracy theories and fringe beliefs.

    And this is all I need to know to decide that the so-called study is at best a stone’s throw away from worthless. And I say that as someone who’s inclined to agree with the studies conclusion. It’s a self-selected sample; it fails to measure anything useful. The rest of post is an interesting case study in why self-selected samples fail to measure anything useful. But I don’t need to see the specific point of failure in a specific case to disbelieve a self-selected sample.

  6. David Gerard says:

    I am reminded of this LW post which rants about those evil patients corrupting their beautiful trials, and ignores pretty much everything about the motivations of people who sign up for drug trials.

    I did focus group testing for advertising once. The entire process was completely corrupt and no-one involved gave a hoot. We ended up deliberately giving the worst answers we could think of, took our money and left as quickly as possible.

  7. I feel dumb and inadequate for failing to figure out the lizard men thing on my own.

    Though on the “birther signals political affiliations” thing, I think I’ve heard that proposal before, specifically in the context of a poll that found lots of Americans think Donald Trump is foreign-born too. I can’t find the exact link, but Nate Silver has a somewhat similar discussion.

  8. Multiheaded says:

    There were the merely dumb, like the guy who put “male” as his nationality and “American” as his gender.

    There’s a brilliant Marxist feminist joke to be made here, but I’m not witty and philosophical enough to make it 🙁

  9. Sniffnoy says:

    Well, the control number is probably at least *slightly* smaller than that 4%…

  10. “Current scholarly opinion favors the view that, after the massive dieoffs at the end of the Early Hesperian period, a small remnant population retained some high technology, and this remnant became the seed of the advanced reptilian culture that has persisted over the subsequent aeons. The standard view is that only a small high-tech population, living in mobile artificial environments, would have dared to engage in the massive tectonic engineering which split the Tharsis plateau into an inscription of the Martian word which is rendered inadequately in English as ‘praise’ or ‘praised’…

    “Von Rotheimer thus paints a vivid picture of life in the Martian warren-cities, inert for millions of years while the reptilians sleep encysted in their prosthetic eggs, a sleep from which they are periodically woken by the astrophysically ordained melting of their ice-machines, in order that they may continue the great civilizational Plan that was laid down before Earth life had even come out of the seas. But whilst many an amateur areologist has been entranced by von Rotheimer’s imaginings, it must be admitted that their evidential basis is very slender…

    “Whatever the reptilians’ ultimate plans for humanity, with some confidence we can identify two distinct stages to their interventions in historic times. The so-called Antique period was focused on anthropological intervention and culture construction – transmission of the ancient reptilian script and some of their metaphysics – culminating in the creation of a stable, hierarchical, missionary culture which, in the Modern period, would be found to dominate the regions responsible for supplying the energy needs of human industrial society. Subsequently, in the Modern period, a regime of subtle control over the industrial economy is being instituted, through the modulation of scientific opinion about the detailed relationship between climate and atmospheric composition.

    “The vigorous school of thought associated with the work of David Ichor confidently asserts that the reptilian plan is to desertify and colonize the Earth, with the ineffectual human opposition to this trend being led by double agents. However, the perils of such theorizing are illustrated by the existence of a rival school which accuses Ichor himself of being a reptilian. The only honest attitude is humility, the admission that we do not know all their means and objectives. We must respect the mystery, and hope that the coming years will reveal more of the hidden causes which have shaped – and which continue to shape – our world.”

    (from T. Reichs, “Reptilians: Friend or Foe?”, special edition of Phainein magazine)

  11. Max says:

    “I really wish polls like these would include a control question, something utterly implausible even by lizard-people standards, something like “Do you believe Barack Obama is a hippopotamus?” Whatever percent of people answer yes to the hippo question get subtracted out from the other questions.”

    Some surveys do approximately this.

    I recently received a psychological survey which included a number of odd, irrelevant seeming statements to rate the truth value of, such as “My favorite poet is Raymond Kertezc,” Raymond Kertezc being a made-up poet whose purpose in the survey is to help weed out people who’ll say yes to anything. If you type in his name as a search on Wikipedia, it redirects to “Scientific Control.”

    A lot of survey and poll givers just haven’t picked up the practice.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      When I Google it, the first result is a blog called Poetry By Raymond Kertezc which has some actual poems on it – albeit not very good.

      I love the idea that somebody took this fake poet used for scientific controls and wrote poetry in his name. That is really playing the long game as a troll.

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  13. Barry Woods says:

    I was one of the very first critics of the ‘moon’ paper, after a write up appeared in the Guardian.. this was reproduced on the authors blog (Dr Adam Corner) where we tore it apart. see comments (this was a month before, Steve McIntyre, Watts Up, JO Nova, Lucia’s Blackboard etc got involved)

    and ‘surprisingly, 4 of those people, end up in the data of the ‘fury’ paper.. punitive psychology?

    I asked Prof Lewandowsky in JUly 2012, for the names of the blogs, and links to the surveys, especially Skeptical Science (NOT a sceptic blog), because this was where the content analysis was done, giving them th ecliam of a diverse audience (ie about 20%) sceptical..

    As we have found out, the survey was NEVER linked at Skeptical science, that is and remains a lie. Confirmed here:

    Prof Lewandowsky, personally lied to me about his, saying he had the link url, but he had lost it (data collected 2 years previously) a total lie.

    without this, it is just 7 hate sceptic blogs, where in the comments they were talking about he ‘fun’ to be had with it, also rather critical of the survey.. Lewandowsky lies by omission, not pointing out his own involvement with the Skeptical Science blog, nor his own activism.

    Prof Lewandowsky is also co-author of the Skeptical science debunking handbook (aimed at countering fellow Australians – Jo Nova – a sceptic who is fighting a bitter battle with Lewandowsky and John Cook – founder of Skeptical Science) one of Lewandowsky co-authors (Marriot – his own blog -Watching the Deniers’ !) was responsible for the smear of Jo Nova’ husband as -anti-Semitic.

    Really a lot to go into..

    But why, the fury paper is ‘missing’ at the moment..

    my complaint listed below: (I’m aware of 8 others, mine being the least harsh)


    Please see the concerns and correspondence (attached) that I have raised with the journal about the ethical conduct of the researchers involved in this paper.

    I am known to the authors, and a critic of one of the authors earlier work LOG12, and was interacting with the authors of the Recursive Fury paper on their blogs, whilst unbeknownst to me they were researching me and I find have been named in their research (data)

    At least one of the researchers (Marriott) is publically hostile towards me, blogging about my articles (at the high profile science blog Watts Up With That) and labelling them/me, as a denier, disinformation and bullshit, of further serious concern, he also uses the tag Dunning-Kruger effect (psychologising opponents by blog posts?) as far as I’m aware Marriott has no relevant qualifications. He headlined his article with a graphic cut from WUWT (copyright?) which he has adulterated by added a red rubber stamp graphic ‘Verified Bullshit’.

    His co-author runs a high traffic website, which is in partnership with Former Vice President Al Gores’ – Climate Reality Project, this co-author endorsed, Marriot’s article and his claims about me on his blog.

    For example, see a recent article debunked by the blog Watching the Deniers, where somebody had cherry-picked skeptical quotes from a few scientists who responded to the Doran and Zimmerman study (EoS, January 20, 2009). This only reveals that some people confuse consensus with unanimity. – Skeptical Science (SkS)

    The somebody is of course myself, presumably Marriott stamping ‘Verified Bullshit’ on an adulterated graphic of my WUWT article, is the standard appropriate enough for Al Gore, and SkS readers, but perhaps not that of professional academics, of course this was on their private blogs. But clearly shows the researchers of this paper are hostile to their human research subject, so is quite relevant to my concerns.

    My article questioned how politicians and activists use / misuse a ‘sound bite of 97% of scientists say’ which is taken from research, this article questions The Skeptical Science position on this quotation from the Doran Paper (and Anderegg and other papers), it is a key reference for Al Gores Climate Reality Project:

    The Deniers: Climate Reality Project
    “But 97 per cent of climate scientists understand that climate change is a reality. The scientists are not confused. And we shouldn’t be either.” (which links to SkS)

    So we have a very clear motive and need to ‘claim’ they debunked my WUWT article. I say claim they debunked my article, as the rely on the debunking of my WUWT article, by linking to Marriotts blog – with the shall we say unprofessional

    This adulterated WUWT graphic has also been used on more than one occasion.

    Thus, as a named unwilling/unwitting (well known) participant in the research conducted by Professor Lewandowsky et al. I say well known – quoting Marriott’s blog here (with the tags and graphic):
    “This post is authored by well-known climate “sceptic” Barry Woods: – Watching the Deniers (Marriot)

    In these circumstances, please advice me, of any and or all information I am entitled to know, according to the national guidelines with respect to this research and the university’s guidelines that this research operated under. I am not aware of everything I am entitled to know, so please provide it all.

    Not least of which is, the ethics clearance this paper went through and under what funding grant and justification this research came under.

    In the circumstance described, I have asked the authors, publically, via their blogs and via the journal (I have no desire to communicate directly now) to remove my name and comment from the supplementary data to this research (as far as I can see the paper does not depend on it in anyway).

    I have received no acknowledgement or response to date from the authors (most recent url).

    My expectations are, in the first instance that the university first verify my concerns, (I will endeavour to assist in any way I can) and then I would hope the university react accordingly to the ethics issues raised without formal complaint (in the interests of the university, the human subjects studied, and this niche of the field of psychology)

    That is my hope, I will also consider the option of a more formal complaint if necessary.

  14. Barry Woods says:

    My WUWT article.

    that ‘my researcher’ (co-author M Marriott) describes as ‘verified bullshit’, and tags me Dunning-Kruger, Denier, Disinformation on his blog (not the ,most appropriate researcher perhaps? 😉

    and ‘fury’ co-author John Cook endorsed this at Skeptical Science.

    Personally, I feel that the University are trying to wish this away, they seem unaware that because the authors sought and obtained a lot of media attention, I see no reason not to bring all my concerns to the media aswell.. I’m giving them the opportunity to behave professionally (ethics violations alone are ridiculous) but the fact that Lewandowsky pubished LOG12, knowing, the sceptics knew that the survey linked at Skeptical Science was a lie, makes me think, he thinks he is untouchable..

    My final email to UWA below (complaints officer name removed)

    ————————————- email ————————-

    It has been ten days, can you advise me of the procedures and people and timescales involved.

    I see this complaint as a very serious breach of ethical standards and academic misconduct with the authors being utterly conflicted.
    Cook, Marriot & Lewandowsky are actively publically hostile in the media against the so called “skeptics” they research.

    The authors also have an additional conflicted vested interest (Cook and Lewandowsky?) with the Skeptical Science website providing material for Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, which also give the conflict of interest (even if only perceived) a potentially damaging political dimension to UWA and the journals involved.

    Special Thanks
    We’d like to extend our thanks to Skeptical Science, an invaluable website for anyone who is fighting climate denial. A pioneer in offering fact-based rebuttals to those who deny climate change, Skeptical Science has contributed many of the supporting articles on Reality Drop. We are indebted to their work and grateful for their support.

    Prof Lewandoswky’s additional involvement with Desmogblog, which has a Deniers Disinformation database, which includes US Senators (and scientists and people named in the papers, McIntyre, Spencer, Jo Nova Anthony Watts) shows a catastrophic failure judgement on Prof Lewandowsky’s part and I must conclude show failing in the ethics procedure and culture of the department.
    ie. How might this be perceived by Al Gore’s political opponents – activist politically motivated psychologist using psychology to pathologise critics!
    I’m sure the authors do not see that, or feel this is what they are doing.. but even just the perception of this (real or otherwise) is I believe potentially very damaging to UWA and the field of psychology.

    I assume that UWA would need to discuss this with me and ask questions for clarification.

    Both these paper ‘Moon Hoax’ & ‘Recursive Fury’ should simply be withdrawn, statements made and an investigation made to find quite how such naked activism was allowed to take hold within psychology, in my opinion of course.

    Best Regards

    Barry Woods

    I thought a purpose of psychology was supposed to protect the public and explain this sort of thing below, not encourage it

    Prof Lewandowsky at Desmogblog – December 2012:

    sceptics tagged and labelled who were named in these 2 papers:

  15. Fred Davis says:

    To be fair, You had adequately explained the correlation between Climate Change Denialisms and herpetohominidological beliefs by pointing out the low sample size of the clime change denialists in the poll.

    So, with Occam’s Razor neatly satified, the sudden jump to “…therefore I know a cabal of climate change blog commenters were deliberately giving misleading answers to the poll because of the pixels and from seeing a few questionnaires in my time” is fairly risible and ironic.

    If it is fair to say that climate change denialists were reluctant to give their readers the poll, then our disbelief is not stretched incredibly so to then go on to assert that the climate change denialist who were least reluctant to give their readers the poll were the more whackaloon ones who don’t understand how crazy they sound while the more grounded set of absurd conspiracy theorists who merely deny anthropogenic climate change were the ones more likely to not engage with the poll at all because they viewed it as part of a conspiracy to make them seem crazy, and thus the results are explained by the anthropogenic climate change denier’s innate tendency to favor actions that, in the long run, are ultimately self harming as part of a vain attempt to spite the stereotypical environmentalists that exist only in their heads, Q.E.D.

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  17. What are the odds of getting people who are conscientious enough to answer a questionnaire meticulously, but not conscientious enough to care if a question seems ambiguous or their preferred answer isn’t on the list?

    That being said, thanks for the post– the amount of random weirdness is a good reason for being cautious about taking survey results seriously.

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  19. Jesse says:

    Global warming denialists are not skeptics. They’re the opposite of skeptics.

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