Recursive Fury
February 21, 2013 10:48 AM   Subscribe

"A theory quickly emerged: that believers in climate science had been the main people taking Dr. Lewandowsky’s survey, but instead of answering honestly, had decided en masse to impersonate climate contrarians, giving the craziest possible answers so as to make the contrarians look like whack jobs. So, a paper about a tendency among this group to believe in conspiracy theories was met by … a conspiracy theory." - Unlocking the Conspiracy Mind-Set

“Recursive fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation.” [pdf]
posted by brundlefly (61 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
The subtitle was “An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science.”

Thanks for posting this - this is a topic I've been thinking about a lot recently, specifically why some people I have known for years have, during the cold and flu season in the northern hemisphere, turned out to be "anti-vaxxers". Or 9/11 Truthers. Or anti-WiFi activists.

Why are people who should know better throwing science out the window and acting on gut instinct???
posted by KokuRyu at 10:56 AM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


In TFA is a link to The Paranoid Style in American Politics by Richard Hofstadter. Worth reading.
posted by jsturgill at 11:05 AM on February 21, 2013 [16 favorites]


Isn't it as simple as "If those people are for it, then I'm against it?"
posted by three blind mice at 11:09 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just have to say that "Recursive Fury" is the greatest academic paper title ever.
posted by vibrotronica at 11:10 AM on February 21, 2013 [11 favorites]


Has anyone ever seen Richard Hofstadter's birth certificate? Just sayin'
posted by Devonian at 11:10 AM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why are people who should know better throwing science out the window and acting on gut instinct???

Well, duh. They're lizard people.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:10 AM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Why are people who should know better throwing science out the window and acting on gut instinct???

They're only following their true masters (either the people who sign their paycheck or the voice coming out of the radio in the next cubicle).
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:15 AM on February 21, 2013


Why are people who should know better throwing science out the window and acting on gut instinct???

People are losing faith in all sorts of institutions and it's not hard to see why. In this case, government and business are patently (heh) not working for people and time and time again they see "studies" purporting all sorts of things. Josephine Average doesn't know from peer-reviewed and doesn't have access to The Horse's Mouth anyway, so how can they tell what science is real and what isn't? They have to "decide for themselves" and often get it wrong.

The only way to fix this is to build trust up again. That takes honesty and time, neither of which government nor business seem to be currently good at.
posted by DU at 11:19 AM on February 21, 2013 [23 favorites]


Why are people who should know better throwing science out the window and acting on gut instinct???

"My institutions fail me every day.
Why should I listen to a word they say?"
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:30 AM on February 21, 2013


Why are people who should know better throwing science out the window and acting on gut instinct???

There's an inconvenient fact that the pro-science crowd hates: People agree or disagree on an idea based on the reputation of its source, not on the idea's merit. Nancy Pelosi could come out and say "1 + 1 = 2" and it would still be rejected in some circles as socialist propaganda. Add to that a well-funded FUD machine that wants to exploit this reputation mechanism for its own benefit, and it's not really surprising that these conspiracy theories have such staying power.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:33 AM on February 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


A friend of mine posted some anti-vaccination crap on FB. I pointed out that, even though the polio vaccine had some unpleasant side-effects, including a few deaths, overall it greatly improved life, and as a result, polio is elminated from the US, and deaths from polio as well.

He conceded all of this, and said, "Yeah, I support vaccinations when they're lifesaving - but we just don't know if these new vaccines are going to kill more than they help!"

Head-desk head-desk-head-desk.

(sarcasm font) Golly, you're right What a genius! I wish someone had thought to test whether or not the vaccine kills more people than it helps! We should totally require them to test for that! (/sarcasm font).
posted by IAmBroom at 11:38 AM on February 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


A power developer I'm aware of is working with a rural WiMAX internet provider on potential mitigation strategies. It seems that the internet provider has several customers who are so opposed to the power developer's project that they are urging the ISP not to talk to the developer. Should the ISP have to move its WiMAX relay, however, a significant number of locals will likely object -- including a number of its own customers.
posted by scruss at 11:44 AM on February 21, 2013


In this case, government and business are patently (heh) not working for people and time and time again they see "studies" purporting all sorts of things. Josephine Average doesn't know from peer-reviewed and doesn't have access to The Horse's Mouth anyway, so how can they tell what science is real and what isn't? They have to "decide for themselves" and often get it wrong.

Yeah, how many ads are there out there touting "scientifically proven" and "scientifically formulated" solutions to people's problems that are, in fact, unproven, unregulated snake oils sold under the dietary supplements loophole? Hell, almost everything is marketed as being a product of "science" these days.

I think people's blame is misdirected though: even when it's government that seems to be immediately failing us, those failures are usually due to the influence of business and commercial interests on the political process, so from my POV, the only institution that's really failing us is supply-side capitalism. Or on another level, it's really our popular culture that's failing us. If our culture were less mercenary, less cynical, and less tolerant of corporate abuses and naked profit motive, we might be able to muster the political will to reform the institutions we desperately need to keep working on our behalf. Abandoning those institutions rather than reforming them has never really been an option, because in their absence, there's nothing at all to prevent the even more naked abuses of trust they were created to prevent in the first place.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:45 AM on February 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


Abandoning those institutions rather than reforming them has never really been an option...

Option or not, it's happening. I still believe the FDA but I don't think I'd take a drug approved by them any time in the first, say, 5 years. Let reality do a little testing in addition to whatever "testing" they may have been paid to fake.
posted by DU at 11:48 AM on February 21, 2013


Yeah, how many ads are there out there touting "scientifically proven" and "scientifically formulated" solutions to people's problems that are, in fact, unproven, unregulated snake oils sold under the dietary supplements loophole? Hell, almost everything is marketed as being a product of "science" these days.

Yeah, but with climate change (the topic of this post), anyone with a high school math education (understanding of averages and median) should be able to figure this stuff out. The science is complex, but the results are fairly easy to understand.

Same with vaccinations - this is middle school-level biology we're talking about here.

It does take some thinking to understand some of the issues (eg, "If pro-vaccination people are so convinced that vaccinations work, why are they afraid of my unvaccinated child?"), but, dammit, we're supposed to think, and not just blame black government helicopters.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:51 AM on February 21, 2013


IAmBroom: He conceded all of this, and said, "Yeah, I support vaccinations when they're lifesaving - but we just don't know if these new vaccines are going to kill more than they help!"

There's a couple of ideas in play with that mindset. One: drugs that are touted as safe as apple pie one day are denounced as poison the next (vioxx, thalidomide, etc). The promise of profits and a lapdog for a regulatory body makes this perfectly feasible. Two: certain diseases aren't seen as serious enough for vaccination. Chicken pox, for example. Everybody had it as kids, nobody died, why go around stabbing kids with syringes of god-knows-what?

I don't agree with all this, but this is often the rational behind that position.
posted by dr_dank at 11:55 AM on February 21, 2013


Why are people who should know better throwing science out the window and acting on gut instinct???

It'd be easy to paint this as a partisan issue, but it isn't really: the rejection of science is happening on both sides of the left-right divide, just on different issues. The right denies climate change and evolution, the left has an irrational fear of GMOs and nuclear power, there are vaccine avoiders on both sides... politics is a red herring.

I think it's basically a symptom of future shock. Pretty much everyone can see that Shit Is Fucked Up, one way or another -- either the climate is going to kill us or we're going to run out of oil or the economy is going to keep spinning out of control or our genetically modified food is going to poison us all or etcetera. Life is changing really fast. Visibly accelerating, even. Things that were considered safe last week are considered dangerous today, and vice-versa. Nobody knows if they'll have a job next year, or if the type of work they do will even exist in ten years.

We're basically having the Singularity, but not the good kind.

And all of that unsettles people and makes them naturally distrustful of the authorities who can't seem to make up their minds, and makes them look for someone to blame, and as often as not that's going to be science; it's easy to say if we didn't have X science, we wouldn't have Y problem which is a result of X! (And often much harder to explain why we need X science and would be in even worse shape without it.)
posted by ook at 12:01 PM on February 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


ook, don't forget that there are people for whom Shit Cannot Be Fucked Up Because God Wouldn't Allow It.
posted by scruss at 12:06 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, I'd argue they must already have moved a few steps along in the rejecting-rational-thought process.
posted by ook at 12:08 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


TANGENT ALERT:

Well, when all research gets paywalled by Elsevier, et al... are we really going to have a public familiar with well researched studies? Of course not.

We can't be familiar with history, because it too is behind paywalls.

We can't link to all the cool stuff researchers are doing, which sucks.
posted by MikeWarot at 12:13 PM on February 21, 2013 [9 favorites]


Recursive Fury. Dibs on band name!
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:16 PM on February 21, 2013


Recursive Furry
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:26 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I just have to say that "Recursive Fury" is the greatest academic paper title ever.

Its good, but, for my money its tough to beat the history of images of birds covered in oil, entitled, There Will be Birds: Images of Oil Disasters in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:30 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I just have to say that "Recursive Fury" is the greatest academic paper title ever.

And if there isn't a rollergirl team with this name, I will be very put out.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:35 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Broken epistemology FTL
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:55 PM on February 21, 2013


"We can't link to all the cool stuff researchers are doing, which sucks."

...Ahem
posted by Blasdelb at 12:56 PM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Has anyone ever seen Richard Hofstadter's birth certificate? Just sayin'

I've seen it. Curiously, it's just a sheet of paper that says "9/11 was an inside job" on it.
posted by "Elbows" O'Donoghue at 12:57 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


It'd be easy to paint this as a partisan issue, but it isn't really: the rejection of science is happening on both sides of the left-right divide, just on different issues.

I'm gonna call false equivalence here, although I'm not usually a great respecter of the left-right trench works. Caution about the long-term effects of new technologies -- even past the point of reasonable concern -- is not the same thing as denying the foundation of modern biology, or positing a world-wide conspiracy of climate scientists aimed at destroying the American Way.
posted by steambadger at 1:14 PM on February 21, 2013 [15 favorites]


I have a co-worker who doesn't believe in evolution. This is remarkable because we are a molecular biology based company - we do evolution on a regular basis. Right there. On that machine right there.
posted by maryr at 1:16 PM on February 21, 2013 [20 favorites]


"I'm gonna call false equivalence here, although I'm not usually a great respecter of the left-right trench works. Caution about the long-term effects of new technologies -- even past the point of reasonable concern -- is not the same thing as denying the foundation of modern biology, or positing a world-wide conspiracy of climate scientists aimed at destroying the American Way."

If you go looking around anti-vaxx, pro-homeopathy, anti-GMO, crystal healing, reikii mastery, mercury chelation, etc blogs you will find no shortage of denying foundations of modern biology or positing of world-wide conspiracies by scientists intent on destroying vague concepts.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:23 PM on February 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


blasdelb,

I think the difference is that anti-science conservative conspiracy theories are prominent among powerful conservatives, while that is not the case among prominent liberals.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:27 PM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


I wish I shared your optimism
Legislative Alchemy: Naturopathy 2013
posted by Blasdelb at 1:43 PM on February 21, 2013


maryr, I've met a few creationist physicians, which also struck me as very cognitively dissonant. And don't get me started on the healthcare people who avoid the flu vaccine...
posted by maryrussell at 1:45 PM on February 21, 2013


I once encountered a very closeted young earth creationist microbiologist, who was incidentally the star of their prominent department and devastatingly intelligent, who also did work that was not totally divorced from evolutionary theory. It happens.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:53 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


It'd be easy to paint this as a partisan issue, but it isn't really:
ook

According to the article the first paper found that to some extent it is:

The strongest finding in the survey was that ideological belief in an unregulated free market tended to be a predictor of someone’s willingness to reject the findings of mainstream climate research.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:01 PM on February 21, 2013


If you had finished ook's sentence in your quote, it would show that their point was broader in a way not addressed by that finding of the paper.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:05 PM on February 21, 2013


Eh... GMO and nuclear are technologies, not science. People who denounce technologies are worried about the ethics of their use. That is not at all the same as climate and evolutionary denialism.
posted by Skwirl at 2:31 PM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


No, Skwirl, some people are just afraid of the word nuclear. Or GMO.

I've met them, and don't like them any more than I like climate deniers. But they do exist.
posted by nat at 2:40 PM on February 21, 2013


Anti-GMO and anti-nuclear protesters can, at their extremes, be just as anti-science as the climate change denialists.
posted by maryr at 2:49 PM on February 21, 2013


Just seems a bit reductionist to paint Michelle Bachman and the Union of Concerned Scientists with the same brush. Some anti-GMO proponents are looney, but all evolution deniers are looney. it's an important distinction.
posted by Skwirl at 2:50 PM on February 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


Well, when all research gets paywalled by Elsevier, et al...

I understand this is a real issue, but I'm much more concerned about the hordes of people who don't seem to understand many basic facts about our world. Not only did they lose interest in grade 5 science, but they clearly believe that science as a belief system is the equal of religion (in this case, American Christianity). We use the most advanced tech ever invented on a daily basis, and what are you telling me? "God did it."
posted by sneebler at 3:20 PM on February 21, 2013


I don't think anyone here is comparing the Union of Concerned Scientists with Michelle Bachman. Anti-GMO views supported by reasonable and scientifically sound results is not what I was referring to, hence my use of the term "extremes". Fearing GMO crops because they are "unnatural" and dismissing any scientific study of them as Monsanto-centric is closer to the point.
posted by maryr at 3:28 PM on February 21, 2013


A person can be anti-application-of-a-particular-technology without being anti-science. Don't conflate the two.

On preview: what Skwirl said.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:29 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think calling something "technology" instead of science and calling objections "ethical" instead of moral gets you a pass. Neither right nor left gets to ignore mounting scientific (not to mention seasonal) evidence and dismiss it as a corporate/government/religious/alien plot.
posted by maryr at 3:32 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have a co-worker who doesn't believe in evolution. This is remarkable because we are a molecular biology based company - we do evolution on a regular basis. Right there. On that machine right there.

Your co-worker would probably call what you do "microevolution" and deny "macroevolution".
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 3:44 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think calling something "technology" instead of science and calling objections "ethical" instead of moral gets you a pass.

Well, extreme free-marketers take a pass on exactly that point. I have been reading the books of one such extreme free-marketer, extreme also in intelligence, breadth of education, number of appointments, stature in field(s), and they declare that all science is primarily ex post experimentation following some tinkering already done by innovative entrepreneurs in response to the free market demand, which would have achieved present knowledge without the science. Including physics and biology. Sigh.
posted by carping demon at 3:50 PM on February 21, 2013


I don't think calling something "technology" instead of science ...

I don't think this applies to the people in the study, but I really do see a distinction between "Science" and "Technology". For instance, it's a scientific fact that fissioning uranium liberates huge amounts of energy that we can use to power things. It's also a scientific fact that the process produces material that is dangerous for humans for a long time. What we can do with these by-products, and whether or not the way business is regulated in the U.S. will let us use this energy source safely are part of the technological implementation. I think that in some cases the technology can say "No" where the science says "Yes".

I understand your distinction about "the extremes" and agree with it. I'm pointing out the the pro-science people who don't make the distinction, and contribute to the polarization.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:51 PM on February 21, 2013


Your co-worker would probably call what you do "microevolution" and deny "macroevolution".

Which leads to the hilarious faux-science of Baraminology.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:52 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


It looks like Lumper vs. Splitter is now now available in "taxonomy of denialism" flavor.
posted by Llama-Lime at 4:25 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


A person can be anti-application-of-a-particular-technology without being anti-science. Don't conflate the two.

I'm as lefty-loony as they come, and am more generally sympthetic to that set of concerns than to creationists for example. But I see plenty of infographics being passed around on Facebook by my lefty loony friends, listing, say, all the Dangerous Chemicals in GMO food: stuff like calcium chloride and ascorbic acid. (Who wants acid in their food, amirite?)

I'm sure you've seen similar examples.

There's nothing you can call that sort of thing but anti science, anti rationality. They may well be right to be concerned about GMOs or nukes. But they're right for the wrong reasons.

I guess that's better than being wrong for the wrong reasons. A bit. Not much though.
posted by ook at 5:14 PM on February 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Pruitt-Igoe: "Your co-worker would probably call what you do "microevolution" and deny "macroevolution"."

There's nothing quite as obnoxious as a creationist slowly, carefully, condescendingly explaining this meaningless distinction to you as though you clearly don't know anything about real science.
posted by brundlefly at 5:39 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Foucault's Pendulum
posted by Smedleyman at 6:17 PM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's nothing you can call that sort of thing but anti science, anti rationality.

Yes, that's right. And I don't see how it is an instance of what I'm talking about and gave an example of here.
posted by benito.strauss at 6:34 PM on February 21, 2013


I guess that what you're talking about and what I'm talking about are different things.
posted by ook at 6:56 PM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have written several rants comparing the anti-vaxx stance to being pro-drunk driving in the past, but even that, something that I know kills children, has less of a chance of truly fucking over all humans than climate change. We lose vaccinations, we go back to the days of needing to have five kids so two lived. We lose our climate and the food systems of the world go haywire. While there may be crazy anti-science on the left, it is not as dangerous. Also, find me an elected Democratic senator (in DC, not on the state level) who is against vaccinations. Find me a Democratic senator who wants to get rid of all GMO food (including 90% of the corn harvested in the US). Then, I may start listening to you about how both sides are rejecting science. (I know the Democrats are right-centrists these days, but they're the closest we have in the US. The old joke was that the Dems and Reps were like the Tories in the UK, but now it's like the Tories and the BNP.)
posted by Hactar at 9:33 PM on February 21, 2013


The strongest finding in the survey was that ideological belief in an unregulated free market tended to be a predictor of someone’s willingness to reject the findings of mainstream climate research.

I'll bet it also predicts rejection of a vast amount of other research, including things like nutrition, ecosystems, safety, etc — essentially, rejection of all things that would serve to inform and protect us. Its like they believe that if they just believe hard enough, there won't be negative consequences. No need to test and prove things. Just believe.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:40 PM on February 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


[trailer voice] LISP used to be bullied by all the cooler computer languages, like Python, Perl, and C++. That is, until he found a way to get vengeance. RECURSIVE FURY: Coming to a theater near you. [/trailer voice]
posted by jonp72 at 6:06 AM on February 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


People are losing faith in all sorts of institutions and it's not hard to see why. In this case, government and business are patently (heh) not working for people and time and time again they see "studies" purporting all sorts of things. Josephine Average doesn't know from peer-reviewed and doesn't have access to The Horse's Mouth anyway, so how can they tell what science is real and what isn't? They have to "decide for themselves" and often get it wrong.

Think about most people's exposure to the fruits of modern science: medicine. Actual clinically tested products approved by the FDA come with lists of side effects and hazards that are longer than the benefits by a factor of at least 5. Snake oil supplements claims don't have to list anything.
posted by srboisvert at 6:41 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe it's because I don't live in the US, or maybe it's just because I know a lot more lefties than righties, but it seems like there is plenty of anti-science on the left as well. The one that stunned me most recently was a hippy anti-nuke friend who thinks that global warming is a conspiracy in order to get people to shift to nuclear, lining the pockets of the nuclear industry.
posted by Bugbread at 4:44 PM on February 23, 2013


but it seems like there is plenty of anti-science on the left as well.

Yes, there is in the population. But not in Congress.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:28 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think Ook was talking about Congress.
posted by Bugbread at 5:42 PM on February 24, 2013


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