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Bob Denton

Recursive Fury: The fatal flaws.

Bob Denton
The literature establishes that certain individuals are disposed to believe conspiracy theories (psychology).
Those individuals exhibit certain thought patterns. (It’s not clear that this has been empirically determined, the papers cited rely heavily on speculation, hypotheses generated as a result of experiment, not confirmed by experiment. It appears to be neither sociology nor psychology, merely commentator surmise; but suppose for the sake of argument these thought patterns have been empirically determined, and are psychological.)
It has not been empirically established that these thought patterns are exclusive to individuals who have conspiratorial ideation. This is a necessary condition for the thought patterns themselves to be diagnostic of conspiratorial ideation. There is zero evidence in the literature cited for this being the case.
Purely speculatively, I offer these other contexts in which one might find the same thought patterns - investigative journalism, compliance enforcement, auditing, policing, lawyering, even peer-reviewing – in short, any skeptical profession. Another area where such patterns, conceivably, may occur is rhetorical combat.

The paper is predicated on this syllogism:
Major Premise: All dogs have 4 legs.
Minor Premise: Bambi has 4 legs
Conclusion: Bambi is a dog – NOT.
It’s founded on a false syllogism.

But to proceed:
All previous literature requires the conspiracist mind set to be determined individually – as was done in “Hoax” by the administration of individual surveys to determine whether individuals believed in conspiracy theories. That is a psychological characteristic.
“Hoax” determined a correlation between the phenomenon of climate science rejection and a belief in conspiracy theories. This is a sociological characteristic.
In RF the authors implicitly attribute a sociological characteristic to individuals. It has to, otherwise there’s no empirical basis to categorise the words of the individuals it quotes as exclusively conspiratorial ideation. This is not permissible. The literature establishes that an assessment, a good one appears here:
must be made in respect of each individual.
RF evades this requirement by invoking the sociological correlation established in “Hoax.” In the introduction we find the assertion, (it has not been empirically established):
“Internet sites such as blogs dedicated to a specific issue have therefore become
hubs for science denial and they arguably play a major role in the
creation and dissemination of conspiracist ideation.”
Science denial is defined as:
“active public denial of scientific facts by various means, such as the
use of rhetoric to create the appearance of debate where there is none” Footnote 1 declares that this is the context for all the paper: “In the present article, we
frequently use the term “denial” because the object of our study is on the active and
public dissemination of information.”
And later:
“The present article examines the denialist blogosphere’s response to the study of Lewandowsky et al.(in press; hereafter; LOG12), which we therefore present in
some detail.”
It’s all about denial, therefore by definition, conspiratorial.

The authors are vaguely aware of this defect, though they don’t refer to it explicitly in the introduction, perhaps because they’re not quite sure what they’ve done.
In the Discussion:
“A second criticism might cite the fact that we have considered the “blogosphere” as if it were a single entity, analyzed within the context of psychological processes and constructs that typically characterize individuals rather than groups. Our response is twofold: first, at the level of purely descriptive discourse analysis, our work fits within established precedent involving the examination of communications from heterogeneous entities such as the U.S. Government (Kuypers et al., 1994) or the Soviet Union (Kuypers et al., 2001). Second, at a psychological level, numerous psychological constructs – such as cognitive dissonance, social dominance orientation, or authoritarianism – have been extended to apply not only to individuals but also to groups or societies (e.g., Moghaddam, in press). We therefore argue that our extension of individual-level work on conspiracist ideation to the level of
amorphous groups fits within precedent in two areas of scholarly enquiry.:

However, they haven’t attributed psychological attributes to groups, they’ve done the opposite, they’ve attributed sociological characteristics to individuals.

By mere assertion, they attribute to the blogs, bloggers and commentators on those blogs, the “active public denial of scientific facts by various means, such as the
use of rhetoric to create the appearance of debate where there is none”
And they’re home. Or so they believe, because they’ve not realised their error. They’ve coupled the psychology of all the individuals to the sociological correlation with conspiracy, without having administered the individual assessment, which is universally required in the literature.
Not only do they misunderstand their innovation, even if they understood what they did, that would be far from an empirical validation of their mis-attribution.

Where they write -
“We derived six criteria from the existing literature to permit classification of hypotheses pertaining to LOG12 as potentially conspiracist (see Table 3). Our criteria were exclusively psychological and hence did not hinge on the validity of the various hypotheses.”
- they deceive themselves. They have already assumed denialism, they have assumed that all statements have been made as an act of active public denial of scientific facts by various means, such as the use of rhetoric to create the appearance of debate where there is none. They have already assumed the critics hypothesis are invalid, and done so by invoking sociological attributes.

One consequence of this is that the authors then fail to evaluate the blog comments in the light of the established literature, on which they purport to rely.

A key concept is that corrigibility excludes conspiratorial ideation. If the hypothesis can be falsified to the satisfaction of the individual by the provision of further information then the ideation cannot be conspiratorial.
If you read the passages headed ““Skeptic” blogs not contacted (2)” and “Blocking access to authors’ websites (8)” you’ll see that the bloggers were corrigible (as a result of their own endeavours) and on the basis of the pre-existing literature are excluded from being conspiratorial.

Asymmetry of Knowledge.
Another established touchstone for testing whether ideation is conspiratorial (related to corrigibility) is Asymmetry of Knowledge. An individual’s hypothesis can’t be considered conspiratorial merely because he knows less than another individual. His belief may be justified on the basis of what is known to him without invoking an overarching conspiracy.
If you read the passages headed, Presentation of intermediate data (3), “Skeptic” blogs contacted after delay (4), Different versions of the survey (5), Control data suppressed (6), Duplicate responses from same IP number retained (7), you will see that they’re all explicable by Asymmetry of Knowledge. The experimenters were privy to their experimental design and protocols whereas the critics weren’t.

Want of Contagion.
A sociological index of conspiracy established in the literature is that it’s contagious. The hypothesis is taken up by like minded others.
If you read the passage headed, Miscellaneous hypotheses (9) you will see that those hypotheses failed to gain traction, which contradicts the assumption that the examined blogosphere is denialist.

So far so bad.

When I was taught textual (content) analysis, (4 or 5 decades ago) the experimenter was:
1. precluded from settling the categories
2. precluded from assigning the units to categories.
In generating categories the experimenter interacted with a naive panel. The experimenter would suggest categories that might accommodate the units, the panel would suggest categories which they thought appropriate, and it would go back and forth until the panel presented a set of categories that they believed accommodated all the units. The reason the panel settled the categories was to prevent the experimenters preconceptions being the only available options.
Off the top of my head I might have included these categories:
Humour, Rhetoric, Casual speculation, Ordinary course of peer-review. Notice, in context, these categories are innocent, not prejudicial.
A panel usually generates others.
It’s noticeable that all the categories in RF were generated by the experimenters. They’re all prejudicial, and coincide with the experimenters preconceptions. They’re all clearly denialist. They assumed denialism, they generated only categories consistent with denialism, so there was no option but to find denialism. There is a patent failure to exclude experimenter bias.

Worse still, the experimenters appear to have assigned the units to categories themselves. The reason they’re required to be assigned by a naïve panel is to invoke the wisdom of the crowds (the phenomenon whereby the more people who guess the number of peas in a bottle, the closer the average converges on the actual number of peas) and subjectivity converges on objectivity.
Without naïve assignment by a reasonably sized panel no psudo-objective result can be obtained,

The authors claim:
“The remainder of this article reports a content analysis of the hypotheses generated by the blogosphere to counter LOG12.”

But it doesn’t. It lacks all the fundamental design criteria for a content analysis.

It’s an essay.

The thing about recursivity is it comes back and bites you.
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