Science Deniers Again Try To Discredit John Cook And Skeptical Science

conspiracy_theoryScience deniers never cease to amaze me with the tactics they use to discredit research and people. So they cannot win the debate on the science as it’s not on their side. This causes al kinds of interesting mental processes and conspiratorial thinking to deal with this disconnect from reality. Research by Smith and Leiserowitz shows that conspiratorial thinking is the number one response from climate science deniers towards global warming.

This is also why you see the assumption among science deniers that people have at best “questionable motives” or at worst “nefarious intent.” Which largely explains the defamation you see on science denier blogs and websites. It doesn’t take much for science deniers to jump from assuming nefarious intent to assigning nefarious intent and screeching “fraud” and “fakery” (see ‘climategate‘ for the perfect example).

Which brings me to the latest incident involving Lubos Motl who has made some very serious accusations. Based on stolen material from a private forum he’s claiming that John Cook committed identity theft. Which doesn’t make any sense as it wasn’t public and no personal information was used (which you need to make it identity theft). I’ll let Cook explain what actually happened:

A number of peer-reviewed studies have observed a link between climate science denial and conspiratorial thinking. The most prominent examples are the conspiracy theories extrapolated from quote-mined excerpts of stolen private correspondence of climate scientists, in the episode known as climategate. A similar conspiratorial episode spun from quote-mined stolen private correspondence was published by Lubos Motl this week, and has been uncritically propagated by other online commenters.

The stolen private correspondence from 2011 involved Skeptical Science team members developing comment threads (both supporting and rejecting climate science) for use in a psychology experiment. In the private forum (only), I posted a few comments under the pseudonym Lubos_Motl (to signify that the comments were taking a contrarian stance). The username was changed to an anonymous name for the experiment. In other words, it was not used in the experiment and was never used outside of the private Skeptical Science forum.

Consequently, Motl’s accusations of identity theft are demonstrably false. Further, I find it extraordinary that Motl publicly posts comments about me being hanged, and allows public comments on his blog that approve of torturing and murdering me. I find it equally extraordinary that such misleading and venomous posts are uncritically endorsed by third parties such as Richard Tol, Anthony Watts and Roger Pielke Jr.

Quite a different story than the one Lubos Motl paints (archived here). The language used by Motl goes way beyond civil discourse. What makes it even worse is that this is, by his own admittance, based on stolen private material:

[H]e was discussing things with his fellow climate warriors at the Skeptical Science Forums, a website affiliated with his SkepticalScience.COM. The website was “closed” and only accessible to the community of Cook’s friends, not publicly available[…]

Which means that Cook couldn’t have committed identity theft. Especially when Motl also quotes Cook from the forum with the following:

Note re Lubos Motl: I won’t use the name Lubos Motl or any of our names in the final webpage used in the experiment (so the last two comments by Rob and Steve won’t be used, I’m afraid).

But that hasn’t stopped Science deniers and their enablers from eating this up. At no moment did they pause and wonder if what Motl claims actually happened. It was mud that they could throw and they wanted to see if it would stick. They also didn’t care about the fact that Motl said that John should die. This last one is quite telling, especially when those that are promoting Motl’s claims demand you are civil towards them.

Of course Anthony Watts was one of the science deniers who jumped on it with his blog post ‘Yes, why DOES John Cook of ‘SkepticalScience’ and the 97% have to use identity theft in his ‘research’?‘ (archived here). He jumps right into conspiratorial thinking:

Who else has John Cook impersonated? Has he encouraged his team to do this? These are valid questions that need answers.

In his update he continues:

The point that needs to be driven home is that rather than getting real comments, he had his buddies (and himself) write faked up comments from their own perspective as “fake skeptics”, and then analyzed those for his research experiment. Whether the results of that experiment made it into any published research is unknown.

Watts has no idea what the context of the comments were, how they were used, or what was being researched. I can tell you that it’s going to be really embarrassing for Watts when the paper comes out, as what Watts is speculating here is not even close to what happened (which is rather obvious with the explanation Cook provided). Though it’s par the course for Watts about anything involving Skeptical Science.

This was also uncritically picked up, as Cook mentions, by Richard Tol who also wondered the following:

Mainstream media quick to pick up Soon’s story, slow to pick up Cook’s story.

I suspect this has to do with the detail that for Soon there’s actually a case to be made, but in the case of Cook it’s science deniers spinning yarn out of quotes from private comments that they have taken out of context.

Pielke also uncritically shared this and called it “shameful.” He didn’t react kindly when he was called out on this and said in response that people are “trolling” him.

I could go on with giving examples of the usual suspects uncritically sharing the unfounded accusations made by Motl. But I suspect that by now that I’ve made my point.

Science deniers can make a lot of noise when they think they have some damning piece of ‘evidence’. They have to jump on anything that helps keeps their world-view intact, no matter how dubious the ‘evidence’ is. Showing facts almost never works, they’ll just dig in more and dismiss what you show them. The same will happen here.

But it does show how irrational they are and it makes them look really silly when you present the facts. In this regards they are their own worst enemy and it’s what will ultimately make them irrelevant.

Collin Maessen is the founder and editor of Real Skeptic and a proponent of scientific skepticism. For his content he uses the most up to date and best research as possible. Where necessary consulting or collaborating with scientists.