Groupthink in climate science

“Madness is the exception in individuals but the rule in groups.” – Nietzsche.

There is an interesting post at WUWT by Paul MacRae which examines why the climate debate is so polarized: “Why climate science is a textbook example of groupthink.” It examines the question of why even “the best and the brightest” can be so wrong. There are many examples in history such as the Vietnam war, Watergate, the Bay of Pigs, the Edsel, New Coke.

There are three main categories of symptoms in the “Groupthink syndrome:”

1. Overestimate of the group’s power and morality, including “an unquestioned belief in the group’s inherent morality, inclining the members to ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their actions.”

2. Closed-mindedness, including a refusal to consider alternative explanations and stereotyped negative views of those who aren’t part of the group’s consensus. The group takes on a “win-lose fighting stance” toward alternative views.

3. Pressure toward uniformity, including “a shared illusion of unanimity concerning judgments conforming to the majority view”; “direct pressure on any member who expresses strong arguments against any of the group’s stereotypes”; and “the emergence of self-appointed mind-guards … who protect the group from adverse information that might shatter their shared complacency about the effectiveness and morality of their decisions.”

It’s obvious that alarmist climate science—as explicitly and extensively revealed in the Climatic Research Unit’s “Climategate” emails—shares all of these defects of groupthink, including a huge emphasis on maintaining consensus, a sense that because they are saving the world, alarmist climate scientists are beyond the normal moral constraints of scientific honesty (“overestimation of the group’s power and morality”), and vilification of those (“deniers”) who don’t share the consensus.

Read the entire article here.

The comments on that post are interesting also.



  1. The only unusual thing about climate science is that it indites the most profitable industry on earth.  It says to change.  It says that fossil energy profits should decline, and profits of all other energy should increase.  Its current challenge dwarfs the challenges from old established piles of money that every other inconvenient environmental or health truth, like the dangers of smoking or asbestos or acid rain or CFCs, had to face.

    1. No, that’s not all that it does, anderlan (and the word is “indicts”, incidentally…).  It also proposes a new, global system of taxation (i.e. cap and trade) that would allow the worst polluters to continue doing what they’re doing now, they’d just pay some money to a quasi-governmental entity first, which is nothing resembling an honest or even effective solution. 

      1. Thanks for that spelling correction.  That word seemed wrong, but browser spellcheck was silent…should not rely on spellcheck.

        I’m very glad to see you agree with the science and the problem and also agree some policy solutions are better than others. 

        (Truly, you must know that there are no climate science papers about cap and trade. It would be malignant of me to assume you are imprecise enough to conflate science with the technical particulars of one specific proposed policy response. )

        What toothy but fairer solutions do you propose?  I think, just for starters, fossil carbon subsidies designed to spur the once nascent fossil energy should be completely dropped in its present hyper profitable old age.

      2. That’s one drop in the bucket, certainly.  Others would be doing the same thing for the nuclear industry, re-instilling recycling centers, focusing on cold fusion or LENR technology for the future and forcing corporate polluters to clean up the messes they cause as well as fining them heavily for them.

        Now, I do not consider CO2 to be a pollutant, so when I speak of polluters, I’m referring to the chemical, waste disposal, computer and nuclear industries as well as drug companies, textile factories, tech manufacturers, etc.  Thanks to their efforts, the view that the pollution they emit is somehow better than CO2 has taken hold and allowed them to continue spewing real pollutants into the environment while keeping people focused on the fake environmentalism of global warming.  Fukushima’s spent fuel rod pool by Reactor #4 or the still-leaking Macondo oil well in the Gulf represent far more immediate existential threats to the human race than CO2 ever has or will.

      3. You do not agree with the science. You do not agree that there is any harm from fossil CO2 whatsoever. I should not have been so open minded and forgiving of your imprecision, nee your intentional obfuscation of science and policy.

        You reject that fossil CO2 in geologic quantities is a harmful pollutant.  Do you reject the causality between smoking and cancer?  Between CFCs and ozone depletion?  Between high sulfur emissions and acid rain? You’ve caught something that every established science academy on the planet, and lay authorities as diverse as the Vatican and the US Joint Chiefs of the Armed Forces has missed?  Something so large, and so dead certain, that it completely counteracts the risks raised by science?

        I was a fool for believing you held any confidence in western science and institutions.

      4. The causality between smoking and cancer is well-established and born out by observation vs. prediction, unlike AGW.  Acid rain is indeed caused by sulfur emissions for the same reason.  None of the things you listed are caused by CO2, nor do I argue their validity.  But nor do they establish that CO2 drives climate; in fact, the evidence appears to show the reverse.

        I hold plenty of confidence in western science as long as it is not politicized and bent to suit the whims of the money and power-hungry.  Therein lies the difference between us.

      5. CO2 is a large part of what keeps the planet warm.  You have the burden to prove that adding 50% or 100% more somehow does not force warming.  Furthermore, established science and lay institutions which have been watching this issue for 30 years agree with me, not you.  You do not accept science which threatens your fossil fuel god.

      6. Actually, the burden of proof lies with the one who makes the assertion to begin with. The assertions have been made for more than 20 years that if CO2 levels kept rising, the polar ice caps would melt and the world sea levels would rise and most of the world’s coastlines and tropical islands would be underwater. Well, that hasn’t happened (they’re even planning new resorts in the Maldives), so the hypothesis was obviously flawed. Even James Lovelock, one of the original proponents and supporters of AGW, has recanted, admitting he was an “alarmist”:

        My fossil fuel demon god? LOL You sound exactly like the caricatured, quasi-religious nutcase right-wingers accuse environmentalists of being on this issue, a wild-eyed acolyte incapable of reason. You really don’t know me and if you’d paid attention to my answer to your query about solutions you’d know I’m anything but a worshiper of oil and its minions. Cold fusion and plasma technologies hold the best chance of taking our country into the future. And if you’re really so concerned with the stranglehold gas has over this country, you and every other environmentally-minded citizen would be demanding to know why it is our government prevents European diesel models like the VW Passat TDI from being sold in this country, cars with engines that get 70+ miles to the gallon. Go preach your hollow gospel to the uneducated and unaware.

    1. Jim, I had to look that one up and the answer is maybe.  From Wikipedia:
      The Abilene paradox is a paradox in which a group of people collectively decide on a course of action that is counter to the preferences of any of the individuals in the group It involves a common breakdown of group communication in which each member mistakenly believes that their own preferences are counter to the group’s and, therefore, does not raise objections. A common phrase relating to the Abilene paradox is a desire to not “rock the boat”. 

  2. To Anderlan:

    What is the physical, empirical evidence that CO2 is a major driver of climate?  What is your empirical evidence that CO2, instead of water vapor and other greenhouse gases is “a large part of what keeps the planet warm?  What is your empirical evidence that warming, regardless of cause, is necessarily bad?  AGW proponents keep claiming that the evidence is overwhelming, yet none has presented any credible evidence to support their position.

Comments are closed.