One of my themes is how belief warps how people process information. The old line about how the fanatic only sees that which confirms his fanaticism is obviously true. Fans of Manchester United will believe anything horrible about fans of Liverpool. At the same time, they will never believe anything bad about the boys on their team. Fans of Tom Brady think he is innocent, while fans of the New Jersey teams think he is in some way responsible for killing Kennedy.
In public affairs, it works the same. Republicans think Democrats are secretly plotting to make Karl Marx our new god and Democrats think Republicans want to bring back slavery. This week the MYTimes went after Marco Rubio and every conservative is rushing to his defense. A week ago many of them thought he was bum due to his open borders fanaticism.
It also has another manifestation. If you are convinced some event is inevitable, then all signs point to that inevitability. Read Zero Hedge for a week or two and you see what I mean. They are convinced the apocalypse is upon us and every news event is spun into the sign that the end is near. Some variation of “the coming zombie apocalypse in three charts” is a daily staple.
I think that’s at the heart of the Global Warming cult. “Cult” is the right word at this point, since the people passionate about it have deranged themselves to the point where those outside suspect sinister things about the movement. I have liberal friends who send me thousand word e-mails filled with links and graphs claiming that any day now the tipping point will be reached and we’re doomed. They are so sure that Gaia is angry and ready to punish us, it is axiomatic.
What this means is the looming disaster is a certainty in the minds of the adherents, beyond dispute in the same way no sane person disputes gravity or the laws of motion. It is a fixed thing now and forever, like arithmetic. If the data shows that maybe Gaia is not all that angry, it is assumed to be wrong. It has to be. So they go back and refine the data and massage it so that it is “corrected” to comport with what they know must be true.
NOAA faking their data is not deception in the way in which we normally think of it. They’re simply correcting what they believe must be a mistake. Imagine measuring a stone falling to earth and the results show it falls at rates well outside standard gravity. We know objects near earth accelerate toward the earth at 9.80665 m/s. That’s axiomatic. Any measure outside that must be due to human error.
That’s what’s happening with the constant fiddling with temperature data. Everyone knows that the earth’s climate is warming. The data coming in from various instruments must fit into the the accepted model or those instruments are defective. It has to be, otherwise the very foundation of reality is in doubt. More important, the very identity of the people in the field is in doubt.
The assumption is that data disproving the belief will somehow shake them out of their faith, but it does not work like that for most people. Look at the number of people who can walk into a natural history museum and still believe in young earth creationism. Glaciers could cover North America and the AGW people will say the planet is overheating. It’s why they have started saying climate change rather than global warming. It’s not a conscious effort to deceive; they are simply adapting to dis-confirmation.
Think of it this way. If you are a climate researcher today, you not only have the pressure to produce proof of global warming, you are surrounded by colleagues who believe deeply in the issue. Even if you know the data contradicts the prevailing “consensus” on the issue, it would take herculean will to publish it and face the wrath of your friends and colleagues. When you already are inclined to agree with them, the default assumption will be to dismiss the contradictory data and “correct” it.
There is an old idea called Social Comparison Theory that tries to explain why we tend to emulate those around us. The short version is that humans constantly compare themselves to others around them as a form of self-evaluation. If everyone else thinks pink flamingos on the lawn is gauche, then you are unlikely to install them on your lawn. This applies to opinions, styles, religion, etc.
It’s not hard to see how this is a great evolutionary adaptation. Cooperation scales very well. Two people working in tandem will beat two people working independently. Ten people working as a team will beat two people working in tandem. There are no examples of high status males, for example, whose lives prove the customs of their society nugatory. Rather, status is based on confirming that which society holds dear.
One of the things I find fascinating about third century Rome is how the Empire lost transcendent purpose. Everything was aimed at keeping the band together, so to speak. It’s argued that the Empire bankrupted itself trying to preserve the empire. In this period is when all sorts of odd cults and mystics popped up throughout the Empire. Sol Invictus and, of course, Christianity got going strong during this period as well.
In this post-Christian Era in the West, I think we’re seeing something similar. Oddball mass movements like climate change and its implicit millenarianism are only possible when no dominant ideology exists. The field is clear for people who no longer believe in anything to fall for everything. The Romans carried on a long time after they no longer had a reason to carry on, but eventually something replaced the old gods. Something will come along to be the dominant faith of the West, but I doubt it is climate change.