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'Look into my eyes: You are feeling very worried about the climate ... so worried'

Psychohistory prof Pidgeon strikes again

Comment An academic who promised several years ago to use a new form of mass hypnosis to get the public motivated to fight climate change claims that he's done it. In fact the claim is bogus: it is itself part of his attempt to carry out his plan of manipulating public opinion.

The academicis, as regular readers of these pages will have guessed, Professor Nick Pidgeon of Cardiff uni. Several years ago, the prof (a specialist in "social and decision sciences") stated publicly that he and his fellow soft-studies academics should develop a new method of manipulating public opinion, one that would work better than normal advertising or propaganda. This new and more powerful discipline of mass hypnosis should be used to condition the public into a state where they would support drastic action against the perceived dangers of man-made climate change.

At the time, we compared Pidgeon's proposed new methods to Isaac Asimov's science-fictional discipline of "psychohistory", a set of methods which could be used to manipulate the behaviour of large populations without their knowledge.

Pidgeon wrote then that the key was to arouse the right emotions in the public:

Emotion is an integral part of our thinking ... Emotion creates the abiding commitments needed to sustain action on difficult problems, such as climate change ... appropriately framed emotional appeals can motivate action, given the right supporting conditions (in particular a sense of personal vulnerability ... and [a sense of] the support of others).

(Our italics.)

Obviously when you want to give people the feeling that they are personally vulnerable to climate change it would make sense to point to some natural disaster such as the 2013/14 floods and suggest that they were caused by climate change, and that there will be more of this as a result of climate change. If you want to suggest that there is strong support from other people for action on climate change, it would be a cunning plan to tell them that other people overwhelmingly support such action.

Funnily enough, Professor Pidgeon has done just those things. In a press release issued today, he says:

The British public’s belief in the reality of climate change and its human causes rose significantly last year - and is now at its highest since 2005 ... In December 2013 and January 2014, an exceptional run of winter storms hit the UK, leading to widespread flooding ... such extremes of weather are predicted to be more frequent and severe in the UK under a changed climate ... The flooding events were seen as a sign of things to come ... Regarding support for political action, around three-quarters (74 per cent) of people surveyed in the national sample supported the UK signing up to international agreements to limit carbon emissions, with only 7 per cent opposing this measure ... This finding above all sends a clear signal to the UK government.

In summary: you are personally vulnerable to climate change and there is strong support for others for action against it (that is against carbon emissions).

But hold on - Professor Pidgeon didn't just say those things. They are the result of "research" in the "social and decision sciences". Specifically, they are the result of a massive survey of what the British people think carried out by Ipsos MORI, which the prof got the government (ie, you) to pay for.

It's just an amazing bit of luck for the prof, then, that the survey said exactly what he had specified it should say several years previously.

Oh wait, no it isn't. Because actually it doesn't really back up his message at all. Skipping over Pidgeon's waffley advertorial propaganda "research paper" (it's not a peer-reviewed publication or anything, just a lengthy pseudoscientific polemic written by the prof and some pals*) to the actual survey results, we find out the following things.

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