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Inoculation theory: Using misinformation to fight misinformation

Posted on 17 May 2017 by John Cook

The ConversationJohn Cook, Research Assistant Professor, Center for Climate Change Communication, George Mason University.  This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

As a psychologist researching misinformation, I focus on reducing its influence. Essentially, my goal is to put myself out of a job.

Recent developments indicate that I haven’t been doing a very good job of it. Misinformation, fake news and “alternative facts” are more prominent than ever. The Oxford Dictionary named “post-truth” as the 2016 word of the year. Science and scientific evidence have been under assault.

Fortunately, science does have a means to protect itself, and it comes from a branch of psychological research known as inoculation theory. This borrows from the logic of vaccines: A little bit of something bad helps you resist a full-blown case. In my newly published research, I’ve tried exposing people to a weak form of misinformation in order to inoculate them against the real thing – with promising results.

Two ways misinformation damages

Misinformation is being generated and disseminated at prolific rates. A recent study comparing arguments against climate science versus policy arguments against action on climate found that science denial is on the relative increase. And recent research indicates these types of effort have an impact on people’s perceptions and science literacy.

A recent study led by psychology researcher Sander van der Linden found that misinformation about climate change has a significant impact on public perceptions about climate change.

The misinformation they used in their experiment was the most shared climate article in 2016. It’s a petition, known as the Global Warming Petition Project, featuring 31,000 people with a bachelor of science or higher, who signed a statement saying humans aren’t disrupting climate. This single article lowered readers’ perception of scientific consensus. The extent that people accept there’s a scientific consensus about climate change is what researchers refer to as a “gateway belief,” influencing attitudes about climate change such as support for climate action.

At the same time that van der Linden was conducting his experiment in the U.S., I was on the other side of the planet in Australia conducting my own research into the impact of misinformation. By coincidence, I used the same myth, taking verbatim text from the Global Warming Petition Project. After showing the misinformation, I asked people to estimate the scientific consensus on human-caused global warming, in order to measure any effect.

I found similar results, with misinformation reducing people’s perception of the scientific consensus. Moreover, the misinformation affected some more than others. The more politically conservative a person was, the greater the influence of the misinformation.

Response to misinformation about climate change. Cook et al. (2017), CC BY-ND

This gels with other research finding that people interpret messages, whether they be information or misinformation, according to their preexisting beliefs. When we see something we like, we’re more likely to think that it’s true and strengthen our beliefs accordingly. Conversely, when we encounter information that conflicts with our beliefs, we’re more likely to discredit the source.

However, there is more to this story. Beyond misinforming people, misinformation has a more insidious and dangerous influence. In the van der Linden study, when people were presented with both the facts and misinformation about climate change, there was no net change in belief. The two conflicting pieces of information canceled each other out.

Fact and “alternative fact” are like matter and antimatter. When they collide, there’s a burst of heat followed by nothing. This reveals the subtle way that misinformation does damage. It doesn’t just misinform. It stops people believing in facts. Or as Garry Kasporov eloquently puts it, misinformation “annihilates truth.”

Science’s answer to science denial

The assault on science is formidable and, as this research indicates, can be all too effective. Fittingly, science holds the answer to science denial.

Inoculation theory takes the concept of vaccination, where we are exposed to a weak form of a virus in order to build immunity to the real virus, and applies it to knowledge. Half a century of research has found that when we are exposed to a “weak form of misinformation,” this helps us build resistance so that we are not influenced by actual misinformation.

Inoculating text requires two elements. First, it includes an explicit warning about the danger of being misled by misinformation. Second, you need to provide counterarguments explaining the flaws in that misinformation.

In van der Linden’s inoculation, he pointed out that many of the signatories were fake (for instance, a Spice Girl was falsely listed as a signatory), that 31,000 represents a tiny fraction (less than 0.3 percent) of all U.S. science graduates since 1970 and that less than 1 percent of the signatories had expertise in climate science.

In my recently published research, I also tested inoculation but with a different approach. While I inoculated participants against the Petition Project, I didn’t mention it at all. Instead, I talked about the misinformation technique of using “fake experts” – people who convey the impression of expertise to the general public but having no actual relevant expertise.

I found that explaining the misinformation technique completely neutralized the misinformation’s influence, without even mentioning the misinformation specifically. For instance, after I explained how fake experts have been utilized in past misinformation campaigns, participants weren’t swayed when confronted by the fake experts of the Petition Project. Moreover, the misinformation was neutralized across the political spectrum. Whether you’re conservative or liberal, no one wants to be deceived by misleading techniques.

Putting inoculation into practice

Inoculation is a powerful and versatile form of science communication that can be used in a number of ways. My approach has been to mesh together the findings of inoculation with the cognitive psychology of debunking, developing the Fact-Myth-Fallacy framework.

Denial101x lecture on debunking myths.

This strategy involves explaining the facts, followed by introducing a myth related to those facts. At this point, people are presented with two conflicting pieces of information. You reconcile the conflict by explaining the technique that the myth uses to distort the fact.

We used this approach on a large scale in a free online course about climate misinformation, Making Sense of Climate Science Denial. Each lecture adopted the Fact-Myth-Fallacy structure. We started by explaining a single climate fact, then introduced a related myth, followed by an explanation of the fallacy employed by the myth. This way, while explaining the key facts of climate change, we also inoculated students against 50 of the most common climate myths.

Denial101x lectures adhering to Fact-Myth-Fallacy structure. Denial101x, CC BY-ND

For example, we know we are causing global warming because we observe many patterns in climate change unique to greenhouse warming. In other words, human fingerprints are observed all over our climate. However, one myth argues that climate has changed naturally in the past before humans; therefore, what’s happening now must be natural also. This myth commits the fallacy of jumping to conclusions (or non sequitur), where the premise does not lead to the conclusion. It’s like finding a dead body with a knife poking out of its back and arguing that people have died of natural causes in the past, so this death must have been of natural causes also.

Science has, in a moment of frankness, informed us that throwing more science at people isn’t the full answer to science denial. Misinformation is a reality that we can’t afford to ignore – we can’t be in denial about science denial. Rather, we should see it as an educational opportunity. Addressing misconceptions in the classroom is one of the most powerful ways to teach science.

It turns out the key to stopping science denial is to expose people to just a little bit of science denial.


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Comments 1 to 12:

  1. The misinformation has a number of driving factors in my opinion:

    The internet is a great thing, but has unfortunately given a platform for mass misinformation and junk science, and shallow rhetorical sophistry.

    People have also become used to science, and bit disrespectful of science. 

    The dubious claims about "Iraq weapons of mass distruction" probably seriously eroded trust in the elites and authorities. Misinformation has filled the gap.

    Liberalism correctly promotes tolerance, but sometimes this becomes tolerance of the absurd.

    Conservatism has retreated In America into a closed, ideological bubble of strident beliefs, and anti logic, anti government programmes, and anti science thought. Vested business interests dominate. Not with all conservatives, but with some.


    This innoculation approach by explaining the facts, and the myth, and the techniques of rhetorical sophistry used to obscure the facts, is without doubt one very good tool to fight back. It is something that needs wider exposure especially in schools. Don't blame yourself Mr Cook, you can't single handedly solve the issue.

    Misinformation is similar to propaganda. I recall reading an article where after a while this repeating onslaught on the brain causes some people to simply give up, as they cant process the information any more so they just accept it.

    Some people also welcome propaganda. "For propaganda to be effective, it requires submissive subjects. ... Most people want to be given ideological marching orders and talking points from an authority." Refer link below:

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  2. It may be helpful to identify a more important differentiating characteristic of individuals than "Liberal vs. Conservative".

    I think it is more important to understand whether a person has a stronger:

    • Desire to be Helpful in the development of a lasting better near and long term future for others (and themselves)
    • Desire for a better present for themselves even if getting it could be understood to be Harmful to others (and themselves).

    The limitation of Liberty as described by John Stuart Mill in "On Liberty" is essentially that freedom of action resulting from freedom of thought must not have a negative impact on others. Mill does not mention Future generations but it is likely he would have agreed that future generations qualify as Others. And Mill does state that the presentation of opinions that are likely to result in actions by others that are harmful would be an unacceptable action; something that people should not have the Liberty to do; something that the State would be expected to and allowed to effectively mitigate/address (I am currently re-reading the Essay so I am pretty sure of the statements made by Mill and his co-thinker Harriet Taylor, but I would have to spend some time tracking down exact quotes).

    I Capitalized and Italicized Helpful and Harmful and will simply use those terms to refer to the types of character.

    Though the amount of Helpful people (or degree of helpfulness of people) in the Liberal and Conservative categories could be evaluated to then try to declare which identifiable category was more Helpful, that would not be a helpful evaluation.

    What would be more helpful is to focus on the importance of people desiring to be Helpful and recognize that Helpful people could probably exhibit the full range of any other type of categorization. That clarification of what it means to be Helpful could also be used for inoculation and be more helpful by protecting against a broad spectrum.

    There should be very little doubt today about what constitutes being Helpful. There have been international efforts to increase awareness and understanding of human survival and improvement of life on this amazing planet. The 1972 Stockholm Conference established a rather comprehensive understanding of human interaction with the environment and other life on this planet. And the international efforts to increase awareness and understanding have continued though the past 45 years with the Sustainable Development Goals being the most recent compendium of awareness and understanding of the changes required for humanity's Better Future (with extensive back-up for each stated Goal). Helping achieve the Sustainable Development Goals with actions ranging from Locally to Globally and from Short-term to Infinitely Long-term is clearly what be Helpful means. And any actions that delay achieving the Sustainable Development Goals are clearly Harmful.

    Actions regarding Climate Change are a specific distinct Goal. But the other goals also need to be achieved. Just achieving the Climate Change Goals would be rather irrelevant form the perspective of the Future of Humanity. The same goes for any of the other goals. People desiring the pursuit of any of the other goals would also need to understand the importance of supporting the climate change goals. I see this because of my developed understanding and promotion of Fair Trade. The diversity of Fair Trade issues can each be seen to relate in some way to the importance of achieving all 17 stated goals (not just the challenge of climate change - even though it is a significant consideration for Fair Trade food growers). Achieving the 17 goals will dramatically reduce the need for Fair Trade Promotion (ideally I would like to be worked-out-of-the-volunteer-job of promoting Fair Trade). Of course climate science will always be in need of efforts to increase awareness and better understanding even after human activity that is Harmful has ended. And maybe that leads to some jealousy by science-minded people who are not as interested in being Helpful.

    The more Helpful people are more likely to have a better future (something I consider to be an axiom and have shared many times with my family, friends, co-workers, and any others when the opportunity to do so arises - a different way of stating that axiom is: Winning by getting away with being Harmful, or being less helpful than you could be, is possible but becomes increasingly difficult to maintain and ultimately cannot be sustained).

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  3. OPF - you might like to at Moral Foundation theory which gives the rather extends the understanding of liberal/conservative belong helpful/harmful. Potentially a lot of messaging on climate change has failed to touch the moral dimensions important to conservatives.

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  4. OPOF @2, I don't think we can entirely escape the use of the terms liberal and conservative, because they describe real world, observable types of people. By analogy,it's the same as suicide as an issue, you can't deal with this by not talking about it (we are currently debating this issue in NZ).

    Instead I try to make the observation that there are strengths and weaknesses in both liberal and conservative points of view. They are different ways of looking at issues, and different ways of trying to solve the same problems. So arguing which is better is a bit of a dead end, although I admit I personally do have a liberal bias. In fact we all have some characteristics of both, but for some evolutionary reason we also have liberal and conservative groups. But arguing about which is best seems a little pointless, because neither is workable enough alone to serve as some ideal model (in my opinion based on the normal definitions of these things). Having said that liberalism is a driving force for change which is a positive thing.

    I agree quantifying who is more helpful, liberals or conservatives, is childish, and probably too likely to spark unhelpful conflict, and is an intellectual dead end, or at least a bit trivial. Anyway I can immediately think of helpful attributes in both groups, but they operate a little in different ways.

    Regarding John Stuart Mill and his view that people should be helpful and not do things that have a negative impact on others (more or less), this is useful. I read some of his work many years ago. In fact even libertarians and Ayn Rand followers generally believe in a similar philosophy, sometimes expressed as people should be free to do as they wish as long as they don't impinge on the freedom of others. This is an attempt to promote freedom but realise (a little reluctantly perhaps) that freedom of action cannot be absolute, unless you want total anarchy and rule of the biggest and toughest. It is slightly esoteric, and I prefer a more practical approach of individuals should be free to do as they wish, as long as they don't harm others (against their will obviously, because we have things like competitive sports and accidents happen). Humanity has been passing laws forever, often on a rather arbitrary and sometimes an overly restrictive basis, or sometimes simply not enough laws. By using a guiding principle along the lines of John Stuart Mill the law starts to have appropriate boundaries and guiding principles, and deal with problems without becoming arbitrary or illogical or just self serving. The real challenge is getting people agreed on what is truly helpful or harmful, what impinges on freedom, etc.

    If we are harming the environment, we are certainly potentially harming others, both in the present and future generations. What mystifies me is how libertarians could at least believe in some sort of harm philosophy, and then be so consistently rejecting of environmental laws. It's like a mental disconnect.

    However on future generations, some people estimate that we are at risk of over fishing to the extent of literally wiping out all fish species within 50 years. It seems a frightening demonstration of reckless avarice and lack of control to let that happen. Sustainable fishing quota would be preferable, unless we are going to consign the oceans to oblivion and future generations to never eating real fish from the sea.

    I have no doubt that buried in the writings of Mill and certain other political and ethics philosophers is this good principle of individuals being free to do as they wish,provided their actions don't harm others, and this is a basic good guiding principle for good government, and the development and evaluation of appropriate laws and regulations. If only everyone could catch onto this and use it as a foundation, rather than gut instincts and other more arbitray beliefs.

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  5. Innoculation sounds like a good idea.  Sometimes, I also use a kind of 'logical confrontation' when someone repeats a climate myth.  For example, if someone says 'the climate has always changed, over millions of years' I like to challenge that person with 'name something, in the Universe, that hasn't changed over millions of years'.  People will repeat non-sequitors ad-nauseum otherwise.  If you just challenge them to examine the words coming out of their mouths, it may stop.

    One-Planet-Forever@2 is on to something.  I remember some decades ago, a book appeared, by conservative author Mona Charen, called "Do-Gooders: how Liberals hurt those they claim to help".  This was a frontal attack on the very idea of 'Helpfulness', and is at the root of much conservative thought in America.  But the conservative idea that 'people are basically bad' is a self-fulfilling prophecy.   People who seek to do good do not always do good, but people who seek to do bad almost always succeed at doing bad.  Good is good in part because its hard.  

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  6. nigelj,

    One minor clarification regarding the thoughts in "On Liberty". People do not have to "Help Others", they simply need to ensure that their actions do no Harm to Others, including doing no harm to the ability of Others to pursue a decent life. At the time Mill was writing, happiness was understood to be a decent life, not personal pleasure or extravagance.

    Current day perceptions of what Happiness means have changed unacceptably. Susan Cain's book “Quiet - The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking” includes information about the change in America in the 1800s from a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality - terms presented by historian Warren Sussman - with the primary perceptions of a successful person, described in books recommending how a person can improve themselves, shifting from “Citizenship, Duty, Work, Golden deeds, Honour, Reputation, Morals, Manners, Integrity” to “Magnetic, Fascinating, Stunning, Attractive, Glowing, Dominant, Forceful, Energetic”. Of course, the relative measure of worth of an individual's actions would be how much they help Others, but Mill's presentation “On Liberty” does not require people to help others, and the shifted perceptions of what deserves to Win in America isn't Helpful. The future of humanity needs People of Good Substance/Character, not Appealing Characters/Personalities, to Win.

    I consider the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be the best developed presentation of Moral/Ethical/Helpful thoughts and actions, and conversely they should be the basis for determining the unacceptability of any actions, actions that are contrary to advancing humanity towards those goals (the basis for laws and regulations, but also the basis for penalizing a person even if a law has yet to be written with the required monitoring and enforcement that would effectively limit what they tried to get away with - note that the USA may have very good laws but does not properly enforce them so even having a good law is not proof that good is being done).

    The SDGs can, and undoubtedly will, be improved. But they are already a very good basis for determining the acceptability/helpfulness of thoughts and actions. Raising awareness of the SDGs is valuable.

    As with all developed things, it is important to continue pursuing expanded awareness and understanding. Changing the presentation of the Sustainable Development Goals to make future versions even More Helpful will occur. The current wording is weakened by the temporary success of powerful interests that want to delay the changes of understood acceptability that ultimately need to be established (much like the way the need for all nations to agree to the wording of each statement in the IPCC reports has resulted in damaging understatement of the actual understanding that is already developed - the wording is the weakest wording consistent with the actual facts). In particular, the current version of the SDGs only says that the discount rate for evaluating the merit of current day activity needs to be reduced, hopefully to zero. A better understanding would be that doing any harm to Future Generations is unacceptable. That understanding would make a discount rate irrelevant because even a discount rate of zero means it is OK for a portion of a current generation to benefit at the expense of future generations (or others) as long as the amount of future damage perceived to be caused is less than the amount of present day benefit believed to have to be foregone to avoid creating the future harm to the ability to achieve 'happiness'.

    My career has helped develop my understanding of how easy it can be for "Change" and "Freedom of people to do as they please" (the things Libertarians, not necessarily Liberals push for) to produce damaging unhelpful results. In my work as a Structural Engineer we always established Practices and Guidelines. I, along with others, pushed for the understanding, explanation or justification of a standard procedure or regulation to be well presented along with the "Written Requirement". That detailed understanding of the reason for the requirement was important to keep "Changes" from being implemented that did not improve things. It also helped people identify flaws in the "Written Requirement" and provide corrective recommendations.

    The likes of Team Trump are not interested in justifying their actions based on a set of criteria like the SDGs. In fact, evaluating their actions to date would show that almost everything they want to do is contrary to advancing toward the Sustainable Development Goals. The awareness of the reality of the damaging unacceptability of the made-up popular claims attempting to support damaging pursuits of personal interest and profitability would hopefully be a very powerful inoculation. Once a person understands the importance of being helpful, and chooses to try to help others, it is very unlikely they will regress to being Harmful (though a person over-penalized and not helped to become a more helpful person can become very harmfully motivated - the undeniably damaging result of Tough on Crime Mandatory Minimums).

    So, one of the most important changes to make is the addition of Helpful/Harmful as the most important differentiation/categorization of people. Recognizing that polarization of the population, and working to reduce the portion that is knowingly or unwittingly tempted to be Harmful, is essential to keeping Harmful/less Helpful people like the members of Team Trump and the many unacceptable Winners hiding behind the Republican Brand (particularly the like of the House Freedom Caucus), from getting away with undeserved Winning that is understandably damaging to the future of humanity.

    In summary, the success of Harmful Marketing (winning Appealing Creations of Impressions that are Harmful to the future of humanity) is the problem, not just for climate science. And inoculation of the population against it is essential.

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  7. OPOF @6

    It may be appropriate to say helpful is more of an ethical concept, and too general and hard to define (sometimes) to form a sound basis for formation of specific laws and day to day regulations. The term harmful is intuitively more appropriate as a concept to develop laws and regulations, and sustainable development goals are based on the idea of not harming future generations, primarily.

    I find it interesting you are a structural engineer. I don't want to be specific about my current career, (I'm semi retired anyway) as I have found some people use that to judge the validity of what you write and whether your qualifications are relevent, when to my mind it should be about the depth of your comments, but I will say I at one stage I used to be professionally involved with architectural building design consultancy work, and get what you are saying about practices and guidelines. It might be we both have a desire for a sense of order or something.

    Team Trump seems to hate order, and be more about deliberate chaos, and very short term goals. There's no genuine long term plan, let alone sustainable development goals. This possibly originates with Trump's background as a profit seeking property developer, and in my experience these people hate rules or wider goals. It's the nature of the beast, and I'm not saying I would be any different in that role, but good government requires laws and rules, and I would suggest society needs some wider goals in a more general sense.

    Harmful marketing is indeed a problem, and innoculation is part of the solution. While I'm not a regular complainer, I did once lodge a complaint about a certain product, and it was taken off the market as a result. However I know you are mainly talking about marketing of certain ideas.

    Putting the marketing issue in  in context helps understanding.The basis of capitalism has been an element of healthy personal freedom to innovate, and market ones products in innovative ways. This is ok, as we should not require the time consuming approval of governments, or some dictator, but there is nothing damaging to capitalism in having rules about false advertising, or limits on how far you can target young people. Inncoculation does indeed help people identify marketing that is really just promoting and disgusing destructive behaviour.

    Ironically America has  voted for Trump, presumably because they perceive he promotes capitalism, but in many ways he is anti-capitalist, and more of a dictator who wants to personally approve everything before it is allowed, said or done. Just think of his restrictions on the EPA website, but there are many more examples. He believes he is above the law, or any cultural view on sustainable development.

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  8. Ubrew @12, yes it is rather like that.

    Liberals are sometimes criticised for trying to help people with government programmes, like unemployment assistance or benefits, I think Americans call this entitlements? And things like affirmative action. It's alleged this doesn't work, and people become dependent etc, and yes theres a risk of this, and it does happen to some extent. But literally millions of people are genuinely helped, and the majority of the unemployed in my country are only on assistance for a short time. It seems to me a dependent minority does not invalidate the idea of government help.

    But Conservatives favour charity, and people can become equally dependent on charity, and I always worry about whether money given get's to people who actually need it, or how much goes to administration etc. But then its likely a minority would become dependent on charity, just as with government programmes, but this hardly invalidates the idea of charity either. I think Conservatives are really more worried about being compelled to pay taxes for government programmes.

    This is all a philosophical headache of migraine proportions. I come down on the side of pragmatism, that charity clearly has a strong place, but government programmes also have a strong place in some circumstances, which just scream out for a coordinated large scale, consistently available reliable form of help, like unemployment help or help for invalids. To me this is more important than fretting about paying taxes, as long as taxes do not get ridiculously high.

    The more important thing to my mind is making sure money from both private charity and government programmes gets to the people who need it, and are transparent and well audited, and that government programmes are sensible, and constantly evaluated, and don't attempt the impossible. We do not do any of this nearly well enough.

    This is a bit OT, but maybe not entirely, as  the principles strongly relate to the philosophical rationale for envirnomental issues and laws, in the sense of  how we form and evaluate environmental laws. If this is done in a transparent, rigorous, evidence based way, a consultative way, this may help bring liberals and conservatives together a bit more.

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  9. nigelj,

    As a Structural and Civil engineer, rather than say I "desire a sense of order", I would say I require a Good Reason when Something Important is being done. And I certainly am motivated about the reason for climate change and reducing the rate of climate change. Regional weather event expectations are important requirements for the "Basis of Design" for Civil and Structural items. If there is increased uncertainty about the future expected regional weather events (and the uncertainty increases with increased rates of climate change), then the designs are at higher risk of being inadequate unless they are over-designed at higher expense for what would only be a guess at what is adequate. Reducing the uncertainty by reducing the rate of climate change is a critical requirement to be able to cost-effectively design for the future.

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  10. OPOF @9 yes fair enough, I agree. As someone who has also been involved in building design in the past, I think climate change represents one big headache. It's hard enough resolving all the usual issues, and meeting earthquake strength requirements, which at least tend to be fixed targets, than dealing with the impacts of climate change and potentially changing wind loads, changing rainfall levels, and thus flood frequencies and appropriate building heights above ground! And of course there is sea level rise. 

    Speaking of sea level rise, the following article in 3 parts has some truly amazing animations of glacier flow in the Antarctic, and discussion of possible scenarios of sea level rise of 1-2 meters this century.

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  11. nigelj,

    I need to clarify my comment that Mill's thoughts presented in “On Liberty” do not require people to Help others. Mill does mention the value of people contributing to the overall benefit of society. And the British international thinking did include elements of helping the native populations in the Commonwealth live what, at the time, was considered to be “better lives”.

    My own thoughts are that any Libertarian who understands the need to limit their actions to avoid 'harming other people' would recognise that harm is done to the ability of some people's pursuit of happiness when economic games result in portions of the population not obtaining all of the understood needs of a basic decent life or some people end up having more difficulty living a basic decent life, especially when there is a large variation in the level of reward obtained by the participants in the game, and participants include the ones left sitting on the bench and future players of the game (it is essential to understand that pursuit of a basic decent life in a broad diversity of ways is the “happiness” that is referred to when people of that time spoke of the freedom of the “pursuit of happiness”).

    It is clear that many developed economic actions have been over-developed in unacceptable directions. The burning of fossil fuels may be considered to be the largest over-development in the wrong direction creating harm or risk of harm to others, though nuclear weaponry is also up there. But I consider misleading marketing to be the most damaging over-development in the wrong direction that humanity has ever created. And climate science is trying to over-come the damaging power of misleading marketing amplified by incorrectly over-developed perceptions of prosperity and opportunity and the irrational belief in the freedom of everyone to believe whatever they want and do whatever they please without having to understand if their thoughts and actions are justifiable (helpful/harmful).

    Inoculation against misleading marketing is essential.

    With that understanding, any Libertarian Leader, in business or government, would strive to correct the unacceptable results of the games people play, especially economic and political games. They would understand the need to share the total wealth and benefit more equitably, hopefully by changing the rules of the game so that the playing of the game produced better results. But responsible Libertarians would also push for the 'public provision' of the basic needs to all the people who did not obtain that result from the game (until changes made to the play of the game ensured that everyone lived at least a basic decent life with equal opportunity to be bigger winners in the game if they were more helpful to the overall population). Libertarian Leaders would also understand the importance of rapidly reducing human activity that is damaging to the future of humanity (Libertarians would want to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals).

    Clearly that result can best be achieved if any person who would choose to try to Win as much as they personally can any way they can get away with is kept from participating in the games until they change their minds and choose to be helpful. Measures like the Paris Agreement can expose the less helpful among the Winners of global leadership (any regional Winner who does not want to incrementally increase their regions contribution to the identified required change being clearly Harmful). That exposure of Harmful Winners allows the collective of Helpful people “Help the Harmful ones understand the importance of changing their mind and becoming more helpful if they wish to maintain any perception of being a deserving Leader (Winning power and influence is a privilege - you still have to prove you deserve it).

    So a true Libertarian would push for the removal from positions of power or influence in society any person who got away with Winning leadership, in business or governing, who can be shown to not be acting with the best understanding toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And, as you implied, the likes of Team Trump, the House Freedom Caucus and so many other groups hoping to Win by claiming to be Uniting the Right are not interested in proving their Worth in that way. They are interested in winning by promoting 'good sounding - appealing' but understandably fatally flawed and damaging beliefs like the freedom to pursue happiness means - people believing whatever they want and doing whatever they please without any obligation to understand the validity of their beliefs or the reality of the harm done to others by their actions, which is a totally irresponsible thing to do, especially from the perspective of a Libertarian who understands the objective of protecting the pursuit of happiness for all others.

    A Libertarian can understand that the games based on popularity and profitability produce unacceptable results, with worse results produced by more freedom for people to believe whatever they want and get away with doing whatever they please. And the science behind successful misleading marketing power is easily understood to be one of the most damaging miss-applications of science (science being the diversity of pursuits of increased awareness and better understanding), that humanity has ever developed.

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  12. OPOF @11, yes I broadly agree with all that. Here are a couple of things that occur to me on your comments:

    Going back to the "helpful and harmful" ideas. You pointed out something broadly like we cannot force people to be helpful, (using the law or other means). This is true at one level, and my immediate reaction was to agree, for example we can't and shouldn't write laws requiring or forcing people to be nice, or donate to charities, or save people in distress. This is all true, because it puts big restrictions on freedom of behaviour and runs into various obvious problems, but on second thoughts there are a couple of other aspects as follows.

    For example there are many cultural conventions where good people generally help people, that are not codified in the law as such, and these are generally accepted as  good conventions. The obvious example is helping people in severe distress, like a medical emergency. In fact we are hardwired to leap in to try to help, according to psychologists.

    And governments "do" often have programmes that aim to help people, like unemployment insurance.  My point is by helping people, for example with unemployment assistance (I'm just picking an obvious example here) we are in effect reducing harm, and this is part of the law and requires people contribute through taxation. So we do accept that governments help people by force of law, interestingly in some situations. Help and harm are in a sense opposite sides of the same coin, and quite closely related.

    It's probably more productive to try to figure out in what ways is it "valid" for governments to try to help people, because there are clearly problems if we go too far, yet not helping people at all is inhumane. I'm personally lead back to the pragmatic response of striking a balance between these positions. As a society we need to formulate some better principles of when we help people using the law, and already do to some extent, for example circumstances beyond their control. If we could crystallise this better, it would reduce partisan in fighting over the issues. But this is getting away from what you are saying.

    Marketing. I kind of expressed my views on that in a previous post. We are stuck with marketing in a free society, but there can be limits regarding how it is done, and better education in the tricks marketers use. This could make a real difference, without limiting freedom to market.

    You would think libertarians would see things the way you describe, if they were logical about it. I think they let a strong gut instinct dislike of rules and the very idea of government get in the way. That's just my opinion obviously, but there seems no other explanation for the way they talk, behave and vote in parliament. I guess they are very free spirits, and in fact we mostly all have some scepticism of excessisve authority, but libertarians are a bit extreeme about it. But there are of course varieties of libertarians, and I'm probably over generalising.

    The bottom line on these issues of individual freedom versus rules of conduct that limit behaviour, was expressed quite well as far back as Aristotle with his writings on politics and ethics. We are part of a community, and for that community to improve it's well being requires specialisation of skills, and also rules of conduct, or you have chaos. But too many badly considered rules restricts individual freedom and innovation so it's a balancing act, inevitably.

    The helpful / harmful concept is an extension of all this, basically. It's all really a question of finding where the right balance is.

    Ultimately people who are harming others and damaging the public good should be removed, you are right of course, but they can only be removed by the people, in a democracy, (although Trump may be getting close to being impeached, but I'm not sure - I dont know the American system well enough). In terms of what the people do in these regards, we are reliant on the level of understanding, knowledge, ethical conduct, and thinking of the population as a whole.

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