By: Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer
Published: 09/07/2012 04:05 PM EDT on LiveScience

A study suggesting climate change deniers also tend to hold general beliefs in conspiracy theories has sparked accusations of a conspiracy on climate change-denial blogs.

The research, which will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science, surveyed more than 1,000 readers of science blogs regarding their beliefs regarding global warming. The results revealed that people who tend to believe in a wide array of conspiracy theories are more likely to reject the scientific consensus that the Earth is heating up.

University of Western Australia psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky based the findings on responses from an online survey posted on eight science blogs. According to the paper, Lewandowsky approached five climate-skeptic blogs and asked them to post the survey link, but none did.

Now, climate-skeptic bloggers are striking back with a new conspiracy theory: that the researchers deliberately failed to contact "real skeptics" for the study and then lied about it.

"[F]or some reason, Dr. Lewandowsky refuses to divulge which skeptical blogs he contacted," wrote Anthony Watts, who blogs on the popular climate skepticism website Watts Up With That?

Climate change conspiracy

Though about 97 percent of working scientists agree that the evidence shows a warming trend caused by humans, public understanding of climate change falls along political lines. Democrats are more likely to "believe in" global warming than Republicans, according to a 2011 report by the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute. In fact, deniers and skeptics who felt more confident in their climate-change knowledge were the strongest disbelievers. [10 Climate Change Myths Busted]

Believing that climate change isn't happening or that it's not human-caused requires a belief that thousands of climate scientists around the world are lying outright, Lewandowsky and his colleagues wrote in their new paper. Conspiracy theory beliefs are known to come in clusters — someone who thinks NASA faked the moon landing is more likely to accept the theory that 9/11 was an inside job, for example. So Lewandowsky and his colleagues created an online survey and asked eight mostly pro-science blogs and five climate-skeptic blogs to post a link to the survey for their readers. The respondents were self-selecting, but highly motivated to care about climate science, the researchers noted.

The responses came only from the eight pro-science blogs, the researchers reported. Of 1,145 usable survey responses, the researchers found that support for free-market, laissez-faire economics was linked to a rejection of climate change. A tendency to believe other conspiracy theories was also linked to denial of climate change. Finally, climate-change deniers were more likely than others to say that other environmental problems have been solved, indicating a dismissive attitude toward "green" causes. [Top 10 Conspiracy Theories]

Climate psych controversy

Unsurprisingly, the results did not please climate-skeptic bloggers, some of whom responded by accusing Lewandowsky of not attempting to contact them at all. In an email to Lucia Liljegren, who blogs at The Blackboard, Lewandowsky declined to name the bloggers he emailed, citing privacy concerns.

In response, Liljegren wrote, "I think who Lewandowsky contacted will reveal whether he really even tried to conduct a balanced survey," urging other bloggers to publically give permission for Lewandowsky to reveal their names. The researcher told DeSmogBlog that he has contacted his university's ethics committee to find out if he is allowed to do so.

In the meantime, Simon James, who blogs at Australian Climate Madness, has submitted a Freedom of Information request to the University of Western Australia in an effort to force the release of emails related to the study, and prominent climate-change skeptic Steve McIntyre has urged readers to email the university with academic misconduct complaints.  

McIntyre later reported that an email search turned up a request from one of Lewandowsky's collaborators.

"[T]o our knowledge, our results are the first to provide empirical evidence for the correlation between a general construct of conspiracist ideation and the general tendency to reject well-founded science," Lewandowsky and his colleagues concluded. Psychological research has found that conspiracy beliefs are hard to dislodge, they wrote, but efforts to debunk multiple lines of conspiratorial reasoning at once may help.

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GALLERY: POLITICIANS' SCIENCE GAFFES
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  • "I have flown twice over Mount St. Helens out on our West Coast. I'm not a scientist and I don't know the figures, but I have a suspicion that that one little mountain has probably released more sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere of the world than has been released in the last ten years of automobile driving or things of that kind that people are so concerned about." - President Ronald Reagan, 1980 Not quite. Cars emit about 81,000 tons of sulfur dioxide per day, while Mount St. Helens emitted only about 2,000 tons.

  • "The internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a truck. It's a series of tubes." -Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), 2006 The "series of tubes" phrase subsequently became a pop cultural catchphrase--it even has its own <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Series_of_tubes" target="_hplink">Wikipedia page</a> and mentioned in the <a href="http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=a series of tubes" target="_hplink">Urban Dictionary</a>.

  • "And sometimes these dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good, things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not." - former Gov. Sarah Palin (R-Alaska), 2008 The common fruit fly is one of the most commonly used organisms in genetic research. Discoveries such as sex-linked inheritance and techniques such as gene mapping are a result of such research.

  • "Information is moving--you know, nightly news is one way, of course, but it's also moving through the blogosphere and through the Internets." - President George W. Bush, 2007 The former president went on to use the word "Internets" two more times in public.

  • "Is there some thought being given to subsidizing the clearing of rainforests in order for some countries to eliminate that production of greenhouse gases?" -Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-California), when asked whether the U.S. climate policy should focus on reducing carbon emissions. Rainforests actually absorb far more carbon dioxide than they emit.

  • "Scientists all over this world say that the idea of human-induced global climate change is one of the greatest hoaxes perpetrated out of the scientific community. It is a hoax. There is no scientific consensus." - Rep. Paul Broun (R-Georgia), 2009, at a debate over the Clean Energy and Security Act. Many researchers point to a decline in Arctic sea ice, an increase in droughts, and changing rain and snow patterns as signs of climate change.

  • "What the science says is that temperatures peaked out globally in 1998. So we've gone for 10-plus years where the temperatures have gone down." - Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin), 2009 in an interview with conservative radio show host Jay Weber. The mean global temperature has in fact been increasing since 1998.

  • "Mars is essentially in the same orbit [as Earth]....Mars is somewhat the same distance from the sun, which is very important. We have seen pictures where there are canals, we believe, and water. If there is water, that means there is oxygen. If oxygen, that means we can breathe." - Dan Quayle, former vice president, commenting on President George H.W. Bush's Space Exploration Initiative as quoted in <em>This New Ocean</em> by William E. Burrows. Actually, Mars completes an orbital revolution around the sun about every 1.88 Earth years, according to NASA.

  • "If it's legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." - Rep. Todd Akin (R-Missouri), 2012 In fact, women can become pregnant from rape.

  • "All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the big bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell." -Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) 2012 Broun, a member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, is a doctor, and would have been taught many of the generally accepted principles of evolution and embryology in medical school.