Accepted paper:

Conspiracy and critique: unmasking climate science


Alfred Moore (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper I propose to explore the boundary between conspiracy theories and critical theories through an analysis of the concepts and practices of unmasking, which I will use to address the case of the climate-gate controversy.

Paper long abstract:

As Bruno Latour has noted, conspiracy theories share a family resemblance with critical theories. Yet the boundary between (disreputable) conspiracy theories and (respectable) social critique is both hard to draw and highly sensitive. In this paper I propose to explore this boundary through concepts and practices of unmasking in a scientific controversy. I will begin with a conceptual analysis of forms of unmasking. I will draw on Mannheim and other mid-century political theorists, and I will distinguish between unmasking the identity of hidden actors, unmasking the intentions and motives of known actors, and unmasking the origins and functions of social practices. I will then turn to the so-called "climate-gate" controversy. In November 2009 a cache of emails and documents written by scientists at the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit were leaked or hacked from the university server and distributed online through climate sceptic websites. In the second part of the paper I will explore what those emails were thought to reveal, and by whom. Using the typology developed in the first part I will analyse accusations of conspiracy and uses of the label "conspiracy theory" within the "climate-gate" controversy, drawing on the emails, documents and public statements of the scientists, their critics, and the critics of their critics. I will conclude with reflections on the role of conspiracism and conspiracy theory in the science of climate change, and more broadly on the relationship between conspiracy theory and critical theory.

panel P003
In search of concealed truth: revealing, unraveling and debunking