Iraq, Climate, and the Media

By Stephan Lewandowsky
Professor, School of Experimental Psychology and Cabot Institute, University of Bristol
Posted on 6 December 2013

The "97%" blog at The Guardian was generous enough to run a piece by me on the similarities and dissimilarities between the media coverage in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the current reporting of climate change. There is no point in reiterating the piece here, but it may be worthwhile to point to the underlying scholarly article that appeared in American Psychologist as part of a special issue on peace and conflict resolution. Sadly, the journal article is behind a paywall, but I believe that I am entitled to email it to interested parties upon request.


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Comments 1 to 4:

  1. Professor Lewandowsky,

    In your piece in the Guardian you make the claim that "Iraqi per capita GDP has so far failed to return to prewar levels". The claim contains a hyperlink, which links to the World Bank, showing Iraqi GDP in USD and population figures for 2012.

    The same reference source however contains the following information:

    Iraqi GDP per capita pre-war (2001) was $772 USD.


    Iraqi GDP per capita currently (2012) was $6455 USD.


    Can you please explain the source of you claim about Iraqi per capita GDP figures, given that the source you provide for them contradicts your claim?

    Can you also explain how this apparent error in accuracy affects the credibility of your article in the context of media reporting accuracy?

    I have identified this apparent inaccuracy in the comments of both the Guardian and Skeptical Science, where the piece is hosted, however have received no satisfactory response.
    Moderator Response: Download the spreadsheet from the link provided, go to row 829 (per capita GDP constant 2005 US$).
  2. Thank you for your response.

    You must surely understand that the reference in your article in no way pointed out that you were using a constant PPP. In fact what shows up when you open the link is the Iraqi GDP in current USD.

    Can you please explain why you chose to refer to the constant 2005 USD per capita GDP and not the current USD per capita GDP, which is what shows up when you open the link?

    Why do you think that this is a more valuable metric? (i.e. current vs constant?)
  3. Stephan Lewandowsky at 04:17 AM on 19 December, 2013
    @2: I was unable to link to the spreadsheet directly (I still cannot figure out how to do it) and thus linked to the parent page.

    I chose 2005 USD simply because it was closest to the event of interest, namely the 2003 invasion, and thus appeared sensible for a comparison of before and after. You get much the same pattern for some--though not all--of the multitude of GDP measures being offered in the Worldbank spreadsheet.

    Much also depends on how many prewar years are included because the sanctions predating 2003 also decimated the economy.

    An additional factor that needs to be considered for a full analysis is the 'foregone gain' arising from the war (and perhaps sanctions); i.e. a modeling of what GDP *would* have been without the war, based on growth rates for other comparable economies. Simply returning to 2003 (or better) does not deliver the full picture of foregone growth.

    I am not aware of any such modeling but I have been discussing this issue with an Iraqi economist ( and I may follow up and blog on it if I have time.
  4. Dear Prof. Lewandowsky,

    Would you agree that conspirational thinking was a factor in the decision to go to war?

    "Saddam Hussein has duped UN disarmament inspectors and is still hiding his weapons of mass destruction, and can use them against us at any notice. That nothing has been found for years just proves how cunning he is, but what use would Iraq have for aluminium tubes other than Uranium enrichment?"

    All the ingredients are there:

    Nefarious Intent: Assuming that the presumed conspirators have nefarious intentions. If the US government assumes that Saddam Hussein colluded with Osama bin Laden to attack the US with weapons of mass destruction, then the US government presumes nefarious intent on the part of Saddam Hussein.
    Persecuted Victim: Self-identifying as the victim of an organised persecution.
    Nihilistic Skepticism: Refusing to believe anything that doesn’t fit into the conspiracy theory.
    Nothing occurs by Accident: Weaving any small random event into the conspiracy narrative.
    Something Must be Wrong: Switching liberally between different, even contradictory conspiracy theories that have in common only the presumption that there is something wrong in the official account by the alleged conspirators. Thus, people may simultaneously believe that Princess Diana faked her own death and that she was assassinated by MI5.
    Self-Sealing reasoning: Interpreting any evidence against the conspiracy as evidence for the conspiracy. For example, when UN weapons inspectors cannot find any hidden weapons, it just shows how well hidden they are.
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