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Silly Sally psychoanalyst

Lots of people are emailing me about the BBC's Thinking Allowed programme (see here from 16 mins) in which a pschoanalyst called Sally Weintrobe waffles uncontrollably about "climate denial". There's some amusing background about Weintrobe here - she seems to be a rather touchy character and litigious to boot. It appears, however, that she doesn't actually think we're mad, although what she does think is a little obscure. As one reader who emailed me said of Weintrobe and her fellow interviewees on Thinking Allowed:

To be honest they're so painfully clever that I, as a mere Cambridge Uni Natural Sciences graduate, couldn't understand most of what they were saying.

No doubt this show was part of the BBC's ongoing commitment to "due impartiality" in the climate debate.

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Reader Comments (181)

The attempt to paint AGW sceptics has not just wrong , but bad or mad shows us a number of things .
The actual weakness of 'the cause ', how some promoting it still have no worked out why its failing and the religions like nature of their views for the need to have a 'evil opposite ' to your 'purity' is not one found in science at all.

The irony is has with other ideas , its counter productive for the people know the actual the features of those that are AGW sceptics and they can see their arguments for themselves , so known these are not the 'monsters ' some wish to paint them has.

Jan 23, 2013 at 8:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

Psychoanalysts cannot be clever otherwise they would be real scientists!

From a review of her book "Engaging with Climate Change" we have the question "what lies beneath the current widespread denial of climate change"

The widespread scepticism of anthropogenic global warming is lack of scientific evidence. Something that seems to escape her supposed "clever" mind.

Jan 23, 2013 at 9:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterConfusedPhoton

Aye - you can't beat a bit of "disavowal" and the need for a dose of mild depression when relating to mother Earth and the strange people who deny weird and disruptive weather. I am totally boggled ................

Jan 23, 2013 at 9:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobert Thomson

Do these people ever actually talk to real people or do they just invent them and then study how they react?

Jan 23, 2013 at 9:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2


They model people. Let's face it, the fundamental physics and physiology of humans is well known and has been so for over 100 years. /sarc

Jan 23, 2013 at 9:19 PM | Registered Commenterwoodentop

Its the primitive need for A Bogeyman on which all evils can be blamed.

Nowadyas its Climate Deniers. Before that The Devil..the Malignant Gods or Evil Spirits.

The name changes but the concept is the same...

Jan 23, 2013 at 9:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

We can probably expect more of this now that there is a new textbook on climate aimed at undergraduates, authored by John Cook and G Thomas Farmer

Significantly (and unique in climate textbooks to my knowledge), there is a detailed analysis of the phenomenon of climate change denial. Students learning climate science will need to put into proper context the myths and attacks on science conducted by those who deny the scientific consensus. One chapter is "Understanding Climate Change Denial", examining the social, psychological and rhetorical aspects of climate change denial

Jan 23, 2013 at 9:27 PM | Registered CommenterAndy Scrase
Jan 23, 2013 at 9:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

I think I see what they are saying:

If you ignore Obama’s inaugural climate references, if you don’t notice the “weird weather”, if you don’t agonise over the carbon footprint of every inch you travel; then you are suffering from a pathological psychology of disavowal.

Basically these quacks say anyone who is not as narcissisticly neurotic as they are has a cognitive problem! ;)

Laurie Taylor has a nice avuncular voice and a style that invites trust but it turns out he can’t ask anything but dopey lazy questions – he could have pricked at their constructs just a little sharper and not been rude, made them move out of their obvious babbling comfort zone, but he only drifted along with their babble occasionally injecting pseudo “down to earth” analogies to help them along .


Jan 23, 2013 at 10:05 PM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

Psychoanalysis was once thought to be a science. Slowly it dawned on the world that it was nothing of the sort.

Is perception of "climate science" following a similar evolution?

Jan 23, 2013 at 10:09 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

These people really do live in another (unreal) world which they sustain by only associating with like minds. The calm matter of fact way that they use the word deniar and explain all the characteristics of the various types of denial suggests that it is a virus and they have it there in the studio, under a miscoscope.

Jan 23, 2013 at 10:16 PM | Unregistered Commenterpesadia

If psychologists were scientists, they wouldn't be psychologists.

Jan 23, 2013 at 10:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohnM

It's going to be fascinating to see the squirming and wriggling when the bottom finally drops out of their silly hoax and they realise just how seriously screwed they've been.

Buy popcorn futures now!

Jan 23, 2013 at 10:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterCatweazle

The general gist of this was that people are too scared of climate change to think about it. Is a more common mental process one of accepting the risk exists and gambling you’ll get away with it? Thus people live at the foot of Vesuvius or on the San Andreas fault, not because they can’t imagine the worst but because the expected rewards for overcoming the fear are greater than the fear itself. It’s a fundamental human trait or we’d still be sitting in Africa being bullied by the lions. Only when they perceive that the likelihood of catastrophe has changed do they re-evaluate.

The point where climate science had the public in the palm of their hand was with Al Gore’s movie. It was effective because of the graphs. The public were receptive to more evidence. But there are no new graphs and even Al’s turned out to be duds. All they’ve got left is ‘the scientists say so’. Well so what? Countless experts say that god exists but that doesn’t make Dawkins a paid deity denier, shilling for the Devil.

Jan 23, 2013 at 10:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2


Feynman at one time spent his vacations trying to study other sciences such as biology and....psychology. He quickly realised how difficult it is to do experiments in those disciplines as against physics. So blanket rejection of psychology as a scientific discipline does not cut it, unless you have specific knowledge. It's easier to deal with magenetism than the mental patterns of rats in mazes.: therefore physicists are merely psychologists who took the easier option.

Jan 23, 2013 at 10:57 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

Jan 23, 2013 at 11:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterRod

What is truly sad is that Laurie Taylor has been a victim himself of society-changing 'science', since early childhood.

“You can’t blame us for what you are,” [Taylor's mother] said. “You were brought up according to strict scientific principles.”

Jan 23, 2013 at 11:25 PM | Registered Commenteromnologos

I think what Sally's saying is that we're

"depraved because we're deprived".

Jan 23, 2013 at 11:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterCapell

I suspect a jaw-droppingly large detachment from the realities of the climate 'debate' on the part of these two psychoanalysts. But it is late at night, and I will resist commenting further while still suffering some species of trauma from having listened to them.

Jan 23, 2013 at 11:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Shade

A variation of a LewPaper, I'm afraid. Not printed, but broadcast.

"Global warming must be real because skeptics of it can’t be right. They have to be wrong because you’ve got some sort of proof they’re all either insane, conspiracy nuts or child molesters. They’re even the sort of people who should be executed. In all good taste and as a tender mercy to you good reader, I won’t dwell too long on this bottom feeding type of so-called science paper, except to lump them all into the general category of LewPapers, as a hat tip to one of their pioneers."


Jan 23, 2013 at 11:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterPointman

Thoes sceptics seriously debating the science are sane enough, but the movement includes a fringe element convinced that it is all a conspiracy. Would it be appropriate to diagnose them as paranoid?

Jan 23, 2013 at 11:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic Man

At Rod's youtube link

interesting to see that Joe Smith of 28gate fame pops up with a comment:

"Joe Smith 2 months ago
The discussion and the book are really welcome: this is a long-neglected corner of the conversation about how we cope with the emergence of new understandings of global environmental change. Joe"

Jan 23, 2013 at 11:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterRon

Jan 23, 2013 at 11:45 PM | Entropic Man

“Thoes sceptics seriously debating the science are sane enough, but the movement includes a fringe element”

Take away one salient point from your attendance:-

There is no “movement”! What you are witnessing is independent free thinking people. Some are competent scientists, some are not, but they are all inquisitive and if you cannot logically answer their questions, no matter how “far out” they are, that is your issue not theirs!

Do not allow yourself the complacency of visiting the issues you have with a few upon those who are asking the pertinent questions.

Jan 24, 2013 at 12:02 AM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

Bish, please ban the '/sarc' tag, I can't stand it.

Americans, in the UK it isn't necessary to explain a joke, people either 'get it' or they don't.

Sorry, back to topic now.

Jan 24, 2013 at 12:21 AM | Unregistered Commenterjaffa

Why, do these psycho-babblers dress up their piffling drivel in such grand terms?

Could it possibly be, that they actually need to justify their petulance and pitiful denunciations, 'in grown up' language of sophistry - through poorly argued and abstruse jargon.

Jan 24, 2013 at 12:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Psychoanalysis has been broadly and profoundly debunked over the last few decades, to the point that even psychoanalists themselves repudiate the vast majority of what Freud claimed. The entire psychoanalytic program was utterly unscientific - Freud made it up as he went along, with absolutely no evidence to back up his claims. Fredrick C.Crews famously took part in the take-down of Freud and analysis during the 1980s in the New York Review of Books and other venues. Freud was a fraud through and through, and his followers have always been anti-rationalist true believers. For a psychoanalyst to criticize anyone else's scientific understanding is the height of muddle-headedness.

Jan 24, 2013 at 12:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterMarkB

Entropic - you'd have to be in denial to read the climategate emails and not see evidence of conspiracy.

OTOH I've not seen anybody put anything solid up in support of the "BigOilDenialMachine"...

diogenes - "therefore physicists are merely psychologists who took the easier option." yep, must be tough to make progress when nobody can replicate your work! ;-)

Jan 24, 2013 at 12:36 AM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

Listened to this R4 porncast. Three self-titillating individuals involved. BBC's Laurie Taylor, Paul Hoggett and 'Lay-down Sally, on the couch, Weintrobe'
Forget Sally, Bish, she's but a greenhorn when it comes to pyscho-babble compared to the other two.
She almost sounded reasonable, a purely relative turn you understand, compared to he brace of 'It'll mak' ye go blind, laddie' Freudians that helped her on the way!
Their total and whole-hearted acceptance of 'The scientific-argument'- aka well-funded hypotheses - was uplifting, insomuch that it demonstrated just how little intellect is required to become a 'serious' academician in the post-normal miasma that passes for value-adding to the debate to-date.
Betwixt them, they believe denialism is Industry-Driven, Weird-Weather is the new-now and we're all to blame.
Get thee on thy own couch D*ckH**ds! '

Jan 24, 2013 at 12:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

Still dwelling on catastrophes too horrible to contemplate, and still catastrophicallly ignorant of the skeptical ethos. And these people are supposed to be bright?

Jan 24, 2013 at 1:03 AM | Unregistered Commenterkim

I’m not sure that I know where conspiracy becomes A Conspiracy. Certainly there have been many small cases of collusion (Climategate) and larger bodies are always acting to make you do stuff that you don’t want to (paying for windmills) but A Conspiracy suggests somebody behind it all, driving the direction. Can anything that poor be planned?

I sometimes think the UK and the US are poles apart and it might explain why Americans more likely to believe in a grand plan. In the US some fear that the growing incidence of this type of psychoanalysing sceptics will lead to imprisonment on the grounds of insanity. Do away with the pesky problem. Here we are more at risk of a runty guy from the council turning up, with no idea or interest in our position on AGW, but who will fine us for having put the wrong type of plastic in our wheelie bin. The US have FBI with deadly weapons, we have jobsworths with clip boards. I fear the paper clip is mightier than the gun clip when it comes to enslaving AG||W rebels. It's so insidious.

Jan 24, 2013 at 1:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Sometimes it`s just a pen.
Psychoanalysis. Well, it`s not brain science is it?

Jan 24, 2013 at 2:01 AM | Unregistered Commenterbanjo

The Sally Weintrobe video ( is astonishing. She delivers a vague, torturous, all encompassing metaphor of our pysche without for a moment reflecting on how her landscape metaphor applies to her own argument. She is so ardent, so unequivocal, so righteous. It was too painful for me to watch any more than 10 minutes..

Jan 24, 2013 at 3:38 AM | Unregistered Commenterbernie

A lot of "intellectuals" are as thick as the proverbial box of rocks. I''m sure a lot of them see rising CO2 plotted against rising temperatures of the 30 years or so to around 2000 and they thought they 'got it" - becuase they are "intellectuals" - and that we didn't "get it" - because we are not as intelligent as they are.

Jan 24, 2013 at 3:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterJimmy Haigh

Marxism is a science say Marxists, Historical materialism is a scientific explanation of historical process. Communism is a historical inevitabilty. Those that deny this in thought, word or deed are clearly 'wrong-headed' or suffering a form of maladaption.

Psychiatry and psychoanalysis in the former SU was quite happy to tackle dissidents who could not be punished in other ways.

Weintrobe is a 'wise fool'

Jan 24, 2013 at 6:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterRGH

Some wonderful transcript material here - truly an embarrassment of riches. I'll try and get one up and running for Thinking (Dis)Allowed by the weekend...

Jan 24, 2013 at 6:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlex Cull

MarkB at 12.31

Lets hope that the AGW fraud doesn'e last as the Freud Fraud.!!

Jan 24, 2013 at 7:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterOld Mike

O/T I spotted a tweet from @ManjanaM Manjana Milkoreit:

PhD Candidate in Global Governance, passionate about climate change, interested in cognition, change in complex systems, social innovation and conflict.

PhD in Global Governance! Who voted for global governance? I must have slept through that vote

Jan 24, 2013 at 7:51 AM | Registered Commentermangochutney

That would be this Sally:
Sally Weintrobe Sally Weintrobe is a Fellow of the Institute of Psychoanalysis and until recently chaired its Scientific Committee. She was formerly a member of Senior Teaching Staff at the Tavistock Clinic and Hon Senior Lecturer at University College London in the Dept for Psychoanalytic Studies.

She has published papers on entitlement attitudes, grievance and complaint, prejudice, greed, climate change denial and our relationship with nature.

She seems to have had the idea of medicalising "denialism" ahead of Lewandowski. Gave a seminar at the NHS Trust, Tavistock and Portman (Leaders in mental health care and education) in 2009 billed as:

"Heads in the sand: what’s mad about climate change"

I guess in the UK you can be treated free for "denialism" by the NHS? So hard to "manage our feelings about climate change our great difficulty in acknowledging our true dependence on nature our conflicting identifications the effects of living within cultures that have perverse aspects the need to mourn before we can engage in a positive way with the new conditions we find ourselves in."

Now endorsed by Naomi Klein.

Jan 24, 2013 at 7:54 AM | Unregistered Commenterbetapug

I am not concerned about Silly Sally - such people will always be with us. They identify the antithesis of their scam and then heap abuse on the opposition, seeking to occupy the percieved "moral high ground".

What does concern me is that the BBC actually broadcast this rubbish.

Jan 24, 2013 at 8:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoger Longstaff

"Nowadays it's Climate Deniers. Before that The Devil..the Malignant Gods or Evil Spirits."

You know, Latimer, I think there's a great deal of truth in this. Human beings seem to need some kind of existential threat. When religion was taken more seriously in the now-developed world, the threat of hellfire and damnation fulfilled that need, and "climate change" allows some of us to carry on fulfilling it. Moreover, the psychobabblers and the politically correct have taken on the role of latterday ecclesiastics. It's the same old same old dressed in superficially new clothes.

Jan 24, 2013 at 9:37 AM | Unregistered CommenterMichael Larkin

I am currently a supporter of Darwins theory of evolution, when you listen to these conversations you do have to wonder if that is a pile of tripe too. How does natural selection before say the Bronze age allow these people to survive long enough to have offspring, or is evolution so fast they just appeared in the last 1000 years. Just can't imagine them being able to hold a spear let alone throw it or do anything constructive unless they survived as the Shamen.

Jan 24, 2013 at 9:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterBreath of Fresh Air

Perhaps we should ask Laurie Taylor for a balancing edition? I propose the Bish...

Jan 24, 2013 at 9:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

There is a whole department in some university in Wales devoted to psychology of climate 'denia'l.

I remember a conversation in the 'Hitch hikers' Guide' between Gag Halfron (Zaphod Beeblebrox's personal brain care specialist and a Vogon captain thus:

Gag Halfront: "Ve don't make personal friends"
Vogon captain: "Professional detachment?"
Halfront: "No, ve just don't have ze knack."

Jan 24, 2013 at 10:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhilip Foster

The textbook (aimed at college professors to teach undergraduates) that Andy Scrase mentions at 9.27pm seems to me quite worrying.

Jan 24, 2013 at 10:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike Fowle

Thinking Allowed should be done under the Trades Descriptions Act. Weintrobe's thought-free contribution was lazy and smug, and if one of Laurie's students had offered this as course work, he would probably have thrown them down the stairs.

Jan 24, 2013 at 10:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterSaunders of Bungay

A very good question, TinyCO2. Part of the problem seems to be the layer upon layer of vested interest that has open access to (and funding from) the morons in Westminster. Ben Pile detailed a fascinating example of this in his Climate Resistance blog:

Jan 24, 2013 at 10:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterOld Forge

@michael larkin

'You know, Latimer, I think there's a great deal of truth in this. Human beings seem to need some kind of existential threat'

Yep....only I'd just change it to 'Some human beings seem to need some kind of existential threat'.

And for those who do 'CAGW' provides a wonderful opportunity for a substitute religion.

1. It supposedly addresses Big Issues - the Survival of Humanity or The Future of the Planet
2. It is complicated and not easy for laymen to understand. It must be 'interpreted' by those who do. The believers bring the message to the masses. The masses' role is to unquestioningly receive the message. But not to ask too many questions.
3. The world can be easily divided between those who have Seen the Light (hooray!) and The Forces of Darkness/Denial (Boo!)
4. It is the True Believers mission to stamp out Denialism wherever it is found. The matter is So Important that any methods are acceptable.
5. Denialism cannot be pre-defined, but True Believers know it when they see it. This conveniently allows True Believers to be both Judge and Jury. And it is always a fuzzy concept 'The Bogeyman' is a great way to keep the masses in fear.
6. Those who Believe will be Saved. But Deniers will burn in the Fires of Hell. And it'll serve them right.

If anybody has ever seen Arthur Miller's play 'The Crucible', no doubt this is familiar stuff. Or studied The Inquisition. Or bits of the Old Testament. Or followed recent events among extreme Muslims in Tower Hamlets. Or if you've ever spent time with the small blog cult called 'The Deltoids'

The same old themes just keep on cropping up time and time and time again throughout history. Only the details change, but the basics seem to be pretty universal.

It must be a very strong impulse for those who have it. But since I don't suffer from it. I am utterly baffled as to why it is there. Can anyone - perhaps somebody who has escaped from its tentacles - enlighten me?

Jan 24, 2013 at 11:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

Interventions by social scientists in the climate debate bring out the worst in commenters here.
Thanks to Diogenes (Jan 23, 2013 at 10:57 PM ) for those wise words of Feynman. Psychology is not physics. It does not therefore follow that Freud was a fraud.
Roger Longstaff is mistaken not to be worried about Sally. It’s precisely because CAGW has escaped from its ecological niche and become all-pervasive that it’s so noxious. A bunch of people fantasising about beating people up in a dark alley doesn’t matter as long as it stays within the bounds of a chat on the net or in a Bierkeller. It’s when they’ve got the university professors and the doctors and the BBC producers on their side that they become dangerous.

Jan 24, 2013 at 11:10 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Forgot to add to my earlier remarks

The religion also has Prophets, Saints and High Priests whose word is (ex officio) infallible.

In CAGW it is called The Consensus of Climate Scientists.

In other religions it is Papal Infallibility or The Word of The Prophet. Same idea..just different names.

Jan 24, 2013 at 11:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

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