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The Latest Denialist Plea for Climate Change Inaction

Posted on 31 January 2012 by dana1981

As they tend to do from time to time in an effort to distract from the climate science consensus, a group of scientists who are also climate "skeptics" have published an opinion-editorial (op-ed), trying to make the case against taking action to address climate change.  As usual, the article is little more than a regurgitation of a number of climate myths we have debunked at Skeptical Science

The signatories of this newest letter are also worth noting for their lack of noteworthiness.  Although the climate denialist blogs have labeled them "luminaries" and "prominent scientists", the list is actually quite underwhelming.  In fact, it only includes four scientists who have actually published climate research in peer-reviewed journals, and only two who have published climate research in the past three decades.  Nearly half of the list (at least 7 of 16) have received fossil fuel industry funding, and the list also includes an economist, a physician, a chemist, an aerospace engineer, and an astronaut/politician.  These are apparently the best and brightest the climate denialists can come up with these days?

  • Claude Allegre, former director of the Institute for the Study of the Earth, University of Paris
  • J. Scott Armstrong, cofounder of the Journal of Forecasting and the International Journal of Forecasting;
  • Jan Breslow, head of the Laboratory of Biochemical Genetics and Metabolism, Rockefeller University;
  • Roger Cohen, fellow, American Physical Society;
  • Edward David, member, National Academy of Engineering and National Academy of Sciences;
  • William Happer, professor of physics, Princeton;
  • Michael Kelly, professor of technology, University of Cambridge, U.K.;
  • William Kininmonth, former head of climate research at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology;
  • Richard Lindzen, professor of atmospheric sciences, MIT;
  • James McGrath, professor of chemistry, Virginia Technical University;
  • Rodney Nichols, former president and CEO of the New York Academy of Sciences;
  • Burt Rutan, aerospace engineer, designer of Voyager and SpaceShipOne;
  • Harrison H. Schmitt, Apollo 17 astronaut and former U.S. senator;
  • Nir Shaviv, professor of astrophysics, Hebrew University, Jerusalem;
  • Henk Tennekes, former director, Royal Dutch Meteorological Service;
  • Antonio Zichichi, president of the World Federation of Scientists, Geneva.

red - no climate science publications, member of at least one climate denialist group - GWPF (advisory board), George C. Marshall Institute (board of directors or roundtable speakers), Australian Climate Science Coalition (advisory panel), Heartland Institute (board of directors), and/or ExxonMobil

blue - published climate science research

orange - both a member of a climate denialist group and has published climate science research

black - no climate science publications or climate denialist group membership

Shaviv has published some research on galactic cosmic rays, and Kininmonth and Tennekes published a couple of climate-related papers in the 1970s (although most of Tennekes' research as been in aeronautics). Lindzen is the only climate scientist of note on the entire list, and is mainly noteworthy for his history of being wrong on climate issues.

The lack of expertise and numerous conflicts of interest aside, let's evaluate their arguments on their own merits (or more accurately, lack thereof).

Denying the Consensus

The op-ed begins with the wholly unsupported assertion that:

"...a large and growing number of distinguished scientists and engineers do not agree that drastic actions on global warming are needed."

The fact that only 16 scientists and engineers signed this letter casts serious doubt on this assertion.  The fake skeptics were able to get ~100 signatories on a similar letter 5 years ago - this seems more like a small and dwindling number of fake skeptics.  It's also worth noting that 255 National Academy of Science members (truly prominent scientists) signed an opposite letter, urging action to address climate change.

"We urge our policy-makers and the public to move forward immediately to address the causes of climate change, including the un-restrained burning of fossil fuels."

Moreover, why should we care what these few self-proclaimed "distinguished scientists and engineers" think we should do about climate change?  If I need heart surgery, I'm not going to allow a dentist to perform it, even if it's the best dentist in the world.  Virtually all of the climate science experts agree that actions to address global warming are needed.  Their informed opinions are the ones we should heed when it comes to climate science, not those of astronauts and physicians.

Gish Gallop of Fake Facts

After making a number of unsubstantiated and false assertions about the "growing number" of climate "skeptics," the letter then lays out what they see as the evidence supporting their fake skepticism.  In reality, it's the same sort of Gish Gallop we've come to expect from climate denialists.

Global Warming Continues

The first myth in the article is the well-worn "global warming stopped in [insert year]".  In this case, the fake skeptics have inserted "the last 10 years."  This myth is easily debunked with the escalator graphic (Figure 1).

skeptics v realists v3

Figure 1: BEST land-only surface temperature data (green) with linear trends applied to the timeframes 1973 to 1980, 1980 to 1988, 1988 to 1995, 1995 to 2001, 1998 to 2005, 2002 to 2010 (blue), and 1973 to 2010 (red).

Not-So-Missing Heat

The second myth is that Kevin Trenberth's quote-mined comment "The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't" is an admission that global warming stopped.  In reality, the quote simply referred to the fact that while the planet is warming, we do not have adequate global monitoring to determine where all the heat is going.  However, recent research by Loeb et al. (2012) has concluded that there may no longer be any "missing heat," so this particular myth really has no leg to stand on.

Positive Feedbacks

The denialist op-ed continues to confuse the issue by claiming

"...the warming is only missing if one believes computer models where so-called feedbacks involving water vapor and clouds greatly amplify the small effect of CO2."

Aside from continuing to misunderstand that the "missing heat" is about having an inadequate global climate observational network (mainly because we don't have good measurements of deep ocean heat), observational data have demonstrated that water vapor, and likely clouds, are indeed positive feedbacks.

Earth Has Warmed as Expected

The fake skeptics then repeat one of Lindzen's favorite myths, that the Earth has warmed less than predicted by the IPCC.  This is simply untrue - in fact, the IPCC climate predictions have been amongst the most accurate thus far, much better than Lindzen and his fellow fake skeptics have done (Figure 2).

jg gif

Figure 2: Various global temperature projections vs. observations

CO2 is a Pollutant and Not Necessarily Beneficial for Plants

The op-ed then repeats the old "CO2 isn't a pollutant" myth.  In reality, because its emissions endanger public health and welfare through its impacts on climate change, by definition CO2 is a pollutant according to the US Clean Air Act

They couple this with the grossly oversimplistic "CO2 is plant food" myth.  While it's true that in a controlled setting like a greenhouse, increased CO2 levels will generally improve plant growth, the global climate is not so simple.  Increasing CO2 in the climate also changes temperatures, precipitation, drought and flood frequencies, and a number of other factors which impact plant growth. 

The global increase of CO2 is a grand biological experiment, with countless complications that make the net effect of this increase very difficult to predict with any appreciable level of detail.  To gloss over these complexities with the simplistic "CO2 is plant food" argument is an insult to the readers' intelligence.  It also ignores the other adverse impacts of increasing CO2, like ocean acidification.  Apparently these "concerned scientists" don't think very highly of their audience.

Follow the Money Indeed

Just when we thought the op-ed letter couldn't get worse, these fake skeptics have the gall to suggest that we "follow the money," because climate "alarmism" supposedly brings bountiful research funding, "an excuse for governments to raise taxes", "big donations" for environmental groups, and other similar tinfoil-hattery.  Considering that at least 43% of the letter's signatories have received money from the fossil fuel industry, being given large sums of money just for being climate "skeptics" and publishing error-riddled nonsense like this op-ed, the sheer nerve it must have taken to make this "follow the money" argument is astounding.  Do follow their advice: research the signatories of this letter and follow their money trail, which leads straight to the fossil fuel industry.

CO2 Limits Will Help the Economy

The "concerned scientists" then follow with the myth that CO2 limits will harm the economy.  This particular myth is primarily based on ignoring the fact that failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will have a tremendous cost, much greater than the cost of action (Figure 3).  Relative to the alternative (inaction and trying to adapt to the damaging consequnces of climate change), CO2 limits will help the economy.  This is why there is a consensus among economists with expertise in climate that we should put a price on carbon emissions (Figure 4).

Figure 3:  Approximate costs of climate action (green) and inaction (red) in 2100 and 2200. Sources: German Institute for Economic Research and Watkiss et al. 2005

should US reduce emissions

 

Figure 4: New York University survey results of economists with climate expertise when asked under what circumstances the USA should reduce its emissions

The article references work by economist William Nordhaus to try and justify climate inaction.  When we actually listen to what Nordhaus has to say, the picture looks very different:

"We’ve got to get together as a community of nations and impose restraints on greenhouse gas emissions and raise carbon prices. If not, we will be in one of those gloomy scenarios."

Although he tends to be quite conservative about the costs of climate change relative to other economists, Nordhaus still supports putting a price on carbon emissions.  Nordhaus not appreciate his name being invoked to justify foolish calls for climate inaction, telling Andrew Revkin:

"The piece completely misrepresented my work. My work has long taken the view that policies to slow global warming would have net economic benefits, in the trillion of dollars of present value. This is true going back to work in the early 1990s (MIT Press, Yale Press, Science, PNAS, among others). I have advocated a carbon tax for many years as the best way to attack the issue. I can only assume they either completely ignorant of the economics on the issue or are willfully misstating my findings."

Is this the Best Climate "Skeptics" Can Do?

If we boil down this op-ed to its basics, we're left with a letter signed by only two scientists with peer-reviewed climate research publications in the past three decades, which exhibits a serious lack of understanding of basic climate concepts, and which simply regurgitates a Gish Gallop of long-worn climate myths.  The letter claims that climate "skepticism" is growing, and yet only has 16 signatories, at least 43% of which have received funding from the fossil fuel industry, and not one single new argument which hasn't been long-debunked.

If this is the best today's climate fake skeptics can do, perhaps, as Patrick Michaels suggests, they are losing the battle.  We can only hope that this is the case.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 55:

  1. This would be the same propaganda covered in the video linked by J. Bob here, I think. As I commented at the time, it is hilarious. The interviewer seems deeply interested in getting to the truth. Not.
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  2. The Wall Street Journal acquired anti-science syndrome years ago. The article is nothing new, and the rogue's gallery is nothing new. The 2200 comments don't even look new.

    But all the article has to do is drag the same bottom-feeding message over and over again. That's how anchors really work.

    The interesting side-note was the discovery of a new article - the Garden of CO2 has a hot snake in it:

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn21399-wheat-will-age-prematurely-in-a-warmer-world.html

    Wheat yields in northern India are declining - heat-driven premature aging. The guys at the WSJ should debunk that one.
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  3. "The lack of warming for more than a decade" is rather an embarassing statement for the "cofounder of the Journal of Forecasting and the International Journal of Forecasting" to have endorsed, given that 10 years of data is not nearly enough for one to be able to reliably detect a warming trend in the data when it is actually there. Any decent forecaster would have looked at the power of the test and would have known that there is nothing that surprising about a lack of warming for a decade (or two).
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  4. Will you guys be covering the Loeb et al. (2012) paper? There's still too much observation error to really tell if there is a discrepancy between radiation flux and ocean heat content. It'll probably require at least 5 more years of data to see if they both match. I didn't like the original Trenberth graph because it smoothed over uncertainties so much.

    Both ocean heat and radiation imbalance are powerful ways to show that the Earth is warming. I think it's possibly a more effective way to point out the statistical insignificance of atmospheric non-warming over a short period of time.
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  5. apeescape - yup, will be up within the next week or so. We keep pointing out the ocean is still warming and that over 90% of global warming actually goes into the ocean. So we're not remiss in that regard.
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  6. It is interesting that they think publishing an Op-Ed in a business newspaper constitutes "science." Just another example of the tactics and tall tales used by the denialist industry.

    Exposing Climate Denialism
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  7. I looked up the 16 scientists in the Web of Science, which counts only peer-reviewed publications and is thus more restrictive than Google Scholar. I searched for author and topic "climate change" in the Expanded Science Index.

    1.Armstrong has one publication, on the subject of polar bears. It was roundly debunked.
    2.Cohen has two, one of which has 55 authors. Both are on technical subjects.
    3.Lindzen has four and as we know, is widely published in meteorology. But he still has never written an article falsifying anthropogenic global warming.
    4.Score for all the others: zero.

    Not one of these 16 has ever published a paper showing that anthropogenic global warming is false, or even presenting any evidence that it is false. Surely if global warming is as innocuous as they say it is, this diverse collection of eminent scholars could get a peer-reviewed paper published explaining their evidence. Isn't that what we expect in science? In the long run, opinions backed up by no evidence are worthless.
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  8. I've been reading increasingly from denialist websites phrases like "a large and growing number of distinguished scientists ... ." I suggest anytime, anywhere someone writes or says something like that, we toss an Indiana Jones (Raiders of the Lost Ark) question without hesitation: "Who?"
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  9. So the WSJ rejected the letter from the NAS urging for climate action but prints this long debunked drivel?
    Mindblowing, but not surprising. The deniers have free access to the press all over the world, it seems, while the real science is being ignored. Still, the anti-science disinformers claim that the press is "warmist" and won't let them voice their opinion? Amazing.
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  10. Remarkable Editorial! An editorial in Forbes actually criticizes the WSJ by name! The Forbes article by Peter Gleick makes many of the same points made here, but less graphically. Gleick particularly stress that the WSJ declined to print the science affirming letter from the NAS, suggesting a bit of bias. Criticism of the Journal in another conservative publication is unusual. Watch for the pushback. Joe Romm stresses everything.
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  11. Pete @10 - yes, an excellent piece by Gleick. Forbes mostly publishes utter garbage when it comes to the climate, but they also publish good articles from Gleick, presumably so they can maintain the semblace of "balance".
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  12. Regarding Allegre, Eli is reporting on an unfolding scandal involving him...
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  13. Pete@10:

    As to be expected, the comment thread to Gleick's op-ed, "Remarkable Editorial Bias on Climate Science at the Wall Street Journal" posted on Forbes, Jan 27, 2012, has drawn climate denier drones like flies to honey. They consider Forbes to be their sandbox.

    Also, before anyone gets too enamored with Forbes, you need to know that professional climate deniers like James Taylor of the Heritage Institute, are also regular contributors. In addition, Forbes staff writers take their cues from the likes of Taylor.

    Click here to access Gleick’s op-ed.
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  14. ****** As an important add-on to this post, Revkin has emailed Nordhaus to get his take on how the "scientists" (mis)represented his work.

    What the 'scientists' said:

    A recent study of a wide variety of policy options by Yale economist William Nordhaus showed that nearly the highest benefit-to-cost ratio is achieved for a policy that allows 50 more years of economic growth unimpeded by greenhouse gas controls. This would be especially beneficial to the less-developed parts of the world that would like to share some of the same advantages of material well-being, health and life expectancy that the fully developed parts of the world enjoy now. Many other policy responses would have a negative return on investment. And it is likely that more CO2 and the modest warming that may come with it will be an overall benefit to the planet.


    Nordhous' response:


    The piece completely misrepresented my work. My work has long taken the view that policies to slow global warming would have net economic benefits, in the trillion of dollars of present value. This is true going back to work in the early 1990s (MIT Press, Yale Press, Science, PNAS, among others). I have advocated a carbon tax for many years as the best way to attack the issue. I can only assume they either completely ignorant of the economics on the issue or are willfully misstating my findings.
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  15. grypo @14 - thanks, that confirms my comment in the post that Nordhaus
    "would likely not appreciate his name being invoked to justify foolish calls for climate inaction."
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  16. I also added the quote provided by grypo from Revkin's Nordhaus interview to the OP.
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  17. Technically Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, but otherwise known as Virginia Tech
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  18. I started compiling a line-by-line annotation of The Wall Street Journal op/ed , but quickly became weary of the task, as virtually every sentence contained one or more distortion of reality, beginning with the sanctimonious headline "No Need to Panic...", which characterizes their opponents as irrational and hysterical.

    If the signees of this letter have legitimate criticisms of AGW, then:

    a) Why do they not pursue these criticisms through legitimate avenues of scientific discourse, rather than in a politically and ideologically biased source such as The Wall Street Journal? and

    b) Why do they employ fallacies, misrepresentations, and distortions to support their position, rather than defensible, factual evidence.

    The answer to both of these questions is the same: This is their only option.
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  19. I think Naomi Oreskes is on the right track when she talks about the criminal convictions that resulted in the past when people used the tactics the Wall Street Journal is using. She reiterated her point when she was interviewed on NPR recently. http://www.npr.org/2012/01/24/145732719/op-ed-the-verdict-is-in-on-climate-change She said:

    " ...the American tobacco industry was in fact found guilty by the U.S. Department of Justice, charged under the RICO statute with criminal conspiracy to defraud the American people. And one of the things we were able to show in the book [ Merchants of Doubt ] is that some of the exact same people, not just the same tactics, but actually the same individuals who had worked in the tobacco industry and developed the strategy, for which they were convicted of criminal conspiracy by the U.S. Department of Justice, those same people have been involved in some of the attempts to undermine and challenge the scientific evidence of human-caused climate change".

    Hansen used to say he expected to be called to testify at the trials, for crimes against humanity, of some of the CEOs of the fossil fuel companies, over the long standing campaign they have conducted to confuse the public about what is known about climate change. I'd add: and some publishers and editors.
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  20. Yes I know Forbes is not all sugar and spice, but calling out the Journal by name is still a noteworthy dog bite dog story. ;)

    Re "...a large and growing number of distinguished scientists...." are /are becoming deniers -

    Claiming growing numbers (especially when false) is a well know tactic of creationism. Exxon/WSJ only got 16 "distinguished" (but don't ask how) signatories and it took bottom feeding plus a lot of Exxon dependence to get that many. The supporting argument that 1 (one) old physicist resigned from the API to show off his denial is an own goal.
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  21. Agreeing with Coal Geologist @ 18
    Yes, these aren't just some poor mixed up boys on the street. The WSJ/Exxon 16 are grownup men well familiar with the scientific research and publishing process. Unlike street level deniers the 16 know that if they had something scientific to say they could and quickly would say it in a peer reviewed journal. They do what they do instead because it's all they have.
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  22. Pete @20:

    I forgot to menation that Pat Michaels is also a weekly op-ed contributor at Forbes.

    BTW, I greatly admire Peter Gleick for playing the role of Daniel in the lion's den at Forbes. He posts there on a weekly basis as well.
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  23. CoalGeol#18/David Lewis#19:

    Look at who owns the WSJ (one R. Murdoch). Criminal? likely. Prosecutable? Not hardly.
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  24. Another absurd statement in the WSJ letter is thoroughly dissected by Chris Mooney in his DeSmog blog post, “In Which Climate ‘Skeptics’ Drop the Lysenko Bomb. No, I’m Not Kidding….”

    Click here to access this article.
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  25. @Dana69 - None of those names who hold up ever over-reached themselves to phony up a joint statement published in the Wall Street Journal. Your comparison of the two groups is a disgrace. You owe each of them an apology for the implication that any of them misled or misrepresented their credentials the way the '16 scientists' did in the WSJ. It comes across like the little child going "Well, he did it too."
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  26. @Dana69 was an obvious troll comment meant to distract from the subject at hand. It has no merit at all since the SkS 'staff' is is in the business of presenting and explaining what the research of expert scientists says, not doing research themselves.
    The WSJ op-ed was a just 16 ill-informed non-experts saying "nuh-uh" to the scientists and for some reason being given space in a major news paper to say it.
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  27. It's fairly obvious that many global warming deniers should know better. There is only one conclusion. They are being paid off or have special interests.

    Would love to be able to rummage through their bank accounts. That would be real transparency.
    Another csuse for the Wall St occupiers?
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  28. Of course it doesn't matter how many signatories there are on any one letter. It only takes one to prove anything wrong. It's the weight of the evidence that counts, not the length of the author list.

    And of course these people have no evidence. That's the real bottom line.

    The biggest failure in climate change policy development is the failure of journalism. Journalists should have well-honed BS detectors, and spot a shill a mile off. That they don't after other anti-science campaigns like the ozone hole and tobacco (and even AIDS denial, though the motivation there is less clear) invokes the old "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me."
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  29. If this is the best today's climate fake skeptics can do, perhaps, as Patrick Michaels suggests, they are losing the battle.

    The quality of the arguments doesn't matter because they're not intended by consumption for knowledgeable or even curious people. The point is to give people who don't want AGW to be real a reference to cite. It doesn't matter what the reference is or what it says; what matters is that it's a "reference" by "top scientists." And that it confirms misinformation that the readers have already bought into, like the Trenberth quote.

    In articles like these, it's not just acceptable but also beneficial to present a mishmash of contradictory arguments; the more excuses for disbelief you can provide, the more readers you can reassure. Different claims appeal to different readers, so toss 'em all in! It's not like they're gonna compare notes.

    It also doesn't matter if the authors lack any real authority, because the people who want to believe this stuff will magnify the authors' credentials beyond all bounds for the sake of their own credibility. And that's what it's all about, ultimately: Convincing people who are desperate to be right that they're not only right, but smarter than everyone else.

    Which is very light work, of course. They know they'll get no serious criticism from their audience because that would require a level of self-skepticism that their audience can't afford to have.

    Much as I dislike this industry and its cynical approach to rhetoric, I do have a grudging admiration for its grasp of human psychology.
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  30. Many thanks for this excellent summary. I am particularly interested to learn that William Nordhaus has seen the light; and that he denounces this latest attempt to dismiss climate change as environmental alarmism (I have clearly been out-of-date in criticising his denunciation of the Stern Review).
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  31. Further to David Lewis @ 19

    Thanks in large part to their own actions, climate change is probably going to take a long time to reach a point in public opinion where these 16 'experts' and their comrades in arms can be brought to book. In the meantime there is the danger that vital evidence will be lost if bank details are automatically destroyed when some statutory time period elapses before that moment.

    With that in mind, are there any mechanisms in the various home countries involved that will ensure that any payments received by the denialati from the fossil fuel industry are not lost before they can be presented in evidence? Perhaps it is something the IPCC could consider exploring via the U.N. thus possibly making it apply globally.

    I suspect that a good few of the denialati treat climate change as just another politcal game and are not mature enough to realise the potentially serious consequences of their actions, not only to the world's population, but to their own personal freedom.

    I am sure that SKS computer material is well backed-up. I sure hope so, because it will be an excellent source of evidence should criminal proceedings result at some future date and I am sure it will be in the cross-hairs of denialati hackers.
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  32. In case anyone is getting upset at Skeptical Science's supposed lack of neutrality or balance, I should like to emphasize two things:

    Denialism in Action
    Denialism is a bit ill-defined as it is a fairly recent concept (despite longstanding examples such as tobacco industry re: smoking, asbestos health effects, HIV/AIDS denial, anti-vaccine crankery, and others), however most people who review it professionally (psychologists & sociologists) or as a hobby (such as ScienceBlogs' denialism blog) would include some or all of the following behaviours:

    1- Cherry-picking evidence
    2- Fake experts
    3- Misrepresentation of opposing positions, arguments & evidence
    4- Unsupported allegations of conspiracy on the part of those who hold opposing positions
    5- Logical fallacies
    6- Goalpost shifting

    The OP clearly documents the use of elements 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. Possibly element #6 is in there, too.

    So the Wall Street Journal letter is a textbook case of climate science denialism, allowing all & sundry to refer to the signatories (and the publishers) as denialists.

    Crime & Comments
    There are, to be sure, a few comments on this thread suggesting criminal sanction may be called for or is otherwise appropriate for a number of climate science denialists.

    In case you, dear reader, think this is unfair, consider Daniel Lewis' statement upthread that much of the behaviour undertaken by climate science denialists was shown by Oreskes, in Merchants of Doubt, to be indistinguishable from demonstrably criminal behaviour (in the sense that it led to indictment & conviction on criminal charges) undertaken by tobacco companies.
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  33. Phila @29,

    "I do have a grudging admiration for its grasp of human psychology."

    That is my understanding-- they learned a great deal about how to fool people and play psychological games in the tobacco and creationism wars. They have well over 50 years of experience at it.

    So I fear what you say is true. The big question is what do about it and how do we effectively convince the public that about the reality and urgency of the situation?
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  34. @Albatross

    It will be very hard to convince a mostly scientifically-challenged public, who have become accustomed to an energy rich lifestyle, to give it up. Attempt to take it away and they will rebel (politically). In addition, as the Yale study concluded, the more educated one is, the more skeptical he/she is of CAGW. This combination of the selfish undereducated and skeptical educated should repel any attempt at CO2 mitigation legislation. Thank goodness!
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    Moderator Response: [muoncounter] There is no C in front of 'AGW.'
  35. Amazingly, the WSJ has published a rebuttal from real scientists!
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  36. I notice that The Australian, never slow to distort climate science, has now printed the letter in its opinion pages. IMO The Australian has devolved under the leadership of Chris Mitchell from the premier newspaper in Australia to little more than a regurgitater and source of propaganda.
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  37. Adam S posted a comment which has since been deleted, so far as I can tell, not because of any particular word in it, but because it consisted of nothing beyond a political slogan to the effect that the entire debate was about whether AGW would be catastrophic or not.

    That is a false and obnoxious little meme on two grounds.

    First, contrary to Adam S's suggestion, there are many so-called skeptics who deny that there has been any warming since the 1940's. Even more deny that there has been any Anthropogenic contribution to the warming that has been experienced since then.

    These two groups are the "more reasonable" so-called skeptics dirty little secret. Although their existence is often denied, it cannot have escaped the attention of anybody discussing global warming on the internet that they exist. Despite that, there existence is denied when it is desirable to seem reasonable, and encouraged when the spreading of confusion can be maximized.

    So Adam S's slogan is false in denying the existence of this group, and obnoxious because that denial frees him from the obligation of all reasonable people to defend good science with respect to them. Not for Adam S any need to defend science against absurd attacks the second law of thermodynamics, or the basic physics of the greenhouse effect, or even the incontrovertible fact that humans have increased the atmospheric concentration of CO2. In those arguments he can remain safely above the fray, confident in the knowledge that those arguments will help his political cause.

    Second, and again contrary to Adam's slogan, there is not a dichotomy of possible effects of AGW, but a gradient. Many defenders of effective action against AGW do not accept CAGW, but DAGW, but a merely dangerous AGW is not reason to do nothing. Some defenders of action against AGW do not even accept DAGW, but only BAUAGWWTSMAGW. But accepting that Business As Usual Anthropogenic Global Warming will be Worse Than Mitigated Anthropogenic Global Warming does not give you reason to do nothing about AGW. Indeed, even the catastrophists among AGW acceptors mostly do not accept CAGW, but SROCAGW, but again, a Significant Risk Of Catastrophe is not reason to do nothing to avert that risk.

    As it stands, the science very solidly supports the idea that AGW will be dangerous, with a significant risk of catastrophe. But the science is not certain. It can reasonably be argued that catastrophe is inevitable if we continue at BAU; and equally it can be argued that AGW will be very bad, and well worth mitigating, but will not be dangerous globally (if still dangerous for some unfortunate people). Richard Alley takes that position.

    What is not reasonable is the position that we will experience HHAGW! Adam's belief in Ho Hum AGW does not come from following the evidence (unless of course he inhabits a different universe, with different evidence to that available to me). Therefore he promotes the false dichotomy. By insisting all his opponents occupy the most extreme opinion of CAGW, he attempts to render his position more reasonable.

    Rightly the moderators will have nothing to do with slogans like that on SkS, where even comments are expected to be evidence based.

    Adam may object to my characterizing as intentional certain strategies implicit in his slogan. Well, granted, he may be a babe in the AGW debate woods, so that he does not know what is implied by his sloganeering. After all, everybody makes mistakes. But honest men man up after the mistake, admit it and correct it. We will see how honest Adam intends to be by his admittance that his framing of the debate was a false dichotomy, and by his arguing against that false dichotomy against his fellow "skeptics" in future.

    But if he won't man up, then he is guilty as charged.
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  38. Tom Dayton @ 35 Wonders will never cease! Fancy that: they publish the rebuttal letter, but not the original submission signed by over 200 scientists. Thanks for the link.

    Tom Curtis @ 38 Thank you for a much better - polite - response than the one I was thinking of.
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  39. Interestingly the WSJ letter had a number of other bad affiliations besides McGrath, which, in the course of events is not terribly important but implies that the letter was perhaps not seen by all the signatories and it would be interesting to know if it came out of some PR shop or Murdoch international
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  40. Regarding Nordhaus
    Please note this from the conclusion of his recent New York Book Review:

    “Energy: Friend or Enemy?”
    by William D. Nordhaus, October 27, 2011

    In his summation the professor writes:
    ~ ~ ~
    "The conclusion is that oil policy should focus on world production and consumption and not on the portion we import, and should focus as well on the externalities from our consumption in the form of pollution and global warming. This means primarily that oil consumption should face its full social cost. The major external cost that remains to be addressed is climate change. Until countries put an appropriate price on carbon emissions for oil and other fossil fuels, energy policy will be incoherent, and energy and environmental policies will be working at cross-purposes. The National Research Council estimates cited above used a damage cost of $30 per ton of CO2 emissions. This is somewhat higher than estimates from my own work but is a reasonable target for a US carbon price over the next decade or so. If phased in gradually through a cap-and-trade or carbon tax, such a price would help promote both fiscal and environmental goals."
    ~ ~ ~
    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/oct/27/energy-friend-or-enemy/?pagination=false
    ===============

    Chris Mooney has also weighted in:
    http://www.desmogblog.com/which-climate-skeptics-drop-lysenko-bomb-no-i-m-not-kidding
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Cheers,
    Peter M.
    http://whatsupwiththatwatts.blogspot.com/2012/01/wsj-claims-theres-no-need-to-panic.html#more
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  41. Eli @39 - indeed interesting that several of these 'signatories' would 'sign' a letter which did not even get their professional/academic affiliations correct. It certainly suggests they didn't read it very carefully, at least.
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  42. Scott Armstrong: Heartland ICCC-1, Manhattan Declaration 2008, ICCC-2, NIPCC, ICCC-4. Science advisory board for ICSC...
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  43. Adam S.

    It will be very hard to convince a mostly scientifically-challenged public, who have become accustomed to an energy rich lifestyle, to give it up. Attempt to take it away and they will rebel (politically).

    The key phrase here, of course, is "scientifically challenged." That's exactly why the denial industry works so hard to keep them misinformed. Thanks for conceding this point, if only by accident.

    It's a common right-wing meme that people don't care about the environment and are unwilling to make personal sacrifices for its sake. But that claim isn't really supported by history, which is why a major climate disinformation campaign is necessary.

    It's also a common right-wing meme that all mitigation efforts involve loss and lack; they're careful to ignore or sneer at gains in efficiency, the advent of interesting new technology and the personal satisfactions of making a difference, for the precise reason that they know these things appeal strongly to people pretty much across the board. You often see the same argument in regard to the Third World, where populations are supposedly clamoring for the exact model of development favored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In the real world, opinion is not quite so monolithic, to say the least.

    Also, I spend enough time on right-wing sites to know that a lot of people are doing their best to get off the grid, purge unnecessary technology, grow their own food and so forth. They're not doing this for the sake of the environment, granted, but it still gives the lie to the denialist meme that people won't voluntarily give up a convenient, "energy-rich" lifestyle that they feel is unsustainable, dangerous or spiritually empty.

    In short, the smug vision of American consumers as invincibly self-centered, careless and reactionary is an important one for "skeptics" like yourself to promote precisely to the extent that its a grossly misleading oversimplification.

    as the Yale study concluded, the more educated one is, the more skeptical he/she is of CAGW.

    The people who are most educated on climate are climatologists, who overwhelmingly accept AGW.

    I assume you're referring to The Tragedy of the Risk-Perception Commons: Culture Conflict, Rationality Conflict, and Climate Change. If so, that paper is a lot more nuanced than you seem to realize. You might try reading it sometime. The paper attributes the very slightly higher degree of skepticism among the educated to "the reliable capacity of individuals to conform their personal beliefs to those that predominate within their respective cultural groups," and points out that "cultural worldview variables predict...risk perceptions independently of science literacy and numeracy."

    Significantly, it adds, "This conflict between individual and collective rationality is not inevitable. It occurs only because of contingent, mutable, and fortunately rare conditions that make one set of beliefs about risk congenial to one cultural group and an opposing set congenial to another."

    In short, the study doesn't really say what you claim and its authors directly contradict the conclusions you've drawn.

    Meanwhile, here are some conclusions from another Yale study: "In a national survey completed in November 2011, we found that a large majority of Americans (66%) support signing an international treaty requiring the US to cut emissions 90% by 2050. Breaking the result down by political party (among registered voters), we found that large majorities of Democrats (81%) and Independents support such a treaty (61%), while almost half of Republicans support such a treaty (49%)."
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  44. Adam, CAGW is a very poorly defined term. If you mean, "climate sensitivity is lower than current IPCC predictions", then please present some science to support that. (and in an appropriate thread). If you mean, "wont personally effect me, so I dont care" then dont expect respect.

    Since you seem to be against any legislation that would mitigate emissions, perhaps then you could take the hypothetical challenge here to assure us that your skepticism is based on informed evaluation of the science and not simply ideology-driven.
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  45. I’m not surprised that it’s a small and dwindling number of fake skeptics – if the demographics are anything to go by, they must be dying off. I went through the biographical details as best as I was able to and as far as I can tell, Shaviv is the only one under 60. Are there any psychological studies to show why males of retirement age and beyond find it so hard to accept AGW?

    This is one reason why I think that climate change skepticism still has a few years run, but in the end it will just die of natural causes.

    As Max Planck said, “Science advances one funeral at a time.”
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  46. Phila @ 29:

    In articles like these, it's not just acceptable but also beneficial to present a mishmash of contradictory arguments; the more excuses for disbelief you can provide, the more readers you can reassure. Different claims appeal to different readers, so toss 'em all in! It's not like they're gonna compare notes.


    Reading this reminds me of something my high school economics teacher said about cigarette brands and marketing. The question was, why do cigarette companies have so many brands? Aren't they competing with themselves?

    The answer is yes, but the marketing strategy was that many cigarette smokers change brands fairly frequently. If they change brands at random, and you have 20 brands and your competitor has 10, then you have twice the likelihood of having the switched smoker pick up another of your brands. Brand loyalty is a good thing, but this strategy helps keep the non-loyal smoker in the fold, so to speak.

    Bring that strategy forward 40 years, and the deniers are aided by having a huge stock of talking points (since it doesn't matter if they are incorrect and mutually contradictory), while the poor scientists (bounded by reality) have relatively few. For the mind that wants to glom onto a few points that confirm their bias, they are more likely to glom onto one of the many false denier memes.
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  47. Bob:

    That's fascinating! It does seem like a very similar tactic. Which makes sense, considering that the average "skeptic" is in the market for a personal identity rather than an actual understanding of science.

    So instead of cigarette brands, we've got a bunch of different theories tailored to individual pretensions. There are relatively sophisticated discussions of tree rings for the more educated "skeptics," and there's footage of snowbound American cities in winter for the illiterati. The product's basically the same...it's just packaged for upscale and downscale markets.

    What a way to earn a living.
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  48. Dana’s excellent article continues to garner attention by other pro-science writers. For example:

    “Top sites Media Matters* and Skeptical Science quickly counter-argued the nonsense put forth in the WSJ piece with some thoughtful pieces looking at the simple facts of the matter and the bias of the op-ed contributors.”

    Source: “WSJ Non-Climate-Science Propaganda Eviscerated by Climate Science Facts” by Zachary Sahan, Planetsave, Feb 1, 2012

    *The Media Matters article, “The Journal Hires Dentists To Do Heart Surgery” can be accessed here.
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  49. Phlia:

    You can bet your sweet bippy that the many of the arguments advanced by the Climate Denial Spin Machine have undergone testing in Focus Groups. The Spin Machine has virtually unlimited funds at its disposal.
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  50. This caught my eye…

    “It seems a reliance on non-experts for consultation is not just a problem for education, as underscored in the editorial by climate scientists. I wonder: is it just coincidence that global warming and education are both socially and politically charged fields? There's a lot at stake for wealthy interests to ensure that global warming remains controversial and contested. Otherwise, we'll finally adjust our lifestyles and that could hurt a bottom line. A similar situation might be true for education. Certain well-heeled entities are very interested in the acquisition of valuable public per-pupil dollars. This might be why the real experts get shut out: they actually know what might be best for students and not someone's bottom line.”

    Source: “Climate Scientists, Educators, and Why We Avoid Consulting the Experts” by Shaun Johnson, The Huffington Post, Feb 2, 2012
    To access this thought-provoking article, click here.
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