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Climate Change Denial and the Media - Banishment of Science Reality

Posted on 12 January 2012 by Brian Purdue

Skepticism and Critical Thinking

The general rules of skepticism are explained in “How to Assess Evidence Beyond your Expertise”  and also how scientific consensus works, with reference to climate science (It is recommended to listen to the 12 minute radio podcast before reading this article).

Skepticism Vs. Denial

Climate “skeptics”, and much of the media, have conveniently ignored the rules governing skepticism as discussed in the podcast. Like science, true skepticism is rigidly anchored to a foundation of “critical thinking” principles.

These "skeptics" are not the first to exploit skepticism and flout its principles. The tobacco and asbestos lobbies are two other blatant examples but there are many more that have hijacked the term “skeptic” and use it as a facade to hide behind. Climate "Skeptics" have been assisted either by a culpable media or the media’s pursuit of “balance“ before accurate and adequate reporting of the science. 

Brief Overview

Public awareness and the so-called “debate” on human-induced climate change now spans more than three decades, with the informed scientific debate running much longer. Scientists and researchers from multiple disciplines have now reached a facts-based consensus, but the public and political discourse goes relentlessly on.

What became patently clear from the outset was this would not be a public debate about climate science, but an ideological and vested interests debate. Climate science was challenging the global energy generation status quo and the monolithic power of the fossil fuel industry that has ruled the world for 150 years but is now revealing its global climate disruption powers.

This could only become a titanic struggle and the climate denialists and misinformers, knowingly or otherwise, are the frontline troops for the fossil fuel industry. The “carbon war” makes the war against tobacco smoking pale by comparison.

The media debate really warmed up in 1990, when BBC TV produced the two-hour documentary After the Warming, which presented the then known evidence on global warming and human’s causal link. An immediate response came from its commercial competitor, TV Channel 4, who aired The Greenhouse Conspiracy.

The film An Inconvenient Truth was released in 2006, and its maker Al Gore and the IPCC were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, which received the usual ridicule from the fake skeptics and predictable sections of the media industry.  

The Great Global Warming Swindle, also made by Channel 4, was broadcast at the same time as the release of the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report. This thoroughly debunked the sun is the cause film featured many of the same “skeptical scientists” who appeared in The Greenhouse Conspiracy. All the compelling scientific evidence gathered over the intervening 17 years hadn’t shifted the rusted-on skeptics from their “nothing will convince me” stance.

There have been trillions of words wrtten and spoken about this heated and critical subject so you can fill in the rest with your own recollections.

Denial and Tactics

The fake skeptics deploy many tactics; one example being that whenever major climate conferences are held, or peer-reviewed scientific papers and climate data released, this coincides with copious amounts of contradicting opinion designed to perpetuate doubt and stifle action. They even hold their own conferences, like those by the right-wing libertarian American Heartland Institute.

Another tactic is to attack climate scientists directly. There is the old perennial favourite that they are the high priests of a religious cult called “environmentalism”. But the most malicious and concerted attack conveniently happened just before the Copenhagen Climate Conference in 2008. Climate scientist’s private emails were illegally hacked and their contents distorted and misquoted.  Another batch from the same hacked emails emerged just before the recent Durban Climate Conference.

Fake skeptics and the media dubbed this Climategate and “The Greatest Scandal in Modern Science”, but eight independent investigations eventually put sanity back where it belonged.

The media hounded the so-called “Climategate conspirators” but virtually fell silent when the scientists were exonerated. But fake skeptic and sections of the media still persist with their conspiracy theories. The media would better spend its time investigating “Hackergate”; there’s where the web of deception lies.

Then there’s the tactic of imbedding contrary perception in the public mind. We never stop hearing that the climate scientists are in it for the research grant money, when it’s actually the fossil fuel industry that's in it for payday big-time;  to the tune of trillions of dollars. And then there is the subject of this article; they claim that the media is not giving the vastly outnumbered (97% consensus) contrarian “scientists” a fair hearing and demand balanced coverage, when the fact is we never stop hearing from them through organs of the media.

In a way, the few who still genuinely reject the fundamental science behind global warming are only pawns in this global power play.

Marketing Doubt

Doubt is the prime tactic used by the climate denial PR machine, but exaggeration and extreme rhetoric is employed too, as exposed in the book Merchants of Doubt. The immense power and reach of the mass media has been the vehicle used to plant the seeds of doubt and make them flourish.

The media’s role is detailed in the book The Inquisition of Climate Science written by James Powell, who was an adviser to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush senior.  Quote from the book:

“Right-wing media like the Wall Street Journal and Fox News are guilty, but so are the Washington Post and the New York Times. The two decades long success of the industry of denial could not have happened without the complicity of the media”

It was written from an American perspective, but it applies equally to the mass media globally; such as Britain’s Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail and Australia’s Sun Herald and The Australian, as well as large sections of the TV and radio mass media.

It’s the “irresponsible” media where the problem lies. You don’t have to dig very deep to expose the connections between economic and political self-serving climate denialism and substantive sections of the mass media. Front groups are used as the linkage, but it’s not the intention here to delve into these connections, but to show the consequences of their complicity. Books already referenced and other sources comprehensively investigate the connections.  

Manufacturing Confusion

The populist media thrives on controversy and conspiracy theories, so the denialists and misinformers are ploughing fertile ground.  Tabloid newspapers and radio shock jocks, and even the general media, go forth and spread the denialist’s misinformation - scientific facts are irrelevant to them.

Media hacks or opportunists like Rush Limaugh, Alex Jones, Glenn Beck, Christopher Booker, James Delingpole, Alan Jones, and Andrew Bolt, to name some, are more than eager to spread the myths and deception being peddled by the likes of Christopher Monckton, Nigel Lawson, Fred Singer, Ian Plimer, Bob Carter  - and others. The “responsible” media must strenuously exercise its public responsibility and bring these myth spreaders under the piercing interrogation light now radiating from a blazing mountain of peer-reviewed literature and physical evidence.

Many prominent climate “skeptics” are serial denialists - from cigarettes to asbestos, and more. The responsible media should bring these denierholics to account - Libertarian "Think Tanks" are full of them.

The Ice Goeth

Fake skeptics manufacture myths at will, but these myths soon fall apart when the scientific blowtorch is applied – Skeptical Science is continually occupied with this task. But the transparency of these myopic myths shows the depth of desperation to deceive and delay.

One of the things they are desperate to pretend is a mirage is what’s happening to the planet’s ice  and, in particular, what’s happening in the Arctic. Just consider the following as a typical example of how blinded they are to reality:

The Arctic sea ice continues to melt at an alarming rate and the obvious trend is beyond any doubt. It plunged to a record summer low in 2007 of 4.13 million sq. kilometres. The whole of the last decade was below the average 1972-2008 trend line, with the last three years, 2008, 2009 and 2010 being almost as low as 2007. Last year (2011) set a new minimum ice area record.

But even more alarming is the record plunge in the sea ice’s volume, from 16.8 thousand cubic kilometers 32 years ago to 4.3 thousand cubic kilometers last Arctic summer. 2010 had by far the steepest decline in ice volume, and 2011 was even lower.  Climate models had predicted this level of ice loss would not be reached till around 2040, so scientists are working hard to explain the 30 year difference.

But US media celebrity "weather" forecaster and Fox News contributor, Joe Bastardi, looked into his crystal ball in late 2010 and stated:

“My forecast for next year (2011) is for sea ice to melt only to levels we saw back in 2005, or 06 (5.5 million sq. kilometers)...The ice is coming back”.

Christopher Monckton is on the public record as saying:

“So we’re not looking at a long-term systematic loss of ice in the Arctic”

Despite the bleeding obvious, he has only recently been forced to modify this myth - not by the media but by a private citizen.

Exploiting Fatal Flaws

Over the past three decades, what has changed are the projections from the peer-reviewed science and each new IPCC report that has progressively worsened as the data and evidence has worsened. But the denialists and misinformers, and their media allies, exploit flaws in human behaviour.

Their myths capitalise on the human weaknesses of complacency and desensitization to non-immediate threats because humans have a short attention span. The public readily forget the sheer magnitude of the consequences of even a few degrees rise in global temperatures. 

Debate Ends - Reality Starts

Climate denialist mythology has no basis in fact, but it is used to continually smear the science and the scientists.  Fake skeptics are prepared to say anything to defend their untenable position when compared to what the science shows are the facts behind the changing global climate.

For three decades, aided and abetted by the mass media, political and economic interests and ideologies have overridden the established science. But what’s becoming ever-more certain is; in a further three decades time we will not be debating climate change – we will be in the middle of it.

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Comments 1 to 32:

  1. TYPO: Linked article s.b. "How to assess evidence ..."
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    [dana1981] Corrected, thanks.

  2. Nice to see some recognition of some legitimate Skeptics.Eran Segev and The Australian Skeptics do some really good work.
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  3. tmac57 – The Young Australian Skeptics are doing some really good work too. They carried this review of John Cook and Haydn Washington’s book
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  4. Given the media bias and the fact that I am not a scientist of any flavour (my career was computer programming), I am surprised that I ended up as, I hope, a true sceptic. The processes by which people like me come to understand the science, in spite of the smoke and mirrors, might be interesting to investigate. I guess I have always been truly sceptical of advertising, therefore of much in the commercial MSM, making it easier for me to say 'show me the data'. It also might have something to do with my training in analysis, in that I like to start with the data when framing a software design. OTOH, it might just be chance.
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  5. A transcript of the podcast can be found by following the link to the ABC at the podcast site.
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  6. I don't particularly like fake skeptics. They are far to ready to believe the latest "paper" which shows that something (anything) other than CO2 causes the warming (that they deny anyway). However, there are people who accept AGW, who will happily believe any rubbish that says we are ruining the environment, no matter how unlikely. I like this web site because the commenters here are happy to pull up their own when they think their claims are unsubstantiated. Keep up the good work.
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  7. "too reality" -> "to reality"
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  8. I have no desire to silence the false skeptics by means of legal instruments. But surely there has to be a limit to how far they are allowed to promulgate myths that have been debunked in serious peer reviewed journals. Surely there should be a moratorium on such activity until the debunking is shown to be itself debunked (if it ever is, of course). I know that this is simplistic and I am only advancing as a thought starter. One thing I do know is that people who are in a position to influence public opinion and do so against the received wisdom, despite being scientifically illerate on a subject, are endangering the lives of a great many people, and deliberately so. One is tempted to wonder whether these people should face a charge of committing a crime against humanity. I certainly do not think that their simply saying: "Oops!" is going to cut it when the public eventually catches up with the science and can see how they have been deceived. (Wouldn't it be nice for certain mishief makers to be stripped of their peerages?)
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  9. It mystifies me that media that would crucify a politician, bureaucrat or regular citizen for being economical with the truth can turn a blind eye and publish the most outrageous lies about science. I guess it suits them, they are captive to the money trail as much as any of the skeptics.
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  10. Kiwiiano - To answer your question, this is what the late Stephen Schneider, a great science communicator, said the article’s link “attack climate scientists”. “I’m pretty damn angry that media companies are putting profits ahead of truth. The media are deeply broken… That’s a real threat to democracy.”
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  11. @Brian Purdue: Kuddos on an excellent article. One issue that you did not explicitly deal with is the power of the fossil fuel industry to affect how the mass media deals with climate change by virtue of purchasing megabucks worth of advertising. Perhaps a follow-up article is in order.
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  12. @Doug H "...I am surprised that I ended up as, I hope, a true sceptic... It also might have something to do with my training in analysis, in that I like to start with the data when framing a software design. OTOH, it might just be chance." Programming computers since 1974, and a skeptic of the Randi school for at least 10 years. No, it's not chance, and it has a name: it's called "critical thinking".
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  13. Great article. When discussing the UK media, the leading denialist organ is the Daily Express - worse even than the Daily Mail. The Express ran the infamous headline "100 reasons why climate change is natural" at the time of the Copenhagen conference. I suspect that getting 100 falsehoods into a cover story is probably a world record for any newspaper. In Britain there is currently a far-reaching enquiry going on into the misbehaviour of the media, but sadly it isn't covering climate denialism. The more enlightened press does its best (see below), but needs go after these people with the same doggedness it went after illegal phone hacking by journalists (which triggered the enquiry). Then we might get somewhere. On the plus side, a recent Guardian article brings the influence of money on US politics into the open, including the following quote. "The Chamber of Commerce spent more money on the 2010 elections than the Republican and Democratic National Committees combined, and 94% of those dollars went to climate-change deniers. "
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  14. As a true skeptic, here's the way I see it; Fact: Big oil stands to lose big money if people are forced to move away from carbon. Fact: (-snipClimate scientists stand to lose their research grants if the increase in temperature proves to be a natural variation-). As a skeptic, I tend to distrust data that has been manipulated or if you prefer to, you can call it "adjusted". A lot of controversy stems from how the data was adjusted. Obtaining the raw data isn't all that easy and from what I understand, the scientists doing the adjusting are keeping the algorithms a closely guarded secret. One of the first things I was taught about computers was GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out). I'm concerned that what's coming out of scientist's computers is as worthless as the manipulated data that's going in. The time scale being used is something that also bothers me. A lot of the graphs being presented are of the 1970-2000 timescale which coincides with the Pacific Ocean being in the warm phase. Is a 30 year time scale really sufficient to draw definitive conclusions? Recent articles seem to point to global warming taking a break. If the planet's natural variability can over-ride the apparent induced warming by CO2 emissions, then is CO2 warming really that much of a problem? In 1970, scientists of the day were saying that the planet was heading into an ice age. Clearly they were wrong. I want to know what makes scientists today right, when the only thing they have is computer models. As far as I'm concerned; predictions, prophecies, crystal balls and tarot cards all fall into the same basket. I want cold hard facts... and unfortunately, a computer model "prediction" based on adjusted data doesn't qualify. I don't like the alarmists attitude that either you believe the AGW theory, or you're some kind of demon. Being a skeptic simply means that I'm not yet convinced.
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    [DB] As Tom Curtis has quite rightlyfully pointed out, your comment is little more than an unsubstantiated Gish Gallop.  Please apprise yourself of this site's Comments Policy before posting further here. 

    Furthermore, please utilize the Search function in the upper left of every page at SkS & post your comments on the most appropriate thread.  Subsequent off-topic comments such as this one will be simply deleted.

    Imputation of impropriety and fraud snipped.

  15. skeptikal: If you're stating nonsense such as this - In 1970, scientists of the day were saying that the planet was heading into an ice age. Clearly they were wrong. I want to know what makes scientists today right, when the only thing they have is computer models. - or this - Recent articles seem to point to global warming taking a break. If the planet's natural variability can over-ride the apparent induced warming by CO2 emissions, then is CO2 warming really that much of a problem? - then you are not, in any meaningful fashion, a skeptic in the contemporary sense.
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  16. (un)skeptikal @14, what you have just produced is called a Gish Gallop. It is the typical marker of the very unskeptical AGW deniers that frequently visit site, post their Gish Gallop and then disappear when they find out that reasonable standards of rational discourse are actually required here (see the comment policy). The purpose of the Gish Gallop is to "... drowning the opponent in such a torrent of half-truths, lies, and straw-man arguments that the opponent cannot possibly answer every falsehood that has been raised." Well, consider me drowned. I do not have time to respond to all the half truths and full false hoods you have spewed forth. I will, however, address two. You claim that "Climate scientists stand to lose their research grants if the increase in temperature proves to be a natural variation." Well, possibly, but as most of the well respected Climate Scientists have tenure, that would make no appreciable difference to their income. More importantly, of the many careers in science, Climate Science is one of the least attractive in terms of financial gain. Much better to go into chemistry, or medicine where there is the potential of a big payoff from patentable discoveries. Or better yet, become a geologist specializing in oil, where the salaries are better and a successful career will lead to paid positions on the boards of mining companies. That gives you the prospect of being a muli-millionaire like Ian Plimer. The fact that any person has chosen to be a climate scientist therefore means that person has chosen the pursuit of knowledge over the pursuit of income as a primary motivator in their life. In contrast, choosing a career in fossil fuels shows that you have made the reverse choice. So don't try setting up your false equivalencies here. We are not that gullible. You also claim, "I tend to distrust data that has been manipulated ...". Well, I have bad news for you. All data is "manipulated". We cannot measure temperature directly. Instead we measure a distance, specifically the expansion of a metal (mercury) in a glass tube, and then convert that into a temperature scale. Granted the thermometers we use have the distance scale marked as degrees for our convenience, but it is still a conversion of a distance measurement into a temperature measurement, and hence a "manipulation". The case is even worse for satellite temperature measurements, which take a measure of electrical current induced by microwaves, and after some manipulation produce a measure of radiation intensity, which is then, with further manipulation turned into a measure of temperature. Spencer and Christy do not get the credit they deserve among fake AGW skeptics for the level of mathematical sophistication (ie, manipulation) involved in their product. Yet the same fake skeptics who claim that they do not trust manipulated data prefer the far more manipulated UAH temperature product to the very minimally manipulated HadCRU surface temperature product (or the slightly more manipulated, but more accurate GISTEMP product). Finaly, in the very unlikely case that you are not a fake skeptic, but merely gullible and misinformed, instead of posting screeds at your first appearance, read the various articles here at SkS and post specific and relevant questions at those articles where you have further questions. But if you are going to instead quack like a fake skeptic duck, remember it's always duck hunting season here at Skeptical Science.
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  17. skeptikal#14: "Recent articles seem to point to global warming taking a break." This is a science site; unless you are willing to state which specific articles you refer to, your statement is unsubstantiated and therefore merely your opinion. If you seek credibility as a 'skeptik,' you must act the part. For factual analysis, see this discussion of Foster and Rahmstorf 2011. Global warming has not taken a break: the rate of global warming due to other factors (most likely these are exclusively anthropogenic) has been remarkably steady during the 32 years from 1979 through 2010.
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  18. muoncounter@17,,1518,662092,00.html "At present, however, the warming is taking a break," confirms meteorologist Mojib Latif of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences in the northern German city of Kiel. Latif, one of Germany's best-known climatologists, says that the temperature curve has reached a plateau. "There can be no argument about that," he says. "We have to face that fact."
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  19. Is that what you call a "recent article", skeptikal : one from over two years ago ? Do you have anything more recent ? Did you also read some of the other statements in that article from Latif, including these : "We have to explain to the public that greenhouse gases will not cause temperatures to keep rising from one record temperature to the next, but that they are still subject to natural fluctuations" "In reality, phases of stagnation or even cooling are completely normal." Does that make things clearer ?
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  20. skeptikal#18: A quote illustrating a rather premature conclusion based on a statistically insignificant period of time. Your prior comment expressed doubt based on 30 years being too short a time period; you now make a conclusion based on just a few 'recent years'? If one claims to be skeptical, one must not be so selective. But here is Rahmstorf in the same article: "Warming has continued in the last few years," says Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). Note that this was written in 2009. Subsequent events included one of the warmest years on record (2010) and the warmest la Nina year on record (2011): source It would appear that Rahmstorf was correct.
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  21. skeptikal, see the Skeptical Science argument "Ice age predicted in the 70s."
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  22. skeptikal, you are wrong that it is hard to get the raw data and that the algorithms are closely guarded secrets. Really, really wrong. Links to all those are here among other places: Tamino's Climate Data Links; look in the comments on that page for even more links. RealClimate's Data Sources page of links.
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  23. skeptikal: "In 1970, scientists of the day were saying ... I want to know what makes scientists today right, when the only thing they have is computer models." One thing that gives us greater confidence in what we say today over what may have been said forty years ago is an additional 40 years of observations. Much has changed in those 40 years: satellites, computers, worldwide monitoring of GHGs, etc. So to posit that 'they only have computer models' is nonsense. They have lots more data to work with - and more data allows lower uncertainty. Then there is the undeniable fact that the global warming signal was barely emergent in the 70s, but may well be in full swing now. You should investigate the parable of the frog in a pot of water. While you investigate, be sure to read the SkS posts that explicitly address your need to be 'convinced.'
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  24. Naomi Oreskes has an interesting Op-Ed piece in the Los Angeles Times. She likens Climate Science to a trial and the scientists to the jury. The first two comments were deniers.
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  25. Tom Dayton & muoncounter, thanks for taking me seriously. Tom, there's quite a lot of links on Tamino's Climate Data Links page you gave me. Should keep me busy for a while. muoncounter, thanks for encouraging me to read the SkS posts that explicitly address my need to be convinced, but I've already been labelled a fake and don't feel all that comfortable here. Does anyone know what I have to do to cancel my membership?
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  26. skeptikal, you will find that the tones and assumptions you make in your comments tend to get reflected in the tones of the responses. Re-read your original comment for its tone and assumptions, then re-read the immediate responses to that comment for their tones. Then re-read your subsequent comment for its improved tone and assumptions, and note the consequent improvement in the tones of the responses. It is typical for commenters new to Skeptical Science to adopt a combative, assumptive, and scattershot approach that is typical on other sites that have looser commenting policies. The typical result is what you experienced initially. It is also not unusual for such commenters to finally read the comments policy carefully, including the requirement to stick narrowly to the topic of the particular post you are commenting on, and to use the Arguments list (hover over the Arguments link in the horizontal bar at the top of the page to see alternative presentations), and the Search function to find the appropriate thread, read that original post first, and only then comment. Especially helpful is to click on the Newcomers and Big Picture buttons at the top of the home page and follow the suggestions there. When commenters then adapt their approach accordingly, they have a much improved experience. I believe "Eric (skeptic)" had that experience; he seems to enjoy most of his interactions here and his contributions are appreciated by other commenters, authors, and moderators despite his definite planting of at least one foot in the skeptic camp. (Caveat: He seems to be more of a true skeptic than a denier, which is a big help.) Eric should correct me if I have misrepresented his experience.
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  27. I think the comment in 26 should be appended to the comments policy or displayed in the user registration page...
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  28. Skeptikal, the fact that you bought into the myth that scientists were predicting an ice-age in the 70s clearly indicate that you are lacking on the skepticism front. Yet you adorn yourself with that screen name. What did you expect? There is no shortage of ways for you to prove that you are not a fake, if you truly are not one.
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  29. michael sweet@24 The comments section of that Op-Ed is one of the saddest things I have ever read. There is a desperate need for some actual facts over there, but I doubt that the commenters are interested anything but talking points.
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  30. The Op-Ed that pbjamm referred to is: “The verdict is in on climate change” by Naomi Oreskes published by the LA Time on January 22, 2012. The sub-title of Oreskes throught provoking article is: “When it comes to climate change, open-mindedness is the wrong approach.”
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  31. skeptikal #25, you'll find people here are entirely welcoming to enquiring minds, but tend to react sensitiviely to those parroting tired old myths such as the claim that we only think it's happening because of models. In reality our understanding is based on a wealth of direct empirical evidence of a human fingerprint on the global warming signal - note particularly the reduction in heat escaping to space and more heat returning to Earth at GHG-specific wavelengths. This evidence is right in line with over a century of predictions based on the physical properties of CO2, and right in line with a wealth of palaeoclimatic evidence demonstrating that CO2 is the biggest control knob on climate (I'd hugely recommend watching this Richard Alley presentation - the speaker is perhaps the Republican most worth listening to in the world!). As others have said, data adjustment, which you put such a negative spin on, happens necessarily all the time. It is not done arbitrarily, and is always documented and justified. It is crucial to extract meaningful information from indirect sources, be they thermometers, sea floor sediments, or electromagnetic radiation; it is also crucial if you want to bring together multiple data sources, say thermometers at different elevations and so on, if you want a meaningful combined record. Genuine scepticism is a valued trait (every good scientist is fiercely sceptical of both their own work and others, however good the work is), but please provide evidence for your sceptical views on climate. Be sceptical not only of information that is in conflict with your worldview, but also be sceptical of information that agrees with your worldview.
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  32. Skeptikal It would appear the article struck a raw nerve with you. That’s good because its intention was to do exactly that - by exposing the difference between skepticism and denial. Your comments break most of the rules that true skeptics apply like “Experts do know more” and “Trust the scientific method”. And you were even kind enough to include the denialist’s myth about the scientific consensus in the 1970s being that the world was heading for another ice age. It certainly was the consensus in the media and your acceptance of it still is testament to massive power wheeled by the mass media - as pointed out in the article. You look to me to be one of the many hiding behind the facade of skepticism.
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