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One Nation's Malcolm Roberts is in denial about the facts of climate change

Posted on 5 August 2016 by John Cook

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.The Conversation

The notion that climate science denial is no longer a part of Australian politics was swept away yesterday by One Nation Senator-Elect Malcolm Roberts.

In his inaugural press conference, Roberts claimed that “[t]here’s not one piece of empirical evidence anywhere, anywhere, showing that humans cause, through CO? production, climate change”.

He also promoted conspiracy theories that the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology are corrupt accomplices in climate conspiracy driven by the United Nations.

His claims conflict with many independent lines of evidence for human-caused global warming. Coincidentally, the University of Queensland is releasing a free online course this month examining the psychology and techniques of climate science denial. The very first video lecture addresses Roberts’ central claim, summarising the empirical evidence that humans are causing climate change.

Consensus of Evidence (from Denial101x course)

Scientists have observed various human fingerprints in recent climate change, documented in many peer-reviewed scientific papers.

Satellites measure less heat escaping to space at the exact wavelengths at which CO? absorbs energy. The upper atmosphere is cooling at the same time that the lower atmosphere is warming – a distinct pattern unique to greenhouse warming. Human activity is also changing the very structure of the atmosphere.

Human fingerprints in climate change Skeptical Science

Not only do these unique fingerprints confirm humanity’s role in recent climate change, they also rule out other potential natural contributors. If the Sun caused global warming, we would expect to see days warming faster than nights, and summers warming faster than winters.

Instead we observe the opposite: nights are warming faster than days, and winters are warming faster than summers, which is a greenhouse pattern predicted by John Tyndall as long ago as 1859.

Similarly, if global warming were caused by internal variability, we would expect to see heat shuffling around the climate system with no net build-up. Instead, scientists observe our climate system accumulating heat at a rate of more than four atomic bombs per second.

Climate patterns confirm human causation and rule out natural causes: Skeptical Science

Our scientific understanding grows stronger when many independent lines of evidence all point to a single, consistent conclusion. In the case of climate change, the “consensus of evidence” has led 97% of climate scientists to agree that humans are causing global warming.

The scientific consensus on climate change has also been endorsed by many scientific organisations all over the world, including the national science academies of 80 countries.

National Academies of Science endorsing human-caused global warming Skeptical Science

Is it a conspiracy?

How does one dismiss a global scientific consensus built on a robust body of empirical evidence?

There are five characteristics of science denial. These common traits are seen when people reject climate science, the benefits of vaccination, or the research linking smoking to cancer.

The techniques of denial are: fake experts; logical fallacies; impossible expectations; cherrypicking; and conspiracy theories. This is summarised in the acronym FLICC.

The five characteristics of science denial (from Denial101x course)

Climate science denial and conspiratorial thinking are often found together. A well-known example is that of Donald Trump, who has dismissed climate change by blaming it on a Chinese conspiracy.

Several studies have linked climate science denial and conspiratorial thinking. If a person disagrees with a global scientific consensus, they’ll typically believe that the scientists are all engaging in a conspiracy to deceive them.

Malcolm Roberts’ conspiracy theories have been well documented and were once again on offer in yesterday’s speech. He espouses a conspiracy that encompasses the CSIRO, Bureau of Meteorology, international banking families, the United Nations and Al Gore.

Unfortunately, I am not optimistic that the evidence for human-caused global warming will persuade Malcolm Roberts. The scientific evidence from psychology tells us that scientific evidence is largely ineffective on those who dismiss climate science with conspiracy theories.

My own research found that communicating the science of climate change to those who exhibit conspiratorial thinking can even be counterproductive, activating their distrust of scientists and strengthening their denial of the evidence.

Furthermore, conspiratorial thinking is self-sealing. When conspiracy theorists are presented evidence that there is no conspiracy, they often respond by broadening the conspiracy to include that evidence. In other words, they interpret evidence against a conspiracy as evidence for the conspiracy.

Our course on climate science denial will be much more useful to those who are open to scientific evidence and curious about the research into the causes and impacts of climate change and the psychology of climate science denial.

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Comments 1 to 21:

  1. One mioght think that preference voting system in AUS (the most complex in the world) in all its preference flow rules, gives fair outcome.

    Then, he's the outcome of senate election in QLD involving Roberts:

    A One Nation Senator Got Elected With Just 77 Personal Votes

    IMO, it's a farcical outcome, that just 77 votes for Roberts (probably only by his fellow members of so called "Galileo" movement - a marginal, flat-earth society type science denial group that we used to debunk here but don't bother anymore) resulted in Robetrs now representing 4.6m strong population in the parliament.

    Roberts is unfit for that role not only because he denies basic science but also he denies basic rules of the society he lives in

    One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts wrote bizarre 'sovereign citizen' letter to Julia Gillard


    How can a person with any integrity run (and succeed!) for the tax funded public office, while not wanting to be part of this very taxable society? That's simply a self-contradiction. I call such outcome farcical, that the voting system trying to be as democratic as possible resulted in such absurd outcome. That proves the senate voting system in AUS needs improvement to avoid such outcome in the future.

    The fact that the founder of so called "Galileo" movement got elected to the senate is more bizzare IMO, than the candidacy of Trump to US president. Although Roberts is less likely to do the damage to the society he represents (let's hope reasonable people will effectively silence him) than would-be trump-president would do.

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  2. This webite is the voice of reason. Greenhouse fingerprints were the one thing more than anything else, that convinced me we are warming the climate.

    This message needs wider public dissemination somehow. It shifts the debate away from endless arguments about hockeysticks and cosmic rays etc. Its something the wider public would generally grasp.

    But I want to echo the comments by Chriskoz. How do these people even get elected? The trouble is politics is a "profession" open to anyone, and is sometimes persued by very uneducated people, or fanatics with ideological agendas.

    Of course many politicians mean well and are nice people, but its the fanatics that get attention and sadly sometimes have influence. I don't know what we do, because democracy demands the political system be open and I generally support this. Sometimes democracy is its own worst enemy.

    I imagine nothing will convince Malcolm Roberts, or he will soon forget, or is probably so invested in his particular world view he will be very reluctant to change. But we must still try to convince these people. I remain an optimist.

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  3. One of the things that always strikes me is the stridency and intensity of much climate denial. At the same time, it seems largely limited to the Anglo-Saxon cultural sphere. In many other areas of the world (notably continental Europe) there is no such counter point. Shell in the Netherlands wouldn't dream of contradicting the science in public statements. There are a lot of people that think/hope that it isn't all that serious to varying degrees, but few who think climate science is made up.

    Perhaps the paid disinformation campaigns and media ownership play a large role in this strange Anglo anomaly, but such a suggestion risks charges of conspiratorial thinking — the problem is that a lot of plots, racketeering, conspiracy, politics, alliances, etc., do in fact take place.

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  4. chriskoz @1, while it is a travesty that Malcolm Roberts got elected, it is not a travesty related to Australia's electoral system (which is one of the best in the world, and far superior to those of the US or Britain).  Pointing to his 77 personal first preference votes in no way makes it so.  The full statistics are that One Nation recieved 229,056 first preference votes above the line.  Pauline Hanson, who had the number one position for One Nation in Queensland recieved a further 20,927 which would have likely gont to Roberts had he been in the number one position on the ticket.  Combined, One Nation recieved 9.1% of the first preference vote.  With 12 Senators elected, that represents 1.1941 quotas, so the real question is how did Roberts get elected with just 19.4% of a quota in first preference votes (after the quota for Pauline Hanson's election was removed); and the answer is from second or later preferences from people who voted for the various other racist, anti-science and irrational parties that sort election.

    The failure in democracy here is not from the electoral system, but from the media which gave One Nation no serious critical scrutiny; and which gives climate science denial and racism no serious critical scrutiny (often being biased in favour of the former, and in noteworthy case, in favour of the later).  It is also represents a failure of the education system which has failed to teach critical thinking and basic statistics to over 20% of the Queensland population.  Finally, it represents a failure of the politicians of the established parties who have resorted to cheap untruths and half truths rather than having the courage to clearly articulate the reasons behind their policies; and who have refused time and again to make appropriate stands on principle (as for instance, against Australia's asylum seaker detention scheme).

    Far better to have an electoral system where such fringe parties get into parliament in low numbers where they typically implode, and where their views can be directly adressed and criticized than to allow large groups in the population to become so disenchanted with government and government policy that we have a situation such as in the US (Trump), Phillipines (Duarte), of Britain (Brexit) where irrational or worse candidates or policies can become mainstream.

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  5. That was an interesting typo, Tom, or was it a Freudian slip?!  "parties sort election".  It took me a while to realize you meant "parties sought election", not that they "had the election sorted"!  Never mind, we're all guilty of such slips from time to time — but sometimes they're especially intriguing.

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  6. Digby @5, while I can interpret it as an inadvertent pun (given that elections sort parties), I am not sure how it makes sense as a Freudian slip.  I wouldn't read too much into it in either event, given that I am a haphazard speller at best. 

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  7. Tom@4,

    and which [the media] gives climate science denial and racism no serious critical scrutiny (often being biased in favour of the former, and in noteworthy case, in favour of the later)

    [my emphasis]

    Can you please point that case? I've seen many cases of climate denial favourism in AUS media but not rasism. I think all major media here have commented unfavourably on Hansesn's racism be her party still recieved as big support as you describe. I think media did not fail in this case. If they only have been denouncing Robets as "Galileo" leader as widely as they did with Hansen's rasism, he would not have been elected, for sure.

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  8. JWRebel,

    I have previously noted what you point out - it is only in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and possibly New Zealand that Magical Thinking took root in the mainstream of political life. In the UK, neither Scotland nor Northern Ireland voted for Brexit .

    While I would not tout the Celtic nations as models of brilliant governance, there does seem to be harder and more practical edge to decision making that is clouded in other English-speaking countries by deniers and ideologues who have somehow got a grip on parts of political life.

    I trace it to the Reagan-Thatcher years and the installation of a "free market" ideology at the heart of political life. Now, I am as pro-free-market as most people, but not as an ideological fetish. But it is a fetish that greatly assists those already in positions of power.

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  9. I am curious as to the effectiveness of the assertion, a factual one, that global warming and consequent climate change fall out of the well established 19th physics of the greenhouse effect. That CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuel would raise global temperature was correctly predicted by Arrhenius in 1896!


    Frank Johnston

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  10. I understand more than half of Roberts' votes came from preferences for excluded parties.

    One Nation had 4 senators voted in, though one is up for sentencing for larceny, and so may not be eligible to sit in the senate.

    Nevertheless, One Nation may sometimes hold the balance of power in the senate, depending on how other parties align on different issues.

    Could be an opportunity for Australians in general to become more familiar with Roberts' climate denial and conspiracy ideas. That may be a good thing.

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  11. fpjohn @9.

    I'm not sure what exactly it is whetting your curiosity but the paper - Arrhenius (1896) - can be read. Note that he overestimates climate sensitivity any his oppo Arvid Högbom doesn't consider the spread of industrialisation and thus the effect of large increases in CO2 emissions that we have witnessed since 1896.

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  12. chriskoz @7, to be honest, what I originally meant has so slipped my mind that do not know whether the noteworthy cases were cases of media organizations that provide tacit support for racism, or examples of racism that the media go lightly on.  An example of the former would now have to include the Australian, whose publications and defence of Bill Leaks racist cartoons would have have to count (although the Australian has typically been very good on most forms of racism), and various radio shock jocks have been consistently far worse.  

    An example of the later would be the wide spread media support of the overtly racist state of Israel, whose immigration laws set a race bar on citizenship (ie, that you must be Jewish, although that is made slightly fuzzy by examples of people who are Jewish by religion only).  A clear case of the racism of Israel is indicated by the justification of Israels existence as the original homeland of the Jews, reinforced by the Law of Return which in effect indicates that anyone proving that their ancestors where Jews, and hence inhabitants of Palestine some 67 generations ago, are given a legal right to immigrate to Israel and become Jewish citizens coupled with the refusal to allow return of Palestinian refugees who were displaced (or whose ancestors within two generations were displaced) from  Israeli claimed lands within the last 70 years.

    I may even have had in mind Pauline Hanson, for while media condemnations of her racism are widespread, cricical discussion of why her and her parties policies are racist have been lacking.  This is similar to reporting of Robert's views on climate, where they are reported at face value without being torn to shreds (as they so easilly can be).  This false balance approach when applied to racism has allowed the cancer to spread, or at least become more virulent in Australia since Pauline Hanson's first arrival on the national stage.

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  13. Tom Curtis @ 4

    Agee entirely.

    Couple of points. Australia appears to have the STV system of proportional representation, and this seems the best option to me.  I live in New Zealand, and we have MMP. We adopted this system partly as it was felt that STV was too "complex" for people to understand, Im embarrassed to say. MMP is a reasonable system but can give a lot of power to extremely small minorities, and creates other difficulties of numerous very small parties.

    You promoted better "critical thinking" being taught at school. I would agree, and have always thought the same. I would add have some actual courses in logic, and also more on basic economics and investment.

    I have often wondered why our own education system still doesn't do these things very well, and have concluded the "governing elite" dont want too many people becoming too smart. Maybe I'm too cynical.

    However the end result could backfire on everybody. Ignorance is never bliss in the longer term.

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  14. JWRebel @3, shoyemore @8

    Since learning that it was Exxon that set in motion the campaign against climate action, perforce in the English language, I have wondered if this is not the reason for the preponderance of climate-change deniers in the "Anglo-Saxon sphere".

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  15. Why is climate change scepticism more prevalent in America and England than other countries? I think this is because these are the self appointed bastions of free markets, capitalism, and so called individual liberty. In other words people should be free to do whatever they like, including polluting the atmosphere, free from government constraints, or any constraints are to be incredibly minimal. 

    So anyone who produces any science that suggests otherwise, is viewed as an enemy of free markets. 

    This is the simplest explanation. Maybe Exonn is a factor as well, but they are basically reinforcing the free market obsession).

    Don't get me wrong, I generally support capitalism and free markets, provided it doesnt become extreme and damaging to the public good. And I dont suggest everyone thinks exactly like my description above, but enough do to explain the difference in views between countries.

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  16. The denial of such things as the human influence of climate is the result of a complex combination of attitudes towards government, captialism, science, etc. The same psychology influences people's approach to many things in life.

    I suggest reading Bob Altemeyer's The Authoritarians. Based on his career of researching such attitudes, it provides a very interesting insight into the situation. A long read, but at least go to the web page and see what he has to say about the book. The book and its supplement are free PDF downloads.

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  17. I have already read some commentary on the Authoritarians, and would go along with what the book is basically concluding. It looks well worth reading in detail. It's certainly relevant to climate change denialism.

    As the book notes America does have a group on the extreme right in the Tea Party that combines elements of christian fundamentalism, liberatarian free market economics (or those elements that happen to suit these people) and authoritarian leaning personality traits, along with social conservatism. I dont know how all this co-exists, but clearly it does. It's an unusual alliance in some ways.

    The interesting point from a climate change perspective is how this group are so impervious to reasoned argument and empirical evidence. This makes convincing them very difficult.

    However we need to remember this group are in the minority or outer extreme. Most humans are "somewhere in the middle" in terms of beliefs / world views. I believe personality traits and world views probably sit on a bell curve (normal distribution) and beliefs like authoritarianism and libertarianism and religious fundamentalism are towards the outer part of the bell curve. Most people are more amenable to reason and evidence, but can of course be influenced or mislead by the extremists.

    There may be an underlying factor with all these types of people making up the tea party or similar groups in that they "believe" certain moral or economic positions are fixed and absolute. Like Platos absolutes. They are uncomfortable with uncertainty and relativity where liberals are more comfortable with these things. Liberals are however not immune to fundamentals beliefs like "fairness" although this can be explained to some extent in reasoned terms.

    I have a lot of respect for many strong moral positions, but the hard reality is none of these things are fixed and few have any evidential proof of the rigour demanded by science. But some people hold these beliefs with absolute commitment and its hard for them to let go.

    Morals and beliefs and ideologies are basically human inventions, and lack scientific proof or rigour. Hence the tension between these different worlds. Often they are just little more than gut instincts or emotional reactions. There is a good book on this called "Sapiens, a brief history of humankind" by Yuval Harari.

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  18. We already asserted above that small and exteremist (and irrational) parties like One Nation tend to implode quickly. I'm pleased (if you allow me a bit of sarcasm) to find out, that it's arleary happening:

    New One Nation senator Rod Culleton arrested over larceny conviction

    That's going far off the topic of climate science. The only point I want to make, is that One Nation, to my disappointment, cannot lose its seat if Mr Culleton continues his troubles with the law (likely he will), they can just replace him with another, similar candidate.

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  19. Chriskoz @18, sorry do disappoint:

    WA One Nation senator Rod Culleton has larceny conviction annulled

    Of course, the drama is not yet over in that he also faces charges in WA.  It is, however, a storm in a teacup given that if he is not elected, his place will be taken by his brother in law for one nation, and if he is unable to serve as Senator, by Rod Culleton's wife - all of which are from One Nation.

    So, fiasco yes - but not yet an implosion.

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  20. Tom Curtis @19  I've just read a piece in The Guardian tht suggests Mr Culleton was ineligible at the time of declaration of the results which is without precedent and is probably not likely to be settled simply.  The URL is here

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  21. When confronted by the kind of nonsense that Malcolm Roberts asserts,  ("there’s not one piece of empirical evidence ... showing that humans cause, through CO₂ production, climate change”), simply ask, "Could you describe one piece of empirical evidence that you consider should be present (if humans are causing climate change via CO2 emissions) that you consider is not present?"

    Almost invariably, you will be met with silence.

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