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Climate Hustle

Skeptical Science honoured by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry

Posted on 16 October 2015 by John Cook

I’m honoured to be elected as one of ten new Fellows of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. It’s especially cool to be listed with some scientists whom I deeply admire such as Naomi Oreskes, Stephan Lewandowsky and James Powell.

One of the goals when I started Skeptical Science was to restore the good name of skepticism, whose reputation has been sullied by being associated with science denial. The Committee for Skeptical Inquirer have also worked hard to claim back the word skepticism, including the powerful article Deniers are not Skeptics written by a number of prominent skeptics, featuring Mark Boslough, Eugenie Scott, Richard Dawkins and Bill Nigh. They also published my article Taking Back Skepticism.

What to call those who reject mainstream climate science (to borrow the terminology of Associated Press) is a topic of hot debate. There are two key points to remember in this debate, which we emphasise in our free online course, Making Sense of Climate Science Denial.

Firstly, skepticism and denial are polar opposites. A genuine scientific skeptic first considers the full body of evidence then comes to a conclusion. A denialist comes to a conclusion first (usually influenced by ideology), then denies any science that conflicts with their position.

People who deny the scientific consensus on climate change are anything but skeptical. Consequently, it’s inappropriate and inaccurate to refer to them as “climate skeptics”. But how do you discern if someone is a genuine skeptic or a science denialist? A useful framework are the five characteristics of science denial (FLICC). When someone relies on fake experts, employs logical fallacies, demands impossible expectations, cherry picks the data or resorts to conspiracy theories, they are demonstrating the tell-tale traits of denial.

Secondly, some people shy away from identifying science denial as science denial. As the Associated Press articulates, this is largely because denialists get cranky when their behaviour is accurately identified. I would argue that refraining from accurate characterisation because we’re afraid of a few frowny faces on the Internet is not a sound guide to how to conduct ourselves.

Rather, I advocate an evidence-based approach to this issue. There is a growing body of scientific research into the phenomenon of science denial. Why do some people deny science? How do they do it? What do we do in response? If we are to reduce the influence of science denial, we need to answer these questions. And social scientists have been conducting empirical experiments investigating these very questions, and providing both insight and best-practices on how to respond to science denial.

Forbidding people from referring to science denial as science denial is actually ignoring or denying the scientific research into science denial. Which is kind of ironic, I think.

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Comments 1 to 11:

  1. "this is largely because denialists get cranky when their behaviour is accurately identified".

    "What to call those who reject mainstream climate science (to borrow the terminology of Associated Press) is a topic of hot debate"
    I have sometimes managed quite well with "rejecter" or "disbeliever". If I get away with that, I then follow up by describing them as indulging in unreasonable rejection of the science or unreasonable disbelief. For some reason this seems to go down better than the "d" word.

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  2. Congratulations! Well deserved recognition.

    It may be helpful to develop categories among the Deniers.

    Anyone choosing to not accept the developing best understanding of what is going on is a Denier.

    • When it can be clearly shown that a person is creating or spreading information contrary to the expansion or improvement of the best understanding of what is going on they could be called "Unhelpful".
    • And if it can be shown that they are deliberately acting contrary to fully informing the general population regarding what they actually do understand is going on they should be called "Harmful", because they are willfully, not accidentally or without awareness, behaving contrary to the improvement of understanding what is going on.
    • And if a "Harmful" actor is promoting expansion of, or trying to prolong, an understood to be damaging unsustainable activity then they should be called "Criminals".
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  3. It's so unfortunate that people feel the need to label other individuals. I admit to being Agnostic, because I have not yet seen any compelling argument for why we should be trying to stop a normal temperature increase of approximately 1°C between now and 2100. Anything  larger than that increase is probably only in the models themselves, not in any real likelihood based on science or history of climate.If that makes me a denialist, then so be it.

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  4. @fletch92131

    Please calrify what you meant by "... normal temperature increase ...". I am particularly interested in your explanation of your use of the label "normal".

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  5. @fletch92131

    Please clarify why you chose the label "agnostic". The label is defined in my old 1985 copy of the Concise Oxford Dictionary and on the current Oxford Dictionary web source as "a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God".

    That religious related label does not seem applicable to a 'scientific evaluation of observations' such as the rapid recent increase in CO2 in the atmosphere and the corresponding increase of the global average surface temperature consistent with the understanding of what would happen if the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere were to increase.

    I understand that Oxford lists skeptic as synonym for agnostic, but that is a label intended to be applied in the context of a skeptic of the existence of God.

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  6. Congratulations. This accolade is well deserved. The SkS site was and is a breath of fresh air in a country like Australia where the dialogue of Climate Change is dominated by the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), the likes of Ian Plimer and Bob Carter, the Mining Council of Australia, the conservative contrarians in the ruling Liberal National Party of Australia and the Murdoch Press. I can at least now say to those who have been influenced by their contrarian line to go to SkS and do a bit of extra reading.

    However, it is not all done and dusted. Even today, the Sunday Telegraph has run a column by Miranda Devine (one of the big three along with Andrew Bolt and Piers Ackerman) that extols the virtue of digging up fossil fuels to save poor people in poor countries, and that global warming is not happening and it is all a conspiracy. I am not sure how you overcome such an overwhelmingly one sided view in the popular media. Usually the contrian debate goes along political lines or merely pays lip service to perhaps there has been some mild warming but it isn't a problem. The only response you can make to such arguments is that the person needs to understand the science more and they need to do more research. Sks is an important reference for that reason.

    Unfortunately, there seems to be two types of contrarians. There is the doubter, who may well argue with you on a purely scientific level, which is Ok. They are just demonstrating the natural skepticism of science, so Sks is important in giving them extra information; AND then there is the doofus, the blind denier, who just doesn't want to know, totally ignores it all, just isn't able to understand the scientific arguments, thinks it is all political or thinks it is all some sort of greenie/socialist conspiracy. You can easily tell who they are. They will call you a "warmist" or a "carbonite" or something. Not sure that Sks is going to be helpful informing people like these. Those people wouldn't go to the Sks site anyway and are likely to use derogatory language to describe the site and the scientists who write for it. Matt Ridley did, when describing John Cooke's 97% Consensus project as being discredited, in his recent contrarian article in the June 2015 edition of "Quadrant", by using parts of the IPAs latest contarian publication "Climate Science - The Facts" to make his case.

    Anyway SkS and John Cooke, well done. Keep it up, even though I sometimes feel that some of the discussion in the threads becomes a bit too esoteric for the lay public to follow at times. Mind you, I do understand why this is. It is because Sks still has to maintain scientific integrity so it can remain a valuable resource in the continuing AGW CC debate.

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  7. fletch92131 @3, for myself, I am highly skeptical that an increase in Global Mean Surface Temperature (GMST) of 1 degree C in a century is "normal".  Indeed, Marcott et al (2013) show a 1000 possible temperature histories given uncertainties with regard to time and temperature across a range of proxies:

    In very few instances over periods of 100 years or less is there a gap of 1 degree C between the minimum and maximum value in any realization over that period - let alone the same one.  From this data, any centenial temperature increase greater than 0.66 C is a very low probability event.  That is, it is not normal.

    Suggestions to the contrary seem universally to be based on either proxies for single regions (such as GISP 2), or hemispheric or sub-hemispheric reconstructions.  That is, they are not based on global temperatures at all.  Often they are not even based on such misinterpreted evidence, but on mere anecdote.

    Yet here you are, apparently so confident in this unsupported claim that you are prepared to use it as a foundation for a "knock down argument" against AGW.

    That strongly suggests to me that you are a denier.  For what characterizes deniers is not what they disagree with, but with their employment of selective standards of evidence to support their claims.  In short, on their reliance on pseudoscience rather than science to reject scientific claims.

    By all means, if you have actual evidence that global means surfact temperatures normally vary by 1 C in a century, please present it.  Or alternatively, acknowledge your lack of evidence in support of your key premise, and withdraw your argument as unfounded.  But if you are unwilling to do either, then you merely demonstrate that the term "denier" applied to you is no insult, but mere description.

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  8. fletch92131,

    Since the NASA GISS data show that temperatures have already increased 1C since 1880, do you mean that another increase of 1C before 2100 is normal?  At current rates of increase (0.16C/decade), it will increase at least another 1C by 2100 (2C total, at least).  

    Since the increase in temperature is expected be faster in the future without serious action to reduce CO2 emissions, the actual increase could be a lot more.  Can you put an upper bound on what you would consider a "normal" increase in temperature?  Don't bother to look at Tom's data, it indicates that we would expect temperatures to be cooling due to natural causes.  

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  9. fletch92131: "Anything larger than that increase is probably only in the models themselves, not in any real likelihood based on science or history of climate."

    fletch92131's mistaken assertion clearly demonstrates the Dunning-Kruger effect, but doesn't reveal his underlying motivation for preferring his own ignorance to the lopsided consensus of working climate scientists.  A quick search for "fletch92131" led me to a blog with a single post titled Saving California.  The author makes his position clear at the outset:

    California IS the Worst-Run State in the Nation. Included in this assessment is the state's attempt to lead the nation/world in fighting what the state calls “Climate Change”, as if any person or entity (state or federal government) can control climate!...

    The explicit declaration of AGW-denial is tangential to the thrust of the post, which is that many functions of government should be performed by private, for-profit businesses. The author strongly approves of "efficiency", and while deploring subsidies for renewable energy, calls for California to increase its fossil-fuel production, dismissing both the cost of climate change that the FF industry has externalized, and the subsidies it receives.  He argues that internalizing climate change costs in the prices of fossil energy is regressive, citing the George C. Marshall Institute, the cold-war defense think tank.

    The blog site offers a brief biography of the author, which may also be of interest.

    It appears that fletch91231's AGW-denial is motivated by pro-market ideology. Presumably his ideological commitment won't allow him to acknowledge a problem that the "free" market can't solve, namely that of externality. That would fit the definition of term "denial" in the specialized vocabulary of Psychology,

    in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence.

    Since fletch91231 has accepted the denier label, I'll leave it at that.

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  10. @fletch92131 #3:

    1) Your "probably only in the models themselves" is incorrect unless you are basing it upon your assumption that no carbon will be burned from next year until 2100 (you didn't say). It certainly isn't "probably only in the models" for two independent reasons.

    1a) The ocean surface is currently 0.3 degrees cooler than it needs to become because it's been kicked hard the last 45 years and it needs up to 100 years to re-stabilize at its new higher steady temperature. So that's 0.9+0.3=1.2 degrees is to be the actual surface warming since ~1880 in 2100 if no carbon was burned from tomorrow until 2100. That's at the 54% of the known logarithmic effect for 560 ppmv atmospheric CO2 so if there is no additional heating from methane from permafrost melting, and no additional heating from dark land and sea being revealed to the Sun when there's less Arctic ice, and if the greenhouse effect from moister air that's kept this planet surface warmer for 600,000,000 years should just happen by utter luck to plateau at today's GMST and go flat, and if the industrial pollution that's seen blocking out the Sun in major cities in China and elsewhere actually doesn't block out the Sun at all (an optical illusion ?) or if future humans really like bronchitis and so increase industrial pollution, then it's to be a definite 1.2 * 46% / 54% = 1.0 degrees more warming by the year that atmospheric CO2 reaches 560 ppmv with an extra 0.3 degrees warming over the next 100 years if coal stops being burned cold-turkey at 560 ppmv. That's a lot of "ifs". It's essentially certain that all my preceding "ifs" are incorrect. How can dark land and sea not warm more than with ice and snow ? How can methane not be released from the permafrost that's definitely melting ? How can air pollution not block sunlight ? Should humans intentionally double or triple the air pollution to hold to your ridiculous +1.0 degrees ? Why did the warming effect of moister air that worked fine for 600,000,000 years stop working this century ?

    1b) A variety of analyses of paleoclimate over a variety of long periods indicates that the temperature change in degrees has been anywhere between 0.6x and 1.2x the TOA forcing in w/m**2 after the system has balanced. It is known by physics that the TOA forcing of doubling CO2 is 3.7 w/m**2 so that's a range of 2.2 to 4.4 degrees based on what has happened over long time scales in the past. Nothing whatsoever to do with computer simulation climate "models". The climate "models" show a similar range. The main purpose of climate "models" is to improve in the shorter term so that they can inform what will happen over a very short period such as a decade and perhaps even give some good insight into specific regional effects.

    2) Your comment is senseless and thus cannot be responded to by persons who actually think and analyze, because you've failed to state additional carbon burned quantity, which is the entire topic. We are obliged to assume that you've computed that GMST will increase by 1.0 degrees in 2100 if no carbon was burned from next year until 2100. Okay, not bad then. I think you might be a tad high with +1.0 degrees if no carbon was burned from next year until 2100. If no carbon was burned from next year until 2100 then it's +0.3 degrees ocean surface balance plus +0.4 degrees because the Chinese people get completely fed up with bronchitis and anyway solar, hydro, nuclear, wind, geothermal and tide powers make no smoke, plus some fraction of a degree for albedo change & methane feedbacks. Actually, you are just about correct. GMST will increase by 1.0 degrees in 2100 if no carbon was burned from next year until 2100. Good thinking.

    3) If GMST increases by 1.0 degrees by 2100 then this will be 0.9 (the current rise) + 1.0 = 1.9 degrees by 2100. This requires the oceans to warm by 1.3 degrees in order to keep up ( at which point the oceans would almost completely stop warming. This will take ~300 years. Ocean average temperature is now 3.2 degrees. When ocean average temperature is 4.5 degrees in ~300 years with your low-balled additional +1.0 degrees GMST by 2100 then it will be a vastly different (and vast) heat content in the oceans underpinning the surface climate.

    By 2200 with your low-balled value oceans will need to reach 5.4 degrees average temperature if carbon is still being burned at present rate. More still by 2300, more still by 2400, more still by 2500 and then the coal ruins out. So why do we care about climate in 2100 and have no interest in climate of 2110 ? What's the logic ? The point is that there's ~4,000 GtC (1,800 ppmv) burnable carbon, mostly coal, and how much do you think S.B. burned ? Give a number. So how much do you think S.B. burned and how much have you computed that will warm the oceans from their present 3.2 degrees and have you determined that your suggested cut-off point will not create a disaster for much of the existing mix of species ?

    Once the additional heat is in the oceans it cannot be removed on time scales less than tens of thousands of years. In the most recent example the oceans lost 3.5 degrees of temperature over 85,000 years (the last glaciation "ice age") and in order to do this it was necessary to hold GMST down as much as 6 degrees lower than today (so ~3 degrees average) for the 85,000 years and this caused ice sheets to cover the northern hemisphere pretty much all the way down to Spain. So, if future humans find that oceans averaging 2.2 degrees warmer than today create a disaster then how do they cool them in less than 85,000 years ? Do they intentionally create a quadruple-strength ice age for 20,000 years in order to undo the climate change ?

    The bottom line on the above is that ocean average temperature has been kept within ranges of small fractions of 1 degree over eye-blink time scales such as a couple of thousand years. This ocean heat change speed that's starting is going into uncharted territory.

    4) Re your confident science-based comment, please list details of your disagreement with scientists (as seen by me at IOS/DFO on Vancouver island) that river salmon would die out if river water temperature increased by 1.0 degrees on average.

    5) To your actual topic "It's so unfortunate that people feel the need to label other individuals" what are our choices when individuals are so lazy as to make trite comments that add nothing whatsoever to the discussion ? Do we assume that the person is pleasant but lazy ? The nicest assumption within our range of choices is that the individual is an intelligent shill (I suppose genius shill would be the utter nicest), one of the more apt of our species projecting its superiority. If the individual were to comment such as "I've seen a paper/blog/video talk/lecture/discussion by Dr. Cleverpants explaining clearly how TCR with 560 PPMV CO2 will be 0.8 to 1.2 degrees warmer than today (you can read it *here*) and it appears very comprehensive and sensible and I've found nothing indicating that'll cause much problem for present species including humans" then others of us could appreciate that individual is carefully pondering this and might be correct and warrants discussion (even if the response should be "Dr. Cleverpants is a known paid denier and his science has been debunked *here* and *here*") but fact is that "individuals" so rarely do that thing. Individuals do a lot more of providing unexplained non-facts without some explanation that could be pondered and refuted such as mine above, and with an air of false authority that smacks of denier or actual shill, don't they #3 ?

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] To all commentators. Please note the Comments Policy "No dogpiling" rule. We have had quite enough. Fletch92131 comment does not need more than 5 responders.

  11. @Me#10 I know that I have a mismatch between 1a) & 2) because I've intentionally omitted any feedbacks already started and underway in 1a) and I've included them in 2). Too much time spent on some analysis in response to a trite non-useful comment #3 above that must itself have consumed all of 10 seconds of the commenter's time.

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