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A climate 'Gish Gallop' of epic proportions

Posted on 25 March 2011 by John Cook

If there's one thing global warming skeptics like to do, it's recycle. But alas, not "good for the environment" type recycling.  Instead, they dig up old climate myths taken from the scrapheap of scientific history, sometimes debunked decades ago in the peer-reviewed literature. They dust them off and jettison them back into cyberspace. Another form of recycling is the adoption of misinformation techniques used in other areas of science. The tobacco industry mastered the merchandising of doubt - techniques that were readily adopted by climate skeptics.

Another misinformation technique originating from the creation/evolution debate is the "Gish Gallop", named after Duane Gish who in a debate spewed forth an endless torrent of talking points, rendering constructive debate impossible. You have to be crazy to attempt to answer all the points of a Gish Gallop. Crazy or Skeptical Science's own Dana "cyborg" Nuccitelli, who over just the last month tackled Gish Gallops from Lubos Motl, John Christy and Gregg Thompson.

A new Powerpoint originating in Australia, "Reconsidering Climate Change" (WARNING! 108 MB!), takes the Gish Gallop to new levels.  Over the past 4 years, we here at Skeptical Science have been gradually accumulating the many skeptic arguments that propagate through the blogosphere. Nearly all of these arguments have been singlehandedly crammed into a single Powerpoint presentation. I read most of the Powerpoint, dutifully noting all the arguments it raised, although I confess I wasn't able to get past the extended rant about how those convinced that humans were causing global warming were akin to Nazis. Sorry, but I have better things to do with my time than listen to that nonsense.

Nevertheless, the number of arguments used up to that point were extensive. Here is a list of them all as well as one-liner rebuttals (which link to much more detailed rebuttals, often featuring multiple levels of information):

Skeptic Arguments What the Science Says
"Climategate CRU emails suggest conspiracy" Several investigations have cleared scientists of any wrongdoing in the media-hyped email incident.
"It's freaking cold!" A local cold day has nothing to do with the long-term trend of increasing global temperatures.
"Record snowfall disproves global warming" Warming leads to increased evaporation and precipitation, which falls as increased snow in winter.
"There's no empirical evidence" There are multiple lines of direct observations that humans are causing global warming.
"CO2 limits will make little difference"

If every nation agrees to limit CO2 emissions, we can achieve significant cuts on a global scale.

"CO2 is not a pollutant" Excess CO2 emissions will lead to hotter conditions that will stress and even kill crops.
"CO2 was higher in the past" When CO2 was higher in the past, the sun was cooler.
"Breathing contributes to CO2 buildup" By breathing out, we are simply returning to the air the same CO2 that was there to begin with.
"Water vapor is the most powerful greenhouse gas" Rising CO2 increases atmospheric water vapor, which makes global warming much worse.
"Human CO2 is a tiny % of CO2 emissions" The natural cycle adds and removes CO2 to keep a balance; humans add extra CO2 without removing any.
"CO2 limits will harm the economy"

The benefits of a price on carbon outweigh the costs several times over.

"Greenhouse effect has been falsified" The greenhouse effect is standard physics and confirmed by observations.
"The IPCC consensus is phoney" Ironically, it's those who are mispresenting Hulme's paper that are the ones being misleading.
"Over 31,000 scientists signed the OISM Petition Project" The 'OISM petition' was signed by only a few climatologists.
"There is no consensus" 97% of climate experts agree humans are causing global warming.
"There's no tropospheric hot spot" We see a clear "short-term hot spot" - there's various evidence for a "long-term hot spot".
"Peer review process was corrupted" An Independent Review concluded that CRU's actions were normal and didn't threaten the integrity of peer review.
"The science isn't settled" That human CO2 is causing global warming is known with high certainty & confirmed by observations.
"CO2 has a short residence time" Excess CO2 from human emissions has a long residence time of over 100 years
"Hockey stick is broken" Recent studies agree that recent global temperatures are unprecedented in the last 1000 years.
"Medieval Warm Period was warmer" Globally averaged temperature now is higher than global temperature in medieval times.
"Greenland was green" Other parts of the earth got colder when Greenland got warmer.
"Climate's changed before" Climate reacts to whatever forces it to change at the time; humans are now the dominant forcing.
"It's a natural cycle" No known natural forcing fits the fingerprints of observed warming except anthropogenic greenhouse gases.
"It's the sun" In the last 35 years of global warming, sun and climate have been going in opposite directions
"2009-2010 winter saw record cold spells" A cold day in Chicago in winter has nothing to do with the trend of global warming.
"Record high snow cover was set in winter 2008/2009" Winter snow cover in 2008/2009 was average while the long-term trend in spring, summer, and annual snow cover is rapid decline.
"It's microsite influences" Microsite influences on temperature changes are minimal; good and bad sites show the same trend.
"It's Urban Heat Island effect" Urban and rural regions show the same warming trend.
"Scientists tried to 'hide the decline' in global temperature"

Phil Jones was quoted out of context, and nothing was hidden.

"Satellite error inflated Great Lakes temperatures" Temperature errors in the Great Lakes region are not used in any global temperature records.
"Dropped stations introduce warming bias" If the dropped stations had been kept, the temperature would actually be slightly higher.
"Trenberth can't account for the lack of warming" Trenberth is talking about the details of energy flow, not whether global warming is happening.
"2nd law of thermodynamics contradicts greenhouse theory" The 2nd law of thermodynamics is consistent with the greenhouse effect which is directly observed.
"Models are unreliable" Models successfully reproduce temperatures since 1900 globally, by land, in the air and the ocean.
"Temp record is unreliable" The warming trend is the same in rural and urban areas, measured by thermometers and satellites.
"They changed the name from global warming to climate change" 'Global warming' and 'climate change' mean different things and have both been used for decades.
"It hasn't warmed since 1998" For global records, 2010 is the hottest year on record, tied with 2005.
"CO2 lags temperature" CO2 didn't initiate warming from past ice ages but it did amplify the warming.
"It's cooling" The last decade 2000-2009 was the hottest on record.
"Mauna Loa is a volcano" The global trend is calculated from hundreds of CO2 measuring stations and confirmed by satellites.
"CO2 effect is saturated" Direct measurements find that rising CO2 is trapping more heat.
"CO2 effect is weak" The strong CO2 effect has been observed by many different measurements.
"There's no correlation between CO2 and temperature" There is long-term correlation between CO2 and global temperature; other effects are short-term.
"Phil Jones says no global warming since 1995" Phil Jones was misquoted.
"Solar Cycle Length proves its the sun" The sun has not warmed since 1970 and so cannot be driving global warming.
"Lindzen and Choi find low climate sensitivity" Lindzen and Choi’s paper is viewed as unacceptably flawed by other climate scientists.
"We're heading into an ice age" Worry about global warming impacts in the next 100 years, not an ice age in over 10,000 years.
"Volcanoes emit more CO2 than humans" Humans emit 100 times more CO2 than volcanoes.
"Sea level rise is exaggerated" A variety of different measurements find steadily rising sea levels over the past century.
"Sea level rise predictions are exaggerated" Sea level rise is now increasing faster than predicted due to unexpectedly rapid ice melting.
"Ocean acidification isn't serious"

Past history shows that when CO2 rises quickly, there was mass extinctions of coral reefs.

"Extreme weather isn't caused by global warming" Extreme weather events are being made more frequent and worse by global warming.
"Oceans are cooling" The most recent ocean measurements show consistent warming.
"Arctic sea ice has recovered" Thick arctic sea ice is in rapid retreat.
"Arctic icemelt is a natural cycle" Thick arctic sea ice is undergoing a rapid retreat.
"Antarctica is gaining ice" Satellites measure Antarctica losing land ice at an accelerating rate.
"Glaciers are growing" Most glaciers are retreating, posing a serious problem for millions who rely on glaciers for water.
"Hurricanes aren't linked to global warming" There is increasing evidence that hurricanes are getting stronger due to global warming.
"Renewables can't provide baseload power"

A combination of renewables supplemented with natural gas can provide baseload power.

One last note: the Powerpoint mentions Skeptical Science in the middle of the presentation, but unfortunately links to the wrong URL, However, as there are so many other errors to correct, I've registered and redirected it to One less error to correct!

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Comments 1 to 18:

  1. Oh dear. I've spent a while to convert the file into something a bit more web friendly and so far it's failed. This leads me to the conclusion that they're not really interested in passing their message to a wider audience. I would advise that you edit the post to advise that the pps file for download is over 100MB mind you, which is a ludicrous size for a presentation slide deck.
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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Done, thanks! It took over 3 hours just to pull the links out of the file.

  2. Just last night I had a discussion with my wife about the intractable nature of this ongoing (non-)debate with the deniers. It's bad enough that they collectively repeat the same long-ago debunked arguments ad infinitum (ooh, had a Monckton moment there and lapsed into Latin), but proving any one of them wrong on any one point does no good. The person or "think tank" or "news network" pays no price for being blatantly wrong and simply trundles along, spewing the same falsehood. How did we wind up in a position where even science is so politicized that accuracy no longer matters to a large portion of the public???
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  3. This was truly a giant and thorough Gish Gallop (108 MB!). It even caused John to give up listing the arguments before finishing. That's a record breaker. This guy should have its name on a Gish Gallop scale - all other gallops would be measured as to what extent they compare to this one.
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  4. One of your items on the list of dud sceptic arguments is: "Trenberth can't account for lack of warming" and your answer is: "Trenberth was talking about the details of energy flow - not whether global warming was happening". Not quite true. Trenberth was highlighting the fact that in Aug09 when his now famous paper was published - he could not account for more than about 60% of the warming imbalance which was postulated by Hansen in 2005 (0.9W/sq.m) Since then; Knox and Douglas published a paper in Aug10 which showed that 2003-08 data for OHC contect was flat or slightly negative (cooling)for the top 700m and deep ocean of approx +0.09W/sq.m (Purkey & Johnson). Five Argo studies for 0-700m OHC by Willis, Loehle, Pielke, Douglas & Knox show **negative** OHC change, while von Schukmann (0-2000m) is the outlier showing +0.77W/sq.m. I would like know if the Knox & Douglas paper has been contradicted or its findings overturned by more recent studies. If not, then Trenberth's lack of warming is still with us, and in fact has gone from finding 60% of Hansen's 0.9W/sq.m to finding almost **none** of it. I would have thought this was a serious problem for the whole theory of a positive warming imbalance.
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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] Trenberth discusses this issue directly here on this very recent and still active Skeptical Science thread: Teaching Climate Science; a post wholly devoted to Dr. Trenberth and his work.

  5. Ken, you could try clicking on the link to the full writeup on this issue. Your suggestion that it puts the warming imbalance in question is incorrect. We know there is an imbalance because we have measured that directly. What we can't measure is where the extra energy is accumulating within the climate system.
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  6. "CO2 was higher in the past" In addition to the Sun being cooler, the Earth was hotter -- at times a *lot* hotter -- than it is now. According to Dr. Richard Alley (in his memorable 2009 AGU talk), sea surface temperatures approached 100F in the tropics during the Cretaceous Hothouse period. But along with 100F sea surface temperatures, you will get dangerous levels of atmospheric heat and humidity, as in dew points well over 90F. Once the dew-point hits 95 F or so, *everyone* caught outside in conditions like that for more than a few hours will die of heat-stroke. Everyone. To keep your body's core from overheating, your skin temperature needs to be kept at 95F or below. Get dew points near or above 95F, and this becomes impossible. If we woke up to a Cretaceous Hothouse climate tomorrow, billions of people would die of heat stroke long before they had a chance to starve to death. A CO2 hothouse climate is incompatible with human existence. This was covered nicely in this most excellent skepticalscience piece last year: Heat-stress-setting-an-upper-limit-on-what-we-can-adapt-to Now, how to summarize all this in a nice sound bite... Maybe something like this? "CO2 was higher in the past" --> "It was also hot enough to kill most humans in a few hours."
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    Moderator Response: [DB] Hot-linked URL.
  7. Ken L #4 - the Knox and Douglass paper you reference was a horrid example of cherrypicking. See Monckton Myth #1, Cooling Oceans for a better analysis of all available data.
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  8. John, This was the first time I have seen your one liners to counter a long Gish Gallop. I thought that they were very effective.
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  9. I love the term "Gish Gallop". Maybe it would be useful to have an extensive set of such labels, and a lexicon, for the processes that skeptics use. This could then be used to build a matrix to classify the skeptic and/or the article/publication, to help avoid getting bogged down in some of the recycled detail.
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    Moderator Response: [DB] Over on the 2nd Law, Meet the Denominator and Waste Heat threads we have PRATT in action...
  10. dana1981 #7 "Ken L #4 - the Knox and Douglass paper you reference was a horrid example of cherrypicking. See Monckton Myth #1, Cooling Oceans for a better analysis of all available data." What precisely is a 'horrid example' of cherrypicking? Lyman 2010 was published in March 2010, Knox & Douglas in August 2010. Are you saying that more recent papers have refuted the Knox and Douglas results? Nothing in the link to 'Monckton Myth #1' indicates that.
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  11. Moderator - Daniel Bailey "[DB] Trenberth discusses this issue directly here on this very recent and still active Skeptical Science thread: Teaching Climate Science; a post wholly devoted to Dr. Trenberth and his work." Dr Trenberth's lecture was presented at the Symposium on Climate Change Effects on Fish and Fisheries, Sendai, Japan, 26-29 April 2009. This predates his August 2009 paper and the more recent Lyman and K&D results. Again where is a recent refutation of the K & D results?
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    Moderator Response: [DB] K&D are discussed here.
  12. CBDunkerson #5 Last time I looked the 'Measured" CERES figure quoted for the warming imbalance was +6.4W/sq.m This plainly impossible number is then 'corrected' down to 0.9W/sq.m by a process which is the equivalent of a circular scientific argument. The argument is goes like this: " Hansen (2005) thinks it is about 0.85 +/-0.15, - +0.9 for short. We build up a number of heating and cooling forcings by modelling and maths which sums to +0.9W/sq.m ". "We then 'correct' the +6.4W/sq.m down to +0.9W/sq.m and say that the meaurement agrees with the modelling!!" So CBD what is your latest information on the direct measurement of the imbalance?
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  13. John Cook and Daniel Bailey; I conducted a private correspondence with Dr Trenberth in early 2010. He is a 'class act' and was very generous with time devoted to responding while travelling to conferences etc. Since I have not asked his permission to make public any of this exchange, I am not at liberty to quote any part of it here. However, Since Dr Pielke responded to SKS in a very interesting thread - would you consider asking Dr Trenberth to respond on SKS to a number of questions regarding the current state of knowledge on the whole subject of warming imbalance and OHC measurement? I am sure many regular contributors would jump at the chance to participate. Me (and I hope BP) would be happy to ask some questions.
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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] That is a great suggestion! We'll look into it; thanks for taking the time to make it!

  14. Good idea @ 13 Ken.
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  15. Well that's settled then Thanks DB. Glad we agree on something at last.
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  16. Ken Lambert #10, #11 dana1981 and CBD: Any futher comment or am I to assume that my points are accepted as correct?
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  17. Ken, you are correct about the CERES measurements, but still lack foundation for your conclusion that 'positive warming imbalance is in question'. There are too many other measurements confirming this imbalance. Consider the standard 'Trenberth diagram' of various energy flows within the climate system. These values were not just made up, but rather each is based on measurements and analysis. That is, we have long measured incoming solar radiation and identified its range of fluctuation (fairly small)... measurements of increased 'back radiation' from the greenhouse effect have been taken at the surface and found to correlate with expected results from the models, as have satellite measurements of decreased outgoing radiation in the same bands. Et cetera. The point being that these values are not just randomly spit out of a climate model in complete isolation. Each is checked against real world data to whatever extent possible. Yes, there are many uncertainties, but when all available data points to a positive warming imbalance there are simply no grounds for claiming that imbalance is in question.
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  18. CBD #17 "The point being that these values are not just randomly spit out of a climate model in complete isolation. Each is checked against real world data to whatever extent possible." Quite right CBD. The emphasis is on 'to watever extent possible', The famous Trenberth diagram of energy flows shows TSI of approx 340 incoming, roughly 100 reflected and 240 outgoing. Finding 0.9 in 240 is 0.375%. Are any of these quantities being measured to this accuracy? A small change in reflection due to cloud changes can have a big effect on a difference as small as 0.9. These are very good questions for Dr Trenberth - exactly which of the numbers are really solid and which are implied to produce the imbalance of 0.9.
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