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Critical Thinking about Climate - a video series by John Cook

Posted on 5 October 2020 by John Cook, BaerbelW

This is a collection of videos based on individual blog posts on John Cook's Cranky Uncle website. The videos are part of a virtual grad class “Understanding and Responding to Climate Misinformation” that John Cook is teaching at George Mason University with Natalie Burls & Tim DelSole. Their class teaches climate & communication students the climate & comm research needed to debunk climate misinformation.

Part 1 - The five climate disbeliefs

The five climate disbeliefs: a crash course in climate misinformation (27 minutes)

You can summarize climate change in just ten words: it's real, it's us, experts agree, it's bad, there's hope. Climate change misinformation is like a bizarro world version of this summarized with five categories: it's not real, it's not us, experts are unreliable, it's not bad, there's no hope. Understanding the arguments of climate denial is the first step to countering it. This video is a crash course in climate misinformation, summarizing the key arguments used to cast doubt on the reality of climate change and delay climate action.

Part 2 - The Story of Climate Consensus

The Story of Climate Consensus (22 minutes)

The scientific consensus on human-caused global warming has been a fierce topic for decades. To understand why, you need to know the history of consensus. The first message the public heard about the consensus on climate change was that there was no consensus. Next, scientists published a series of studies quantifying expert agreement on human-caused global warming - multiple studies found 90 to 100% agreement with multiple studies converging on 97% consensus. In response, climate deniers continued to argue there was no consensus (as well as argue scientists should stop talking about it because science isn't done by consensus).

Part 3 - Anthony Leiserowitz talks climate communication

Anthony Leiserowitz talks climate communication (23 minutes)

An interview with Tony Leiserowitz from Yale University about climate communication, scientific consensus, the gateway belief model, & much much more. A very high quality, interesting, & informative interview! This interview was recorded in Paris back in 2015 - we were both at the COP21 climate summit. While the conversation is 5 years old, much of the principles are timeless. Indeed, subsequent research has strengthened the gateway belief model

Part 4 - How to debunk misinformation

How to debunk misinformation (10 minutes)

An effective rebuttal requires three elements. Fact. Myth. Fallacy. This video to explain how to tie these together into a cohesive debunking. First, you need to provide an explanation that neatly replaces the myth in people's mental model. Your fact needs to be plausible and it needs to fit all the causal links left by the myth. You also need to make your facts sticky - communicate your fact in a way that grabs people’s attention and sticks in the memory. The golden rule of debunking is fight sticky myths with stickier facts. Second, you do need to mention the myth when debunking, in order for people to tag it in their mental model as false. But warn them before mentioning the myth. This puts people cognitively on guard so they’re less likely to be influenced by the misinformation. Third, explain the fallacy or rhetorical technique the misinformation uses to mislead. Help people resolve the conflict between fact and myth by explaining how the myth distorts the facts. Note: for more details on the FLICC taxonomy shown at 8:25, the history of FLICC plus definitions and examples is given at

Part 5 - Six ways to make your science sticky

Six ways to make your science sticky (35 minutes)

This Critical Thinking About Climate video is an in-depth explainer on how to communicate science in a way that grabs attention, gets shared, and sticks in people’s memory. The six traits of sticky messages are Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotion, and Story ( SUCCES). Effective messages share some of these six traits. In this video, I offer a range of techniques to make your science more sticky, providing a number of science communication examples.

Part 6 - How to spot and tag misinformation

How to spot and tag misinformation (14 minutes)

How do you tell the difference between facts and misinformation? This Critical Thinking About Climate video explains how to deconstruct arguments so you can spot if it’s misinformation and tag any misleading fallacies. This is a skill we all need these days as misinformation is everywhere! This video is based on a paper coauthored by John Cook, Peter Ellerton and David Kinkead, outlining a step-by-step method to deconstruct denialist claims about climate change and identify reasoning fallacies. The paper is freely available at

Part 7 - 23 ways to mislead

23 ways to mislead (41 minutes)

This Critical Thinking About Climate video explains 23 rhetorical techniques used in misinformation. Understanding the techniques of science denial is like a universal vaccine against misinformation. Once you know these red flags, you’ll be able to spot attempts to mislead you.

Part 8 - Climategate and climate conspiracy theories

Climategate and climate conspiracy theories (34 minutes)

This video focuses on conspiracy theories, delving into the seven traits of conspiratorial thinking. Knowing these helps you spot the red flags of a baseless conspiracy theory. John Cook also delves into conspiracy theories about climate change and how they emerged from the dark corners of the Internet to briefly go mainstream during the "climategate" incident in 2009.


We'll add more videos to this blog post as they become available. To keep track of new videos added on YouTube, keep an eye on the playlist "Critical Thinking about Climate"!

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Comments 1 to 13:

  1. I have only started to watch the series. But I have a couple of comments about the Arctic Sea Ice graph at 3:45 into Part 1:

    • The chart appears to be presented 0.5 million sq km lower than it should be. Based on NASA presentation of average September extent (consistent with NSIDC presnetation of daily extents):
      • the minimum in 1979 should be about 7 million not about 6.5
      • in 2012 the minimum should be about 3.5 million not less than 3
    • If possible, the Arctic Sea Ice extent chart should be extended to include 2019 and 2020.

    But the presentation

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  2. I would suggest that discussions arguing that fossil fuels help the poor, like at the end of Part 1, should include the following points:

    • the real cost of fossil fuel use needs to include all of the externalized costs.
    • the poorest should be helped, which means only the poorest should get any benefit from the continued use of fossil fuels, and that benefit should be helping them transition to sustainable better ways of living.
    • rapidly reducing fossil fuel use will reduce the harm done to poorer people in the future generations, which will reduce the help they need ni the future.
    • fossil fuel use is unsustainable, it is non-renewable, so any perception that continued fossil fuel use helps reduce poverty is unsustainable. Fossil fuel help for the poor can only provide temporary assistance.
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  3. I haven't watched the video series yet- but from the top- "Climate change misinformation is like a bizarro world version of this summarized with five categories: it's not real, it's not us, experts are unreliable, it's not bad, there's no hope."

    I think that's an exageraton of how climate change skeptics think. Not yet having drawn any conclusions- out of curiousity, I have read a lot of books and blogs by such skeptics. It seems to me that most do agree there is climate change- that humans have something to do with it- that SOME experts are reliable- that some of it is bad- as for "hope", I doubt that word ever shows up one way or the other in such writing. If I am to take climate scientists seriously, I should think such exagerations of the opposite perspective is not helping your cause.

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  4. JoeZ:

    With my 40 years of studyig climatology and watching the public discussion, I disagree that it is an exaggeration. I have watched years of mis-informed  "skeptic" behaviour that clearly follows the sequence:

    1. I'ts not happening. (instrumental error, site locations, urban heat island, data fudging accusations, etc.)
    2. It's not us (natural cycles, the sun, El Nino, cosmic rays, recovery from Little Ice Ag/Big Ice Age, CO2 change is not from fossil fuels, etc.)
    3. Experts disagree (there is no consensus, science isn't done by consensus,  here is a list of "experts" that disagree, the IPCC is political, the greenhouse effect doesn't exist, there is no such thing as "back radiation", etc.)
    4. It's good for us (saves us from the next glacial cycle, CO2 is plant food, agriculture is better in a warmer climate, cold kills more than heat, etc.)
    5. There is no hope - well, that's the next step in the successive retreat from unsupportable "skeptic" positions.

    That you finish your comment with the phrase "your cause" tells me a lot about how you are approaching this issue. My cause is good science, which "skeptics" are frequently lacking in.

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  5. JoeZ, You should have put in the 30 minutes effrot to watch the first video before commenting on it.

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  6. JoeZ @3, most climate change sceptics I know of are very dismissive of the whole climate issue. This includes both qualified people and laypeople just expressing an opinion. People who write sceptical books possibly come across as less dismissive of the climate issue, but only because they wont get published if they come across as complete lunatics. Their public utterances are not always consistent with their books.

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  7. An example of climate change sceptics who give mixed messages might be Roy Spencer, a sceptical leaning climate scientist. He says in his writings that some warming is human caused, but that much of the warming is natural, so he is not in complete denial apparently. Except that he also signed an evangelical declaration on global warming that said "the recent warming is one of many natural cycles through history" (note it didnt say "partly"due to a natural cycle but clearly means its all natural). Refer to his bio on wikipedia. Another sceptic with ever changing views is Judith Currie, depending on her audience.

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  8. The "skeptics" - those who are in denial about climate science - are like gambling addicts.

    Intellectually the gambling addict knows that he is not going to win in the end, because elementary mathematics show that the House is destined to win.  But emotionally, the addict is strongly drawn to bet against the House, and he is always hopeful that somehow magically he will come out as victor.

    As time progresses, the evidence continually grows that the House is winning.  But the addict cannot admit he is wrong.  The addict keeps on doubling down.

    "It's not happening . . . it's not us . . . the experts disagree . . . it's good for us . . . it is hopeless to transfer to renewable energy."   Rinse and repeat.   Then use all five arguments at once.  Then eventually retreat to full-on Conspiracy.   Then double down on everything.

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  9. Then when ultimately proven wrong by events, I've noticed sceptics either 1) claim they were never warned clearly enough about the problem, or 2) they believed all along and were just expressing some harmless scepticism to be balanced. Outrageous and despicable of course. People will go to huge lengths to avoid admitting they are wrong.

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  10. Nigelj, in general you are correct about "sceptics" revising  their previous position ~  when finally all the world and his wife are pointing the finger of scorn & reproach.

    That would be so for the milder cases of climate denialism, over the next 20 years, I expect.   But not so much for the hard-core denialists (you know the type) . . .  they use a seemingly-infinite amount of motivated reasoning to resist the reality which is staring them in the face.

    For the hard-core cases, the "noisiness" of data over the coming decades ~  will be a hook for their every hope.   Every pause/hiatus in surface temperature, every brief uptick in arctic sea-ice extent, every season which happens to be rather quieter in hurricanes / wildfires / sea-level-rise . . .  every example will be pointed to as a fore-runner of the coming Cooling Century which will confound the mainstream scientists.

    These cases are the hard-core denialists who will maintain their position . . . right up until they themselves fall to the final sweep of the Reaper's Scythe.

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  11. Update: Part 7 - 23 ways to mislead (41 minutes) added to the list. Happy watching!

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  12. BaerbelW @11, the link doesn't work.

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  13. nigelj @12

    Thanks & corrected, now it works (but the video is available in the blog post as well)

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