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Climate Hustle

The 5 characteristics of scientific denialism

Posted on 17 March 2010 by John Cook

A fascinating paper well worth reading is Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond? (Diethelm & McKee 2009) (H/T to Jeremy Kemp for the heads-up). While the focus is on public health issues, it nevertheless establishes some useful general principles on the phenomenon of scientific denialism. A vivid example is the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, who argued against the scientific consensus that HIV caused AIDS. This led to policies preventing thousands of HIV positive mothers in South Africa from receiving anti-retrovirals. It's estimated these policies led to the loss of more than 330,000 lives (Chigwedere 2008). Clearly the consequences of denying science can be dire, even fatal. 

The authors define denialism as "the employment of rhetorical arguments to give the appearance of legitimate debate where there is none, an approach that has the ultimate goal of rejecting a proposition on which a scientific consensus exists". They go on to identify 5 characteristics common to most forms of denialism, first suggested by Mark and Chris Hoofnagle:

  1. Conspiracy theories
    When the overwhelming body of scientific opinion believes something is true, the denialist won't admit scientists have independently studied the evidence to reach the same conclusion. Instead, they claim scientists are engaged in a complex and secretive conspiracy. The South African government of Thabo Mbeki was heavily influenced by conspiracy theorists claiming that HIV was not the cause of AIDS. When such fringe groups gain the ear of policy makers who cease to base their decisions on science-based evidence, the human impact can be disastrous.
  2. Fake experts
    These are individuals purporting to be experts but whose views are inconsistent with established knowledge. Fake experts have been used extensively by the tobacco industry who developed a strategy to recruit scientists who would counteract the growing evidence on the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. This tactic is often complemented by denigration of established experts, seeking to discredit their work. Tobacco denialists have frequently attacked Stanton Glantz, professor of medicine at the University of California, for his exposure of tobacco industry tactics, labelling his research 'junk science'.
  3. Cherry picking
    This involves selectively drawing on isolated papers that challenge the consensus to the neglect of the broader body of research. An example is a paper describing intestinal abnormalities in 12 children with autism, which suggested a possible link with immunization. This has been used extensively by campaigners against immunization, even though 10 of the paper’s 13 authors subsequently retracted the suggestion of an association.
  4. Impossible expectations of what research can deliver
    The tobacco company Philip Morris tried to promote a new standard for the conduct of epidemiological studies. These stricter guidelines would have invalidated in one sweep a large body of research on the health effects of cigarettes.
  5. Misrepresentation and logical fallacies
    Logical fallacies include the use of straw men, where the opposing argument is misrepresented, making it easier to refute. For example, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined in 1992 that environmental tobacco smoke was carcinogenic. This was attacked as nothing less than a 'threat to the very core of democratic values and democratic public policy'.

Why is it important to define the tactics of denialism? Good faith discussion requires consideration of the full body of scientific evidence. This is difficult when confronted with rhetorical techniques which are designed to distort and distract. Identifying and publicly exposing these tactics are the first step in redirecting discussion back to a focus on the science.

This is not to say all global warming skeptic arguments employ denialist tactics. And it's certainly not advocating attacking peoples' motives. On the contrary, in most cases, focus on motives rather than methods is counterproductive. Here are some of the methods using denialist tactics in the climate debate: 

  1. Conspiracy theories
    Conspiracy theories have been growing in strength in recent months as personal attacks on climate scientists have intensified. In particular, there has been accusations of manipulation of temperature data with the result that "the surface temperature record is unreliable" has been the most popular argument over the last month. This is distracting people from the physical realities of global warming manifesting themselves all over the world. Arctic sea-ice loss is accelerating. Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are losing ice mass at an accelerating rate. Spring is coming earlier each year. Animal breeding and migration are changing in response. Distribution of plants are shifting to higher elevations. Global sea level is rising. When one steps back to take in the full body of evidence, it overwhelmingly points to global warming.
  2. Fake experts
    A number of surveys and petitions have been published online, presenting lengthy numbers of scientists who reject man-made global warming. Close inspection of these lists show very few qualifications in climate science. On the contrary, a survey of climate scientists who actively publish climate research found that over 97% agree that human activity is significantly changing global temperature.
  3. Cherry picking
    This usually involves a focus on a single paper to the neglect of the rest of peer-review research. A recent example is the Lindzen-Choi paper that finds low climate sensitivity (around 0.5°C for doubled CO2). This neglects all the research using independent techniques studying different time periods that find our climate has high sensitivity (around 3°C for doubled CO2). This includes research using a similar approach to Lindzen-Choi but with more global coverage.
  4. Impossible expectations
    The uncertainties of climate models are often used as an excuse to reject any understanding that can come from climate models. Or worse, the uncertainty of climate models are used to reject all evidence of man-made global warming. This neglects the fact that there are multiple lines of empirical evidence that humans are causing global warming .
  5. Logical fallacies
    Strawmen arguments abound in the climate debate. Often have I heard skeptics argue "CO2 is not the only driver of climate" which every climate scientist in the world would wholeheartedly agree with. A consideration of all the evidence tells us there are a number of factors that drive climate but currently, CO2 is the dominant forcing and also the fastest rising. Logical fallacies such as "climate has changed before therefore current climate change must be natural" are the equivalent of arguing that lightning has started bushfires in the past, therefore no modern bushfire is ever started by arsonists.

Update 16 April 2012: Many thanks to Mark Hoofnagle for pointing out that the 5 characteristics of science denial didn't originate in Diethelm and McKee's paper but in an article written by Mark and Chris Hoofnagle. This is an article very worth reading for anyone interested in climate change and public discourse about science. Credit has been updated accordingly.

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Comments 51 to 100 out of 165:

  1. Just joined and find this information fascinating. I will attempt to read the indepth research provided when I get the time.

    That being said, it looks like every argument against man made global warming is shot down. Have there ever been any arguments against man made global warming that have been vindicated on this site? If so, got links?

    In any debate, political, scientific, sports, etc... there can be a few points given to the counterpart of an argument. I just do not see those here.
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  2. Interesting concept. However it it applies to both sides of the argument.

    Conspiracy - peoples' arguments are discounted because they work for oil companies or have been funded by oil companies. Who you work for has no impact on what your personal views are; oil companies also fund environmental groups such as WWF and the David Suzuki Foundation When you investigate the role of the IPCC, how it was established and the mandate that it was given on a go-ahead basis, plus the involvement of the WMO in the IPCC is enough fodder to support the concept of a conspiracy.

    Fake Experts - it has been documented that the individual who cited the melting of the Himalayan glaciers and whose position was incorporated into the IPCC report did not have the appropriate qualification to do so, nor was his version properly vetted. There are likely more within the dungeons in East Anglia.

    Cherry Picking - the Moscow based Institute of Economic Analysis recently issued a report claiming that the Hadley Center for Climate Change located in Exeter had likley tampered with the temperature data given to them as their analysis failed to support the anthropogenic global-warming theory. In addition, the temperature analysis carried out by NASA and NOAA to support the global warming theory used selective data to support the theory. Prior to 1970, they used data from some 600 stations located across Northern Canada yet for the subsequent years they used data from only 35 stations, of which only one is from the high arctic, despite the fact there are more than 100 weather stations operating in the high arctic. The net effect was to accentuate coolong prior to 1970 and warming in subsequent years.

    Impossible expectations of what research can deliver - This argument is simply a crutch for following poor scientific process. What is missing from the experts is the inclusion of the impact of increased water vapor in the atmosphere on temperatures, the separation of that impact from the impact of higher temperatures solely attributable to increased CO2 in the atmosphere; the scientific error associated with comparing accurate readings with those using proxies such as tree rings, ice cores and other indirect measurements. For instances, one of the "tricks" cited in the e-mails from East Anglia had to do with relating temperatures derived from tree ring data. They couldn't correlate modern temperatures with modern tree rings in the same way they used fossil tree rings to determine past temperatures. To over come this obstacle they relied on modern temperature measurements instead. The process followed by climate scientists over the past several decades and the use of the data in forms that are less than reliable are not what people expect. As we find out more about what was done by the ICPP and related bodies that have lead to the current positions, I believe that the entire process will be found to be at fault and less than reliable.

    Misrepresentations and logical fallacies - I believe that the e-mails from east anglia serve to support just how often the process that was followed has led to misrepresentations and fallacies (the Himalayan glaciers melting is just one example).

    For those interested in going through the e-mails that were obtained from the east anglia server, go to

    In one final comment, supporters of the anthropogenic global-warming theory seem to group people who do not accept the theory AND people who do not accept global change into one group which would fall under the fifth point noted above - Misrepresentations and logical fallacies. Many geoscientists such as myself accept the fact that over time and based on a variety of observations made from within the geological time frame, the earth's climate changes in a cyclical fashion. Where we do not agree is the way data has been mishandled, the political agenda that was established when the IPCC was formed, the involvement of the WMO in IPCC (the WMO is the body responsible for collecting and storing weather data from around the world) which is a definite conflict of interest, the lack of true scientific investigation (beyond peer reviews which in fact were not all that wide spread), the last minute editing of the final IPCC reports AFTER they were signed off at the committee level; the apparent ignoring of the basic scientific premise that correlation does NOT prove causality, and the rather unusual reliance on climate models to propagate their message, despite the fact that those models do not predict some of the observations made today in places such as the North and South poles.
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  3. According to the GISS data, this was the 2nd warmest Dec-Feb on record (behind 2007):

    It was also the warmest summer on record in the SH:

    Also Canada just had the warmest and driest winter ever recorded:
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  4. Geo Guy,

    It would be long and boring to cover everything in your screed, however I was struck by the "Moscow Institute of Economic Analysis" one. What has they to do with Global Warming? The trail led to this Daily Telegraph article:

    Unfortunately, the particular journalist, James Delingpole, is notorious for being a rampant denier, and for being (to use a roundabout way of saying it) "economical with the truth". It turns out there is no disagreement between Russian data and Hadley data.

    To the best of my knowledge, the claims that the CRU, NASA and NOAA had picked stations specifically to highlight warming has been shown to be totally without foundation.

    Please investigate your claim further and get back to us.
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  5. Michael Trogdon

    And yet the world temperature has been falling slightly since 1998 - Phil Jones
    Looks Like the end has just fallen off the hockey stick!
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  6. re: #56

    Ah, suibhne, Sweeney of the Nightingales, my celtic friend, you obviously have not seen this video:
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  7. tobyjoyce

    Greetings and a happy Saint Patrick's night to you.
    I thought at first the video might be fun but the phrase climate denier was used and proved to be a turn off.
    That should be a lesson for us all.
    Its completely counterproductive to start name calling.
    I think I will now watch John Wayne as the Quiet Man and drink a bottle of Powers.
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  8. suibhne,

    Ah, shure & begorrah, fantasy is always to be preferred to the truth on St. Patrick's Day. But tomorrow the real world will be back, and then you can appreciate what Phil Jones actually said.

    Or, next time you are opening a bottle of Powers, here are some more of Pete Sinclair's excellent videos:
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  9. RE# 43 frogstar: If I find myself in agreement with the "scientific consensus" on the first three topics
    (smoking/cancer, HIV/Aids, and Creationism),
    but have serious reservations about man-made climate change driven by CO2, does this make me "a denialist"?

    Not necessarily but it depends on your approach climate science. If you are in agreement in the scientific concensus with the first three points you mentioned, can you not see the sharp parallels in the methods and approach to the science between the "skeptics" of smoking/cancer etc and those in climate science?

    It's kind of interesting that yes you may get more legitimate climate skeptics writing on other blog sites or even in peer review but then when 'climate skeptics' readers get a hold of it, it doesn't really matter what they say, as long as it is against AGW. This quote I got from a recent reader on RealClimate I think sums up the mood:

    Obviously, there are plenty of ill-considered opinions to be found either side of any issue, but only the most ignorant person could fail to see the terrible intellectual gulf between the quality of so-called skeptic sites and those defending the science behind the AGW thesis.

    Note to John I can't see the Resource link on the main page anymore...I see the "links" section. But it could be my tired eyes...
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    Response: The LINKS navigation button now goes to the global warming directory - this is now a key aspect of Skeptical Science so I gave it more prominence. So I moved the link to the previous Links/Resources section down to the footer. There's only so much real estate in the top navigation links.
  10. Cheers. "LINKS" at the top of the site takes us to the global warming directory and "Links" at the bottom of the site takes us to the Links/Resources section :)
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  11. One of the curious things about "scientific denialism" (yes, an oxymoron, I know, but bear with me) is that there seems to be a disproportionate number of geologists who indulge in it. I have puzzled over this, some of my best friends being geologists, and not stupid people, and suspect there are two factors involved. The obvious one is that, unusually among the sciences, geology has an inbuilt strong link to people who dig things up and turn them into untold wealth for members of the Forbes Rich list. Other sciences can have potential for links to commercial activity (eg genetics), but only geology I think has the possibility of wealth from toil built into every geologist's pick or bore hole. So the proposition that some of this stuff, found by great exertion by geologists trudging, in dirty khaki shorts and sweaty shirt, over the sweeping plains, should be left in the ground for the good of the planet, must seem to be a viciously pernicious idea, to be fought on the beaches etc. It might also be that such a field of research carries inherently a tendency towards conservative libertarian-style thought patterns, but although you might say that I couldn't possibly comment.

    And, second, is what I hereby name the Crocodile Dundee fallacy. Geologists are used to the big picture (one once told me, my research being in the late Pleistocene-Holocene of Australia, that the sediments I was interested in were just the scum that geologists removed to get to the really interesting stuff) of enormous time depth, and moving continents, and mass extinctions, and huge ice caps, and basalt flows and all the rest. So the idea that the rapid change of climate of the last 100 years, especially the last thirty years, could be of concern to the 7 billion people now on the planet, seems nonsense to them. "Call that climate change? This is climate change". Hence the constant refrain that climatologists "don't realise that climate has changed in the past".

    A pity, it would have been good to have these guys onside. At least one of them has fought the good fight against creationists, and as members of the discipline that provided the original academic underpinning for Darwin, you would think that they would recognise the links, direct and indirect, between climate change deniers and evolution deniers, but it seems not.
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  12. I like the idea of this blog, but I do not like the use of the word "denialist". It is insulting (since it compares skeptics to Holocaust deniers) and it is misleading because it is applied to people with widely varying educational levels and opinions.

    Obviously, there are some people on the skeptical side who are naive or ignorant but there are also people on the other side who believe that global warming causes earthquakes or any of the other tabloid-style claims that are made to enhance the urgency of the argument. The truth is somewhere in the middle.

    So why be insulting? Can it not just be agreed that Prof. Richard Lindzen, Freeman Dyson and others who question the most dire global warming scenarios are sincere scientists who just honestly disagree with the current consensus? They may be wrong, but you have a better chance of convincing me that they are if you stick to science and avoid the "denialist" stuff.
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  13. True North (#62) -

    Rational skeptics should not be worried about the label "denialist". It's only the denialist who keeps insisting on being a skeptic, when clearly they are not.

    Here're a couple of links (one is to my site) that describes the difference between skeptics and denialists.

    And, just to show you this isn't just a climate change phenomenon, here's a great article from the NY Times about another group of denialists:

    Denialism exists. It is real. Denialists are not true RATIONAL skeptics.

    This is completely in-line with John's post here.
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    Response: That NY Times article is fascinating, particularly the study of the political partisan brain scans:
    When we contemplate contradictions in the rhetoric of the opposition party’s candidate, the rational centers of our brains are active, but contradictions from our own party’s candidate set off a different reaction: the emotional centers light up and levels of feel-good dopamine surge.
    I especially note that this applies to both sides of the political fence. It's a universal human reaction, not restricted to one side. We all would do well to remember that and endeavour to apply skepticism to arguments whether they support or contradict our currently held beliefs. Hard, I know, it's defying human nature to do so.
  14. The Portuguese version of the Wikipedia lists an interesting list describing a "pseudo-skeptic" (under "Skepticism"):

    - the tendency of denying, instead of doubting.
    - the use of rigor standards above reasonable to assess the object of one's criticisms.
    - Making judgments without complete and conclusive investigation.
    - Tendency to discredit, instead of investigating.
    - Use of ridicule or personal attacks.
    - Presentation of insufficient evidence.
    - The attempt of desqualifying new ideas calling their promoters as 'pseudo-scientists'.
    - To assume that their criticisms don't have the burden of proof, and that their arguments don't have to be supported by evidence.
    - The presentation of counter-proof merely based on plausibility, instead of empirical evidence.
    - The suggestion that insufficient evidence is enough to prove that the theory is falsified.
    - The tendency of discrediting every presented evidence that counters their own beliefs.
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  15. It's alledgedly based on a book by Marcello Truzzi, "On Pseudo-Skepticism", but I wasn't able to verify it.

    Anyway, it looks pretty much like a description of a climate denier to me!
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  16. John,

    Re: My post #63

    Yes. We all fall into denialism from time to time. That's why the peer-review process is so great. It's a collective judgement call that a claim that someone is making is based on facts, and not personal bias, or denialism.

    Any rational scientist knows that if they fall into the denialism trap, they'll loose credibility.

    Now, let's look at it from the other side...

    Denialists and their related blog posts, like WUWT, have what process?
    Nothing that they can describe.

    At least the scientist (esp. climate scientist) can point to their process, which is peer review.

    One is a rational way to mitigate the bias and denialism, the other encourages bias and denialism.

    I'm sure you know about this, but here's a good video on this topic:

    (A related link is in my comment #2 in this thread.)

    BTW - I'm glad to see you have a post focusing on the subject of denialism vs. skepticism. Everyone can argue AGW/ACC all they want, but obvious logical fallacies are harder to defend, even for a denialist (unless they are just wacko cranks). ;-)
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  17. "I do not like the use of the word "denialist". It is insulting (since it compares skeptics to Holocaust deniers)", Ah, TrueNorth, where did you get that thought from I wonder? Isn't it curious that all over the internet this phrase suddenly began appearing. I'm guessing it can probably be chased back to one starting point, or a group of similar starting points, and then off it goes with a life of its own.

    The purpose, of course, is to try to get us very polite AGWs to think, "Oh my goodness, we weren't doing THAT were we, how impolite, I suppose we better start calling them skeptics again". Nothing doing Mr North. As you know, the term "denier" or "denialist" apples equally well to Holocaust and climate change (and to evolution, tobacco, CFCs), nothing to do with the subject matter, everything to do with the approach. And that approach (eg for the Holocaust) consists of simply denying mountains of evidence, expert witnesses, documents, survivors, remains of camps and equipment, Nuremberg Trials, photographs, movies, chemical developments, and so on. No one could deny the evidence unless they had a strong ideological motive for doing so, and in this case they simply deny deny deny every piece of evidence individually (no matter how well these pieces mutually support each other) and come up with wildly implausible alternative explanations. Nothing can, or ever will, change this pattern of behaviour, because of the strong beliefs that underpin it. That is also precisely the case with climate change denial. So, no, you don't get to tell us what we can call you.
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  18. There is one huge false premise around this argument which seems to completely undermine this sort of argument and John alluded to it. DENIERS ARE NOT ONE SINGLE GROUP. They don’t think with a single mind. They approach the subject from all angles many from the positions of an expert in their field. Focusing on the right wing lobbyist, which seems to be the group described by this article, is insufficient.
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  19. The paper at the head of this thread (Diethelm & McKee, 2009) is not up to the standard I have come to expect on this blog. It is creating more heat than light.

    John Cook, please give us something more worthy of discussion.
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  20. #69 Agreed.
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  21. The term "Global Warming" connotes continuous warming.

    What exactly are deniers denying?

    I personally believe human activity has contributed to a warmER planet, and without going into details, I do not believe the warming is continuous.

    The term "Global Warming" gives me only two choices, but neither choice is correct.
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  22. HR (#68)


    Agreed. There isn't an organized movement called the denialist group, or denialist organization.

    But, there are people who view the world in a particular irrational way that can be called denial.

    Ok. We don't have to call it "denialism".

    Instead, we can call it "motivated reasoning", or "cognitive dissonance". The meaning's the same.

    The point is, there are people out there that just can't accept anything that is outside their zone of comfort.

    And also there are people out there who use this "condition" to gain political advantage.
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  23. 72.SLRTX at 16:03 PM on 18 March, 2010

    You could if you wished continue to extend that list of motivations..... and prove my point.

    Some might be motivated by intellectual integrity.

    (I'm mainly motivated by jelly snakes but lets not go there)
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  24. #71 RSVP: 'The term "Global Warming" connotes continuous warming.'

    I have seen you posting on numerous threads here, so I assume you have read the main postings and a number of the comments. Given that, I have to say that I really can't imagine that anyone who has read much about climate would consider your statement to be a serious starting point for a discussion, or anything other than a strawman.

    "Continuous warming" in what way? Clearly, we still have a day-night cycle, so continuous can't mean continuous on that timescale. We still have seasons, too. And you really can't miss all the talk about year to year variation in climate due to El Niño/La Niña cycles, Arctic Oscillation, Pacfic Decadal Oscillation, etc, so even if you don't know what all those things are you really can't miss the fact that they are related to variations in climate on a timescale of years to a decade or two. I really can't imagine that anyone who has even a bit of knowledge (as you should) can seriously think that global warming means all parts of the globe are continuously getting warmer every year. Now if you mean continuous warming on a century-average timescale, maybe that statement might be correct, but I don't think that's the way people are thinking about it, or how you meant it.

    So tell me: what did you mean if you were not just setting up a strawman to knock down or justify doubt?
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  25. #61 David Horton, I have a different take, maybe hanging out with a different set of geoscientists. I think your comments ring pretty true when you are talking about resource geologists -- oil and gas, and mining, although its certainly not true of all even in that sector. I don't think it holds true at all once you move outside of the resources sector. Your guess that self-interest plays a role in this seems likely to me.
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  26. Jeff Freymueller
    Your reply (74 for now) reveals exactly the ambiguity I am referring to. What exactly do I mean you ask? But why am I the only one who has to clarify "exactly" what I mean? Why dont climate scientists?

    Behind AGW is this idea that temperatures are increasing at least around .1 or .2 degrees per decade and will continue to do so mainly as a function of CO2 concentration levels. With exception to the methane gas issue in Siberia, climate scientist will tell you that this is not a run-away situation, however I have yet to see anything saying that the trend will flatten out or is self limiting. On the contrary, with the existing messaging you are left with the sense that once the polar caps all melt away its anyone's guess as to what will occur, etc. Yet with all those scientific resources, computer models, etc., why dont they come out, take the next step, and finish the story?

    I think what I said was very clear too. That things have warmed some yes, but they will not be warming much more. I did not explain why, but if you will, it is very simple. Anthropogenic warming is due to exothermic chemistry, and directly in proportion to its volume. The real deniers are those who wish to ignore this reality along with other basic laws of thermodynamics.
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  27. What can I say? This post is a political one for all intents and purposes, has nothing to do with science as such.

    It is also getting popular.

    John, is it worth it to violate your own comments policy?
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    Response: I have noticed a whole bunch of links (or simple copy and pasting of the entire article) at many different websites. To be honest, I find it a little annoying. For once, I stray slightly off the topic of science. Why isn't there as many links to my science based articles? They're just as interesting, more so! However, people seem to be more interested in characterising their opponents than discussing science.

    However, the point of this article is not for the purpose of characterising people but to identify particular rhetorical techniques that distract people from the science - it's only by identifying these tactics that the discussion can be redirected back to science. I then give examples of how to bring discussion back to scientific evidence.
  28. I have found that the strongest strand in denialism is free market ideology/ libertarianism. This political belief rejects instinctively the collective action required to respond to climate change. Collective action necessitates a degree of state regulation and control. Anything that bestows more power on the state is anathema to hard right free marketeers. There may also, of course, be others on the left who agree with that for different reasons.

    For many deniers, the politics clearly controls their scientific viewpoint. From what I have seen on this site, there are sceptics who are not deniers. The boundary seems to be set by whether you accept AGW as a working hypothesis or not. There are sceptics "inside the tent" and sceptics "outside the tent".

    Lyndon B. Johnson was the first President of the USA to issue a warning about AGW. In may be just a coincidence that he also said "Sometimes you have to be either outside the tent p**sing in, or inside the tent p**sing out."
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  29. John,
    You missed Characteristic number 6, which is simply having a good counter argument. The problem however is that no matter how good the argument, the so called non-deniers cant believe anything but the same old, same old.

    In past posts you used the expression, "you cant have it both ways". Please explain how, while on the one hand, green house gases are so efficient in trapping heat, on the other, all the exothermic waste heat from industry is not having any effect? Who is having wishful thinking about alternative energy sources not being a problem in their own right?

    Exothermic waste from burning fossil fuels, cooling of nuclear power plants, heat trapped by urban cement jungles are all producing heat that requires no thermometers or statistics to be noticed. Obviously, due to winds it spread it out, but green house gases are keeping this heat in, and its no coincidence that the global temperature rise is on par with the difference between urban and rural temperatures (i.e., 1 or 2 degrees).

    You cant have it both ways, attributing the natural warmth of the planet to natural GHG (which I agree acts like a lid on a pot) and then be ignoring the effect this can have on heat sources that are directly measurable. This extra heat is not being trapped by extra CO2. This extra heat is being trapped by ALL green house gases found in nature.

    Perhaps my idea is unpopular because it means there is no solution to this problem. The good news, however, is that the problem is not as big as that which is being attributed to the effects of CO2.
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  30. Frans Dijkstra
    This is not a very sympathetic post. It seems that you would like to call climate sceptics deniers, but climate scepticism is not denialism. It is science. It has nothing to do with believing in conspiracy theories, it does not use fake experts, nor does it cherry pick selective papers, etc. etc. Climate scepticism is about observations in the real world. It is about not having blind faith in computer modelling, about not ignoring other climate driving factors. Scientific scepticism is – in short – the only way of searching the truth.
    The same characteristics as you use to describe climate denialism can be applied to climate alarmism: conspiracy theories (oil companies supporting scepticism), fake experts (the thousands of ‘experts’ of IPCC, many of whom are government representatives or lobbyists), cherry picking (hockey sticks and much more), impossible expectations (climate models predicting thousands of years into the future) and logical fallacies (the pipeline myth and more).
    It is even more interesting to compare climate alarmism to sectarianism. There is no consensus about the exact characteristics of a sect, but articles about sect and sectarianism in Wikipedia reveal the following general characteristics:
    1. Absolute belief in a sub-truth
    2. Group formation
    3. Seclusion for contrary information
    4. Intolerance
    5. Great charismatic Leaders
    It is not too difficult to recognize these characteristics in the messages of Al Gore, IPCC, and alarmist mass media.
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  31. True North (#62) -
    As a skeptic, would you like to be in the same league as people who claim that the earth is 6000 years old, or that we needn’t worry about climate change since God will not allow humankind to destroy the planet ? I would expect that sincere climate skeptics WELCOME the idea of making the distinction between true skeptics (who are willing to investigate all available facts) and climate deniers (who deliberately close their eyes for unwelcome facts).
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  32. #79 classic argument.

    The total waste heat forcing from burning coal is roughly 0.006 W/m2.

    Greenhouse gases traps heat from the Sun and is currently roughly 4 W/m2.

    There is no comparison.
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  33. #78 tobyjoyce at 18:17 PM on 18 March, 2010
    "the strongest strand in denialism is free market ideology/ libertarianism"

    OK, let's delve into politics. The problem of externalities lies at the core of it.

    Some government intervention to economic processes is inevitable. Unrestricted "free" competition tends to raise external costs with no bound. At least criminal law (and law enforcement) should be in place to prevent cases like the ENRON scandal or Madoff scheme to occur on daily bases. With no proper laws and enforcement power to back it something like Somali pirate economy develops, rule of war lords instead of rule of law. Libertarians would not be happy with such a system.

    But even within the boundaries of legal business there is plenty of room to externalize costs. Environment is one of the easiest preys. The reason for it is in flawed accounting rules. Environmental goods given by God are not accounted for. As there was no production cost associated with them, they have zero value according to the books. Destroying something with zero value has no effect on GNP. No wonder protecting the environment against powerful economic drives is futile.

    Environment does not need protection. It needs rational management based on sound economic principles. However, the present system of accounting is not able to support this kind of decision making.

    A slight modification of accounting rules is needed to get closer to that end. A price tag should be attached to environmental goods not related to their production costs, but reproduction costs. Both Rhine and the river Thames were polluted lifeless by the industrial revolution. Now they are on their way to recovery. Heavy capital investment was needed to decrease pollution substantially and we do know pretty well how much. If they were evaluated in advance according to the reprocuction cost of clear water, rational water management could have come much earlier.

    If reproduction costs of a livable environment in China are taken into account, the prodigious 10%+ economic growth of the last several decades turns out to be closer to 1%. In other words, the Peoples Republic took a loan from its local environment on an unknown interest rate to finance growth. This loan should be payed back sooner or later, else death rate would increase to a point of no return.

    Now. Proper accounting is just the first step to rational environment management. It makes possible to replace environmental abuse penalties by fair environmental usage fees. The fees are calculated to supply reproduction costs, nothing else. That is, environmental amortisation should be balanced by an equal flow of environmental investment.

    However, not all native environmental features are desirable. There is no huge demand for malaria infested swamps, for example. To decide what direction environmental development should take is a public policy issue. If no one is willing to pay the reproduction costs of a feature, it does not have economic value so a zero price tag should be attached to it.

    Science only comes into play at this stage. Sometimes it can tell something about hidden connections between various features of the environment. Even if there is no demand for a feature (like low CO2 on its own right), there might be other features connected to to it (like sea level), that have immediate economic consequences. I am not implying the existence of this particular connection (or the lack of it), just illustrating the proper place of science in the grand scheme.

    What I am trying to say is that the confusion goes much deeper than the connection between public policy decisions and science.

    One of the faces of it is "globalization". Which is a misnomer itself. There is nothing wrong with interconncted ("global") systems per se. It is the type of network that matters. For large (complex) systems it should be recursively modular in order to be manageable. Otherwise control costs grow much faster than the effective size of the system, finally consuming all of its resources and more.

    The problem is the demodularization process (called globalization by some) has gone too far. In a properly designed system traffic between individual modules goes through standard interfaces and is controlled by standard protocols. It used to be that way, but during the last several decades almost all module walls were made uncontrollably permeable (by free trade agreements, see WTO).

    Just imagine the Internet (a global and modular system) with filter lists, firewalls & the like banned by treaties. Legitimate traffic would dwindle, worms, viruses, trojans, adware prevail.

    (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was a demodularization process itself, with dire consequences)

    Current ("modern" or "western") civilization is based on three incompatible, but equally vital principles. One of them is the scientific method. The other two are free enterprise and constitutional government (with free speech, due process, rule of law, general elections and such).

    I would prefere not to elaborate on their incompatibility here, I take it granted.

    Inconsistency can only be handled by modularization. In the current context it means science has to keep as much distance from both business and politics as possible (e.g. press releases on research should be banned immediately). Let businessmen and politicians beg for advice if and when they choose to do so, never try to push them.

    Rush for profit or political passion are equally repulsive traits in a scientific discourse.
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  34. True North @62: The objection to the use of the word "denier" has become something of a cause celebre among a few scientists and many non-scientists who think they know more than the vast majority of climate scientists. The term is not used because of any association with holocaust deniers. It is aimed at this group because they have a habit of reflexively denying everything --EVERYTHING-- that gets printed in scientific journals that goes against their pre-conceived notions on climate science. Thats a LOT of valid scientific research. Nine times out of ten they don't even read it first. That's not skepticism, it's denial.

    Rather than write "hey, that's an interesting finding, let's look at it a little deeper and go with it," they say "It's wrong, the guy writing this does not know the first thing about climate science." It's reached the point where we (the public) get led down a nasty path of having to read conspiracy theories about these scientists' emails. That is denying something -- not being skeptical about it.

    When this chorus stops instantly slamming the research of the vast majority of climate scientists and instead say "I have read Dr. so-an-so's paper and have a couple of question," then they'll be skeptics instead of deniers. If they continue to be silent when published science is misrepresented and allow their words to be fuel for the anti-science crowd, they will keep being called deniers.

    Pick a better word if you wish, but skeptic does not describe what this group is doing.
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  35. "Jacob Bock Axelsen at 22:26 PM on 18 March, 2010
    #79 classic argument.

    The total waste heat forcing from burning coal is roughly 0.006 W/m2.

    Greenhouse gases traps heat from the Sun and is currently roughly 4 W/m2.

    There is no comparison."

    No comparison, why not? Not sure what exactly your numbers represent, however I can use these values to illustrate my point.
    (0.006 / 4 ) x 100 degrees = .15 degrees.

    If your number 4 were to represent the heat to make the Earth 100 degrees warmer (poor GHG situation as on Mars), than .006 contribute .15 degrees.

    In reality we should be dividing only by the amount of energy that is emitted by IR, which is some fraction of 4 making the result higher. And fossil fuels are not the only contributor, so now we are talking about a result in the order of what is currently observed, which is about half a degree.
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  36. Berényi Péter (#83), as usual, way above my pay grade. However there was one thing that I can comment on. Probably way off subject for this thread but I hope JC will let it stand as it is an inspiring example of what can be achieved when enough people agree on something.

    In 1800 the river Thames was a commercial salmon river but the growth of the city and the practice of dumping untreated sewage into the river destroyed the fish habitat. The last Thames salmon was caught in 1815. The pollution got steadily worse until by 1955 the river was a stinking sewer with no vertebrate life forms. It got so bad that the House of Commons had to suspend its sessions owing to the stench! As you can guess that got their attention and the Parliament enacted stronger legislation covering the discharge of untreated waste into the river. However, it took decades of effort by the government (Thames Water Authority), corporations, engineers and private organizations to reverse the pollution. When I left London in 1981, there were over 80 species of fish in the tidal reaches of the Thames and I grew rainbow trout (a salmonid) in commercial quantities using water pumped from the river. Today the salmon are back and ~115 other vertebrates as well. See This shows that even appalling levels of pollution can be reversed!
    0 0
  37. ( #85 ) RSVP, Axelsen in #82 gave you a _very_ clear response which you seem to have misunderstood. Accounting for the exothermic output of coal burning leads to an energy increase (forcing) of 0.006 W/m^2, averaged over the planet. Changes in CO2 concentration blocking certain IR wavelengths leads to an imbalance/forcing of 4.0 W/m^2. That means that C02 is ~666 times (hmm, number of the beast, curious) more important than coal burning in the energy accumulation and heating of the planet.

    "No comparison, why not? Not sure what exactly your numbers represent..." I find that difficult to believe, but please re-read #82 and look at the link Axelsen provided.

    Now, coal burning certainly isn't the only exothermic reaction going on. Burning of plant matter, oil, nuclear, even solar energy collection (using the energy -> heat rather than it reflecting back out to space). But I think that even the most generous accounting shows that exothermic reactions are around two orders of magnitude less important than CO2 forcing. They're certainly a factor; but for ~1% of the heating! That's 'utterly trivial', to quote the article Axelsen points to.
    0 0
  38. KR
    I have read what you said and understood what you said.

    I actually have a real live (almost) however and will try to get back to you on this as soon as I can. If what you said is the case, that is fine and it does make sense, however, I disagree that Axelsen gave me such a clear response, because if he had have you would´nt have had to come to his aid. Specifically, he made a reference to GHG and GHG mean all GHGs, not just those produced by man. Anyway, I will try to revisit this problem asap. Thanks.
    0 0
  39. #76 RSVP, no scientific hypothesis that I am aware of depends on the way that one might parse the words "global warming". "Global warming" is the popular/common name for the climate change we are experiencing, and while there could be a more exact name, it would have several additional words. Contrary to your assertions via question, I think scientists have explained things just fine, but some people don't want to hear.

    As for what happens after the polar ice caps melt away, if that happens the world will already be a radically different place, and what happens afterward is not really the most important thing.
    0 0
  40. Just went and read that Pierrehumbert article Axelsen pointed out again; it appears I misinterpreted it a bit.

    The 0.006 W/m^2 figure is exothermic heat for burning the amount of coal required to satisfy the _entire_ planetary electric power budget, the 4.0 W/m^2 is the CO2 energy trapping that would be caused just by burning that much coal.

    So running the numbers, the exothermic heat from a carbon based fuel turns out to be <1/666 the greenhouse gas effect from burning that same fuel. Exothermic heat from carbon fuels has _almost no_ effect on global warming compared to the CO2 produced.

    Hmm, sounds like an argument for solar and nuclear power...
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  41. It's amazing how you have posted this article about the five characteristics of scientific denialism, and up pop loads of confirming posts from those who want to deny !

    If they're not trying to act hurt at being called deniers/denialists :


    ...they're (possibly unknowingly) confirming their need for conspiracy theories, logical fallacies, fake experts and impossible expectations.

    See :

    Frans Dijkstra


    They also make things up, misquote/misunderstand (especially about Phil Jones) and assume full knowledge (particularly on 'hockey-sticks').

    See :

    TrueNorth (again)

    suibhne (again)


    And, having mentioned the 'hockey-stick', surely there is a marked obsession from these people over certain issues like that; and over people like Gore, Mann, Pachauri, etc ? If they didn't bring them up all the time (and then claim that everyone else treats them like 'gurus' because they are always being mentioned), those names would hardly ever be seen.

    See :


    As for Geo Guy :

    josil (the very first comment !)

    ...well, as a list of issues that need to be debunked, have been debunked and are debunked on this very site, he has provided a very good basis for his own rebuttal and a good advertisement for this site :

    Skeptic Arguments and What the Science Says

    (Was he a plant ?)
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  42. #79 RSVP, have you compared the total heat from exothermal reactions to the geothermal heat flow? Total outward (from the solid earth) geothermal heat flow is 4.43 * 10**13 W.
    0 0
  43. #79 RSVP, and there you go, in #82. Exothermic is 10% of geothermal, 0.15% of greenhouse gases effect.
    0 0
  44. With reference to No. 92 :

    The bit near the end - "josil (the very first comment !)" in red - should be directly below "gallopingcamel".
    And the link for josil should be

    That means that the last paragraph (beginning "....well, as a list") belongs with "As for Geo Guy :", which should have the link

    Sorry about that and I hope it all makes sense...
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  45. @David Horton: I got that idea because the original coiners of the Climate Denier meme explicitly made the connection with Holocaust Denialism. Fools like David Suzuki even mused about trowing people in jail for their thoughcrimes.

    As I granted in my original post, there are indeed fools on the skeptical side who aren't interested in whether AGW exists or not, just as there are fools on the other side who believe that everything bad that happens must be caused by global warming.

    My point is that there are enough blogs and websites out there for the fools on both sides to throw stones at each other and mock the other side's idiotic statements.

    THIS blog, which appeals to me because it deals with careful examination of the scientific evidence, should eschew such childish behaviour and instead treat rational skeptics/believers with respect (and just ignore the irrational ones).

    Besides which, is anyone worth convincing a 100% believer or skeptic? I go back and forth all the time between in "small problem" and "possibly serious problem" range as new evidence comes in. That is why I am here: I really want to know. You will have an easier time convincing me and others like me if (a) you stick to the evidence and (b) give the impression that this blog itself is at least open to the idea of being proved wrong.

    On the latter point, can you point out to me a single post where you stated something (perhaps based on research from the CRU or a comment from Rajendra Pachauri that you later had to admit was wrong?). If you can, you will INCREASE my degree of trust in this blog.
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  46. tobyjoyce

    I thought you might be interested in this device.
    I don't mind if you pass it round your "consensus" friends.
    I think this proves I'm not a bad chap even though they call me names.
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  47. In response to tobyjoyce at 06:26 AM on 18 March, 2010

    "Please investigate your claim further and get back to us."

    The researchers who identified the issue with respect to NASA are American researchers Joseph D'Aleo, a meteorologist, and E. Michael Smith, a computer programmer, who point out in a study published on the website of the Science and Public Policy Institute, NOAA uses "just one thermometer [for measuring] everything north of latitude 65 degrees."

    A search of the internet using the two authors names will give you a large list of references where this issue has been reported - one being

    As for further details on the Russian temp data:

    The IEA believes that Russian meteorological-station data did not substantiate the anthropogenic global-warming theory.

    Analysts say Russian meteorological stations cover most of the country's territory, and that the Hadley Center had used data submitted by only 25% of such stations in its reports.

    Over 40% of Russian territory was not included in global-temperature calculations for some other reasons, rather than the lack of meteorological stations and observations.

    The data of stations located in areas not listed in the Hadley Climate Research Unit Temperature UK (HadCRUT) survey often does not show any substantial warming in the late 20th century and the early 21st century.

    The HadCRUT database includes specific stations providing incomplete data and highlighting the global-warming process, rather than stations facilitating uninterrupted observations.

    On the whole, climatologists use the incomplete findings of meteorological stations far more often than those providing complete observations.

    IEA analysts say climatologists use the data of stations located in large populated centers that are influenced by the urban-warming effect more frequently than the correct data of remote stations.

    The scale of global warming was exaggerated due to temperature distortions for Russia accounting for 12.5% of the world's land mass. The IEA said it was necessary to recalculate all global-temperature data in order to assess the scale of such exaggeration.

    Global-temperature data will have to be modified if similar climate-date procedures have been used from other national data because the calculations used by COP15 analysts, including financial calculations, are based on HadCRUT research.

    For an in depth look at the paper go to:
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  48. TrueNorth @96
    "... there are fools on the other side who believe that everything bad that happens must be caused by global warming."

    Who? I strongly suspect that either: 1. their words and writings do not mean what you claim here, or: 2. they have been called out for their errors by members of the scientific community.
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  49. Re: Geo Guy (#15)

    It seems the best you can do on the Russian stations is offer a paper from the Cato Institute, a political think-tank. Something from a peer-reviewed journal, maybe? I thought not.

    I'll stick with Tamino's description of D'Aleo and Smith as "plain wrong" and "incoherent".

    I don't mind if we draw a line under this at this point, unless you can do a bit better.
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  50. Geo Guy, from my perspective almost everything you write in that comment is either false or misleading, presumably because it's coming from highly unreliable sources.

    However, I have no doubt that you believe it to be true. So, let's just take the first factual claim in your comment:

    NOAA uses "just one thermometer [for measuring] everything north of latitude 65 degrees."

    Can you explain what you think that sentence means? Because there are certainly lots of stations north of latitude 65 in the GHCN dataset used by NOAA for their surface temperature record. See, e.g., this map.

    Or go to GISTEMP, where you can see that they use many, many stations north of latitude 65. Just a handful of examples include:

    Ostrov Vize (79.5 N) 1951-2010
    Eureka, NWT (80 N) 1974-2010
    Danmarkshavn (76.8 N) 1951-2010
    Gmo Im.E.K. F (77.7 N) 1932-2010
    Bjornoya (74.5 N) 1949-2010
    Ostrov Kotel' (76.0 N) 1933-2010
    Ostrov Dikson (73.5 N) 1916-2010
    Jan Mayen (70.9 N) 1921-2010

    and those are just a few - there are many more.

    So, could you explain what you think that sentence means?
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