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Every skeptic argument ever used

Posted on 2 March 2010 by John Cook

The Skeptical Science list of skeptic arguments is one of the larger compilations going around, currently numbering 91 different arguments. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Whenever I encounter a skeptic argument, I add it to the database which currently contains 242 skeptic arguments. The 91 are those which I've found the time to research and write a summary of what the peer-reviewed science says on the topic. Now all 242 arguments have been categorised and displayed on a new Global Warming Links page. And just to open up a potentially huge can of worms, you can add to the list of skeptic arguments yourself!

There's more to this list than just the skeptic arguments. Besides each skeptic argument, you'll notice a green and red number. The green number denotes the number of web pages about that skeptic argument that endorse man-made global warming (let's call them pro-AGW). The red number denotes the number of skeptic links. This is the guts of Global Warming Links - a resource of global warming links expressing both sides of the debate.

Sometimes Skeptical Science is accused of being unbalanced. This criticism is certainly true in terms of the links collected so far. There are substantially more skeptic than pro-AGW links. This is because I've been collecting skeptic links for years, since before I started Skeptical Science. However, I've only been collecting pro-AGW links since I started developing the Links page a few weeks ago. So I would encourage anyone if they encounter a webpage or blog post about a particular skeptic argument to submit it in the Add New Link form.

I've also added two other interesting pages which are linked to from the top of Global Warming Links. There's Last Week which lists the most popular skeptic arguments submitted over the last week. This should be useful for keeping track of the latest, most popular skeptic arguments. The problem is currently there are only a handful of articles submitted over the last week so it's not a terribly comprehensive representation yet. Hopefully the list will fill up in quick time. There is also Last Month which lasts the most used skeptic arguments over the last 30 days.

Even while developing the Links page, I've found it an immensely handy resource. Whenever I encounter an informative webpage addressing a specific skeptic argument, I quickly go to Add New Link and submit the URL. That way, it's filed away for future reference, categorised and ready at my fingertips. My hope is that as the directory fills up with links, when people need to research a particular argument, they'll have a collection of useful links all gathered in the one place focused on the topic at hand.

Of course, the reason I'm doing this is because a single person can't keep track of every skeptic argument ever used. So I'm hoping Skeptical Science readers will over time help build a comprehensive list of arguments and links. Giving the online community access to my database, meticulously and lovingly constructed for years, is not an easy step for a control freak such as myself. So it goes without saying that the submissions will be moderated - both arguments and links. Any user caught spamming or submitting frivolous arguments or links will have their user account disabled. But if you submit proper links, your contribution will be very much appreciated. Remember, both skeptic and pro-AGW links are welcome.

UPDATE: to make the Links page easier to get to, the LINKS navigation in the header now links to the Links page. The old links page can now be reached via a link at the bottom of each page.

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Comments 51 to 69 out of 69:

  1. CoalGeo, yes that is clear. John talks about accelerated warming in his argument which I think is hard to justify - and not from the link of his you gave compared with your link - see the difference in the graphs? Sorry about the light relief remark - Arno's post had not been deleted when I posted - it was a very long essay on a book he had written!
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  2. Fun! Here they are as an Open Office .ods spreadsheet, complete with a couple of stacked bar graphs for your edification. Feel free to add to your resources if you so desire. There are separate graphs for >100 links and <100; the latter should be broken down into 50-100 and 0-50 for legibility. Yech. Sorting out piles of manure. Off to figure out what an "Infared Iris" is. Wasn't she one of the Super Friends? You know, Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman...
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  3. With Y2K, everything from people losing Social Security to a nuclear holocaust were predicted. Fortunately, the simple passing of time was all that was needed to disprove the most dire predictions. For AGW, while there is no set date, there is a sense on both sides of the argument that "time will tell", and if not, it's just a matter of more time. But this is not true. Climate may be warming, but determining the source of this warming is a very different matter.
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  4. @RSVP - your statement about Y2K is completely wrong. Not much happening wasn't due to "the simple passing of time" it had to do with folks like me working in IT preparing for January 1, 2000, doing lots of analysis and making lots of changes well in advance (think 2 to 3 years as we knew what was coming and when). Y2K wasn't a complicated issue it was the sheer number of potential problems it could cause due to a lot of old(er) code and data just working with a two- instead of a four-digit field for the year. Not too surprisingly, computer programs tend to do a lot of comparison operations like 'is "A" greater than "B" or not?' With a four-digit year that comparison works fine as "2000" is greater than "1999", but what would the result have been with a comparison between two-digit years "99" and "00" come new year 2000? Quite a lot could have gone wrong if we hadn't seen it coming and taken adequate steps to avoid it. Unfortunately, we are not taking the same precautions when it comes to mitigating climate change...
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  5. John, I just added three of my own links. Can we plug our own links? Climate Models & Accuracy Global Cooling? The Scientific Consensus
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    Response: Definitely! In fact, for the time-pressed climate blogger, I would encourage your readers to submit your webpages to the directory. The more links we can get into the directory, the more useful a resource it will be.

    Not to mention hopefully it will get more traffic and google ranking for your website.
  6. Question. Why do you think that the majority of the people, especially the more educated, choose to be ignorant of climate change. Or rather choose not to accept the possibility of climate change and won't adapt to it. i.e. Why are skeptic arguments so successful?
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  7. Hi BaerbelW Absolutely right. Interestingly, the lesson we should take from Y2K is that we asked our experts, computer analysts, to evaluate the problem and propose a solution. They did and we trusted them and did not question the need to invest some money in the solution. As a result, nothing bad happened and the investment in upgraded software most likely benefitted the economy rather than hurt the economy. In other words any economic argument not to respond to the problem were quite frankly baseless. With respect to AGW, humanity has asked our best experts to study the problem and propose solutions. They've done that. The IPCC report is one of the most incredible achievements of humanity. It is the first time our reaction to a serious problem was the application of critical thinking rather than say going to war (the Bush administration solution to peak oil for example). Economic arguments are again unsubstantiated and baseless, even on the very remote possibility that the IPCC report is wrong (say some value of epsilon greater than zero but smaller than say the probability that the Nats will win the world series every year for the next hundred years.) I take issue with coal geologist writing: "Admittedly, some who concur with AGW do so on the basis of faith or prejudice, and are equally as dogmatic as many of those who reject AGW." As a matter of fact, besides the handful of people (not even too many of the commenter’s here) virtually all people do not have the training and time to properly evaluate climate physics and the IPCC report, sorry. People who accept this report are entirely rational and sane. People who like George Will, Senator Inhofe, Glen Beck, Marc Morano, and the clownish Third Lord Viscount Monckton of Benchley, who deny the science based on maybe the stuff they forgot from a junior high school earth sciences course, are in denial. Referring to them as deniers is being accurate. If anybody thinks they can have a rational discussion based on science and fact with such people if only we adopt a better name for them besides the rather appropriate “denier” is deluding himself. I suggest you try it. I have. Pick a local elected official who denies AGW and make an appointment to discuss it with them. By all means arm yourself with the best science. You will find out that they will tell you how wonderful the Inhofe 400 prominent scientist report is despite the obvious fact that they haven't actually read it. (It wasn't ever actually meant to the read and I doubt Inhofe, Morano and Dempsey even read it.) And they will have some unkind things to say about Al Gore. And they will mention one or two of the more ridiculous denier arguments (water vapor is 98% of the GHG effect, in the 70's.., Mars is warming.., GCRs, it will hurt the economy to do anything about it, the hockey stick was debunked, it's the sun, or worse). These they believe unquestioningly while insisting on being called "skeptical". What we are struggling with here is that the human brain may not be wired to avoid self extinction. Of coure, we have no choice but to press on. Check this out: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/327/5970/1246 Best regards Tony
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  8. Skeptical Science is the best place I know to find current information about the AGW hypothesis. Thank you to John Cook! It appears that the climate science community has no choice other than to a) publish in the best peer-reviewed journals; wait for the plethora of objections from scores of amateur scientists; and then b) respond to each objection-group with reference to peer-reviewed literature. Of course, this is happening to an extent on various sites. But I have found that such sites often revert to dismissive put-downs (eg Deltoid) or language which is inaccessible (eg RC/BraveNewClimate). The messages get lost. Trust is the critical issue. Most people (me included) don't have the time or expertise to follow and validate the micro-detailed stuff on many blogs. The questions I now use to filter material on the AGW hypothesis (pro or anti) which I trust are (order reflects weighting!): * is it from a peer-reviewed paper? * is the commentator a reviewer of climate science papers? * is the commentator an author of a peer-reviewed & published climate science paper? * is the commentator a current climate scientist who actually works with one of the climate models considered by the IPCC? * is the commentator a current climate scientist? It's the only way I can move forward ... So, this site is really important for two basic reasons - it is committed to citing peer-reviewed publications (pro and anti); and it tries to use accessible language. More please! (And the climate science community should immediately adopt the policy of making accessible ALL the source data and methods supporting peer-reviewed publications ... just make FOI requests a non-issue and remove the time demands associated with complying with FOI requests.)
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  9. Can I make a few suggestions regarding the hierarchy of arguments? When you have time, you might want to consider the following: I think “CO2 effect is saturated” more rightly belongs under “CO2 effect is weak”; and “It’s CFCs” belongs under “CO2 is not the only driver of climate”. And “CO2 is not increasing” could perhaps go somewhere in the category “Humans are too insignificant to affect global climate”. Perhaps “Pacific Islanders aren’t evacuating” could be a subcategory of “Pacific Islands are not drowning”? And shouldn’t “The Earth’s orbit is decaying” go under “It’s the Earth’s orbit”? And “Hemispheric timing” under “CO2 is coming from the ocean”? And “CO2 increases vegetation” under “CO2 is plant food”? “Technological breakthroughs will fix global warming” doesn’t seem to belong in “It’s not us” at all. Perhaps it could go instead in “It’s not bad”. Similarly, “Better to adapt than mitigate” and “China pollutes more” could both move from “It’s not bad” to “It’s too late”. “Mann inverted the Tiljander series” would seem to be the same argument as “Tiljander was flipped upside down”. The same goes for “It’s magnetic poles” and “It’s geomagnetic activity”. And “Phil Jones hid flaws in UHI study” is very similar to “Chinese station data is missing”. “CO2 limits will harm the economy” is very similar to “The benefits of reducing CO2 isn’t worth the economic pain”. Also, three particular arguments don’t seem to be displaying on the “taxonomy” list of 91 arguments: “Climategate CRU emails suggest conspiracy”, “Trenberth can’t account for the lack of warming”, and “CO2 is not a pollutant”.
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    Response: James, thanks very much for the very detailed and useful feedback - I've actually followed all your suggestions and shuffled the arguments around to make the categorising somewhat more accurate. The argument list with its hierarchy has developed in a fairly ad hoc fashion over the years and while I try to keep it in order, well, incongruities do escape my attention. So I very much appreciate your thoughtful comments. I've also fixed the glitch that caused those 3 arguments not to appear on the taxonomy list.
  10. I've just added a few extra arguments from Coby Beck's list How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic. I hope it isn't too frivolous, but there were some which I have heard contrarians use that I couldn't find on your list (particularly the clouds one).
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    Response: One man's frivolous is another man's dogma so your submissions are very much appreciated.
  11. This Nature article is interesting on Roman/Medieval/Little Ice age periods. The article describes research using clam shells instead of tree rings to look at the past climate.
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  12. This is clearly a one-off and/or very early study - the actual data shows a distinct cooling trend since the Roman era - intriguing that Nature published it.
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  13. Even more intriguing is the lack of modern era data!
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  14. I've just noticed that "We're coming out of the Little Ice Age" has now disappeared from the taxonomy list (but I can get to it from the numbered list). Where's it gone?
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    Response: It disappeared into the ether of incorrectly categorised arguments - I've reached in and extracted the argument, putting it back where it belongs. Thanks for pointing out it's disappearance. :-)
  15. I don’t want to create more work for you, but maybe I can suggest some low-hanging fruit that you could tackle. There are several arguments on the full list which you have already discussed in some form on Skeptical Science, but do not have a page of their own. Perhaps you might like to look at adding separate pages for some of the following: • Antarctica is cooling (in a recent post on sea ice) • Southern sea ice is increasing (also in sea ice post) • Mike’s Nature trick to ‘hide the decline’ (on Climategate page) • IPCC overestimate the danger (on IPCC page) • 500 scientists refute the consensus (in an old 2007 post) • Outgoing longwave radiation hasn’t changed (on CO2 effect page) • It’s part of a 1500 year cycle (on natural cycle page) • Mauna Loa is a volcano (on CO2 measurements page) • CO2 emissions do not correlate with CO2 concentration (in a 2009 post) • Models exaggerate projected temperature rise (on models page) • Hansen’s 1988 prediction was wrong (also on models page) The following have been at least briefly mentioned: • Institute of Physics doesn’t support AGW (listed on consensus page) • Springs aren’t advancing (mentioned on evidence for global warming page) • Greenhouse effect does not exist (partially explained on CO2 effect page) • Temperature has fallen while CO2 was rising (discussed in several contexts) • Triton is warming (briefly discussed on other planets page) • Ocean acidification isn’t going to happen (mentioned on positives vs negatives page) • Earth hasn’t warmed as much as expected (alluded to on models page) Again, my suggestion is not intended to create unnecessary work, but is more about gathering together info already on the site into a more obvious location.
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    Response: This is a great idea, many thanks for the suggestion. Think Homer Simpson muttering "mmm... low lying fruit". I've plucked the lowest of the low lying fruit by posting responses to the following skeptic arguments which all will zip into iPhone apps across the world over the next few days (the app updates its own content on a regular basis): The only downside is this takes the number of skeptic arguments with a response to exactly 100. I had been aware that we were fast approaching the 100th skeptic argument and had a doozy of a post planned to commemorate the event. Now we've already gone over the #100 mark, that potential landmark has been missed (can you tell I'm a glass-half-empty kind of person).
  16. John, I have some more suggestions about your list of arguments. I realize the list is not entirely your own anymore, so some of the things I point out may be other people’s additions that have slipped under the radar. (That’s the danger of allowing anybody to contribute!) In particular, somebody has added an argument with the rather unwieldy title “CO2 emissions/absortion rates from nature are largely unprecise. More unprecise than accounted emissions by humans. We can't be sure if it is all an accounting error.” Maybe this should be shortened to a single sentence like the other arguments? Also, “absortion” should be spelled “absorption” and “unprecise” should be “imprecise”. “Kilimanjaro snow does not melt because of warming” is also a bit unclear. Does it mean that Kilimanjaro snow *isn’t* melting because of warming (an argument that would belong under “Mt Kilimanjaro’s ice loss is due to land use”), or Kilimanjaro snow *wouldn’t* melt if it was warming (which would belong under “It’s not bad”)? Come to think of it, “Glacier melt is natural” itself doesn’t really belong under “Climate’s changed before” either. It seems to me that “Gulf Stream is stable” and “Conveyor belt won’t stop” are essentially the same argument – unless one is meant to refer to ocean conveyor belts generally and the other to the North Atlantic specifically, but that isn’t clear from the articles submitted. Also, I’m not sure what the difference is between “CO2 effect is saturated” and “Saturated Greenhouse Effect”. Does the latter mean that all greenhouse gases are saturated, not just CO2? I think “Freedom of Information requests were ignored” belongs under “Climategate”. And maybe “Corals survived during past periods of high CO2” should go under “It’s not bad”. (Incidentally, do you realise the “It’s not bad” link on the taxonomy page goes to an error message?) I also noticed you’ve separated the last category of arguments into two topics, “It’s too late” and “It’s too hard”. I suggest that “CO2 limits will hurt the poor”, “Famine and disease are a higher priority”, and “CO2 limits take money away from real threats” all belong in the “It’s too hard” category.
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    Response: The list of skeptic arguments that I originally set up is like a complex garden that constantly needs pruning and maintenance to keep in order. Then I let everyone else add to it which means it now needs constant weeding also! So I appreciate your periodic proofreading of the skeptic list, helps keep it relatively under control. I've just made the following changes:
    • Shortened the "CO2 emissions/absortion rates from nature are largely unprecise..." argument to "Carbon cycle uncertainty is high"
    • Merged the two Kiliminjaro arguments into one
    • Merged "gulf stream is stable" and "conveyor belt won't stop"
    • Merged "co2 is saturated" and "greenhouse is saturated"
    • Recategorised "FOI requests were ignored" under climategate
    • Recategorised coral reef arguments under "it's not bad"
    • Fixed the broken link to the "It's not bad" page
    • BTW, while I was there shuffling things around, I swapped the ordering around so "It's too hard" comes before "It's too late". If you consider the arguments as stages of denial, it makes more chronological sense.
    Thanks again for all the suggestions. This is just as valuable as the proofreading help I've been getting recently. Please feel free to give the list a look over every couple of weeks to see if it needs weeding again :-)
  17. I have a few more suggestions about the argument list (nothing too major – it’s mostly nitpicky stuff, so don’t worry too much about it): • One argument recently added is “Global warming does not cause volcanoes”. This is grammatically incorrect – something can’t “cause” an object. Perhaps it could be reworded to something along the lines of “Global warming does not cause volcanic eruptions”. • A while ago I added the arguments “Proponents don’t attempt to falsify AGW” and “It’s not 100% certain”. On second thoughts, I think both belong under “The science isn’t settled”, as both arguments have to do with the nature of science. • “It’s the gulf stream” should probably be in the “It’s the ocean” category. • Doesn’t “CO2 measurements are suspect” belong under “CO2 is not increasing”? • I would also suggest that “It’s ozone” be categorised under “It’s CFCs”, because they caused the ozone depletion. There are some other proofreading-related things which I’ve noticed: • Strangely, the main arguments in the categories “It’s not happening”, “It’s not us”, and “It’s too late” are bold, but not those in “It’s not bad” and “It’s too hard” – why is this? • There’s a full stop after “CRU lost temperature data”, whereas none of the other arguments have a full stop. • In the links for “Climategate was whitewashed”, a article called “Climate-Gate Gets A Whitewash” was counted as pro-AGW, but it seems to be actually a skeptic link. (BTW, is there a possibility of making each resources page show all the links for that argument, rather than just the latest 25?) • Oddly enough, once or twice when I’ve submitted a new skeptic argument, I’ve noticed the list of arguments to check includes “I would really like to see the EPA-OBD II Annual Vehicle Emissions Inspection Law closely examined and changed.As it stands right now, it is entirely possible for any Gasoline powered Vehicle from 1996 to the present to fail it's Emissions Inspection”. Why is this? • Is there any order to the contradictions page? It seems disordered.
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    Response: Once again, many thanks for the very specific feedback. The regular contributions you've made have provoked me to add you to the list of people I thank for making contributions to Skeptical Science (look for the bullet point list of thanks at the end of the post). I've made the following changes:
    • Changed "Global warming does not cause volcanoes" to "Global warming does not cause volcanic eruptions". I first encountered this argument on Wattsupwiththat and didn't take much notice of it. Then I saw a peer-reviewed paper from 1992 saying the melting glaciers on Iceland would lead to more volcanic eruptions which piqued my interest. I created the argument just so I could file away that peer-reviewed paper for future reference.
    • Recategorised "Proponents don’t attempt to falsify AGW" and "It’s not 100% certain" under "The science isn’t settled".
    • Recategorised "gulf stream" under "it's the ocean".
    • Recategorised "CO2 measurements are suspect" under "Co2 is not increasing".
    • Re ozone, aren't there various factors that might cause ozone depletion such as cosmic radiation? I'll leave as is for now.
    • Fixed those unbolded arguments under "it's not bad" and "it's not too hard" (in a bit of a hack solution, I've hard coded this rather than make it database driven).
    • Removed full stop after "CRU lost temp data" (you have the pedantic eye that any good proofreader worth their salt possesses).
    • Recategorised the "Climategate gets a whitewash" article as skeptic.
    • Re the "I would really like to see the EPA-OBD II Annual Vehicle Emissions Inspection Law..." argument appearing when you submit a new argument, this was because my code was accidentally showing deleted arguments as well as approved ones. I've tightened the code to only show approved arguments. I'd noticed this also but hadn't bothered to fix it - it took your comment to supply sufficient motivation for me to fix the loophole :-)
    One of these days, I'll reprogram the resource pages to paginate the links - that way, you'll be able to scroll through all possible links.

    Re the contradiction page, I've added a field to the database "Contradiction strength". I did this because once contradictions started getting submitted, I noticed some were more "contradictory" than others. Eg - more blatant contradictions whereas some were arguable. So I've been going through the contradictions (albeit slowly), placing each contradiction along the pecking order depending on how strong the contradiction. It's a bit of an ad hoc process.

    However, ultimately the ordering is not that important. My ultimate goal with this page is not to show all the contradictions in a muddled mess like this - I eventually hope to show two top-ten lists: one of the most common contradictions and one of the websites with the most contradictions (eg - the number of different blog posts which contradict each other).
  18. Regarding the argument “450 peer-reviewed papers are skeptical of AGW”, the Popular Mechanics list is now up to 700. (That’s what the title says anyway; I haven’t actually counted them.)
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  19. I’ve noticed some more errors in the Resources section that you should know about. Probably the most important is that the resources pages for “It’s the Sun” and “It’s cosmic rays” no longer seem to contain any links! But there are supposed to be hundred of them – where have they all gone? (This problem may extend to other pages, but I haven’t checked them all.) Another thing I’ve noticed recently is that the lists of Pro-AGW resources for each argument no longer include the corresponding Skeptical Science pages (though the SkS pages do seem to be included in the tally of Pro-AGW links displayed in green on the main Resources page). Did you intentionally remove them? (And why isn’t there a tally of Neutral links as well as Pro-AGW and Skeptic?) When you view an argument’s “peer-reviewed resources” page, there is a link at the top saying “View peer-reviewed papers only”. Shouldn’t this link direct the reader back to the full list of links?
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    Response: Okay, realised why some pages weren't showing all the links - it's because I limited each page to only 25 links which means the arguments with lots of pro-AGW links used up their allotment before they even got to the neutral or skeptic links.

    The link to the skeptical science rebuttal of each argument was missing because of a stupid error in my code. Took me a while to discover the error, took even longer slapping myself in the forehead for making the error then only a second to fix it.

    The link saying 'view peer-reviewed papers only' is meant to show only papers for that argument. I added it because I personally found it annoying having to go back to the main directory, select 'peer-review only' then go back to the argument. I wanted immediate satisfaction.

    Why isn't there a tally of neutral links? Meh. Who cares about how many neutral links there are? Well, I'm sure you do, James :-)

    BTW, as always, many thanks for the feedback and helping keep the ever expanding and bloating website in some semblance of order.

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