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Climate Hustle

Understanding climate denial

Posted on 28 September 2011 by John Cook

There are a number of areas of science where the evidence has become so overwhelming that a scientific consensus forms. For example, the consensus on the link between smoking and cancer, that HIV causes AIDS or that humans are causing global warming. Where there is a scientific consensus, there are often movements that deny the scientific evidence. All of these denialist movements have been found to share 5 common characteristics, including cherry pickingconspiracy theories and fake experts.

Understanding the denial of scientific evidence is a crucial element to putting the climate controversy into proper context. The first step is recognizing that the process of denial is to be distinguished from cases where the title 'denier' is used derogatorily. Complaining about the word 'denier' can be a form of denial itself, using concern trolling to avoid a serious discussion of the scientific evidence.

Certain defence mechanisms are tell-tale signs of denial. In one experiment, people were asked if they believed there was a link between Saddam Hussein and the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Those who answered yes were shown evidence that there was no such link, including a direct quote from President Bush. Despite the overwhelming evidence, only 2% of participants consciously changed their mind (although interestingly, 14% denied they ever believed in the link despite indicating so in the initial survey).

The most common response was attitude bolstering. This involves bringing to mind arguments that support pre-existing views while denying any counter evidence. The process is reflexive and almost sub-conscious. Attitude bolstering has an unexpected and unfortunate consequence. When one encounters threatening evidence, the cognitive process of bringing supporting arguments to the fore results in a strengthening of one's views. This is known as the backfire effect, where debunking a myth can paradoxically end up reinforcing the myth. The effect is strongest among those whose views are already quite strong.

Is it any wonder that so few who deny scientific evidence change their mind? But don't forget that 2%. The rare person who was "skeptical" about climate change but then considered the full body of evidence is the exception that proves the rule. In Confessions of a Climate Change Convert, D.R. Tucker perused all the scientific evidence, became convinced that humans are causing global warming and uttered the famous pronouncement, "I was defeated by facts".

Craig Good from Skeptoid, describes how he came to be convinced of the evidence in I, Global Warming Skeptic:

Since [Peter Gleick's] talk I have spent a lot of time on a site he recommended, There they have taken each of the most common science questions, numbered them, and carefully addressed them with the current science. The answers are even presented in basic, intermediate, and advanced formats so that there’s likely to be one matching the reader’s level of scientific knowledge.

With the caveat that a few of the questions don’t belong on their list (42, 63, 105 and 165, at least) because they are economic and/or political rather than scientific, I highly recommend the site.

So, yes, I am now persuaded that anthropogenic global warming is real. That’s because I’m a skeptic.

I recently received an email from a blogger Nathan McKaskle who informed me:

"You changed my mind about global warming. Up until today I was a big time skeptic for a number of reasons. Great site with a wealth of information that addressed most of my concerns."

Unfortunately Nathan closed his blog down (otherwise I would've linked to his blog post on this subject). Ironically, he closed down his site due to discouragement, not knowing whether he'd changed a single mind through his blogging. It's a sentiment many of us bloggers can relate to, I'm sure.

These examples of minds being changed by the evidence reaffirms Skeptical Science's key mission of presenting the many lines of evidence for man-made global warming. Another key to putting the climate controversy into proper context is understanding the phenomenon of denial. Skeptical Science will continue to examine the 5 characteristics of science denial and how they manifest in many climate myths. It is by understanding how some deny the evidence that we are able to point to the scientific evidence.

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Comments 51 to 84 out of 84:

  1. Robert Murphy #48, we have a warming of close to 1 K coupled with 35% increase in CO2. That is nicely according to theory. That means IF there is a negative feedback THEN either CO2 is an even stronger GHG than theory suggests OR it means there is another warming effect out there. Which is it to be? Show the feedback and explain how CO2 is even a stronger GHG than we know, OR show the independent warming effect!

    Or else let the denialists do away with Ockham's Razor and introduce the lepechuans.

    By the way, isn't a feedback-effect incorporated in 'climate sensitivity'?
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  2. cRR Kampen wrote: "It remains a contradiction in terms. GHG implies climate sensitity. You can't call a gas a GHG then state that climate sensitivity for that gas is low or nil. " Climate sensitivity is a measure of the response of the climate to a change in forcings, and it is pretty much the same regardless of what type of forcing is considered. Thus there is no contradiction to accept that CO2 is a GHG with forcing that is logarithmically increasing with concentration, with constants as set out by the IPCC, but still not accept that it is a significant problem because climate sensitivity to ANY forcing is low (which is Spencers argument).

    Now the distinction between forcing and climate sensitivity is a pretty basic and fundamental one; perhaps you ought to question your certainty on issues such as how perfectly the observations fit AGW theory, at least until you fully grasp the distinction between forcing and sensitivity. The observations fall within the range of what AGW theory considers plauible - but that range is pretty broad. This means that the observations being consistent with the predictions of the theory doesn't imply that the prediction has any great skill or that the theory is significantly corroborated by the observations.

    While denial is a bad thing, over-confidence in the absolute correctness of AGW theory is equally bad, a few parts of the science genuinely are setted, some are not, climate sensitivity is one of the bits that is relatively unsettled. The skeptics who argue that climate sensitivity is low are in a fairly weak position, but to suggest it is completely untennable is to be in denial, just in the other direction. IMHO of course.
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  3. cRR_Kampen @51,

    While a appreciate your enthusiasm on this particular subject, it seems that the thread is getting somewhat off topic by discussing the details of climate sensitivity. If you read my post above I think that you'll see that we are largely in agreement.

    Dana wrote a post recently on the observed warming and how that compares with what has been observed, so perhaps that is a more appropriate venue to discuss this further, as this thread is primarily concerned with understanding denial. Thanks.
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  4. cRR Kampen: If I may, you appear to be splitting hairs.

    Others have provided documentation of noted contrarians & denialists acknowledging the physical basis of CO2 as a greenhouse gas, while still denying the policy implications of its massive & rapid build-up in the atmosphere and the resulting follow-on effects.
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  5. cRR Kampen - I would point out that it's the rationality (or lack thereof) of denial makes it quite possible to hold contradictory views.

    I do not see why you are getting so vehement, particularly with people who agree with you about the evidence for anthropogenically caused global warming, - over the (ir)rationality of those who do not.

    Quite frankly, the folks here are the wrong people to have this conversation with - rather, you should speak directly to those in denial about how contradictory their views are.
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  6. John Hartz#49: "separate realities"

    You're exactly right; this is the key to understanding why someone is in denial.

    All that's really necessary for a person to be in denial is an unshakable belief in one central misconception. If one starts with something as simple as 'it can't possibly by anthropogenic - its not us,' then anything pointing a finger at 'us' must be denied. This leads inexorably to 'it's not co2', 'its not fossil fuels', 'its not happening,' and so on. The end result is the construction of an alternate reality because one cannot live in a world where the facts conflict with one's preconceptions.

    Look objectively at Curry's blog, lucia's blog or worse WUWT. The things they take for granted (GW stopped in 1998, Arctic ice is recovering, sea level isn't rising) are what we have shown time and time again to be false.

    The task is to isolate that core misconception and whittle away at its foundation - then the supporting denials can collapse of their own weight.
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  7. Dikran #52, thank you but I am quite aware of what forcing and sensitivity mean. I agree they are fundamentally different concepts. I am looking for the denialist's use and interpretations of these words re AGW-theory.

    Now you say: "The observations fall within the range of what AGW theory considers plausible - but that range is pretty broad. This means that the observations being consistent with the predictions of the theory doesn't imply that the prediction has any great skill or that the theory is significantly corroborated by the observations." Neither do I imply anything of the kind. Or do I? If you work consequently along these lines you will never accept any theory at all. Lepechuans work just as well for you as a theory that states that increasing GHG will cause increase in the atmosphere's latent warmth content which will most likely result in a temperature increase. So can you explain why you DO prefer one theory on GW over another, and why denialists don't - the latter habitually reaching for quite implausible or long disproven theories, 'forgetting' about them any time for another ruse? Dare say a question like this nears the topic again (Albatross, you're right) :)

    I am, by the way, tempted to ask Spencer whether he believes in climate change at all...

    "Others have provided documentation of noted contrarians & denialists acknowledging the physical basis of CO2 as a greenhouse gas, while still denying the policy implications of its massive & rapid build-up in the atmosphere and the resulting follow-on effects." said Composer99. Actually I am using Solomon's axe on thick denialist heads :) I want them to start some hairsplitting.

    I will not go into politics or other consequences of GW here. They are an entire different subject. To do with motivation of 'skeptics', yes.

    I am challenging denialists to be clear and precise. Challenges like:

    D: "Climate has always changed."

    cRR: "Right, how come? Magic?"


    D: "Instrumental records are flawed, GW is much smaller than they say."

    cRR shows some desintegrating ice around the world and informs: "Do you think fairies have lowered the freezing point of water?".

    Or comes up with some agrarian stats and askes: "Do you think the worms have asked the crops to flower earlier?"

    (curtains) - This one alludes to the art of cherry picking. D could've done away with all my desintegrating ice by pointing at the one glacier in California that is growing, see.

    A bit brutal all this, I know. Like holding up a mirror. I've started doing this when I learned some hard ways that for denialists facts are taboo while logic is poisonous. It's how they seem to respond to a dose of either.

    But we all do once in a while. 'She can't be cheating on me' in the face of certain facts would be a cliché example. Anyone strengthening us in an erroneous belief could exert quite an influence on us, too.

    My big question nowadays is this. How come the powers that be behind denial of AGW, I'm talking Heartland Institute or CATO or Koch Bros or Exxon or General Electric..., don't advertise for the reality of AGW? After all, only a minority would be for a colder climate. The story is even better because the colder climates of the world experience most of AGW. Isn't this great news: ? What does this mean exactly:

    "Once seen as a useless, ice-clogged backwater, the Kara Sea now has the attention of oil companies. That is partly because the sea ice is apparently receding — possibly a result of global warming — which would ease exploration and drilling." ?

    Why don't simply say: Thanks to mankind's beneficial contribution to the world's climates...?

    (No, I wouldn't agree - my favourite climate is tree-line or tundra. And there are more general drawbacks to strong warming).
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  8. yocta and John Russell @ 4&6... I think it would be a big mistake to give up on YouTube posting. You'll never convince those die hard climate change deniers, that's for sure. What you do get at YT is, often, very high viewer rates.

    You have to remember, most of the people who view a video on YT are very likely to at least start reading some of the comments. I contend that there are a large number of people who are new to the whole issue of climate change on YT. That means we have huge opportunities to communicate the actual science to non-scientist, to people who are likely to be in the process of deciding if this is real or not.

    I always say, use that diehard denier as a foil by which to communicate to the broader audience. If you can give up on changing that one person's mind and just explain the science, I think there are major opportunities there to help people understand what the world actually faces with this issue.
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  9. I think those that say they are not in denial because 'climate has always changed' are probably being pedantic about the interpretation.

    If you believe climate has always changed (who can disagree with that?), you can still be denying that humans are causing it and ignore the large amount of science showing we are responsible.

    The 'denial' is the denial of responsibility. eg. the denial exists, it's just moved over the years.

    Some 10 years ago denial was that it wasn't warming, now it is warming, denial has become more sophisticated. But it is still there. The deniers are just moving the goal posts each time new evidence comes in, so that they can keep denying!
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  10. For me the bottom line is John C's reply above:

    "The point of my article is that this is not about labels, it's about understanding the process of denial,"

    As they say, "Hate the sin, not the sinner," and when it comes to denial, we're all sinners sometimes, about something.

    And let's avoid labels, and keep in mind the key audience is not the vocal critic across the table, it's the onlookers gathered 'round, some of whom have still not made up their minds.
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  11. It seems a lot of skeptics in denial apply double standards. They loathe the word denier, but use words like "warmist", "alarmist" & "CAGW" with high frequency.
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  12. "Denier" could be defined as a "heretic to the beliefs of the publishing skeptic climate scientists": Lindzen, Spencer and Christy. With low sensitivity and clouds being considered as issues that are still in play in mainstream climate science.

    This is a clearcut definition based on skeptic terms, so it can't be disparaged as being from a consensus conspiracy.. And it emphasizes the reality gap between DIY theories and publishing 'respectability'.
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  13. There's some really good comments here. I don't have much to add, beyond commenting on the high quality of posts like those from Albatross, Chris, grypo and others, and of course John Cook's original post. I continue to learn a lot here!

    Rob's #58 is very relevant. We can understand denial quite well, but the challenge is what to do about it and how to combat it, either directly or indirectly. In some cases, we can stop denial taking root in the hidden readers, perhaps?
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  14. I hope this isn't regarded as ad homenim on this particular thread- but as far as I'm concerned Spencer declared himself a non-scientist when he signed the Cornwall Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming.

    Cornwall Signers

    One cannot expect anything from him other than efforts to reinforce his religious beliefs. This kind of denial is also found on the basis of politics- once you've concluded that the post-Vietnam environmental movement is a watermelon (green on the outside, red on the inside) you will see everything in terms of a collectivist conspiracy. Data doesn't matter, evidence doesn't matter.
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  15. Dave123's link is relevant to the discussion. Spencer isn't the only supposedly "sophisticated" skeptic who has signed this.

    "We believe Earth and its ecosystems—created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence —are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory. Earth’s climate system is no exception. Recent global warming is one of many natural cycles of warming and cooling in geologic history."

    The last sentence is pretty hardcore denialism.

    Interesting, though, that this declaration also has a section entitled "WHAT WE DENY". Wouldn't that make them "deniers" by definition? Included in this section:

    "1.We deny that Earth and its ecosystems are the fragile and unstable products of chance, and particularly that Earth’s climate system is vulnerable to dangerous alteration because of minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry."

    Note the implication that the effect, at most, is "miniscule" or negligible.

    Values, which include religious values, are important in determining what humanity should do about global warming. We need to be good stewards of the Earth, for example. In sharp contrast, the declarations above dismiss scientific findings in favor of a religious view. It concludes that human activities can't be causing warming, because God would never create an Earth that would ever be vulnerable to human impacts.
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  16. John

    There's a 6th common characteristic of the denialist movement: the profit motive. Just as Big Tobacco knew the dangers of smoking, Big Carbon know their polluting days are numbered. Denial helps ensure profits continue for as long as their propaganda holds up.

    Does anyone really believe reputable Fin Review journalists like Trevor Sykes (Pierpont) are genuine climate skeptics? Sykes is Patron of the Sydney Mining Club and a Board member of Austex Oil. No pressure there! Doesn't mean he doesn't write witty or brilliant articles, just that he has a vested interest in spreading the skeptic propaganda. He's no different in this respect from people like Peter Mitchell, the man behind the Landscape Guardians who successfully sent investment in wind farms into freefall recently in Victoria or any other right winger with mining interests. Ian Plimer is on no less than 4 mining boards. No-one really believes they're stupid enough not to "get" global warming. They just want to put off regulation for as long as possible by pretending there is a "debate" about the science.

    The BBC has now decided there is no phony "debate" and skeptics get little media attention in the UK now.
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  17. milka, I believe you're largely right about money interests and motives. But not entirely.

    We all want to believe that we're good people - or rational, sensible, responsible, caring - whatever counts as 'good' in a context. We also want to believe that what we do is right for ourselves, our families, whoever and whatever is important to us.

    All of which means that it's all too easy for us to kid ourselves that what we want to do is also the right thing to do and will bring the best outcomes. And along comes our very best friend, rationalisation, to help us out. The classic case of denialism is the very personal one of medical diagnosis - of something we really, really don't want to be true. Terminal illness. Many people will literally refuse to believe this, some of them for a very long time.

    Many more people will persuade themselves that 'it can't be that bad'. And instead of taking the recommended course of action which requires acknowledging the seriousness of their situation, they'll do nothing at all. Or spend lots of time and money on dietary supplements or fall victim to charlatans touting miracle cures (which aren't really necessary but I'd like to feel better). If new problems arise, it can't be the progress of the illness, they rationalise that it's something else entirely.

    And when it all comes to the predictable crisis point, undeniable, incurable, debilitating symptoms that can't be rationalised away it's all the doctors' fault for not fixing it when all hope is gone.

    My view of many people in denial about climate change is that they're at the shopping around for a miracle stage, even though miracles are only offered by charlatans. The fact that they make money or keep money by doing so is not irrelevant. But the denial makes it possible to keep on believing that you're a good, responsible citizen while you're doing so.
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  18. To the topic of the article by John, it's interesting reading cRR's comments. For all intents and purposes I think it stands as one good demonstration of the act of denying.

    cRR is effectively denying that sceptics can hold to the greenhouse effect and that increased CO2 can affect the climate at the same time as disagreeing with another component. cRR appears to be using the 'cherry-pick' method of denial by focusing on the "man-made CO2 is causing global warming" whilst ignoring the evidence that some notable sceptics believe other (natural) factors influence the climate more/less.

    Quite relevant for the topic I believe. :)
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  19. Dale, what is much more relevant is that even the most respectable 'skeptics', such as Spencer, Pielke or Lindzen must deliberately ignore or disregard part of the body of evidence in order to maintain their positions.

    For example when climate sensitivity comes up, these skeptics will almost never discuss or accept the body of evidence that is palaeoclimate (either geological or Quaternary. See Chris (#38) and Albatross (#43) already on this. Richard Alley's AGU talk alone provides enough evidence to utterly demolish very low climate sensitivity or GCR arguments. That's without even getting into the nitty gritty of cloud nucleation or tropical cloud observations, in which Dessler and many others have very capably shown Spencer, Lindzen et al to be quite wrong directly.

    And it's not as if Pielke, Spencer, Lindzen et al are coming up with quantitative reasons why palaeoclimate estimates of sensitivity are wrong, they just try and ignore them or say they are not relevant (Pielke). That, to me, is awfully close to full-blown denial of rationality, covered up by being seen to accept the most obviously rock-solid elements of the theory while hiding their denial of other very strong elements of the theory.
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  20. Denial of the seriousness of human induced climate change is just as much denial of climate science as outright denial of the link between GHG's and climate. It's the most widespread kind of denial and the most insidious for it's ability to undermine the will to engage the problem head on with eyes open; it favours delay and favours inadequate policy even amongst people who claim to accept the mainstream scientific conclusions on the phenomena. It undermines the capacity to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of every policy proposal by downgrading the 'value' of the expected harms which tends to exaggerate the perception that the costs involved are largely unnecessary.

    Outright denial is much easier to refute, has far less capacity to gain wide acceptance and lacks the power to make half-measures seem much more acceptable than the minimum measures the science clearly shows to be urgently needed.
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  21. Why the Political Schism?

    A study in the Spring 2011 issue of Sociological Quarterly revealed that political polarisation over climate change is growing. According to this study, In 2010 only 29% of Republican voters saw man-made warming as real, compared to 70% of Democratic voters. I would like to see some peer-reviewed research into the reasons for this.

    Is it that Republicans are better educated than Democrats? No, I have seen no surveys that would support that conclusion.

    Are Republicans more intelligent on average than IPCC scientists? Er, excuse me, but I don’t think so.

    There can be only one plausible explanation for such a yawning gap, and that is that Republicans are in denial!
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  22. I think there's considerable misunderstanding about what cRR Kampen appears to be arguing here, and I think he's actually making very good points.

    Obviously most people here are used to debating with skeptics or denialists who at least have a modicum of scientific background, or are even tenured professors. Most such deniers/skeptics have no choice but to acknowledge the heat-absorbing properties of CO2 because doing otherwise rapidly results in then being laughed out of the scientific community. But I'm pretty sure cRR is talking about lay-person deniers, almost all of whom have no scientific background whatsoever. It's easy for those of us with considerable science background to forget that most of these people have no idea that the color of objects we see is actually anything that can be scientifically explained.

    And among these people, it may well be true that most such denialists really do refuse to acknowledge that CO2 is a greenhouse gas at all. I've had way too many debates devolve into exactly that after all the completely damning data is conclusively revealed. It's practically a consequential inevitability for people who have chosen the denialist position. And I emphasize the word chosen here, because I really believe that's what's going on with most of these people. Again it's just too easy to forget how foreign the concept of the scientific method actually is to many lay-people. To them the subject is all politics and therefore subject to the plasticity of the opinions they want to have.
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  23. I see to many comments getting overly literal about what deniers deny. They deny the reality of something, and there are various strategies to do that.

    First, learn some denier methods here:

    Next, for environmental denial in general, learn the A-BC's of it:

    A. It isn't happening
    B. It's not our fault
    C. It will be good for us anyway.

    With climate denial much of the ABC's are about CO2. For Pete's sake don't start arguing about whether deniers literally deny that CO2 is this or that, especially if you are going to agree in your next post that deniers are not consistent. The do they don't, they don't they do. They want to put up a front of reasonableness, so when they must address the question directly they admit that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. "But...." they do not follow through scientifically. It is sort of but not really like those warmists say it is. So it's really the sun or cosmic rays or clouds, rotate the answer next week.

    Now I want to give you a real live example: Happer

    Happer is not just some internet Galileo. He is an actual physicist with no excuse for saying or believing any of what he published in a small circulation religious magazine, skipping peer review. *Note that he constructs an entire alternate reality*. Does Happer believe half of what he says? I don't think so. That is, I think he would just about have to believe all or none. It must take some strong psychological force to maintain the wall that blocks reality, and keeps him from noticing that he is repeating well known balony. It may be driven by anger. Even so, I don't think he could notice that half of his points are directly wrong and keep believing the other half.

    Does this extreme case provide insight into lesser deniers?
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  24. Ken @72, Pete @73,
    To further your points, I was visiting another site today where comments were being passed on Australia's upcomming carbon tax and a depressing number of commenters were claiming to have followed the science for long periods of time and were variously claiming that either: the warming isn't happenning, or temperature drives CO2 levels and not the other way around, or CO@ is a trace gas and therefore cannot influence the climate. (And a few other positions as well.)

    From what I have seen of denialism, while anti-AGW scientists might roughly occupy the same position, that of the general public is all over the place - and often they often profess that their particular opinion is the most commonly held view.
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  25. I don't think all deniers are fueled by anger but quite a few online deniers seem angry. I have wondered at times if years of listening to the sneers of talk radio and other sources gets them that way and keep stoking the fire. This is clearly related to the political divide mentioned above. Here is another person's thought on politically related anger.
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  26. John, and all contributors,

    Many thanks for the valuable work you do in maintaining this site. I encounter climate deniers quite frequently in a number of "LinkedIn" groups I participate in, and the site as a whole has been extremely useful in helping to confront and expose these folks.

    Analytical observations and tactical advice offered in this article and comments are inspiring, and I look forward to continuing to use them in ongoing efforts to defend the science and build the case for action in response.

    Up until now I've said the best advice I've ever had about dealing with deniers was given to me by a prominent atmospheric scientist who advised me to "never argue with an idiot, lest those looking on have trouble telling the difference", but I now feel this is a defeatist approach. Challenging denialism is important work, and I really appreciate the thought that all have put into it, and look forward to keeping my shoulder to the wheel...
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  27. Pete @75,

    "I don't think all deniers are fueled by anger but quite a few online deniers seem angry."

    That is my observation too. Not here at SkS so much, but certainly at WUWT, ClimateAudit and news seems that the anger is oftentimes inversely proportional to the person's knowledge on climate science, and science in general. For example, consider James Delingpole's (the self-professed interpreter of interpretations on the science) latest efforts that is featured at prominently at WUWT.

    On another note, the denial (and perhaps even the aggression) also seems to arise from people faced with cognitive dissonance, and denial is one way of dismissing inconvenient or conflicting concepts/ideas/thoughts. The psychology of all this is quite fascinating and something that I am having to learn as best as I can in order to try and understand where those in denial about AGW are coming from. But some here are likely much better qualified to speak to this aspect of denial than I am.
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  28. Here is another 'conversionthat John Hartz (posting as BadgerSouth) produced a couple of months back. This guy, caracoid makes some VERY interesting comments at the end of the exchange - looking into the right wing mind.

    In fact, it was so good I feel I need to reproduce it here - its a bit long:

    "Very good information. Now this, presented as such makes sense. Thanks for your time in explaining it. I don't know if this is the last word as far as my opinion goes, but for now it certainly puts me in the AGW camp. Somebody is going to have to convince me that somehow those polar ice measurements are in error and that the composition of the upper atmosphere is different from what you explained.

    Here's the problem with coming to terms with AGW. Of course it has been politicized between left and right. What I can tell you, coming from the right, is that going against the science is very much unusual. In fact, I can never remember a time when this has happened. Regardless of what you may have heard, the right is not prone to conspiracy theories. And this is highly unusual.

    Many things caused this:

    1. For the first time the right has had a forum for discussion. Prior to this, the media have had a lock on the dissemination of information. Anybody that I hear who has tried to portray the media as disinterested invariably falls into awkward sophistry soon after the discussion begins. All my adult life I have heard the media twist stories, tell partial truths, and promote baseless memes that have dropped their credibility in my eyes--as well as in those of the right--to zero. If you have any question as to the accuracy of this point of view I would be happy to set you straight as you have with me concerning AGW. Websites are available that daily document the media's biases and chosen omissions that can only be attributed at best to gross negligence and far more likely to an "ends justifies the means" mentality that would make Machiavelli blush.

    There was no public debate on the subject. The media always promoted the AGW story line and rarely if ever mentioned the other points. In other words, the media had--once again--chosen which side to take before the discussion had even begun. If they turned out to be right in the end, it had nothing to do with their understanding of the situation, but by mere chance alone.

    Add to that the media's desperation to stay alive and natural propensity to attempt to frighten people in order to sell papers, makes any information coming from them essentially worse than useless. So the media will NOT be your friend in spreading the word to the right.

    2. The institutions built to deal with the issue have been penetrated by hardcore ecologists. Why do I believe this? Parts of the official UN documents contained conclusions drawn from unverified, non-peer reviewed studies performed by special interest environmental groups. Claims were tacked on to the basic argument for AGW that it would first melt the world, deforest the world, then freeze the world then swing to either extreme. At that point, any change in weather on any given day is pretty much covered by the claims. So many claims were made--all under the pretense of being deduced through scientific scrutiny--that it tainted the basic premise of the argument.

    Even the central body that accumulates all the raw data was revealed to be not only biased in their beliefs, but ready to block any attempts by dissenters by threatening science publications with article submission embargoes. I'm sure you've looked at the transcripts of the emails sent within the organization. It is truely scary. The fact that they no longer have access to the raw data is a huge error on their part and in itself goes a long way to explaining the lack of acceptance of AGW.

    3. Al Gore, the de-facto spokesman for AGW turned out to be perhaps the biggest hypocrite of our time: buying mansions, taking limos, flying in jets around the world and consuming like their is no end. AND getting richer and richer in doing so.

    I could go on, but to wonder why the AGW movement is looked at with such a jaundiced eye, one only need look at its history. In order to accept the word of such a group one really has to reject all the warning signs of chicanery in the book. Not too many people are able to go back to the information at hand and deal with it in an objective way while holding their noses to the God-awful stink that surrounds it.

    So, what is to be done to correct this and get on with convincing the right that you have a point?

    Well, the good news is that the right has a deep conviction in the idea that every man can discern the truth if given the information. It was a basic tenant of or forefathers and continues to be deeply revered amongst the right. While the Europeans are far more apt to trust the "intelligencia," with its aristocratic overtones, we Americans need to be shown the facts to decide for ourselves. If the argument has merit and is made available to the right, they will come to accept it.

    DO NOT use scare tactics. That works with the left, but not the right. Let me explain:

    (As a note: as I'm writing this out, it sounds like it was taken from some pop self-help book. But keep an open mind and know that these ideas are originals. Just because they haven't been presented before does not mean they are inaccurate. And I believe they do truely reflect the psychology of what is getting in the way of your message.)

    As much as there is a duality in much of nature, there is in man. In fact in every person, there seems to be a nihilistic tendency that can be manifested in one of two way that is dependent on the personality type.

    1. The masculine, the conservative, the fighter, the problem solver, the rationalist, the optimist: the nihilism of this group is expressed in an obsession with fighting and warfare. Despite the fact that it leads to the demise of the very group that it vexes, it oddly creates a sense of hyper-stimulation and euphoria that can become addictive. See Dr. Strangelove.

    On the other side, this group is especially squeamish when it comes to the aftermath of the battle. Don't show the suffering and injured, the crying families, and fatherless children--that's a buzz-kill.

    (Being a member of this group, I think I can speak with authority. And I think if you are part of group 2, you would have some negatives to add to the Type 1s and positives to add to the list of Type 2 traits below. However, living in the city and being surrounded by liberal friends, who think quite differently from me, I have learned the following about this personality type).

    2. The feminine, the liberal, the cautionary, the emotional: the nihilism of this group begins right where the previous left off. Give this group the suffering, the injustice, the gory details and they're lit up like a Christmas tree. Each Type 2 feeds off the other, getting into darker and darker spaces, bemoaning the inhumanity while trying to one up the other in a gloom fest. See: polar bear pups marooned on icebergs in the Arctic.

    This very high that is generated by the Type 2, completely puts off the Type 1. The Type 1 goes on the defensive, making light of the--while perhaps true--ultimate conclusions of the Type 2, by fracturing the excesses that have been generated by their feeding frenzy. The Type 1 is deeply disturbed by the imagery and naturally wants to minimize it by picking at the details and making jokes about it.

    Lesson: want to persuade the right? Leave all emotion behind. Anything that can be interpreted as hysteria and exageration, will be met with anger. Remember, the Type 1 wants to conquer the problem, not be left feeling helpless. That's weakness and something the Type 1 finds extremely distasteful.

    Focus on the problem and the PRACTICAL solutions. Provide a clear path of your solution of how to get from A to Z. This should be seen as doable, a war that can be won. Don't go off on windmills and solar energy and love circles. The realist will see that despite the claims of the eco-crowd, there is no way that these can be implemented without sending us back to the Stone Age. Despite the case of AGW, the right deeply respects science and the advance of technology. It doesn't want to go back to the Garden of Eden, though that may work up the left. The right has responded so negatively to the AGWs because they believe that they are stealing the sanctity of the scientific method, not because they doubt it.

    Be ready to supply REAL numbers. Saying that as the alternative energy technology advances, it will become cheaper, doesn't cut it. I, myself, ran the numbers on converting all power derived from imported oil in the US to wind power (if it could hypothetically be done). I used as a baseline a real case where Britain is placing off-shore windmills off the coast of Wales. Here we have a real testable case. This is a huge project using the latest wind generation technology and located at an optimal location (of which there is a limited amount). We know what Britain is expecting to pay in subsidies for the project. So I converted oil and wind to BTUs, set all numbers at an apples-to-apples zero point, proceeded with some lengthy math and determined that it would cost the US almost a trillion dollars a year in subsidies to replace oil imports with wind mills.

    While I don't know about solar, I've never heard that it is exponentially cheaper than wind. Never pretend to the right that an undercooked solution is workable when its not. The right is not at all prone to flights of fancy.

    As of right now, the only solution I see that will bring the right on board is to go nuclear. And please feel free to inform me if you have anything else. But remember that the solution has to be seen as practical to get the other side on board. If the left doesn't make a compromise here, this will forever be left in deadlock.

    And I think it was suggested before that this be looked at in military terms. NOBODY wants to be defending oil fields abroad. To accuse the right of wanting this is more than counter-productive. The right sees an enemy on the horizon. Talk about cutting the enemy off from its supply lines. Driving forward with cutting edge technology that will leave the competition wondering what hit it. Leaving the backward thinking Arabs who have proven to be nothing but our enemies in the dust of their own making. Well, you get the idea.

    Talk about America-derived energy and can-do attitude and the true cost-benefit of solution. Do not talk about one-worldism, the connotations will get you a knee-jerk reaction of disgust. The right sees too many bad connotations there and a very justified reason to believe that any global solutions will never be implemented by our competitors, but will be cheated out of existence for anyone other than the US, which has strict laws that insure compliance. Don't go down the road of global accords. It will distract you from an argument that you can win if you have the courage to take your FACTS to the right and fight it out. These FACTS do not include extrapolations and guesswork. You can save that for the instinctually converted.

    When the argument bogs down, stick with the win-able, indisputable points, those being--as far as I can see--the polar ice and its continued degradation. Also, show the satellite-derived temperature data. That will be accepted by the right as unadulterated. Explain the molecular percentages of GW gasses at altitude and why a seemingly small amount is in actuality quite a lot.

    Go directly to the blogs of the right: Townhall and Pajama's Media (particularly this last one where you will get a good hearing). Proudly take on all comers. Right now the claim is that the warmists are unable to defend their own position, which is why they don't accept debates. I'm still not sure why they don't, other than maybe the indignity of being challenged. Direct them to your website and have them look it over for themselves. As I mentioned in my earlier post, cracks have started in the right's attitudes about global warming. Now would be a good time to go on the offensive. What you don't know, admit; but what you do know--unassailably--stress.

    Oh! And clean up that damn list of AGW scientists that includes everyone from Carl Sagen to the Mad Hatter.

    (I can't believe I wrote this much.)

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  29. Moderation, thank you for repairing my #57 and deleting the double :)

    #72, Ken E - exactly my message. I would like to remark that so-called professionals in the field who deny, do so with arguments that can often easily be shown to be like those of laymen. This should come as no surprise. To quote from Jules' blog: "The target audience of denialism is the lay audience, not scientists. It's made up to look like science, but it's PR." (David Archer, from ).
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  30. Thanks John for a great article. One other tactic I have encountered from science denialists (whether it be in reference to AGW, creationism/young earth, evolution or vaccination) is to not actually address the argument or the points made in conducting any debate.

    When they make an outrageous claim, typically not supported by the evidence, and you comprehensively refute it with clear statements and facts they simply shift their ground to something else as a side track.

    Fundamentally I guess because at root they have a belief system that simply doesn't want to be challenged.

    Many on this site are probably aware of Stephan Lewandowsky who has written extensively on the topic here

    Also, I'm afraid I don't recall the source but another great approach to how denialists work is below

    "Denialism refers to those who use spurious reasoning plus more or less aggressive forms of discussion to strengthen opposition to a theory despite not having any reasonable scientific basis for doing so. It follows that reason will never be effective because their rejection is driven by emotion, religion, or ideology.

    Denialists practice several methods to bully, intimidate and silence their targets:
    1. Doubt the science.
    2. Question the motives and integrity of scientists.
    3. Magnify disagreements among scientists.
    4. Exaggerate potential harm.
    5. Appeal to personal freedom.
    6. Involve irrelevant issues."

    It's the last point that I see time and time again. I'd also add that there is a common reference to ad-hominem style attacks - such as here insulting Prof Ian Chubb rather than address the arguments.

    Sad really :(
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  31. The psychology of "skeptics" interests me a lot.

    I think that some people find the idea of AGW distasteful, and therefore they oppose it, becoming "skeptics".

    Could it be that they thoroughly understand the science and that has informed their opinions? It seems unlikely, because most "skeptics" do little more than parrot stuff they read on blogs.

    Denialism is not new. In the first half of the last century, there was a lot of "Einstein denialism". Just like todays denialists, the Einstein denialists did not understand the science, but were sure that it was wrong.

    What annoys me is the undue influence of the "skeptics". When you can't hope to become the Republican candidate for US president if you accept the science of AGW, you know its gone too far.

    I just wish that I didn't have to hold an opinion on AGW. The scientists would outline the problem, and suggest the solution. Economists and others would help, and we'd get on with it. Trying to develop the level of understanding needed to sensibly discuss AGW is just too hard!

    I do think that there are similarities between climate "skeptics" and extreme greens. Both are only too ready to accept stuff they want to hear, and too ready to impugn their opponents with base motives.

    In both cases, I think their extreme views are a projection of some personal discomfort.

    For the extreme greens, their world is not perfect, but it would be, if only greed and capitalism and competition were gone, and we worshiped nature.

    The "skeptics" have been held back by governments, taxation and political correctness gone mad. Without those things, their world would be perfect.

    So I can't see how you can change the mind of someone who has decided that they are a "skeptic". Unless perhaps they start to feel better about themselves, and lose the need to project stuff.
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  32. One "skeptic" won't engage in the science when I debated them on this blogger website instead resorting to personal insults, accused me of plagiarising my own words and threatens physical violence.

    Here's what he recently wrote ...

    I would be crapping in my pants, too, if I were you! You do not like my style? Too bad. I do not like your anti nova site. You have jumped to the top of my to do list.

    Although I am a few pounds heavier then when I was a regional light heavyweight champion I am in good health and I do not have a colostomy bag. Great news, if all is well I will be taking a vacation in Australia. Maybe we can meet up and have a few drinks and take it from there? Just forward your address to Jo and we can”discuss” the matter further in person when I get there.

    That's in reply to my reposting of this analysis at the nova blogger site.

    Whilst I don't feel like this guy is posting much more than an empty threat, it does demonstrate the anger some of these people feel about AGW. I have no doubt this denier really believes his position despite being unable to critique my analysis or post alternative theories on what is causing the warming. I'm no psychologist but I am guessing his threatening gestures are his way of coping with the inability to debate the science. Feeling frustrated, he lashes out.
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  33. @81 John,

    Einstein denialism..... I believe the Italian police clocked a molecule doing 6km over the speed of light not that long ago. Woops. ;)

    Einstein famously said, 'it only takes one man to disprove a theory'. Maybe that's what the sceptic scientists are hoping to be?

    If nothing else, you have to give credit to the sceptics by going over the AGW theory with a fine tooth comb looking for any and all gaps.
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  34. Dale @83, a small point, but it was neutrino's rather than molecules. And it is likely to be proven false, but we can hope it won't be.

    The problem with the deniers is that they do not go over the theory of AGW with a fine tooth comb. Most denier arguments are based on a simple failure to comprehend the theory they criticize, and of a refusal to understand or accept very basic principles of physics (like the 2nd law of Thermodynamics, or conservation of mass). Consequently these arguments have essentially zero probability of either falsifying AGW; and zero probability in resulting in a improvement in the theory of AGW in responding to their "challenge".

    There are a very few genuinely scientific arguments against AGW that have not yet been definitively refuted. My favourite example is Svenmark's theory; but those theories are themselves very much on the verge of falsification. Still we like them because they do produce a genuine challenge to AGW which does enable the theory to be improved.
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  35. #69 skywatcher, you say "even the most respectable 'skeptics', such as Spencer, Pielke or Lindzen must deliberately ignore or disregard part of the body of evidence in order to maintain their positions"

    You would need to show examples of "deliberate". Here is a concrete example. Happer's testimony in which he uncritically and unskeptically parrots numerous fallacies about climate, physics, history, etc. Happer has sufficient education and intelligence to research those areas. He has had plenty of time to do so. But he has not, so he is not a skeptic. It is a deliberate refusal and denial.
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  36. The Climate Denial Spin Machine wins the propaganda war by creating the illusion of vigorous and ongoing "debate" about the science of climate change. Smoke and mirrors are part and parcel of their overall strategy.

    Websites like WUWT provide a seeming endless stream of "straws" for climate deniers to grasp at.

    Many climate denier drones are more interested in playing the game of "Gotcha" on comment threads than they are in engaging in adult discussions of the issues at hand.
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  37. What motivates most climate deniers is ideology. I suspect there is a extensive body of scientific literature about why people become ideologues.
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  38. Dale @83,

    "If nothing else, you have to give credit to the sceptics by going over the AGW theory with a fine tooth comb looking for any and all gaps. "

    Correct, but I expect history would agree with you but for very different reasons. Real skeptical scientists have been looking at the theory for a very long time now. In fact, their peers were very skeptical when Tyndall, Arrhenius and Callendar first spoke about the role of CO2 in the 1800s and 1900s.

    Many of the questions and doubts that scientists had back then were of course addressed, and ultimately a theory was born. Sadly, however, today's generation of self-professed skeptics keep rehashing/recycling issues long addressed by truly skeptical scientists many decades ago. That is not "skepticisim", that is denial.
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  39. "The desire to disbelieve deepens as the scale of the threat grows," concludes economist-ethicist Clive Hamilton.

    He and others who track what they call "denialism" find that its nature is changing in America, last redoubt of climate naysayers. It has taken on a more partisan, ideological tone. Polls find a widening Republican-Democratic gap on climate. Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry even accuses climate scientists of lying for money. Global warming looms as a debatable question in yet another U.S. election campaign.

    Source: “The American 'allergy' to global warming: Why?,” AP, Sep 26, 2011

    To access this in-depth and timely article, click here.
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  40. An interesting quote from a Univ of Delaware physics prof's blog:

    The stakes here are that a person who writes regularly for a respected conservative journal is embracing in a very public way utterly crackpot ideas about science. That tends to bring discredit on conservatism. If [name] weren’t writing for the American Spectator, I wouldn’t care, and neither would anyone else.

    Is it vicious to call a crackpot idea a crackpot idea?

    'Crackpot' is a synonym for 'crank'. But in keeping with the principle of describing the idea rather than the person:

    A "cranky" belief is so wildly at variance with commonly accepted belief as to be ludicrous. Cranks characteristically dismiss all evidence or arguments which contradict their own unconventional beliefs, making rational debate an often futile task.
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  41. The Australian scholar Hamilton sought to explain why in his 2010 book, "Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change."

    In an interview, he said he found a "transformation" from the 1990s and its industry-financed campaign, to an America where climate denial "has now become a marker of cultural identity in the 'angry' parts of the United States."

    “Climate denial has been incorporated in the broader movement of right-wing populism," he said, a movement that has "a visceral loathing of environmentalism."

    Source: “The American 'allergy' to global warming: Why?,” AP, Sep 26, 2011

    To access this in-depth and timely article, click here
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  42. Has anyone read Clive Hamilton's book, "Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change"?

    If so, what did you think of his assessment?
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  43. #87 John, actually, not really. Actually the climate talks phenomena may be in the process of eliciting such literature. A thread like this provides quite some material.

    Besides this, I partially disagree: a lot of denialism is not at all backed up by any ideology, or the 'ideology' is so thin it doesn't deserve the name. So-called libertarians have pounced on the 'debate' while not realising they are actually betraying that school of thought.

    Maybe bells ring with this: .

    What I do not call an ideology but others do is cornucopianism by e.g. Julian Simon: . This flag is presently carried around by e.g. Björn Lomborg. Laymen-denialists never even heard of it even if they'd like to practise it.
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  44. alan_marshall @71

    Here is a very good study done by Temple University:

    The conventional explanation for controversy over climate change emphasizes impediments to public understanding: Limited popular knowledge of science, the inability of ordinary citizens to assess technical information, and the resulting widespread use of unreliable cognitive heuristics to assess risk. A large survey of U.S. adults (N = 1540) found little support for this account. On the whole, the most scientifically literate and numerate subjects were slightly less likely, not more, to see climate change as a serious threat than the least scientifically literate and numerate ones. More importantly, greater scientific literacy and numeracy were associated with greater cultural polarization: Respondents predisposed by their values to dismiss climate change evidence became more dismissive, and those predisposed by their values to credit such evidence more concerned, as science literacy and numeracy increased. We suggest that this evidence reflects a conflict between two levels of rationality: The individual level, which is characterized by citizens’ effective use of their knowledge and reasoning capacities to form risk perceptions that express their cultural commitments; and the collective level, which is characterized by citizens’ failure to converge on the best available scientific evidence on how to promote their common welfare. Dispelling this, “tragedy of the risk-perception commons,” we argue, should be understood as the central aim of the science of science communication."
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  45. I agree very much with cynicus @3 about the large group of deniers who are just ill informed and can actually be swayed.

    One issue I haven't seen mentioned is that poorly informed arguments on both sides can be very confusing to a layperson. Most people are not debating AGW with experts but with neighbors, coworkers, etc. and even people who believe in AGW can represent the science very badly. I'll sometimes bring arguments to a screeching halt by admitting that I'm not well versed enough in a subject to be able to able to argue effectively, but I know many people will just keep going even though they're out of their depth. This leads to arguments like "Look around at all the wildfires this year - global warming is real!" which can lead people to believe the science is actually that flimsy.

    SkS has been an invaluable reference in helping me understand the many "skeptic" arguments and as a resource I can send others to when I'm not familiar with a particular argument. Thanks so much to John and everyone who works on this site!
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  46. John #91, #92, we did some cross-posting here. As you see, I am at least partially in agreement with Hamilton. Did not read the book though, thanks for the primer.

    Within the realm of blog climate warfare I sometimes get the impression that very rationality already counts as extreme-left politics...
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  47. #95 meegan, in #83 Dale touches your excellent point: "If nothing else, you have to give credit to the sceptics by going over the AGW theory with a fine tooth comb looking for any and all gaps."

    While I think those 'skeptics' have actually contributed far less material than plain noise to help fill those gaps, I do believe they play a role in
    1. getting attention from the public, usually laymen, to climate change, that is: put the discussion where it needs to be: the entire society;
    2. forcing the people who know AGW to bring the message as clearly and strongly evidenced as they can.
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  48. I encourage everyone to take a gander at a recent (Sep 25) op-ed by Boston Globe columnist, Jeff Jacoby, “Climate skeptics don’t ‘deny science’. “ After reading this tome, the average person could very well conclude, “Yup. The science is not sttled.” Does Jacoby’s column represent a new denier meme?

    To access Jacoby’s op-ed, click here.
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  49. To my mind the purpose of discussions with hard core deniers is not to influence the deniers themselves. They aren't going to change their mind. It's to help inform others who are listening in or reading the discussion.

    On blogs and in discussion groups there are many lurkers who don't take part but do take note. And every now and again someone you do engage with will be sincere in trying to get an understanding of the facts.

    There's only one 'win' that I know about for sure from my discussions - but I'm hopeful there are more that I don't know about. In any case, discussions help inform those who accept the science but might not understand it well, thus empowering more people with knowledge and influence. (In my case, much of what I've learnt has come from doing the research necessary to combat denier memes.)

    Looking forward to more tips (I assume the last para means more articles on this theme are in the works).
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  50. John, in a previous column, Jacoby polluted his argument with misleading quotes from Happer, who as I pointed out above, is a denialist. To answer your question: no, it is not a new meme, it is unforunately more of the same.
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