How climate change deniers led me to set up Skeptical Science website

I've published an article in The Guardian giving a brief history of how Skeptical Science came to be, culminating in the publishing of the book Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand which comes out today (will blog about that shortly). An excerpt:

My exploration of climate change denial began innocuously enough – namely some vigorous discussions with sceptical family members. This provoked me to dig a little deeper into the science (no one wants to lose an argument with their father-in-law), but before I knew it, I had wandered into a bewildering labyrinth of raging online debates and bottomless pits of misinformation. How to make sense of it all?

At this point, my inner-computer geek asserted itself and I began constructing a database of climate 'sceptic' arguments. To cut to the truth of each argument, I made peer-reviewed science the ultimate authority. There's no higher standard than evidence-based research conducted by experts, which is then rigorously scrutinised by other experts. As I began to piece together the various pieces, a clear picture began to emerge.

The case for human-caused global warming is robust. It's based on many lines of independent evidence, all pointing to a single, consistent answer. This preponderance of evidence is why we have a consensus among scientists. It's not about tree-hugging or secret plans to control the world – it's rooted in empirical measurements and the laws of physics.

Patterns in the sceptic arguments began to emerge. Instead of considering all the evidence in their search for the truth, climate 'sceptics' refuse to accept evidence that humans are causing global warming. This is not scepticism but denial. To deny a scientific consensus based on so much evidence, you have to deny the scientific evidence.

Then I explained how the Climate Change Denial book came about:

So I started the Skeptical Science website, with the sceptics' arguments collected together as the website's backbone. The systematic database, and more importantly, the rebuttals built on a foundation of peer-reviewed science, inspired Melbourne company Shine Technologies to create a hugely popular iPhone app of it, making the science easily accessible (and cool). While Shine were developing the app, I was contacted by environmental scientist Haydn Washington, who proposed co-authoring a book, Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand.

I had always focused on the external aspects of climate change denial – the how. Haydn was interested in the why. What drives climate denial? If only there was a simple answer. Human psychology is not rocket science – it's much more complicated. Many factors are involved, including conservative ideology, misinformation campaigns (often funded by the fossil fuel companies whose profits are threatened by climate action), fear of change, failure in values and the media itself.

How do we roll back climate change denial? We need to look the evidence full in the face and accept reality. Global warming is happening. We're causing it. Just as important, we also need to stop denying climate action. We can solve climate change – we have the plans to cut our pollution and the technology to switch to cleaner energy. To achieve this, we must abandon denial and demand climate action, from both ourselves and our leaders.

The article is not that old and already a few interesting comments have been posted. I notice past SkS contributor gpwayne describes me as "irritatingly calm, patient and polite". Thanks, Graham! The first comment posts an intriguing theory about the disappearance of the climate myth "It's the sun" - I wonder if it's true (it sucks that we can't quantify and confirm these kinds of things):

Fantastic resource that has really changed the online debate. The professional tone and ease of use has made it so much easier and clearer to debunk many talking points.
IMO SkSci is the main reason the 'its the sun' talking point has all but dissapeared over the past two years.

Posted by John Cook on Thursday, 28 April, 2011

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