Denialist watch

Harry Clarke thinks that it is silly to keep track of the number of climate change alarmist stories. Except that he seems to believe that, reading between the lines, I am being a climate change denialist, or giving comfort to the denialists, I can’t see why it is silly. I study public opinion as a hobby, but those who do it professionally and have research assistants and money to spend keep track of media reports as part of their work. I’m doing this on the cheap. But the basic idea is the same.

But to give balance, I will also do a denialist watch. My impression is that the denialists get little mainstream media coverage apart from Andrew Bolt and the The Australian‘s opinion page, so this will test that impression.

And in an attempt to track where I think are the real politics here, ie actually doing anything about climate change despite professed public belief in it, I will also run NIMBY watch – people complaining not about the science, but about climate change policy.

The list:

21 November

1. Mostly about the ETS, but with a quote that lands it in the denialist tally as well: If global warming is a fact and, there is plenty of evidence to suggest otherwise, then Australia should hasten slowly and for once, not be the world’s policeman in leading from the front.” (emphasis added)

22 November

2. This Tim Blair opinion piece is not strictly denying climate change, but making fun of alarmists would on their reading-between-the-lines pursuit of all deviance count as denialism.

23 November

3. Google missed it, but the ever-viglilant Tim Lambert found this passing comment by Piers Akerman: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s modelling, on which the overblown, apocalyptic Garnaut report is based, has been shot to pieces.”

24 November

4. And more successful heretic hunting from Tim Lambert: Ian Pilmer pops up on Michael Duffy’s radio show.

25 November

5. The Australian’s opinion page is the place to complain about climate change McCarthyism.

27 November

6. Miranda Devine waves a red flag at the climate change alarmists.

28 November

7. A collation of denialist quotes.

8. Businessman not impressed with ‘new climate change ideology’.

29 November

9. Denialists complain about the amount of media the alarmists get.

11 December

10. What are we to make of some chilly weather?

45 thoughts on “Denialist watch

  1. The denialists have misappropriated the term sceptic. A true sceptic, while not convinced by the evidence before him, stands ready to be convinced. A true sceptic does not seek to dismiss established scientific method just because application of it leads to ideologically unappealing conclusions. And a true sceptic does not question the motives of those whose evidence is not (yet) convincing.

    The climate change denialists fail all these tests of a true sceptic.

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  2. Spiros, do you claim to have the scieintific expertise and the amount of study on board to form an independent opinion about the climate change issues?

    Or are you just going with what you regard (rightly or wrongly) as the consensus among appropirately qualified and straight talking scientists?

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  3. Going back to the previous thread (and basically JQ said), it isn’t balanced:
    1) The _average_ predicted climate change leads to large negative consequences. Hence predictions of large negative events are not biased at all — That’s what is expected and is the most likely outcome. It’s what you would bet on if you could.
    2) A higher than average predicted climate change (the right tail of the distribution) leads to a fun new world, versus just negative consequences.

    So if you want a “balanced” opinion, where the “no change” (the left side of the distirbution) gets a balance, it’s only the right tail which is relevant.

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  4. Rafe, I claim no professional expertise in climate science. But I can recognise a logically consistent argument and reference to evidence. On consensus, of course, one may choose to believe that the authors of scientific papers, referees and editors of reputable scientific journals are all in cahoots to produce bogus climate science, with the objective of bringing down capitalism, or whatever, and this is what has produced the consensus. A lot of denialists appear to believe exactly this.

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  5. Thanks Spiros. I just wanted to confirm that you are not in a position to form an independent opinion.
    Next question: Are you interested in arguments (with evidence) from well qualified geologists which challenge the so-called consensus?

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  6. Rafe, I said I has no professional expertise in climate science. But I can form an independent opinion about whether an argument is logical and backed by evidence.

    In answer to your question, certainly. Can you provide links to refereed papers in reputable scientific journals?

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  7. Spiros, while I chase up something from Ian Plimer, can you provide some links to refereed articles in refereed journals to support your case?

    I have to say, I wonder what you will gain from technical articles if you dont have the background to understand the nuances and complications of the topic.

    In the geological circles where Plimer moves it is quite standard to be skeptical about climate change.

    In the meantime you might like to check out this piece which elaborates on some of the complications that need to be embraced before taking strong positions.

    http://www.quadrant.org.au/magazine/issue/2008/451/the-futile-quest-for-climate-control

    I trust that you are prepared to look at evidence from diverse sources because I would not want to think that political considerations are intruding into your scientific approach to these matters:)

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  8. I find it odd that Rafe asks for refereed articles in refereed journals but offers up something by Plimer that isn’t even from a scientific journal.

    Plimer’s article contains almost no science. He refers to another one by Kininmonth also in Quadrant for science. On the Kininmonth piece see my post.

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  9. Rafe, rafe, rafe,

    I ask for scholarly publications and you offer me Quadrant. I should offer you Green Left Weekly in return. But instead, I will direct you to

    http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/

    and you can follow the links for some actual science.

    “In the geological circles where Plimer moves it is quite standard to be skeptical about climate change.”

    He mustn’t move anywhere near the Geological Society of America, which states on its web site

    “The Geological Society of America (GSA) supports the scientific conclusions that Earth’s climate is changing; the climate changes are due in part to human activities; and the probable consequences of the climate changes will be significant and blind to geopolitical boundaries. Furthermore, the potential implications of global climate change and the time scale over which such changes will likely occur require active, effective, long-term planning. GSA also supports statements on the global climate change issue made by the joint national academies of science (June, 2005), American Geophysical Union (December, 2003), and American Chemical Society (2004). ”

    Have you noticed, Rafe. that when it comes to climate change denialism, it’s always the same two or three guys: Plimer, Caret and occasionally Kininmonth? It certainly is an exclusive club.

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  10. Spiros, there may be more dissenters than you realise, there is talk of a petition in the US signed by over 30,000 scientific disseners. Of course it is the evidence and arguments that count, not the numbers in the short term, but it will not be the first time in history that the dissenters were right and the establishment was wrong. It is important to understand the way things have changed in science post WW2, with the increasing influence of money and politics into the direction of scientific activity and the positions adopted by the scientific establishment. That has seriously corrupted science in a way that earlier and more innocent genreations of scientists would have found scandalous and very alarming.
    As an aside, it is dangerous to compare Quadrant with Green Left Weekly, Quadrant held the intellectual and moral high ground through the Cold War so it has a pedigree that makes the literature of the left look rather thin and pale (even green!).
    That in itself proves nothing about the present debate. Still, you need to remember that you cannot form an opinion of your own and until you are in a position to do so people are entitled to be skeptical about your views. And the more strongly you express them (and the more disdain you display towards dissenters) the more skeptical we are entitled to be.

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  11. It is important that data countering apocalyptic projections is presented, but this is not happening in the current climate. The human induced global warming theory is accepted as truth and any evidence that doesn’t fit is put aside as an anomaly or dismissed. This is a classic example of Thomas Kuhn’s description of science.

    The science relies heavily on models that are influenced significantly by changes in their numerous underlying assumptions.

    In terms of peer reviewed papers, here is one questioning one of the key assumptions.

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  12. Mitchell,

    a problem with understanding feedback in the current debate (and complex non-linear models in general) is that feedback can work both ways — perhaps feedback will really save us from the worst of global warming as some people would like to argue. On the flipside, if feedback is underestimated (as others would argue), then we really will be in for fun new world scenarios. This type of dynamic is a problem in many areas of science, but it doesn’t stop people relying on models — you simply use the best that you can. The alternative is just to stick your head in the sand and do nothing, which is of course problematic in itself.

    If I remember the quote correctly, I think Box had right “All models are wrong, some are useful”

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  13. Rafe, if your 30000 scientific dissenters petition is the Oregon petition, then you need to keep up. Some of names of the ‘scientists’ signing it included Perry Mason, Geri Halliwell and John Grisham.

    In 2001, Scientific American reported:

    “ Scientific American took a random sample of 30 of the 1,400 signatories claiming to hold a Ph.D. in a climate-related science. Of the 26 we were able to identify in various databases, 11 said they still agreed with the petition —- one was an active climate researcher, two others had relevant expertise, and eight signed based on an informal evaluation. Six said they would not sign the petition today, three did not remember any such petition, one had died, and five did not answer repeated messages”

    “Quadrant held the intellectual and moral high ground through the Cold War”

    This would be when it was funded with CIA money. laundered through the Congress of Cultural Freedom? Actually, I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for Richard Krygier, and his son Martin is terrific, but I digress…

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  14. The human induced global warming theory is accepted as truth and any evidence that doesn’t fit is put aside as an anomaly or dismissed.

    Mitchell, about now would be a great time for you to provide some evidence for this claim. I regularly read the peer reviewed lit on climate change, and consequently would love to see this evidence that I’m missing.

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  15. It wouldn’t surprise me that if one compared a list of qualified scientists (not one bulked up by tv repairmen) who doubt evolution vs. scientists who doubt anthropogenic climate change, if the creationists were quite competitive relative to the “sceptics”.

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  16. Rafe – all this raises the interesting question of how the general population should address important questions about which only a very small fraction of the population actually knows something.

    While I havn’t searched for it, this is not something I have seen “sceptics” address.

    To me, people should pay close attention to what those who are expert in the field say. The opinions of those who are expert in related fields should be considered – but given appropriate weight given their experience in climate science.

    Thinking about my own academic work, I would find it amusing if people expert in, say, applied radio-astronomy started dramatically criticising my work in algebra if it was not well-informed.

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  17. Yes, there is probably consensus among scientists that global warming is happening and that it’s caused by humans. But it’s a very suspicious sort of consensus, driven by lobby groups.

    Let’s compare the global warming consensus with the free trade consensus. There is consensus among 99% of economists that complete free trade – i.e. zero tariffs – is a good thing. But has this consensus brought about real change? All developed nations still maintain tariffs. They pretend to move towards ‘free trade’ via government-managed bilateral and multilateral agreements that favour certain corporations.

    One type of consensus (climate change) is easily able to garner widespread support because it has the backing of vested interests. The other (free trade) cannot because it is opposed to concentrated interests. But they are both “consensus” issues.

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  18. Sacha – that is a good question. Some books worth looking at for those with the time (perhaps some summer readng)

    Daniel Greenberg, Science, money and Politics, University of Chicago Press.
    Daniel Sarewitz, Frontiers of illusion: Science, technology, and the politics of progress, Temple University Press.
    And a careful reading of the Republican War on Science by Chris Mooney is well worth the effort – see how the goalpost subtly move throughout the discussion.

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  19. `Thinking about my own academic work, I would find it amusing if people expert in, say, applied radio-astronomy started dramatically criticising my work in algebra if it was not well-informed.`

    Yes but would you go so far as to demonise them as `algebra denialists` and try to marginalise them, or would you take the time to address their concerns and reason with them?

    You`re lucky in that very few battles over the allocation of public resources turn on the interpretation of results in pure mathematics!

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  20. Oops. Sorry Sacha, that’s not fiction. But it is good reading (on sf fiction try Alistair Reynolds, a bit dark but very good).

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  21. Is it wise to polarise the debate into NIMBYs, Alarmists, Denialists?
    There was a study into a similar polarisation (by Donella Meadows), that posed the question “What if their arguments are not mutually exclusive?” I think that if we look for the common ground, and the interconnectedness of the arguments, then we can start being constructive.
    Another study (by Greg Craven, see manpollo.org) tried to apply a “credibility scale” to the various players, accounting for the natural “confirmation bias” that perverts our arguments.
    One of the interesting comments from Craven’s work is that he concluded that there really is uncertainty with all of the presented arguments, so the question really becomes, “Given the uncertainty, what is the wisest course of action?”
    So this becomes a risk management issue, while the science matures.

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  22. “Is it wise to polarise the debate into NIMBYs, Alarmists, Denialists?”

    How can you have 3 poles? Perhaps Sacha the mathematician can help us out.

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  23. I think people are placing too much importance on my choice of titles – I am not actually concerned with the nuances of any of the broad positions, whether they are right or wrong or somewhere in-between, or the motives of those presenting their views. I am just trying to see where the media attention is. In hindsight, I should also have had a fourth more neutral category. There are reports of the issues that avoid dire predictions.

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  24. “Ah, Citizen Norton would you care to confess guilt and apologise for your crimes against Gaiadom and how you used language to confuse and obsfucate the issues?” 🙂

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  25. Really, science isn’t decided by consensus. That’s the humanities folks. Science is about facts.

    The IPCC key finding – that C02 sensitivity in the atmosphere is very high, is looking suspect. Everyone would agree that C02 affects temperature, the difference is in the degree. Before the IPCC the figure around was that a doubling in C02 will give you a 0.5 – 1.5 K increase in temperature and doublings beyond that will give you logarithmically decreasing increases. The IPCC maintains that it is 2.5 – 4 K and that this keeps happening with doublings in C02.

    There are some facts that look pretty bad for the climate predictions. The temperatures this decade have been stable or mildly decreasing while C02 has been increasing. This shouldn’t be happening according to the IPCC models. Also the tropical troposphere is NOT heating up as the IPCC models suggest should happen.

    There is quite a lot out there by skeptics that is serious and well worth reading. A good place to start is: A Sketical Layman’s Guide to Anthropogenic Global Warming. Have a look at Roger Pielke, climate audit and climate change daily.

    Sacha, one of the common things thrown at those who oppose the IPCC is that they won’t let outside experts in to review their findings. You would, presumably let some people in to study your Abelian Groups or whatever who worked primarily on non Abelian groups or whatever. Also some of the chapters are overseen by people whose work is the core of the chapters rather than someone independent.

    It will be very interesting to see what happens in Australia. The legislation for the ETS is being drafted as we write. The plan is to introduce it to parliament in the first few months of next year.

    However, the rest of the world has changed course. Europe will not be able to bring in an ETS as a coalition of the Poles, Italians, Portugese and others has formed to block it. Germany has become far less keen on the deal than it was months ago. The financial crisis has severely downed the outlook for it. China and India have indicated that they will not constrain their emmissions in any way. The new administration in the US has not made a call, but it will be interesting to see how they proceed given that they will be facing a serious downturn.

    So, Australia is left as about the only developed country that intends to establish an ETS.

    When threatened with a real ETS industry will start to complain and will complain vigorously. Once they get serious about running a scare campaign it will be, as Sir Humphrey Appleby would say, a very bold move to press ahead with an ETS in Australia.

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  26. The IPCC key finding – that C02 sensitivity in the atmosphere is very high, is looking suspect. Everyone would agree that C02 affects temperature, the difference is in the degree. Before the IPCC the figure around was that a doubling in C02 will give you a 0.5 – 1.5 K increase in temperature and doublings beyond that will give you logarithmically decreasing increases. The IPCC maintains that it is 2.5 – 4 K and that this keeps happening with doublings in C02.

    Pedro, you are wrong. The IPCC didn’t substantially alter the climate sensitivity numbers (after all they only did a review of the existing literature). There has been no large revision upwards. For example, the 1981 review by the Australian Academy of Sciences “The CO2-Climate Connection” gives estimates which are broadly similar to the IPCC (1-2 degrees in low latitudes and 4-6 degrees in high latitudes).

    The tropospheric trends are fraught with error and it’s a brave soul that rests a theory on them. The “sceptics” should think back to the days when they were crowing about the troposphere cooling and the resulting egg on their faces when the trends turned out to be wrong and the models right.

    I would strongly suggest that you read up on noise before making too bigger deal about recent temperature trends.

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  27. I don’t want to turn this into yet another tiresome climate debate, but I wanted to challenge a few of Pedro’s assertions, just to show the other side:
    – Science is decided by consensus, as well as dealing with empirical facts. A team publishes their findings along with the levels of uncertainty. The paper is reviewed, criticised, refined, and finally published. It still has levels of uncertainty (even constants like “gravity” and “time” are still under debate!). There may still be dissenters, and facts can be disputed (hence “consensus” rather than “unanimous”).
    – According to NASA temperatures have been increasing.
    – The arguments in the Layman’s Guide (including CO2 sensitivity) are refuted by the Gristmill team. I couldn’t tell you which is more correct.
    – Even if there is any truth that the IPCC refuses external reviewers, it does not mean that their finding are incorrect.
    – Europe already has an ETS, implemented in Jan 2005. The Aussie proposal has learned from some of the failings of the European ETS.
    – Why do we assume that an ETS will cost us money? If we change our behaviour and use less energy, then we will save money, no matter what the fuel.

    So, don’t believe everything you think! Watch out for the confirmation bias.

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  28. Europe already has an ETS, implemented in Jan 2005. The Aussie proposal has learned from some of the failings of the European ETS.

    Umm how so?
    :

    – Why do we assume that an ETS will cost us money? If we change our behaviour and use less energy, then we will save money, no matter what the fuel

    Why on earth would we want to save energy and why infer we’re wasting any? First world civilization is defined with lots of energy use…. Cheap abundant energy.

    The last thing we want to do is use less energy, as it will reduce our living standards.

    these are the sorts of thoughtless comments right wingers rail against.

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  29. Hehe. Are they serious questions, or are you just trying to bait me into a debate? I do have the answers and would be happy to continue the debate in another forum, but we’re getting a little off topic, don’t you think?
    I found Andrew’s observation (under “Apocolypse Watch”) interesting. Has the environmental debate now moved to economics rather than the science, and why aren’t the “alarmists” as active in refuting these new economic arguments?
    It is puzzling, since there are sound economic arguments on either side of the fence, but the media seems to give more air time to the NIMBY crowd.
    Another angle is: who gains from such imbalanced reporting?

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  30. Andrew, the news is reporting the economic arguments in the US, so it won’t be long before we see the headlines “Climate Solutions = Jobs” in Australia too. Keep watching!

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  31. gazelle: time is a constant? That must make for an interesting universe.

    You’re right about temperatures increasing. It’s true. The trend is about ~ 0.16 degrees per decade. There are some odd things in the measurements however. The satelite temperature record has differences from the land based record. The land based record also only covers a small part of the earth, and even large parts of that poorly.

    You also have a point that science is sometimes done by consensus and it is an overstatement to say that it is only facts. Epidemiology for example is done by consensus. However, in those sorts of fields results are overturned. But much of science asserts the authority of physics and chemistry that are far more rarely, if ever, decided by consensus.

    There are also disputations of the economics of the Garnaut report and the Stern report. In particular their lack of discount rates has received a lot of attention. Bjorn Lomborg’s Cool it is one example.

    The IPCC process has been criticised heavily. The IPCC says how open and pure it is, but how many dissenters are allowed to voice their opinions? Why not get Roy Spencer or Richard Lindzen to help? For more on the Ansley Kellow’s interesting book The virtuous corruption of virtual environmental science is very much worth a read.

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