Climate change and Denialism – Part one

Dear readers,

This is the first of a multipart analysis or on Global Warming and Denialism. More parts are to follow.

Part one – Introduction and the term denialist.

As posted in a previous blog (https://blogofgreg.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/co2-good-for-us/), I have been engaging in debate, if that is what you can call it, in the local newspaper (www.weeklytimes.com.au) in response to some climate change denialist letters to the editor (a regular appearance in this newspaper). See http://www.weeklytimes.com.au/2013/01_January/16_01_13/letters.html.

The Weekly Times Logo

I don’t wish to personally attack these two contrarians online, so in reference to them, I will use N and M. Abuse of N or M is not the point of this post, but to present my thoughts and opinions on climate change and denialism, and also the facts and science in relation to some of the comments that N and M have made.

In general it is interesting to read the letters that get sent in to this particular newspaper (and others for that matter), perhaps one of the few that actually post these types of letters. I think it gives the reader a view of the diverse opinions that are out there in regards to climate change. It also provides some insight into their mind, their ideas, and what drives them. In some respects it is quite amusing.

One of the things that I have found, is that denialists tend to have a closed mind, and be fixated on proving their opinion that climate change isn’t real, or that it isn’t anthropogenic (man made). Regardless of how much evidence in the form of peer reviewed scientific literature that is provided to them, they are unwilling to listen, to learn, or to investigate for themselves. What they seem to do, is continue to quote misinformation presented by other denialists (some of whom were or are paid by the oil companies and other multinationals for example), misquote and cherry pick articles, in order to try to prove their opinions.

From what I can see, they seem to be driven by self interest. Several components seem to be evident. They are afraid of change – mostly the demographic of the denialist is those of late middle age, to old age. In fact a report by the Pew Research Center, indicated that climate change denialists tended to be over the age of 65.

Why is this? Why is it that older people are unwilling to believe that climate change is happening? Is it because they are afraid that a change to a cleaner system (i.e. no greenhouse gasses emitted) would cost too much money and that they don’t want to spend anything so late in life? This is my belief. Is it because they are just uneducated in science, and therefore can’t understand the reasoning? Or is it that they are happy with the way that things are and can’t see that anything that we are doing is wrong? But being part of the baby boomer era (at least some of them) are they just so used to raping the earth and making lots of money, that they never want to change that?

There are of course many other factors, but these are perhaps components of their stance on climate change, from what I have read of denialists comments.

Unfortunately, many denialists seem to be very easily influenced by shock jocks, columnists, or editors who have rigid opinions. I might point out that these shock jocks, get paid to exaggerate, be provocative and improve ratings.

The definition of a shock jock could be summed up as follows:

A shock jock is a type of entertainer who attracts attention using humour or melodramatic exaggeration that some people may find offensive. They can be provocative, and use statements that can be offensive to many members of the community. Shock and provocation, is more important that providing factual information. An example of this type of person would be Alan Jones in Australia, who was recently fined for presenting misinformation about climate change. See http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-06-15/acma-rules-against-alan-jones-on-climate-change/4073048

As an aside, you can read part of a transcript of an interview that Alan Jones had with the Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard, to get an idea as to the sort of personality that he presents. Regardless of what you may personally think of Ms Gillard, she is our prime minister and deserves the respect of that position. The interview was offensive, provocative and extremely rude. The points could easily have been made in a less offensive way, and proper debate could have been engaged in, but that is not the way of a shock jock. See part of the interview at http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-02-25/liar-liar-shock-jocks-on-fire/1958068. Anyway I think you get the point.

Back to denialists.

Denialists NEVER quote peer reviewed literature in order to counter prove climate change, but quote opinions expressed by individuals that have not had their literature peer reviewed. (If they do, they cherry pick.)

Let me explain what peer review actually means. Peer review occurs with the presentation of literature to a journal. Journals publish scientific findings, literature and facts. Before these findings or literature are published, they undergo review by peers (other scientists in their field of study), in order to try to identify obvious errors. If errors are found, the article is not published and the author is asked to review the article and represent it.

Without peer review, it could be construed that the scientific literature is not proven or even factual, but just a presentation of findings without conclusion; or for that matter, it could be opinion with no facts at all – just thoughts or theories.

This is where most denialists are proven inaccurate. Denialists generally quote misinformation presented by journalists, shock jocks, opinionated scientists with other beliefs (some of whom have been paid by oil companies for instance), or just layman who present appealing (but incorrect) discourse. Much of this can be found on the internet, which is generally where denialists pick up their information. It is amazing, or perhaps not, what absolute rubbish can be published on the internet, and without a keen eye, readers can often believe that what they are reading is factual, when it is not.

Unfortunately denialism can be harmful or even fatal. If policy is slowed, or not enacted because of powerful people and campaigns, people can die. As a reference, please read http://eurpub.oxfordjournals.org/content/19/1/2.full. In this article, it references that powerful tobacco companies campaign against authorities on the harmful effects of tobacco. “… the hand of powerful corporate interests can be seen. It took many decades for the conclusions of authoritative reports by the US Surgeon General and the British Royal College of Physicians on the harmful effects of smoking to be accepted…” this is the problem with powerful companies and vested interests.

Exactly the same things occurred with climate change. This time the vested interests were principally the coal mining companies, and the oil and gas companies. All financed alternative views to be published. I believe that at least some of the scientists employed by the oil companies etc., were also tobacco denialists, HIV/AIDS denialists etc. See the pattern?

Vested interests finance opposing views, in order to misinform and to try to sway public opinion. Unfortunately these opposing views are not necessarily factual, but intended to confuse and muddy the minds of those who don’t understand; which is exactly what happened with climate change. Climate scientists have been concerned about global warming for around 30 years, yet due to misinformation and a lack of resources to get their research funded and accepted, global warming is now occurring at an ever faster rate.

In my local newspaper, the two respondents to my original letter (where I questioned their original claims – see https://blogofgreg.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/co2-good-for-us/) were quite upset at my response to them and tried hard to present some more facts – unsuccessfully I might add (see below for my actual reply to them [names removed]). My original letter was a bit tongue in cheek, and questioned the validity of their statements.

Anyway, moving on…

The Term Denialist

Firstly I will comment on the term denialist. N suggests that I had not defined denialist. Let’s have a look at that one. In a paper published by the European Journal of Public Health (http://eurpub.oxfordjournals.org/content/19/1/2.full.pdf), the authors summarise a denialist as:

“the employment of rhetorical arguments to give the appearance of legitimate debate where there is none, an approach that has the ultimate goal of rejecting a proposition on which a scientific consensus exists”.

The five characteristics that are most commonly used are (from the above journal):

  1. The identification of conspiracies

“When the overwhelming body of scientific opinion believes that something is true, it is argued that this is not because those scientists have independently studied the evidence and reached the same conclusion. It is because they have engaged in a complex and secretive conspiracy. “

e.g. “The rejection of evidence on the nature of AIDS by African-Americans who perceive them as a manifestation of racist agendas.” [This is also evident in some Sudanese communities that I have spoken to. Ed]

  1. Fake experts

“These are individuals who purport to be experts in a particular area but whose views are entirely inconsistent with established knowledge.”

e.g. “…used extensively by the tobacco industry since 1974; …a senior executive from Philip Morris developed a strategy to recruit… scientists (referring to them as ‘Whitecoats’) to help counteract the growing evidence on the harmful effects of second-hand smoke.”… “In some countries, such as Germany, the industry created complex and influential networks, allowing it to delay the implementation of tobacco control policies for many years.” [and many people have died as a result. ed]

In relation to climate change “In 1998, the American Petroleum Institute developed a Global Climate Science Communications Plan, involving the recruitment of ‘scientists who share the industry’s views of climate science [who can] help convince journalists, politicians and the public that the risk of global warming is too uncertain to justify controls on greenhouse gases’.”

Interestingly, “A related phenomenon is the marginalization of real experts, in some cases through an alliance between industry and government, as when ExxonMobil successfully opposed the reappointment by the US government of the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. These events led a group of prominent American scientists to state that ‘stacking these public committees out of fear that they may offer advice that conflicts with administration policies devalues the entire federal advisory committee structure’.”

The are many references to the use of “denigration of established experts and researchers…”, in order to “discredit their work and cast doubt on their motivations.”

  1. Selectivity

“Drawing on isolated papers that challenge the dominant consensus or highlighting the flaws in the weakest papers among those that support it as a means of discrediting the entire field.”

e.g. “An example… is the much cited Lancet paper describing intestinal abnormalities in 12 children with autism, which merely suggested a possible link with immunization against measles, mumps and rubella. This has been used extensively by campaigners against immunization, even though 10 of the paper’s 13 authors subsequently retracted the suggestion of an association.”

“Another is a paper published by the British Medical Journal in 2003, later shown to suffer from major flaws, including a failure to report competing interests, that concluded that exposure to tobacco smoke does not increase the risk of lung cancer and heart disease. This paper has been cited extensively by those who deny that passive smoking has any health effects, with the company Japan Tobacco International still quoting it as justification for rejecting the claim that ETS is a cause of lung cancer, heart disease and chronic pulmonary diseases in non-smokers’ as late as the end of 2008.”

  1. The creation of impossible expectations of what research can deliver

e.g. “denying the reality of climate change because there were no accurate temperature records from before the invention of the thermometer.”

“Others use the intrinsic uncertainty of mathematical models to reject them entirely as a means of understanding a phenomenon.” [We see this in the letters that were written by the denialists who wrote to the TWT. ed]

e.g. “In the early 1990s, Philip Morris tried to promote a new standard… Under the [his] guidelines, odds ratios of 2 or less would not be considered strong enough evidence of causation, invalidating in one sweep a large body of research on the health effects of many exposures… British American Tobacco still uses this criterion to refute the risk associated with passive smoking.” [My grandmother died partly from the health effects of passive smoking. She also developed emphysema as a direct result of passive smoking, even though she never smoked a day in her life – her husband was the smoker and smoked inside the house. Ed]

  1. The misrepresentation and logical fallacies

“Logical fallacies include the use of red herrings, or deliberate attempts to change the argument, and straw men, where the opposing argument is misrepresented to make it easier to refute.”

e.g. “The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined in 1992 that environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is carcinogenic… The EPA assessment was described by two commentators as an ‘attempt to institutionalize a particular irrational view of the world as the only legitimate perspective, and to replace rationality with dogma as the legitimate basis of public policy’, which they labelled as nothing less than a ‘threat to the very core of democratic values and democratic public policy’.”

e.g. “Other fallacies used by denialists are false analogy, exemplified by the argument against evolution that, as the universe and a watch are both extremely complex, the universe must have been created by the equivalent of a watchmaker and the excluded middle fallacy.”

[Amusingly, I would imagine that a vast number of denialists are believers in God, and likely creationism. I would like them to prove empirically that God actually exists, and that He or She actually created the universe.

Ironically, I would imagine that many denialists would believe in a God that cannot be proven exists, but not in climate change that has been shown to exist and be occurring currently. Perhaps this demonstrates the level of intelligence of the denialists – ooh that’s a bit inflammatory isn’t it – sorry more tongue in cheek that one… ed]

Anyway I found this article exceptionally good in explaining the methods that denialists use in order to refute scientist’s findings, and also to continue to express their false beliefs (or deliberate lies, as is often the case).

One of the things that irritate many scientists, me included, is the constant barrage of the same old arguments by denialists. A denialist, or group of denialists, will be informed why their argument is incorrect, but the denialist will still prattle the same old tale regardless. The problem is, that powerful people with vested interests are some of the people who continue this routine.

Australasian Science Magazine

scarecrow

Here is an example. An article that I read in Australasian Science was very enlightening in regards to denialists and their claims. The article is named “The Straw Men of Climatology” and was written by James Risbey who is a senior scientist in the centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research at CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research.

http://www.australasianscience.com.au/article/issue-november-2010/straw-men-climatology.html [you have to be a subscriber though] or try http://www.marine.csiro.au/~ris009/pubfiles/aussci_strawmen.pdf for a copy.

The important part that I want to quote is the following on denialists and their non-scientific processes.

“The process of error correction must also be applied to the contrarian critique. Plimer’s book Heaven and Earth has been critiqued by Ian Enting of the University of Melbourne, who lists a catalogue of errors (www.complex.org.au/tiki-download_file.php?fileId=91). Lomborg’s climate chapters and books have undergone similar critiques by Stephen Schneider of Stanford University, and others. Schneider writes: “Bjorn Lomborg’s chapter on global climate change is a clever polemic; it seems like a sober and well-researched presentation of balanced information, whereas in fact it makes use of selective inattention to inconvenient literature and overemphasis of work that supports his lopsided views”.”

“US author Howard Friel’s book The Lomborg Deception is devoted to misattributions of cited literature in Lomborg’s recent climate book. Monckton’s lectures have been critiqued by Peter Sinclair, John Abraham, Barry Bickmore, Tim Lambert and others.”

“Despite critiques pointing to egregious errors in contrarian studies, their proponents typically maintain the same arguments and positions. The failure of contrarians to respond to scrutiny with improved hypotheses sets them apart from science in not correcting error, and undermines the credibility of their case.”

Do you see the pattern. Even though these denialists have been critiqued and found to have errors, they have not corrected their hypotheses. Not only this, but other denialists still quote their work as fact, when in fact they are riddled with errors. This is the nature of denialism. Even after having their opinions shown to contain errors, they continue to prattle their same old views.

Anyway, before I leave it for this week, I will copy my letter that I have written to the TWT in response to the denialists claims. It might not get published, but that’s not important, it was fun!


My letter
Sent to The Weekly Times (that may or may not be published – names of contrarians removed)

Dear Editor,

In regards to M’s statements, in his original letter (TWT Dec 12, 2012), he suggests that CO2 is good for us at increasing levels, but provided NO references to PEER reviewed scientific documents indicating such, but documents with little scientific relevance. I might point out that at a Uni in New York I think, they did a study on increased CO2 levels on plants. Over 6 years the original increased growth first seen had dropped back to normal levels. This was due to the environment not being able to supply nutrients at the level required for the increased growth. [when I find the reference to this, I will send it in]

In response to M’s dream that there had been no warming in the last 15 years. “Each decade has been warmer than the previous decade since the 1950s. Global-average surface temperatures were the warmest on record in 2010 (slightly higher than 2005 and 1998). 2011 was the world’s 11th warmest year and the warmest year on record during a La Niña event. The world’s 13 warmest years on record have all occurred in the past 15 years.” [Rob Vertessy is Acting Director at Australian Bureau of Meteorology. Megan Clark is Chief Executive Officer at CSIRO.] I think my “facts” speak louder volumes, and show the real truth!

I don’t know if N actually read the article he referred to (http://www.nap.edu/nap-cgi/report.cgi?record_id=13519&type=pdfxsum), but I might point out to him that it is NOT a scientific paper, but a summary of a workshop! Secondly as an article of reference, it makes NO claims as to the cause of climate change! Hardly “meatier than the CSIRO”.

In the opening paragraph it reads “However, no satellite measurements have indicated that solar output and variability have contributed in a significant way to the increase in global mean temperature in the past 50 years”. In a later paragraph, which talks about paleoclimate (i.e. 542 mya to 251 mya – million years ago) it reads “These are all areas of exciting fundamental research; however, they have not yet led to conclusive evidence for significant related climate effects.”

THIS SUMS IT UP!!! NO conclusive evidence for significant related climate effects!!!

Also N, just below the preface it clearly states ‘the workshop report is just a summary of views expressed by participants.’ Sorry N, “views” are simply that; they are NOT scientific facts, but OPINIONS put forward. They have not been tested, they are NOT facts, and they certainly do not prove climate change isn’t occurring. Please try again using scientific literature that is PEER REVIEWED.

Sorry denialists, your score for this assignment is 1/10. At this rate, you will have to repeat primary school. Please try harder next time.

Greg R


Just one comment on this letter; I was looking for a study that I had read about but couldn’t find it before sending in the letter to the TWT. I have now found it. The reference is to a 6 year study that was published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. http://www.pnas.org/content/107/45/19368.full?sid=9a6f0915-8f29-4744-a9a4-f0c24753e494. It similarly shows that plant growth in an increased CO2 world, is in fact limited due to plant nutrients.

Anyway that is it for this week, I will try to move onto answering some of the other claims of the denialists that were recently raised.

Please comment if you like.

Greg R

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About Blog of Greg

I consider myself a thinker and I like to discuss everything in life with those around me. Mostly I am serious, sometimes I am funny, and occasionally I am rude. I like to wear my heart on my sleeve and say what I feel, or think! It is important to me to be honest about how I feel and why! I detest pretense, big egos and self importance. I believe that I am no more important than you, and similarly that you are no more important than me! [apparently I should reflect on this more often] This blog is a way of engaging people in different aspects of life; its goal is to present a different view of life and contribute to a broadening of our awareness. While this blog is essentially my opinion, I also understand that there are other opinions out there. Though I encourage discussion, I may “delete” comments that I find are unhelpful, argumentative, or offensive towards myself or another person. Often I write about politics – apparently that is an interest of mine – but I also like to write about other more personal things that affect us in our day to day lives. Along with this blog, I also write to politicians and newspapers; I often present a commentary on my blog about following comments or decisions. That way everyone understands what they have said – and sometimes of course how big a buffoon they are:) Please feel free to comment on my posts, as I would like to hear what you have to say. After all…. Your opinion is just as valid as mine!
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One Response to Climate change and Denialism – Part one

  1. Pingback: More from the global warming denialists | The Blog of Greg

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