Climate denialism

I thought I would highlight this sort video by Marc Hudson – who runs the Manchester Climate Monthly blog. I’ll acknowledge an element of self-promotion as he mentions this blog in the video, and the video itself was partly a consequence of a question on a recent interview with an – apparently – excellent blogger 😉 .

What he describes is very close to what I’ve experienced in the last year or so – conspiracy ideation, use of fake experts, cherry-picking, and logical fallacies. I tend not to use the term “denier” because it does have a habit of damaging dialogue. However, Marc has quite clearly defined climate denialism, and I would hope most would agree, that the charateristics that Marc describes are characteristics that people who want to be credible should do their best to avoid. In my opinion, if you think you’re regarded as someone who is practicing climate denialism – and you think that’s an unfair characterisation – maybe you should watch the video and then try harder to avoid doing what Marc describes.

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72 Responses to Climate denialism

  1. Rachel says:

    I thought the video was good bar one complaint which I mentioned on the Manchester Climate blog and that is that he says if you don’t know what a gish gallop is then you shouldn’t be involved in the debate. Well I didn’t know what a gish gallop was initially and it was only through entering the debate that I discovered there was such a thing. Does this mean I should have stayed on the sidelines? This is a bit difficult when contrarians are members of my own family and I’m not the sort of person to sit quietly and listen to something I think is wrong. I also think the more people there are debating from the science side the better. Educate people about gish gallops and all those other tactics but don’t discourage them.

  2. Rachel, yes that’s a good point and I see Marc agrees. I guess it’s one of those things that can easily be said when you’re trying to develop a narrative that in retrospect may not have been the best way to have put something. I have sympathy with Marc in that regard 🙂

  3. OPatrick says:

    Rachel, I wonder if the main targets of that piece of advice are people who are experts in relevant fields but unaware of the nature of the debate and assume that others who are engaged will be doing so in good faith. How often have you seen people with apparent expertise stepping in to the debate and being all high-minded in their attitude towards both sides as though they were equivalent in their faults?

  4. Rachel says:

    Yes, that’s true and you’re probably right. I might have got a little defensive there. Even so, we want experts in the field out there communicating and so I think it better to inform them of the tactics used rather than advise them to keep silent.

    I am sympathetic to Marc as well and was glad to see he didn’t mind me being critical of this one thing.

  5. Hi everyone, OPatrick nailed it – said it far better in that comment above than I could have. That bit in my video was a mangled piece of unsolicited advice to those with expertise who assume that others in a debate are going to obey the rules of sensible dialogue. “Don’t bring a PhD to a knife fight” etc etc. Different skills and expectations are needed when dealing with people who are far more interested in winning than in getting smarter.
    If/when I make another video, I’ll include both that point and what Rachel said – which I thought was both entirely reasonable and carefully presented [which is more than anyone could say for my own early interactions with ATTP!! :)]
    Best wishes
    Marc Hudson

  6. Yes, OPatrick’s comment does rather hit the nail on the head. I was certainly guilty of some of that when I started. Not so much that I thought “both sides” were equivalent in all their faults, but that “both sides” would listen to scientific reasoning.

    I’ve spent the last few weeks discussing the greenhouse effect with some who think it doesn’t exist. What’s remarkable is that they all seem to be people who have a reasonable grasp of basic physics/science. There are also moments when I’ve thought that we were reaching a point where they would be forced (because of the evidence) to accept that they were wrong about the non-existence of the GHE. That point would then be followed by them making another argument as to why it doesn’t exist. So, it certainly seems that once some have made up their minds about something like this, it’s very hard to shift them.

  7. So was that recent UK survey fake? The one that showed the so-called “deniers” are not denying the physics but denying that the degree of warming is something to be alarmed about?

    The survey also claimed that the level of education of the respondents is higher than that of members of the general public who accept the higher estimates of climate sensitivity to CO2 and the higher risks of adverse consequences.

    This question is important because if even part of those claims are correct, then possibly Marc Hudson has merely set up and demolished some straw men and women.

  8. Chris,
    Which recent UK survey?

    I don’t think Marc has set up and destroyed straw people, because your second sentence is essentially an example of cherry-picking. People are welcome to believe that the world will not warm much in the next 100 years (by not much, I mean less then 2 degrees from today). The problem with that view is that if one considers all the available evidence then this level of warming is less likely than higher levels of warming. That’s not to say that those who believe that warming will be on the low side won’t turn out to be correct, simply that they’re more likely to turn out to be wrong, than right.

  9. Steve Bloom says:

    Don’t recall that survey. Link?

  10. Rachel says:

    I think Chris is talking about the survey ScottishSceptic ran on his blog.

  11. Rachel,
    Possibly – a survey run by someone, who because they once designed thermostats, thinks they know more about climate science than professional climate scientists?

  12. Rachel says:

    UKISS put his responses to the survey on his blog here.

  13. Steve Bloom says:

    Physics denial is generally something that people resort to when they’re engaged in active debate.

    “denying that the degree of warming is something to be alarmed about”

    Broadly, that’s plausible, simply because typical respondents can, and absent other information accompanying the survey question probably will, answer it by imagining what it would be like if their personal environment were to warm by 2-3C, i.e. perfectly tolerable. So such a question would be poorly designed.

    As for the correlation with education levels, one would want to see general survey results on the effect of education level on trust in social institutions. Offhand, I would not be surprised to see somewhat less trust among people with a moderate amount of education, and more among those with a little and a lot. If so, one would want to account for that tendency before drawing conclusions.

    Survey research is tricky stuff.

  14. Steve Bloom says:

    Oh, srsly, Haseler? That’s just ludicrous.

    On a more important matter, I was terribly disappointed to read that UKISS’ nascent racing career had been cut short by his clearly greater love for Mexican professional wrestling. But then I remembered that Google Solves All, and just a few keystrokes later… Eureka!!! So following a doubtless tearful farewell to the ‘roos and funnel webs, I look forward to seeing UKISS in uniform and behind the wheel in time for the big race. Vaya con dios, amigo!

  15. Sorry I have been trying to find the reference to the survey without success. Rachel found it.

    My point was that most of the skeptics stated they accept the physics supporting AGW. The responses did not indicate that the respondents base their views on conspiracy theories, nor did the responses indicate that the respondents were “flat-earthers”.

    I do no collect survey results so I can’t give references. Frankly I do not believe much in surveys in regard to scientific issues. But I do remember reading of surveys of geologists and meteorologists and being surprised that the surveys indicated substantially higher levels of skepticism than I had expected to be reported.

    My point really is that, whether it is Marc Hudson or anyone else and no matter how well phrased, ad hominem arguments have no place in scientific discussion.

    The obverse is the argument from authority. We must stop and think more seriously if the person has the proper credentials, but we do not suspend judgement or at least we should not. After all, errors in math were found in at least one of Albert Einstein’s 1905 papers.

    I do pay attention to methods and results for climate sensitivity to CO2 and am not willing to call a person a denier simply because s/he estimates a low value for sensitivity.

    Case in point, Stephen Schwartz of Brookhaven Laboratory estimated climate sensitivity to doubling of CO2 as 1.1 ± 0.5 K. based his estimate on ocean heat content.
    Heat capacity, time constant, and sensitivity of Earth’s climate system. Schwartz S. E. J.
    Geophys. Res., 112, D24S05 (2007). As I recall a minor correction followed publication, but as I recall the corrected figure did not seem significantly higher.

    I do not regard Dr, Schwartz as a climate denier. Nor do I regard anyone else as a denier simply because the person states that the data is consistent with low climate sensitivity.

    If climate sensitivity is as low as Dr Schwartz has estimated, there will be greater difficulty in distinguishing the AGW signal can from noise. The noise I refer to includes the uncertainties in the land-based and sea-based data and the difficulties associated with the various oceanic oscillations, in particular the PDO and the AMO.

    We have half a dozen ways of explaining the “pause”. What bothers me is that the reverse of the explanations for the pause can be applied to explain the observed rise in temperatures from 1980 to 2000. For example, if the combined effects of the AMO and PDO can account for the pause, then in retrospect, we have to consider the how much of the observed warming can be accounted for by the warm phases of these oscillations.

    The problem is not the physics, but getting a long enough series of good data to distinguish the signal from the noise. No matter how good the physical theory, we are still bound to validate the theory empirically. Messy and not as much fun. But there you are. We are asking people to spend a lot of money to save the Earth and we must understand that a significant part of the public is not convinced by the “balance of probabilities” but want to be sure “beyond a reasonable doubt”, more or less what they expect when they take off in a Boeing aircraft.

    If you wonder why I am so sticky about this, it’s because I was an undergraduate when Wegener was being vilified for his claim that continents move laterally. There was substantial geological and fossil evidence, but the geophysicists could not find the mechanism. Unfortunately I could not accept the conventional theory of mountain building based on an absurd application of isostacy, but I had to memorize it to get an A in the course.

    As I see it there is a still a degree of argumentum ad ignorantiam in the way the models parameterize clouds and water vapor feedback. Whether this can be resolved in the next ten years, time will tell. Svensmark’s theory will continue to be tested at Cern and we may have some results one way or another in five years. Satellite data is accumulating year by year as also the Argo buoy data. We will know soon enough if the solar cycle claims have any merit. Don’t laugh, the UV part of the spectrum is not as stable as was once believed and raises questions that need to be resolved.

    I notice that there is a lot of discussion in this blog of the physics of the climate related to the atmosphere. I suggest somewhat more attention to the physics of climate in relation to the oceans. In my opinion, since the heat capacity of the oceans is orders of magnitude greater than that of the atmosphere, focusing on the role of oceans would be productive.

  16. Chris,

    I notice that there is a lot of discussion in this blog of the physics of the climate related to the atmosphere. I suggest somewhat more attention to the physics of climate in relation to the oceans.

    In the past, I have done exactly that and may well do so again in the future. The recent focus on the atmosphere has been related to discussions with those who dispute the existence of the greenhouse effect.

  17. Marco says:

    Wow, Chris, that correction made the estimate almost double (1.1 to 1.9), with the error margins really doubling (from 0.5 to 1.0). You were also given, on this same blog, the response of James Annan to Schwartz’ “minor correction”, pointing out Schwartz just took Scafetta’s questionable estimate at face value to calculate that value.

  18. Yes, I realize that too. But why not move on and explore the oceans.

    What would it take to detect an unmistakable signal of warming in the data? How do the results for climate sensitivity for the oceans compare with those for the atmosphere?

    One problem of course is multicollinearity in the indepedent variables and autocorrelaton in the time series. Also, we have to avoid spurious correlation, which may arise if the variables are not stationary in first differences. We may have to determine if it is necessary to use the cointegrating vector approach.

    Several attempts have been made to apply cointegration theory, most involving Kaufmann, A., Kauppi, H., and Stock, J. H.

    The references to Kaufman etc and several others are given in Beenstock, Reingewertz, and Paldor Polynomial cointegration tests of anthropogenic impact on global warming, Earth Syst. Dynam., 3, 173-188, 2012 doi:10.5194/esd-3-173-2012

    The Israeli group concluded, “We have shown that anthropogenic forcings do not polynomially cointegrate with global temperature and solar irradiance. Therefore, data for 1880–2007 do not support the anthropogenic interpretation of global warming during this period.”

    “This means, however, that as with all hypotheses, our rejection of AGW is not absolute; it might be a false positive, and we cannot rule out the possibility that recent global warming has an anthropogenic footprint. However, this possibility is very small, and is not statistically significant at conventional levels.”

    My hesitation is not with the physical theory, but with the empirical analysis of the physical variables. We are not there yet. Maybe, if you live long enough the results will confirm the theory of AGW, but don’t hold your breath. We may not know for decades and certainly not in my lifetime.,

  19. OPatrick says:

    Swing enough hammers…. 🙂

    But I think this is a really important area: engagement is the key problem (or should that be solution?) and not just from the large group of people who are vaguely aware of there being an issue, but barely think about it most of the time, but also from the many people who are deeply concerned but can’t see how to, or don’t have the stomach to, engage effectively. Warnings about the risks of engagements should still be accompanied by exhortations to engage.

    There has been plenty of discussion here already about the importance of experts engaging actively in the debate, but I believe we should be pushing at the other end too and encouraging more totally-non-experts to express their concerns. There is evidence, for example, that the tone of comment threads can affect perceptions and encouraging more people to spend a short time regularly making simple supportive comments, even just recommending comments they agree with, would make a significant difference I believe.

    Is there a place for a list of suggestions and advice for people who are wary of engaging, to get them started in the debate? Simple points about what to watch out for, like the Gish Gallop, and how to respond. This doesn’t have to be partisan, it should apply to anyone who wants to engage honestly.

  20. Marco,

    I have access to the published papers or comments on the papers and misremembered the values from seven years ago. Range in the original paper 0.6 to 1.6 best estimate 1.1. Corrected to range 0.9 to 2.9 best estimate 1.9. The biggest difference is the uncertainty, which is what needs to be reduced.

    I’m not sure what you meant by “…this same blog…” I came upon the Brookhaven site and Stephen Schwartz’s paper in 2007 by a route not connected to a blog but connected to research project for an M.S.

  21. Chris,
    I have an IPCC report, and in this very report the ECS range is given as 1.5 – 4.5K. The report has got the indisputable advantage that ALL the evidence is considered. Why would you choose to ignore it? Being at it, Schwartz published a follow up paper in 2012, and guess what, he came up with a ECS range which perfectly matches IPCC AR5 (it just spans a slightly wider range): 1.16 – 4.9K. Care to update your wisdom?

  22. Marco says:

    Chris, you pointed out Schwartz paper on this same blog just a few days ago, right here:
    I responded and so did BBD

    And that Beenstock paper, well…

  23. I had to look up what a Gish Gallop is.

    Guess I have to stop blogging about climate. 🙂 Although I had noticed the technique and agree that that is a good reason not to “debate” a climate ostrich in the mass media with too little time to study and refute all the nonsense.

    I have started wondering whether the climate ostriches really believe the stuff they write or whether they just act as if they do because the want to delay action because they like climate change (to promote my last post). They may like climate change because they think that other will suffer more than they do. That also explains the influence of education mentioned above and why higher educated Republicans are more likely to reject global warming. They are higher up in the hierarchy and probably think they will suffer less than the less educated and poor. (It is not related to education in itself, more educated Democrats are more likely to accept AGW; the difference is that progressives would like to make the world a better place.)

  24. John Mashey says:

    Have to go out, but briefly:\
    1) Gish Gallup was coined by Eugenie Scott, recently retired head of the NCSE, longtime defender of evolution, and lately of climate science.

    2) See the Yale/GMU Six Americas studies, in which dismissives are often better educated than average. I suggest that if one is strongly motivated by extra-science reasons, then more education tends to lead to stronger pseudoskepticism and more willingness to express it. The less educated are less sure.
    a) See 2009 APS Petition, where 200+ (mostly) PhD physicisits were intensely pseudoskeptic.
    b) see Amazon review comments,
    where RG Reynolds, an aerospace engineer, and Morgan Wright, a retired optometrist wh oruns a disc golf course, battle with Gavin Cawley.
    See especially Morgan’s lat comment: I’m sure most readers will be glad to know that only dismissives are intelligent, whereas alarmed/concerned have IQ’s less that 40.

    3) As an oddly related question, ho would people calibrate an academic conference chair who offered speaking slots to Fred Singer or Viscount Monckton?

  25. 3) As an oddly related question, ho would people calibrate an academic conference chair who offered speaking slots to Fred Singer or Viscount Monckton?

    To take that question outside the political realm. When I was a student, there was a talk in the university main building of Rupert Sheldrake. I am inconclusive.

    Is it good to do that because it learns you to distinguish between science and speudo-science? Or does it legitimise the fakes? Depends probably also on how it is presented.

    And Monckton is completely out, that is not subtle speudo-science from which one could learn the importance of the scientific method. That is just madness. Someone who invites Monckton has left the building.

  26. Marco, thanks for the references. As for my previous comment, I was abroad and have recently returned home. Thanks for the url to your comment.

  27. Steve Bloom says:

    Almost missed this bit in Marlowe’s gish gallop: “Svensmark’s theory will continue to be tested at Cern and we may have some results one way or another in five years.”

    Or perhaps we already have some. Pay attention much?

    But these results quite aside, Svensmark’s hypothesis (no theory as you should have known) fails utterly in terms of the postulated effect on climate since no such thing is detected in the paleo record. Even absent that, there’s the threshold question of why cosmic rays would change over time in a manner that would affect climate significantly, to say nothing of doing so in a manner that during the last century or so would appear consistent with that expected from the experimentally-verified properties of GHGs even while the latter somehow do nothing.

    “not in my lifetime” An article of faith, that. Marlowe’s enthusiasm to deny any science that conflicts with it is palpable.

  28. Steve Bloom says:

    This recent paper is quite interesting. Small, short-term, localized (mid-latitude) effects of CRs at Plio-Pleistocene interglacial peaks (note not during glacials) are inferred from sediment cores, although the authors don’t seem to have addressed the obvious alternative explanation of volcanic activity. Either way, this is strong evidence against Svensmark’s hope that CRs have a long-term significant effect on climate.

  29. Steve Bloom says:

    I should note that they analyzed just one sediment core for that paper. We’d want to see that replicated at a distant location.

  30. johnrussell40 says:

    While I agree with the points it was trying to make, unfortunately it wasn’t much good as a video. Why? Well it broke rule number 1, which is something every communicator should understand. Rule number 1 is: “when on-screen text is used, it should always match the narration”. In other words, the narrator should be repeating any text that appears on screen (or the text should echo the narration). The human mind cannot comfortably read text and listen to different narration: either the ears of the eyes will command most attention and the other will be missed. Even if the text and narration are both making the same point, if they use different words then they will pull against one another.

  31. Rachel says:

    I think UKISS might have upset some Mexican Wrestlers as it looks like his twitter account has been hacked.

  32. Ir’s essential to understand the fundamental difference uncertainties have in the two setups:

    1) Science considered as search of more and more truthlike description of the reality without any consideration of, how the results affect decision making.

    2) Use of the existing scientific knowledge as support for decision making.

    For the first case it’s commonly accepted that uncertainties should be given very much weight. Nothing should be considered well established at the level that the uncertainties are not reconsidered every time the knowledge is used until it has been tested thoroughly in many independent ways. In this approach rather little of the knowledge of the Earth system and climate is really well established. The physics basics and directly observed structure surely are well established, but further details mostly not.

    For the second case the criteria are very different. Risk aversion (or precautionary principle) tells that virtual certainty of the risks is almost irrelevant. It may even be of little importance whether some severe consequences are likely or only not very unlikely. At some level an extreme unlikeliness justifies that not everything remotely possible needs be considered, but the basic setup is almost the reverse of the first case.

    People react very differently to this kind of situation. For many it’s impossible to accept that we should worry about something that’s not highly likely, while some others are really worried about such extreme risks that a majority of main stream scientists tend to place among those too unlikely to warrant much concern.

    Further disagreement is due to differing views on, what we can do to mitigate the risks even, when a fair agreement exists on their severity. For some it’s clear that we must do something, if no action can be justified objectively, then just pick something that feels right, while others insist that nothing substantial should be done, if it’s consequences are not fairly well understood. (I may be somewhat biased towards this second alternative.)

    While the reasons for people’s attitudes are to a major part based on intuitive assessment of factors like I describe above, they tend to search support for those attitudes from facts. They really have the attitude first, and the facts come afterwards. This is common in all political decision making. Societal issues are often such that it’s easier to feel sure about conclusions than about the justification.

    What we see in a majority of denialistic writing is a manifestation of this inverse logic. No-one is immune to this inverse logic on any side of the debate – and often it really does work on issues more familiar to us. Active attempt to be self-critical may reduce erroneous use of inverse logic, but in many cases nothing helps.

  33. BBD says:

    Steve Bloom

    I tend to a agree with Richard Alley that the Laschamp excursion demonstrates that there is no climatologically significant effect from GCR/cloud interactions.

    If the video link to Alley’s 2009 AGU Bjerknes Lecture still works, the relevant bit is about 42 minutes in:

    [Alley:] it’s a really interesting hypothesis. There’s really good science to be done on this. But we have reason to believe it’s a fine tuning knob…. …We had a big cosmic ray signal [points to the chart] and the climate ignores it. And it’s just about that simple. These cosmic rays didn’t do enough that you can see it.

  34. Marco says:

    BBD, just as a note, you will find some people state “oh, but that was during an ice age, it may well be different now!”. Better prepare for such ‘rebuttals’.

  35. BBD says:


    I’ve seen such. But there’s still no climate signal, so that line of counter-argument doesn’t carry any weight (as you obviously know) 😉

  36. Tom Curtis says:


    “while others insist that nothing substantial should be done, if it’s consequences are not fairly well understood”

    The biggest problem with this view is that it is inaccurately presented. The actual view point presented is not that nothing be done, but that no substantial social or political action be taken even though that lack of social and political action means continuing taking very substantial actions which effect climate. Consequently, the argument is that because we do not understand very well the consequences of very large CO2 emissions, therefore we should not reduce emissions.

    Logically, the default position of libertarians (and similarly inclined) should be that the burden of proof rests with those who would dump waste into a commons (the atmosphere). Certainly that is the accepted position for dumping solid waste over a neighbours fence. Logically, whether the waste is solid, liquid or gaseous is irrelevant. Granted that by custom, gaseous waste can be emitted, but justification by custom only applies to customary levels of emissions (ie, that of small charcoal fires).

  37. Andrew Dessler had a lecture with Fred Singer. Done in that way it should not harm. His students know the science well, he can debrief them afterwards and explain the logical fallacies and “mistakes”. Any in that way it may even teach the students something about how science works and how easy it is to fool yourself.

  38. Tom,
    I tried to condense something about a very complex issue in couple of sentences. It’s unavoidable that my sentences allow for many interpretations. What I consider necessary is finding practical solutions that avoid worst pitfalls both from being too ineffective and from being too wasteful or having too severe unintended consequences. I have written on some related questions on my own site a while ago. Nordhaus has written books on his thoughts on this question, as have other environmental economists.

    Out of the specialists, environmental economists may cover more of the relevant area than others, but even their coverage is far from sufficient without good cooperation with climate scientists, engineers and many others.

  39. John Mashey says:

    Victor (or anyone else)
    How about a government-funded academic conference on climate change, with a single track, that included 20-minute talks from: ~80 people, including:
    Judith Curry
    Richard Lindzen
    Fred Singer
    Don Easterbrook
    Nicola Scafetta
    Chrisopher Essex (of Essex & McKitrick: taken by Storm)
    Christopher Monckton
    N-A Morner
    Chip Knappenberger
    William Gray

    Any concerns? (and then I’ll explain how this relates to some earlier comments, because the identity of the organizers is interesting. If anyone recognizes this, please no spoilers!

  40. Steve Bloom says:

    I don’t recognize this as such, John, but perhaps LANL again?

    But wow (tm Judy Curry), single track? That’s got to be a pretty solid four days worth of this stuff. Also, ~80? I didn’t think the denialist bench was deep enough for that.

  41. John Mashey says:

    There were about 80 speakers, of which many were quite credible…. and those on the list above might have varying degrees of credibility.

  42. Pingback: Another Week of Global Warming News, March 16, 2014 – A Few Things Ill Considered

  43. John Mashey says:

    This was The Third Santa Fe Conference on Global and Regional Climate Change, which says:
    ‘The Conference will consist of invited and contributed oral presentations and posters.’
    (I would very much like to know which were invited, have not yet found out.)
    See the full program, with 16 speakers/day and abstracts.
    on p.2 we learn:
    Organized by Petr Chylek (LANL), Stephen Schwartz (BNL)

    The Program Committee was:
    Petr Chylek. Chair (LANL)
    Slephen Schwartz (BNL)
    Christopher Folland (Hadley Centre, UK Met Office)
    Muyin Wang ( U of Washington)
    Glen Lesins (Dalhousie U)
    Manvendra Dubey, Co-Chair (LANL)
    Cathy Wilson (LANL)
    Nick Hengartner (LANL)
    Michael Cai (LANL)

    So, Steve Bloom’s guess was good.
    Now, DeSmogBlog has an entry for Chylek, which needs updating, but he was at Dalhousie (Nova Scotia) before he moved to LANL.
    I don’t know of most of these folks, and clearly there are a few credible people (like Folland), but this is clearly a Chylek & friends effort, and of course, LANL is not NCAR or GFDL or NOAA or in general, a lab focused on climate science.

    Opinion: everyone *knows* that a Heartland climate conference would be filled with dismissives, and that journals like E&E are not very credible. However, suppose one organizes a conference (in a nice place, like Santa Fe, although it is an hour’s drive from Albuquerque and has fairly minimal commercial air flights, so it is not the easiest/cheapest place to get to.)
    One might attract a reasonable set of speakers … but if marginal ones get included, they may be able to list such an appearance for credibility.
    I of course have no idea who did what in this, and I have been on program committees where I got surprised, but clearly: this was organized by Chylek and Schwartz.

  44. John Mashey says:

    Oops, I forgot to mention this account by an attendee, Mark Boslough, If you ever see Mark @ AGU over a beer, ask him for the stories he didn’t write down.

  45. Should we worry about conferences like this one at Santa Fe in 2011?

    What has been the influence of this conference on anything?

    There are activities against climate science that need to be countered, but there’s very much that’s best just forgotten. Erroneous work is done and promoted in all fields of science without anyone really caring much. The policy importance of climate science makes it a little different, but it’s not necessary to be overly sensitive on all activities in this field either. Sometimes the small effect of reacting to something like that meeting may be rather counterproductive than useful.

    Climate blogs are full of people who are overly sensitive (on both sides of the issue). This is, however, a very small minority.

    My own view is that stubborn repetition of correct knowledge has the best change of leading to positive outcome in the long run (slowly but with the persistent influence), but one should not worry too much about all the counterarguments, in particular not about the most stupid counterarguments. They can, however, be used as an apparent justification for the repetition of the correct information.

    Repetition of the facts does not require attacking those arguing against the facts any further than pointing out, how badly they are in error. That may sometimes get rude, but can be done referring to the content rather than the person.

  46. Carrick says:

    Pekka: Repetition of the facts does not require attacking those arguing against the facts any further than pointing out, how badly they are in error. That may sometimes get rude, but can be done referring to the content rather than the person.

    I agree with this comment. It is unnecessary to use words like denier to frame your opponent. If that word is conjured up when they are allowed to speak, then that problems on them. Science does tend to be self-correcting, when it is allowed to function without thought police. Inevitably personalities get involved when you attack their arguments instead of them. That’s a bit like, with chess, beating another person badly enough can lead to really hurt feelings on a level that, e.g., beating them on a basketball court never would do.

    After Muller and Rhode gave their talks, I would doubt there was much wind left in Singer’s sails in any case. I’d guess that many of the conference attendees didn’t have strongly formed opinions of him before the conference, and left with what we would consider the “appropriate attitude” towards his work. Having people name calling isn’t going to do anything beneficial in convincing people of the weakness of Singer’s case. If anything it transforms him into a bit of an underdog, and makes it that much harder to challenge what he has to say.

    This is a pretty common pattern in physics conferences by the way. You let the crackpot have their say (I think crackpot is a better descriptor for Singer personally), then you let the heavyweights shoot them down.

    Get the argument out in front of everybody. Let them flop. Move on.

  47. John Mashey says:

    Presumably, Pekka and carrick will kindly affirm:
    1) They are US taxpayers
    2) and they are *happy* to see their Federal tax dollars spent this way, rather than on research grants or $ to keep Mauna Loa open, i.e., it is *important* that the US spend money to let Christopher Monckton, Fred Singer, Don Easterbrook, etc speak.

  48. I’m not a U.S. taxpayer, but I abhor a government that controls too tightly how scientific meetings and other similar activities are organized. My understanding from following U.S. sources is that the political wing that’s most eager to control the use of funds is the Tea Party movement.

    It’s sometimes frustrating that also those people have the freedom of speech and freedom to use some government money that push policies that we don’t like at all. But, what would you propose as the solution?

  49. Rachel says:


    I just want to point out this:
    Having people name calling isn’t going to do anything beneficial in convincing people of the weakness of Singer’s case.

    and this:
    You let the crackpot have their say (I think crackpot is a better descriptor for Singer personally)….

    Isn’t this name-calling? Can you give me a reason for why I should let crackpot stand? It’s a derogatory word and worse, in my view, than denier. I want to edit your comment and have very nearly done so. Is there a reason for why I should not?

  50. Carrick says:

    Simple enough.

    Denier implies motive. Crackpot does not.

  51. Carrick says:

    John Mashey: Presumably, Pekka and carrick will kindly affirm:
    1) They are US taxpayers
    2) and they are *happy* to see their Federal tax dollars spent this way, rather than on research grants or $ to keep Mauna Loa open, i.e., it is *important* that the US spend money to let Christopher Monckton, Fred Singer, Don Easterbrook, etc speak.

    I am a US taxpayer, and I yes think it is appropriate that we allow them to speak at a conference.

  52. Pingback: #Climate denialism – what, how, why, who. Video by #Manchester bigmouth | manchester climate monthly

  53. > Denier implies motive. Crackpot does not.

    As if implying motive was the only game in town. While I have sympathy for “S is a crackpot and we should leave him to the local gurus”, it is an ad hom, Carrick. Calling someone a crackpot also serves to wedge more lukewarm positions.

    Thank you for your concerns.

  54. Thanks to JohnRussell for his reminder! I keep getting over-ambitious/trying to cram too much into these videos.

    Really interesting conversation too, as ever on ATTP…

  55. Carrick says:


    I think you need to look up ad hominem fallacy.

    Saying somebody is a crackpot means to me that they espouse crackpot notions or theories. It’s a value judgement of their work, not their character, albeit a pretty negative one. (There’s a cure for being called a crackpot, come up with better ideas.)

    Saying they are a denier or a “dishonest hack” suggest we should discount what they say without regard to content. That’s an example of the ad hominem fallacy.

    Anyway, I’ve given up trying to have coherent or meaningful conversations with you, I never know if I’m supposed to be offended, complimented (sure that’s never happened), disagree or heartily agree with you on any given topic.

    So thank you for your concerns too.

  56. AnOilMan says:

    You know… I could really use a Counter Preemptive Gish Gallop (CPGG)…. I’d rather see them sending sparks out their ears, and floundering with what to reply to. Lordy knows I’ve done that enough times.

    I think it’s important to remember that technical people aren’t generally snowed by this stuff. It’s Joe public voter that they are trying to confuse with all this misleading information.

    They don’t want to debate in any sense, they want to sew FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) and nothing more.

  57. Come on, Carrick. What you describe as normal behavior in a physicists’ environment is an ad hom when you use as an argument in a rational discussion. Own it, or teach me about ad hominem arguments. This would not be the first time you’re trying to mansplain something to me.

    You have your “denier something” backwards, by the way. It’s because someone S says something very silly that denial is invoked. The same reversal can be applied to your crackpot argument. One could claim that S says something so silly that crackpottry is invoked.

    The best you can claim is that crackpottry is a simpler argument than denial. Since denial looks more plausible than crackpottry in the case of Singer, I wish you the best of luck in your entreprises. Denial does not lack as much rationality as pure crackpottry.

    Finally, “denier” does not even entail a specific motive. Again, the same applies to crackpottry. Excentric cognitions, for example.

  58. dhogaza says:

    Willard’s right, “denier” implies no motive. “denier” simply means “one who denies [something]”. Nothing more, nothing less.

  59. Rachel, Carrick, et al., I am dismissive of your concerns.

  60. > Willard’s right, “denier” implies no motive.

    That’s not what I said. What I said is that it implies no specific motive. We don’t posit denial when a camera refuses to take photos: we posit a malfunction or else. There are many ways to deny. One can deny facts, impacts, cycles, and even denials:

    Note the interesting concept of DARVO.

    We should acknowledge that the concept of denial, when used in a rational inquiry, carries more weight than a psychological explanation.

  61. dhogaza says:

    “That’s not what I said. What I said is that it implies no specific motive. ”

    Fine, you’re wrong. 🙂 I’ll say it again, then. More clearly, “denier”, “denialism”, etc does not imply the existence of a motive. Fear, ignorance, etc can be the cause.

  62. “denier” simply means “one who denies [something]“. Nothing more, nothing less.”

    On that definition it would be sufficient to be merely ignorant or mistaken about something to be a denier, which I don’t think is the case. You can be wrong about something without being a denier, in the same way that you can be right about something without being scientific. It’s not so much about the fact that you deny something as *how* you do it, in the same way that being sporting is more about how you play, than the specific sport or the specific result.

    Denial is anti-science in the sense that it is the opposite of science. Science is self-correcting, denial is self-reinforcing. Both are methods that do what they do regardless of the topic. The methods of denial work just as well, and indeed are the same, whether the topic is vaccines, HIV, AGW, evolution, or what have you. Ditto the methods of science. One tends to reliably insulate from the facts, the other tends to reliably discover them.

    Also, re considering the use of ‘denier’ to be ad hom, I think that is to mistake the conclusion for the argument.

  63. > Fear, ignorance, etc can be the cause.

    Anyone can use “denier” or “denialism” as it suits her, but you need more than fear or ignorance to capture the concept of denial, dhogaza. Think of its upper limit as straight justified disingenuousness. For a better grasp of the concept of justified disingenuousness, see for instance when the Auditor did Antarctica:

    To maintain my point, I only need to assume that denial is usually attributed to intentional systems, and that such systems usually come with motivations that “motivate” planning, decision, etc.

    Also note that we should distinguish the contexts in which denial is attributed. A psychologist can have to deal with denial daily in her practice, while a thinker can use the concept of denial during a rational inquiry. That a psychologist can use the concept of denial as a descriptive does not imply that a debater can do so against his opponent.

  64. > Also, re considering the use of ‘denier’ to be ad hom, I think that is to mistake the conclusion for the argument.

    Here’s a general formula of an ad hominem:

    1. Someone S claims the proposition P.
    2. S is a description D.
    3. D signals a judgment J about S’s authority.
    4. J justifies our stance regarding P.

    The main reason offered to disregard S is because S is a D. That D signals otters to dismiss or approve what S says. To claim that we should ignore what S says works the same way whether we because he’s a crackpot or a denier.

    The difference between an ad hom and a personal attack is that an ad hom is a more explicit argument. The same difference applies between an ad hom and mere labeling, except that labeling still works as a way to manage in group hierarchies, either to promote a person or to denigrate her. This is normal behavior in social communities, as Carrick reminds us. That does not mean it’s always OK, nor does it mean it’s valid in a rational inquiry, i.e. where fallacies matter most.

    The generalized conclusion shows that the reverse of an ad hom is an appeal to authority.

  65. Richard Tol provides us with a very good example:

    Well, dear Bogology, if your third sentence and first fact are demonstrable nonsense, you should not be surprised that people do not “blindly accept” whatever you say.

    This is a perfect example of the Why Should We Take You Seriously game. You said nonsense here; you said nonsense there; with this understatement, I will question everything you claim.

    Notice a few tricks.

    First, the “nonsense” is begged.

    Second, the “if” is only verbal and does not express a counterfactual.

    Third, the “you should not be suprised” obfuscates the “I will therefore dismiss whatever you say”.

    Fourth, the “blindly accepts” dog whistles what Richard wants the reader to get, e.g. that Blogology should not be taken seriously.


    Incidentally, Richard’s argument is trivial in a rational inquiry. Nobody should expect anyone to have one’s claims blindly accepted. Authority never implies that one’s claims should be blindly accepted.

  66. Carrick says:

    willard, you are correct that if you use crackpot differently than I would mean it or anybody else in physics would mean it, it could have a different meaning.

    And if you use the word denier differently than people use the word in at the climate mitigation advocacy community, then it means something different.

    This is a classic Humpty Dumpty fallacy on your part, because the word usage that I was referring twas as I, the author of the phrase would use it, and denier as people in the climate mitigation advocacy community would mean it.

    The breakdown in my argument would be that people in that community might mean it in a different sense that I as a reader interpret them to mean. But you also say

    To maintain my point, I only need to assume that denial is usually attributed to intentional systems, and that such systems usually come with motivations that “motivate” planning, decision, etc.

    Isn’t this another way of saying that motivation is usually involved in denial? I think that was my point.

    I’m willing to accept that some people in that community might mean it in the “soft manner” suggested by dhogaza (I can’t imagine him ever doing this), and perhaps the real issue here isn’t the way it is intended but rather the way the term is responded to. That’s off-topic though.

    You also keep using the term ad hom argument to describe my use of the word crackpot.

    I assume you are familiar with the qualities of what makes something an argument so you would know that a value judgement (e.g., “Fred Singer is a crackpot”) is not an argument.

    For reference, Merriam Webster say a crackpot is “one given to eccentric or lunatic notions”. Eccentric is a decent word choice here I think to convey the meaning I intended.

    You bring up the word label. Labels are used to separate people into groups. The statement in question is also not a label.

    Rather it is value judgement, because it is a statement about my view of the quality of his work.

    But you know this, so why are you dancing around with other terms?

    If somebody proposed that the Earth was shaped like a banana, I would describe that as a “crackpot” notion. If the person regularly promoted that idea, I would describe them as a crackpot.

    Again, the value judgments tell you something about the quality of the work. They don’t act as labels and they certainly aren’t arguments.

    Were I to have described what I thought was wrong with his ideas, that would be a critical judgement instead.

    This is standard sociology 101 stuff. With with your liberal arts training, I’d have to assume you know all of this.

    So this is what puzzles me about your arguments.

    Either you think I don’t know this and are making arguments you know to be false but you don’t think I would catch, or you don’t know they are false but should have know better, or … something else.

    So in plain English, what are you trying to accomplish here? Do you really think “Fred Singer is a crackpot” is an ad hominem argument? Or a label?

  67. Surely you must be joking, Carrick [1].

    Your “but I’m not really attacking the person” was an tired verbal trick. Worse, you were trying to portray your “Singer is a crackpot” as a “Singer’s theories are crackpot”. Even if we could admit such distancing, what you say of a crackpot would apply to “Singer’s a denier”:

    > Saying somebody is a [denier] means to me that they espouse [denier] notions or theories. It’s a value judgement of their work, not their character, albeit a pretty negative one.

    If we removed all behavioural characteristics from a person, there’s not much else to discuss about that person, and uttering ad homs would only apply to essential properties, e.g. “evil”. And even then, there’s always the excuse “yes, but I only wish to say that my opponent’s acts are evil”

    You have no idea how silly you look by citing the Webster and pretending I commit the Humpty Dumpty fallacy. Who do you think you’re kidding with such moves? You think you can improvise yourself a sociologist because you know how people physically hear stuff?

    See how easy it is to antagonize people for no good reason by questioning your competence.

    But that’s only you’re competence I’m attacking, so it’s not an ad hom, right?

    [1] Cf. the comment thread at Nick’s

  68. Carrick says:

    willlard: Your “but I’m not really attacking the person” was an tired verbal trick

    So is your putting words in my mouth. My suggestion in the future to avoid accusations of this sort is to quote what they actually say instead of giving misleading paraphrases of things they didn’t say.

    I’m stopping at this point, but thanks for making it clear you aren’t actually trying to make honest arguments. You can’t even admit errors when you’ve made obvious ones when they are pointed out to you.


  69. > So is your putting words in my mouth.

    Which ones, dear Carrick, that “but I’m not really attacking the person”? That’s a paraphrase of the argument you utter right there:

    Saying somebody is a crackpot means to me that they espouse crackpot notions or theories. It’s a value judgement of their work, not their character, albeit a pretty negative one.

    You may have missed that it was what you said, as I replaced “crackpot” with “denier”. If you can use that argument, I guess that those who use the D word could, right? This is what was supposed to plug true Scotsman: “but only the D word probes motivation,” which has already been shown wrong.

    You know, Carrick, your immature bully act (notice that I’m not saying that you are one, we all know how important that distinction is to you) does not prevent from learning from past experiences, for instance this other one:

    Seems that even when you play home you just look like an intimidating, but somewhat lousy Climateballer. No, sorry. I meant your Climateball moves are lousy. That’s a difference that makes all the difference in the world, right?

    And to repeat what I’ve claimed so far. Your “crackpot” remark was an ad hom even if it takes the content of what Singer says into account; the same applies to the use of the D word. Your “but it does not appeal to motivation” was false; your “but I only attributed crackpottry to actions” was both disingenuous and irrelevant. While it makes sense to dismiss someone we believe is a crackpot or a denier, when used in a rational discussion it can very well amount to an ad hominem argument. If it’s not used as an argument, it’s at the very least a personal attack that serves the function to discount what is being said, and this has no place in a rational inquiry.

    All this is basic argumentation theory. In a nutshell, not all ad hom arguments are ignoratio elenchi, some simply beg the question at stake. And to allow ourselves to consider Singer a crackpot begs the same question as the one that allows us to consider him a denier.

    You are unimpressive, Carrick. No, you are impressive. Only your verbal abuses aren’t.

  70. Let it be noted that the flames above are meant as a pedagogical device. I respect Carrick and appreciate some of his contributions. See for another instance:

    > You’re supposed to be a dissenting scientist whom I have all the reasons in the world to respect, and now you’re playing semantic games.

    I have no idea why engineer-minded people, whose linguistic outputs oftentimes border on Aspergian syndrome, believe they can outwork philosophers in argumentation theory. I mean, come on, this is Philosophy 101! For those who’d like to know more about ad homs, Van Eemeren has a nice theory about their pragmatic implications.

    Anyway, sorry about that.

  71. Oh, and since this thread is about denialism, here’s the relevant bit about denial:

    The subject [of denial] may use:

    – simple denial: deny the reality of the unpleasant fact altogether

    – minimisation: admit the fact but deny its seriousness (a combination of denial and rationalization)

    – projection: admit both the fact and seriousness but deny responsibility by blaming somebody or something else.

    So contrary to what Carrick claimed, the “you’re just a denier!” rests on the content of the belief or the claim at stake. That is, after all, the point of calling someone a denier: he’s refusing to admit a fact we consider obviously true.

    That does not make the use of the D word non ad hom, the simple reason being that saying “Singer’s a denier” signals that the audience should discount everything Singer could ever say on the topic of interest.

  72. Joshua says:

    I’m trying to figure out which of the four following arguments I think would be the most absurd.

    1) Calling someone a “denier” is not an attempt to denigrate someone (and by that vehicle, diminish the validity of their opinions), but merely a dispassionate and objective description.

    2) Someone being called a “denier” is seriously offensive – at a level more significant than one elementary school student saying “Your mother wears army boots” to another elementary school student.

    3) Calling someone a “crackpot” is meaningfully different from calling someone a “denier.”

    4) Arguing that the use of the label “denier” is meaningfully offensive or significant, and then turning around and arguing that it is justified to call someone else a “crackpot,” or “warmist,” or “alarmist” or “AGW-religous cultist,”: etc.

    Of course, I am simply pondering about purely abstract and hypothetical scenarios.

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