Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What the Rajendra Pachauri Harassment Accusations Mean to the IPCC and Man-Made Climate Change

In a word - nothing. But let me explain for those unfamiliar with the IPCC and how Rajendra K. Pachauri became its chair, and why the current accusations are irrelevant to man-made climate change.

For those living in a vacuum, the blogosphere has been saturated with reports that now-former IPCC Chair Pachauri has been accused of harassment by a woman employed by his unrelated energy institute called TERI. Pachauri has denied the allegations and the case is likely to take some time to reach a conclusion. As such, Pachauri resigned from his position at IPCC and apparently is on leave from his position at TERI.

The first thing to keep in mind is that all of this involves TERI, not the IPCC. As we all know, the IPCC is the climate organization that all climate deniers love to hate, attacking it constantly because they don't like the state-of-the-science summarized in its periodic reports. This is yet another irrelevancy they will use to attack the science. You can read more about how the IPCC works and the denialist attacks on it here. Pachauri's term as chair was due to end this year anyway, and given that the most recent set of reports just came out and the next aren't due for nearly 7 years, his somewhat early departure isn't particularly meaningful.

By let's take a look at how Pachauri came to be chair in the first place, which explains why climate scientists aren't so unhappy to see him depart. Pachauri was elected to the chairmanship in 2002. That date is important to the story, the gist of which is the following.

Prior to Pachauri, the IPCC was chaired by Dr. Robert T. Watson, an actual atmospheric scientist who had been chair for about six years. Then George W. Bush was elected President of the U.S., and consistent with his long-time family oil interests, appointed Philip Cooney as the head of his Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ). A lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, Cooney would seem an odd choice for the CEQ, but his purpose would soon be evident. Cooney left the administration in 2005 after being caught doctoring climate reports to downplay the science in favor of his oil industry handlers. Upon resigning he immediately took a job with oil giant ExxonMobil.

But Cooney's dishonesty wasn't the only Bush administration attack on climate science. There was the matter of Robert Watson, who was up for renomination as the chair of IPCC, but the oil industry wanted him out. President Bush and Vice-President Cheney, both deeply indebted to the oil industry (Cheney had been CEO of Halliburton prior to VP), willingly acted on industry behalf to remove Watson. After all, who wants an actual climate scientist to chair the organization summarizing climate science, right?

Enter Arthur Randol III, a senior adviser for ExxonMobil. As detailed in a 2002 article by noted science columnist Andrew Revkin, Randol, in a memo directed to the Bush administration, issued his instructions and asked whether Dr. Watson could "be replaced now at the request of the U.S." Not long after, Watson was out and Pachauri was in as the new chairman of the IPCC.

Pachauri is an industrial engineer and economist, not a climate scientist, so was thought by the oil industry to be more amendable to the industry position. That turned out not to be the case, as the science speaks for itself no matter who is nominally in charge of the process. As described earlier, the IPCC has a very small staff charged mostly with "herding cats," i.e., an administrative function focused on coordinating the volunteer work of thousands of climate scientists around the world as they work unpaid for up to 7 years collating, evaluating, and summarizing the tens of thousands of new climate research papers since the last IPCC review. These thousands of scientists work in teams to summarize the data. Their drafts are then reviewed by other scientists, as well as anyone else who requests to review the reports prior to publication. All comments (yes, even from climate deniers) are addressed, and each set of reports receives thousands of comments (which is why the reports take so long to be finalized).

The chair of the IPCC merely oversees the coordination process while the reports are being prepared, and then serves as a central spokesman for the results reported. The chair can only reiterate what the science says. So in essence, it isn't particularly relevant who chairs the IPCC, only that the process of compilation and summarizing of the state-of-the-science is completed by relevant climate scientists. Which is what happens.

One more point to keep in mind is that the IPCC merely reports on what has been published, i.e., the IPCC itself doesn't conduct new studies. Most of it comes from the peer-reviewed literature, though some government and non-peer-reviewed data and analysis are also cited when relevant and reliable (not surprisingly, this gray literature is more common in the policy-oriented volumes of mitigation and economic impact, whereas the vast majority of the physical science volume is comprised of peer-reviewed scientific studies). In addition, while IPCC compiles all the scientific literature worldwide, specific scientific climate research organizations such as NOAA, NASA, CRU, and others conduct their own research, and all agree that more than 100 years of data unequivocally demonstrate that human activities are driving the warming of our planet. The science stands on its own, no matter who the IPCC chair happens to be. So Pachauri's departure is essentially, meh, in meaning.

That said, the United States and the world now have an opportunity to support the appointment of a real climate scientist to take over the chairmanship of the IPCC. Most critical is the ability to accurately communicate the state-of-the-science and to manage the process such that governments feel confident taking action to deal with the challenge of our lifetimes.

The science says that action is necessary, and now. It's time the U.S. and others move forward on that action.

[Note: This post appears a day earlier than the normal Thursday posting schedule; next week will return to the normal schedule. Also, next week will return to Part 4 of the series on how peer-review works and doesn't work. Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 can be read by clicking on the links.]

Thursday, February 19, 2015

How peer-review works…and doesn’t work (Part 3: Abusing the system)

This is a continuation of the series on how peer-review works…and doesn’t work. Part 1 looked at the basics of how the peer-review process works for scientific papers - what it does, and what it doesn't do. You can read the entire Part 1 article here. Part 2 looked at what happens when peer-review goes wrong. You can read the entire Part 2 article here. Now we’ll take a look at some cases where the peer-review system has been abused. 

Before starting Part 3, however, it must be stressed that any inadequacies so far discussed are exceptions to the rule. Peer-review almost always does what it is supposed to do – a first screen to make sure papers represent legitimate research and are fully documented so that they can be assessed by the larger scientific community. It’s rare that peer-review “fails” (see Part 2). It’s even rarer that papers are retracted once they are published. A study published in 2012 examined the 2047 retractions of papers indexed in the PubMed database (mostly biotechnology papers). That sounds like a lot until you realize that this was out of over 21 million published papers in that database, meaning less than 0.01% of published papers were retracted. Retraction is rare even though the bar for retracting papers has been lowered (i.e., it's much easier and faster to retract now than previously).
  
That said, let’s look at the cases where papers have been published that probably shouldn’t have been. The new problem of “open access journals,” i.e., those journals who publish for a fee, was mentioned in Part 2. The biggest concern here is that some of these “journals” are simply predatory publishers that will post online anything that is sent to them as long as the fee is paid. These predatory journals will likely disappear as people refuse to be associate with them, especially since they obviously aren’t really peer-reviewed. So while they may be a big headache right now, likely they will weed out the bad eggs through, not ironically, peer pressure. 

Which gets us to the real problem. The following examples highlight some of what can happen when unscrupulous people try to take advantage of the system. 

The most famous example of “pal review” as discussed in Part 2 is the publication of a climate related paper by Soon and Baliunas in the journal Climate Research in 2003. The paper was shuttled through the review process by fellow climate denier Chris de Freitas, an editor for the journal. Once published, the paper was roundly criticized by the scientific community as unsupportable on its face. Further review revealed that Soon and Baliunas were funded by the fossil fuel industry, that the conclusions stated were inconsistent with their own data (which were inconsistent with reality), and that de Frietas had a history of pushing through papers by climate deniers despite their obvious failings. Details of the controversy can be read here. Since then, Soon and a small group of lobbyist-associated authors have been implicated in a series of questionable papers that misrepresent the science. Often these papers are published in a journal called Energy and Environment, a non-science pal-review type of journal where the editor has acknowledged papers are published based on political motives. 

Following publication of the Soon and Baliunas paper described above, and also in one or two other cases where apparently fraudulent papers were published in peer-reviewed journals, senior editors chose to resign. While reputations of any scientists involved can be severely damaged, for some this doesn’t appear to matter much as long as the lobbyist funding continues (e.g., Soon was recently accused of violating basic ethics conventions by failing to disclose his fossil fuel industry funding in a paper he co-authored with the usual band of climate deniers). 

There isn’t much that can be done about such papers other than to keep strengthening peer-review standards, a difficult proposition given the thousands of journals that now compete for papers to publish. Sometimes the papers are retracted, but as noted above, retractions are rare, though increasing.  

This latter point can actually work against legitimate scientists. In the past, scientific papers were scrutinized and critiqued by other scientists, and that feedback helped move the science along. Now the papers are more accessible to the general public through blogs, the public is more likely to get a "spun" version of the paper than the actual science. While press releases by the scientific organizations may be poorly worded, the real problem is when bloggers, either intentionally or unintentionally, get the gist of the paper's findings wrong. So the public may be misinformed. Worse, the papers are read by political and lobbying interests, which would be okay if they honestly evaluated the science. But that isn’t the case. Most political operatives and lobbyists have a particular policy view and are not hesitant to misrepresent the science if they feel doing so will help them achieve their preferred policy action – which in most cases is no action at all. These operatives and lobbyists can exert tremendous pressure on journals that, at least in one recent case, can lead to legitimate, scientifically robust, papers being retracted solely because the journal feared an expensive legal battle with lobbyists. This sets a dangerous precedent. 

In addition, there are many cases of politicians saying things about science that are not scientific. Senator James Inhofe is notorious for arguing that the science of man-made climate change is all a hoax, originally basing this politically convenient opinion on the 2003 Soon and Baliunas paper, which many suggest was the main motivation for the paper being funded by the petroleum industry. Not surprisingly, Inhofe’s home state of Oklahoma is highly dependent on the oil and gas industry and that industry routinely lavishes upon him significant campaign funding. This is true of other politicians as well. And yes, health and environmental advocacy groups also financially support their preferred politicians and feed them information that supports their advocacy. The main difference is that health and environmental lobbyists generally pressure politicians to listen to the scientists while fossil fuel lobbyists generally pressure politicians to listen to, well, the fossil fuel lobbyists and their small cadre of associated scientists who disagree with the vast overriding consensus of the science. 

But that’s a topic for another post.  

To recap, the last three weeks have taken a look at the peer-review process – what it is, and what it isn’t. We’ve looked at some ways that peer-review can “fail,” and some ways that people have abused the process. Due to the space limitations of a blog format, these discussions are necessarily incomplete. The links provide more detail on some of the points being made, but there are many others that could also be discussed in greater depth. The main points to understand are that peer-review is merely the first step in the scientific evaluation process, and only after publication can the greater scientific community scrutinize the studies being presented. Sometimes bad papers get published, but most of the time they are inconsequential. Attempts at fraud do happen, and while relatively rare, can have significant impacts (e.g., see Andrew Wakefield).
  
Overall, peer-review works, and is necessary. There are challenges for the future because of predatory practices related to the “open access” nature of the worldwide web, but these are likely to be worked out so that some combination of public access and quality assurance can be achieved. 

In Part 4 we'll take a look at how some papers that might have been inconsequential in the past can now be artificially elevated into a level of importance they don't merit. We'll explore the role of the internet in making this happen, both for good and for evil.

[Note: Peer-review graphic can be seen larger at http://undsci.berkeley.edu/article/howscienceworks_16

Thursday, February 12, 2015

How peer-review works…and doesn’t work (Part 2: When peer-review goes wrong)

Last week in Part 1 we looked at the basics of how the peer-review process works for scientific papers - what it does, and what it doesn't do. You can read the entire Part 1 article here.

The gist is that peer review is the first step in the evaluation process, merely an attempt to ensure that papers actually reflect some valid scientific study and are documented sufficiently so that others can more fully determine its veracity and relationship to the existing relevant science. Only after a paper is published can it be reviewed by the greater scientific community in the depth necessary to fully evaluate.

But what happens when peer review doesn't weed out the woefully unscientific (you know, the kind of "science" stuff Uncle George posts on his blog, right next to the conspiracy du jour)? How do some papers that are unsupportable on their face get published? How does peer review "fail?" The reasons are varied.

First, it may not have failed at all. As noted, the 2 or 3 peer-reviewers evaluate the paper for completeness, plausibility, logic, and description of methodology, results, statistics, discussion, and conclusions. If the paper appears valid it generally is accepted for publication. Peer-reviewers simply can't assess the entire body of related science to determine if the paper is valid; that's what the post publication review by the broader experts in the field accomplishes. Only after that broad scrutiny may some errors in analysis, interpretation, or other inconsistencies be found. Sometimes some major errors, even on rare occasions fraud, are identified. But mostly papers that are found lacking simply fade away without being cited by others.

Second, the quality standards of journals may vary. Each field generally has a journal or two or three that are considered the highest echelon of excellence, and there is high demand to be published in these journals because they are the most prestigious. But that demand overwhelms space for publication so these journals can select only the highest quality and most important papers for publication. Since there are hundreds of other journals available, authors can usually find a place to publish their research. While most of these journals also have high standards, there are some that perhaps are more interested in receiving page charges than ensuring the quality of the paper. Sometimes bad papers get published, and by bad I mean papers that should not have been published because they lack scientific robustness. In most cases, these papers also simply fade into obscurity as the scientific community sees no reason to cite them. In some cases, bad papers have been retracted from the publication long after they were published.

Third, there is what some have euphemistically called "pal-review." Scientists often collaborate on research, which is why published papers commonly have many authors instead of just one or two. That opens up the potential for peer-reviewers to have collaborated on other papers with the main author (though you aren't allowed to "peer-review" a paper you co-authored or worked on directly). But this isn't what constitutes pal-review. Pal-review is when some pal (i.e., friend/conspirator) abuses their position as editor of a journal to slip an otherwise obviously faulty paper into press. Sometimes the editor simply finds amenable reviewers to rubber-stamp the paper, but in rare cases the editor may skip any semblance of peer-review. Pal-review has been documented, for example, in the publication of climate denial papers. [In Part 3 we'll take a look at specific examples of climate denier abuse of the peer-review process.]

Finally, a new problem has cropped up with the advent of "open access journals." As any scientist knows, most journals are available only to people who can afford to pay for them (just as most books have to be purchased before reading). And they can be expensive. Many journals are accessible if you join the associated scientific society (e.g., members of the Society of Environmental Chemistry and Toxicology get access to two highly acclaimed journals as part of their membership). Students can usually access these journals in their University libraries. All of this requires some sort of paywall, and the general public generally can't get access to most new published scientific papers. Thus is the impetus for the open access movement.

Under open access, online-only journals allow anyone to read and download every paper it publishes. That's a great boon to public accessibility, but it presents the obvious potential for quality control problems. Like regular journals, open access journals have a wide range of quality standards. But there are also open access journals that can be called "predatory" because they will publish anything as long as the author pays the publication fee. This has led to some high profile examples of nonsense papers (including one that consisted entirely of repeated expletives) being "published." Clearly, there is a problem with this “pay-per-publish” model, one that raises questions about the integrity of the “non-peer-reviewed” publishing process. How deep a problem remains to be seen, with the key question being how do journals of all types ensure high quality control of published papers.

These examples give us some insight into the limits of peer-review, and the limits of open access. However, it must be emphasized that in the vast majority of cases, peer-review of scientific papers to screen for publication works. Most scientific papers are incremental, tearing off a piece of a very big canvas to examine and investigate. Individual papers rarely make a huge difference (though there are plenty of examples of where single papers are deeply influential). Normally any given paper goes into the mix with all the other relevant papers and only the sum total of all the information contained therein tells us a more or less whole story. So most of the time a not-so-robust paper getting published isn't a big deal.

That said, there are times when editors have quit after their failure to properly screen faulty papers. Sometimes papers are retracted after publication. Even occasionally there is fraud (though any scientist caught engaging in fraud is quickly retired into driving a taxi or some other non-scientist field). The cases of intentional abuse of the peer-review system are rare, but important enough that Part 3 of this series on peer-review will take a closer look at how some people have tried, and sometimes succeeded, in abusing the system. Given that it isn't only scientists, but political and lobbying interests, that are trying to discredit the science, Part 3 will be a critical read for all practicing scientists.

[Note: Peer-review graphic can be seen larger at http://undsci.berkeley.edu/article/howscienceworks_16]

Thursday, February 5, 2015

How peer-review works…and doesn’t work (Part 1)


You’ll see the term “peer-review” a lot on these pages, as well as on both scientific and denialist blogs, and in the media. Unfortunately, the term is often used incorrectly, sometimes on purpose, but mostly because the process isn’t clear to the public. This extended post will take a shot at explaining what peer-review is…and what it isn’t. We’ll talk about how it works…and why it sometimes doesn’t work.

In its most basic sense, peer-review is when a scientist’s research paper is evaluated by his “peers” to determine if it meets the basic standards required for publication in a scientific journal. But this simple definition doesn’t really explain the process, so let’s explore that in greater depth.

To get us started, let’s define what we mean by “peer.” We’re not talking about the kind of “peer” we think of when we say “a jury of our peers.” In that situation, it simply means other citizens. For a jury you often want to get some cross-section of the community – college educated and not, male and female, white collar and blue collar employment. Everyone in the community is your “peer” and the final jury empaneled is largely a factor of the random order of the selection from the jury pool (plus a little selective tweaking by lawyers for the defendant and plaintiff).

In science a “peer” is somewhat different. To be a peer you need to have knowledge of the highly specialized subject of the paper being reviewed. If the paper is about climate science, you obviously need to have sufficient knowledge of climate science to be able to review the paper effectively. Sending a climate paper to a brain surgeon for review makes no more sense than going to a chiropractor to have your cows milked. With that in mind, a “peer” would be another climate scientist. [Needless to say, if the paper is about brain surgery, you would not send it to a climate scientist for review.]

Every legitimate (i.e., peer-reviewed) journal has a staff of editors to manage the process of review and publication. These editors will receive research papers from the authors, determine what scientists out there have the necessary expertise to effectively review the paper, and coordinate the reviews and feedback to the authors. Most journals will send the paper to three peer-reviewers, though for particularly important and/or potentially contentious papers they may be sent to four or even five peer-reviewers. While the editor is the go-between, the authors generally do not know who the proposed paper has been sent to for peer review. In many cases, but not all, the peer reviewers also don’t know the name of the author who submitted the paper. These peers review the paper and provide their comments and recommendations: publish as is, publish if minor errors and/or questions are addressed, publish if major errors are addressed, or reject it because it fails to meet even the most basic standards of veracity. 

Okay, so what are these peer reviewers looking for? Mostly they are looking to ensure that the research has been conducted, reported, and evaluated adequately. And it has to be research. Blogs don’t normally get any peer-review, which is why most of what you read on blogs is opinion and not science. [But, some blogs can discuss the published science – see article herefor how to discern a reliable blog from an unreliable blog.]

Peers who are reviewing a potential paper for publication as themselves a series of questions. The first question is always, “does this paper fit into the scope of the journal?” Since journals tend to focus in on narrow topics, papers that don’t fit that topic shouldn’t even be considered. Luckily, there are a myriad of journals with overlapping scopes, so a good research paper should easily be able to find a place to be published. With that as a given, the questions peer reviewers ask include: Is the scope of the research study clearly presented? Do they review the prior literature on that topic? Are the stipulated premises valid? Do they adequately explain the methodology so others can see how they conducted the study? Do the authors present the results in full and clearly? Do the data tables and graphics look correct? Are the statistical procedures clearly explained and valid? Are the conclusions reached logically derived from the data presented?

While that sounds like a lot, the idea of peer-review is not to approve or disapprove of the research or conclusions. The goal is merely to ensure that the paper documents and demonstrates a well-thought-out and conducted scientific study. If it does, then it usually is published in the journal.

Done, right?

Actually, getting through this initial peer-review should be considered only the first step in the scientific review process. What most people think of as peer-review just makes sure the paper appears sufficiently documented, is a significant contribution to the science, and should be made available to the scientific community at large through publication. But only then – once the paper is out in what scientists call “the literature” - does it begin to be closely scrutinized by the broader scientific community. Scientists in the field will read it and evaluate it and, often, debate it. Are the author’s points defensible? Does it agree or conflict with existing literature. Does the new paper enhance our knowledge? Are there any mistakes the initial peer-reviewers missed? Does it stand up to scrutiny?
This could go on for some time. If the paper makes important points, especially if it changes our view of the science, it will get cited by other papers who do follow up research. Papers cited a lot tend to be important papers. 

Many people have the impression that getting a paper peer-reviewed means it is “science.” That isn’t exactly true. “Science” isn’t a single scientific paper; science is the compendium of scientific papers published on a particular topic.

This point is critical.

Scientific research usually works by increments. Individual studies don’t investigate, for example, “is global warming happening?” That is too big a chunk to evaluate. Instead, a study may test whether CO2 can make an atmosphere warmer. This was done in many studies in the laboratory by many different independent researchers. Each study is written up and published in scientific journals.  There are dozens (actually, hundreds) of studies in the last 150 years that examine this exact same question using many different methodologies, all of which are published in journals. The sum total of all of those studies – each looking at the same thing from different angles – tell us without any doubt that yes, CO2 can make an atmosphere warmer. 

Other studies may look at “how much warmer?” Or “if it works in the lab, does it also work in the global atmosphere?” Or any number of related questions. Still other studies look at the effect of clouds, the impacts of a warmer climate on extreme weather events, the acidification of the oceans, etc. All researched, all published, all scrutinized by dozens or hundreds or even thousands of other scientists. Eventually the data are so overwhelming and so clear and undeniable that everyone recognizes the fact of the science. That is the case for evolution, gravity, and yes, man-made climate change.

One more aspect of peer-review is important – it never stops. Scientists continue to conduct new studies to examine new questions. The new results are assessed in the context of all the other results – do they agree or disagree with our current understanding? Do they enhance our knowledge? Do they change our understanding of the science? All of these questions are revisited with every new study and every new chance at peer-review. In the case of climate change, new studies overwhelmingly confirm that human activity is warming the climate system.

Finally, I mentioned earlier that the initial peer-review process (deciding whether to publish or not) doesn’t make a final determination about the defensibility of the paper. That comes afterward, when any questions from other scientists will have to be addressed by the authors. That is part of the process. But sometimes, a paper gets through peer-review that isn’t supportable even on its face. In the next post I’ll talk about what happens when unsupportable papers get published. I’ll also talk about why some journals have intentionally low standards or “pal-review” systems. Lastly, I’ll talk about the challenges created by a new breed of journals – the “pay-per-publish” type that raises questions about the integrity of the “non-peer-reviewed” publishing process.

[Note: Peer-review graphic can be seen larger at http://undsci.berkeley.edu/article/howscienceworks_16]

Thursday, January 29, 2015

In this Age of Climate Denial, How Do You Tell a Reliable Blog from an Unreliable Blog?

In this age of near-universal online access to information, it seems everyone has an opinion. Whereas plumbers, brain surgeons, and scientists once had to communicate on a technical level solely with other plumbers, brain surgeons, and scientists, now they have to communicate directly with the public. In general this is a good thing. People of all backgrounds can find information on the internet about pretty much anything they find of interest. On the other hand, as the authors of the book Unscientific America note, “[t]he problem with the internet is obvious to anyone who has ever used it; There’s tons of information available, but much of it is crap.”

As anyone who has spent any time "discussing" climate science on Facebook and other social networking sites knows, invariably someone will start linking to blogs. Science isn't actually done on blogs - science happens in peer-reviewed publications, at scientific conferences, and in other scientific venues - but in this online age it makes sense that science is brought to the public through online blogs.

It can be a challenge for the public to determine which blogs offer reliable information and which ones are denialist blogs whose intention is to misinform. And yet, it's actually easier than you might think to weed out the "crap." In the future I'll compile links to specific blogs that can be helpful to a public honestly interested in learning about the science of man-made climate change, but for this post I'll focus on some simple questions to help you tell the reliable from the unreliable blogs.

Before doing that, let me briefly note that the obvious best source for discussions about the science are the scientific sources directly. All of the key climate science organizations - NASA, NOAA, Climatic Research Unit, Japanese Meteorological Agency, World Meteorological Organization, IPCC, National Snow and Ice Data Center and many others - now have online blogs and information services. These sites provide updates ranging from easy-to-understand primers to highly technical analyses. Some individual climate scientists also have blogs where they try to answer questions about their research, clarify the science, and rebut falsehoods coming from denialists.

Outside of these direct scientific sources there are many blogs that delve into the subject of climate science. To determine which offer reliable scientific discussion and which are merely conspiracy ranting or lobbyist-funded misinformation, ask yourself these basic questions:

1) Who runs the site and writes the blog posts?

Reliable blogs are often written by actual climate scientists. A good example of this is RealClimate, which was launched in 2004 by a group of active climate scientists who today have combined for thousands of peer-reviewed climate science publications. There are other reliable blogs that may not be written by climate scientists, but the scientists who write these usually check with climate scientists to make sure they understand the data correctly.

Unreliable blogs are usually written by non-scientists, often posting anonymously or with fake names to hide their identity. Many of the posts are written by lobbyists or political spokespeople or simply hacks that like the attention. The occasional scientist usually is in an unrelated field with no climate expertise, or if an actual climate scientist (which is rare) posts, it's always one associated with a climate denial lobbying group. WUWT is a good example of this kind of unreliable blog.

2) Does the blog cite the science in context?

Reliable blogs discuss the science with all of the data considered. If examining a single study they compare it to other relevant studies and the state of the knowledge of the topic being discussed. They examine how this one piece of the puzzle fits, or doesn't fit, into the bigger picture. The Skeptical Science (SkS) blog is a good example of a reliable blog. SkS evaluates the claims of denialists and discusses the relevant science in order to communicate an accurate picture. They link directly to the relevant studies being discussed.

Unreliable blogs cherry pick data and ignore the context. They don't look at how a study fits or doesn't fit the bigger picture; often they draw a conclusion completely divorced from logic. For example, a blog is unreliable if it commonly makes statements like claiming since 2014 was not the hottest year (a false premise), therefore, global warming isn't happening (also false, and additionally a false conclusion that doesn't even logically follow from their own initial premise). Unreliable blogs generally cite other unreliable blogger's opinions rather than linking directly to the actual study.

3) Does the blog accurately communicate the science?

This may be a little harder for the public to determine, but basically if NASA, NOAA, and other climate research organizations state a conclusion after evaluating the sum total of their research, and a given blog claims something different from, or opposite of, what the scientific organization is saying, then the blog is unreliable. [See next point]

4) Is the science being discussed published in peer-reviewed journals?

It must be remembered that scientists at NASA, NOAA, etc. all conduct scientific research and publish that research in peer-reviewed journals. The science is done by doing the study, publishing the methods + results + analysis + conclusions, and undergoing scientific scrutiny by other scientists who understand the technical details. Science is not done in a blog. If any blogger wants to contradict the published science, he must conduct research and publish through the peer-review process. "Cuz I said so on my blog" is not science.

So reliable blogs are those that rely on peer-reviewed scientific studies, accurately relayed, and with conclusions consistent with the data presented.

Unreliable blogs are those that rely on something someone did on their laptop computer one morning and then faked up a graph with false conclusions. Usually when you see a lot of "conclusion" information on a graph (along with obvious denialist tip-offs like "Climate for Dummies") you know you're dealing with a blogger more interested in pushing his opinion than actual science.

Another type of unreliable blog is the kind that intentionally deceives the public with what looks on the surface to be a summary of a peer-reviewed paper. These are usually professional denier lobbyist blogs. What they do is create a false "summary" that intentionally misrepresents the findings of an actual published study, i.e., the blog cherry picks portions of the study, fabricates a new story line about the study findings, and posts "conclusions" that are often opposite to the study being cited. These lobbyist blogs often have deceptive names and intentionally try to confuse the public. CO2 Science (an industry blog run by paid lobbyists) is such a deceptive denier blog.

There are other ways to tell which blogs are reliable, accurate, and honest versus unreliable, intentionally not accurate, and dishonest, but I'll save those for another post.

It's important for the public to learn which specific blogs can be relied upon for an honest discussion of the science, and which specific blogs are never reliable. And yes, it does come down to a blog being reliable versus unreliable (or honest vs dishonest, if you will).

Basically there are three types of blogs out there:

1) Direct scientific organizations (e.g., NASA, NOAA, etc.): These blogs are always reliable.

2) Science-oriented blogs e.g., (RealClimate, Skeptical Science): These blogs are always reliable.

3) Denialist blogs (e.g., WUWT, CO2 Science): These blogs are always NOT reliable.

If you want to learn about the science honestly, stick to #1 and #2. Honest discussions of the science can be done on these blogs.

In contrast, nothing on #3 will be honestly presented. Ever.

I'll post a list of reliable blogs in a future post.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Climate Deniers Desperately Try to Deny 2014 as Hottest Year Ever

One of the most striking aspects of climate denial is how much effort - and desperation - deniers put into denying even basic realities. This desperation was in full view this week as three of the world's biggest climate research organizations announced that 2014 was the hottest year on record. The Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA) was the first to report it, followed soon after by NASA and NOAA using their own independent data sets. The news was reported widely in the media, including this nice discussion and graphics by Dana Nuccitelli in the Guardian.

Even the business media acknowledged the undeniable science. Bloomberg offered up a really cool animation showing how thirteen of the fourteen hottest years ever have all occurred in the 21st century (the exception is 1998, which is the one year denialists always cherry pick to fabricate their false "warming stopped/it's cooling/hiatus/pause/whatever" talking point). Bottom line, 2014 was the warmest year ever recorded, continuing a trend that has become self-evident and undeniable to any honest reviewer.

Not surprisingly, the climate denialists were apoplectic. "No way!," they exclaimed with great expectoration. "It can't be because, well, well, well, er, um, because, because it's cooling! Yeah, that's it, it's cooling!" This, of course, is followed by desperate cries of incompetence and (somewhat self-contradictory for a bunch of incompetents), corruption, collusion, and conspiracy!!

So off the amateur denialists go to their favorite non-science bloggers for a "rebuttal." In the hours and days after the actual scientific organizations release their reports - with all the data and discussion and charts with circles and arrows on the back explaining each one (with apologies to Arlo Guthrie) - the amateur denalists are back with their copy-and-pasted "proofs" that all the world's scientific organizations have conspired to make Al Gore rich. [Al Gore always seems to get mentioned by denialists even though there isn't a scientist on the planet that relies on Al Gore for science. He does, however, serve as a Pavlovian bell to the drooling amateur denialists reliant on ideological motivation for their denial.]

Sources cited by these amateur denialists include the usual cast of non-science bloggers: Watts Up With That (partially funded by the denialist Heartland Institute), Climate Depot (a libertarian-funded blog paid to misrepresent the science), World News Daily (a right wing political blog), Breitbart (ditto), JoNova (pseudonym for a non-scientist comic book writer also supported by Heartland Institute), David Rose (a blogger for a British tabloid who routinely is chastised by the UK Met Office for lying about what they say), InfoWars (a whacked out conspiracy blog alternating between 9/11, Benghazi, and climate change conspiracies), Fox News (ditto), and a variety of other non-science venues with no expertise and who are always shown to be wrong.

What denialists don't ever do is provide any actual legitimate science to back up their denial.

Luckily for humanity, climate denialism seems on its way to being relegated to the more buffoonishly ignorant segments of society and intentionally obstructionist politicians such as Senator James Inhofe. Even some traditionally anti-science lobbyists and politicians have been desperately seeking a way out of the corner they painted themselves into. More on that in future posts.

But back to the reason climate denialists have been so hot to deny that 2014 is so hot. They know, or at least the professional denialists know (the amateurs are willfully ignorant), that 2014 is just the latest in an ongoing trend of warming (e.g., see the Bloomberg animation linked to earlier). As President Obama noted in his 2015 State-of-the-Union Address, one year of record isn't the problem, it's the trend of rising temperatures that is the problem.

The trend point was also discussed by statistician Grant Foster (who blogs under the name "Tamino"), who notes that the warming trend not only hasn't stopped, contrary to denialist opinion, it isn't even slowing down. In fact, 2014 may have been the warmest in the last 2000 years, and worse, as climate scientist Michael Mann write in Scientific American,  we may cross the climate danger threshold as early as 2036 (i.e., in only about two decades).

Needless to say, there is a correlation between the certainty and direness of the ongoing warming and the buffoonishness of the few amateur denialists who refuse to accept reality. To paraphrase Neil deGrasse Tyson, the validity of science isn't dependent on whether or not you believe it, so actively ignorant deniers have no effect on (or perhaps even are inhabitants of) reality. The science of climate change has been developing for more than 100 years, and the millions of empirical data points and more than 100,000 peer-reviewed studies combine to make the conclusion unequivocal - the climate is warming and human activity is the dominant driver of that warming.

And that's true no matter how much a bunch of self-appointed "Facebook Experts" deny the science.

[Note: The Senate voted 98-1 late January 21, 2015 that "climate change is real and not a hoax," but James Inhofe (who voted for the resolution) immediately got up to say that the "hoax" is that humans have any effect on the climate. In other words, he cleverly voted for a resolution while still denying the crux of the resolution.]

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway

Periodically I post reviews of relevant science communication books. The following is a reposted review of Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway.

This book will make you angry.  The title "Merchants of Doubt" comes from the famous line of a tobacco company executive many years ago, that their goal was to "manufacture doubt" in the minds of the public and policy-makers so that no policy-making action would occur, or at least so that it should be delayed as long as possible.  And the tobacco industry succeeded for decades after they themselves knew that tobacco/nicotine was addictive, and caused cancer

Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway are science historians.  What they have uncovered with this book is how just a handful of scientists and their collaborators have had a hand in nearly every major science denial episode for the last 40 years.  And in the center of it all is the George C. Marshall Institute, Fred Seitz, S. Fred Singer, William Nierenberg and Robert Jastrow.

After the tactics were perfected in the fight to deny that smoking causes cancer, these handful of men with close ties to the Reagan and conservative ideologies employed them over and over again to deny that smokestack emissions causes acid rain, CFCs causes ozone depletion, second hand smoke causes cancer in non-smokers, and greenhouse gas emissions cause global warming.  In all cases the science has been right, and this group of men helped delay action for many years until even their deceit couldn't hide the truth.

And those tactics, repeated to deny the science in each of these issues, were all the same: employ a few scientists willing to shill for the industry or who are "skeptical" (to create the illusion of credibility), focus the efforts through well-funded right wing think tanks (to create the illusion of independence), create "new" science specifically designed to create uncertainty (i.e., not to answer questions, but to create contrasting data they can misrepresent), hyperventilate about how "the science is not settled" (knowing that science is never settled, as there is always more research that can be done), and of course, using their PR skills, Frank Luntz wordsmithing, and punchy catchphrases like "sound science" to make it sound like they are saying something when they are not saying anything.

What I found amazing was how the origins of the George C. Marshall Institute and all of its subsequent science denialism came out of the cold war fight against communism.  These handful of scientists were atomic bomb builders and astrophysicists who had no expertise in any of the science they were denying.  But they had connections, most notably with the Reagan administration and the Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars) for which the George C. Marshall Institute was started to sell to the public, the military, and conservative legislators.  Yet despite this lack of any expertise they continued to insert themselves into the acid rain debate, the CFC debate, the second hand smoke debate, and the climate change debate.  And each and every time their goal was to push the denial of the science.  They equated environmentalism with communism ("green on the outside, red on the inside").  And using their lobbying skills and influence they were able to create the impression that there was still a raging debate in the science, even though in all cases the science was overwhelming and they represented a very minority opinion (and an opinion not backed by any science).  Actually, in all cases they were not being scientists at all, but rather advocates for non-action (all of these men had long-since stopped doing actual research, and none of them had ever done research in the areas of science they were denying).

What is most disturbing is that they routinely employed unscientific methods and deceit to wage personal attacks on scientists, including taking advantage of Roger Revelle on his death bed, then going after his student Justin Lancaster, then Ben Santer and now climate scientists like Michael Mann and Phil Jones have become the victims of the latest iterations of harassment in the denialist industry's tactics.

Oreskes and Conway end their book with "A New View of Science," which I'll let people read for themselves.  And they should.  In fact, they must.  This book must be on the reading list of anyone and everyone interested in science, so they can read for themselves how just a handful of unscrupulous scientists with deep political connections and a near religious anti-communism fervor have been at the heart of every denial of science in the last several decades. 

Postscript: You'll notice that many of the "go-to" people that climate change deniers like are associated with the George C. Marshall Institute and other denial lobbyist groups like the Heartland Institute. Roy Spencer, for example, is on the George C. Marshall Board, and William Happer is its Chair. It's not surprising that every one of the tiny percentage of scientists who deny man-made climate change is associated with denial lobbyist organizations.


Other related book reviews (click and scroll)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

2014 the Hottest Year on Record Globally - Continuing a Trend

It should come as no surprise that 2014 is now officially the hottest year globally since records began in 1891. This news comes from the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA). It continues the trend of warmer years since human activity started driving climate.



JMA is only the first in line to make their announcement. NASA, NOAA, and the Climatic Research Center in the UK are expected to confirm that 2014 was the hottest year on record. Each of these scientific research organizations tasked with studying climate uses a slightly different data set, so if all four reach the same conclusion it is safe to say the conclusion is definitive. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the United Nations complement to the national agencies, had already announced in December that it expected 2014 to be the hottest year ever.

According to the JMA, 2014 "was +0.27°C above the 1981-2010 average (+0.63°C above the 20th century average), and was the warmest since 1891. On a longer time scale, global average surface temperatures have risen at a rate of about 0.70°C per century."

While temperatures can vary regionally and the global values are the metric used, the UK Met Office also noted that 2014 was the hottest year ever in the UK. Here the increase was even more pronounced, with the average temperature in their data set at "9.9C, some 1.1C above the long term average, and making it warmer than the previous record year of 2006." Similar heat records were seen in Europe, Siberia, Australia, and California.

With 2014 setting a new record, it joins joins the previous 10 hottest years, all of which have occurred since climate deniers claimed "the planet stopped warming." Needless to say, that falsehood is shown to be even more ridiculous, and as noted by the IPCC, "warming of the climate system is unequivocal."


At this point it's important to put 2014 in context. Global average temperatures do fluctuate from year to year because of short-term phenomena like El Nino, La Nina, and various "oscillations" (circulatory systems that impact weather and short-term climatic conditions). What is more critical than 2014 setting a new heat record is that it continues a trend we've been experiencing for the last few decades. Each of the last three decades has been warmer than the decade before. It's undeniable - the climate is warming.


And it's warming despite the fact that short-term phenomena should be slowing the warming. The last really big El Nino year, which tends to help warming, was 1998. Since then we've had fewer El Nino's and more La Nina's. La Nina's tend to temporarily depress the warming caused by CO2. We've also seen an increase in aerosol emissions from the growing middle class populations in China and India. On top of that has been a rather tepid solar activity. All of these would be expected to tamp down warming.

And still is warms.

Unlike 1998, which was fed by the strongest El Nino on record, 2014 had almost no El Nino at all. But that seems to be changing - the long-awaited El Nino finally seems to be starting, which the record set in 2014 may fall in 2015.

And that may just be the beginning.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Welcome to 2015...A Critical Year in Man-Made Climate Change

A year ago The Dake Page underwent a transition from a periodic science and policy news blog to a weekly source of science/policy analysis and science communication. The twin goals are to become an ongoing resource for information and a growing guidebook into how science can be, or should be, communicated to the public. These goals are critical to our understanding...and our future.

While individual posts may cover items of current topical events, the latter part of the year has focused on a series of posts on what we call "Exposing Climate Denialism." As readers of this page will no doubt know, the result of more than a century of scientific study has demonstrated unequivocally that human activity is warming the climate of our planet. The ramifications of this warming are significant, definitive action is necessary, and that action is already long overdue.

But while climate scientists have become more and more certain of this fact, lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry and libertarian causes have worked hard to create misinformation. Their goal is to keep policymakers from making any policy to deal with the science. The Dake Page has provided many articles showing some of the tricks used by professional denialist lobbies and their ideologically, and often willfully ignorant, amateur followers. We will continue to do so in 2015.

As noted last week, 2014 was a critical year in the communication of man-made climate change. The IPCC and several other major scientific organizations released compilations and summaries of the latest state-of-the-science. All noted the same conclusion:

The climate system is warming, and

human activity is the dominant cause of that warming.

So what is next? While 2014 was a critical year, 2015 will be even more critical. The scientific data are in, and the conclusions are undeniable. Action on a worldwide scale is necessary.

Some action has already been taken. President Obama has begun the process of reducing carbon emissions here at home, and the recent agreement between the US and China sets the stage for getting emissions under control in the two biggest carbon emitting countries. Meanwhile, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change made some progress at its most recent annual meeting. While one can argue how "definitive" that progress really is, the key outcomes do provide a basis for the more critical global meeting scheduled for Paris later in 2015.

The road ahead is likely to be slower than needed, and bumpier than anyone would hope, but we have a chance to make significant global commitments. So far we've taken baby steps, and not always forward. In 2015 these steps will need to become leaps ahead. The stage is set for that to happen.

Not surprisingly, the professional denialist lobby and their amateur followers can be expected to step up their attacks on scientists and intentional misinformation to the public. That is what denial lobbyists do, and have done for decades on issues from denying tobacco smoke causes cancer, CFCs cause ozone depletion, pollutants from industrial and power plants cause acid rain, and numerous other scientific denial attempts. In all cases the science became unequivocal and action, eventually, was taken to correct the problem. So too will that happen with man-made climate change. Ignoring or denying the problem doesn't remove the problem; in fact, it just makes it worse and harder to deal with when action does finally happen.

So in 2015 The Dake Page will continue providing analysis and information exposing climate denialism. Join us to learn the tactics and tall tales used by both professional and amateur deniers. Join us to learn how to communicate the science to the public in ways everyone can understand. And help spread the word that action is necessary.

The science is clear. Now it's time to debate the policies needed to address the scientific reality of man-made climate change.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Climate Change Year in Review 2014

The year 2014 will go down as one of the most important years in climate science, not so much because action was taken (though some was), but because it set the stage for definitive action in 2015. Some of these preliminary steps have been discussed on The Dake Page over the course of this past year; others will be delved into deeper as 2015 comes upon us.

One of the most critical events of 2014 actually occurred in the fall of 2013. The IPCC published the first volume of its Fifth Assessment Report (aka, AR5) - The Physical Science Basis. For those who missed it, the IPCC coordinates the thousands of scientists who volunteer their time over a period of about seven years to review and summarize the tens of thousands of new published scientific studies addressing various aspects of climate change. This year the conclusion from all that analysis is that:

"warming of the climate system is unequivocal" and "human influence has been the dominant cause of the warming."

The Physical Science Basis, of course, is only the first volume of the AR5. The remaining technical volumes: Impact, Adaptation and Vulnerability; and Mitigation of Climate Change were released in the spring of 2014. The Synthesis Report, which summarizes the main points of each of the technical points for policymakers, was released in October 2014.

But the IPCC wasn't the only organization to issue climate reports. In May 2014 the U.S. Climate Assessment report was released. Mandated by Congress in 1990, this is the third update to the report, which is the result of four years of work by more than 300 experts and a 60-member advisory committee. The first of twelve key findings:
Global climate is changing and this is apparent across the United States in a wide range of observations. The global warming of the past 50 years is primarily due to human activities, predominantly the burning of fossil fuels.
The US National Academy of Sciences and the UK Royal Society have done their part to educate the public on man-made climate change. In February 2014 they jointly released Climate Change: Evidence and Causes, which documents the science behind man-made climate change, and does so in a manner that is more accessible to the lay public.

All of this is occurring in a year that in itself seems to want to document a warming planet - 2014 is on track to become the warmest year ever recorded, according to the World Meteorological Organization (and every other climate research scientific organization). 

While some engage in denial of man-made climate change as a political tool, the world's scientists and most of the rest of the public and policymakers understand that action is necessary. In November 2014, American President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping jointly announced an agreement in which both countries commit to reducing future carbon emissions. This agreement is historic and critically important to our global future as China and the US are the two biggest contributors to man-made climate change. Rumors of an impending deal with India, the third biggest emitter, are also in the air.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change met in Lima, Peru
in December 2014. They emerged from the meeting with an agreement by all nations of the world to work towards reducing carbon emissions. This agreement is non-binding, but it sets the stage for next December's Conference of the Parties in Paris, where countries will strive to achieve binding agreements.

Much more happened in 2014 as well, and with El Nino conditions finally emerging after a long absence, 2014's "hottest year" record may well be broken by an even hotter 2015. Only time will tell for sure, but one thing is certain:

Man-made climate change is fact, it is here now, and it impacts every state in our country.

While 2014 was a year of undeniable awareness, 2015 will need to be a year of action.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

How the Media Keep Climate Denial Alive



Climate denial remains active despite the overwhelming consensus that human activity is causing the warming of the planet and that action to reduce carbon emissions is immediately necessary. Professional climate denial lobbyists are a big reason for the continued anti-science sentiment, but the media have played a critical role in climate denialism as well.

To begin with, the media have been lax in reporting man-made climate change commensurate with its importance to current and future policy needs. Earlier in 2014 several Senators called for the media to increase climate coverage. Whether media coverage of climate has increased is debatable, especially given the release of so many critical climate change reports this year. But even when the media do report on climate issues they often misinform as much as they inform. This post looks at a few of the reasons why this is so.

Intentional denialism

In some cases this media role is overt and intentional.Time after time studies have shown that Fox News, to name the best known and most egregious example, intentionally misrepresents the science of climate change and actively foments distrust of scientists while giving false credence to non-scientists. One recently published study demonstrates that partisan media, especially the conservative media, effectively turns the public away from science.

While these ideologically motivated anti-science venues are obvious, at least to impartial observers, in most cases the role of the media in spreading climate denial is more subtle and a function of the differences between how the media works and how science works. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that most media outlets have cut back on professional journalist staff, in particular on dedicated science reporters. Which means people who cover politics – or travel – one day are covering science stories the next. The tendency toward limited science expertise, short deadlines, and an inclination toward “balanced” reporting, sets the media up for both internal and external manipulation by climate denial lobbyists.

Accidental denialism

In most cases the failure of the media is less about ideological bias and more about the way “journalism” works.  Since most of the denialist industry comes from the realm of political lobbying, the media tend to treat climate science as if it were  some sort of political philosophy. This is in direct conflict with how science itself works, where everyone’s goal is to advance our knowledge and taking that knowledge wherever the data will defensibly take us. This sets up an inherent conflict between the normal incremental movement as scientists do studies to address small aspects of the bigger picture and the tendency for the media to treat each new paper as if it were the science in and of itself. Such reporting often seems to say one thing one day and the opposite the next - an unintentional media glitch that professional denial lobbyists willfully exploit.

Let's take a look at the problem of "balance" in media. Ironically, the desire to provide “balance” in principle can lead to massive imbalance in practice. For example, consider a scenario in which a news anchor wants to discuss the state of climate science. The young producer calls up the National Academy of Sciences and asks for an expert on climate science. Good start, right?

Maybe. Already this interview has the potential for incompletely informing (and possibly misinforming) the public because the news anchor will presume that the expert called will be an expert in every facet of the science. Rarely is that the case. One scientist may be an expert in Arctic ice thermodynamics while another may be an expert in atmospheric physics. Each may be able to discourse for hours on their topic (usually putting the audience to sleep) while possibly not quite getting all of the minute details right on other facets of the science. Any errors or hesitancy to opine on an area outside their specific expertise is painted as ill-informed or hedging. Further, the anchor could ask politically charged questions, which the expert is likely not in a good position to answer (most scientists are not very political). The potential for miscommunication is huge.

But let’s take this a step further.  Themedia, especially the political media, are used to staging debates betweenopposing sides. That may work when you have two parties with different views of how to finance job creation where either view may have merits on its own. But it doesn’t work for discussing the state of the science. Certainly there are dramatic debates between scientists on specific studies, but by the time the totality of the science has reached a point where the vast majority of scientists agrees on its meaning, i.e., a scientific consensus, that is the state-of-the-science. 

Unfortunately, the media rarely present this state-of-the-science, usually because the discussion can get too technical and it just is not enough drama for ratings. In order to "turn up the dial" enough to attract viewers the media willoften choose to contrast the science with a denial of the science. Doing so creates a false equivalence that just doesn't exist. Since there is a tendency to give equal time to opposing "views" you have the situation where a non-valid and usually non-factual denial appears to have equal weight with what is the end point of tens of thousands of studies by thousands of scientists all over the world.  To the viewer this comes off as:


“Well, Scientist A says global warming is happening but Scientist B says it isn’t.  It seems like scientists are still divided over this issue, so I can relax and wait until they figure it out.”


See the problem there?  Scientist A is, in fact, a scientist and has either presented a summary of the sum total of all of the science from thousands of scientists or merely offered his insight on one particular area in which he has expertise. On the other hand, “Scientist B” is often not even a scientist at all – he is a political operative hired by a free market lobbying organization to deny the science. The viewing public generally doesn’t understand this; all they see are two people arguing. The very fact that these two guests are being interviewed implies that they have comparable expertise and credibility on the topic being discussed. That is most definitely not the case. So in an effort to provide “balance,” the media actually tips the scales towards the non-scientist lobbyist who really shouldn’t even be part of the discussion.

This is exactly the scenario that the denialist industry strives to achieve. That is their goal – make it look like there is a disagreement where there really is none. The goal is to manufacture doubt in the minds of the people and give their favored politicians cover to deny the science. And the media are complicit in this - sometimes unintentionally but ofttimes intentionally.

Future posts will look closer at the media, including the "semi-accidental" denialism. One thing that the media can do now, however, is to stop referring to climate deniers as "skeptics." As shown before, denialists are not skeptical at all. Skeptics look at evidence and are simply harder to convince. Denialists dishonestly reject all scientific evidence and unskeptically accept any conspiracy blogger or lobbyist misinformation no matter how obviously false it is. It's time to call denialists what they are - science deniers.

[Note: Photo credit/source]