Thursday, September 11, 2014

97 Hours of Climate Consensus...and the "Rebuttal" by Climate Science Deniers

It has been a fascinating week in climate science, in at least two ways that are illustrative of the public debate about the state-of-the-science. And it all stems from something called "97 Hours of Consensus," an internet campaign designed (literally) by John Cook and his colleagues at Skeptical Science.

The idea behind the campaign is to use caricatures of 97 active climate scientists (drawn by John Cook himself), along with quotes about the science by each, to highlight "the fact that 97% of climate scientists have concluded that humans are causing global warming." According to Cook:

Each hour, beginning at 9am Sunday EST, September 7th, we'll publish a statement and playful, hand-drawn caricature of a leading climate scientist. Each caricature lists the scientists’ name, title, expertise and academic institution.

There is even a super-cool website showing all the caricatures together in a 3D format that you can rotate. Better yet, hover your cursor over each scientist and you can make them move - and their quote pops up on your screen. The "97 hours" ends on the morning of September 11th (EST) and has been garnering a lot of attention. A huge number of people have been tweeting and retweeting the clever graphics using the hashtag #97Hours, as well as sharing on Facebook. Here's an example, featuring Michael Mann:



In case you missed the significance, the 97 alludes to the various scientific studies that have been conducted, including one by John Cook and colleagues, that show at least 97% of active climate scientists agree that the data overwhelmingly (and unequivocally) demonstrate that human activity is causing the planet to warm. The consensus is based on millions of data points, hundreds of thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers, decades of research, thousands of scientists' work, and well-known physics. Every major scientific organization and all the world's National Academies of Science concur with the fact that we are warming our planet.

The use of caricatures of leading climate scientists and key quotes to illustrate that 97% of climate scientists agree the data are unequivocal is a novel form of communication. I like it.

But the campaign also is revealing in another way - the response. The idea that nearly every active climate scientist agrees on global warming is a major threat to the climate science denier lobby, so like other things they find threatening, they attack it and its authors. One of many attacks on Cook's "97 Hours of Consensus" campaign took place on a Facebook page called "Climate Change Discussion" (CCD).

While ostensibly open to anyone, CCD is functionally dominated by climate deniers. As with most denial blogs, there are a handful of folks who seem to be constantly posting and commenting on the posts of others. Invariably what they post is wrong, either intentionally or unintentionally. But the site is a microcosm of other blogs so it is useful to do a quick catalog of the kind of tactics that are used by denialists.

When people honestly knowledgeable about the science post (whether they be climate scientists or simply others who have taken to time to learn the facts), they invariably cite some reliable scientific source and accurately present the data with the proper context (at least within the limits of a FB post), along with a link to that valid source. 

In contrast, those who deny the science of man-made climate change reflected by the consensus generally cite unreliable sources. When they do deign to cite an actual scientific organization (e.g., NASA or some journal article), they usually reinterpret/misinterpret it. But the vast majority are sources that are easily seen as unreliable, many of which have been debunked so routinely as to wonder how anyone could not be too embarrassed to cite them. To give some examples, the following is a list of "expert" sources cited in response to the "97 Hours" campaign:
  • a blog by Andrew Montford, an accountant supported by the denial lobby and whose blogs have been thoroughly debunked time after time
  • the GWPF, a fossil fuel and right wing political lobbying group featuring economists (and again, who has been repeatedly debunked) [Note: Since all of the below have also been repeatedly debunked, I won't keep repeating it here]
  • various non-science bloggers with zero scientific or climate expertise (but with conspiracy books to sell!)
  • opinion pieces (Op-Eds) in various business magazines and newspapers like the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, etc. (often the outlets are owned by media mogul and climate denier Rupert Murdoch)
  • the ubiquitous James Taylor, a lawyer for the Heartland Institute, which is a lobbyist group best known for denying smoking causes cancer (funded by the tobacco industry) and attacking climate scientists (funded by a variety of anonymous sources and the fossil fuel industry)
  • Kevin Sorbo, an actor and avowed libertarian ('nuff said)
  • "Lord" Christopher Monckton, the non-scientist British speechifier whom the House of Lords has repeatedly told to stop lying about him being in the House of Lords (Monckton is a favorite of climate deniers and politicians despite the fact his presentations have been repeatedly shown to misrepresent virtually every source he cites)
  • American Thinker, a libertarian blog for random non-science writers
  • Stephen Milloy, a stock fund manager and lawyer who has a long history of being the "go-to" guy for every science denial lobbyist for the last three decades (smoking, DDT, mad cow, ozone). If you need science denied, Milloy is your man, despite not having any science training.
  • Watts Up With That, a blog by a former TV weatherman (when the qualifications for such were "couldn't get the 'sport's guy' job"). WUWT features posts by anonymous bloggers and others under fake names, all of which are easily and almost instantaneously debunked.
  • Friends of Science, a front group funded by the fossil fuel industry (one of many front groups that change names but usually have the same administrators and hired deniers on staff)
  • Joanna Nova, a "performance artist" funded by the Heartland Institute and other lobbying front groups to write denialist comic books
  • Climate Depot, a blog run by Marc Morano, a non-scientist, former Rush Limbaugh aide, former James Inhofe communications director, and currently paid by CFACT, a "free market" lobbyist group, to routinely misrepresent the science
  • various other conspiracy theorists, non-scientists, anonymous bloggers, politicians, and just about anyone with an uninformed opinion but no scientific background who misrepresent the science...or are just oblivious to it.
This list is necessarily incomplete but representative of the kind of "expert" sources offered by the handful of climate science deniers who dominate the CCD page. But it reflects exactly what you see on every site where public opinion conflicts with the realities of the science. In nearly every case, the source is unreliable and the information provided has been debunked repeatedly.

To this litany we can add a myriad of silly memes ridiculing scientists and personal attacks on John Cook, Dana Nuccitelli, and other authors of published studies. Overall, the postings by denialists reflect the practice of spamming the feeds of social sites with the usual falsehoods, misrepresentations, and misperceptions. All done with a confident swagger. And, needless to say, all divorced from the scientific reality.

Meanwhile, the planet continues to warm. 

So here we have contrasting strategies in science communication. On the one hand, John Cook and Skeptical Science (and the participating climate scientists) use humor to present quotes accurately reflecting the scientific community and the state-of-the-science. On the other hand you have some non-scientists spamming a Facebook page with a series of misperceptions, misrepresentations, and misunderstandings coming from a bunch of non-science bloggers and lobbyist-funded front groups, along with the more-than-occasional personal attacks.

That says a lot.

This is the first in a series of periodic posts exposing climate denialism. Stay tuned for more of the tactics and tall tales of the climate denial industry.

[Note: Graphics by John Cook on Skeptical Science]

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Importance of Michael Mann's Lawsuit Against the National Review

Anyone paying attention to man-made climate change issues no doubt has heard of Michael E. Mann, a climate researcher at Penn State University. Mann became famous, of sorts, as a critical link in the chain that unequivocally demonstrates human activity is warming the planet. In 1998 and 1999 Mann published papers with co-authors Ray Bradley and Malcolm Hughes that included graphs now known to everyone as the "hockey stick" graphs.

A compilation of a tremendous amount of data, the hockey stick graph is notable because it clearly shows a startling upward rise in the temperature trend of our planet. Even non-scientists can easily see the sharp temperature increase. Which is why the climate denial lobby found it necessary to attack the graph.

Understand that by saying attack the graph I mean attack the lead author of the papers in which the graph is presented. As Mann himself discusses in his recent book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, the climate denial lobby employed a technique they have used often and which Mann calls the "Serengeti Strategy" after the way predators separate out one prey from the herd. Because the science of the graph itself is unassailable, these lobbyists have been attacking Dr. Mann's person continually for the last decade.

In science, each and every paper published must stand up to scrutiny. Mann's papers and graph have stood up to some of the greatest scrutiny every applied to a single piece of science. The conclusion - the graph is sound and it is supported by more than a dozen other independent studies that confirm that same trend. The lobbyists know this but continue to attack because, well, because that is what they are paid to do.

The lawsuit

Unfortunately for them, climate denial lobbyists found that Mann and the scientific community wouldn't simply accept the constant stream of falsehoods being said about them. After one particularly egregious attack on Mann (including a disgusting comparison to a pedophile), Mann sued for defamation. The case has been in the courts for over two years as the defendants have delayed proceedings in the hopes of overextending Mann's ability to pay for legal protection.

Ironically, given that science is inherently self-correcting, the lawsuit represents a critical step in restoring public trust in science. The public trust that has been damaged not by scientists' actions but by the distortions, misrepresentations, and outright fabrications of the climate denial lobbying industry. The climate denial industry, funded by fossil fuel and right wing ideological interests and carried out by a multitude of highly paid lobbyists and their media outlets, have been making up stuff and misleading for so long they seem to forget that what they say isn't true. They've lied about the hockey stick graph so often that they apparently felt a sense of entitlement to lie and impugn the character and reputation of any scientist that stands in their way.

Mann isn't the first scientist to be personally attacked because their science was irrefutable, but perhaps the outcome of this defamation lawsuit will inhibit future attacks on others. Perhaps the case will mean that lobbying organizations will no longer be able to intentionally disparage scientists, either individually or collectively. Perhaps scientists and policymakers can focus on understanding the science and the policy options that can help us deal with the science without being attacked by a science denial industry adept at lying about facts. And the unequivocal fact is, human activity is causing a warming of the planet. It's time for the lobbyists to stop lying and start informing policymakers about how policy can best fix the problem.

More on the lawsuit

An excellent article by Aaron Huertas of the Union of Concerned Scientists

Climate Science Watch

Brief of Michael Mann submitted September 3, 2014

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars by Michael E. Mann - A Book Review

If you ever wanted to know how it feels to be hunted by a pack of rabid wolves, Michael Mann’s The Hockey Stick is the book for you. The “hockey stick” graph became an icon in the Climate Wars, at least in the sense that it gave a target for the climate denialist industry to focus on in their efforts to deny the science. For those who are confused the bottom line is this – the hockey stick is robust, joined by a dozen other graphs into a veritable hockey team, and represents one small piece of multiple lines of evidence that demonstrate our planet is being warmed by human activity.

Mann begins by discussing how the hockey stick was “Born in a War” during the mid-1990s. As his own research was just beginning to develop, the climate denialist industry was already hard at work attacking other scientists like Ben Santer in what Mann calls the “Serengeti strategy.” In “Climate Science Comes of Age” and “Signals in the Noise” Mann takes us through the state-of-the-science and how his emerging research relates to the research of other scientists, including future co-author Raymond Bradley. In “The Making of the Hockey Stick” Mann gives us both the history and the science that led to the seminal paper commonly referred to as MBH98 and its follow up paper MBH99. The hockey stick papers. In short, the hockey stick is merely a reconstruction of northern hemisphere temperatures going back a millennia or so and based on a range of proxy data, that is, data from corals, ice cores, tree rings and other sources of long-term information that are used to define atmospheric temperatures. This one (relatively) simple graph was the result of “a substantial body of work.”

But as the science developed so too did the attacks on that science by fossil fuel industry lobbyists and their allies. The hockey stick graph became part of the 2001 Third Assessment Report of the IPCC, and was perceived as a major threat to the denialist industry’s interests. It was actually only one of three figures used in that IPCC report showing the same sort of pattern of historical temperatures. As Mann discusses, the MBH papers didn’t even attempt to establish causality, but this fact – like most facts – didn’t seem to slow the denialist desire to set up the hockey stick as THE pedestal of climate change…and then proceed to try to tear it down.

Mann goes on in ensuing chapters to discuss the “Origins of Denial” (e.g., going back to the tobacco industry’s “doubt is our product” strategy), and the various critiques of the hockey stick. Some of the more interesting chapters have to do with the political attacks on Mann and his co-authors. The chapter “Say It Ain’t So, (Smokey) Joe!” refers to Joe Barton (“I apologize to BP” for holding them accountable for the Deepwater Horizon spill). Barton called a House hearing on the hockey stick based solely on an opinion piece written in the Wall Street Journal. Barton was universally chastised for abusing his position to carry on a political intimidation. Even other Republicans like Sherwood Boehlert and John McCain rebuked Barton’s clear attempts to harass scientists.

In “A Tale of Two Reports,” Mann relates the findings of two evaluations of the hockey stick paper – one by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) commissioned by Sherwood Boehlert, and one by a statistics professor named Edward Wegman commissioned by Joe Barton. The NAS review was conducted by a team of highly qualified scientists and looked intensively at the research. The Wegman team consisted of Wegman, one of his graduate students, and one other co-author. The NAS review universally reaffirmed the veracity and robustness of the MBH hockey stick. The Wegman report disagreed. Not surprisingly, evidence later determined that Wegman had collaborated with denialist organizations, had passed off much of Stephen McIntyre’s faulty work as his own, and as much as 1/3 or more of the Wegman report had been plagiarized. Despite reaffirmation by the NAS, the addition of a dozen other independent reconstructions all showing the same thing, and voluminous evidence from multiple lines of investigation all showing that the hockey stick accurately represents the state-of-the-science, the denialist bloggers still repeat the false talking points coming out of Wegman’s ethically-challenged and factually-deficient report.

There is much more in the book, of course, and along the way Mann also discusses the ubiquitous inability of any denialist argument to stand up to even the most basic scientific scrutiny. He discusses the cadre of industry-sponsored blogs that serve as an echo chamber for denialist talking points, even long after they have been thoroughly debunked many times (including, for example, the falsehood that the hockey stick is broken).

Mann further discusses attempts to intimidate climate scientists in chapters called “Heads of the Hydra” (whenever one false talking point is debunked, two more false talking points are tossed out and/or recycled from the ones already debunked), “The Battle of the Bulge” (about how the denialist industry has made a last ditch effort to harass and intimidate scientists now that the science has become undeniable), and “Climategate: The Real Story” (how the denialist industry coordinated an orchestrated disinformation campaign). Mann’s recounting of how the “hide the decline” false talking point required the convenient omission of 23 words and the combining of two completely unrelated topics for the denialists to create their fake scandal is enlightening.

The final chapter “Fighting Back” is about how climate scientists have started to defend themselves and the science against the vicious harassment and intimidation of the climate denial lobby. One example he lists is Virginia Attorney General Cuccinelli’s witch hunt that was working its way up through the courts. Just this past week the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that Cuccinelli had no basis for pursuing what all parties acknowledge is nothing more than a politically motivated attempt to intimidate scientists who are doing research politicians find ideologically inconvenient.

In an Epilogue, Mann notes that his views of the “role of the scientist” have evolved over the last 10 years. Previously Mann, like most scientists, believed the role of the scientist was to do scientific research and that others should take on the duty of communicating it to the public. Now he believes that it is a responsibility of all scientists to ensure that their science is accurately communicated, and sometimes that means being out there to correct the intentional disinformation pushed by the science denial lobby. All scientists should consider this advice.

I highly recommend this book.  I also highly recommend the book Global Warming and Political Intimidation by Raymond S. Bradley, the “B” of MBH98/99. Like Mann, Bradley has experienced first hand the “Serengeti Strategy” of harassment.

Photo Credit and to order the book: Amazon.com

Thursday, August 21, 2014

How to Talk to Climate Deniers

Talking to climate deniers can be a difficult experience. And yet, scientists - and the public - must talk to deniers. Well, sometimes. The first step in any interaction with climate deniers is determining whether it is worth the time. Many times it simply is not. Deniers' own willful ignorance can in itself demonstrate to anyone watching the deniers' lack of veracity. For these deniers, which includes your typical internet trolls, interaction is what they crave, no matter how ignorant, obnoxious, and often, downright dishonest, they demonstrate themselves to be. Exploiting any interaction gives these folks the self-validation their psyche demands. They can be ignored.

But sometimes climate deniers spread falsehoods that aren't so easily recognized as such by passing readers or listeners. It is to these deniers that scientist Michael Raupach suggests climate scientists need to speak, though perhaps not in direct "debate." What Raupach really means is that scientists should be correcting the record and ensuring the public gets accurate climate science, not the falsehoods so often repeated by denialist groups. In a speech to the Australian Academy of Science, Raupach "called on his colleagues not to sit on the sidelines of the political debate about global warming and other environmental issues, given the evidence they present asks society to consider fundamental changes."


Invariably, it is the conservatives (or more accurately, the extreme political wing who call themselves conservatives but who are really more of reality-deniers) who ignore the science in favor of their rehearsed talking points. So how does one convince ideologically motivated people to stop denying the science and instead take responsibility for dealing with it?

Dana Nuccitelli, writing in the Guardian, says that "facts can convince conservatives about global warming - sometimes." He notes that in new research led by Sophie Guy, "across the participants as a whole,
People who were knowledgeable about climate change believed more strongly that it is happening, that it is being caused by human activities, and that it has negative consequences than those with less knowledge."
And also,  
"conservatives of a libertarian flavor were more likely to accept that global warming is happening when they had a better understanding of the climate. This indicates that some conservatives are persuadable; that information, evidence, and facts can potentially break through their ideological filter."
And yet, certain conservatives will actually be less persuaded by more information because they convince themselves they know better than actual climate scientists. This is the basis for the concept, "Confidence of the Dumb."

Science writer Chris Mooney notes another study in which the ample us of pie charts - not bar graphs, not data tables, not line charts, but pie charts - may be the best way to convince conservatives that man-made global warming is real and that debate should be focused on which policy options provide the best strategies for dealing with the science. Mooney argues that this technique emphasizes one fo the best ways of communicating anything - "You keep it simple, and you show pretty pictures."

Climate scientists would be wise to take that advice.

[Note: Pie chart from Skeptical Science]

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Book Review – Galileo’s Revenge: Junk Science in the Courtroom by Peter W. Huber

Galileo’s Revenge is actually an older book published in 1991, and the author has written several since that time. But it is definitely must reading for both scientists and lawyers. Peter Huber is believer in free markets and works at the conservative Manhattan Institute. He is considered an expert on liability lawsuits and clearly feels that courts have mismanaged tort law by allowing spurious claims to move forward, often resulting in huge monetary awards to plaintiffs on questionable science. I suggest the reader quickly move beyond this motivation and seriously consider the information that is put forth in the book.

The book provides several chapters of example cases illustrating the abuse of the courtroom by “experts” pushing specious, and often illogical, scientific explanations for serious injuries or harm. He includes the famous sudden acceleration cases in which the Audi 5000 was targeted as inexplicably bursting forward even though the driver “had their foot jammed on the brakes” (though nothing was shown to be wrong with car). Also liabilities associated with accusations that obstetrician mishandling of birth caused cerebral palsy (since proven false), chemically-caused disease (most of which was shown to be untrue), cancer caused by trauma (not true), the mosaic theory against Benedectin (shown to be specious), and ignoring lifelong smoking to “prove” asbestos caused cancer, etc. There are even cases won by plaintiffs because they had real fear of living close to tuberculosis patients even though there was no medical basis for such a fear. One could add other examples that have occurred since publication of the book.

But the real thrust of the book is how the courts have gotten away from a landmark 1923 ruling (Frye), which “allowed experts into the courtroom only if their testimony was founded on theories, methods, and procedures ‘generally accepted’ as valid among other scientists in the field.” This held sway until the 1970s when expert testimony came to be allowed “if scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact.” According to Huber, at this point mainstream scientific consensus was no longer a requirement, and any fringe theory could be advocated in the courtroom even if it was in conflict with established scientific belief. Together with liability insurance and the tendency to sue those with deep pockets, Huber believes this accounted for many of the huge awards being given to cases based on questionable, or even false, scientific and medical testimony. He spends some time in each chapter describing the unscrupulous “experts” that were hired to provide the needed testimony in such cases.

This book predates the 1993 Daubert ruling, which provided for standards of evidence to be used in court. Daubert superseded the Frye standard of generally accepted by the scientific community, and set a number of additional guidelines for the court to use to determine scientific reliability: testable technique or theory; known error rates of technique or theory; and methodology that has been peer reviewed. These are similar to some of the suggestions offered by Huber in his final chapters. He notes that “a scientific fact is the collective judgment of a specialized scientific community. Good science is defined not by credentials but by consensus.” He argues that there must be careful development of rules for the admissibility of legitimate evidence. There should be a scientific consensus on what the data tell us, not some theory acceptable only to the expert on the witness stand.

I highly recommend this book as a thought starter for all scientists and lawyers. From here readers should move on to more recent books on the topic. And consider Huber’s final words as he suggests that “the best test of certainty we have is good science – the science of publication, replication, and verification, the science of consensus and peer review; the science of Newton, Galileo, and Gauss, Einstein, Feynman, Pasteur, and Sabin; the science that has eradicated smallpox, polio, and tuberculosis; the science that has created antibiotics and vaccines. Or it is, at least, the best test of certainty so far devised by the mind of man.”

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Is It Time to Shut Down Climate Deniers?

Recently I asked, "Is Climate Denial Dead?" The answer may surprise some. What is clear is those that deny the unequivocal climate science aren't going to give up easily. After all, they have massive vested interests in misrepresenting the science: the fossil fuel industry has an interest in protecting the externalization of costs that gives them such extraordinary profits; the right wing/libertarian groups have an interest in protect their members' desire to be unburdened with the costs of regulation that protect human health and the environment; and the climate denier lobbyists have an interest in, well, continuing to get paid to misrepresent the science just as they have been in denying smoking causes cancer, CFCs widened the ozone hole, smokestack emissions caused acid rain, and every other denial of science they have been paid to "manufacture doubt" on over the years. [FYI, see here and here]

Which gets us to an interesting development in the world of public relations, PR. These firms can be considered an amalgam of law firms, lobbyists, and advertising agencies. Their objective is to "sell" whatever idea their clients want the public to believe. They shape public opinion, which the wide swings in political polls demonstrate are extremely malleable. As the Guardian has noted:

Public relations firms have played a critical role over the years in framing the debate on climate change and its solutions – as well as the extensive disinformation campaigns launched to block those initiatives.


But its seems PR firms may have decided that misinforming the public on climate science, i.e., being a party to climate change denial, is no longer in their best long-term interests. It certainly isn't in the best interests of their families, their businesses, or their countries. At least ten of "the top 25 global PR firms" have publicly stated that "they will not represent clients who deny man-made climate change." This includes such big names as WPP, Waggener Edstrom (WE) Worldwide, Weber Shandwick, Text100, and Finn Partners. Edelman, which was singled out by the Guardian in their first article as not committing to deny the deniers, did apparently agree in a follow up Guardian article.


This follows on the heels of a recent decision by the BBC to stop giving air time to climate deniers. Perhaps this is a growing trend.

Of course, those very same deniers of climate science will wildly scream that the system is being unfair to "opposing views." But like everything else climate deniers profess, it isn't true. Science grows from its inherent skepticism. Rather than suppress alternative hypotheses, science embraces them. Any research that suggests a conclusion different from previous research is enthusiastically challenged by other scientists. The entire idea of science is to try to pick away at any hypothesis proposed to explain our observations. Hypotheses that don't hold up are discarded and the search continues. But when that hypothesis stands up to all that scrutiny, usually over many years, hundreds of other studies, and millions of data points, it can become the established understanding.

Climate science deniers, of course, can do scientific experiments, publish in scientific journals, and present at scientific conferences. But they don't. Instead, they misrepresent other people's research, publish opinion pieces in business magazines, and saturate the blogosphere with falsehoods and misrepresentations. Climate science deniers don't offer opposing science, they offer opposition to the very idea of science. They offer political opinion that is contradicted by the science.

So it is a good thing if PR firms and media outlets refuse to give air time to climate science deniers and other deniers of science. Honest debate can only occur when deniers of science are no longer allowed to pollute the debate with repetitions of known falsehoods. Which is what they do.

Meanwhile, climate science continues to grow our knowledge. Every year we collect millions of new data points. And those data tell us unequivocally that human activity, primarily our burning of fossil fuels, is warming our planet. There are serious ramifications to this scientific fact. The debate is over what steps to take to deal with the science, not the science itself.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

This is What Scientists Can Do to Stop Climate Science Denial in Congress

As Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) noted in his on-the-floor rebuttal of the ubiquitous science denial of Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), "the only place where denial is 'credible' is here in Congress where money from fossil fuel interests" is prevalent. Whitehouse was responding to Inhofe's latest act of denial, the blocking of a simple non-controversial resolution introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) that acknowledged the National Climate Assessment conclusion that man-made climate change is happening.

In the Senate, any Senator can block resolutions even if the other 99 Senators want to vote for it. Inhofe is renowned for his "global warming is a hoax" talking point, which he repeats whenever he gets the chance. Not surprisingly for someone from the fossil fuel-dependent state of Oklahoma, Inhofe receives considerable campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry.

This isn't the first time Whitehouse has stood up to climate deniers. But this particular event provides a useful exemplar for how scientists can stop climate change denial in Congress.



As the video above shows, Whitehouse is well-versed in both the science of climate change and the rebuttals to common talking points used by climate science deniers. Clearly he has been listening to scientists. I discussed the role of scientists in making policy in this earlier post, and this shows the value of scientist involvement.

Whitehouse points out some of the critical science that shows Inhofe's statements are misinformative. Whereas Inhofe repeats the talking point that "atmospheric temperatures haven't risen/have plateaued/are cooling/are whichever of the many versions he pantomimes (all false),"  Whitehouse correctly notes that the vast majority (97+%) of heat goes into the oceans initially and that atmospheric temperatures are more susceptible to short-term variations. Whitehouse got his information from scientists; Inhofe got his information from lobbyists.

Whitehouse also points out that virtually all climate scientists agree that the voluminous data unequivocally demonstrate that our actions are warming the planet. While Inhofe cites a ridiculous and fraudulent "petition," Whitehouse correctly notes that every scientific organization in the world confirms what NASA, NOAA, the US Navy, the Department of Defense all tell us. And if federal government scientific organizations aren't enough, Whitehouse tells us that the Property Casualty and Reinsurance Industry, the US Congress of Catholic Bishops, and major corporations like Coke, Pepsi, Walmart, Mars, Google, Apple, and Nike all are very concerned about climate change.

All of this has come from scientists. It is scientists that have provided their services to regulators and policy makers so that they can provide informed, scientifically-based, rebuttals to the political talking points of the climate science deniers in Congress. Even the younger Republicans decry the science denial among the Republican Party old guard/Tea Party wing. "People know better," Whitehouse says. And they do.

One of Whitehouse's most direct statements rebutting Inhofe is "To say that we have no warming is just not factual."

That's where we scientists need to step in. It is our role, and our obligation, to communicate the science accurately and repeatedly to those policy makers who take to heart their public responsibility to act on, rather than deny, reality.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Does Language Influence Climate Denial?

The language of science can sometimes be hard to follow for non-scientists, just as the language of all professionals is unfamiliar to anyone outside those professions. But can language actually influence something like climate denial? Perhaps so.

The latest Ipsos Global Trends Survey asked several questions related to the causes and severity of the ongoing trend in global warming, also called man-made climate change. The results show that "the US leads the world in climate denial," with 52% of Americans agreeing with the statement that “The climate change we are currently seeing is a natural phenomenon that happens from time to time.” In tandem, 32% of Americans disagreed with the statement: “The climate change we are currently seeing is largely the result of human activity.”


This finding is shocking. For both questions the United States was the worst denial of the twenty countries surveyed. And for both questions the United States is absolutely in denial of the nearly unanimous understanding of the world's climate scientists, the world's National Academies of Science, and the world's major scientific organizations. Not to mention basic physics.

How could this be? Supposedly the United States is the most educated country in the world (okay, this point is debatable, but let's assume we're at least generally educated). And yet we deny science that is unequivocal.

Science journalist, and author of several books including Unscientific America (with Sheril Kirshenbaum), suggests that it has something to do with the English language. According to this survey, the worst three man-made climate change denier countries are the US, the UK, and Australia, all English-speaking countries. Canada, with a recently increased denialist government, came in seventh.

Mooney goes on to suggest that perhaps being English-speaking is a secondary characteristic and that the real cause and effect is something else. All of these countries have political systems that reflect highly ideological differences, where reality is simply ignored if it doesn't support your political beliefs and more concordant "factoids" are substituted in its place. Thus, the science is inconvenient for politics, so it is denied.

The presence of Rupert Murdoch's media empire seems also to be a factor. Murdoch owns many media outlets in three of the for worst denier countries. These outlets, like Fox News with its blatant discarding of reality in favor of pure political ideology, push the idea of a grand scientific conspiracy. Rupert's far-reaching ownership essentially allows him to create whatever false reality he wants and be assured that it will metastasize via the paid and unpaid ideological blogosphere. Toss in obscenely  funded "think tanks" (i.e., paid lobbyist organizations posing as non-profit groups), all of whom are well experienced with "messaging," and the denial movement is able to talk over the abilities of scientists to communicate technical information.

So in a way, language most definitely does influence climate denial, though not in the way originally suggested by Chris Mooney. Mooney does nail the language in the final sentence of his article:

In language, we're Anglophones; but in climate science, we're a bunch of Anglophonies.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Role of Scientists in Making Policy

What role should scientists play in the making of policy that relies on science? Historically, scientists have had a love/hate relationship with policy makers. Mostly we want to "do our science" but avoid getting involved in all the political partisanship that constitutes "policy-making." On the other hand, it does a disservice to the public to allow our science to be misrepresented - and sometimes abused - by politicians or advocacy groups, who often twist the science to fit their predisposed ideological view. Unfortunately, this political abuse has become so prevalent that many in the public don't trust scientists. Which is ironic given that it is not scientists who are doing the abuse.

Denial of climate change joins other scientific topics that politicians - indeed, entire political movements such as the Koch-funded tea party - have made part of their political platforms. Whereas in the past there was always the odd extremist politician who ridiculously vented their scientific ignorance, now denial of science has become mainstream for one party. Even the party leadership denies the science for purely partisan political reasons. That is simply irresponsible.

What are scientists to do?

More and more it seems scientists are offering their services to politicians. Scientists are making themselves available to educate politicians about the science so that these politicians can make informed choices when making policy to deal with the science. For example, scientists of two major scientific organizations, the Society of Toxicology (SOT) and the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) have begun engaging in dialogue with staff of the relevant Congressional committees involved in the reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The hope is that accurately presented science will lead to reasonable policy, or at least action toward that goal.

In the all-important debate about what policy steps are needed to address the unequivocal science of man-made climate change, scientists have been faced with politicians who deny the science itself. Lately this denial has taken an interesting turn as politicians have started quoting the lobbyist-provided line "I am not a scientist" to avoid having to outright lie about the science. Recently a group a scientists in Florida have taken the next step - offered to explain the science to Governor Rick Scott of Florida.

This raises an important strategy for other scientists. Rather than sit back, do your science, and let others try to communicate it (or in many cases, intentionally miscommunicate it), scientists now have an obligation to ensure the science is presented accurately to lawmakers and other policy makers. Like Rick Scott. There is no excuse for politicians to intentionally deny the science, or to deny understanding of the science, in order to avoid engaging in honest policy debates. Politicians who do so are violating the public trust given when they were elected.

This denial by politicians is especially dangerous to their own constituents in places like Florida (likely to be impacted irreparably by rising sea levels), Oklahoma (where increasing damage from droughts is likely to get worse without action), and elsewhere in the United States where politically motivated denial is hurting the politicians' own states.

Which gets us back to scientists. Those who have spoken up have sometimes become the target of harassment and personal attacks by anti-science lobbyists. So perhaps SOT, SETAC, and the group of Florida scientists have found a way to communicate the science accurately to policy makers while avoiding the individual personal attacks upon them. Scientific organizations obviously have to be careful about advocating specific policy options or inserting their own individual beliefs, but these organizations provide a respectable - and respectful - means of communicating the science. In a sense, they have an obligation to do so.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Is Climate Denial Dead?

There has been a trend lately that beckons the question: Is climate denial dead? The obvious answer for anyone who still watches Fox News is, well, duh, of course not. Climate denial is alive and well, in the sense that there will always be people who choose to deny the overwhelming and unequivocal science that demonstrates we are warming our planet. But several signs show that denial may slowly be devolving to merely a lobbyist talking point. We're not there yet, but could we be?

Climate deniers have been losing credibility for some time, "credibility" being defined as some significant percentage of the general public believing what deniers say. But the public is catching on. Much like the variability caused by short-term weather, snap-polls show ups and downs in the public acknowledgement of what the science tells us. But like the long-term trends that define climate, the public is slowly understanding that virtually all climate scientists concur that the data demonstrate our use of fossil fuels are causing global warming. As the years go on, the public will undoubtedly push for action.

Another sign of the death of denial is how politicians are beginning to avoid saying the words out loud. True, entrenched climate deniers like Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) and Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) will likely continue to mime their "climate change is a hoax" talking points (which, ironically, hurts the constituents in both their states). But others with more responsibility have begun using the non-committal "I am not a scientist" tagline. Perhaps they have realized that outright denial was no longer a political asset.

Even the Heartland Institute, a lobbying group once paid by the tobacco industry to deny that second-hand smoke caused cancer and now paid to deny climate science, recently started hedging their language. "Climate optimists," as one writer put it, acknowledge that the climate is changing, but deny that it is very important.

All that suggests something starting to wither on the vine. But, alas, it isn't. Climate denial won't be dead until Heartland, Cato, and other science-denying organizations start getting paid by industry to lobby for climate action. Rest assured, that time will come. It's as inevitable as the global warming that continues to occur as we avoid taking action. But it won't come soon, not as long as the costs of a fossil fuel-based energy system continue to be externalized onto society and the taxpayers.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Free Science Books


Physics Database (http://physicsdatabase.com) is making available hundreds of science books for free download. As would be expected, most are highly technical physics and math textbooks. They may be in PDF or HTML format.

Here is the list.

I'll be back after the holidays. In case you missed them, check out some of my earlier posts.

Does Ridiculing Climate Deniers Work?

How to Talk to the Public About Science - Lessons from Neil deGrasse Tyson

How the Media are Used to Intentionally Mislead the Public About Global Warming

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Does Ridiculing Climate Deniers Work?

To follow up on my last article, in which I acknowledged the rather obvious fact that Republicans are behind the curve on global warming, the question that begs to be answered is, how does one deal with climate denial? More specifically for this post, does ridiculing climate deniers work? The answer is: sometimes yes, sometimes no.

A year after he proposed action on climate change, and in support of the new EPA rules that will impact coal-fired power plants, President Obama has mocked climate deniers in Congress. On several occasions he has chastised Republicans for using the line "I am not a scientist," usually followed with some sort of denial of the science and/or excuse for inaction. In the Huffington Post article just linked, Obama was quoted:

“Today’s Congress, though, is full of folks who stubbornly and automatically reject the scientific evidence about climate change,” he said. “They’ll tell you it’s a hoax, or a fad.”

I'll pause here to remind readers that virtually every climate scientist, every National Academy, every major scientific organization, millions of empirical data points from more than 100,000 published scientific research papers, and the basic physics of the atmosphere known for over a century all unequivocally demonstrate that we are warming our planet. This has reached the point of being scientific fact.

For years a handful of Congressmen, almost exclusively Republicans but sometimes including Democrats from states whose economies are dependent on fossil fuel facilities, have claimed climate change somehow isn't real. To discredit all the world's science, these congressmen will rattle off talking points created by fossil fuel lobbying organizations. Which is why you suddenly hear them mouthing almost verbatim the lines being used by others in separate interviews.

One such "I got the memo moment" is the use of the aforementioned "I am not a scientist" line. It's clear that with the recent IPCC, NAS/Royal Society, AAAS, the National Climate Assessment, and many other scientific reports reinforcing the fact that human activity is changing our climate, the lobbyists have handed down new instructions. Since outright denial would look bad (not that that stops everyone), the new mantra suddenly became "I am not a scientist." But we all know the meaning, right? Obama sums it up nicely:

“Let me translate," he said. "What that means is, ‘I accept that manmade climate change is real, but if I admit it, I’ll be run out of town by a radical fringe that thinks climate science is a liberal plot.'"

Bingo!

So will ridiculing climate deniers get them to stop denying the science? In some cases, perhaps yes.

For example, if the ridicule exposes the pandering to fossil fuel interests at the expense of constituents living in the state of the denier, it might sway public opinion enough to influence a policy change. One obvious exemplar is Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who has declared "global warming is a hoax" for so many years he is beyond feeling embarrassed by its lack of veracity. On the other hand, Oklahoma is prone to severe drought, a condition that is likely to get more frequent and more severe the longer Senator Inhofe and others choose to delay action. Rather than explain this to his constituents and work toward policies that will enable a shift for working Oklahomans from the dying fossil fuel industry to the growing renewable energy industry, Inhofe has chosen to sacrifice his constituents future for continued short-term campaign contributions from his present corporate contributors. If Oklahomans understood that they are being held back from future economic growth, perhaps they would change Inhofe's behavior or replace him with someone more attuned to their interests instead of his own campaign interests.

The same could be said for other key politicians. If it is clear that the unequivocal science is being denied for expediency or self-interest while ultimately that denial is counter to the interests of people living in the state, people will eventually force a change in behavior.

On the other hand, sometimes ridicule is not an effective mechanism. Several studies have shown that providing more data actually causes people to hunker down in a defensive posture, i.e., become even more sure of their absolutely false view. This is common for ideological followers who have tied their self-worth to an ideological position. Having done so, anything that shows that position is false now is interpreted as a direct attack on the person rather than the position or the facts.

Which gets us back to "I am not a scientist." The catchphrase that suddenly emitted from the mouths of several politicians could actually be seen as a positive step forward, should it continue and not revert back to the even more laughable "hoax" bumper sticker. By admitting that they aren't scientists, politicians are tacitly acknowledging that they trust scientists and will rely on the science. They obviously haven't reached the point where they are acknowledging the unequivocal science already out there, but it does suggest that eventually they may do just that. The more ridiculous the denial becomes in the face of reality, the more likely this "I am not a scientist" will morph into "scientists say so...here is the action that I propose to deal with it."

Then we can get down to discussing honest differences in opinion about how best to take action.

Bottom line? While scientists must continue to produce the science and present the science and correct misinformation about the science, there may actually be some advantages to the use of ridicule by politicians and the advocacy community. It should not be overdone as that would diminish credibility. But using the above exemplar of Senator Inhofe as a starting point, perhaps opposing politicians (in both parties), along with local community advocates, can focus on both the ridiculousness of his climate denial position and the disservice he is doing to his constituents across Oklahoma. The same could be done at the local and state level across the country to encourage constituents to demand action dealing with the science rather than wait for the consequences of inaction caused by denial that borders, and often surpasses, the ridiculous.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Republicans Behind the Curve on Global Warming - When Will They Stop Denying the Science?

There was a fascinating public hearing in the Senate on Wednesday, June 18th. True, "fascinating" and "Senate hearing" are not commonly paired in sentences, or even paragraphs, but to those interested in man-made global warming it was fascinating indeed. In it, four former EPA Administrators - all of whom served under Republican presidents - called on Republicans to stop denying the reality of the science.

A century of data unequivocally demonstrates that human activity, primarily the burning of fossil fuels, is causing the climatic system to warm. Unequivocal, as in, duh! Virtually all the world's climate scientists, all the world's National Academies, and all the world's major scientific organizations, not to mention millions of empirical data points and the basic physics of the greenhouse effect, agree that this is the case.

Just as well understood is the political denial of that unequivocal science by the Republican party in the United States and its cohorts in the UK, Canada, Australia, and wherever else there is a strong fossil fuel lobby. This fact isn't some partisan bias talking, it's been shown repeatedly in scientific studies and political polls. The reasons for science denial are alternatively simple and complex, but the fact remains the Republican party in the US has made a conscious decision to deny the science of man-made global warming in order to block policy discussions that could potentially impact their political base, i.e., corporate America.

Which makes the Senate hearing so fascinating. Rather than the "liberal plot" Republicans and today's so-called "conservatives" claim is behind the science, our understanding of that science has been growing over many decades no matter what party was in the congressional majority or in the White House. The four former EPA Administrators testified to this fact. They were William Ruckleshouse (administrator (twice) under Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan), Lee M. Thomas (Ronald Reagan), William K. Reilly (George H.W. Bush), and Christine Todd Whitman (George W. Bush).

All of these former EPA administrators told Congress they must act on climate change.

Some members of Congress, of course, have been trying to take action. Democrats in the Senate were the ones who called this hearing. Earlier this year at least two dozen Senate Democrats pulled an all-nighter to bring attention to the need to take action. But Senate Republicans have blocked even discussion of any policy options. Sensing the potential loss of the Senate majority in the fall elections, Democrats are obviously trying to the push the issue, hence the hearing.

The House is another matter. Again, Democrats would like to take action but with the Republican majority in the House repeatedly denying the science and distracted with their efforts to reduce even rational health and safety regulations, positive action on climate is not even on the radar.

So will this week's hearing convince Republicans to stop denying the science and start working on solutions? Doubtful. But it is likely that the Republican denial will continue to be placed into the eyes of the public, most of whom now realize that man-made global warming is real, is already happening, and action is necessary. More and more it will become clear that Republicans are endangering our future with their denial of climate science. Public pressure to act will continue to increase.

Eventually the Republican party will stop the denial. But when?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Lessons from Neil deGrasse Tyson - How to Talk to the Public about Science

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist. More importantly, he is also a science communicator. In his day job he is Director of the Hayden Planetarium, part of New York City's American Museum of Natural History. That in itself is pretty cool. Even cooler is that Tyson is a popular "television scientist," by which I mean a real scientist who is on television a lot (not some actor on television who plays a scientist). His natural ability to talk science to non-scientists, with a dash of humor, makes him an extraordinary exemplar of how scientists can communicate science to the public.

Older folks will see a bit of Carl Sagan in Tyson. Both were astrophysicists who leaped from the ivory tower into the public eye. Both communicated science in ways that everyone could understand. And now, Tyson is doing a remake of Sagan's famous science series, Cosmos. Better yet, while Sagan's 1980 version was on PBS stations, Tyson's 2014 Cosmos is on, some may say "ironically," the much more widely accessible Fox networks.

While Cosmos covers a variety of topics, the one I'll focus on here is a single, short video that helps explain the simple difference between weather and climate. Take a look:



As Tyson says, "keep your eye on the man, not the dog." Climate is the long-term trend, something that we can see happening based on millions of data points. We can also evaluate and project the trend into the future based on physical and chemical laws and reactions. Weather, on the other hand, is highly variable from day to day and place to place. This is a fairly simple concept but one that is often confused by the public, in part because there are vested interests who intentionally mislead the public in an effort to avoid policy action.

Tyson's video is actually drawn from an earlier video using the same concept. This time the walking dog is used to illustrate the difference between trend and variation.



Again the man represents the long-term trend. When the analogy is applied to global warming it is the track that global average temperatures are on given the continuing emissions of carbon into the atmosphere and oceans. The dog represents the variability in temperatures; some years are warmer than average and some years not as warm as the average. This short-term variation is influenced by short-term events that effect weather, like the periodic El Nino events that tend to bump up temperatures and the La Ninas that tend to suppress temperature rises. These variations give any temperature graph its ragged look (the dog's tracks). In contrast, the trend is shown by the line of the man's steps. And like the global temperatures around us, that trend is going up.

There is no guarantee that everyone in the public will get the twin concepts of climate/weather and trend/variation, but these two videos using a wandering dog on a leash are an excellent means of communication. More scientists should present their work in simple video form. And perhaps more scientists should follow Tyson's lead and appear on television. I suspect Jon Stewart of the Daily Show would be happy to have you.