Sunday, March 15, 2009

Global Warming Denialists - The Art of Deception

Global warming denialists are carrying on an ideologically motivated campaign to discredit real climate science. And they are doing so by willfully and repeatedly misrepresenting the state of our knowledge. They have several methods that all scientists and every citizen should be on the look out for, and these methods should be exposed for what they are - purposeful deceit of the public.

Some of the more prevalent methods to deceive the public include:

"Global warming is just a theory, and the science is still unsettled"

Denialists are fond of manipulating the public by misrepresenting the meaning of scientific theory. They do this to suggest that the science of climate change is still unsettled. But the science of climate change is clear. The scientific consensus is clear.

"The IPCC is ignoring the science"

Except that it isn't. The IPCC, and the thousands of researchers on whose studies the IPCC relies for its compilation of the state-of-the-science, examine every legitimate study that has been conducted regarding climate science. Any new valid data are also incorporated into the discussion, which is why the IPCC, for example, revises its reports every few years - they are incorporating newer data. Claims of "they are ignoring solar forcing" and others, for example, are patently false, and the denialists know this but continue with their charade.

"Many scientists disagree with the IPCC"

Some legitimate scientists legitimately disagree with parts of the consensus. And as legitimate scientists they present their real scientific data to real scientific peer-review. As yet, the legitimate disagreement has been on specific data or on specific interpretation. But these disagreements have been unpersuasive to the vast community of scientists as far as changing the consensus. It comes down to the preponderance of evidence. And the preponderance of the evidence remains clear. Most of the time these legitimate scientists actually, in the end, provide support to the consensus by helping to fine-tune specific details.

"So and so scientist says that global warming is wrong"

To scientists this is one of the most despicable and deceitful ploys used by global warming denialists. They "quote" a certain scientist to suggest that the scientist agrees with their denialist position. Except they selectively quote to misrepresent the scientist's position. Several scientists have had to issue corrections - often repeatedly - to clarify their position or even to deny that their research says what the denialists say it means. One scientist has been fighting for years to stop denialists from continuing to misquote his research, which they continue to do intentionally to claim the exact opposite of what the scientist's research actually concludes. Another had to issue a statement - and even ensure it was posted on his Wiki biography - to refute the way denialists have mischaracterized his views. A major scientific organization had to issue a press release to warn that denialists had fraudulently mimicked its journal design with the explicit goal of suggesting the organization supported their view. It does not.

"Independent organization scientists refute global warming"

One of the favorite means for denialists to deceive the public is to create a "science sounding" organization and pass it off as independent. This despite the fact that all the funding comes from industry donors, ideological foundations, and "private citizens" (who oddly enough tend to be associated with industry donors and ideological foundations). The claim of independence is farcical, as these organizations are merely front groups for the industrial and ideological firms who fund them. Even the handful of scientists they employ are shared amongst the groups to create the illusion that there are more dissenters than are there in truth. More deceit.

"A conference to present the science refuting the global warmist agenda"

Another trick of the denialists is to sponsor a conference in which will be presented "the real science that global warmists ignore." As noted above, no real science is ignored, so this in itself is deceit. But the deceit goes even further as the conference is billed as a scientific conference when in fact it is nothing but an advocacy meeting designed to confuse the public and influence politicians. The recent conference sponsored by the conservative Heartland Institute is a perfect example of the deception employed by the global warming denialist industry. Besides the ideologically oriented HI, the conference was co-sponsored by 57 other organizations, every one of which were ideological, libertarian, anti-tax, pro-business and free-market organizations. No scientific organizations participated. The handful of "science sounding" organizations (about 6 of 57) were the deceitful front groups mentioned in the last point. No new scientific data were presented, and in fact the only science presented was the same old information that has been repeated for years. Any legitimate science would be presented at legitimate scientific conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals. As such, any legitimate science is already part of the consensus and any new legitimate data will be added to the analysis. The conference was a sham designed to deceive.

"Such and such a source says..."

One common ploy is circular citation. The denialist industry creates a "press release" masquerading as scientific opinion. It then ensures that it circulates to its network of bloggers - some paid, others merely ideological lackeys - for distribution. Call it the "cut-and-paste" method of creating the impression that there is more uncertainty than there is, more disagreement than there is, and more authority than there is. Citing a blog that stole from another blog that stole from another blog that got it from the industry denialist machine is a combination of lazy and deceitful. The intent is to create an implied volume of information when it is in fact nothing more than creative plagiarism. Given that any person with a computer can publish anything they want without any kind of check on its factual integrity, no blog can be used for anything more than ascertaining the blogger's opinion, which by definition is tuned to their inherent biases. That's why you get the same sort of "conspiracy theory" stories showing up on "conspiracy theory" blogs. In short, citing a blog as a source of scientific fact is meaningless, not to mention that it and shows a lack of scientific understanding and/or a willingness to deceive.

"The science definitively says that global warming is not happening"

False. Often this comes in the form of "we know that the temperatures are cooling" or "the sun is causing global warming." These are third-grade level misunderstandings (at best) or intentional misrepresentations (most likely) of the science. But by making the statement definitively the denialists know it sounds authoritative to the public. Just like former vice-president Dick Cheney stating definitively that Saddam Hussein had WMDs (he did not) and that Iraq was involved with the 9/11 attacks (they were not). Being authoritative does not change a lie into the truth, but it does cynically take advantage of the natural tendency for people to assume forceful statements represent reality. This is deception and should be called deception.

"Global warmists are pushing a political agenda for the funding"

This is a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black. Climate scientists toiled for decades doing research, generally with very limited funding. Anyone who knows how much scientists get paid know they don't do it "for the money." In fact, for the denialist industry (funded lavishly by some of the biggest corporations on the planet) to disingenuously suggest that the science is political and their obvious political is science is, well, audacity at its most cynical.

"Al Gore's theories..."

One common ploy - called misdirection by public relations firms and professional magicians alike - is to suggest that Al Gore "invented" global warming, and thus it is a political rather than scientific consensus. Al Gore is a former politician and now businessman who also just happens to have a three decade interest in science issues. His "Inconvenient Truth" presentation is designed to communicate the long-time research of climate scientists. He didn't invent global warming, he is merely a messenger. The science itself has nothing to do with Al Gore, and the denialists know this. They merely use Gore in their sleight-of-hand attempts to misdirect attention away from the fact that there is a clear scientific consensus on global warming.


Repetition ties all the previous deceit together into a continuous stream of "information" that by shear volume and tenacity is designed to create the illusion of authority. The same handful of "points" are repeated over and over again long after they have been discredited as false, illogical, or just plain silly. The same "experts" are trotted out even though it has been shown that their scientific credibility and integrity is equivocal (to be clear, some of these are legitimate scientists who legitimately disagree, but many are being used as shills by the denialist industry and others are mere charlatans selling snake oil for the industry money). The same "science is being ignored" line is repeated even after it has been shown that the science has already been incorporated into the consensus (even, in fact, after pointing to a specific set of pages in which this point is discussed). The repetition of falsehood is part of the ploy. And it is dishonest.

"Global warmists only demean the "skeptics" because they can't discredit the science"

This is a favorite tactic. As noted above, all real science is presented to the scientific community for peer-review and discussion. Most of the "science" of the skeptics has been shown time and time again to be spurious, incorrect, or irrelevant. Much of it is deliberately misleading, misrepresented, or outright fraudulent. Many scientists and others have spent considerable time evaluating the "cut-and-pasted from blog" science of denialists, and even after their contention is shown to be false and/or completely uninformed or illogical, they continue to repeat the same untruths.

As scientists, and as human beings, we must ask ourselves whether it is "unkind" to call a liar a liar. Should we ignore dishonesty by the denialists because to point out their dishonesty might hurt their feelings? But think about this. Would one not call a murderer a murderer because it would be "unkind" to the murderer? Is it not unkind to the victims to not stand up for their rights? Is it unkind to call Bernie Madoff a swindler, when he in fact is a swindler? What of the rights of his victims? Is it unkind to refute deception?

Should we not call a deceiver a deceiver?

The denialist industry has undertaken a campaign of deception that follows the same playbook as the "smoking isn't addictive and doesn't cause cancer" playbook of the past. Even some of the players are the same. So should a scientist, or a non-scientist who also lives on this planet, stand back and allow the denialists to deceive the public for their own ideological profit?

I think the answer is clear.

1 comment:

Tarun Kumar said...

Combating climate change may not be a question of who will carry the burden but could instead be a rush for the benefits, according to new economic modeling presented at “Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges & Decisions” hosted by the University of Copenhagen.

Contrary to current cost models for lowering greenhouse gases emissions and fighting climate change, a group of researchers from the University of Cambridge conclude that even very stringent reductions of can create a macroeconomic benefit, if governments go about it the right way.

“Where many current calculations get it wrong is in the assumption that more stringent measures will necessarily raise the overall cost, especially when there is substantial unemployment and underuse of capacity as there is today”, explains Terry Barker, Director of Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research (4CMR), Department of Land Economy, University of Cambridge and a member of the Scientific Steering Committee of the Congress.