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]