Thursday, September 25, 2014

Climate Denial Tactic - Repeat a Falsehood Enough and Maybe It Will Become True

This page recently started posting a series of articles exposing climate denialism, for example, this one about the kinds of unreliable sources used by denialists instead of science, and this one differentiating between professional and amateur deniers. A comment left on the post just prior to those highlights yet another denialist tactic - repeating falsehoods as if saying it over and over would somehow make it become true.

The post itself discussed a defamation lawsuit filed by climate scientist Michael Mann, the target of an unending stream of personal attacks since the publication of the "hockey stick" graph 15 years ago. The graph (and the dozen or so graphs just like it by myriad independent researchers since that time) represents a threat to those who would prefer not to deal with the science. So professional denialists have targeted it, and more directly, Mann.

As such, the amateur denialists eagerly repeat the falsehoods, usually in a way that demonstrates their ideological bent and ignorance of the actual science. I'll parse the comment here as representative of how amateurs work. The full comment can be viewed on the original post. Italicized portions below are verbatim from the comment:

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous" and his cousin "Fake Screen Name" are prolific commenters.

Mann became famous, of sorts, as a critical link in the chain that unequivocally demonstrates human activity is warming the planet.

Here the commenter is repeating a line from the first paragraph of my original article. It shows that he at least started to read the post, though the rest of his comment suggests that may be as far as he got. This is actually very common. Mention of Mann's name, much like the mention of Al Gore's name, tends to elicit a Pavlovian-like response among ideologally-motivated deniers. That response immediately initiates a fixed action pattern. The commenter goes on:


Yes, unequivocally. This has been voluminously detailed in the latest IPCC reports and dozens of other reports, not to mention all the thousands of scientific studies on which the reports are based. Adding a question mark allows the commenter to dismiss the reality without having the burden of actually explaining why.  

But here the rant begins to get a bit rabid. Using a technique often called the "Gish Gallop," he offers a series of rapid-fire falsehoods in the hopes their sheer weight will cause them to become true.

From a Mann who refuses to show his work? From a Mann who lied about being vindicated. From a Mann who lied about winning Nobel Peace prize. From a Mann who left MWP out of is HockeyStick. From a Mann who conveniently didn't chart Decline at end of his HockeyStick.

Okay, breathe. Another breath. Good. Now, each of these assertions is false. I'll address each in turn below:

1) Mann has, in fact, shown his work. His papers have all been peer-reviewed and published in top scientific journals, where he and his co-authors explain in detail his work. He has even made available his data. His work is some of the most scrutinized work in science. So the commenter's assertion is patently false.

2) Mann also hasn't lied about anything. As noted, his work has been reviewed by hundreds of other scientists and a variety of academic and scientific panels, including the National Academy of Sciences. That work, and Mann's statements, have all been validated, vindicated, and verified over and over again. Again, the assertion being made is patently false (and, in fact, libelous).

3) Likewise, your assertion about Mann lying about winning a Nobel Peace prize is absolutely false. The 2007 Nobel Peace Prize was "shared, in two equal parts, between the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Al Gore "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change." Mann, along with all other "scientists that had contributed substantially to the preparation of IPCC reports," [was presented] with a personalized certificate "for contributing to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 to the IPCC."

4) Also false is the assertion that Mann left the MWP out of his "hockey stick" graphs. Most often this falsehood stems from a profound ignorance of the science. Many denialists like to cite one early, regional, schematic (not even real data) and ignore all of the actual data collected and analyzed on a global basis over the last 35 years. Mann correctly applies the data. Skeptical Science has a nice overview of the MWP for anyone who would like to dispel their ignorance.

5) The assertion that Mann failed to chart "Decline" is, not surprisingly given the commenter's track record, false. It also suggests profound ignorance of the data and use of proxies. Mann charted the actual instrumentally measured temperatures in years since we had reliable measurements. These are overlaid on the proxy metrics often used. The commenter seems to want scientists to plot proxy data that had been found to be unreliable and ignore all the actual measured temperature data. That would be scientifically indefensible.

To recap, every one of the rapid-fire statements made in that one ideologically-infused diatribe is false. All. False.

From here the commenter reveals his motivation for the divorced-from-fact rant:

AGW is an elaborate ruse by elitists to make them richer marketing Green products and supported by AGW Climatologists for lucrative funding.

Notwithstanding the obvious unfamiliarity with scientific research, this implies somehow all of the world's scientists, one hundred years of scientific research by thousands of independent groups, more than 100,000 peer-reviewed studies published in hundreds of scientific journals, every major scientific organization, every National Academy of Sciences, and millions of data points have all conspired to make a few elitists richer. Even physics has somehow joined this conspiracy.

Discussion of fantasy conspiracies will have to wait for another post. This post has focused on one basic tactic of climate denialists as so clearly illustrated by a single comment. Repetition of falsehoods doesn't make them true to anyone but the person repeating them, and that person usually has willfully chosen to remain ignorant of the reality.