Thursday, September 18, 2014

Climate Denial on the Internet - Who are the Deniers?

Virtually every climate scientist agrees - the planet is warming and human activity is the cause. This is the unequivocal science. Yet there are people out there who go out of their way to deny that science. They are called deniers, or denialists, or sometimes just, trolls. But who really are the climate deniers?

The term "climate deniers," of course, is simply shorthand for people who deny the man-made causes of our current warming of the climate. One of the common tactics used by climate deniers is to rattle off the platitude "I'm not denying climate," or its corollary, "Climate has been happening for millions of years." So when we say "climate denial" we are referring to the active denial, misinforming, or ignorance of the undeniable body of data unequivocally demonstrating the planet is warming and that humans are the main cause. The science is clear; denial of that science is climate denial.

What deniers are not

But climate deniers come in multiple flavors and a good place to start understanding how to deal with deniers is to know who they are. One thing that is clear, however, is that the vast percentage of climate deniers are not skeptics. While they often label themselves as skeptics, like virtually everything else they say their use of the term is incorrect. Skeptics are those with knowledge of the field who look at the evidence (all of it) and remain incompletely convinced. Scientists are by nature skeptics, always questioning their own and others findings. It's how science works, so in those rare cases when virtually all scientists agree it's because the evidence is multifaceted and overwhelming. Climate deniers, on the other hand, are a particularly unskeptical crowd, accepting every non-science blogger's diatribe (and defending it even after it is summarily debunked) while simply denying all the actual science from actual scientists because it is inconvenient.

So deniers are not skeptics. That's the first thing to understand. The second is that there are two broad groups of climate deniers - the professionals and the amateurs.

The professional deniers

The professionals are those who are paid to deny climate science. The names most associated with climate denial are the Heartland Institute, the George C. Marshall Institute (as documented in the book, Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway), a series of lobbying organizations associated with the billionaire Koch brothers, and a variety of other front groups whose names keep changing while their staff and paid spokespeople tend to overlapped considerably (denial organizations get a lot of mileage out of a very few people).

"Doubt is our product," as one tobacco executive so infamously put it in a memo that wasn't intended for public consumption, unlike the cigarette smoke that the industry was denying caused health effects. So too is this the primary goal of the climate denial industry. Some of the same players who once denied the tobacco/cancer connection, such as Heartland Institute and Fred Singer, now are paid by the fossil fuel industry to manufacture doubt about the unequivocal science of man-made global warming.

These professional deniers accomplish their creation of doubt by a variety of means that I'll go into in future posts, but the key tool they use is the internet. It is these professional denial lobbyists who create the content that they know will be plagiarized and shared unskeptically by the more ideological non-science followers, aka, the amateur denialists.

The amateur deniers

Once the professional denial lobby has seeded the internet via their paid bloggers (e.g., Climate Depot, WUWT, etc.), they rely on the amateur deniers to saturate the blogosphere with every sciencey-sounding, but already debunked, misinformational tidbit. Actual science by NOAA, NASA, the IPCC, and every other scientific organization is dismissed as "unreliable," while a blog post by some non-scientist with his pet conspiracy theory is taken as gospel. No matter that the blog post was already shown to be in error and largely in ignorance of the science. No matter that the post was plagiarized in its entirety from another blogger with no science background. No matter that that blogger had plagiarized it from some conspiracy nut blog, who stole it from someone else. The blogger says what the ideologue wants to hear so it by default, in the deniers mind, must be true and all those science organizations must be wrong.

Such is the rationale of amateur deniers. The combined information of nearly every climate scientist, every climate science organization, every National Academy of Science in the world, a hundred thousand peer-reviewed scientific studies, more than a century of research, millions of data points, and the realities of basic physics can all be washed away by an anonymous blogger posting easily debunked misinformation on a blog by a non-scientist receiving funding by lobbyists.

Such is the power of the internet.

Future posts will take a closer look at both professional and amateur climate deniers as we continue this series of periodic posts exposing climate denialism. Stay tuned for more of the tactics and tall tales of the climate denial industry.

[Graphic from Skeptical Science]


Janus Daniels said...

Nailed it: "The combined information of nearly every climate scientist, every climate science organization, every National Academy of Science in the world, a hundred thousand peer-reviewed scientific studies, more than a century of research, millions of data points, and the realities of basic physics can all be washed away by an anonymous blogger posting easily debunked misinformation on a blog by a non-scientist receiving funding by lobbyists."

The Dake Page said...

Indeed, the science is overwhelming and unequivocal. Our actions are warming the planet. So the real debate is deciding the best way(s) to reduce our carbon emissions.

Janus Daniels said...

Sadly, no. :( The real debate is deciding the best way(s) to reduce our deceit emissions. ;)
We already have technology for all the problems we face, much of it already proven and working. We don't have much in the way of technique to fight propaganda.

nicholas scott said...

"Virtually every climate scientist agrees" [no citation]

I believe this comes from Cook who trawled through over 4000 papers, to find that "97.1%" of papers explicitly endorsed a warming stance.

It is easily debunked

The real figure is less than 2%. This rubbish posted here without any citations is just more propaganda designed to ridicule skeptics and stifle debate by ad hominem, appeal to authority, bandwagon, and false equivalence.

Do better.

The Dake Page said...

The statement comes from a variety of studies that have attempted to quantify the scientific consensus. Frankly, it's a rather well known concept. The Cook paper you refer to confirms what others have found.

The consensus also can be derived from the fact that it is concurred to by every National Academy of Sciences in the world, every major scientific organization, every nation on Earth (except the recent "withdrawal" by Trump, even though we technically are still in the Paris Agreement), 100+ years of unequivocal science, more than 100,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers, millions of empirical data points, well-known basic physics, and reality.

"Warming of the climate system is unequivocal" and humans are the "dominant cause of that warming" (IPCC, AR5, 2013-2014).

Meanwhile, your opinion relies on the work of a pseudo-anonymous denier named Paul Homewood, who has zero climate research experience, is probably a fake name since he doesn't seem to have any actual credentials, and is supported by various climate denier organizations. You probably want to stop using conspiracy blogger websites as your sources of "information" while dismissing every scientific source for the last 100+ years.

Beaumont Vance said...

So, you are saying they believe everything that supports their belief without any evidence, and without weighing contradictory evidence. But but but ... Say it isn’t so!

Cook’s work (and Zimmerman’s) is about the least scientific one can find in any field; and yet their argument largely hinges on the conclusions of these biased propaganda pieces.

And they disparage those who look at multiple data sets and are concerned about the disagreements! How dare we question their certainty? How unscientific!

Beaumont Vance said...

The "97%" Myth

"Where did the 97% number come from—was there some worldwide survey of all scientists? No there was not.

The 97% number is based on two publications—the first by Doran and Zimmerman (2000) and a later one by Cook et al. (2013").

The Doran and Zimmerman paper was a University of Illinois master's thesis by Maggie Zimmerman and her thesis advisor, Peter Doran, who claimed that "97% of climate scientists agree" that global warming is caused by rising C02. They sent an Internet survey to 10,257 people working at universities and government agencies and received 3146 replies. Of these, only 5% identified themselves as "climate scientists." Only two questions were asked: (1) "When compared with pre-1800 levels, do you think that global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remain relatively
constant?" and (2) "Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperature?" Of the 3146 replies, Doran and Zimmerman arbitrarily selected 79 responses, of whom 77 replied "yes." They divided 77 by 79 to get 97%, which was then elevated to "97% of all scientists" by various proponents of C02. The proper number should have been 77 divided by 3146, which equals 2%.

The Cook et al. (2013) paper was based on counting abstracts of climate papers. The authors contended that "Among [4014] abstracts expressing a position of AGW [Anthropogenic Global Warming], 97% endorsed the consensus position humans are causing global warming." However, Legates et al. (2013*) point out that "the author's own analysis shows that only 0.5% of all 11,944 abstracts, and 1.6% of the 4014 abstracts expressing a position, endorsed anthropogenic warming as they had defined it."

Michael said...

I'm not a climate scientist. However, I am a forester with a solid background in a lot of the different disciplines that affect forest growth and management (and btw also affect or are affected by climate). I have a good understanding of the scientific method. I find the alarmism that some so-called climate scientists put out there about climate is more alarming than the climate is itself. That makes me a skeptic and proud of it.

So, to put it bluntly, yes, there is climate and it changes - quite often and with irregularity over long periods of time. And, no doubt, mankind is contributing some small amount to the current increase in temperatures but how much over the expected norm if we didn't emit CO2 is totally unknown. I dare any climate 'scientists' to falsify that notion.

We are an adaptive species of animal on this planet. Over the millenniums we have adapted fantastically to the various climates around the globe but not without an enormous loss of life. Currently, that loss of life has been reduced dramatically but further reductions are hampered by politics and the science being politicized. This is being hampered by two lies that are so enormous I can't believe rational people can't see it.

First, the proposed spending of trillions of dollars to reduce CO2 output to get a two-degree centigrade reduction in temperature by some future date is a flagrant lie that cannot be verified by anything other than flawed climate models. Second, predictions of catastrophic human loss of life in the future due to excessive heat (and on the other side of the coin some current predictions of excessive cold) are nothing more than Nostradomic bull-shit. As the saying goes, "There are only two things that are certain - death and taxes" and we can cure taxes but not if we are forced into oblivion with carbon taxes.

Michael said...

My perspective? Use those trillions of dollars to adapt. First, we should continue to study the climate but not by political influence. Climate scientists on both sides of the issue should have equal access to research dollars, equal access to unbiased peer review and equal access to the scientific publications. Second, we should continue to learn to adapt and provide the public with the resources to adapt that benefit everyone and not just a few (I'm talking about, for example, the many people who take advantage of federally subsidized flood insurance to rebuild their homes, time after time, along our coastlines and coastal lowlands).

If people insist on living along or near the coasts, we can show ways for them to survive hurricanes and ocean surges, but it is up to them to pay for the cost of doing so. Coastal cities can learn to build wind-resistant buildings or elevate their buildings or build structures such as they do in Holland to divert water away.

Why do we insist on using hundred-year-old technology to place our power lines, telephone lines and cables suspended in the air? And then complain when the power goes out due to high winds, tornadoes or heavy snow and ice? We have or can find the technology to bury those lines and do so within a twenty or thirty-year time frame. Creating hundreds of thousands of jobs! Imagine a country with no power poles destroying the scenery! Well, OK, the birds may not have a place to rest but we can just plant trees where the power lines used to be.

The west has a water problem - not enough water, causing drought conditions. So do many midwest and eastern cities, counties, and states - to much water, flooding their homes, businesses, and farmlands. Let's learn how to control those floods, divert the flood waters and, using our knowledge of pipelines, and pump a lot of that water out west into their reservoirs, lakes, and rivers (e.g., the Colorado and Rio Grande rivers). Consider the jobs created as we build such an infrastructure over the next twenty or thirty years. Consider the lives saved, the reduction of property damage, the likely boost to the economy.

Too grand a dream scheme? What would you rather have - giving those trillions of dollars to the UN to spend on a project with no known budget, giving those dollars to poorer third world countries, half of which will likely end up in the pockets of powerful leaders and the other half spent on wind and solar power, that is bought from already taxpayer-subsidized companies around the world (making them richer), that will do little to help the local people economically. Or, we can spend those trillions of dollars here in the US (on projects similar to those I propose above), to help our people, and then use that technology to help poorer nations to prosper with our propensity to share and help. That is what really makes this nation great.

The Dake Page said...
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The Dake Page said...

For the record,"Michael" dismisses the conclusions of every National Academy of Sciences in the world, every major scientific organization, every nation on Earth (except the recent "withdrawal" by Trump, even though we technically are still in the Paris Agreement), 100+ years of unequivocal science, more than 100,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers, millions of empirical data points, well-known basic physics, and reality.

But he offers his own viewpoint, much of which doens't even make logical sense, but most of which is either irrelevant or not particularly useful in dealing with the realities of the fact that humans are causing the climate to warm, primarily through carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and associated processes.

Yes, we need to take action, and proposing various actions is legitimate discussion material. I would suggest, however, that focusing on how to put toothpaste back in the tube to "fix" things is missing the point, especially when we already have the technology to avoid putting more carbon into the atmosphere and oceans.

The USA prior to the current administration had begun focusing on dealing with the ramifications of carbon emissions in a way that both boosted our present economic system and positioned us to be a leader in the economic boom of the new more sustainable energy and economic culture. This current administration has worked hard to negate those gains, put America in reverse economically and for the future, and turn over world leadership and economic advancement to the Chinese. It's hard to argue that such a policy by the current administration isn't both idiotic and damaging to the American economy.

Michael said...

Dake Page, for the record I don't dismiss the conclusions of every National Academy of Sciences in the world, every major scientific organization, every nation on Earth (except the recent "withdrawal" by Trump, even though we technically are still in the Paris Agreement -btw, I am not a supporter of the current administration but he was smart to get us out of the Paris agreement), 100+ years of unequivocal science, more than 100,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers, millions of empirical data points, well-known basic physics, and reality. You have heard of the tyranny of the crowd, right? I just don't believe all of them and know that there are many scientists who are just as qualified or more so, out there, that have been denied having their papers published, 'peer reviewed' by unqualified editors because they don't agree with the 'consensus' and won't toe the line of those who say the science 'is settled'. There is no such thing as 'unequivocal science'. Millions of 'adjusted' data points. I don't think you would know reality if it hit you in the face.

Therein lies the unanswered question. Why and what is consensus doing in science? Consensus is for politics only and yet the science has become politicized. When was the last time you believed a politician? I know algorithms far better than you (your info page gives zero input as to your background. You are just a blogger and nothing else as far as I can learn) and know that the models, I've lost count of how many are out there, are run by algorithms, from man-made inputs that are arbitrary for more than half of all the variables included in them. Even all those models can't agree within any degree of standard deviations.

I don't have the time nor inclination to educate you on the complexity of climate models. There are far more variables that affect climate than you can imagine. CO2 is just a very small part. There are the other greenhouse gases including water. There is the ocean and all of its dynamics (btw, it is not acidic or even close to it.) There is the wind and various levels of the atmosphere. There are all the volcanoes and earthquakes and gravity and subterranean lava flows. There is the earths orbit and tilt which varies on a regular basis and then, of course, you may have forgotten about the sun. And much more. Even the function of CO2 and how it affects temperature is not fully understood and still debated. What is not debatable is that it is a life-giving gas.

Therein lies another unanswered question. How can they say that the science is settled? It is NEVER settled and always open to criticism. By saying it is settled you and they are trying to shut up the skeptics who are questioning the alarmism work. Why won't they turn over their data for review from the skeptical scientists? What have or are they hiding? Why can't they get their papers published and reviewed by peers, not editors who can't tell their farts from a smoke bomb?

As for my solutions, they are real solutions to many of the problems that climate brings upon us and always has. I agree with using our technology to scrub our power plants not only of carbon but all the other pollutants which are more damaging to human health. Catastrophic predictions that are unrealistic bring unreal solutions. Reducing carbon to reduce temperatures in the future is analogous to shoving your shit back up your ass to save toilet water. I'd rather do the toothpaste analogy, which is a poor analogy by the way. Solar power has a place as long as it can work without subsidies. Wind power generation needs to be scrapped as it is deadly to birds, noisy and therefore unhealthy to neighbors and will never be a contender for sustained power.

It's late and I'm tired so good night.

The Dake Page said...

Your comment refutes your own opening sentence. You claim not to dismiss the science, then go ahead and do exactly that. Your comment inherently claims that there is a global, multigenerational conspiracy among all the scientists in the world. You also suggest a global, multigenerational conspiracy to keep a bunch of bloggers and apparently really shy scientists from publishing "science" when, in fact, these mysterious people you suggest are out there simply don't ever do any research. The rare papers they do try to publish usually don't stand up to even the slightest scrutiny. Overall, your illogical and factless suggestions are padded with the usual Gish Gallop of lobbyist-fed talking points. In short, you deny 100+ years of climate science.

I see you feel the need to educate me on climate models, assuming that since the bio associated with this page doesn't give my full credentials I must therefore be "just a blogger." But then your own profile doesn't even allow us to see who you are at all, you use a single name that keeps you anonymous, and you claim to be a forester while admitting you aren't a climate scientist, while rattling off the usual falsehood-laden lobbyist talking points. By your own standards, you're "just a blogger" that should be dismissed. As for me, my career as a scientist is both well-established and well-respected, and my knowledge of climate models and the science is sufficient enough that it isn't likely to be enhanced by your lecture based on the content and lobbyist-talking point nature of that lecture.

Be that as it may, indeed the climate system is complex, which is why we don't dismiss 100+ years of peer-reviewed science, the NASs of the world, the major scientific organizations of the world, etc., etc., etc. It's why we don't put much credence in "foresters" with no climate research expertise repeating demonstrably false statements suggesting that CO2 is only a minor player in the greenhouse effect. It's why we rely on scientists who are trained in climate science, have expertise working in the climate science field, and who have published more than 100,000 peer-reviewed scientific research papers in climate science related topics. It's why we acknowledge that all that data and all those experts agree that "warming of the climate system is unequivocal" and humans are the "dominant cause" of that warming. (IPCC, AR5, 2013-2014).

The Dake Page said...
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The Dake Page said...

As for your solutions, again you base your opinions on falsehoods and illogic. Solar power is okay as long as "it can work without subsidies" but oil and coal receive billions of dollars in subsidies every year and have been getting those subsidies for decades if not over a century. Wind isn't acceptable to you because some birds die, but you seem not to care that birds die from fossil fuel operations and use in far greater numbers (and cats kill orders of magnitude more birds than does wind). You again dismiss carbon as somehow insignificant while claiming efforts could be better put into reducing other pollutants, yet also dismiss all the gains in reducing other pollutants (air is no longer visibly dense and rivers no longer catch fire) yet likely also support the demise of the very programs that have helped make those gains. You seem enamored of carbon sequestration as a savior despite the ongoing attempts to develop such a technology that is sustainable and economically feasible, something that isn't likely to be achieved based on current trends. Again, spending billions to recapture carbon and bury it (in the hopes it doesn't leak out) instead of not emitting the carbon in the first place seems about as logical as leaving tap open in the overflowing bathtub while you bail out the flood with a thimble. If you can make it work, wonderful. Go ahead and spend corporate funds to do so. It is odd, however, that you expect we subsidize that and old carbon emitting technologies while removing smaller subsidies for renewable resources. It's also odd you insist on continuing outdated technologies while much of the world is moving into the future technologies. Because of actions in the current administration to reverse gains made in the last administration, the USA has now ceded control of the future US and world economies to the Chinese. Given the current administration's indebtedness to the Russians, it would be ironic if the the old Soviet regime and the communist Chinese became world leaders in part because we refused to be.

To recap: Your comment is filled with lobbyist-fed false talking points refutes your opening claim that you don't dismiss 100+ years of unequivocal science, etc.

The Dake Page said...

No,"Beaumont Vance," you cited a pseudo-anonymous conspiracy blogger using a fake name and with no apparent relevant expertise who offered various falsehoods and illogic that have already been demonstrated dozens of times.

Meanwhile, you dismiss every National Academy of Sciences in the world, every major scientific organization, every nation on Earth (except the recent "withdrawal" by Trump, even though we technically are still in the Paris Agreement), 100+ years of unequivocal science, more than 100,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers, millions of empirical data points, well-known basic physics, and reality.

Oh, and then you lied.

Please read the post before commenting. Please also refrain from offering known falsehoods and conspiracy theories.

Sven Ake Bjorke said...

The sail ship era did not end because of a lack of wind, but because better alternatives were found. The fossil fuel era will end when better alternatives are available. It is happening now.

Oil and coal-billionaires, petro-tyrants and extreme Islamists live high on fossil fuels. These men are willing to do anything; start wars and destroy the future of their own grandchildren, to delay the inevitable shift from the fossil fuel paradigm to the sustainable development paradigm. President Putin, the Koch bros, Exxon Mobil, their ally the Saudi king and other extreme petro tyrants in OPEC all pay thousands of net trolls to sow doubt, confusion and paralysis.

The Dake Page said...

I agree that the fossil fuel era is already being replaced with best, more sustainable, alternatives. The shift would be faster if it wasn't for the political power of the fossil fuel lobbyists that fund deniers of man-made climate change.

It's an unfortunate truth that wars are often/usually caused by exploitation of resources, whether that be Kings/petrotyrants keeping the masses economically dependent or outsiders encroaching on the resources of a foreign country. These days the billionaires are the exploiters and inevitably this leads to the masses (or insiders in the case of external exploiters) rising up in a political and economic upheaval.

It's also true that it is these very rich - individuals like the Kochs and corporations like ExxonMobil - who are funding the denial machine. They know they are being dishonest, but their wealth both insulates them and requires them to protect that wealth by paying Congressmen, lobbyists, and front groups to mislead the public. They know once the public catches on, as they did for tobacco, that the pressure for retribution will be out of their control. So they "manufacture doubt" to protect their billions.