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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

More dumb disinformer tactics at WUWT: From China to the world

Sou | 2:41 PM Go to the first of 6 comments. Add a comment

Climate disinformers like Anthony Watts (who runs a pseudo-science blog, wattsupwiththat (WUWT)), use various tactics to keep climate science deniers happy. Today a single sentence combines several propaganda tactics used by climate disinformers.

Anthony Watts (archived here) has a lead-in to a press release about two papers about temperature reconstructions in the South China Sea. He wrote:

While government science and media begin the ramp-up to claim 2014 as the “hottest year ever” China’s Sea’s biggest bivalve shows that the Middle Ages were warmer than today, when Carbon Dioxide was lower.

Ironically (because of deniers' distaste of communism and 'guvmint'), but not unusually, he went to the People's Republic of China for the press release he copied and pasted.

1. Anthony Watts builds a strawman

First look at the sentence for an example of the over-used tactic of the strawman. Anthony implies something that no-one is saying in order to tear down an argument that no-one is making. The strawman is that he shifts the fact that 2014 is likely the hottest year in the instrumental record to it being the hottest year in the entire history of the world, which is quite silly.

No scientist would ever try to claim that last year was the hottest year ever. Earth has been hotter in the past than it is today. There have been times in Earth's history when the planet was ice free. This was when the land surface was very different to what it is today, when there was a much larger amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere which made the planet much hotter, despite there being a fainter sun.

2. The appeal to RWA/denier paranoia

Another thing Anthony does in that sentence is appeal to the right wing authoritarianism in the denier rabble that makes up his audience. Right wing authoritarian followers (RWA) have a pathological distrust of experts and government. They are not all stupid (ie of low IQ), but they do seem to have a cognitive deficit, or quirk of the brain. They certainly have a tendency to wacky conspiracy theories. On certain subjects they will only trust, as "authorities", scoundrels who appeal to their paranoia. For example, people who say that all the world is wrong except the know-nothing deniers. In this case, by leading in with "government science and the media", Anthony Watts is appealing to the paranoia in the RWA.

2 (a). The scientists work for the government

More irony, despite Anthony's appeal to deniers' paranoia about government, all but one of the six scientists who authored the papers, work for government-owned universities. Willie Soon's affiliation was listed as the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, which is not government, but is closely affiliated with it.

3. Wrongly extrapolating from one region to the entire world

There is yet another logical fallacy in that sentence. Anthony is implying that the South China Sea represents the entire world. It doesn't. Therefore any evidence that the South China sea surface was warmer in the past than it is today, says nothing about the sea surface of all the oceans elsewhere.

4. The Medieval Warm Anomaly and CO2

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that not all changes in temperature are precipitated by CO2 changes.  Deniers really, really want the global surface temperature to have shown a strong anomaly in medieval times so they can point and say "look ma, no CO2". Two things:

  • It is most unlikely that the global average surface temperature in medieval times was as high as it is today. There were parts of the world that were warmer (including some parts where civilisation flourished and wrote about it), and parts that were cooler, and different parts warmed and cooled at different times - not all at the same time. 
  • CO2 is not the only thing that can precipitate a change in global average surface temperatures. Temperature changes at the surface can be caused by other things, such as volcanic activity, changes in solar radiation, changes in ocean currents, changes in the way the land is spread over the surface (tectonic changes), changes in plants - and these changes may result in a feedback effect by changing CO2.

See this HotWhopper article for more on the medieval climate anomaly - it has some links to further reading. [Added a short while later - by Sou.]

Demonstrating "Denier fail" - feeding fibs

The above is a good example of why it is not necessary to counter every sentence of what is written at WUWT. Nor would you want me to. Look at how many words it took to dissect that single opening sentence.

One doesn't need to dissect every dumb word at WUWT to see that it is not a climate science blog. It's a blog that is there to feed fibs to people who don't want to learn about science. What Anthony's readers go to WUWT for, is words on a page that will reflect what they want to believe - that:

  • climate change isn't happening and 
  • if it is it's not because of human activity and 
  • if it is because of human activity, then there is nothing they can do about it.

More strawmen by Willie Soon and Yan Hong

The press release itself was littered with strawmen. This isn't surprising because it was authored by Willie Soon - a professional science disinformer. He and his colleague Yan Hong wrote, for example:
Changing patterns of winter and summer temperature variation were also detected, disproving the notion that until the warming of the 20th century there had been little change in global temperatures for at least 1000 years, and confirming that – at least in the South China Sea – there is nothing exceptional about today’s temperatures.

First of all, the papers they are writing give no indication of global temperatures of the past 1,000 years. They are about sea surface temperatures of the South China Sea. Notice how they jump from "global" to South China Sea with apparent ease, with barely a hint that the two papers were only about the South China Sea and were not a global study.

Secondly, no-one has suggested that there has been little change in global temperatures for at least 1,000 years. In the past several decades alone, the average global surface temperature has risen by more than 0.8°C, which is a huge rise for such a short period, by any standard.

Surface temperature in China in the Medieval Period

Oh and if you are curious about surface temperatures on land in China in past centuries, here's a link to a paper in PAGES news, from 2011. Here's a figure from that paper showing there was most likely a peak in surface temperatures during the period of the medieval climate anomaly in some parts of China:

Figure 1: Locations of proxy temperature series and the five defined climate regions (inset), and examples of the longest temperature series from four climate zones: a) Ring-width index developed for Qilian juniper in middle Qilian Mountains (Northwest) (Liu et al., 2007); b) Reconstructed mean temperature from September to April for the Wulan area (Tibet) (Zhu et al., 2008); c) Tibetan Plateau δ18O composite (Tibet) (Thompson et al., 2006b); d) Winter half-year (Oct-Apr) temperature anomaly (Central East) (Ge et al., 2003); e) Shihua temperatures from July to August (Northeast) (Tan et al., 2003); f) Annual mean temperature variations (Central East) (Chu, 1973). The locations of the archives a, b and e are depicted in the inset. Not shown are c, d and f which are regional composites or represent regional temperature conditions. Other natural archives decribed in the text but not shown in the main panel are: 1. Guliya ice core; 2. Sugan lake sediments; 3. Dunde ice core; 4. Qinghai lake sediments; 5. Puruogangri ice core; 6. Dasupu ice core; 7. Daihai lake sediments; 8. Jinchuan peat sediments.

That paper discusses uncertainties, but does say that:
On multidecadal to centennial timescales, several reconstructions show warming peaks that occurred during the period AD 900-1300, whereas their low confidence levels do not allow to assess whether the MCA has been warmer than the late 20th century.

Way back in the IPCC's third assessment report (2001), it was reported that eastern China was anomalously warm during medieval times. From section 2.3.3:
Regional evidence for medieval warmth elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere is so variable that eastern, yet not western, China appears to have been warm by 20th century standards from the 9th to 13th centuries. The 12th and 14th centuries appear to have been mainly cold in China (Wang et al., 1998a,b; Wang and Gong, 2000). The restricted evidence from the Southern Hemisphere, e.g., the Tasmanian tree-ring temperature reconstruction of Cook et al. (1999), shows no evidence for a distinct Medieval Warm Period.

So for Anthony Watts to present these two papers as if they conflict with other science shows either or both:
  • he isn't familiar with climate science
  • he is a climate disinformer.

The South China Sea papers

I haven't yet examined the papers themselves in detail. (This article was mainly to point out the dumb denier tactics used for propaganda purposes by climate disinformers.)

You can read the press release, for what little it's worth, and the papers here and here (paywalled). The language in one of the abstracts suggest that the authors have a tendency to climate science denialism. Which just goes to show that deniers are wrong when they claim that climate science deniers are prevented from getting published.

Ge, Quansheng, and Wenxiang Wu. "Climate during the Medieval Climate Anomaly in China." PAGES news 19 (2011): 24-26. (pdf here)

Yan, Hong, Willie Soon, and Yuhong Wang. "A composite sea surface temperature record of the northern South China Sea for the past 2,500 years: A unique look into seasonality and seasonal climate changes during warm and cold periods." Earth-Science Reviews (2014).  doi:10.1016/j.earscirev.2014.12.003

Yan, Hong, Liguang Sun, Da Shao, Yuhong Wang, and Gangjian Wei. "Higher sea surface temperature in the northern South China Sea during the natural warm periods of late Holocene than recent decades." Chinese Science Bulletin: 1-8. doi: 10.1007/s11434-014-0317-3


  1. I wonder what will happen when the Chinese Academy of Sciences realizes that its good name has been taken advantage of by Soon & co ...

  2. Ironically, a warmer medieval period can be used for arguing for a higher climate sensitivity. On the other hand, if one argues for that it indicates a strong natural variability, then the chance that this has been hiding part of the AGW is about as large as the chance that it can explain part of the recent warming.

  3. Willie Soon's blatant shilling for industry is well known. How could the Chinese Academy of Sciences have allowed this?

    Perhaps someone should drop them a line.

    1. I wonder if the published dates of 'contrarian' papers identified in Cook et al were plotted, whether they would tend to cluster about the dates of climate talks.

  4. Right it seems to be that conspiracy related thinking is not necessarily related to intelligence. Although I believe it's probably the case that those at the tail end of the intelligence distribution are less prone to such thinking

    1. There is a much stronger correlation with paranoia than intelligent... The "smart ones" associated with AGW denial tend to be the paranoid types governed by fear and/or ideology...

      Look at Lubos Motl for example...


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