Monday, March 11, 2013

Fooling the Bottom 8%? Oh, It's Just Another Nutter

It is interesting to see the lengths Denial Merchants will go to try to fool people.  Take Anthony Watts for example.  He used to have a battle between what he knows to be the case with climate change and what he 'wishes' to be the case, and most of the time let what he 'wished' determine what he presented and how he presented it.

Lately Watts seems to have swung into full-on Disinformation Mode.

This coincides with the rise in extreme weather events and the continued stream of new information coming from climate scientists, providing ever more convincing evidence that we are on a path to dangerous global warming.

Spot the Differences

Today Watts puts up a deliberately distorted drawing by arch-denier Christopher Booker to try to fool his readers into thinking that global warming is not happening.  (This is contrary to what Watts himself thinks, which makes it doubly heinous.)

What Watts neglected to point out was that 13 of the hottest 15 years on record occurred since 1997, and all of the 15 hottest years on record were in the period 1995 to 2012 (based on these data from NASA).

Looking at the scale of Booker's drawing, imagine if the global average temperature suddenly dropped 3 degrees to less than 12 degrees Celsius (rapid glaciation), or 6 degrees Celsius (major glaciation), or zero degrees Celsius (without other forcing, this could plummet further into a snowball earth as the ice and snow radiated most incident sunlight back to space).

Booker and Anthony could have picked any start date from the beginning of the Holocene and the above drawing would have looked almost exactly the same.

Anthony contrasts the above with a chart from Climate Progress, on which I've put a red rectangle:

Let's look at the two drawings.  The astute reader will notice:

  • They are of vastly different periods of time.  The top one spans a mere fifteen years, the bottom one spans more than 11,000 years.
  • They are using different temperature scales.  The top one is in degrees Celsius, the bottom one is in degrees Fahrenheit.
  • They are using a different baseline.  The top one has a baseline of zero degrees Celsius.  The bottom drawing is based on an anomaly from the 1961-1990 mean.

If one converted the temperature scale of the bottom one to degrees Celsius, adjusted the baselines to match and superimposed what is in the red rectangle onto the top drawing, it would be almost indistinguishable from what is there already.  In other words, the current global temperature is now about the same as the maximum during the entire Holocene (the  area covered by the red rectangle).

When it comes to statistics I'm not a match for Tamino. (Who is?).  However like anyone, I can prepare a rough comparison.  Here is the Marcott et al Holocene reconstruction on a similar scale to the Booker drawing, with the zero line being the 1961-1990 mean.  (Source data here.) This period spans more than 11,000 years and includes the Holocene Optimum as well as the Little Ice Age.

(If after looking at this, you are not concerned by the virtually certain prospect of a very rapid rise in the global surface temperature of two degrees Celsius or more, spiking way above the top of the chart, then you will probably never be concerned about it and we can consider you part of the bottom 8% "Dismissive" and ignore you from here on in.)

Disinformation Merchant

Watts goes to great lengths to distort the facts.  If anyone ever doubted it, this demonstrates that Anthony Watts is not merely an on-seller of the Merchants of Doubt, he is a full-blown disinformation merchant.

Target Audience of the Disinformation Merchants

The target audience of the disinformation merchants is not the bottom 8% of the population (The Dismissives - see next section below).  They are already in the 'complete nut-jobs' category and don't need any help to stay there.  It is the 'Doubtful' and maybe the 'Disengaged' (although the 'Disengaged' have other more immediate problems on their mind, like managing despite their dire poverty and low education).  The disinformation merchants also hope to snag a few of the 'Cautious'.

Here is a comment from one of the 8% cranks (The Dismissives):

Pamela is referring to the ClimateProgress chart.  She accepts the distortion from Booker and Watts, but mocks a chart derived from peer-reviewed literature (ie Marcott et al).

A look at opinions prevailing in the USA

According to recent research from the Yale Project on Climate Communication, only 8% of people from the USA dismiss climate science out of hand (The Dismissives).  Here is a breakdown of the 'Six Americas' (click image for larger version):

The Yale Group "Six Americas" report collates the six groups as follows:
the Alarmed, Concerned and Cautious – currently comprise 70 percent of the American public. Although they range in certainty about the reality and dangers of climate change, they are similarly inclined to believe it is a real threat that should be addressed. Thus, some level of support for action is the predominant view among the majority of Americans.
The Doubtful (13%) – the fourth largest group – are uncertain whether global warming is occurring or not, but believe that if it is happening, it is attributable to natural causes, not human activities. They tend to be politically conservative and to hold traditional religious views.
The Disengaged (9%) have given the issue of global warming little to no thought. They have no strongly held beliefs about global warming, know little about it, and do not view it as having any personal relevance. They tend to have the lowest education and income levels of the six groups.
The smallest audience segment is the Dismissive (8%), who are very certain that global warming is not occurring. Many regard the issue as a hoax and are strongly opposed to action to reduce the threat. About one in nine have contacted an elected representative to argue against action on global warming.

Here is the breakdown as above:

Conspiracy Theorists: The Dismissive comprise only 8% of Americans.  Given that "many regard the issue as a hoax", this group has a tendency to believe whacky conspiracy theories as described by Lewandowsky et al in the paper "NASA faked the moon landing therefore (climate) science is a hoax - An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science."
Right Wing Authoritarians: Together with The Doubtful, this small group of Dismissives exhibit at least some characteristics in common with Bob Altemeyer's Right Wing Authoritarians.

  1. Illogical thinking
  2. Highly compartmentalised minds
  3. Double standards
  4. Hypocrisy
  5. Blindness to themselves
  6. A profound ethnocentrism
  7. Dogmatism: The Authoritarians last ditch defense.
Dismissives (8%) are "sure" global warming is not happening despite all the evidence that it is happening.  Doubtfuls (13%) think it might be happening but think "it's natural", again despite all the evidence to the contrary.  This demonstrates illogical thinking as well as dogmatism (no amount of evidence will persuade them otherwise).

The Dismissives (8%) are the least informed of the lot and prone to conspiracy ideation (global warming is a hoax).  Only 10% of this 8% acknowledge the fact that "most scientists think global warming is happening".  In fact 17% of the 8% even say they think "most scientists think global warming is not happening".   This group has "highly compartmentalised minds" and "profound ethnocentrism" - only mixing with those who share their distorted view of the world.

Watts is cementing his position as "Just Another Nutter"!

Will Watts' shift to pandering to the bottom 8% (The Dismissives) alienate him further from the mainstream? I believe it will as it should.


  1. God, Booker is a sad case,showing clear signs of dementia. Cites Lawrence Solomon as a "respected environmental journalist"...they're in denial about absolutely everything. Fancy Watts having to resort to reproducing his dribblings.

    You've given them a far more lavish send-off than any of them deserve,Sou.

    1. Yes, Nick. I've just scanned the comments and they confirm the conclusion that it's the bottom-dwelling 8% that Watts feeds off. Given the calibre of comments, I doubt Tony will sway too many even from the "Doubtful" category, let alone the "Cautious".

      Looks as if Tony has now given up on 'converting' anyone who has any critical thinking ability and a disposition to check facts. He's now following the Monckton formula and aligning himself with the rabid conspiracy nutters.

      (See the Shollenberger thread for an example - they are all tied up in knots arguing over which conspiracy theory they adhere to. Completely bonkers!).

  2. As to the Yale Project ,It is amusing to see a quango of a dozen environmental organizations bent on social change :

    "A team of psychologists, geographers, political scientists, statisticians, pollsters, and communication scientists, we investigate how and why citizens in the US and around the world are, or are not responding to climate change, identify key audiences requiring tailored communications, and develop strategies to engage these audiences in climate change solutions."

    playing pin the tail on the donkey with the word "disinterested" instead of inquiring into how their own efforts at advertising self-referentially frame the sociology of science of the organizations themselves-

    As with the relifious right trying- to reframe science as religion ,this is less science than focus group gamemanship . No one is compelled to prdicate scientific belief on other peoples poltics.


Instead of commenting as "Anonymous", please comment using "Name/URL" and your name, initials or pseudonym or whatever. You can leave the "URL" box blank. This isn't mandatory. You can also sign in using your Google ID, Wordpress ID etc as indicated. NOTE: Some Wordpress users are having trouble signing in. If that's you, try signing in using Name/URL. Details here.

Click here to read the HotWhopper comment policy.