Wednesday, March 13, 2013

On Denier Doublethink

Today, while I should really have been doing more productive stuff, I let myself get distracted by some arch-deniers.  You know the kind.  Supremely confident of what they say while regurgitating contradictory and illogical statements from various pseudo-science blogs.  

(I did say that one of the topics I'll explore here is the conservative brain.  If that doesn't interest you, read no further.)

One place on earth is just the same as any other?

One thing stood out above all else.  Deniers' capacity to hold two or more opposing notions at the same time.

How can a rational person believe that if I took the temperature in Melbourne for one year, 10 years, 100 years or 10,000 years - it would be identical to the average surface temperature of the entire world over those same periods.  That's right.  That's an example of the sort of thinking that I've come across with not one but two people on different websites today.

(As an aside but not irrelevant, last night while I was lying awake sweltering through a record-breaking hot autumn evening and occasionally engaging in light-hearted nonsense on the internet with other insomniacs, David popped on to Tim Lambert's site at Deltoid and snickered:

Hello, my little Deltoids, how are you enjoying all this global warming? Sweating, are you, underneath all those thermals and sweaters and overcoats and fur hats?
I notice Sou@3 has informed us of an increase in CO2 last year so no wonder it’s so, er, well, freezing, actually! (To paraphrase: ‘Something wrong with our bloody forecasts today!’)

David was experiencing a cold spell in the UK (I think) and assumed we, some of whom were sweating from the hottest March night ever during the longest heat wave in any month on record, were just as cold!)

What follows is an example, but close to what I experienced today and pretty well covers what you'd read on pseudo-science websites.  I'll lay it out for you to save you the headache of going there yourself.  (Since you've landed here you probably know the sort of blogs I'm talking about.)

Pick a single site, somewhere like Central Greenland, insist on the temperature series being in degrees Celsius (or maybe even degrees Kelvin) and then say it equates to the average surface temperature series of the entire world for the same time period (usually several thousand years).

Now I'm not talking about the oxygen isotope and other analysis using ice cores to derive global average temperature anomalies.  I'm referring to the likes of Anthony Watts and Don Easterbrook's using the GISP2 data series of local temperatures on an ice sheet in Central Greenland to try to dismiss a global temperature reconstruction.

Really and truly people, over that entire period recorded by GISP2, the average global surface temperature was considerably higher than minus 50 to minus 30 degrees Celsius.  And during the Holocene the average global surface temperature was higher than minus 30 degrees Celsius.

I will swear to that.

Compartmentalised brain

Those same people will be the first to tell you that people farmed in southern Greenland a thousand years ago - and were reasonably successful or at least survived there for a couple of centuries or more.  It's compartmentalised thinking.  Contradictory and completely illogical.  Icelandic migrants could hardly be expected to grow anything in south western Greenland if the average global temperature was of the order of minus 30 degrees Celsius.

Take a look at it. (Click the chart to enlarge.)

One site is enough

In today's two discussions, people were convinced that a single proxy (no, they were not talking about global reconstructions from ice core analyses), whether it was planktonic foraminifera, pollen, other microfossils or even tree rings from a single site is a reliable proxy for global temperature.

Seventy three sites are not enough, 1209 data sets are 'cherry picking'

Now at the same time, those exact same people proclaim that Marcott, Mann and others who have used multiple proxies from locations around the world to give us a picture of global temperature trends, aren't using enough proxies.

Everywhere was warming at the same time even when it wasn't

These are the sort of people who will send you to this rather neat-looking website and say - 'look, the medieval warm period was hotter than now and global'.  You'll take a moment to ask yourself what the medieval period has to do with CO2 emissions of the past 150 years and the association rapid global warming.  Then, like a true skeptic you'll go to the website, click on a few links and discover that some places were warming sometimes, others were warm at other quite different times, and others cooled or didn't warm at all during the medieval period.  If you are really interested you'll check the reliability of the charts and what's there vs what might have been omitted.  And you'll also read up on global reconstructions.  (I can't vouch for the site, but it is kind of neat.  Even though it doesn't have the evidence supporting a piping hot world-wide medieval warm period that it purports to do.)

Remember, the people who sent you there are fake sceptics.  Either they didn't check for themselves or they decided that a warm spell between 900 and 950 CE was the same as a slightly warm spell between 1200 and 1300 and ignore the places where it didn't get warm and places that got cooler.  And they will swear it's not as hot now as it was 1000 years ago.  (In doublethink, temperature records (?) kept 1000 years ago are more reliable than the current worldwide modern thermometers and satellites!  And in doublethink scientists who collected samples and prepared single site proxy reconstructions are correct, but those same scientists when they interpret their results or compile them into a global reconstruction are incorrect!)

Another aside.  How many times have you heard deniers moan that Professor Mann got rid of the MWP.  Even while staring at one of his reconstructions, particularly his NH reconstructions, where one reconstruction in particular (EIV) shows a definite rise around the medieval period.  (Not admitting what is staring you in the face is not doublethink, that's dogmatism.  "You won't persuade me otherwise no matter what you put in front of me!") (Click to enlarge.)

Figure 3. Composite NH temperature reconstructions & published NH reconstructions from Mann ME et al (2008) Proxy-based reconstructions of hemispheric and global surface temperature variations over the past two millennia Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 105, No. 36, pp. 13252-13257, September 9, 2008. doi:10.1073/pnas.0805721105

Compartmentalised, contradictory and illogical thinking

Think about it.  How can an otherwise functioning individual hold opposing notions in their head at the same time and not recognise the contradiction? How can they think the entire world, in 1855, had an average surface temperature of minus 30 degrees?  How can they at the same time say "one proxy set is enough" and "seventy three proxy sets are not enough".

That's what I find interesting about Bob Altemeyer's work.  His years of research described in his popular book, The Authoritarians, confirms that some people are so afflicted.  (Don't worry, I'll move onto another text soon enough!)

The only reason one might engage with such muddle-headed people (they are beyond all reason on the subject at hand at least) is for the benefit of the casual lurker who stumbles on the discussion by accident.

Feel free to post other examples.  It might be illuminating in a strange way...


  1. Thanks for your comments on my blog. I enjoyed reading them and have enjoyed reading your blog. You're welcome back anytime!

  2. Thank you Rachel. Same here :)

  3. Sou

    See Diaz et al. (2012) Spatial and temporal characteristics of climate in Medival times revisited for a comprehensive, readable review of the *spatially and temporally heterogeneous* nature of the misnomered 'MWP' ;-) (Note that Mann and Hughes are co-authors).

    As you say, getting the contrarians to stop jabbering and actually *read* and *think for themselves* is like getting cats to play the trombone.

    I'm sure you are correct: it's a mindset thing with lots of them. Something we can casually define as the opposite of scepticism.

    1. Excellent synopsis of the literature and current thinking, and beautifully written as well. An easy and informative read.

      Thanks, BBD.


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