Sunday, December 29, 2013

Classic denierism seen at WUWT...some identifying characteristics

Sou | 11:21 PM Go to the first of 8 comments. Add a comment

I came across this comment by chris y at WUWT when writing about Anthony's latest attempt to rejuvenate the old "it's the sun" denier meme (archived here).  This article is to illustrate several identifying characteristics of science deniers:
  1. Unclear thinking, an inability to appreciate context and limited comprehension.  What I'm referring to is how chris y apparently views as conflicting, statements that are in fact complementary.  There is probably a word to describe this.  Maybe a reader can help me out.
  2. An "all or nothing" approach. Seeing everything in black and white. There is probably a word for this that escapes me, too. It's not "dogmatic", but that's close. (Illustrated by the "science is unsettled" comment of chris y below.)
  3. A reluctance to link to sources.
  4. Cherry-picking.

Unclear thinking and difficulty with comprehension

One thing that some deniers are afflicted with is that they cannot put the different findings of science in any context. Could this be a symptom of confirmation bias - or an associated condition? It doesn't take a powerful intellect to understand the following - see my responses to different points raised by chris y who made a comment at WUWT (archived here):
December 28, 2013 at 4:47 pm
Gavin says- “We’ve looked at the sun; it’s not the sun. We’ve looked at volcanoes; it’s not volcanoes. We’ve looked at the orbit; it’s not the orbit.”
Sou: Gavin was referring to the cause of the rise in temperature in recent decades.

chris y continues:
Interesting claims, in light of what the climate experts have been saying of late-
Hansen blames aerosols from nonexistent volcanic eruptions to explain the pause in temperature rise over the recent 15 years.
Sou: Aerosols act as a negative forcing, mainly. They can offset the rise in temperature caused by the increase in greenhouse gases.  I've no idea from where chris y got the notion that Dr Hansen "blamed aerosols from nonexistent volcanic eruptions".  He cites no reference and I can't imagine that he could.  Dr Hansen referred to aerosols (among other things) in this recent paper, co-authored with Pushker Kharecha and Makiko Sato. And in this more recent paper by Hansen et al, there is reference to "Human-made tropospheric aerosols, which arise largely from fossil fuel use." There is no conflict with what Gavin Schmidt is quoted as saying.

chris y then quotes Kevin Trenberth, which comes from an article published at the Royal Meteorological Society:
Another prominent source of natural variability in the Earth’s energy imbalance is changes in the sun itself, seen most clearly as the sunspot cycle.
Kevin Trenberth, May 22, 2013
Sou: There is no conflict with what Gavin Schmidt said.  Variations in solar radiation are natural ie not caused by humans. All else being equal such changes will have an impact on Earth's climate.  However, changes in solar radiation are not sufficient to cause the recent rise in temperature.  In the article, this is only one of several sources of natural variability discussed by Kevin Trenberth.  The article was mainly discussing global warming and the various ways that is manifested on Earth.

Next chris y quotes Ray Pierrehumbert:
‘Nonetheless, he agrees that earlier warming may have been deceiving.
“I think it’s true that some rather sloppy discussion of the rapid warming from the 20th century has given people unrealistic expectations about the future course of warming.”
Ray Pierrehumbert, May, 2013
Sou: The above is from an article by David Appell at the Yale Forum.  What chris y left out was more context from Ray Pierrehumbert, who goes on to say: “Why would anyone seriously question greenhouse gases?” he asks. “They absolutely have a radiative effect, and no serious scientist thinks climate sensitivity could be much lower than 2 degrees Celsius based on the balance of the evidence.

Then chris y quotes Ben Santer:
…“It’s certainly the case that we got some of the forcings wrong,” [Ben Santer] says of the factors that specify the influence of any particular component of the atmosphere. “It’s likely we underestimated the true volcanic aerosol forcing, and may have underestimated the cooling effect of stratospheric ozone depletion.”
May 2013
Sou: this is from the same Appell article and doesn't conflict with what Gavin Schmidt said.  Here is the lead-in to the Santer quote:
“Our expectation has never been that each year would be inexorably warmer than the previous year,” says Ben Santer, a climate modeler at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
It’s simply scientifically incorrect, he says, to attribute the divergence of climate model projections and observations to an overestimation of the climate sensitivity. Santer says he sees several explanations of why climate model projections of surface warming may be differing from actual observations in the past decade or so.

Finally chris y comes up with what he possibly regards as a mind-blowing revelation, but which in reality is a mind-numbing denierism:
The dead certain settled science is unsettling.
Sou: Many climate science deniers are like chris y in this regard.  It's so endemic that it's arguably one of the defining characteristics of a science denier.  They are unable or unwilling to distinguish between science that is settled (eg the greenhouse effect) and science that is pretty well settled within certain parameters (eg climate sensitivity) and science where there is still much to learn (eg just how the ocean-cryosphere-atmosphere-biosphere will respond over time to rapid greenhouse warming).

No link to sources and cherry-picking quotes

Let me add there is another common characteristic of science deniers - they are much less likely to provide any link to sources than a scientist would. In fact it's my experience that they are less likely to provide a link to source material than anyone else would - although I have no citation to back that up :)  Anyway, even though chris y failed to cite a single source, it was fairly easy to find the origin of his quotes.

You can understand why deniers are not inclined to link to sources, because seeing the quotes in context shows up another identifying characteristic of deniers - that  of cherry-picking.


  1. Especially in this case, I am not sure whether passive traits such as "inability to appreciate context", "limited comprehension" or "dogmatic" can explain this. It sounds more like an active effort to misinform his friends or to annoy the greenies.

    Adding links also does not help that much, as Tim Ball just showed in your "How Tom Wigley Rules the World" post. Apparently the you can count on "sceptics" not clicking on the links.

  2. I agree with Victor; I don't believe there's a major issue of a lack of comprehension but rather that it is yet another exercise of cherry-picking: instead of going with a broader meaning of a particular quote, for the sake of the denier's argument they'll cherry-pick one which suits them best.

    They'll also happily post entire pages of things supposedly said by 'warmists' (C3Headlines has an entire quote section), more often than not without any reference link whatsoever (and the few instances that they do provide a link it often just refers to another denier site which in turn provides no link).

    An often used (and wrong) quote is claimed to come from the Club of Rome and reads: "In searching for a new enemy to unite us, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like would fit the bill....All these dangers are caused by human intervention....and thus the “real enemy, then, is humanity itself....believe humanity requires a common motivation, namely a common adversary in order to realize world government. It does not matter if this common enemy is “a real one or….one invented for the purpose."

    In the above quote (courtesy of C3Headlines which has an entire page full of non-referenced, unverified quotes by 'warmists'), at least the dots have been kept in the correct place so any real skeptic will instantly know that these are cherry-picks. Unfortunately and presumably as a result of hundreds of copy/pastes of the quote in the Denialosphere, many places publish the quote as a single paragraph.

    When I researched that quote, as any real skeptic would, it rapidly became apparent that it is severely quote-mined, taken from different sections in the original book (titled "The First Global Revolution") and are not even in the correct order. An important part of the alleged quote ("namely a common adversary in order to realize world government") had been entirely made up.

    I've pointed out this false quote on many occasions, on blogs where it got posted or to whomever I was discussing with. The result was always the same: zero, nothing. There was no interest whatsoever on behalf of the denier to post accurate information.

    Ergo, their 'desire for it to be true' was greater than their desire to be skeptic and show some intellectual integrity and honesty. And it is this lack which makes them deniers and not skeptics.

    Original Club of Rome Book (pages 75, 70 ) http://ia700408.us.archive.org/31/items/TheFirstGlobalRevolution/TheFirstGlobalRevolution_text.pdf

    1. Also note: "pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like".

      Does this mean that people who are concerned about water shortages and famine are also part of a nefarious scheme to enslave the world?

    2. Of course it doesn't make sense.

      I am yet to encounter a denier who makes sense, come to think of it.

      The fake "Club of Rome" quote is all over the internet, particularly on sites with an inclination to profess all kinds of wild conspiracies.

      Quote-mining and not providing a link for their nonsense is all perfectly acceptable in the alternative universe of the denier. Not only is such behavior not criticized by their peers, it is actually highly encouraged.

  3. The "all or nothing" arguments are examples of False Dichotomy fallacies, as when deniers claim that because there are some uncertainties on (various climate topics and numbers) that we don't know anything at all.


    1. Yes, that's exactly what I was looking for. Thanks, KR.

  4. Eli may call your #1 parsomatic:


    I call it parsomatics:


    I find it sexier with an "s", as it rings with mathematics.


    1. Who better to provide the missing word. And I enjoyed the reminders of some classics. Thanks, willard :)


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