Tuesday, September 20, 2016

What motivates Walter Donway to reject climate science?

Sou | 2:26 PM Go to the first of 26 comments. Add a comment
There's a rather long essay written by a chap called Walter Donway. It's on what looks to be a (US style) libertarian website. Walter starts with the question: "What leads an objective non-scientist, examining the arguments, to reject “global warming,” a.k.a., “Big Climate alarmism”?" Many of you would stop reading at that point, expecting it to be a Gish gallop of the usual denier memes written by someone desperately trying to justify his "climate hoax" conspiracy. Not me. Or not this time. I find that there are sometimes clues about why a person rejects science in among their lengthy protests.

Telltale signs of a climate science denier

Even in Walter's question there is much information. Walter Donway thinks he is "objective", yet when it comes to climate he provides no evidence to support his belief. As you'll see he provides ample evidence that he is not objective. He also feels compelled to refer to global warming in quotation marks, as if it isn't real; and to refer to it or climate science (I can't tell) in quotation marks as "Big Climate alarmism", using capital letters. This suggests that he regards 200 years of science as a hoax.

It appears that what prompted Walter to pen his essay was a dinner with a friend of his wife and that friend's current beau. This early section of his essay gives the second clue to why he rejects science. It is quite probably related to his political ideology. Walter's wife explained that this couple was "very Left", because they supported Bernie Sanders and now Hillary Clinton. Neither of these people would be viewed as "very left" anywhere but the USA. In America, if you are to the right of the political spectrum (which in the USA is far to the right of the political spectrum elsewhere in the world), you are more inclined to reject science. A large part of the ideology of the (right wing) Republican Party embraces science denial as if it were something to be proud of.

Walter also seems to think that when someone talks about climate science denial they are also talking about Holocaust denial. Yes, it's illogical, however that's what some science deniers think apparently. What it suggests is that Walter is an old man (that and his use of capital letters). It doesn't explain what leads him to reject science, however polls indicate that older people are more inclined to reject climate science than are younger people. (The other thing that suggests he's elderly is his joke about reading Jane Austen - you'll have to read the article.)

Walter's denial gallop

Walter started out badly in his Gish gallop. (Yes, he did opt for a Gish gallop of fading denier memes rather than explain why he rejects mainstream science.) Here is what he wrote early on:
“I agree that the Earth’s mean global surface temperature was slowly increasing from about 1880 to 1998. I agree that the climate is constantly changing and requires vigilance and preventive measures based upon real threats such as cold snaps, drought or flooding, hurricanes… I agree that carbon dioxide and certain trace gases in the atmosphere contribute to a greenhouse effect, trapping heat from the sun within our atmosphere. I agree that since the Industrial Revolution, around 1740, average mean Earth surface temperatures may have increased as much as .7 of a degree Celsius and this contributes to the greenhouse effect.

“Did you know that when they say 97 percent of scientists agree with global warming, they mean only that they responded ‘yes’ to those statements? So do I.”
Going through some of these points, the thing is, as someone pointed out in the comments, that the Earth's mean global surface temperature didn't slowly increase from about 1880 to 1998. What happened was the temperature decreased from 1880 to around 1915 or so. After that there was a spurt of rapid warming. This was followed by a leveling off between the 1940s and the early 1970s, then another rapid spurt that continues to this day.

Below is a chart of global mean surface temperature. Hover over the chart to see the average temperature each year. It also includes a LOESS smooth so you can better see what has happened since 1880. This year so far the average temperature for the 8 months to August is 1.04 C - above the top of the chart. It is expected to end up below that, but above the average for last year.
Figure 1 | Global mean surface temperature. Data source: GISS NASA

The chart below is from a paper by Niamh Cahill, Stefan Rahmstorf and Andrew C Parnell, in which they analysed the temperature record to see when changes in trends occurred. (See this HW article, which references other similar research as well.) There was a change around the 1910s, another at 1934-48 and another at 1963-1979. Since then there's not been another trend change, yet.

Walter says he accepts the greenhouse effect and that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. However he is stuck almost twenty years ago in the 1990s, and doesn't say what he thinks has happened to surface temperature after 1998. A clue is when he claims that "since the Industrial Revolution, around 1740, average mean Earth surface temperatures may have increased as much as .7 of a degree Celsius". Well he's out by around 0.4 C plus. This supports my contention that Walter is stuck in the 1990s.

Walter doesn't agree with 97% of climate science

The other point Walter raised was the fact that virtually all research on the subject points to humans being the cause of the current global warming. Either Walter hasn't read the 97% research or any research on how much science and how many scientists agree on this or he chose to misrepresent it. He wrote that it just means scientists ticked a "yes" box. He's wrong. Walter doesn't even have to do the research himself. There was an article published earlier this year that discusses all the research on the subject of consensus: Consensus on consensus: a synthesis of consensus estimates on human-caused global warming.

The odd thing is that Walter claimed that he himself would tick a "yes" box. That was just before he launched into a long screed listing climate science he rejects.

Walter Donway does a James Delingpole

You might remember how James Delingpole, a UK science denier, explained to the then President of the Royal Society how he doesn't read science, he regards himself as an "interpreter of interpreters". Well, Walter Donway is the same. He went on to explain that he doesn't get his understanding of climate science from climate scientists. Instead he goes to the Australian Institute of Public Affairs, a right wing political lobby group posing as a "think tank", which spreads disinformation about climate science. Apparently Walter finds science denial easier to digest than science itself. He wrote:
Time for some disclosure. I had followed the global warming/climate debate, and even written articles about it from the start, but over the summer my study had intensified.  In particular, I had been studying a book, Climate Change: The Facts, published by the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne, Australia,
He was so impressed by the fact that it claims to have brought together "scientists, economists, journalists, and even politicians" to write nonsense for that book that he wrote it twice in consecutive paragraphs. (ICYMI the list of authors includes misinterpreter of disinformation peddlers, James Delingpole, Anthony "it's Russian steampipes" Watts, "Force X and the Notch" promoter Jo Nova, Willie "it's the sun" Soon, and Donna "dustbin" Laframboise.)

As Royal Society President Paul Nurse explained to James Delingpole, "I think sometimes the consensual position can be criticised when in fact it is most likely the correct position".

Money, politics, and fear of nature

Further into the article Walter promised again to tell his readers why he rejects mainstream science. He didn't. Instead he indulged in another Gish gallop of denier memes. That is, he listed what science he doesn't "believe in" rather than why he doesn't believe the facts.

Oh, he gave multiple clues, all related to the fact that he's ideologically conservative, cares greatly about money and doesn't care much for nature. These are typical traits of climate science deniers but they don't explain the "why".

Motivated reasoning and world view can lead some people to embrace "climate hoax" conspiracy theories

Scientists have done research on the "why". It seems to boil down to the fact that we all have created in our own minds a view of the world. That's you, me and Walter Donway. Our world views will differ. For some people, climate science doesn't fit at all well with the view that they have created. My reading is that some world views are so fixed and inflexible that when something comes along that they see as being outside of their particular world view, rather than cogitating on whether their view of the world should be adjusted to allow for facts, they instead find it easier to reject the facts. In this case, going to great lengths to rationalise the rejection of the facts.

Unfortunately for people like Walter, there are unscrupulous people about who have re-written the "facts" so that they appear palatable to the Walters of the world. No further research is necessary. Walter doesn't have to go beyond a denier primer. Scepticism can be put aside because he's found a bunch of other like-minded deniers who he can parrot as if they were a reputable source of "facts".

In other words, the Walters of the world find it easier to believe that all the tens of thousands of scientists of the past several decades, who've devoted their lives to finding out how the world works, are wrong, and a denier blogger is right.

Walter Donway wants to "believe" that climate science is a hoax. He so desperately wants to believe it that he's willing to come out publicly and make a complete and utter fool of himself.

That's commitment to a cause. It's not science.

From the WUWT comments

I found the link to the article at, you guessed it, the climate conspiracy blog wattsupwiththat (archived here). Here are some of the comments, so Walter can see what his fellow "climate hoaxers" think, or how they don't think. Before we go there, I wonder what Walter thinks about having his own particular brand of science denial being praised by a denier of the uber-conspiracy kind. Update: Well, what do you know. Walter singled out this wacky comment saying it was "very interesting". Did he mean that in the British sense (off the planet) or the American sense (I like it)?

Marcus has a wacky conspiracy theory about the sustainability agreement Agenda21
September 19, 2016 at 4:14 pm
…Actually, Global warming advocacy is part of the U.N. “Agenda 21” protocol to reduce the Human population….not including them ( liberal elites) , of course…
hanelyp objects to being asked to substantiate his denial, and defends the poverty stricken, powerless oil companies like Exxon:
September 19, 2016 at 2:49 pm
The climatists insist we prove our case. But they’re the ones who want to use the muscle of government to force their position on the rest of us. By traditional American jurisprudence they should have to carry the burden of proof. But they deflect that burden by arguing, falsely, that we’re forcing our position on them. They accuse oil companies of “going on the attack” spending money on lobbyists, lawyers, and ads, when what the oil companies are doing is trying to defend themselves from the climatists.
Forrest Gardener now doubts every word spoken by Professor Brian Cox. He gives no sign that he'll go beyond doubt, like checking to see if the words he speaks are correct. That's called fake scepticism.
September 19, 2016 at 3:17 pm
it’s true. I certainly will never listen to Brian Cox again without doubting every single word he says.
stas peterson BSME, MSMa, MBA wrote some mumbo jumbo, and ended up in Haiti for some non-reason:
September 19, 2016 at 3:02 pm
Ignorant left wingers belieive in the fairies and leprecauns with respect to economic relations. Why do you think these self proclaimed idiot-fools would listen to actual Scientists instead of left wing non-scientific fools? they would much rather agree with Castro and Chavez who took the highest per capita income Latin American societies and turned them into basket cases just like Haiti?

Despite what you might deduce, Pat Frank isn't talking about "climate hoax" conspiracy theorists. It's called projection, Pat. Thing is, not deadly floods nor drought nor wildest storms and crippling heat waves will be enough of an experiential shock for hard-core deniers.
September 19, 2016 at 4:48 pm
Such behavior is a sign of trauma. Brains get rewired by angst and experience, so that almost literally, the traumatized person cannot entertain a contradictory thought. Doing so causes too much psychological pain.
The only cure, typically, is some sort of shock therapy — not electrical shock, but some experiential shock that is so strong as to cause the prior traumatic wiring to come undone.
Bruce Cobb also has it right, or would have, if he were referring to his hard core denier brethren:
September 19, 2016 at 4:13 pm
Those who Believe can not be reached intellectually. Talking or reasoning with them is pointless and just wasted breath.

I wonder if Bill Illis has ever contemplated that it only took a drop of about 3 C to get a mile of ice above him. I wonder if he's ever wondered what a rise of 3 C will do to the world?
September 19, 2016 at 6:06 pm
I don’t think it is worthwhile arguing global warming with friends or acquaintances that believe in it. You can make your point on discussion boards etc. where you get to present the evidence. But with friends, you just expend too much rapport and they never change their mind anyway.
“13,000 years ago, there was a mile of ice above us (or just north of us)” and that is usually enough to get to think about climate change more critically without giving away your position or losing that rapport.
After all, what you really want is for them to start thinking for themselves or to simply to ask themselves, “maybe this is not true”. You are not going to get them to change their opinion on the spot.
Maybe 6 months from now is what you should be thinking about. “I remember when you said X and I have thought about it a lot more …” would be the absolute best impact that a skeptic can have on a believer. This is the way to approach it.
Source: Adapted from Jos Hagelaars, based on Shakun et al (2012) and Marcott et al (2013)

Rex of Wellington doesn't like it that George Bush decided on climate change as a better term than global warming. (Global warming causes climate change.)
September 19, 2016 at 7:11 pm
Odd how “global warming” is now so often coupled with the
philosophically rancid “climate change”. Notwithstanding that
it is doubly incorrect, at least “global warming” has some meaning,
whereas “climate change” is just noise.

References and further reading

Niamh Cahill, Stefan Rahmstorf and Andrew C Parnell. "Change points of global temperature". 2015 Environ. Res. Lett. 10 084002. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/10/8/084002 (open access)

John Cook, Naomi Oreskes, Peter T Doran, William R L Anderegg, Bart Verheggen, Ed W Maibach, J Stuart Carlton, Stephan Lewandowsky, Andrew G Skuce, Sarah A Green, Dana Nuccitelli, Peter Jacobs, Mark Richardson, Bärbel Winkler, Rob Painting and Ken Rice. "Consensus on consensus: a synthesis of consensus estimates on human-caused global warming" Environmental Research Letters 11, no. 4 (2016): 048002doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/11/4/048002 (open access)

Cook, John, Dana Nuccitelli, Sarah A. Green, Mark Richardson, Bärbel Winkler, Rob Painting, Robert Way, Peter Jacobs, and Andrew Skuce. "Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature." Environmental Research Letters 8, no. 2 (2013): 024024. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024024 (Open access)
Lewandowsky, Stephan, and Klaus Oberauer. "Motivated Rejection of Science." Current Directions in Psychological Science 25, no. 4 (2016): 217-222. doi: 10.1177/0963721416654436

Global Warming & Climate Change Myths - SkepticalScience.com list of denier memes

James Delingpole: The True Face of Denialism - article by Peter Sinclair at Climate Crocks (about the article that probably contributed to him leaving The Telegraph).

From the HotWhopper archives


  1. "It appears that what prompted Walter to pen his essay was a dinner with..."

    That part reads like a big fat lie. Rather like all that Walter writes about climate science.

    1. Yes, the dialogue is very badly written. Hard to believe it is real.

      I found this gem from 2012: "David Koch is not a billionaire suddenly jumping into politics to skewer Mr. Obama. For decades, he has been one of the most intellectual, principled, and active players in politics. His millions have helped to found and support political-intellectual think tanks, from the Cato Institute to the Reason Foundation. This was not election politics; this was intellectual research and education over the long term. ...
      That this educated, talented, generous, and politically committed man should be crudely attacked outside his home with bad puns and jeers at his guests (“Go Home Koch Whores”) by protesters as rude as they are uninformed and unintellectual, makes me wonder what I am doing in the Hamptons, beaches and scenery or no.

  2. I'm guessing that the mods at the site where Walter penned his article are in favour of selective free speech, and show it by not polluting the comments section with posts that link to articles like this one. (My first comment got through, but not the second, so far.)

    1. I think the editor Vinay Kolhatkar, has cleared up that problem, now.

    2. I believe that Vinay Kolhatar cleared up that problem right away and you acknowledged and thanked him that all your comments are posted, now.

  3. Ah, libertarians. God's gift to... well, somebody, I suppose.

    (Perhaps they're more of a re-gift.)

  4. Walter singled out the wackiest comment of them all, thanking the commenter and saying the comment was "very interesting". The commenter thought that the US military was going to use guns to enforce Agenda21 - an "Oh My!" comment if ever there was one.

    1. And also in that comment:

      "In the second part, I intended to state my reasons for "denying big climate alarmism. So I have not even gotten around to a formal statement of my reasons."

      So that's why Walter's article did not answer the question of "Why I Deny Big Climate Alarmism". He is saving it all up for another fact free article!

    2. I noticed that too, Jammy.

      What's the bet he claims he is another born again denier. He used to "believe" until he found a denier blog that said what he wanted to believe, and then he stopped looking any further.

      That's the usual way of things. He'll have to work hard to come up with a fresh angle. He's a writer, so he might have a brainwave and come up with something original.

    3. My reply about "very interesting" was a careless euphemism, I guess. I should have said, which I meant, "I am too say the least noncommital until I see some evidence that that.

    4. @WDonway
      You offered praise also to another denier who was equally vacuous. No thanks to anyone who disagreed with you! Of course, you do not want to be seen disagreeing with them however poor their critical thinking.

      Perhaps it would be better if you said what you actually think.

  5. http://www.thesavvystreet.com/why-i-deny-big-climate-alarmism/
    Walter Donway • 5 hours ago
    For those who want to know more about the ruthless persecution of scientists who challenge Big Climate alarmisn, and what are the tactics of these attacks, see my article listed at the top of the Home Page, "Another 'Climate Denier' Stomped" about the incredible attack on Willy Soon, an astrophysist, who has been extremely strong and consistent in producing peer-reviewed scientific papers that undercut the supposed case for Big Climate alarmism.

    Following response removed (with and without my comment):

    "A prominent academic and climate change denier’s work was funded almost entirely by the energy industry, receiving more than $1.2m from companies, lobby groups and oil billionaires over more than a decade, newly released documents show.

    "Over the last 14 years Willie Soon, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, received a total of $1.25m from Exxon Mobil, Southern Company, the American Petroleum Institute (API) and a foundation run by the ultra-conservative Koch brothers, the documents obtained by Greenpeace through freedom of information filings show.

    "According to the documents, the biggest single funder was Southern Company, one of the country’s biggest electricity providers that relies heavily on coal..."

    "Soon disputes the current scientific understanding of climate change, and contends that most global warming is caused by solar variation rather than by human activity.[7][8] He gained visibility in part due to scientific criticism of the methodology of a paper which he co-wrote.[9] Climate scientists have refuted Soon's arguments, and the Smithsonian does not support his conclusions, but he is frequently cited by politicians opposed to climate-change legislation.[4][10]"

    Don't kid yourself, buddy, you're not supporting "scientific" scepticism. You're just a common or garden-variety denier whose views are based on incredulity and ignorance.

  6. Well, this is LOT of work by HotWhopper to devote to one article deemed just another false, badly motivated, and supposedly not well written article in a very small online publication ("Savvy Street"). I can't understand why she spends so much time on it. When Anthony Watts picked it up for his site, publishing it unknown to me, it did attract more hits. I since have linked a few more things to his site, but I am troubled by his site, as I am by this one, that ALL its readers and commentors seem ONLY to agree with one another, affirm one another, and attack the motives and intelligence of the other side. There is very little other contemporary science with which I have any disagreement. Fads do run through science and can become incredibly destructive. The developer of the "frontal lobotomy," who received a Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work, led to crude brain surgery that left tens of thousands of patients in mental hospitals for life (one was my uncle Tony in Worcester State Hospital). A more recent incredibly damaging scientific fad was sudden recall of repressed memories of sexual abuse, that put some thousand parents in court accused of abusing their children until the whole craze collapsed and disappeared. There ARE fads in science, and always have been, that seize the whole profession and its professional organizations...and then collapse. My guess,not proven here, of course, is that "global warming" will be one these. It has all the signs of these earlier crazes. But, apart from these few issues, I enjoy, support, and glory in the discoveries of science. I was founding editor of "Cerebrum: The Dana Forum on Brain Science."

    1. Walter, as I suggested to you on Savvy Street, you would benefit from getting out of the deniosphere and learning a little bit about climate science.

      To compare two poorly executed surgical techniques with an entire field of science going back 200 years, as if they were directly comparable, shows you have no conception of climate science. (It's like claiming medical science is a hoax because - "Helicobacter pylori".)

      If someone who has barely the vaguest of understanding of something rejects it anyway, they just look like a dill. If they refuse to learn about it, and publish multiple articles arguing it's a passing fad, it shows them to be more than merely being a dill.

      At least take a few months and learn some more about what it is you think is nothing more than a passing fad. There are plenty of easy to read websites that will explain how CO2 is a whole lot more than plant food. Then there are the IPCC reports, which you wrongly dismissed as being "political" (when you don't even know what the IPCC is or how the reports are compiled).

      If you start to investigate your own claims and the various alternative claims you'll read at places like WUWT, and go to the science itself, you'll learn about sea level, and ocean heat content, and surface temperature, and extreme weather, and you might even get to understand what the greenhouse effect is. If you explore the history of climate science, you'll see it is not a passing fad.

    2. BTW - it wasn't a huge effort. HotWhopper specialises in debunking wacky pseudo-science. I've learnt a lot about climate pseudo-science over the years, the types of people who push it or embrace it, and their various motivations.

    3. Correction: One surgical procedure and one psych practice, neither of which was embraced by "entire" professions, by the way. The argument that 97% (plus) of the entire field of climate science is wrong because a couple of medical practices were flawed some decades ago, is nuts.

    4. Both of the quoted "fads" are not from the physical sciences and are used as a convenience to support a personal view of the conclusions from an area of a totally unrelated field of science.
      In strict terms, lobotomies or leukotomies were not a "fad" and still occur today although in very small numbers (an average of around 5 per year would be common in some Western countries). In a historical context, leukotomies were not a fad as there were no alternative therapies such as neuroleptics for treating psychoses when leukotomy was first used in the 1930s to treat affective disorders and schizophrenia.

    5. @WON WAY
      "I can't understand why she spends so much time on it."

      Why do you spend so much time on it? Or WUWT?

    6. Dear Walter, do not worry there is vigorous and open debate in climate science and there are real difficult problems, such as changes in extreme weather and local (rather than global) changes.

      It is hard to be confident about reality. But with with a clear head it is easy to see that the trivial nonsense and conspiracy theories of WUWT & Co. are wrong.

      I do not know why mitigation sceptics focus on fake problems, but it may be related to such fake problems being easier to explain to people who have only a casual understanding of climate change. (Like I only have a casual understanding of most topics outside of climate change.)

  7. @walter

    an interesting and well written article I read yesterday (ht attp)is here


    what is great about the article is that it articulates very clearly what we do know - about the climate (and climate science) and what the uncertainties are

    it is often the case that climate science is accused of being "settled" - presumably a technique to push the "arrogant elitist scientist" meme

    this is off course like many arguments against climate science a gross over simplification and simply belies an ignorance of the actualities

    the linked article gives a clear explanation, with examples of why this is not the case

    1. Tadaa, Walter can't hear you. He is deafened (and blinded) by his ideology, claiming that climate science is an affront to free markets and free thought. Yes, he rejects climate science because he thinks it conflicts with his Ayn Rand religion and free market ideology (which isn't really free market but is ideology). He made that very clear multiple times in his article and his comments there.

      However, I'm sure other people will be reading the article with interest, if they haven't already. It's worth it.

    2. @ sou

      yes it's shame the actual science is so much more interesting than all the pseudoscience/politics/economics that the "skeptics" seem to buy into

      and imo mentioning ones views on "markets" or "liberty" is a red flag when discussing science

      they do it so often I don't think they actually realise

    3. The term "free market" and the denial of climate change are signals to which group they belong. Pledges of allegiance.

      We will not solve this problem by discussing science, we will solve the problem in the USA by getting money out of politics and making the country more democratic again.


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