Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Rating climate science deniers to decide how/if to engage

Sou | 10:41 PM Go to the first of 8 comments. Add a comment

Climate science deniers can be grouped in different ways. Having observed them for more than a decade now, this is how I see them:

  1. The uninformed - ignorant about climate, doesn't read articles on climate. Strictly speaking the uninformed are not science deniers. They just don't know anything about climate.
  2. The misinformed - previously uninformed who've read & unwittingly accepted climate disinformation.
  3. Wilful deniers (aka wilfully ignorant) - previously misinformed but have since been exposed to climate science findings and rejected them (usually for ideological or other reasons). All of this category by definition are conspiracy theorists.
  4. Climate disinformers - know the facts but are in the business of spreading lies to feed the previous categories (usually for monetary gain and/or ideological reasons). All of this category are by definition weavers of conspiracy theories.
I'd be interested to read how other people might categorise climate science deniers.

Why categorise deniers?

It can be useful to categorise climate science deniers. You may be having a discussion with a stranger you thought was uninformed or misinformed, so you go full on with the facts. If it turns out they are Wilful Deniers or Climate Disinformers, your efforts will be in vain, at least as far as helping out the person with whom you're conversing. You can then decide whether to stop talking with them and block them or whatever is the equivalent on whatever platform, continue the discussion to hone your own knowledge or benefit lurkers, or change tactics and use another form of persuasion. (Facts make no difference to Wilful Deniers and Climate Disinformers. Appealing to decency or "values" usually doesn't work either.) 

If the climate science denier is a friend or family member, that's a whole different matter. One-on-one personal engagements are very different to talking with some random person on the internet. You'll need to decide for yourself whether to try to influence their notions and, if so, how (and why). I will say you've a much higher chance of influencing someone you know than of influencing some random science denier in cyberspace :)

I've written a bit more about each category. Most climate hawks will be familiar with all these types, but it might be useful to someone, perhaps as a social research topic. For example, I expect that there's a scale of Covidiots that's somewhat similar.

1. The uninformed

I don't regard the uninformed as science deniers. Having said that, it's hard for anyone to remain in this category these days. News articles on climate change and global warming are appearing more and more. With each new and more extreme weather event, it is very difficult for responsible journalists to address the question "why and how did this happen" without referring to climate change.

What this means is if you come across someone you'd like to think is merely uninformed, the chances are that's not the case any more. They are much more likely to be in category 3 (wilful deniers) or category 4 (a disinformer).

How to pick the uninformed?

If a person is only uninformed, they will either demonstrate their willingness to learn about climate or they will quickly lose interest in the topic. 

They won't make a huge effort to try to persuade you that scientists of the past two centuries are wrong, that physics and chemistry is a hoax, that their false understanding of the second law of thermodynamics is right and all modern thermodynamics is wrong. They won't spend endless tweets and blog comments trying to dissuade you from the evidence that ice is melting, heat waves are getting worse, seas are rising, average global temperature is going up and up and up. They won't chant "CO2 is plant food". 

If a person appears uninformed but brings up denier arguments then you know they are one of:
  1. misinformed, 
  2. wilfully ignorant or
  3. a disinformer.

2. The misinformed

As with the uninformed, these days the chances of one being able to remain merely "misinformed" is very low. There is a vast amount of information available and many people willing to point a misinformed person toward good information. There's ample information written for all levels of science education as well as no level of science education. 

If you come across someone who you think may be merely misinformed, it won't take many interactions with them to find out. They'll demonstrate fairly quickly if they are wilfully ignorant or a disinformer. 

How to pick the misinformed?
If they are misinformed, they will not keep coming up with denier arguments (see above). If they won't check their information sources and show no willingness to verify their (mis)information they are not unintentionally spreading misinformation, they are doing so deliberately.

If a person appears misinformed but refuses to check facts, and/or counters any point you make with a tired denialist meme, pulls up unsourced "charts", silly pictures and spurious quotes from climate disinformation blogs, and/or starts ranting and raving incoherently (not uncommon), then you know they are one of:
  1. wilful deniers (including the wilfully ignorant) or
  2. a disinformer.

3. Wilful deniers (including wilfully ignorant)

This category has the largest number of climate science deniers. They are the group the disinformers want to expand, to apply group pressure. Most of these people entered as misinformed and (rarely) as open-minded uninformed. They were looking for arguments to bolster their belief that science is a hoax.

It's not uncommon to read comments like "I knew there was something wrong with climate science. I'm so glad I found this [name of disinformation blog] blog." (There "must be something wrong" vaguely and inappropriately applied is one of the markers of a conspiracy theorist.)

These people are inclined toward conspiratorial thinking in realms beyond climate science. Some of them are evolution deniers. Many of them were Trump supporters and QAnon followers, or adherents to the previous versions of the conspiracy theories QAnon adapted and adopted as their own. You'll still today hear "Agenda21 [sic]", "HAARP", "chemtrails", "child trafficking", "Rothschilds", "Pope", "Prince Philip", "Hillary", "UN"; and more.

The wilful deniers tend to band together in cult-like groups on climate disinformation blogs, on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and (for a short time) Parler. They'll put up unsourced, uncaptioned and usually wrong charts they can't explain, which they got from one of the disinformers. They'll make false and defamatory claims against climate scientists and others as if to say "this woman/man is a bad person therefore science is a hoax". Most of them demonstrate ignorance and often downright stupidity.

These people could be called gullible. I don't see that as their defining trait, though. I see them primarily as conspiracy theorists, scared people afraid of the world and particularly scared ot knowledge, epitomised in Bob Altemeyer's The Authoritarians.

How to pick a wilful denier
Wilful deniers are the people who've commented on or lurked at climate denial blogs and discussion boards for years or even decades, so they've no excuse for not checking the facts. Even on the most rabid science denial blogs they can see actual science in one form or another. That is, they have seen the evidence, the facts of what's happenig to the world and why, but have chosen to not "believe" them. They are pointed to articles about science and to scientific papers. 

It's not that they are ignorant. They have no valid excuse for rejecting science. It's that they choose to embrace nonsense and gobbledegook. They choose to reject science despite all they've read or been given the opportunity to read. Science denial is a wilful, deliberate action on their part. 

If a person appears to be a wilful denier but you discover their job (whether paid or unpaid) is to spread climate science denial, then you can bet they are a climate disinformer. Climate science denying blogs are run by climate disinformers. Almost all the guest posts there will be written by climate disinformers. 

4. Climate disinformers

Climate disinformers are the worst. These people knowingly spread disinformation for benefit. They may be any or all of the following:
  1. It's their job. They work for a right wing lobby group or think tank in a paid or unpaid capacity.
  2. They run a climate science disinformation blog or write guest articles or share cross-posts between blogs. Many of these blogs are a source of income for the disinformer, and the owners are continually pleading for donations to keep it going, often with false promises (e.g. will be publishing a paper that never appears, will be getting arrested for being a disinformer which never happens, will be starting a journal/society of deniers that never gets off the ground, etc.)
  3. They claim to be a contrarian scientist but actually speak to and promote climate science disinformers (usually running a disinformation blog). In the US, some of these are easily identified because they're called by denier politicians to testify on record for House and Senate committee hearings; and, more recently, were appointed by the Trump administration to key positions in science agencies in an attempt to misdirect climate science.
  4. They are often quoted by other climate science deniers and disinformers. (Note: disinformers will also misquote legitimate scientists. It's important to check sources.)
  5. They will write chapters and books to spread climate science disinformation. Even though hardly anyone will read these books, they are seen as useful to pepper blogs with denier quotes.
  6. They will go on speaking tours (usually paid) to spread nonsense about climate.
  7. They have written no or few scientific papers on the topic of their disinformation, or not in reputable journals.
Many amateur disinformers run blogs that gives them an income stream. These disinformers have become stuck in the anti-science camp (and some have dropped by the wayside). They'll often seek donations under false pretences, such as:
Many if not most wilful deniers are only too happy to forgive, forget or ignore the broken promises made by disinformers. They need a place to congregate with other conspiracy theorists and they're willing to pay for it, sometimes large sums.

By their actions, climate disinformers aim to stop the world from taking action to keep the planet habitable and aim to stop the world from adapting to climate change. (Some of them are so far into denial they will even try to deny this most obvious of conclusions.)

Without hard and fast evidence, I'll speculate climate disinformation is mostly spread by social media and the tabloid press. It doesn't have many other avenues. There's the occasional denier conference (gabfest) but these get little or no publicity outside of climate denier circles and are often poorly attended. It's social media where most of the recruitment is done, and the tabloid press is used to spread ignorance to the already ignorant.

And then there's the Murdoch empire

The US (and to a lesser extent Australia) has been a special case. The Murdoch-owned news media has been waging a war against the world for decades now, and continues to this day. Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch have a huge platform for recruiting climate science deniers, and is a whole other story.

References and Further Reading


  1. Under the misinformed

    raving incoherently

    Oh wow you got some live ones there. It could be even be Jason Kenny and one or two of his cabinet ministers!

    Under Wilful deniers (including wilfully ignorant)

    These people are inclined toward conspiratorial thinking in realms beyond climate science. Some of them are evolution deniers.

    I think the anti--vaxxers need to be included here too. Remember Bill Gates is trying to put nano-particles in your blood. In fact, the more rabid anti-vaxers resemble the Climate disinformers. The only difference is they have a different scam.

    1. You're right about that.

      WUWT is littered with Covidiots across the spectrum. Not sure if it's had any adherents to the Gates nano-particle madness but I wouldn't be surprised.

  2. If any of your relatives are a member of any of the categories, it is wise to avoid discussion of anything "climate."
    By the way Sou, did you see the "new" site created by Watts & company?

    1. If you mean the changed WUWT site, then yes. (Is there another one I missed?)

      It's harder to read than the old one. Not as user friendly. It took him ages to get it up and running. The content is, if anything, worse in line with the trend. It's been on a downhill slide for a long time.

      Anthony isn't contributing much, which is probably wise (given every time he opens his mouth his foot lands in it).

    2. I agree it's wise to be cautious with family. Sometimes a gentle push can help. Some families enjoy discussing (arguing?) different viewpoints. Everyone's different.

      With older relatives I've sometimes asked them (not told them) if a record hot summer is the worst they could remember. It's anecdotal, but a gentle push doesn't hurt, especially when they lived through the horrific 1939 heatwave and fires and now see similar conditions every other year (or heading that way).

    3. Oh, CJ. I've just seen the new site you were probably talking about: "everything climate". It's for posting climate disinformation articles while allowing no comments or discussion. I suppose he thinks it's clever.

      Looks as if it's modeled on that climate denial site set up by Heartland or whoever, pushed by some paid teenage influencer from Europe.

      I'll check it out more later. The headlines aren't what Anthony promised ("entirely a factual website"). They are all lies from what I've seen.

      It's another Climate Disinformation website so deniers can pepper their blogs and comments with quotes from an anti-science propaganda "source".

  3. Judith Curry is category 4, that's the only thing I can imagine. The pure BS she said/quoted regarding "Climategate" is a sure sign. She's supposed to be able to understand how these things go in a research team, how they speak to each other, how they speak about their research etc. She is probably one of the few who knowingly and intentionally chose the "dark side", very likely simply for _money_.


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