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The 5 characteristics of scientific denialism

Posted on 17 March 2010 by John Cook

A fascinating paper well worth reading is Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond? (Diethelm & McKee 2009) (H/T to Jeremy Kemp for the heads-up). While the focus is on public health issues, it nevertheless establishes some useful general principles on the phenomenon of scientific denialism. A vivid example is the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, who argued against the scientific consensus that HIV caused AIDS. This led to policies preventing thousands of HIV positive mothers in South Africa from receiving anti-retrovirals. It's estimated these policies led to the loss of more than 330,000 lives (Chigwedere 2008). Clearly the consequences of denying science can be dire, even fatal. 

The authors define denialism as "the employment of rhetorical arguments to give the appearance of legitimate debate where there is none, an approach that has the ultimate goal of rejecting a proposition on which a scientific consensus exists". They go on to identify 5 characteristics common to most forms of denialism, first suggested by Mark and Chris Hoofnagle:

  1. Conspiracy theories
    When the overwhelming body of scientific opinion believes something is true, the denialist won't admit scientists have independently studied the evidence to reach the same conclusion. Instead, they claim scientists are engaged in a complex and secretive conspiracy. The South African government of Thabo Mbeki was heavily influenced by conspiracy theorists claiming that HIV was not the cause of AIDS. When such fringe groups gain the ear of policy makers who cease to base their decisions on science-based evidence, the human impact can be disastrous.
  2. Fake experts
    These are individuals purporting to be experts but whose views are inconsistent with established knowledge. Fake experts have been used extensively by the tobacco industry who developed a strategy to recruit scientists who would counteract the growing evidence on the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. This tactic is often complemented by denigration of established experts, seeking to discredit their work. Tobacco denialists have frequently attacked Stanton Glantz, professor of medicine at the University of California, for his exposure of tobacco industry tactics, labelling his research 'junk science'.
  3. Cherry picking
    This involves selectively drawing on isolated papers that challenge the consensus to the neglect of the broader body of research. An example is a paper describing intestinal abnormalities in 12 children with autism, which suggested a possible link with immunization. This has been used extensively by campaigners against immunization, even though 10 of the paper’s 13 authors subsequently retracted the suggestion of an association.
  4. Impossible expectations of what research can deliver
    The tobacco company Philip Morris tried to promote a new standard for the conduct of epidemiological studies. These stricter guidelines would have invalidated in one sweep a large body of research on the health effects of cigarettes.
  5. Misrepresentation and logical fallacies
    Logical fallacies include the use of straw men, where the opposing argument is misrepresented, making it easier to refute. For example, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined in 1992 that environmental tobacco smoke was carcinogenic. This was attacked as nothing less than a 'threat to the very core of democratic values and democratic public policy'.

Why is it important to define the tactics of denialism? Good faith discussion requires consideration of the full body of scientific evidence. This is difficult when confronted with rhetorical techniques which are designed to distort and distract. Identifying and publicly exposing these tactics are the first step in redirecting discussion back to a focus on the science.

This is not to say all global warming skeptic arguments employ denialist tactics. And it's certainly not advocating attacking peoples' motives. On the contrary, in most cases, focus on motives rather than methods is counterproductive. Here are some of the methods using denialist tactics in the climate debate: 

  1. Conspiracy theories
    Conspiracy theories have been growing in strength in recent months as personal attacks on climate scientists have intensified. In particular, there has been accusations of manipulation of temperature data with the result that "the surface temperature record is unreliable" has been the most popular argument over the last month. This is distracting people from the physical realities of global warming manifesting themselves all over the world. Arctic sea-ice loss is accelerating. Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are losing ice mass at an accelerating rate. Spring is coming earlier each year. Animal breeding and migration are changing in response. Distribution of plants are shifting to higher elevations. Global sea level is rising. When one steps back to take in the full body of evidence, it overwhelmingly points to global warming.
  2. Fake experts
    A number of surveys and petitions have been published online, presenting lengthy numbers of scientists who reject man-made global warming. Close inspection of these lists show very few qualifications in climate science. On the contrary, a survey of climate scientists who actively publish climate research found that over 97% agree that human activity is significantly changing global temperature.
  3. Cherry picking
    This usually involves a focus on a single paper to the neglect of the rest of peer-review research. A recent example is the Lindzen-Choi paper that finds low climate sensitivity (around 0.5°C for doubled CO2). This neglects all the research using independent techniques studying different time periods that find our climate has high sensitivity (around 3°C for doubled CO2). This includes research using a similar approach to Lindzen-Choi but with more global coverage.
  4. Impossible expectations
    The uncertainties of climate models are often used as an excuse to reject any understanding that can come from climate models. Or worse, the uncertainty of climate models are used to reject all evidence of man-made global warming. This neglects the fact that there are multiple lines of empirical evidence that humans are causing global warming .
  5. Logical fallacies
    Strawmen arguments abound in the climate debate. Often have I heard skeptics argue "CO2 is not the only driver of climate" which every climate scientist in the world would wholeheartedly agree with. A consideration of all the evidence tells us there are a number of factors that drive climate but currently, CO2 is the dominant forcing and also the fastest rising. Logical fallacies such as "climate has changed before therefore current climate change must be natural" are the equivalent of arguing that lightning has started bushfires in the past, therefore no modern bushfire is ever started by arsonists.

Update 16 April 2012: Many thanks to Mark Hoofnagle for pointing out that the 5 characteristics of science denial didn't originate in Diethelm and McKee's paper but in an article written by Mark and Chris Hoofnagle. This is an article very worth reading for anyone interested in climate change and public discourse about science. Credit has been updated accordingly.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 165:

  1. Unfortunately, much of Al Gore's "work" has the flavor of denialism more than science. I wonder if the "discussion" on climate would have been more civil if he hadn't been involved. For example, even granting AGW there is still a wide range of alternatives for dealing it.
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    Response: "I wonder if the "discussion" on climate would have been more civil if he hadn't been involved."

    Considering much of the conspiracy theories and ad hominem attacks are directly focused on climate scientists, my guess is there would've been little difference whether Al Gore existed or not. Nevertheless, it's hypothetical and beside the point - what matters is the science, not the former Vice President.
  2. John,

    Great post. Regardless of the evidence clearly supporting AGW/ACC, some people are beyond any rational comprehension of the evidence.

    When it comes to discussing climate science, I separate people into 4 categories:

    1. Those who get it.

    2. The rational ignorant. These people are rational and understand the experts may know a bit more about things than they do. They may not completely understand the science, but they know they don't have to understand everything to believe the experts. The "rational skeptic" may be in this group. Emphasis on "rational". These people would appreciate this site for its simplicity and links to solid references.

    (Here's a link to a description of a "rational skeptic":

    3. The irrational ignorant. These people make up a large part of the denialist camp. They don't understand the science, argue the peer-review process is a conspiracy, and think they know more than the experts. This group thinks they are skeptics, but they certainly aren't rational. Forget even trying to convince these cranks. Their train left the station long ago.

    4. The misinformer. These are the corporate or political hacks who (should) know better. They make up the remainder of the denialist camp. They have an agenda, and will do anything to stop actions to curb global warming. They use the irrational ignorant to amplify their lies. Too bad the irrational ignorant can't see the real conspiracy in front of them. The misinformers are part of the real conspiracy, and the irrational ignorant are just tools to further the denialist agenda. WUWT is a good example of a misinformer site. It sure attracts a lot of the irrational ignorant.
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  3. josil (#1)

    Denialists mix ideology with science as if ideological arguments somehow define climate science.

    Al Gore is not a scientist. So he's a moot point.

    Same thing goes for the IPCC. That organization's main purpose is to influence policy, based on the evidence of AGW/ACC. But, the IPCC doesn't define the science.

    Denialists would like us to believe that somehow Al Gore and the IPCC is using the "hockey stick" to "swindle" us into believing in climate change.

    That simply isn't true. Those arguments are red herrings. They have nothing to do with the science of climate change.
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  4. They seem to need a category for basic falsities. Fallacies deal with poor logic. Falsities (such as "sea levels aren't rising") are demonstrably false statements.

    1. Falsity: 1934 was the warmest year on record globally

    2. Fallacy: 1934 was the warmest year on record in the U.S.

    Actually, #2 is technically a falsity too going by GISS's latest adjustment.

    Most on John's list I suppose could probably be categorized into cherry-picking (pretty extreme in some cases) or logical fallacies. So it seems that fighting denialism long-term might involve teaching critical thinking skills at all levels of education.
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  5. SLRTX writes: Same thing goes for the IPCC. That organization's main purpose is to influence policy, based on the evidence of AGW/ACC. But, the IPCC doesn't define the science.

    Er, actually I'd say exactly the opposite. The IPCC's role is simply to provide a conservative, cautious overview of the science of climate change based on the totality of the work in the field during the years prior to each updated report.
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  6. I've met a few rare birds that are rational and have a pretty solid understanding of the basic science, but are fully convinced that it's not CO2 that is causing the warming or ocean acidification. They are likable people. I don't quite get why they don't get it. One tried to convince me that, because the ocean has varying pH levels depending on time and location, it can't be that CO2 is causing a lowering of the pH. I was thinking, well, yeah, we know that there are other factors that affect pH, but that doesn't negate the basic chemistry of the solubility of CO2 in water, or the reaction that results in the formation of carbonic acid. It was like it had to be one thing or the other with him; when, the reality is that it is always a combination of factors. It's like there is some psychological blockage preventing these guys from connecting all the dots. Connect only some of the dots and you get a different picture.

    Otherwise, I find myself most often repeating the question, "What does the size Al Gore's bank account have to do with the absorption spectra of CO2?"
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  7. NewYorkJ (#5)

    "Actually, #2 is technically a falsity too going by GISS's latest adjustment."

    Which adjustment is that? I didn't see a link in your post.

    But here's a link to the GISS site. Can you point out the "falsity" to us? Thanks.
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    Response: I think what NewYorkJ is getting at is that a recent adjustment of the U.S. temperature data has now moved 2006 and 1998 above 1934 as the hottest year on record for the United States. But the difference between the three years is statistically insignificant - as it was for the previous adjustment when 1934 was made the hottest year on U.S. record. NewYorkJ originally commented on this here...
  8. Ned (#6)

    Thanks for clarifying. I didn't mean to make it sound like they themselves influence policy. But they were set up to help govts guide their nation's policies. The IPCC itself doesn't actively set policies.

    "By endorsing the IPCC reports, governments acknowledge the authority of their scientific content. The work of the organization is therefore policy-relevant and yet policy-neutral, never policy-prescriptive."

    The point is, the IPCC does not do the science itself. Anyone railing against the IPCC is arguing policy, not science.

    The IPCC "does not conduct any research nor does it monitor climate related data or parameters. Thousands of scientists from all over the world contribute to the work of the IPCC on a voluntary basis. Review is an essential part of the IPCC process, to ensure an objective and complete assessment of current information. Differing viewpoints existing within the scientific community are reflected in the IPCC reports."

    Sorry for my misstatement.
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  9. Minor nitpick: "death of more than 330,000 lives" could be improved to "loss of..." or "... people".

    Otherwise, that's an insightful piece. It's not difficult to see similarities to other anti-science crusades popping up again and again, it's just unfortunate how much attention the crackpots are getting on this issue.
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    Response: Thanks for the feedback. Funny how you can read and reread your own post over and over but still miss those little grammatical anomalies.
  10. Great post John. Peter Sinclair's latest Crock of the week is relevant to this story and well worth watching.
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    Response: Funnily enough, I watched Peter's latest video earlier today and even tweeted it but didn't make the mental connection between his video and this latest post. Here is the video:

  11. The report left out character assassination and ad hominem attacks
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    Response: Point 1 (conspiracy theories) and to a lesser extent Point 2 (fake experts) both cover these tactics.
  12. Thanks for the post - interesting & informative article. I see all five of the key aspects of denialism when I talk to a friend about climate change. He's a pretty smart guy, scientific training, but unfortunately he gets his world-view from right-leaning blogs & Fox News (which he regards as 'balanced', or at least 'restoring the balance'), and is thus politically opposed to the notion of AGW.

    My strategy is to reply to his emails (usually pointing me to some blog post of article 'debunking' AGW) with the best scientific references & explanations I can find. Skeptical Science has become an invaluable tool in that regard!
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  13. I confess I found the paper a touch simplistic in that it fails to recognise the complexities of human responses to unpalatable realities.

    In fairness, much of what the paper describes I encounter daily in my work as a medicolegal specialist reading reports by colleagues who act as 'guns for hire.' The motivation here is all too easy to discern.

    I would point out further that in this particular arena my professional body has been singularly unsuccessful in policing the activities of rogue experts. In this setting, the 'peer review' process has failed dismally.

    However, when it comes to an issue like AGW, many who take sides in the debates have overtly nothing personally to gain or lose. However, the sheer fervour with which the two sides advance their positions does sometimes leave me shaking my head (which is not to deny the importance of the issue). I feel for some people the issue taps into deep seated needs for a belief system in a world which has discarded spirituality.

    Equally, there are those on both sides of the divide who seem driven by a need to be noticed. In taking their strident stance, they fill a relational void in their lives.

    The latter two mechanisms can be seen in a range of fields of human endeavour - not merely the 'warmist/denialist' arena.
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    Response: Lest I get too bogged down into psychoanalysing those who I encounter in the climate debate, I tend to focus on their methods, not motives. You could be onto something with that relational void theory though - my wife can often be heard calling "get off that damn computer!" :-)
  14. JC @14

    Fair enough! Motive however powerfully influences method. And the generally high level of courtesy on this site convinces me of the good will of contributors from both sides posting here.
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  15. The last time I saw a definition of the Scientific Method it said nothing about reaching consensus.

    That said, perhaps the rise in obesity is making people feel that much warmer. It would be quite ironic if global warming turned out to be due to transfats.
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  16. John,
    A slightly O.T. post, but one that I hope you'll find interesting and that I feel dovetails with your post on the 5 characteristics of scientific denialism, although these combine methods, tactics and motivation.

    Jacques, Peter J., Dunlap, Riley E. and Freeman, Mark(2008) 'The organisation of denial: Conservative think tanks and environmental scepticism', Environmental Politics, 17: 3, 349 - 385
    To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/09644010802055576

    'Environmental scepticism is an elite-driven reaction to global environmentalism, organised by core actors within the conservative movement. Promoting scepticism is a key tactic of the anti-environmental counter-movement coordinated by CTTs [conservative think tanks], designed specifically to undermine the environmental movement's efforts to legitimise its claims via science. Thus, the notion that environmental sceptics are unbiased analysts exposing the myths and scare tactics employed by those they label as practitioners of 'junk science' lacks credibility. Similarly, the self-portrayal of sceptics as marginalised 'Davids' battling the powerful 'Goliath' of environmentalists and environmental scientists is a charade, as sceptics are supported by politically powerful CTTs funded by wealthy foundations and corporations.'

    Plagiarism? Conspiracies? Felonies? Behind the Wegman Report and Decades of Related Anti-Science Attacks
    John R. Mashey February 11, 2010 V 1.0.1

    Dr Mashey meticulously chronicles and documents the vested interests' subversion of ideological propensities of certain political groups and the almost innumerable deceits, distortions conspiracies and the downright lies, used by right-wing Americans to undermine science, ever since the Tobacco Industry discovered that to combat science, all they needed was to spread doubt! Of course, the original Tobacco strategy has been expanded to exploit the power of internet blogs and websites. On page 22, Dr. Mashey catalogues the crescendo of Denial Industry manufactured stunts and events in the run-up to Copenhagen, which were intended to and succeeded in derailing the COP15 Climate conference and have led to a new low in public perception of AGW science, in sharp contrast with the continued accumulating of scientific evidence . The crescendo is in itself circumstantial evidence of a carefully planned and coordinated campaign, including the CRU hack

    Of course, I couldn't omit 'Smoke, Mirrors & Hot Air: How ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco's Tactics to Manufacture Uncertainty on Climate Science' - by The Union of Concerned Scientists.

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  17. Robert Park has an excellent book called:Voodoo Science which deals which anything from pathological through junk and pseudoscience ending with basic fraudulent science.

    The warning signs of bad science are (wikipedia):

    1. Discoverers make their claims directly to the popular media, rather than to fellow scientists.

    2. Discoverers claim that a conspiracy has tried to suppress the discovery.

    3. The claimed effect appears so weak that observers can hardly distinguish it from noise. No amount of further work increases the signal.

    4. Anecdotal evidence is used to back up the claim.

    5. True believers cite ancient traditions in support of the new claim.

    6. The discoverer or discoverers work in isolation from the mainstream scientific community.

    7. The discovery, if true, would require a change in the understanding of the fundamental laws of nature.

    All of the above criteria fits nicely onto various blogs and prominent figures in the non-scientific and very minor scientific community that strongly opposes mainstream climate science.

    Of course, you can be exited about discovering something new, just make sure it is not voodoo.
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  18. While agreeing in general with the description of defects in the process of advertising education, especially the science that affects the economic fundamentals of the global economy ..., I have given:

    1. In my country, I was repeatedly called denialist ..., the concept that this is often used when there is no scientific rebuttal ...,

    2. denialism initially served for the determination of the people contradicting the Holocaust. Use it interchangeably for "skeptic" - is: unscientific, unethical and immoral (The broad use of the word "denialism" is controversial, as it has been criticized as a polemical method of suppressing non-mainstream views. Similarly, in an essay discussing the general importance of skepticism, Clive James objected to the use of the word denialist to describe climate change skeptics, stating that it "calls up the spectacle of a fanatic denying the Holocaust" - Wikipedia),
    3. Interests - lobbyists, often change their minds - in Europe: Statoil, Shell began to fund scientific work to confirm the accuracy of the theory of AGW ... (CCS very pays them ...),

    4. Titles, the assumptions for grants, often suggest a research results. Without reform of science - the release of the "utopia" of grants, particularly in the complex area of science such as climatology, can never be said of the honest scientific consensus ...

    5. According to many theorists of scientific methodology - "scientific consensus" is a concept unscientific ... This censorship ...

    6. Until recently it was "scientific consensus" regarding LIA - Black Death - rats - bacteria, currently the last few years this pattern is different: LIA - black death - a man - a virus similar to HIV ...

    7. Such researchers as e.g.: Copernicus, Bruno, Milankovitch, Wegener, etc.. by official science, de facto, too, were called "denialists" ...

    So Let's get the concept of "denialism" to the trash can and return to the discussion on climate.
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  19. Many sceptics get very upset when accused of 'climate denial', because of the phrase's similarity to 'holocaust denial' (yes, I know; it's illogical).

    For this reason I'm very careful not to call someone a 'denier' except in the instance of them wilfully distorting or obfuscating evidence. The vast majority of people recorded in polls as not accepting AGW are actually 'don't knows'; sceptics who find it difficult to accept the facts because the repercussions -- taxation, lifestyle changes -- are just too unpleasant to contemplate. While, scientifically speaking, using the correct meaning of the word, they ARE 'deniers', if we want to change their minds we would be best, pragmatically, not to address them as such directly. To do so is to create hostility and actually increase their resistance to listening to the facts and changing their minds.

    I recommend this policy as a professional film-maker who has spent thirty years being paid by companies, NGOs and the UK government to influence people's perception of things in order to create change.
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  20. #18 said:

    According to many theorists of scientific methodology - "scientific consensus" is a concept unscientific.

    I would like to know what philosophers of science said that. To me, science is a collegiate activity, and the scientific consensus on a topic should always be the starting point of any discussion. To name one historian of science (and geologist) Naomi Oreskes, a consensus of experts IS science.

    Karl Popper & Thomas Kuhn are the philosophers everyone has heard of, but Imre Lakatos synthesised their work by defnining science as a set of fruitful research programmes. Creationism, astrology and most climate scepticism are not fruitful research programmes, much as they try to ape scientific method. Other parts of climate scepticism are marginally scientific at best. Climate science has been one of the major success stories in terms of fruitful research for the past 50 years.
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  21. You are opening up a can of worms here you won't win.

    I definitely think some of the (better) papers presented on this site are stronger (eg absorption spectra for c02), arguments for strong AGW influence than some of the political/psychological arguments, such as the above.

    One could as easily respond to the above wth the "5 characteristics of scientific opportunism and distortion".

    But should I bother? I doubt it.

    Modern era-examples might include: phrenology, eugenics (some of the best recent reviews by eg S J Gould), social darwinism (particularly in Germany and the USA), limits to growth and eg the Club of Rome (some of the best recent reviews by eg B. Lomborg), Mann's tree ring hockeystick (yes, I insist, it's rubbish science), Lysenkoism and Russian agricultural science; whilst some older examples might include Pythagorean geometry and the suppression of the dodecahedron and the square root of 2, Plato's forms, Babylonian astrology, alchemy, various animal and human sacrifice to try and influence the weather and the climate, and so on. (The last one being a rather sensitive one, it seems, for some on this site).

    Note also: It doesn't have to come from the 'establishment' to qualify as opportunistic/ or noble cause corruption/disortion of 'science', (eg Carl Sagans various lists of pseudo science in the Demon Haunted World" etc); and just what constitutes the 'establishment' anyway opens up yet another can of worms, which is why this sort of pro- consenses/establishemnt argument will go round and round in circles and ultimately nowhere.

    Pro AGW advocates won't ultimately advance their cause by citing the history of science or politico-psychological arguments. Their only chance of success is verifiable, reproducible, empirically-based, open-data based science.
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  22. I find the long, though partial, list given by thingadonta as the best evidence of the power of science. Science is a never ending process and anything can be proved false; the scientific process takes care of it and after a while false theories are rejected, they do notlast long. AGW theory is still here and confirmed after more than a century of scientific scrutiny, chances are it will last.
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  23. How timely! While I wrote my post above, Arkadiusz Semczyszak's posted his comment, above mine, which makes my point perfectly.

    In response to his post: Arkadiusz uses false arguments that deniers repeat endlessly. The fact that some scientists who were once called deniers were subsequently proved right in no way sets a precedent. I'm sure history would show that deniers are proved wrong at least as many times as they are vindicated. Consequently there's no worthwhile rule that can be extrapolated, in either direction.

    The term 'scientific consensus' means only that it's the majority view amongst the scientifically-informed at a particular moment. On any subject, at any given time, there will always be a consensus view -- excepting the rare occasions when, temporarily, there is a 50:50 split. To attack the concept of scientific consensus seems to me to be tilting at windmills.
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  24. Thingadonta's (#22) list is interesting but only 3 items are post Second World War. Of those Lysenko's domination of genetics took place in the closed society of the USSR, and was confined to it. It did not gain adherance in the wider scientific community.

    Eugenics, social darwinism, and phrenology are more late Victorian that truly modern. Much of what we now understand as science was defined by the work of Popper, Kuhn and Lakatos in the 1950s and 1960s. They would hardly make the grade as "sciences" today.

    Club of Rome etc. is economics, and there is an ongoing debate as to how much of the social sciences are "science". On the "Hockey Stick", thingadonta is only articulating his own prejudice, I believe.

    No doubt there are nooks and corners of "science" that do not make the grade - but climate science is not one of those.
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  25. John Russell
    How insulting epithets used to help study the climate?
    I do not understand it ...
    Is better (which does not mean: "good") the excess of freedom in science, than not ...
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  26. I think we also need to be clear about the meaning of the term 'sceptic' (or 'skeptic' - if you must). Scepticism is a good thing and all scientists should be sceptics. However, everyone should ultimately be amenable to evidence and logic. The problem with most AGW so-called 'sceptics' is that they are not amenable to either of those things. Simply holding a contrary view does not make someone a sceptic, at least not in the scientific sense of the word. Fabricating and distorting evidence certainly doesn't make someone a sceptic.

    I do have misgivings about using the term 'denier' or 'denialism' as it can offend, but am far more wary of using the term 'sceptic' when discussing AGW simply because most of those I've come across from the anti-AGW side simply don't merit the term, and applying it to them devalues the concept of scientific scepticism.

    It is unfortunate that the term denialism has gained associations with the holocaust denial. I don't know who first made the connection, but suspect it was someone from the anti-AGW side trying to escape being labelled a denier. I wouldn't have the connection myself. My dictionary defines denial as "refusal to agree" and "the rejection of the truth of a proposition" which, to my mind, best describes the likes of Steve Goddard (see John’s previous posting).
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  27. Consensus on the most. But first we need to prove "bad faith - bad intentions", then ...
    As a rule, however, the opposite is happening: first, "segregation", and only then the arguments or the lack thereof.
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  28. @13 chriscanaris

    "..the sheer fervour with which the two sides advance their positions.."

    Fervour is defined as "great intensity of feeling or belief; ardour; zeal". I'm curious to see examples from the "pro" AGW side. Surely you can't be referring to the articles posted on this website?
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  29. Riccardo, your statement about theories which can withstand a century of scientific scrutiny being likely to last is ironic given that the 'greenhouse effect' theory dates back to 1824 and the idea that humans could enhance it by increasing the concentration of atmospheric CO2 to at least 1896.

    AGW already HAS withstood the 'test of time'... which is why you'd be hard pressed to find a reputable scientist who disputes it. Lindzen, Spencer, even Singer (who I don't consider at all reputable)... they all admit that AGW is real. Only the degree of warming it will cause is still debated. That so many 'skeptics' still question the basic premise of AGW despite acceptance of the overwhelming proof by even skeptic scientists is indicative of just how much of this 'debate' is driven by the tactics of denial described in John's article.
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  30. CBDunkerson,
    you don't need to convince me, this is exactly what i said :)

    "AGW theory is still here and confirmed after more than a century of scientific scrutiny"
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  31. Riccardo, oh... somehow I mentally inserted an "If" at the start of that sentence. Ok, just ignore me until I'm more awake. :]
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  32. thingadonta writes: "... Lysenkoism and Russian agricultural science ..."

    I think that's actually a pretty good analogy for "denialist science." Lysenkoism was essentially a contrarian attack on mainstream genetics and evolutionary biology, in which a handful of outsiders were promoted for political reasons, partly because they were more closely aligned with the dominant ideology and partly because of wishful thinking (their claims, if true, would have led to increased grain yields).

    Likewise, in the US (and elsewhere to a lesser extent) we see actual scientists being harassed and a small fringe group of contrarians being energetically promoted, because the latter's claims are more closely aligned to the conservative ideology of the dominant power structures in western societies. (And also because a similar kind of wishful thinking makes the argument "global warming is a hoax so we don't have to reduce CO2 emissions" far more appealing than the argument "global warming is real, so we might need to do something about it." ....)
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  33. What an excellent post here. From the conversations I typically have I find at essense that the deniers assume there are political motives from the work of scientists, which ultimately is part of conspiracy theories.

    They believe that the scientific research has been deliberately tampered with to reach a pre-determed conclusion. In their minds, this obviously goes on repeatedly throughout the world and in every scientific journal. The glimmers of "truth" they see are a combination of the fake experts and cherry-picking (often in combination with logical fallicies).

    The somewhwat more intelligent in the denier crowd often stop short of the conspiracy story and state that the majority of scientists are merely naive and do the wrong research for funding and advancement reasons.
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  34. JC should stick to science. This thread is Orwellian double speak, attributing the faults of the Alarmists to their opponents.

    Most of the denizens of this site are living in a cozy cocoon where there is no Climategate.

    You are right to oppose junk science but most of that is coming from people like Gore, Pachauri and Mann. Your cause is doomed as long as you cling to false prophets.
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  35. When writing about climate deniers / sceptics, there are often caveats about what true scepticism is and therefore what separates real or honest climate sceptics from those that clearly use the tactics described by Johns points 1 to 5.

    Could anyone please let me know of a respectable scientist, knowledgeable about climate science, but that is still sceptical, without falling into any of the 5 denialist categories? Is Lindzen one, or is he not respectable?

    Or, how can you be an honest legitimate knowledgeable climate change sceptic - what is the acceptable argument, without falling into any of the 5 traps?
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  36. ( #18 ) Regarding the place of consensus in science, I'll link to something I said on another thread:

    Science and consensus

    If there's no consensus, it's not science, it's a debate society. Note that this involves both a consensus of _evidence_, a body of facts that every agrees upon (with various levels of trust and certainty, depending on opinions about how the data was collected) and a consensus of theories that fit that data.

    Copernicus wouldn't have been able to formulate his heliocentric theory without a detailed body of data on planetary movements, and despite political issues it has become the consensus view since it fits the data best and makes testable (and tested) predictions that differ from other theories.
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  37. Isn't it illustrative that the first comment in this thread about denialism is an attack on Al Gore? I have to say I'm getting very tired of this. As a scientist (Ph.D. from UC Berkeley) I consider Mr. Gore to be a citizen-scientist of the highest order.

    I had the opportunity to spend a day with Mr. Gore listening to him talk about climate change and answer questions from an audience of 250 people. Richard Alley from Penn State was in the room (at Mr. Gore's invitation) to answer questions Mr. Gore could not, and to correct Mr. Gore if he answered questions incorrectly. Professor Alley only had to speak up twice all day.

    Can you imagine Singer, Watts, or any of the other famous denialists inviting Richard Alley to review their work publicly in real time?
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    Response: Hard to imagine but I would pay good money to see it.
  38. carabanjo> I think that you can be a legitimate skeptic if you for instance accept the fact that the Earth is warming, accept the fact that we are increasing the CO2 levels, but doubt that the present climate models are accurate enough to predict the future effects of CO2 emissions(the Freeman Dyson type point of view). Or if you accept the present models, but think that there are more important things we have to use our limited resources on than bringing down the pollution of the atmosphere (the Bjorn Lomborg type point of view). I can image other possibilities.

    I don't agree with these points of view, but I don't think that they are inherently dishonest or fall within
    the list above.

    I understand the frustrations it causes that often incorrect arguments and big lies are more efficient in a political debate than statements based on sound science, but this is sadly a fact of political life.

    The list above has strange similarities with this completely unrelated list.
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  39. It seems from some of the posts here, that there are some who are still confused about the difference between a skeptic and a denialist.

    I constantly hear denialists claim they are skeptics, but they fail to understand what a real skeptic is - or they deny it.

    I posted a summary of the differences on my site.

    To me, the differences are clear and consistent with what John posted here.
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  40. Thingadonta says "Pro AGW advocates won't ultimately advance their cause by citing the history of science or politico-psychological arguments. Their only chance of success is verifiable, reproducible, empirically-based, open-data based science."

    And this site is full to the rim with exactly that kind of stuff. Whereas the self proclaimed "skeptics" have, what again? Soon&Baliunas, Carter&De Freitas, Lindzen&Choi. And that's the top of the top. The layer below is E&E, then Beck and then, well, whatever.

    The question is: where does the weight of the evidence lead? Not a very difficult question.
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  41. In a little book called "Let the People Think" Bertrand Russell gave a most parsimonious piece of advice, that can save a person hundreds of hours not wasting time on junk that is not getting anywhere. Here it is:

    "When the experts are agreed, the opposite opinion cannot be held to be certain;
    "When [they] are not agreed, no opinion can be regarded as certain by a non-expert;
    "When they all hold no sufficient grounds for a positive opinion to exist, the ordinary man would do well to suspend his judgment."

    The validity of the climate warming denial is uncertain.
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  42. "You are opening up a can of worms here you won't win."

    "JC should stick to science. This thread is Orwellian double speak, attributing the faults of the Alarmists to their opponents."

    Comments like these point to the effectiveness of addressing the tactics of the denialists. The propaganda machine hates having it's methods examined. The anti-science crowd would love to keep up the endless "debate" over the science. And while the science is fun and interesting, the best way to fight back against the misinformation campaign is to expose, analyse, and dissect the rhetorical methods being employed.
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  43. Question.

    If I find myself in agreement with the "scientific consensus" on the first three topics
    (smoking/cancer, HIV/Aids, and Creationism),
    but have serious reservations about man-made climate change driven by CO2, does this make me "a denialist"?
    Or merely 25% "denialist"?

    Science is done by human beings and communicated to other human beings. If a seemingly intelligent person disagrees with me about something I have attempted to explain to them, and I find their apparent intransigence frustrating, it might actually be my fault for not explaing it clearly enough.
    (It is also possible that I may be wrong, which is not enjoyable and I try to avoid it, but the scientific
    method obliges me to consider it).

    Different people may need different types of explanation to be convinced.
    Merely telling them that they are wrong only works with some people, and insulting them works with even fewer.

    The word "denialist" is perjorative.
    As such, I consider it to be political term that
    is coined merely to categorize, discredit and insult those who are not in agreement.
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  44. "Isn't it illustrative that the first comment in this thread about denialism is an attack on Al Gore? I have to say I'm getting very tired of this."

    Be prepared for a long, hard fight. These assertions are not going to evaporate-- or be less effective-- simply because they are so obviously wrong. Many people want to disbelieve the science; creating doubt about it is easy.
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  45. Sean A. > Somehow I doubt that this approach works in politics. If you are the target of a misinformation campaign, analysing and dissecting it usually does not help you much. That's exactly why this method has become so popular. It is hard to defend against it.

    I think that the best strategy for the scientific community is to do what they are best at - doing science - and simultaneously try to build alliances with people inside politics and media.
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  46. @ 34. GallopingCamel: "Most of the denizens of this site are living in a cozy cocoon where there is no Climategate."

    Anyone who still thinks "Climategate" was anything other than a sham is not a Galloping Camel; they are a Stationary Ostrich - one with its head buried deep in the sand. Even many conservative papers, like 'The Economist', have picked up on the gross misrepresentation behind the contrarian hysteria. Of course, the official inquiry may prove me wrong. I guess we should reserve final judgement until then.
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  47. In response to @ 34. GallopingCamel, and anyone else who holds on to perceived failings of "Mann's Hockey Stick", or Al Gore, or "Climategate", I have only this to offer:

    Timeline of climate science.

    This puts the history of climate science, policy and media reports into perspective. If, for example, someone argues against "Mann's Hockey Stick", just look at year 1998, then work backwards. You'll see that Mann's work, good as it is, is only a small step in the understanding of climate change.

    Denialists nit-pick on small snippets of factoids, but they ignore all the other evidence that AGW/ACC is real. They certainly aren't "big picture" people.
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    Response: This is a great resource, I've added it to my list of Global Warming Resources. I love that you provide links to old papers.
  48. Cheap point

    ...on the phenomenon of scientific denialism. A vivid example is the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, who argued against the scientific consensus that HIV caused AIDS........
    Still I suppose its a move forward from implying that sceptics are as bad as Nazi's
    How many eminent doctors professors of medicine and surgeons could Mbeki summon for support of his views.

    Your other thread
    "scrutinising the 31000 scientists in the OISM Petition Project"
    Even if only half survived your scrutiny does it not give you pause?
    Stick to the science the rest is pointless hot air!
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  49. thefrogstar wrote (#43):
    "Science is done by human beings and communicated to other human beings."

    Yes, but it is not a individual contribution like an artist (Michaelangelo or van Gogh). Every scientist stands on the shoulders of others. Einstein made perhaps the greatest individual contribution to physics ever, but even he had the work of Planck, Maxwell and Lorentz before him to build on.

    Science is collegiate, and not a disparate group of individuals perpetually arguing with each other. Eventually, hard nuggets of sound propositions precipitate from the ferment - they are treated sceptically and tested, but they are working hypotheses nevertheless. It is those propositions, the products of a collective research programme like climatology, that get communicated to the non-scientist.
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  50. Emotions are running high in this thread, which is great, but regrettably this often leads to comments that don't exactly comply with the spirit of the site's normal Comments Policy.

    I'd just encourage everyone to try to keep the politics etc. strictly limited to this thread, rather than letting them spread out into the rest of the site. If the tone of some of the comments in this thread starts "infecting" other threads, it will create a lot of moderation work for John, meaning he'll have less time to work on the next science post. And nobody wants that!
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