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The Strange Case of Albert Gore, Inconvenient Truths and a Man in a Powdered Wig

Posted on 19 August 2010 by gpwayne

This post is the Basic version  (written by Graham Wayne) of the skeptic argument "Al Gore got it wrong".

Al Gore, certainly the most vilified proponent of climate change anywhere in the world, earned most of this enmity through the success of a film he presented called An Inconvenient Truth (AIT). The film was a staid presentation of climate science to date, a round-up of research, science and projections, with many cinematic sequences employed to harness the power of the medium.

The majority of the film, covering issues like Himalayan Glaciers, Greenland and Antarctica losing ice, the severity of hurricanes and other weather phenomena, was accurate and represented the science as it stood. Since the release of the film, considerably more evidence has been found in support of the science and projections in the film.

One claim was in error, as was one attribution of a graph. The error was in the claim that climate change had caused the shrinking of Mount Kilimanjaro, although the evidence that the shrinkage was most likely caused by deforestation did not appear until after the film was made. The error of attribution was in reference to a graph of temperature and attributes it mistakenly to a Dr. Thompson, when it was actually a combination of Mann’s hockey stick and CRU surface temperature data.

The Legal Case

The film is also subject to attack on the grounds that Al Gore was prosecuted in the UK and a judge found many errors in the film. This is untrue.

The case, heard in the civil court, was brought by a school governor against the Secretary of State for Education, in an attempt to prevent the film being distributed to schools. Mr. Justice Burton, in his judgement, ordered that teaching notes accompanying the film should be modified to clarify the speculative (and occasionally hyperbolic) presentation of some issues.

Mr. Justice Burton found no errors at all in the science. In his written judgement, the word error appears in quotes each time it is used – nine points formed the entirety of his judgement - indicating that he did not support the assertion the points were erroneous. About the film in general, he said this:

17. I turn to AIT, the film. The following is clear:

i) It is substantially founded upon scientific research and fact, albeit that the science is used, in the hands of a talented politician and communicator, to make a political statement and to support a political programme.

22. I have no doubt that Dr Stott, the Defendant's expert, is right when he says that:
"Al Gore's presentation of the causes and likely effects of climate change in the film was broadly accurate."

The judge did identify statements that had political implications he felt needed qualification in the guidance notes for teachers, and ordered that both qualifications on the science and the political implications should be included in the notes. Al Gore was not involved in the case, was not prosecuted, and because the trial was not a criminal case, there was no jury, and no guilty verdict was handed down.

Note: the vilification of Al Gore is best understood in the context of personalisation. When opponents attack something abstract - like science - the public may not associate with the argument. By giving a name and a face and a set of behavioural characteristics - being a rich politician, for example - it is easy to create a fictional enemy through inference and association. Al Gore is a successful politician who presented a film, his training and experience suitable to the task. To invoke Gore is a way to obfuscate about climate science, for which Gore has neither responsibility, claim nor blame.

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Comments 1 to 22:

  1. And if I remember correctly, the hypothesis that Kilimanjaro was all down to forest clearing and nothing to do with climate change has itself been rejected. Why anyone would suggest that Kilimanjaro was not responding to warming at least to some extent, whether other exacerbating factors were in play or not, escapes me I'm afraid. The attacks on AIT are to do with its effectiveness in arousing public awareness, which was the intention of the film. Presenting climate change research in a simple and understandable way. The deniers, and the energy companies, couldn't be having that, hence the attacks. Can you imagine the result if the popular denier stuff was subject to the same attacks as AIT - does anyone seriously imagine they would come out of it like AIT - pure as the driven snow?
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    Moderator Response: Indeed, there is a Skeptical Science argument post on Kilimanjaro. Type Kilimanjaro into the Search field at the top left of this page.
  2. Cant help wondering how much jet fuel it has taken to get the word out.
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  3. Since then Mt Kilimanjaro has shrunk even more, and is now no more than a small hill. (Sorry, couldn't resist :-) )
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  4. @RSVP: Do you wonder about the net effect of Gore's flying also? Or do you feel that it should never be allowed to cost a little to gain a lot?
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  5. Kim B 4 It would obviously be worse if everyone went to see Al Gore instead. :)
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  6. RSVP #5: And now I have this very weird image in my head of everybody from all over the world going to Al's House on a yearly pilgrimage (on foot, of course), and Tipper (who's helping out) screaming @ Al "Did you bring enough coffee?" :D (Sorry, couldn't resist either :-) )
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  7. i) It is substantially founded upon scientific research and fact, albeit that the science is used, in the hands of a talented politician and communicator, to make a political statement and to support a political programme.
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  8. Does anyone know what Mr. Gore is doing these days re climate change?
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  9. I think the level of abuse routinely directed at Al Gore is extremely unfair. Considering the scientific literacy of politicians in general, particularly in the US, I’m actually pretty impressed with how much Gore got right. I mean, imagine putting certain other US politicians up on a platform for an hour and a half and asking them to talk about science – I don’t think the result would be pretty.
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  10. Factfinder: and yet relatively rapid global warming has occurred. If we don't know what's causing it (obviously you can't point to alternative science-based explanations that have better or the same level of confidence of climatologists' explanations), then we don't really know if it's going to get better or worse 10-20 years from now. Upon what basis, then, do you choose to act? If the future is a totally unknown quantity to you, how do you decide what to do next? Or is it that you have access to the 100% Truth? Certainly no scientist will make such a claim. What is the purpose of skepticism? To learn or to protect? Btw, and I see this quite a bit from those who aren't scientists, a "hypothesis" is a testable statement. The greenhouse effect is a "theory" that has generated thousands (perhaps tens of thousands) of testable (and tested and published) hypotheses. A "theory" is an understanding of how something works, given all of the evidence generated by the testing of hypotheses. A "law" is a theory that has a confidence level such that scientists assume it to be the truth (in other words, of thousands of tests of its hypothesis, it's never been found to be false. That doesn't mean that people aren't willing to keep testing it, though). Finally, because there is so much and such varied evidence (even of the types you might call circumstantial) for rising CO2 levels being the basis of increasing global temperature, I suggest you look around this site, choose one of your arguments against AGW, and test it against the arguments of others. That's a much better way of actually changing someone's mind (or the minds of many) than to make a shotgun blast of unsupported statements and questions that have very complex answers (such as your "many different climates" question).
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  11. factfinder, I suggest you try to find some facts and actually read what is written by others, before commenting. Firstly, James Wight does not appear to be holding Al Gore up as any sort of scientific expert or authority - but, even as a politician, he probably knows more than most (although that may not be saying much), especially most US politicians. Actually, probably more than most UK politicians (and Australian, etc.) too. That doesn't mean he is any sort of expert, though, so calm down and stop obsessing about him. Secondly, I thought so-called skeptics reckon that Al Gore (as well as being fat, apparently) is already a billionaire, having an untold number of mansions (especially below sea level, etc.) burning an untold amount of carbon by having all the lights on every hour of every day. Thirdly, do you actually have any figures to show that potential 'doubling of electricity' and 'non-benefit to the environment' ? Do you need any evidence, in order to believe that ? Fourthly, what do you mean by 'making a change in climate' and what do you think is important about 'different climates' ? As for evidence, see It's NOT the sun, It's NOT cosmic rays, It's NOT Solar Cycle length and here, It's NOT a natural cycle, There IS empirical evidence for it being CO2, AGW IS happening and here, It IS us, and here. Once you have read all that, come back and present your arguments against any of it.
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  12. It is time for this film to be re-released updated and/or another one which incorporates the flood/acidification of our seas and plankton die-off. Also some of the miss-information tactics of the big oil etc. Who cares if it is taken to court. This actually helps to spread the word.
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  13. "proponent of climate change"? Really? Since when is Al Gore FOR climate change?
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  14. Looks like my comments related to post #7 got pulled during the day so I'll tone them down. The judge seems to be saying that the film is being used for political purposes. There have been other politicians that have used science and technology for political ends. Political uses of science such as Gore is doing tend to create a situation where science can be codified into law. This is against science. What if spontaneous generation had been somehow written into law. Gore is not a good spokesperson precisely because he is a politician.
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  15. TOP, do you not see that the denier movement is also "political"? That, indeed, preventing the acceptance of the science and the necessary action is a far more political act than simply making the reality of the science available to a larger audience and leaving them to make up their mind about the politics involved?
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  16. I agree with paulm (12) that Gore should update his film. Talk openly about the 'warming leading CO2' brouhaha, the hockey-stick, and our better understanding of consequences. Honestly, the possibilities are much grimmer, now, then when he published. His particular gravitas and delivery work well to communicate this subject, and his detractors can hardly be motivated to hate him more than they already do. But there could be something oddly cathartic about such a revisit. I sense that everyone in America, skeptics included, is now aware that 'something' is going on. Placing Gore in their faces would be a way of teaching that sometimes when you personalize an argument for egos sake, the victim is you and your young ones, not the target of your vituperation. This country could use fewer freedom fries, and a bit more humble pie in its diet.
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  17. Saying that the case was brought by a 'school governor', makes it seem far more innocent than this case actually was. See Wikipedia for details about the right-wing New Party, secret funding and the involvement of our favourite so-called skeptic...the merry Monckton ! And it was a judicial review in the Administrative Court of the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court, which thought it not fit to go forward to a full judicial review hearing with one or more judges.
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  18. TOP @14 The judge seems to be saying that the film is being used for political purposes. There have been other politicians that have used science and technology for political ends. Political uses of science such as Gore is doing tend to create a situation where science can be codified into law. This is against science. No, the judge was saying the film was encouraging a particular political agenda, driven by the scientific evidence presented. This is not codifying science into law, but using scientific findings to help drive policy. I wonder what you would have drive public policy ?
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  19. Dave Horton Actually the denier movement is more religious. This is because of certain presuppositions that differ on either side of the argument. Phil Political agendas translate into laws and court decisions. In the early 60's psychiatric opinion was that the bible and prayer in schools was harmful to some student's psyches. The Supreme Court used that "science" to overturn 150 years of precedent and history. The Scopes trial got evolution pretty close to being the codified into law in many places. At least you can't teach or even discuss opposing viewpoints. Interestingly in this example the science has changed so much from what Darwin wrote that he would be laughed out of any current discussion on the topic. Generally in these kinds of arguments if you don't get down to the presuppositions and how either side is attempting to change them you can't really see what is at stake.
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  20. TOP:
    The Scopes trial got evolution pretty close to being the codified into law in many places. At least you can't teach or even discuss opposing viewpoints.
    Of course you can. You can't teach creationism in *science* class, because it's not science. This would be true even if evolution were false. But you can certainly teach creationism in the context of *religious studies*. In case you haven't noticed, the Torah is a religious work, not a scientific work.
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  21. I've found Gore very useful, if anyone brings him up, they are not focusing on the science, so I can safely ignore them.
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  22. TOP wrote: "The Scopes trial got evolution pretty close to being the codified into law in many places. At least you can't teach or even discuss opposing viewpoints. Interestingly in this example the science has changed so much from what Darwin wrote that he would be laughed out of any current discussion on the topic." This is just not true. Scopes was found guilty and fined. The verdict was later overturned on a technicality. Steven Jay Gould later showed in an essay how school texbooks toned down the presentation of evolution after the case. It is only in retrospective (after a Hollywood movie) that the case looks like a watershed. It was the launch of Sputnik, when the US feared it was losing a technology lead in the Cold War, that revolutionised the teaching of biology. Only in recent years have the courts upheld the banning of religious subject matter (like Intelligent Design and Creationism) in American science classes. No other Western country seems to have that particular conflict. The science has changed from so much from what Darwin wrote? Darwin's observations of evolution and human descent are as fresh today as they were in 1859, and have been backed up a wealth of further studies. What he lacked was a genetic theory of how modifications are passed on. Genetics is a keystone of the Modern Synthesis, but Darwin will always be honoured as the Great Founder, and rightly so. I suppose we would have a good laugh at Galileo's physics, and Bell's primitive telephone while we are poking fun at Darwin.
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