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Climate Hustle

Three perfect grade debunkings of climate misinformation

Posted on 21 January 2014 by John Cook

Professor Scott Mandia at Suffolk County Community College teaches his students using the approach of agnotology-based learning. Agnotology is the study of ignorance and misconceptions. Agnotology-based learning addresses misconceptions and myths while teaching climate science. Two decades of research have found that  direct refutation in the classroom is one of the most effective ways of reducing misconceptions.

As part of the college class MET103  - Global Climate Change, students pick a climate myth from the Skeptical Science list of myths. Our refutations are often written at multiple levels: Basic, Intermediate and Advanced. Students are required to carefully study all the versions of a specific myth, then summarise all the information in their own words. Students are marked on how well they describe the myth, why it persists and how well they refute the misinformation. They're encouraged to read the Debunking Handbook for techniques on effective debunking.

In 2013, three students scored 100%, well above the class average of 72% or 77% in the Spring classes. All three students used an alternative explanation to fill the gap created by the debunking. They also used simple explanations to avoid the Overkill Backfire Effect.

Countering the “It's the Sun” Argument

Robert Necci began his paper by providing an explicit warning mentioning the myth, useful in avoiding the Familiarity Backfire Effect:

This argument is deliberately misleading; intended to shift public opinion by instilling doubt over the validity of climate science in the United States. The objective of this action is to create controversy and debate, allowing for any regulations on greenhouse gas emissions to be delayed for as long as possible.

Necci explains concepts such as radiative imbalance, total solar irradiance and the greenhouse effect. He reveals that TSI has decreased in the past few decades while global air temperatures have been increasing. The increased greenhouse effect is the only physical explanation for the modern day warming.

Read Robert Necci's full paper...

Hurricanes Aren’t Linked to Global Warming

Mike Santalucia describes how the planet is being warmed due to greenhouse gas emissions, leading to increased ocean temperatures and higher sea levels. These two factors are leading to more powerful and damaging hurricanes. The author challenges the myth of no trend in hurricanes by citing research finding “increasing cyclone numbers has lead (sic) to a distinct trend in the number of major hurricanes and one that is clearly associated with greenhouse warming”. Even if the number or intensity of hurricanes were not changing, rising sea levels due to global warming will make every hurricane more damaging via increased storm surges.

Read Mike Santalucia's full paper...

Ice Age Predicted in the 70s? Not So Fast

Anthony Buonasera refutes the myth that scientists were predicting a coming ice age in the 1970s by explaining that the origin of the myth comes from two stories in the popular press (TIME and Newsweek) and not from peer-reviewed scientific journals. From 1965 to 1979, there were a total of seven peer reviewed studies that predicted global cooling while 42 studies that predicted global warming.

Scott Mandia's classes are demonstrating that agnotology-based learning is a powerful way of engaging students, teaching climate science and equipping students with the critical thinking skills to detect misinformation.

Read Anthony Buonasera's paper...

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Comments

Comments 1 to 21:

  1. The link to Mike Santalucia's paper takes you to the wrong article.

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    Response:

    [JC] Thanks for the heads up, have fixed the link.

  2. I wonder how often Dr. Mandia encounters climate change deniers among his students and how they respond to his pedagogical approach?  A few years back I taught a course on the discourses of anti-science and in a class of twenty had three incorrigible deniers. 

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  3. I have a query,I hope this is an ok thread to put it. Recently I've seen quite a few people  arguing that we need to adopt nuclear power because renewables aren't capable of meeting our energy needs in time. In one case the person putting the view ultimately turned out to be a right wing climate change denialist. It certainly looks like a denialist tactic for disrupting progress on renewables, but it doesn't seem to be covered in your list of myths, or misinformation as discussed in this post.

    It seems to be a somewhat more subtle tactic than most of the myths and forms of misinformation discussed on this blog, because it allows the proponents to present themselves as being actually concerned about climate change. Have you, or are you going to cover this issue on the blog? (Apologies if you already have and I just haven't been able to find it - I'm an occasional visitor to this blog but I don't follow it regularly)

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Please try Its too hard and maybe "Renewables cant provide baseload" Not a simple subject.

  4. Kanspaugh, hopefully I can give you a satisfactory answer, since I was a studnet in Prof. Mandia's class. In the class I attended there was one student that would ask questions like "How do we know A is causing B? How do we know it's not a coincidence?" He never would create a direct confrontation with the professor, but I know he did not beleive much of what was taught in class, because before it began I would hear him and several other fellow students make remarks that indicated they thought it was a hoax. 

    What I recall Prof. Mandia would do in these circumstances is once again explain the concept to the student, follow that up with why we know the data supporting the claim is credible, and finally he would make points similar to the following; "Despite what I have told you, if we assumed for a moment that this single concept was a coincidence or factually incorrect, it is not anywhere near enough to discredit anthropogenic global warming, because you would still have to overcome A, B, C, D, E."

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  5. Val @3, while some deniers may have used this argument as a false flag argument, there is no doubt that most proponents of it are genuine advocates of nuclear power.  Some may in fact be advocates of nuclear power first, and only use concerns about global warming to advocate for what they want to have in any event, but that's OK.

    My view is that:

    1)  I think the argument is incorrect on balance of probabilities; but the argument that it is incorrect is not clear cut and depends on assumptions about future technological developments which may not pan out so I would not want to take nuclear of the table entirely;

    2)  I don't have to make a decision on the issue.  Rather, I need to get a price on carbon and let the market sort out which is the most economical way to meet the markets energy needs with that price on carbon.  If I am correct, nuclear will be a small portion of the mix of new energy.  If I am incorrect, it will be a large portion the new energy.

    3)  To allow nuclear to compete under that scheme it must be legalized (where it currently isn't), but it should be legalized only on the strict condition that it is renewable, where "renewable" nuclear is defined as nuclear energy in which all non-commercial waste is sequestered in a form that:

    a) has a lower mean radioactivity than its source ore body;

    b) is less prone to leaching than its source ore body; and

    c) the sequestered waste is more expensive to regather and refine than would be natural ores.

    The effect of these three conditions is to turn the nuclear industry into a complex mechanism to reduce the natural hazard from uranium ore bodies*.

    4)  Finally, I will not tie the battle to mitigate global warming to the battle to legalize nuclear power.  Mitigating global warming is to important to waste political capital by tying it to a method that is political poison, and probably unnecessary.  Of course, neither will I waste political capital opposing "renewable" nuclear.  On the contrary, I will suport it, but not campaign for it; and absolutely not tie the campaign to tackle global warming to it.

     

    (* These three conditions tackle issues of intergenerational justice with regard to nuclear.  The clearly to not tackle current risks in terms of nuclear accidents, spills, and nuclear weapon proliferation.  Those issues will also need to be addressed but as they are issues that effect the current generation primarilly, they can be tackled by any method deemed fit by the current generation.)

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  6. Val, one I hadn't seen before that actually came up in my class was the claim that CO2 actually had the effect of cooling the planet. The student claimed she had read it in an article by a NASA scientist. I tried to react calmly and cooly, but I was a bit surprised at the asburdity of the claim. On reflection, if it was an actual quote (I asked the student to send me the link, but she never did), it may have been cherry picked from a passage about conditions near the top of the atmopshere where, to the extent that they radiate their absorbed heat into space, CO2 (what little of it ther is) would participate in local cooling (if I understand this correctly). 

    It just goes to show, there is always another way to pick out some detail of a very complicated science and make it look as if there is some contradiction.

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  7. A bit of a digression, I'll try to keep it short. 

    I was in a room of people, all concerned about climate change, and a bit of an argument broke out over whether we should oppose or support nuclear.  I was able to silence the room by observing that in the war for a sustainable future, there are many battles to be fought; if we loose the battle on carbon, we loose the war.

    It is important to keep the focus on the most pressing danger, and not allow ourselves to become distracted into bickering amongst others on the same side.


    Tom Curtis at #6.2 resonates precisely with my own best answer to these types of questions.  I don't have to know what balance of alternatives is optimal.   I only have to know that a solution exists, and create incentive for the market to move toward it.

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  8. Wili- I'vec seen the CO2 cools the planet/NASA link after a solar flare hit the earth, excited the upper atmosphere and the CO2 there radiated, in effect cooling things off.  It's a fake out argument...a 1/25 of the truth sort of thing.

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  9. How does one properly debunk the fact that accurate satellite measurements have shown a halt in the warming over the last 17years or so? ARGO measurements show much the same thing. 

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  10. Warren Hindmarsh @9, it is fairly easy to debunk the two fictions you mention by simply pointing out that they are fictions.  This can be seen easilly for the satellite data on the SkS trend calculator.  Just set the platform to UAH, and the start year to 1997.0 and you will see the trend is 0.93 +/- 0.208 C/decade.  The central estimate, therefore is strongly positive, and while negative trends are not excluded, neither are trends 50% stronger than those predicted by the IPCC.  Calling such a trend "a halt in the warming" at best shows a complete lack of understanding of the meaning of error bars.

    Even worse is the misrepresentation of the ARGO measurements, which are shown here in red:

     

    Some people have misrepresented the ARGO data by only showing the 0-700 meter Ocean Heat Content, ie, by excluding 65% of the data.  Excluding data like that because you do not like what it shows is fraudulent.  Arguable, so also is the massive cherry pick involved in selecting 1997 (a very strong El Nino year, with temperatures far above trend rates) as a start year for your comparison.

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  11. Tom Curtis @10

     

    It is also noteworthy to point out that if you put in the same 1997 start date in RSS, you get a trend of -0.013 +/- 0.201.   So it can be stated that it is flat or even negative!

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  12. franklefkin @11, it is true that out of all seven global temperature indices you can find one that does not show a positive trend over the last 17 years.  However, the reason it is different is well known.  

    First, satellite measurements, which measure a weighted average of the air temperature from the surface to over 10 km of altitude (with different weights over land and ocean) are more strongly effected by ENSO fluctuations than instrumental records.  There are multiple lines of evidence showing that ENSO fluctations are the major cause of the reduction in the short term global temperature trend.  Being effected more, this means that satellite trends show a greater reduction in that trend.

    Second, the RSS temperature index excludes the high arctic, most of Antarctica, the Himalayas, parts of the Andes and part of Greenland.  The former are excluded because the satellite is never over those positions, while the latter are excluded because their altitude is too great for effective measurement.  The high arctic is one of the most rapidly warming places on Earth, and excluding it also contributes to a reduced trend in RSS.

    So while it is possible to cherry pick one out of seven indices to make a point, it is an obvious cherry pick, and one that exacerbates the cherry pick in using a temperature peak high above trend as a start point for known reasons.  Even so, the RSS indice includes the AR4 predicted trend within its uncertainty range.

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  13. Tom Curtis,

    Warren had asked about satellite measurements.  You cherry picked UAH instead of RSS.  His (Warren's) question was about 17 years, so he picked the time frame.

     

    Since you dismissed his question by stating it was false, I just pointed out it was actually correct.  You may be (most likely are) correct about the deficeincies of RSS, but the question asked was about the satellite records, not about a highly accurate satellite record.

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  14. Well I would say that there are several ways to "proper" debunk the "hasnt warmed x years". Firstly by pointing out that 17 years is a cherry pick - start with monster El Nino and end with ESNO neutral. Compare with using 16 years and 19 years. Second there is "accurate satellite measurements" - accurate according to who? Both UAH and RSS struggle with the numerous issues associated with drift and extracting LTT. The recent Cowtan and Way paper points the way to disintangling drift but hasnt been done to my knowledge. If you overlay the records, you will see that the satellite records for lower troposphere have a much stronger response to both La Nina and El Nino than the surface temperature record. Does the lower troposphere really react that differently to the surface or is that an artifact? Either way take "accurate" with a grain of salt. How do you think those temperature records (and subquently the trends) are going to react to the next El Nino or do you think such events are gone for good? (Look at past records for ENSO index for this).

    Finally temperature trends are very noisy and that is why climate is defined on a 30 year trend. Less noisy is the OHC and to the oceans is where most heat is going. No sign of a pause in global warming there.

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  15. franklefkin @13, it is true that I chose the only satellite index with global coverage.  However, Warren referred to "... accurate satellite measurements ..." (note the plural), which appears to indicate that both satellite records show the pattern.  His claim is false, therefore, if either does not.  Therefore showing UAH was sufficient to show his claim to be fiction.  Had he specified the RSS record only, then his claim would have been true, but massively cherry picked and misleading.

    Of course, it is possible that by "accurate satellite measurements" he meant "those, and only those, satellite measurements that make my statement true"; ie, that he was obliquiely cherry picking.  In that case I misinterpreted him and his first claim was true but a massive cherry pick.

    Unfortunately, while it is possible to interpret Warren as saying something true (though cherry picked as to source), or something not cherry picked as to source beyond the limitations to satellites, but false - we cannot be so charitable with you.  You want his claim to refer to both satellite records so that it is only a limited cherry pick, but also to only refer to the RSS so that it is true.  Alternatively, you want his claim to refer to both, but for a conjunction to be true when one of the conjuncts is false.

    You compound the irrationality by concluding "...but the question asked was about the satellite records, not about a highly accurate satellite record" when Warren in fact specified "accurate satellite records"  (my emphasis in both quotes).

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  16. Can anyone help?... (Not sure if this is the right area to ask this question)

    I would appreciate an opinion on the following comment posted in response to Graham Readfearn's recent Guardian blog. Having found information on ENSO, SAM and IOD I must admit I struggle to understand the relationships, specifically in response to the assertion below.

    The Comment
    Australian weather is not about ENSO on its own there are the SAM and the IOD These tend to reinforce each other depending upon their Phase. Australia has just experienced a multi year strong La-Nina which was not reinforced either by the SAM or the IOD. The La-Nina ended in 2012 every time we swing from a strong La-Nina we often experience a strongly positive SAM this keeps the usual west east weather patterns and cold fronts well to the south, similarly the OID is keeping WA dry and the northern Monsoon season has been delayed and mild. This is the exact opposite of AGW predictions, as the earth warms the Monsoon season is supposed to extend in duration and latitude. We are witnessing the weather not AGW, the last time something similar happened was in 1919.

     

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  17. denis.boarder @16, the comment is basically correct right up to the last two sentences.  Specifically, the three dominant short term fluctuations that influence Australian climate are:

    The Southern Annular Mode (SAM), which strongly influences whether the southern states (Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania) will have wet or dry winters.

    The Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), which influences spring (from memory) rainfall in the southern states, and summer rainfall in the top end (ie, northern Australia, particularly northern Western Australian and the Northern Territory).

    The El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which influences eastern state rainfall and temperatures, particularly Queensland and New South Wales.

    The last two sentences in the comment, however, are simply false.  The person writting the comment appears to have assumed global warming is supposed to cancel the effects of the drivers of weather.  That is a logical absurdity equivalent to assuming that because global warming is supposed to make things warmer, each night must be warmer than the preceding day.

    Rather than cancelling the effects of existing drivers of weather, global warming modifies those effects.  Thus warmer tropical waters results in more rainfall IOD positive states with more rainfall in northern Australia than past IOD positive states, in IOD negative states with more rainfall than past IOD negative states.  The result is a clear positive trend in northern Australian rainfall:

    It is interesting in this respect to compare 2013 with 1919.  Both years were significantly dryer in northern Australia than were surrounding years, consistent with your commentors claims - but the rainfall anomaly for 1919 was -129.35 mm, compared to -33.56 mm in 2013.  That is a difference of almost a 100 mm, and is inexplicable on the comment author's theory that its just weather, but is predicted as a consequence of global warming.

    Likewise, the SAM varies as a partern of weather, but global warming predicts that on top of that there will be a long term trend to more positive SAM conditions:

    (Updated graph available here.)

    It is that trend, explicable, and indeed predicted as a consequence of global warming, but inexplicable in terms of the SAM which explains southern Western Australia's long term drying trend:

    Note that the SAM was positve negative in 2013 (see updated chart in link), which explains why 2013 was wetter than most recent years in WA.  It does not explain why it was dryer than average, or why a wet year in the 2000s is about as wet as a dry year in the early 1900s.

    Similarly with ENSO, it was the strong La Nina which explained the record breaking floods in Queensland and Victoria in late 2010 and early 2011 (although not why they were record breaking); but it does not explain why the record broken for flood effected area in Queensland was set only in the preceding March during an El Nino event.  

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  18. Tom... many thanks. I appreciate your time. Will have a good read.

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  19. I will not tie the battle to mitigate global warming to the battle to legalize nuclear power. Mitigating global warming is to important to waste political capital by tying it to a method that is political poison, and probably unnecessary.

    No, it's necessary. Nuclear power is political poison exactly to the extent that it deprives governments of fossil fuel income (64 gigatonnes CO2 worth to date, according to Kharecha and Hansen). Any highly effective global warming mitigation method will excite the same sort of opposition.

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  20. Tom Curtis  Apologies but could you explain what appears (note I say appears not is) a contradiction in your post @10 above.  With regard to a pause or hiatus or whatever in global temperatures you state "Warren Hindmarsh @9, it is fairly easy to debunk the two fictions you mention by simply pointing out that they are fictions. This can be seen easilly for the satellite data on the SkS trend calculator. Just set the platform to UAH, and the start year to 1997.0 and you will see the trend is 0.93 +/- 0.208 C/decade. The central estimate, therefore is strongly positive, and while negative trends are not excluded, neither are trends 50% stronger than those predicted by the IPCC. Calling such a trend "a halt in the warming" at best shows a complete lack of understanding of the meaning of error bars"

     I may well have misunderstood but from what you write it seems you are  advocating starting at 1997 to "properly debunk the fact that accurate satellite measurements have shown a halt in the warming over the last 17years or so?"

    You then write  "Some people have misrepresented the ARGO data by only showing the 0-700 meter Ocean Heat Content, ie, by excluding 65% of the data. Excluding data like that because you do not like what it shows is fraudulent. Arguable, so also is the massive cherry pick involved in selecting 1997 (a very strong El Nino year, with temperatures far above trend rates) as a start year for your comparison."

    This suggests that picking 1997 as start year is somewhat fraudulent and is seemingly at odds with your earlier comment.  I expect I have misunderstood and apologies in advance if I have but would you clarify?

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  21. Poster @20, Jan 1997-Dec 2013 is 17 years.  As Warren Hindmarsh made a claim of "...a halt in the warming over the last 17 years or so..." I am required to use a 17 year interval to test his claim.  So yes, 17 years is a cherry pick, but it was Warren Hindmarsh's cherry pick, not mine. 

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