Category Archives: Denial

Debunking the myths of the anti-Fluoridation movement: spread the word

Tim over at New Anthropocene has put together a list of the more common myths pushed by the anti-fluoridation movement.

Like me, Tim is a keen advocate for good science. If you don’t know his blog, check it out. He has been doing some remarkable work on the anti-fluoridation movement in Australia.

It is a terrific resource that needs to be shared more widely. It is stunning just how familiar all these arguments are.

From creationists, to climate sceptics and those that doubt the effectiveness of the MMR vaccine, there is a common thread linking them – the use of cherry picked facts, anecdotal evidence and confusion over basic science.

This one is my favorite as it is very familiar: Anecdotal evidence is UNSUBSTANTIATED evidence against fluoridated water

Typically the individual states that they (or someone who they know) experienced some symptoms when they were exposed to fluoride and were able to test this but eliminating fluoride exposure to “prove” the case. 

Merilyn Haines, President of the Queenslanders for Safe Water, Food and Air inc. provides anecdotal evidence to support her claims regarding fluoridation of drinking water with the case of her sister moving to Townsville. Her claim hinges on a complete disregard for potential co-founders that could arise from the 800 km move to a different city and the fact that her sister had clearly been exposed to fluoride over her entire life through toothpaste and foods without experiencing symptoms. 

Anecdotal evidence is the crux of the claims for many positions, such as anti-vaccination, whereby the MMR vaccine is supposed to cause autism, anti-wind farm, whereby exposure to wind farms has supposedly caused everything from irritability and low libido, to herpes, cataracts and accelerated aging! 

With fluoridated drinking water, Lamberg et al (1997) looked at the symptoms people stated they experienced due to exposure while they were exposed to fluoridated water and after fluoridation stopped (with the subjects unaware of this). The rates of symptoms did not significantly change until after the expected end of fluoridation, not with the actual event itself, leading the researchers to conclude that the supposed symptoms were psychologically based and not related to actual exposure to fluoridated water. 

Anecdotal evidence for this reason is not sufficient and when others rely on it as evidence, the alarm bells should ring.

 

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The Maginot Line Defence and moral imagination: climate change isn’t real; maybe it is; we should all give up!

Give_up

Mark Lawson is a journalist at the Australian Financial Review noted for his climate scepticism and frequent posts on any climate change thread on The Conversation. Indeed, he is the frequent target of criticism by other posters for making basic errors of fact.

Be that as it may, in the comments section of the post reprinted on WtD, Mark made the following comment in relation to the challenge of establishing global agreements:

I have no quibbles with the article but the main surprise is that anyone seriously thought that an enforceable, global system for limiting emissions could be put in place in the foreseeable future. The immense difficulties were apparent before the Copenhagen conference in late 2009. Activists are only now reluctantly acknowledging this reality.

Getting the US to agree to anything nationally is simply impossible for the reasons the author sets out. Even the well-supported multi-state programs are largely tokens. As for the Chinese, there is big talk but mostly it’s all just hot air. A pilot program for emissions trading in a few cities doesn’t even apply to power stations.

Basically forget it. Come back in a few decades.

Yes – let’s just “basically forget it”.

Indeed, let’s do nothing at all.

Let’s be like Mark and throw our hands in the air and say, “To hell with you humanity, I can’t be ars*d!”

I’m certainly not underestimating the challenges climate change presents – it is truly a problem from hell.

Indeed, there is a real possibility it is beyond humanity’s collective efforts to respond adequately.

However there is a difference between articulating the complexity and scope of the problem and giving up.

Mark employs what I call the “Maginot Line Defence”: it is not so much an argument but the psychological process of moving from denial and/or indifference to defeatism:

Climate change is not real! > Climate change is not real! > Climate change is not real! > Climate change is not real! > Maybe it is real? > Oh cr*p it is real! > It seems like a hard problem… hmmmm > We should all give up!

The Maginot Line, for those who don’t know, was a line of fortifications built by the French between the First and Second World War to protect themselves from another feared German invasion.

When war broke out again, the Germans simply – and quite literally – drove around it.

This led the dispirited French armies to collapse in confusion. France fell in a matter of weeks, and the rest they say was history.

At the time the French army was regarded as the most effective fighting force in the world, however the French national psyche had been badly mauled during WW1. Millions had died in the trenches.

Those losses haunted the French in the decades following the Armistice of 1918.

And so, the idea of fighting another such bloodbath was intolerable to many of the French populace.

So they built a wall and hid behind it, feeling safe behind the imagined security it offered.

The rise of Hitler, new developments in military technology and the innovative combined land-air tactics of Blitzkrieg (not a term the German’s used themselves by the way) was a reality many people did not want to face and refused to even see.

Hence the inflexible, supposedly invulnerable, wall of defence built to shelter them from a threat without having to directly confront it.

Those who employ the Maginot Line Defence in the climate debate are doing likewise, but at the individual level – primarily to protect themselves from the uncomfortable thoughts about the future (something akin to terror management theory) or having to address thorny questions about justice and lifestyle change:

“Climate change real? That’s a change not worth thinking about!”

For many, the response is to hide behind a reflective – and reflexive – wall of indifference in order to avoid disquieting feelings.

But reality can only be kept at bay for so long: eventually it circumnavigates even the most artful defences.

It is then people can resort to defeatism:

“Climate change!” you now hear many sceptics and defeatist cry “…even it if was real, way too hard to solve! What are going to do about it?”

The solution they offer:

“Forgot about it – give up! Come back in a few decades!”

Perhaps these people won’t ever personally know someone forced to relocate due to rising seas, floods or collapsing regional economies in drought-impacted areas.

They may regard these as other people’s problems.

Do not they not have the right to ignore the suffering of others and prohibit such trivia punctuating their consciousness?

Of course they do: there is not – nor should there be – any compulsion for them to do so.

The garden of our soul is for us alone to tend.

But should we only consider our own well-being and short-term needs?

Is that an ethical way to move through the world?

Denial is not so much the refusal to accept scientific facts, but a failure to employ the moral imagination.

Those who employ their moral imagination have the capacity to imagine different futures and the suffering (or flourishing) of others; to pay attention to the pull of their individual conscience; and to acknowledge the impact they have as they move through the world.

Or – we could all just give up.

Stopped clocks, bad debts and climate sceptics: or why the latest paper on climate sensitivity does not vindicate the sceptics (nor suggests complacency)

clock_broke

For those who pay attention to minutiae of the climate debate, you may have noticed the denial-blog-sphere is all-a-flutter with claims of “Sceptics proven right.”

This source of this self-congratulation among the sceptics is a recently published paper in Nature Geoscience titled Energy budget constraints on climate response by Alexander Otto et al [doi:10.1038/ngeo1836].

I was able to source a copy of the paper and took the time to appraise how it could possibly be the source of so much sceptic excitement.

Let me quote from the paper so that you may judge whether-or-not the sceptics have been vindicated:  

“The rate of global mean warming has been lower over the past decade than previously. It has been argued that this observation might require a downwards revision of estimates of equilibrium climate sensitivity, that is, the long-term (equilibrium) temperature response to a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentrations…”

The paper notes:

“The most likely value of equilibrium climate sensitivity based on the energy budget of the most recent decade is 2.0 °C, with a 5–95% confidence interval of 1.2–3.9 °C…”

From this, sceptics have claimed the death knell of climate science. Having read it, the take home points are for me are:

  • the oceans have been sequestering a great deal of heat – much more and much more rapidly than we thought 
  • that will come to an end at some point in the future, with the heat coming back out as the climate system tries to reach a point of equilibrium (note: as the atmosphere and oceans exchange heat)
  • the rate of warming for the last decade has been at the lower end of model projections
  • thus in the short-term the climate may warm 20% more slowly than previously expected (i.e. transient climate response)
  • even though we may not see some of the extremes predicted in earlier models, a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentration opens the door for an average temperature increase of +/- 4.0C.

Good news story and the death knell of the climate conspiracy?

Hardly.

The research is not that a radical departure from the results of climate science, but consistent with other work within the field.

It is also worth noting the paper does not take into consideration tipping points or other anticipated positive feedback mechanisms such as increased methane emissions – the release of vast quantities of this most potent greenhouse gas from beneath the Arctic tundra due to warming.

A small and maybe irrelevant point? Must likely not.

Indeed there are a quite few nasty surprises like methane out-gassing lurking out there – things known but generally avoided in many models (the planets decreasing albedo effect as the extent of the Arctic ice decreases anyone – anyone?).

It will be worth watching the research on climate sensitivity over the coming years: at least form the perspective of how policy makers, sceptics and the public react to this informaiton.

Just how fast, and how extreme, will the warming be?

A very interesting question indeed.  

Bad “climate” debts accumulating: no time for complacency

A 2.0C-4.0C increase in average temperatures will have a significant impact on large parts of the globe, if not devastating large swathes of it.

As the oceans draw down heat it will fuel their thermal expansion, a major driver of projected sea level rise. Nor will the oceans continue to do humanity a favour by acting as endless sink for the additional heat we’re adding to the climate system.

Crop production around the mid-latitudes is going to be hit hard, which incidentally is where most of humanity resides. Remember the aforementioned sea level rise? Many millions in the mid-latitudes will be forced to relocate.

But hey, wheat production will increasingly shift to Canada and the Arctic circle. You win some, lose some right?

Like avoiding a bad debt by taking out another high interest credit card to cover your repayments, this warming is going to raise its ugly head in the future. One may avoid paying your debts in the short-term, but at some point the Sheriff will come a-knocking and take the keys to your car and what personal property you have.

Likewise, the climate will come and “ask” us for the debt we “owe it”.

Things like coastal cities and productive farmlands will be the collateral confiscated to service the “warming debt” our species is accumulating.

Perhaps we’ve gained a little extra time – a tiny window of opportunity really – to bring down greenhouse gas emissions. Perhaps we have more time to plan adaptation measures.

Whatever the case, the window for action is still narrow: this research is not cause for complacency.

Sadly I fear laggard policy makers and the mischievous will see it as such, and continue to push the cause of inaction.

Deep time, deep history, climate change and living through interesting times

Let’s also place this “pause in warming” in context.

In geologic terms, the rapid increase in atmospheric CO2 and the warming trend is unprecedented in the planet’s history.

It is vital we stop thinking in terms of a climate change as the up-or-down temperature swings of a particular decade. We accuse sceptics of cherry picking; likewise we need to remove our own myopic filters.

We need to pay far closer attention to the paleoclimate record: as James Hansen has recently argued, we cannot fully appreciate the profound changes the planet is undergoing without drawing on the lessons of the geologic past.

Nor should we disregard the warming oceans, the decline of Arctic sea ice and the increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere – and the many other metrics – all point to the same conclusion: warming has not stopped.

Perhaps it is the own cognitive limitations and the transient nature of how we experience time that creates such a short-sighted and myopic view of climate change.

I suggest we think in terms of both deep time and deep history.

2.5 billion years from now, should our descendants or a successor species of comparable intelligence dig into the Earth’s crust they’ll find evidence of our civilisation: but not in artifacts or fossils.

Instead they will note the abrupt disappearance of species in the fossil record (evidence of a mass extinction event) and the changed chemical composition of ocean floor and terrestrial sediments.

The evidence will point to a warmer world relative to other periods within geologic history. Billions of years into the future, a faint but still distinguishable trace of humanity’s impact will be evident. 

That’s how profound and long-lasting the changes humanity has wrought are.

We’ve not seen this level of CO2 in the atmosphere in millions of years: most recently during the mid-Pliocene (5.3-2.5 million years ago).

At that point the average temperature was 3.0C-4.0C higher, while sea levels were 25 meters higher.

However, we won’t have the luxury of billions of years of perspective to ponder what happened: we’ll be living through those profound planet-shaping and epoch-defining changes.

Actually, we are living through those planet-shaping and epoch-defining changes.

Of stopped clocks and claims the planet is no longer warming

What also interests me is the sceptic response.

As anticipated, they’ve misinterpreted the paper and claimed it as vindication of their views.

My response to that is even a stopped clock gives the right time twice a day.

It’s well understood the rate of temperature change has varied over the last 150 years: to claim such a pause is evidence against warming is to merely be right by chance, and not for the reasons the sceptics likes to claim.

The sceptics are in no way vindicated: a slower rise in land temperatures does not imply climate change has stopped, or was “exaggerated”.

Indeed, lead author of the paper Alexander Otto makes that point in an interview with The Guardian:

“Otto said that this most recent pattern could not be taken as evidence that climate change has stopped. “Given the noise in the climate and temperature system, you would need to see a much longer period of any pause in order to draw the conclusion that global warming was not occurring,” he said. Such a period could be as long as 40 years of the climate record, he said…”

Sage advice the sceptics are won’t to ignore.

Which of course they do…

Perth’s resident climate sceptic and conspiracy theorist Jo Nova is the most self-congratulatory, breathlessly announcing they (sceptics) where right all along:

I think the climate sensitivity figure is still too high but it’s good to see estimates being revised in the right direction. Reality bites back. The deniers were ahead of the climate experts. We said the models were exaggerating and we were right.

Andrew Bolt in his usual fashion is not even close to being wrong claiming “alarmists” have finally admitted defeat:

Sure, warmists exaggerated the temperature rise so far, The Age finally admits. But we still have to believe they’ll be right about the apocalypse to come:

The rate of global warming caused by rising greenhouse gas levels could be slower than previously thought, but will still result in the same eventual higher temperatures as earlier forecast, new research has found.

Note also the story suggests there has been a “rate of global warming” over the past decade, without actually telling you what it is. If the reporter did, he’d have to admit there’s been no warming at all…

Bolt completely misrepresents the results of this paper; his view that there has been no warming is completely contradicted by Otto’s statements – whose work Bolt seeks to misappropriate to support his fallacious argument.

Bolt also gets it spectacularly wrong in his first sentence: no one is revising historical temperature increases down (as his wording implies), they are revising the short-term (i.e. transient) rise in the global temperature average slightly down over the coming decades.

Global warming has not stopped; it just may have hit a very small and minor speed bump. It is virtually certain to pick up speed again. 

Thus it would seem Mr. Bolt is struggling with such basic concepts as the past and future. But, hey like whatever Andrew: us warmists have always got it wrong.

I’m sure he got his “facts” from Watts up with That? or some other climate sceptic blog and they fitted nicely with his prejudices – he tags the post “Dud predictions” without fully appreciating what he is posting.  

Sorry to disappoint Andrew, but we’re still heading towards a much warmer world.

The sceptic response: the enemy of my enemy is the fact we can cherry pick

What’s remarkable here is not the paper itself, but the sceptic response. Indeed, their response is ripe with irony.

For decades sceptics have claimed the models constructed by climate scientists are unreliable and not to be trusted.

And yet, when a model or a piece of research shares the barest hint of concordance with their views they proclaim it as a victory for sceptics.

It seems the old adage “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” applies. 

To paraphrase in sceptic terms, “the enemy of my enemy is the facts I can cherry pick”.

Sceptic victory?

Hardly.

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Cut and cherry-paste: The Australian shamelessly cherry picking the words of scientists

Pity poor Tim Lambert.

For some time he kept us amused with his series The Australian’s War on Science, keeping News Limited’s flagship paper honest by pointing out its frequent distortions of science.

Tim blogs less frequently on Deltoid, nor have seen an entry for the War on Science for some time. Before I started Watching the Deniers I was a frequent reader of Deltoid: I credit his work as one of influences and inspirations for this blog.

I blame Chris Mitchell – editor of The Australian – for Tim’s silence. How so you say?

The distortion of science has reached such prodigious proportions at “The Oz” you’d need a veritable army of winged monkeys locked in a science library, each one furiously researching and cataloging that paper’s ongoing misrepresentation of science. Cataloging the breadth and depth of the misrepresentation of science and scientists within the pages of The Australian is now beyond the capacity of a single individual.

Tim did the smart thing: he came, he saw, he captured their many distortions and then preserved his sanity by moving on. In doing so he has left us an invaluable record.

No doubt, Tim is experiencing far less moments like this:

Still every now and then it is worth revisiting how Mitchell and his merry band of scribblers happily ensconced in their Surrey Hills bunker like to play at “science”.

Cherry picking: four-for-four misquotes

The no warming for almost 17 years myth got a healthy push today across News Ltd today, with both the Cut and Paste section of The Australian and Andrew Bolt pushing this falsity. 

Green Senator Christine Milne was the subject of today’s ritualized skewering of dissidents (i.e. those voices the editors of Murdoch’s publications deem enemies of unfettered free markets) for expressing the view climate change was “accelerating” on Channel Ten’s Meet the Press:

TORY Maguire: One of the ongoing, really damaging things for Julia Gillard politically, has from the very beginning continued to be her backflip on the carbon tax. Are you starting to look now at the fact that you, the Greens, pushed her so hard in 2010 to make that deal, when, really, it is going to end up being counter-productive, because she’s going to get absolutely obliterated at the next election, and Tony Abbott has promised to overturn it.

Christine Milne: Well, the key thing is that global warming is accelerating.

In the style typical of Cut and Paste, Milne’s comments were juxtaposed with four seemingly authoritative quotes that both undermined her view while implying the science community had reached a new consensus on climate change: that the warming had “stopped”.

In case you were in doubt, today’s Cut and Paste was titled “Isn’t it terrible when people insist on denying the consensus about climate change.”

The four quotes are as follows:

[Quote 1] Professor Myles Allen, head of the climate dynamics group at the University of Oxford, January 8:

A LOT of people (not the IPCC) were claiming, in the run-up to the Copenhagen 2009 conference, that warming was accelerating and it is all worse than we thought. What has happened since then has demonstrated that it is foolish to extrapolate short-term climate trends. We did see unexpectedly fast warming from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, but the IPCC, quite correctly, did not suggest this was evidence for acceleration.

[Quote 2] Dr Richard Allan, reader in climate science at the University of Reading, January 8:

GLOBAL warming is not at a standstill but does seem to have slowed down since 2000 in comparison to the rapid warming of the world since the 1970s.

[Quote 3] Professor Brian Hoskins, the director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London:

THE current news item that the Met Office now predicts no global warming in the period up to 2017 is based on the latest five-year forecast run with their new climate model . . . One interpretation of the forecasts is for little warming from 1998 until 2017. This is consistent with a multi-decadal fluctuation in temperature that presently opposes the continued upward trend.

[Quote 4] David Shukman, science editor, BBC News, January 8:

THE UK Met Office has revised one of its forecasts for how much the world may warm in the next few years . . . If the forecast is accurate, the result would be that the global average temperature would have remained relatively static for about two decades.

Of course, I could not resist going to the original sources. Let us examine the quotes and see if the experts cited in Cut and Paste agree with the implication that global warming has come to a standstill.

Quote 1: Myles Allen “It is foolish to extrapolate short-term climate trends”

The source of the Allen quote can be found in an interview with the Science Media Centre (SMC) in an article published online on January 8 2013.

Here is the full quote – note, I’ve highlighted the text cited by Cut and Paste in blue and the critically omitted text in red:

“That said, a lot of people (not the IPCC) were claiming, in the run-up to the Copenhagen 2009 conference, that ‘warming was accelerating and it is all worse than we thought’. What has happened since then has demonstrated that it is foolish to extrapolate short-term climate trends. We did see unexpectedly fast warming from the mid-1990s to the early-2000s, but the IPCC, quite correctly, did not suggest this was evidence for acceleration. 

“While every new year brings in welcome new data to help us rule out the more extreme (good and bad) scenarios for the future, it would be equally silly to interpret what has happened since the early-2000s as evidence that the warming has stopped.”

Note the crucial sentence that follows on from the quote used by The Australian: “it would be equally silly to interpret what has happened… as evidence that the warming has stopped.”

So far, the first example of what can only be described as blatant cherry picking.

Quote 2: Richard Allan “Global warming is not at a standstill but does seem to have slowed down…”

Once again we can turn to the same SMC article, where Allan’s quote is provided in full:

“Global warming is not ‘at a standstill’ but does seem to have slowed down since 2000 in comparison to the rapid warming of the world since the 1970s. 

“In fact, consistent with rising greenhouse gases, heat is continuing to build up beneath the ocean surface: 

http://www.ncas.ac.uk/index.php/en/climate-science-highlights/284-warming-over-the-last-decade-hidden-below-ocean-surface 

“This indicates that changes in ocean circulation are in part responsible for the recent slower rate of surface warming. The way the ocean distributes the extra energy trapped by rising greenhouse gases is critical in determining the new Met Office forecasts of global surface temperature over the coming decade and is an area of active research. 

“These decadal forecasts are very much experimental – they are at the cutting edge of the science and are technically very challenging. The Met Office are being open and transparent by making the forecasts available to allow a proper validation to occur. The Met Office is one of about 10 groups performing these type of forecasts worldwide and all predict a warming over the coming decade. 

“Nothing in their data leads me to think that global warming due to human influence has stopped, or is irrelevant. It hasn’t, and it isn’t.”

Is it me, or are we beginning to see a pattern here? Allan’s careful comments and clarification of the science are completely misrepresented.

Note the final sentence: “Nothing in the date leads me to think that global warming… has stopped.”

Quote 3: Brian Hoskins “One interpretation of the forecasts is for little warming from 1998 until 2017…”

Does it seem a rather odd co-incidence that the Hoskins quote also appears in the same SMC article as the previous two? Fortunately the full quote is also available:

“The current news item that the Met Office now predicts no global warming in the period up to 2017 is based on the latest 5-year forecast run with their new climate model. Such forecasts are at the frontiers of the subject and form part of a research programme in this area in the Met Office and elsewhere, but should not be considered to be predictions. 

“One interpretation of the forecasts is for little warming from 1998 until 2017. This is consistent with a multi-decadal fluctuation in temperature that presently opposes the continued upward trend. However the two supported one another during the rapid warming in the 1990s and can be expected to do this again in the future, leading to another period of rapid warming. 

“The forecast results also suggest that half the years in the period to 2017 would be expected to give new record global temperatures.”

I’m shocked – shocked I tell you!

How could the editor of Cut and Paste miss the critical sentence that follows on where Hoskins states we can expect to see “another period of rapid warming” and that “half the years in the period to 2017 would be expected to give new record global temperatures.”

Surely a simple and honest mistake by the editor of Cut and Paste?

Quote 4: David Shukman “If the forecast is accurate, the result would be that the global average temperature would have remained relatively static for about two decades.”

At this point one hopes to be surprised, and that perhaps the BBC has changed it’s view from warmist to sceptical. But once again, when one goes to the article by Shukman one finds the following:

If the forecast is accurate, the result would be that the global average temperature would have remained relatively static for about two decades. 

Blog suspicions

An apparent standstill in global temperatures is used by critics of efforts to tackle climate change as evidence that the threat has been exaggerated. 

Climate scientists at the Met Office and other centres are involved in intense research to try to understand what is happening over the most recent period. 

The most obvious explanation is natural variability – the cycles of changes in solar activity and the movements and temperatures of the oceans.

A Met Office spokesman said “this definitely doesn’t mean any cooling – there’s still a long-term trend of warming compared to the 50s, 60s or 70s.

“Our forecast is still for temperatures that will be close to the record levels of the past few years.

“And because the natural variability is based on cycles, those factors are bound to change the other way at some point.”

The fact that the revised projection was posted on the Met Office website without any notice on December 24 last year has fuelled suspicions among bloggers.

However the Met Office says the data had been published in a spirit of transparency as soon as it became available from the computer that produced it.

Again, note the most critical information that provides context is in no way referenced by Cut and Paste.

Four-out-of-four quotes cherry picked.

Three scientists and one BBC journalist completely misrepresented.

That’s cut-and-cherry-pasting The Australian way.

 

Note: hat tip John for Skeptical Science article that global warming has “accelerated”.

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The continuing Lomborg deception: the “skeptical” environmentalist latest cherry picked wall street journal article

When is a sceptic not a sceptic, but someone denying climate change?

When they’re Bjorn Lomborg writing for the Wall Street Journal. 

Lomborg, for those not familiar with the  name, has made quite a nice career casting doubt on the seriousness of climate change will tentatively agreeing climate change is real. According to Lomborg: “Global warming is real – it is man-made and it is an important problem. But it is not the end of the world.”

Lomborg embodies what is called the “luke-warm” position””. Luke-warmers such as Lomborg argue the problem is overstated, thus on a cost-benefit analysis there is no need to do anything.

For this reason he’s long been a favorite of politicians and conservative commentators who are dismissive of the science but who still wish to pay lip service to the problem.  Opposition leader Tony Abbott cites Lomborg approvingly in his book Battlelines:

 “It doesn’t make sense, though, to impose certain and substantial costs on the economy now in order to avoid unknown and perhaps even benign changes in the future  As Bjorn Lomborg has said: “Natural science has undeniably shown us that global warming is man made and real. But just as undeniable is the economic science which makes it clear that a narrow focus on reducing carbon emissions could leave future generations with major costs, without major cuts to temperatures.” (Battlelines, pg. 170-171)

The Lomborg Deception

Howard Friel in the book The Lomborg Deception examined the many claims made by Lomborg and found he’d engaged in numerous fabrications and distortions:

In this major assessment of leading climate-change skeptic Bjørn Lomborg, Howard Friel meticulously deconstructs the Danish statistician’s claim that global warming is “no catastrophe” by exposing the systematic misrepresentations and partial accounting that are at the core of climate skepticism.

As Friel discusses in his work, Lomborg’s modus operandi is to cherry pick the scientific literature in order to downplay the risks of climate change.

And yet despite having been caught out misrepresenting the science time-and-time-again, Lomborg persists in cherry picking facts to suit his needs.

Case in point, his latest article in the Wall Street Journal.

Wildfires? No need to worry!

In the article Climate change misdirection (23/1/13) Lomborg makes a number of claims, noting that since the 1950s the wildfire activity has decreased since the middle of last century and will continue to do so:

Historical analysis of wildfires around the world shows that since 1950 their numbers have decreased globally by 15%. Estimates published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences show that even with global warming proceeding uninterrupted, the level of wildfires will continue to decline until around midcentury and won’t resume on the level of 1950—the worst for fire—before the end of the century.

Therefore in Lomborg’s mind we shouldn’t be worried. Clearly, the problem of global warming has been overstated – right?

However, true to form Lomborg has cherry picked the data, completely misrepresenting the research.

While I can’t say definitively, I suspect Lomborg is referencing the 2010 PNAS paper Driving forces of global wildfires over the past millennium and the forthcoming century.

The paper notes:

Around 1900 there is a sharp downturn in global fire activity, both in the model- and the charcoal-based records, despite increasing temperatures and decreasing precipitation.

Oh look, a sceptic money quote! However, the paper also contains the following graph:

PNAS_FIRE

So what’s going on here?

The continuing Lomborg deception

Lomborg is correct – since the 1950s there has been decreased activity in wildfires. However, Lomborg fails to mention what the paper makes explicitly clear in its conclusions – as temperatures increase, so will the incidents of wildfires:

Overall, the model captures historical trends influenced by a variety of natural and anthropogenic factors remarkably well, inspiring some confidence in the model’s projection of future fires. GISS GCM climate simulations (19), like other models, predict a significant warming over the forthcoming century (Fig. 2B). Rapidly rising temperatures and regional drying reverse the recent fire activity decline, driving a rapid increase after ∼2050 in all three scenarios examined here, described in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Emissions Scenarios…

The downward trend will (most likely) reverse due to climate change. They very opposite of what Lomborg hopes to imply.

Lomborg has no doubt cherry picked this 2012 paper because wild fires have been in the news – thanks to Australia’s summer of extreme heat and fire. Like all good deniers, he is fishing for factoids that will cast doubt on the obvious links between climate change and present weather extremes.

One should not be surprised by tactics such as these – Lomborg’s article embodies the deceptive manner in which sceptics such as Lomborg seek to deceive.

Scepticism or denial?

I think its easy to spot the difference.

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Money quotes and ripe cherries: can scientists avoid having their research “cherry picked” by climate sceptics?

 cherrypicking

Every  day there are dozens of new research papers on climate change related matters published, monthly there are thousands of them. In addition to the peer reviewed literature hundreds if not thousands of white papers, articles and blog posts are produced by the science community on climate change.

And while this cornucopia knowledge can be overwhelming even for the most dedicated reader on the topic, it represents a rich field of opportunity for those who wish to mischaracterise the work of scientists.

We are of course talking about the practice of cherry picking: selecting data and quotes from the vast sea of climate change related informaiton and reproducing it out of context. In doing so, opponents to mainstream science hope to cast doubt on the scientific consensus and undermine the public’s trust in scientists by taking their words out of context.

Two recent examples illustrate the practice of cherry picking by sceptics. In addition some suggestions are made to avoid or mitigate this tactic.

The Australian: no link between sea level rise and global warming?

The first example is that of The Australian’s misleading coverage of recent research on sea level rise. Environment Editor Graham Lloyd wrote a series of articles implying that there was no link between sea level rise and global warming during the 20th century.

Lloyd referenced the paper Twentieth-century global-mean sea-level rise: is the whole greater than the sum of the parts? and seized upon by the following sentence in the abstract:

“Semi-empirical methods for projecting GMSLR (global mean sea level rise) depend on the existence of a relationship between global climate change and the rate of GMSLR, but the implication of our closure of the budget is that such a relationship is weak or absent during the 20th century.

A reading of the entire paper suggests no such thing. As Graham Readfearn pointed out it was merely an attempt to “murder a scientific paper” by cherry picking a single sentence. Indeed one of the papers authors, John Church stated the article produced by Lloyd was misleading.

Fortunately in this case The Australian was forced acknowledge the article was factually incorrect, even going so far to issue a rare correction.

Did NASA scientist James Hansen really admit global warming “stalled”?

The second and most recent example is provided by sceptical blogger Anthony Watts (Watts up with that?).

Watts cherry picked a quote form a recent paper by noted NASA scientist James Hansen, implying Hanesen recently admitted there has been no global warming for the last 16 years:

Dr. James Hansen and Reto Ruedy of NASA GISS have written a paper (non peer reviewed) with a remarkable admission in it. It is titled Global Temperature Update Through 2012.

Here is the money quote, which pretty much ends the caterwauling from naysayers about global temperature being stalled for the last decade.

The five-year mean global temperature has been flat for the last decade, which we interpret as a combination of natural variability and a slow down in the growth rate of net climate forcing.

Gosh, I thought Hansen had claimed that “climate forcings” had overwhelmed natural variability?

A simple check of the original source demonstrates the clumsy manner in which Watt’s has cherry picked the quote to turn it into a “money quote” about stalled global temperatures. Here is the sentence in context (relevant quote underlined):

Global surface temperature in 2012 was +0.56°C (1°F) warmer than the 1951-1980 base period average, despite much of the year being affected by a strong La Nina. Global temperature thus continues at a high level that is sufficient to cause a substantial increase in the frequency of extreme warm anomalies. The 5-year mean global temperature has been flat for a decade, which we interpret as a combination of natural variability and a slowdown in the growth rate of the net climate forcing.

An update through 2012 of our global analysis (Fig. 1) reveals 2012 as having practically the same temperature as 2011, significantly lower than the maximum reached in 2010. These short-term global fluctuations are associated principally with natural oscillations of tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures summarized in the Nino index in the lower part of the figure. 2012 is nominally the 9th warmest year, but it is indistinguishable in rank with several other years, as shown by the error estimate for comparing nearby years. Note that the 10 warmest years in the record all occurred since 1998.

The long-term warming trend, including continual warming since the mid-1970s, has been conclusively associated with the predominant global climate forcing, human-made greenhouse gases, which began to grow substantially early in the 20th century.

As can be seen Watts has merely lifted a single sentence to mischaracterise the paper. Hansen and Ruedy do provide the appropriate context, highlighting the fact that “the 10 warmest years in the record all occurred since 1998″.

So in this charged environment what can the scientific community do to mitigate such abuses?

Don’t give them cherries

Real Climate noted the sentence in the Church et.al. sceptics seized upon was “awkwardly phrased”. However the Hansen and Ruedy paper is well written, clear and when seen in context the cherry picked sentence makes perfect sense.

For this reason scientists should not berate themselves for seeing their own words used against them.

A first step – and not to slight the authors of the paper on sea level rise – would be to avoid giving sceptics the oppurtunity to pick low-hanging fruit (it is acknowledged the vast majority of scientists are indeed very careful).

However, Watts unintentionally reveals the mindset of climate sceptics by referring to the sentence he lifted from the Hansen/Ruedy paper as a “money quote”.

Sceptics such as Watts are not engaged in reading the scientific literature in an intellectually honest way: they are hunting for anomalies. Regardless of how much caution a scientist may take, it is inevitable sceptics will cherry pick the literature in order to cast doubt on the science.

Stopping the lie before goes around the world: rapid response and press council complaints

To quote Mark Twain “a lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.” But once the lie has taken flight how should we respond?

Rapidly, calmly and with the facts.

The recent example of The Australian being forced to issue a rare correction offers a salient lesson in dealing not only with the claims of climate sceptics, but with blunting a potent “meme”.

Sites such as Skeptical Science, Real Climate, DeSmogBlog, The Conversation and Climate Progress are all excellent platforms for countering misinformation. Were possible, getting corrections published in the mainstream media is worth pursuing. That includes authoring articles or writing letters to the editor. Even jumping into the forum comments might help undo some of the damage.

Nor should individuals and scientists be afraid to take their concerns to regulatory bodies such as the Australian Press Council (PAC) to tackle misinformation that appears in the mainstream media (MSM).

A member of the public is free to lodge a complaint; however doing so is not a trivial matter. It is vital to review the guidelines for making a complaint.

While sceptics often cry “censorship” when they find themselves corrected, it is vital to counter their misinformation.

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The era of vocal science denial: Big Bang denial and the search for truth (reprint)

A terrific article by Michael J. Brown from Monash University on the persistence of “big bang denial”. It makes an interesting comparison climate change denial, demonstrating that an individuals and values and beliefs can lead them to reject accepted science.

Ever since Edwin Hubble discovered the universe was expanding – and thus implying the universe had a beginning – there have been those who have challenged the evidence. This article originally appeared on The Conversation. Enjoy!

By Michael J. I. Brown, Monash University

We are living in an era of science denial. An era when well-established facts are disputed, fake experts are interviewed by the media and blog posts trump science papers.

It’s an era of vaccine denial, evolution denial, and of course, climate change denial.

I’d also add Big Bang denial to that list. Sure, it might be more esoteric than climate change denial, but it’s attracting increasing amounts of attention, thanks to the efforts of people such as US congressman Paul Broun, who declared late last year:

All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell.

In living memory, the most vocal opposition to the Big Bang has gone from the realms of legitimate scientific debate to that of science denial.

The 100-inch (2.5 m) Hooker telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory that Edwin Hubble used to measure galaxy distances and a value for the rate of expansion of the universe. Wikimedia Commons

But how did this come to pass? What are the origins of Big Bang denial? And does it provides clues about the future of science denial generally?

Early debates

Today the Big Bang paradigm is supported by a plethora of observations:

  • the expansion of the universe measured with variable stars, supernovae and the distribution of galaxies
  • the faint microwave afterglow of the Big Bang fireball
  • the abundances of the light elements (such as hydrogen and helium), forged in the hot and dense furnace of the early universe
  • the young galaxies seen in the distant universe.

Even a tiny bit of the static seen on an analogue TV is from the afterglow of the Big Bang.

But in the 1940s there was far less to go on.

Einstein’s general theory of relativity was largely untested. Edwin Hubble had measured the expansion of the universe, but was grossly in error. Using Hubble’s data and the Big Bang theory, it seemed like the sun was older than the universe. And the original Big Bang paper was conceptually brilliant but technically flawed.

In this environment, other theories seemed equally plausible. Perhaps the universe was in a “steady state”, where new matter was created as the universe expanded. This seemed reasonable given the limited data available. Crucially, most theories made robust predictions about what astronomers might have observed in the coming decades.

Eureka! An image of the cosmic microwave background from WMAP. WMAP Science Team, NASA.

Breakthrough

In 1964 there was a Eureka moment. By accident, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson discovered the microwave afterglow of the Big Bang. This afterglow simply hadn’t been predicted by other theories.

Edwin Hubble’s protege, Allan Sandage, improved measurements of the expanding universe, showing it was far older than Edwin Hubble supposed. And so the Big Bang theory was no longer conflicting with the age of the sun.

Most astronomers were increasingly convinced by the Big Bang theory, but a core of opposition remained.

Steady state theories were tweaked rather than abandoned. In the process some abandoned Ockham’s Razor, the idea that the simplest hypothesis that explains the data is the best. Often the tweaks were contrived, such as “iron whiskers” being spread across the universe by exploding stars.

Typically the tweaks came into conflict with data soon after their inception. For example, we can observe very distant galaxies and quasars at microwave wavelengths, but this would be impossible in a universe full of “iron whiskers”.

Some claimed the Big Bang theory could not explain “anomalies”, such as groups of quasars and galaxies that should have been at different distances. But the statistics were so poor that these “anomalies” could be explained via random alignments of nearby galaxies with distant quasars and gravitational lensing.

Extraordinary claims about the supposed failings of the Big Bang theory weren’t being backed by extraordinary evidence.

Repetition

Today, there is a wealth of data that is explained with the Big Bang paradigm. Astronomers and physicists still propose many new theories (e.g. quintessence), but most include an expanding universe with a Big Bang at its beginning.

The original Big Bang opponents are dead or old, but some persevere. Unfortunately, they often just repeat flawed theories and analyses from earlier decades, often ignoring well-established facts and newer research.

Astronomers have surveyed millions of galaxies and quasars, but many Big Bang opponents continue to focus on small samples with poor statistics. This is similar to the way vaccine opponents often rely on small studies and anecdotal evidence rather than large epidemiological studies which show the benefits of vaccines.

The inability of many Big Bang opponents to update their analyses and let go of disproved ideas now serves as a cautionary tale to younger scientists.

The distribution of galaxies in observations and simulations is remarkably similar, despite what Big Bang opponents claim. The Virgo Consortium

Denial

But now, a new generation of Big Bang opponents has risen. Often they have an amateur’s knowledge of astrophysics and strong ideological motivations, even if they have a background in science. They want the universe to conform with their preconceived ideas.

As a consequence, science denial can come from those at both extremes of the ideological spectrum. Young Earth creationists oppose the Big Bang because it makes the universe billions of years old. Even some atheists oppose the Big Bang because it has a creation event.

Big Bang opponents often ignore well-established evidence, and as a consequence they are publishing less and less in peer-reviewed science journals. Often the most vocal opposition to the Big Bang appears online in fringe journals and websites, where it can avoid astronomers’ difficult facts and criticism. This is also true of those opposing anthropogenic climate change, who publish just a tiny fraction of all peer-reviewed papers on climate.

The amateur Big Bang opponents make amateur’s mistakes and straw-man arguments are common. There are claims, for instance, that the distribution of quasar and galaxy distances isn’t explained by the Big Bang paradigm.

However, Big Bang opponents have not compared observations with predictions from theory and simulations, so these claims are baseless. When astronomers compare observations with simulations, there is no discrepancy between the data and the Big Bang paradigm.

Astronomers point out these mistakes time and time again. However, many Big Bang opponents reframe the criticism as scientists defending orthodoxy, rather than acknowledging the errors made.

According to the Big Bang model, the universe expanded from an extremely dense and hot state and continues to expand today. The image above is an artist’s concept illustrating the expansion of a portion of a flat universe.

Australian physicist (and Big Bang opponent) John Hartnett has stated:

The standard model is assumed to be correct and when evidence questioning that conclusion is found … a special effort was immediately made to show how it could still be explained in the standard model.

“Special effort” is an unjustified and strange choice of phrase. What matters is the fact that observations and theory simply agree.

Perception

The public perception of the Big Bang debate has changed with its protagonists. When opposition to the Big Bang is discussed, it is framed in terms of ideology rather than scientific debate.

US presidential hopeful Marco Rubio recently sidestepped a question in an interview with GQ about the age of the Earth, perhaps in an effort to court young Earth creationists. The resulting controversy focused on politics and theology, and the science was rarely questioned. Eventually Rubio clarified his answer, stating that the Earth is at least 4.5 billion years old.

Perhaps this is the end result of science denial – the media and public largely stop debating the science. Decades ago the smoking debate in the media was focused on the validity of the science. The science is no longer disputed in the media, and the debate has moved on to the politics of individual choices versus public health.

So what does the current state of Big Bang denial mean for the future? There are interesting parallels with the climate debate.

The tiny minority of climate scientists who are vocal critics of anthropogenic climate change are mostly over 50. Younger climate change deniers are often amateurs, bloggers and ideologues. The number of scientists questioning anthropogenic climate change is going to decrease in the coming decades.

Perhaps this is the good news about science denial. While science denial can influence public debates, this influence wanes without the backing of scientists. As elderly scientists fade from view and aren’t replaced by credible alternatives, the public debate will stop questioning the science.

To quote German Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Planck:

A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

Or, to paraphrase ever so slightly: “Science advances one funeral at a time.”

Michael J. I. Brown receives research funding from the ARC and Monash University.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

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