Category Archives: Logical fallacies

Desperately seeking paradigm shifts: sceptics looking for new ways to attack consensus

Lu_paper

Paradigm shift, really?

Anti-science movements evolve: new sceptic lines of attack

The recent paper by John Cook et.al. clearly showing 97% consensus among scientists that the globe has warmed in response to human activities over the last 150 years seems to have rattled large parts of the sceptic movement.

And while they have been bitterly complaining about the paper, their criticisms have failed to spill over into the mainstream media. Their counter arguments remain firmly lodged within the alternative knowledge sphere they have constructed for themselves.

Failing to gain any real traction in undermining the Cook paper, their tactics are now shifting.

The new line of attack is to undermine the idea that a scientific consensus is stable. Drawing on popular notions of the lone scientific genius (aka The Galileo Gambit) and the history of science, they are beginning to stress the instability of scientific consensus.

How effective that is remains to be seen. It may not be enough to dissuade the public from their growing appreciation a scientific consensus exists, but they’re going to give it a good try.

The hullabaloo over Lu

This may explain why of late sceptics and papers such as The Australian have latched onto the deeply flawed paper by Qin Bin Lu claiming CFCs are to blame for global warming, not CO2. Their strategy is simple:

  • Claim the Lu paper has overturned the 97% consensus
  • Suggest that even if the Lu paper has not overturned the 97% consensus, then consensus can be changed at a moments notice
  • Therefore it would be foolish to act on climate change given these scientific uncertainties.

Whether they continue to champion Lu’s paper or not is besides the point. The tactic is designed to achieve two outcomes. Firstly, continue to undermine the public’s understanding a consensus exists. Secondly, undermine the idea of a stable and enduring consensus on any issue.

This in fact may be even more dangerous than previous lines of attack if one considers the implications of such thinking.

If the public understands there is consensus, they’re more ready to accept the science

While the public has mistakenly thought a debate between scientists has existed this is starting to change. That their attitudes can shift matters.

A study published last year in Nature Climate Change demonstrated that if informed a scientific consensus exists, the average member of the public is more likely to accept the science of climate change:

Although most experts agree that CO2 emissions are causing anthropogenic global warming (AGW), public concern has been declining. One reason for this decline is the ‘manufacture of doubt’ by political and vested interests, which often challenge the existence of the scientific consensus. The role of perceived consensus in shaping public opinion is therefore of considerable interest: in particular, it is unknown whether consensus determines people’s beliefs causally. It is also unclear whether perception of consensus can override people’s ‘worldviews’, which are known to foster rejection of AGW. Study 1 shows that acceptance of several scientific propositions—from HIV/AIDS to AGW—is captured by a common factor that is correlated with another factor that captures perceived scientific consensus. Study 2 reveals a causal role of perceived consensus by showing that acceptance of AGW increases when consensus is highlighted. Consensus information also neutralizes the effect of worldview.

Such acceptance cuts across the left-right political spectrum. For obvious reasons, the very idea of a consensus is considered anathema to the sceptics.

But if the average person can be primed to accept the science in response to understanding a consensus exists, what lines of attack can we expect from the sceptics?

Enter Lu and the idea of consensus being inherently unstable.

The would-be paradigm shifter: Lu at Waterloo

For those unfamiliar with this weeks drama in climate science, Qing Bin Lu at the University of Waterloo (NZ) claims to have overturned the scientific consensus on global warming.

It is CFCs, not CO2 to blame. As noted, this theory has long been discredited.

Lu’s paper has been championed by The Australian, other sections of the conservative press and politicians as evidence the scientific paradigm on global warming has been “overturned”.

His claims have been examined and dismissed numerous times, yet Lu persists promoting his discredited theory [for good commentary see Eli Rabett here and here].

I suspect it’s revival and championing by sceptics has something do with the success of the Cook et.al paper and shifting public attitudes. 

Luntz Mark II: desperate attempts to keep the debate going

For those with long memories or an appreciation of the history of the climate debate, maintaining public confusion was one of the central strategies suggested in the notorious Frank Luntz memo.

Luntz, a Republican operative during the Bush years suggested Republican politicians push the idea the scientific debate remained open. In 2002 Frank Luntz instructed Republican politicians to question the scientific consensus:

Luntz

Thus, if the public comes to understand there is a 97% consensus, their views on global warming and the policy options available to them will change. Right? We crack what is the hardest nut in the debate. 

But the merchants of doubt have a new product. With the Lu paper they are attacking the idea of a stable scientific consensus. They are tweaking their long running strategy of claiming scientific issues (not merely the consensus) remains open

It is Luntz Mark II.

Consensus: a stable ground for policy formation, or not?

The climate debate in the public sphere is not about the science: it is about policy formation.

Policies designed to mitigate climate change have been effectively stalled for decades in large parts of the world at the global level.

The sceptic position, unlike that of the IPCC or scientists is not policy neutral. In fact, sceptics and their backers are specific on policy: keep taxes on industry low, constrain or dilute environmental regulations and ensure markets remain “free”.

But if the public, and by extension politicians, accept the consensus then movement within the policy arena shifts from inaction to action.

So what are the sceptics doing in response to this perceived shift in opinion?

Shifting the debate from being about the percentages of scientists accepting a theory to that of a consensus position being insufficiently stable to form the basis of policy formulation. 

It is well-known scientific uncertainty is a problem within the policy making sphere. One just has to look at how delayed the social response and regulation over the risks of tobacco smoking significantly lagged the scientific consensus.

Thus the sceptics are re-formulating their line of attack to influence both public perception and the policy sphere with this new wedge strategy.

Lone-genius-scientific-paradigm-busting-superstar: re-framing the question of scientific uncertainty and consensus 

Rather than suggesting the scientists are at odds over the science, they’ve taken it a step further. They are now re-framing the question of how stable a scientific consensus can ever be

It is the Galileo Gambit, the idea that all it takes is one individual (or one paper) to radically transform our understanding of the world.

Lu is this weeks would-be climate sceptic Galileo. Next week, next month it will be some other obscure scientist with an equally improbable hypothesis.

They’re looking for someone – anyone – to shift the scientific paradigm. Because if the paradigm “shifts’ (or has the possibility of shifting) then climate change is “not real”. Then the sceptics can continue to argue the debate is not over.

This new line of attack needs to be given consideration.

Anti-science movements don’t fade away they evolve: the long debate has barely begun

The_cow_pock

The vaccine debate is 200 years old

I appreciate not everyone will find the following prognosis cheery, but I think there is some validity to it.

Anti-science movements never truly fade away, their popularity ebbs and flows. Their arguments and tactics evolve and adapt.

They are long-lasting, multi-generational movements that sometimes fade into obscurity (as far as official keepers of knowledge are concerned) and re-emerge in periods of crisis.

Take vaccination as but one example.

The above cartoon by James Gillray from 1802 captures the fear that inoculation against cowpox would lead to cow like appendages sprouting from a person’s body. Indeed, it was produced for the anti-vaccination movement of the day.

Two centuries later, despite the obvious benefits and success of mass vaccination, serious doubt has crept into the public’s consciousness. We are now seeing a resurgence of diseases such as measles and whooping-cough once thought under control. As fewer people vaccinate their children, herd immunity decreases and we’re faced with resurgent pathogens. Children die.

Let us consider another example.

The Creationist movement of the 1920s started out with a very primitive set of arguments against evolution derived from criticisms stemming from the mid-to-late 19th century opposition to Darwin. The Scopes Monkey trial of the 1920s saw them suffer a setback.

The movement was dormant for several decades, as it faded into the background, a tenant of a variety of Evangelical churches in the United States. But slowly in the 1950s it began to re-emerge. In the 1970s advocates renamed Creationism “Creation Science” and gained success in promoting it as an alternative theory to the Evolutionary consensus.

Suffering a number of setbacks in a series of court tussles, creationists again reformulated the basic tenants of creationism and labelled it Intelligent Design.

The climate sceptic movement is no different. They will adapt and reformulate their lines of attack.

This broad trend needs to be given consideration.

 

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Andrew Bolt’s “The Death of Global Warmism”: Plimer’s book sold 40k copies, ergo climate change not true (part 4 of 11)

200px-DaVinciCode

More convincing then Plimer’s Heaven+Earth (if you go by sales)

[Part 4 of 11]

Summary of Bolt’s argument: Climate sceptic Ian Plimer sold lots of copies of his book Heaven+Earth. Ergo climate change is not real.

Summary response: Andrew Bolt commits a classic logical fallacy – the argument from popularity. If truth was based solely on the sales of a book, then the Da Vinci code must be extra true for selling 80 million copies.

Logical fallacies present: Argumentum ad populum (x1)

I’m going to jump ahead to Andrew’s 10th sign as it is the easiest to dispel – and perhaps the most farcical.

Bolt’s claim: “That wall is now breaking. Dissent is being heard, with Professor Ian Plimer’s sceptical Heaven and Earth alone selling more than 40,000 copies here. Yes, the world may start warming again. Yes, our emissions may be partly to blame. But, no, this great scare is unforgivable. It’s robbed us of cash and, worse, our reason. Thank God for the 10 signs that this madness is over.”

Response: We can easily dispatch Bolt’s last claim as an example of a logical fallacy: argumentum ad populum. To translate form the Latin, “appeal to the people”.

By claiming the popularity of a belief Andrew argues it must be true.

Dan Brown’s conspiracy tome the Da Vinci Code sold 80 million copies and was made into a film. Compared to Plimer’s paltry sales of 40,000 the Da Vinci Code must be extra, extra-true. After all, how could 80 million Dan Brown fans be wrong?

Putting aside Andrew’s argument it is worth noting that Plimer’s book is riddled with errors. Scientists who have reviewed it have dismissed it as case study in “how not to be objective”.

Ian Enting, a mathematical physicist from the University of Melbourne reviewed Plimer’s book and found over 100 errors.

In a review published in The Australian, astrophysicist Michael Ashely stated Heaven+Earth contained “no science” and noted Plimer drew upon some ludicrous examples of pseudo-science:

Plimer probably didn’t expect an astronomer to review his book. I couldn’t help noticing on page 120 an almost word-for-word reproduction of the abstract from a well-known loony paper entitled “The Sun is a plasma diffuser that sorts atoms by mass”. This paper argues that the sun isn’t composed of 98 per cent hydrogen and helium, as astronomers have confirmed through a century of observation and theory, but is instead similar in composition to a meteorite.

It is hard to understate the depth of scientific ignorance that the inclusion of this information demonstrates. It is comparable to a biologist claiming that plants obtain energy from magnetism rather than photosynthesis.

Selling 40,000 copies of Heaven+Earth must make Plimer’s claim about the sun true.

One million people visit Andrew Bolt’s blog: that makes everything Bolt says true. 

Justin Bieber has sold over 15 million albums: this makes him the greatest artist in the history of the world.

I mean, who can argue with 15 million Bieber fans?

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Andrew Bolt’s “The Death of Global Warmism”: false claims about the planet not warming and cherry picking his facts (part 3 of 11)

Summary of Bolt’s argument: The world has stopped warming; a famous scientist states this; even the IPCC makes this claim.

Summary response: Andrew Bolt cherry picks his data.

Logical fallacies present: Cherry picking (x2); association fallacy (x1).

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Bolt’s claim: “Yes, the planet warmed about 0.7 degrees last century, but then halted. Professor Richard Lindzen, arguably the world’s most famous climate scientist, has argued for two years that “there has been no warming since 1997″. Others date the pause as late as 2000.”

Response: Andrew begins his list of 10 signs the global warming scare is “over” with an egregious falsehood which has been debunked more times that can be counted: the myth that warming stopped in 1997.

One of the sources for this myth is a 2012 Mail on Sunday article by David Rose. I won’t cover the same ground so many others already have. However I would point readers to the following:

As Gleick’s article notes, it is an example of cherry picking facts – its both a logical fallacy and intellectually dishonest.

Bolt – and sceptics who make the same claim - ignore the even more compelling evidence of a warming planet: rising levels of ocean heat content.

Bolt only refers to land temperatures, data that pertains to only 29% of the planet’s surface.

The other 71% of the planet is covered by water.

As this graph from Skeptical Science indicates warming has not paused, but is accelerating:

Note the warming of both oceans to 700 metres and below.

Bolt tries to bolster his claim by associating it with the views of “the world’s most famous climate scientist” Richard Lindzen.

Once again, Andrew Bolt employs another logical fallacy – the fallacy of association. His argument is no more valid than this:

Richard Lindzen likes cheese flavoured corn chips: Richard is famous. Therefore, cheese flavoured corn chips are the tastiest.

By associating a value with Lindzen – his fame – Bolt hopes to persuade the reader that his argument that the world stopped warming in 2007 is factual.

Lindzen’s fame has nothing to do with the truth of the claim: it is no more persuasive than stating Lindzen enjoys a particular kind of corn chip.

Even the IPCC admits the world has stopped warming?

Claim: “Even the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change admitted in its latest draft report that while its usual measurements of global temperature found some warming trends since 1998, “none of these are statistically significant”.

Response: The last sentence contains a blatant example of cherry picking. While it is now difficult to obtain a copy of the leaked documents, the IPCC did not “admit” the planet had stopped warming.

If anything AR5 further confirms humanities role as virtually certain in causing climate change, as this article from The Conversation notes:

“The draft report, which was still undergoing a peer review process, said that “there is consistent evidence from observations of a net energy uptake of the earth system due to an imbalance in the energy budget.”

“It is virtually certain that this is caused by human activities, primarily by the increase in CO2 concentrations…”

Bolt has merely lifted a single phrase from thousands of pages and used it to misrepresent the conclusions of the IPCC.

Cherry picked facts, falsehoods and logical fallacies.

And this is only the first of Bolt’s ten signs.

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Andrew Bolt’s “The Death of Global Warmism”: how Andrew poisons the well (part 2 of 11)

Putting Andrew's claims to the test

Putting Andrew’s claims to the test

Part 2 of a line-by-line examination of the claims made by Andrew Bolt in his article The death of global warmism.

Summary of Bolt’s argument in the opening paragraphs: The claims of scientists don’t stand up; they have engaged in dubious, if not illegal activities and need to be held to account.

Summary response: Andrew Bolt’s opening is a text-book example of a logical fallacy – poisoning the well. He prefaces his article with an attack on the credibility of scientists, implies their activities are both self-seeking and perhaps even criminal. He cherry picks his sources and employs a number of logical fallacies.

Logical fallacies present: Poisoning the well (x1); argument from personal taste (1); guilt by association (x2).

———

Introduction: poisoning the well

Andrew Bolt is a master of employing rhetorical devices to prejudice his audience against those he sees as his opponents – in this case scientists and those accepting the scientific consensus on climate change.

The death of global warmism opens with the (informal) logical fallacy known as poisoning the well.

He is priming the reader by preemptively attacking the credibility of scientists and ridiculing the science of climate change. A writer employing this rhetorical device will employ emotive terms, typically negative.

An example of poisoning the well would read thus:

“You may not wish to listen to the evidence of my opponent, as they have been proven time and again to be a liar and fraud”

Or:

Any claims made by person X cannot be relied upon because of Y

The following is a deconstruction of the opening paragraphs.

Bolt: “The 10 signs of the death of the scare are unmistakable. Now it’s time to hold the guilty to account.”

Response: The choice of words helps prime the audience: “scare” and “hold the guilty to account” strongly imply scientists are engaged in something illegal or morally dubious. A text-book example of poisoning the well.

Bolt: “Just why did we spend the past year paying the world’s biggest carbon tax, which drove our power bills through the roof?”

Response: There is very little evidence to support his claim – and Bolt offers none. While Australian electricity prices have been increasing, the impact of the carbon tax has been negligible. Six months after its introduction the government reported a 9% reduction in emissions from power generators. As I noted earlier, the Australian economy has not collapsed with 50,000 jobs added in the last quarter.

Bolt: “Why were our children forced to sit through multiple screenings of Al Gore’s dodgy scare-flick An Inconvenient Truth?”

Response: Bolt implies the forced watching of Al Gore’s film was a form of child abuse. He offers no evidence to support the claim it was a negative experience for children.

Bolt: “Why did we scar the most beautiful parts of our coast with ludicrously expensive wind farms?”

Response: Wind power is a rapidly growing source of energy in Australia: in the five years prior to 2011 the annual rate of growth in installed capacity grew by 35%. In South Australia wind power accounts for 21% of electricity production in the state - it is neither a marginal source of power, or “ludicrously expensive”.  Bolt’s main objection appears to be based upon his own aesthetic values: however to quote the old Latin maxim “In matters of taste, there can be no disputes”.

Bolt: “And why did so many people swallow such bull, from the British Climatic Research Unit’s prediction that “children just aren’t going to know what snow is” to ABC science presenter Robyn Williams’ claim that 100m rises in sea levels this century were “possible, yes”.

Response: The quote “children just aren’t going to know what snow is” was cherry picked from an article published by the Independent in 2000. It misrepresents the words of  Dr David Viner (CRU). Viner prefaced this statement by saying snowfall will become “a very rare and exciting event” - he did not claim snow would stop falling.

In 2007 episode of the ABC’s Science Show, Robyn Williams spoke about how coral reefs have helped science understand how sea level rises and falls in response to global temperatures.

He noted:

“How are ancient sea levels determined? It’s with corals. They act as bathtub rings. Ancient reefs now exposed can be dated and placed in time. Sea level has been 100m higher than present, when there were no ice sheets, and about 120m lower than present during glacial periods.”

Bolt took this to imply Williams was arguing we would see a 100m sea level rise this century.  Bolt and Williams argued this point in a heated exchange on The Science Show on (10 March 2010):

Andrew Bolt: I ask you, Robyn, 100 metres in the next century…do you really think that?

Robyn Williams: It is possible, yes. The increase of melting that they’ve noticed in Greenland and the amount that we’ve seen from the western part of Antarctica, if those increases of three times the expected rate continue, it will be huge, but the question…

Williams notes it is possible that if we see warming of 3-degrees this century, we may see a significant increase in seal level rise. I will not argue whether or not Williams is correct: but I will note he is drawing his conclusion based upon the paleoclimate record.

In choosing these two quotes Bolt is employing the guilt by association fallacy - citing these as examples of poor predictions by scientists, he implies all the claims made by scientists are equally poor.

To given another example of the guilt by association fallacy:

Bob has a black beard, he also has a history of robbing banks: therefore all men with black beards are bank robbers.

Given that thousands of papers on climate change are produced every year supporting the scientific consensus, Bolt’s conclusion is as absurd as the claim all men with black beards are bank robbers.

Bolt: “Yes, we may yet see some warming resume one day.”

Response: Bolt makes a concession – warming may resume.

Bolt: “But we will be wiser. We have learned not to fall so fast for the end-of-the-world sermons of salvation-seekers and the tin-rattling of green carpetbaggers.”

Response: In this final sentence of the article’s introductory paragraphs Bolt implies scientists and activists have a hidden agenda: either converting people to a set of beliefs (salvation-seekers) or venal self-interest (green carpetbaggers).

This is a variation of the climate sceptic myth that scientists are perpetrating a hoax for funding, while green activists are employing the global warming “scare” to destroy capitalism and usher in a one-world-government.

It is yet again an example of the guilt by association fallacy.

Next: Part 3, Andrew continues to claim the world isn’t warming despite the overwhelming evidence.

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Andrew Bolt’s “The Death of Global Warmism”: a special WtD response to his most recent article (part1)

Overview: The first in a special 11 post series examining the validity of the claims and arguments made by Andrew Bolt in his article of 13 May 2013  in the Herald Sun, “The death of global warmism: 10 signs of hope”.

Followers of the climate debate may be familiar with the name Andrew Bolt.

Bolt, a commentator for the News Limited tabloid the Herald Sun [1] is perhaps one of the most vocal climate change sceptics in the Australian media.

He claims to have one of the most widely read blogs in Australia (most likely true), and uses it as a platform to disseminate climate sceptic disinformation. He also hosts his own television show, The Bolt Report, in which he frequently takes swipes at scientists and climate science.

In December of last year the Australian Press Council (APC) adjudicated three separate complaints made in relation to an article by Bolt in which he claimed “…the planet hasn’t warmed for a decade – or even 15 years, according to new temperature data from Britain’s Met Office”.

The claim stemmed from an article by David Rose in the UK’s Mail on Sunday, which the Met refuted.

The APC found the Bolt had ignored the Met Offices correction:

The Press Council has concluded that Mr Bolt was clearly entitled to express his own opinion about the Met Office data but in doing so he needed to avoid conveying a misleading interpretation of the Met Office’s own views on its data. In a blog posting two days earlier (30 January) he had quoted Mr Rose’s assertion about the lack of warming and a reader then posted a comment referring him to the Met Office’s description of that assertion. The Met Office description should have been mentioned in Mr Bolt’s print article and blog of 1 February, even if he then rebutted it as unconvincing. It was not sufficient in these circumstances to assert ignorance of the response or to rely on the reader’s previous posting to inform other readers about it. Accordingly, the complaint is upheld on that ground.

Being proven wrong does not seem to concern Bolt. Ignoring the findings of the APC, Bolt continues to make the same claim.

Thus I was interested to see in today’s Herald Sun an article by Bolt titled “The death of global warmism: 10 signs of hope“.

Bolt believes he has marshaled ten “killer” arguments against the science. A full-page is given over to the article in which Bolt makes this and a number of other claims: climate models are unreliable; climate change is a scam; and even if it was warming, it’s a good thing.

Having read the article it became very apparent I could not begin to address all of his claims in a single post.

Thus this week my focus will be on this one Bolt article.

Why you may ask?

This latest article by Bolt serves as a kind of magnum opus of all of his claims. He recycles the same claims he has made about the science and scientists for years. Thus it allows us to critically examine Bolt’s position on climate change in one article.

I will examine the 10 claims individually: I’ll match quotes and sources he cites against original sources; I’ll look at the underlying structure of his arguments; and I’ll test his arguments against the basic rules of logic (whether his premises match the conclusions).

I’ll also pay attention to his language and his use of metaphor in constructing his arguments.

Each post will adopt the following structure:

  • Bolt’s Argument – A direct quote or summary of Bolt’s argument
  • Summary response – A single paragraph summarising my findings
  • Full response – an in-depth examination of Bolt’s claims, use of evidence and argument structure.

I’m going to treat Andrew’s article to forensic analysis to see how well his arguments stack up. Some may argue that I’m not a disinterested commentator. I acknowledge Bolt and I differ on the science: I accept the scientific consensus, Andrew Bolt rejects it.

However it is worthy examining how Bolt arrives at his conclusions. I will acknowledge that he is a good communicator, with a persuasive style and a flair for weaving his personal opinions with “facts”.

Andrew Bolt has a disproportionate influence on the discussion about climate change in Australia: he is given a national platform via News Limited’s 70% market share of the Australian newspaper market. Channel 10   has given him a Sunday morning television show in which he ridicules scientists and showcases a parade of climate sceptics. 

Next post: Poisoning the well against climate science: how Andrew’s  introduction to “The death of global warmism” frames his arguments and primes the reader.

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[1] The Herald Sun is one of Melbourne’s daily newspapers with a circulation of approximately 2 million. It is one of the papers owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation who control 70% of the Australian newspaper market.

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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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At war with reality: key figures in Liberal Party remain unswayed by evidence

An interesting article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald today examining the views of prominent Liberal National Party politicians on climate change.  Despite the evidence many have held onto their sceptical views:

THE most prominent political climate sceptics see no reason to change their minds, despite the welter of studies over the past fortnight showing forecasts of global warming were correct or underestimates.  

Many of the climate sceptics, influential in elevating Tony Abbott to Coalition leader, say they see nothing to convince them that human activity is causing the climate to change.  

The Global Carbon Project has released forecasts that the planet could warm by between 4 degrees and 6 degrees by the end of the century and Nature Climate Change on Monday published a study finding that warming is consistent with 1990 scientific forecasts.

As I (and many others) have stated this has nothing to do with evidence. The denial of climate change is driven by the ideology, world views and values:

South Australian senator Cory Bernardi, formerly Mr Abbott’s parliamentary secretary, said: ”I do not think human activity causes climate change and I haven’t seen anything that changes my view. I remain very sceptical about the alarmists’ claims.” 

Queensland senator Barnaby Joyce said the whole debate about whether humans were causing the climate to change was ”indulgent and irrelevant”. 

”It is an indulgent and irrelevant debate because, even if climate change turns out to exist one day, we will have absolutely no impact on it whatsoever … we really should have bigger fish to fry than this one,” Senator Joyce said.

Individuals can be very good at maintaining cognitive dissonance, filtering out information they don’t agree with and latching onto “facts’ that support their world view.

West Australian Dennis Jensen back bencher provides a textbook example of this:

West Australian back bencher Dennis Jensen, who had read the recent scientific literature, said he interpreted the findings in different ways and believed climate scepticism within the Coalition was increasing. 

”The scientific papers saying it is as bad as we thought, or worse, are talking about concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere – and concentrations are indeed increasing – but global temperatures have not gone up in a decade,” he said. 

”It’s the impact of the increased concentrations of CO2 that is in dispute and I agree with [US professor] Richard Lindzen that it is more likely to be 0.4 degrees than 4 to 6 degrees … the doomsday prophesies do not stand up to reason.”

Richard Lindzen is one of the few genuinely qualified sceptics. At best he is a marginal figure in science. His entire claim to fame rests upon his status as one of the token sceptics within the community of atmospheric scientists.

Outside of his notoriety he has produced little research of value – and what research he has produced has been flawed and ignored by the rest of scientific community.

Despite the fact 97% of climate scientists accept climate change is real, Jensen clings to the marginal views of outliers such as Lindzen because they buttress is own world view.

In this regard the Liberals resemble the Republicans in the United States and the Tea Party movement who’ve decided to go to war with reality.

Don’t like the facts? Then reject them and dismiss the experts.

Supporting there fantasy world views are the think tanks and conservative media who help create a parallel reality in which the climate isn’t changing  and Obama was born in Kenya.

When facts and evidence contravene ideology figures such as Bernardi, Joyce and Jensen remain steadfastly attached to fantasy.

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Anatomy of motivated self-importance: too much of me just isn’t enough (guest post)

Too much of me just isn’t enough: an anatomy of motivated inflation of self-importance.

A controversial recent study has shown that prominent climate sceptics are six times more likely to show narcissistic characteristics than the rest of the community. The tendency is highest amongst those who maintain their own blogs, and especially those with blogs carrying their own names.

Said researcher, “At first I was blown away by this result…, I mean, when you get people responding to surveys and their collective answers are such strong outliers, you question whether you have made a mistake.”

But it seems that careful rechecking of the results has only confirmed the analysis.

“Those that run anti-science climate ‘sceptic’ blogs are simply much, much more into themselves than pretty much anyone else we have ever studied. And by ever, I mean in the entire literature up until this point”.

Respondents scored highly on metrics such as;

  1. How often they refer to themselves.
  2. How eager they were for others to share their high opinion of themselves.
  3. The high negative rating they gave to being personally ignored.

The results pretty much show that the need for ‘reinforcement of self’ is almost constant in this group; it is likely that they run their blogs as a self-validation exercise.

“Failure to have their ‘followers’ reinforce their sense of importance likely leads to an impotent rage. As psychologists, we can only say this seems unhealthy.”

But one blogger is incensed at the results and claims that they are not worth the paper they are written on. Australian blogger Nova Cane (an alias) believes the results are invalid because she wasn’t surveyed.

“How can any conclusion be drawn from a survey about climate sceptic bloggers being narcissistic when that survey does not take in me? It beggars belief that I could have been overlooked for this survey. Its clear what warmists are up to, they want to paint us as self-obsessed nutters, and they must underestimate our collective intelligence if they think we would fall for that trap”

The researchers themselves reveal that, while Nova was originally overlooked due to a simple oversight — “…ironically, we had never heard of her” — inspection of her blog provided reason for caution on her participation in the survey.

“We were initially worried about sample sizes, and hence questioned whether the inclusion of McIntyre and Watts might, by themselves, skew the results toward findings of overt self-obsession. When we saw Nova’s chin-down-eyes-up self-portrait on her blog (entitled, as it happens NovaCane), we wondered whether we could ever get a sample size large enough to accommodate her.”

“She is basically an outlier, even amongst this group of arch narcissists, we felt we would have had to throw her results away to be honest.”

The researchers do believe that there might be promise in developing a narcissistic index based on Nova Cane.

“Since it is doubtful we would find a subject more into themselves than Nova, we thought we might usefully scale future responses against that.”

We believe most people would fit on a scale of narcissism that ranked from 1-10 Novas. The scale is exponential, so we have coined 10 Novas as the ‘Super Nova’ rating for egocentricity. Psychologists can be corny at times.”

But the sceptics aren’t done with yet, with Nova herself firing the warning shots.

“If they thought our attempts at amateur climate science were the end of things, then they are mistaken. We will attempt amateur psychology as well, and then, well, who knows?”

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Conspiracism and climate scepticism: empirical research confrims what we all know (and some predictions)

[Hat tip Planet 3.0]

In a fascinating paper, researchers led by UWA School of Psychology Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, surveyed the views of over a 1000 climate bloggers on their political views and acceptance or rejection of a cluster of conspiracy theories.

In what comes as no surprise to me the is a strong correlation between those that reject climate science and accept a variety of conspiracy theories (heck,  I have a page dedicated to the topic that is fast growing):

The study Motivated Rejection of Science, to be published in Psychological Science, was designed to investigate what motivates the rejection of science in visitors to climate blogs who choose to participate in the ongoing public debate about climate change.

More than 1000 visitors to blogs dedicated to discussions of climate science completed a questionnaire that queried people’s belief in a number of scientific questions and conspiracy theories, including: Princess Diana’s death was not an accident; the Apollo moon landings never happened; HIV causes AIDS; and smoking causes lung cancer. The study also considered the interplay of these responses with the acceptance of climate science, free market ideology and the belief that previous environmental problems have been resolved.

The results showed that those who subscribed to one or more conspiracy theories or who strongly supported a free market economy were more likely to reject the findings from climate science as well as other sciences.

The researchers, led by UWA School of Psychology Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, found that free-market ideology was an overwhelmingly strong determinant of the rejection of climate science. It also predicted the rejection of the link between tobacco and lung cancer and between HIV and AIDS. Conspiratorial thinking was a lesser but still significant determinant of the rejection of all scientific propositions examined, from climate to lung cancer.

And now WtD predicts (high confidence) the following reactions amongst the denial blog-o-sphere:

  • Predictions 1: expect the usual collection of climate sceptics to claim they’re not conspiracy theorists, and that scientists are involved in an orchestrated campaign to exclude them from the debate and smear their good names – because such reasoning is not conspiracy making. Nooooo… not at all. Everything is connected, nothing is as it seems…
  • Prediction 2: the sceptics and deniers will reject the research, cherry pick its arguments and refute it with their own amateur analysis – just like climate science
  • Prediction 3: I expect the likes of conspiracy theorist and climate sceptic Jo Nova to go ballistic, calling the research “witchcraft” or some such nonsense and a form of ad hominem attack.

I’m reading the paper and will comment and share my own views on the topic of conspiracies and climate sceptics.

“Look over there, a badger!” Lomborg’s latest piece of faux myth-busting distraction in The Australian

The self-professed “skeptical environmentalist” Bjorn Lomborg had a piece in yesterday’s The Australian which perfectly encapsulates his penchant for obscurification, distraction and framing arguments.

Titled “Thirst for facts should override myths about water and climate“, Lomborg begins his piece with a curious analogy about the myth of drinking eight glasses of water a day:

“EVERYONE knows” that you should drink eight glasses of water a day. After all, this is the advice of a multitude of health writers, not to mention authorities such as Britain’s National Health Service. Healthy living now means carrying water bottles with us, sipping at all times, trying to drink our daily quota to ensure that we stay hydrated and healthy. 

Indeed, often we drink without being thirsty, but that is how it should be: as beverage maker Gatorade reminds us, “Your brain may know a lot, but it doesn’t know when your body is thirsty.” 

Sure, drinking this much does not feel comfortable, but Powerade offers this sage counsel: “You may be able to train your gut to tolerate more fluid if you build your fluid intake gradually.” 

Now the British Medical Journal reports that these claims are “not only nonsense but thoroughly debunked nonsense”. This has been common knowledge in the medical profession at least since 2002, when Heinz Valtin, a professor of physiology and neurobiology at Dartmouth Medical School in the US, published the first critical review of the evidence for drinking lots of water. He concluded that “not only is there no scientific evidence that we need to drink that much but the recommendation could be harmful, both in precipitating potentially dangerous hyponatremia and exposure to pollutants and also in making many people feel guilty for not drinking enough”.

The “eight glasses a day” meme is nothing more than a piece of folklore, discussed in this article from The Guardian and whose history is explored by the dissembler of urban myths Snopes.com. However Lomborg is not actually interested in myth busting: his attempt as always to distract and confuse the issue.

He’s only using it because of a recent surge in media stories about this: so, taking cue from what is buzzing around the zeitgeist Lomborg uses it for his own purposes.

Essentially, Lomborg is framing the issue: ” You might have believed this one thing, but let me tell you it’s a myth… and hey this other thing you think might be true, well that *might* also be a myth!”

Watch Lomborg set up the framing device in this paragraph:

The drink-more-water story is curiously similar to how “everyone knows” that global warming makes climate only more extreme. A hot, dry summer (in some places) has triggered another barrage of such claims. And, while many interests are at work, one of the players that benefits the most from this story is the media: the notion of “extreme” climate simply makes for more compelling news.

Ah Lomborg… ever so rational and wielding his incredible mastery of facts!

Lomborg isn’t really myth-busting, he’s claiming the mantle of myth buster but using a variety of framing devices. His “everybody knows’  and use of air quotes around the word “extreme” are classic rhetorical tricks taken straight from the Fox News school of injecting misinformation into a debate by saying “Some people say…”

I hear some people say “Bjorn” Lomborg.

But is “Bjorn” really your first name?

Or is that what “everybody knows”?

Inquiring minds want to know…

He then goes onto to suggest all this concern over the increasing incidents of drought, mega-fires and the like is nothing more than alarmist piddle – just like the “eight glasses of water myth”.

Association fallacy

Lomborg is indulging in the association fallacy: “The association fallacy is an informal version of the fallacious argument known as affirming the consequent. It consists of promoting an opinion or philosophy by recounting the values a specific person or a group that held that opinion or philosophy.”

To give an absurd example:

  • Some people like drinking water
  • ZMOG! Hitler liked drinking water
  • Therefore people who like drinking water are just like Hitler

The most common form of this association fallacy we see in the denier community is “green baiting”, equating environmentalism with terrorism, socialism and the Illuminati.

Lomborg lite:

  • “Every body knows” drinking 8 glasses of water a day is good – no a proven myth
  • “Every body knows” that climate change will increase extreme weather events – Lomborg implied myth
  • Therefore, climate related extremes will be proven to be a myth

Lomborg takes the same approach in disputing the arguments by noted economist Paul Krugman and others attributing the emerging pattern of extreme weather events to climate change:

…Consider Paul Krugman, writing breathlessly in The New York Times about the “rising incidence of extreme events” and how “large-scale damage from climate change is happening now”.

…Remember how, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Al Gore (and many others) claimed that we were in store for ever more devastating hurricanes? 

…Since then, hurricane incidence has dropped off the charts; indeed, by one measure, global accumulated cyclone energy has decreased to its lowest levels since the late 70s. Exaggerated claims merely fuel public distrust and disengagement. 

That is unfortunate because global warming is a real problem, and we do need to address it. Warming will increase some extremes (it is likely that droughts and fires will become worse towards the end of the century). But warming will also decrease other extremes; for example, leading to fewer deaths from cold and less water scarcity.

Look at that parade of alarmist myths!

After all, the last thing the denial machine wants is people to look at their windows see the dramatic weather events and make the connection between these, climate change and halting the rise in CO2 emissions.

Heavens, people might want to actually do something about that.

But that’s what some people say.

The continuing Lomborg deception: “Look over there, a badger!”

Lomborg’s strategy is best summarized as “Look over there, a badger!”

When your arguments are so weak, and you have nothing more than rhetorical tricks to argue your case then throw in some random statistics, claims that distinguished scientists and economists are “alarmist” its time to pull out a distraction.

Sure, maybe climate change is real but really if you just look over here….

A badger!

The Skeptical Environmentalist is on the attack!

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