Or how the denial movement misleads the public and abuses the trust of it’s own constituents…
This blog is about exposing the tactics of the denial movement: how they mislead the public and inject claims into the debate intended to confuse. Perhaps the worst thing they do is abuse the trust of their own “foot soldiers”, the ordinary individuals attempting to understand the science.
As I’ve noted before, in the battle of the experts – between “pro-warming” and “no-warming” the denial movement frequently inflates the “expertise” of it experts.
Which brings me to the fascinating case of Richard S. Courtney, the noted climate sceptic, British coal PR spokesperson and non-scientist.
My encounters with Courtney: the denialist white knight?
While conducting my little foray into the discussion Jo Nova’s blog Mr. Courtney made a quick and sudden appearance into the debate following my posting of actual peer reviewed research. Courtney swoops in at post 35:
…As you have quoted, Kuo et al. determined that atmospheric carbon dioxide and global temperature cohere such that changes to carbon dioxide concentration follow changes to global temperature by 5 months. Several subsequent studies have confirmed this finding but have shown that the lag varies from 5 to 8 months depending on latitude.
You presented this Abstract (without a reference) as evidence that carbon dioxide concentration affects temperature. But the paper provides evidence of the opposite of what you claim: it proves that temperature affects carbon dioxide.
I wonder where you get your information; RealClimate, perhaps?
Huzzah! The evil alarmist science is dismissed! Huzzah!
Typical of the responses is what I got on my own blog:
Did you not bother to read Richard S Courtneys post #75 before you posted your tripe at your blog? He IS a scientist. He HAS contributed to the IPCC. He IS qualified to comment about climate science and he, along with many others just like him SAY THE SCIENCE IS NOT WELL ESTABLISHED.
Now, what does Dunning-Kruger have to say about lemmings?
Courtney has a great deal of authority here, and uses it well in his attempts to “quash” real science emerging into the debate.
Note the claims: Richard is a scientist, Richard was a IPCC reviewer. Sounds impressive? Trouble is, none of those claims are true. So dear readers, I present to you Mr. Courtney’s actual qualifications as noted not just by “alarmist” blogs but coming from Mr. Courtney himself.
Educational qualifications: there’s no science there
Courtney’s educational qualifications are not in climate science. Often he is referred to as a “scientist”, or as “Dr. Courtney” and even “Richard S. Courtney PhD”. However, as far as anyone can tell Courtney does not have any scientific qualifications. As SourceWatch notes:
Courtney is often referred to without any academic degree, even if others are on the same page, like the ESEF member list of 1998 where he is not listed as ‘Academic Member’ but as ‘Business Member’. Even in a recent publication of Richard Courtney (August 2004) no degree is mentioned. There are however a few exceptions on Internet where he is mentioned as ‘Dr. Richard S. Courtney’ or ‘Richard S. Courtney, Ph.D.
The blog Rabett Run however manages to pin down his actual qualifications as part of a similar exchange I witnessed on the Jo Nova boards: failing to alert readers that he does not hold a doctorate:
…Courtney, who somehow forgets to tell everyone that he does not hold a doctorate…
As can be noted by replies to my own blog and the discussion on Jo Nova’s blog, Courtney is often referred to as a scientist. It is very clear he is not. The post has now grown to >130 entries, and Courtney is quite active in the continuing discussion. However, at no point does he say “You know guys, I appreciate your trust in me, but I’m not actually a scientist…”
No, he lets those claims be repeated again, and again. Of course there are plenty of other examples on the Internet where Mr. Courtney has been caught out doing the same thing. Indeed, as Rabett Run shows Courtney is happy to allow people think he is qualified in the area.
Lucky, Mr. Courtney is able to clarify the situation himself in one of his own publications, Wind Farms Provide Negligible Useful Electricity :
Richard avoids confusion about him in his scientific and religious activities by rarely citing his academic achievements, but his material science qualifications include a DipPhil (Cambridge), a BA (Open) and a Diploma (Bath).
A DipPhil is a Diploma of Philosophy. As Rabett Run notes:
A DipPhil is not a Doctor of Philosophy, but a Diploma in Philosophy. The University of Cambridge offers one year postgraduate courses leading to Diplomas, but not in Philosophy, at least not now however there are other, less distinguished universities in Cambridge such as Anglia Ruskin.(corrected 2/5, Angelia weeps). It would be nice knowing what field and what University those Diploma’s came from.
Links to denialist “think tanks”
Courtney is a “founding member” of the European Science and Environment Forum (ESEF), a think tank that not has not only published materials on climate denial, but studies attempting to discredit any link between second hand smoke and adverse health effects.
It would seem that any science is fair target if it conflicts with the powerful coal and tobacco industries. DeSmogBlog has a full profile on Courtney:
Courtney was a technical editor for CoalTrans International, which describes itself as the “web’s most comprehensive resource” on the coal industry. He was also a spokesperson for the British Association of Colliery Management, a coal industry union in the United Kingdom, and has written opinion papers expressing his concern over the loss of jobs in the coal industry as a result of the UK’s movement towards renewable energy.
As can be noted, Courtney is not a scientist. His professional experience is in the fields of media and public relations.
Expert reviewer for the IPCC?
Much as is made of Courtney being and “expert peer reviewer” for the IPCC 1997 report. It’s certainly sounds impressive, until you realise that anyone can be an “expert reviewer”. All you have to do is ask for a copy of the draft report prior to publication, the catch is you can’t comment publicly on the draft. As DeSmogBlog notes:
A lot of climate change deniers like to tout the fact that they were an “Expert Reviewer” for the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and a few DeSmog readers have been asking what exactly if takes to become an “Expert Reviewer.” Well, thanks to our friend Tim Lambert at Deltoid Blog it turns out that an “Expert Reviewer” really isn’t as exciting and not nearly as prestigous as it sounds. Tim writes:
“Expert reviewer for the IPCC” doesn’t mean that they asked him to review material — all it means is that he asked to see the draft report. The only real requirement to be a reviewer is to sign an agreement not to publicly comment on the draft.”
I have confirmed this with one of the authors of the updated IPPC report.
Now, both myself and others suspect that many of these denialists who claim to be “expert reviewers” are misleading the public. It sounds impressive, but really all they’ve done is read the draft.
In order to facilitate transparency, the IPCC distributes drafts for discussion of it’s reports. The denial movement has exploited this in order to puff up the credentials of their experts (a tactic I’ve already discussed here).
You can consult the list of expert reviewers for that report here, but as the reader will note the list of names and organisations not not only includes a R. Courtney, but Shell Australia, Exxon, 3M and the American Petroleum Institute.
Now, if Courtney was involved in drafting the report, or was an editor then I’d be curious to know. If he contributed peer reviewed research, I’d love to know. In fact, many people are curious (pace Rabbett Run on their blog).
This is again another common tactic of the denialist movement: inflate the qualifications of it’s “experts” in order to impress the lay audience.
The denial movement and “truthiness”
The denial movement has a parasitic relationship with science. It recognises that many people place a great deal of trust in scientists, and that calling oneself a scientists lends a lot of credibility. People place their trust in experts, because they recognise the limitations of their capabilities. As one poster in the forum notes:
I can understand Richard’s reasoning, but I don’t have the knowledge or means to test it. Yet I trust it, (subject to the dictates of true scepticism!) because I can see that it takes the form of falsifiable argument and observed data. Furthermore, his analyses have been published, and therefore available to falsification, for some time, and I have seen no attempt, successful or otherwise, to do so.
This is a perfect example of how the denial movement abuses the trust of it’s own constituents. It allows them to believe their experts are genuine experts, when in reality they hide behind impressive sounding titles and puffed up qualifications.
The denial movement produces literature that looks and sounds a lot like science, but is simply pseudo-scientific. Indeed their tactics mimic those of Intelligent Design, creationism and alternative medicine.
Deniers want to tear down the science, but heavens they are desperate to ride on it’s coat tails in order to gain legitimacy.
Self proclaimed climate change sceptics claim to be genuine sceptics, and hate the term “denier”. Nova herself felt sufficiently piqued to reply to my post on the Dunning-Kruger effect to say:
Mike’s Dunning-Krugar effect blog was the most entertaining piece of self-satire I’ve read in a while. Thank you Mike. (I mean that genuinely, I really did enjoy it). It’s like we’re a species of beetles that keen junior budding philosopher and sociologist wants to study. I appreciate his politeness and curiosity. I only wish he didn’t keep calling us “denier”-beetles — incorrectly thinking it is a subspecies label when really it’s the wrong species, genera and kingdom.
I believe many genuine sceptics, who are passionate advocates of science are being mislead by the peddlers of misinformation and spin. Courtney is no scientist. Courtney is a PR hack.
Message to the “ordinary” climate sceptics
My belief is that the trust of ordinary people is being abused. As I’ve noted, these people are not stupid. These people are passionately interested in science, and are struggling with mountains of conflicting evidence. Like all of us, they need trusted experts to help guide them through the debate.
My advice, be a true sceptic.
Question the authority of people like Richard S. Courtney. Ask about his educational qualifications. Demand that he provide a list of his publications and that he explain his links to think tanks and the coal industry. Put your faith to the test: is he, or is he not a scientist?
The term denier is not intended to apply to all those questioning climate science, especially the ordinary individuals being mislead. The term denier applies to those individuals such as Courtney who are paid public relations professionals lacking scientific qualifications whose job it is to muddy the debate and mislead.
The not only deny, but mislead. Perhaps the correct name for them is “The Misleaders”.