Friday wrap up: articles of interest

Each Friday I’ll be posting a selection of some of the more interesting articles, studies and opinion pieces relating to the climate change debate.

When carbon dioxide didn’t affect climate – AGW Observer gives a history on how the “problem” of CO2 was finally understood. If you come across anyone claiming  we don’t understand how CO2 effects temperature, smile and say “Oh really…”

“This problem was solved in 1956, over 50 years ago. The solution is very straightforward and easy to understand, and it shouldn’t’t cause any confusion. Regardless of that, these already solved arguments are still presented in public forums as if they haven’t been solved….”

Crescendo-climategate-cacophony – DeSmogBlog points us to a brilliant, but dense study, highlighting the links between conservative think tanks and their campaign against science. Clearly demonstrates how they’ve been ramping up their efforts to mislead and misinform: 

“..A new paper by the computer scientist and entrepreneur John Mashey… digs ever deeper (and in an increasingly well-organized way), into the morass of deception and disinformation that has characterized the recent climate conversation. Mashey never uses the word “lies,” but somehow it seemed an appropriate illustration of what he finds underlying the recent campaign against climate science, scientists and anyone who respects their work…”

The report is not afraid to name the names, and concludes:

“…A tight network of organizations and individuals funded and executed the long campaign. They used well-honed tactics pioneered by tobacco companies, but to obscure the dangers of second-hand smoke, acid rain, chlorofluorocarbons and greenhouse gas emissions.”

The 5 characteristics of scientific denialism – from Skeptical Science this is an article I wish I’d written! Highlights the five most common characteristics of denialism:

  1. Conspiracy theories – When the overwhelming body of scientific opinion believes something is true, the denialist won’t admit scientists have independently studied the evidence to reach the same conclusion. Instead, they claim scientists are engaged in a complex and secretive conspiracy. The South African government of Thabo Mbeki was heavily influenced by conspiracy theorists claiming that HIV was not the cause of AIDS. When such fringe groups gain the ear of policy makers who cease to base their decisions on science-based evidence, the human impact can be disastrous.
  2. Fake experts – These are individuals purporting to be experts but whose views are inconsistent with established knowledge. Fake experts have been used extensively by the tobacco industry who developed a strategy to recruit scientists who would counteract the growing evidence on the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. This tactic is often complemented by denigration of established experts, seeking to discredit their work. Tobacco denialists have frequently attacked Stanton Glantz, professor of medicine at the University of California, for his exposure of tobacco industry tactics, labelling his research ‘junk science’.
  3. Cherry picking – This involves selectively drawing on isolated papers that challenge the consensus to the neglect of the broader body of research. An example is a paper describing intestinal abnormalities in 12 children with autism, which suggested a possible link with immunization. This has been used extensively by campaigners against immunization, even though 10 of the paper’s 13 authors subsequently retracted the suggestion of an association.
  4. Impossible expectations of what research can deliver – The tobacco company Philip Morris tried to promote a new standard for the conduct of epidemiological studies. These stricter guidelines would have invalidated in one sweep a large body of research on the health effects of cigarettes.
  5. Misrepresentation and logical fallacies – Logical fallacies include the use of straw men, where the opposing argument is misrepresented, making it easier to refute. For example, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined in 1992 that environmental tobacco smoke was carcinogenic. This was attacked as nothing less than a ‘threat to the very core of democratic values and democratic public policy’.

I’ve encountered all five, however I’d add a sixth: abuse, cyber-bullying and personal attacks on opponents.

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