Our house is in order: reframe the debate guys, don’t make a mountain out of mole dung

[Warning a naughty word is used!]

Recently the Governor of California created a page dedicated to climate science, including a page that directly addressed the major arguments (disinformation) of the climate sceptics (deniers). It’s a middle-of-the-road effort: it could be a bit snappier and perhaps linked to even greater variety of sources.

However there was an error in one of the graphs.

Of course this was pounced upon by the denial machine who have anomaly hunting ingrained into their very being.

Thus, with a relish that is perceptible even to this blogger in Australia, American climate sceptic Anthony Watts of “Watts up with that?” fame makes a mountain out of mole dung:

I’ve been sitting on this one quietly for almost a week now, and nobody seems to have caught this glaring error in California Governor Jerry Brown’s new climate “denier slamming page” put together by the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research. 

Like some government work I’ve seen, they didn’t seem to worry about quality control. My impetus for deciding to share the error today comes from Michael Tobis, of Planet 3.0, a warming advocate who I thought sure would have caught it.

I’m sure there are many things Mr. Watts is sitting on.

Indeed, there are no doubt thousands of other “climate fails” out there. I have no doubt there are errors on this blog. Readers frequently point them out, I acknowledge them and fix them.

There are literally millions of articles, blog entries, tweets, presentations, pod-casts, videos and documents in the world of which a sizable percentage are going to contains errors: factual, grammatical and stylistically. Some are entertaining, others dry scientific reports and some earnest and dull.

Watt’s is engaging in the same tactic used to discredit Al Gore’s film “An inconvenient truth”. Deniers famously claim that a judge found “nine serious errors” in the film.

Well yes, the British judge found some minor errors but here is the context: 

The film is also subject to attack on the grounds that Al Gore was prosecuted in the UK and a judge found many errors in the film. This is untrue. 

The case, heard in the civil court, was brought by a school governor against the Secretary of State for Education, in an attempt to prevent the film being distributed to schools. Mr. Justice Burton, in his judgement, ordered that teaching notes accompanying the film should be modified to clarify the speculative (and occasionally hyperbolic) presentation of some issues. 

Mr. Justice Burton found no errors at all in the science. In his written judgement , the word error appears in quotes each time it is used – nine points formed the entirety of his judgement – indicating that he did not support the assertion the points were erroneous.

In the full judgement, which is here, Burton stated:

It is substantially founded upon scientific research and fact, albeit that the science is used, in the hands of a talented politician and communicator, to make a political statement and to support a political programme.

Or to translate, the science is settled.

But the deniers won’t mention that little inconvenient fact – they keep pushing the “Al Gore was wrong!” meme.

Which brings me to the point of this post.

The problem is when we buy into the deniers “narrative”: when we accept the frame of reference and debate of people who have been proven time and time again to be bad actors (in the political sense).

Which is afraid what a blogger I so very much admire appears to have done.

Tamino of Open Mind writing on the “error” made by the Governor’s office states:

We shouldn’t let this mistake go unrefuted. It’s more important, in my opinion, to put our own house in order than to complain about the shack down the street. That’s especially true for elected officials, government policy makers. We need to raise the bar for communicating accurate scientific information to those who might actually have the political clout to do something about it.

MT over at Planet3.0 makes a similar point.

I have nothing but the deepest admiration for MT and Mr. Tamino-don’t-really-know-your-name-but-you-rock-with-graphs-and-numbers.

They do have a point, but (of course there’s a but…) let’s think about this a bit more.

As an associate of mine noted about this latest blog scandal dejour, our house is in order.

Honestly, the public is indifferent and it is simply one more minor skirmish in the long running fratricidal culture war we’re all stuck in.

We have the science behind us: end of debate.

So a mistake was made by a staffer in a Governor’s office.

On a web page.

And?

Acknowledge, correct and move on.

That’s what adults do. Unlike the denial machine that loves to sink its teeth into a good error and chew on it. And chew on it…

“Climate Fail”? What a wonderful meme to hand over to the professional dissembler and manufacturers of untruth. Expect that to be printed on t-shirts and mugs shortly.

We all know the standards applied to us “warmists” and “deniers” differ: a single typo within a 1000 page report on climate change is a catastrophe for “us”, while a fundamental misrepresentation of the laws of nature by the “sceptics” is well… what?

Forgivable?

So tell me exactly: which part of the warmist movement told me that was the narrative frame?

Are we all so perfectionist that we are terrified of making a mistake?

Cuz ya know what, I’ve stopped buying it. 

My response to the merchants of doubt is simple: if it’s a genuine error I’ll politely thank them while correcting it. If they persist to scream about it I ask them to move on.

If the merchants of disinformation want to magnify a tiny error on a single web page out of the billions on the interwebz as the “smoking gun” that falsifies the science of climate change I tell them to go fuck themselves. 

Not good messaging really, but do I care?

No.

11 thoughts on “Our house is in order: reframe the debate guys, don’t make a mountain out of mole dung

  1. Sou says:

    Have you ever known Watts to critique a climate denier’s website in this manner?

    BTW Watts has been complaining about a couple of tweets I posted to highlight his silliness.

    Something about my ‘denigrating him’ instead of ‘factual discourse’.

    Coming from someone who makes a living out of denigrating climate scientists and other people, that seems a bit rich. Even more especially since his blog is very thin on the ground when it comes to ‘factual discourse’.

  2. Sou says:

    Seeing his tweet appear instead of the link, to complete the picture, here’s my tweet to which Watts was responding:

  3. Robert says:

    Exactly so. We need to pay more attention to how we allow deniers to set the terms of debates. The example of radically different standards of accuracy you allude to. I wrote recently about another kind of double standard, in which deniers avoid making an argument at all, flawed or not, by professing global ignorance of the science and demanding to be convinced:

    If you are not scientifically ignorant, you are aware of the argument you are asking me for, aware that it is widely accepted by the scientifically literate, and that the burden of proof fails on you to cast doubt on this element of a well-established scientific theory.

    Hence, your question is fundamentally insincere. You want to challenge this aspect of climate, but you do not want to be put to the trouble of formulating an argument and supporting it with evidence. So you ask me to teach you this basic science — without, I might add, offering any compensation — but not because your intention is the learn, but rather to shift the burden of proof away from your challenge to the science.

    This form of “weaponized ignorance” is incredibly common. Some people will play along with you, but unless I am in a very, very generous mood, I prefer not to. . . .

    If you are not scientifically ignorant, you should be able to summarize the state of the science now and explain where and why you disagree. If you pretend to be ignorant of the science in order to avoid the burden of articulating and supporting your own ideas, I will always take you at your word and treat you as ignorant.

    http://theidiottracker.blogspot.com/2012/08/weaponized-ignorance.html

    PS: Not sure if I’ve left a comment here before, so I wanted to say I’m a big fan. I especially like your title, which I never see but I think “Shoot, that’s what I should have called mine.”

  4. As Alfred Wegener (of Tectonic Plates fame) found to his cost, pre-war science didn’t make any mistakes – at least didn’t admit to any. Science was certitudes and certitudes was Science. Science has laws, laid down on tablets of stone.

    Post war science is much more open to admitting uncertainty and doubts and errors.

    Science has changed, but millions of deniers have not….

  5. It is my opinion that the entire effort is a mistake.

    There are much better resources out there already. This will not inform the uninformed nor convince the unconvinced. Why expend political capital on something so marginal?

    But my critique was focused only on the page about “denial”, which is expressed in a way that will appear to many as advocacy with tax dollars. This will inflame enemies far more than it will assist supporters who already agree with its sentiments. By taking such a strong position, by missing the nuance about how people become naysayers and what exactly it is they find suspicious about climate policy advocates, they only reinforce the hostility felt by people who are already threatened. Who exactly is the audience for this page?

    • Watching the Deniers says:

      Thanks MT for clarifying

    • Watching the Deniers says:

      You have a point, and I appreciate your argument MT. I was rather blunt – and can afford to be on a private blog. Yes it is important to craft messages – especially from official sources. Reaching a broad audience as that page was trying to do is different to my objectives. WtD can be polemnical at times, I’ve always admitted that.

      But I think we should also state that there are those who will not merely find fault in the most innocent of communications, but exploit and rephrase mistakes and cherry pick quotes and data.

      I’ll muse on what you’ve said MT.

      Mike @ WtD

      • john byatt says:

        I have to agree with you Mike, Flaming pussy footing around about the deniers will achieve buggar all, we need to tell it like it is, the stakes are too high, good on the Governor, lets back him to the hilt..

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