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.
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.
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  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.
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.
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.
 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.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
I’ll be leading with an interesting article republished from The Conversation this week which discusses a recent paper in Nature Climate Change, and which in many respects goes right to the heart of the issue: how the denial movement has sought to mislead the public on the scientific consensus.
As many of you understand the vast majority scientists and all reputable scientific academies and associations accept the reality climate change.
Indeed, the infamous Luntz Memo (see in WtD evidence library) written by an advisor to the George W. Bush administration made this one of the key strategies in fostering doubt:
The scientific debate remains open: Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming with the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate, and defer to scientists and other experts in the field.
When told a scientific consensus exists, and that it is on the order of 97% of climate scientists, the vast majority of the public accept the science. As the article abstract notes:
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.
The last sentence is revealing: acceptance of the science “neutralizes the effect of worldview”.
Yes, even the most right-wing conservative free market fundamentalist can come to terms with the science. Those that don’t remain the committed to their scepticism” are mostly the conspiracy theorists and idealogues.
Scientific consensus shifts public opinion on climate change
People are more likely to believe that humans cause global warming if they are told that 97% of publishing climate scientists agree that it does, a new study has found.
Despite overwhelming evidence showing that human activity is causing the planet to overheat, public concern is on the wane, said the study, titled The pivotal role of perceived scientiﬁc consensus in acceptance of science and published in the journal Nature Climate Change on Monday.
“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,” the study’s authors said.
Overall, participants in the study greatly underestimated the level of scientific agreement on the issue, the study said.
Lead researcher Stephan Lewandowsky from the Cognitive Science Laboratories at the University of Western Australia said the study involved two surveys.
In the first, 200 Perth pedestrians were asked about their views on the scientific research linking human CO2 emissions to climate change as well as their thoughts on medical research linking smoking to lung cancer and HIV to AIDS.
The results showed that people who had faith in scientific or medical research in general were more likely to accept expert opinion on climate change.
“So some people just accept science as an endeavour and it doesn’t matter whether is the science is about climate or something else,” said Prof Lewandowsky.
The second study involved surveying 100 Perth pedestrians — half in a control group and half in a ‘consensus group’.
The control group was asked about their views on the causes of climate change but the consensus group, however, was first told that 97% of publishing climate scientists agree that global warming is a direct consequence of the burning of fossil fuels by humans.
People in the consensus group were much more likely to say that human activity caused climate change, even if their political views were otherwise broadly in line with free market ideologies that eschew the government regulation required to curb emissions.
“So providing the consensus information is boosting acceptance, particularly for those people who would otherwise reject the evidence based on their world view,” said Prof Lewandowsky.
“Telling them about this numeric fact about agreement in the scientific community does make a difference. That’s quite remarkable because few things work.”
Other studies have shown that presenting evidence alone does little to change minds and can even lead to people becoming more entrenched in their disbelief of human-caused climate change, he said.
The study showed it was important for scientific communicators and journalists to tell their audience that the vast majority of climate change experts believe that human activity is causing global warming.
“It is reaching even those people who would normally tune out when you tell them the evidence,” Prof Lewandowsky said, adding that journalists should not give denialists and climate change experts equal air time.
“The media is being irresponsible if they are pretending there is a scientific debate in light of this consensus.”
Will J Grant from the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science at the Australian National University said it was an interesting and useful study.
“We can say people are convinced by the consensus but the big caveat is sceptics and climate change sceptics in particular are never going to be convinced by this,” he said. “They will say science doesn’t work by vote, it’s about facts.”
“Realistically, though, most of those sceptics are of an older generation. We are never going to convince them but they will be disappearing from the political discourse soon.”
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;
How often they refer to themselves.
How eager they were for others to share their high opinion of themselves.
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.”
“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?”
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.
Living within the information age, the word is always out and while it may not always seem it, more accurate information is eventually dominant because it simply cannot be broken. Gravity can’t be undone no matter how much one may want it to be a miraculous inspiration. CO2 plays an important role as a greenhouse gas in our atmosphere regardless how much one may wish it to ignore passing longwave radiation. Homeopathy simply doesn’t have any active ingredients (which, in many cases, is a good thing because of the poisons suggested to be within them). The story of smallpox and the clinically proven very low risks involved with vaccination stand stubbornly in the face of the committed sceptics. One can throw a blanket over accurate information, but that will erode in time, not the information.