Challenge to Michel

Reader “Michel” expressed his opinion that when it comes to climate science, “… this mysterious beast you call a denialist. They don’t exist, at least not in the way you mean.” A bit later, he asked me “… if you really do believe informed disinterested good faith dissent exists, cite some examples …”.

The first two words of my response were “Here’s one:” I didn’t avoid the question, I didn’t ignore it and hope it would go away, I answered it.

Then I asked him about Martin Durkin, producer of the “film” The Great Global Warming Swindle. I pointed out his behavior and his actions, and I asked michel, basically, “Does this qualify as denial?”

We’ve heard nothing in response. There a many possible reasons. Perhaps he’s been so busy at work he just hasn’t had time to respond. Or perhaps, the example I cited was such a clear-cut case of denial in action, that rather than deny that it was (which would make him look foolish) or admit that it was (which would make his assertion that they don’t exist just plain wrong), he simply cut and run, ducking the question. This much is for sure: he hasn’t answered the question.

Michel, you don’t owe me an answer. You owe it to yourself. If you don’t, you will always know that when the going got tough, you got going — for the exit.

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33 responses to “Challenge to Michel

  1. Most readers have been in the climate war trenches long enough to recognize a drive-by when they see one. Our host is just being polite.

  2. Today during an interview with Katharine Hayhoe on NPR Science Friday, someone called in to complain that SciFri’s climate coverage was much more about the politics than the science. As if SciFri doesn’t have an archive that anyone can search through and listen to!. Anyway, it’s a similar example of how people latch on to these convenient untruths and then repeat them as if they’re true.

    • Heard that. It was dealt with pretty efficiently by host Ira Flatow and guest Katherine Hayhoe, I thought. She’s an excellent spokesperson–crisp, positive and accurate.

    • There’s also the fact that the basic science of anthropogenic climate change is about 50-100 years old, and as such not particularly controversial to anyone with an above-room-temperature IQ.

    • snarkrates:

      There’s also the fact that the basic science of anthropogenic climate change is about 50-100 years old

      To be sure, there has been a great deal of progress in climate science in the last 100 years, and especially the last 50. Once the cold war made funding available, the data started pouring in while the population of scientists expanded. The resulting multiple lines of empirical evidence have inexorably converged in the consensus case for AGW.

      OTOH, as snark and the rest of Tamino’s regulars know, scientific understanding was good enough in 1896 for Svante Arrhenius to publish the first, laboriously hand-computed model of anthropogenic CO2-driven global warming. The value Arrhenius obtained for equilibrium climate sensitivity was less than a factor of two larger than current estimates using far more elaborate models. BTW, as a Swede, Arrhenius though a little warming sounded good. It sounds to me like he wasn’t in on the great global warming swindle ;^)!

      None of that is to detract from Hayhoe’s heroism. I’ve been an atheist since age twelve, but I’ve got nothing but respect for the way she’s integrated her religious faith and her scientific humility before nature, as well her principled engagement with her co-religionists. She deserves all the support we can give her.

      • I’m just a blog writer, not a professional historian, but I put the ‘modern era’ of climate science (particularly as related to AGW) as dating from Guy Callendar’s 1938 paper. It’s a debatable choice, since this was too early for the numerical modeling piece of the puzzle, or even full understanding of radiative propagation in the atmosphere (the problem worked on by Elsasser, Plass and Kaplan, among others).

        But Callendar took a fairly moribund concept, applied lots of new spectroscopic data, synthesized extant data on CO2 concentrations very capably, and created the first global data base of warming time series (already accounting for what we now call the ‘urban heat island effect’.) And he synthesized all of that and more, and presented it *as an outsider* to the British meteorological establishment with an admirable combination of firmness and intellectual humility. The end result was putting the AGW hypothesis firmly back on the investigatorial table.

        A ‘life and times’ piece I did on it, for those who might be interested:

        (FWIW, Callendar was also one of the great amateur scientists. Although he worked closely with his father, one of the most prominent British physicists of the day, Guy Callendar never himself took an advanced degree. His professional expertise was in steam technology (which more or less included a strong background in spectroscopy as well). Very unusual in the 20th century!)

      • No argument from me, Doc, I fully agree with you regarding Callendar’s contribution. My own choice of ‘especially the last 50 years’ is no less debatable, but there’s a better case for extending that to 60 years. The launch of Sputnik-1 in 1957 touched off a vast expansion of US public funding for science, and for STEM education in the school system (as the son of a science professor, raised in a college town, I’m an unambiguous beneficiary). The money both turned a trickle of empirical observations into a flood and caused a population explosion of full-time scientists, some of whom chose to study climate.

        The growth in the peer population of climate specialists is significant IMO, because science is fundamentally a collective enterprise. Speaking for myself: I’ve verified the basic case for AGW to my own satisfaction, but I’m by no means an expert, and I seldom venture far into the climate-science weeds. It’s the lopsided consensus of so many trained, competitive skeptics, who’ve collectively put in the time and effort to follow so many consilient lines of evidence for AGW, that makes its reality so ineluctable and its consequences so easily envisioned in alarming detail.

      • No argumentation intended. Appreciate your comments!

  3. I have been out of circulation – this is the first time I’ve checked in since posting. Don’t know the works of Mr Durkin.

    I didn’t phrase it properly. I do think there are idiots on the fringes of the climate wars. There are for instance the Skydragons, not that I have read them, but they appear not to believe in basic physics from the summaries I have come across. Every now and then you come in some comment thread on someone who says that CO2 could not have any effect because its such a small percentage of the atmosphere.

    I am not sure they should be called denialists, because the implication of the term is usually people who at some level know the truth, but, either in bad faith or out of venality, deny it. Probably there are such people, Durkin may be one of them. I do not know any personally, but they may exist. I suppose there are people astroturfing for the renewables lobby who fall in this category. Its human nature.

    My challenge to you however was a rather different one. It was to give an example that you consider to be good faith, informed, disinterested disagreement with some significant aspects of this site’s consensus.

    [Response: Were you just not paying attention? I did that, in direct response to your challenge. The first two words of my response were “Here’s one:”

    Read it again. I already answered your question.]

    Do you think that disagreement without denialism is possible? For me the problem with the approach of this and similar sites is that they have become echo chambers, and I suspect you will be unable or unwilling to offer such an example, because I think you actually think that its impossible. Any counter examples one produces will probably be rejected.

    [Response: How do you claim that “I suspect you will be unable or unwilling to offer such an example,” when I ALREADY DID?]

    The basic difference is, does one think the science is settled on climate? Or does one think that informed, good faith, disinterested differences of opinion are possible?

    [Response: That’s a false dichotomy. The science might be settled *and* still meet good-faith difference of opinion.

    What you refuse to acknowledge is that I don’t label people “denier” for good-faith dissent. I label them “denier” for deceit, distortion, and deliberate misrepresentation.]

    Now I will go look up Mr Durkin for a few minutes….

    [Response: If you really are as naive about climate denial as you portray yourself, get ready for an epiphany. Martin Durkin is just the tip of the iceberg.]

    • “My challenge to you however was a rather different one. It was to give an example that you consider to be good faith, informed, disinterested disagreement with some significant aspects of this site’s consensus.”

      Can you meet your own challenge? I bet you can’t. I think you set up your challenge deceptively by including the term “good faith,” which allows any contrarian position, no matter how wrong, to be put forth as good faith dissent. But a dissenting view in science has to be based on science, not on faith. For example, you raised the point about the good faith belief that CO2 is such a small fraction of the atmosphere it can’t cause dangerous global warming. You can have good faith that the belief is true, but the laws of physics prove it is wrong.

    • Michel: “Do you think that disagreement without denialism is possible? For me the problem with the approach of this and similar sites is that they have become echo chambers…”

      Phil: OK, we’ll settle this with the flip of a coin. Call it in the air.
      Denialatus: Tails.
      Phil: It’s heads.
      Denialatus: No it isn’t .
      Phil: Look! Clearly it’s heads.
      Denialatus: Nope. Tails.
      Phil: No. Look. That is clearly George Washington’s profile.
      Denialatus: No. People mistake an eagle with wings spread for the profile of George Washington all the time. Common mistake.
      Phil: Bill, could you come tell me which side is up on this coin?
      Bill: Heads
      Phil: Nancy?
      Nancy: Definitely heads.
      Jane: Are you kidding. Definitely, Heads.
      Denialatus: What an echo chamber!

      [Response: It’s easy to ridicule the behavior of actual deniers; you could busy your life blogging examples! But that doesn’t seem to address the question: are there people in disagreement who don’t fit that category?

      Objecting to michel’s “echo chamber” comment is, in my opinion, both correct and needed. But I also think it would have been helpful to start with a yes-or-no answer to a yes-or-no-question. Maybe you already said so, and I just missed it.]

      • Tamino, point taken. I have really tried to look for someone on the skeptical side that I thought might have a point. Dick Lindzen has raised some interesting points at times. I think he has tried to carry out some studies to show sensitivity could be close to 1 deg/doubling. However, these studies were pretty flawed as it turned out. That they were flawed didn’t render them totally uninteresting, but in the end, they proved not to be very illuminating. More disturbing, I have caught Lindzen making arguments to lay audiences that he would never make to a scientific audience and which he must realize are simply absurd (e.g. Mars is warming, too, so it can’t be anthropogenic CO2). This was sufficiently disingenuous that I just can’t take him seriously any more.

        Roy Spencer, has also made some interesting arguments, but again, I think a you have to disbelieve a whole lot of evidence to believe Spencer. So, less disingenuous than Lindzen, but that is damning with faint praise.

        The rest, I am afraid, I have no use for. I have not been exposed to a single analysis from the skeptic side that I found convincing or even if wrong left me feeling I had a deeper understanding of the science than I did before.

        Ultimately, to me that is the problem. You don’t do science by nibbling at the ankles of the prevailing theory. You do science by proposing a counter-theory with greater explanatory power than the prevailing theory. None of the so-called skeptics do this. To me this means they aren’t doing science, so I have no use for them.

    • “I am not sure they should be called denialists, because the implication of the term is usually people who at some level know the truth, but, either in bad faith or out of venality, deny it.”

      Here isa living example of the species in full cry.

    • But there are many who disagree on climate change who aren’t denialists! There are many serious scientific estimates of climate sensitivity that disagree with each other. Or maybe they specify a range, and they agree within the range but their central figures are different. And in general, this is fine, because these people operate in good faith, and if you look in detail you’ll probably find that their different methodologies may have meant ignoring some factors and hence getting different results.
      What you don’t tend to see are long running disagreements, because where there are serious disagreements, people end up figuring who was more correct, and the people who were wrong admit it and don’t keep flogging a dead horse. Even Roy Spencer allowed for correction to his satellite temperature record when it was pointed out how errors were creeping in.
      So yes, there are lots of skeptics out there, and its incredibly easy to tell them apart from denialists.

  4. OK, looked up Mr Durkin and what he is said to have done. Assuming the account is correct, it was wrong, badly so. I did not see the film or even recall reading about it, so can’t comment on Mr Durkin any further than that, so no views on the film as a whole or his overall approach to climate.

    What he did however was wrong, a sort of ‘hiding the decline’, to use a familiar phrase!

    My point is about the usefulness of the concept of denialism, and the way its used. I think most people who on blogs like this are called deniers have it done as a way of dismissing their views on quite specific matters. We get to a point where there is an unwritten consensus, and any challenge to any element of a very big subject is called denial. The effect is to deny that any sort of informed good faith dissent on anything is possible.

    Is it useful to call Mr Durkin a denier? I guess it depends who you are writing for. Its not useful for me.

    I think the great importance attached to consensus in the climate wars, the 97% studies as one example, the repeated cries that everyone agrees with a writer, is a very striking and important social feature of the wars. Its associated with the use of the concept of denialism. It strikes me as profoundly anti-science.

    [Response: What’s anti-science is to support your dissent with deceit, distortion, and deliberate misrepresentation. You seem to think it’s either non-existent, or rare, among those who disagree with the consensus view. What you don’t get is that among those who argue publicly against the consensus, such behavior is not rare. It’s rampant.

    Until you learn that, you have no hope of being able to evaluate evidence.]

    • Michel, the consensus studies have been done because of the explicit claims by a certain group, who you do not wish we call denialists or deniers, that there was no such consensus, but rather major uncertainty.

      It was a reaction to misinformation. It was exactly what we expect scientists to do: test whether a hypothesis is true. It wasn’t. And yet, the same claim is *still* used time and time again: there is no consensus, there is major uncertainty, and whatnot.

      Of course, some have switched from “there is no consensus” to “consensus is anti-science”. After all, when a [censored] finds his favorite talking point is destroyed by cold, hard facts, he cannot accept he was wrong, and acknowledge he was wrong. No, the talking point must be changed, such that the status quo, in the mind of the [censored], is retained. And thus we can even find people that claim the consensus studies are evidence that there is no evidence, that it is all groupthink, or that those studies are evidence that dissent is surprised and/or used to suppress dissent.

  5. it was just this approach, the approach of not assigning motive, but simply concentrating on the science that convinced me of the validity and integrity of climate science, and the exemplar of the was Potholer54’s brilliant YouTube channel/series on the subject

    I am sure most posters here are aware of his work – but for anyone who is not it starts with this video – the scientific debate re Climate change

    and the next in the series examines the (justified/necessary) challenge to the early “consensus” and examines the theories of Friis-Christensen, Nir Shaviv and Lindzen – but they simply can’t explain the mounting data/evidence

    but Potholer always keeps to the science, as John Mcclane famously said in Die Hard 2 – “just the fax mam”

    it is always worth bearing in mind the words of that enlightenment colossus Voltaire who famously said

    “perfect is the enemy of the good” – and climate science is pretty good

  6. Michel,

    Regarding the Skydragons, your first comment was right – they don’t believe in basic physics. It’s not that they, as you later said, believe CO2 will have a small impact, it’s that they deny that the ‘greenhouse’ effect exists at all.

    ‘Denialism’ doesn’t mean bad faith (lying), it means a rejection of established facts, and it doesn’t have to be deliberate or conscious. That the Skydragons have written reams of nonsense doesn’t mean they’re not in denial, it just means that they’ve gone to extraordinary lengths to pad their denialism.

    This is recognized by ‘skeptics’ Anthony Watts and Dr Roy Spencer, who have at various times banned these ‘slayers’ from their sites. Spencer has gone to great lengths to explain why they are wrong, including photographing and reporting various experiments demonstrating that.

    I can appreciate – and generally abide by – a reasonable discourse that entertains substance over rhetoric and labeling. But extending endless tolerance for the ‘Skydragon Slayers’ requires putting up with abuse and banning (as happened to me recently and in the past). A genuine challenge to their way of thinking ultimately ends up like this. They’re probably not aware of their own denial, but playing along with it in order to have a frank discussion is useless. At some point it’s reasonable to tie off outreach and recognize denial for what it is. Calling it such is not just a tribal monicker for opponents, it’s a fair conclusion.

    As Tamino has elsewhere pointed out, the labeling can be used inappropriately, and this can serve to alienate the labeled participant, and make those using it seem clubbish to outsiders. I’ve always been leery of that (outside this post, I almost never use those labels), and that decision is precisely because I want to engage, and be seen to be engaging, rather than demolish opponents with handy terms.

    My decision is based on inclusiveness and optics for lurkers, not accuracy. ‘Deniers’ is an accurate descriptor for this group. We should no more patiently and soberly entertain argument from them (though this has been done) than we should spend hours, days, months and years suspending our better judgement to give provisional credence to the arguments of flat-Earthers. While sincere inquiry should always be encouraged, nonsense should not be legitimized. Circumventing that as briefly and concisely as possible is not only reasonable, it’s helpful. Providing links to support the dismissiveness is even better. Though when you’ve done it 50 times, it does become tedious.

  7. Well-said, Barry, IMO.

    “They’re probably not aware of their own denial…”

    It’s worth recalling that denial as a jargon term is first of all one of the psychological defense mechanisms deduced by Sigmund Freud and elaborated by subsequent psychologists, including Anna Freud. As this popular article summarizes:

    Denial involves blocking external events from awareness. If some situation is just too much to handle, the person just refuses to experience it. As you might imagine, this is a primitive and dangerous defense – no one disregards reality and gets away with it for long!

    Applying the term to conscious denial, especially when systematic and highly intentional, has created a common, but secondary, meaning, which has given rise to “denialist” and “denialism.” (Maybe I should say ‘tertiary’, since ‘deny’ historically has had no interpretive psychological connotations whatever.)

    As a side note, one also sees several of the other defense mechanisms in play in the climate controversy. For example, it is possible (actually, fairly easy) to find examples of folks blatantly politicizing the debate while simultaneously accusing their opponents of the same thing. That, if done unconsciously, would be a textbook-worthy example of ‘projection.’

    Of course, from a distance it can be difficult to distinguish psychological defenses from conscious debate tactics. Especially so, since the ur-mechanism is ‘repression,’ in which one strives not to know what one actually does know–a weird-sounding dynamic to be sure, but one accurately captured by the vernacular saying “accidentally on purpose.”

  8. > Michael: … denialists, … people who at some level know the truth,
    > but, either in bad faith or out of venality, deny it.

    Nope. Upton Sinclair describes what you’re leaving out:
    — ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.’

    The term denialist includes the people for whom what’s known about climate science is fundamentally at odds with beliefs they hold dear or find profitable.

    Example: those who have made large investments in coal mining leases and rights to extract oil and gas from geological reservoirs cannot understand climate science without revising their idea of their own personal wealth, which is based on owning fossil fuel that can’t be burned. The difficulty of understanding two incompatible facts is called “cognitive dissonance”

  9. Sceptical Wombat

    Denial is not equivalent to lying or even being wrong. Kubler-Ross for instance lists denial as the first stage of grief. Some people honestly deny any involvement in a crime of which they are accused and/or convicted but subsequently proved innocent. There are almost certainly holocaust deniers who are both grossly misinformed and honest. Jews, moslems and athiests honestly deny the divinity of Christ.

    • Kubler-Ross was identifying the psychological defense mechanism of which I was speaking.

      By contrast, neither the ‘innocent accused’, the sincere but grossly misinformed Holocaust denier, or the theological disputant are ‘in denial’ in the psychological sense; they ‘deny’ in what I called the ‘primary’ meaning of the word, which is purely factual.

      Both of these categories are innocent of intentional deception; however, the same cannot be said for those who tell lies to manipulate others–the systematic climate change denialist.

      So, three different categories. It’s unfortunate that the terminology is not better differentiated, but this arises from linguistic evolution. That’s why scholars tend to prefer intentional coinages. But the public doesn’t always cooperate with the wishes of scholars.

  10. Off topic, but I wonder if anyone has looked at this paper given that trends form a such strong theme here. The paper has significant implications for how we understand regional change. Tamino, would you be interested in providing a commentary.

    [Response: I have looked at it in detail. In my opinion, it’s not a valid analysis.]

  11. Michael, you say:

    “I think the great importance attached to consensus in the climate wars, the 97% studies as one example, the repeated cries that everyone agrees with a writer, is a very striking and important social feature of the wars. Its associated with the use of the concept of denialism. It strikes me as profoundly anti-science.”

    You seem to be taking correlation as evidence of causation. But the reason why 97% (or whatever) of studies agree is that they each agree with independent reality, as established by evidence, and not because they agree with each other. The consensus of scientists with each other is an incidental result.

    The repeated cries you hear are that everyone agrees with the evidence because it’s really hard not to. God knows, I’m sure we’d all love to be wrong. As a soil physicist working on soil salinity and water behaviour the prospect of what AGW is going to do to the world my kids will inherit scares the bejeebus out of me. I’m strongly motivated to deny the evidence that things are going to get really bad but it would be absolutely wrong to do so because the evidence that it will get really bad is strong. I hold others to the same standard and thus feel entirely justified in calling those who do deny, from motivation rather than science, “deniers”.

  12. I will try to comment further on the subject of denial but for the moment draw your attention to this:

    I see no signs in behavior that anyone in a position to make a difference has actually bought in to global warming. This story is typical – those who have already stopped announce with great virtue and complacency that they are quitting. The rest quietly go to the bar and order another double.

    • “I see no signs in behavior that anyone in a position to make a difference has actually bought in to global warming.”

      You aren’t looking very hard. What about these guys?

    • Michel, you argue that people and countries aren’t doing enough, therefore… what?

      Your conclusion is left up in the air.

      The denial industry basically exists to provide political cover to industries and countries that don’t want to take action. Nothing about this implies that action isn’t urgently needed, or that actions taken to date aren’t a step in the right direction.

      Yes, Paris doesn’t go far enough. But for the first time ever, every single country in the world (except the US) have agreed the next steps. That’s something. And instead of being dismissive of what has already been achieved, we need to push for even more effective action and stronger commitments.

      And as for those countries that have already ended coal use – remember that we have known a lot about global warming for over 30 years. This isn’t the only driver in changes of coal use, but it’s obviously relevant. Over the decades while some countries tried to downplay global warming, others have just got on with taking action. Some countries took their Kyoto commitments seriously. The US failed to ratify it.

    • “I see no signs in behavior that anyone in a position to make a difference has actually bought in to global warming.”

      Then presumably you haven’t looked at the shape of the right-hand curve you posted.

    • Michel, There is so much wrong with your post that I really don’t know where to start. First, you are guilty of the favorite tack of deniers everywhere–taking a single, short-term bit of data and extrapolating it indefinitely into the future. If your logic had been applied in the 1880s, we could never have gotten off our dependence on whale oil for lighting lamps. The fact is that China is making amazing strides with renewables.

      The main issue, however, is that you seem to think that the possibility that it would be difficult to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels has anything to do with the reality of their effect on the environment. Your logic seems to be saying: It is impossible to do without fossil fuels, therefore fossil fuels must not be that bad.
      The real logic is much closer to: It is impossible to do without fossil fuels, therefore we are fucked.
      Moreover, we are fucked exponentially more as we use more fossil fuels. Cutting fossil fuels decreases the severity of how fucked we will be. Cutting fossil fuels now gives us more time before we are fucked and allows us more time to adapt so that ultimately we are less fucked.

  13. michel, you apparently haven’t understood the economics of common pool resources, or what economists call The Tragedy of the Commons. The capacity of the Earth’s atmosphere to absorb our CO2 emissions, without changing the climate, is a global commons. The tragedy is that AGW results from the aggregate of ‘rational’ economic choices by every individual energy consumer.

    Voluntary individual efforts to reduce personal carbon footprint should by no means be discouraged, but the warming won’t be capped until everyone switches from fossil fuels to carbon-neutral energy. That won’t happen as long as the marginal climate-change cost of FFs are kept out of their price, giving them an artificial market advantage over carbon-neutral alternatives.

    Look at it this way: I’m no saint, but suppose I feel so guilty about socializing my climate-change costs that I give my meager life savings to the families of Filipinos killed in Tacloban by Typhoon Haiyan, and vow never to transfer another atom of fossil carbon to the climatically active pool. My voluntary sacrifice would cause no detectable decrement in the mounting cost of AGW, I’d still have my life, and you’d still have your savings.

  14. Re. “signs” you haven’t been looking. First off even the Times graph you present shows a clear at least leveling off if not clear drop. Second, 2016 data shows a further decline in world consumption.

    Third, to change from the rising curve of the 60s and next decades to a flat or possible decline represents a MAJOR change in investment and construction. It is not possible to simply close all coal plants worldwide in any short time span. It is possible to change directions in a relatively short time span.

    A typical statement of one set of “skeptics” amounts to saying that if we cannot do everything necessary immediately we cannot do any necessary thing at all. I disagree. Change of this magnitudes takes time. Time we may not fully have without many major consequences it may turn out, but time nonetheless. And even though change takes time there is no argument at all to continue the previous business as usual.

  15. Michel, you seem to have a somewhat short attention span, or are easily distracted. As an example of good-faith dispute and responses, Tamino suggested Friis-Christensen (and Svensmark, as well). You seem to have been distracted by other topics. Can I kindly ask you too return to this one – how was their work responded to within the scientific community? After all, that’s the focus of this post, not coal usage, or anything else.

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