Many who call themselves “skeptics” rail at the label denialist or denier when applied to climate science, or Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). Some make the specious claim that the label is a deliberate reference to Holocaust Denialism when I and others who use the term never had any intention to make the link. I believe they do so because it allows them to wear a mantle of martyr, but hey, feel free. If that’s what you want to be…
When it comes to climate denial, I think there are few legitimate skeptics remaining and ample reason that it so. That said, an honest skeptic is known by their questions and answers. They have a role to play in keeping the debate focused, but as I say, there are few honest skeptics remaining. Instead, most of those who call themselves “skeptics” at this point in time and who parrot the arguments of denialism are, for all intents and purposes, denialists. Sorry, folks but there comes a point in time when to reject is to deny, no matter what your intentions. When you reject the findings of a science that has such overwhelming evidence backing it, you are a denialist. In this case, at this time, “skeptic = denialist”.
Speaking of denialism, I was reading over at Keith Kloor’s place as a result of a link there that Willard posted and came across this discussion by David Brin, noted SF author (a favourite of mine BTW). I have the article in Skeptic and wanted to post his comment for discussion:
“The denier movement pretends to be about asking honest questions about a scientific matter that is both complex and *possibly* fraught with systematic errors. I believe that honest skeptics can play an important role there. But denialism is ALSO about preventing the community consensus in atmospheric science from affecting public policy. “
Yes! This is what the famous tobacco memo noted — “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the “body of fact” that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.” The goal of denialism, whether about tobacco or climate, is to create an atmosphere of doubt around the scientific consensus.
The tobacco industry knew that the scientific community of the time was in agreement, that a consensus existed, that cigarette smoke caused cancer / second hand smoke was also a carcinogen. They wanted to delay policy action — temporarily or indefinitely — and the only way to do so was to affect public opinion, because that is primarily what our political system responds to, on a four year cycle.
From that memo:
In thinking over what we might do to improve the case for cigarettes, I have looked at the problem somewhat like the marketing of a new brand. Here is a chart where I have defined the basic marketing elements which I see in the smoking and health problem. Our consumer I have defined as the mass public, our product as doubt, our message as truth — well stated, and our competition as the body of anti-cigarette fact that exists in the public mind. We have chosen the mass public as our consumer for several reasons: – This is where the misinformation about smoking and health has been focused. – The Congress and federal agencies are already being dealt with–and perhaps as effectively as possible–by the Tobacco Institute. – It is a group with little exposure to the positive side of smoking and health. – It is the prime force in influencing Congress and federal agencies–without public support little effort would be given to a crusade against cigarettes.
If the tobacco deniers could influence public opinion enough by raising doubts about the scientific consensus, they could prevent policy action. We know they were largely successful through a variety of mechanisms, including publishing bogus science, finding corrupt scientists to write bogus science for them, bogus front organizations, and other tactics.
This is what the climate science deniers have learned from — in fact, many of the same groups or individuals have been involved in both denial campaigns. Fred Singer is the prime example, but there have been others, politicians and media organizations included.
The goal is to attack the legitimate scientific consensus in order to create the misperception amongst the public that the science is not settled — that there are two sides to the story, and that it is all too uncertain to act.
The “uncertainty monster” as Judith Curry calls it, is played up by the deniers and their lackeys in the dupe group who unwittingly do their bidding.
Climate science, and particularly assessments of climate science such as the IPCC, needs to do a much better job of characterizing and reasoning about uncertainty. The events of the past year that have challenged the credibility of climate scienceare symptoms of an enraged uncertainty monster.
Here’s Curry again, in a post titled “Lies, Damned Lies and Science” in which she throws out some bones for her denialst followers to chew. Of course, all manner of insanity follows, but does Curry step in and actually show some reason and logic? No. She links to an article on WUWT, featuring Terence Kealey on Climategate.
Here’s an excerpt:
To conclude, therefore, scientists are not disinterested, they are interested, and as a consequence science is not dispassionate or fully transparent, rather it is human and partially arcane. As I argue elsewhere, science is not the public good of modern myth, it is a collegiate and quasi-private or invisible college good.4 That means, by the way, that it requires no public subsidies. More relevantly, it means that individual scientist’s pronouncements should be seen more as advertisements than as definitive.
Peer review, too, is merely a mechanism by which scientists keep a collective control over access to their quasi-private enterprise. One the e-mails leaked from the University of East Anglia included this from Professor Phil Jones, referring to two papers that apparently falsified his work:- “I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow – even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!”
So what? Climategate tells us no more than the philosophers of science have long told us about research, and the public should be less naive.
Kealey, FYI, had the audacity to write this tripe in an essay on the seven deadly sins of the academy, in a section on lust:
The fault lies with the females. The myth is that an affair between a student and her academic lover represents an abuse of his power. What power? Thanks to the accountability imposed by the Quality Assurance Agency and other intrusive bodies, the days are gone when a scholar could trade sex for upgrades. I know of two girls who, in 1982, got firsts in biochemistry from a south-coast university in exchange for favours to a professor, but I know of no later scandals.
But girls fantasise. This was encapsulated by Beverly in Tom Wolfe’s novel I Am Charlotte Simmons, who forces herself on to JoJo, the campus sports star, with the explanation that “all girls want sex with heroes”. On an English campus, academics can be heroes.
Normal girls – more interested in abs than in labs, more interested in pecs than specs, more interested in triceps than tripos – will abjure their lecturers for the company of their peers, but nonetheless, most male lecturers know that, most years, there will be a girl in class who flashes her admiration and who asks for advice on her essays. What to do?
Enjoy her! She’s a perk. She doesn’t yet know that you are only Casaubon to her Dorothea, Howard Kirk to her Felicity Phee, and she will flaunt you her curves. Which you should admire daily to spice up your sex, nightly, with the wife.
Kealey appears quite … titilated by his own imaginings about the morals and ethics of others, whether fellow academics or climate scientists.
Because she focuses on uncertainty rather than the preponderance of evidence supporting global warming, I label Curry a “climate denial dupe”. Do I think she’s in the pocket of big oil? No. Do I think she’s a raging libertarian out to prevent climate policy in order to preserve the purity of the free market? No. Do I think she denies global warming? No. I think she’s enraptured with the notion that she is like Pielke’s “honest broker” between “the public” and “skeptics” and “climate scientists”. We know what a broker does — usually, they make money for themselves, first and foremost. Her motive appears to be personal. It’s about identity.
Regardless of the reasons for Curry’s folly, a climate science denier, whether direct or dupe, is one who takes the uncertainty that does legitimately and inevitably exist in the science and magnify it all out of proportion in order to cast doubt on the science and delay or stop the development of policy. That’s the sign of a denier and his / her lackeys — trumpeting the uncertainty and showcasing it instead of the overwhelming preponderance of scientific evidence and the overwhelming scientific consensus among those experts who are in the position to judge.
Here’s more from Brin:
They insist on a burden of proof that 99%+ of skilled experts in a field are insufficient – and yet a slim majority of science-illiterate politicians (during the Bush Era) and now a 40% *minority* of science-clueless politicians – should have absolute power to ignore the best scientific advice of the era.
This legerdemain and sleight of hand over burden of proof is dismal, ignorant, dishonest and purely a product of left-right fixated ideology. By any standard of logic -
1) the burden of proof falls upon those dissenting from the current standard model, especially when the percentage of experts hewing to the SM is in the high 90s and when that field has a recent track record of being very very very very smart. (Atmospheric studies of far planets, correlating perfectly with weather models that have improved reliability from three hours to four days(!) in just a generation.
Here we get back to the science-policy nexus and what role science has in the development of policy. The ideal is that, when there is a scientific consensus about the danagers of something — be it tobacco, anthropogenic greenhouse gasses, or environmental toxins and carcinogens — policy is made based on the science findings in order to protect the public interest.
One would think that this makes sense. After all, if science is our best means to understand the world in the most objective way possible, and if science says X, policy should respond to X in order to mitigate the danger and reduce harm.
Why else do we have government but to serve our — the public’s — interest?
Of course, this isn’t the way it works in the real world. That’s the fantasy world we wish we lived in. I hate being so jaded, but there you have it.
In reality, policy is made by policy makers who are concerned primarily with getting and keeping power. In our current systems, they are open to corruption on both fronts — the getting and the keeping. They are open to the lobbying and financial support during elections and they are open to lobbying and financial support during their term between elections.
As we know, it costs lots of money to win a seat in Congress or the Senate. Here’s one estimate from 1996, which is vastly out of date: between $500,000 (Congress) to $4,600,000 (Senate). Once you have power, especially given the high cost of getting elected in the first place, you want to keep it. That means keeping your constituents happy and your political donors willing to fund your re-election campaign. You won’t, if you’re smart, do anything to screw things up, like pissing off the donors and voters. Hence, public polling is big business and a major concern for most politicians. Sure, many politicians aren’t too smart and get kicked out of office, but surprisingly few do. Congressional stagnation means that only about 5-10% of elected officials are kicked out of power each cycle.
Seriously, there is no use in getting power only to lose it so the underlying unfailing logic of our political system is for those with political aspirations to get and then keep power. So, gauging the public pulse is key and if the public is fundamentally against a policy decision — enough to get you kicked out of power — the rational politician thinks twice. If your major donors are against a policy development, you should better think twice about it. If the voters are against a policy decision — or at least, are divided — you can safely ignore the issue. And if all else fails, you can spin your wheels and study the matter endlessly in order to stall.
Thus, the goal of those interested in preventing public policy from being developed, who know that the science is “settled” or the consensus exists, is to attack that consensus, to deny the science is settled and to raise enough doubt that the public is confounded and there is then politically legitimate reason not to act.
2) When the precautionary principal shows us a genuine (if as-yet unproved) chance of catastrophic risk, prudent measures are called for before the risk is “proved.” Yes, there can be arguments over other tradeoffs like economic impact. But when the denier side was responsible for (a) catastrophically bad economic management and an economic theory (supply side) that always and universally failed, and (b) deliberate obstruction of ANY climate palliation measures, even basic research…
…then that side merits very little credibility under our present conditions.
A typical cry of the deniers and the so-called skeptics who dally with them is that the science is too unsettled to follow the precautionary principle. In fact, they go so far as to question the validity of the precautionary principle, claiming it is the brainchild of leftist environmentalists with a political agenda.
Sigh. How can you debate with these people? People who reject the lessons of history and the advances of science?
Finally, from Brin:
3) Since most (admittedly not all) climate palliation measures are blatantly “things we ought to do anyway” (TWODA), in order to seek economic success, reduce dependence upon foreign petro-lords, dominate new industries and make a safer world, this obstructionism is especially nonsensical. Indeed, this is the smoking gun proof that koolaid-drinking deniers are parroting talking points from a conniving oligarchy that is spreading sedition purely for personal benefit. Those who dance under such marionette strings may not be directly culpable. But neither do we have to give credibility to puppets.“[my emphasis]
Try to argue this with deniers, whether outright deniers with direct financial interests or their unwitting dupes, and you might as well bash your head against a brick wall. When you try, you come up against the concrete wall of “unthinking libertarianism” – the kind you get from reading Ayn Rand novels in your teens. These folks don’t want “us” to do “anything” in any organized way, so suspicious and paranoid are they about “we the people” and our “government”.
Like I say, how can you argue with these people? Just reading over at Climate Etc., WUWT and CA makes this poor brain hurt.