Shrinking the Sceptics

by | Mar 30, 2012

My last post here discussed the belief held by Met Office senior scientist, Vicky Pope, that climate change is a matter of ‘evidence, not belief’. It turned out that, in spite of evidence, one of the most vilified climate change sceptics and the public at large had a more sophisticated understanding of the debate about climate change than Pope herself.

Adam Corner, a psychologist at Cardiff University, with a particular interest in ‘the psychology of communicating climate change’ has responded to Pope’s evidence-vs-belief claim in the Guardian, to conclude,

Do you “believe” in climate change might not be the scientifically rational question to ask, but it is the most essential one to address if we are to understand – and ultimately get beyond – climate change scepticism.

Corner’s article is nearly good. There is, for instance, some consideration to the fact that ‘belief’ in climate change can be the result of social factors:

In a paper just published in the journal Climatic Change, my colleagues and I at Cardiff University asked what would happen when two groups of people – one group sceptical about climate change, the other group not – read the very same information about climate change in the form of newspaper editorials constructed especially for the experiment. We found that these two groups of people evaluated the same information in a very different way, attributing opposing judgments of persuasiveness and reliability to the editorials.

In social psychology, this phenomenon – “biased assimilation” – is well known, and no one is immune from it, so both sceptics and non-sceptics rated the editorials in line with their existing beliefs. The critical difference, of course, is that those who were not climate sceptics had the weight of empirical evidence on their side.

But whatever the weight of ’empirical evidence’, evidence, as pointed out in the previous post, does not speak for itself. Corner is as unable to answer — or even understand — James Delingpole’s questions about climate change as told by Andrew Montford (from the Bishop Hill blog):

In his Radio 5 interview, James Delingpole correctly framed the argument over AGW as being over (a) how large the effect is (b) how much warming there will be and (c) how much of a problem it is.

Many sceptics take the view that ‘climate change is happening’, but that i) the sensitivity of climate to CO2 has been overstated; ii) the sensitivity of society to climate change has been overstated; and iii) a great deal of nonsense is spoken about climate change.

In other words, the evidence for climate change may or may not be ‘overwhelming’, as some claim. What is definitely overwhelming is the sheer volume of completely misconceived ideas about climate change.

It is these nuances which escape the attention of people attached to climate change. There is a real tendency to reduce the debate into binary opposites: ‘climate change is happening’ versus ‘climate change is not happening’, excluding everything in the middle. Furthermore, there is the routine confusing of the science and politics of the climate change debate. Evidence that ‘climate change is happening’ may well be ‘overwhelming’, but advocates of ‘action’ to stop it are reluctant to reflect on the fact that this desire is a political, or ‘ideological’ ambition. There is a belief that you can simply read imperatives from ‘the evidence’, and to organise society accordingly, as if instructed by mother nature herself. And worse still, there is reluctance on behalf of many engaged in the debate to recognise that this very technocratic, naturalistic and bureaucratic way of looking at the world reflects very much a broader tendency in contemporary politics. To point any of these problems out is to ‘deny the science’. ‘Science’, then, is a gun to the head.

It is especially interesting that Corner recognises a social component to the formation of beliefs about the world, but then fails to reflect on his own:

What this experiment illustrates, though, is that “belief” in climate change is very much what matters. Without belief in climate change, scientific evidence simply bounces off. And it is social views and cultural beliefs that predict climate change denial, not people’s level of knowledge about climate science.

In fact, recent work by Dan Kahan and his colleagues has found that the more scientifically literate people are, the more their ideological filters kick in when reading information about climate change. It might seem counterintuitive, but the more confidence people have in their ability to grasp the science, the more able they are to slot it into their existing worldview.

So does that mean that climate change communicators should give up? Absolutely not – but we should not be looking to science to provide us with the answer to a problem that is social in nature. The challenge is to find a way of explaining why climate change matters using language and ideas that don’t alienate people. Simply repeating the scientific case for climate change is – unfortunately – not going to cut it.

One problem with this should be immediately apparent. You can have a completely insane view of climate change, but Corner’s approach to understanding it won’t detect it as a problem which needs to be addressed, because his preoccupation is with the idea that ‘climate change matters’. So it doesn’t matter what you think about climate change — that sea levels will rise 5 kilometres next year, or that the polar bears will migrate southwards and eat children — as long as you believe that ‘it matters’.

Let’s be clear then, the only reason why it matters that people do believe that ‘it matters’ is because Corner wants people to obey environmental imperatives — the ones he believes emerge directly from ‘the science’. And this leads him to make a special category for people with ideas about the world that differ from his own:

In fact, the more we know, the less it seems that climate change scepticism has to do with climate science at all. Climate change provokes such visceral arguments because it allows ancient battles – about personal responsibility, state intervention, the regulation of industry, the distribution of resources and wealth, or the role of technologies in society – to be fought all over again.

If it is true that the climate debate is a proxy for all these ‘ancient battles’, it is true for the ‘warmists’ as it is for the ‘sceptics’. But what Corner seems to completely omit is the extent to which he himself is vulnerable to the ‘ideology’ of these battles.

Of course the climate debate takes on this political form. But this is no surprise. If one believes that humans are dependent on natural processes that exist in homoeostasis, then it would seem that one must be committed to the idea that the first job of politics is to ensure the survival of those processes. If, however, one believes that humans and nature are more robust and self-dependent, then one might take a more circumspect view of climate change. An application of this principle can be seen in the treatment of the climate issue by many so-called ‘development agencies’. The planet has experienced about 0.7 degrees C of climate change over the course of the century, and this, it is claimed, accounts for the worsening condition of many millions of people. The facts on the ground, however, are that the conditions for many more millions of people have improved. Similarly, as is discussed in the previous post, increasing temperatures have led to speculation that they will produce water shortages, which will in turn lead to conflict over control of those resources. Gone is the idea that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ — that the means to produce potable water can be found with just a little bit of organisation and effort. The possibility is completely removed from the discussion. Necessity becomes the mother of political authority: “we must act to prevent climate change in order to prevent war”. ‘Science’ is the gun to your head.

So corner is wrong to suggest that ‘one side’ has the monopoly on evidence. How we understand the problem of climate change — the extent to which ‘it matters’ — is something which is much more predicated on our ‘ideology’ than he admits. In most cases, I believe that ‘action to prevent climate change’ is ill-conceived and dangerous. Does ‘ideology’ play a role in that belief? of course. Does that mean that I believe that climate change is not happening and is not a problem? Not in the slightest. My belief is that the problems do not legitimise the solutions: powerful and unaccountable political institutions, with control over material production and material, and by extension, political, liberties. And I believe that the desire for such institutions precedes the evidence that they are necessary, and informs its interpretation. We all see the issue of climate change through such perspectives. No person is immune to it.

Corner continues:

It follows that the answer to overcoming climate change scepticism is to stop reiterating the science, and start engaging with what climate change scepticism is really about – competing visions of how people see the world, and what they want the future to be like.

Contested visions of the future should be matters for political debate, not psychologists. Where else have we seen psychologists searching for the pathologies which give rise to dissent?

When psychologists are recruited into political debates, we can be sure that we are being denied the opportunity to participate in the debate. It is a sure sign that our thoughts are seen as an impediment to somebody else’s political project. That’s not to say that there is something wrong with political projects in general, but that there is something very wrong indeed with attempting to persuade you through any other means than by treating you as a rational agent, capable of making decisions. Such treatment turns individuals into mere instruments. Psychologising dissent — rather than engaging in debate — belittles autonomy. It says that you don’t know what your best interests are, and that either way, what you think is not important. It is the most vile expression of contempt for humanity that is possible within a (nominative) democracy, and is an impulse that is most corrosive to it.


  1. cb

    “Psychologising dissent — rather than engaging in debate — belittles the importance of autonomy. It says that you don’t know what your best interests are, and that either way, what you think is not important. It is the most vile expression of contempt for humanity that is possible within a (nominative) democracy, and is an impulse that is most corrosive to it.”

    Yup. Because they are ALL dehumanizing sociopaths.


  2. Vinny Burgoo

    Corner: ‘In a paper just published in the journal Climatic Change … climate change … climate change … The critical difference, of course, is that those who were not climate sceptics had the weight of empirical evidence on their side.’

    Er, no. Those who don’t enjoy eating meat had the weight of invented evidence (as summarised by invented newspaper articles) about an invented, non-CC risk on their side.

    The experimenters didn’t want to tackle attitudes to climate change directly because the whole thing has become so politicised. Instead, they invented a hypothetical risk that they thought was analogous to climate change: meat production introducing methane to drinking water. The ‘climate sceptics’ were people who enjoyed eating meat. The ‘climate worriers’ were (presumably: I can’t find a free version of the full paper) vegetarians or people who eat meat but don’t enjoy it.

    To say that the people who were the most willing to believe an invented scare story had the weight of empirical evidence on their side would always be daft but in the context of the climate change ‘debate’ it’s excruciatingly unfortunate. A True Believer scores an own goal.

  3. Strindberg

    “powerful and unaccountable political institutions, with control over material production and material, and by extension, political, liberties.”

    With varying degrees of accountability this represents the history of politics and well, power in all societies. It isn’t exactly unique to environmentalists and certainly isn’t a good description of their Grand Design for a New World. Which is what this is all about.

    Environmentalists will never acknowledge their ideological underpinnings, but at least you could. Don’t suppose anyone would thank you for it. A debate about how we want to build the world could do with competing visions though.

  4. geoffchambers

    I don’t see how this article is “nearly good”. Certainly he’s right to recognise that social factors influence belief. But that’s a requirement of his job description. He’s a research associate at Cardiff University with an interest in “the psychology of communicating climate change”. No climate change, no job. He’s a unicorn hunter. He sees the horny bastards everywhere, and is bound to conduct double blind tests in matched samples of maidens’ laps.

    He starts off by describing how

    two groups of people – one group sceptical about climate change, the other group not – read the very same information about climate change in the form of newspaper editorials constructed especially for the experiment and were then found to have “evaluated the same information in a very different way”.

    So far, so good. Then he says: “The critical difference, of course, is that those who were not climate sceptics had the weight of empirical evidence on their side.”
    There is nothing in the article about the content of the scientific paper. Just the bald statement that one group was right, and the other wrong. How can he say that and not realise what a travesty it is of everything that science is about?
    It’s pointless saying more, without having read the paper, which I’ll do when I’ve calmed down a bit.

    Your final paragraph is excellent by the way. I wonder what Corner would make of it? I suspect the words wouldn’t even register on his retina. Your reasoning exists on a plane he doesn’t even know exists.

  5. Ben Pile

    Stringberg – With varying degrees of accountability this represents the history of politics and well, power in all societies. It isn’t exactly unique to environmentalists and certainly isn’t a good description of their Grand Design for a New World. Which is what this is all about.

    Indeed it is not a phenomenon unique to environmentalism — a point which is made above: “… there is reluctance on behalf of many engaged in the debate to recognise that this very technocratic, naturalistic and bureaucratic way of looking at the world reflects very much a broader tendency in contemporary politics.” The same idea is repeated throughout this blog, where it is pointed out that ‘environmentalism is a symptom, not a cause’, and that it is a ‘constellation of phenomena, rather than a concrete political doctrine’. I don’t agree that it’s true of power in all societies.

    Geoff, I take your point about it being ‘nearly good’. I just wanted to say that the recognition that this isn’t just ‘about science’ is refreshing – it’s not as bad as Pope’s in (only) that respect – he then shoots off in the direction of his blind spot.

  6. Ian Woolley

    Absolutely spot on as usual, Ben. For me the stand-out phrase is “the more we know…” [about scepticism] – really conjures up an image of a clueless, white-coated imbecile-scientist looking up from his microscope, which we then see is actually trained on a full size human being. Where the f*ck has he been?

  7. j ferguson

    Corner: ” It might seem counterintuitive, but the more confidence people have in their ability to grasp the science, the more able they are to slot it into their existing worldview. ”

    It astonishes me that Corner would think anyone would find the above counterintuitive. It is exactly what I would expect.

    I assume that confidence in the ability to grasp the science might generally be warranted – no idea whether it is.

    But if it is, then he should have been troubled by the effect identified above.

    Corner is not a heavy hitter.

  8. geoffchambers

    Having promised myself I’ll read the paper on which the article is based, I first clicked on the link in the first paragraph of Corner’s article labelled “a decade of social science research” which took me to an article at (“The gateway to research on climate change communication”) which links in turn to Skeptical Science, the Guardian, and Real Climate.
    Back on the home page of Talking Climate, I learn that it’s a UK-based partnership between the Climate Outreach and Information Network (COIN), the Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC) and the ‘Climate change as complex social issue’ research group at the School of Sociology and Social Policy, Nottingham University.
    It seems to have been going since January. Its latest blog is by “Adam” and it’s about our old friend George Marshall, whose blog has been reactivated after over a year of silence, with the same video as that presented by “Adam” on his blog – “how to talk to a climate change ‘denier’”.
    I shall try and press on, in the knowledge that I’m going round in the same ever decreasing circles in the company of the same oozlum birds – the only difference being that I’m a few years older, and they’ve picked up a few more thousands in public funding on their circuits towards their final destination.
    (I really hate these people. I’ve just wasted 24 hours of my life at Bishop Hill discussing Leo Hickman’s psychology, in the company of Ben here, and a couple of other CR regulars, Alex Cull and jferguson. Leo is a opinionated opinion-former, writing his worthless opinions on the opinion page of the opinionated Guardian. He has suddenly become important because he might – just might – be willing to discuss a subject about which he knows nothing with some people we know and respect. Many of us found this prospect exciting and have been getting all worked up discussing it).
    Leo, bless him, has his faults, but he’s never taken a penny from your taxes. Adam Corner has the word “science” on his cv. You can’t talk to him as an equal unless you have the same word on your cv. Your taxes are subsidising his efforts to prove your opinions worthless and illegitimate. This is wrong.

  9. Vinny Burgoo

    Whoops! It looks like I got the wrong Corner/Whitmarsh/Xenias research. How excruciatingly unfortunate. I’ve probably just proved their point.

    The three of them have been doing similar experiments for several years. Here’s the one I misidentified as the _Climatic Change_ paper:

    The poster was presented at Planet Under Pressure.

  10. geoffchambers

    The article costs 34 euros. The experiment is described in the abstract, found here
    like this:

    In an experimental study, we measured participants’ scepticism about climate change before and after reading two newspaper editorials that made opposing claims about the reality and seriousness of climate change (designed to generate uncertainty)…We found that people who were less sceptical about climate change evaluated the convincingness and reliability of the editorials in a markedly different way to people who were more sceptical about climate change, demonstrating biased assimilation of the information. In both groups, attitudes towards climate change became significantly more sceptical after reading the editorials, but we observed no evidence of attitude polarisation—that is, the attitudes of these two groups did not diverge.

    Apparently, if you give people two conflicting types of information about climate change, both believers and sceptics become more sceptical. Apparently, the sceptical editorial (designed by the experimenters, who are believers) was found more convincing than the warmist editorial, by both believers and sceptics.
    This result isn’t mentioned by Corner in his article. Manifesting what we scientists call selective information presentation, or lying-through-his-teeth, Guardian journalist Adam Corner misrepresents the research results of psychology researcher Adam Corner.

  11. Mooloo

    Climate change provokes such visceral arguments because it allows ancient battles – about personal responsibility, state intervention, the regulation of industry, the distribution of resources and wealth, or the role of technologies in society – to be fought all over again.

    The problem with this is it assumes that everyone comes to the climate change argument with an ideological position, and will not budge from that.

    Except that just isn’t true. In the last five years I have gone from being a person who believed that CO2 was probably causing major change to one who believes the opposite. All without a single change in my basic political beliefs. I still voted for the same party in each of the last three elections. And each time I considered – seriously – voting for another party (or, more likely, no voting at all).

    People assume that politics is about settled sides, because that is what you see on the telly and in the papers. But the key voters (except possibly in the US) are in the middle. It is them that decides who wins, not the extremists. People do change their political views. People do lose faith in views that they previously held quite firmly. (Where is Militant Tendency now? And yet the people who supported them are still alive. See how fast the BUF died.)

    Most people are not particularly bound to one ideology. They have a flexibility of mind that Mr Corner does not allow for. How does he explain the reluctance to swallow AGW then, if most people aren’t actually coming to the fight with a settled political position.

    So I say that most people who have decided that they are not convinced by the allegations that we are rapidly destroying the earth by burning fossil fuels are, in fact, not doing so based on political ideology. They will, for sure, fit their beliefs on AGW into their political belief system, but that is possible whether one is left, centre, or right and whether one is anarchist, democrat, or authoritarian.

    That Mr Corner believes with a passion is obvious. But most sceptics I have met are quite mild about it. They could change their views without any great mental effort. They have seen some evidence that they don’t believe, but that is it. They could easily change their minds. Those people, of course, do not stand up in parliament, comment on blogs or write scientific papers about how stupid everyone else is. But they exist in their millions all the same.

  12. j ferguson

    FWIW, Mooloo,

    I do think elections here in the US are decided by the middle, but as a choice between alternatives selected by extremists, sometimes one side only, and sometimes both sides. You might have meant that extremists on one side will nominate a candidate who couldn’t possibly appeal to the middle and in so doing, throw the election to the other side. If that was what you had in mind, then I’d have to agree with you.

    I continue to be astonished that there appears to be little opposition in the main political establishment to the climate catastrophism over there. I don’t much agree with our objectors here on much else, but we do have them.

  13. Ben Pile

    Mooloo. ‘ideology’ and ‘political’ are terms that I think are fraught with problems. German words like weltanschauung give us more depth, but my spell-checker doesn’t like it.

    I don’t think one can really have a perspective at all without an ‘ideology’. Even an outlook which eschews ‘politics’ is in some senses ‘ideological’. I don’t think we should be squeamish about it. I draw a distinction between ‘ideology’ and ‘political doctrine’, however, with the latter term meaning something more concrete, organised, and written down. I agree with you, also, that ‘ideologies’ are fluid. And that’s rather the point… I too was once much greener – green, in fact – but it was my experience which caused me to reflect on it.

    Actually, I can remember the point at which I decided enough was enough. It was the moment Mark Lynas threw a custard pie at Bjorn Lomborg in a bookshop here in Oxford, where he was presenting The Skeptical Environmentalist. The less reported event was that the greens mobilised to get the University to ban him from University property, where he was due to give a ‘brown bag lecture’ (a lecture at lunch time) and interviews. I don’t remember the outcome; it was the sentiment which I found revolting.

    The fluidity of minds is what really terrifies environmentalists of that censorious bent. And even more so the ‘establishment’ environmentalists. It is a problem for movements and for the establishment that they cannot connect with the public. I think this accounts for the alarmist narrative they have produced. It legitimises their function and institutions, no matter what we think about it. Even better for them, minds — never mind the atmosphere — become dangerous things: irrational, arbitrary, fickle… as changeable as the climate. I wonder if there is a connection: two of the least predictable things* in the universe have become the objects studied by this strange science, which lends so much authority to so many bankrupt poseurs.

    (* – I do not intend to cast all of psychology into the bin at all; only those parts of it which seeks to diminish humanity.)

  14. Mooloo


    While I agree in theory that we all have an ideology, most people have a one which is much more ad hoc than the likes of Corner can admit. They can hold two opinions that “correct” thinkers will agree are contradictory. Consistency is for political parties, not people.

    I have a fellow at my work who is, at best, a reactionary a**e. Yet he is quite concerned about the effects of CO2. This is because he was a scientist, and his desire to be seen on the side of scientists is more important to him than the fact he doesn’t care an actual jot about the environment in other regards. And then other person at work has very green credentials (real ones, not city fake ones) and yet doesn’t get at all worked up over CO2. Because he is not a panicker, basically.

    So neither of them remotely match Corner’s assessment that people take a position on global warming based on their main political leanings. Because most people don’t have an ideology that is consistent in any real sense. They position themselves on each issue more or less independently of the previous one.

  15. geoffchambers

    ..minds — never mind the atmosphere — become dangerous things: irrational, arbitrary, fickle… as changeable as the climate. I wonder if there is a connection: two of the least predictable things in the universe have become the objects studied by this strange science, which lends so much authority to so many bankrupt poseurs.

    Well said: they’re control freaks, and things they can’t control frighten them. The weather’s one thing they can’t control, and other people’s opinions are another.

    No doubt this problem has always existed, and society has developed a lot of techniques to stop any particular group from imposing its will on all the rest of us (religion, law, politics…). Technical advance can upset the balance in unpredictable ways: printing and literacy put unexpected power in the hands of anyone motivated to write and print a pamphlet and, lo and behold, decades of bloody religious wars.
    Computerised data collection and graphic display techniques empower fanatical number-crunchers and compilers of graphs and histograms. Anyone can make graphs of anything nowadays, and if you can make yours go up higher and faster than anyone else’s, you’ve got a crowd-puller.
    The presentation Vinny Burgoo links to is about meat-eating and methane, but the same logic is at work. The complete text used in the experiment is not shown, the implication being that the actual information they give people is unimportant; “we know people act irrationally – that’s why we’re doing the experiment. So who cares what we tell them? People who like meat won’t give it up, even if we say they should. How irrational!”
    This is so bad and so dangerous that I’m tempted to fork out 34 euros of my pathetic pension to invest in Corner’s paper to find out exactly what they’re up to. If anyone else wants to go halves/thirds on this, my motivation might just reach a dangerous tipping point.

  16. j ferguson

    On further reflection, my comment #7 is nonsense. I hadn’t yet realized that “understanding the science” is understanding the science that Corner thinks he understands, not any other science. There is something to my point, but not much.


  17. J. S. Roberts

    Environmentalism places high value on the Precautionary Principle which holds that the proponent of an idea or project bears the burden to prove it will cause no harm. Since at least the time of the Rio summit, if not before, we have been told by environmental advocates that applying the principle is moral and just.

    However, the Precautionary Principle suffers from two major logic flaws. First, it does not specify the standard of proof and, second, it does not say who should decide if the standard has been met. In practice the standard is ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ and it needs proven to each and every interested individual. Further, the Principle fails the test for becoming a ‘principle’. That test, to me, is akin to a theory becoming a ‘law’, i.e. that it is always true. But, if it was always true, it would also apply to the ideas of environmental advocates and to thier projects. But, because solving global warming is considered so important and the ’cause’ is moral and just, harm is accpetable. Since the Principle is apparently not true in this case it cannot be true in any other.

    These fallacies of the base tenent of the entire environmental movement are on display in this and the previous post. Clearly, the climate change advocates fail to see that they are being judged by the very standards they impose on others. They do not like being held to a high standard of proof by anyone who does not share thier beliefs. I suspect, that if challeneged on this point, they would quickly develop a rationale as to why they should not be viewed using thier own microscope. Clearly, it is time to abandon the Precautionary Princple as the means for making policy decisions.

  18. geoffchambers

    Many many thanks. I won’t ask how you did that, but is there any chance of having the appendix, which contains the all important texts that they were shown? From what I’ve seen just skimming through the methodology, it really looks like bad a joke – but a joke worth sharing.

  19. Alex Cull

    Thanks for posting the link, Q! Curious, isn’t it, that “overall scepticism about climate change increased after reading the editorials”, something not mentioned by Adam Corner in his Guardian article.

    While the scepticism scale as a whole showed that participants shifted uniformly towards greater scepticism, analysis by individual questions suggested some interesting variation between items on the scale (see Table 3). In fact, there were only a few items which showed significant changes, including significant increase in agreement with the item “I do not believe climate change is a real problem”.

    So more information leads to more scepticism about climate change, “albeit marginally”.

    This poses something of a dilemma for those seeking to communicate uncertainty: an increased focus on the areas in which uncertainties remain may be interpreted as evidence that the case for anthropogenic climate change is weaker than it actually is. Thus, although the message may be technically more accurate, it may simultaneously be less accurately interpreted (from the perspective of the intended audience).

    Decoded – people can’t be trusted with the facts, hence the intended shift from communicating the facts to manipulating people’s attitudes.

  20. geoffchambers

    The sample consisted of 173 psychology students at Cardiff university, 90% of them women. [No older white males then] They were rewarded for their participation with a course credit.

    Participants were carefully screened to eliminate any who knew that their teacher writes climate change articles for the Guardian (just joking).

    The two sceptic editorials were attributed to the Scotsman, the two “pro-climate change” editorials were attributed to the Irish Times.
    [There is a large body of research showing that racial attitudes between the different nations of the United Kingdom are entirely neutral – see eg (Cromwell et al 1649; Six Nations Cup, etc) – sorry, just me being silly again]

    As Alex points out, there was a shift in attitude towards scepticism.

    We should have a competition for a better headline for the Corner article. I suggest: “Scotsman persuades Welsh Girls to kill Polar Bears”, new survey claims”.

  21. geoffchambers

    Here’s a wonderful own goal. These are the titles of the two editorials “designed to generate political/moral uncertainty”:
    ‘US politicians are committing treason against the planet’, (Irish Times)
    ‘Why are environmentalists exaggerating claims about climate change?’ (Scotsman)

    (One’s a question; the other’s a statement, but never mind)
    Forget about climate change and ask yourself: Which is the more common occurrence; politicians committing treason, or activists exaggerating? Could it be that, in the minds of the people who formulated these headlines, the probability of environmentalists exaggerating is as remote as that of politicians committing treason?

    It’s a commonplace of research studies of this kind that all variables except the ones you want to test should be eliminated. If you set your laboratory rats a task and the stimulus is – say – a packet of liqorice allsorts, you make sure that each packet has the same number of the ones with the nice soft coconut centres. Don’t Blodwen and Megan deserve the same consideration?

  22. Alex Cull

    Geoff, apologies as I’ve gone back over the thread and realise I was just repeating the point you made in your comment #10. It’s been a busy day with constant distractions (that’s my excuse, anyway).. :o)

  23. geoffchambers

    Alex Cull #23
    No, you weren’t just repeating it. Your first quote confirms it using material from the original paper (I only had the abstract) while your second quote confirms Ben’s original point. Confirmation like that is very useful. Sometimes wading through this stuff you makes you wonder if it’s you who’s going mad or the rest of the world.

    The other half of the sample had two editorials “designed to generate scientific uncertainty”:

    ‘We are as certain about climate change as we are about anything’, (Irish Times)
    ‘If we can’t predict the weather, how can we predict the climate?’ (Scotsman)

    The first “pro-climate change” headline could have come from the sceptical Scotsman, or even from
    – or even from Heraclitus.
    [I’m no expert on 19-year-old Welsh female psychology students, but I don’t think they’re very interested in climate. They get up at noon, and unlike us old white males, they’re not worried about their seedlings freezing]

    The “sceptic” position is again in the form of a question. Sceptics apparently don’t have opinons, only questions. This one is lifted straight from Skeptical Science’s list of easily refuted arguments.

    So there you have it. What is a Welsh girl to believe? Two wild assertions from the Irish Times (Paddy’s Green Sham? – not sure) or two rather banal but not absurd questions from the dour sceptical Scotsman?

    And they call it science.

  24. Lewis Deane

    And what a time we are living through! I live in a very working class area, among the poor and the worse than poor and we can hardly afford to heat our flats, homes, whatever, because of this ‘Green’ bs. Today, as usual, we are slapped in the face with this ‘cigarettes are porn’, no see but ask policy that was sneaked in. Tomorrow our second favourite drug will be priced out of our reach and the day after tomorrow we won’t even be able to comfort eat. Well, thanks for ‘reforming’ us, you bastards!. Because, all you’ve actually done, you inadequate sh*ts, is make us angry, very angry. (Also smugglers!) And that’s it – because the ‘establishment’ feels it has no power it grabs what petty power it has to bully and leach on the weak and ‘inarticulate’ – it’s called ‘charity’ – well, f*ck you!

  25. Lewis Deane

    And then they wonder why that all most as bad sh*t Galloway gets elected. We are angry!

  26. Lewis Deane

    Geoff, I’m sorry, your very polite and I like you for it, as I do Ben Pile, but I, having no blog, just think they’re bloody liars or, worse, cowards. Yes, I’m losing my patients with these sh*ts. Because they’re bullies and as soon as I see a bully I go crazy. I will defend anyone or anything if that thing becomes singled out and subjected to abuse – if the ‘greens’ where a tiny minoritary I would fight for them to. Within the ‘bounds of my own truth’, of course. I cannot lie. That is my weakness.
    More, this country is making me sick. I know, Geoff, you live somewhere else beautiful, and I envy you for it. But I’m becoming sick of this country, I mean Dostoevskian sick! The petty interference into our lives, into what makes the wheels of history run, the sticks in our spokes, whilst we are trying, each in our own way (yes, I know, poetry doesn’t mean much but at least, in a Marxian sense, it is ‘productive’, ie I am the ‘working class’, I produce) to make something of this world. I live here, among the ragged arse of the world, because at least, here, I don’t here that mummery and stupidity every day. It’s a psychological problem, perhaps, but I hate liars and hypocrites.

  27. Lewis Deane

    I just been watching Ben Bernanke and his ridiculous list of obtuse excuses of why the financial parasites in the US are sucking the life out of the ‘West’. But I don’t care. I’m indifferent to history (except as far as my son!). But what a wanker! What an imbecile! This ‘academic’, this parasite of parasite says “The Lehman collapse followed the classic model”! Yeah, ‘classic’, in the sense in which mathematics is ‘classic’! But historically speaking? The anxiety of these idiot to hang on, like in Swift, to they’re absurd formulas, despite reality, gets my biscuit!

  28. Peter S

    Although he’s coy about it, Adam Corner’s article is all about disbelief and its terrors.

    It may be worth wondering if there is a difference between ‘believing’ and ‘believing in’. We might, or might not, believe a statement on the subject of climate change – and either response could be largely determined by if we do, or don’t, believe in the person making it. A belief in someone would include not only their statements, but their abilities, motives and accessibility within the role they play. Although we might believe ‘climate change’ is happening (and act accordingly), we can only believe in – or disbelieve in – the person who is telling us it is.

    We can disbelieve in someone (or disbelieve something) without having to find a counter belief to fill the hole. Unless, of course, we happen to be someone who is needy of belief – that is, a person convinced his world would end without an excess of his believing (which we might think about as a form of obesity). Adam Corner’s article could be read as a plea for Adam Corner to be believed in. If the author identifies himself as being little more than the bag of beliefs he clings to – or is convinced he needs to cling to – we can begin to see his dilemma. As his article hints (but does not spell out), to be disbelieved in is to face the prospect of having to appropriate someone else’s “competing visions…social views… [and] cultural beliefs” to use in their place… or to face the terrors of the hole they leave.

    Like eating too-much, believing too-much could be the only way a person finds to flee from the uncertainties of his hunger, or curiosity. If so, we might recognise both actions as attempts at self-curing an absence which is felt to be intolerable.

    Curiously, Adam steers well clear of any such psychological perspective, and wonders instead how he can use psychology to cure other people of their disbelief. Belief, of course, is the precursor to compliance – telling other people what to do (eg, to ‘save the world’) is much easier if they believe in you in the first place (although Vicky Pope – in her article – darkly hints that belief “will become more and more irrelevant”… leaving us in little doubt that she has some kind of enforcement in mind).

    If Adam has any interest in using – instead of abusing – whatever constituted his psychology training, he might wonder if a good definition of ‘fantasy’ (where, invariably, wishes for things like more power or more sex are played out) is that of ‘an internal space where other people have been cured of their non-compliance’.

    In the meantime, it may be a good rule-of-thumb that the grandiosity of what is believed equals the neediness of the believer. Without knowing how to stop, bloating becomes inevitable.

  29. geoffchambers

    I know there are some here who don’t go for PeterS’s psychoanalytic approach. Exploring the psychology of your opponent is bad debating practice. Even if your analysis is true and enlightening, it can never win the debate for you.
    A couple of reasons why I find it enlightening:
    1) His remarks about compliance and enforcement in his third-to-last paragraph echo what all of us feel (often indistinctly) about the CAGW project. For that reason alone, its worth following PeterS in the reasoning which leads him to his conclusions.
    2) Psychoanalysis is about listening – taking the point of view of the other seriously – however fantastic their beliefs may seem. This is precisely what Corner and Pope are incapable of doing.
    3) Normally, the conceptual confusion of a senior civil servant and an obscure academic would not be very interesting. Everybody’s confused about something, and society has mechanisms for making our confusions cancel each other out. These mechanisms are not working. Their errant thinking is reinforced by that of everyone around them. Behind the programme to impose lightbulbs, school curricula, carbon quotas or whatever, is a wider programme to impose a way of thinking. This should be resisted, and any explanatory analysis is of assistance.

  30. Vinny Burgoo

    Speaking of belief, the Corner et al paper in _Climatic Change_ comes from a group at Cardiff University that has known for several years that very few people in Britain are sceptical about global warming and its official (and most likely correct) attribution, yet the group keeps doing fresh (-ish) research on how best to convince Britain that anthropogenic global warming is real.

    Perhaps someone should do some research on how best to convince Cardiff psychologists that they are barking up the wrong tree.

    Incidentally, does anyone else find it odd that in the _Climatic Change_ paper the most CC-sceptical lab rats were, according to the mysterious ‘scepticism scale’, those who said they would vote for the Green Party? Doesn’t that suggest that someone somewhere has got his or her terms wrong? (Or have I misunderstood something again?)

    And does anyone else find anything odd about this question in the 2010 IPSOS poll that has been the basis of so much recent CC-focused research from Cardiff’s School of Psychology?

    ‘As far as you know, do you personally think the world’s climate is changing, or not?’

    As far as you know, do you personally think that’s a badly phrased question on one or both of the following counts?

    (i) The ‘As far as you know’ is redundant and confusing.

    (ii) The world doesn’t have a climate.

  31. Lewis Deane

    Geoff, as I say, you are far to polite.Can I put what Peter S is to long winded to express – cowardice. Words mean something, Peter. Call things and people by the words that mean them.

  32. geoffchambers

    Vinny Burgoo
    You’re right. Green Party voters, (about 13 of them) are the most sceptical, followed by non-voters, then Conservatives, though in the text it says that the results are not significant (hardly surprising given the small sample). Makes you think though. Maybe voting Green when you’re young is just a way of saying “up yours” to the system, and being sceptical about AGW is another. (Ben voted Green in the past).

    Most questions in most opinion surveys are rubbish, but the one you quote is particularly bad. The only thing you can do is ask the same rubbish question over and over and see if responses change over time. I won’t take any notice of opinion polls on the climate until they record the weather at the time the question is asked.

    Haven’t you got your negatives muddled in your first sentence? Very few = most?

  33. Lewis Deane

    Eh. I think the climate is changing.

  34. Lewis Deane

    To see in the middle of the midnight garden
    Our children still playing – They were supposed
    To be in bed. Panic, a thousand smashed plates and you find
    What where you thinking?About how to be, maybe.
    Shouts and ideas in your mind and you were capable only of love
    How to love, you thought. And you thought you failed.

  35. Alex Cull

    @Lewis, and don’t forget the 8% hike on air passenger duty – grr!

    @Geoff, Vinny, Lewis, PeterS & everyone:

    Ben: “There is a real tendency to reduce the debate into binary opposites: ‘climate change is happening’ versus ‘climate change is not happening’, excluding everything in the middle.”

    True, and it is interesting to follow the logic, treating as “givens” those two mutually exclusive binary states. Firstly, the question of which statement is correct is answered by consulting “the science”, and of course 97 out of 100 scientific cats agree that “climate change is happening” and human activity is the cause (Corner et al actually cite Doran and Zimmerman in their paper).

    So what follows next? For social scientists, given that “climate change is happening” the next step is for society to take urgent action (“cutting carbon”, being sustainable and the rest.) However, this does not appear to be taking place on the scale and at the speed they would like to see, given that “climate change is happening” encompasses the worst-case scenarios we’re all familiar with.

    What can be done about it? Especially if time is getting short and strategies like nudge, “selling the sizzle” and “communicating the science” are not very effective (or even increase scepticism, as Adam Corner et al have discovered.) If low-key manipulation, spin, advertising, lectures and so on and so forth aren’t working, what options does that leave them?

    In that light, another paper I’m curious about and intend to read at some point is “Climate change and cultural inertia” by Brulle, Lauza-DeLay and Norgaard (Kari Norgaard was one of the speakers at Planet Under Pressure last week.) Here’s the abstract:

    While climate scientists have provided increasing consensus on climate change, the logical implications of climate science regarding the need for immediate and aggressive policy measures to reduce emissions are being met with intellectual and political silence even among the public that accepts the science of global climate change. Instead, a series of partial half measures have been proposed, which though they may be comforting, are essentially symbolic. In this paper we use the work of Bourdieu together with ethnographic and interview data to develop a model of cultural inertia as a social process operating across spheres of the individual, social interaction, culture and institutions. We describe how given our position in a socio-historical trajectory of energy use, mobility and abundance, habits of mind and social practice are shaped by pervasive cultural forces and the interplay of existing social institutions and psychologies are at odds with climate change or new environmental paradigms. The disjuncture between our taken-for-granted way of living and socio-ecological conditions – such as the new behaviors necessitated by climate change – is experienced at the individual level as an identity threat, at the institutional level as a challenge to social cohesion, and at the societal level as a legitimation threat. Using ethnographic and interview data we describe the powerful processes that work at the psychological, institutional, and societal levels to maintain the current orientations and ensure social stability in spite of the evident imperative for change. This model that actions are needed to engage transformations at all levels of the social order. We conclude with some suggestions for further investigations and practical suggestions about actions to address climate change.

    What “new behaviors necessitated by climate change” will ever satisfy “the need for immediate and aggressive policy measures”, I wonder? What form will those “practical suggestions” take?

    To cut to the chase – I believe that these people’s logic ultimately points them to one outcome. And that is coercion. They may be vague and coy and they may obfuscate and dance around the topic interminably. But that is where their own logic leads them, even if they hesitate to come out and say it (maybe some of them aren’t even admitting it to themselves, yet.) It is indeed about enforcement and a wider programme to impose a way of thinking. And I think the self-imposed role of the social scientists will be to do their damnedest to ease the public – as far as the public can be eased, anyway – into thinking the unthinkable and accepting the unacceptable.

    Right now, they’re still doing the dance of the seven veils, and giving us only tantalising glimpses of what lies beneath. But at some point the veils will have to come off and we will see the unappealing brutal nakedness of the actual dancer.

  36. Peter S

    Thanks Geoff.

    Exploring the psychology of your opponent is bad debating practice. Even if your analysis is true and enlightening, it can never win the debate for you.

    Perhaps – but including humans in a debate which is, in essence, all about humans (what they do to the environment and what they’d like to do, given half a chance, to each other) makes sense to me. In fact, it would be strange to leave them out… but then, who gets to frame the debate and to whose advantage is it when they are?

    – taking the point of view of the other seriously – however fantastic their beliefs may seem. This is precisely what Corner and Pope are incapable of doing.

    Well, I’m probably incapable of taking the points of view of people like Corner and Pope seriously too. But I do take seriously the felt need which gives rise to such views – and how that need would express itself were it ever to be validated (which may be where the real catastrophe awaits in the the ‘manmade global warming’ phenomenon).

    I suppose anyone who likes humans enough (and Environmentalists don’t appear to like them very much at all) might take the trouble to get to know a little about how they work… ie: how we organise ourselves to best get on with life (which is prior to a political argument about what constitutes the best ways of getting on with life), and what each one of us may have to surrender along the line in order to do so? This includes what happens when a group come up with excuses to unsurrender (and, if the absence of the above mentioned political argument makes such an event inevitable?).

    If the debate is about humans, then we have ourselves and a long history of other people to draw on as evidence – and a few of them have had some good ideas along the way too.

  37. artwest

    “The critical difference, of course, is that those who were not climate sceptics had the weight of empirical evidence on their side.”

    And those who were sceptics had many many times before read alarmist pieces which turned out to be riddled with inaccuracies, bias and hyperbole however superficially convincing they might have been at first glance. Certainly they’ve learned by experience that, if told by Mann or Trenberth, Monbiot or Hickman that it’s dark at night the odds are against it.
    It’s hardly surprising that in the “experiment” sceptics were, well, sceptical while those who had swallowed any old guff before remained less so.

  38. Vinny Burgoo

    Geoff: Haven’t you got your negatives muddled in your first sentence? Very few = most?

    I don’t think so. According to Cardiff’s 2010 poll, 20% of Brits think that climate change is either wholly bogus or mostly or wholly caused by natural processes. That’s not very many.

    OK, it’s not ‘very few’, either. How about ‘few’?

    Polling being what it is, contemporaneous polls found much higher percentages (e.g. Gallup: about 50%) but the polls used by the Cardiff psychologists show that most Brits have got the message.

    Or at least that most Brits have got the message about global warming being real and being mankind’s fault. Their 2010 poll shows that there is a lot of scepticism about the predicted impacts of AGW-driven climate change. They cope with this finding by employing something that looks very like classic denial. Their literature occasionally acknowledges that such scepticism is justified but these ‘moments of clarity’, as psychologists put it, have no lasting effect. The bulk of the Cardiff literature treats ‘impact scepticism’ as though it were a product of the same ideological biases that produce ‘trend scepticism’ and ‘attribution scepticism’.

    Perhaps they should see someone.

  39. geoffchambers

    Vinnie Burgoo
    My apologies. I thought you were referring to the current paper (Corner 2012) which of course says nothing about the opinions of the general public, but simply uses their battery of questions to divide their sample into two groups. You’re right. Sceptics are in a minority in most polls. To express scepticism, you have either to be totally ignorant of what experts and the media have been telling us for the past twenty years, or be bloody-minded, or to have thought hard about the question for yourself. Those who see scepticism as a problem to be dealt with, rather than a series of questions to be answered, conflate the three groups.

  40. geoffchambers

    Alex #38
    Your point that coercion is the only logical outcome of the “shrinking of sceptics” is born out by statements by Kari Norgaard about her “Climate change and cultural inertia” paper. Apparently, she describes climate change denial as a condition in need of treatment, and compares denialists to defenders of slavery. I can’t find the article itself. Do you have a link?

    Hunting round for it, I found some good stuff, including a blog new to me, (which is in Dutch, but very interesting, with a rather strange photo of Dr Norgaard), and some chapters of her book “Living in Denial” published last year by MIT Press, which you can read at

    in which she says: “I use the comments that people in one community in Norway made and my own observations of them during a recent very dry and warm winter”.
    Now you might attribute their denialism to the fact that they had all taken to heart the lessons of RealCimate and Skeptical Science that weather is not climate. She prefers to believe that it’s false consciousness due to not having read enough Marx and Gramsci.
    The book has an endorsement which starts: “This is an original and extremely important intellectual contribution … to the analysis of climate denial.” It’s by Robert J. Brulle, who is her co-author on the “inertia” paper. Small (warming) world.

  41. Vinny Burgoo

    Geoff: To express scepticism, you have either to be totally ignorant of what experts and the media have been telling us for the past twenty years …

    That Gallup poll said that 20% of Belgian adults haven’t even heard of global warming. For a Brit, that’s an astonishingly large fraction. (UK: 3%, according to Gallup.) I might move to Belgium. Lovely rivers in the south.

  42. Lewis Deane

    PeterS ‘I suppose anyone who likes humans enough’

    I don’t like ‘human beings’, I despise them, I spit on them. But I love my son, I love my 5 brothers (each in their own particular way, of course). I think, what is interesting, is how, when we abstract ourselves from our own reality, when we ‘theorise’, we go wrong. That is why all free people have hated theories and abstraction – they mean nothing to us but oppression!

  43. geoffchambers

    Vinny Burgoo
    In my experience, 20% is the proportion of Belgians who pretend not to understand you because you’ve addressed them in the wrong language.
    When researchers like Corner and Norgaard talk about sceptics, they don’t mean what we mean – people who have thought about the subject and come to a certain conclusion. They mean people who fit at one end of an articificial scale they’ve created on which you can fit anyone – Welsh psychology students, Norwegian fishermen, it doesn’t matter. Corner tells us “biassed” doesn’t mean biassed. Add the fact that climate change can mean global cooling or global unusually normal temperatures, and you have a situation in which any survey is almost bound to be nonsense. They can’t see this, and we have no means of making them see it. Or do we?

  44. Lewis Deane

    Test. I think the joy of life, PeterS, we have allowed it to be taken away from us. I think life is beautiful, is grandiose, is heroic. I think, if we look at ourselves, we are ‘heroic’ and ‘villian’, too. I think psychology tells us very little about life. I think one should read Homer rather than Freud. Not, at least, through the obtuse reductive vision of ‘Freuds’!

  45. Alex Cull

    @Geoff – just noticed there’s been a recent WUWT post about the Norgaard article and its revisions:

    The press statement has been stealth-edited, but the original is still in Google cache, and I also found it here:

    The “Living in Denial” book looks interesting, might try to order it through the library. Norgaard’s thoughts chime rather well with those of George Marshall, who says (in a different video) that there are “many other shades of denial which are probably, in a way, more challenging, because there are people who are accepting that there’s a problem but who are finding ways to push it one one side.” False consciousness, as you say. Norgaard and Marshall come across as feeling they can read most people’s innermost thoughts and emotions on the subject of climate change – it is self-evident to them that the world is hurtling towards a climate crisis, so I wonder if they assume everybody else must be aware of it on some level but are masking their fear, despair, etc., with seeming indifference or pretending to be preoccupied with trivialities like relationships, employment, family, life, death, etc.

    Kari Norgaard appears now to have vanished down some sort of cyber oubliette, in the meantime.

    (The last few comments have appeared all in italics, by the way, so I’m now wondering if this one will, as well.)

  46. Lewis Deane

    The sea is a monster full of dreams, my son,
    Dragons that must rise from the deep and whales
    That must turn from 20 km down and smile as they rise:
    There is laughter in the deep, laughter of the Gods,
    Bubbling below you, grinning,The clouds sail down,
    Louring on your head. The eagles have bitten you.
    But you know, my son, you are not alone.
    Reach out to me and your mother and we will reach back.

  47. Peter S

    Lewis “I think psychology tells us very little about life.”

    I absolutely agree. But it may show us ways to ask new questions.

    Kari Norgaard wants psychology to tell her everything she already knows about life… the results tell us far more about Kari Norgaard than she is able to realise.

  48. Mooloo

    Nothing to say, just removing the italics!

  49. geoffchambers

    Many thanks. Are you able to tell us how you do that? (I’m thinking about the Norgaard paper which also seems to be unavailable).
    I wrote to Adam Corner, who replied promptly with Appendix 1. The content of the editorials doesn’t add much to the information in the headlines, in my view. Since the paper ignores any effect that the editorial content may have had, the research tells us nothing about climate scepticism. It is purely about the relation between belief and evidence. You could do precisely the same experiment substituting belief in fairies for belief in climate change, with appropriate changes in the editorials (leprechauns v tatty bogles?)
    No doubt the Tolkien Society and (why not) DEFRA would be just as happy to finance it.

  50. geoffchambers

    The one linked on the Planet Under Pressure site: “Climate change and cultural inertia” R. Brulle; R. Haluza-DeLay; K. Norgaard
    Your stuff comes via Is there some trick to this, or shouldn’t I be asking?

  51. geoffchambers

    Following on from this post, I had a long exchange of emails with Adam Corner, and he asked if I’d be interested in doing a joint post. I agreed, as long as it could go on a sceptic and a “believer” blog at the same time. It’s a brief Q&A session, and it’s up at Corner’s blog at
    and should be going up at HarmlessSky fairly soon. Corner was worried about moderation of comments, since he’s not free to keep an eye on things over the next few days, but I assured him we sceptics are a polite lot.
    (That was quick. Barry Woods has already got a comment up).

  52. Barry Woods

    The joys of twitter, I follow @talkingclimates so saw it straightaway. mine is apprenetly a straw man argument. I think not.

  53. Philip


    Well done again, it’s becoming a bit of a habit. Thinking about the Corner post and the comments some more, made me realize that I really have very little idea what motivates the journalists and columnists at papers like the Guardian to take such an extreme pro-establishment position. I’d have expected the default position to be a lot more Bookerish. Do you have any thoughts?

  54. geoffchambers


    I really have very little idea what motivates the journalists and columnists at papers like the Guardian to take such an extreme pro-establishment position. I’d have expected the default position to be a lot more Bookerish.

    That’s the question that got me interested in the whole subject. Seeing a Marxist comedian like Mark Steel at the Independent, or David Mitchell at the Observer go all po-faced and repeat the daftest clichés about sceptics worries me. Their whole career is based on questioning authority, or should be.

    Journalists reflect society at large; 80% of he population trust scientists; 10-20% trust journalists and politicians. Journalists and politicians want some of that trust. If 90% of the population don’t trust you, youll look pretty silly if you challenge those that they do trust. So you believe, especially if you belong to the new generation of university-educated opinion-makers and opinion-sellers who watch the same tv programmes and read the same books and newspapers.

    Booker is an interesting case. In the 60s, as editor of Private Eye in the golden age of satire, he was at the heart of Swinging London, that brief moment when Britain was the cultural centre of the world. He wrote a book about it, called the Neophiliacs – a sociological essay written in the style of an 18th century essayist – dissecting the age, and revealing how it was just a bunch of a few hundred people from a pretty limited number of cultural milieux who talked about, wrote about and photographed each other, and managed to convince each other that they were the centre of the universe. They were the product of the new media they dominated – the colour supplement, the LP, the TV talk show. Having dissected one media bubble, Booker wasn’t about too be take in by another one forty years later.

  55. Barry Woods


    Is Adam Corner really interested.. Take a pause look at the title of his article. ‘sceptic’ in quotes.

    One of the more recent memes is of course scepticism is good, all good scientists are sceptical, yet those criticising climate change are not ‘real sceptics’, they are people that cherry pick evidence, etc. and the theme is basically climate change sceptics have appropriated the term sceptics.

    and that ‘true scientists’ need to take back the word sceptic… (from the ‘deniers’)

    Skeptical Science (John Cook) has been pushing this, and it does seem to have been taken up.

    Carbon Brief review the book:

    “Now Cook has released a book. Entitled ” Climate Change Denial: heads in the sand” it is co-authored with environmental scientist Hadyn Washington and billed as an “an in-depth examination of the social science behind denial” – particularly denial of climate change.”

    “Scientific skepticism is healthy. Scientists should always challenge themselves to expand their knowledge and improve their understanding. Yet this isn’t what happens in global warming skepticism. Skeptics vigorously criticise any evidence that supports man-made global warming and yet uncritically embrace any argument, op-ed piece, blog or study that refutes global warming.”


    “….refusing to accept the overwhelming ‘preponderance of evidence’ is not skepticism. It is DENIAL and should be called by its true name”.

    Geoff, and everyone else I suggest should read that Carbon Brief book review..

    GEOFF, perhaps ask Adam, just why exactly has the title of his article a ‘sceptic’ has you in QUOTES

    just gve the impression he realy wants to say ‘denier’ but that is not PC.
    Especially given the criticicms of the other Talking Climate (George Marshall) post about how to Talk to A Denier. George Marshall did not allow my comment on his blog, where it appeared (

    After some twitter, publicity/prompting Talking Climate started to allow my comments where the article was repeated, criticising George, especially the lackof self awareness, that if youcall people denier, link to politically motivated Deniers – Hall of Shame (on a website/group that George Marshall started) don’t be surprised if they are not very receptive to what you have to say..

    Adam has made it quite clear, thathe sees scepticism as motivated reasoning based on ideology, and no other reasosn are thought of allowed (despite many examples). He refuses to consider rational scepticism of the science, and frames the debate suiting his worldview.

    So Geoff – Why not ASK Adam why you are in quotes a ‘sceptic’

    To Quote: above Carbon Brief link. I don’t think Adam is really allowing you to be a sceptic at all.

    “…people who are true ‘skeptics’ looking to for the truth. People who are willing to stop deluding themselves. People who will seek to bridge the gap between concern and action”

    Talking Climate: – Understanding climate scepticism: a ‘sceptic’ responds

    so Geoff.. why are you portrayed in ‘quotes’

  56. Philip


    Thanks, what you say makes a lot of sense.

    Journalists reflect society at large; 80% of the population trust scientists; 10-20% trust journalists and politicians. Journalists and politicians want some of that trust.

    There is a real irony here, I think, in that if good scientists are sceptics, then the last thing they would want is for 80% of the population to simply trust what they say, let alone for journalists and politicians to want to get a piece of that cake as well.

  57. Philip


    One of the more recent memes is of course scepticism is good, all good scientists are sceptical, yet those criticising climate change are not ‘real sceptics’, they are people that cherry pick evidence, etc. and the theme is basically climate change sceptics have appropriated the term sceptics.

    I hadn’t realized that lot had started trying to do this. How sad! I suppose, as with most things in life, the best response is to just keep on keeping on being sceptical, asking the questions, and pointing it out when the answers don’t appear.

    Also as Lovelock points out, the alarmists may be right! I can’t prove they’re not and neither can anyone else. It is interesting though that so many people who look carefully enough at this issue seem to end up sure that many of their arguments are wrong. Perhaps this is why the likes of SkS (big “S” notice!) want to try to spin “scepticism” like this.

  58. Peter S

    Geoff – it’s pleasing to see you have opened up an exchange with Adam Corner.

    I posted an effort at Adam’s site suggesting that, as a psychologist, looking to our formative years to find a context for scepticism might contribute to his understanding of the demands – and the responses – made in the ‘climate change’ debate.

    In the earliest years of life, of course, no child would find scepticism in response to its demands – which would be immediately met (scepticism at this stage would place the parent’s needs above those of the child’s survival). However, by infancy, the child’s array of demands has developed and (if all goes well) the parent introduces scepticism as a response to some of them (usually as the precursor to a ‘no’). The child is likely to find this new response hugely frustrating – not only in the obstacle it introduces into the interaction (and into the child’s life), but also because the child finds it must tolerate its felt need, unmet, until the obstacle is resolved. It’s arguable that encountering (and responding to) this first scepticism is the very motivation for children learning a language and developing reasoning skills… just as the (not-uncommon) refusal to use speech until later years could be viewed as a child’s (doomed) project to reject any form of scepticism at all as an external response to its demands.

    If these early formative relationships do etch a pattern for our latter lives, we can see how crucial scepticism is as a component. An acceptance of scepticism as a valid response to demand (and a tolerance of the resulting frustration) equips a person not only with a knowledge of the real ‘otherness’ of his outside world, but also of the limits it sets to his own demanding. On the other hand, a successful rejection of early scepticism (where a parent opts for compliance to avoid tantrums, or to show how much she ‘loves’ the child) might leave a person ill-equipped to accept his surroundings as truly separate and (most crucially) becoming evermore panicked at not finding a reliable external boundary to his demands… which, in turn, grow to feel increasingly extreme.

    Adam’s preoccupation with the ‘roots of scepticism’ and the conviction that his external world is so precarious it justifies the extremism of the demands he makes upon it, may be his way of addressing – without acknowledging – a much deeper-rooted need… to find a usable ‘no’. Demands made in the name of ‘climate change’ might not be so much about the life or death of the world, as about feeling alive or feeling deadened in the world. The answer to those demands may be the movement’s ultimate paradox.

  59. Barry Woods

    ADAM will NOT post this comment at Talking Climate (Publically funded) he refuses to because it is personally critical (well welcome to public debate, the information is freely publically available) he also says OFF topic (which is odd the topic is why scepticisms)


    Hi Adam, I would still love to have a chat with you.

    But as a phsy­co­lo­gist surely you must be aware how ‘scep­tics’ must per­cieve you, and the fact that per­haps you would be per­cieved as having your own ideo­lo­gical backage and biases as well.

    Additionally, you must recog­nise it is hard to be per­cieved as a nuetral sci­entist, on the par­tic­ular issue of cli­mate change and cli­mate policies, when you are policy advisor to COIN, which is per­cived as a totally act­ivist, policy & polit­ical lob­bying organisation,

    and that you were car­rying a banner at Copenhagen with ‘Act Now’ on it, and writing at the time as a green party can­didate..

    Photo, and write up Green Party mag it came from –

    Not that there is any­thing ‘wrong’ in that, ie lots of nice sin­cere people are greens, (my sister in law, having been a green paryy MP can­didate, coun­cilor, Green Party Press Officer, and the former editor of Greenworld, is a per­soanl test­a­ment to that) but you must realise you will be per­cieved as an act­ivist AND a lob­byist for policies (ie anti-fossil fuels, and nuc­lear?) who also ques­tions aspects of cap­it­alism, and you will be chal­lenged as such.

    You clearly believe having your own blog ‘a hun­dred months and counting’ and your other writing, that dan­gerous cli­mate change is jus tar­ound the corner. You con­sider the sci­ence is estab­lished enough on that, to state above:

    “Scepticism about cli­mate policies — and debate about what altern­at­ives might be– seems much more important than a repeated doubting of well-established science.”

    Whilst I am mainly scep­tical about policies, these are driven by the sci­ence, where very many scep­tics do ques­tion, just how well estab­lished it is the sci­ence, at least the pro­jec­tions af dan­gerous cli­mate change, believing that these depend in part on the models which are diverting now from reality. The example of Prof Judith Curry, at Tamsins’ blog, being an expres­sion of that — OVER estim­ated. The cli­mate sci­ent­ists will chee­fully dis­cuss whole areas of cli­mate sci­ence where there is very low or medium con­fid­ence in the drivers of cli­mate change. (this is all in the IPCC reports, in the main text of wg1)

    Thus we hit the problem of cli­mate com­mu­nic­a­tion, many want to move the debate on to policy (the sci­ence settled) yet many do not con­sider this to be cor­rect, espe­cially with respect to dan­gerous cli­mate change. ie per­fectly happy to accept, doub­ling CO2 will cause a degree or so of warming, with pos­sible benign ben­fits. Prof Richard Betts warned a while ago, that envir­on­ment­al­ists should not over hype 2C, that this could occur and impact be neglible .. ie it is all uncertain.

    and rather than allow the debate on the issue of the sci­ence, we end up phsy­co­lo­gising reason for denial/secpticism of the science.

    Now I do applaud this blog post, it shows a will­ing­ness to talk, yet George Marshall, and many of your aquaint­ances and col­legues) has done so much to polarise debate, with Halls of Shame, talking about denial, etc

    This shameful lan­guage of den­iers, anti-science, flater­ta­hers, etc has made it into main stream polit­ical speech

    loving Brown calling people ‘den­iers’ and ‘lud­dites’ on Cif. Tell it like it is Gordy!
    12:59 PM Dec 7th, 2009 from web

    Gordon Brown’s speech ref­fering to flat-earther, anti-science cli­mate den­iers and lud­dites, appalled me, I thought it was dispic­able ignorant POLITICAL rhet­oric from the Prime Minister of my country, that with Ed Milliband fre­quent ignorant use of denier, and a shocking ref­er­ence to ‘cli­mate sabatouer’ (ie en par with terrorism)made me very con­cerned and is a part, why I started being very sceptical.

    Yet my response does not seem to fit in your world view of why people are sceptical.

    Perhaps you and your col­legues could reflect on that.

    Just going to quote from Bishop Hill, the fun­da­mental problem we seem to have with com­mu­nic­ating with each other..

    “Ok, with the best will in the world, how are you going to have a con­ver­sa­tion based on their terms, which appear to be ‘we must dis­cuss policy, the sci­ence is settled’? Where to start? I am not advoc­ating not talking to them, I just can’t see how we are able to, if they will not admit ‘there is room for doubt.’” — Rhoda

    May I ask if you see another reason why many are secptical, the sheer nasty­ness and polit­ical nature of the rhet­oric of those cham­poi­ingthe cause.

    What would you say per­son­ally about scep­ti­cism, to a cam­bridge pro­fessor, that has been put into a politi­cised AGW con­sensus, well funded USA web­site, ‘Denier, Disinformation Database.

    Tagged and labelled a cli­mate denier, Part of the denial industry, respons­ible for ‘dis­in­form­a­tion’ and’ misinformation’.

    basic­ally a black­list of dis­sent­ters, accused of, delieber­atley lying and spreding fasle­hodos and pro­poganda. Would you be scep­tical of motives of people that creted this database.

    What would you say to Professor Don Keiller, treated like this pub­lic­ally, just a sci­entist dis­agreeing and asking ques­tions of other scientists?

    I know at least half a dozen people in that data­base. I would prefer not to be put in it mself. very nasty stuff. And yes I fre­quently get called a ‘denier’ in the above politi­cised con­text it really offends me.

    Dr Tamsin Edwards had this to say a while back about me and Andrew:

    “I am an example of a con­sensusist who has stopped using denier dir­ectly because of Barry, Bish and this forum.

    Name calling is ever so coun­ter­pro­ductive. Today I was defending you lot to (particle physics) friends, yes­terday to climate/stats friends, saying that denier offends and there is a spec­trum of opin­ions anyway.” — Dr Tamsin Edwards

    At the time, I was writing about not calling those on the offensive con­sensus names. (even having an argu­ment about it with James Delingpole earlier in the com­ments, as was Ben Pile, sim­ilar tone to me)

    To repeat whilst at Copenhagen cam­paigning, you tweeted

    loving Brown calling people ‘den­iers’ and ‘lud­dites’ on Cif. Tell it like it is Gordy!
    12:59 PM Dec 7th, 2009 from web

    So what is your opinion Adam, am I a ‘denier’ for ques­tioning aspect of the sci­ence, have you moved on from that copen­hagen tweet, about ‘Deniers’ & ‘luddites’

    As I said I would love to have a ser­ious chat, but until the sci­ence is on the table, at least the more alarmist aspects of it, it would seem very hard to do this.


    Mark Lynas used to be on the advisory board of the Campaign Against Climate Change (along­side George Marshall –COIN, and Tim Helweg Larsen PIRC — 2 organ­isa­ti­uons behind this blog)

    Mark has stepped down now from CaCC, and a while back said to me, that the Halls of Shame were shameful.


    your thoughts?

    pps sorry for the long com­ment, oppor­tun­ities for frank exchanges can be quite rare.

  60. Barry Woods

    Adam Corner – is apprently against current version of capitalism — spo a political/economic lobbyist as well?

    “Or will we take decisive action and acknowledge that the economic model of globalised capitalism is dragging us kicking and screaming into ecological destruction and humanitarian disaster on an unprecedented scale?

    100 months…and counting.

    Posted by Adam Corner and Tim Fisher

  61. Alex Cull

    @ Barry, if I’m correct, this year the “100 months” countdown will get to the halfway mark! Wondering whether Andrew Simms and the NEF will throw a party to celebrate this important milestone… Hmm, guessing they won’t.

  62. geoffchambers

    The article is now up at
    Originally, I hoped to see it up at Adam’s blog and Harmless Sky simutaneously. Adam has mailed me saying he moderated anything with a “climate science” content, but is willing to discuss critical comments on his research. I think he should have announced his moderation criteria beforehand, and that he made a big mistake in moderating critical comments that he considered off-topic. He’s messing with the data, and the data is answering back.
    His policy resulted in a lot of angry coment at BishopHill, from commenters who don’t like Corner, or psychology, or the social sciences. I hope to continue our experiment in dialogue later, on a more specific subject arising out of his research.
    (I’ve also replied on the BishopHill thread) I probably agree with you on 99% (make that 100%) of the individual points you make, but I don’t think I need to raise every criticism I might have of Corner or his opinions or his politics or his financing every time I engage with him.
    I’d love to see Corner’s response to your analysis. When I told him that I gave up psychology at UCL when I learned that there was no Freud until the second year, he made it quite clear that he had no time for that sort of thing.

  63. Vinny Burgoo

    Here’s a comment that failed to pass moderation at Geoff/Adam’s Talking Climate thread:

    Maurizio Morabito: Some of the research into the socio-cultural roots of environmental activism suggests that it is, in part, driven by a form of narcissism. Fear of death and meaninglessness is overcome by joining a crusade against inevitable doom. Such futility reinforces the crusader’s sense of personal specialness – of being above and out of reach of death and meaninglessness.

    Adam Corner: As long as you keep confounding the ‘underlying science that describes the problem’ with the ‘underlying science that describes the risks’ (your comment about ‘problem/risks’, above, plus just about everything produced by the team at Cardiff) your research is never going to go anywhere useful.

    Policy on climate change should be a response to the plausibly possible magnitude of the plausibly possible impacts of climate change and to the timing of those impacts. But you don’t bother with any of that. For you, everything is just ‘climate science’.

    Arrogant, yes, but irrelevant?

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