There has been some discussion about the D-word recently. The Science of Doom blog considered the historical implications of the word, and argues that its use in the climate debate trivialises the deaths of millions, and urged people to stop using it. Keith Kloor agreed, saying that the use of the word was needlessly ’emotionally and politically charged’ and inflammatory. Lastly, Richard Betts has a guest post at And Then There’s Physics’ blog, urging the readers there to ‘Label the behaviour, not the person‘, which fell on deaf ears. More about those articles shortly.
I have never been particularly upset by the epithet, ‘denier’, for the simple reason that it says much about the person who utters it than it says about the putative ‘denier’. I don’t know who made the observation that ‘once you give something a name, you don’t have to argue with it’ (I think it was Lenin), but it seems to me to explain the use of the word. Once you call someone a denier, you don’t have to explain what it is they have denied. Anti-deniers deny debate.
For instance, climate scientists who have slightly lower estimates of climate sensitivity than the IPCC are called ‘deniers’. I’m thinking especially of scientists like Patrick Michaels and Richard Lindzen here. Rather than looking at the arguments about how and why Lindzen and Michaels’ analyses come out at the lower end of the spectrum (and it is a spectrum) of estimates of warming, many have chosen to see the expression of denial as a phenomenon in need of explanation. The likes of Naomi Orkeskes have sought to chart a history of a conspiracy of deniers and their strategies. Others, like psychologists such as Jon Krosnick and Stephan Lewandowsky, have sought to establish the pathology of denial. Building on this, Researchers in Cardiff University have sold their insight into ‘denial’ to the government, to suggest strategies for confronting sceptics’ influence in the public sphere.
Climate advocates could have dealt with their interlocutors’ arguments in the same way that most academics deal with disagreement — by testing and developing better theories. But the climate debate is largely a battle of received wisdoms. And it is also a battle in which people are greatly invested, and which people have internalised. Rather than admitting controversy, or at least nuance, into the debate, it is much easier to explain away disagreement as the expression of moral deviance and conspiracies. Hence, the the climate debate is divided into two by the clumsiest interpretations of the ‘consensus’.
Just as in the battle of received wisdoms the scientific consensus is a consensus without an object, the entire point of the use of the word ‘denier’ is intended to avoid debate about what it is that is being denied. The consensus without an object meets denial without an object. This produces a remarkable paradox: you can know all about climate change denial without knowing anything about climate change science. As long as you know that ‘climate change is happening’, you’re equipped to comment on climate change as an expert, and to research the minds and motivations of anyone who disagrees or who is not interested. Anyone can sell themselves as a ‘climate change communicator’, no matter their actual grasp of climate science and its controversies.
This, I believe, is a far more interesting thing to observe than the claims and counter-claims about climate science. How is it possible, for example, for the likes of the UK’s most senior climate change bureaucrat to intervene in the debate in this way:
Lukewarmers' error: Take lowest figures in range, base views on most comfortable interpretation, ignore rest of range = huge risk.
— John Deben (@lorddeben) February 1, 2015
I'd love to be a lukewarmer, it's so much easier. Trouble is science doesn't support the position. If ever it did, I'd be there like a shot.
— John Deben (@lorddeben) February 1, 2015
Now that lukewarmers have been outed by facts they are playing the 'victim' card. It's not the world that's against them it's the science.
— John Deben (@lorddeben) February 1, 2015
Lord Deban, PKA John Gummer, Chair of the UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC) used to tweet about ‘deniers’, ‘delayers’ and ‘dismissers’. But he has apparently broadened his fight, to take on the ‘lukewarmers’.
But even when he was aiming his sights at ‘deniers’, Gummer never revealed who the ‘deniers’ were, much less what their arguments were. Similarly, here, we don’t learn who the ‘lukewarmers’ are, much less what their claims are, and much much less how these claims are wrong. For so much emphasis on science, the science is distinctly lacking in claims about ‘deniers’ and ‘lukewarmers’. The chair of the CCC — which sets the carbon budgets that the entire population will have to endure — should be in a position to inform us about the errors made in the debate. Instead, he prefers hollow invective.
Gummer has obviously finally got the memo: the continued use of the word ‘denier’, attached to arguments that never explain what is being denied, and who is denying, has been counter-productive. All it revealed was the intransigence of people who have responded to criticism of climate politics by hiding behind science, and by use of the word ‘denier’. The reality of denial as a phenomenon is nothing more the fantasy of climate alarmists, attached to conspiracy theories and cod social science. Many have now seen through it, and that those who were accused of denying were doing no such thing.
This brings us to the present discussions about ‘denial’.
The point made on the Science of Doom (which I refuse to turn into a TLA, for obvious reasons) blog is straightforward enough: ‘Understanding climate means understanding maths, physics and statistics. This is hard, very hard.’ So, reasons Doom,
The worst you could say is people who don’t accept ‘consensus climate science’ are likely finding basic – or advanced – thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, heat transfer and statistics a little difficult and might have misunderstood, or missed, a step somewhere.
The best you could say is with such a complex subject straddling so many different disciplines, they might be entitled to have a point.
But in spite of his granting that would-be deniers ‘might be entitled to have a point’, Doom’s injunction is ultimately unmoving. The problem divides in two, depending on the credence we give to the idea that the historical allusion is intended. Even if If Doom is right that the term ‘denier’ is used in the climate debate as a deliberate allusion to holocaust denial, it isn’t wrong merely because it defames the millions of people murdered by Nazis. It’s wrong in the present because of the bad faith of the people who use it, towards their opponents. It is as if it were okay to denigrate people in this way, as long as we are careful not to lump any of history’s victims in with the would-be ‘deniers’. In this case, the interesting thing is that it was necessary for so many people engaged in the debate, to eschew debate as such, and to put their counterparts in the lowest available moral category. If Doom’s greener critics are right that the word ‘denier’ only coincidentally makes equivalents of holocaust deniers and climate sceptics, then the problem remains that using the word only serves to belittle people people’s moral character, to avoid substantive debate — i.e. to not take seriously the object of denial.
In either case, and for any proportion of each, the point is much less about what is the best and worst thing you can say about ‘deniers’ than it is about what you can say about people who need to use the word.
Whatever it is called, ‘denial’ remains a category that Doom is still extremely reluctant to appear close to, as Maurizio Morabito notes at his blog,
… both SoD and Kloor find it necessary to go for brownie points, and clarify, clarify and clarify again that they ARE part of the Good Guys Brigade indeed, and have NO DOUBTS about the greenhouse effect, or the fact that increasing anthropogenic GHGs has been a significant contribution to rising temperatures of the last 100 years.
… The point being that on this basis, very little in fact separates the putative deniers from their counterparts. And perhaps this is the root of the problem. One reason for people reaching for such crude allusions to holocaust denial might be the moral certainty that is leant by the horror of WWII to the present. That is to say that it is hard to find the moral dimensions of an argument about possibly no more than +/- 0.5 degrees C. The easy thing to do is to compare people who go with the lower estimates to the perpetrators of the most grotesque acts in modern history. But this reaching for the most dramatic moral equivalent is a symptom of weak moral foundations, in fact. Hence, many people involved in the climate debate don’t make sophisticated moral arguments on points of principle, but in terms of totalising consequences: of millions of deaths, of catastrophic and extreme weather, and of the end of civilisation. In other words, the form of climate change alarmism that resorts to words like ‘denier’ might be the consequence of an exhausted moral framework, in desperate search for authority and legitimacy.
This brings us to Keith Kloor, who superficially agrees with Doom’s superficial criticism of the use of the word ‘denier’, and who tries much harder to sustain the polarisation of the debate without recourse to the D-word. For Kloor, the real test of sceptics’ actual scepticism is their treatment of claims about ‘Wind Turbine Syndrome’ (WTS). Kloor searches WattsUpWithThat and Bishop Hill for articles about WTS which are not, in his view, sufficiently critical, and declares all climate sceptic bloggers to be fake sceptics.
The articles in question are here: Bishop Hill, WUWT(1), WUWT(2). DO check them out.
What you will see is that the Bishop Hill article makes zero reference to WTS at all. In fact it refers to research about the acoustic effects of wind turbines, to which the wind sector had apparently conceded. Kloor had conflated the issue of noise with the issue of WTS. Yet Kloor says: ‘No skepticism whatsoever, no critical thinking skills exhibited by these “climate skeptics” about a claim that has as much scientific validity as the power lines-cause-cancer scare.’
This simply isn’t true. The effect of ‘excessive amplitude modulation’ is tangible. And although some people respond to noise differently and subjectively, it remains a fact that disturbing noises disturb, and that loss of sleep can produce many health effects. The attempt to group these effects into one syndrome may well have its flaws — I have argued this much myself, and suggested that it is a mistake to give much weight to WTS — but it is wrong to say that there is no evidence of the effects grouped under WTS as Kloor has. It is in fact as unscientific as Kloor suggests WTS is. So much for ‘critical thinking skills’, then.
The two articles at WUWT are guest posts. The first, by Mike Duchamp, does seem to be about WTS at first glance of the title. But actually reading the article — a prerequisite to ‘critical thinking skills, NB, Keith — reveals that the issue is not WTS, but the effects grouped under WTS:
These mega turbines are reported to be emitting more low frequency noise (LFN) than smaller models, and this causes more people to be affected, and over greater distances, by the usual symptoms of the Wind Turbine Syndrome (WTS): insomnia, headaches, nausea, stress, poor ability to concentrate, irritability, etc, leading to poorer health and a reduced immunity to illness.
In other words, the issue is the regulation of noise emitted by turbines. As the article notes: ‘”Hardly anyone would accept 30 dB(A) in their homes at night”, wrote the Professor last month (2).’ For what it is worth, I think Duchamp would have put his argument better if he had simply said “Wind Turbine Noise affects more people than previously thought” rather than “Wind Turbine Syndrome affects more people than previously thought”. But this difference is hardly the difference between applying “zero critical thinking skills” and their full deployment.
The second WUWT, far from demonstrating a lack of ‘uncritical thinking skills’ in fact asks for more evidence. Kloor had said, “Of course, nothing is too far-fetched for Watts, who also published a post by someone claiming that horses in Spain were becoming deformed by wind farm noise”. But the author of the post, Ric Werme, made no such claim at all:
So, WUWT readers who actually know something about horses, have you heard of this case or similar cases at other farms with new wind turbines? Or, if you live near wind farms that are near farms with horses, cattle, etc, have they had problems like this?
This is just one study, involving one farm and not very many horses, clearly more research is warranted. If it’s confirmed, it would be interesting to know if other animals are susceptible to a similar problem.
So Kloor’s test of scepticism is pure and simple bullshit, and an example of exactly what he claims to be against.
I mention all this to illustrate why I don’t consider these “climate skeptics” to be true skeptics. They don’t think skeptically; they are captive to their ideologically-driven biases and it often shows. So if they are not “climate skeptics,” how do you characterize them and others who don’t think the earth is warming (or at least not at a worrisome rate)?
So Kloor, noting that the use of the word ‘denier’ is problematic, sees it as merely a semantic problem, not a problem requiring the self-reflection he demands of sceptics. He still wants there to be a way to divide sceptics from the rest of the world, to belittle and to impugn their moral character. And he wants a way of doing it precisely so that he can continue to avoid having to actually read their arguments below the headline. In the process of making his argument, Kloor, being keener to shout down rather than find out, reveals that the problem is not the lack of an adequate definition of ‘denial’ or climate scepticism, but himself and his need to polarise the debate, to divide into neat categories of good and bad, to avoid the argument and the need for debate altogether.
Richard Betts’s contribution is more straightforward. The use of the word ‘denial’ in the sense of denial of grief, illness or other loss has been lost by the use of the allusion to holocaust denial, says Betts. Moreover, labelling anyone with anything is a poor communications strategy, and can only inflame dialogue.
I think the whole climate conversation would be better off with the word ‘denier’ being dropped completely, and with ‘being in denial’ only being used very judiciously, when it really is appropriate.
Label the behaviour, not the person, and even then take care to do so only when justified.
There is much less to take issue with in Betts’ comments than in Doom and Kloor’s. The problem remains, though, that we have only an objection to the semantics or strategic sense in using the word ‘denier’, not an examination of its usage. Imagine if some racist were to be challenged for his use of racist epithets, not because of the racism he was expressing, but because the words he used weren’t an effective way of ‘communicating’. In fact, the racist communicates his racism very effectively — nobody is confused by it. And equivalently, nobody should be confused by the words ‘denier’, ‘denial’, ‘denying’ and ‘denialism’, whether or not they are an allusion to holocaust denial.
I would argue that racists and holocaust deniers should be free to speak. This is not out of sympathy for racists and holocaust deniers, but firstly on the principle of free speech in its own right, and a commitment to the more consequential understanding that the way to eliminate bad ideas like racism is to confront them, rather than lock them away. The use of the word ‘denial’ in the climate debate is an attempt to control and prevent debate. It is this motivation and the reasons for it that should be exposed. Anything less is merely word-play.
Those who are criticising their colleagues’ choice of language will face considerable resistance. The arguments which make use of words like ‘denier’ emerge from institutions which have been established firmly on the highly-polarised view of the debate. The example of John Gummer’s interventions is given above. And then there are the likes of Bob Ward, formerly of the Royal Society (with its own history of using the word, ‘denier’, and its presidents clumsy interventions), now at the Grantham Institute, attached to the London School of Economics. Ward’s campaign against critics of climate policies continues to take the form of complaints about the denial of climate science to editors and organisations in a position to censor or censure the putative ‘denier’. It is not enough for Ward, who believes he has challenged Richard Tol’s arguments with scientific facts, to use the muscle of his billionaire backer, the power of the academic institutions he is a member of, and his contacts in the press to disseminate the material he has produced; he seeks the humiliation of the author, the deletion of the articles written on the basis of the authors research, and for the intervention of the censor.
If @spectator and @FraserNelson have any editorial standards, they will retract this bogus article by @mattwridley: http://t.co/YQ8AG2Wq32
— Bob Ward (@ret_ward) February 7, 2015
When the editor doesn’t step in, Ward complains about the censor…
My new blog: how the antics of @DavidRoseUK and @RichardTol have exposed the shortcomings of @IpsoNews: http://t.co/jvfkITwPbO
— Bob Ward (@ret_ward) January 30, 2015
Ward and Gummer should embarrass any advocate of climate change policy that believes in debate no matter how convinced they are of their own position. Ward and Gummer are symptoms of the extent to which a narrow interpretation of climate change and set of polices were allowed to dominate the public debate, and to police the public discussion. The institutions of climate change were established outside of the usual processes which steer the construction of public bodies — their rectitude given from the outset, as planet-savers, no need for debate, no need to test their legitimacy or purpose, no need for meaningful oversight. The institutions of environmentalism, in other words, have developed outside of any real culture of debate. So when confronted with criticism, those who either are not acquainted with debate, or otherwise feel entitled to be protected from it, can only escalate criticism to hostility.
These are origins of the word ‘denier’. It is not a mere accident of language, or slight on the memories of people murdered by the Nazi regime. The use of the word ‘denier’ is the result of a delinquent form of politics, as insidious as the organised political racism that allowed the officials of governments that espoused racist doctrines to use racist epithets. (Though that is not to make moral equivalents of racism and climate alarmism). It justifies itself in the same way: that the shortcomings of the group in question preclude it from self-government. Racism, too, had a ‘scientific’ justification, even in the C20th. But scientific justifications quickly turn into pejorative terms. ‘Deniers’ are impugned — if they are not simply invented — for their moral and intellectual shortcomings precisely for the preservation of a political class as it struggles to sustain its hold over the public sphere. The word ‘denier’ is in the official climate change lexicon. It is not street slang. It is not shorthand. It is precise. It is deliberate. Its use is intended to service a political agenda.
So, I find hand-wringing about what is the most effective word to use to refer to the out-group somewhat pointless. Even if urging people to cease may ameliorate some of the excesses of the non-existent debate, resistance to the word ‘denier’ means nothing if it does not amount to resistance to the predominant political ambition. Gummer can now include Betts in his hidden list of ‘lukewarmers’:
We are not 100% certain that climate change will definitely cause huge negative impacts, but there’s enough reason to think that there is a major risk.
Here, Betts explains the difference between questioning climate science and insisting that it is wrong. “if you’re questioning then I don’t have a problem with that” he says, “but if you are insisting, then I think you are dismissing large swathes of scientific research.” But Betts’s view is naive. In particular, he seems oblivious to the predominant mode of politics, which is centred around the concept of risk. (This is discussed in a recent post, which looked at comments from Gavin Schmidt, and the legacy of Ulrick Beck who developed the concept of Risk Society with Anthony Giddens).
Risk is a highly political concept, not simply the objective, statistical definition of threats. For instance, climate — stable or changing — is a risk to anyone until a level of wealth is achieved. A few milimeters of snow can bring the southern half of the United Kingdom to a standstill, but other parts of the world cope with as many meters of snowfall in a single event as parts of the UK receive in a year. To talk about risk independent of politics, is equivalent to talking about sight independent of eyes.
Betts believes that it is the job of science to enumerate and quantify those risks. But whatever the reality of climate change — the degree of change that will occur, the quantifiable risks that this will cause — a number of things prevent a clear view of what ‘science says’ about it. First, a great deal of political capital is invested in climate change. This is to say that, no matter how real climate change is, there was an intention, from the outset, of making the environment the ground for political authority — in particular supranational political bodies — outside of democratic oversight, on the logic of Risk Society. Second, an ideology which puts the environment at the centre of its outlook contaminates much research with a great deal of green a prioi. This in turn elevates highly deterministic theories about society and its dependence on natural processes, above ideas that emphasise human agency in response to trivial climate change, and the ability of politics-as-usual to respond to larger-order changes requiring government intervention. In other words, green ‘ideology’ amplifies the theoretical risks of a few degrees to a country as developed as the UK,to a threat to to its very survival. Third, science has not yet developed a way of excluding green ideology. And worse, as has been observed previously here, there is a difference between institutional science and science as a processes — the former having been entirely co-opted into climate politics, to the exclusion of the second. This is evidenced by Betts’ employers, for example, his research priorities, and of course the priorities of research funding being directed by bodies such as the Royal Society, and other organisations which have chosen to identify the climate as a priority. And let us not forget the researchers who, on the same brief and from the same coin, insist on pathologising scepticism.
Although it is good that Betts wants to urge people to tone down the rhetoric, I can’t help thinking that his naivity is as problematic as the thing he wants to address. He rightly says that suggesting that to question science is not to deny it. But he still draws a line in the sand: thou shall not insist. But if we insist that there is not ‘enough reason to think that there is a major risk’ (or that these risks are largely unquantified, theoretical and subjective), even as a consequence of interrogating the science, then we are now ‘denying’. We don’t seem to be allowed to form a judgement from the fruits of our questioning.
It is not enough to say there is a problem with using a word. The word has a history of its own, and a politics behind it.
I don’t think Betts is naive at all I think he plays softly, softly catchy monkey. This monkey isn’t interested.
Good article though.
I too am unconcerned at being referred to as a “denier” (not that I have been very often), but have little doubt that the word is, and was intended, to bracket people who didn’t buy the whole CAGW package equivalent, as just as evil, as Holocaust deniers. I can’t bring a lot of evidence to bear on that other than the unusual sytnax the word appears in. “Climate denier”, “climate change denier”, “science denier” are typical examples. Never mind that none of them have any meaning at all, the most important thing is to get the “denier” in to equate the person addressed with “holocaust denial”. But the holocaust was a real event, climate, climate change and science are not events at all, and therefore, in my view at least, are incapable of being denied.
Personally I’m fed up with all these people trying to communicate the science to me. For a start they all assume that they’re holding the gospel truth and the reason we can’t agree with them is that they haven’t explained it well enough. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to them that we’ve understood precisely what they’ve told us and simply don’t agree with it. And with good reason.
They are scientists, not communicators, but I would have thought the first step in any attempt to persuade people of your cause is to define what winning would look like to you. I have a simple position for my arguments they are based on stopping the ruinous increases in energy prices being put upon the people of the western industrial civilisations, and to alleviate the concomitant suffering for the less well off world wide who have no/little access to low cost energy.
I don’t know that they’ve ever done the exercise, but I suspect that there is a touchy feely intention to get us to buy into the science and agree with them. Insofar as it goes I’ve bought into the science, I simply don’t believe that climate scientists, or UN bureaucrats have the werewithall to forecast future disaster and are even less qualified to be able to judge what the the human reactions to climate change will be.
I simply can’t be persuaded that there are people around who can foretell the future state of the climate, when Dr. Betts tells us there will be problems, they’re in his head, it is simply an opinion based on his own assessment of how good he is at forecasting the future. So I deny emphatically that these people exist. I am a soothsayer denier.
Great essay Ben.
Hi Ben. Two quick things. 1. When you talk about ‘free speech’, what exactly do you mean? Presumably people aren’t being locked up for their climate change opinions, so are you referring to the amount of media exposure for particular arguments?
2. Isn’t there an epistemological difference between talking about race and climate science? Critics of your received wisdoms piece would argue that Andrew Neil shouldn’t have made certain mistakes when talking about climate science, because he was *wrong*. If another TV presenter made racist statements, there would be uproar, but he wouldn’t be *wrong* (well at least not in the same kind of way that Neil was criticised for). Point being that because science is (should be!) more responsive to systematic interrogation of truth claims, then how does this relate to the ‘free speech’ argument – especially where knowledge has become well established. Is the plethora of high-profile Americans exercising their right to free speech questioning MMR vaccines a price worth paying…?
There are already other words/epithets than “deniers” in use – flat earthers, shills of Big (fill in the blank), greedy capitalists, planet destroyers, etc. Point is, they are all negative. So you are right to say that in a sense, the actual words in a particular instance are not the main issue.
But it does illustrate that these are political, not scientific, debates. Proper scientists don’t engage in controversies about their subject matter using this kind of labelling – in public, anyway.
As for Richard Betts’ “thou shall not insist” line, it is not up to him how firmly people adhere to their views. The fact is, he “insists” that there is X amount of uncertainty, and that we should all just go along with him. Why should we? Because he is a scientist, one among many? It’s simply illogical, on the kindest interpretation.
Thank you Ben. I do not see Betts as a naive participant. He has explicitly told his Twitter audience that he expects more open mindedness on the part of the likes of ATTP. This absolutely and unconscionably risible idea, despite all the disgusting history of ATTP antics, prompted me to block the Human Face of the MetOffice on twitter (to extend the Nazi analogies).
The fact that he chose to pontificate about not hurting people’s feelings on the ATTP blog is a confirmation of sorts.
As I said I view Kloor’s point as a cowardly cop-out by somebody who’s well aware of what will happen the day he comes out as a non-believer. As for SoD, the situation is much more subtle.
He’s revealed in the comments to his post that he is not a man of certitudes. In fact he said he has no idea what the range for sensitivity should be, and if the IPCC has been too generous or too conservative. So in a sense SoD _is_ an arch-skeptic, one of those guys prepared to use uniform priors because they cannot tell if CO2 will cause +10C or -20C or whatever else.
None of his alarmist readers caught that. Lucky him.
Warren – When you talk about ‘free speech’, what exactly do you mean?
Apologies for some short cuts. The post was already too long. The point with free speech comment is that I think the allusions to holocaust denial are an attempt to take an off-the-shelf category of wrong-doer, and to make an equivalent of climate change denial — they don’t need to be argued with, they just need to be understood as a phenomenon, rather than ideas. Like ‘right wing’ or ‘industry-funded’, or ‘tobacco shill’. Orkeses-style comment. So, I wanted to say, even if they were equivalents, they ought to be challenged, not simply shut out.
Isn’t there an epistemological difference between talking about race and climate science?
I was interested in how a seemingly scientific idea was absorbed by the political establishment, chiefly to differentiate itself and immunise itself from criticism, or otherwise legitimise itself. There seems to me to be purpose in the move, whether the scientific concept was race or climate, notwithstanding the differences. I briefly discussed the social construction of race and climate at https://www.climate-resistance.org/2011/08/the-pm-her-chancellor.html in the wake of Steve Jones’s interventions.
Critics of your received wisdoms piece would argue that Andrew Neil shouldn’t have made certain mistakes when talking about climate science, because he was *wrong*
I think it is the interviewer’s right to be wrong. And it is the denier’s right to be wrong.
If another TV presenter made racist statements, there would be uproar…
Only now. Not at almost any other time in history. We forget science’s role in racist ideology. But I’m not convinced that the idea of racial hygiene is entirely and categorically distinct from the idea of sustainability. The racial component of blood and soil ideology has been largely eliminated, but the soil idea seems to have persisted. The nationalism of the C20th has given way to supranational political institutions, but they still assert dependence on Nature’s providence.
Is the plethora of high-profile Americans exercising their right to free speech questioning MMR vaccines a price worth paying…?
I’m not sure about that valuation of free speech — that it comes at the cost of a measles epidemic. Here’s what I said a while ago about the MMR scare:
Cries of “racist” and “denier” have exactly the same purpose: to shut people up who don’t agree with you. For example, the black economist Thomas Sowell has argued that welfare has had a detrimental effect on black families and culture. We can support his point by noting that in England welfare has had a detrimental effects on white families. But if I try to oppose welfare, I would be labeled “racist”. So no one is allowed to debate welfare’s benefits and harms. Both end up being censorship and thought control. I am firmly in favor of allowing idiots to express all sorts of idiocy without getting fired because what is idiocy is a matter of opinion.
The models are wrong because of the initial assumption that without GH gases the troposphere would have been isothermal. We know this assumption is made because we know the 255K temperature is at about 5Km altitude, and yet they say the surface would have been the same 255K. From there they get their sensitivity by assuming water vapor makes rain forests about 30 to 40 degrees hotter than dry regions and carbon dioxide adds a bit of warming also. In fact none of that happens.
The assumption regarding isothermal conditions is inherently applying the Clausius “hot to cold” statement which is just a corollary of the Second Law which only applies in a horizontal plane. That we know because it is clearly specified (as here) that the entropy equation is derived by assuming that changes in molecular gravitational potential energy can be ignored. It is those changes which actually cause the temperature gradient to evolve, so we must always remember that sensible heat transfers are not always from warmer to cooler regions in a vertical plane in a gravitational field
So they cannot prove that the Clausius statement they use to get their assumed isothermal conditions is correct in a vertical column of a planet’s troposphere, and so they cannot prove the fundamental building block upon which they built the GH conjecture.
Any questions are probably already answered here:
[NO SPAM, THANKS]
Thanks for the heads up on Twitter Ben.
Picking a couple of names not quite at random from the article above, Richard Tol recently described me as “vile” on Twitter:
and David Rose told me to “Eff Off” in a similarly public manner:
What’s your view on such use of the V-word and the F-word on such a medium by a stalwart of the IPCC process and one of the UK’s leading investigative journalists?
[BEN: Knowing them both to be patient individuals, I think they probably had a point. If you think the above post is about some kind of etiquette, you probably didn’t read it. That might explain Rose & Tol’s responses to you.]
Jim, Richard Betts has clarified his Tweet for you. I’ve had the chance to read your exchange with David Rose, and am left wondering what you expected, or indeed deserved, apart from the Foxtrot Oscar you received. No matter — I think that’s the end of it. Please keep on topic.
Ben – Don’t you mean Richard Tol?
In what way was my original comment off topic? This discussion is only about the D-word, but not about the V-word and/or the F-word?
[Yes, I meant Tol. You obviously haven’t read the post above. Talk about the post, not the responses you got when you trolled the internet.]
Denier is a shorthand for “person who disagrees with…” At one point it applied to disagreement with the IPCC but it has been extended to cover people who accept much or all of the science in AR5 but who don’t see windmills and solar as viable alternatives to fossil fuels. And it certainly covers people who, with scientific or lay backgrounds notice things like the satellite record’s absence of warming, the rebound in sea ice, the absence of acceleration in sea level rise and the evident flourishing of polar bears.
Toss in the qualifier “Big Oil funded” in front of the “D” word and you have an argument which will persuade any warmest not to look, to avert their eyes lest they see the true state of the AGW position. It worked for a while but it failed to gain much purchase with the general public.
The public’s indifference is laid at the feet of the all powerful deniers when, in fact, huge rises in the cost of energy and an absence of perceptible warming or its predicted consequences are much more plausible explanations.
Intriguing Ben. So now you roll out the T-word?
[Mea culpa. Oh, but wait…]
You have a most impressive vocabulary! However, what mathematics, physics or statistics qualifications do you have under your belt? Or is that “off topic” here also?
Jim please discuss the points raised in the post, or persist and I will happily remove your comments here.
Human maturity may be measured not so much by man’s capacity for rational thought, but by his readiness to participate in a process of exchange as the means to negotiating outcomes in which needs are identified and met. If so, we can begin to recognise the degree to which the protagonists of CAGW fall far short of this measure.
The accusation of ‘denier’ (or a casual disinclination to unconditionally reject this accusation) as an adjunct to the demands made by the CAGW protagonist is not an accusation made to coerce an exchange into submitting to the needs brought into it, but to demonstrate a contempt for the process of exchange itself.
The protagonist’s ‘denier’, of course, is a person who gives an answer of ‘no’ to someone who won’t take no for an answer. And it is to rationalism – or science – the protagonist flees to redouble his attack.
The more rational an object is asserted to be (by the quantity of self-referencing endorsements), the more supposedly irrational is the ‘denier’ in responding in the negative. But the denier is not denying the possible rational content in the protagonist’s claim – the denier is denying the protagonist an affirmation of that claim without it passing through the process of exchange. And the high level of risk the protagonist faces in surrendering his claim to the to-and-fro journey of an exchange – with the required prior acceptance that a ‘no’ may yet be its considered outcome – makes the process by which we might record human maturity a potentially catastrophic one to those for whom it is, instead, an unacceptable, enraging, obstacle.
In this game of hide and seek of meaning we can begin to trace the outlines of a displacement. Not only the displacement of risk, but also of exchange – a process which shares with the protagonist’s warming the singular quality of being exclusively man-made. If the threatened man-made warming is the effect of met human need (or desire), then met human need, in turn, is the effect of the man-made exchanging (in negotiating that need). If we can identify the human absence by which ’nature’ is idolised by the CAGW protagonist, it is not the absence of man’s warmth (as claimed effect), it’s precisely the absence of his exchange (as root cause). But if we apply that same absence to human society, we call it tyranny – an environment in which the protagonist’s diktat replaces exchange in determining the outcome of need (a description which, curiously, we might notice as being remarkably close to demands currently made for the ’science’).
The great British Conservative leader, Churchill nailed it when he prophesied:
“The whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age, made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.”
Are we ushering in this new “Dark Age” under the “perverted science” of AGW?
Ben – You first raised the issue to which I refer. I quote you quoting SoD:
“Understanding climate means understanding maths, physics and statistics. This is hard, very hard.”
Please discuss your “Understanding [of] climate”, by answering my question. By way of example I just posed that question to an IPSO complaints officer. He told me:
“GCSE double science”
Jim, that’s Science of Doom’s argument, not mine.
My argument is that in order to understand the emergence of political environmentalism and its aims, you have to understand the context of its development. In the article above and the previous post, I suggested that knowledge of Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens’ theories of ‘Risk Society’ is extremely useful, probably essential.
I argue that without understanding how/why risk became a central political concept — especially for supranational political organisations — we cannot understand ‘what science says’, chiefly because we don’t understand what it has been told, and therefore what has been presupposed. You can’t read off from science the instructions that environmentalists argue are imperatives.
Science of Doom also recognises this much. He says, “with such a complex subject straddling so many different disciplines, [putative deniers] might be entitled to have a point”.
This isn’t a science blog and doesn’t pretend to be. What it variously argues is that the misconception of the climate debate as a purely technical problem — which seems to be where you are going with this qualifications-trolling — is extremely common, but belies many presuppositions which are deeply political or ‘ideological’. In other words, it is common for people to misconceive criticism of climate politics as criticism of climate science, and/or to make equivalents of society’s sensitivity to climate and climate’s sensitivity to CO2.
If you want to bring science to bear over the debate, you should concentrate your arguments on the issues at hand and bring science to them, rather than appealing to the authority of scientists.
The great British Conservative leader, Churchill nailed it when he prophesied:
Those of us who aren’t British are happy to call Churchill a Great British leader, but baulk somewhat at him being great. He was a terrible Prime Minister when Britain wasn’t at war, which British voters actually realised pretty quickly and an all-round ass the whole time. His rise in estimation is due largely to the distance of time eroding his faults.
As for his prophesy being “nailed” — are you sure? Since he uttered those words the world has entered the longest and most sustained economic growth it has ever had, with unbelievable unbelievable advances in science and technology. Accompanied by a reducing rate of warfare, and vastly increased literacy and health rates in the very poor.
If this is the new “Dark Age”, long may it roll on!
– Alarmists have painted themselves into a corner by using the word denier. Betts seems to be trying to make a start at getting them out of that. (1. It makes them look like bullies, 2. They can’t own up to errors for fear of getting called deniers, so are stuck into circling the wagons behaviour)
– That is one point you missed Ben, here are 2 others :
2] It is different to racism/sexism (principle of equality of opportunity) as that is breaking the rule that people have the right to be judged for their decisions not just what they are born as.
(note that under some contexts people don’t have a choice about what dogma like Muslim/communist is on their ID card)
3] Context – no one has mentioned this
: On a blog OK – Principle of free speech means you can use any words on your own blog, even to offend people. eg “eco-facists”
: On MSM not OK – You can’t call yourself impartial media if you yourself use loaded terms or give a platform to alarmists using the loaded term. If they allow people to refer to “Cheating Tranmere Rovers” that would be against the principle of equality of opportunity if all other teams are not equally referred to as “cheating”. Note it would not be enough to just give Tranmere supporters the platform to shout “Cheating Manchester United” since there are 1000 times less of them.
– Then if you routinely exclude Tranmere supporters in the same Climate Skeptics are excluded from BBC airwaves and letter columns of certain newspapers, that would be super prejudicial.
Ben, like you, I agree that the use of the word denier says more about the user than the target. I also agree with your analysis that functionally the word is used by users to avoid engaging arguments.
A couple of yours ago, I noticed some article by Paul Bain http://www.psy.uq.edu.au/directory/index.html?id=1614l#show_Activities
about “dehumanizing language” – examples like Hutus and Tutsis calling one another “cockroaches” etc., making comments like the following:
Subtle forms of dehumanization are often explained with reference to …the idea that the in group is attributed “the human essence” more than outgroups, and hence outgroups are implicitly seen as “non-human”. ..
People typically evaluate their in-groups more favorably than out-groups and themselves more favorably than others…
such labeling has the effect of denying full humanness to the out group, reinforcing the self-esteem of the in-group..
Bain observed that users of dehumanizing language, even some fairly charged epithets, frequently purport to justify their language as merely descriptive. Ironically, Bain himself used the word “denier” in an article about Climate Skeptics. The article was discussed at Judy Curry’s with Bain turning up: http://judithcurry.com/2012/06/19/analyzing-people-who-talk-about-agw-denialism/#comment-210794 .
Unfortunately, all this analysis is useless.
This phenomenon is nothing more than primitive crowd behavior with an in and out group, with no other motivation than to dominate others to satisfy internal hidden subconscious motivations grounded in primal existential fear and superstition. No amount of science, rationality or free speech will overcome it. It will continue to move toward one group trying to eliminate the other, most likely the AGW group, which has a more concise unifying theme.
As in all history, this is nothing more than a slow march to more slaughter of humans by humans. These always end the same way. The way out is of this ugly Groundhog Day type of ending lies in exposing the the subconscious and creating an ethos of independent thought and eschewing consciously the otherwise universal tendency to succumb to primitive pack behavior for reasons entirely invisible to the actors.
We often hear from many people about how the climate was better years ago, presumably meaning hundreds of years ago, and that climate has only changed since mans industrial revolution and Manns hockey stick graph. Could these people be labelled ‘Changing Climate Deniers’ since they deny that earths climate has ever changed?
Another thoughtful and cogent piece from you, Ben, for which all our thanks.
It is worth remembering (who could forget?) that the two great pontificators in the UK, Deben and Ward, do not so far as I know have any sort of qualification that makes their views on climate or a changing climate of any more value than anyone else’s.
It has always struck me as ironic, as well as hubristic, that a very large number of people who are as highly qualified in the field as any of the “climateers” should be labelled as deniers by two paid shills who are nothing of the sort.
However, what mathematics, physics or statistics qualifications do you have under your belt?
I happen to be an electronic engineer, so I have all those qualifications, plus an understanding of the perversity of inanimate matter. I agree with Ben Pile. Does that make me An Agreeer?
Take a look at this BarackObama.com webpage: Call out climate change deniers
It contains images that look awfully like ‘Wanted’ posters of more than 160 elected US politicians, with the word DENIER printed above their photo.
The basis of their accusation that Ann Wagner (from Missouri) is a denier is her statement: “Our policy response to this dilemma should not be based on inconsistent and unsound science…”
Visitors to that website are urged to send tweets that accuse Wagner of “denying the science” and of failing to “accept the science.”
This website would be despicable no matter who published it. But this is the President of the United States.
Climate catastrophe fanatics are acting like fanatics throughout the ages: utilizing bigotry, circular reasoning, dehumanization, and faith instead of reason.
The climate obsession is all sciencey on its surface, so the afflicted can get all smug and self-righteous in much the same was as eugenics fanatics did back in the day.They feel entitled to their self-righteous smugness because after all, the science is settled. But as the troll up thread demonstrates,the behavior of fanatics manifests basically the same regardless of the underlying obsession. I hate “den!er” because I hear in those who use it exactly the same tone and shallow bigotry as I heard in the South in the 1960’s when far too many whites were using a then-popular adjective about Americans of African descent.
An excellent article. I came here thanks to a Donna Laframboise pointer.
I would like to make a comment on the statement:
“…Is the plethora of high-profile Americans exercising their right to free speech questioning MMR vaccines a price worth paying…?”
First I get vaccines and I give them to my animals. However it is as unfair to brush off the concerns of the anti-vaccine people as it is the climate skeptics. Most have zero problem with the traditional vaccines like Tetanus, polio…. it is the huge number of vaccines and the newer vaccines that are being questioned. In 1950, kids received 7 vaccines by the age of 6, in 1983 it was 10. In 2013 kids were get up to 49 vaccines by age of 6 while the UK and other EU countries give ~20.
There is quite a bit of background behind this questioning of vaccines.
You can start with John Holdren, Obama’s Science Czar and his buddies Anne and Paul Ehrlich.
A sterilant now exists today and the research was paid for by the USDA. The small California biotech company, Epicyte, in 2001 announced the development of genetically engineered corn which contained a spermicide which made the semen of men who ate it sterile. At the time Epicyte had a joint venture agreement with DuPont and Syngenta. Epicyte was later acquired by a Pittsboro North Carolina biotech company, Biolex, Inc., a privately held protein therapeutics company.
Then you have the scandal of the Eugenics Movement. Over 8,000 sterilizations were approved by the Eugenics Board of North Carolina . The Board remained in operation until 1977.
In the 1990′s the UN’s World Health Organization launched a campaign to vaccinate millions of women of child-bearing age (but not men and boys) in Nicaragua, Mexico and the Philippines against Tentanus. Because only women were targeted, Comite Pro Vida de Mexico, a Roman Catholic lay organization became suspicious and had vaccine samples tested. The tests revealed that the Tetanus vaccine being spread by the WHO contained human Chorionic Gonadotrophin or hCG, a natural hormone which when combined with a tetanus toxoid carrier stimulated antibodies rendering a woman incapable of maintaining a pregnancy. Much of the distrust of vaccines can be traced to this. The human papilloma virus vaccine controversy (again sterility) has not helped matters.
Then along comes the Flu Vaccine.
Live Avian Flu Virus Placed in Baxter Vaccine Materials Sent to 18 Countries
I am a chemist and a certified Quality Engineer. I have written the entire QC manual for FDA drug manufacture. There is NO WAY I can see for that to happen by mistake. Even the labels have to be counted signed out from a controlled area by the label control officer and the manufacturing rep. Any unused labels have to be counted and signed back in and the numbers reconciled. Penicillin manufacture for example is not allowed in any building where another drug is manufactured. You have to wear booties and a clean suit and hood when working with drugs to prevent contamination. You expect me to believe a research material, a material that should never be allowed through the door of the building, got mistakenly added to a human vaccine?
That Supreme Court ruling in favor of a vaccine company in 2011 did not help matters.
The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 created “Vaccine Courts.” Injured parties may file for compensation without having to prove cause — they simply have to demonstrate that the injury occurred immediately after vaccination. HOWEVER, the claimed injury must be included in a list of side effects called a Vaccine Table, kept by the Vaccine Court. In exchange, pharmaceutical companies cannot be held liable in civil court for adverse effects. This was upheld by the Supreme Court in the case of Bruesewitz v. Wyeth, which voted 6 to 2 in favor of vaccine makers in February 2011.
People KNOW their children have been harmed because the reaction happened right after inoculation but are told it is not “on the list” so it is all in their head….
Thanks to the internet they also know other children had the same reactions yet the government sides with the pharmaceutical companies saying the first signs of epilepsy, other seizure disorders or autism often appear right about the time children receive many of their routine vaccines so the co-occurrence is completely coincidental. Parents of an ill child are going to have a real problem swallowing that even if it is true.
It turns out the list of side effects is the real I gotcha in that bit of law given more recent information that has come to light. To put it bluntly know side-effects can and are buried by the pharmaceutical industry and the FDA.
A paper has been recently written: Research Misconduct Identified by the US Food and Drug Administration: Out of Sight, Out of Mind, Out of the Peer-Reviewed Literature
The study author Charles Seife mentions his frustration in getting good data because much of the FOIA information from the FDA is redacted. “We then attempted to link the sites and investigators described in the related inspection documents to specific clinical trials. Heavy redactions in most of these documents prevented this linkage in most cases”
Medical Daily has a discussion of that paper: The FDA Underreports Scientific Misconduct In Peer-Reviewed Articles: The Benefits Of Negative Science
I should mention my mother was one of the subjects of Rochester University’s Human Radiation Experiments. She was severely burned because of an “Accident” during radiation therapy. The doctor, know by his fellow doctor’s as “The Butcher” said he was writing a paper and Mom was one of his subjects when we wanted to take her from under his care. “The Butcher” finally did managed to kill her with his blasted experiments. My parents never gave permission for any of the experiments carried out on her. The family never receive compensation. She was 62.
Rochester University has since moved on and is now doing other illegal human experiments for the EPA.
As a scientist this pervasive corruption of science makes me very very sad.
I’m willing to negotiate over the meaning of “denier” as applied to myself with anyone using the term who is willing to negotiate the meaning of “climate change” — which used to be “global warming” and by which they really meant “anthropogenic global warming” AND by which they imply “CATASTROPHIC anthropogenic global warming” by which they assume unprecedented priority claim over control of all world resources to avert the RISK thereof. Anyone who agrees that saying “climate” is meant to imply “a bit of danger” will find me agreeing that I am, after all, a denier.
Because I’m willing to accept the term denier as applied to– not the risk or the danger — but to claims of priority. I deny that most of those who “believe in climate change” actually accept that claim. The US president elected promising to slow the rise of sea level, etc, in practice made priorities of health care reform and closing terrorist prison camps and keeping Detroit automobile manufacturing active and shifting military focus from Iraq to Afghanistan and stopping work on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository … whether or not the president succeeded in accomplishing his priorities, it’s clear that MANY OTHER concerns took his attention and focus and resources and alliances off of “the climate” and worked on other issues. This is not to be partisan nor US-centric. Some national leaders want to build missiles and nuclear warheads. Some want to prevent neighboring states from building same. Some want to dig canals. Some want to lay pipelines, or kill mosquitoes, or break passages through the icecaps, or kidnap schoolgirls, or vaccinate against AIDs, or reforming banking systems, or destroy private ownership of real-estate, or whatever. World political leaders may SAY they “believe in climate change” — much the same way a child in a British theater claps and swears to “believe in” a pantomime Tinkerbell. But the revealed preferences of their actual behavior shows otherwise, and I absolutely deny that such “believers” speak truth.
Among scientists, of course, the people who “believe in” various things reveal their own priorities. Some believe in surgery, some in nutrition, some in pharmaceuticals. Some believe in sub-atomic particles, some in distant, but Earth-like planets, and some in strange properties of super-cooled fluids. And on and on it goes. The experts who make a priority for their study and resources of anything OTHER than Earth’s climate show that they, like I, deny that the risk of catastrophic global warming (or possibly, “change” in some other direction or fashion) is worth their time and their lives. They have other things to worry about; other research to conduct, other statistics to analyze, other risks and opportunities to which to apply their resources. And again they may clap for Tinkerbell and swear they “believe”, but their actions reveal their hearts, and I deny that they worry about the so called problem any more than I, or Barack Obama, or Ali Khamenei or Narendra Modi. ONLY climate scientists believe that THEIR OWN DISCIPLINE is SO FREAKING IMPORTANT that every world’s government and all businesses must sacrifice time and resources into ameliorating the problem that ONLY CLIMATE SCIENTISTS CAN UNDERSTAND, and can’t actually very well describe, or predict, or model.
So. I “believe” that astrophysicists can analyze a bunch of subtle measurements, run them thru a computer model that mathematically codes a whole bunch of assumptions and declare that a planet of such and such a size exists over that-a-way, at some distance. And I very exactly similarly believe that other physicists of other interests can analyze subtle measurements, model, assume, and declare that OUR planet exists in such and such a way, at some distance into the future. I “believe” they are honestly doing their best. I’m willing to support their salaries to continue the work.
But let’s get real about what those claims actually mean, when the debate starts about how the world’s resources should be allocated. And realistically — “climate” doesn’t enter into it.
IF you are correct, “very sad” is an inappropriate response.
However parts of your post do make the best (and to date only) rational argument to be concerned about vaccines. I appreciate the insight. Other parts of your post are far too problematic for me to have an opinion about.
You outline a truly tough decision tree in your excellent point about the misuse of science irt policy.
There are lots of climate skeptics in this world that’s why the fight against climate change is so difficult.
In the U.S., President Obama fights with the Republicans, in other countries like Australia, managed to hire a climate skeptics to build their future renewable energy plan.
If you hire a climate skeptic what do you expect? For a few more decades, Australia will rely on coal even if in other countries, coal becomes slowly only history.
Even President Francois Hollande along with two Hollywood starts calling for more efforts to stop climate change in the recent visit in the Philippines.
If even state presidents are calling for actions against global warming who are others to deny this?
If even state presidents are calling for actions against global warming who are others to deny this?
Francois Hollande is an imbecile (politically speaking) and is about as unpopular as it is possible to get while still having a major party backing you. He lacks any popular authority. Obama, and Cameron too.
Ben’s wise analysis is that these people use climate as a way of looking forward thinking and above the petty mindedness of politics. It’s an act, with any costs pushed down for future presidents.
In countries with a popular party in control, such as NZ or Australia, climate issues take a back seat. They are much more concerned to keep the lights on.
Unfortunately Steve McIntyre’s link to Bain’s psychology paper discussing dehumanising has been “sanitized” or removed only a couple of weeks later
returning : “Dr Paul Bain is no longer active” ..and Not on wayback machine either
– but mostly covered here http://manicbeancounter.com/tag/paul-bain/
with the full PDF free thru here http://gpi.sagepub.com/content/12/6/789.refs
and better referred to in PDF “Beastly: What Makes Animal Metaphors Offensive?” 2011