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An Online University Course on the Science of Climate Science Denial

Filed under: — mike @ 22 April 2015

Guest post from John Cook, University of Queensland

For many years, RealClimate has been educating the public about climate science. The value of climate scientists patiently explaining the science and rebutting misinformation directly with the public cannot be overestimated. When I began investigating this issue, my initial searches led me here, which was invaluable in increasing my understanding of our climate and making sense of misinformation. RealClimate has inspired and empowered a host of climate communicators such as myself to step forward and help make climate science more accessible to the general public.

To further the work of educating the public, and empowering people to communicate the realities of climate change, the Skeptical Science team has collaborated with The University of Queensland to develop a MOOC, Making Sense of Climate Science Denial. MOOC stands for Massive (we’ve already had thousands of students sign up from over 130 countries) Open (available for free to everyone) Online (web-based, no software required) Course.

The course examines the science of climate science denial. Why do a small but vocal minority reject the scientific evidence for climate change? What techniques do they use to cast doubt on the science? And we examine the all-important question – based on scientific research, how should we respond to science denial?

Several strands of research in cognitive psychology, educational research and a branch of psychology called “inoculation theory” all point the way to neutralising the influence of science denial. The approach is two-fold: communicate the science but also explain how that science can be distorted.

So our course looks at the most common climate myths you’re likely to encounter online or in the media. We examine myths casting doubt on the reality of global warming. We explore the many human fingerprints on climate change. We look at the messages from past climate change and what climate models tell us about the future. And we look at how climate change is impacting every part of society and the environment. As we examine myths touching on all these parts of climate science, we shine the spotlight on the fallacies and techniques used to distort the science.

FLICC

As well as our short video lectures debunking climate myths, we also interviewed many of the world’s leading scientists. I had the privilege to speak to Ben Santer, Katharine Hayhoe, Richard Alley, Phil Jones, Naomi Oreskes and let’s not forget my long, fascinating conversation with Michael Mann. I was also lucky enough to interview Sir David Attenborough at the Great Barrier Reef. We spoke to both climate scientists and social scientists who study the psychology of climate science denial. Some of the most powerful moments from those interviews came when the scientists described the attacks they’d personally experienced because of their climate research:

Our MOOC starts next Tuesday, April 28. It’s a free online course hosted by the not-for-profit edX (founded by Harvard University & MIT). It runs for 7 weeks, requiring 1 to 2 hours per week. You can enroll at http://edx.org/understanding-climate-denial.

56 Responses to “An Online University Course on the Science of Climate Science Denial”

  1. 1
    BojanD says:

    FLICC memo is perfect. I was just corresponding with a fake skeptic and could check ‘I’ and second ‘C’. Thanks!

  2. 2
    SecularAnimist says:

    Hopefully this course will document the many millions of dollars that the fossil fuel corporations have spent over the last several decades to create climate science denial.

    It’s certainly useful to understand the “psychology” that the fossil fuel industry’s highly paid propagandists have so effectively and expertly exploited and manipulated.

    But that “psychology” is not the source or the cause of climate science denial.

    The source and cause of climate science denial is a generation-long, massively funded propaganda campaign of deliberate and elaborate deceit, using the most insidious brainwashing techniques ever conceived and the most powerful tools of mass communication ever invented.

  3. 3
    MatthewRMarler says:

    Right. More about “How people who disagree with me have cognitive defects; people who agree with me do not.”

  4. 4
    saladyears says:

    #3 is pretty much “Jumping to Conclusions” exactly, isn’t it?

  5. 5
    Steve Fish says:

    Re- Comment by MatthewRMarler — 22 Apr 2015 @ 1:47 PM, ~#3

    Matthew, your quotation is meaningless in a context in which those who deny climate science are not climate scientists.

    Steve

  6. 6
    Edward Greisch says:

    “Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations”
    http://drexel.edu/%7E/media/Files/now/pdfs/Institutionalizing%20Delay%20-%20Climatic%20Change.ashx
    The fossil fuel industry is hiding the billion dollars it spends each year now, to cover up Global Warming.

  7. 7
    SecularAnimist says:

    Matthew Marler:

    Yes, right. A person who believes falsehoods to be true has a cognitive defect by definition. Inducing such cognitive defects is the entire purpose of the denialist propaganda machine.

  8. 8
    Bob Reiland says:

    Michael, The people who argue against climate scientists frequently admit that their arguments are not about science. They tend to start by saying, “I am not a scientist.” Do you really think that when a scientist is attacked for doing science, his or her defense of the science is the same as accusing the attackers of having “cognitive defects?”

    It is in fact amazing to me how much restraint I’ve seen in the responses of climate scientists to their attackers. It is far more likely that a climate scientist experiences a personal attack than that the climate scientist will respond with a personal attack.

  9. 9
    Don Aitkin says:

    I must be dreadfully old-fashioned: ‘the science of climate science denial’ sounds impressive, but it begs so many questions.

  10. 10
    Jim Eager says:

    More like people who disagree with/are in denial of physical reality have cognitive defects. Concern trolling not withstanding.

  11. 11
    Mark A. York says:

    I had to unlike Skeptical Science on FB because a poster kept trying to tell me I didn’t know an ice sheet from an ice shelf, which I clearly do, and both the WAIS and Ross shelf are still there and most likely will be for 200 years give or take. We’ve become deniers and doomsayers and the science supports neither. Cook blocked all comments from me. That doesn’t strike me as open for debate.

  12. 12
    Rob Ellison says:

    Very much meant to put this here – http://www.realclimate.org/?comments_popup=18348#comment-628815

    [Response: Off topic. That’s why we have open threads. -gavin]

  13. 13
    Tom says:

    MatthewRMarler says:
    22 Apr 2015 at 1:47 PM
    Right. More about “How people who disagree with me have cognitive defects; people who agree with me do not.”

    Not quite. I read that as suggesting that those who faithfully follow the scientific method, take the time to understand the pre-existing research, back their statements up with well researched data, and apply well understood laws of physics and mathematics to their position, deserve a certain level of credibility. Those who make unsubstantiated claims that include incomplete data, opinions, and unfounded conspiracy theories, do not deserve the same level of attention. If any.

    But I am not a scientist, so perhaps I missed something.

  14. 14
    tony lynch says:

    Don Aitken is himself a denialist as even the most cursory google search will show. He is a “political scientist.”

  15. 15
    James Black says:

    The course should really be called The Politics of Climate Denial. It is not a science as such.

  16. 16
    MatthewRMarler says:

    5 Steve Fish: those who deny climate science

    Who denies climate science? What I read, and sometimes write, are critiques of particular assertions, not “climate science”. For example, the claim that Trenberth’s missing heat has been found in the deep ocean; carried there by an increase in the rate of a portion of the thermohaline circulation. Certainly reasonable hypotheses, but hardly tested and confirmed by out of sample data.

    13 Tom: I read that as suggesting that those who faithfully follow the scientific method, take the time to understand the pre-existing research, back their statements up with well researched data, and apply well understood laws of physics and mathematics to their position, deserve a certain level of credibility. Those who make unsubstantiated claims that include incomplete data, opinions, and unfounded conspiracy theories, do not deserve the same level of attention

    That is for sure the suggestion. I forecast that along the way the student will learn that it is “scientific” to have a strong belief in a positive water vapor feedback; but that it is some cognitive defect to have an equally strong doubt. Likewise, the student will be instructed that the well-understood concepts of equilibrium lead to the derivation of really accurate consequences of CO2 increase; but to point out that high dimensional non-linear dissipative dynamic systems, like the Earth climate, do not have equilibria will be presented as a “motivated” septic (i.e. repeated) denialist trope, or perhaps bought by a rich energy company. And so on. Leaps of faith over model forecast errors (e.g. failure to forecast the pause) will be ok; but dwelling on model failure as indicative of lack of knowledge (lack of tropical tropospheric hot spot) will become instances of “projection” or something.

  17. 17
    John Cook says:

    Interesting comments. A few responses:

    SecularAnimist, we do look at how the fossil fuel industry has funded climate science denial – that is an important part of the picture. But I would avoid falling into the false dichotomy that it’s vested interests or it’s psychological. Both are significant factors and in fact, go hand in hand. As Naomi Oreskes describes it in Merchants of Doubt, there is an “unholy alliance” between vested interests and ideological think-tanks.

    MatthewRMarler, our course is about examining the scientific research into how ideology biases how people process evidence. We cannot properly understand climate science denial, or explain why a small minority reject the scientific consensus on climate change, without examining this science. So it’s not about “people who disagree with me”. It’s about understanding why and how people reject scientific evidence and a scientific consensus. To ignore the body of social science research into this area does us a disservice.

  18. 18
    Hank Roberts says:

    Public health has studied this class of problem — Cassandra’s situation — for a long time.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2602943/
    http://deceitanddenial.org/

  19. 19
    Rob Ellison says:

    i[Response: Off topic. That’s why we have open threads. -gavin]

    I politely disagree. Understanding is prerequisite to determination of what is affirmed or denied. So if there is a more nuanced interpretation of climate data possible – a better paradigm – it is the basis for a more realistic response in an abruptly shifting climate system. Secondly – an effective policy response is the most critical element. This requires something other than superficial claims about ‘the science’ implicitly feeding into progressive political ideology supported by spurious arguments about denier psychopathology couched superficially in the objective idiom of science.

    It is all an immense muddle – and this adds to the murk.

  20. 20
    Marcel Kincaid says:

    This isn’t the place to debate climate science. Leading off with that is clearly trolling. The subject here is the science of climate science denial.

  21. 21
    Marcel Kincaid says:

    “How people who disagree with me have cognitive defects; people who agree with me do not.”

    It has nothing to do disagreeing with *me*, but rather with a firmly established scientific consensus among tens of thousands of accredited active scientific researchers and every single reputable scientific organization on the planet. If I learned that some belief of mine disagreed with such a consensus, I would be highly suspect of my own belief and would put it under the strictest scrutiny, and even if I couldn’t find an error in my belief I would still hold it in suspension. To do otherwise is indeed a cognitive defect.

  22. 22
    Thomas says:

    Mathew and John. I think there are two denial sciences involved here. One has to do with the psychological motivations for denial. The other has do do with techniques of persuasion. I claim the second category is arguably more important, both commercial and ideological organizations have the motivation and resources to research the science of persuasion.

  23. 23
  24. 24
    pete best says:

    This denial of do nothing (or denial the reality or impact of ACC) appears to run strongly in North America and Australia (although both these continents have world leading science) whereas here in Europe we have denial but its not as deep routed or as entrenched politically by the looks of it. Therefore perhaps the art of denial lies in the populace as much as the politicians they represent.

    The many facets of ACC that environmentalists and the media have written and spoken about appear to be a threat to these countries way of life manta that we hear about so much so perhaps the message has been badly communicated and hence libertarian and free market capitalists have pushed back against the message (after all that is the political system we exist in, for every argument there is a counter argument) and leave it up to the voters to decide.

  25. 25

    MRM 16: I forecast that along the way the student will learn that it is “scientific” to have a strong belief in a positive water vapor feedback; but that it is some cognitive defect to have an equally strong doubt.

    BPL: You’ve never heard of “The Clausius-Clapeyron relation?” You might want to Google it.

  26. 26
    Susan Anderson says:

    Briefly, on the subject of grounds for believing reality and practicing real skepticism, not the fake kind, Gavin among others has collaborated on an excellent New York Times educational segment, which I would love to see as required reading for all reporters. So often, the subject is so controversial and the attacks so wide ranging and cleverly organized, it is easy for an honest reporter to be deceived into false balance.

    http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/04/22/guest-post-climate-change-questions-for-citizen-scientists/

  27. 27
    Radge Havers says:

    MM @ 3

    That comment is defensive, unwarranted and suggestive of motivated reasoning in your comments here. Look at the FLICC graphic. We’re talking about verifiable flaws in thinking. Do you deny the existence of denialists? That would indicate a serious lacuna In your own understanding of both the science and its social context.

  28. 28
    Hank Roberts says:

    It’s about understanding why and how people reject scientific evidence and a scientific consensus…. the body of social science research into this area …

    A couple of questions. Seems a lot turns on what information a person is using.

    Does the social science distinguish

    — people” who as citizens on their own account form their own opinion?
    —- (and in particular those who use help from librarians and such sources)
    — people echoing opinions they hear from, well, people they echo — AM radio, etc.)
    — politicians whose positions may not be their own
    — promoters whose positions are advocacy paid to promote a point (including “advocacy science” which is to science as military music, etc. etc.)

    Is anything special about climatology in this?

    It seems to me there’s a deep literature in public health going back more than a century, of which climate science is not unique in any way I can think of. Curious if you see something new here or more of the same.

  29. 29
    SecularAnimist says:

    John Cook wrote: “But I would avoid falling into the false dichotomy that it’s vested interests or it’s psychological. Both are significant factors and in fact, go hand in hand.”

    They do indeed go hand in hand — with the vested interests using psychology to induce denial in their target audiences.

    You can be very sure that the Madison Avenue propaganda masterminds hired by the fossil fuel corporations to create climate science denial have a far better understanding of the psychology involved than do climate scientists. They are world-class experts at it. They have decades of research and practice in creating and shaping public opinion. They know how to identify susceptible audiences, how to identify what buttons to push, and they know how to push those buttons.

  30. 30
    David Harlos says:

    The stakes of our planetary climate change “game” include possible human extinction, emerging starkly ahead of us. We each must come to some personal resolution regarding our own impending death. Some level of denial of death allows each to continue our lives in relative peace. Varki and Brower (Denial, Self-Deception, False Beliefs and the Origins of the Human Mind, 2013) argue that the capacity for denial was a requirement for developing a complete Theory of Mind during the evolution of human consciousness: the “cognitive defect” of denial is precisely what allowed us to develop a full Theory of Mind, once the (depressing) capacity to perceive our coming individual deaths arose. Climate change squarely raises the question not only of our own death, but of collective death of humanity at our own hand. V & B argue that each of us is hardwired with the capacity for denial. Our gift of extended public discourse can strip away the veil of denial, however painful those revelations may be. If the success of denialists lies in our inherent individual capacities for denial, our task is great. We have evolved into a unique ecological niche: exploiters of the biosphere’s cumulative energy surplus, geologically sequestered in the Earth’s crust. It is difficult to see how we as a species would abandon that niche, when each abdicating individual, motivated by personal rejection of (inherent) denial, will be replaced by an eager exploiter, operating under an ancient veil of denial that brought us all to this place.

  31. 31

    Secular Animist seems unwilling to call the the problem by its correct name: as propaganda wars go, the Climate Wars are far from unique.

    As with most politicized conflicts, the art of inducing cognitive defects extends to the misrepresentation of opposing views by opposing proagandists — that’s what true believers, and insincere PR firms do.

  32. 32
    robert says:

    Signed up! Thanks for posting the info. Hope any off-topic comments ( like in this thread) get nipped quick.

  33. 33
    Donald Condliffe says:

    While this course is admirable I think that the many explanations for why there is denial are incomplete. The need to leave most remaining carbon fuels in the ground, means there is a VERY significant monetary motive for seeding doubt.

    The Bank of England interestingly has recognized this and is putting out a report. See news article in the Guardian “Bank of England warns of huge financial risk from fossil fuel investments”.

    The flip side is that men such as the Koch brothers and major companies and governments that depend on oil, natural gas and coal revenues are highly motivated to delay any limits on their production. Plus they even tend to believe their own propaganda since their wealth and power and self image depend on oil not being bad. The prime source of doubt in the USA is extremely well funded fake science and false news and such propaganda is not easily defeated.

  34. 34
    Hank Roberts says:

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-to-misinterpret-climate-change-research/

    The misinterpretation of Stevens’ paper began with Nic Lewis, an independent climate scientist. In a blog post for Climate Audit, a prominent climate skeptic blog, he used Stevens’ study to suggest that as CO2 levels double in the atmosphere, global temperatures would rise by only 1.2 to 1.8 degrees Celsius. The measure is called “climate sensitivity.”

  35. 35
    Edward Greisch says:

    Signed up for the course. Already taking another course in psychology.

  36. 36
    Douglas Wise says:

    David Harlos (30) has, from my perspective, hit the nail on the head. Post retirement as a biological researcher, I had the time to study the science of climate change in depth. I eventually went from a position of scepticism to one of acceptance of the scientific consensus on the subject. This was a profoundly depressing experience. Initially, I made futile attempts to reduce those adverse impacts that my lifestyle was having on the climate, but it soon became abundantly clear that this represented short term pain with no possibility of long term gain even for the next generation.

    I escaped the feelings of negativity by study of possible solutions to the problem. David Harlos emphasises the unique characteristic of our species to be able to exploit stored energy. He goes on to suggest that it is most unlikely that this exploitative behaviour will be abandoned in the face of a non imminent threat. Thus, possible climate change solutions that require radical reductions of energy use are almost certainly doomed to failure. There are no politicians who can expect to hold power unless they offer their citizens the prospect of improved living standards (which require more rather than less access to energy). Thus, the substitution of fossil fuels with dilute and intermittent energy sources would seem to be no realistic solution at all.

    I was greatly cheered when I learned that there is a technologically-ready climate change solution in the form of nuclear fission power. Imagine the frustration, therefore, of finding that, while global warming sceptics are often pro nuclear, the bulk of those fearing climate change seem to have even greater fears of nuclear power. I think it is pertinent to consider radiophobia and climate change scepticism as equally irrational.

  37. 37

    #36–Douglas, I don’t know if you’ve been around RC much; I don’t recall seeing a comment from you previously.

    In case you haven’t, you might want to know that there is a lengthy history here of not very useful squabbling around the relative merits of nuclear energy, renewable energy, and demand reduction. It has led to repeated ‘timeouts’ on mitigation discussions. Were it not for that history, I might have a comment to make on the probable and desirable characteristics of our future energy economy myself, but as it is, I’ll abstain!

    However, since attitudes toward death are, as far as I am aware, a new topic on RC, let me opine that I suspect the intensity and pervasiveness of death denial is more characteristic of the dominant cultural paradigm than of human nature. That’s not to say that I think mortality is unproblematic for humans in general; quite the reverse. But I do think that there are other ‘resolutions’, to use your word, than denial–other cultures, it seems to me (he said, indulging in a sweeping generalization) have achieved greater levels of acceptance, realism and, yes, humor about it than most of us. In fact, my perception is that our culture has become considerably more inclined toward denial of death, just over the course of my (60-year) lifetime–though that may be partly a product of changes in my perspective that come with age: once your hair starts to go and your joints start to creak a little, you must either double down on denial or accept that you are not a fluke immortal, born to human parents somehow. (And speaking of parents, when you lose them that’s another such milestone.)

    Does it relate to energy usage? Quite possibly, I’d say. It certainly relates to the strain in our culture that wants to make everything safe, and is happy to eliminate diving boards and playground swings to do so. Perhaps it also stokes the fear of change identified by commentators such as Killian.

    Certainly there is a parallel: acceptance of the concept of “enough”–enough lifetime on the one hand, enough energy on the other. I knew a man, quite a while back, who I thought really felt he had enough. Neither rich nor poor, he was content with his life–truly happy, I would say. As it happened, he died in middle age–cancer. Don’t know how he felt about that, just before the end. But his life still stands as example, for me.

  38. 38

    MRM 37: Of course I have studied the Clausius-Clapayron [sic] relation. It is one of the “equilibrium approximations” of doubtful accuracy (actually, empirically studied inaccuracy) as applied to the climate.

    BPL: You heard it here first, folks! Saturation vapor pressure doesn’t increase with temperature! 150 years of physical chemistry and radiation physics are all wrong!

    DW 36: I was greatly cheered when I learned that there is a technologically-ready climate change solution in the form of nuclear fission power. Imagine the frustration, therefore, of finding that, while global warming sceptics are often pro nuclear, the bulk of those fearing climate change seem to have even greater fears of nuclear power. I think it is pertinent to consider radiophobia and climate change scepticism as equally irrational.

    BPL: You seem to have confused “technologically ready” with “easy to expand.” Have you missed the fact that nuclear fission power plants are one of the most expensive ways to generate electricity these days, with a typical 1-GWe plant costing $7-14 billion and taking an average of a decade to get working? It’s not “radiophobia” that’s preventing nuclear from being a solution to the climate crisis. It’s the fact that so many other much better solutions are available.

  39. 39
    Dan says:

    “Over about 6 years I have moved from believing in the consensus to believing that the effects of CO2 have been dramatically over-estimated.”

    Well you can *believe* 1+1=47 but that does not change the facts. For goodness sake, read the peer-reviewed science re: climate change. You know, the scientific method? The way strong science has been conducted for hundreds of years. BTW, the effects of CO2 and other greenhouse gases re: climate change are in *fact* further along in many areas than expected 10 years ago. Again, you would know this if you read the peer-reviewed science at all.

  40. 40
    Radge Havers says:

    MM @ 39

    Well, you can focus on this point or that point and frame your objections in didactic terms. But at the end of the day the issue still haunting the political sphere is: is there AGW and should we be concerned about it? As with evolution, there may be plenty to be skeptical about, but Creationism is out-and-out denialism irregardless of Freud (or even the fact of evolution for that matter). The problem with denial, while intractible to deal with, is straightforward to identify since we’re dealing largely with rhetorical tactics, not science.

    Now there may be a place for didactic debate in classrooms, but I’ve got a growing suspision that too often it’s a poorly executed pedagogical tool; that too many students come away from it with a stock reliance on false balance and sophistry–not improved critical thinking. I’d invite you, for example, to check out one of your borehole buddies in particular (the well known single-named troll) and ask youself if that’s really the kind of company you want to be keeping.

  41. 41
    Douglas Wise says:

    #37 Kevin.

    I enjoyed your comment. You suggest that death-denial is more cultural than genetic. It’s an interesting hypothesis, but I’d like to put an alternative proposition.

    Man is alone in the animal kingdom in possessing reflexive consciousness which allows an appreciation of the concept of death of self. Possibly, in consequence, religious beliefs developed as coping strategies. To some extent, science has displaced religion, but has not provided a means of avoiding worries over death. All it has done is to provide the means of extending life (almost regardless of its quality).

    Although man is unique in his possession of reflexive consciousness, he shares a great deal of his genetic inheritance with other species. Thus, we have all inherited “survival of the fittest” characteristics that sit uncomfortably with our new western cultural beliefs of equality of opportunity (almost the antithesis of evolutionary drives).

    I’m not sure that this debate belongs here, but it may have possible relevance in the understanding of seemingly irrational behaviour. As a species, we have evolved to maximise attention on proximate threats. Climate change is not proximate. It thus joins the list of future worries such as death itself. If a viable solution does not obviously present itself, even avid believers in the threats associated with climate change will choose to ignore them – choosing to “eat, drink and be merry” when they can. They are not being irrational. I would suggest that the number of apparent climate change deniers is greatly increased because many of the greatest propagandists of climate change are also often pressing for unsustainable solutions that would crash civilisation as surely as climate change itself.

    Barton Paul Levenson #38.

    Having been following this site for a number of years, I am aware of your anti-nuclear stance. You accuse me of failing to differentiate between “technologicaly ready” with “easy to expand” in the case of nuclear fission. You point out that nuclear is an expensive solution and that radiophobia isn’t an issue in rejecting it, adding, without listing any, that there are better solutions. I wish I could believe that your statements were the output of a rational mind.

    You do me little credit in assuming that I’m unaware of current nuclear costs and delays associated with construction in western nations. You fail to consider that radiophobia may be (probably is) the reason, causing huge increases in regulatory costs and in construction delays. You fail to acknowledge that, decades ago, the French didn’t experience expansion difficulties.

    I would like to ask you a hypothetical question. If you could be convinced that nuclear plants could be built as or more quickly and at an equivalent cost as any other means of generating power, would your opposition to nuclear roll out disappear? I suspect not, but I also suspect that you’d find enough wriggle room to avoid giving an answer. However, were you to answer in the affirmative, I’d be delighted to continue the debate with you although I accept that this forum may not be the right one for such a continuation.

  42. 42

    #41–

    Man is alone in the animal kingdom in possessing reflexive consciousness which allows an appreciation of the concept of death of self.

    Yes, hence my characterization of “problematic.” It’s an inherent problem.

    Climate change is not proximate. It thus joins the list of future worries such as death itself.

    Yes, a well-taken parallel. It raises the question of dealing with denial–or at least denial reified, which would be denialism–constructively, by enabling other coping strategies. Which leads me to think of the well-known paradigm of grieving by Dr. Kubler-Ross.

  43. 43

    DW 41: I wish I could believe that your statements were the output of a rational mind.

    BPL: After you’ve said something like that, why should I listen to anything you have to say on any subject at all?

  44. 44
    SecularAnimist says:

    Douglas Wise:

    If, as you wrote to Barton Paul Levenson, you have indeed been “following this site for a number of years”, then you know that the moderators have REPEATEDLY said that electricity generation technologies in general, and nuclear power in particular, are off-topic for this site, and have asked commenters to refrain from such discussions and stick to the topic of this site, which is climate science.

    I think the fact that you responded to BPL’s simple assertion that “much better solutions are available” by immediately accusing him of an “anti-nuclear stance” and questioning his motives and therefore his character, is a perfect example of why the moderators are wise to rule such discussions off-topic here.

  45. 45
    Toby Thaler says:

    Re “Fear of Mortality Thread” (30, 36, 37, 38, 41): David Harlos in one sentence—”We have evolved into a unique ecological niche: exploiters of the biosphere’s cumulative energy surplus, geologically sequestered in the Earth’s crust.”—summarizes our current ecological and economic situation.

    I think it’s not the fear of death per se that drives us toward denial, but rather the fear of limits. The limits that are inherent in a civilization that is living on stored energy. (I will not tread into the nuke etc arguments except to note that energy is not the only factor limiting continued ‘business as usual’; our ecological overshoot of biophysical boundaries is apparent in a number of other essential resources.)

    In my environmental and land use policy work I have engaged in numerous dialogues on the subject of sustainability. I find that most people are incapable of accepting limits to growth. Some people accept that such limits exist, but getting them to translate that acceptance into specific political and governance decision making on a near term or personal scale is exceedingly difficult.

    AGW is a consequence of ignoring limits writ large. Until we as a species learn that limits are real and have meaning in both the long and short term, getting beyond AGW denial will be very difficult. While not written about AGW, Wendell Berry’s 2008 essay, “Faustian Economics”, is a good exploration of the problem of acceptance of limits in our culture. The irony is that the less we accept limits, the sooner our failure to do so will cause the system (as in systems analysis) to crash.

  46. 46
    Brian Dodge says:

    “… the student will learn that it is “scientific” to have a strong belief in a positive water vapor feedback…” MatthewRMarler

    — 22 Apr 2015 @ 7:44 PM

    A common denialist error is to conflate belief with knowledge, with science. Any student who pays attention in science class will

    learn that the science of positive water vapor feedback is a matter of observation, measurement, doing the math, and understanding

    the fundamental physical relationships involved. When they do their homework, they will discover that a couple of guys named

    Clausius & Claperyon have already done the heavy lifting.
    See http://web.mit.edu/16.unified/www/FALL/thermodynamics/notes/node64.html
    “The beauty is that we have found a general relation between experimentally measurable quantities from first principles (1st and 2nd laws of thermodynamics).” If a=b, it is also true that b=a; or, from the same reference, “The fact that all known substances in the two-phase region fulfill the Clausius-Clapeyron equation provides the general validity of the 1st and 2nd laws of thermodynamics!”
    Accusing scientists of having a (religious) belief in water vapor feedback is equal to saying the faculty of MIT is just a bunch of religious zealots.

  47. 47
    Fred Magyar says:

    @ SecularAnimist — 22 Apr 2015 @ 10:09 AM

    “But that “psychology” is not the source or the cause of climate science denial.

    The source and cause of climate science denial is a generation-long, massively funded propaganda campaign of deliberate and elaborate deceit, using the most insidious brainwashing techniques ever conceived and the most powerful tools of mass communication ever invented.”

    Very hard to disagree with that statement.
    Good luck undoing all of that brainwashing. Here’s the very short version of why it will be almost impossible:

    http://goo.gl/RSpHSM

  48. 48
    Radge Havers says:

    More. Article by John Cook:
    http://theconversation.com/inoculating-against-science-denial-40465

    I’m curious to know what thinking about meta-literacy (if any) went into the design of the course. In other words, what is taught about how and why science works the way it does?

  49. 49

    MRM: Is it so hard to understand or accept that the Clausius-Clapeyron relationship is an approximation that has never been shown to be accurate in any natural dynamic setting?

    BPL: Please present your alternative.

  50. 50
    Blair Dowden says:

    Dr. Cook: I have completed the first week of this course. While there is much of value here, I see a number of problems.

    The definition of science here seems to be based only on defending climate science against deniers rather than describing science in general. For example, consilience is nice to have, but sometimes a single well controlled experiment is more useful than multiple diverse experiments each with diverse poorly known confounding factors. There was not much consilience identifying the Higgs Boson.

    “Social Calibration” is said to mean using the same standards of evidence. Is that not expected in any legitimate science? It is constantly violated in communicating science, but that is a separate issue.

    Social Diversity is even more dubious. First it is misused to mean another way of replicating experiments. Then it is given real meaning as avoiding groupthink or cultural bias. But really, how important is this in real science? It looks like mainly a response to stupid claims of a climate science conspiracy.

    There is no discussion of assessing uncertainty, or levels of knowledge. For example, we can have high confidence that atmospheric physics tells us there is a greenhouse effect. We have lower confidence in predictions of regional climate changes or increases of extreme weather.

    The psychology part is good, except that only conservative thinking is treated as a pathology. Maybe it is, but liberals have their own pathologies, which contribute to problems in communicating about climate change. That should not be ignored.

    At this point all I can suggest is you collect feedback and try to improve the course for next time. That is a problem when the discussion forums are not well organized, and clogged with meaningless chatter. Please put a discussion section on all the pages (it is already on a few), especially for quizzes which seem to be especially problematic. Then filter out the irrelevant junk so a real discussion can take place. It is so frustrating. Most of the comments on this thread are not relevant to the topic; I really wish they were dumped into the monthly general section.

    I will continue with the course. At least it encourages me to think critically about the topic. I appreciate the effort put into bringing us this material, and I hope more effort is put into improving it.


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