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Fake news, hacked mail, alternative facts – that’s old hat for climate scientists

Distortion? False information? Conspiracy theories? Hacked email? Climate scientists have known all this for decades. What can be learned from their rich experience with climate propaganda.

The world is slowly waking up. “Post-truth” was declared the word of the year 2016 by the Oxford Dictionaries. Finally, people start to widely appreciate how dangerous the epidemic of fake news is for democracy.

Stir up hate, destroy discourse, make insane claims until no one can distinguish the most bizarre absurdity from the truth any more.

Thus the Austrian author Robert Misik aptly describes the strategy of right-wing populists.

Some call it “alternative facts”. (Those are the convenient alternative to true facts.) Let’s simply call it propaganda.

Fake News

Confusing people with fake news is not an invention of the Brexit and Trump campaigns. Here are some examples of simply false to outright crazy claims that “climate skeptics” have used to fool lay people for at least two decades (the links lead to explanations):

The greenhouse effect cannot exist, because it supposedly violates the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Since the late 1990s there has been no warming. In the Middle Ages Greenland was almost free of ice. The climate has cooled dramatically, Daily Mail and Breitbart News recently claimed (see the following video, in which meteorologist Kait Parker from the Weather Channel charmingly debunks this).

The “hockey stick” is broken. Sea levels are falling (claimed Björn Lomborg ). Etc. etc.

Graph: Greg Laden , with permission

The latest salvo in this is the claim by David Rose (yet again) in the British tabloid Daily Mail that “world leaders were duped into investing billions over manipulated global warming data”. Check out the “data manipulation” yourself in the next graph to see immediately how credible this story is. Rose used a misleading graph and cited a retired “whistleblower”, John Bates, who has since told AP that there was “no data tampering, no data changing, nothing malicious.”

The key graph from Karl et al. (2015), showing the old NOAA data in red and the improved new version in black. Could the difference of a few hundredths of a degree have duped world leaders into signing on to the Paris Climate Agreement? (Mind you, the new version has been independently verified against the latest high-quality observational data and merely brings the NOAA data in line with the other global surface temperature data sets.)

And in any case, climate change is an eco-marxist scam (writes the Oslo terrorist Anders Breivik in his manifesto – with reference to hacked climate researchers’ emails.)

Hacked mail

Among the dirty tactics in the US election campaign was the spread of hacked emails in the weeks before the election. US intelligence agencies have come to the conclusion that Russia has tried specifically to influence the US elections in order to help Trump.

To climate scientists that sounds familiar. Before the climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009 (where failed what in 2015 in Paris finally succeeded after 50 years of dithering: a global climate treaty), numerous emails from climate researchers from the preceding 14 years appeared on a server in the Russian city of Tomsk. They had been stolen from the British Climate Research Unit (CRU). British media speculated about evidence for a role of the Russian secret service FSB (who has an office at Tomsk) at the time; the British police have failed to identify the perpetrators of the data theft. On climate denier blogs and in many media these mails were hyped up to a “climategate” scandal and out-of-context tidbits were paraded to discredit climate research. For example, the Daily Telegraph headlined: “This is the worst scientific scandal of our generation”.

The problem with this hype: in those climate scientist emails, there wasn’t even the slightest indication of any misconduct or reasons for doubt about global warming, as a full eight thorough investigations later proved. The best thing the climate deniers could find were the phrases “Mike’s trick” and “hide the decline,” which was presented as if scientists were trying to hide that global temperatures are really falling. Which is false of course (they are rising), and which wasn’t what the quote referred to, as the context in the mail concerned immediately shows.

Nevertheless, from the point of view of climate deniers, the email hack was a terrific success in influencing public opinion. This can even be seen in a recent interview of the New York Times with Donald Trump. The one where Trump’s statement that he was “open” was widely interpreted as if he might reconsider his position on climate change. In fact, he said :

It’s a very complex subject. I’m not sure anybody is ever going to really know. I know we have, they say they have science on one side but then they also have those horrible emails that were sent between the scientists. Where was that, in Geneva or wherever five years ago? Terrible. Where they got caught, you know, so you see that and you say, what’s this all about. I absolutely have an open mind.

It is shocking that a US president apparently bought into the propaganda about “climategate”. I guess Trump really doesn’t know any better – he’s known for often claiming demonstrably false things he got “off the Internet”. But  leading people from his team (like Myron Ebell or the new EPA chief Scott Pruitt) are among those who have systematically been spreading such fake news about climate. Even the sober New York Times headlined on the nomination of Pruitt: „Trump Picks Scott Pruitt, Climate Change Denialist, to Lead E.P.A.“ According to the Guardian, at least 9 senior members of Trump’s team deny basic scientific knowledge about climate change.

Threat and intimidation

Many climate scientists are subject to threats and hate mail. My colleague and Realclimate cofounder Michael Mann got threats against him and, worse still, his family. This went as far as a letter with white powder, which was sent to Mike at the height of the anthrax scare and led to the evacuation of the university building by the police. In Australia, where I held a visiting professorship last winter, after anonymous threats my colleagues are working in a locked security area of ​​the university, which can only be entered with a chip card. Two weeks ago, I was called “vermin” (“Schädling” in German – a word last used about human beings by the Nazis) and threatened with death for me and my family if I were to publish another blog article. This is how afraid some people are of words, of an open, reasoned discussion.

These intimidations have a chilling effect. I know some (especially younger) colleagues who prefer not to publicly comment on climate science, to avoid becoming a target.

Doubt as a product

There has long been a consensus in the scientic community that human activities are primarily responsible for global warming. The physics is understood, the evidence is clear and overwhelming. Scientific academies and professional organizations from all over the world have clearly stated this. The doubts about climate science, which are still widespread among lay people, are a product with an industry behind it. Hundreds of millions of dollars are pumped annually by (mostly fossil) interest groups into “think tanks” which promote doubts by parading self-styled “experts” and pseudo-studies. Some are the same PR folks who previously tried to portray the harm from smoking as scientifically unproven.

The British author George Monbiot recently wrote in a highly recommended article :

I first encountered the machine when writing about climate change. The fury and loathing directed at climate scientists and campaigners seemed incomprehensible until I realised they were fake: the hatred had been paid for. The bloggers and institutes whipping up this anger were funded by oil and coal companies.

The oil company Exxon knew, 40 years ago, how harmful their products are to the climate. In the US, public attorneys are currently investigating because Exxon systematically deceived the public about these findings.

But Trump, who owns holdings in oil companies, has now appointed former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. Tillerson has received a friendship award from Putin, and in 2012 he has sealed a $ 500 billion oil drilling deal in the Russian Arctic, which is currently blocked because of sanctions over the  annexation of Crimea – one of the plausible motives for Putin to support Trump in the election campaign. (A number for comparison to those 500 billion: Russia’s total military spending was $ 66 billion in 2015.) Trumps administration is expected to aggressively push fossil fuel business – at the cost of the stability of the climate and people suffering from the increasing droughts and extreme events all over the world.

The flood of paid or politically motivated propaganda is not just a threat to democracy. It is a danger to humanity’s livelihood: a stable climate, reliable crops, a life-giving biosphere. It is a relapse behind the time of scientific enlightenment. What can you do about it, and what should you rather leave?

What is not helpful

Ignoring the danger. The problem won’t go away by ignoring it. Propaganda and conspiracy theories are increasing dramatically, as the Guardian shows with a number of examples and statistics. In the social networks, the most popular climate change item of the past six months was not a carefully researched article by a science journalist but the #fakenews “Tens of Thousands of Scientists Declare Climate Change a Hoax”.

Normalizing nonsense. It is not helpful when some media keep citing nonsense spread by dubious anti-climate-science lobby groups as if this were a part of a normal “scientific debate”. Lobby groups that systematically spread disinformation, defamation, or hatred should be named as such and not be cited as if they were just normal discussion contributors.

Going into hiding. One should not duck away out of fear or opportunism, when the open society (and that includes science) is being attacked.

False balance. When the propaganda film “The Great Global Warming Swindle” was broadcast in the UK Channel 4 with its misleading graphics, false statements, fabricated data , etc., the station justified this thus: “This is a controversial film but we feel that it is important that all sides of the debate are aired.” This is only true if there is actually a serious “other side of the debate” that puts forth honest arguments. Or is there in reporting about AIDS always someone for the sake of balance, who claims AIDS is not caused by the HIV virus? The well-known problem of “false balance” in the media has resulted in only a small minority of the public understanding that there is an overwhelming consensus in the scientific community. A majority of people falsely believes that climate researchers are split into two roughly equal camps about the causes of global warming.

What we should do

Check sources! To avoid becoming a gullible victim of fake news, one needs to critically check the sources of news. Is a piece of news originating from the Washington Post, or from some fringe website? A serious newspaper with professional journalistic standards and a reputation to defend is a priori much more credible – but not a guarantee either. Even some mainstream media repeat falsehoods from climate deniers and (probably) consider this critical science journalism. I don’t need to mention specific examples here; our readers know plenty anyway. Checking sources also means: are cited experts really as prestigious as claimed? Today, thanks to scientific publication databases, you can easily verify that. Is a media report about some scientific finding based on a study in a peer reviewed journal? What do those media say whose core competence is science (e.g. Scientific American)?

Gather the views of independent experts. A very useful initiative in this regard is Climate Feedback, which solicits and publishes comments from a whole range of scientists about media articles on climate.

Enlighten. The best antidote against false news is true information with well-documented facts. One advantage of the Internet: everything I write in an article I can support with links, so everyone can verify the evidence. In case of statements on science, the ultimate evidence is usually studies in the peer-reviewed literature. Anyone who makes strong claims to laypeople, but does not publish them for discussion by professionals in relevant specialist journals, may well be more interested in propaganda than in science. False claims should be rebutted by those who understand the subject (but without giving the false claims more prominence).

Illuminate the background. Instead of citing lobby groups like a normal voice in a scientific discussion, one should illuminate their background and funding sources. Useful resources for checking the background of climate skeptics are e.g. the Realclimate Wiki and DeSmogBlog (here their background on David Rose).

Unfortunately there is no magic formula or panacea against the lobby activities of powerful interest groups who are deceiving the public by means of propaganda. Ultimately, only the citizens of the open society can defend themselves by making the effort to think and check rather than just being gullible. And by being willing to pay for quality journalism. If you’re not paying for the news you are reading, someone else is. And they might not have your best interest in mind.

As Immanuel Kant said:

Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity.



The Atlantic: How to Deal With the Lies of Donald Trump: Guidelines for the Media (core statement: clearly denounce lies as such – and not just call them “controversial” etc.)

Guardian: BBC climate coverage is evolving, but too slowly (On the “false balance” problem of the BBC.)

The Climate Feedback project regularly makes a critical commentary on media articles by scientists

Washington Post: I’m a scientist who has gotten death threats

Scientific American: The War on Facts is a War on Democracy

67 Responses to “Fake news, hacked mail, alternative facts – that’s old hat for climate scientists”

  1. 1
    tamino says:

    Outstanding. Thank you for providing some real perspective for all to see.

  2. 2
    Jim Prall says:

    Hi Stefan. Great post! On the issue of fake news and credibility, the UK’s Daily Mail tabloid has been demoted on Wikipedia to ‘unreliable source’:

  3. 3
    nigelj says:

    I agree totally.

    I have just been reading an article elsewhere, discussing the views of Mr Warren Meyer, a businessperson, who has promoted many of the frustrating climate sceptical and denialist claims you describe, and many more besides this. I guess it’s fair to call these “fake news” as well. The article gives a good point by point rebuttal. Here was my response:

    “Thank’s for an excellent point by point rebuttal of Meyers badly informed ranting.

    His (Mr Meyer the climate change sceptic / denialist) style of rhetoric reminds me of “Sophistry”. This was practiced by the ancient greek Sophists,and plenty of people today, including by my observation lawyers, politicians, lobby groups, and business people. Sophistry uses rhetoric that is superficially appealing, but is devoid of genuine logic, balance or content. It is full of strawman arguments, logical fallacies (those deceptive arguments with long latin names)

    But the guy must also know many of his claims are at odds with the science. For example he must have read that the vast majority in the science community strongly believes on the weight of evidence that climate sensitivity is medium to high, and positive feedbacks outweigh negative feedbacks.

    So the question is really why is he choosing to ignore this? On what basis would he put his trust in a few of the more fringe scientists, that have contrary views, or non science based political websites?

    I can only draw the conclusion he put’s his vested interests, or political leanings, above the peer reviewed mainstream science and what the vast majority of this says. On that basis we cannot take anything he says on the science seriously.

    Meyers says “So this is the real problem at the heart of the climate debate — the two sides are debating different propositions! In our chart, proponents of global warming action are vigorously defending the propositions on the left side, propositions with which serious skeptics generally already agree. When skeptics raise issues about climate models, natural sources of warming, and climate feedbacks, advocates of global warming action run back to the left side of the chart and respond that the world is warming and greenhouse gas theory is correct. At best, this is a function of the laziness and scientific illiteracy of the media that allows folks to talk past one another; at worst, it is a purposeful bait-and-switch to avoid debate on the tough issues.”

    Well the two sides are not debating different propositions. That is another strawman argument. Clearly when sceptics claim climate sensitivity is low, to take one example, climate scientists do not run away and simply say global warming is correct. Climate scientists quite specifically argue why the weight of evidence shows climate sensitivity is considered to be medium to high.

    By the way temperatures over the last three years have destroyed the basis of the low climate sensitivity claims, as these were founded on belief in a large pause after 1998. One look at any of the many latest temperature data sets shows a feeble, weak sort of pause at best.

    And of course advocates of global warming will respond about the general strength of the global warming theory. The science is on their side, and it’s their job to stick up for the science. Myers tries in his futile way to make it sound like some crime!

    However I do think the media are letting people talk past each other. Is it a purposeful bait and switch? Yes to some extent.

    So how does this work? The media are certainly turning the thing into a sport to entertain, and we see click bait article titles for the readers. Granted it’s fair to say media have to get peoples attention, but click bait is becoming too extreme, in my opinion, and in many cases titles to articles are blatantly false, emotive or misleading and of course people sometimes only read the titles. And click bait and other empty rhetoric is filtering into articles themselves as well, and this is when click bait starts to seriously degrade articles.

    And we have the false news issues and alternative facts. Just what climate science doesn’t need.

    And all we get are articles written by warmists and sceptics played off against each other. We have very few articles where the media evaluate the science in a responsible way, or ask the tough questions, and of both warmists and sceptics. But I think the media needs to look much harder at sceptical claims in this respect, as it is now well established that most of these have been provably deceitful or nonsense, or proven wrong when officially investigated (eg climate gate), so on that basis the media need to be putting them under far greater scrutiny.

    The media are in many ways perpetuating a false debate just to get readers.

    The media are either lazy, or captive to certain business orientated lobby groups, or both. Not all media are this way, and some media possibly favour environmentalism, but in my experience the majority of media are tilting towards corporate interests.

    And we are tired of false balance. Most climate scientists say we are warming the planet, (for example studies by Cooke, Doran, and several other studies of late) yet equal column space is often given to a few dissenting eccentrics, funded by groups with vested interests, and writing obviously deliberately provocative nonsense, that often has more to do with promoting some sceptics book.

    But regardless of media communications issues, Meyers is clearly shown to be completely wrong about the science.

  4. 4
    patrick says:

    > “What is not helpful” :: “Ignoring the danger. Normalizing nonsense. Going into hiding. False balance.”

    Let me repeat that, if it’s the last thing I do. Well done, Stefan–much needed, very helpful. Thanks for putting your powers of analysis on this. Every link is important.

  5. 5
    John Hartz says:

    Kudos for addressing this issue head-on!

    I have posted a link to it on the SkepticalScience Facebook page. It will appear at 9:00 PM US ET.

  6. 6
    John Hartz says:

    You’re in good company on this matter.

    Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel has compared US President Donald Trump’s move to censor environmental data with former Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s control of science in the USSR.

    Speaking at a Chief Scientists’ roundtable discussion at the Australian National University on Monday, Dr Finkel made his comments saying he was “going off topic” as “science is literally under attack”.

    Donald Trump reminiscent of Stalin says chief scientist Alan Finkel as science ‘literally under attack’ by Marcus Storm, Sydney Morning Herlad, Feb 6, 2017–literally-under-attack-20170206-gu6f5w.html

  7. 7
    Dennis N Horne says:

    A succinct and comprehensive review of the state of play. Unfortunately the problem is psychological, possibly psychiatric. I can understand people being bored and indifferent to the exhortations of scientists and others. What is impossible to deal with are people who have taken some time to look at the issue and decided they know more and better than the global community of scientists. They prefer the liars and deniers’ “explanations” of the science and evidence. These people are unhinged, no other word describes it, except perhaps “insane”.

  8. 8
    Arun says:

    “These intimidations have a chilling effect.”

    Nice turn of phrase in an article about global warming. :)

    Anyway, others have called Climategate a precursor to the successful manipulation of the recent POTUS elections.

  9. 9
    Dan Miller says:

    I like to fight back against deniers when I have the chance. Bill O’Keefe, CEO of the George C Marshall Institute (i.e., the prime Merchant of Doubt organization) posted some climate BS in an Our Energy Policy forum. I replied to debunk his cherry picking, red herrings, and outright lies.

  10. 10
    John Atkeison says:

    Bravo! Thank you.

  11. 11
    Jim Hunt says:

    Spot on Stefan. Well said sir!

    Would it interest you to learn that our in depth research into Alternative Fact generation techniques allowed us to “pre-bunk” the #ClimateGate2 announcements by ex Prof. Judy, David Rose and Lamar Smith?

    Would you like to observe or even collaborate on the project? You would be most welcome! Here’s our most recent news release:

    Kasia B. Turajczyk, Snow White and I would like to introduce you to our new international contemporary surrealist art in the community project.

    Alternative Facts Wetware™ (or #AFW™ for short).

    On the face of it, it looks as if it’s concerned with the absence of #AGW, but in actual fact it’s subtly, strangely, surreally, sinisterly different. We proudly present to you the pre-bunking of #NOAAGate:

    Beta Testing Snow White’s Alternative Fact Detector

    We have also recently registered and There’s not a lot to be seen there as yet, but there is this:

    Would you also be interested to learn that we have put the Climate Feedback takedown of David Rose’s recent article to the powers that be at the Mail on Sunday? Currently we are far from content with their response!

    Finally, and this is something I never thought I would ever hear myself say, I unexpectedly find myself in total agreement with the fragrant new FLOTUS. Melania is suing the Mail too!

    This has been a public service announcement. Thank you for your attention.

  12. 12
  13. 13
    Val Jobson says:

    Alberta has quite a few deniers active on the Internet and a popular recent myth is that Canada’s forests are carbon sinks which absorb 4 times as much carbon as Canada emits, based on figures a newspaper columnist got from some guy who was not a climate scientist.

    I’m sure that’s wrong, though I don’t know the correct numbers, but I usually link to the government website for Natural Resources Canada which discusses forest carbon and the carbon cycle and points out that sometimes forests act as sinks, sometimes as sources of carbon.

  14. 14
    silke says:

    Thanks for summing it up so nicely.

    For background on the machinations of big oil and particularly the ultra right / libertarian Koch Brothers billionaires I recommend Jane Mayer’s Dark Money. It also features an episode on Michael Mann.

    A half hour dive into these guys’ doings was done by the Baltimore-based RealNewsNetwork, narrated by British actor Emma Thompson:

  15. 15
    Slioch says:

    Very well said, Stefan.

    To everyone who reads this and understands this message: don’t just share it with a couple of like-minded colleagues. Use it! Post it on denialist websites and elsewhere along with a quote or two from it (people are, I think, far more likely to look at a link if their interest is first piqued by reading an extract from it).
    And if you are in a university or institute, press to develop an outreach policy to influence your local as well as national population. Draw up a rota to share the burden: this month Dr A or Prof B is expected to write at least one letter to the local press etc.. And, perhaps most importantly, when considering appointments or promotions, make it policy to look not only at academic work but also outreach work, as Peter Ward has been insisting for years.

  16. 16
    Slioch says:

    #3 nigelj: One point. Please don’t use the honourable descriptor “sceptic” to describe the liars, manipulators and misinformers to whom you refer.

  17. 17
    Thomas says:

    15 Slioch ***** Stars.

    but also outreach work, as Peter Ward has been insisting for years.

    eg 2013 How do we convince the populace this is real, it’s not theoretical. We are part of the problem. — (teaching?) That’s our little secret isn’t it?

  18. 18
    Ed Davies says:

    To what extent is the fake news specific to the English-speaking press? My impression is that, while it happens, it’s all a lot more fringe (AfD, etc) in German-speaking countries. Is that right?

    [Response: There is empirical evidence that indeed climate denial in the media is largely an anglosaxon phenomenon, see the study by James Painter. -stefan]

  19. 19
    nigelj says:

    Slioch @16, yes fair enough. My country tends to still use the term climate sceptics rather than denialists. Maybe it’s time we changed that.

    They stopped being true science sceptics some time ago, if they ever were, and denialist is a better term. Personally I think climate morons would be even better.

  20. 20
    Thomas says:

    18 Ed Davies To what extent is the fake news specific to the English-speaking press?

    As Stefan alludes that’s accurate, but again it depends on how you look at it. Pakistan and India (in educated circles in the millions) is also english speaking by default, there are others similar, singapore, hong kong elements south africa, and so on.

    There’s a much tighter element to this than merely english and it’s historical and it’s cultural, it’s empire, and that is very much plugged into economics and finance.

    So look closer and you will see the denier industry predominantly matches up with the 5 eyes + israel who are the 6 cornerstone nations of global intelligence operators in the western hemisphere and the globe.

    USA, UK, Canada, NZ and Australia, plus Israel. Follow the money honey and the MINDSET of superiority – the born to rule attitude from Birth. Once upon a time two thirds of the world map was Empire then Commonwealth Pink.

  21. 21
    Digby Scorgie says:

    nigelj @19

    Denier is shorter.

  22. 22
    nigelj says:

    Digby Scorgie @21

    Climate twits, or just Twits is even shorter. And has a handy double meaning.

    However, seriously, I’m totally happy with denier.

  23. 23
    Mal Adapted says:

    For once I actually read a comment by Thomas without a reference by another commentor. It’s one of the 10% of his that are worthwhile:

    :18 Ed Davies To what extent is the fake news specific to the English-speaking press?

    There’s a much tighter element to this than merely english and it’s historical and it’s cultural, it’s empire, and that is very much plugged into economics and finance.

    USA, UK, Canada, NZ and Australia, plus Israel. Follow the money honey and the MINDSET of superiority – the born to rule attitude from Birth. Once upon a time two thirds of the world map was Empire then Commonwealth Pink.

    He’s close to the truth here, IMHO. English-speaking people are a plurality in the “first world”, the nations that first industrialized by externalizing the climate change costs of “cheap” fossil fuels. We have a powerful motive to deny AGW: our comfort and convenience will be more expensive to maintain, in the short term at least, if AGW’s costs are internalized in energy prices. The people with the most to lose, of course, are the ones who got rich selling us all that cheap fossil carbon. As we’ve seen from accounts like Dark Money and Institutionalizing Delay, these people will gladly spend a fraction of their wealth to protect the rest, by funding the AGW-denier disinformation campaign.

  24. 24
    Jim Hunt says:

    I guess this question is for Stefan. I believe he’s one of the “powers that be” here at RealClimate?

    We’d like to reproduce some or all of this article at our shiny new, if somewhat surreal, web site. For some context please see:

    Would that be OK with you guys?

  25. 25
    Susan Anderson says:


    Unskeptical “skeptic” is more accurate. Real skeptics question their own assumptions as well as those of others, and actually look at the evidence. That would be the vast majority of skilled unbiased scientists worldwide in the variety of disciplines (note: discipline, that would be evidence-based) over time. No amount of fossil-fueled advocacy comes close to meeting the standards of intelligent and objective observation.

    Only in a sealed room is it possible to ignore the escalating consequences we face. I’ll say it once again, since language is imperfect, and every word a metaphor, this is a longer version which still needs definition of terms, but at least includes some of the obvious basic dynamics of how our earth works.

    We are accumulating heat-trapping greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, which are increasing the energy (heat) in our system (global warming), resulting in disruption of our planetary circulation (climate change).

    Scott Boulette @AlgoScott

    This should become a new meme – Alt facts peer reviewed by politicians, what could go wrong

  26. 26

    We have seen the face of evil, and it’s dismediation. We should all be pushing back on climate denialism at every opportunity. Great post!

  27. 27
    Thomas says:

    25 Susan Anderson: ***** Stars

    Really well said.

  28. 28
    nigelj says:

    Susan Anderson @25, I entirely agree.

    There is genuine healthy scepticism, and scepticism that becomes irrational scepticism. There is plenty of evidence of this that I will get to. I guess unsceptical scepticim is as good a term as any.

    We are all sceptics at some level. This is our protective mechanism against being tricked, or bad information, or dangerous potential threats to ourselves. But healthy scepticim is normally tempered with evidence and reason, and evenly applied, including to ones own thinking and weaknesses. The scientific method is good, because it encourages the healthy form of scepticism, that questions but using logic.

    The climate sceptics, or denialists if you prefer that term, are mostly not genuine sceptics. They are not self critical, or able to move on when certain things are established well beyond reasonable doubt. They are similar to flat earthers. I don’t want to be too inflammatory, but in some cases it has descended into complete lies, and blatant cherry picking, or highly deceitful arguments.This is not true scepticism of the healthy kind.

    The “unsceptical sceptics” or denialists are often provably associated with vested interests and political or ideological motivations, or both in combination.This combination seems to be associated with quite irrational types of scepticism. Some call this denialism and I’m happy with that to a point, but the average member of the public probably finds it rather heavy handed term?

    Obviously we have to fight back against all of this denialism or whatever you want to call it. I do my fair share sometimes on and elsewhere.

    I agree with your statement about energy accumulation, however I personally think most people do accept the science,as in me are warming the climate, at least in most countries. Various polls have shown this. America is an “outlier” or exception that has slipped back into denialism and the whole thing has become very politicised.

    I think the problem is largely more subtle, and a lack of firm action on climate change is more about doubts about severity of outcomes, and worries about costs, and the influence of vested interests, and political ideologies that are afraid of government controls. They clearly try to undermine the science due to these motivations.

    Just imagine hypothetically that if climate change could be fixed for almost no cost, with some simple filter you could put on your exhaust pipe, and I don’t think we would be having debates, and the whole issue would have been fixed by now. So money “has” to be a huge factor, and so part of the solution is showing people how much renewable energy has dropped in price. Of course this is not a science issue as such, or something scientists should have to do, but is worth mentioning, and all of us can at least talk to people we know.

    And of course costs means vested interests become a problem, and they must be exposed for what they are.

    But many of the issues I have mentioned are well understood, and don’t fully explain the situation and lack of progress. Governments often get their campaign funding from fossil fuel lobbies, and business interests. This is a serious impediment to progress, but there must be a solution to this.

  29. 29
    Ed Davies says:

    Stefan in reply to me@18, Thomas@20 and Mal Adapted@23:

    Yes, English speaking probably isn’t a good definition. Neither is Stefan’s anglosaxon (think of Herr Drumpf, for example (German and Celtic)). 5 Eyes is probably closest to what I was thinking of: particularly the UK, US and Australia. Perhaps it’s simply Murdoch-influenced places?

  30. 30
    David Stoney says:

    Very nice work, Stefan.

    I’ve read that, in private, many Republican legislators will admit that manmade climate change is real. Perhaps this is also true for the climate change denialist contingent in Trump’s White House. Could it be that such folks really believe it is too late to save the planet from severe effects of global warming and hence combatting it now is a waste of time and money? The Paris Accords are, after all, voluntary and no one can say whether or not our very best efforts/intentions to control global warming will suffice. Would not “America First and Strongest” be a seemingly sensible direction to take the country if one believed that destruction and chaos would likely rule the future? And, would not fantastical denials be preferable to admitting their true beliefs and to feeling the almost unbearable anxiety (angst) that erupts from the deep hominid unconscious at this phase of the Earth’s climate cycle?

    What are the odds that manmade global warming will be held to just the level necessary to prevent the next ice age without over-shooting and causing destruction and chaos? Not very good is my guess because coming to grips with the reality of our situation is so ego-dystonic, especially for conservatives.

    Nevertheless, perhaps a re-framing of the anthropogenic global warming issue as — within limits — a very desirable effect that will allow us to prevent the onset of another ice age would bring some folks around to a saner perspective. Who knows, recognizing that the high levels of dread that so many today feel have more to do with deep psychic scars left by the boom-bust cycles of the hominid past rather than perceived contemporary existential threats might prevent a prospective creation of original sin.

  31. 31
    Geek says:

    Thank you for a very interesting article. I am a climate postdoc and I came to this site to check climate research updates. I think this blog if fulfilling a very important niche.

    I agree with the author that checking the validity of all information we receive is paramount. Recently there has been a spike in alternative news so as a scientists we are heeded to maintain rational, objective view on things. This is the key to conducting good science.

    What I find disturbing is instead finding quotes like “annexation of Crimea” in this post. If we want to search from truth we need to start thinking much deeper. The roots for alternative facts go down much wider. For example, what is claimed by many to be an “annexation” was in fact a democratic referendum. In fact, 90% of current (Western) news is an alternative reality.

    The second point I want to make that as a scientists it is a good idea if science if not politicized. It is unexpected to see references to Trump and Brexit on a climate blog. While I understand that politics and science is interrelated, in my opinion science works best when the primary purpose of science is science. That is why I am going to keep doing my science thoroughly.

  32. 32
    Victor says:

    The Mice once called a meeting to decide on a plan to free themselves of their enemy, the Cat. At least they wished to find some way of knowing when she was coming, so they might have time to run away. Indeed, something had to be done, for they lived in such constant fear of her claws that they hardly dared stir from their dens by night or day.

    Many plans were discussed, but none of them was thought good enough. At last a very young Mouse got up and said:

    “I have a plan that seems very simple, but I know it will be successful. All we have to do is to hang a bell about the Cat’s neck. When we hear the bell ringing we will know immediately that our enemy is coming.”

    All the Mice were much surprised that they had not thought of such a plan before. But in the midst of the rejoicing over their good fortune, an old Mouse arose and said:

    “I will say that the plan of the young Mouse is very good. But let me ask one question: Who will bell the Cat?”

    (It is one thing to say that something should be done, but quite a different matter to do it.)

  33. 33
    patrick says:

    @12 pretzelattack: Pretzel, indeed. And fitting for dezinformatsiya, which chases itself around like it meant something. The word, dezinformatsiya, is helpful because it points to the origin of the term and because it easily implies the kind of sustained all-platforms disinformation campaign we have seen against climate science. And which we continue to see.

    Happy Valentine’s day:

    What a beautiful friendship. And how nice of KGB-FSB V. Putin to release the good news just when he needs a potent distractor from the fact that yes an ambassador and a future security advisor–between friends–shared with each other on reduction or removal of sanctions…as any informed and reasonable look at it will have to say, I think.

    How do we know? We know because when two semi-permanent diplomatic ‘nests of spies’ were closed at the end of last year in the U.S. (to add to sanctions already in place), there was no tit-for-tat expulsion of U.S. diplomats from Russia. This could not happen unless there were clear expectations that sanctions were going to be reduced/removed fairly soon, I think.

    This is audio and transcript of a Jan 26 interview with Guardian correspondent Luke Harding, who was a correspondent in Moscow from 2007 to 2011, when he was deported:

    What does it have to do with climate science? It adds context and conviction to what’s known about the hacking of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in 2009. Going back to 6 Dec 2009:

    “The leaked mails…were originally posted on a server in the Siberian city of Tomsk, at a firm called Tomcity, an internet security business.

    “The FSB security services, descendants of the KGB, are believed to invest significant resources in hackers, and the Tomsk office has a record of issuing statements congratulating local students on hacks aimed at anti-Russian voices…”

    ” ‘It’s very common for hackers in Russia to be paid for their services,’ Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, the vice chairman of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, said in Copenhagen at the weekend. ‘It’s a carefully made selection of emails and documents that’s not random. This is 13 years of data, and it’s not a job of amateurs.’ ”

    “Anonymous ‘others’ in the IPCC have gone further, pinning the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Russian secret services, aka the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB), reports Walker.”

    Part and parcel of the professional footprint of the attack was its timing–with the result of falsely discrediting the IPCC by association and distracting from important IPCC related news.

    Dana Nuccitelli (22 Dec 2016) for the Guardian and Skeptical Science:

    The Luke Harding interview is instructive and helpful on dezinformatsiya, for instance:

    “The goal is essentially to persuade some people that the Kremlin’s view of events is true, but also to kind of confuse and bamboozle everybody else by floating conspiracy theories, so there are 10 different explanations for an event, by doing fake news, by hiring armies of trolls. … And so it’s clever, it’s clever because it allows, actually, the Russian regime to get away with all sorts of things, and increasingly, I guess, exploiting the openness of Western societies and America in particular.” –Luke Harding

  34. 34
    patrick says:

    28 nigelj > The climate sceptics, or denialists if you prefer that term, are mostly not genuine sceptics. They are not self critical, or able to move on when certain things are established well beyond reasonable doubt. They are similar to flat earthers.

    And I, too, entirely agree. –What’s the difference between a sceptic and a scientist? Answer: A scientist is a sceptic with a sense of humor.

    When this first occurred to me, it seemed to be simply the summary of what I was seeing and hearing. It’s important to hold the -ist and the -er separate from the -ism, I think. Just wait till you meet a truther.

  35. 35
    Geek says:

    On a more thorough reading of the original post, I apologize for the slightly grumpy original response (I just skimmed the post the first time). I think I more fully understand the motivation for the post, and indeed the urgent need to distinguish truthful news from misinformation. I agree that as climate scientists it also behooves us to illuminate and enlighten in scientific discourse, using facts and quality information in our defense. Apart from marginally relevant Crimea references, many thanks to the author, whoever s/he is, for an excellent post.

  36. 36
  37. 37
    patrick says:

    Here’s Graham Readfearn on Happer:

    All in all, human beings weren’t around on “the planet” which Happer says “flourished” with higher levels of atmospheric CO2; sea levels were higher–which Happer ignores; and the hydrological cycle was more intense and volatile–which Happer ignores.

    Where the hydrological cycle is going now–for the planet and for its billions of humans–is seen in events like those at the Oroville dam right now. Every detail of this story is instructive. And they are the kind of dirty details (e.g., costs, costs, costs) that show how out of touch Happer (and his “planet”) are, with the planet now, I think.

  38. 38
    Russell says:

    “Stir up hate, destroy discourse, make insane claims until no one can distinguish the most bizarre absurdity from the truth any more.

    Thus the Austrian author Robert Misik aptly describes the strategy of right-wing populists.”

    When will Stefan get around to their activist opposite numbers on the Capitalocene, Necrocene and Chthulucene left ?

  39. 39
    TTT says:

    I just happened to see this on the internet, so just my 2c.
    Foxnews Tucker & Bill Nye. (in case the link didn’t work)

    Mr. Nye has fallen into one of the false equivalency arguments. Mr. Tucker’s argument (question) was “if the science was settled” he should be able to tell him ‘exactly’ how much humans are responsible for warming. He was looking for absolute as usual, the exact numbers, 100%, 90%, 50%? Of course, Bill can’t. Therefore it is not settled, although that was his assertion of the word “settled”. Which means we don’t know everything (insinuate nada). Once “don’t know (absolutely)” is established he could put the doubts in anywhere he wants. Here, he doesn’t need to explain anything, he simply has questions (doubts).

    Unfortunately, Mr. Nye sounded or evaded to answer directly to that question. And Tucker smelled the blood and kept at it. It made the impression that Bill was avoiding the question because he can’t answer the question because we don’t know, science doesn’t know how much, maybe humans are not affecting any.
    You must directly answer the question even though the question themselves are not fair or unreasonable.
    It’d better if you could articulate the question better, in more reasonable ways, then answer directly even if your answer is not a good one. This is not about the science but the impressions (to the audience, the general public) There’re not enough time to explain the whole thing properly but you don’t want to leave an impression you’re avoiding to answer. Once you looked so no matter how much you say anything else it wouldn’t matter. Nobody is listening to you. One piece at a time.
    I’m not knowledgeable enough nor capable enough but I would have answered this way. First, I ask him if agreed Newton’s laws are a settled science. We use the laws to design buildings, bridges, cars, airplanes, sending spaceships, space probes Moon, Mars, Pluto. Are the Newton’s laws settled enough science? In the similar ways, the core science behind global warming, climate change are settled though we can’t tell you exactly how many years how much climate will change or exactly where. However, we know warming will continue and climate will change a lot faster than nature would have been without human activities. We’re talking abou in decades, not centuries and millennia’s. Just my 2c.

  40. 40
    Jeff says:

    Given the fact that meteorologists cannot predict the weather any more than 80% accuracy, why are we to believe that the science behind climatology, which is far more complex than meteorology is any better?

    Are we to believe that the science dropouts go into meteorology while the real deal goes into climatology? It is laughable at best. I get that you have links to data, but so do the meteorologists…and they are still wrong with their conclusions. Nobody has more data than meteorologists, in fact!

    Also, more to the point, most agree climate change is real. But what has science helped us to learn that can be done about it? So little data. China invested billions…how many Parts per million has CO2 been reduced since? If we invest “x” billion dollars, what is our return on investment. Scientists are nowhere close to agreement on this, and as such, the data is quite worthless.

  41. 41
    John Pollack says:

    Jeff @40, your analogy doesn’t hold up. I’m a meteorologist of the weather forecaster variety. Maybe my overall accuracy by some measure is 80%, but it depends on how you measure accuracy. If you want to know how much snow the approaching winter storm will drop in your driveway to the nearest inch or cm, I’m well under 80%, but if you want to be clued in that a large and dangerous storm will really make travel dangerous tomorrow, when the sun is shining today, I’m a lot better than 80%. That’s useful information, even if you won’t know how many dollars to invest in a snow blower.

    It’s similar with climate. The overall outlook is global warming, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, more extreme precipitation events, and changing ocean currents, with the severity depending on rising levels of greenhouse gases. It’s an extremely robust outlook. On a large scale, and over the decades, we won’t escape the “climate storm” although we can take some protective measures by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

    If you want to know the year that climate change will bring disaster to your home, the climate scientists can’t help you. They can tell you that you can run, but you can’t hide, as long as those greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere. So, don’t invest in running. Invest in getting us to a renewable economy, ASAP.

  42. 42
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Given that a stock broker cannot tell me the exact closing price of Amazon stock tomorrow afternoon, and given that the companies trading stock on the market as a whole are much more complicated than Amazon, why should you invest in the stock market?

    Let me know when you figure it out…or just call your broker and tell him to sell.

    Hint: Averages are easier to predict than individuals.

    Jeff: “Are we to believe that the science dropouts go into meteorology while the real deal goes into climatology?”

    I don’t know. Are you a meteorologist?

  43. 43

    J 40: Given the fact that meteorologists cannot predict the weather any more than 80% accuracy, why are we to believe that the science behind climatology, which is far more complex than meteorology is any better?

    BPL: Weather and climate are two different things. Weather is local, day-to-day variation in temperature, pressure, rainfall, cloud cover, wind velocity and direction, etc. It is chaotic and cannot be predicted more than two weeks or so in advance. Climate, on the other hand, is a statistical average of weather over a large region, or the entirely globe, for thirty years or more. It can be predicted for very long periods of time.

    Another way to put it is that weather is an initial values problem, while climate is a boundary values problem.

    Here are some examples to distinguish the two. I don’t know what the temperature will be on March 3rd in Pittsburgh (weather). But I can safely bet that it will be cooler than on August 3rd (climate). I don’t know what the temperature will be in Cairo, Egypt tomorrow (weather). But I can safely bet that it will be warmer than in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica (climate).

  44. 44
    TTT says:

    Sorry I didn’t articulate well enough. What I meant by Newton’s laws was it’s not absolutely 100% accurate but accurate enough. But I admit it wasn’t a good analogy. I sound like I’m concerned too much. It was trivial. Maybe so but I think because Bill is famous and visible so the impression matters.
    People want to believe wishful things. When I used to smoke I used to tell myself it’s not that bad though I knew smoking was bad. So now because of the new administration these denial talking points have started to come out more freely now. Thing is I believe the tide has turned and people now know what climate change is and it is real, but still tend to believe it can’t be that bad so we wouldn’t have to do anything. With the more talking points the sentiment will shift back. With this new administration with these cabinet members, the public sentiments are the all we have. We need to push back the false rhetrics and narratives. That is not only for climate change but also for Evolution and science as a whole for that matter.
    How about, we have the seasons, July it’s hot, January it’s cold. It’s a natural cycle but now we know the science reasons behind the why it is so. The earth goes around the sun and she is tilted. We can say it’s hot in July and cold in January scientifically and because of that we can also say it’s cold in Australia in July. It’s settled in science but we can’t say exactly what temp will be on July 4th anywhere around the world. Something like that? As I said I don’t know well enough for the task.

  45. 45
    Brian Dodge says:

    “Given the fact that meteorologists cannot predict the weather any more than 80% accuracy, why are we to believe that the science behind climatology, which is far more complex than meteorology is any better?”
    Dunning-Kruger “skeptics” probably think they know what they’re talking about when they say “80% accuracy”, or when they point out that rolls of the dice are (for fair dice) completely random, therefore craps cant be profitably predicted. The Mirage earned more than $100 million last year, the MGM Grand more than $200 million, the Venetian and Palazzo more than $300 million, the Bellagio more than $400 million, and Wynn Las Vegas more than $500 million; Trump casinos, not so much. (you can look this stuff up). Of course, managing to do this requires extensive knowledge of the intricacies of gambling, tourism, mathematics, and statistics, as well as where the psychological sweet spot for the most profitable amount you can fleece people who think they’re smarter than you.

    ” Scientists are nowhere close to agreement on this, and as such, the data is quite worthless.” How much more do you wannah bet? (Electing Donald “global warming is a Chines hoax” Trump was a multitrillion dollar first wager)

  46. 46
    Ric Merritt says:

    Given the fact that meteorologists cannot predict the weather with extremely high accuracy, and in particular cannot predict in January much about the weather for July, then of course there’s no basis for saying that my weather in northern US will be warmer in July than in January. Right???

  47. 47
    Mal Adapted says:

    Not to pile on Jeff, but his comment @40 is as fine a specimen of the argument from incredulity as I’ve seen.

  48. 48
    nigelj says:

    Jeff @40, meteorologists having 80% accuracy is actually pretty good, so if climate predictions have been 80% accurate, that’s good.

    In any event predicting climate is easier than predicting weather. Weather has an element of chaos which means 100% certainty is impossible.

    “Are we to believe that the science dropouts go into meteorology while the real deal goes into climatology?”

    To some extent yes. The best students probably tend to go into research.

  49. 49
    Keith Woollard says:

    All of these responses to Jeff valid point are just ridiculous. They would be valid if climate science just relied on on simple physics and stuck with no feedbacks. I would be happy to believe statements like
    “In 100 years if the CO2 level doubled then the average temperature of the earth will be 1 degree higher”
    But that isn’t what is said.
    Climate modelling is exactly the same process as weather modelling. Take a current state, move all the grid cells forward one step in time, recalc and start again.
    It is ONLY the models and the concept of +ve feedbacks that makes AGW a problem.
    The argument that you are only predicting an average and therefore it is easier is rubbish.

    And the real gem “In any event predicting climate is easier than predicting weather. Weather has an element of chaos” – laughable

    I live in Perth, the weather comes from the west across 6500km of unbroken ocean. It must be the easiest place in the world to forecast….. but the 5 day forecast is only accurate to 3 degrees 60% of the time. Yes it is hard, but climate is harder. It is a much larger time and space frame with many more variables.

  50. 50
    Ric Merritt says:

    Keith Woollard, currently #49:

    Well, there might be a “valid point” down in there somewhere, but you and Jeff have buried any such so deeply underneath an avalanche of willful ignorance that you are understandably catching a lot of completely justified flak.

    If you actually want to have an adult conversation about modeling, something you’ve shown little evidence of to date, you’ll want to deal with the many predictive successes to date of climate modeling. They’ve been pointed out repeatedly by posts on this blog. Go read, then talk.

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