There is good material in the denialist blog 1 by Mark and Chris Hoofnagle. They are interested in subjects like Creationism, wherein “deniers” reject an overwhelming scientific consensus. They give tips on recognizing denial including: claiming as experts people who are unqualified, confusing popular opinion with scientific opinion, inventing conspiracies to explain consensus, selective reference to scientific evidence, and misstatement of the scientific theory by the deniers of it. They are right about these tip offs. They are, I believe, wrong about some important things, including global warming.
The reason I am arguing the point here is that another one of the principles they are wrong about is refusing to argue any subject upon which they deem the issue settled, on the grounds that it is futile to argue with a denier. They are wrong about that refusal to debate for several reasons that I have given separately in Why Argue Conspiracy Theories? I am willing to argue against 9/11 Conspiracy Theory or against Creationism or whatever, based solely on the facts, without relying upon any inherent belief in how obviously correct I am. That’s the way it should be done.
None of what follows bears directly on the truth of falsity of the theory of human-caused global warming. I have no doubt that scientists using ordinary scientific methods will eventually get us to a 99+% consensus. Here the question is whether that level of consensus has yet been reached, and what evidence is offered to say that it has. Even when a nearly unanimous consensus is reached on a theory, that is not a guarantee that the theory is correct. New data can always trigger a retrial. But a high degree of consensus is the best we can do for public policy considerations.
denialist blog heaps praise 2 upon Naomi Oreskes, a professor of history, who presents the case that Global Warming denial meets the definition of “denialism” as propounded. Oreskes “History of Global Warming Denial” is presented in a an hour-long YouTube video.3 I recommend you watch it, but bear with me as I first point out some things to look for.
What I point out are her uses of the standard methods of denialism, largely as itemized by the Hoofnagles.
1. What constitutes a “scientific consensus” is undefined, and there is no scientific proof given of the nature of the current consensus. In the 1960’s there was a consensus among astrophysicists that the Steady State Theory of the Universe was correct. The consensus was at about the 60 percent level, or perhaps higher. The minority position was the Big Bang Theory. The issue continued to be examined, quite civilly, and new evidence emerged that has swung the consensus strongly over to the Big Bang side.
In the case of Creationism, the best polling data I can find is that 99.86% of earth and life scientists believe that the Theory of Evolution is correct, and not Creationism. That is quite different from a 60/40 split.
The best polling data I can find on global warming being human-caused rather than natural is about a 60/40 split among relevant scientists. So if a 60% consensus is enough to cast out dissenters as “deniers” who should not be argued with, should not the Big Bang proponents have been sent to Siberia as well?
One way that Dr. Oreskes and the Hoofnagles can answer this objection is to produce a poll that shows that 99.86% of atmospheric scientists, or some similar high percentage, have little or no doubt that global warming is human-caused. It is, by the way, not too difficult to compose a list of hundreds of Ph.D. scientists who do not accept the CO2 theory, and the field of atmospheric science is not very large. 4
2. Dr. Oreskes confuses the long existence of a theory with its being accepted as a consensus. Many incorrect scientific theories existed for quite some time, many existing with a consensus and some without consensus. The theory of the ether had a lingering consensus, but it has no scientific backers now. Pointing to human-induced global warming theory as having a lengthy history does nothing to establish it as the current consensus. The theory of the ether may have achieved 99% consensus, but it was nonetheless untrue. Perhaps if Michelson-Morley, who disproved the theory of the ether, had been properly denounced as denialists …
3. How did Dr. Oreskes attempt to prove consensus? With popular press articles, by citing various politicians, and by polls of the populace. Astrology could be proved by that method. She did a separate study, not referenced in the video, proving that if you search only certain journals using certain key words over a certain time, that you come up with “no scientific dissent.” There were numerous articles proposing alternative explanations of global warming and other articles producing data contrary to the theory, but they didn’t count, you see, because they were out of bounds of the particular search keywords used for the particular journals. A simple poll would have been far more accurate and far more convincing. whatever it revealed.
4. She misstates the opposing theory. She gives the impression that most global warming deniers deny that global warming exists, except maybe for a few who have cracked under the weight of the evidence. The author of “The Deniers”5, a book that discusses global warming denial at length, states that he could not find a single denier that denies that global warming exists. The common denial theory is that the earth has been warming since about 1800, now continues at the same rate, and that the warming is natural.
5. Oreskes is enormously selective of scientific evidence. She notes correctly that the earth was found to have been warming from 1900 through the 1930’s, but omits that it cooled from the 30’s through the 70’s. She provides an early prediction that the streets of London will be awash with with sea water, but omits that the current IPCC report predicts a nine inch rise in sea level over the next hundred years. It was 7 inches over the past hundred.
6. She blames denial on a conspiracy organized by something called the Marshall Fund, who undertakes publicizing global warming dissent. She ignores much larger organizations who have set about to publicize human global warming consensus. Thus we must believe that advocacy is good if you are the correct side of the issue, but is proof of deviousness if you are on the wrong side. In fact, the existence of advocacy groups says nothing one way or another about whether there is a consensus or not, or how much of a consensus.
There are dozens of books written by scientists from all over the world who spell out the case against CO2-dominated global warming. The case is argued by scientists with reference to the scientific literature. The Marshall Fund is an advocacy group for sure, but there are much larger advocacy groups pushing human-caused global warming theory.
7. Dr. Oreskes launches ad hom attacks on two of the scientists who are deniers. This is a clear attempt to discredit all deniers. Her method is to suppose that they denied that smoking causes cancer, a field outside of their specialty in atmospheric physics, and therefore they cannot be trusted on anything. In the case of Dr. Singer, he denied acute health risks of second hand smoke, which is more readily arguable.
Great scientists often take wildly erroneous positions when they get out of their fields of specialization. Linus Pauling was a Nobel chemist who had a false belief that vitamin C cured a great variety of afflictions, which it doesn’t. William Shockley invented the transistor, but had errant beliefs in “scientific racism.” Errant beliefs out of an area of expertise actually does not diminish expertise in their fields. Note that the man who proved that smoking caused cancer started out his study as a smoker. What is obvious now was not always obvious.
The hundreds of other well-qualified scientists who do not subscribe to CO2 global warming are only addressed by implication. Shall we find two environmentalists with odd opinions outside of their area of expertise and try to put every environmentalist in that category? The method is grossly dishonest.
If you like, watch the video of Dr. Oreskes and mentally note every use of the tactics which are attributed to deniers. For bonus points you can note incidentals, like her assuming that physicists would know anything about the functioning of the Strategic Defense Initiative. SDI is about as far from from physics as cancer is from climate science.
By the way, would we expect a professor of history to be able to sort scientific papers into categories supporting and opposing human-caused global warming theory? Papers are usually on very narrow topics not easily related to the overall subject. The global warming “hockey stick” theory, since disproved, denied the existence of the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age. About a hundred papers in the field of paleoclimatology contradicted the hockey stick, but none were recognized as being opposed to the then-current version of CO2-induced global warming.
1. denialism blog
3. Naomi Oreskes, The American Denial of Global Warming
4. Senator Inhofe published a list of 413 claimed scientists who deny global warming. Of the 413, critics claim that 134 are not really atmospheric scientists. Accepting that leaves 279 who are vetted by critics as being atmospheric scientists. The IPCC report lists about 2500 scientists subscribing to CO2 theory, of which IPCC critics claim 75% are not atmospheric scientists. It takes considerably more gumption to publicly oppose CO2 theory than support it.