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“Making Sense of Climate Denial” June 8, 2015

Posted by wmmbb in CLIMATE CHANGE.

Several arguments have been proposed to deny the implications of climate change, its scientific causality and its political implications. Often, and contrary to expectations the proponents of climate science denial are capable scientific and mathematical reasoners. This was supported in this research by Kahan et al. The implication is that scientific denial arises from motivated reasoning. Rather than to be dismissive of others such an observation might illuminate a greater sense of self awareness.

The conditions for scientific understanding of the climate, that should inform public policy, are that must be evidence-based They must be developed from empirically established principles, for example the dynamics of heat transfer and fluid dynamics – the principles if we were paying attention we might have learnt in secondary school physics. Furthermore that they must be robust, consistent and resilient with diverse sets of observations undertaken in different setting and by different scientists with different backgrounds. I chose to describe this as the deductive-inductive related approach.The particular contribution that Physics makes is that adds measurement, quantification and statistical analysis. It is not enough to say that the majority of research climate scientists are in agreement about the critical role of carbon dioxide in climate change, but there should be an appraisal of the certainty of the conclusion.

Climate denial invokes the rejection of the scientific consensus, and thus inviting a limited public policy response the the problems of human well being presented by a global problem. It is argued that climate science denial is based on a perceived threat to a worldview, typically involving free market economics. Secondly psychological research suggests that true believers not only will reject the established science but holding their pre-existing beliefs more strongly, a process called “the backfire effect”.

There is no question about the excellence of the presentation, except that the science is probably wrong in every instance. His mistake like mine was not to present the case for the importance of atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. John Coleman presents his case in this video. He probably meets every box for excellence of presentation:

There is a procedure for refuting scientific stories for the undecided people in the audience. This consists of presenting the fact, identifying the fiction and then describing the fallacy or fallacies.

The fact is that overall global temperatures can be more reliably demonstrated to be hotter than the Medieval optimum. John Coleman, weather presenter, presented the “hard cold facts” for television. The presentation can be seen on this video, “How the Global Warming Scare Began”. This is a source is composed entirely of fictions. The one that caught my attention concerned the Medieval Warming Period. A graph is shown at (7:26) which compares the Medieval Optimum with as higher than recent decades.

The false argument represented here arises from the representation of the evidence. There is a proposition that the climate has always changed, and that the changes observed after the onset of industrialization do not represent rapid, dramatic change in the Earth’s climate system.The implication that these observed changes do not represent system change. It is proposed that observed changes can be explained by naturally caused variation. A simple example of system change would be a change in the length of the thread of the central moving part of a wind chime, or the size of its surface area, while all other parts remain the same. In a dynamic system such a change influences all other inter-relations and interactions. Generally, more can be known about the system change than its potential implications. So the argument runs the Medieval Optimum was warmer than the prior and following climate, and since this can be explained by natural variation, the same applies to the present climate.

The graph is attractive and simple, so it reflects all the good aspects of effective communication. There are a number of considerations that are apparent on reflection. When presented with information of alleged truths represented by graphical evidence it can be hard to discern the facts. Scientific information is typically qualified. Obviously, the information in this graph is based on reconstructed data. Other things being equal, and in the absence of error bars, to illustrate uncertainly like the location of an election within an atom, the observed temperature record of sea and land temperatures will be more reliable. These have been made more reliable in recent years by better cross-checked measurements, including satellite data, sea buoys, and the land temperature record. On this particular graph these records are missing, or apparently are recorded up to 1950, so the most recent and more reliably measured record of global warming is ignored, creating an illusion that Medieval temperatures were far hotter. Recent temperature records are the standard by which proxy data sources are evaluated. Thus their absence seriously misrepresents the process.

Another qualification that should be made in any presentation of the Medieval Warming Period is the consideration as to whether it was a local regional temperature effect limited to North West Europe and the North Atlantic. The graph needs to represent proxy data from other areas. The Southern Hemisphere might be a problem in terms of human settlement and records. Most famously there was the settlement of what Eric the Red significantly called Greenland. One of the last church records shows a Norse wedding in 1408.

The evidence shows that climate change did occur. Critically, the question is what caused the changes. Global climate change requires system change. Sources of system change include volcanic eruptions and changes in the earth’s axis of rotation and orbit around the sun. Deforestation is another system change, as is reforestation,which reflect human activities.

I am picking on one relatively small piece of evidence. By doing so I am illustrating the strength of the presentation as a whole, but showing it short coming from a person who has claimed to be a scientist. The flaws are misrepresentation of science by not including all the important qualifications, and allowing the casual uninformed viewer, such as me, to jump to unwarranted conclusions that reinforce an incorrect scientific story supporting inappropriate public policy, by presenting selective information in this graph.

Looking at the presentation as a whole, all the characteristics of climate change denial might be identified, including claims by a false expert and a conspiracy theory.

On reflection I have have not done a good job of presenting the scientific evidence. The reason might because I am struggling to understand it myself. I should have global warming and climate change. I should have identified some of the multiple lines of separate scientific observations that independently support the theory of global warming. This is known as “consilience of evidence”. Still the process is that mistakes are made, and then learning can occur.

Our stories about the environment and the ecology are important. We can at least make them scientific vald within existing understanding and subject to uncertainty.


1. wmmbb - June 10, 2015

Here is my self assessment. I took the invitation offered to be tendentious.

    Self Assessment:

I did follow the Fact-Fiction-Fallacy approach. I read the instructions. This needed to emphasize that current temperatures in comparison to the Medieval Optimum. I am not a good judge as to whether it is good or needs major improvement. Therefore: 3/6

Sticky Science. The problem with Mr Coleman is not his presentation skills, but his to represent the climate science evidence. I picked on one graph among many that stuck in mind. How could it be that the Medieval Optimum was warmer than current the current temperature record. The simple reason was this record was missing. I tried to engage in illustrating the influence of system change within the climate system: a more dynamic system might be expected to also change the dynamics of the system, and thus influence “natural variation” (a term that should always be carefully defined). The wind chime was a way of illustrating this principle that I hoped people might relate. Therefore, being generous 4/6 here. (I hope you are recognizing the trend, which always is relevant to climate science).

Flu Shot (ie inoculation against erroneous beliefs, often intentionally represented). This is the most important aspect. What I have said here is look at graphical representation of data. Typically scientists will explain what the graph means, describe the data source eg tree rings, written records, and what limitations the data might have, such as range and global coverage. It is important to describe the fiction, and the fallacy it represents. The other aspect is to confirm the logical short coming. This graph is a misrepresentation creating an impression that allows me as the viewer to jump to unwarranted conclusions. At least I got some inoculation. I will be generous to myself again: 8/12.

Convincing Counter: This was a very easy target, so the changes of hitting are high. In other parts of Mr Coleman’s presentation is that he has the contemporary record. Two things: in communication you are looking for the take away message, those few things that will be remembered, and you need a related story, not just a Gish Gallop. Any apparent misrepresentation, even in a compelling presentation should be identified. For some reason (I don’t remember why, this record stopped in 1950). My argument was convincing to me and I so as the assessor here I will again be generous: 5/6

In summary, total mark is: 20/30.

That represents a needs improvement. How could that be achieved? Improvement requires more practice. My suggestion for the course is that Fact-Fiction-Fallacy approach should be practiced actively by the students almost from the beginning, even when I do not have a fuller understanding. At least I would have greatly benefited.
Otherwise, I thought the course was very good. I do not have good strategies for information overload. The video interviews were very good. I am a little concerned that access to the references will lost.

But one thing concerning the software – amazing I should bring that up – I found that I have to copy and paste onto the platform to type comfortably.

Thank you to everyone involved, including the University of Queensland. I trust the hard work for the global common good is rewarded. I did not just learn about climate Science, I got an appreciation of physics.

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