Tag Archives: Denial

Ask Exxon

Remember the revelation back a year or so ago that Exxon Mobil knew all about the likely effects of the global warming they contributed to, and the subsequent denials by Exxon that this was not true, yada yada yada?

A paper has just come out that confirms what we all said then. From the abstract:

This paper assesses whether ExxonMobil Corporation has in the past misled the general public about climate change. We present an empirical document-by-document textual content analysis and comparison of 187 climate change communications from ExxonMobil, including peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed publications, internal company documents, and paid, editorial-style advertisements (‘advertorials’) in The New York Times. We examine whether these communications sent consistent messages about the state of climate science and its implications—specifically, we compare their positions on climate change as real, human-caused, serious, and solvable. In all four cases, we find that as documents become more publicly accessible, they increasingly communicate doubt. This discrepancy is most pronounced between advertorials and all other documents. For example, accounting for expressions of reasonable doubt, 83% of peer-reviewed papers and 80% of internal documents acknowledge that climate change is real and human-caused, yet only 12% of advertorials do so, with 81% instead expressing doubt. We conclude that ExxonMobil contributed to advancing climate science—by way of its scientists’ academic publications—but promoted doubt about it in advertorials. Given this discrepancy, we conclude that ExxonMobil misled the public. Our content analysis also examines ExxonMobil’s discussion of the risks of stranded fossil fuel assets. We find the topic discussed and sometimes quantified in 24 documents of various types, but absent from advertorials. Finally, based on the available documents, we outline ExxonMobil’s strategic approach to climate change research and communication, which helps to contextualize our findings.

The article is free and open access so you can read the whole thing!

Assessing ExxonMobil’s climate change communications (1977–2014), Geoffrey Supran1 and Naomi Oreskes Published 23 August 2017

My letter to the New York Times

The New York Times
Elizabeth Spayed, Public Editor

Dear Elizabeth,

I am writing to express my concern for the addition of Bret Stephens to the NYT team as a columnist.

I don’t expect a columnist who seemingly writes about everything to be wrong about nothing. But the Gray Lady should, at the very least, expect a columnist to know something about something.

Stephens doesn’t simply express opinions that are not popular in certain, many, circles. He attempts to support his opinions with what we now seem to be calling alt-facts.

For example, his opinion about the importance of climate change is that we don’t know what climate change will really do, if it will really do anything, or when. He supports this idea by asserting that there is too much uncertainty in the science for us to know.

Elizabeth, you must know that science is nothing if it is not the study of variation in nature and its causes and properties. While the public face of many scientific findings is often the trend line showing the relationship between two variables, much of the science itself is about the uncertainty around that trend line; measuring, understanding the limits and extent of, and grappling with uncertainty is what scientists do.

As a scientist (not a climate scientist, though I’ve published in that area) and a science communicator, I can tell you that when Mr. Stephens makes the claim that there is too much uncertainty about anthropogenic climate change to say much about it, he is simply wrong. He does not know the science, he has made up this thing that looks like a fact, and he has used it to buttress absurd arguments, and you, the New York Times, is now set to be a vehicle for passing this misinformation on to the general public.

Many of my friends and colleagues have unsubscribed to the New York Times over this. I have not. Rather, I was just about to subscribe, as part of my overall effort to support good journalism in the Trump Era. In the past few weeks I’ve subscribed to my local paper, my regional paper, and one national paper (Washington Post) and I was just about to add the New York Times to that list. But now I can’t ethically do so, even though much of your other science coverage is pretty good, and even tough I grew up on the New York Times Science Section (remember that?).

But this probable drop in subscription is nothing to you, because trends in the business side of the NYT operation are much larger and more complex than many, if not most, of the world’s climate scientists dropping off your list over the addition of Bret Stephens to your staff. The bigger problem is this: The New York Times editorial staff has lost our respect.

I look forward to your prompt and decisive attention to this manner, and the quick repair of the mistake the NYT has made.


Greg Laden, PhD.

The Inconceivably Bogus Republican Science Committee Hearings

Last week, House Representative Lamar Smith held yet another masturbatory hearing to promote climate science denial. Smith is bought and paid for by Big Oil, so that is the most obvious reason he and his Republican colleagues would put on such a dog and pony show, complete with a chorus of three science deniers (Judith Curry, Roger Pielke Jr, and John Cristy). I don’t know why they invited actual and respected climate scientist Mike Mann, because all he did was ruin everything by stating facts, dispelling alt-facts, and making well timed Princess Bride references.

The hearings were called “Full Committee Hearing- Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications, and the Scientific Method.”

Several others, including specialized climate science writers as well as mainstream media, have written about the hearings:

<li><strong>Dana Nuccitelli at the Guardian:</strong> <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2017/apr/04/inconceivable-the-latest-theatrical-house-science-committee-hearing">Inconceivable! The latest theatrical House 'Science' committee hearing</a></li>

… as is usually the case in these hearings, despite being presented with the opportunity to learn from climate experts, most of the committee members seemed more interested in expressing their beliefs, however uninformed they might be.

At the 2:04:05 mark in the hearing video, Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL) provided a perfect example … asking witness Judith Curry what causes ice ages (Milankovich cycles, which we’ve known for nearly 100 years), so that he could make the point that natural factors caused past climate changes – a point that usually leads to a common logical fallacy (presented here in cartoon form).

Webster proceeded to claim it was “the standard belief of most scientists” in the 1970s that the Earth was headed into an ice age.

This has been discussed at length on this blog, see especially this guest post. It is indeed true that back in the 1960s (and a little ways into the 70s) climate scientists considered cooling as well as warming for future scenarios. As Dana points out in his post, this was partly due to the consideration of aerosols (dust) that might cause a cooling effect sufficient to push us into an ice age. But it has been understood for much longer that the most likely scenario was not cooling, but warming, if we keep putting greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.

<li><strong>Ben Jervey</strong> at Desmog: <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2017/03/29/house-science-committee-hearing-lamar-smith-michael-mann-climate-consensus-deniers">House Science Committee Hearing Pits Three Fringe Climate Deniers Against Mainstream Climate Scientist Michael Mann</a></li>

Ben nots that the intent of these hearings, despite the alt-reasons given by the chair, was to provide a platform for the tiny number of scientists (plus Roger) with positions that must be regarded as firmly in the science denial camp.

Besides Dr. Mann (author of The Madhouse Effect) the other three experts will all be familiar to DeSmog readers:

  • Dr. Judith Curry, a former professor at the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who has since resigned to focus on her private business, Climate Forecast Applications Network. Curry has admitted to receiving funding from fossil fuel companies while at Georgia Tech, and she is frequently cited and quoted by climate skeptic blogs and fossil fuel-funded politicians for her stance that the climate is “always changing.”
  • Dr. John Christy, a professor of atmospheric science and Director of the Earth System Science Center of the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and the official Alabama State Climatologist since November 2000, who routinely critiques climate modeling and has sung the praises of carbon dioxide.
  • Dr. Roger Pielke, Jr., who is not a climate scientist, but a climate science policy writer working at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and who Joe Romm at Climate Progress once called “probably the single most disputed and debunked person in the science blogosphere, especially on the subject of extreme weather and climate change.”
  • “The witness panel does not really represent the vast majority of climate scientists,” said Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, an Oregon Democrat. “Visualize 96 more climate scientists that agree with the mainstream consensus … 96 more Dr. Manns.”

    <li>Dan Vergano at BuzzFeed: <a href="https://www.buzzfeed.com/danvergano/mann-inquisition?utm_term=.vwArzR8GR#.kaXl5RdKR">This Famous Climate Scientist Just Endured A Washington Inquisition</a></li>

    Climate science went on trial on Wednesday at a hearing held by Congress’s notoriously grouchy science committee.//

    The witness list pitted Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann — a lightning rod for energy industry-funded attacks on scientists for two decades — against two scientists critical of their own field, former Georgia Tech scientist Judith Curry and University of Alabama satellite scientist John Christy, as well as a political scientist, Roger Pielke Jr. of the University Colorado, who has argued against links between climate change and extreme weather. These three climate skeptics had collectively testified 20 times previously at similar Congressional hearings.

    As Dan implies, the gang of three deniers, and a few others, have been before this and other panels in the US Congress again and again. Interestingly, the short list of deniers available has grown shorter over the years. There are no new ones — that 97% consensus figure works only if you include everyone. If you look only at younger scientists, it is very hard to find any deniers — so there is some attrition for the usual demographic reasons. But also, at least one denier, Heartland funded alt-Harvard scientist Willie Soon, has been taken off the list because his reputation died an ugly death from self inflicted wounds.

    <li>Devin Henry at <a href="http://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/326336-members-researchers-spar-over-climate-science-at-hearing">The Hill: House Panel Hearing Becomes Climate Change Sparring Session</a></li>

    “The current scientific consensus on human-caused climate change is based on thousands of studies conducted by thousands of scientists all around the globe,” committee ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) said.

    … Michael Mann criticized committee Republicans for their NOAA probe, saying it “is meant to send a chilling signal to the entire research community, that if you, too, publish and speak out about the threat of human-caused climate change, we’re going to come after you.”

    Mann sparred directly with Smith, highlighting a Friday article in Science magazine that criticized Smith for speaking at a conference for climate change skeptics. Science magazine is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

    “That is not known as an objective writer or magazine,” Smith said.

    Mann replied, “Well, it is ‘Science’ magazine.”

    This part, which is also discussed in the above referenced piece at the Guardian, was amazing. When Smith called the United State’s primary science journal a biased source, I could hear the sound of jaws dropping in unison across the world.

    <li>Rebecca Leber at Mother Jones: <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2017/03/michael-mann-lamar-smith-house-science-committee">A Scientist Just Spent 2 Hours Debating the Biggest Global Warming Deniers in Congress</a></li>

    Michael Mann lamented that he was the only witness representing the overwhelming scientific consensus that manmade global warming poses a major threat.

    “We find ourselves at this hearing today, with three individuals who represent that tiny minority that reject this consensus or downplay its significance, and only one—myself—who is in the mainstream,” he said in his opening testimony.

    Mann blasted Republicans for “going after scientists simply because you don’t like their publications of their research—not because the science is bad, but because you find the research inconvenient to the special interests who fund your campaigns.” He added, “I would hope we could all agree that is completely inappropriate.”

    <li>Emily Atkin: <a href="https://newrepublic.com/minutes/141716/house-republicans-held-insane-hearing-just-attack-climate-science">House Republicans held an insane hearing just to attack climate science</a></li>

    The Trump administration has been nothing if not a master class in gaslighting—the art of manipulating people, often through lies, into questioning their own sanity—and its pupils on Capitol Hill have clearly been taking notes. On Wednesday, the Republicans on the House Science Committee held a three-hour hearing on the merits of climate change science, a cavalcade of falsehoods so relentless and seemingly rational that one might well need psychiatric counseling after having watched it.

    I’m going to disagree with Emily on the ordering of things. The Republicans were already very good at doing this. It may be that Trump learned from them, or it might just be that governing from the conservative agenda and real estate both involve a lot of gaslighting.

    But, she is right; this is gaslighting. EG:

    At one point, a Republican on the committee even tried to pin the label of “climate denier” on Michael Mann, a world-renowned climate scientist the Democrats had called to defend mainstream science. Georgia Congressman Barry Loudermilk asked Mann if he though it was possible, even in the slightest, that humans are not the main driver of climate change. Mann said that based on the current data, it’s not possible. Loudermilk concluded: “We could say you’re a denier of natural change.”

    Dave Levitan at Gizmodo: Today’s Congressional Hearing on Climate Change Was a Colossal Train Wreck

    It was, overall, a horrendously depressing display of scientific illiteracy, but there were some odd bits of optimism to be found. The witnesses all agreed at various points that yes, the climate is changing and that humans play a role (though they disagreed, contrary to overwhelming evidence, on the magnitude of that role), and they also agreed that the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to Earth-observing systems at NASA, NOAA, and elsewhere are a monumentally dumb idea.

    What’s more, perhaps the best point was made by one of the GOP witnesses, Roger Pielke, Jr.: “Scientific uncertainty is not going to be eliminated on this topic before we have to act.”

    In other words, not knowing everything is not a justification for doing nothing.

    One of the more disturbing moments during the hearing was when Republican representative Clay Higgins asked Mike Mann if he was a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists. At first, I was surprised to hear the answer: “No.” Then, I realized, that if you are a smart witness, often called as a witness, then other than the major professional societies, it is probably better to not be a member of anything.

    It was even more shocking when Higgins, who is clearly not the sharpest bullet in the chamber, demanded that Mann provide proof that he is not a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Mann indicated that he had already provided his resume, which does not say that he is a UCS member, but would be happy to send a second copy.

    Sorry, Mike, that is not proof that you are not a card carrying member of the Union of Concerned Scientists. You will need something better than that. Here, for example, is a valid Not a Member card:

    Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 1.28.08 PM

    You’re welcome.

    I have placed the YouTube video of the entire hearing at the bottom of the post.

    Starts at about 15 minutes:

    Lamar Smith: Nothing more than a hippie puncher

    Congressman Lamar Smith is a well known science denier, especially a climate science denier.

    Recently, he admitted that the House committee he runs is a tool of the anti-science forces.

    At a recent conference at the pro-Tobacco anti-Science Koch (and others) funded fake think tank Heartland, this happened:

    Smith: Next week we’re going to have a hearing on our favorite subject of climate change and also on the scientific method, which has been repeatedly ignored by the so-called self-professed climate scientists.

    Audience Member: I applaud you for saying you’ll be using the term climate studies, not climate science. But I also urge you to use the term politically correct science.

    Smith: Good point. And I’ll start using those words if you’ll start using two words for me. The first is never, ever use the word progressive. Instead, use the word liberal. The second is never use the word ‘mainstream’ media, because they aren’t. Use ‘liberal’ media. Is that a deal? I’ll give you a bonus. When we talk about changing the Senate rules on ending filibusters, don’t use the word ‘nuclear’ option. That has a negative connotation. Use ‘democratic’ option.

    Smith agreed with an audience member that the EPA should not be regulating air quality, and that there is no limit to how far he would go in dismantling the last 8 years of environmental regulation.

    Smith (a Republican, but you already knew that) also noted that Trump (a Republican as well) would pretty much do whatever Smith and the Heartland Institute want him do to: Dismantle environmental regulations generally.

    Smith’s top contributor last year was an energy company, and the top industry that funds his campaign is the Oil and Gas industry.

    Source of the dialog.

    Climate Change is Real, and Important, David Siegel

    A week or so ago, I got a couple of emails and tweets about a blog post on Medium.com, an internet thing of which I had never heard. Apparently Medium.com is a big giant blog that anybody can go and blog their big giant thoughts on: like tumblr, but more bloggy.

    Anyway, some dude by the name of David Siegel, Web Page Designer, posted a really long blog post about climate change on medium.com.

    Have you ever been poking around on the Intertoobs, when somebody comes along and says, “Hey, I never really thought about global warming/vaccination/evolution before, but suddenly and unexplainably I am now. And as I think about global warming/vaccination/evolution these innocent and valid questions arise and imma ask you about them.”

    Then the conversation proceeds to go down hill. The individual was really an anti-vaxer, a creationist, or a climate change denier all along, but was just pretending to be a thoughtful person who never thought about this issue before and just has some innocent question.

    But every single one of these questions is framed in terms of the anti or denial perspective, every “fact” noted and eventually adhered to is a discredited anti or denial meme, and even more amusingly, every statement made by this “innocent, curious” individual is the same exact statement made the last time a similar individual came along.

    David Siegel is one of those individuals, only instead of showing up on a Facebook thread or in the comments section of a blog post, he went to medium.com where anybody can post their thoughts. He wrote a long and detailed post, the sort of effort one would normally be paid to write by an interested party or editor, that had many of the standard misrepresentations of science found in the denialist septic system. It is well done but essentially evil, because climate change truly is real and important. I do wonder what motivates a person like David Siegel to do something like this. He is clearly intelligent, and an intelligent person has to know when they are misrepresenting the science so badly, even if they don’t understand the science itself.

    At first I chose to Ignore Siegel’s post because it was just another denier screed. But a couple of colleagues who are scientists or science writers also noted Siegel’s post, and we discussed it, and realized that this batch of anti-science rhetoric was making the rounds, being taken somewhat seriously by the gullible or politically susceptible.

    So we decided to write up a response. And, it is a good response, including discussion of, and references for, a number of key issues in climate change science. It is the kind of post one might want to keep handy and point out to people like Siegel, but with less time on their hands, when they show up on your facebook page or blog post.

    The effort was lead by Miriam O’Brien, and she put a lot of work into it. The other authors include Josh Halpern, Collin Maessen, Ken Rice, and Michael Tobis. Josh is aka Eli Rabett, blogging at Rabett Run. Collin writes at Real Skeptic. Miriam is, of course, Sou at HotWhopper. Ken Rice is known on the internet as …and Then There’s Physics. Michael Tobis plays himself and blogs at Planet 3.0 and Only In It For The Bold. I, of course, blog here.

    You can find links to all of those blogs at on the post itself.

    So, click through and read our stuff!

    How To Evaluate Science Stories

    I’m on my way to a taping of the Humanist Views with Host Scott Lohman. I do these now and then and have done so since I first moved to Minnesota back when it was still cold here. We’ll be talking about science knowledge, and why basic science knowledge is important. We’ll also be talking about how to go about evaluating science stories you encounter in the news, or more likely, on your Facebook feed or in other social media.

    Pursuant to this, I wrote a blog post that talks about how science stories go out to the general public. I also report on a request I sent out a few days ago to my own Facebook Friends for their thoughts on which Internet sites are good science sources, and which are not so good.

    So, here goes…

    How a scientific finding comes to you

    A first year graduate student comes up with a project. The idea is that change in A causes a change in B, and this could be important, although in truth the natural phenomenon being studied is a bit esoteric. After a year or so of experimentation, learning, literature search, and thinking about the problem, the graduate student comes to understand that a change in the level of disorder in the state of A is associated under certain conditions, some known and some unknown, with a threshold change in B, but it doesn’t always happen. The threshold itself is as yet unmeasured, but seems like a threshold. In the end, more questions have been raised than answered, but also, more is known about A and B and related things than before.

    Eventually, there is a paper, peer reviewed, and about to be published. The University Press Office is informed. The University writer who covers this area of science is on vacation, so a different person not so familiar with that area of science takes on the job of writing the press release. An interview with the graduate student doesn’t go too well, because scientists have dialects that are sometimes more difficult for a non-specialist to understand than are the diverse dialects of a widely spoken language (like English) by someone unaccustomed to them.

    During the conversation the writer presses the graduate student for more on the significance of the study. The graduate student claims the study results are significant. But the writer is thinking “cures cancer” or “a better mousetrap” significance, and the graduate student is thinking about statistical tests and p-values. But, during the conversation something is said about something that sounds significant to the writer. The paper is about statistical variation in ATP use in a muscle fiber, and muscle fibers are what’s messed up in many different diseases, as well as in aging. So now the writer contacts a couple of scientists unrelated to the exact research project and asks about its significance. During that conversation it is made clear that curing heart disease is important, even though this research really has little to do with it. But it could be related in the sense that the more we know about muscle and ATP in muscle fibers, the more we know in general, and that can’t be bad when it comes to heart disease, or a long list of other problems.

    So the writer writes up the story, and focuses on the value this new research will have in curing heart disease and multiple sclerosis. The real meaning of the original research, which is that we should be measuring the order and disorder of the state of a particular molecule in muscle fibre, instead of measuring, for instance, how much the muscle twitches in a test tube, is not even mentioned in the writeup because it is too difficult to understand and too esoteric.

    Under deadline, the writer asks the editor if the near final copy should be run by the graduate student to see if it is right. The editor says no, explaining that “we don’t let the people we interview see the copy because it would not be fair to the other people you interviewed,” or some such excuse. So the copy moves along in the process. The editor creates a title that makes the research look sexy. The writer, feeling the title might be misleading, asks that the title be toned down a bit, and the editor agrees. But the process of putting the press release onto the University web site has already begun, and the original, overstated, title is still in the HTML Metacode where it will show up as the title on a Facebook post about the research.

    Then, somebody spots the research and posts it on their Facebook feed. It gets shared and shared and shared and shared, with the original bogus title on top of every share. Almost nobody reads the text under the title; had they done, they would notice a conflict between the title and the text. Even fewer people click through and read the original text of the press release, so almost no one notices that there may be more, or really, less, to the story than the title suggests. Even fewer people, maybe one in 1,000, have a look at the original article, and if they do, they don’t understand much of it because the process of publishing peer reviewed papers also involved making science being reported less, rather than more, understandable. Also, it is only an abstract because the paper is behind a firewall.

    Everybody is now stupider than they were before this whole thing started.

    (See a cartoon version of this here, hat tip: Michael Tobis.)

    And, importantly, this is how science gets muddled even when there are sincere efforts to not muddle it, and in the absence of nefarious muddling by anti-science operatives.

    This is not how it goes with all scientific stories. Many scientists, often those once or twice burned, are more careful in dealing with press offices. Many press offices are actually pretty good, and have great writers, and the press releases they produce are better. Many stories get picked up by crack science writers and bloggers who bother to read the original paper, talk to experts, contact the author with questions, then do a good job of presenting the material. But often, something like the above, or a subset of the above, happens. Stupider, many become.

    How does the average person who is interested in science, or a particular topic important to them because of something in their life, avoid becoming stupider, and maybe, just possibly, become even smarter? Here are a few guidelines, most of which have to do with encountering this information on the Internet.

    1) Do not assume that a title reflects the research. It often does not.

    2) Do not assume that a third party writeup is not messed up. It often is.

    3) The internet is made of tubes. Some of these tubes are little more than conduits of original press releases, scraped from myriad sources and turned into what look like news stories. These are good places to find out about newly published research. They are entirely unreliable to find out what that research is about. They are like search engines that lie.

    4) Find interpretive outlets you can trust. There are many science writers and science bloggers (overlapping entities) who regularly do a good job of describing current or recent research.

    5) Time is your friend. Often, even among the better interpretive sites, mistakes are made and research is accidentally mis-represented. But usually, eventually, corrections are made. An absolutely fresh report of new research may be misleading, while just a week or so later, the reporting gets straightened out.

    6) In some fields, there are people who are involved in the research (specifically or generally) who also write about it in a blog. The best example I can think of has to do with climate change. RealClimate blog is written by climate scientists. Very often, the blog posts they produce are written by the actual authors of the new papers. They write these blog posts specifically to inform the general interested (and at least somewhat field-aware) public of their findings. Sometimes they write blog posts specifically designed to address misunderstandings that have emerged, as described above, or as is often the case in climate science, because nefarious science deniers have muddled up the message on purpose. Similarly, there are science based medicine sites that write about health and medicine related news, though in my experience these bloggers are experts in their fields but not generally the authors of the work they are writing about, as is often the case with RealClimate.


    7) In some fields, there are relatively reliable web sites that cover everything encyclopedia style. Again, with Climate, SkepticalScience.com covers every aspect of climate change, as well as denial of climate change science. If something isn’t there, it is because it is so new it hasn’t been covered yet, but will be. You can even contact the authors of this site and ask for more, or for clarification. Other sites are more like topical sites. This is trickier. There are bogus health and diet sites and there are good health and diet sites. Nature News is crap according to everyone I know (I don’t track that site). WebMD tends to be reasonably good, The Mayo Clinic’s site is very reliable. The CDC does a good job of covering disease. These sites will be less current, and very cautious. They won’t say stuff if they are afraid you will misuse the information, but they go out of their way to address common goofs people make in their thinking about the issues they cover.

    8) This should be number 1, but in fact, applies to very few people for various reasons, so I put it down here. If you want to be able to evaluate new scientific research in a given area, learn all about that area and become an amateur expert on it. That is not easy. People will tell you it is easy, and claim they have done this. It is not and they did not – if they thought it was easy they missed something. But if your sources are good, you are honest with yourself, have a bit of training or experience with thinking about things in a scientific way (and haven’t simply told yourself you can do this) then you can make this happen.

    9) Pursuant to number 8, use sources like Google Scholar to find actual peer reviewed research of interest to you and read it. Many peer reviewed papers will not be easily available to you because they are behind firewalls, but many are OpenAccess. Others, probably all others, can be obtained at a good library, though that can be a lot of trouble. For something really important, where your need for a paper goes beyond your own interest – maybe you are a teacher teaching about the topic – go ahead and contact the paper’s “corresponding author” and ask for a copy. If the paper is an older one, go first to the authors’ web sites and see if there is a downloadable copy there, often this is the case. Try Googling the entire title of the paper, in quotes, followed by the words “download” and “PDF.” Every once in a while this works, just like magic.

    There are some great science communicators some of whom are also scientists.

    A couple of quick tips on how to tell a good communicator:

    • They communicate in the field they work in, or at least, communicate a lot in. So they know stuff.
    • When they talk they make sense (by itself not a good clue, but helpful).
    • They manage to use some big words or concepts but make them fully understood.
    • They are often interviewed on comedy central, the only really good news network.

    Caution: self styled skeptics are often bad sources because they really do think they understand the science, but may not.

    • As a rule if a non-specialist or highly experienced writer tells you that a certain area of science is simple to understand, check your wallet.
    • If a skeptic tells you that “many peer reviewed studies” have proven/disproven something, check your wallet. Then check for the studies.
    • If an argument is the counter to the argument that the science is controlled by big business, chances are both the original argument and the counter argument are worthless.
    • Notice how self styled skeptics often follow a party line that is as much derived from authority as any other argument they may reject because it is derived from authority.

    So what are some good science sources, and what are the bad ones?

    A few days ago I asked my Facebook friends to suggest what they thought were good, vs. bad, sources on science. Below I’ve placed their recommendations, without links. That is partly because I don’t want to have links to bad sources on this site. If you enter the term supplied here you can find the referenced resources easily.

    If you disagree with anything on this list, or want to add to it, just drop a comment below.

    I have not included sites like Physorg and other science news aggregator sites. See above for my opinion on those sites. Interestingly, these sites were listed by Facebook friends as either bad or good. In truth, they are probably either bad or good depending on what you do with them.

    Not everything here is exactly a science site but you can see where those listings are still relevant.

    Science Sources People Say Are Good

    The Global Warming Fact of the Day Facebook Page
    Science Based Medicine
    Bad Astronomy
    Christian Science Monitor
    Wikipedia (Especially as a really smart search engine)
    Talk Origin
    Federation of American Scientists
    Cultural Cognition Project
    Mayo Clinic
    Carl Zimmer

    Science Sources People Say Are Bad

    Whats Up With That
    Natural News
    The Truth Wins
    Answers in Genesis
    Discovery Institute
    Real Science
    Dr. Oz
    Collective Evolution
    Food Babe
    Spirit Science
    International Medical Council on Vaccination

    Conspiracies all the way down: Is your local climate contrarian a kook or a crook?

    A new paper has just been published. This paper is going to cause an uproar in the science denialist community. Mud will be thrown. Tin hats will be donned. Somebody better check the oil pressure.

    Conspiracies everywhere

    I see conspiracies everywhere. It’s true.

    Look at any internet site that talks about health, disease, diet, or anything related. Some of those sites will be legit science based sites. The majority will be sites feeding you woo. The anti-Vaxers, the anti-Milkers, the Homeopaths, man of the “natural food” sites. Now look more closely at those sites to find out what they provide as proof of their main arguments. In there with that proof you will find, each and every time, a reference to somebody conspiring with somebody to keep the truth away from you.

    There is an interesting research project by Stephan Lewandowsky, John Cook, and others, that has emerged in written form in a few places, that looks at conspiracy ideation in relation to science denial. An earlier version of this research was subjected to significant and somewhat effective attacks (effective as in a monkey is effective at getting attention when it throws poop at you) against this research by conspiracy driven anti science activists involved in some sort of conspiracy! Against the people studying conspiracy!

    Now, there is a brand new paper by Stephan Lewandowsky, John Cook, Klaus Oberauer, Scott Brophy, Elisabeth A. Lloyd, and Michael Marriott, called
    Recurrent Fury: Conspiratorial Discourse in the Blogosphere Triggered by Research on the Role of Conspiracist Ideation in Climate Denial, in the current or upcoming issue of the Journal of Social and Political Psychology. The abstract reads:

    A growing body of evidence has implicated conspiracist ideation in the rejection of scientific propositions. Internet blogs in particular have become the staging ground for conspiracy theories that challenge the link between HIV and AIDS, the benefits of vaccinations, or the reality of climate change. A recent study involving visitors to climate blogs found that conspiracist ideation was associated with the rejection of climate science and other scientific propositions such as the link between lung cancer and smoking, and between HIV and AIDS. That article stimulated considerable discursive activity in the climate blogosphere—i.e., the numerous blogs dedicated to climate “skepticism”—that was critical of the study. The blogosphere discourse was ideally suited for analysis because its focus was clearly circumscribed, it had a well-defined onset, and it largely discontinued after several months. We identify and classify the hypotheses that questioned the validity of the paper’s conclusions using well-established criteria for conspiracist ideation. In two behavioral studies involving naive participants we show that those criteria and classifications were reconstructed in a blind test. Our findings extend a growing body of literature that has examined the important, but not always constructive, role of the blogosphere in public and scientific discourse.

    The authors note that there are generally two reasons someone would reject established consensus climate science. One is their politics (climate change is truly, an inconvenient truth for them). The other is conspiracist ideation, or “…person’s propensity to explain a significant political or social event as a secret plot by powerful individuals or organizations.” They point out that there is a sensible link between rejecting an area of science and believing in a conspiracy. In essence, a significant conspiracy is required in order for thousands of research scientists working in hundreds of institutions across dozens of countries to all be saying essentially the same thing about a major area of science. Conspiracy is not enough. Massive conspiracy is required. “In the case of climate change, several qualitative analyses have shown that denial is suffused with conspiratorial themes, for example when dissenters are celebrated as “Galileos” who oppose a corrupt scientific “establishment”.” Consider this:

    Smith and Leiserowitz (2012) found that among people who reject the findings from climate science, up to 40% of affective imagery invoked conspiracy theories. That is, when asked to provide the first word, thought, or image that came to mind in the climate context, statements such as “the biggest scam in the world to date” would be classified as conspiracist.

    The authors describe two previous studies that form the basis for the current project.

    The first study, which took its sample from visitors to climate science blogs, is known as LOG13. A pre publication version of the paper along with the data was made available in Summer 2012. The second paper is known as GLO13.

    These papers replicated prior research, identifying a link between preferences for laissez-faire free market economics and the rejection of climate science. Conspiracy played a role in a different group.

    Conspiracist ideation, measured by endorsement of items such as “A powerful and secretive group known as the New World Order are planning to eventually rule the world” constituted another but lesser contributing factor. Notably, notwithstanding the rather different pools of participants and differences in methodology, the size of the effect of conspiracist ideation on rejection of climate science … was virtually identical across both studies.

    LOG12 caused a great deal of discussion on anti-climate change science blogs.

    It wasn’t just conversation. There were intensive efforts to stop the publication of LO12. In fact, a real life conspiracy was organized by nefarious conspirational (is that a word?) individuals who tried very hard to keep a paper about conspiratorial ideation from being published in a peer reviewed journal. It got really nasty and if it wasn’t for the rather scary nature of some of the kooks who carried out this activity it would have been really funny. It is also worth noting that the publisher that was attacked by the conspiracy to stop the conspiracy paper from being published had apparently had their cojones removed at birth and totally caved. That was not their only problem. The paper, widely known as “Recursive Fury,” was eventually withdrawn, though made available elsewhere by agreement with the publishers.

    To our knowledge this article, called Re- cursive Fury from here on, became the most-read article in psychology ever published by that journal (approximately 65,000 page views and 10,000 downloads at the time of this writing). Recursive Fury also received some media attention, including in the New York Times (Gillis, 2013). After the journal received a barrage of complaints from a small number of individuals, the article was eventually withdrawn (in March 2014) for legal, but not academic or ethical reasons. The publisher deemed the legal risk posed by a non-anonymized thematic analysis too great.

    There was fallout. Editors resigned. Other bad stuff happened. Other publishers of scientific journals around the world will not do what the Recursive Fury paper publsihers-withdrawers did because of lessoned learned. That particular kerfuffle changed the world a little.

    From Recursive Fury to Recurrent Fury

    Anyway where was quite a conversation over Recursive Fury, and the current paper, Recurrent Fury, is a study of that conversation.

    This paper consists of three separate but related studies, and is best summarized by Stephan Lewandowsky in a blog post:

    In a nutshell the new article applies criteria from the scholarly literature on conspiracist ideation to the public discourse in the blogosphere in response to the publication of LOG12. The first study reports a thematic analysis that establishes the presence of various potentially conspiracist hypotheses in the blogosphere in response to LOG12. The second study shows that when “naïve” judges (i.e., people who are not conversant with any of the issues and are blind to the purpose of the study) are given the blogosphere content material, they reproduce the structure of hypotheses uncovered in our thematic analysis. In a final study, naïve participants were presented with a sample of anonymized blogosphere content and rated it on various attributes that are typical of conspiracist discourse. This final study found that blogosphere content was judged extremely high on all those attributes. For comparison, the study also included material written by junior scholars who were instructed to be as critical as possible of LOG12. This comparison material was rated lower on all conspiracist attributes than the blogosphere content, but it was rated higher on an item that related to “reasonable scholarly critique”—in a nutshell, the blogosphere discourse was identified by blind and naïve participants as being high on conspiracism but low on scholarship.

    These results add to a growing body of research on the nature of internet discourse and the role of the blogosphere in climate denial. It also confirms that conspiratorial elements are readily identifiable in blogosphere discourse, which should not be altogether surprising in light of the fact that a U.S. Senator has written a book entitled The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.

    See also: Curses! It’s a conspiracy! The Fury is Back Thrice Over at HotWhopper

    The new article goes beyond Recursive Fury in two important ways:

    (1) All content is anonymized and all quotations have been extensively paraphrased to prevent identification of authors. Similarly, the corpus of text underlying the analysis is no longer publically available. These step was undertaken to guard against intimidation of the journal, even though Frontiers’ own expert panel had confirmed our right to subject non-anonymized public speech to scholarly analysis, and even though the initial article was written and conducted with ethics approval from the University of Western Australia.

    (2) In the new paper, the thematic analysis is confirmed by two behavioural studies involving naïve participants who were blind to the identity of all parties involved and unaware of the source of the statements they were processing.

    Stephan also has an FAQ on the paper here.

    Lewandowsky, S., Cook, J., Oberauer, K., Brophy, S., Lloyd, E. A., & Marriott, M. (2015). Recurrent fury: Conspiratorial discourse in the blogosphere triggered by research on the role of conspiracist ideation in climate denial. Journal of Social and Political Psychology, 3 (1). doi: 10.5964/jspp.v3i1.443.

    Global Warming Is Happening: DENIAL101.x

    I’m auditing the EdEx course “Denial101x: Making Sense of Climate Science Denial.” This is Week 2: Global Warming ins Happening. The course is covering indicators of warming, what is happening in the Cryosphere, and related matters.

    Here is an example lecture segment:

    A central theme of this week is the relationship between climate and weather, and how this relationship becomes fodder for the development of myths in service of denial about climate change. The climate is a cherry orchard. Weather is the cherries. Don’t pick the cherries!

    There are many dimensions the climate system that allow cherry picking. You can look at local temperature records and see very little warming in some placs. You can look at different levels of the atmosphere, and you can ignore the oceans. Don’t ignore the oceans, that is where most of the heat imbalance caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gas pollution plays out.

    At one point in this week’s course, you get to play with a really cool data tool. Like this:

    Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 8.54.34 AM

    Playing around with that tool is very fun and informative, and the process is backed up with some excellent information about how the data set(s) work(s).


    Cherry Picking, Setting False Expectations, How records are made and tracked (we are setting hot records more often than cold records over recent decades, in the US and elsewhere). Global warming is analogous to rigging the climate dice.

    Sea level rise, thermal expansion of the global ocean, melting glacial ice. Glaciers are losing about 150 billion tonnes of ice a year, accelerating. Many mountain glaciers have disappeared or shrunk a great deal. Annual mass balance. Tracking glacier history. Myth: Some glaciers are growing therefore there is no global warming (cherry picking, there are a few growing glaciers due to warming causing more snow locally).

    Greenland ice loss: Over 300 billion tonnes per year, or 6 meters of ocean if all melted. Moulins. Ice shelves as corks. Gaining ice in interior. Greenland is already at 2 degrees C surface air increase. Largest individual contributor to sea level rise. Myth: Since ice is building up in the interior (ignoring the rest of the region) global warming is not real. Note: Most of the accelerated melt is very recent, mass balance has been negative for about 15 years, and this is increasing. Get waders.

    Antarctica, west and east (largest, oldest). Total contribution to global sea level if all melted = 72 meters. Recently discovered that WAIS is more sensitive to climate change than previously thought. Melt started in recent decades and is accelerating, in WAIS. EAIS relatively stable. (But this is questionable, may be changing.)

    Antarctic sea ice: Seasonal, does not influence climate much. Myth: sea ice increase means global warming not real. Winds may blow sea ice outwards, so open water freezes, and the winds blow colder water. Fresh meltwaters easier to freeze. Snow fall increased.

    Land and sea ice are totally different things. Myth of sea ice discounting global warming is cherry picking and error of omission.

    Excellent in depth interview with several ice experts. It is worth looking at these longer interviews even if they are not on the quiz!

    Building the temperature record (How do we measure global warming). Myths: Thermometers not reliable, insufficient in number. Jumping to conclusions … scientists estimate error, the error is way smaller in magnitude than the temperature increase signal. Multiple methods of measurement agree with each other.

    Urban heat island effect. Neat: Compare light pollution with heat island effect. They don’t match up, suggesting HIE is very local and not strong. NASA matching of paired rural/urban stations: effect is small. Other studies support this. Fallacy: Jumping to conclusions. Going from a reasonable hypothesis to the conclusion, meanwhile actual scientists examined the hypothesis and found it wanting. Myth: “Corrections” are bogus (jumping to conclusions). Truth: Corrections are proper adjustments to data. Ie when you change instruments or move instruments an adjustment or calibration may be necessary. Comparing adjusted vs. non adjusted data shows that the adjustments, while justified, don’t change the numbers much.

    Wavy Jet Streams. How hey work. Myth: “It’s cold out, so much for global warming!” Cherry Picking, that. GLOBAL warming.

    How jet streams form and why they get wavy. Arctic amplification (positive feedback from ice/snow cover changes, etc.). So tropical/polar temp gradient (and thus pressure gradient) reduces, waves and slower jet streams result.

    “Climate Change” vs. “Global Warming.” Myth: Some bogus story about how scientists are playing a fast one. Personally, I prefer Obamacare over the Affordable Care Act. (FLICC type: Conspiracy Theory. Over Simplification.)

    What is scientific consensus?

    A group of scientists attending a major conference get together in a bar. They talk, but they agree on nothing because they are critical academics. The server comes along to take the beer order and says, “I noticed you all are constantly arguing. What are you arguing about?”

    “Sensitivity,” one of them says. “It is the number of degrees C the Earth’s surface will warm with a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere. Is it 2, 3, 4? … We cant settle on a number”

    The server considers their plight for a moment. Suddenly, she rips several sheets out of her order book and hands one to each of the scientists. She notices they all already have pens and mechanical pencils in their shirt pockets.

    “Each of you write down a number for sensitivity. Don’t share. I’ll look at them all and if they are all the same number I’ll bring you your beer for free for the rest of the evening.”

    The scientists comply. She looks at their numbers. They are all the same. Despite the quibbling they all had the same sense for what the number for climate “sensitivity” likely is. They get free beer for the evening.

    Scientific consensus is what most scientists will nitpick about but ultimately agree on if free beer is at stake.

    My first homework assignment for Making Sense of Climate Denial.