Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

Category Archives: Climate Change Denialism

Mailbag: Eviscerating More Pseudoscientific Nonsense

mailbag letter

It is time for another entry into the mailbag series where I answer feedback email from readers and others. If you want to send me a question, comment or any other kind of feedback, please do so using the contact form on the about page.

It always amazes me that so many denialists continue to spew out the same old garbage over and over, despite the fact that it has been refuted thousands of times over. At the same time, they so arrogantly dismiss any criticism of their flawed understanding of science as unscientific. It has never been easier to selectively focus on information that only confirms your existing opinion. The Internet has created confirmation bias on steroids. This time, we are going to take on (1) a climate change denialist who deploys the global warming hiatus myth, (2) an anti-psychiatry proponent who tries (and fails) to refute the existence of schizophrenia with pure logic and (3) an anti-immigration proponent who promotes the “white genocide” conspiracy theory.

The global warming hiatus myth is based on cherry-picking intervals

Kevin King writes the following:

This article is cretinous in the extreme. The models tell us the global surface temperature will increase, as well as the ocean temperatures. For almost 20 years there has been no global warming, either on land or in the oceans that we can measure. Even a first year arts student could comprehend this. No you are the denialists and you all belong together in a mocked up moon landing studio somewhere out in the nevada desert with a bunch of creationists. Start using your brains and read some Richard Feynman. Because clearly you haven’t got a scientific bone in your body.

To illustrate how climate change denialists cherry-pick intervals to argue for the flawed notion of a global warming hiatus, consider the following graph:

escalator of doubt

Most denialists fixate at the starting point 1998. This is done because there was an especially powerful El Niño during that year, making the global temperatures quite high during that year in comparison with others. If you draw a trend line from 1998 to today, you can deceptively make it appear as if there has been no warming.

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Is Donald Trump Scientifically Illiterate?

Donald Trump does not understand climate change

One of the most basic distinctions in climate science is the difference between weather and climate. Weather is the instantaneous atmospheric conditions, such as rainy, snowy, sunny and so on. Climate, on the other hand, is about long-term trends. Confusing weather with climate, claiming that we cannot predict climate because we cannot predict weather, or trying to argue against the existence of human-influenced climate change by referencing current weather events is one of the most common tactic used by climate change denier.

Trump fails on climate knowledge

Contrary to Trump, the existence of local anomalies does not refute a general trend. More about the difference of weather and climate can be found on the NASA website.

Donald Trump does not understand vaccines or the immune system

Trump claims to not be anti-vaccine, yet he pulls out a classic anti-vaccine trope:

Too many, too soon? Nope!

While the number of vaccines have increased over time, the number of immunological challenges (“antigens”) have decreased. This is because modern DNA technology has enabled researchers to include only those components that are necessary to produce a good response. In other words, vaccines poses a smaller challenge to the immune system now than it did in the past. For more information, see the Offit et al. (2002) paper in Pediatrics.

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Twitter Arguments Round-Up

Twitter profile

Over the last few days, I have been arguing a lot of Twitter with different people and organizations. I bickered with the Mayo Clinic on alternative medicine and the prospect of funding based on biological plausibility. They did not seem to get it and claimed that we needed to sift through quack treatments because some of it was good (they neglected to mention which one they thought were effective and provided no evidence). I scoffed at Nature News and Comments because they, yet again, decided to promote the “climate-change-has-taken-a-hiatus-for-the-past-16-years” myth. They responded by denying it, and ironically, asking me if I read the post. Finally, I also tried to discuss reasons for why women drop out of science with a number of people, but one of them called me a racist troll and a misogynist despite the fact that I am a virulent anti-racist (I am regularly called “anti-white” by racists) and have exposed MRA nonsense on a number of times on this blog.

I am becoming more and more convinced that it is not possible to have a coherent and meaningful conversation on Twitter. At any rate, let’s go over each discussion in detail, because they do demonstrate important things about science organizations, science journalism and people who try to argue on Twitter.

The Mayo Clinic: quack treatments and biological plausibility

This exchange started with the twitter account of The Mayo Clinic inviting people on twitter to give them questions about so-called alternative and complementary medicine on their show Mayo Clinic Radio:

Mayo  Clinic Radio advert tweet

I came up with a question I wanted them to respond to. It was about redirecting research money to treatments that have a chance of working instead of wasting it on alternative medicine:

My first response

Now, I doubt that the Twitter account is handled by an actual scientists. Rather, I suspect it is some PR or social media personnel. So we cannot extrapolate their ignorance and unscientific approaches to the Mayo Clinic as an organization. However, here is what the twitter account replied with:

Mayo Clinic responds

There are some good? We need to sift? What alternative medicine qualifies as “good”? Is Mayo Clinic pulling the pharmacognosy gambit? Here is my response:

My response to Mayo Clinic

The Mayo Clinic twitter account did not continue to exchange. I was disappointed that the Mayo Clinic twitter account claimed that there exists alternative medicine treatments that were good without providing any example of evidence. I am disappointed that they probably used the pharmacognosy gambit. I am disappointed that they did not seem to grasp the issue of biological plausibility as it pertains to research funding. Read more of this post

NIPCC and Climate Change Denialism

NIPCC

To an unsuspecting visitor, the website for the deceptively named Nongovernmental International Panel for Climate Change (NIPCC) looks clean and professional. They purport to be an independent association of scientists that wish to understand factors influencing climate change and the consequences of such changes. They claim that they, unlike the IPCC, look at the full range of evidence regarding the climate and are unfettered by political ideology and bias. However, beneath the surface everything is not what it appeared to be at first sight. NIPCC is a group with overt ties to the conservative anti-science organization known as the Heartland Institute, an organization that has spent a lot of effort trying to spread pseudoscientific uncertainty and doubt regarding the link between second-hand smoke and negative health consequences. They are also one of the most vocal defenders of climate change denialism in the U. S.

Recently, the NIPCC released a report called Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science, calling it an “independent, comprehensive, and authoritative report on the current state of climate science”. In reality, it is a book-length regurgitation of the same stale myths that climate change denialists have been deploying for the past decade in a desperate effort to spread misinformation regarding global warming and the role of human contributing factors. Read more of this post

Mainstream Climate Science Defeats Global Crank Mike Adams

Mike Adams falsehoods about carbon dioxide

Mike Adams, the founder of the anti-science and anti-medicine (actually, anti-reality) website NaturalNews, is perhaps one of the most prolific cranks on the Internet. He subscribes to a wide range of absurd pseudoscientific beliefs and spreads dangerous and harmful myths about vaccines, peddles anti-GMO propaganda, promote homeopathy and distrusts the germ theory of disease and even rejects the strongly evidence-based position that HIV is the cause of AIDS (website links in the reference section). This makes him a sort of global crank and an example of crank magnetism. Adams recently wrote an ignorant compilation on NaturalNews called “Al Gore backlash: Why environmentalists are celebrating rising CO2 levels” were he repeated a number of stale climate change denialist talking-points.

In reality, more carbon dioxide will indeed provide a fertilization effect, but we have to remember that climate change does not just involve an increase in carbon dioxide, but also temperature, which means that the fertilization effect is moderated by heat stress. Furthermore, even if carbon dioxide is in excess, other reactants such as nitrogen becomes limited thereby down-regulating photosynthesis. Carbon dioxide has far-reaching climate effects because of interactions and feedback systems. Read more of this post

A Torrent of Errors in David Evans Case Against Global Warming

earth

Also see An Open Letter to Libertarian Climate Change Denialists.

The well-known Internet philosopher, atheist and market anarchist Stefan Molyneux (whose stance of psychiatry was previously discussed here and here) recently subbed for Peter Schiff on the Peter Schiff radio show. The show features discussions about global warming, gold companies, the value of philosophers over politicians and the important similarities between republicans and democrats. The section on global warming contained an interview with the mathematician and engineer David Evans. Evans has some issues with mainstream climate science that I think is worth critically examining.

To be honest, I am by no means an expert on climate science, climate modeling, ice cores, tree rings or anything like that. Therefore, I completely accept that I can be in error here. After all, when it comes to climate science, I am just a guy on the Internet. With that said, I do think I can present some thoughtful comments on the statements made by Evans and Molyneux during the interview. The entire interview can be found here, starting at about 16:12. I will quote directly from the video and leave timestamps so you can check it out for yourself. I also accept that I may have made some mistakes in this rush transcript as they talk fairly fast and sometimes it is hard to hear when the direction of a sentence is changed in the middle of words.

The introduction to the interview given by Stefan Molyneux suggests that he accept that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and that an increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide increases global temperature (16:42). So far, so good. This is an important conclusion that some groups that reject the mainstream position on climate change does not even accept. So from that standpoint, it is refreshing to hear.

Climate scientists have taken into account both natural and anthropogenic forcings

The first argument put forward by Evans is this (17:54):

Molyneux: Let’s talk a little bit about this amplification thing. I’ve read quite a bit about global warming. I’ve never come across this idea before. It seems pretty important and I wonder if you can illuminate us, please?

Evans: It is the whole ballgame Stefan. The other side do not like to talk about it because the evidence runs the wrong way for them. I’ll give you the big picture. Here is how it works: when the global warming…CO2 theory was being developed in the 1970s, they looked back and said “look, from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution 17-1850 to modern times, the CO2 level has risen by this much and the temperature has risen by that much. OK we know, from theoretical calculations that pretty much everyone agrees on, how much warming CO2 causes directly just as a result of the extra CO2 in the atmosphere and that direct effect only accounted for a third of the temperature rise. OK, so we know the CO2 level warming since 17-1850 but it only accounted for a third of the observed temperature rise. Now, here is the big jump in logic: the theorists said “Alright. Well, we cannot think of any other cause of global warming. We know it is not solar, the sun being brighter or warmer, because although the sun fluctuates a tiny bit, but not nearly enough to account for the extra warming. So therefore, there must be some amplification and this amplification due to water vapor feedbacks because the earth reacts to that extra CO2 warming in the atmosphere by evaporating water from the oceans, creating more clouds etc. and that must amplify that warming to account for the extra warming we saw. Right, so the direct effect only gives you a third of the observed warming, so there must be amplification by three to account for the rest, because we assume that CO2 is the only thing driving the Earth’s temperature. Are you with me so far, Stefan?

Molyneux: Absolutely.

As far as I can understand the argument, Evans is saying that everyone agrees that CO2 causes a certain level of warming. This warming is, however, just a certain percentage of the observed warming. So therefore, climate scientists invented the idea that there must be amplification effects from the increase in CO2 to account for the totality of observed warming.

This is an erroneous argument for several reasons. First, scientists have long since accepted that there are many different forcings besides just human emission of carbon dioxide and that there also exists radiative forcings from natural sources. For instance, figure 2.4 in the Synthesis Report from 2007 shows that human forcings include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, halocarbons, stratospheric and tropospheric ozone, stratospheric water vapor from methane, surface albedo from black carbon on snow, surface albedo land use, direct effect from aerosols and cloud albedo effect. Not all of these are positive. Natural forcings, as detailed in the Working Group I part of the Fourth Assessment Report, includes solar variability and explosive volcanic activity.

Second, natural forcings alone cannot account for the observed warming. Yet, when scientists take into account both anthropogenic and natural forcings, these can account for the observed warming very well (figure 2.5 in the synthesis report linked above).

Third, we know that feedback processes occurs. When it gets warmer, there are more water vapor in the atmosphere, which in turn increases temperatures, which in turn release more carbon dioxide from the oceans. This is basic chemistry, not some ad hoc maneuver. While it is true that the precise effects of these may be less certain than other aspects of climate change, well-defined error bars is not the same as the notion that no conclusion can be drawn. Read more of this post

An Open Letter to Libertarian Climate Change Denialists

Hello,

I am writing this plea in order to counter the growing tendency for some libertarian groups to reject the science behind global warming and climate change. This is an unfortunate tendency because if libertarianism can be associated with fringe antiscience groups, then this makes libertarianism as a whole an easy target for naive critics. They can ignore the problems with large bureaucratic governments and the reduction in civil liberties and just focus on the fact that certain libertarians reject mainstream climate science and thereby portray libertarianism as an irrational form of antiscience denialism, in the same way many liberals view creationist republicans as intellectually left behind.

Many people would probably object to being labeled as denialists. This is understandable, but it is important to realize that this is not meant as a guilt by association tactic to, for instance, Holocaust deniers. Rather, the term denialism usually refers to the deployment of a dishonest rhetorical debating tactic which makes it appear as if there is a legitimate scientific debate about the topic when the evidence for the mainstream scientific position is overwhelming. This is usually done by quoting scientists out of context, portraying a discussion about how something is happening as if it was a debate on whether it was occurring or not, misunderstanding basic science, peddling conspiracy theories, cherry picking research results while asserting that themselves are being censored when scientists are criticizing them and so on. These tactic are frequently used by opponents of the mainstream scientific position on climate change. To be sure, big government liberals are also guilty of quite a bit of pseudoscience as well, such as postmodernism, opposition to genetically modified foods, animal rights extremists and so on.

One useful realization is that it is important to separate the science behind climate change and global warming from the big government suggestions for mitigating the issues. It is entirely consistent to accept mainstream climate science, yet reject the proposed “solutions” provided by liberal politicians and other organizations. There should be opportunity for investigating free markets solutions and investing in new technology for mitigating climate change. Read more of this post

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