Flogging the Scientists

March 15, 2010

As a nonscientist, it’s daunting for me to work thru the huge volume of information on global climate change. I’ve found that the most reliable scientific information comes from respected peer reviewed science journals .

But journals have lots of big words, and lots of small print, and very few illustrations to make it easy for me. You can see why climate deniers don’t like them. But that’s where the facts are.

How can you tell a good science journal?

Script for this video

As a nonscientist, it’s daunting for me to work thru the huge volume of information on global climate change. I’ve found that the most reliable scientific information comes from respected peer reviewed science journals .

What’s the mark of a good reliable scientific  journal?

Generally, peer reviewed science journals don’t carry ads telling you how to buy gold, survive a nuclear blast, or kick butt. For climate deniers, these are the essential features they look for in good science writing.

For instance, the UK Daily Mail is a source deniers rely on for information. Did you see the story about the Chinese Goat woman? [The goat woman: Chinese grandmother, 101, grows mystery horn on forehead] That was awesome. See? The headline and picture tell you all you need to know.

Another awesome headline was, “ClimateGate U-turn as scientist at center of row admits: There has been no global warming since 1995“.  Within hours of the headline’s appearance, verbatim transcriptions began turning up on climate denial sites all over the internet.  The story concerns Phil Jones,  the lead scientist at the University of East Anglia, a major center for climate science.

There’s only one thing wrong with the article. According to the conservative Economist magazine [Journalistic malpractice on global warming], it’s a complete fabrication, an out-and-out lie, which makes it the ideal climate denial story.

The Daily Mail story was based on an interview published by the BBC [Q&A: Professor Phil Jones] – which most denialists know nothing of, and certainly have not read.  But, as always, we’ll read it here.

Question: How confident are you that warming has taken place and that humans are mainly responsible?

Answer: I am 100% confident that climate has warmed.  … There is evidence that most of the warming since the 1950s is due to human activity.

Question: If you agree that there were similar periods of warming since 1850, and the medieval warming period is under debate, what factors convince you that recent warming has been largely man made?

Answer:  The fact that we can’t explain the warming since the 1950s with solar or volcanic forcing.

Question: Would it be reasonable looking at the same scientific evidence to take the view that recent warming is not predominantly man made?

Answer: No

Some of the more specific questions were gathered from climate skeptics, and they are obviously worded to elicit specific responses.  For instance …

Question: Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming

Answer: Yes, but only just. …

This is the quote that deniers ran with in headlines, conveniently omitting the remainder of the answer.

… “I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.

Scientists know that in a slow process like climate change, if you choose the right time period, you can show any trend you like. [Uncertainty, noise and the art of model-data comparison] Measuring for longer periods makes it easier to reach the 95 percent certainty level that defines statistical significance.

Richard Lindzen

The year 1995 was most likely chosen because skeptic scientists like Richard Lindzen have often repeated  [Richard Lindzen deliberately blurring lines] that if you measure from 1995, you don’t reach the 95 percent certainty level. He relies on an ignorant audience to conclude that therefore, warming has stopped.

An indication of why this question was asked, came in a blog post from Lubos Motl, a self described “conservative physicist” and climate skeptic.

Lubos Motl

He wrote: [Lubos Motl blog post]  “I discussed 1995…because that’s the year BBC asked Phil Jones about, and for a good reason. 1995 is the earliest year when the statistical significance of the trend to 2009 safely fails. Since 1994, you could get a technically significant trend.”

So it’s clear the question was phrased to elicit an honest response, knowing the denialist mob would do the rest.

It’s a technique that’s proven effective for the anti-science movement, and we’ve seen several variations.

OReilly:  Tonight another global warming study debunked in the journal Nature Geoscience.  A study was printed that showed the oceans rising because of global warming.   Well now the magazine says, “Sorry, the study was flawed.”

This story is based on a retraction of a peer reviewed study on sea level rise, that generated misleading headlines around the internet. The paper, by lead author Mark Siddall, stood out because it projected a relatively low level of sea level rise, from about 3 to 32 inches, a result that was hailed on climate denial websites as proving that climate change impacts would be mild.

In the retraction statement, the authors extended gratitude to the scientists who pointed out the flaws in their analysis, Stefan Rahmsdorf and Martin Vermeer.  Vermeer and Rahmsdorf had also completed a study on sea level [Global sea level linked to global temperature], that called for a much higher rise this century – up to almost 2 meters.

These and other studies convinced Siddal, et al, that they were wrong, that their estimate was too low, and needed to be withdrawn.

Other recent papers, have projected high sea level rise in coming decades including one by the US Geological Survey, predicting much more rapid ice melt at the poles – and yet another predicting a rise of 0.8 to 2 meters by century’s end.

That’s up to 6 feet, folks.

The anti-science movement is desperate and angry.  The basic science of climate change seems bullet proof – and it just keeps coming. Each new study seems to show even greater cause for concern.

Scientific American editorialized on the escalating ugliness of climate denier tactics and rhetoric, noting that stolen emails and minor errors have done nothing to undermine the science. The editors wondered if  “we are a people increasingly estranged from critical thinking, divorced from logic, alienated from even objective truth.”

As if to underline that point, the South Dakota Legislature recently passed a resolution urging schools not to teach the science of climate change. The document stated that, there are a variety of climatological, meteorological, astrological, thermological, and other forces that influence climate.

Thermology of course, is a discipline unrelated to climate science. And to say there’s no difference between climate denialism and astrology does a great disservice to astrologers. What’s revealing is that climate deniers don’t know there is a difference. So the technique is to throw out as many baseless accusations out as possible, in the hope that some of the mud will stick.

(Elmer Fudd) “Resisting and officer, assault and battery, trespassing, disturbing the peace, miscellaneous misdemeanors, public nuisance, traffic violations, going thru a boulevard stop, jay-walking, triple parking, conduct unbecoming to a wabbit.”

(Monty Python)

“Whoah, she turned me into a newt.”

“A newt?”

“…….I got better”.


The Anti-science movement’s fascination with the 12th century goes way beyond just the temperature of the medieval period.  There’s a longing for a return to those values as well.

(Glenn Beck) “There’s not enough knives, this…if the IPCC had been done by Japanese scientists, there’s not enough knives on planet Earth for hari kari that should have occurred.”

(Rush Limbaugh) “Making sure that every scientist at every university in this country that’s been involved in this is named, and fired, drawn and quartered, or whatever it is.”

Not to be outdone, climate denier Mark Morano called for public floggings of scientists.

What makes a great civilization turn away from science, reason, and civility, to hatred of knowledge, ignorance,  fear, and brutality?  We seem to be running an experiment to find out.

To stay ahead of the curve, and avoid the tides of disinformation and propaganda – keep coming back to this channel, where we have a blast, find the gold, and kick some butt, here at climate denial crock of the week.


  1. Q&A: Professor Phil Jones, BBC Interview, Feb 13, 2010
  2. Climategate U-turn as scientist at centre of row admits: There has been no global warming since 1995, by Jonathan Petre, Daily Mail Online, Feb 14, 2010
  3. Journalistic malpractice on global warming, The Economist, Feb 22, 2010 (review of Daily Mail article)
  4. Uncertainty, noise and the art of model-data comparison, by Gavin Schmidt and Stefan Rahmstorf, RealClimate, January 11, 2008
  5. Cyber Bullying Intensifies as Climate Data Questioned, by Fischer and The Daily Climate, March 1, 2010,  Scientific American
  6. IPCC Fact and Spin
  7. In it for the gold
  8. Truth Fights back – debunking climate denier nonsense
  9. The goat woman: Chinese grandmother, 101, grows mystery horn on forehead
  10. Richard Lindzen deliberately blurring lines
  11. Round and Round with Lindzen, Motl, and Jones
  12. Lubos Motl blog post
  13. Scientists withdraw low-ball estimate of sea level rise — media are confused and anti-science crowd pounces February 22, 2010
  14. Global sea level linked to global temperature, December 4, 2009, Vermeer and Rahmsdorf


One Response to “Flogging the Scientists”

  1. livinginabox Says:

    I can wholeheartedly recommend Greenman’s videos. Greenman debunks many garbage claims of the denialists. Check his claims. I have, and so far everything he says checks out. But don’t take my word for it.

    I’m sure that Greenman will know these, but visitors may not.

    When you see an outrageous claim check it out with:
    Deltoid blog


    Rabett Run



    Essential background reading on the Denial Industry
    Fancy some not so light reading? Read these and check the references. You’ll soon realise that vested interests [fossil-fuel interests; big energy using industries; politico-ideological wingnuts] have been waging a war against climate science. Soon it will be being waged against evolution and medicine, [by religious nuts and ‘alternative’ medicine charlatans. [This all started with the tobacco industry, see: http://lphi.org/LPHIadmin/uploads/The%20whole%20truth%20and%20nothing%20but%20the%20truth.pdf and Ref.1]

    Ref. 1
    Smoke, Mirrors & Hot Air: How ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco’s Tactics to Manufacture Uncertainty on Climate Science

    Click to access exxon_report.pdf

    Ref. 2
    Koch Industries’ Extensive Funding of Climate Denial Industry Unmasked

    Click to access koch-industries-secretly-fund.pdf

    Ref. 3
    Greenpeace Says Climate Denialism a 20–Year Industry

    Click to access dealing-in-doubt.pdf

    Ref. 4
    John Mashey: Crescendo Climategate Cacophony
    http://www.desmogblog.com/sites/beta.desmogblog.com/files/crescendo climategate cacophony v1 0.pdf

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