Dilbert’s Dimwitted Denial. Sad.

May 18, 2017


What happens when cartoonists lose sight of their original inspiration?
Things get ugly.


I don’t normally read Dilbert — I’ve seen far too much of the benighted ignorant psyche of its creator — but this one was just laid out on a table at the coffee shop yesterday, and I knew I’d have to deal with it. In this one, Dilbert goes full climate science denialist. This might be fun, to dissect Dilbert, because even though it will kill what little humor is present in it, at least we’ll have a good time laughing at Scott Adams. Let’s dissect the shit out of this thing.

(setup above)


OK, this is sort of fine. I think it’s a good idea for companies to think about what impact climate change will have on them, and how they affect the environment. I’m at a green university, and we’ve had these sorts of discussions. Still do, all the time.

It is definitely true that human activity is warming the Earth. It will lead to a global catastrophe, depending on how you define catastrophe: it will cause acute economic disruption, resource wars, and the death of millions. Is that catastrophic enough for you?


By the way, I notice that the scientist is a goateed and balding white man in a lab coat. It’s either unconscious bias (that’s how scientists are supposed to look!), or, I can’t help but notice a weak resemblance to Michael Mann.

Next panel, Dilbert asks Scott Adams’ idea of a smart question.

On the face of it, yes, that is a good question. I’d encourage students to ask that every time an instructor told them something. But consider the context. The answer to that question is readily available — google it. You can read the papers. You should have the answer to that from your high school earth science class. So why is Dilbert being made to ask this trivial question right at the start of this meeting? I can tell right away that this is not a sincere question, this is a derailing tactic to justify a software engineer speaking out of his ass to the scientific expert. Sound familiar?

Then we get the eternal dilemma of the science popularizer. Do you just scorch this ass with contempt because you can see right through him, or do you try to take the question seriously and give the primer in kindergarten climatology he’s asking for?

You can’t win, you know. The game is rigged. If you do the former, you’ll be accused of being hostile and mean. If you do the latter, you’re patronizing and people will write scornful blog posts about how you think raw data dumps will cure all the scientific misunderstandings in the world.

So what do you do? Most of us will take the generous view and try to explain exactly what the questioner is asking for, like our Michael Mann surrogate here:


And that’s also fine. So far, the strip has been true to the characters, and the nature of their interactions. It’s denialist vs. scientist, familiar territory, and now it’s time for the funny, clever twist…but Adams can’t deliver. He has to resort to sticking words in the mouth of the scientist that are not at all true to the character.


That’s just wrong. It’s not what climate scientists say or even think. It’s what Scott Adams, who is no scientist of any kind, says and thinks. And with that betrayal of the premise of the joke, it abruptly falls flat and dies. If all you can do to discredit a point of view is to lie and make puppets say falsehoods, it’s your position that fails. Adams does this because he lacks any insightful response to the honest arguments of scientists.

I guess there’s supposed to be a punchline of some sort next. Once again, Adams fails to meet the minimal standards of his medium.

I think the punchline is supposed to be implying that science supporters can only defend their position by calling True Skeptics mean names. Of course, the entire point of the two panels just above that is to call climate scientists conscious liars.

The only people who will find this at all funny are the denialists who see the panels in which the climate scientist openly maligns his methodology as affirmations of their beliefs. That’s OK, it’ll finally be the death of Dilbert — I skimmed the comments and noticed several people were shocked that Scott Adams endorse an anti-scientific claim. Apparently they’ve never read his blog before.

I shouldn’t claim it’ll kill Dilbert, though. Nothing kills syndicated comics. Johnny Hart went full-blown creationist/evangelical Christian/anti-Muslim bigot, and newspapers just kept right on buying up the strips. Hart died in 2007, and B.C. is still going.

And people think tenured professors have it easy.

Turns out, Johnny Hart not only went off on evolution, he got kind of hostile to climate science as well. Like I said, ugly.



It happens that I’m working on a new piece that addresses Scott Adams bugaboo – the “all climate science is based on models” crock – which I hope we can post next week. For now, here’s an older piece on the same subject.



38 Responses to “Dilbert’s Dimwitted Denial. Sad.”

  1. Mike Male Says:

    Wow….did someone dog-whistle in some denier den or Scott Adams fanclub page?

  2. Every law of science is a model. If you don’t like models, you don’t like science.

    • John Hendrix Says:

      I don’t think the argument is that models are useless. I think the argument is that successful models have been selected from a slew of models (all based on the same fundamentals) that were mostly wrong. The claim is the conventional model was selected via survivor bias, not developed via sound methodology. I work in finance and we see that type of error all the time.
      For the record I have no strong feelings on climate predictions either way.

  3. ubrew12 Says:

    Dilbert: “What happens if I don’t trust the economic models?” The future happens. Whether you prepare for it or not, the future happens. People like Scott Adams and Lamar Smith seem to think that not trusting the ‘expert consensus’ somehow relieves them of having to predict the future. That’s simply untrue. The ‘do nothing’ alternative is still a course of action, and all courses of action are either made on some rational expectation of their outcome, or they are irrational. If you ‘do nothing’, you did something, and must explain to your stakeholders why you took that action. If Dilbert doesn’t trust the models, then there are other models he trusts. He has no choice in the matter. Just because Lamar Smith cannot identify where he came up with his predictions of the future, doesn’t mean he made no predictions. He’s taken a course of action, which is no action, and must have done so with some expectation of where that course would lead. In his case, he’s probably using some version of: “This is all natural. The past has been fine so I think the future will be like the past.” What he doesn’t get to do is claim he never modeled the future, with which to predict it. He certainly has, and so has Dilbert. And really, just how trustworthy are those models?

  4. Hmm, Science is created from google searches and newspaper headlines.
    Not from mathematical models..Who knew?!

  5. […] cartoonist and climate denier Scott Adams goes from mere tool  to full blown useful […]

  6. 97% of all climate models have been wrong

    97% of climate change is due to the sun and it’s magnetics


    • greenman3610 Says:

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      100% of what Fresh Energy posts is horse manure.

    • ubrew12 Says:

      Fresh Energy said: “97% of all climate models have been wrong”
      That’s not true. The correct figure is 100%.
      Also, 100% of all nuclear fission models have been wrong, 100% of all economics models have been wrong, and 100% of all models predicting how many heads you will get from 100 coin tosses are wrong. Models are wrong, that’s why we call them models. They are estimations of reality and cannot, as estimations, be right. At all. Ever. The IPCC models don’t have to beat ‘reality’ because, by definition of that thing we call ‘models’, they cannot beat reality. The IPCC models ONLY have to beat your models. Do you have models? Do the Koch Brothers? Does Exxon? Does anyone? Because models can only compare to reality BETTER than other models. They cannot compare to reality BETTER than reality itself. That would be absurd.

      You’re not absurd, are you, Fresh?

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