The Science Denial Template, and a Bestiary

November 21, 2021

Above, recent speech by Don Trump Jr. , attacking Epidemiological science, and Dr. Anthony Fauci as a particular boogey man. See if this sounds familiar.

“Remember not one model was ever right, based on everything we have seen, not one thing he said ever ended up being true, and basically not one thing he ever said from the beginning of this wasn’t totally contradicted in his own emails, right?”
“What he is good at is, working the bureaucratic system, right?”
“He’s never met a camera he didn’t love, never had an interview he wouldn’t do, to make himself famous, because that’s all it was for him.”

The template has been carried thru from the Tobacco industry, thru climate denial, to the current catastrophic attacks on medical science and public health.


We learnt only last month that scientists have been abused on social media for telling the truth during the COVID pandemic.

Now, an international team of researchers has delved into a related phenomenon – climate misinformation – and found that attacks on the reliability of climate science is the most common form of misinformation, and that misinformation targeting climate solutions is on the rise.

Monash University research fellow Dr John Cook and colleagues from the University of Exeter, UK, and Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, trained a machine-learning model to automatically detect and categorise climate misinformation.

Then they reviewed 255,449 documents from 20 prominent conservative think-tank (CTT) websites and 33 climate change denial blogs to build a two-decade history of climate misinformation and find common topics, themes, peaks, and changes over time.

It’s the largest content analysis to date on climate misinformation, with findings published today in in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

“Our study found claims used by such think-tanks and blogs focus on attacking the integrity of climate science and scientists, and, increasingly, challenged climate policy and renewable energy,” Cook says.

“Organised climate change contrarianism has played a significant role in the spread of misinformation and the delay to meaningful action to mitigate climate change.”

As a result of their analysis, the researchers developed a taxonomy to categorise claims about climate science and policy used by opponents of climate action.

They found the five major claims about climate change used by CTTs and blogs were:

  1. It’s not happening
  2. It’s not us
  3. It’s not bad
  4. Solutions won’t work
  5. Climate science/scientists are unreliable

Within these were a number of sub-claims providing a detailed delineation of specific arguments.

The researchers say climate misinformation leads to a number of negative outcomes, including reduced climate literacy, public polarisation, cancelling out accurate information and influencing how scientists engage with the public.

“The problem of misinformation is so widespread, practical solutions need to be scalable to match the size of the problem,” Cook says.

“Misinformation spreads so quickly across social networks, we need to be able to identify misinformation claims instantly in order to respond quickly. Our research provides a tool to achieve this.”

The New paper, open access, includes a “Taxonomy”, or bestiary if you will, of climate denial claims that will be familiar to all readers of this blog.


11 Responses to “The Science Denial Template, and a Bestiary”

  1. Bryson Brown Says:

    I’ve seen similar patterns of argument in evolution denial, resistance to gun controls or vaccines, support for the death penalty and more. But I think the underlying modes of thinking are the real problem: attitudes and related motives, including resentment of science as a threat to religious beliefs as well as to simply continuing their lives in a familiar way, emotional thinking about the threat of climate change as demanding too much change for it to be accepted and acknowledged, fear of change and personal insecurity (not surprising in groups that are disadvantaged, under-educated, dependent on fossil fuels for employment and fearful/ mistrustful of any large-scale change– especially fear of change amongst people living in economic insecurity and quite reasonably more afraid of change in the short term than any dangers that continuing BAU poses in the longer run…) As a result, I’ve become increasingly pessimistic about the chances of our doing enough to avoid extreme climate change and everything that comes with it. Crop failures in Alberta, catastrophic weather events in British Columbia, and mass migrations after crop failures and poor governance in the south and central Americas are already under way. After Florida’s pandemic (so well supported by the state government), what might we expect in response to a sudden 50 cm rise in sea levels? (Of course Florida would be in much better shape than people living in regions such as southern Bangladesh; in the circumstances, I expect assistance to such regions would be minimal.)

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Yeah, scientists or any other people who try to correct your comforting false beliefs are a bunch of meanyheads. It’s worse when the beliefs come with standard responses to any threat (“atheists are religious, too” or “you’re in Big Pharma’s pocket” or “scientists were wrong about [something more than a century ago]”).

    • John Oneill Says:

      It’s looking like two degrees is just about baked in, but by that time denial will be pointless, and it will still be worth going all out to avoid +3C. Active CO2 removal from the air (and ocean) would have to be part of it – we’ve been adding it for two centuries, but there may be ways to subtract it, without having to use as much energy as we garnered from the coal and oil.
      There could be methods to stabilise the big ice sheets, too, and stop them sliding into the sea. I don’t know how, but there’s a lot of smarter people on the planet, and they should have plenty of incentive and resources. Just saving one megalopolis from drowning would probably pay the bill, if it can be done.

  2. sailrick Says:

    Dr. Fauci has authored or co-authored at least 1,000 peer reviewed papers.
    Regarding other scientists citing his authored papers, he is the 13th most cited scientist in Any Field of Science, in the World.

    • jimbills Says:

      Yeah, but he’s not good looking enough to have been popular. 😉

      • greenman3610 Says:

        right. Not nearly so cool looking as Don Jr.

        • jimbills Says:

          It’s a breathtakingly dumb quote on several levels. Sometimes I sit back and stare wide-eyed at the complete inanity of politics today.

          I got my booster yesterday. I was in line with a guy that was forced to get a first shot because of work. He kept insisting Covid doesn’t exist to a lady sitting next to him. I swear, we might as well live in the dark ages for how irrational and misinformed many are.

      • John Oneill Says:

        Don Jnr inherited his father’s brains !

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      “Dr. Fauci has authored or co-authored at least 1,000 peer reviewed papers.
      Regarding other scientists citing his authored papers, he is the 13th most cited scientist in Any Field of Science, in the World.”

      Yes, but aside from that, he’s totally incompetent.

  3. mboli Says:

    Hey! Donald Trump Sr. loves to insult the appearance of women. He fancies himself quite the insult comic, saying that during the 2016 primaries Carly Fiorina (the only woman in the among the top contenders) was too ugly to vote for, that Stormy Daniels was “hoseface” too ugly for her accusation to be true. Fox news host Megyn Kelly was bleeding from “wherever” in Trump-speak. For Trump Sr. this is a common theme, insulting Congresspeople, reporters, anybody female.

    Donald Trump Jr. also fancies himself an insult comic. If he takes to insulting male visages, this might be a step up from the rank sexism of his father, right?


  4. Roger Walker Says:

    At what point does telling lies about climate change become indictable as a crime against humanity? Just asking…

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