Still Flogging a Dead Argument

The situation – one early flight to Melbourne, one free copy of The Australian and one particular article spotted as I flicked from the front page to the crosswords, shyly entitled “Climate Change Science has become an Expensive Smokescreen”. And I hadn’t even eaten breakfast yet.

The article reads as many climate denialist pieces do, patching together worn out arguments that ignore other evidence and understanding.  It’s the type of article I’ve become all too used to seeing.

I may sound irritated writing this piece, and it’s not only because I never got to finish the crossword, It’s because of the damage these types of articles cause and just how long it takes to respond to them. Every time I read one I come across something I wasn’t sure about, some piece of evidence used in support of their argument I hadn’t yet heard, but every time I take a more detailed look, it turns out to be wrong or misleading. And frankly, I’m getting sick of it.

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, let’s consider some of the main arguments:

1)      Climate change scientists conspire because of “…political intent in the absence of a strong scientific case”

2)      The Earth’s climate has cooled, not warmed since 2002

3)      Our climate model estimates don’t match actual observations

In short, these arguments amount to no more than a thinly veiled conspiracy theory, cherry picked data and a lie. Can you pick which is which?

The first argument implies that one side of the debate has ulterior motives or intentions, easy to imagine if we assume that someone stands to gain from ‘winning’ the debate. But here’s the thing: the first scientist to disprove human-induced climate change would be more famous than Einstein. If any scientist could do this, they would have done so. To imply that scientists are conspiring together on climate science for other reasons is no more than conspiracy theory.

The lack of a recent warming trend in the data seems problematic until you consider an analogous argument: global warming can’t be happening because since January, I have noticed a steep drop in temperature where I live. Seems ridiculous, doesn’t it? This is because it is possible to see any trend you like if you choose your data carefully; selecting data in this way is known as cherry picking. Arguments about global warming that rely on cherry picked climate information from the last decade when we have very accurate data that span hundreds to millions of years are ignoring a large portion of the evidence.

The third argument relies on a ‘false expert’: referencing someone else’s work as fact before it has been accepted as such. The article references a blog of an author whose previous publication in a peer reviewed journal was heavily criticised by the scientific community and caused enough controversy that the Editor-in-Chief of the journal resigned. It is either naïve or misleading to referencing this blog, which is neither critiqued nor verified by other experts, and written by an author with previously controversial work, as sound, factual information.

Beyond simply being wrong, these arguments have other serious implications. To adequately respond I not only had to find the original work (they really aren’t big on referencing), I had to read numerous papers and counter-arguments. But this is time that not everyone has. The Result? Denialist arguments that do not accurately represent our understanding of the climate simply go unchecked and do no more than mislead the public and cloud the debate. It’s time that denialist stopped using arguments like these – after all, even plane food at 6 am is easier to swallow.

I’ve linked quite a few sources in this article, jump on to follow them. If anyone thinks they have an argument against human induced climate change that hasn’t yet been put out to pasture, please, comment on the website and I’ll do my best to respond.