Scepticism, denial and the high court

By Ken Perrott 18/07/2012 24


Currently the NZ High Court is hearing a case brought against NIWA by a local climate change denial group.* You can catch up with the background and progress at When asses go to court, When asses go to law, Exclusive: Flat Earth Society appeal to NZ climate sceptics – join us! and Niwa breaching its duties with figures – sceptics group

The most interesting aspect of this trial will be the judge’s verdict and reasons. But at this stage I just want to justify my description of the complainants as climate change deniers rather than sceptics (a term I know they prefer – although one of them is objecting even to that (see Four go a-court, with a hey, nonny-no). To me it all boils down to questions of  “good faith.”

We have plenty of debates in science – and sometimes these can become heated. But they are important to the whole enterprise. Ideas and theories must be tested against reality, and that testing should be done collectively – individuals are too prone to bias. So argument, debate and testing against reality is what keeps us honest.

But of course that debate must be carried out in “good faith.” With the intention of exposing errors and coming to a resolution which provides a better picture of reality. From my perspective scepticism is part of the process and there is plenty of room for sceptics in science – including climate science. Honest, good faith, scepticism can only be good.

So what about “deniers.” Well, the difference here is that their “scepticism” is not aimed at improving our knowledge, or of furthering truth, but in discrediting that knowledge. By now we have all become used to the climate change denial activity, its sneering attitude towards science and the facts, and the support it gets from the fossil fuel industry and extreme right-wing and conservative politicians.

But here’s a little guide I came across which helps illustration the difference between scepticism and denial. It’s from Get Energy Smart! NOW! and the post is titled “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire …” Differentiating Skeptic from Denier. (I sort of think the childishness of the title is appropriate in this case).

The post contrasts Legitimate scientific scepticism with denialism. Here’s an extract:

Legitimate scientific skepticism:

“I found a flaw in one of your statistical methods. Here’s a better way to do it, and here are my results using the new method.”

Denialism:

“I found a flaw in one of your statistical methods. Therefore, you’re a liar liar pants on fire.”

Legitimate scientific skepticism:

“I think one of your data sets is questionable. Here’s an analysis of how that data set impacts your overall result.”

Denialism:

“I think one of your data sets is questionable. Therefore, you’re a liar liar pants on fire.”

Legitimate scientific skepticism:

“I think your model fails to account for a factor that I believe is significant. Here’s a modified model that accounts for the factor you left out, and here are my results with the new model.”

Denialism:

“I think your model fails to account for a factor that I believe is significant. Therefore, you’re a liar liar pants on fire.”

Get it yet?

Actually, for anyone who has delved into the blogs, comments sections and forums of the climate change denial echo chamber the spite and sneering is not far from “liar, liar, pants on fire!”

I look forward to the High Court verdict.


*This denier group is rather weird. It calls itself the “New Zealand Climate Science Education Trust,” and is known as a branch of the NZ Climate Science Coalition – a local denier group with links to the US Heartland Institute and other right-wing think tanks. It originally attempted to register as a charity and was actually listed for a short time in the NZ Charities register. Now it has been removed!

Perhaps their registration was rejected, possibly because of its political nature or its unwillingness to provide financial reports. Or perhaps they decided that there was little mileage (and little support) from going down the charity road and it has fallen back on deeper financial pockets.

It might need them.

Image credit: Dirty Bandits

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24 Responses to “Scepticism, denial and the high court”

  • And here I was about to write a post about not liking the word “Denier” because it seemed to throw all sorts of people into the same pot as those who denied the holocaust happened. You have shown me a way to define someone as a “denier” (of a particular theory/claim). Well done Ken.

  • Interesting skeptics and deniers, reminds me of something.
    Climate change is an interesting topic, there is no doubt the climate is changing as the earth goes through cycles of warming and cooling. The sun also has cycles and I am pretty sure at the moment is a period of high solar activity.
    What we also have to remember is the earth is a giant magnet and the earth’s magnetic flux (which also cycles) has an influence on the weather and climate to.
    The earth is 70 % water filled with organisms such as phytoplankton which absorb CO2.
    So I would say that man has a very minimal effect (if any) on the climate change.
    If we were that worried about we need to look at breaking the oil addiction, because Carbon Credits wont do much for the climate (it might stimulate some fat cats economy though)
    My opinion.

    • Derek – on what do you base your comment:
      “So I would say that man has a very minimal effect (if any) on the climate change.”? Wishful thinking?

      You sort of reveal that you are actually aware of human effects when you mention “oil addiction.” The “minimal effect” of humanity has been the release of carbon previously stored as fossil fuel. That is the major driver of climate change at the moment (and no that is not to deny the non-human factors).

      We can do something about this – but of course huge financial interests (the fossil fuel industry) are involved and they pull a lot of political and media strings.

  • No I base my comment on the fact that we are like ants in the big picture.
    “Planetary warming has also been observed on Mars, Jupiter, Pluto, and on Neptune’s largest moon Triton during the decades following the peak of the “Solar Grand Maximum””
    ” It is also now clear that temperatures over the last century correlate far better with cycles in oceans than they do with carbon dioxide; and, the temperature cycles in oceans are caused by cycles of the sun.”
    You said “We can do something about this – but of course huge financial interests (the fossil fuel industry) are involved and they pull a lot of political and media strings.” sounds a bit like a conspiracy to me.

  • Derek, perhaps you should put those ants aside for a minute and check out what humanity actually knows about climate science. The IPCC has summarized this knowledge in its reports and I wrote a while back about some of the main reasons we are reasonably confident that human activities are partly responsible for recent warming. Have a look at my post Climate Change is Complex – http://openparachute.wordpress.com/2010/08/11/climate-change-is-complex/.

    I don’t know who you are quoting (you should develop the habit of being up front with your sources) but it doesn’t sound reputable. Be careful – the denier echo chamber promotes all sorts of misleading information. Best to rely on the scientific experts.

  • No one seems to talk about the south Atlantic anomalie in the earths magnetic field, but the weakening of the magnetic field brings the magnetosphere closer to earth. Which means charged particles such as cosmic rays and protons come closer to earth. There is another source of warming.

  • Did you read my post Derek?

    I think the message is (and you could check out the actual full text of the IPCC reports) that scientists around the world look at all sorts of things, including the role of cosmic rays. (In fact there was a lot of media coverage recently on initial work on effects of cosmic rays on cloud formation at CERN).

    In the IPCC reports these findings are summarised and provisional conclusions drawn. One of the figures in my post considers contributions from a range of forcings on climate change and you can see from that the inputs of greenhouse gases is one of the major ones and that input is basically due to fossil fuel mining.

    The IPCC summaries are done for world governments and that is why many governments are considering economic management system to limit further CO2 pollution.

  • Yes I read your post this is an issue I find to be rather prickly, as the whole angle of this seems to be trying to establish a carbon tax. I believe this to be the case because it seems any solution to the oil addiction is rubbished by the mainstream scientific community. I can only see a carbon tax being a burden to the common man as it will push prices up further. That is why I am opposed to the whole debacle. Especially when there are so many other factors that don’t seem to be put in the statistics (like the global solar maximum and the south Atlantic magnetic anomaly) when it comes to warming.

  • Derek are you saying that the climate scientists around the world are not honestly presenting the facts? Because they want NZ to have a carbon tax? (which we don’t have by the way).

    Are you going to ignore all their findings just because you don’t like taxes?

    Isn’t that silly?

    Ignoring or denying a problem doesn’t make it go away, does it?

  • No but ignoring solutions don’t you think is silly ?

    I have presented to this arena many differing solutions and so far no one has presented any interest what so ever in fact all I have had is skepticism and denial. Most have been half baked goes at debunking any solutions. So I conclude from this is some sort of political agenda from main stream scientists to establish a world wide carbon tax (which we know already they are trying to do) from the general populace to fund their endeavours.
    “We can do something about this – but of course huge financial interests (the fossil fuel industry) are involved and they pull a lot of political and media strings.” They have Billions of dollars to try and smash protons together but not a cent for radiant electricity. Who really cares about a Higgs Boson any way, done to try to justify a theory. What about a solution to the energy crisis ? Plasma fusion, cold fusion , fuel cells, HHO technology, Vortex energy, Sonoluminescence, cavitation, Radiant energy, wireless electricity. So it doesn’t wash with me, I wont pay a carbon tax.

    So no I don’t believe the climate scientists because as you know there are those that disagree with that theory as well and they are educated scientists to.

  • Yes and I forgot to mention the Ionosphere heaters all around the world, beaming high energy VLF waves into the Ionosphere, the best example being HAARP. But many other nations have similar systems.

  • Derek,

    “Solutions” that have no sound basis are distractions that are best ignored – and will be ignored by people who have sincere intentions of coming up with working solutions.

  • ““Solutions” that have no sound basis are distractions that are best ignored” How arrogant to claim these are distractions. These are valid phenomenon that could provide answers.
    Plasma fusion, cold fusion , fuel cells, HHO technology, Vortex energy, Sonoluminescence, cavitation, Radiant energy, wireless electricity all have sound basis.
    Better than the no solutions that have been offered so far. So Grant what do you know that I don’t when it comes to working solutions. Nothing I suppose, still waiting for yours.

  • “Nothing I suppose, still waiting for yours.”

    I see your “last word” is mudslinging. I made a sound general point. Seeing as you (just) want to mudsling, the field’s yours 😉

  • Derek – you are resorting to trolling by simply posting links.

    The comments wsection is for reasoned discussion, not free advertising of one’s foibles.

    Your discussion is welcome – your advertising isn’t.

  • ” I made a sound general point”
    This sounds like academic mudslinging to me ““Solutions” that have no sound basis are distractions that are best ignored”.
    To me if your not prepared to investigate some of these issues, and instead dismiss them as having no sound basis. Then suggest no solutions you are in fact naive as to what has been discovered and the secrets that mother nature hides As well as the many thousands of hours of research some pioneers have done.in the quest for energy research.
    That is a topic I would like to see on sciblogs “Energy solutions”. Do the research and you will find there are many possibilities. Turn the young peoples minds on instead of dismissing scenarios that could in fact save our planet and wallets.

    • Derek, I think the problem you have here is that you expect everyone to slavishly endorse your views without providing any evidence. Indeed most of your arguments actually are nonsensical. And you reject, for example, findings from climate science, well evidenced, as a conspiracy from scientists to impose taxation!

      You really make no sense.

      But here is a suggestion. What bout taking your ideas to the local climate denial blog (http://www.climateconversation.wordshine.co.nz/). I am sure you will find the community more to your liking. They will certainly agree with your willingness to slander honest scientists. You won’t have to hold back as that community is not offended by such vulgar claims.

      And who knows they may be willing to endorse yort energy ideas without requiring evudence as we do here.

  • Derek. You state: “To me if your not prepared to investigate some of these issues, and instead dismiss them as having no sound basis. Then suggest no solutions you are in fact naive as to what has been discovered and the secrets that mother nature hides”

    The people who post here are not the only researchers in the world. There are researchers all over the world looking for better energy sources. A clean, safe, reliable energy source to replace petroleum would guarantee the discoverer a lot of money, plus at least one Nobel prize.

    The technologies you espouse have been considered and rejected as possibilities by thousands of researchers. The drive for profit and glory is very strong, but your proposed technologies will not deliver these baubles. Things that can be commercially developed do get developed. Weird science like quantum tunnelling has been developed, for example, and we all use it daily through our phone memory and memory sticks.

    Just consider the possibility that you may be wrong.

  • Just a point of clarity: I didn’t “dismiss” anything (saying I did is trolling or trying to “read meanings” into what I wrote). I responded to the notion that others “must” consider all possible solutions – I just pointed out that it’s generally best not to waste time on solutions that have no sound basis. Pretty straight-forward generalisation, I think. It’s up to proponents to show their ideas are sound (this applies to everything incl. proponents of “alternative” medicine, etc.)

  • Grant ” I just pointed out that it’s generally best not to waste time on solutions that have no sound basis.”
    I find this an unexceptable thing to say when you are talking about science. For one you are dismissing a wide range of natural phenomenon that is pretty much unexplained and un researched. What is more you are turning other peoples minds off to some potential solutions.
    That statement assumes you have read everything and know all there is to know and what you don’t isn’t worth knowing.
    Wow you really know a lot, the vortices and energy of storms just a natural phenomenon, obviously no solutions there.
    Wireless electricity transmission Tesla was working on this until they cut off his funding for it. So far no one on earth has been able to achieve what he did (let me remind you he is providing the current energy solution for your house). He was proposing a world wide wireless system. Obviously not worth a mention.
    Plasma/ cold fusion Junk science and not within the current laws of physics so just bs ignore it.
    The list goes on..
    So what are mainstreams solutions ? Apart from better batteries for the electric car. This one is pretty good
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/motoring/news/9413044/Rimac-1-million-electric-supercar-debuts.html
    But not many people will be queuing for those with that price tag.
    So in future I wish you wouldn’t comment like that because it is unscientific .

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