The top 5 ways the ‘birthers’ are like the deniers

The people who refuse to accept the reality that President Obama was born in the United States share much in common with those who refuse to accept the reality that humans are dramatically changing the climate.

5.  Both groups are impervious to the evidence. During the campaign, “Obama released a certification of live birth, which is the official document you get if you ask Hawaii for a copy of your birth certificate,” as Salon explains.  Further, “state officials have repeatedly affirmed its authenticity and said they’ve checked it against the original record and that Obama was indeed born in Hawaii.”  Politico labels this “seemingly incontrovertible evidence.”  Similarly, the reality of human-caused warming has been overwhelmingly demonstrated and affirmed by the peer-reviewed literature, the hundreds of scientists who review and report on that literature periodically as part of the IPCC process and the more than 100 world governments (including the Bush Administration) who approved the 2007 IPCC summary reports word for word (see “Absolute MUST Read IPCC Report: Debate over, further delay fatal, action not costly” and “Can you PROVE to me that global warming is being caused by mankind?“*).

4.  Both come from the same group of people. The NYT explained that the birther movement “first took root among some staunchly conservative elements.”  As Politico notes, “A whopping 58 percent of Republicans either think Barack Obama wasn’t born in the US (28 percent) or aren’t sure (30 percent).”  And it is conservatives and Republicans who make up the overwhelming majority of those who question climate science (see “The Deniers are winning, but only with the GOP“).

3.  Both group get their disinformation from the same right-wing sources. The NYT wrote on June 24 that “Despite ample evidence to the contrary, the country’s most popular talk radio host, Rush Limbaugh, told his listeners on Tuesday that Mr. Obama “has yet to have to prove that he’s a citizen.” ”  Similarly, Limbaugh tells his listeners things like, “Despite the hysterics of a few pseudo-scientists, there is no reason to believe in global warming.”

2.  Both groups have an underlying motivation — their desire to obstruct progressive government action. The birthers, of course, are trying to delegitimize Obama, to block his entire reform agenda.  NYT science reporter Andy Revkin noted about one huge conference of global warming deniers, “The one thing all the attendees seem to share is a deep dislike for mandatory restrictions on greenhouse gases.”  As I explain at length in my book, a central reason that conservatives and libertarians reject the scientific understanding of human-caused climate change is that they simply cannot stand the solution.

1.  Both groups believe in a mammoth conspiracy theory.  The birthers not only believe that Obama’s birth documents are forged and that current Hawaii state officials are lying about them.  They have to believe in a conspiracy dating back five decades, as Salon explains:  two Hawaiian newspapers carried announcements of Obama’s birth in August 1961. (Read the Honolulu Advertiser’s item from Aug. 13, 1961, nine days after Obama’s birth, here.)….  The truth, though, is that the notices are even stronger pieces of evidence than that. Obama’s family didn’t place them — Hawaii did, as it does for all births. The announcements were based on official records sent to the papers by the state’s Department of Health.”

Deniers like Senator James Inhofe (R-OIL) or Anthony Watts proudly assert or repeat statements like “global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American public” or “the biggest whopper ever sold to the public in the history of humankind” [see “Diagnosing a victim of anti-science syndrome (ASS)“].  That hoax would require complicity among thousands of climate scientists, all of the leading scientific journals, the National Academies of Science around the world (including ours) and every major U.S. scientific organization (see “Yet more scientists call for deep GHG cuts“).  Such statements accuses every major government, including ours, of participating in that conspiracy, since they all sign off on every word in the Assessment Report summaries.

The differences between the birthers and the deniers, however, are bigger than the similarities.  The birthers are relatively harmless, the mainstream media has mostly debunked them and relegated them to a side show.  The deniers, however, still get regular play in the MSM and are far, far more dangerous.  If enough Americans, opinion makers, and policymakers continue to listen to the deniers message of delay, delay, delay, we will destroy a livable climate, ruining the health and well-being of the next 50 generations to walk the planet.

The birthers are stuck in the past.  The deniers want to destroy the future.

35 Responses to The top 5 ways the ‘birthers’ are like the deniers

  1. Lou Grinzo says:

    To me, the most interesting aspect of the deniers/birthers comparison is the thing JR points out at the end: How they’re treated by the media.

    I’m often tempted to contact media outlets after they do the faux balance thing with climate change, and ask if they’d use the same pro/con format for the issue of whether we really landed on the moon, whether HIV causes AIDS (easily the most disgusting group of deniers on the planet), whether smoking causes cancer, etc.

    The basic mechanism at work here is conventional wisdom. All the media people who wouldn’t know their elbow from a Bunsen burner “know” that climate change is an up-for-grabs issue, so they treat it that way. I haven’t a clue how we get them to see that not only is it no such thing, but they’re doing almost unimaginable harm by acting as if it were.

  2. paulm says:

    West coast glacial tipping point appears to have been around 1980/85

  3. Pete O'Connor says:

    On point #1, I wonder if the deniers’ conspiracy also requires document forgery in Hawaii dating back to the same time period (the Keeling Curve).

    [JR: I hadn’t thought of the Keeling curve and Mauna Loa connection — good catch!]

  4. Rick says:

    one area where the comparison fails is that while Obama’s birth is a simple, well documented, one time event in a single moment of the recent past, climate is the complex and uncertain and changing result of a difficult to grasp collection of forces applied over billions of years.

    [JR: Or, in the case of humanity becoming the dominant force in climate change, applied over a few decades.]

  5. Jeff Huggins says:

    The Problems

    The problems (or some of them) having to do with this pattern of insistent denial of the evidence, shoddy reasoning, and so forth, are these:

    1. This MATTERS. In a democracy, folks that follow this approach and think this way can tilt elections, block legislation, and thus cause very real disasters. This sort of thing is not something that can continue on such a large scale. It’s no laughing matter.

    2. The media enable this. Yes, they complain about it, and laugh at it (sometimes), but both “sides” in the media point at the other side, and they all complain and chatter, and in the end they contribute to the problem and let it pass, either with a wink or because they become more enticed by the next day’s battle. The shoddy thinking and coverage in the media (often) tend to “set a bar”, and it’s a low one. And, perhaps even worse, most of the media seem to treat politics as if it’s just a “game”, quite literally. They like the boxing match. They talk more about political strategy than they do about the real substance and the real issues. They do so many things to enable and contribute to this problem that it would take too long to list them all here. It makes me think, often, that most people in the media think of all of this as a game, OR perhaps they are just so “into” the battle that, since they have health care coverage (perhaps) and they live well above sea level (perhaps), the matters of health care and global warming don’t seem that “urgent” to them, and they’re more happy just fighting with each other in the “game”.

    And also, after all, it’s easier just to fight and focus on the boxing match. One doesn’t really need to know much about the subject, or about anything, to do that. It’s easier to ask soft questions than to ask hard and relevant ones. It’s easier to accept the first answers, i.e., the superficial ones, than it is to get to the bottom of things. It’s easier to be nice to advertisers than it is to report honestly and critically about them when their actions are not responsible. It’s easier to “report” on problems, and enable them, than it is to solve them or even contribute to solving them. It’s just plain easier for the media to do a poor job than to do a responsible one. And, the rest of society pays the price, and it’s a big one. Indeed, the people in the media also pay the price, eventually.

    We’re going to need to find a way to address these problems. The current mess isn’t sustainable, and I mean really!



  6. Sable says:

    Joe, Thanks for pointing out that these seemingly separate threads have a common source. However, I’m not sure I’d dismiss the birthers as “relatively harmless”. There is a nascent hysteria on the right – things long present, and long suppressed, are now seeing the light of day. They keep morphing from one thing to the next, egged on by demagogues in the media and their enablers in congress.

    Our society seems to be drifting toward greater polarization and perhaps even political violence.

  7. The horrible tragedy from this is that our AGW problems require full and complete cooperation and unified effort. This dooms us to failure.

    My folks often told me about WW2 – saying it was a wonderful, unified, patriotic effort, that everyone supported both foreign and domestically. The doubters, the isolationists and vocal dissent all disappeared when war was declared. (Even contentious issues of race and employment organizing accepted the important war goals.)

    Perhaps you agree that we need such a unified effort. And politically, and for now, it looks like we are unable to declare war on such a non-human enemy. Pity.

  8. Rick Covert says:


    You should have also included the militant and irrational mobs who have been disrupting congressman who are holding town hall meetings to discuss the health care bill and why it won’t kill their granmas and grandpas.

    I did warn about how they are unwilling to listen to reason such as the case of the congressman who had to explain to a constituent who demanded the government keep their hands off of his Medicare that it already was a government program. He didn’t listen to reason either.

  9. Berbalang says:

    Deniers, birthers and teabaggers are very closely linked, one only has to look at a website like to see this.

  10. Nancy says:

    I believe it is a battle between big business and human beings. In the battle over climate, it’s the big fossil fuel producers/users vs humanity. In the battle over health care, it’s the big insurance companies against individuals. Because profit always comes first and most businesses are about as moral as Bernie Madoff, humans will lose both of these wars.

  11. Cornhusker says:

    The birthers and deniers are being fed by the same partisan media machine. On a somewhat related note…

    Now that the political landscape is changing ( many of us in farm states need to seriously frame a progressive ag policy. All the folks hear around here are GOP talking points. Cap-and-trade bad… etc.

    What would a progressive ag policy look like? Off the top of my head…

    1). Using my state as an example… Nebraskans own Nebraska alternative energy. Imagine how such a policy would impact rural development! (Efforts to make that so have been stymied.)

    2). Break up the monopolies so producers / ranchers have a more level playing field on which to operate.

    3). Promote local farmer’s markets

    4). Write policy that secures a healthy food supply, protects soil / water quality AND gives producers / ranchers the latitude to be innovators. For example… If a drought is in progress, don’t make producers plant corn (i.e. crops that require lots of water). If a rancher wants to certify their meat as mad cow free… let them do so. [Was Johanns the Ag Secretary when the Bush administration forbad a rancher from certifying his meat mad cow free?]

    Industrial hemp has very little THC, is a good fiber / oil producer and is native to the US. Europe makes numerous products out of hemp. However… the restrictions on researching hemp are so onerous, we can’t even determine whether it’s a good crop for US farmers to grow.

    5) One agent told me that if a producer doesn’t qualify for a particular program and he rejects that producer’s application, he’ll get a call from the local Congressman. I’ve heard of land placed in CRP that shouldn’t be in CRP. We have producers who rip out taxpayer paid erosion containment structures because they are no longer paid to maintain the structure. We need to clean this up.

  12. Cornhusker says:

    I should have mentioned…

    I’m in communication with a local politico. He actually made the argument that we need to be against cap and trade in order to win elections. That’s why I began to reframe the debate.

  13. DavidCOG says:

    If you drew a Venn diagram of Deniers, creationists, birthers, Troofers, moon hoaxers, if they didn’t all fit within each other, there would be massive overlap.

    In my travels at reddit and elsewhere on the tubes, there are some angry, unhinged conservatives / libertarians (angry, unhinged = redundant?!). I think there are fewer than a ~year ago – many embarrassed in to silence by the mountain of evidence – but the ones left are furious that they can’t win this ‘debate’.

    I guess the watershed is going to be Copenhagen in December. If we get anywhere near the deal that is needed, these people are going to be apoplectic. You’ve not talked about Copenhagen, Joe – or have I missed it?

  14. JGB says:

    I love the post, because it hits on simple truths. However, DavidCOG, I wouldn’t lump “Troofers” or those in the 9/11 Truth Movement with Birthers and Deniers.

    Why? Because there is ample evidence to believe that the gov’t isn’t telling us the whole story, AND most of the folks in the Truth Movement that I know are progressive – they link the 9/11 attacks with the neofascist movement in our government, led by folks like Dick Cheney. They see exposing 9/11 for what it really was as KEY to dismantling the neocon/neofascist control of our society.

    Birthers and Deniers WANT this kind of control – that’s why they were the hardcore supporters of Bush et al.

  15. caerbannog says:

    On point #1, I wonder if the deniers’ conspiracy also requires document forgery in Hawaii dating back to the same time period (the Keeling Curve).

    Denier: But…but… the Mauna Loa station is downwind of a volcano! The measurements are contaminated.

    Me: Then compare the Mauna Loa measurements with measurements taken in Antarctica.

    Denier: But…but… the Mauna Loa station is downwind of a volcano! The measurements are contaminated.

    (That’s pretty close to an actual exchange I had with a denier/wingnut on the San Diego Union-Tribune discussion-board some time ago)

  16. Gail says:

    Does anyone remember how Obama was vilified for suggesting that the “bitterz” cling to guns and religion? They are a small proportion of the American spectrum, but they are loud, and livid.

  17. John Mashey says:

    People may be aware of the recent Open Letter to the American Physical Society, by Singer, Happer, et al. I.e., this is one of these letters, signed almost entirely by physicists who have never published any peer-reviewed research in climate science, regardless of how distinguished they might be in nuclear, high-energy, plasma, superconducting, laser, bio- physics, or missiles, astronautics.

    Although I recognized a quarter of the names, it’s been interesting researching the rest to try to understand the motivations and connections, some of which are quite interesting. For example, there’s a set of 3 astronautics faculty at U of Southern California who signed this, and are at theh same time looking for CA and Federal funding for climate science.

    One of the other signers was Edwin X. Berry, whose website was fascinating, as he does actually have some climate background, although hasn’t published lately. At least as of today, it leads off with the Kenyan birth certificate.

    The interested reader might peruse his Letter to Spokane, castigating it for signing up with ICLEI, entitled

    “We are partying on the train to Auschwitz “

  18. HighTest says:

    Birthers and deniers — this blog is a course in critical thinking. Instructive. Thanks.
    …. Small thought:
    Dear Repliers, When you have an example in front of you of how not to behave, why mirror it and turn into what you disrespect? Wingnuts, unhinged…. if they are truly insane, no point at all in arguing.
    You may not change their minds on the merits of your argument, Galileo couldn’t. But you certainly won’t with insults. I do like Joe’s humor.

  19. DavidCOG says:


    > …I wouldn’t lump “Troofers” or those in the 9/11 Truth Movement with Birthers and Deniers. … Because there is ample evidence to believe that the gov’t isn’t telling us the whole story,…

    Are you saying that you believe that 9/11 was not what we all saw on our TVs – planes, hijacked by religious nutjobs, being flown in to buildings? Are you suggesting that hundreds, possibly thousands, of Americans conspired to murder thousands of their fellow citizens for some diabolical, unspecified agenda? Are you on medication?

    No. The Troofers are as driven by wingnut ideology as the Deniers. Troofers reject all and any evidence and science that conflicts with their desperate beliefs just as Deniers do.


    Climate change has been extensively researched and the overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree that the observed modern day global warming is unprecedented and is very likely caused by humans. Although there is little serious debate between climate experts, many in the general public still think that these scientists are unsure about climate change and the role that humans have played in modern day global warming. The Website above summarizes some of the key research that has led scientists to their overwhelming consensus while also addressing some of the unfounded claims by climate change skeptics and denialists.

    The only plausible explanation is that today’s warming is primarily due to human activities. The increase in greenhouse emissions can easily account for this warming. There is robust evidence for the man-made global warming. There are no other known sources of warming that can explain the observed modern climate change. People that claim there is no warming or that the warming is not caused by humans have offered no credible alternate hypotheses. Yes, these folks make claims but none of the claims has stood up to scientific scrutiny.

  21. Mac says:

    This is a good example of religous paranoia where a group of individuals indentify plots that is percieved to threaten the group by linking and coflating diverse activities of others outside the group. Such observed behaviour is very common in doomsday cults.

  22. Mr B says:

    There is amble evidence to counter Man Made Climate change Believer arguments.

    This belief of climate change for the layman is a matter of choice of which side you want to believe. The Believers or Deniers.

    Maybe for the Believers this is your newfound religion. ” I believe I have to save the planet from mankind” .

  23. rumrunner says:

    nancy, ins. companies vs. individuals? individuals have nothing to do with this health care plan. individuals have nothing to do with anything from the obama camp…it is about social justice and the COMMON GOOD. individuality is the antithesis…dare to read the road to serfdom and hayek’s take on individualism. “most busineses are” immoral? really? profit immoral as well? it is what has allowed this once great america to prosper. it has raised the standards of living for millions of people and has allowed them to be free. liberty is falling by the wayside. the social healthcare systems of other countries only survive b/c they piggyback off of us. get real. dare to read the road to serfdom…peace

  24. geoff pohanka says:

    All the President has to do to answer any questions about his birth is release his birth certificate for review. There is no mention what hospital he was born in or who the attending doctor was. So long as this information is not released, there will always be question about the status of his birth. It is a legitimate question since he refuses to release this information. What has been given to the public only proves his birth was officially recognized, it could have been anywhere.

  25. Michael says:

    I am a Global Warming Holocaust Denier and proud of it.

  26. Michael says:

    The weather is not your fault folks. Never has been and never will be. One less thing for you to worry about. You are not to blame for the changing climate. The climate has always changed by itself in the past and will always change by itself in the future and there is nothing you can do about it. Stop beating yourself up over it. By driving your car and using your electricity you are making CO2 plant food for the biosphere. The trees and shrubberies thank you for doing it.

  27. Michael says:

    9/11 is a proven conspiracy. The man made nano thermite particles found in the dust that brought down building 7 proves it once and for all. They got the smoking gun.

  28. John Mashey says:

    re: 22-27
    This must be an epidemic of infectious Poe’s Law.

  29. Michael says:

    I love studying proven conspiracies. The carbon tax is the wealthy elites way of taking over full control of the sheeple. We already know the names of those wealthy elite people who are doing it.

  30. Mitchel44 says:

    Now come on, be honest, how many of you still have a generator and Y2K supplies in the garage?


  31. Michael says:

    The Old Farmers Almanac comes out the end of August with it’s prediction of the most brutally cold winter in decades with record amounts of snow fall. How is the MSM going to be able to hide what is really going on with the cooling planet then? It’s less than a month away.

  32. bi -- IJI says:

    It’s the Bavarian Climatati!

    Climatatus — optimus — maximus. Climatatus — optimus — maximus. Climatatus — optimus — maximus. …


  33. Chris Winter says:

    Michael wrote (in part): “The Old Farmer’s Almanac comes out [at] the end of August with it’s [sic] prediction…”

    So, Michael — in addition to being able to identify conspiracies no one else recognizes, you can see the future?

  34. William T says:

    The reason that there is significant overlap between these different ‘denier’ movements is almost a coincidence – it is simply because the politics overlaps. The ‘birther’ movement is a tactic in the republican fight to discredit Obama and render his administration ineffective. The denialist movement has ended up being almost entirely a republican movement because the only logical solutions to solving the AGW problem are fundamentally in opposition to the tenets of the modern republican philosophy (ie regulations and government / international controls on the ‘free market’).

    Ironically, carbon trading is an attempt to fit the carbon reduction targets into a ‘free market’ paradigm, and logically it should be in the interests of business to push for this as a best solution (and many business leaders who accept the science have of course pushed for this). Unfortunately, it seems that in their attempts to delay action, the conservatives have been overtaken by the zealots who now disbelieve all the science and think that it’s a communist plot or worse.

  35. GettingWarm says:

    It is getting very hard to tell who is posting snarky remarks and who is seriously in carbon denial.

    I can’t tell who is a serious denier and who is making fun of their claims.

    Is it me or is it that the deniers’ crazy ideas are merging with the sarcastic remarks of those of us who care about the health of our country?

    I mean is the remark about the planet cooling meant to be funny or is that serious crazy denier stuff? I mean the arctic is melting so that must mean that the planet is cooling.

    And the line about CO2 being wonderful stuff for plants is it snark or from someone that doesn’t understand what a limiting factor is?

    Help! The world of the crazies is getting so crazy it is humorous.