Debate the controversy!

The serial misinformers and misrepresenters demand equal time for their misinformation and misrepresentations.  What should climate science defenders and the media do?

Here’s how the strategy works:

Step 1:  Some misinformer or anti-science group puts out misinformation on the science or misrepresents the views of some scientist or expert.

Step 2:  They get debunked, by that person and/or others.

Step 3:  They demand equal time for their misinformation or misrepresentation, either through formal debates or “balanced” media coverage.

Step 4:  If they get the equal time, their strategy has worked, and they can go on to fabricate more misinformation and misrepresent the views of other scientists.  If not, they simply attack those who fail to give them equal time or debate them as being biased or scared.

Step 5:  Go back to Step 1.

This strategy started in earnest with the anti-science disinformation from the tobacco industry, as Naomi Oreskes explains in her recent talk and forthcoming book, Merchants of Doubt.  The creationists (who morphed into the intelligent designers) brought this to a new level with their “Teach the Controversy” campaign:

Teach the Controversy is the name of a Discovery Institute campaign to promote intelligent design, a variant of traditional creationism, while attempting to discredit evolution in United States public high school science courses.  The central claim the Discovery Institute makes with ‘Teach the Controversy’ is that fairness and equal time requires educating students with a “critical analysis of evolution” where “the full range of scientific views,” evolution’s “unresolved issues,” and the “scientific weaknesses of evolutionary theory” will be presented and evaluated alongside intelligent design concepts

It’s a good strategy for spreading misinformation since it seems on the surface to be fair-minded:  Equal time (for our misinformation)!

This strategy has certainly worked with the media (see Boykoff on “Exaggerating Denialism: Media Representations of Outlier Views on Climate Change”:  Freudenburg: “Reporters need to learn that, if they wish to discuss ‘both sides’ of the climate issue, the scientifically legitimate “other side” is that, if anything, global climate disruption is likely to be significantly worse than has been suggested in scientific consensus estimates to date”).

So what should individuals do and what should the media do?  Let’s start with the former.

Debate the controversy!

To paraphrase Juan Cole’s advice to climate scientists on how to avoid being Swift-boated, any debate or broadcast that pits a serial misinformer or misrepresenter against someone defending climate science is automatically a win for the misinformer, “since a false position is being given equal time and legitimacy.”

That’s why 99% of the articles or blog posts you read by people demanding some climate science defender debate someone are by other serial misinformers.

Try googling “Why Won’t Al Gore Debate” — in quotation marks.  There are a staggering 129,000 (!) results.  Number one is …  On the front page alone, you’ve got the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, (“Free Markets & Limited Government”), among other anti-science conservatives.  The total results read like a who’s who of disinformers:  Climatescam, Rightwingnews, Newsbusters, FreeRepublic….

Indeed, I’m going to update Diagnosing a victim of anti-science syndrome (ASS) to add “demanding someone who defends climate science debate a serial misinformer or misrep resenter” as one of the diagnostic indicators.  It appears to correlate better than many of the other symptoms.  If you read a blog post by someone making that demand, probably 98 times out of 100 they’re going to be a misinformer.

The only climate science defender I saw who even made the first results page was the redoubtable Greenfyre, who writes  The best climate blog you aren’t reading.  He of course was taking the reverse position, explaining the reason why Gore shouldn’t debate:

Simple, the Deniers would win “¦ because they have no evidence or facts on their side.

Huh?  If they have no evidence or facts, how can they win a debate?

Easy, because a debate is not about being right, it is about winning by appearing to be right.  The more the audience does not understand the issue, the easier it is to win. You just need one thing, it’s called “the Gish Gallop.”

As RationalWiki explains:

Named for creationism activist and professional debater Duane Gish, the Gish Gallop is an informal name for a rhetorical technique in debates that involves drowning the opponent in half-truths, lies, straw men, and bullshit to such a degree that the opponent cannot possibly answer every falsehood that has been raised, usually resulting in many involuntary twitches in frustration as the opponent struggles to decide where to start.

It is often used as an indirect argument from authority, as it often appears to paint the “galloper” as an expert in a broad range of subjects and the opponent as an incompetent bumbler who didn’t do their homework before the debate. (Such emphasis on style over substance is why many scientists disdain public debates as a forum for disseminating opinions.)

Greenfyre makes the point I’ve made many times here, that the person debating the galloper (aka the serial misinformer and misrepresenter) “is then stuck using his time to either”:

i) Simply state each lie is a lie, one for one, in which case it becomes his word/my word;
ii) Refuting the lies with facts and data, but of course refuting nonsense takes longer than saying it, so he might cover 1 point in 5, which leaves the impression that he had no answer for 4/5 points;
iii) Try to make his own points, in which case it can seem that he had no answer to any of the points you made.

No matter what he chooses, he uses up all of his time and the best he can do is seem to make it 50/50

This is probably the main reason I haven’t engaged in traditional debates for a long time now.  Contrary to what you may have heard, I haven’t actually been asked by any independent organization to do a traditional (i.e. staged) 1-on-1 debate in a while.  I would say no.

A conservative media outlet did ask me to make a presentation following a well-known disinformer at a conference they were sponsoring, but I insisted that they be serial presentations.  I have done a few team debates, though not recently, and I became even more disenchanted with them (see “the idiocy of (crowded) debates“).  NASA’s Gavin Schmidt himself noted, “So are such debates worthwhile? On balance, I’d probably answer no (regardless of the outcome).”

Greenfyre’s post links to another great post, “Waah, they won’t debate us II” (from the “International Journal of Inactivism”) the source of this flowchart.

There is a particularly absurd notion floating around the anti-science-osphere that because you debunk someone at length that means you have to then give them equal time in a formal debate to go back and repeat their misinformation and misrepresentations.  Debunkings are necessarily long, as Greenfyre explains:

To a limited extent the Gish Gallop works in the blogosphere as well, and for similar reasons. It take only 3 to 5 paragraphs to pack in a lot of nonsense, at least as many pages to thoroughly expose it for nonsense. In a world where people skim rather than read that will tend to have the same effect as running out of time, except you run out of reader attention instead.

It’s precisely because someone has to be debunked at length that you don’t want to give them more equal time if you can help it.  Duh!

In the past 4 months since the stolen emails story broke and climate science has been under its most intense assault in years, I’ve spent more time than I’d like debunking the misinformers and defending climate scientists from misrepresentation.  The person I’ve critiqued at length the most number of times is The Viscount Monckton of Brenchley (TVMOB).  He’s been mentioned in about 11 posts, of which maybe half are serious critiques [note to people who use my search engine for counting how many times I have written about you — it doesn’t work well for that purpose].

Now TVMOB has wormed his way into the New York Times, which would make him a “credible” source by some folks’ standards, I suppose (see “N.Y. Times and Elisabeth Rosenthal Face Credibility Siege over Unbalanced Climate Coverage“).  But I certainly wouldn’t debate him.  His rhetoric alone has delegitimized him (see TVMOB hate speech shocker: Lord Monckton repeats and expands on his charge that those who embrace climate science are “Hitler youth” and fascists and Lord Monckton meltdown: “I’m not going to shake the hands of Hitler youth”).

So formal debates make little sense, and it’s easy to say no to them.  If other climate science defenders want to do them, that is their business.

What about those staged mini-debates media outlets do on their own shows?  Those are quite different.  I’m still not a fan of them, but if Neil Cavuto wants to talk to me on his FoxNews show, well, he’s already got the platform and he’s giving me a shot at his big audience.  That’s not to say I would do every TV show.

I did a radio mini-debate recently.  The producer had insisted to me that it was not going to be a mini-debate, but that’s what turned into.  These may be unavoidable as I do more media in the future, but again I don’t think I’ll do every one that comes along.

Finally, I think some people, like Monckton, are beyond the pale and one should avoid giving them any legitimacy even in these media mini-debates.  Certainly if someone has personally misrepresented you and/or spread misinformation about you, then I think you should probably avoid being on the same show as them if you can.  It’s true that I ended up breaking that rule once in the last year.  It only happened because I was filling in for a colleague who had to cancel suddenly.  That misinformer isn’t a great debater but of course he repeatedly misrepresented my position and used the Gish Gallop and so it was not productive.  I will endeavor to avoid those situations in the future.

In Part 2 I will discuss the issue of the media’s complicity in the unbalanced coverage and what might be done.

64 Responses to Debate the controversy!

  1. Jeff Huggins says:

    The news media should remind themselves of what justifies their own existence and (presumably) special purpose. They should reflect on the meaning and importance of such phrases as “the public good” and “the public interest”. Read Thomas Jefferson, Edward. R. Murrow, Cronkite, and etc. etc.

    If the media’s leaders, senior editors, and key reporters can’t figure it out from there, then they should resign in the morning and allow themselves to be smoothly replaced with people who can.

    Socrates advises us to examine ourselves. That’s what the media should do.

    I’ve also written to Andy Revkin and to Curtis Brainard and (as an FYI copy) to Joe on these matters. I hope they’ve read the material.



  2. NFJM? says:

    Should people who pretend we are all space aliens get equal coverage?

    And then the debate be settled by saying that probably the truth is somewhere in the middle:
    – we are probably not all space aliens, however
    – a large fringe of us may be

    Thus the “fair and balanced” vision concludes that roughly 50% of us humans are indeed space aliens.

    This little exercise to show you that inflating the support for a wrong assumption does not make it the truth.

  3. mike roddy says:

    Let’s deal with the debate this way:

    On one side is a scientist who thinks that the earth will be at least 6C warmer in 2100, and emergency measures are called for. He will also present the doomsday scenario as a significant possibility, since 6C is likely to accelerate further due to additional feedbacks.

    On the other side is a scientist who believes that a 3C temperature increase by 2100 is much more likely. The basis for this is depletion of economically recoverable fossil fuels, and their replacement- through government incentives and market forces- with renewable energy.
    He may also predict better terrestrial sinks, and reduced economic activity.

    These two scenarios are roughly where the science says we are headed.

    If someone like Marc Morano or Anthony Watts wants a seat at the table in order to question the basic science, he should be politely told that this debate is for adults only.

    Problem solved: we now have a debate, but it’s an actual scientific one. It should be promoted as a series, even if it occurs in a campus lecture hall, and should be widely promoted and broadcast live on television.

  4. libertyballs says:

    What you fail to see, due to your religion, is the danger of alarm. While Al Gore gets wealthy with scare tactics and outright junk, the other side wishes to argue against a government that regulates the light bulbs, the thermostat, auto mileage, indeed every aspect of energy. Just as the Soviet Union would deprive a bean sprout of light and water to prove there was no creator, Al Gore will point at yesterdays temperature to claim we must worship state control of energy. And this movement seeks the end of individualism, freedom, and Rights granted by God.

  5. Rockfish says:

    Great post.
    One thing that should have gotten more emphasis:
    “Some misinformer or anti-science group puts out misinformation”
    The effort required to “put out” something has fallen to zero! 30 years ago if you wanted any more exposure than a home-made leaflet you had to convince at least ONE other person, a reporter, editor, etc that you were worth the time. No any more.

  6. Doug Bostrom says:

    Al Gore! Squaawwk! Al Gore! Can I have my cracker now?

    Get your equal time here:

  7. Dennis says:

    A couple ideas:

    I. A group like AAAS or NAS should put out some sort of “rapid response” emails/web posts debunking the worst of the nonsense that comes out from the “debate the controversy” side. This would be a brief, to-the-point paragraph that does three simply things: 1. affirms what the scientific community believes, 2. states the facts in clear, simple language, and 3. points the readers to an authoritative scientific reading for more details.

    II. when public debate is inevitable between a scientist and a non-scientist, engage the denier non-scientist in the technicalities that he cannot possibly work through (topics like RF calculations when arguing over CO2 levels) and when the denier tries to dumb down the argument, come out forcefully that you can’t possibly understand the scientific facts without getting through that part of the science first, and challenge him to explain why it is NOT important. In short: make a challenge to turn the topic into something other than what he wants to talk about.

    Just my ideas …

  8. Billy T says:

    Joe, this phrase is ambiguous – I’d suggest rewording – at first read it suggests that “the person” is the serial misinformer and misrepresenter.

    “the person debating the galloper, aka the serial misinformer and misrepresenter”

    [JR: I made a tiny edit. The meaning is, I think, clear.]

  9. Richard Brenne says:

    Libertyballs (#4) –

    Your “individualism, freedom, and Rights granted by God” is simple selfishness. Your selfishness demands that you pull your brood on a room-sized tube with a 500 hp boat or whatever. You do not care about the poor or vulnerable in this generation or anyone in any future generation. This is not even a person speaking, this is just pure selfishness speaking through you. Stop it.

    You have God-given talents you can use for good, not evil. Start now.

  10. Andy Olsen says:

    This is great stuff, Joe.

    Another part of the Gish Gallop is that it is an infinite loop because it doesn’t matter how much we address their arguments and refute them – they will just move to another dishonest argument until they run out and then they’ll repeat the ones you’ve disproven before.

    Add to this another factor: journalistic amnesia. Somehow most journalists wake up each day with selective amnesia. So they don’t remember, for example, the Republicans aggressively used reconciliation for major policy changes or that the “nuclear option” in the filibuster debate was for Supreme Court appointments.

  11. Aaron Lewis says:

    The first thing we need to do is to make a big stink about the most trusted news program in America (PBS News Hour) being funded and surrounded by oil company commercials. This means that the News Hour provides very little coverage of major climate change stories.

    In the context of regulating carbon emissions, the paid advertizements are paid political messages, which science does not respond to. In the face of global warming, ads by coal and oil companies today, are the same as ads by the tobacco companies 40 years ago. We knew the health science, and the tobacco company ads danced around that science. Today the oil and coal companies dance around the science of global warming.

    We need to communicate. Every scientist must also be a teacher, not only to their students at the university, but also to their neighbors, and at local grade and high schools.

    Most universities have programs in mass communications. Every university program in mass communications should have research and projects on how to improve communication on issues of global warming.

    Many universities have law schools. Every university law school should have programs looking a possible criminal wrong doing by climate warming deniers including looking for corrupt organizations committing fraud, slander, libel, and such deception. Every law school should help develop regulation on fossil fuel producers requiring “truth in advertizing”, similar to the truth in advertizing required of tobacco companies. There should be a movement to required fossil fuel companies to disgorge the profits that they have made on CO2 emissions that cause impacts and damages. (It would not happen, but it is fair, and it would distract their lawyer for a bit.)

    “THEY” have called “science” a religion. Well, it is time to go out and crusade for our religion. “Rational Risk Management” should be our banner. (No! I am very wrong there. We need have focus groups help us find a good banner.)

  12. PSU Grad says:

    If anyone wants a “debate”, then I suggest there should be additional ideas taught in schools in the interest of “fairnes”. For example, if it’s taught that he earth revolves around the Sun, equal time should be given to the idea that the sun revolves around the earth. The moon can also be used. I’m sure taxpayers would love student’s time spent on that pursuit.

    To “libertyballs”, you’ve not earned the right, you’ve not come close to earning the right, to question Al Gore’s patriotism, or ANYONE’S patriotism (I’m sure that “Soviet Union” riff made it there by accident, right?) You throw around words like “liberty” and “freedom” without having the first clue about their meaning. You use the word “balls” without having any concept of that, either.

  13. Michael T says:

    This may be off-topic, but NCDC just released U.S. data for February.

    February Highlights:
    “Cold air in the wake of several reinforcing Arctic air masses dominated much of the U.S. during February, creating temperatures that were much-below average in the Deep South and below average in the Plains and Mid-Atlantic States. Both the South and Southeast climate regions experienced their seventh coldest February on record. Meanwhile, upper-level patterns contributed to warmer-than-average temperatures in the Northwest and Northeast climate regions.”

    U.S. (Dec-Feb) Highlights:
    This winter is ranked 18th coolest on record for the U.S., the coolest since about 1985. It is also ranked 19th wettest on record.

    If you look at the year-to-date, Washington and Maine had their warmest Jan-Feb period on record.

  14. ChicagoMike says:

    If you ever find yourself in a debate with a disinformer, one useful technique would be to point out that if the debate were truly representative of the views of climate scientists, there would have to be at least 100 supporting the science of global warming for that one person against. Also, instead of trying to debunk every piece of garbage he throws out there, just pick one of the most egregious and use it to make an example of how poorly the disinformer actually understands the science.

    I would then try to steer the debate away from distractions about tree rings and Al Gore’s house to talk about the core evidence for global warming that is very hard to ignore:
    1. Greenhouse gasses warm the Earth,
    2. Humans are increasing GHG concentrations, and
    3. This increase in GHGs is the only way scientists can explain global temperature increases over the past century.

  15. Petro says:

    This was truly an enlightening post. It is darn hard to counter organized misinformation pratically on any topic. The effort to spew crap is at least 10, but maybe 100, times easier and cheaper than being honest and truthful. To put this in context, it takes 15 minutes to put together pseudoscientific text, but several hours to sort out such text and respond in scientifically and logically sound way.

    So media, please no promotion for artifical controversies.

  16. prokaryote says:

    Main motivation for denial is money.
    Main motivation for science is security/wisdom.

    How should the media handle unsientific or debunked opinion?

    – Ignore
    – Do not compare science with something totaly difrent.
    – Seperate and present more background story from the participants.

    How to handle denialism of climate science?

    – Ignore
    – Pay them more.
    – Stop spending for denial.
    – Stop denial.
    – Make it a crime.

  17. Ozzie Steve says:

    What a clever strategy, but you really should give a hat tip to the Stalinist Soviet and China for leading the way. If deniers do not agree with us, ban them, preferably disappear them, for the good of the collective of course.

    [JR: I didn’t realize you were a Stalinist. You should probably comment elsewhere. Don’t pretend you are someone who understands, articulates, and defends the science. The deniers and disinformers have many well-funded channels spread their disinformation. It is disinformers like Morano that want public beatings for climate scientists.]

  18. Robert Nagle says:

    Aaron re: PBS Newshour. I think we can agree that PBS Newshour does a good job given its limited resources. They try to acknowledge conflicts of interest in news stories. (Actually, btw, they’ve done some pretty great climate change stories over the past year). Perhaps indirectly they are not providing coverage adequate to climate change because the subject requires more sophisticated reporting and analysis.

    The deeper issue is whether it is reasonable to ask donation-supported news sources to refuse donations from industries dependent on fossil fuels. This is a serious issue in Houston where oil companies have been generously supporting local philanthropic efforts. It is hard to refuse such money. Hopefully there will come a time when portfolios will divest of stocks from these industries.

  19. Richard Brenne says:

    Ozzie Steve (#18) – A new CP knee-jerk comment record!

  20. David Smith says:

    Gish gallop the dis-informer deniers. Exaggerate their claims, incorrectly attribute rediculous things to them. If you are on fox news, ask the commentator how much he is paid to come up with these things, I’ll come up with a better list. Beat them at their own game. Its not about the science. Rational minds don’t respond to this but apparently the group falling in behind the deniers do.

  21. Chris Winter says:

    Ozzie Steve wrote: “If deniers do not agree with us, ban them, preferably disappear them, for the good of the collective of course.”

    If that really is the strategy of the mainstream scientists and leaders of countries (most of whom believe that global warming is happening and that we are contributing to it), explain to me why there still are so many deniers around.

    The fact is, deniers are not banned. Refusing to debate someone does not equate to banning him — just as keeping an obnoxious person out of your house does not infringe his civil liberties.

    Deniers can even post on this blog — until they repeat already-debunked nonsense.

  22. David Smith says:

    Maybe climate scientists should debate each other as to what is known, what is not known, and how this is projected into future outcomes. Let the debate be about actual discrepencies and how to find more clarity. What research still needs to be completed, what things might occur and when in the future that would give us a better idea as to where we are headed.

    Substantial debate could make the current warmer/denier debate irrelevant/obsolete as it should be.

  23. Phillip says:

    How about the legitimate scientist goes to the debate, hears out one of the denialist arguments, and then says, “that sounds intriguing, I encourage you to flesh out the argument further and seek to have it peer-reviewed and published in a reputable scientific journal. At that point, I would like to discuss the argument you just made in further detail. Meanwhile, let me present a line of argument that has, in fact, already been peer-reviewed and published in a prestigious scientific journal….”

  24. PSU Grad says:

    To Phillip @24:

    I like that idea, but I know from first hand experience it won’t work on deniers. Most don’t understand the concept of “peer review” and think it’s just a clever way for scientists to get ideas they like published and to keep those ideas they don’t like out of the journals. Those who believe this think it’s a nice little cozy club they’ve established to keep their ideas viable.

  25. darth says:

    What ‘libertyballs’ said sums up the real reason for the deniers. They are all small-government anti-regulation libertarian types. Their philosophy of limited government does not allow for the government to regulate fundamental things such as CO2 emissions, lightbulbs, gas mileage etc. But since accepting the reality of climate change requires accepting that government regulation is the only realistic solution, they cannot accept that climate change is real.

    For most deniers, I don’t think it has anything to do with science, but political philosophy.

  26. To be clear you are misinforming your readers about what the Discovery Institute is doing. I know, I work there. As a longstanding matter of public policy, Discovery Institute opposes any effort to require the teaching of intelligent design by school districts or state boards of education. Instead of mandating intelligent design, Discovery Institute seeks to increase the coverage of evolution in textbooks. It believes that evolution should be fully and completely presented to students, and they should learn more about evolutionary theory, including its unresolved issues. In other words, evolution should be taught as a scientific theory that is open to critical scrutiny, not as a sacred dogma that can’t be questioned.

    You are factually incorrect when you state that Discovery Institute wants to teach the “scientific weaknesses of evolutionary theory” alongside intelligent design concepts. This is simply not true.

    We want to teach fully about evolution, including the evidence that supports it as well as some of the evidence that challenges it. That is different from teaching about intelligent design.

  27. John Hollenberg says:

    Darth, I think you have nailed the reason for deniers, and done it very succintly. Nice post.

  28. PurpleOzone says:

    Fiction writers are taught every scene should have a Goal, Motivation, Conflict.

    Newspapers are too often styled in the same way. Conflict is a reader grabber. Newspapers ought to be fact-bound, not pulling people’s chains, but they have to sell newspapers.

    Further, media is taught “fair play”, so they think they’re required to present both sides. Hence they justify quoting one idiot in opposition to a huge majority of sensible people. But it makes a more interesting story.

  29. David B. Benson says:

    Make a graphic based on
    and at every turn of the Gish Gallop trace the temperature increase following the CO2 upwards.

  30. John Hollenberg says:

    Re: #26

    For those who want to investigate the history of the Discovery Institute, see the link from Joe’s article:

    I would say that Joe’s analysis is accurate, and the post from Robert is an excellent example of what Joe is talking about–implying that there is a controversy, when none exists. Then again, debating a creationist is a bad idea, as Joe says, so I will refrain from further comment :-)

  31. Phillip says:

    PSU Grad & Darth,

    If one combines science illiteracy with a healthy dose of libertarianism, I can see the problem more clearly. And sense climate change remedies will necessarily require concerted international efforts, the deniers can paint quite a conspiracy picture – black helicopters, FEMA internment camps, UN-One-World-Government, etc. If this crowd is not redeemable (and I agree they’re too ideologically committed to be persuaded by reason) the focus should be on the vast “middle” that generally does respect the institution of science, but has yet to appreciate the deep doo-doo we’re in. One thing pops to mind…. Remember C. Everett Koop’s mass mailing back in the 1980s regarding AIDS. He got a lot of flack about that, but it was effective; it dispelled a lot of the BS about AIDS that was circulating at the time. Maybe our current Secretary of Energy can do something similar in regards to global warming.

  32. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Equal time for actual doomsayers. We are headed for another PETM style extinction event. 95% of all remaining species, 99.5% of all indivduals. (OK the .5 part is a guess)

    The nice clockwork climate; little glacial to semi glacial is broken. We are well outside those bounds. Looking at the last 800,000 years for where we are headed is not valid, except in the very short term.

    The PETM event is not the only near end of life on Earth event, try the ELMO event instead.

  33. dhogaza says:

    Yes, Robert Crowther, those of us familiar with the Disco Tute understand that your stated goals are very carefully crafted to slip creationism into the classroom without setting off any constitutional triggers.

    Thus the “Teach the Controversy” crap. Crap because there is no scientific controversy, and whatever theological controversies arise due to increased scientific knowledge can be taught in sunday school.

  34. dhogaza says:

    Those of you unfamiliar with the Discovery Institute might want to read The Wedge Document, which describes their strategy to replace modern science with something acceptable to fundamentalist christians.

    Wikipedia sums it up nicely:

    The wedge strategy is a political and social action plan authored by the Discovery Institute, the hub of the intelligent design movement. The strategy was put forth in a Discovery Institute manifesto known as the Wedge Document,[1] which describes a broad social, political, and academic agenda whose ultimate goal is to “defeat scientific materialism” represented by evolution, “reverse the stifling materialist world view and replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions”.[2] The strategy also aims to “affirm the reality of God.”[3] Its goal is to “renew” American culture by shaping public policy to reflect conservative Christian, namely evangelical Protestant, values.

    But the original document goes into great detail.

  35. James Prescott says:

    Scientists debate all the time. Its just that instead of talking in front of podiums they debate by collecting and analyzing data, forming hypotheses, and publishing papers. Unfortunately this doesn’t make compelling TV.

    Are there any good examples that show this in action? Something where someone publishes a conflicting, but equally compelling, interpretation of some data, then additional data is collected which rules out one of the possibilities?

  36. sailrick says:

    Liberty Bell said

    “While Al Gore gets wealthy with scare tactics and outright junk…..”

    Al Gore donates the money he makes to environmental awareness non profits. His house is now energy efficient.

    Al Gore and Junk?

    Want to compare him to Bjorn Lomborg?

    Comparison of Inconvenient Truth and Lomborg’s work


    Al Gore´s film: 2 errors, 8 flaws, 10 in total.
    Al Gore´s book: 2 errors, 11 flaws, 13 in total.
    Film and book together: 2 errors, 12 flaws, 14 in total.

    Chapter 24 on global warming in “The Skeptical Environmentalist”: 22 errors, 59 flaws, 81 in total.
    (This is more than one distortion per page).

    “The Skeptical Environmentalist” in total (up to now 12/9/09):
    117 errors, 219 flaws, 336 in total.
    “Cool it!”, British edition: 48 errors, 111 flaws, 159 in total (up to now, with about 40 % of the book investigated).
    (This is nearly two distortions per page).

    Oh, and that Judge in England that is the subject of yet another denier myth? He said “Al Gore’s presentation of the causes and likely effects of climate change in the film was broadly accurate” and “substantially founded upon scientific research and fact.”

  37. Ben Lieberman says:

    For another entry in the covering the debate hall of shame see Beth Daley in today’s Boston Globe:

    As for some ideas:
    Leading environmentalists with knowledge of the science of global warming and communications need to set up a team to speak with editorial boards.

    Hard core deniers need to be made to accept more responsibility for the consequences of their actions. Would they feel justified in denying medical treatment for a neighbor who needed heart bypass surgery if 97 percent of cardiologists recommended that treatment?

  38. Tom Fuller says:

    Hmm. It doesn’t make sense to debate Monckton, a publicity mad skeptic, so it then doesn’t make sense to debate a peer-reviewed climate scientist I have lambasted frequently on my weblog.

    Nice train of logic, Joe. Let’s see if this sees the light of day, unlike my last one…

    [JR: Now he’s a “climate scientist”? Seriously. We can’t be talking about the same person!

    But thanks for making my point. The focus of my post is serial misinformers and misrepresenters, people who practice the Gish Gallop on a regular basis, people who are widely debunked. Hypothetically, now, if someone has been lambasted frequently by you along with most of the science blogosphere — whoever that person might be — that is not someone I would want to debate, “since a false position is being given equal time and legitimacy”!

    I’ve also been crystal clear all along that you shouldn’t debate someone who has personally misrepresented you and/or spread misinformation about you.

    As an aside, what part of our bet remains ambiguous? I didn’t understand what you wrote earlier about this.]

  39. BobbyBob says:

    More interesting viewing on denier tactics:

  40. Tom Fuller says:

    Hi Joe,

    You’re right, of course–he’s a peer-reviewed scientist on environmental policy, not a climate scientist. He’s been lambasted by some in the blogosphere, but it’s disingenuous in the extreme to say that he’s rejected by the mainstream, as your exchange above with Andy Revkin makes clear.

    [JR: Let’s hypothetically say we’re talking about the same person — the person I’m thinking of is not someone I’d call a “scientist” but let’s let that go for now. Who the heck defines the mainstream? It ain’t Revkin. Not in my book. He’s just one voice among many, and often wrong, as I’ve demonstrated many times. I think my use of one word with Revkin was unclear. So I concede nothing you’ve written here BUT it isn’t germane to my post anyway, since the issue at hand is whether one is a serial misinformer and misrepresenter — not whether they can get articles published in peer-reviewed journals. Those two are not mutually exclusive — look at Lindzen!]

    As for our wager, we need to decide who holds the cash for a decade. I had intended to nominate Lucia Liljegren, but I have heard that she’s not interested. Do you know someone we are both likely to trust to be the bagman?

    [JR: Why do we need someone to hold the cash? I have no doubt we’re both good for it.]

  41. David B. Benson says:

    Use props. Watch CO2 bubbling out of warming glasses of soda pop.

    Or beer.

  42. Tom Fuller says:

    Hi Joe,

    You don’t get to define who is or isn’t a scientist outside the realm of this weblog, fortunately.

    [JR: Enough. You don’t get to define it either, very fortunately. This post explains why debating serial misinformers and misrepresenters is a bad idea — especially ones who misrepresent what you say. You come here to urge me to debate some person you say you’ve lambasted repeatedly. Did you even read the post?]

    Let me think about the money part–it feels as though our wager should be in the hands of a third party–I could go bankrupt some day…

    [JR: I’ll resist the obvious jokes. I’ll take the risk you might not have $1000 to your name in 10 years.]

  43. BobbyBob says:


    Just to clarify: I meant “more interesting” as in additional, not as in Joe’s story wasn’t interesting (on the contrary)…sorry for my poorly worded little post.

  44. paulm says:

    If we could just start convincing a few more females, preferably, mothers that the situation needs action things would get moving in an instant.

    How does one convey the message to mothers effectively?

  45. Old Jack says:

    In summary: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” (Churchill) — Advanced communications would allow that the globe be circumnavigated dozens of times before “the truth” is awake enough to grasp the concept of “pants.”

  46. Mike#22 says:

    libertyballs, a superb simultaneous illustration of Poe’s Law and the Gish Gallup. Salute.

  47. prokaryote says:

    paulm, like this?

    Women hit by climate change head to Capitol Hill

  48. mike roddy says:

    I vote Climate Progress #1, and it’s not even close. Realclimate is indispensable, but very much for a scientifically literate audience.
    Most actual scientists figured out what was going on a long time ago.

    These excellent blogs should easily make the top 10: Skeptical Science, ClimateChangePsychology, DeepClimate, and RabbetRun. The blog managers are thorough, hardworking, and highly qualified.

    As for Wattsupwiththat being apparently the most popular, we need that indicator to remind us how much work needs to be done. Here’s what mystifies me the most: Watts’ “Temperature Station Research Project”, done with much fanfare and hundreds of volunteers, was his flagship project. It turned out to be total bullshit. Watts somehow finessed his way out of the eventual temperature scorecards, and the blog apparently didn’t even lose readers. That should be a really good case study in communication for all of us.

  49. BBHY says:

    What is wrong is that the lies get put out in to the public with no context. I’ve been watching Rachel Maddow a lot and I’ve come to understand how she handles situations like this. She is well prepared with very specific research before even starting.

    So, if she were to have a climate denier on the show, she would start right out with something like:

    One x date you said y, and that turned out to be completely wrong.
    Then on another date you said something else that was immediately proven to be a complete fabrication.
    In fact, the last 12 statements you’ve made have not contained one single identifiable kernel of truth.
    Ok, so now what would you like to say about climate change?

    Denier then makes some lame point, and Rachel promptly shreds it completely.

    That’s the approach that is needed. Show these people for what they are!

  50. Sou says:

    @PaulM, I agree with you on this. I know of at least one climate organisation that is specifically targeting women’s groups, particularly rural women’s associations and women’s professional organisations (eg women in engineering etc).

    Rural women’s groups are generally considered to be somewhat traditional and conservative, but at the same time they are very influential and have instigated a lot of beneficial changes in the community, at least here in Australia. And they have frequent gatherings with guest speakers.

    It’s probably worth noting that a poll conducted by Newspoll in Australia in Feb 2010 suggests that here in Australia more women than men are of the opinion that climate is changing, that human-induced CO2 is at least partly responsible for that change and that we need to do something about it.

  51. Dan says:

    Libertyballs, who controls our energy now?

  52. Dannyisme says:

    The problem here is very simple actually. What we are seeing is “big business v. science,” which mean “sales v. science.”

    An engineer may design a car but it often takes the sleaziest of salesmen to sell it. Until science starts using a sales approach to getting its message across, sadly it does not stand a chance.

    For science to win in this debate it needs its “elevator statements,” its pitch, its PR and advertising teams, as well as its reputable scientists. The deniers have them (are them) and that’s why they’re winning.

    Only solid facts with a polished sales pitch would tip the scales back in favor of science.

  53. Marion Delgado says:

    The theory that there’s a real world out there somewhere, accessible by scientific investigation, is just that – only a THEORY.

    I refuse to let condescending elite PhDs put their Decartes before my hobby-horse.

  54. John Stanley says:

    Climate science defenders need to get hip to FRAMING and the metaphors people live by. Framing is the primary tool of the whole Machievellian, permanent-PR, anti-science campaign. I recommend GEORGE LAKOFFs analysis here: (

    Unless real climate/energy scientists understand how to use and/or counter framing, everything we do simply reinforces the denialist-PR frame of “equal time for criminal disinformation”. So let’s practice repeating some frames of our own: denialist-PR, fossil fuel complex funding, criminal misinformation, “we are the polar bears”. Rational scientific explanations dont work in a battle for public opinion. We need “real reason”, ie, emotional, brain-based reason. Lakoff makes this crucial distinction as follows:

    “Real reason is embodied in two ways. It is physical, in our brain circuitry. And it is based on our bodies as the function in the everyday world, using thought that arises from embodied metaphors. And it is mostly unconscious. False reason sees reason as fully conscious, as literal, disembodied, yet, somehow fitting the world directly, and working not via frame-based, metaphorical, narrative and emotional logic, but via the logic of logicians alone.

    Empathy is physical, arising from mirror neurons systems tied to emotional circuitry. Self-interest is real as well, and both play their roles in real reason. False reason is supposed to serve material self-interest alone. It’s supposed to answer the question, “What’s in it for me?”

    Real reason is inexplicably tied up with emotion; you cannot be rational without being emotional. False reason thinks that emotion is the enemy of reason, that it is unscrupulous to call on emotion. Yet, people with brain damage who cannot feel emotion cannot make rational decisions because they do not know what to want, since like and not like mean nothing. “Rational” decisions are based on a long history of emotional responses by oneself and others. Real reason requires emotion.

    It is a basic principle of false reason that every human being has the same reason governed by logic – and that if you just tell people the truth, they will reason to the right conclusion.

    All politics is moral. Political leaders all make proposals they say are “right.” No one proposes a policy that they say is wrong. But there are two opposing moral systems at work in America. What moral system you are using governs how you will see the world and reason about politics. That is the lesson of the cognitive science. It is the lesson of all the research on embodied metaphor. Metaphorical thought is central to politics.

    Every word is neurally connected to a neural circuit characterizing a frame, which, in turn, is part of a system of frames linked to a moral system. In political discourse, words activate frames, which, in turn, activate moral systems. This mechanism is not conscious. It is automatic, and it is acquired through repetition.

    Many liberals,assuming a false view of reason, think that such a messaging system for ideas they believe in would be illegitimate – doing the things that the conservatives do that they consider underhanded. Appealing honestly to the way people really think is seen as emotional and, hence, irrational and immoral. Liberals, clinging to false reason, simply resist paying attention to real reason.”

  55. DreamQuestor says:

    I wonder if it might help reduce the so-called legitimacy of the denialists if a brief review of the credentials (including financial reimbursement) of the participants was a mandatory prerequisite for any debate? The moderator/host would necessarily begin by stating: “Our guests tonight are climate scientist ________ ________, who graduated from [name of university] and has a Ph.d. in climate science. Dr.________ has volunteered to appear on this program and has not received any compensation. We also have Christopher Walter Monckton, a columnist who graduated from University College, Cardiff and has a diploma in Journalism Studies. Mr. Monckton was paid $100,000 by ExoonMobil to appear on this program. He has also asked us to reimburse him for the expense of the limo that he took from the aiport.”

  56. Dennis says:

    DreamQuestor —
    Good idea. Unfortunately, Christopher Walter Monckton would start out by saying “you left out the fact that I won a Nobel Prize.”

  57. mark says:

    Maybe, If people want to believe that “A”, is true, it is difficult to have them accept that “A” is false.

    Even with it being obviously false. We humans are good at that.

    So, if you want to continue driving your suv, and towing your brood behind your huge boat, then you conveniently see no connection between that and climate change.

  58. Gary says:

    It’s a Duck….debate is over!

  59. prokaryote says:

    DreamQuestor, this sums up what i meant with more background story.
    Nevertheless, why include denialist? Because of 3 errors in a 4000 page report and what exactly? Do you read in other news about denialist opinion? No.

  60. Jmalone says:

    Re: @John Stanley, #55 – You are exactly correct, IMHO, on the importance of framing and ‘real” reason. Drew Westen takes the emotions argument a step further in “The Political Brain.” The battlefield on which this is being fought and lost for science is in fact an emotional one. To borrow from Westen, a 3-dimensional reading of opinion polls would provide ample entry points for the science-based arguments to be put forth in an emotionally resonant way. I would venture to guess that Americans are conflicted about this: they know there’s trouble brewing, but they don’t want the “Gummint” to tell them what to do. And an analysis of the deniers’ words, frames and values would also offers a roadmap on how best to counter-attack. For example, you could first expose the Gallop strategy, which neuters it. Then make a moral argument that our opponents favor the security of reckless global corporations over the security of their fellow Americans.
    But if we insist on point-by-point fisking, they’ve won. Which we seem to “get.” We need to meld the facts with a coherent, compelling narrative that appeals to emotions, and deliver that message at the same level and tone that the deniers are using. But to cede the emotional playing field to them by being above it or dimissing it – or sticking to “the facts” when your opponent is clubbing you by activating emotional networks like “Al Gore” or “Big Brother Control” – allows them to own the way in which people really make decisions – with their emotions.

  61. t_p_hamilton says:

    Rob Crowterh complains:”As a longstanding matter of public policy, Discovery Institute opposes any effort to require the teaching of intelligent design by school districts or state boards of education.”

    There is nothing to teach.

    “Instead of mandating intelligent design, Discovery Institute seeks to increase the coverage of evolution in textbooks.”

    except for phony arguments to confuse students – doubt is the DI’s product! Just like AGW deniers, tobacco causes cancer deniers, HIV causes AIDS deniers, etc.

  62. Morano the Great Communicator — Here is an interesting analysis by scientist Randy Olsen on why no one can debate deniers. And posted by Morano on his own site: WHY MARC MORANO IS SUCH A GOOD COMMUNICATOR

    [JR: People seem so surprised by tricks that were invented 2500 years ago! And they’ve never heard of the Gish Gallop. Morano is actually only a so-so communicator strategically — I can think of two on the anti-science side are better — but he’s a great Gish Galloper!]

  63. JJM says:

    Might I just suggest that, in insisting on the term “denier” for your opponents, you’ve essentially jinxed any scientific basis for your argument all by yourselves?


    [JR: I don’t insist on the term denier. Not even close. Post your misinformation elsewhere.]