- JoNova - https://www.joannenova.com.au -

My reply to Dr Paul Bain — on rational deniers and gullible believers

UPDATE: Dr Paul Bain has replied to say that pressing work commitments mean he cannot respond to this until next week.  We look forward to that, and I will make sure it is available for readers here (should Dr Bain permit). – Jo


Dear Dr Paul Bain,

Thank you for replying (and so promptly). I do sincerely appreciate it. Apologies for my tardiness.

I do still think I can help you with your research. Indeed, in more ways than you realize.

You describe in your  Bain et al letter in Nature, that the number of deniers is growing despite “enormous effort”. There is a policy problem. I absolutely agree. No one is having any success getting deniers to believe in anthropogenic climate change. Could it be that they don’t understand deniers at all?

Let’s go through the points in your email reply to me, then the bigger implications.

First and foremost – obviously you did not provide evidence to back up your assumption that the “existence” of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change  is real. That doesn’t mean it does not exist, but I’ll get back to this. It is the key and only real point.

Secondly, you may regret the connotations with Holocaust denial (that’s good) but it is not the point (which is why I didn’t mention it).  My problem with “denial” is more simple: it’s the conflict with its literal English meaning. The climate change debate is sold to the public as a science topic — so it follows that denier (as you use it) refers to being a “science denier”.  Yet, despite that being the key logical definition of the term, that awkward point still remains, we still don’t know what evidence deniers deny?

if thousands of people are becoming deniers, they must have been believers before, and just what kind of denier changes their mind…?

Thirdly, there is another problem with defining deniers: if thousands of people are becoming deniers, they must have been believers before, and what kind of denier changes their mind — is there such a thing as a “flexible denier”? We have to wonder about deniers that are apparently able to adopt a new position, but then are unable to change it again?  (Is it a form of group-Alzheimers where people were convinced, but “forgot” why, and now are impervious to hearing the same reasons that once convinced them, or could it be — alternate hypothesis here — that the believers are getting new information, and the explanations they used to believe are no longer convincing?) The first hypothesis involves a mass brain dysfunction, the second involves the internet working. Occam’s razor beckons.

I gather you feel that evidence about “the science” is not the point because you are studying the social policy? To which I would ask: Can social policies change the climate, or does climate change our social policies? Is reality the tide gauge results, or the council zoning? Dare I suggest that the point of all the evidence you published rests entirely on the evidence for man-made global warming (that base assumption) that you have not investigated? If there is no empirical evidence for catastrophic anthropogenic climate change, or if the formerly convincing evidence has changed* there is the mystery solved of the rise of the deniers, right then and there. Deniers are the ones following reality.

Using accurate terms

One group in our society thinks it can change the weather (you call these “believers”), the other half of the population are not convinced (you call these the “deniers”). The believers have not yet named any empirical evidence to back up their ambitious claims, yet expect the deniers to pay $1,000-$2,000 per household per annum in Australia. The believers want money from the deniers, while the “deniers” want evidence, data, logic and reason (and preferably a debate with good manners). Clearly these labels are inappropriate. Using standard English definitions, those who believe in phenomenon without evidence are gullible. Those who want evidence are rational.

Let’s apply the more accurate terms to your letter: I’ve interchanged the terms believer for “gullible”, and denier for “unconvinced” or “rational”. The “reality” of climate change is more accurately described as the unsubstantiated speculation of man-made climate change (where is the evidence?). Here are a few select sentences transposed (in bold) with accurate terminology. Note how standard English changes everything:

This is the first study to examine how pro-environmental behaviours can be promoted among those who are not gullible or easily convinced of anthropogenic climate change…

As widespread acceptance of the unsubstantiated speculation about our ability to change the climate is considered critical to effective responses3, 4, rational public questioning about anthropogenic climate change is seen as an important obstacle to meeting the climate change challenge.

Where, for identity reasons, deniers gullible people are motivated to hold a certain attitude, discrepant evidence is more likely to be avoided, dismissed as biased or judged against an unrealistically high burden of proof, whereas evidence supporting a pre-existing attitude is evaluated with little criticism.

Disturbingly for environmentalists, attitudes towards climate change and climate science seem to have become part of a constellation of attitudes defined by the ‘culture wars’: one may have little more luck of convincing a rational citizen that unsubstantiated human induced climate change is real as of convincing a conservative Christian to support abortion, or a committed liberal to oppose it. If taken to its pessimistic extreme, it suggests that gullible activists should give up on rational citizens and focus on increasing pro-environmental behaviour in the willing gullible believers.

What is sociology without science?

I realize you are busy, and it’s not your job to study the climate models. Of course. But it is your job to study deniers, and it’s clear what they need — empirical evidence. Not just more assertions that there is overwhelming evidence, nor more arguments from authority about the vast number of committees which agree, nor more outputs from climate simulations. In the end, what the leaders of the “deniers” want is data.  The evidence does not matter to policymakers (at least in the short term), but it matters for your conclusions. If your base assumption is wrong, so is your hypothesis, methods, survey techniques, and recommendations. Hmm?

Unfortunately, there is also another assumption in your letter which, albeit common, is abjectly wrong. You said: “deniers are being misled (for example, by media reporting norms and institutions with vested interests)”. But none of the “vested interests” quoted in your references is larger or even equal to 1% of the size of the vested interests that you appear to be unaware of. For instance, there is the $243 bn renewable energy industry, the $176 bn carbon trading market, the $7 bn annual US government funded science funds that depend on their being a crisis. Instead of deniers “being mislead by vested interests”, in reality, gullible journalists and scientists are ignoring the vested interests that are 100 – 1000 times larger which benefit from an unsubstantiated threat.

Furthermore: You say you are not trying to change anyone’s mind. — if I were you, I would not advertise that widely. It is indubitably more sinister to want to change someone’s behaviour without changing their mind first. This is manipulative deception, befitting Soviet propaganda at it’s worst, which I’m sure is not what you intended though it is how the Nature letter reads. In a democratic society, where people like myself pay for your work, we’d like to think that you are trying to help us understand the world, not to help us “behave” in ways you and the government deem to be appropriate.

The term “denier” is problematic

It cannot be defined, the subgroups within the group are contradictory, it rests on a baseless assumption, and forms a construct which produces meaningless results. Not to mention that it’s insulting, derisory and prejudiced. Possibly this is why so few researchers on the topic manage to produce any outcome other than increasing the number of “deniers”?

I realize this is an inconvenient challenge, but given how many lives and dollars are at stake (not to mention reputations) I’m sure you can afford the 10 minutes it would take to email the experts about the evidence. They will want to support your work.

We have of course, asked all the experts we could think of, with no success.



Jo Nova

PS: When you ask them, they will assure you that the evidence is real, and that “the deniers” will deny it, so the scientific thing to do would be to test that hypothesis right?

Not long ago, I was sure I could find the evidence that the deniers denied.



(*Some evidence that has changed)

Thanks to Anthony Cox for help compiling the list.

  1. Anagnostopoulos, G. G., D. Koutsoyiannis, A. Christofides, A. Efstratiadis, and N. Mamassis, (2010). A comparison of local and aggregated climate model outputs with observed data’, Hydrological Sciences Journal, 55: 7, 1094 — 1110 [PDF] [Discussion]
  2. Caillon, N., Severinghaus, J.P., Jouzel, J., Barnola, J.-M., Kang, J. and Lipenkov, V.Y.  (2003).  Timing of atmospheric CO2 and Antarctic temperature changes across Termination III.  Science 299: 1728-1731. [Discussion, CO2science] [Graphs]
  3. Christy J.R., Herman, B., Pielke, Sr., R, 3, Klotzbach, P., McNide, R.T., Hnilo J.J., Spencer R.W., Chase, T. and Douglass, D: (2010)  What Do Observational Datasets Say about Modeled Tropospheric Temperature Trends since 1979? Remote Sensing 2010, 2, 2148-2169; doi:10.3390/rs2092148 [PDF]
  4. Douglass, D.H. and Knox, S.R. (2009): “Ocean heat content and Earth’s radiation imbalance,” Physics Letters A, Vol. 373, 3296–3300.
  5. Douglass, D.H., J.R. Christy, B.D. Pearson, and S.F. Singer. (2007). A comparison of tropical temperature trends with model predictions. International Journal of Climatology, Volume 28, Issue 13, pp. 1693-1701, December 2007.  [Abstract] [PDF]
  6. Douglass, D.H., and  Christy, J.R.(2008): Limits on CO2 Climate Forcing from Recent Temperature Data of Earth. Energy and Environment, Vol 20, No 1.  [Abstract] [Discussion-LubosMotl] [Discussion JoNova]
  7. Douglass, D.H. and Knox, S.R. (2009): “Ocean heat content and Earth’s radiation imbalance,” Physics Letters A, Vol. 373, 3296–3300.
  8. Koutsoyiannis, D., Efstratiadis, A., Mamassis, N. & Christofides, A. (2008) On the credibility of climate predictions. Hydrol. Sci. J. 53(4), 671–684. changes [PDF] [Discussion]
  9. Lindzen, R. S., and Y.-S. Choi (2009), On the determination of climate feedbacks from ERBE data, Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L16705 [abstract, PDF]
  10. Lindzen, R. & Yong-Sang Choi, Y, (2011) On the Observational Determination of Climate Sensitivity and Its Implications, Asia-Pacific J. Atmos. Sci., 47(4), 377-390, 2011  [PDF] [Discussion – JoNova]
  11. Loehle, C., (2009): “Cooling of the global ocean since 2003,” Energy and Environment, Vol. 20,  101–104.
  12. McKitrick, R., S. McIntyre, and C. Herman, (2010), Panel and multivariate methods for tests of trend equivalence in climate data series. Atmospheric Science Letters, 11: 270–277. doi: 10.1002/asl.290 [PDF] [Discussion – JoNova]
  13. McKitrick, R., McIntyre, S., and Herman, C. (2011) Corrigendum to Panel and multivariate methods for tests of trend equivalence in climate data series, Atmospheric Science Letters,  Vol. 11, Issue 4, 270–277. [Abstract]
  14. McKitrick, R. and Vogelsang, T. J. (2011), Multivariate trend comparisons between autocorrelated climate series with general trend regressors, Department of Economics, University of Guelph. [ PDF] [Discussion]
  15. Miskolczi, Ferenc M. (2010), The Stable Stationary Value of the Earth’s Global Average Atmospheric Planck-Weighted Greenhouse-Gas Optical Thickness. Energy & Environment Vol. 21, No. 4, 2010 pp 243-263 [PDF and Discussion]
  16. Paltridge, G., Arking, A., Pook, M., (2009). Trends in middle- and upper-level tropospheric humidity from NCEP reanalysis data. Theoretical and Applied Climatology, Volume 98, Numbers 3-4, pp. 351-35). [PDF]
  17. R. Pielke Sr (2008): “A broader view of the role of humans in the climate system,” Physics Today Vol. 61, no. 11, pp. 54-55
  18. Spencer, R.W., Braswell, W.D., Christy, J.R., Hnilo, J., 2007. Cloud and radiation budget changes associated with tropical intraseasonal oscillations. Geophysical Research Letters, 34, L15707, doi:10.1029/2007/GL029698. [PDF] [Discussion WCR]
  19. Spencer, R. W.; Braswell, W.D. (2011) On the Misdiagnosis of Climate Feedbacks from Variations in Earth’s Radiant Energy Balance, Remote Sens. 2011, 3, 1603-1613. [PDF] [Discussion JN]
  20. Svensmark, H. (2007). Cosmoclimatology: a new theory emerges. Astronomy & Geophysics 48: 1.18-1.24. [PDF] [Discussion – JN]
  21. Svensmark, H., Bondo, T. and Svensmark, J. 2009. Cosmic ray decreases affect atmospheric aerosols and clouds. Geophysical Research Letters 36: 10.1029/2009GL038429. [Discussion CO2Science]
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