Friday, 19 February 2010


The problem with the current "debate", which I have seen others mention elsewhere (I can't remember where or I would link), is the asymmetry.

Scientific research labs and institutions are held accountable for what they publish and the media will actually criticize them for any mistakes. They simply couldn't get away producing and publishing anything near as low quality as the SPPI analysis of the CRU emails. Even the investigative team that is reviewing the CRU emails is under scrutiny.

In contrast, none of the usual denialist outlets have any accountability. They can't be discredited even if they deserve it. Noone writes headlines when Watt's screws up. Same with the Heartland Institute and SPPI. Noone writes headlines when an analysis like the one the SPPI published gets spread like wildfire. The deniosphere have a lack of oversight. Anyone can say what they want of course - even really ridiculous things - but they should be justly held to account and widely discredited if they do say ridiculous things or behave badly (it's overdue).

It's ironic of course that a lot of denialist's appeal to immense levels of accountability from the likes of the IPCC and the CRU, without demanding any of themselves.

Therein lies a bit of a skeptic delusion about the difference, I am sure you've heard a variant. It's that scientific organizations, etc should be held accountable because they are funded by tax payers.

This is wrong of course. Scientific organizations should be held accountable even if they are privately funded and that goes for non-scientific organizations too. If you mislead people, intentionally or not, you should be held accountable. Which in many cases can just mean some bad press. Being discredited is the risk you run and so hopefully stops people running it. That's the checking role the media and journalists play and any publishing medium that can possibly influence decisions that affect many people, should be held accountable. Yes even blogs. Even think-tanks. When they get to a certain level of influence it's the job of the media to hold them accountable.

But lets go back to the talking point, and for the moment drop the fundamental error in it's premise about taxpayer funding determining accountablity, because there is a further error in the argument even when we accept it's premise. If you are misleading people over aspects of science and that science has been taxpayer funded, then by extension you are wasting people's tax money. Therego by the same argument you should be held just as accountable for falsely discrediting the science and wasting taxpayers money.

A little sarcasm there - but there is also a point. We can't have a world where a denialosphere and psuedo-journalists can run rampant tearing down the public perception of good science to the extent that they try - and get away with it just because they "aren't funded by tax payers".

Critically the deniers don't get much bad press, even despite all the gaffes and libelous smears they make. In part it is because they aren't as visible and influencial as we might imagine. They don't afterall get much good press either if you think about it.

Of course recently they've been getting more mentions in the mainstream papers. And here a pendulum could have already been swung. The deniers should hope it hasn't been swung too far in their favor, because the back-swing has a journalist investigating a newly discovered "wattsupwiththat" blog and it's ties to certain think-tanks. There is a story there, but it's only newsworthy if the "skeptics" and their message gets so loud that the public would be interested to read it.

This happened recently in the case of the misquote of John Houghton, former IPCC head. The deniers had been relaying this quote for so long, and Monckton recently so loudly, that the a leading UK newspaper took it to print. In part it was thanks to John Houghton taking it to task, but if not for the loudness of skeptics recently I don't think it would have been newsworthy.

Now accountability might not occur. The deniers might not ever get relevant enough to get sufficient media attention for it to happen. Especially given that time is running out for them - as much as they will deny it they have gambled on warming not continuing and so when it does they will find their foundations crumbling.


  1. This has been bugging me for a while. A total of what, maybe 4 sentences buried within the IPCC report are found to be wrong, and all heck breaks loose.

    But the people making hay out of that are constantly saying things that are idiotic, and nobody notes it except a few climate blogs.

    And they can't claim to be free of accountability just because nobody's making policy off their stupidity, even if that were a valid argument. The Texas petition against the EPA endangerment finding is practically copied and pasted from skeptic blogs and commentators. Sen Inhofe, former governor Palin and other influential Republicans are buying and further spreading the madness. The skeptics are influencing policy, in fact that's what motivated most of them to get involved in the first place, and they aren't being held accountable at all for what they say.

  2. I enjoyed reading this post and a few others you have. I'll thank carrot eater for creating a trail to here.

    It's tempting to create a laundry list of corrections needed for every denialist organization or blog, but the denialist faithful would see that as an attack, and then add that behavior to their list of "proofs".

    It's also tempting to point out how perfect these non-publishing organizations are as indicated by their lack of a need for self-correction.

    However, I don't believe that their tactics can be adpoted by the side with integrity. Our means and ends have to be defensible because they only need to create a perceived crack in either.

    I had taken a break from critiquing local denialist loudmouths, partly because I knew how much I had to learn. Now, I use that as my strength and my is goal to put a local face to support of climate science. Never resort to their tactics, and keep the subject on enthusiasm for the science. If they cite unreliable talking points, I have to reply "why are you not reading the scientific literature?" And my new corollary is: never underestimate the extent to which they don't understand their own talking points.


  3. This is an excellent piece. It bothers me a lot that skeptics/lukewarmers/denialists have zero accountability in this whole thing. Most of them see themselves as Galileo-esque heroes and really don't understand their actions have potential consequences in the ethical realm. They really believe they're kids in a playground with no responsibility whatsoever in case AGW is happening after all and becomes serious faster than expected. They should be called out on it, especially now after the CRU-hack and the massive success they're having.

  4. It was Steven Chu, head of US DOE, that made the "asymmetry" comment:

    "If you look at the climate sceptics, I would have to say honestly, what standard are they being held to? It’s very asymmetric. They get to say anything they want." (interview in the Financial Times.

    Personally, I think it's far past time to take the denialists head-on. They're not the victims here - they're more than happy to attack the scientists, using the most reprehensible and beneath-the-belt means and tactics. They've long since lost any moral high ground. We don't have to lie like they do, because the truth isn't on their side. Sure, they can complain about being "attacked", but that's just another instance of their reeking hypocrisy.

  5. Regarding Anonymous who said "I think it's far past time to take the denialists head-on"... you may be right and I, with my previous coment on the moral high ground, may be naive. It's just that now I see their main talking points are based on the he-said-she-said hype; I feel we can just point ths out while turning the conversation back to understanding the science. This of course assumes a lot of intelligence on behalf of the audience.