The Achilles’ Heel Of An Inconvenient Truth

Once every one or two months I do a little Google search to see where I, or anything I’m associated with, is mentioned on the internet. It’s a good way to find anything you haven’t noticed or wasn’t sent to you.

This time I stumbled on the slightly disjointed blog post “Science is not a Political Debate, The Science” where my video “Climate Changes, But Facts Don’t: Debunking Monckton” is mentioned. What drew my attention was the following passage:

When initially investigating the climate change debate I found myself extremely disappointed and unconvinced by the most touted popular work on the subject, Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. I felt his repeated use of emotional pleas (pathos) severely undermined his argument. Instead of sticking to the science he generally referenced it in passing between anecdotes. This blog post will be a review and analysis of the first part of the video Climate Changes, But Facts Don’t: Debunking Monckato (YouTube link) by Collin Maessen. I found it to be extremely compelling because in contrast to An Inconvenient Truth, Mr. Maessen immediately supports all his assertions with demonstrated evidence from scientific studies (and references those studies with quotations from them.) [sic]

He’s right about An Inconvenient Truth, it does use imagery and wording in such a way to also tap into your emotions. That’s part of what is being done here: telling a story. It’s part personal story about why Al Gore does what he does and the other part is the scientific basis for this. And most of the time he uses this to great effect to help people realize that we are having a big impact. Who doesn’t remember this scene from An Inconvenient Truth?


Yet at the same time this is also its greatest weakness; its Achilles’ heal so to speak.

When you go for a delivery that also taps into the emotions of your viewers, and try to do it in the most easy to understand way possible, things are lost. The victims almost always being the nuance and details of scientific findings and research.

A good example of this is the possible sea level rise Al Gore talked about in An Inconvenient Truth. It’s factually correct in what would happen if certain amounts of our ice sheets would melt. But it lost nuance and detail in how long it would take to achieve those effects. Still, the projected sea-level rise of between 56 and 200 cm by 2100 is nothing to scoff at. But the difference between the 6 meters mentioned by Al Gore and what the IPCC projected gave the so-called sceptics something to go after this documentary with.

The documentary made by Al Gore isn’t perfect, but it does get a lot correct. And when it does get something wrong (or exaggerates), the thing you should do is to be fair in your criticism.

Now if we go to my video “Climate Changes, But Facts Don’t: debunking Monckton” it’s a different story. My goal and intended audience are different from the one for An Inconvenient Truth. My viewers want detail, they want me to go into the nitty-gritty of things, they want me to explain how I came to make certain statements.

This makes me tell a very different story than An Inconvenient Truth would. My goal is to translate what scientists say into something that most people can follow and understand, while not shying away from details. My goal isn’t to be flashy about it, my goal is to take you along on a journey that tells you how I research things and why I draw certain conclusions. I want to give you the tools to do this yourself.

For this I often borrow techniques from works of fiction, the art of storytelling. Though I do my best to take care that necessary nuance and detail don’t get lost there are points where I do have to gloss over details when the need arises.

One of the things that I glossed over in my video is climate sensitivity. Yes, I gave a lot of details; but there’s a lot I didn’t say. Enough material to create a 10 minute video if I would need to explain this.

Because of the amount of time it would take meant it ended up on the editing floor. Despite me focussing on trying to convey only what was necessary to put what Monckton said into context, explain it, and correct it where necessary, it still resulted in a 2 hour video (it took me about 1.5 hours if you don’t count the parts where Monckton is talking).

Don’t unquestioningly accept anything that I produce just because I avoid emotional arguments. There’s a reason I cite and link to the research and sources I use; why I show what I used in my videos. It’s so you can see for yourself that I’m not making this up or misrepresenting someone. And a part of that is, like every true sceptic should do, is checking those sources:

[…] Scepticism doesn’t start with the viewpoints and claims of others, and being sceptical about those does not make you a sceptic. Being a sceptic starts with examining your own viewpoints, the positions you hold, the claims you make, and the quality of evidence you use for those.

And that’s my goal: to make you think.

Collin Maessen is the founder and editor of Real Skeptic and a proponent of scientific skepticism. For his content he uses the most up to date and best research as possible. Where necessary consulting or collaborating with scientists.